Budget Tips AT the Rental Car Counter

You’re at the rental car counter…reservation in hand. What do you do now to insure you’re not taken advantage of?  Well, I’m assuming you read reviews and chose a company with high marks.  Everything should be fine.  However, it never hurts to be informed to better protect yourself.

What Do You Need To Know?

Insurance: Insurance is a requirement – but your regular auto insurance policy may cover rental cars. Check with them and if so, bring proof (insurance card or letter from company).

Some credit cards will insure the car when the transaction is processed on their card. Call your credit card company to inquire and of course, bring proof of that as well.  There’s no need to buy a policy from the rental car company if you’re already covered elsewhere (savings of $8-$15/day).  The rental company MAY pressure you (high pressure) to buy their policy….it’s a HUGE money maker for them.  But know that you CAN politely refuse with proper proof.

WORD OF CAUTION:  DON’T attempt to drive without insurance coverage…  The price/consequence for that is MUCH higher than just purchasing coverage from the rental company.

Re-Fueling Options:  

  • Return the car without refueling.  They refuel at THEIR price.  This is the worst option as their price is VERY high!!
  • Refuel before returning the car –   You may be required to present a receipt for gas purchase – especially if you drove the car less than 75 miles.  Confirm their policies when you pick up the car.
  • Many companies are now offering a 3rd option:  You PRE-PURCHASE a FULL tank of gas – at a less-than-market price. The catch? You are charged for the full tank regardless of the fuel level upon return. To get the best value, you need to return the car as close to “empty” as possible. That CAN be hard to gauge.  Now, the savings can be as much as .25/gal. On a recent rental we were offered this option….and told that if we didn’t drive the car to “E”, we could just  refuel it ourselves. The deal would then be ‘void’. When they put that in writing, I decided to give it a try.  We ended up refueling as our tank was only down to 1/3 on the last day.  If those policies become the ‘norm’ over time, it MIGHT be something to consider…

KNOW the Total Cost:  Before leaving the lot, make sure you’ve been given the TOTAL charges – upfront..  Some (less than reputable) companies may try to assess extra charges when you return the car. You’ll have no recourse then.

Online Horror Stories:  I’ve read horror stories of people returning a car only to have the employee walk around the vehicle and “find” every scratch, dent, & door ding and access charges for them.  I’ve never experienced that myself, however, when we first get a car, I ask the employee to walk around the car with me THEN  making notes on the form AND TAKING PICTURES of any major dents or scratches/dings.  I don’t get overly “picky” here, but do make note of things that are “moderately significant”. (including wheel rims and the interior.) and make sure the employee knows that I’ve gone over the car carefully MYSELF.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mag3737/10665688545/sizes/l

Photo Credit: Tom Magliery on Flickr CC Lic.

Maybe just doing this keeps them from being dishonest with me later… or maybe those horror stories aren’t true…. I do this nonetheless.

Extra Note: I have read quite a few online articles that advise taking pictures of EVERYTHING when renting in Hawaii.  I don’t know why they isolate Hawaii, but I found the sheer number of articles interesting. We rented cars on 3 islands and didn’t have any problems.  Of course, I followed the advice.

Rental Car Rates:  Rates are based on a 24 hour clock (not pro-rated) OR weekly rates. (cheaper than per day)  Returning a car early can cause your rate to go up if it drops you out of the category you’ve been priced with. In an emergency you have no other choice; just don’t be surprised if that happens.

  1. Unlimited mileage on rental cars is pretty standard these days, but confirm this if you plan to drive long distances.
  2. Out of State:  If your travel plans will take you out of the state where you rented the car, make sure this is within their policy.  In Alaska, we rented a car in Skagway to drive the Klondike Highway…Into Canada.  They DO allow renters to take the car ‘into another country’ AS LONG AS YOU TELL THEM.  Had I not read the fine print, then had any kind of problem/car trouble, accident, etc… we could have been in a LOT of hot water.  Again…and I’ve said this many many times  READ THE FINE PRINT!!

May be of interest:  Finding Bargains on Rental Cars

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Dollar Store ‘Finds’ Specifically For Cruises

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fanofretail/14302968328/sizes/m/

Photo Credit:  Nicholas Eckhart on Flickr  CC Lic.

A trip to the Dollar store is always on our “To Do” list before traveling.  It’s an excellent place to get many items we need  (or want).

The original article  (Dollar Store Finds for the Frugal Traveler) detailed items for travel/vacation in general.  This article is specifically for cruisers.

Though many of these items can be found at Walmart, Target etc…  what I’m referring to here are the stores that sell everything for $1 — Dollar Tree, The Dollar Store, Deals, etc…

TRAVEL SIZE CONTAINERS

Space can be a valuable commodity in a cruise ship cabin. The Dollar Store has a variety or ‘qualities’ for everything from liquids (shampoo, conditioner, lotion/crèmes) to small items like medication, earrings, etc… 🙂

travel size bottles

These TSA approved containers have ‘secure’ lids.

For ‘extra’ security, pack bottles in a Ziploc bag (get these at the Dollar Tree too…) or put a  piece of plastic (grocery bag, etc…) inside the lid before closing it.

 

 

 

 

 

Containers with snap on lids (in 6- or 10-pack) would work for small non-liquid items –   earrings, Advil/Tylenol, wax earplugs,  etc…travel size containerstravel size containers

 

 

 

 

 

 

The variance seemed to be in the quality of the container AND lid.  Just cater the ‘quality’ to what you plan to use them for.

 


Medications:

travel size medicationsTravel sized medication bottles.  I bought ours years ago….and am still using the same BOTTLES (Obviously, NOT the same meds…..)  I just refill the travel size bottles each year with ‘new’ meds from my Costco size bottle.  (Remember…medication has an expiration date)

…and before anyone thinks these are ‘lesser quality’, if you’re skeptical about generics, Dollar Tree sells name brands too – Advil, Aleve, etc….  🙂

 

 

medication containers


 

Pill organizers are of course for daily meds or vitamins….

BUT…THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.  They can be used for anything small –  pill organizer - 3x/dayjewelry, rings or earrings.  The compartments keep everything separated and organized.

 

 

 

 


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Eye masks are great for that nap – or on an Alaskan cruise when the sun never seems to set.  Do you have a red-eye flight?  – great for that too!

 

 

 

 

 

 


ear plugs

 

 

Ear plugs come in handy quite often – for flights or if you happen to have a stateroom in a noisy area.  I liked this set with the small container for storage – I bought 2 of them as I’m always losing earplugs.  🙂

 


post its and highlighters

 

PAPER!!!

Yes…paper is my weak spot.  I LOVE all the options at the Dollar Tree – post it notes of all sizes and colors, pads of paper for note taking in the planning sessions…or for leaving notes for the cabin steward or other family members.

There are also highlighters for marking the cruise schedule each day.  The multi-colored packs are great when traveling with teens or on multi-family/group cruises

 

 

nightlight

 

 

Nightlights – especially for interior cabins–though we use them in balcony cabins too

 

Some like tea lights for this as they don’t require a plug.  Dollar Tree has those too…

 

 

3 plug extenders

 

 

 

Plugs that turn 1 outlet into 3 – an absolute necessity with outlets being in such short supply.

 

 

 

 


zip ties

 

 

Zip ties for luggage placed in the hallway the night before disembarkation.  NOTE:  You only want to use these if you’re headed home at the end of your cruise OR if you have means to get them off.  They are quite effective in  ‘securing’ your bag…but MAY keep YOU out if you don’t have scissors or knife.  🙂

 

 


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It’s a good idea to wipe down surfaces (doorknobs, remote, light switches, etc..) to disinfect (i.e. Norovirus et al.)  These travel sizes are just the right size. Walmart has packs of these…but they’re 9-packs  for .97.  This is a pack of 15….for .03 more.  Better value at Dollar Tree!  🙂

 

Hand sanitizer or hand sanitizing wipes for whenever you need 20170613_142858them (I bring these for port use as most ships have hand sanitizer dispensers EVERYwhere!!! )

 

 

 

 

antibacterial wipes - travel size

 

Two different packs – a pack of 40 for $1….or 3 packs of 10 for $1….I actually liked the 3-pack.  They stay sealed (and ‘wet’) until you open them.  It may be a lesser quantity, but I think overall, it’s a better ‘deal’…..unless you have a big family.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clips of all kinds come in handy for hanging swimsuits, securing towels on a windy clothespinsbalcony or keeping curtains closed for privacy or ‘dark’ on Alaskan cruises.  The Dollar Tree has clothespins (lightweight and the best value) big plastic clips (3/$1) or  binder clips in the office supply section (3/$1)  I always throw several different clips (variety) into our suitcase.  🙂

 


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Small clothes hamper – lightweight and  collapsible     –or– mesh laundry bags.  These are a great size for the small cruise cabin.

 

 

 

 

 


 

flavored water packets

These are nice for any vacation – but we particularly like them for cruises. We don’t purchase drinks on a cruise – we drink the tea, lemonade and coffee offered free, then bring these along to flavor the water when we want something different.   Dollar Tree has Snapple and Wylers and sometimes Minute Maid- all very good brands (imho)

FOOD ITEMS:

WHO takes food on a cruise?  Well…those who may want snacks while in port —  The ONLY food items allowed off the ship in port are items that are pre-packaged (sealed) by the manufacturer.  So yes…I take some snack items on cruises.

packages of peanutshigh protein snacks

 

 

 

 

Dollar Tree has LOTS of options for this…some regular inventory…some seasonal or ‘changing’ inventory.  I like the high protein snacks when traveling –  There’s cheese and pretzels, snack crackers or peanuts/trail mixes (I personally don’t buy packaged nuts/trail mixes at all as I find them to be rancid – That has NOTHING to do with Dollar Tree…I don’t buy them at Walmart either)  but for those who like them, these are certainly less expensive.

snack-individual sizesvariety of snack crackers from Dollar store

 

 

 

 

NOTE:  They even have Sugar Free!!!!

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SUGAR FREE options!!

 


 20140718_1911551.jpgThere are many options at the Dollar Tree for organizing your travel paperwork, boarding passes, luggage receipts, tickets, confirmations, etc…  I’ve used both these 5 x 8 accordion files and most recently, PLASTIC pocket folders.  They’re durable and don’t get torn up with all the handling/packing etc….  🙂

IMG_6855 - publicOn our recent cruise to Alaska, I put our map (and other things) on the wall with magnets, clips and hooks – all purchased at the Dollar Tree.  The round magnetic box on the right of the map holds extra clips, paper clips, etc…making things very accessible…  I LOVED this display – all courtesy of Dollar Tree!!

 

Other items that I didn’t take pics of….I mean there’s just so much!!!

  • Lint rollers for those formal night clothes
  • Dry erase boards for leaving notes for steward or other family members.  These would be GREAT if going on a Group Family cruise…buy one for every family and put it in their own personal ‘goodie bag’….along with highlighter, post its, a magnet and night light…???  just some ideas…  🙂
  • Shower Caps – great to cover shoes on our Alaskan cruise when we expected rain (and therefore, mud). It can be really difficult to get them clean enough that you feel comfortable packing them…
  • Windex wipes in small packages (15) if going on bus or train tours.  If windows don’t ‘open’ it’s nice to clean them before taking picture through them.

 

Happy Shopping!

How to Survive a Time Share Presentation with Your Wallet Intact

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Are Time Share presentations and gifts a scam?

I’ve heard this question from so many people so many times.  I concede that they have all the ‘markings’ of a scam.  They call you and offer deals that seem too good to be true.  They ask for money upfront (a deposit) and that sets off the scam alert for many people.  However, I will tell you,  (as someone who has been to a LOT of these) they are not scams.

Everything they promise to give you, you WILL RECEIVE.  We’ve gone to MANY of these and always received what we were promised.   The only “lie” they tell you is that it will only take 90 min. Count on 2  hours…minimum.     

Why would we go to these?  Well, they CAN help out the travel budget – with offers of free accommodations, tickets, meals, etc…  Sometimes the value of these packages can be as much as $300-400…  but ONLY if you know how to ‘survive’ them.  If you go to a Timeshare presentation to save a few hundred dollars on your vacation…then buy a Timeshare for $15K, you have NOT come out ahead….  hmmm…

Sooo…How do you get the bargain while avoiding the pitfall?

First…Know Who Should…and Who Should NOT… attend a Timeshare Presentation.

Who SHOULDN’T:  Answer: The person who is easily swayed – or has no will-power to say ‘no’.  While I will say over and over that these presentations are not a scam…owning one absolutely is!!  Read more about that in TimeShares – The Good, The Bad and The (REALLY) Ugly


Getting the best deal begins when they FIRST contact you – that FIRST phone call

  • Know that you CAN negotiate with the ‘gifting’.  There have been times when they’ve offered me a hotel room and meal voucher.  I replied with “We’re on restricted diets.  We can only stay in condos with kitchens for meal prep.”  Sometimes I’m told ‘no’, but more often than not, they give me what I asked for.  Now…they take away the free meal voucher, but I’m ‘ok’ with that.  I preferred the condo and kitchen over a pre-determined menu item of ‘so-so’  quality in a mediocre restarant.
  • NEVER pay the first price quoted:  They never intend for you to say ‘yes’ (and possibly laugh at those who do…).  Say ‘no’ to that first offer to get to the ‘real’ price.  Say ‘no’ TWICE and you MIGHT (no guarantee) be offered the ‘basement price’ (one that not everyone gets….)
  • When they offer you that ‘extra free vacation’, ignore them…It’s just a certificate which you then have to jump through 15 hoops to use. (they’re almost unusable)  The value in what they’re offering is not in that extra vacation…it’s in the room/condo, free meals, tickets..whatever they’re offering for THEIR location.  Base your decision on that.  Ignore everything else.

How to Survive the Actual Presentation:

  • Show Up!  You’ve given them a deposit to reserve your place.  If you don’t show up, you’ll lose that money.  If you check in to the hotel, then don’t go to the presentation, they’ll charge your credit card for the full price of your package.  Yes, they’ll keep their end of the bargain but you have to keep your end too….   Furthermore, all the extra gifts (meal vouchers, tickets, etc…) are given to you AFTER that presentation….not at check in.
  • The salesman’s goal in that first 15 min is to figure out who you are, what you do for a living and therefore,  your income (i.e. how much can you pay for the timeshare)  Be vague…  They’re also trying to build a connection with you so you’ll let down your ‘defenses’ and ‘allow’ them to reel you in. There’s no need to be rude (at this stage), but don’t be BFF’s either.
  • Don’t Ask Questions or Show Any Interest!  Any interest at all and they’ll jump on it. They see this as “vulnerability” and they’ll keep you there thinking you’ll cave to their pressure and buy.  Don’t give them any hope!
  • Lastly, my normal mantra about most things is “Be polite”.  However, if there’s ever a time when we’re not polite, it would be when dealing with a particularly pushy Timeshare salesman.  In a few rare cases, we have had to get forceful with our “NO!”   Don’t jump to that extreme the minute you walk in the door, but be prepared to take it to that level if needed.

 

Bottom Line:  If you are interested in the incentives offered by the Timeshare company, there’s no need to fear it.  Go ahead and give it a try….but ONLY if you have the fortitude to resist the sales presentation.  If you don’t, then you’ll probably want to Stay Away!  🙂

 

 

 

Finding the Best Deal on Airfare – Updated

 

Several years ago, I wrote  How to Get the Best Deal on Airfare .  While many of the tips there are still good information, time has brought about a few changes.  Thus an updated article.  🙂

What HASN’T changed?  Airfare is still determined by the Law of Supply and Demand.  What has changed is the ‘demand’….and because of that, the ‘supply’.  Interpretation:  As consumer’s have purchased more tickets (demand),  airlines have listened and added planes and flights (supply) to meet the need.   That can mean good bargains for travelers.

  1. Time It Right: The best time to purchase airfare seems to be about 7-8 weeks out (more specifically 49-54 days) up to 3 wks prior to travel.  Booking less than 21 or more than 200 days out brings some of the worst fares.aircraft-holiday-sun-tourism-99567
  2. Don’t Pay Baggage Fees If You Don’t Have To:  At this time, Delta, United and American are offering 1 free checked bag per person to their credit card holders IF the reservation is made on their website and paid for with that card.  You can apply for the credit card right before purchasing the ticket.  After approval, you then use that card number to purchase the ticket. These cards typically have an annual fee associated with them, but most (though not all)  waive it for the 1st year.  After that ‘grace period’ we always cancel the card.  I refuse to pay a fee for ANY credit card…..EVER!!   Now, the last time we called to cancel, they offered us a ‘stay with us’ deal. We met their criteria and they waived the fee a 2nd year.  They did NOT offer that option the following year.
  3. Compare Total Costs: Southwest and Jet Blue do not charge baggage fees.  That doesn’tUS dollar necessarily mean their flights are cheaper though.  Sometimes, a ticket PLUS baggage fee is still less expensive than a ticket on one of these ‘no baggage fee’ airlines…  As you’re price shopping make sure you’re comparing the TOTAL COST (ticket + bags).  Note that these airlines don’t sell reserved seats.  Instead, they sell ‘boarding groups’.  You pay to board earlier and get first choice on seats.  Though we occasionally fly with these airlines, I really prefer to have a reserved seat….just my personal opinion.
  4. More Info About those Baggage Fees:  While we’re on the subject of baggage fees, American waives the baggage fees on a number of flights from the U.S. to Brazil, Europe or Japan. Find out more about this from their website..
  5. ‘WHEN you Buy’ Matters: The best day of the week to purchase airfare used to be Tues.

    Photo Credit: Dafne Cholet CC Lic.

    However, trends are changing.  Weekends have become the ‘new Tuesday’ when buying airfare within the US or to Europe and some great bargains can be snagged on Saturdays.  Worst day to purchase (any) travel?  Fridays!  (That’s when business travelors are booking.)

  6. Fly midweek (Tues-Thurs) rather than weekends (Fri – Mon) if possible to get bargain airfares.  Websites now show fares for  +/- 3 days of your selected date making this much easier to compare.  We’ve moved our vacation dates a couple of days to take advantage of lower fares – especially when buying 4 tickets.
  7. Include a Saturday Night Stay:  You’ll find some of the best bargains on round trip tickets if you include a Saturday night in your stay.
  8. Always check surrounding airports  Sometimes if you’re willing to just drive 20-30 miles, you can save significant money.
  9. Allegiant Air MAY…..I repeat MAY…. be a good deal  Just be aware that they take the whole ‘nickel and dime’ thing to the extreme.  They charge for things the major airlines do NOT charge for – carry ons, blankets, pillows.  Now, because their flights are sooo cheap, this may still be a good deal. You just have to crunch the numbers…and again, look at the ‘total cost’ rather than just the cost of the ticket.  Consolidate your packing (including carry on bags) and bring your own lightweight cover and/or inflatable pillow.  🙂

Saving even just $25/ticket -with free bags – for a family of 4 – round trip – amounts to a savings of $300.  Remember when compare shopping to figure in ALL of these (ticket, baggage fees AND any extras) to determine the best deal.

 

Staying Healthy When Flying

Staying healthy while flying brings a whole different set of challenges.  Because you’re in an enclosed space with only recycled air for extended periods of time, exposure to illnesses, etc…  brought on board by fellow passengers is increased.  There ARE things you can do to protect yourself, but of course, none of them are fail-safe.  Just take the precautions and hope for the best. 

  1. Hand Sanitizer:  Purchase these in small (TSA approved) sizes for your carry on or purse. (We prefer to buy the small bottles ONCE then refill them for subsequent flights)
  2. Restrooms:  There’s no way around the fact that restrooms are just  congregating place for germs.  Touch as little as possible and teach your children to do the same.  Use the paper towel to open the door when you leave.
  3. Photo: Allan;  Flickr CC Lic.

    HYDRATE before, during and after a flight:  The air circulated through the aircraft cabin is dehydrating. A hydrated body flushes out toxins and impurities more effectively than a dehydrated one.  WATER is the best way to hydrate…. Bring an empty bottle through security and fill it with water at the gate.  Sodas, caffeine and alcohol work against you on this as they, too are dehydrating.  Opt for  water-rich foods (fresh fruit or salad) when possible,

  4. Items provided by the airline are cleaned but NOT after every flight.

    Photo Credit: Kent Wien;  FLickr CC Lic.

    • We bring our own pillows – I like the inflatable ones as they can be deflated when not in use.
    • Dress in layers, and bring a jacket.  It can be used as a blanket around your face.  Use the airline provided blanket for covering your lap/legs.
    • EITHER Bring your own headphones….  OR   use hand sanitizer on airline headphones before using them.
  5. To avoid deep-vein thrombosis or swelling in the legs and ankles (VERY important for diabetics or those with circulation issues):
    • Avoid tight socks – unless they’re compression socks on long flights.
    • For long flights, choose a seat at the front or rear of your section for more leg room.  Extending your legs may help with cramps or swelling (if you’re subject to that).
    • Walk around during the flight – to the bathroom or just up and down the aisle.   Coordinate your ‘excursions’ with others in the row to avoid annoying your row-mates too much.  🙂
    • Exercise the calf muscles by tapping your feet periodically during a long flight.

What About Jet Lag   Jet lag doesn’t become a problem unless you’re crossing 5 or 6+ time zones.  If you do, try these ideas to lesson the effects.

  1. Don’t try to completely change your sleep schedule in one day.  Do it gradually over several days –  up to 3-4 days if crossing a LOT of time zones.
  2. If your flight time is during a time you would normally sleep, sleep on the plane.  If it’s during a time you would normally be awake, then try to stay awake…Keep things fairly close to your schedule at home for the first 24 hours.
  3. Alcohol and caffeine affects your ability to adjust to time changes. Limit them.

Here’s wishing you a happy and HEALTHY vacation!!!  🙂


 

Can You Get Rid of a Timeshare?

We have asked this question more times than I can count.  The answer ALWAYS came back a resounding “No”!

Until this year!  🙂

We bought our timeshare 11 years ago. We knew within 2 yrs that it was NOT a good decision; however, at that point, we owned it.  We were paying the annual maintenance fees.  If we didn’t use it, that money would go to waste. We had to just make the best of it.

Now, before this goes to the depth of negativity, I will say that we DID take some very nice vacations and stayed in luxurious accommodations. However, the planning of those vacations was often quite a challenge.  More times than not, timeshare availability determined our destination rather than our family’s preference. We chose to be excited about any vacation destination, but we rarely chose them ourselves. When we couldn’t use the timeshare, our points expired. Money paid in maintenance fees went to waste.  When we discovered that renting from VRBO, HomeAway or purchasing a Groupon was less than those maintenance fees, we REALLY regretted owning.

Every time we attended an “owner update” (another word for sales presentation) they would try to entice (another word for pressure) us to buy more points. We typically 20150429_150304responded with  “How do we get rid of this?”  (a question they usually didn’t appreciate…haha)  The answer always came as  “That’s not possible.”  Once in Las Vegas (company headquarters) the answer was “There’s NO WAY (expletive expletive) you can relinquish ownership”.

We gave up…we were strapped in this –  as would be our children when we died as it was ‘deeded’ and would be part of their inheritance – a burden!  ugh!!!

THEN….things changed this year.  During our annual call to the company asking about relinquishment… they GAVE US AN OPTION!  I was completely shocked – thrilled…but shocked!!!  Perhaps they just got tired of us asking???  ha!   At any rate, if we met their criteria, we could relinquish..

The Criteria:  (Note:  This may not translate to all companies; this was just our experience)

  • Paperwork (for relinquishment) signed and notarized
  • Payment of the current year’s maintenance fees WITHOUT using any of the point allotment.  UGH!!!
  • Payment of a processing fee equal to 25% of our annual maintenance fees.

It was irritating to pay maintenance fees and not be allowed to use the points…and even more irritating to pay the processing fee for someone to spend 5 min. clicking on a computer.  But it got us what we’d wanted for a LONG time!!  We immediately started jumping through their hoops!!!

After the paperwork was completed and payment submitted per the instructions, it took another 3 months for our online account to be deleted (I checked regularly to see if we were still in their system)   However, almost immediately, they cashed our check – and that qualifies as acceptance of the ‘contract’/paperwork.  Finally, THREE MONTHS after submitting that paperwork/money, we were NO LONGER OWNERS!!!   IT WORKED!!!!

FINAL THOUGHTS:

It would be wonderful if all Timeshare companies made this option available to their customers. I do not know if that’s the case.

A Word of Advice to Those Considering Purchasing:

  • Do NOT buy a timeshare on a ‘Let’s try this out” basis. Scammers Beware Timeshare talk is here Yes, we were able to relinquish…but not before paying THOUSANDS of dollars in maintenance fees (and that irritating relinquishment fee). And realize, that just because we were able to relinquish doesn’t mean other companies will allow their owners to.
  • Only purchase if you KNOW you’ll want it forever…and your kids will want it forever…and your grandkids will want…etc…..  If you purchase a ‘deeded’ property, it and it’s (ever-increasing) maintenance fees will be passed down to your heirs and become their financial responsibility…or burden….

How can YOU relinquish?

  • First, Go into this process prepared for an uphill climb. Don’t expect it to be easy.  (We’ve been trying to relinquish for 8-9 years)
  • Read over your original paperwork carefully. That’s where we found the loophole that got us out.  It involved a buy out and the fact that we’d never ‘converted’…
  • Ask about relinquishment over and over and over…..and over and over. Be firm and consistent without being rude or hateful  (Rude or hateful rarely ever works!!!)
  • Send lots of emails asking about relinquishment.  (again, business-like and firm, but not rude)
  • Go to the “Owner Updates” (i.e. sales presentations) every chance you get (our company allowed us to go every 6 mos.)  and within the first 5 min. ask how you can get rid of it.  Drive them crazy with your (polite but persistent) inquiries!!!
  • NEVER under any circumstances sign anything or purchase MORE points or ‘time’.  Never ‘convert’ if there’s a buy out of your company.
  • There are companies that advertise that they will sell your timeshare….if you pay them…sometimes as much as $2000. I’ve always wondered if they were scams –  They MAY be legitimate, but honestly, I can’t imagine that they could sell it.  Think about it….have you ever heard of anyone buying from those places?  If they were selling, someone would need to be buying, right?
  • Some people hire lawyers to try to get out of these. We never did that as we saw that as another way to SPEND money on the timeshare.  I can’t speak to how successful (or unsuccessful) that would be.

Bottom Line:  Try to do this on your own without getting another party involved….certainly a party who will charge you MORE money.  Look for loopholes. Then, just be repetitive.  Drive them crazy with your inquiries.

Will that tactic work?  I don’t know. It did for us. It’s certainly worth a try.

I wish you the best of luck in getting rid of your timeshare if that is your choice.  Hopefully what worked for us will work for you too.

Vacation By Groupon

 

File:G logo groupon green on white.jpg

 

I’ve been receiving Groupon travel/get away emails for several years.  Everytime I scroll through them…click on a few things, then exit out.  I’ve just been apprehensive about traveling that way.  This year, though, I decided to try it and we snagged a few really great bargains.  I will search for Groupons on all future trips.:)

Now….I found that the best bargains are for admissions, rather than hotels.  More on that in a bit…First…

Here’s my story:

Our vacation this year was a little closer to home –  Texas – Presidential libraries (there are 3), Johnson Space Center and 5 days in Galveston (a place we’ve cruised out of several times, but never taken the time to stay and explore)

In my vacation planning this time, I began exploring the Groupon website to find out what they had to offer.

  • George H. W. Bush Presidential Library 
Image result for free images presidential library

Photo Credit: Natl Archives & Records Admin. – Public Domain

I was shocked to see this. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a discount to a Presidential Library.  They all have ‘free days”…in fact, our visit to the Lyndon Johnson Library in Austin jut happened to be on his birthday Aug 27 and admission was FREE!  However, those free days tend to work better for locals who are there to take advantage of them.  That’s a little harder for tourists to do.  Other than the scheduled free days, discounts are rare.

But there it was…Admission for 2 for $10.  Then…as my luck was going, Groupon was offering 20% off of 3 purchases that day.  I didn’t have anything else more expensive I wanted to use that coupon on so I just used it on this.  I got the 2 tickets for $8.  Regular admission for this library was $9 per person.  Savings of $10

  • NASA/Johnson Space Center  Webster TX

This place is PHENOMENAL!!  I’ve been to the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, FL several times.  Though we certainly enjoyed our visits there (That’s where they build the rockets)  Johnson Space Center (Houston) is Mission Control and it’s MASSIVE!  They have a extensive museum, with films, programs, demonstrations and activities as well as a couple of tram tours of the grounds. We arrived here at opening and stayed until they were about to kick us out.  It was a LONG day…but a really good one!  🙂

I snagged a remarkable bargain on this one.  The regular admission was posted on Groupon as $24.95.  Groupons price of $16 each was a good price.However, when we arrived, the admission was actually $31.00.  I basically got a 2 For 1 deal!!  I was patting myself on the back all day for that one!  haha!!!

  • There was one Groupon that I considered, but decided to wait until we got to Galveston to check out before purchasing. (Remember, Groupons are non-refundable) This was a place that rented bicycles, carts, surf boards, body boards, etc…  The groupon was $50/day for 1 paddleboard.  I wanted to check this business out before making a $50-$100 purchase.  When we got to Galveston, we found this shop and went in.  Well… I just didn’t have a good feeling about it….  We left.  I’m SO glad we checked them out first. I will mention here, if we had decided we wanted it, we could have either purchased the Groupon on our phone app  while standing there or gone back to the condo and Bargainsused the laptop for a little more security. With Groupons addition of the phone  app, you don’t have to print them, however, in cases where you DO need a printout, most hotels, condos, etc… have business centers with printers you can use.

If  you find something interesting, but still have questions/reservations about it, check the Groupon expiration date.  If you can wait on it, that allows you to check things out before making a non-refundable purchase.

Restaurants:

I checked out Groupons for restaurants too, but because we rent condos with kitchens and eat out sparingly, we had already used TripAdvisor to select WHERE we wanted to eat. There were no Groupons for those few places.  ha! I should note though, that Groupons DOES offer good bargains on restaurants if you find something you like.  That’s probably another thing I would wait to purchase until we arrived at our destination…just my personal opinion.

Now for hotels:

I really wanted to find a good hotel on Groupon. This was becoming our “Vacation By Groupon” and I kind of wanted to roll with that theme. Our hotel stays were in Austin, Webster, College Station and Dallas. (Our stay in Galveston was a condo through  VRBO  or it’s sister company Home Away  .   If you’re unfamiliar with  these, find out more info at  Finding Frugal Accommodations….) Anyway, in my search for hotels in these other cities, it seemed that Groupon just didn’t have what I was looking for. The hotels were either not in locations we needed or the rates weren’t any better than I could get going to the individual websites and using my AAA discount.

How Does  Groupon Sell Hotel Rooms:

  1. You purchase the certificate then call the hotel to make your reservations. (You’ll be limited to their availability AFTER you’ve purchased a non-refundable certificate)
  2. You purchase the certificate for the exact date you need.  That would typically be my preference, except with it being non-refundable, that doesn’t allow for any change of plans, emergencies, trip cancellation, etc…

When I realized that the Groupon rate advertised is the CHEAPEST they offer at any time…and typically, the night I needed would be significantly higher, I realized Groupon was NOT going to work for us for accommodations.  Oh well.  I learned some important things in all my searches.  It wasn’t wasted time or effort.  I ended up reserving our hotels on their websites using my AAA discount and got really good rates…and they were refundable if I needed to cancel.

Maybe someday I’ll find that perfect Groupon rate for a wonderful hotel stay…but for now, it just didn’t work.

Moving on…..

Cruising with Groupon:

I DID find some short cruises for really good rates on Groupon.  cruise shipsSomeday I think I’ll look into buying one of those.  They advertise the cruise line, ship and port.  (seemed to be a heavy presence of Carnival cruises…) Then you choose your date.  I never went far enough through the process to find out if you can also choose your cabin (which would be a deal-breaker for me…) because I didn’t want to accidentally make a purchase if I clicked one too many times. haha!  I’ll investigate this further someday….

Until then…Happy Grouponing!!  🙂

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam is a structural masterpiece…an engineering wonder…especially considering the fact that it was built in the 1930’s. (1931-1935 to be exact)   It’s a National Historical Landmark, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders.  Need another reason to visit?  It’s just really interesting.  🙂

The Dam is located 34 miles east of Las Vegas. Though we are not the ‘Vegas kind of people’, we planned a visit there (flights and accommodations are quite inexpensive)  just to see some of the things in the area – Hoover Dam,  Death Valley Nat’l Park and the canyons of southwest Utah.  The WEST rim of the Grand Canyon is also within a few hours’ drive, though we didn’t have time to venture that far on this trip.

SOMETHING TO NOTE:  Hoover Dam is NOT a part of the National Park system.  It is managed by the Dept. of the Interior – Bureau of Reclamation. That means that it will not be as economical as the Nat’l Parks are to visit, however, you have a lot of choices on HOW you visit which will determine the final cost.  “Seeing” the Dam is free;  touring will cost.

VISITING HOOVER DAM:

First Point:  EXPECT temperatures in Black Canyon (Hoover Dam) to be 10-15 degrees higher than they are in Las Vegas or the Lake Mead area.  Bring Water!!! 

Because Hoover Dam is a potential military target, there are security checkpoints.  The first checkpoint is on the highway leading to the Dam. They may or may not stop you to inspect INSIDE your car. Then, when entering the Visitor Center/Tour area, there is airport type security.  Bags are x-rayed and are subject to size restrictions. (listed online)  Lines for this can be long later in the day.  Arrive early!  🙂

A visit to Hoover Dam can be done several ways – at a variety of costs.  – The most economical way is to park in the free parking  on the Arizona side.  Walking across the bridge is a ‘significant’ walk, but certainly manageable for those in good health. There are outdoor exhibits on the Nevada side as well as an AIR CONDITIONED gift shop & café. 🙂  A drive further up the Arizona side of the Dam gives some great views/photo ops of the back side of the Dam.  Then, views of the front of the Dam are best from the O’Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge and pedestrian walkway on the Nevada side of the Dam.   These walks will give you a thorough view of the Dam (both front and back).  This plan involves a lot of walking, but for the able-bodied, it’s a fine way to see the Dam exterior and it’s all FREE.

For a more  ‘in-depth’ visit and more information, (and some cost)  there are tours available.

TICKET OPTIONS:  (prices current in 2015)

  • Visitor Center:  This ticket will give you admission to the museum detailing the building of the Dam and how it functions/produces electricity, an observation deck with views of the front of the Dam and a film on the history/building of the dam                                                                                                Cost:  $10 pp.

This is  included in the purchase of a tour (below) but can also be purchased alone.

  • Powerplant Tour: Includes the Visitor Center/observation deck/film (above) PLUS a tour of the power plant portion of the Dam.  They say the tour is 30 min…..but it’s really closer to 15-20 min.                                                      Cost:  $15 pp
 tunnels and passageways on the Dam Tour
  • Hoover Dam Tour: includes the 2 tickets above (Visitor Center/observation deck/film AND Powerplant tour)  PLUS a tour down inside the dam to see the tunnels and passageways.  They say this tour is 1 hour but really it’s 45 min.        Cost:  $30 pp

The two tours (Powerplant and Hoover Dam) are together for the first 20 min.  Then those with the Powerplant Tour wristbands are released to go back to the Visitor Center and those with the Dam tour wristbands continue on.   We took the Dam tour.

producing electricityTours are booked on a first-come-first-serve basis on the day of the tour only – no reservations.  There is no a/c on the Dam portion of the tour.  (There IS a/c on the Powerplant tour portion)  Therefore, an early morning tour is HIGHLY recommended!!  🙂  You will need to be IN LINE at the Visitor Center by 8:30- 8:45 ready to enter when it opens at 9 to get one of those early tours.  (possibly earlier on weekends….)

The last tour of the day is at 3 pm and they typically sell out by noon or 1 pm each day.

VIEW OF HOOVER DAM:

The road that actually goes over Hoover Dam (Hwy 172) was shown on our Rand McNally map to be a through road…but it is NOT!  About 1/2 mile up on the Arizona side, the road is blocked  (see google map below)  It’s still a GREAT road to take…wonderful photo ops with several pull-offs and of course, this is where all the free parking lots are.  There’s a larger parking lot with a nice viewing area at the top of this road.

Since you can NOT see the Dam while you are ON the Dam,  🙂 🙂 it is necessary to either go to the Visitor Center Observation deck, take the road on the Arizona side…or the O’Callaghan-Tillman bridge walkway (Hwy 93) to actually SEE the Dam.  That brings me to…….

THE BEST VIEW  – AND ITS FREE!

IMG_5778

O’Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge

Highway 93 and the O’Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge on the Nevada side gives the BEST view of the front of the Dam.  This is the new highway/bridge built over the Canyon to accommodate ‘serious traffic’ and to avert regular traffic away from the security areas and tourist spots.   Before this was built, it could take ‘regular traffic’ 5-6 hours to cross this bridge during the summer tourist season.  The wonderful thing for tourists is that  Highway 93 and the Bridge spans Black Canyon less than 1/4 mi. from the Dam — giving visitors an incredible view of the Dam.  It should be noted, however, that you canNOT see the Dam when driving over the bridge.

pedestrian walkway

pedestrian walkway

The side wall is too high.  You must park, get out and walk on the pedestrian walkway built alongside the bridge. The parking lot will accommodate a LOT of cars, and there are restrooms and a water fountain there as well.   The pathway leading up to the walkway has both stairs and handicap walkway.  It’s accessible to most.  DON’T miss this!!

 

 

 

 

THE BIGGEST PROBLEM YOU’LL ENCOUNTER – PARKING

There is a parking garage on the Nevada side for $10.  There is also paid parking on the Arizona side that contains some covered spots, but it’s not a garage. The website says this costs $19, but that is incorrect. It is $10 as well. The advantage to this lot, however, is location – it’s right next to the Dam so is a shorter walk for those only wanting to walk across. There is FREE parking on the Arizona side too, however, it is in various lots  #10 – #15 further up the side of the Canyon – that means walking…possibly quite a distance if you’re in lot #15.  NOTE:  These spots are basically gone by 10-10:30 a.m.  After the crowds arrive, you’ll only find a space if someone happens to leave as you are arriving….  There are SO many reasons to arrive early.  )

Walking Across the Dam:  This is an experience regardless of what else you opt to do…    NOTE:  Cars are NOT ALLOWED to stop on the Dam (security issues). Do not plan to stop the car to snap that photo or let out passengers.  The speed limit across the Dam is 15 mph (and they ARE patrolling this…be advised) There are restrooms and water fountains on this walk as well.  🙂  They’ve done everything they can to make this day in the desert surrounded by concrete as comfortable as possible for visitors.

TIPS:

  • NOTE:  Hoover Dam is in the desert….   Deserts are hot….and Dams are made of concrete.  Summer in the desert lasts from April to Oct.  It’s pleasantly ‘warm’ the rest of the year….
  • EXPECT temperatures in Black Canyon (location of Hoover Dam) to be 10-15 degrees higher than in the surrounding area.  PLAN for this!!!
  • FROZEN water bottles are great.  Place them on your neck to cool the entire body   (This really works!)   then when the ice melts (which it will do rather quickly) you have water to drink.  This was my ‘all-time best tip’ for travel in the desert areas.
  • If you’re planning to take a tour and are parking in the paid parking area, ASK  the garage attendant if they are doing the tours that day – before you pay to park.  We pulled into the garage and thankfully asked that question.  We found out that tours had been cancelled that day.  We were able to leave without parking or paying the $10.  We returned the next day when tours WERE running.  You don’t want to find out there are no tours AFTER you’ve paid to park.
  • That brings me to the next point.  The website says they conduct Dam tours 7 days/week. That statement is followed with a disclaimer that tours can be cancelled for any reason – issues with the Dam or generators, a high security alert….or if the tour guides just don’t show up to work that day.  (I know…. ugh ugh UGH!!!)  We were told (by a source that shall remain nameless…ha)  that often the tour guides don’t show up on Sundays…making the tour schedule either cancelled…or limited.  If you can plan your visit on a day OTHER than Sunday, you might not run into problems getting on a tour.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t do tours on Sundays. :/  I’m just sharing our experience…..  We came on Sunday and left because there were no tours.  We returned on Monday and had a tour.  🙂
  • Arrive early….for parking…for tours…for relief from desert heat.  The parking garage opens at 8 am;  Visitor Center opens at 9 am (but be in line by 8:30 if you want to purchase an early tour);  First tour is at 9:35 am.  We were one of the first 25 in line and were put on the 10:35 tour.  These sell fast!!  🙂

NOW TIME FOR MY OPINIONS ON ALL OF THIS:  (Skip if you don’t like ‘opinions’  ha)

  • First, the tours were great!  I highly recommend them.  The Dam is incredible; the tour guides are personable and interesting.  It’s a GREAT tour!
  • Second…the tours were too expensive for what we got in my opinion.  Now, I don’t regret it.   I’m glad we did it our first time there, but I doubt if we would take the tour on a second trip to the area.  We’d just walk across the Dam and be happy.  🙂
  • Third, the Visitor Center is very small.. There’s not a lot there, so $10 was, imho, a  pretty inflated price (I’ve been to a lot of museums and paid a variety of entrance fees.  I have a lot to compare it to)  However, (and PLEASE NOTE THIS) when combined with the Powerplant Tour which is $15, it becomes reasonably priced…For $5 more, you get the tour. That’s the Visitor Center, Observation Deck, the history film and the tour for $15.  That’s not a bad deal at all!  When it comes to paying $30 for the Dam Tour, that’s just a matter of personal preference and how detailed you want to go with your experience, however, we, being who we are, chose to do that.  🙂
 ONE LAST PARTING WORD:  BRING WATER!!!  This is the desert…You’re in a Canyon. It’s hot year-round but especially April-Oct.  Bring Water!!!  🙂

Cruises Part 6 – Besides Clothes, What do I Take?

Now That the Clothes are Packed…What Else? 

Before our first cruise, I spent HOURS reading lists online of what to pack.  We bought, packed and took many of those suggested items….and came home having used about HALF of them. This list is my opinions of the “Must Takes”,  the “Might Need Depending on Personal Needs/Ports of Call” and the “It’s Absolutely Ridiculous to Take”  I hope it helps others to NOT travel as we did on our first cruise…with WAY TOO MUCH stuff!!! But before I get to that….

First, ELECTRONICS:

  • Cell phone: A cell phone will constantly ‘ping’ for a connection if it is turned on – If it’s ‘pinging’ someplace that charges you, you could be in for quite a surprise with your next bill. Unless you have an international plan (some carriers allow you to add this for just 1 month) data needs to be turned off (or turn on airplane mode) while on the ship OR in most ports. Note:  Incoming texts will incur charges too.
  • Computers:  Ships offer internet minutes packages, however, the connections are extremely slow and unreliable…and quite expensive (charged by the minute).  Remember, you’re in the middle of the ocean…internet connection at all is an incredible thing.  To expect it to be fast and consistent is expecting a mite too much.  If  you MUST connect, find a place in port with free Wi-Fi…or   “wi-fi with food purchase”.  🙂  Crew members will be your best source of information for finding free or cheap internet in port.
    • To get the best deal from internet minute packages should you choose to purchase one, compose emails in your word processing program, then copy/paste once online.  Expect for it to take 5-10 min. to send a single email.
    • Carnival has recently begun offering a “Social” package for $5/day.  We didn’t  purchase it. but I believe it provides Facebook, Twitter, etc…. through apps.
    • Princess now offers Princess@Sea that allows access to ship-related info (schedules, menus, etc…) AND texting among other passengers on board – ALL WHILE IN AIRPLANE MODE.   I would expect other cruise lines to follow suit with something similar very soon.   
  • Some take their laptops/tablets JUST to download photos and clear memory cards.  I opt to just purchase another memory card.  Added Bonus:  That memory card  will go on many vacations…and I don’t have to deal with a computer through airport security.  🙂

Must Take List

  • DOCUMENTS:
    • Passport
    • photo ID (drivers lic)
    • cruise documents
    • Tickets/confirmation for pre-purchased excursions or items purchased from the cruise line ahead of time.
    • Possibly a Vaccination certificate or VISA (Depends on cruise itinerary.)    Your cruise line will let you know if your itinerary requires these.

JUST NOTE:  If you forget your passport/ID, (or other required documents)  you’re NOT going on that cruise!!!!   MAKE CERTAIN (double check, triple check…then check again) THAT THEY ARE IN YOUR CARRY ON.  Do NOT pack them in your checked luggage then give that luggage to the porter….  If you do, instead of waving ‘bye’ ON the ship, you’ll be waving ‘bye’ TO the ship.  😦

I have a small coupon organizer I use for all vacations. File Folder organizer (Purchased at Dollar Tree for $1) I label the compartments as needed for that trip and it keeps everything compact, organized and easy to locate.

 

→   A Word about Passports.  Some cruise line websites say that passports are optional….that your birth certificate will work just fine.  That’s true AS LONG AS you don’t run into any problems.  However, if you have to travel on your own (miss the ship in a port, are transported for medical reasons, etc..) you will NOT be able to board an aircraft in a foreign country without the passport.  I highly recommend getting one.

One Exception: Military personnel can travel with their Military ID card and a birth certificate, however, their family members/traveling companions can not.

As a security safeguard, scan the information page of your passport and email it to yourself  (to a web based email)  This makes it available to you from any computer if the hard copy is lost or inaccessible. Some suggest taking a picture on your phone for the same purpose…  This is NOT a good idea as a lost or stolen phone could create some SERIOUS issues.

Lastly, carry your passport close to your body…in an RFID blocking sleeve or purse/backpack/wallet.  Passports are now a ‘hot’ item on the black market.

  • COPIES:  Make a copy of all important documents -ID, front/back of credit cards with the 1-800 number, and your passport (if not emailing it to yourself).  Keep these in a secure place and separate from the originals.
  • ….and speaking of credit cards….Limit the number of card(s) you take- one or two…perhaps 3 at most.  Leave the rest of your cards at home.  If you are a victim of a pickpocket or other crime, you don’t want to have to cancel 10 cards!  My husband and I each carry 1 credit card – from different accounts.  If one wallet is lost or stolen and we have to cancel that card, we still have one we can use.  If we are both carrying the same card account/number, cancelling would leave us with nothing to use.
  • Duct tapeDuct Tape  Why?  If you’ve read my blog,  you know that I take duct tape on every trip, and it’s gotten us out of more than one bind. It has multiple ‘rescue’ uses and we rarely come home from a trip without using it for something.  🙂  Don’t take the whole roll.  Roll a few feet around a pencil stub, hairspray bottle, or anything else that works.  🙂
  • travel size medicationsMedications/First Aid – Take anything you think you might need….in small travel size bottles.  I suggest:  pain relievers (Tylenol, Advil etc…), antihistamine, antacid, stool softener (eating habits change on cruises), Pepto Bismol, antibiotic ointment and band aids, possibly cortisone creme.  These items are very expensive on the ship, and supplies may be limited…  Don’t forget your prescription meds in the ORIGINAL bottles.

 

  • Sea-sickness medication.  Take 2-3 options, especially if supplying a family.  Different remedies work for different people.  Even if you don’t think you’ll need this, bring it anyway.  This is one of those ‘just in case’ items that I DO recommend.  🙂  Most cruise lines will distribute these pills free, however, it requires a trip down to the medical facility….when you’re not feeling well….and it just might bring you in contact with germs you’d rather avoid.  The generic forms are very inexpensive at Walmart and having them with you is MUCH more convenient.    🙂
  • $1 bills – for tipping. Tips are customary for porters, drivers/luggage handlers at the terminal, excursion tour guides, room service waitstaff.  You are in control of how many of these services you use…Bring the amount of ‘tip money’ you need for the services you plan to utilize.  We usually take $15-$20 because we are willing to take care of ourselves most of the time and rarely order room service….we use it for tour guides mostly.
  • Air Freshener – In addition to the obvious reasons, 🙂 ships sometimes have issues with plumbing/toilets that causes unpleasant odors.  A little scent can go a long way to making everyone more comfortable.  You may not need it…but if you do, you’ll THANK ME for telling you to bring it. Get a travel size at the Dollar Store…for $1.
  • Brita water bottle (the one with the filter in the lid)  I’m an avid water drinker and honestly, there is NO time when it’s MORE necessary than when you’re eating the ‘extra’ food on a cruise. However, the tap water on the ship tastes just like you would expect water that’s stored in a tank to taste.  (Just fyi, it’s filtered/treated water and  perfectly safe.)   The Brita bottles ear plugswork VERY well.
  • Ear plugs:  If you’ve chosen your cabin carefully, you may not need these.  However, sometimes, you may not know you have a bad location until you’re on board and it’s too late….  For those situations, a pair of ear plugs really comes in handy. These from the Dollar Tree come with a storage container….for $1!

 

  • Medical information/List of prescription medications:  This is important for anyone with medical issues, but ESPECIALLY for those traveling alone.  A basic medical history and list of medications may be useful to medical personnel on board should you have a medical emergency.  A Word About Insurance:  Chances are, your medical insurance won’t cover you while out of the country,  (That’s another ‘plug’ for travel insurance)  but it doesn’t hurt to bring your card in case you are transported home for medical care.  Also be aware that Medicare does NOT work outside the country.IMG_6855 - public
  • Magnets:  Did you know that the stateroom walls are metal?  Well…you can use magnets (clips, hooks or ordinary magnets) to attach any number of things to the wall.  Even that little round box to the right of the map is a magnet…holding smaller items I wanted easily accessible…  🙂
  • Emergency numbers at home.  Even if you have these numbers memorized, it’s a good idea to list them and put them with your passport/important documents in case someone ELSE needs to access them. (if you are incapacitated) Make sure you have ICE #(s) in your phone. (In Case of Emergency)
  • Journal/notebook & pen/pencil –  I bring a small spiral notebook (3×5) for notes, etc…and for the contact info of the cruise line liason in each port.  (This name will be listed in the cruise line newsletter each day) and is the person to contact if you have any problems in port.  Take this contact info into port each day.
  • Binoculars:  I can’t imagine very many cruise destinations where I wouldn’t want these….

Might Need…..YOU Decide

  • Power strip or one of those plugs that turns one outlet into 3 –   Outlets are VERY limited in cruise ship cabins. (1-2)  If you have multiple items requiring electricity, this will come in handy.  🙂  NOTE:  Celebrity and Princess prohibit surge protectors and will confiscate them at check in.  As far as I know, cruise lines still allow the multi-plug ‘thing’.

nightlight

Night light – Interior cabins, especially, are completely dark when the lights are out.  Outside cabins may have a little light filtering in from the ship exterior lights…and possibly the moon… but it’s not much.  🙂  Note:  There are no street lights on the ocean.  🙂  🙂

 

 

  • Alarm clock (Battery operated – one that doesn’t require an outlet)  Cruise ship cabins do not have clocks.  While cell phones may work as an alarm, they don’t make very good room clocks. Passengers in interior cabins especially may need an alarm on port days with no ‘morning light’
    post its and highlighters

    Highlighters or post it notes at Dollar Tree for $1

    to wake up with. Personal preference is the reason this is on the “might need’ list.

  • Highlighter: I use these to highlight activities in the newsletter that interest us. This is particularly helpful when cruising with multiple family members who want to do different things. Each night, we sit down and highlight everyone’s choices with different colors. That makes it easier to locate each other during the day – or plan our ‘together’ times.
  • A few Post-It Notes:  (Remember when we used to communicate with one another with pen and paper???)  🙂  Post It notes are useful for leaving notes for your cabin steward or for others in your party (such as teens).  Awww…  Life without the cell phone….  🙂 🙂
  • Reading material
  • Items Needed in Ports of Call – Consider  Guidebooks? Maps? Foreign Language Dictionary?  Snorkel gear?  (equipment can be rented, BUT I bring my own mouth piece)   Underwater camera(s)?  Children’s water floaties or sand toys (Purchase these at the Dollar Store, then leave them with local children in port rather than toting them back home)    Coats/jackets/gloves/scarves for “northern” destinations?
  • Lanyard for the ship ‘ID card’.  This may kind of SCREAM “Tourist” but for those who like the idea….       It could be a good idea for children during debarkation…so they keep track of their card.
  • Insect repellant (with DEET):  depending on your ports.  (Definitely  Alaska)
  • Over the Door Shoe Holder: Cruise lines are starting to prohibit these…(Disney will actually confiscate them and charge you for damages…) but if your cruiseline allows it, it’s VERY helpful in cabins with 3 – 4 people. It’s probably not necessary in cabins of only 2   
  • Insulated travel mug with lid.  I like hot tea…but don’t like the geno-estrogens in the Styrofoam cups.  The insulated mug is my solution –  In fact, I’m taking a Yeti knock-off on our Alaskan cruise. (My husband doesn’t think taking our real Yeti’s is wise….so we’re buying cheaper look-alikes)  On warmer itineraries, however, these are almost more trouble than they’re worth as I have to carry it around when empty…or make a return stop at the stateroom.  That’s the reason it’s on the ‘Might” list.  🙂
  • Toilet seat covers – This really depends on your itinerary/ports.
  • Wristwatch  Cell phones will sync with local time – which may or may not be the same as ‘ship time’.  Ships leave port on SHIP TIME.  Bring and set your wristwatch to ‘ship time’ so you don’t miss the ship on port days.   🙂
  • Swimmer’s Ear product – (if traveling with children who are prone to this)  All meds are expensive on the ship.
  • Laundry pods – if you plan to do laundry.   These are very expensive on board.   Note:  Not all cruise lines or ships have self serve laundry. (Royal Caribbean does not) Call your cruise line to find out about your ship.clothespins
  • Clothespins or Clips of some kind (I usually bring 4-6)   Clothespins, binder clips, etc….  These have multiple uses.  I’ve used them to clip swimsuits to the clothesline in the bathtub or to the chairs on the balcony –or to  hold curtains closed if the window opens to the deck or if cruising to Alaska in June when there is 18-20 hrs of daylight….or to keep the shower curtain closed…or hanging properly.  There’s just so many uses.  🙂20161016_173519
  • Extra bag folded up in your suitcase – a small lightweight bag is nice to take into port for all those things you need or buy OR to carry towel, sunglasses, book, etc… around the ship.  It can also help you to get off the ship at the end of your cruise if you ‘over-buy’.  🙂  These are cheap bags I found at Dollar Tree….for $1.  I don’t worry if they get dirty or covered in sand…and I like the idea of getting a new one for each cruise….  I don’t feel guilty if I’ve paid $1 for it.  🙂
  • Pre-packaged foods for the ports:  (peanut butter-n-crackers, fruit rollups, etc…)  It may seem strange to bring food when embarking onto a FOOD BARGE, but pre-packaged items are the ONLY food that can be taken off the ship into port.  If you have a medical issue that requires food at regular intervals or with medications, bring a few pre-packaged items.  NOTE: Many countries have VERY strict laws about bringing ‘open’ food or produce into their country. (and the cruise lines take this extremely seriously.)  The person defying this law may find themselves in a LOT of trouble.
  • Extra zip ties:  I use these on our suitcase when zip tieswe disembark.  At disembarkation, you have a choice of either carrying your own bags off the ship (Rather cumbersome, crowded and difficult) or putting your luggage outside your cabin the night before to be stored then unloaded at the port.  Zip ties offer security if you don’t have luggage locks.  You can use these at embarkation too, but realize you will need a way to cut them to unpack.  A cabin steward may be able to do that, but you may have to wait until he/she is able to.

Ridiculous Items

(I include this for laughs more than anything.)   There are online lists who suggest these things….REALLY.   Read and Laugh,  but don’t think I’m suggesting anything here….  🙂

  • Blender  (yes, someone suggested this…. )
  • Bubble wrap for souvenirs!  This is just NOT necessary,  Your suitcase is full of clothes…Wrap any breakable souvenirs in them…or inside shoes if the item needs more protection. You can also carry items off the ship in your carry on.  🙂 🙂
  • Walkie talkies;  It sounds like a good idea for communicating with members of your party on the ship, right?  However, the reality is that these typically have a very short range…500 feet…4-5 decks maximum… so they aren’t very reliable with today’s HUGE ships.  If you have the really expensive ones, they don’t have that static noise…but the cheaper brands can be really irritating to other passengers. :/
  • Windsock for your balcony.  Honestly, there is no need to bring ‘decorations’.  You’re there to sail, swim, explore, sight see, shop, tour, sleep 🙂 enjoy, relax, meet new friends….not decorate!
  • Matches or a lighter to eliminate odors in the bathroom.  OK, Think About This….open flame….on a ship….middle of the ocean.  Folks DON’T DO THIS!!!!  If odors are a concern, bring a small air freshener.
Other Posts on Cruising:

Zion National Park – SW Utah

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is located in SW Utah about an hour west/northwest of St. George, Utah.

https://goo.gl/maps/CpX6FW93Tmo

GETTING THERE:  Las Vegas is the closest and most economical airport for flying to Zion. Though St George has a Regional airport, the smaller airports are typically more expensive to fly in to.  Las Vegas is about a 2 hr drive from St. George.  We flew into Vegas and arrived around noon, got our rental car, had lunch and drove to St. George for the night.   St George has plenty of chain hotels as well as the Wal-Mart Supercenter. We made a trip into Walmart that evening for picnic supplies after we arrived.   Though it was a full day, it wasn’t difficult. The next morning, we had a 2 hr drive to the Park.  If you prefer staying closer to Zion, choices include Springdale, LaVerkin and Hurricane.  They have limited accommodation options…and prices will be a little higher.

Visiting Zion National Park:  The Park is in THREE sections with 4 different entrances/roads. The “Main” road  which most people consider “Zion National Park” is on highway 9 west of  Springdale. This road will be the busiest and most congested..  If you have the time to explore the other “less traveled” roads, you’ll find a more solitary, “connect with nature” experience.

THE SHUTTLE:  Private vehicles are only allowed up to Canyon Junction (the turn off to Mt Carmel Highway) except for those with confirmed reservations at the Lodge.  A shuttle takes visitors beyond that point. Shuttles run every 7-10 min during the summer so this is really not an inconvenience.  We were there in Sept and seemed to never wait more than 4-5 min. for the next shuttle – just long enough to pull out the water bottles or snack. 🙂  The shuttles are not air conditioned. In Sept, it did get a little warm in the afternoon.  I wonder how uncomfortable it would be during the summer months…  The windows open so there is airflow when the shuttle is moving. The greatest advantage though is that the shuttle gives the family’s driver the chance to enjoy the scenery rather than worrying about narrow twisting roads, traffic or pedestrians.  It also eliminates fender benders or rear end collisions that would totally shut down this narrow 2 lane road for ALL visitors.  It’s a ‘positive’ thing. 🙂

Zion National Park Map  – shows the roads, Visitor Center and guest areas as well as park features 

PARKING:  During the busy tourist season, parking at the shuttle embarkation point is at a premium.  The parking lots are usually full from 10 am-3 pm. Visitors who arrive at the park after the lots are full will be directed back to Springdale to park there and catch a shuttle into the park. This shuttle is FREE too…but inconvenient…imho.  🙂  Arrive early  (prior to 9 am) to (hopefully) avoid this happening to you. We got to the park by 8:30 and had no problem entering and finding a parking place at the Visitor center.  It was nice to beat the heat too!  I noticed that by afternoon, people were ‘illegally’ parking along the road – the VERY NARROW, twisting, 2 lane road….  Apparently, they didn’t turn away as many visitors at the gate as they should have….ha!  🙂

HIKING:
Hiking is the best way to see any National Park. Hikes are listed in the Park Newspaper given at the Park entrance – with information about each hike’s length, time required, elevation change (strenuous level) and difficulty level.  If you have any health concerns (diabetes, heart conditions, knee or back/hip issues, etc…)  consult this chart before starting any hike.  Actually, consult it even if you DON’T have any of these issues.  🙂  You always need to know what you’re getting in to.

One Note About This:  Our family has started many a hike that was 8 miles…10 miles…26 miles..with no intention of walking that far. We didn’t want to completely miss the beautiful vistas just because we couldn’t hike 26 miles.  We go as far as we want to, see some beautiful things, then turn around and go back.  I think many people may avoid those hikes because they’re intimidated by the “26 miles” number and miss out on wonderful vistas.  Don’t skip the “Rim” hikes. They’re beautiful!!

The ‘most popular ‘longer’ trails in Zion are Angels Landing (5.4 mi.) and The Narrows (9.4 mi).  Though they are spectacular, several rangers we spoke with said there are more beautiful breathtaking hikes in the park.  They BOTH recommended Observation Point Trial   Its one of those long hikes –  (8 miles) but as I stated above, you don’t have to go the entire length….just a portion of it.  And for those avid hikers, it’s only 2.5 mi. longer than Angels Landing (not significant to a seasoned hiker) and well worth the extra time and effort.

The Narrows (9 miles) is the ‘other’  popular hike in the park, but is NOT recommended for those with diabetes/neuropathy/circulation issues…OR for children.   About 60% of it involves wading (possibly knee to thigh deep)  through swift currents in the river.  These are too swift for children, and the amount of time spent with wet feet precludes it for those with circulatory issues.   The park newspaper and website gives more information advising those who DO choose to take this hike.  NEVER head out on The Narrows without checking with the Rangers at the Visitor Center!!!  This is important!!!!   (read my comments in red below) 

Now….you CAN take the beginning portion of this hike – up to the river crossing and canyon. (about 1.5 mi.)   We did that.  Then I looked ‘longingly’ into the Canyon.  I wanted so much to go further, but we fit into the category of those who should NOT take this so we just looked and ‘longed’.  🙂  We thoroughly enjoyed the portion that we hiked.

IMPORTANT:  Before setting out on any canyon hike, check with the rangers about weather conditions.  The day after we left the park, (YES…..the VERY next day…..) 6 seasoned, experienced hikers were killed by a flash flood in Keyhole Canyon.  These were not novices.  They were men in their 30’s…40’s…who had a great deal of hiking experience and skill.  It’s not always about the weather where you are.  Sometimes it’s about the weather 200 miles away. Rain from that distance can (and will)  SWIFTLY run INTO the canyons and cause a flash flood…all while the skies over Zion are blue and clear. The park rangers are watching the weather events at great distances to determine the risk of flashfloods in the canyon.  Do NOT just look at the sky and say “It’s clear; therefore we’re fine”.  CHECK with the Rangers! 

Last but not least….KNOW the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  These are listed in the park newspaper you will receive at the entrance.  Read through these to be informed so you can take care of your family.

This park is beautiful and can be enjoyed at all times of the year, but like anything else, you MUST understand the dangers present in order to stay safe.

WHAT DO YOU TAKE ON A HIKE?

  • Backpack:   It doesn’t have to be an expensive hikers pack….  We used the kids school backpacks.  🙂
  • Water….  WATER!!!  WATER!!  This is SOOO important.  One gal/pp is the recommendation.  Because our hikes are usually short, we may only take a few bottles per person in the pack, but the rest is in our car.  I freeze these and place in plastic Walmart sacks 🙂 to keep everything else in the pack dry.  You can place the frozen water bottle on your neck to bring down body temperature. Then as the ice melts (which it will do rather quickly) it becomes water to drink.  🙂 🙂   Do NOT try to conserve your water throughout the day.  Drink It!  OFTEN!  Before you get thirsty.  Here’s another tidbit…Thirst is the body’s signal that it is ALREADY dehydrated.  Drink your water BEFORE you get thirsty.
  • Protein snacks (Sugar actually harms the muscles during strenuous activity)  We like to take almonds, cashews & peanuts. Protein bars (withOUT a coating that would melt) are nice too. 🙂  I make my own trail mix of nuts and dried fruits rather than buying the pre-packaged ones….those are rancid.  ha!!
  • ‘High water content’ fruit –   Fruit is what we crave in the heat.   Bananas, peaches, grapes, etc… are good, but apples or oranges travel better. Place these next to the frozen water bottles in your pack and they’ll stay cold for a while
  • Extra socks if there is a chance your feet will get wet (Talk to the Rangers at the Visitor center.)
  • Of course, cameras, etc… and binoculars.  That’s the ‘fun’ stuff.  🙂
  • Most of us rarely go anywhere without our cell phones, and certainly if your cell is your camera, you’ll have it along, but realize that you may or may not have service in Zion….especially on hikes. Use good judgement and don’t get yourself into unsafe situations thinking your cell phone will be there to call for help…..
  • Small flashlight – or headlamp just for emergencies.  Make it a small one…  Don’t add unnecessary weight to the backpack with this.  Obviously, for longer day hikes, a good flashlight with extra batteries is needed.
  • Trail map (for longer hikes). Shorter, more popular trails are paved and self-explanatory, so a map isn’t necessary. Again, rangers at the Visitor Center will tell you if this is necessary.
  • Last but not least:  LEAVE NO TRACE!  Pack out whatever you pack in…and No, there are no waste baskets on back country trails.  🙂  Leave what you find.  No collecting!  🙂

Bottom Line:  Rangers are your friend!  Utilize their knowledge and skill.  Talk to them…and listen & follow any advice they give.  🙂 

MEALTIME/DINING IN ZION:

Like most National Parks, dining areas are limited.  There is a restaurant and small cafe at the Zion Lodge but that’s all.  Most National park visitors bring a picnic lunch to avoid wasting time leaving the park to find something to eat. 🙂  (That’s another reason I wanted my car parked INSIDE Zion – to have easy access to my cooler and picnic lunch.)

OTHER ROADS INTO THE PARK

NOTE: The entrance fee to Zion covers ALL of the Park entrances for 7 days, but you MUST keep your receipt.  You can also purchase the America the Beautiful Nat’l Park pass for entrance into ALL National parks for 1 year (cost $80)  This is a good choice if you’re visiting several of the Utah Canyon Nat’l Parks. (there are 5)  After visiting 3 Nat’l Parks you break even on the cost of the pass…If you visit 4 parks (in Utah or elsewhere) during the year, you’ll save money with the Pass purchase.

MT. CARMEL HIGHWAY:

  • This road connects the South and East entrances.  It’s a 12 mi road (continuation of highway 9) and travels up steep switchbacks and through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel.  The tunnel is quite an engineering Zion National Parkmasterpiece – it’s 1 mile long.  Traffic runs one way through there with park employees stopping and directing traffic.  Both times we went through, we never waited more than 5-10 min.  Large vehicles (RV’s) will have to be escorted through and that incurs a fee.  Check the website for details on this.  It’s a beautiful drive and worth it if you have the time!   🙂

KOLOB CANYONS ROAD

  • I LOVED this little section of the park!  It’s a 5 mi. road – right off of I-15 (Exit 40)  and is totally removed from everything down south…including the crowds!!!  🙂   You see vistas of the red rocks of Kolob Canyon and end at the Kolob Canyon viewpoint and  Timbercreek Overlook Trail (1 mi).
  • We spent about 2 hours driving this road because we like to stop and enjoy!   You COULD cover it in less time, but WHY would you want to?  🙂   There are only 3 hikes in this area – one of which is the La Verkin Creek Trail (14 mi) which crosses the  northern part of the park exiting on the east side. Again, this is one of those you could take partially then turn around.  There’s also a mule trail that looked interesting but alas, we did not have time for that.

Point to be noted:  Mules and horses always have the right of way in a Nat’l Park  🙂

KOLOB TERRACE ROAD

  • This is a steep 20 mi. road that is currently under construction. (Check the website for more information)   It begins in the town of Virgin and climbs north to the Aspen -covered plateaus of the higher elevations. I’m hoping to drive this on our next visit to Zion.  NOTE:  This road is NOT recommended for RV’s or vehicles pulling trailers.

As with all National Parks, visit the  U.S. National Parks website   National Parks – Zion   for complete information  – maps, shuttle schedules, camping/lodging info etc….