#TBT: Alaska ’09 Trip Report (Pre-Day 1)

PART 1 of 9: In August of 2009, I (Sharon) deserted my husband Joe and our puppy Dobby (at the time we had had her for about a month and a half) to go on a cruise to Alaska with the choir of which I was a member at the time (we were booked to sing on the ship). Some of my writing style has changed since 2009, some of my snark is exactly the same and heaven knows that cameras and photos have improved in the past 8 years, but here is the trip report I wrote about those adventures…the good, the bad and the ugly! 

Friday, August 14, 2009 (Pre-Day 1)

After waking up at 6:30am on Thursday morning and going to bed at midnight. I woke up at an ungodly 4:30am. It was so early that even Dobby, my daily 7:00am alarm clock in the form of a 4.5-month-old toy poodle, looked at me as if to say,  “what are you doing up so EARLY?” (I did admittedly take some small bit of satisfaction at ME waking HER up for her morning potty, for a change – and to say goodbye, of course).

Joe drove me to the airport and I met up with my singing friends “Carlene” and “Stewart” while I was waiting on line at Starbucks – but not before I saw the brand-spanking-new (well, to me – I don’t know how long it’s actually been there) Famiglia Pizza in Terminal A. Yay, we finally got a straight-from-NYC Famous Famiglia Pizza in Orlando again, after the one near Walt Disney World closed! Unfortunately, it’s in the terminal Joe and I hardly ever visit. Sigh.

Our plane took off on time and, joy of joys, whoever was supposed to sit between Carlene & I either didn’t show up or sat somewhere else. So we had plenty of extra room for our “stuff.”

img_0895They served breakfast around 10am. Well, they sold breakfast, anyway. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a nearly 6-hour flight; if you want something more substantial than one 1.4 oz oatmeal raisin cookie and a 1 oz bag of pretzels and soy beans, you’re going to have to pay for it. And, sucker that I am, I did. For $6 I got hash browns, sweet sausage and reconstituted egg product. Let’s just say the hot tea was good.

The rest of the (long, LONG) flight was thankfully uneventful and we arrived in Seattle around the time we were supposed to, if not a little earlier. We had reservations for the QuickShuttle shuttle bus but with a little more than an hour to wait for it, I took the opportunity to buy a salad, apple and Dasani water to go (lest anyone think I made 100% healthy choices, I also got a package of chocolate & peanut butter M&Ms, too).

img_0900img_0896img_0898I have no idea what our route was to Vancouver – I’ve never been to Washington State, let alone Seattle (nor Vancouver, for that matter) so short of the one famous needle-topped building and chain stores, I have no idea of anything about where we were or to what places we went. I saw signs that said we were on I-5 for quite a while, if that means anything to anyone. But otherwise, the trip to Vancouver was alternating cities, towns, mountains and naps. Oh, and the little old Spanish-speaking lady in the front row who never shut up. Ever. For the whole trip. She yak yak yak’d with her daughter(?) for the entire trip. ¡Ay, Dios mio!

We eventually made it over the border (Border Patrol Dude: “Why are you coming to Canada?” Me: “Because that’s where the cruise ship leaves from”) and they did indeed let us in. I even got the Border Patrol Dude to stamp my passport – something he says he never does. But hey, I asked, LOL!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter stops at a few other hotels AND Vancouver’s airport, we finally arrived at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel, where we were scheduled for a 1-night stay and where, at some point, we would hopefully meet the rest of the choir.  It was a REALLY nice place, with two towers that were each 30-something stories high. We were in the South Tower, on the 14th floor. My room, which was originally supposed to be a double (long story), was an interesting L-shaped corner room with 2 double beds that overlooked a busy section of Vancouver.

After dropping off our stuff, Carleen, Stewart & I went in search of food, since all of our meals all day had been small and far between…so we were starving! The only problem was that we didn’t know the city at all so we pretty much just picked a direction and started going straight. We bypassed some icky-looking places that sold pizza, paninis, Viet-Tai, etc., checked out the place that a homeless woman recommended (no, really!) and eventually came upon a nice restaurant called the Bacchus Restaurant & Lounge, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlocated at the Wedgewood Hotel & Spa. There were LOTS of people in the main dining area – so much so that we were seated in the back. Or so we thought. But it eventually dawned on us that our sitting so far away from everyone else may have been less so because of lack of space and moreso because we were very underdressed for the establishment. Think a tiny step above a “nice” restaurant that’s “dressy casual” and then there was us, in varying degrees of jeans, sneakers, stretchy pants, polo shirts and Hawaiian shirts. Fortunately, they were still willing to take our money, LOL! Anyway, the food was delicious…I had a steak, Stewart had the NY Strip and Carlene got the duck – we didn’t have a complaint about any of it.

We wandered back to our hotel and, after spending some time on the free internet (YAY!) on the 3rd floor, I walked around and looked for fellow choir people – ANY choir people because, if nothing else, we had no idea of what time or where we were meeting the next morning, to travel to the ship. I finally met up with “Caroline” and “Sue” at the bar (most of the choir people were from the U.K. Two British people at the bar? Coulda knocked me over with a feather…). and they gave me the lo-down…have the bags ready inside our rooms at 11am, tags attached, and meet outside at noon. Got it! Went back to the room, called Carlene and Stewart to let them know the plan and then, with most of this blog mostly written, I could FINALLY go to bed!

Next Throw Back Thursday: Driving to the ship and our first day at sea!

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Earn miles when buying those last minute roses for your valentine

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The shopping portals for the airlines seem to have figured out that most people procrastinate about ordering flowers for Valentine’s Day. You know it’s next Tuesday, right? If you are going to order your flowers online, there are no shortages of offers out there.

This list is of the bonuses being offered by different programs for purchases from FTD. You can get 25 miles per dollar spent at United, American or Delta. You can also just get cash back with Ebates, who is currently offering 20% back on purchases. If you join Ebates with this link you’ll get $10 when you spend $25. (Full Disclosure, they will also pay us a referral bonus)

I always check to see which portal to use before buying anything online, because even the major retailers will often offer you bonus miles. I’ve found a site called Cashbackmonitor, which gives a robust list of different shopping portals and I’m using it more and more.

For example, say I want to get roses for Sharon from FTD and earn American Airline miles for my purchase. Clicking on the link from Cashbackmonitor will take me here:

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As this is the offer I want, I would click on the “Shop Now” button and get this:

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You then sign in with your account info (you have signed up for the programs already, right?).  You will be directed to the website of whatever store from which you plan to buy the items.

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The browser will then identify you to FTD (via your browser cookies), and that’s how FTD and the shopping portals both know to issue the miles to you. It’s important not to go browsing around between clicking from the shopping portal and buying the item (if you do, the program could lose track of you and not give you your miles).

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I think 50 roses should be good this year and I’ll get 4,125 miles as well.

If you need to browse the ‘net or do something else and just come back later, put the items in your cart, close the website and repeat the above steps to get back to the final website.

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Remember that if you’ve been surfing around the internet between any of these steps, leave the item in your cart and close the browser window. Go back to the shopping portal website and click back to the store’s website. Click on your cart and then checkout.

Hope this gives you an introduction on shopping portals and how to use them. If you have any questions, please comment below or ask us on Facebook or Twitter.

What You Get If You Sign Up For These Hotel Programs

Miles and points are two ways to improve the way you travel and getting a healthy balance of hotel points is a major part of that. Even if you don’t go out of your way to collect hotel points through other means, just getting points for the stays you pay for can eventually earn you enough for a night or two off on a future stay. That’s money you can use for
Continue reading “What You Get If You Sign Up For These Hotel Programs”

The Most Useful Hotel Points Out There

When booking hotels, you have many choices available and why you pick one over another might be based on location, price or reviews. If you’re a points and miles geek, you also have to consider if you can use points to pay for the room or if staying there will earn you a nice stash of points for your next stay.

So with all of the major brands to choose from, which one have I found to be best to fit our travel needs? Hilton? Sheraton? Hyatt? Nope.

Continue reading “The Most Useful Hotel Points Out There”

Meet AwardWallet: The Website To Keep Your Miles And Points Organized

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This website will become your best friend when you are collecting miles and points.

One of the most helpful tools I’ve found to keep track of all my miles and points accounts is AwardWallet. With their website and apps for iPhone or Android, you’re able to track your airline, hotel, credit card, rental car and many other types of program balances (678 and counting). Trust me, it can become addicting to hit refresh and see if your balances have increased. AwardWallet can track balances for multiple family members but most importantly it will notify you if your balances are due to expire. The worst thing for miles and points junkies is for their hard earned points to waste away, unused.

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….and these are just the airlines I have accounts with. I’m one who admits I need help keeping all this organized. Sharon is good, but she’s not *that* good…plus she doesn’t care 😉

I’m mentioning this because I think AwardWallet has always been a seriously underpriced offering. When I started, you only had to pay whatever you wanted to upgrade to the premium version. Since then, they had suggested you pay $10 for a year, which was still a bargain and an amount I was always willing to pay. The price increased to $30 on February 15, 2017, but you know what? I still think the service they offer is worth the $30.

If you want to sign up, feel free to use my link (I get a small kickback if 5 people sign up using my link). I’d be very thankful if you did.

Feel free to comment if you have any questions on how to sign up and track your programs.

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