Back to wine country…Yet again. Fortunately (at least for Alyce), she was not pregnant this time. Also, we were finally able to work it out so that some friends could join us. Patrick, who grew up with Alyce and I, along with his wife Stephanie met us late the first night from Houston.
This trip was a Wednesday through Sunday. That timing worked out for a couple reasons. First, I used award miles and that was when flights were available within Alyce’s possible vacation time. Second, I booked the hotel using the 4th night free benefit of the Citi Prestige card. With that, they give you a credit for the 4th night’s room rate + taxes. And it is the actual 4th night – not an average of the 4. So having that be a Saturday got us a much bigger credit.
This was our first trip to wine country in Winter (even though it was a week or two from Spring). The temperatures weren’t bad, but we had rain every day. And not misty light rain…We had legitimate hard rain. We must have heard the following line 10 times over the trip – “Sorry y’all had rain the whole trip…well actually, not really because we can use it.”
That is the downside of traveling December through March to wine country – rain. It’s not that it’s a guarantee you’ll get rain (the weekend before and after ours were beautiful), but you are far more likely to get rained on than the other times of the year. The plus side is that room rates are less and things are generally less crowded. Continue reading
As previously mentioned, the California trip did not exactly go as planned. We still were facing a trans-Atlantic flight to Italy in September and did not want that to be James’s first time on a plane. Chicago was the perfect solution.
Several airlines fly non-stop to Chicago, and the flight is only about two hours. Plus, flights were dirt cheap in May. We booked on American for $105 round trip all in. United had some flights even cheaper than that, but we missed them by the time we had plans nailed down. This time, we went with three economy seats because first class was a lot more expensive.
James did pretty well on the flights. He got a little antsy, but we broke out something he doesn’t really get at home – the Ipad. That settled him. He eventually fell asleep in both directions for about half of the flight. The turbulence seemed to help with sleep; we were probably the only people on the plane hoping for turbulence.
This was to be our first family trip with James, as well as our first trip in over a year. But thing did not go exactly as planned…
Alyce had a week off in early March. In planning, we knew we wanted to take James somewhere to test out flying/travelling with him prior to our planned Italy trip (in fall 2015). It is still pretty cool in lots of places in March, so that led us back to one of our favorite destinations because we were confident that we would have good weather. California. And the weather was great.
The plan was to fly into San Francisco and rent a car. Then drive to Carmel and spend three nights there. Then spend a night in San Francisco in route to Napa, where we would spend the final three nights. All hotels, flights, wine tastings, etc. were booked.
But that is when things went awry. A couple days before we were set to leave, James came down with an ear infection—and that came with a strong recommendation against flying. We weighed our options, which ranged from completely canceling the trip to Alyce staying behind and meeting me with James if he got better…to any other conceivable option.
Ultimately, we decided to go ahead and go alone for an abbreviated trip and leave James with his grandparents for a couple days. Alyce would travel the first three days then head back, and I’d spend one night in San Francisco since we had used an award night that we could not get back.
This ended up working out well. While I wish James would have been able to make the trip with us, the few days Alyce and I had alone were very relaxing.
On to the actual trip…As mentioned, the weather was fantastic. Sunshine and spring time temperatures. If anything, it was a little warm in the middle of the day. Renting a car worked out great – driving is pretty easy in California.
Chicago is a great location for a quick weekend trip. It is very easy to get to from MSY (3 different carriers fly non-stop). Plus, the flight is under two hours. We left on the first flight Friday morning (flying United – we ended up getting upgraded to exit row seats for free which was nice) and were at our hotel by 9:00 a.m.
We just took a cab from the airport, which cost around $40-$50…Taking public transportation from O’Hare is supposed to be not too difficult and only $2.50 a person, so that is a definitely cheaper alternative. Another positive with having a quick non-stop flight, you can leave your destination in the afternoon and still get back to town at a reasonable hour.
There is plenty to do in Chicago to keep you entertained for a long weekend. There are many restaurants, ranging from the ultra high end to casual joints. For entertainment, there are plenty of options…Museums, zoos, an aquarium, sporting events, shows, etc. Chicago also has several Blues Clubs and Piano Bars for night activity. We were pretty busy while we were there and still did not get to do a lot of stuff I would have liked to have done.
As with all the retro review, I typed it up several years ago. I’m finally getting around to posting it along with some other new stuff on trip planning.
We left on a Thursday morning and flew Jet Blue non-stop to NYC. Alyce and I both really liked flying Jet Blue; you get to check one bag free, each person gets their own Direct TV free of charge, and you get unlimited free drinks and snacks. Also, this was the first time I had flown anywhere non-stop in a long time, and it was very nice – especially on the way home. I think from here on out, I’ll search for direct flights and pay the difference as long as it is not too much more expensive than the cheapest option.
We flew into JFK and had no trouble catching a cab to the city (which cost about $50 and took about 45 minutes). We stayed at the Hampton Inn – Times Square North. The hotel itself was nice enough and reasonably priced for its location. If you’re looking for over the top luxury, look elsewhere; but the location could not be beat for what we did on the trip. Almost everything we did was within close walking distance.
We got around in the city mostly by walking and subways with the occasional cab ride mixed in. Finding your way is pretty easy as the streets are numbered from South to North and the avenues from East to West, so you can always get your bearings straight by walking a block if you get mixed up. The subways were not confusing either – as long as you have your route planned out. Also, neither of us felt unsafe at any point of the trip (riding the subways or walking around at night)…though we did stay in the more populated areas of Manhattan.
On the timing…We went a week before Christmas, and I think it is a cool time to visit NYC. There were Christmas decorations everywhere, and we saw the big Christmas tree and skating rink outside Rockefeller Center (we went on our first day, Thursday, and it was infinitely less crowded than it was on the weekend). NYC at Christmas is definitely something to see, especially if you are big into Christmas (which Alyce is). Having said that, next time we go back it will probably be in the Spring/Early Summer. It was very cold (20’s and windy), and we luckily missed out on the massive snowstorm that hit NYC a week later and screwed up flights/local transportation/seemingly everything in that area. So that is obviously a risk you take going to the Northeast in the winter.
Seattle 2013. My first extended trip without my better half. What happened? We were in a huge fight and…Not really. I had a work conference. I’ve been travelling more for work related reasons lately and that trend looks to continue increasing.
The COPRI Ports 2013 Conference was located in Seattle this year. It only happens once every three years, and the next one will be located in New Orleans. So no fun work related travel courtesy of the Ports Conference until 2019. But work agreed to send me and my coworker/supervisor to this conference, and I was in.
The conference itself was fine. It was kind of surprising in that some of the things I thought would be interesting were not…and some of the things I was least interested in ended up being the best topics.
Other than the conference, I tried to experience as much of Seattle as possible, but it was still very different than my ordinary vacation. There were conference things during most days and semi-work related stuff at night. Still here is my initial take on Seattle:
Back to Napa for trip #3…Our first trip since returning home from our big trip.
This was – as is the usual for our domestic trips – a quick long weekend vacation. We left on Thursday—at 5:00 a.m. I was not even aware that flights left New Orleans that early, but they do. The good thing about heading out that early is that we got nearly a full day in on that day, as opposed to losing a day to travel.
We flew United with a stop in Houston on the way over, and it was pretty uneventful. One thing of note is that flight was the last one we’ll take that we had to power down our phones/ipads…at least domestically.
And because there is no other better place to mention it, I’ll do so now. We detoured to Muir Woods before making our way to Napa. This is a redwood forest with some walking paths and trails. Having never been to such a place, we enjoyed the stop and considered it well worth the 45-60 additional minutes of driving.