Exploring Aruba on a Cruise

I thought the recent events of COVID-19 and the pretty much shutdown of all cruises was a time to reflect and look at what destinations I had visited based on a cruise that I have not posted about (yet).

Cruising has always been an annual highlight for me and I have visited some great destinations based on them. Here are just a few:

Unfortunately, it does look like a cruise will be possible this year, so I wanted to share one of the great stops that I made a few years ago on a Caribbean cruise.

It is a small island, but Aruba is a great place for a day trip.  I know it is famous from the disappearance of Natalee Hollaway and all the news around that, but it is much more than hotel resorts and beaches.  It actually have some great nature preserves and places to hike!

It is called the Arikok National Park and it is easy to get to and not expensive to visit.  It has a few surprises which you may not expect, so continue reading if interested.

Owl

It was kind of funny to see this owl watching me enter the park in the middle of the day and just sit there on the ground watching a creek.

If you love exploring flora and fauna, this is one of the best places to do it on a Caribbean cruise.

One of the unusual and unique attractions in Aruba and this hike is the famous Indian art drawings.  It was quite a surprise.  There are even caves in Aruba that can explored and there is actually 4,000 years of history here!

In the end, it is not as good as my cruise to Cuba, but it was a great stop to visit for a day and explore a little that was completely unknown to be as an American.

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Getting Married when Marriages are Banned!

We had been planning to visit and get married in Las Vegas.  Because we had such a great time a year ago when we visited Lady Gaga there and told that story…But the COVID-19 virus hit the world.  Did we give up on our plans? NO!

So, let me tell you a fun story, with a little humor, but at the same time how we kept our distance to keep and others safe.

We needed to get to the airport even though all residents were ordered to “shelter in place”.  So we hired black ops crew to shuttle to the airport and avoid any potential checkpoints or barriers.

As you can guess, the airport was operating at 5% capacity.  It made security a breeze.  We got extra “random checks” when going through TSA pre-check.  Not sure if they were suspicious we were even travelling during the lockdown or they were real bored as there were no other travelers.

So were everyone hiding out?  In the airline club lounges.  It was amazing to see how the crew continuously swept through the entire lounge wiping and cleaning all surfaces.  Thanks to Delta for letting us hide out from the infected zombies out in the main terminal.

The next challenge was how to actually to Las Vegas.  Huge numbers of flights were cancelled, delayed or re-routed for one reason: one or more of the flight controllers were infected with COVID-19 and the entire radar control tower was evacuated and shut down.  They had to move to the emergency tower which could only manage 80% incoming flights in McCarren airport.

As a result, if you actually arrive in Las Vegas and rent a car, you pretty much get the rental car shuttle as personal chauffeur.  The buses were all lined up to take single passengers to the rental center.

But if you DO rent a car, it is pretty amazing the choices you can pick at < $50 rental fee!  Pretty much your only option anyways since taxis, Uber and Lyft are all shut down too.

Hertz was very reasonable and also made it easy when our flights were cancelled to come back to Seattle to easily extend the rental by an extra day at low cost.  Being in the Hertz President’s Club has its perks sometimes!

Now, despite Vegas being shut down, there is a lot of traffic and it still takes a long time to get around.  It is not as desolate on the roads compared to the sidewalks in front of the casinos.

It turns out that a rental car is a critical asset in Las Vegas for more than one reason.  If all the public offices and marriage license bureaus are all closed for 30+ days, how can you actually get a marriage license?  Answer:  You road trip across the mountains!  For being the end of March, it was quite cold and drove through the snowy mountains.  Good thing I chose an AWD SUV!

We refused to give up and found a very old town in Nevada called Goldfield which is based on a very very old mining town and only has a population of 280 people.

Yet, it is the country seat for Esmeralda county in Nevada, and one of the functions is to issue marriage licenses.

It has a lot of history and it is not open to public, but if you have the right connection, you can get a marriage license issued!  The history and relics in this city hall/courthouse/sheriff office are quite amazing to stay the least.

On the way back, of course we had to visit Area 51 and have lunch with the aliens.  We were being stealthy with this secret mission to get married in Las Vegas when no marriages were publicly allowed…so sneaking into Area 51 seemed almost second class to our primary mission this weekend.

Now, if all the weddings are cancelled at the famous chapels in Las Vegas, what do you do?  The hotels, casinos, resorts are all shut down.  Answer:  Find a great home on Airbnb!  They are all HEAVILY discounted.

The one downside is that despite all the roads being crowded and full…the grocery store shelves are EMPTY.  If you rent a house and need food, you pretty much need to use DoorDash if you want a full meal.

At Smiths grocery:

  • Eggs? Nope.
  • Milk? Nope.
  • Meat? Nope.
  • Chicken nuggets? Nope.
  • Cereal? Nope.

Discount on some French Perrier Jouet champagne? Yep!  We have sustenance for Vegas!

Of course, I went for a run the morning of my birthday and wedding to check out what would an abandoned strip look/feel like. I think this article really descried it well.

It was deserted, but the police were in place every 100 meters or so. I asked them if they were getting ready for the zombie invasion to flood the streets and that is why they were present.  They answered “There are always zombies here…” .  Enough said.

I was only ale to find one other on the strip this morning near the Wynn…we unfortunately violated the social distance rule when taking this selfie though.

For dinner food on the second night, we went to Whole Foods to see what we might be able to find.  They had a long line outside to limit the number of customers.  The good thing is they had eggs, water, meat and even a birthday/wedding cake to take home!  It reminded me of the line I saw outside the gun store this morning when I was running back to the Airbnb house.  There were so many customers at the gun store, they had to wait until to get inside because of the crowd.

I also found there was only one open hotel/resort on the strip today.  They were open and even had a taxi waiting for customers.  Is that a surprise?

Now, on to the wedding plans!

and then find a dedicated bridal seamstress like Bridal Elegance that will open up the store, just for you to have a dress.  The Armenians know how to make a lady feel special!

And even if all the wedding chapels are shutdown or locked out, you can go mobile!  We connected with the Vegas Mobile Minister and staged our own private wedding,

The result? Yep, we were officially married in Las Vegas, Nevada when they were banned and locked down.  We never gave up and there is always a way to accomplish a mission and still be socially distant from everyone!

We celebrated in the wonderful backyard pool and sauna! Had a wonderful day and evening. Now, what is next?

The challenge is now to get out of Las Vegas if we locked down and trapped?  Do we rent an RV and go into Mad Max mode?

Delta airlines has been very helpful and accommodating despite all the challenges.  When we got to the (very) quiet airport, we outnumbered the agents at the check-in desk.

We found out why so many flights were being cancelled.  Because the tower had been infected with COVID-19, they reverted to VFR rules only and most airlines will not fly the big jets with VFR only.  So…we needed to book a flight out using the smaller Embraer jets which can fly using visual rules.

It was nice that The Club in the Las Vegas airport was open!  We had the place to ourselves which was much better than waiting in the unknown terminal full of walking zombies…

Even though one airline kicked us off (long story) because one of us coughed…Delta took care of us and found us a way home.

The choices for a drink to recover from all that turmoil and challenge was quite limited, but you never look at a gift horse in the mouth right? 🙂

What an adventure!

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The Best Stress-Free and Affordable Travel Tips For Dog Owners

This week I wanted to explore hosting a guest author on my popular travel blog 🙂 and gather feedback on the value and interest on such topics.

Kicking off the start of this experiment is with Nick Burton.  Nick Burton is the co-creator of Our Best Doggo. Together with his wife, they are proud parents of three rescue dogs. After the passing of their 15-year-old lab/terrier mix dog, Willie, they decided to create this website to share all types of dog information and help people that are mourning the loss of a dog.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

 

The Best Stress-Free and Affordable Travel Tips For Dog Owners

As a dog owner, you’d probably like to show your furry friend the world. As a matter of fact, having your dog with you might even make your trip more enjoyable for you. If you’re going to do this on a budget, though, there are a number of things you’ll need to put into place in order to avoid common travel mishaps.

 

Get the Right Supplies

While your dog might have a lot of fun when they finally get to your destination, it takes the right supplies to get them there without a fuss. Whether you’re traveling by car or plane, you’ll definitely want to keep your companion occupied. According to Trips With Pets, chew toys are a great way to make sure your dog doesn’t get antsy during the trip. If you have more than one dog, then ropes may be a better way to go. When it comes to carriers, you can pull out an old favorite if you’re taking a road trip, but unless it’s airline-approved, you’ll need to go shopping for hassle-free air travel. Don’t forget about keeping your dog well fed and hydrated. Since you can’t lug a big bag of dog food around, it’s recommended that you pre-measure exactly what you need. When you’re shopping for all your pet toys and supplies, you can save some money by snagging deals online, such as coupons and discount codes.

 

Have Information Handy

If you’re traveling internationally, you’re not the only one who needs papers. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are quite a few people that need to be informed of your intended travel. This includes your dog’s veterinarian as well as your contacts at your intended destination. You should make sure to have a copy of your dog’s medical records and vaccinations. It’s also recommended that you have a chip installed in your dog so they can be easily found if they get lost. Bear in mind that even with the required paperwork, some countries may still choose to quarantine your pet. Since you’re on a budget, it’s best to avoid them, but if that’s not possible, then make preparations for their stay.

 

Be Prepared for the Flight

Unless your trip into another country involves a very long drive, chances are you’ll be traveling by air. In that case, make sure you know what regulations you need to meet. According to Bring Fido, it’s best to become familiar with not only the general rules but what specific airlines require. Make sure you make your arrangements in advance and re-confirm your details at least two days before you travel. There are restrictions on how soon before the flight you can feed your dog, but water is never limited. As you’re researching your affordable options for airlines, look out for those with the best reviews. To reduce stress for your pet, consider saving towards a non-stop flight.

 

Choose Ideal Destinations

When you’re planning a relaxing, fun-filled vacation with your dog, you need to consider the accommodations as well as possible activities. As you’re doing your research, make sure to check if the hotels you’re interested in declare being pet-friendly among their amenities. If you can’t find the information, don’t be afraid to ask your booking or travel agent to find out—and have them suggest affordable options to you as well. If you’re staying in the country, you can find fun, inexpensive activities in Florida, New Mexico and North Carolina, just to name a few. On the international scene, cities in Europe and Canada may be just what you’re looking for. Since these destinations are known for being dog-friendly, you probably won’t have to spend extra cash to accommodate your furry friend.

It’s no secret that you can have an absolute blast when you’re traveling with your dog, but you have to make sure you plan everything right. Since you have a budget to work with, spend enough time doing your research to avoid costly surprises. It’s also worth your while to look for discounts when you’re looking for all the supplies you’ll need to keep your dog comfortable.

 

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Business Trip to Hyderabad India

This week I snuck in a quick visit to Hyderabad India on a business trip.

I stayed at the Westin in the Mindspace area which is a great hotel with great service. the fascinating thing is how many people, restaurants, businesses, etc. all get excited about the Christmas holiday and festivities. The funny thing is that most people really do not exchange gifts here during the holiday, they just like the decorations and atmosphere.

Here is what you need to be prepared for: even if you land at midnight, it will take you 1.5 hours to get to the city. If you land in the middle of the day, it will be much worse. It can be as bad as 2.5 hours each way. Plan for it!

Of course, I had to go running every morning while I was here. It was interesting to explore early in the morning as I had never stayed in this part of town previously.

I have to admit the morning winter weather is a delight for runners and the pollution is far less compared to cities like Bangalore.

The amount of construction in the high tech sector is mind blowing. There are no clear trails, sidewalks or roads without debris, wires or other obstacles. I would definitely say that it is equivalent of a pacific northwest trail run!

Dogs are everywhere and most are quite skittish. But, every now and then, you have to be careful as some really like to bark and chase after you from time to time.

Yes, the food is spicy here in Hyderabad, so you have to be careful if you are not native. But every now and then you can find something different that is international in flavor, but still has the local fusion/spiciness that is unique to this region. You have to love the name of this one!

Previously, I was able to visit the old fort in Hyderabad which a great way to spend the afternoon if you get a little break or afternoon free. I believe it is called Golconda Fort. Very historic site and also popular with locals as well as tourists.

Great views and not a strenuous hike that would prevent many from visiting.  It is not any easy places to park so it is best to get a driver that drop you off and pick you up when finished.  It is very crowded on holidays and weekends (as expected).

 

OK – time to fly out and head north to Bangalore which has a lot of interesting history which you can see in my recent post as well. Tonight, we are taking a late night flight on SpiceJet which is a little different low cost airline that tries to capture your attention in different ways! 😉

Headed now to Bangalore. I am not sure if this is the planned refreshments on this short flight or not 😜 If interested in more of my travels in India, check out my extensive tour of Northern India as well as a trip to Bangalore recently.

Running around the world is always fun. Some of my other favorite spots:

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Review: Singapore Airlines

I am a long time Delta Diamond (and previously Northwest) airlines customer, but this time I had an opportunity to try out the new flight out of Seattle on Singapore Airlines.

There is a new Airbus 350 flight direct from Seattle to Singapore as an alternative to reaching India which is on the other side of the world. Does it look like it actually carries 17 hours of fuel? Efficiency at 41,000 feet I guess!

I thought I should conduct a review of the experience to share with fellow travelers. Here we go!

OK – the club lounge scene and experience is disappointing. It is better than nothing…but the Club at SEA is so outdated and does not even have an expresso machine.

It has not changed one iota since it used to be the Delta lounge in the S gates 15 years ago. I don’t think they have even replaced a toilet seat since then. But…it is a lounge and much quieter than the motley crew in the long lines outside the lounge waiting 20 minutes to buy a coffee.

Boarding was very efficient and fast. I thought the new United Polaris seats were the best to date, but these are quite plush! And they give you a nice warm wash cloth even before the door is closed.

The one downside of these seats is you need to recline to actually stretch your feet out. When your seat is upright, your feet actually are blocked at the bottom and you have more foot space in economy!

I tried angling my feet for a little while in the cubby hole they provide to store stuff…You kind of need to sleep at an angle. I am not sure if this is the best model or not. I do admit that these seats have way more lighting and it is easier to work or read than any other airline seat.

One this flight, I was surrounded by kids in front, behind and to the sides. They are already screaming. I hope I have good headphones! Truth is… Yes, you do have high quality headphones. They are actually noise canceling and work very very well in combating the loud continuous noises. Nice treat.

The entertainment system is quite impressive. But it takes a little getting used to with the handset in the seat. The selection is decent, but I would not say that it has a larger selection than any other airline. The nicest attribute is the size of the screen which is huge.

Free Wireless if you are in business class or economy. It can be used on multiple devices, but it does not work very well if you try to upload any photos. But…you only get 100MB free. If you want more bandwidth, you need to buy it. $12.99 per 200MB. If you plan on working for a 15 hour flight, you are going to need to purchase Internet multiple times. It works decently with the mobile device, but very very slow and unreliable when using a full laptop with Outlook or browser based apps.

The food menu is actually a book! I was excited, but realized it is a permanent guide of the menu options in both directions. There is not as much content as you may think and it its size is an illusion. It really is not any different than any other airline.

The food service was good, but based not dramatically different or head and shoulders over the other domestic US airlines. The first full meal comes out approximately 1 hour after takeoff and the second full meal comes out about the 9 hour mark.

Quantity, quality and choices were all very similar. They are very slow in offering drinks or wine and when they pour wine, it is is a very small portion. The positive is if you press the call agent button, they show up in 2 seconds and serve you whatever you wanted in less than 60 seconds. Very good service if you ask for it.

I do have to admit the holiday decorations throughout the plane makes it a fun atmosphere. Never seen that one before.

Summary: Tie game here in my opinion with Delta and United when flying overseas.

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Exploring Hong Kong

After our recent 3 days in Shanghai, we just wanted to just relax in the local community and get a feel of the atmosphere.

Yes, I know this is the question wants to ask:  Is it a safe city or do we need to be concerned about protests?

Stay tuned, I will share our experience. 🙂

We had some dinner in the Circle Center community center (part of Elements mall) outside our hotel and the high rise condos around us. We also listened to the World Cup Rugby game with the locals who were shocked when South Africa defeated England.

Afterwards, we took an Uber (yes they have Uber here) to check out the famous night market. It was a very active and entertaining scene with lots of people.  Many locals said to avoid this area because protesters could appear and it could be dangerous.  We did not find that to occur at all.  Overall a safe and fun area to check out.

Some people asked what mobile app to use when visiting Hong Kong and you want to know where the protests are occurring?  I used HKMap Live which is not in English, but you can match against Google Maps and see where you are and then check where police or protesters may be appearing based on their icons.  A little cumbersome, but it works!

Apparently, a bunch of protesters did form up nearby, but we did not run into them.  Over the weekend, they do form up in various places, but nothing for tourists to worry about.

The next morning, you can always might a few remnants from the protesters from time to time.

Talking with a number of locals, store owners, etc., many of the people are pro-Democracy, but it was surprising to hear that a majority of the people we talked to have been finding the protesters harmful.  They are not supportive of the violence and damaging stores, damaging property and potentially scaring more people than driving a cause.

On to the next morning…

Of course, after a night out, I had to sneak in an early morning run to work off all the calories. If you are wondering about the crazy route… Yep it is that hard to find a path given all the construction and complex roads.

But.. Despite all the challenges in running, the views at the breakfast table at the Ritz are amazing!

After breakfast, we did a little touring around the area. This is where the British and Chinese signed the peaceful transition agreement.

On another note, I must admit the bathroom culture and messages across China vary from city to city and are quite humorous.

I forgot to mention we took the famous Star Ferry to go across and visit Hong Kong Island. We came across a few interesting residences… This is the home of the (current) government governor of Hong Kong, Carrie Lim.

And guess what place we found right around the corner from her home with equal fences and cameras? Yep.. The US Embassy! Coincidence?

To have lunch, we took the famous tram up to Victoria’s Peak. Apparently, the tram and the peak only opened up about a month ago.  Pretty cool to take something that always been used for 100+ years…

Some amazing views up there. You really need to take panorama shots.

I only wish we had time to hike in the park and visit the falls at the bottom.

Overall, a fun and sunny day to explore a lot of Hong Kong we had never seen before.  If you missed other posts from this trip, start here:

https://davidcrosstravels.com/2019/10/19/beijing/

 

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Travelling to Hong Kong

It was hard to leave Shanghai, but we need to stick to our plan and cover as much territory as possible.

We took the new MagLev train from Shanghai station to the airport.  The equivalent of $7 will get you to the airport in 7 minutes!

The Shanghai airport had a lot of security and custom lines.  You really do need a full 3 hours to get through everything if you are going to take an international flight.  Some of the labels and misspellings in some places throughout the airport will humor you.

We flew to Hong Kong and many people ask me: Is it safe?  Yes, it was safe. You can check out our experiences of 2 days around Hong Kong in this blog posting.

In the airport, they will not let anyone into the airport without detailed security check, proof that you have a flight itinerary that matches your passport, etc.  Even if you try to take a taxi or Uber to an area that is near a protest, your driver will not take you there and they will warn you.  It is very easy to avoid anything that (might) occur near you.  Most of the protests are in the government building areas and not in tourist areas.

For the next two days we are staying at the Ritz Carlton which is in a great location.  The downside is the lobby is at the 103 floor.  It takes a lot of time to get up and down the building.

The positive is we got a deluxe suite upgrade for being Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite.  Stay tuned for our detailed report tomorrow!

Here is some of the exploration we did around Hong Kong in this posting.  You can get my summary of whether it is safe to visit and how to handle the protest fear in my summary.

 

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