Monthly Archives: July 2013

Legs Inn, Cross Village, Michigan

michigan.org

Still doing my tour around northern Michigan and we found this very unique restaurant – Legs Inn.  Legs Inn sits at the northern part of the Tunnel of Trees section of Michigan Highway 119.  It is a spectacular drive that begins at the northern end of Harbor Springs, an exclusive resort town on Little Traverse Bay.  The road runs along a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.  As beautiful as it is during the spring and summer, it is truly majestic in the Fall as trees can be that are found in the cooler, northern climates.  The yellows of the birch trees, the reds of maples trees, it is a kaleidoscope of colors.  If you are a bicyclist, you’ll find this a great place to ride.  Blogger Son #2 and his wife recently rode their bikes through the Tunnel of Trees and are looking forward to doing it again next year.  So by car, motorcycle or bicycle – it is a beautiful ride.

tunnel of trees

Legs Inn is an authentic Polish restaurant.  The restaurant building reminds me of a something that you would find in a national park with the the building made out of river rocks, large timbers and  wood carvings.  It sits on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan with beautiful gardens outside.  You can choose to sit and eat outside or inside.  When the weather is a little cool, they do have heaters they put outside for the comfort of their guests.

legs inn outside

photo: the bigtaxi.com
photo: the bigtaxi.com

The food is authentic Polish food as well as Lake Michigan whitefish.  One of my favorites is the Zurek Soup.  It is a traditional Polish sour soup. There are many different versions for this soup but Legs Inn’s version has a unique recipe in that it’s recipe includes Polish Sausage, hard-boiled eggs and red potatoes in a rich meat and rye stock.  They have three different types of pierogis and if you can’t decide, you just ask for one of each type.

Blogger Son #2, a beer connoisseur, was duly impressed with all the beer that was available at their bar.  I had a great Czech ale that was delicious.

beer

If you find yourself in northern Michigan visiting many of these places that I have been writing about, make sure you drop in at Legs Inn for a delicious lunch or dinner.

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Waiting for the August Ultimate Reward Mall Bonus Points

As I have mentioned many times before, I can maximize my points by going through the Ultimate Rewards Mall that you can get to through your Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card, your Chase Ink or Ink Plus Business cards or your Chase Freedom if you have one of the aforementioned credit cards.  On the first of each month their bonus merchants change; some stay the same, some decrease and some increase.  I am anxiously awaiting August 1st to see what the merchants are offering us.

This past month, I would order  printer ink at 4inkjets.com getting 15  points per dollar; Famous Footwear at 10 points per dollar; Kohls at 10 points per dollar (I think they have been at 10 points for almost a year); magazines.com at 25 points per dollar;  if you are a ProActive user you can order the product and receive 30 points per dollar;  Snapfish (a favorite of mine) at 15 points per dollar and so many more.

Tomorrow is your lat day for the July specials.  Me, I’m waiting to see what August will bring.

As I said in another blog, you can always check evreward.com to see if there is anything better for you.

Top 10 Family Resorts in North America according to Budget Travel

One magazine that I really like and look forward to getting in the mail  is Budget Travel. We are not of unlimited income and we do watch our pennies (sometimes more than other times) so this magazine helps me in budget traveling.

They recently wrote about the Top Ten Family Resort in North America.  I’m going to assume and hope that these resorts are somewhat budget since it is Budget Travel that is publishing this list but looking at these photos, I’m not sure.  I will have to admit, I had never heard of most of them so I am sure that I’ll be doing further investigating into these resort.  Nevertheless, here they are:

1. Woodloch Resort in Hawley , PA which is nestled in the Pocono Mountains.  There are activities for kids and adults of all ages and the great thing about this woodlochresort is that it is an all-inclusive resort.  Since we take family vacations every few years, this might be a great option for us rather than going to the Caribbean.  Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens magazines are also calling Woodloch one of the best family resorts.

 

2. Villa Roma Resort in Callicoon, New York which is in the Catskiills.  Again, they have programs for the kids including horseback riding, a rock-climbing wall, and villa romago-carts (for an additional fee).   Wintertime brings ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, and even a Ski School for beginners.   They also have large enough suites to accommodate 8 people!

 

 

3. Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan, Wisconsin where they have an indoor water park which they would have to do in Wisconsin.  They also have a baby/toddler recreation pool.  Adults can swim in a lazy river floating around and around.  Budget Travel calls this one of the nation’s best  water parks.  I think this would be a great family vacation spot.

blue harbor

 

4. Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, New York is another all-inclusive facilityrocking horse where there is unlimited horseback riding and trail rides for children seven years old and older.  The ranch is on its own private lake so you can go kayaking, fishing and water skiing.  So much for all ages to do.  You’ll also  find tennis, beach volleyball, rock climbing walls, mini golf, and an exotic wildlife exhibit on the resort property. Additionally there’s an entire waterpark- plus an archery range, video arcade, plenty of organized activities.  We have previously done a Ranch vacation when the kids were 8, 10 and 13 and they still remember and talk about what fun it was.

 

5. Tradewinds Island Resort, St. Pete Beach, FL – This resort on the Gulf offers antradewinds activity club for its young guests that include making shark necklaces and meeting Capt. Redbeard and his trusty parrot.  The rooms, which are recently remodeled, will delight parents.  Though this looks very nice I personally want more than just a resort on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

 

6. The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa – this resort offers hilton los cabotwo bedroom suites for families.  Who wouldn’t want to go to a tropical getaway on this island.  You can spend your time walking Seven Mile Island or do an adult only activity while the kiddos are in the Westin’s Kids Klub.    The Kids Klub also has field trips.

 

7. High Hampton Inn & Country Club – Cashiers, North Carolina in the Blue Ridge high hampton Mountains on a private lake where you can go fishing, boating or swimming.  There are a lot of activities planned for the entire family.  This would be a vacation spot that Blogger Hubby would enjoy.

 

 

8. Clevelands House – Minett, Ontario  On Lake Rosseau there are many things to do including taking water skiing lessons from their Ski School.  Adults have clevelands houseover 120 events they can partake of during each week.  Clevelands House has one, two and three bedrooms cottages so your family can all stay together.

 

 

9. Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort – Cabo San Lucas, Baja Mexico.  Who doesn’t love Cabo?  You’ll enjoy swimming in the bay of the Se of Cortez or a diphilton los cabo in one of the pools at the Hilton.  Horseback riding, fishing or a walk on one of the nature trails affords your family some valuable time together.  There is also a camp for kids ages 4-18 though I question having a club for an 18 year old.

 

10. Cragun’s Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake – Brainerd, Minnesota – this resort sounds too good to be true.  Even though it is in Minnesota, it has activities for both summer and winter so it is a multi-season resort.  In the summer there are activities around the lake including every imaginable water sport you can think of as well as boat rental.  There are also court games (volleyball, tennis) as well as a program to teach children how to play golf.  In the winter you will make use of the indoor sports facility,  For outdoor activities there is ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and lots more.  This is another type of resort that Blogger Hubby would enjoy.

craguns

With this list I’m sure you’ll find some resorts that were previously unheard of (at least by me) but will meet your needs.  I know that we definitely will be looking at some of these for our next family vacation.  Wondering if you have been to any of these resorts and what you look for in a resort vacation.

Hawaiian Babymoon using UAL and Marriott points

This post is written by Blogger Daughter:

My husband and I travelled to Hawaii for our first time in February 2012. It was so stunning, and such a special time for us. We truly had a blast. The entire time we promised ourselves that we would go back. At the time we thought it would be in  10 years when our kids are old enough to appreciate the trip and the beauty that is Hawaii.

We were wrong. We went back this past February for a “babymoon”. For those who may not be familiar with that term, a “babymoon” is a newer trend where expectant parents take a last vacation before the little one arrives. That is a lisa and natetrend that I am more than happy to jump on the bandwagon for.  The funny thing is, we went there  at the exact same time as we went last year. It worked out this way because I would be in my second trimester in February (which is a great time to travel for pregnant women) and I would also get a day off from work from President’s Day.   Besides, this way we can say we’ve gone to Hawaii twice in the same year. We like to pretend we’re ballers.

In actuality, it didn’t cost us that much. We had enough Ultimate Reward point that we transferred to United Airline miles to pay for one ticket and we had enough Marriott points to pay for 10 nights. But more on that later.

So why Hawaii again? We did think about all our options. We wanted somewhere where we could use our Marriott points to keep the expenses way down. We also wanted somewhere we couldn’t go easily once we have kids…you know, as a getaway for the two of us. We knew once we have children we won’t want to fly 11 hours away. Also, you can’t do Hawaii in a long weekend or even a week from the East Coast where we live, you need longer. If you bring the kids with you,  you want them to be old enough to remember it. We also photo: alohatopten.comwanted a location where there were fun activities to do but also relaxing, Remember I was pregnant.   That took Europe out. So Hawaii it was! The first time we visited the Big Island and Maui. We loved them both. Since there was so much to do and experience on the Big Island that we didn’t do the first time, we decided to visit that island again and Kauai.

The decision was made. Then it was time to actually book the travel. We have been Marriott credit card holders for about six or seven years now. My husband’s work allows him to put his hotel stays for business on a personal card and they partner with Marriott.  It made sense for us to get a Marriott credit card. We’ve been loyal to them since we got the card. They were definitely our first-in-wallet credit card. Well, we were loyal until my mom started learning about all these points and rewards and passing down some of the information to her kids. Now we have multiple credit cards but still use our Marriott a lot. Toblack sand us, it was more beneficial to have our hotel nights free when we travel versus a free flight. Free flights are great however they require more rewards so you don’t get to redeem as often. We redeem for free nights fairly often with Marriott. With Marriott, if you stay four nights you get the fifth night free. It was a no brainer that we would stay on each island for five nights with a total of ten nights in Hawaii, for the “cost” of eight.

The resort we stayed on the Big Island was the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. Marriott recently changed the levels of the hotels but this in February it cost us 100,000 points at this hotel ( I believe it is now 120,000). The resort on Kauai was the Kaua’I Marriott Resort and when we stayed it was 120,000 points, now 140,000 points.

This year we reached Platinum level with Marriott (the highest level) which made my husband very happy. I wasn’t aware that this was apparently a goal of his. With that comes automatic room upgrade if available. Unfortunately both resorts were at full capacity so we didn’t a room upgrade at either. We did however get a room upgrade the first time we went and it was great. We had a corner room so it was massive, just so much space. Even without the room upgrade the rooms are very spacious and very well decorated. We didn’t pay for an ocean view for either of them but could see the water at both.

We really love the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa on the Big Island because it’s not too large and between the resort/pool area and the ocean is a waikoloawildlife refuge of sorts -this larger area has tidal ponds, lava rocks and paths to explore. Once you get to the ocean you can walk along the beach in either direction for a peaceful, secluded walk. The area does not have other resorts next door like they often do. Some of our favorite mornings were just talking a walk on the lava rocks watching surfers and keeping an eye out for whales while ogling at gorgeous houses we would see. Another plus was that we were within walking distance of an outdoor mall complete with a high end grocery store, shops and restaurants.

The resort on Kauai was also very nice. The view was spectacular and like the resort on the Big Island, it did not have resorts right next door. They had a good number of restaurants in walking distance. The beach was good with plenty of kauai marriottsand and we were protected in a bit of a cove. The pool area had a bit of a Grecian feel to it. Overall you could tell that this was a higher level resort. It was much larger and just more upscale. Even with the nicer feel, I’m partial to the resort on the Big Island.

As I mentioned earlier, we used points to “pay” for one of our flights. We had signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card after talking to my mom about it. With the sign up bonus and our usage, we had enough to cover one of our tickets. We transferred the points to United and redeemed  40,000 for a non-stop round trip ticket from Washington Dulles to Honolulu. This vacation was barely costing us anything. Okay well maybe that’s not true. We still had food, rental car, spending money, and resort fees to pay for (yes, Marriott charges those).

Our time on both islands was an absolute blast. We spent our time exploring photo:aloha-hawaii.comremote beaches, going on some picturesque hikes, visiting a volcano and numerous waterfalls, sea turtle and whale watching, visiting the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, taking a helicopter tour, and enjoying some great food. Overall, a perfect vacation with my sweet husband.

To read more about their babymoon, head on over to their blog “Life as a Liberati

UPDATE:  Blogger Daughter and her husband welcomed a son the beginning of June.  Here is a photo of the little guy:

nolan

Ex Officio Travel Underwear and Campsuds – Travel Product Review

There are many secrets to keeping your packed luggage to a manageable amount.  One of my recent tricks has been to purchase travel underwear by Ex Officio.  The underwear for both men and women is breathable, packable and lightweight.  After washing in the sink or in the laundry, they will be dry within hours.  I tend to wash them, squeeze them dry and then roll them in a dry towel to get the excess water out.  Other undies that I have brought with me on our trips have taken quite a while to dry but not these by Ex Officio.  They come in many styles and sizes. I found my underwear at my local wilderness store though you can mail order from some of your favorite travel stores.

ex officio

To cut down on all the liquids that I bring on trips with me I use Campsuds.  This unique product, that I first learned about when we went camping, can be used for a myriad of purposes.  Believe it or not, you can use a few drops to wash your undies in,.  You can also wash dishes with it, as well as your body and hair.  It is a natural, biodegradable cleaner.  For those who want to pack it in your carry-on luggage, it does come in a 2 oz size.  For those who want to pack it, it does come in larger sizes as well.  I bought this from my local wilderness store as well though some have told me that WalMart sells it as well.  Personally, I prefer to shop at my local mom and pop stores and support the local businesses.

campsuds

Disclaimer:  As a reminder, I do not receive any compensation for my product review nor was I asked to write a review.  Like my other recommendations, this is a product that I use and own.

In flight exercises

I was very impressed with Asiana Airlines when I flew them from SFO to Seoul and then Seoul to Sydney.  Near the end of both flights, an Asiana Public Service Announcement came on and showed us how to properly do some exercises in our seats.  What a wonderful idea, I thought, reminding us that we had sat for a long time and that we should do something before we leave the aircraft.

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Here are some exercises I found from KLM for your next long distance flight.

Ankle turns: Lift your feet off the floor and move your toes in a circle, one foot moving clockwise and the other foot moving counterclockwise. Change direction and repeat.

Foot lifts: Place your heels on the floor and bring your toes up as high as you can. Then put both feet back flat on the floor. Then pull your heels up while keeping the balls of your feet on the floor.

Knee lifts: While keeping your knee bent, raise your leg while tensing your thigh muscle. Repeat 20 to 30 times, alternating legs.

Shoulder rolls: Raise your shoulders and then move them forward, downward and then backward in a smooth circular movement.

Arm bends: Start with your elbows on the armrests and your hands pointed forward so that your lower and upper arms make a 90-degree angle. Take turns moving your left and then your right hand toward your chest and back, and continue for 30 seconds.

Knee to chest: Bend slightly forward. Fold your hands together around your left knee and pull it toward your chest. Hold this position for 15 seconds and let your knee drop slowly. Change legs and repeat.

Forward bends: Place both feet on the floor and pull your abdomen in. Bend slowly forward and ”walk” your fingers along your shins to your ankles. Hold for 15 seconds and sit up slowly.

Upper-body stretch: Stretch both arms over your head. With your right hand, grab your left wrist and pull it slowly to the right. Hold for 15 seconds and change arms.

Shoulder stretch: With your right hand, grab your left elbow and pull your outstretched left arm slowly toward your right shoulder. Hold for 15 seconds and change arms.

Neck roll: Relax your shoulders, let your head drop to your right shoulder and roll your head slowly to the front and then to your left side. Repeat five times.

Credit Card Number Stolen

Yes, my credit card was recently compromised.  I received an email yesterday from a company whose bill I pay automatically with my credit card..  They informed me that payment was refused.  Huh?  What’s up with that?

I looked online this morning at my credit card activity and there were all these charges that I didn’t charge – and in California to boot!  I got a sick feeling and immediately called Chase to let them know that my card had been compromised.  I really don’t understand how it happened as I have the physical card and I am about 2,000 miles from California.

credit card

I rarely use this card – a few online automatic payment and then I used in person twice this past month.  Since we are in a small village in northern Michigan I can’t imagine any of the two Mom & Pop stores that I went into having any kind of scammer on their machine that they run cards through and would “capture” my card numbers.  Regardless, my account  is closed and a new card with a new account number will be winging it’s way to me.  I actually caught this before their fraud detection department did.  All of the charges were under $200 so I’m sure that it didn’t set off any alerts.  I generally check my cards about once a week though this was an exception since a charge had been denied.

About an hour later I receive a telephone call from a detective in Orange County, CA who was with the Auto Theft Task Force and they caught the guy!  Really.  He had just purchased something with my card and left the store in a stolen car.  They found a handmade MasterCard with my numbers and name on it. The detective had last night proactively called Chase to inform them (they didn’t tell me that though) that my card had been compromised and he had the fake one in his possession.  He was able to get my local phone number from Chase and call me to ask if I wanted to press charges – “Hell yes” I replied “and if you need me to come to California I suppose I could fly and rack in some extra points and miles”.  I really did say that.  When I asked him how the perp (too many Law & Order episodes, sorry)  got my number he suggested it might have been when I ran my card through a gas pump card reader.  I told him no way that would have happened.  I would have used the Chase Freedom card to give me the 5 points per dollar at a gas pump.  He chuckled.

jail

The morale of this story – stay ever diligent when it comes to your credit cards.  Check them online frequently and stay on top.  At the first sign of trouble, call the credit card company and talk to the Fraud Department.  They are very helpful and will make you whole again.

Important Bookmarks for You

When planning a trip, you will get email confirmations of your airline itinerary, your hotel confirmation, any special services or tour that you plan.  If you are anything like I use to be, this information is all over the place.  I didn’t even make a folder for all this travel stuff – I just thought that I knew it all.  One site that I would recommend that compile it all is TripIt.  Every time you get an email, they will capture the information in it and keep it.  You’ll get reminders from them that you have a trip planned and when you should check in online.  I find it a great resource for scatter brains like me.

tripit

Keeping track of all your points can be a hassle for some.  AwardWallet will keep track of most of them for you.  This past year, Delta and United Airlines as well as a few others do not allow AwardWallet to get the information for you so you’ll still have to keep track of a few.

awardwallet

Do you have lots of subscription emails coming in your email inbox every day?  I know that I do (sale at a particular store, a new LL Bean online catalogue, etc).  I generally delete them or ask to unsubscribe since they are taking up space in my inbox.  Now you can still get them all in one email.  Sign up at unroll and you will get one email each day.  This has cleaned up my email inbox.

unroll

The last one isn’t directly travel related but without it, you couldn’t travel or get points.  I’m talking about the site mint.  Mint automatically puts all your money and spending habits in one place.  Once you sing up it will pull information from your bank, your mortgage company, your investments and other accounts that you may have. This site is secure.  Once you see in front of you in graph form what categories your money is going in, you may want to make some changes.

mint

If you know of any other sites that you use and think is useful to others, please leave a comment.

Ebates, Shopping Portals and more

Let’s say that I want to make a purchase at Macys?  Many times I would just go to either Ebates for cash back  or go to the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal for points.  I had often wondered if I should have checked other shopping portals.  For instance, should I shop through the Marriott portal?  Hilton Honors?   Big Crumbs?  American Airlines and so on.

Now there is help for you and me.  There is an online site called Evreward.  Once you type in the name of the store that you are shopping at, it will come back with all the loyalty reward programs as well as cash back programs.  From there you make the decision of which shopping portal you want to go through for your purchase. Like other sites, not all stores are listed but it does give you a good start at determining where you want to make your purchase from.   If you are interested, let me know and I’ll send you a referral link.

Another portal is TopCashBack that claims to be the most generous of all cash back programs.  This site is the only one that gives you up to 2% back when purchasing AmEx gift cards, even the custom $3000 gift cards.  You are getting money back for purchasing gift cards.  This is the gift that keeps on giving.  It is worth checking out.  If you are interested in this, please use this referral link:  http://www.topcashback.com/ref/schwalmie  When you register and buy you will receive a $10 bonus – free money and points will make all of us very happy.

Remember – never leave any points on the table; take every point you are entitled to.  They are there for the taking and for you to take trips!

Credit Cards, Churning and my Excel Spreadsheet

As I mentioned previously, between Blogger Hubby and myself we have over 20 credit cards.  It is very important to keep track of all the cards.

Some of the cards are churnable – which means if you close them, wait a year then you can reapply for the cards and get the bonus points again.  For that reason it is important to know when you closed them and when you can reapply for a new card

It is difficult to churn credit cards with the Chase products but I have had success with the American Express products.

amex

I opened an American Express Gold card  in January 5th for the 50,000 membership points.  I did my $3000 spend on it and was waiting for my points to be deposited into my account.  They never deposited so I sent a Secure Message to them through my online account.  AmEx had informed me that the Gold card I had last year had only been closed 11 1/2 months so I did not qualify for the bonus again.  I tried appealing their decision but to no avail.

I knew then that I needed to keep better track of my credit cards and came up with my Excel Spreadsheet.  I list all my cards, the account numbers, the date I opened it, the date I closed it, what the bonus points were, what the minimum spend was for those points, where I was to date in regard to the spend, the closing date for each month’s spending, and how many points I have.  I update it each month when I receive my bill.  I know that many of you don’t have many cards and don’t want to take the time to get organized but once it is set up, it doesn’t take much time to keep it updated and to not lose a single point because you didn’t know the date you closed an account.  I wish I had started it when I first began signing up for these credit cards rather than when I had about 20 of them.

Whenever you open a credit card your credit receives a hard pull on your report and your FICO score will go down about 3-5 points per hard pull .  That score will go up again in about 3 months.  Your credit score is extremely important ficoand you need to be diligent about keeping it healthy and understanding what affects it and when it recovers.  I hope you find this information helpful should you decide to churn credit cards.  BTW, I still have excellant credit.  I would not do anything that would hurt me in the long run.  Check your credit with QuizzleCredit Sesame, or Credit Karma to see where you are.

CamelBak for Thirsty Travelers – Travel Product Review

I have Sjogrens Syndrome.  Sjorgrens is an auto-immune disease that attacks the moisture producing parts of your body.  In my case, I have extremely dry eyes, dry skin and always thirsty.  So thirsty that my throat and mouth will hurt from being so dry.  Blogger Hubby used to joke that we needed to carry gallons of water with us when we travel.  In fact,  we would take a couple of water bottles and I would, at times, guzzle them down.  Always finding places where I could refill the water bottles became a hassle for me.  Since I knew on our last trip that we would be hiking , I needed to try and reduce the times I needed to find water.

My solution was to bring with me a CamelBak.  I wanted to find a smaller one, more like a lady’s CamelBak than a man’s.  I didn’t care about color, I just wanted a size that would fit me.

camelbak

I cannot say enough good things about this product.  I had lots of room in the bag portion, 2 outside mesh pockets as well as a side zipper pocket.  Inside the side zipper pocket were two more zippered compartments – perfect for putting your passport, credit cards, money, etc.

I used the CamelBak today when we were bike riding.  It goes with me many places.  Whether you have Sjogrens, are generally thirsty or just like to have water handy, I heartily recommend a CamelBak.

As a note:  I receive no compensation for this review nor was I asked to review it.  I just happen to have it and love it.

PacSafe Travel Purses – Travel Product Review

When we went to Rome almost two years ago I was very concerned about pickpocketers as well as having my purse stolen.  I tried to educate myself as much as possible to prevent myself from becoming a victim.

I learned that I should always wear my purse across my body rather than just on my shoulder or being held by my hand.  I was already doing that on the advice of a physical therapist so that was easy.  I also found out that sometimes the thieves would slash the straps off your body or they slash the bottom of your purse.  I needed to find something to protect me against that and I found a product that helped me feel secure – though you still need to be on guard.  I found the Pacsafe Anti-Theft Handbag.

Why I liked this bag was because it was constructed with lightweight stainless steel mesh in the strap and the bottom of the bag.  No more slash and run.  There was also a clip lock where the zipper would close.  Sometimes it was a nuisance undoing the clip but I never regretted getting this bag. Here is a information on the bag and where I purchased it from: PacSafe

pacsafe bagThis bag was a perfect size for me.  I was concerned that it might be too small but it wasn’t.  There is an outside pocket where I could put my water bottle.  Plenty of room inside for my camera, guidebook and other items I needed.

If you have a Chase credit card that gives you Ultimate Rewards then you need to head on over to their shopping portal and you’ll find a great surprise – you’ll earn 10 points per dollar spent at Ebags (where I bought my bag from).

Hope you like your bag as much as I like mine.

As a note:  I receive no compensation for this review nor was I asked to review it.  I just happen to have it and love it.

The Wanigan Race – Craziest Race EVER!!!!

Here  in a small community in Northern Michigan, a crazy and somewhat random race takes place every year.  It’s the Wanigan Race.  What, you never heard of a wanigan?  How could that be?  There are several definitions for a wanigan but the Free Dictionary states that it is “A boat or small chest equipped with supplies for a lumber camp.”  Um, not exactly what I have learned that a wanigan is but it is close is for the purpose of this race.

The Cheboygan Chamber of Commerce describes it as: “Back in the great days wanigan-logo-nodate-288x300when Cheboygan was the logging capital of the north in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or so the story goes, lumbermen would strap logs together and make a cooking raft to gather on and eat their hot meals. This Cheboygan Jaycees sponsored race keeps the tradition alive as teams of up to six from all over compete with their versions of a “Wanigan.”

Per the Jaycees the rules are: You need a minimum of 3 people and a maximum of 6 people. The raft needs to be made out of logs though the decking can be made out of boards.  You need to make a structure on it that is at least 4 feet high and no more than 6 feet high and has three sides as well as a roof fully fit inside.  The cook needs to be able to fully fit inside and sit erect.  The stove must be wood burning. No charcoal, coal, propane, kerosene, gas, etc. may be used. All stoves must be homemade and not factory made. No modified camp stoves. A lined fire pit may be used instead of a stove. The fire cannot be started until your race has begun.

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The purpose:   As the Wanigan was historically the “Chuck Wagon” of the River; each raft must make 5 quarts of chili during the race. The ending temperature of the chili must be 160 degrees. The meat may be pre- browned and the other ingredients may be cut or diced beforehand. Chili must be assembled on the raft during the race (NO PRE MIXED INGREDIENTS), per the instructions from the Jaycees.

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All these rafts are paddling down the Cheboygan River, some take it very seriously; others have their coolers of beer on the raft and are enjoying the day.  Some don’t look like they are going to make it at all.  The course is about 4 miles long.
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Once you reach the end of the race, a sample is taken of your chili and a thermometer is inserted to see if it has reached the desired temperature.

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If you happen to find yourself in northern Michigan during the second weekend in July, head on over to Cheboygan to watch this crazy race.

The Marriage of Marriott and United Airlines

A new partnership, merger or marriage, whatever you want to call it has recently taken place among two of my favorites.  United Airlines and Marriott have joined forces and and have unheard of travel benefits for both.  This new partnership is called RewardsPlus and you have to register in order to take part in this partnership.

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Registration

If you are a Marriott Platinum or Platinum Premier, you need to register here.  If you are a United Gold, Platinum, 1K, or Global Services, then you need to register here.

The Nitty Gritty

For Marriott Elites

If you are one of the Marriott Elites (Platinum or Platinum Preferred) and do not have any status with United then you will be given by United Airlines Silver status.  Silver status gives you

  • Complimentary access to Economy Plus at check-in (when available);
  • Complimentary Premier Upgrades (when available);
  • Premier Access priority airport services;
  • One complimentary standard checked bag (50 lbs.);
  • 25% Premier bonus award miles on United flights

For United Gold or high Elites

You will now enjoy (after registration) Marriott Gold status will gives you

  • Lounge access and breakfast at select Marriott locations
  • Room upgrades
  • Complimentary Internet access
  • Priority late check-out
  • 25% bonus points and much more (editorial comment – they don’t mention what “much more” is)

Enhanced Miles And Points Benefits Coming Soon:

  • Convert Marriott Rewards points to MileagePlus miles at a 20% discount.
  • Receive 10% more MileagePlus miles when you book the trip of a lifetime and redeem for a Marriott Rewards Travel Package–up to 12,000 more miles
  • All MileagePlus Premier members can convert their MileagePlus miles into Marriott Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio, up to 50,000 miles per year.


Even if you do not stay at a Marriott very often or fly United, sign up for the promotion.  You will never know when you might find yourself in a Marriott hotel or have to take a quick trip on United.

FTU, Tampa; Chicago Seminar and Online Communities

I’ve mentioned how I quickly learned about the value of points and miles when we wanted to go to Australia/New Zealand earlier this year.  I took a crash course in points and miles so I could book our flight and get our tickets and then I tried to fill in the blanks in my education of points and miles.

What really helped me was attending the Chicago Seminar last October as well as Frequent Traveler University this past April.  I felt that I needed to go at least twice.  My brain was on overload in October though I came home with lots of information.  These seminars are fairly inexpensive and the groups get a discount with the hotel and lunches are included as well as a cocktail party. There is always time in the evenings to meet others and share experiences or to ask questions.

Seminars last all day and many times you have two choices of what classes to attend.  My son Chris attended with me this past April and he came away with quite a bit of knowledge and appreciation for the information that was being shared as well as the Grand Prize that was given in the raffle (they always have a raffle and the money goes to worthy organizations).

Frequent Traveler University will be holding another seminar – this time in Tampa, Florida on September 27-29.  Accommodations will be at the Grand Hyatt with a negotiated rate of  $119 per night (and you get your points too!).

Friday night begins with a welcome reception and the actual seminar starts ay 9:00 AM. The seminar cost $100 and includes lunch for both days.  If you are interested, go to this link: Frequent Traveler University

I am going back to Chicago in October for the Chicago Seminar which are being held October 11-13 at the Holiday Inn in Elk Grove Village.  There are shuttles from O’Hare to take you directly to the hotel.  Many of the speakers will be the same at both seminars.  For more information on the Chicago Seminar, click on this link: Chicago Seminar

I also urge you to read both Milepoint and Flyertalk.  Both of these are online communities of frequent flyer enthusiasts who will share information, answer your questions, sometimes get snarky with you and other will expect you to do your homework and not have everything served to you on a silver platter.

Fun Things to Do in Singapore – The Zoo

Singapore is such a modern, vibrant city and there is actually quite a bit to do.  We had a difficult time narrowing our list of what to see and do.

Top on our list was the world renown Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Sentosa Island and all that it had to offer, the Singapore Eye,  a riverboat ride, The Botanical Gardens, Gardens by the Bay, Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome.  Additionally there were museums like the Asian Civilization Museum,  the Singapore Museum and the ArtScience Museum.

To help us determine what to see we looked to Trip Advisor for reviews of what others liked.  Although they all sounded interesting, we did need to make choices.  We decided to visit the Zoo, the Botanical Gardens, Gardens by the Bay with the Supergrove of Trees, Cloud Forest , Flower Dome, Singapore Museum and the riverboat ride.

The Singapore Zoo is one of the top two in the world.  We took the subway (MRT) and a bus directly to the front entrance of the zoo.  This was a very easy way and inexpensive to get to the zoo.  We paid our entrance fee, got a map of the zoo and began our exploration.  We were amazed at how green and lush this

walking along the paths in the zoo to the exhibits
walking along the paths in the zoo

zoo was.  The Singapore Zoo prides itself on not having any cages; instead through the use of moats, fences covered in greenery and glass partitions you get the feeling of seeing the animals in the wild.  I was amazed at how close we got to the fruit bats, who by the way are HUGE!  We could reach out and touch them, which by the way,  I didn’t.  I saw my first Komodo dragon in this zoo!  A tram goes around the zoo and there are many stops that you can embark and disembark.  This is a great way to rest your feet.  One of our favorite areas was the Great Rift Valley as this is a place we are thinking of going to next year.

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If you have children, you may not know to bring their swimsuits with you – there is a great splash area for them to cool down and play at the Water Play area.  There is also a wild animal carousel ride, a horse and carriage ride and for a fee you can ride on an elephant.

photo: travelingape.com
photo: travelingape.com

If you need another break, you can take a boat ride in the reservoir from one section of the park to another.  While you are on the boat you are always looking in the water for crocs or in the surrounding land for monitor lizards and eagles soaring above.

photo:  zoo.com.sg
photo: zoo.com.sg

Since Singapore is only about 112 miles from the equator you do need to take precautions when you are outside, particularly all afternoon at the zoo.  Wear a hat, put on sunscreen, bring water with you and stay hydrated.  For this trip I bought CamelPak and had it with me all the time and was constantly refilling it whenever I could.  I also carried in my pack a towel that I would wet and wear around the back of my neck to help cool me down.

 

Chase Freedom Credit Card

I love credit cards that give me a bonus when I sign up for them. I particularly love the Chase credit cards since their sign ups bonuses are just what I need.  The bonuses they give are always worthwhile to me and they help me travel for almost nothing.   Some of you last month signed up for the Chase Ink Business credit card earning 60,000 Ultimate Reward miles after a $5000 spend in three months.

I mentioned earlier that one of the new cards that I got this year is the Chase Freedom.  There is no yearly fee and if you have another one of Chase’s cards that give Ultimate Reward points (like Sapphire Preferred, Ink, etc) then you can get the very valuable Ultimate Reward points (UR) otherwise you get 5% cash back on up to $1500 spent in bonus categories each quarter.  Either way – points or money – you are a winner.  If you are interested in this card, go on over to the Mommy Point blog and follow her Top Credit Card Deals tab.  Scroll down till you see the description of this card and the link to the application form.

Freedom

The reason why I really, really like this card is that you get bonus categories every quarter.  When you purchase an item from one of the bonus categories stores, you get an extra 5 times points.

January – March
Gas stations
Drugstores
Starbucks® stores

April – June
Restaurants
Movie theaters
Lowe’s® home improvement stores

July – September
Gas stations
Theme Parks
Kohl’s®
ACTIVATE BY
September 14, 2013
October-December
Amazon.com
Select Department stores
ACTIVATE STARTING
September 15, 2013

What’s exciting to me is that this month the bonus categories are gas stations (and who doesn’t need gas?), Kohls and theme parks.  Kohls just happens to be one of my favorite stores.

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Since most of you have the Ink card or another Chase credit card that gives you UR points you need to log in to your account.  On the right side, click on Go to Ultimate Rewards.  This will take you to the shopping portal.  This is an important step.  Go to the Kohl site on the shopping portal and you will find out that by ordering this way , you will most likely get the extra 10 points per dollar.  You will definitely get the 5 times points by using your Chase Freedom card.  Can you imagine get 15 points per dollar spent?  That is huge and a quick and easy way to rake up UR points very quickly.  If you spent $100 you will most likely get 1500 points rather the 100 points the old way (before you started reading my blog) or even just the 500 points for using only your Freedom card.

Remember, do not spend if you cannot afford to pay the bill when it becomes due.  Only you know what your personal finances are.  Having great credit is more important than having points.

Chincoteague Pony Swim

I’m sure many of you have either read the book “Misty of Chincoteague” or at least have heard of it.  It’s a childhood classic for many and the sequels that followed.misty

The ponies live on Assateague Island which both Maryland and Virginia claim.  There is a fence separating the island at the state boundary.   Chincoteague Island lies totally in Virginia.

No one knows for sure how the ponies came to live on Assateague Island though there are two theories.  Most people believe that the ponies are descendants of survivors who swam ashore from a sinking Spanish galleon ship which sunk off the coast of Virginia.  Others believe that they were brought here by farmers and released so the farmers wouldn’t have to pay a livestock tax on them.

Next week, the pony swim, made famous in the book, will occur.  This event has been taking place since 1925.  The purpose of the swim is to thin out the herds on Assateague Island by controlling  the overall size of the herd, keeping it from growing too large as well as being a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department as they auction off the ponies.

On July 20th and 21st, approximately 150 ponies on the Virginia side of Assateague Island will be herded into two corrals on the island – the Northern Corral and the Southern Corral.  The next day, on July 22nd, the northern ponies will be walked along the beach in a southerly direction to meet the southern herd.  The swim will take place on July 24th during the slack tide – which is the period between tides when there is no tide.  Timing it for the slack tide makes it an easier swim for  the young ponies, which are born during spring or early summer,  and they are safe from any strong currents.  They will be swimming from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island  which is about a three minute swim for the ponies.  The exact time of the swim will be announced the day before.

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After the swim, the ponies are given an opportunity to rest before they are paraded Main Street to the carnival grounds.  The next day, July 25th the foals will be auctioned off.  This event gets really crowded so come prepared whether just to observe or to purchase one of the ponies.  Again, bring sunscreen, wear a hat, bring plenty of fluids as it gets hot during July, and bring a folding chair as the bleachers fill up quickly.

photo from The Baltimore Sun
photo from The Baltimore Sun

The next day, Friday, July 26th, the adult ponies will swim back to Assateague Island where they will have another year to live in the wild.

Assateague Island is worth visiting.  There is camping on the island as well as motels in nearby Ocean City, Maryland as well as on Chincoteague Island.  Fall is a particularly beautiful time for the island.  There are many birds to observe and water fowl.  Kayakers flock to this area. One caveat: bring bug spray and if you camp, camp by the shoreline so the breeze will blow away the bugs.  When in Chincoteague, stop by the Misty of Chincoteague statue and take a photo.

The Pictured Rocks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

This post is written by Blogger Hubby

Jane and I had been to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan about four years ago.  On that occasion we did the normal tourist thing – we viewed the lakeshore from a concession tour boat out of Munising Bay.  The lakeshore consists of multi-layered sandstone cliffs streaked with colorful mineral stains that tower up to 200 feet above the water.  Centuries of crushing ice and battering waves carved the sandstone bedrock into sculptured cliffs, eroding them inland.  The sculpturing includes protruding rock formations, caves and arches with lake water rushing through.

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I recently revisited the lakeshore with my brother and our kayaks to view the cliffs up close and personal.  There were several things we considered in planning the trip to make it a safe and enjoyable experience.

photo from picturedrocks.com
       photo from picturedrocks.com

1)   We monitored the wind conditions online in order to have some confidence that conditions will be safe for kayaking when we arrive.

2)   We researched nearby, inland kayaking locations as a backup ‘plan B’ if wind conditions are poor.  We found that the Indian River and Au Train River have canoe/kayak trails.

3)   Finally, we looked at the National Park Service website for the Pictured Rocks to find access sites to the lake.  We know that weather and water conditions can change suddenly on the Great Lakes so we wanted a site where we could get off the water in a short time.

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The trip to Munising is about 2 ½ hours from the Mackinaw Bridge that connects the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan.  It includes a 25 miles stretch of perfectly straight highway through the Seney National Wildlife Refuge.  The principle access to the lakeshore is at Miner Beach where there is lots of parking and a toilet.  We were glad we brought a pair of  ‘wheels’ for the kayak because there was a somewhat long boardwalk from the parking area through the woods before you get to a set of stairs down to a sandy beach and to the water’s edge. The water conditions were just right, and we took our time exploring the cliffs and rock formations, and taking lots of pictures. This is a tremendously beautiful and unique natural resource, and we are fortunate that it is protected by the NPS and open to the public.  We stopped at a sandy stretch and had our picnic lunch on the beach.

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The only dicey experience we had was from the waves created by some of the tour boats that came by too close and too fast.  We just turned into the waves and rode them, also watching for the back waves coming off the cliff walls back into the lake.

If you are looking for a place to do some kayaking, hiking or to get away, I would recommend visiting The Pictured Rocks in Michigan.

Random pictures of Singapore’s Chinatown

If you haven’t had a chance to read my post on Singapore’s Chinatown, please go to the previous post.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChinatown all decked out for Chinese New Year celebrations.  The streets were so colorful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooks like a dragon to me although it was the Year of the Snake

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It was so colorful walking around while seeing the sights in Chinatown.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ate some delicious food here.  Difficult to choose with all the stalls.  This is a good way to save some money.  We also had fresh squeezed juices.  Not sure what I drank but it was refreshing and good.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFresh and dried food, seasonings and spices.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALots of little squares with statues around.  This is a traditional Chinese procession.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of the apartments are in high rise buildings since Singapore is an island country.  This is their version of a clothes line.

The Fullerton Hotel, Singapore

When you mention that you are going to Singapore, one of the first questions you tend to get asked is whether you are going to stay at the famed Raffles Hotel, one of Singapore’s best known icons.  It was named after Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern day Singapore.  The Singapore Sling drink was developed at this hotel and many tourists will stop in and have a Singapore Sling.

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Instead we chose to stay at the Fullerton Hotel.  I spoke a little about it in this post.  I mentioned that we had Club Access, which was on the same floor as our room.  The Club was manned by two Fullerton Hotel employees whose sole job it was to make our stay memorable.  If we had any questions about how to get somewhere, what to see, where to eat – we would ask them.

Every morning we would go to the Club for the gratis breakfast that was provided us.  Always fresh juices, teas, coffee, pastries, fruit and eggs cooked to your order.  Newspapers were there for us to read.

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As we walked through the lobby we felt like we were in a dream.  Grand central staircases in the center of the lobby, lots of intimate seatings, a bakery shop with the most delicious looking and tasting French Macarons were there for purchase.  Afternoon tea was also being served in this area.  In one of the corners of the lobby was a mini museum telling the history of the building and the renovation.  Since we were there during Chinese New Year, the areas inside and outside were all decorated.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATheir grand central staircase was a sweeping staircase straight out of Gone With The Wind.  Everything in this hotel was tastefully decadent and so worth every cent you would pay or points you would use.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn either side of this staircase was two medium size indoor ponds with koi and Chinese New Year’s decorations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI highly recommend this hotel.  If you find that you are in Singapore and want to get off the main shopping drag for a great hotel on the river and within walking distance to the bay, stay at the Fullerton – you won’t regret it.

Singapore’s Chinatown – The Wet Market

Singapore has three distinct neighborhoods – Chinatown, Little India and the Muslim .  We didn’t have time to visit all three so we chose to visit Chinatown.  We found a walking tour of Chinatown on the web and decided to follow it.  This is the tour we followed although there are others on the web including one from National Geographic.

Before you begin your tour, make sure you have your MRT pass, which is the rail Singapore-MRTand bus transportation system throughout Singapore.  There are three rail lines; east-west, north-south, and the circle line.  It is very easy to navigate and there are manned booths to help you if you should have any questions. Our hotel was a 5 minute walk from the Raffles stop which made it very easy to get almost anywhere.

First, a little history of Chinatown.  In 1821  the first Chinese junks arrived from China. The passengers, set up home around the south of the Singapore River which is known today as Telok Ayer. Chinatown’s local name – Niu Che Shui (Bullock Cart Water) arose from the fact each household at that time had to collect fresh water from the wells in Ann Siang Hill and Spring Street, using bullock-drawn carts. Also in Chinatown you’ll find the Al Abrar Mosque,  the Jamae Mosque and Sri Mariamman Temple.  There is much harmonious racial and religious diversity and acceptance in Singapore. The heart of activity in Chinatown is in the Terengganu/Smith Streets area.

Our favorite spot on the walking tour was the Wet Market in the Chinatown Complex at 335 Smith Street.  The street level part of the complex has lots of souvenirs but we passed that by and went down the stairs to where all the action was in the Wet Market.  This is where the locals buy their fresh food for cooking and eating.  Warning:  do not wear OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgood shoes or even open sandals here – it is wet and somewhat yucky.   What you will find here are many varieties of the freshest  products for sale from live seafood to the freshest vegetables from usual cabbages, carrots and cucumbers to bitter gourd, lotus root which are often used in Chinese cooking. Most are imported from Malaysia, the rest are supplied locally.  You’ll also find seasonal and exotic fruits, and fish heads for the one of  Singaporean’s famous dish – fish head curry. Butchers will also be selling different cuts of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmeat.  There are separate sections for shellfish like clams, shrimp, snails, and tiger prawns. The bigger critters like crabs and lobsters are kept in plastic crates.  Also in the wet market you’ll find live turtles, frogs and eels, and large squid.  You’ll also find a variety of different eggs  and whole preserved duck.  Of course during the holidays they will have some specialty items.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis certainly was an experience we won’t forget because it was so visually stimulating.  So many sights and sounds awaited us throughout the wet market.  I would highly recommend that you go if you are in Singapore.

Singapore, Part One

If you want to visit an Asian country but are a little concerned that it is too different from what you are used to, then let me suggest you visit Singapore.  Blogger Hubby had been in Korea and Japan decades ago and wasn’t anxious to return to Asia – a little “too different” for him to feel comfortable.  The transit system confused him as did maps, directions, reading a menu and making himself understood and understanding others.  Everyone was king but he still felt “lost”.

With our recent trip to Australia, we were allowed to have a free stopover as part of our long haul flight – everyone gets this on a long haul.  We had debated between stopping in Bangkok and Singapore.  Singapore finally won since it was a former British colony, the official language was English and I had heard wonderful reviews of how clean and easy to navigate around the city.

singapore

We flew into Singapore on Singapore Air, one of the top airlines in the world.  We were advised to keep our boarding passes as we could get discounts at several different places in Singapore by showing our boarding passes.  Also, when you arrive at Changi Airport you need to visit one of  the Information booths and ask for your free Changi money!   They actually give you $20 SGD to spend in the airport.  This works for both inbound and outbound flights on Singapore Airline.

What began for us as a simple stopover turned into one of the highlights of our trip.  Singapore is so much more than we imagined.

Our wonderful travel agent booked us a room at the 5 star Fullerton Hotel which is at the mouth of the Singapore River. We opted not to stay at busy Orchard Street where all the shopping is.  Rooms at the Fullerton were a little expensive for us so we booked an interior  courtyard view room but since our travel agent books there frequently, we were upgraded to the river view and given lounge access (more about that later).  Our plan was to charge the room on our Capital One Venture credit card where I had  points that I could apply to the cost of the hotel using their purchase eraser feature.  This unique redemption feature gives credit card holders the ability to erase the cost of previous travel expenses using their reward miles.

Facade_day_-_The_Fullerton_Hotel_Singapore_1608115c9105

Our hotel was the former general post office building for Singapore and converted to an elegant hotel with construction beginning in 1997.  It is very elegant and very definitely something we had never experienced. It felt like an out of body experience for us.  As we exited the taxi, the bellman took our luggage as he noted our name on it.  When we checked in, we were told that they were expecting us and escorted us to our room where they showed us how to work all the controls including opening and closing the draperies.  A plate of homemade chocolates, and scrumptious fruit was waiting for us.  I can’t remember the last time that we were escorted to our room, our luggage already there and that we had to be shown controls.  I felt totally pampered and it was a great feeling.

As we looked out through the window in our room, we saw the river, the boys riverbeautiful pedestrian bridges that crossed the river as well as the outdoor pool.  Along the riverside by our hotel was one of the stops to board the riverboats that plied the Singapore River.  A few steps away from the riverboat stop was unique statues of young boys getting ready to jump into the river – very lifelike statues and the subject of many photographers.

The riverboats are a great way to take in the sites along the river and the bay where the Merlion, the symbol of Singapore greets visitors spouting water out of his large mouth.  Along the bay we saw the lotus shaped building that is the ArtScience Museum of Singapore.

merlionartScience Museum

Singapore is such a modern city in terms of its architecture but also still has a colonial feel to it as well as being a culturally diverse city.

Coming up next – one of the three main neighborhoods – Chinatown.

How to Get and Have a Great Experience at a Bargain Price

I’m always looking for a bargain as well as an experience when I travel.  When we traveled to Sydney recently, I signed up for Groupons for Sydney.  I would daily get an email listing of their daily deals.  I wan’t interested in meals, massages, etc but rather things to do.

I felt like I scored big when we bought tickets for a Tall Ship cruise out of Campbell Cove (in The Rocks area).  Our tickets cost $59 each and included a two hour tour of Sydney Harbour, live entertainment, open bar with hot appetizers and a salad dinner (seafood or pasta).  Before I purchased the tickets, I emailed them to see if there was space for us on the date I wanted.  Once that was confirmed then I pushed the Buy button.  We then added this event to our calendar!

We are so glad that we did this tour as it was one of our highlights in Sydney.  It was overcast so we brought our raincoats with us but as we found out later, we didn’t need to as they had plastic raincoats that they passed out for free.  Luckily it didn’t rain very hard nor for very long.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe live entertainment was a guitarist who sang songs that we all knew and sang along with him as well as some Aussie songs – always “Waltzing Matilda” and “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport”.

We could all join in as they hoisted OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAup the sails .  There was also a crow’s nest where you could climb up and get a beautiful view of the harbor.

Our tour was at 5:30 so we were able to see the sun as it began setting down over the horizon.  All in all, it was a great experience.

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If you have time before your next trip, sign up for the Groupons for that city and see what great deals you can get.

Hotel Concierge

Are you planning on going to a new city and have a number of questions of what to see, what to do and how to get there from the airport/train station/ or need driving directions.

I know that has happened to me and I found a new to me resource.  I go to the hotel’s website, find their email address and then I  write to them with my questions.  Every time I have done this the hotel concierge writes back to me.

concierge

This was particularly helpful in Singapore as we were arriving at night and after a full day of airline travel and time changes.  I asked the concierge at the Fullerton Hotel how we should get to the hotel from the airport and he gave me several options (subway, cab or private car) as well as giving me the approximate charges for each.

I had a list of things that we wanted to do and see, far more than the allotted time we had in Singapore.  I asked the concierge what was his top 5 recommendations of what we should do in Singapore.  He sent me his recommendations as well as information on tours in the city, cooking lessons and special events.  He offered to make any arrangements that we would need.

We found the same level of professionalism with the concierge in both Sydney and Auckland.

Don’t be hesitant in reaching out to those that are working at the hotel that you will be staying at – they want to make your visit the best that it can be hoping that you’ll come back.

Hotel Loyalty – what is it and is it worth it?

When Blogger Hubby and I travel we try to find a reasonably priced hotel rooms hopefully using a coupon, a discount code or a reduced price through a secondary source such as hotels.com.  We didn’t care if we stayed in a Hampton Inn, a Days Inn or a Marriott or even a clean Red Roof Inn.

Recently I have reconsidered my earlier stance primarily due to Club Carlson, the loyalty program of Radisson, Country Inn and Suites and Park Inns.  As I mentioned in this post they ran a promotion to end all promotions, at least in my opinion and I have learned the benefits of rewards when you have brand loyalty.

At the Chicago Seminar that I attended last October, I listened to Mommy Points talk about Hyatt status.  I thought it was nice but we aren’t the type to stay at a Hyatt – much too expensive for me……or so I thought.  Mommy Points explained that to get status with a hotel you need to have a certain number of  nights OR stays.  If you stay 2 consecutive nights it is considered one stay.  If you stay one night, it is also considered one stay.  Hyatt, for instance, allows you to earn diamond status when you have 25 stays or 50 nights.  But really, they are counting each of those 50 individual nights as 50 stays so you really only need 25 single nights.  Mommy Points explains it all in this video she did for the travelchannel.com.

Once you attain status, you have many different perks depending on your level of status.  With Hyatt, for example, website lists the following perks that are available for those who have Diamond status:  You can “get the best room that is available upon check-in excluding suites (though the upgrade fairy may visit and grant you one of those); you have exclusive access to the Regency Club or Grand Club lounge featuring complimentary continental breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres where you will enjoy daily complimentary full breakfast in hotels without a club lounge; and you can treat yourself to a suite upgrade at the time of reservation four times annually on eligible paid nights.  Imagine being in a beautiful suite while vacationing in Hawaii where you receive a special welcome point bonus or food and beverage amenity; a nightly room refresh; Receive the confirmed bed type at check-in; complimentary in-room Internet access  (in some hotels that is a $25 charge per day); expedited check-in at a dedicated area for elite members  (no more waiting in long lines); and the ability to extend your stay until 4:00 p.m. with a late check out request; and the ability to book reservations through an exclusive Diamond line.”

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I’ve been working on getting my status with one of the hotel chains.  I book nights when their rates are the lowest, generally Friday or Saturday nights.  If I was working on Hyatt status, I would book with a Hyatt House (generally less expensive) and do it on a Friday evening.  If you are planning to travel upcoming, building status at a hotel is well worth the investment that you make.  For example, my son-in-law will stay with Marriott for several days but always checks out each day and then in again to get the stay credit.  Others that I know will go to different Marriotts every night to get the stay credit.  This works as long as there are several Marriotts from which to choose.

Finally, most hotels with co-branded credit cards will also give you status though not top tiered status but rather gold status (generally second from the top).

Always sign up for hotel loyalty cards and use them even if you don’t have credit.  You are recognized when you check in to a hotel and you never know what perks you might receive.  When we traveled to Niagara Falls last year, we were just beginning our association with Club Carlson and since we were loyalty members, we were given an upgraded room that had a magnificent view of the Horseshoe Falls.

Where do you like to watch Fireworks?

As we get ready to celebrate the 4th of July I reflect back on the different places where we have watched fireworks.

I grew up in a Boston suburb and we would take the subway into the city to watch the fireworks and listen to the Boston Pops in the Hatch Shell along the Boston fireworksEsplanade on the banks of the Charles River.  They would always conclude the program playing the 1812 Overture and had real Horwitzer cannons firing off across the Charles in tune to the music.   At one point the church bells would ring in unison.  Such a powerful rendition.  Of course at the end the fireworks would begin.  Those memories are seared into my mind with great fondness.

Then we moved – to one of the Washington DC suburbs.  Where I once thought that nothing could top Boston for fireworks, I was wrong.  We would drive into Arlington, Virginia and park across from the Lincoln Memorial.  As it got close to 9 PM we would start to walk across the bridge to stand in front of the Lincoln washington dc fireworksMemorial — some of us in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.  We stood there with one of the greatest President’s behind us, the Washington Monument in front of us and the sound of the  fireworks reverberating off the buildings around the mall.

Now we are in an extremely small village in northern Michigan, living on a Lake and we have our fireworks the night before the 4th.  A barge goes out in the middle of the Lake and they set off our fireworks – about 15 to 20 minutes worth of fireworks.  Have I seen better fireworks – you betcha but nothing can top wearing our sweaters sitting around a firepit making S’mores while watching our fireworks.

What have been some of your more memorable fireworks memories that you have seen over the years?

Club Carlson

How many of you have ever heard of Club Carlson?  Here’s a hint…it is a loyalty program of a hotel brand known as Hotel Rezidor.  I know that I never heard of them till last year.  In fact, it was May 2012 when I first heard of them via their amazing promotion to get their name and their loyalty program more well known.  Give up yet?  They are the loyalty program of the Radisson Hotels, Country Inn and Suites and the lesser known Park Inn.  We’ve all heard of the first two.

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Basically what they did last year is give you an amazing amount of points if you stayed just one night in their hotels within a two month period ending July 15th.  You had to register by May 15th with them and if you stayed at a Radisson for that one night, they gave you 50,000 points as well as points for booking online and points for staying with them.  They did the same thing with Country Inn and Suites and the Park Inn only for those two they gave you 44,000 points plus booking online points and staying with them points.  Both Blogger Hubby and I separately registered and we wound up with almost 300,000 points which would come in handy for our trip to Australia.  I was fortunate that during the summer we lived about 40 miles from a Park Inn and I had a coupon for 30% off.  We paid $54 for our night and for that we got about almost 50,000 points.

As we were making plans for our trip to Sydney, we needed to find a hotel to spend four nights in.  Up until I got involved with points and miles, we tended to stay at a little out of the way hotels that were clean and less expensive and we would take public transportation to get to the city sights.

With the points we earned we were had our choice of two Radisson Hotels in Sydney.  The Radisson Bleu is in the Central Business District (CBD) and closer to the waterfront.  The other was the Radisson Hotel and Suites still in the heart of Sydney but closer to Chinatown, stores and restaurants.  We chose the later and each night cost 50,000 points or $375 AU which at that time was over $400 USD.

Additionally, before we went on our trip I signed up for the Club Carlson VISA card for one very important reason.  If you stayed two consecutive nights using your points, they refunded you your last night’s points.  That’s right, we got one of our nights free.  In theory we could have booked two nights each;  under my Club Carlson membership number and gotten the second night free and then also book the next two consecutive nights under Blogger Hubby’s membership number and gotten his second night free.  I felt like we had done quite well with all the points the gave us and didn’t want to be too greedy even though it was legal under their T&C (terms and conditions).

Our room was great.  We had a one bedroom suite with a small balcony that overlooked the busy street below, a full size kitchen and living room.  We were within easy walking distance of Chinatown and all the food offerings they had.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were also close to a small grocery store, a wine store, easy walking distance to Darling Harbour, the free city tours that are offered in all major cities in the world, the Chinese Friendship Garden and almost around the corner from one of the main transportations streets – George Street that has a free tourist bus that takes you to Circular Quay. I was even happier when I heard how much friends of ours spent on meals and we got great meals in Chinatown for less than half of what they paid and ours was probably just as good.  We just had more choices.

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In addition to the free last night of a two night or more award stay, the Club Carlson VISA gives you 85,000 points after you spend $2500 in the first 90 days; 5 points per dollar on all purchases and 10 points per dollar for all purchases purchases at participating Club Rezidor Hotels (Radisson, Country Inn and Suites and Park Inn); 40,000 points each year at renewal time; and free Upgrade to Gold Elite with the credit car.

Although this hotel is not on par with a Hyatt it is, nevertheless, a very god hotel and we have certainly enjoyed our stays.  Currently they are running a summer promotion that you have to register for.  You need to stay two consecutive nights and they will give you 10,000 points in addition to those that you would earn for staying there.

I’ve become a Club Carlson convert.  How about you?