Travel Reviews

Vacation – the reviews

We just came home from Our Washington & Alaska Adventure and I wanted to share my reviews of the services providers we used.

Advantage Cruises & Tours – When my mother and I went to Marie Emmerich, the owner of Advantage, was nothing but helpful.  My parents had used Advantage in the past to assist them with their travel plans.  I had never used a travel agent for a vacation before.  Marie’s experience with the Holland America Line helped us confirm that they were the line that we wanted to use for our Alaska trip.  She allowed us to make payments on the expensive trip and set up travel insurance for us.  As we added on our own air travel plans, she added it to our insurance policy.  She was patient, informative, accurate, and encouraging.  She let us know that it would be cheaper for us to plan our own airfare rather than go through Holland America.  I would definitely use Advantage again when preparing a vacation.  Marie’s wealth of knowledge is invaluable.  All of her office staff is pleasant and I would work with any of them in the future.  A++

Southwest Airlines – The draw to using Southwest Airlines was two-fold.  One is that they had flights to Seattle.  The second and most important reason was that the first two checked bags were free.  Southwest doesn’t assign seats and you are given a number to use to board the plane based on when you checked in.  You can check in no more than 24 hours in advance.  This was fine for our trip out to Seattle, but I had to pay $3.99 to set up an online satellite account on the ship and it was $0.75 per minute to get on the Southwest site and get checked in.  Luckily, I didn’t have to pay extra to print our boarding passes on the ship.  Southwest’s planes are more comfortable than others I’ve been on, but still pretty tight for a “big girl” like me.  Soda, coffee, and water are free, as are the Nabisco snacks that they passed out (Lorna Doone, Ritz Bits & Cheese Crackers, Chips Ahoy, some 100 calorie packets, pretzels, and peanuts).  The flight staff was hardworking, friendly, and more-than-kind to difficult passengers.  The captain on the flight home pointed out the Grand Canyon and Mt Rainier.  My husband and I would definitely fly Southwest again, but we would really try to get checked in as early as possible so that we could be in the first line of boarding.  I brought my own snacks on for a long flight because the little snacks that the airline offers, especially during meal times, just don’t fill you up.  I, also, brought a bottle of water so that I didn’t have to keep asking for refills.  Wifi was available for purchase on some planes, but you could watch the flight tracker for free if there was wifi.  Download Southwest’s Ding program to get notifications of flights that might interest you.  Join their Rapid Rewards program to get awarded flight deals.  I got points on Southwest for using the SuperShuttle.  SURPRISE to me!  Check your bags curbside with the skycap for easy line-free check-in.  Don’t forget to tip him $3-$5 per bag for saving you the wait inside.  B+

SuperShuttle – I have used SuperShuttle in the past for transportation to and from the airport, so when I needed to get to and from Tampa International Airport, I scheduled the trips online through their website.  I received an automated call the day before our pick-up having me acknowledge that we still needed transportation.  I received a second automated call the morning of pick-up letting me know that the driver was about 15 minutes away.  Our driver was friendly and loaded all the bags on the van as well as helped us all into the van, holding the long seat belt so that we could get in under it.  He dropped us off right at the Southwest skycap and unloaded our bags.  I was able to tip him when booking the reservation, so I didn’t need to worry about it while trying to get all my bags together.  When we got into Tampa at 12:30 AM, we got our bags and made our way to the exit and checked in with the SuperShuttle counter.  We waited about 10 or 15 minutes before our driver came and loaded our bags.  He was rather impersonal but efficient.  It appeared that his girlfriend was sitting in the front seat of the van playing with her cellphone.  We made some very rapid laps to the other exits at the airport to look for other passengers.  We made one stop to pick up another couple.  We held the long seat belt for them to get on to the van.  During the ride home, we talked with the couple and the driver didn’t speak at all.  Again, I pre-paid my tip at the time of booking the ride.  You get a deal when you book all your riders at once.  I received some points on my Southwest Rapid Rewards account for using SuperShuttle.  It’s definitely cheaper than using a cab so I would use them again.  A

Embassy Suites Seattle-Bellevue, WA – Embassy Suites has a living room and a bedroom separated by a door.  My mother made reservations at this location because it was so expensive staying in Seattle.  She chose a suite knowing that Scott and I were going to have to share a cabin on the ship with Tim.  They had a wonderful breakfast with cook-to-order omelets, cook-your-own waffles, fruit, cereal, bacon, sausage, pancakes, oatmeal, yogurt, potatoes, and different breads and muffins.  They, also, had a manager’s happy hour (5:30-7:30 PM) every night with unlimited free wine, beer, some liquor, chips & salsa, carrots, celery, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, ranch dressing, Chex mix, and popcorn.  We loved coming home after a long day and having happy hour. 🙂  Tim’s and my biggest complaint was that there was no free wifi.  Had we stayed in a Hampton Inn (another hotel in the Hilton family), we would have had free wifi.  Tim’s tablet could only access the internet that way.  While the rest of us have smartphones and 4g, it was pretty hard to find 4g coverage in our hotel.  The free wifi was only available for Elite Hilton Honors members. The rooms were rather old.  The couch in our living room was sunken in and not comfortable to sit on at all.  Our television (the old kind and not a flat screen) died the second day we were there and they had to replace it.  The washer and dryer (one of each) was on the top floor of the hotel and we had to get our key cards upgraded to get access to that area.  When they keyed my mom’s key, it kicked her out of being able to get into her own room.  The front desk told my mother that she had to come down and get it fixed, instead of them coming up with a replacement.  They called me back to tell me that they would bring up a key, but my mom had already gone downstairs when they called back.  There was a swimming pool, but we didn’t avail ourselves of it.  They had a gym that Scott and Tim used.  They both said that it was good, basic gym.  The inside of the hotel had a huge courtyard, with plants and running water, that all the rooms were accessed off of.  Tim’s only complaint about the courtyard was that it was the same place where breakfast was in the morning and he could hear them putting out the plates and clanking in the morning.  Since the ceiling was five stories high, it echoed some, but the natural light was pleasant.  There was seating on the first floor where you could sit and read.  They had a business center with two computers to do online work (or check your Facebook account).  While my mother booked the rooms, when we checked in I specifically let them know that I was paying for the room we were staying in and I told them I had my own Hilton Honors account.  When we received our bills, our room was billed my parent’s lower room rate and put on my parent’s card.  They were billed our higher room rate, they got all the points for both rooms, and they were charged for their room.  I had to take the bills down to the desk and I worked with a manager to correct it.  Checking today, my points were never credited to my Hilton Honors account and it shows my stay was cancelled.  I wouldn’t rule this location out in the future, but it wouldn’t be my first choice of hotels to stay in because of the lack of free wifi and the older facility.  The breakfast and happy hour was a positive feature as well as the on-site restaurant, where we ate twice and had pretty good, although inconsistent meals.  B

Holland America Line/ms Oosterdam – My parents are experienced Holland America cruisers and this was our first time.  Holland America cruisers tend to be a little older and more willing to spend money for high quality.  Check in was efficient and quick, having to go through a TSA-like process.  We waited about 5 or 10 minutes to do our final check-in with the HA staff and get our key cards.  They had people board in groups, which makes boarding easier and smoother.  We got on board, went to our rooms, and then went in search of lunch.  HA has buffet dining on the Lido deck.  The food is prepared in sections, such as Italian, salads, entrees, sandwiches, and desserts.  They served all three meals there for more casual dining.  There was a formal dining room, where we sat together as a family when we ate there.  We had waiters assigned to our table and they were well-trained.  The food in the Vista dining room was good.  There were different offerings for each dinner, but they had a few foods that were offered nightly.  The breakfasts were nice.  We ate breakfast in there twice, but I found that most foods I could get in the Lido also.  Most of the service staff of the ship was from the Philippines, so there were times we had a hard time understanding them talk, but they were always willing to repeat what said for us.  We had two of our dinners in the 5-star Pinnacle Grill.  The first night we ate there was to celebrate Tim’s graduating high school and the second time my parents surprised us with the meal.  It was $25 per person extra to eat there and I highly recommend doing it at least once.  It was delicious!  The filet mignon I had both nights was the best I had ever had.  We spent a great deal of our time on the ship in the Crow’s Nest, a lounge on the upper-most, forward-most part of the ship, reading.  You could see everything around you while staying warm.  The crew of the Crow’s Nest got to know our names and knew that we weren’t up there to drink, so they left us alone.  One day, one of the staff brought me over to the bar and taught me how to make a coffee drink that I had ordered.  The music performed by Matt Murphy every night for happy hour and from 7-10 PM was fantastic.  One evening, Scott and I were chatting with a woman in the Crow’s Nest and it turned out to be the captain’s wife.  When he got off duty, the captain came up and bought us (my parents included) drinks.  Our cabin stewards greeted us by name every time we saw them.  Our cabins were always clean and comfortable.  When they came in to turn down our beds and put chocolate on them, they made Tim’s bed on the fold-out couch, which was comfortable to sit on when not acting as a bed.  The only thing that I didn’t like was that I had to crawl over his bed to get out onto our balcony in the morning.  I LOVED having a balcony and I will never cruise again without one.  Our first morning at sea, I got to see humpback whales spraying in the distance.  Computer access was $3.99 for initial set up and $0.75 per minute and there were plans available for usage.  Cell phone usage through the ship’s satellite was very expensive and we did not avail ourselves of the service.  All and all, I would definitely cruise with HA again.  I was very happy with the service and the value.  A+

Budget Rent A Car – Downtown Bellevue, WA – Scott and I used the hotel transportation to bring us to the downtown Bellevue Hilton to pick up our car from the Budget Rent A Car.  After asking at the front desk of the hotel where to find Budget, I was sent to an Alamo desk.  I just happened to see that they did Budget cars as well, but it wasn’t obvious.  There was a small desk run by a lone person, so we had to wait in line to be assisted.  Once we went through the typical paperwork, we were sent down a hallway to the side of the hotel to find a red Dodge Durango, which turned out to be a maroon one.  The car was clean and in fine condition.  Scott said that he had no problems returning the car.  He had to call our hotel’s car to come pick him and my dad up to return them to our hotel.  I would use this location again.  A

East Side Town Car (Seattle, WA) – Our hotel called East Side Town Car to transport us from the hotel to the cruise port.  Before we were even on our way, I inquired about his picking us up a week later and transporting us to the airport and he agreed.  He took our name and gave us a card, telling us to call when we got in to the port to let him know what time our departure from the ship was.  I called to let them know and he was waiting in the cell phone lot for our next call to advise him that we were off the ship.  We had to wait about 1/2 hour for him to show up, but it was because the port security was holding up people entering the pick-up area.  The same man that dropped us off picked us up.  He was a good driver and I never felt uncomfortable with him behind the wheel.  He treated our luggage with respect and lifted everything in and out of the vehicle.  I would definitely use this service again.  A+

Harv & Marv’s Alaska Whale Watching – My mother found Harv & Marv’s online.  She was concerned that since we weren’t working through the cruise line that there wouldn’t be any guarantees.  She called Harv & Marv’s and spoke with Callie, who assured her that they would not only get us to the ship on time, but that they had guarantees in place to make sure we got the ship if it left without us.  They had never had to use that guarantee.  In addition to that guarantee, they guaranteed that we would see whales.  They have had whale sightings for every tour since 2004.  Captain Russel took my family out on a boat for a private tour.  We got to see tons of orcas and humpback whales bubble feeding.  He was able to point out some of the other wildlife including salmon, eagles, sea lions, and marbled murrelets.  Capt. Russel was very knowledgeable on the water and we never felt unsafe in the choppy waters.  After our 3+ hour boat ride, we were taken by van by Ruth Ann (her husband picked us up) and we were taken to Mendenhall Glacier, where most of our group was staying.  My mom stayed in the van while the rest of us took about 20 minutes to go up and take some pictures.  We didn’t actually have time to climb the 1/2 mile up to the glacier, but we could have stayed and gotten other transportation back to the ship.  I can’t stress how much we enjoyed Harv & Marv’s.  Callie was very helpful to my mother and my mom was disappointed to find that Callie was actually based in Washington.  We would definitely go through Harv & Marv’s in the future.  A++

Tampa International Airport (TPA) – What can I say about our Tampa Airport?  I think that the parking is convenient and the drop-off/pick-up is easy.  When you are on a specific airline, you never have to leave that specific airside to catch a connecting flight.  There are trams that take you to and from the airsides.  You never have to walk more than 10 minutes or so.  There are eateries at every airside and in the main airport.  There is a lot of seating for waiting passengers on the airsides and for waiting loved-ones in the main airport.  We used to take Tim there to see the airplanes in the airsides before 9/11/01.  TSA is very busy, especially early morning, but they are friendly and efficient.  There is free wifi at the airport.  I recommend using Tampa Airport.  A

Nashville International Airport (BNA) – No wifi available at all.  The airside seating was lacking.  I found a nice sandwich place in the airport that offered French pastries as well.  There was a place that offered Johnsonville brauts and hotdogs, but they didn’t have any brauts and the guys were disappointed.  C

Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport (LVL) – We had to walk from one airside (C) to another (B) and it was a lot of walking.  It was about a 20-25 minute walk and my mother had to sit down once.  They had signs saying that you were 15 minutes away, 10 minutes away, 5 minutes away…from the next airside.  They had one long hallway with moving walkways, but by the time you got to them, you were already exhausted.  The airport was so busy making sure that there were gambling machines in every available space that they sacrificed efficiency and friendliness for the users.  There weren’t very many airside seats for passengers to sit in to wait for their flights.  There wasn’t a lot of food offerings in Airside B, but we didn’t know that when we were passing by all of the other food offerings in Airside C.  Free wifi was available.  I couldn’t stand this airport and I wouldn’t choose to use it again.  D

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) – This was a very busy and crowded airport.  The signage could be improved to be more user-friendly for the travelers.  TSA was efficient and friendly.  The airside waiting areas were very small and we had to sit in another space other than our own.  Free wifi was available.  B-


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