September 27, 2018

Reasons Why I Decided Against The Sheraton Vacations Offer $269 For 5-Day 4-Night at Sheraton Vistana Villages in Orlando Florida

Yesterday was the deadline that I am supposed to sign up for the Sheraton Vacations Offer For Sheraton Vistana Villages in Orlando, but I decided against it. Don't get me wrong, the offer is tempting: 5-day and 4-night at the Sheraton Vistana Villages for only $269 with a $100 dinning credit that makes the deal costs only $169. For 4 nights, that's about $42.25 per night. Best of all, no timeshare presentation required (see this post).


After further thoughts on this, I decided against it. Here are some reasons why:
  • For only $42.25 per night in a one bedroom villa is a steal; however, the location of the Sheraton Vistana Villages is not within walking distance to the Disney World. I did some random hotels search with speculative check-in and check-out dates, I found other hotels that are closer to Disney and the nightly rate is around ~$55 per night. It is little bit more than the Sheraton's deal, but it comes with breakfast every morning.
  • If I went with the Sheraton's deal, I have to book the stays by October 2019. The $269 that I paid to sign up for the deal is non-refundable. I don't like to make such commitment when it comes to tentative travel arrangements, especially with hotels.
  • I could have found other decent hotels in the area for either the same price or less. Truthfully, Disney will keep me busy all day long and I don't think I will be able to enjoy the Sheraton resort and all its amenities.
  • This deal clearly is tailored towards family vacation. The deal specifically said that one bedroom villa allows up to 2 adults and 2 children. I can understand that family vacation is not cheap. Hotels typically charge for how many people are in the room and that cost can really add up. Since I don't have any children, I don't think I will get any much money savings from this deal to make me want to make a trip down there since I still have to pay for the airfare and transportation.
  • Last but not least, I am not too sure if Disney World is really the type of place that I want to go back to take advantage of this deal. It's fun and all, but I don't find them "magical" as it used to be. This also applies to Sea World, Universal Studio, theme parks, etc. The only reason that I would go back to Florida is mainly for the sun and beach. The beach is an hour away from Orlando, and driving back and forth does not seem fun while I would have gotten an oceanfront hotel instead. 

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September 22, 2018

Review On Sheraton Vacations Offer For Sheraton Vistana Villages in Orlando - Is Timeshare Presentation Required?

Last year, we went on a timeshare deal offered by the Holiday Inn Club Vacations for a 4-day 3-night getaway. The booking experience was pretty unpleasant to a point that I almost gave up on the money that we already paid for to sign up for the deal. We still went ahead with the booking and although the Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel that we stayed at through the deal was wonderful, the experience attending the timeshare presentation was not something that we consider doing again in the future (Full Review Here).

Sheraton Vacations Offer
Recently, I received a similar vacation offer from the Sheraton Vacations. They offer us an opportunity to go to Orlando, Florida and stay at the Sheraton Vistana Villages for 5-day, 4-night for 2 adult guests and up to two children. The room type is a one bedroom villa with king-size bed, a full-size sofa bed and a kitchenette. Unlike the Holiday Inn Club Vacations offer, at least we know which hotel we'd be staying at if we go with the deal. On top of the 5-day and 4-night stay, we would also receive a $100 gift certificate for dinning at the Planet Hollywood Observatory at Disney Springs West Side. All that for only $269 and we have up until September 26 this year to purchase. The stay must be completed by October 31, 2019.


At first glance, the offer does sound like a timeshare deal that you make the purchase to get into the deal and then attend a timeshare presentation when you get there to receive the above mentioned special offer. However, I read every fine print on the offer's letter but nothing indicates anything about the requirement of attending the timeshare presentation. The terms and conditions are pretty straight forward. One of the requirements is that I have to purchase this deal by September 26 with an American Express credit card.

Too Good To Be True?
We were not too sure about the offer. There has got to be some sort of "gotcha!" $269 for a trip down to Orlando where DisneyWorld, Universal Studio and SeaWorld are at and then a $100 dining credit that knocks down the price to only $169 for 4 nights stay? That is too good to be true! So I called up the number indicated on the letter and inquired the agent about terms and conditions, especially whether we will be required to attend any presentation at all when we get there. The agent assured me that there will be no presentation but kept pressuring me to purchase the deal. I don't usually work well under the sales pressure, so I did not want to make a quick decision and told the agent that I would think it over before making a final decision. Later on, I decided to email them also using the email address that's provided on the offer's letter and specifically inquired about whether there's a need to attend any presentation to get the deal. They responded pretty quick and below is what they stated:


Thank you for your email.
When you purchase this package, you are under no obligation to attend a presentation. 

Reservation specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM ET and Saturday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM ET. Please call us at 888-297-1337 at your convenience to take advantage of this amazing opportunity!

We look forward to speaking with you.
-Sheraton Vacations

I am finally convinced now that there will be no any timeshare presentation for this vacations package deal! Moreover, since now that I have this in writing, they can't make us attend any presentation without our agreement. Meanwhile, I also did some research online about other people's experience and they did confirm no presentation but the staff there will try to get you to attend one upon check-in by possibly throwing more offers. My advice is don't buy into that and stand your ground by declining it if timeshare presentation is not for you. Orlando, here we come!


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September 19, 2018

My Experience With When to Check-In and Board Holland America Line MS Eurodam Seattle to Vancouver

I have an upcoming cruise trip with Holland America Line from Seattle to Vancouver, BC. The ship name is MS Eurodam and it's scheduled to depart at 11 PM late at night. As you go through this article, the rule may vary based of your cruise ship company and your scheduled departure. This however should give you a basic concept on WHEN to check-in and embark on time without the risk of being not able to sail.

Getting to Seattle
I don't live in Seattle and therefore I have to position myself to fly into Seattle then Uber to the cruise port from the airport. I have only done one cruise so far with MSC, so this trip with Holland America Line is going to be my second cruise trip. I am still new to the whole check-in process with cruise ship company, but given my cruise ship is not scheduled to depart at 11 P.M. late at night, I booked a flight that gets me into Seattle at 4 P.M. on the same day that I'll be sailing.


Online Check-In
Holland America Line allows online check-in 50 days in advance. This is when you get online and fill out your personal, passport information, credit card etc. Once completed, the system will generate a boarding pass for you to print out. I strongly recommend you perform online check-in before the date that you will be at the port. Print just the page 1 and take it with you to the port. There will still be a check-in at the port to verify you and all the information that's saved in your profile during the online check-in.

When to Check-In and Embark/Board?
Before going into details, it is very important to know that U.S. government security regulations requires cruise line to submit certain guest information to law enforcement authorities at least 60 minutes before departure. To meet that requirement, cruise line must have each guest information on records at least 90 minutes prior to departure. Guest won't be able to sail if they perform check-in after that deadline.


On the printed boarding pass page 1, there's a section that states the "Embark Date/Time" - In my case, it states 1 P.M. in the afternoon. So what does that mean to me if my flight is not going to get in until 4 P.M.? After the completion of the online check-in, you should receive an email from Holland America Line with an attachment. I open up that attachment and scroll down until I see the itinerary section with a notation that says "Check in from 1 P.M. -8 P.M."

Whew! I was relieved, but this is when online research failed me and made me paranoid. According to public cruise forum out there, there's a mandatory safety muster drill that typically happens around 4 P.M but that's 7 hours away from the scheduled departure time. If you are not able to attend that, you need to call up cruise line company for special arrangements. I started to feel anxious because everyone was saying the same thing about not missing the muster drill. Turns out, Holland America Line allows passengers to check-in in person at the port around 11 A.M in the morning. So everyone can queue up to do the check-in and then onto the waiting room until the boarding process begins. Passengers are allowed to get on the ship as early as they want and enjoy the on-board amenities and food. Rooms are usually ready by then as well.

Obviously, I am going to miss the safety muster drill at 4 P.M. I called up Holland America Line. I explained to the agent of what's happening. The agent told me that my flight's arrival is fine to check-in since the ship is not going to depart until 11 P.M. late at night. I went on to ask about the muster drill, she instead transferred me to the ship services. Another nice agent came on the phone and told me there will be two muster drill occasions on that particular ship. One happens around 4 P.M. and another one is on an unknown/tentative schedule for those that could not make it to the first one. She said it typically happens before the departure of the ship and that will be the last one. Once again, she said that I'll be fine to attend the second muster drill. You can reach Holland America Line's ship services department at 800-514-1576.

Summary & Important Things to Know

  • Flight delays/cancellations can happen. If you are worried that you don't have enough time to get to your cruise, you can always fly in one day in advance and stay one night. 
  • Holland America Line allows online check-in 50 days prior to departure. It is recommended that you do online check-in. 
  • Generally, cruise lines are required by the U.S. government to obtain each guest's information at least 90 minutes prior to departure. If any guest misses this deadline to check in, he or she won't be able to sail. Check with your cruise line for the exact time. 
  • Holland America Line opens check-in at the port around 11 A.M even the scheduled departure is later in the evening/night. Guests can get on the ship as soon as the boarding process begins and enjoy on-board food and amenities. Rooms are usually ready by then as well. This is a great way to get your money worth.
  • Expect a very long lines at the port to check-in around 11 A.M. Personally, I'd wait out a little bit into the evening as the line will then be shorter or none. 
  • Mandatory muster drill typically occurs twice before the depature. It is important that you attend it. One happens around 4 P.M. and the last one happens some time before the departure for guests that could not make it to the first one. 

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July 17, 2018

Step-by-Step Guide to Buy Shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train) NOZOMI Tickets Online (Mobile App) In Advance [Tokyo-Kyoto or Kyoto-Tokyo]

Traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto and vice versa via Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) is very popular. In fact, visitors are strongly recommend to purchase the train ticket in person at the station either through the agent or the automatic vending machine as there are several NOZOMI trains operate on a daily basis from Tokyo to Kyoto and vice versa. However, there are a few benefits with purchasing Shinkansen tickets in advance:
  • You are like me, you like to plan your trip in advance and not last minute. 
  • Being able to select preferred seat in advance. For example, see Mount Fuji from the train or not get stuck in the middle of the 3 seats configuration. 
  • The Ordinary car reserved economy seat is 200 Yen cheaper than buying at the station. 

Currently, it is not possible to purchase the Shinkansen NOZOMI tickets in advance, let alone online, but there's a mobile application that's developed by the JR transportation and it is 100% safe and reliable to purchase Shinkansen tickets in advance. Here are the steps:

Before proceeding, please note that you can only make a reservation from 10:00 am one month prior to boarding date, up to 4 minutes before the departure time shown for the train in the timetable for the given boarding date.

Step 1: On your iPhone or Android phones, download the app called "smartEX" from the App Store that looks like the picture below:
Step 2: First time, you are required to sign up. Follow the screen to sign up by providing your information, etc. Please note that it will also asks for your credit card information during registration and it's 100% secured. The credit card will be the one that will be used for the ticket purchase and ID verification. So be sure to enter the card that you will be taking with you to Japan.

Step 3: After the registration and account verification process, you should be able to log into the smartEX application.

Step 4: From here on, the process should be pretty straight forward. You can feed your train itinerary information into the search form. On the searched result page, select the NOZOMI train that you want. Ordinary car basically is economy seats and Green car is spacious and more comfortable business class seats. Make your selection on what type of car you want and whether it is reserved or non-reserved seat. The difference in price between reserved and non-reserved seat is pretty minimal, so I highly recommend that you do the reserved seat so that you sit in the seat that's desirable, for example, to see Mount Fuji from the train or to not get stuck in the middle seat of the 3 seats.

Step 5: Select the seat from the seat map and click Next.

Step 6: On the final purchase page, you are required to enter the security code of the credit card that you provided during registration. Click on Purchase button when you are done.

Step 7: You must pick up the ticket when you are in Japan before the train departure. Make sure to take the credit card that was used to purchase the ticket with you to Japan and do NOT lose it. Without that credit card, your reservation will be void and there's no way around it. Read more on important things to know below about using this smartEX service.

Important Things to Know:
  • Your purchase ticket should appear under the Reservation List. From there you can modify/cancel.
  • Refund can be made BEFORE the train departure time via the smartEx app and the following service fees apply:
    • Ordinary Car - Reserved Seat: 310 Yen
    • Green car (First class car): 310 Yen
    • Ordinary Car - Non-Reserved Seat: 310 Yen
  • The ticket must be picked up from ticket vending machines and dedicated pick-up machines at any Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen station, as well as from the ticket booths at any main JR Central or JR West station.  Go here for the illustration of the ticket pick up process. Alternatively, if you prefer a live agent, you can pick up the purchased ticket at any main JR Central or JR West or Shinkansen stations:
    • Tokyo: Shinkansen Central Transfer Gate, Shinkansen South Transfer Gate, Yaesu Central Gate, Yaesu North Gate, Yaesu Central-North Ticket Gate, Yaesu Central-South Ticket Gate, Nihonbashi Ticket Gate
    • Kyoto: Shinkansen Central Transfer Gate, Shinkansen East Transfer Gate, Shinkansen Central Ticket Gate, Shinkansen Hachijyo Ticket Gate, Shinkansen Hachijyo East Ticket Gate, Centaral Ticket Gate, West Ticket Gate, Underground East Ticket Gate
    • Osaka: Shinkansen Central Ticket Gate, Shinkansen South Ticket Gate, Shinkansen Trasfer Gate, East Ticket Gate
    • More stations can be found here.
  • When you pick up your tickets you will need the credit card you used when you made the reservation and the password you use to login to the mobile application. If you forget your credit card you will not be able to pick up the tickets you reserved using this Service. There's no way around it so you must purchase a new ticket at the station. You also cannot use an IC card to pick up "tickets".
For more information on smartEx, go to the following website: https://smart-ex.jp/en

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July 5, 2018

Uzbekistan e-Visa and 5-Day Visa Free Transit Coming July 15, 2018 (USA is included)

Uzbekistan e-Visa
Starting July 15, 2018 citizen of 101 countries will be able to apply for an e-Visa to enter Uzbekistan by lodging an application online and paying a $20 application fee.

The e-Visa is a single entry visa valid for 90 days from the issue date for entrance, and can stay up to 30 days. Must apply 3 business days before traveling. Apply online for the e-Visa on https://e-visa.gov.uz/main.


Uzbekistan 5-Day Visa Free Transit
From the same date July 15, the same citizen of 101 countries will be able to transit through Uzbekistan through international airports and enter Uzbekistan for a period of not more than five days. The requirement is pretty simple that they must have a ticket to a third country through international airports (not border land), and the carrier must provide timely information on passengers to the units of the Border Guard Service of the State Security Service of Uzbekistan. There's no need to apply and pay any fees for the transit visa. 

Currently, eligible 101 Countries for e-Visa and 5-day visa free transit to enter Uzbekistan are:

Algeria
Antigua and Barbuda
Argentine Republic
Barbados
Belize
Canada
Cooperative Republic of Guyana
Czech Republic
Dominica
Dominican Republic
Federal Republic of Germany
Federative Republic of Brazil
French Republic
Gabon
Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
Grenada
Hungary
Iceland
Ireland
Italian Republic
Jamaica
Kingdom of Bahrain
Kingdom of Belgium
Kingdom of Bhutan
Kingdom of Denmark
Kingdom of Morocco
Kingdom of Norway
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Kingdom of Sweden
Kingdom of Thailand
Kingdom of the Netherlands
Latvian republic
Lebanon
Mexico
Mongolia
Montenegro
New Zealand
Portuguese Republic
Principality of Andorra
Principality of Liechtenstein
Principality of Monaco
Republic of Albania
Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Republic of Bulgaria
Republic of Chile
Republic of Colombia
Republic of Costa Rica
Republic of Croatia
Republic of Cyprus
Republic of Ecuador
Republic of Equatorial Guinea
Republic of Fiji
Republic of Guatemala
Republic of Honduras
Republic of India
Republic of Lithuania
Republic of Maldives
Republic of Malta
Republic of Mauritius
Republic of Palau
Republic of Panama
Republic of Peru
Republic of Poland
Republic of San Marino
Republic of Serbia
Republic of Slovenia
Republic of Suriname
Republic of the Philippines
Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Republic of Venezuela
Romania
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Seychelles
South Africa
Sri Lanka
State of Kuwait
State of Qatar
Sultanate of Oman
Swiss Confederation
The Australian Union
The Bahamas
The Hellenic Republic
The Kingdom of Spain
The People's Republic of China, including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China
The Republic of Austria
The Republic of Estonia
The Republic of Finland
The Republic of Macedonia
The Republic of Nauru
The Slovak Republic
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam
The State of Brunei Darussalam
Tunis Republic
Turkmenistan
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Uruguay
USA
Vatican

I love when a country makes it convenient to get a visa for travelers to go visit. Vietnam last year did the same by introducing e-visas for American passport holders, and Brazil started issuing e-visas ffor American, Canadian, and Japanese passport holders early this year 2018. 

Vietnam

Brazil


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