May 11, 2017

Review: Four Corners Monument

I want to start out by saying that if Four Corners Monument is on your way to somewhere, then considering adding it to your itinerary. There are couple reasons for that: 
  1. There's not much to see and do there and so a long drive to get there just to see it might be a little bit of work. 
  2. Because of how compact the place is, it can't take much of your time to ruin your itinerary. 
Regardless, I'm sure glad I got to see the place in person while on our Arizona/Utah trip.

Entrance Fee
The entrance fee is $5 per person NOT per vehicle.

The Monument
The place is pretty compact as I said earlier. The Four Corners area where it has all the Four stares: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet allow many visitors to take photos, but it's really difficult to take a nice photo of that without people in it because everyone is there for that area!

The Four Corners
Besides that, there are sitting areas that visitors can sit down and relax. There are stalls that many local Native American vendors sell souvenir items. I sure got a sand paint magnet from one of the stalls. They mostly sell the same items but watch out for the price. Browse around and find the cheapest place to buy from. It's a small area, so it's not that hard to look around!

One Magnet A Visit: Four Corners Magnet Souvenir
Summary
My recommendation is, don't listen to people that tell you Four Corners is not worth the trip! If it's something on your list, then go do it when you have the opportunity to do so. That is, if it's just a short cruising from your base location or it's on your way to your destination. It's a small area so it's very easy to look around and see. The experience and seeing it for yourself are what matter!

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May 10, 2017

Venice Public Transportation: Vaporetti/Water Bus

Venice is an expensive European city to visit. Generally speaking, Europe is expensive. I am so fortunate to be able to utilize points for hotel stays near the St. Mark's Square/Grand Canal in Venice and sure looking forward to it!

Another thing that shows how expensive Venice is, is their Public Transportation. Around the Grand Canal, which is the area that I highly recommend any Venice visitors to stay around that area if possible for sightseeing and exploring Venice. The area is mostly operated through water way. They do have land buses too, but they also have the "Vaporetti" (a.k.a Water Bus). This is not the Venice's iconic Gondola. That one has separate special fare.

Vaporetti/Water Bus Fares
The Vaporetti/Water Bus is operated by the ACTV company. One single ride on the Vaporetti costs 7,50 Euro, which is around $8 USD. That is outrageous. If you will be using public transportation more often there, it may make sense to purchase the TIME tickets instead:
  • 20,00 Euro - 24 Hours/1 Day Ticket
  • 30,00 Euro - 48 Hours/2 Days Ticket 
  • 40,00 Euro - 72 Hours/3 Days Ticket
  • 60,00 Euro - 168 Hours/7 Days Ticket

The Venice Marco Polo Airport Bus Route #5 which operates on land, leaving to/from Piazzale Roma has different fare. It costs 8 Euro one-way and 15 Euro round-trips. It is worth noting that, paying extra 6 Euro, added to the time tickets (1, 2, 3, 7 Days) above, allows you to travel one-way to the airport or 12 Euro for round-trips via the airport bus route #5. 

There's a water shuttle option to/from the airport that is operated by a completely different company called Alilaguna Service. They have their own ticket fare which is more expensive than the ACTV's tickets. Their routes are also specific and pretty limited. For more information: Alilaguna Service Company

Public Transportation Tips
Fortunately, the Grand Canal or St. Mark's Square area is compact and therefore you should consider walking if you can. Otherwise, here are some tips:
  1. Forget about water taxi and private transfers. They are very expensive.
  2. Try to stay around the St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) as possible. 
  3. Consider walking if you can. Venice is compact and thus easy to navigate. 
  4. If you must take the water bus to go somewhere further, for example: Burano island. Then consider purchasing the time tickets instead. Round trips will cost you 15 Euro, but a 24 hours ticket will cost you 5 more Euro and you will be able to take unlimited Water Buses for entire 24 hours. The 24 hours time start once your ticket is validated. 
  5. Talking of tickets validation, it's very important you validate the ticket prior to getting on board. The fine is pretty hefty if you don't or forget. 
  6. Determine how you get to/from the Airport or Train Station to Piazza San Marco. If it's not within walking distance, determine what type of ticket that benefits you the most. 
Example/Scenario
Here's my scenario for my trip. We'll be arriving in Venice via the Venezia Santa Lucia railway station and leaving Venice via Venice Marco Polo Airport. 
  • Day 1: Train station to hotel in San Marco - need 1 Water Bus ticket x 2 adults = 15 Euro.
  • Day 2: Walk
  • Day 3: Go to Burano Island and places that require Water Bus - need 1 Day/24 hours Water Bus ticket x 2 adults = 40 Euro.
    • If we want to add the airport bus route #5, we would pay extra 12 Euro for 2 adults to the 1 day ticket price for one-way from Piazzale Roma to the airport for Day 4. 
  • Day 4: We have two options:
    • Use the unexpired 1 day ticket to get to Piazzale Roma from our hotel, and from there take the land bus route #5 to the airport. OR
    • We go with the water option with the Alilaguna Service as they have the stop right by our hotel straight to the airport; however, the cost is 15 Euro per person. 

Conclusion
As you can see, it can be really expensive to use public transportations in Venice. The gist of it is, if you can walk then walk. If you cannot walk, be strategic about what type of Vaporetti/Water Bus ticket that benefits you the most and makes the most sense for money savings.

Fore more information on ACTV Vaporetti/Water Bus Ticket Fares.
For more information on Alilaguna Service Company


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May 8, 2017

How To Purchase New York Metro Card?

If it's your first time visiting to New York City and you plan on using public transportation Subway there, make sure to check out my article on How Much To Put On Metro Card? first. After that, you can read the steps below on how to purchase the Metro Card. I found the process rather confusing at first when I first visited New York City and sure did not like the fact that people were waiting behind me while I was trying to figure out how to get a Subway Metro Card from the vending machine.

Do-It-Yourself Method
Purchasing the New York Subway Metro Card is actually very easy. The most convenient do-it-yourself way is to buy it from the Metro Card vending machine, to do that folllow these steps:
  1. Know beforehand how much money you want to put on the Metro Card. How Much To Put On Metro Card? 
  2. Locate a Subway station.
  3. At the Metro Card vending machine , follow the instructions on the touch screen.
  4. Tap Other Amount, when you put in the amount you want, make sure it is NOT included the $1 Metro Card. That amount will be added to the final balance on the final screen if you don't have the card yet. 
  5. Pay using cash, debit or credit card. If you use card, on the left bottom corner, insert the card side according to the displayed image on the slot and remove it right away. So insert and then remove. 
  6. Once it's done, the Metro Card will be dispensed from the top right hand and NOT the bottom. 
Bottom Left Corner: Pay With Credit Card
Top Right Says Metro Card: Metro Card Dispension
Other Methods
If you prefer the method of getting the Metro Card from a live person, you can purchase directly from the Subway's customer service window located in the Subway station (cash only) or retailer. You can find the retailers using the following link: http://tripplanner.mta.info/metrocardmerchants/

How To Use Metro Card?
To use the Metro Card for Subway rides, it's very easy. At the turnstiles entrance, you simply swipe your card. The Metro Card shows the arrow direction that you neee to swipe the card on the metal machine. Don't swipe too slow, but if you do you will see the sign tells you so and asks you to swipe again.
Follow the Arrow Sign and Swipe!
Remember the Metro Card can be used for multiple people, so once one person is done and entered, simply pass the card to the next person to swipe then enter. It's worth noting that you can see the balance remaining on the card on the screen on the swiping metal machine after each swipe.

Enjoy the trip to New York City!

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May 7, 2017

Hotel Review: Corner View at Courtyard Portland City Center

Room Number: 911
Room Rate: $112 With AAA Discount Standard 1 King
Room Type: Corner View Free Upgrade
Room Floor: 9th Floor
Stay Date: February 2017

Check-In:
There was little hick up for my check-in process, but it was not hotel's fault. We arrived in Portland around half past 10 in the morning, so our upgraded Corner View Room on the 10th floor wasn't ready. However, the front desk girl suggested 3rd floor, same type of corner room but way lower floor. I took the suggestion but then regretfully asked her to put us back to the 10th floor instead because the view really sucks! All I could see is ugly parking space from the corner of the room's big window. We dropped the bags at front desk and went sightseeing while they were getting the room ready. We got back later after 2 and half hours and room was still not ready. We left again and after about an hour, came back and the room on the 10th still wasn't ready. But they suggested 9th floor this time and I decided to take it as it's only one floor different. The view up there is so much better than the room on the 3rd floor. 

Corner View Upgraded Room
Beautiful Lobby
Location:
The location of this hotel is marvelous! It's centrally located in Portland downtown. It's within walking distance to Amtrak Union Station, many restaurants and department stores. Food trucks are just 7 mins walk away. If you want to travel further, the MAX transportation is right at door step of the hotel just across the street. 

Amtrak Station Is Within Walking Distance
Room & Bed:
The boutique designed of the guestroom is very nice. It's very welcoming and the comfortable king bed is inviting. Our reservation was just the standard room but because of my Gold Elite Status with Marriott, the hotel offered complimentary upgrade to their premium Corner View Room. The view from the corner of the room is really cool. We got to see Portland town from up above and that definitely was the highlight of my stay at this Courtyard property. Bathroom is also very nice and looks renovated with tile floors. From the bathroom, you can also enjoy the city view! Overall, I really appreciate the upgrade as I got to experience the so called Corner View Room. 

Super Comfortable Marriott Bed
More Corner View!
Modern Look Bathroom
Restaurant
As a reminder, Courtyard doesn't offer complimentary breakfast to Marriott's Gold or Platinum members. This particular Courtyard also does not have bistro on site; however, they do have the Original restaurant that we went to have breakfast at. Personally, I think the food is mediocre, price is reasonable but not economical either. You can charge the bill to the room so you can earn Marriott points. What you see on the room service menu is pretty much what they have in the restaurant with the same price.

Our Breakfast at the Original Restaurant by Courtyard
Hotel Exterior

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May 6, 2017

Hotels.com Rewards Program: Stay 10 Nights, Get 1 Free Night. Is It Good Deal?

In light of the fact that I have finally accrued 10 nights on Hotels.com, I want to write something about its rewards program.



Stay 10 Nights & Get 1 Free Night
First, let me start out by saying that, Hotels.com's rewards program isn't my favorite hotel's rewards program because you have to stay 10 nights in order to earn one free night for another future stay. The way the program works is that after you stay 10 nights, you'll earn one free night. That one free night basically is just an average of the total amount that you spent on the room's rate before tax for all the past 10 night stays. Mathematically, it's a savings of 10% each time. But you can't see that savings until you complete 10 night stays and use that one free night. So the redemption process isn't instant and that's why I don't like it. 

I prefer Orbitz, another hotels booking site, because every booking you receive Orbucks (Orbitz rewards program) right away to use for another booking and they always have this 15% off coupon that I frequently use. The 15% savings plus Orbucks, that's a good deal. Make sure to check out my article on How to Save On Hotel's Booking With Orbitz.

Talking of percentage coupon, Hotels.com does have coupon as welll. However, the way it works is that if you use coupon, you can't earn nights towards your 10 nights requirement. So if you must book with Hotels.com, it makes sense to use coupon only if it is at least 10% high as not to lose your savings. The rewards night also has expiration date if your last activity is more than a year ago. In my instance, I had 9 reward nights but it was going to expire in May because my last booking was May 2016. If I stopped booking with Hotels.com, I would lose all those 9 reward nights in May 2017. That's why I decided to book hotel in McCall Idaho through Hotels.com and checked out the Ice Carnival there. I could not find that particular McCall hotel on Orbitz anyway. 

In Summary
Overall, the only reason I book hotels through travel agents websites such as Orbitz or Hotels.com is because I cannot find chain hotels such as IHG, Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott etc. or they are too expensive. I value stays through those hotels and earn points through them much better than non-chain ones. Because of how restrictive of coupons usage on Hotels.com and how long it takes to accrue nights in order to save money, I nowadays go to Orbitz instead due to the regular 15% off coupon and earning instant Orbucks. If I can find hotels on Hotels.com, there's a 99% chance I'll find that same hotel on Orbitz as well. Do note that chain hotels that are found on those sites do not qualify for earning points and most of them you can't use coupons for it. That's why I only book chain hotels directly and leave non chain ones to Orbitz. 

Thanks to the ice carnival I got to accrue my 10th night and got to see the Ice Carnival in McCall Idaho for the first time!


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April 17, 2017

Hotel Points For Free Stays in Venice Italy

Traveling to Europe can be really expensive. Venice Italy is no exception, especially if you want to stay around the touristic area of the famous Grand Canal or the St. Mark's Square (NOT Mestre). This is when hotel points are extremely useful. In this article, I am going to just focus on hotels in the St. Mark's Square area that you can use points for free night stays. The hotel programs that you can use points for are: Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood (SPG). There used to be a Choice hotel program's property there, but that property had since then moved out of Choice program.

This is the Venice that You Want to be at (NOT Mestre)1
Hilton
There's a Hilton Molino Stucky Venice there. The points required for one free night stay starts from 50,000 Hilton Points, but it's not that easy to find an award stay that costs that many points unless you plan things super in advanced, not to mention during summer peak time. Last I checked for May was 140,000 Hilton Points. That's because the standard room's award stay was already sold out for the date that I wanted. Moreover, Hilton this year also changed how the cash and points program work and that's an unfortunate thing because the change does not do any good in this type of redemption when the rate soars at least $500 per night stay. My words of advice is, just keep checking and make sure you can score a room with the least possible points without paying a lot of money out of your pocket. In the instance of 140,000 Hilton Points for one free night stay, no thanks! The cash and points option for that redemption is even worse than paying for the room with full cash.

Marriott
There's a category 9 Marriott's Autograph Collection of Boscolo Venezia property there. One free night stay requires 45,000 Marriott Points. That is awful lot of points! But keep in mind that, due to the merger between Marriott and Starwood (SPG), 1 Starpoint can be transferred into 3 Marriott Points. What this means is that, if you have SPG Starpoints, you can transfer 15,000 Starpoints and that will get you 45,000 Marriott Points. 15,000 points for one free luxurious stay in expensive Venice, that's a great deal! If you are Gold member with Marriott, you can even get continental breakfast at Autograph Collection properties free of charge.

Starwood (SPG)
There are four SPG properties there. 3 are category 7 properties, and 1 is category 6 property.
SPG's category 7 hotels require 30,000 or 35,000 Starpoints for one free night stay. Those properties are:
  • PalazzinaG, Venice, A Member Of Design Hotels
  • The Gritti Palace, A Luxury Collection Hotel
  • Hotel Danieli, A Luxury Collection Hotel
The one and only category 6 property is the one that I want to focus on because it requires lesser points. For one free night stay at the The Westin Europa & Regina in Venice, you will need 20,000 or 25,000 Starpoints depending on the traveling dates. So if you can get a free room for 20,000 points, that'd be ideal. Here's how points work at the Westin Europa & Regina.
  • 20,000 Starpoints will get you a Classic Room type. If available, you can reserve the room online. 
    • Points and cash option is also available: 10,000 Starpoints plus $180 before tax. 
  • 21,500 Starpoints will get you a Deluxe Room type. You will need to call SPG to check availability and reserve the room for you. 
  • 22,500 Starpoints will get you a Premium Room type. You will need to call SPG to check availability and reserve the room for you. 
My words of advice is, don't get too picky on the room types. Just pick the least possible points required for a free night stay and if you are Gold member with Starwood, you can make a request for a room upgrade if available upon check in. If the Classic Room types are sold out on the dates that you want, it may be worth it to call up SPG and see if the next available room type is available for points redemption. I honestly think you can't go wrong with any of these room types at the Westin compared to paying for the nightly rate there that's outrageously high.

Conclusion
Venice is an expensive European city in Italy to visit when it comes to lodging. Thankfully there are three hotel points programs such as Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood (SPG) that you can use points for a free night stay there. Among all 3 programs and specially for Venice destination, Marriott is my top choice due to the merger between Marriott and Starwood. One free night at the Marriott's Boscolo Venezia, Autograph Collection requires 45,000 Marriott Points or merely 15,000 Starpoints. My next choice is Starwood's The Westin Europa & Regina, which is a category 6 property that requires 20,000 Starpoints for one free night stay or 10,000 Starpoints plus $180.

HERE ARE 4 TIPS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER:
  1. Start racking up points for those hotel programs. The best way to get those points fast is to sign up for each hotel program's credit cards. Check out the Best Credit Cards Offers section. 
  2. Starwood Credit Card will give you Gold status automatically upon approval. Then you can instantly match that status with Marriott program and become Marriott's Gold Elite member. Being Gold member will give you complimentary room upgrade at check-in and free continental breakfast at Autograph Collections properties. 
  3. Be strategic and diversify those hotel programs. Don't just stick with one program. Check availability of each hotel, and move around stays if needed. They are all well located by the Grand Canal and the St. Mark's Square area, so you can't really go wrong with any hotels that are mentioned here. 
  4. Although you can use hotel points to stay for free in Venice, there are some instances that paying with cash on a decent hotel there might make better sense for you. It all depends on your budget and priorities. The golden rule is, if paying with cash stays there is outrageously expensive, then see if you can use hotel points to help. If it's cheaper to stay at a decent hotel with cash, then save those hotel points for another exotic and luxurious properties. Starwood's Starpoints are incredibly valuable because you can transfer those points into a handful of airline miles as well for free flying. 

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April 11, 2017

New York City Planning Part 4: Free New York Harbor And Statue of Liberty Cruise With The Staten Island Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry service is a great option for those that are traveling to New York City on budget because it takes passengers from Manhattan to Staten Island and back for FREE. It enables visitors to enjoy the harbor cruise of Manhattan skylines and beautiful views of New York's iconic Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Therefore, if you just want to see the Statue of Liberty without going into the monument and paying for the entrance ticket, this is a great opportunity to do so.

See Manhattan Skylines From Harbor Cruise With Free Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry leaves from Whitehall Terminal in Manhattan which can be easily reached by the Subway train, and arrives in St. George Terminal in Staten Island right in downtown area. The ferry runs 24/7 and pretty frequent both days and nights. For more detailed schedule information, please click here to view the schedule.

The sailing takes approximately 25 minutes. No ticket needed; however, if you want to return from Staten Island to Manhattan, you must disembark the ferry and go to the waiting area for the return ferry. If you have never visited the Staten Island, you might as well explore it before heading back to Manhattan. There are some attractions near the ferry terminal such as the Staten Island Museum, St. George Theater, Staten Island Borough Hall, to name a few. The St. George area is also a beautiful waterfront downtown of Staten Island, so take your time to stroll along the waterfront and sample some restaurants and bars while there. Make the FREE Staten Island Ferry service worthwhile!

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March 30, 2017

3 Confusing Things About New York City Subway System

Our trip to New York City relied heavily on the Subway system to get us around the city. I carefully planned on How Much To Put On The NYC MetroCard and that worked out really well for us. Besides how old and dirty NYC Subway is, we find the system is very confusing for tourists. Here are my 3 confusing things about NYC Subway system:

New York City Subway Number 7

1. Uptown Vs. Downtown
If you have ridden Subway in D.C. or Chicago, even in Europe, you would know that each Subway station's platform will clearly mark the "destination" that the train goes to. So if you want to go to another station along the line that reaches that destination, you know that is the train that you want to get on. New York's Subway, on the other hand, goes with the station numbers and letters. Each platform is marked with whether Uptown or Downtown. If you live in NYC, you would figure out quickly whether Times Square is uptown or downtown from the airport and vice versa. But for tourists, how are we supposed to know that?

2. Express Vs. Local
The title says it all! Express means fast train by skipping some stops, whereas local is the regular slower train that has to make each stop. Express and Local words can be seen outside of the train itself. If you miss seeing that on the arriving train and you accidentally get on the Express train, there are only two things can happen. One, the train makes the right stop for you by skipping the ones that you don't want to stop at so you arrive quicker. Two, you are going far far away and need to figure out how to get back! The confusing part about this Express and Local trains is the fact that tourists are not going to know which stations that the Express train skips. So stick to the local trains to be sure.

3. Two Sides of Platform
This only happened to us once while we were there. Basically, some stations have two sides of platform that's divided by the train track. Once you enter the station and swipe your MetroCard just to realize that you are on the wrong side of the platform and the station is not connected to the other side of the platform. You will have to exit and re-enter the other platform by re-swiping your MetroCard. This means that you will be paying twice. So make sure it's the right station that you want to enter and read the  marked signs carefully whether you want to go uptown or downtown, then swipe your MetroCard to enter. What we did was we went ahead and got on the wrong direction's train and simply got off at another station that the station connects to the other side.

Conclusion
Although we find the New York City's Subway System is rather confusing, we will still use this public transportation method for our next trip to the Big Apple. Things can still get confusing, but we will just need to figure them out. After all, that's what being tourist is all about - get confused, get lost, and have fun! Subway is a great way to get around the city and it sure is cost-savings!

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March 29, 2017

Requesting Missing Miles Flown on Singapore Airlines and Crediting Those Miles to United Airlines Instead

Question Asked: 
"I just flew with Singapore airlines and I want to accrue miles. But I don't want to accrue Singapore airlines miles. I fly more in the States and therefore can I credit those miles to a U.S airline instead?"

You can earn miles through International airlines if the airline has partnership with the U.S. airlines. To answer the above question, yes you can! if you fly with Singapore Airlines but because you don't fly Singapore that often and therefore it does not make sense to accrue their miles, you can credit those miles with United Airlines instead. Both airlines have partnership under the Star Alliance.

Given the above example with Singapore and United Airlines. If you did not have a chance to ask Singapore Airlines agent to put your United Mileage Program number on your reservation, then you certainly can request those missing miles later on after you have flown the flight. The tricky part is that you can't do that directly with Singapore Airlines. They require you to have KrisFlyer account (Singapore's mileage program) in order to request missing miles. This makes sense only if you want to credit those missing miles into KrisFlyer account. However, you want to credit those missing miles into your United Mileage account.

Here are the steps to do that:
  1. Make sure you saved your boarding passes because there's a ticket number on each boarding pass. If you don't have the boarding passes, check online booking management and your email/receipt to get the ticket number. If all fails, call up Singapore Airlines at 1-800-742-3333 and they should be able to help you locating the ticket number. Singapore Airlines ticket number starts with 618.
    1. Please note that if you fly with Silk Air, you cannot accrue United miles. That's because Silk Air partners with Singapore Airlines, but not with United. Silk Air's ticket number starts with 629.
  2. The next step is to verify what type of "fare class" your ticket is. Each class earns different type of award miles. You can view this information here (LINK) on how many United miles you earn through flying with Singapore Airlines. To check the fare class, look at your email/receipt, online booking management; otherwise call up Singapore Airlines. 
  3. Once you have those two information, make sure you know the flight number, flight dates, and from where to where. 
  4. Call up United to provide those information to request those missing miles. If you prefer to do it online, head over to United site for requesting miles credit and fill out the online form with the information that you have gathered above. 
  5. You are all set and wait for your eligible miles to be credited. According to United, it takes approximately 14 days to request missing miles from partnered airlines. 
Editorial Notes: 
  • If you are into this collecting miles program, every time you purchase a ticket, make sure your desired mileage program is entered. If both airlines have partnership, you can earn miles through one program or the other but not both. 
  • After the flight, you can request missing miles. However, to request those miles, you actually will contact the airline that you want the miles to be credited to with all necessary information outlined in the steps above. 

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March 28, 2017

Arizona Planning: How To Book Antelope Canyon Tour?

We are going to Arizona soon. Antelope Canyon in Page town is one of the natural wonder that has always been on my list to go see. But this Canyon is not something that you can do it yourself type of thing. It's located in the Navajo Parks & Recreation and requires tour company to take you there into the Canyon. In other words, you can't just drive straight to the park and enter the Canyon on your own, you must book a guided tour.

Upper Vs Low Antelope Canyon
There are two parts of the Antelope Canyon. The Upper Canyon is probably the most popular one as any first time visitors will likely attend this tour. Hence the tour is more expensive and more crowded than the Lower Antelope Canyon. My advice is, don't get too hung up on the comparison of the two. If it's your first time visiting the Antelope Canyon, go for the Upper Canyon and if you still have time, see if you could do the Lower Canyon as well. It’s all about how much time you have, your priorities, and what is your budget. We’ll talk about the cost of the tour later in the article.

Timing
Another common question that visitors have is “when” is a good time of the day to go see the Antelope Canyon. It is suggested that the Upper Canyon is best seen from 10am-12:30pm of the day because of the "Light Beams” that reflect into the canyon. Check out the photo below.

Courtesy of Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours
Tour Cost
As mentioned, a guided tour is required to see the Antelope Canyon. Currently, you will find the price of the tours offered are around $48/adult plus $8/person for the park's permit fee. Personally, I don’t mind paying for fees to support preserving nature, but I really don’t like it when a tour company tries to make extra money by charging more for those that want to go see the Canyon during the so-called “Prime Time/Hours” - in this case, if you want to enter the canyon around 10am-12:30pm to see the "Light Beams", you will pay extra around $10 more.

There’s also another type of tour that includes photography. This tour, however, requires that you have a very good camera and tripod. This tour obviously costs much more because the guide will take you into the Canyon and show you how to take great pictures of the Antelope Canyon.

Reservation
Each tour company has limited capacity of how many visitors they take into the Canyon during available time slot per day. You certainly can try walking in to the tour company upon arrival in Page for the next available tour. During peak season, you can possibly wait for several hours or risk not being able to see the Canyon because the tour is sold out on that day. My advice is, if Antelope Canyon is on your must do/see list, you might as well make reservation with the tour company either online or on the phone. The nice thing about some tour company is that they do offer 100% refund for cancellation made during their allowed time. See recommended tours below.

Recommended Tour Company

UPPER ANTELOPE CANYON

Below are the approved tour company with my side notes based on my personal experience trying to book the tour with them.

Adventurous Antelope Canyon PhotoTours
Website: www.navajoantelopecanyon.com
Phone: 928-380-1874
Payment: Your credit card is NOT charged during online reservation. It’s mainly for holding the reservation. Pay with cash upon arrival; otherwise 5% fee for debit/credit card payment.
Cancellation: 72 hours prior to receive 100% refund.
Note: They offer several tours that go by the tour numbers that range from photo tour to just sightseeing tour. If you just want to just enter the Antelope Canyon, then look at the Tour #9 or 10 under “Sightseer” menu. I have to say, their website is poorly designed. There’s no way to tell if the tour is sold out or not. Therefore, you just need to reserve then you should receive confirmation email. But to be safe, re-confirm with the tour company just to make sure. The price for this tour company for both prime and non-prime time include the $8 park's permit fee. So it’s quite reasonable compared to the other company.

Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours
Website: www.navajotours.com
Phone: 928-698-3384
Note: This is another poorly designed website. One page says the cost is $40/adult but on the reservation page, it is $48/adult. The only good thing about this site is that their scheduler does indicate the time that the tour is available, but no where to be found about the cancellation policy. I tried to call them but no answers. You can try as you may have better luck than I did.

Antelope Canyon Tours
Website: www.antelopecanyon.com
Phone: 928-645-9102
Cancellation Policy: They have various applicable cancellation fees depending on what type of cancellation you will make. See their FAQ page.
Note: The website is easier to navigate and more professional, but I don’t like their cancellation policy.

Grand Circle Adventures
Website: www.antelopeslotcanyon.com
Phone: 928-645-5594
Payment: Credit card will be charged right away upon making online reservation.
Cancellation Policy: 24 hours prior to receive 100% refund.
Note: The website is professional and they have a very generous cancellation policy. I also had the opportunity to talk to them on the phone. The girl was very professional and helpful. The tour cost does not include the $8 park permit fee.

Overland Canyon Tours (Canyon X)
Website: www.overlandcanyon.com
Phone: 928-608-4072
Note: This website is rather confusing. I didn’t get to look at it much so I really don’t have much opinions about this tour company.

Tse Bighanilini Tours    
No Website
Phone: 928-698-3285 and 928-310-9458

LOWER ANTELOPE CANYON

These are the approved tour operators for the Lower Antelope Canyon. As I said earlier, this tour is less busy and cheaper than the Upper Canyon’s tour. If you end up doing both the upper and lower tours, make sure to keep your receipt that you already paid for the park’s permit fee for one of the tours and then all you have to do is, pay for the touring fee only for the second tour.

Dixie Ellis
Website: https://antelopelowercanyon.com
Phone: 928-640-1761

Ken’s Tours
Website: www.lowerantelope.com  
Phone: 928-606-2168 and 928-640-0032

Lower Antelope Canyon Tours     
No Website.
Phone: 928-640-1761

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March 27, 2017

Limited Time Offer: 80,000 Bonus Hilton Points No Annual Fee With American Express Hilton Honors Credit Card

Disclaimer: I don't earn any commission from the links nor I am affiliate with any credit card issuers below. Just love great deals for traveling. 

The standard offer for this no annual fee American Express Hilton Honors Credit Card is only 50,000 Bonus Hilton Points. But now through May 31, 2017 - the offer has increased to 80,000 Bonus Hilton Points after $2,000 spent on the card within the first 3 months of card membership.

If you are looking for a higher sign up bonus, consider the American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Card, which currently offers 100,000 Bonus Hilton Points plus 1 free weekend night after the first year's card anniversary with an annual fee of $75. The offer has the same deadline of May 31, 2017.

Personally, $75 for 100,000 Hilton Points for the first year, then another $75 to get one free weekend night at a nice fancy and expensive worldwide Hilton property, that annual fee is worth it. But each person's priority is different and some may prefer the no annual fee card. Keep in mind also that American Express sign up bonus offer is once per lifetime.


Here's the synopsis of this card's offer and benefits:

Hilton Honors Card
  • 80,000 Signup Bonus Hilton Honors Points after $2,000 spent on the card within the first 3 months of card membership. 
  • 7 points per $1 spent at Hilton hotels. 
  • 5 points per $1 spent at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations in the U.S.
  • 3 points per $1 spent everywhere else. 
  • Upgrade to Gold Status when $20,000 or more spent on the card in a calendar year. 
  • Receive 500 bonus points when the card is used to book online and pay for stay at Hilton hotels. 
  • $0 annual fee.
  • Link
Be sure to check out the Master List of Credit Card Issuers Rules about American Express to best use of your application time.

This offer has been added to the Current Travel Promotion page.


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Limited Time Offer: 100,000 Bonus Hilton Points Plus 1 Free Weekend Night With American Express Surpass Credit Card

Disclaimer: I don't earn any commission from the links nor I am affiliate with any credit card issuers below. Just love great deals for traveling. 

This is the highest sign up bonus on American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Card that I have seen. The offer is 100,000 bonus after $3,000 spent on the cad within the first 3 months. Plus, earn a free weekend night award after your first anniversary of Card Membership. The annual fee on this card is $75 and not waived for the first year. When the second year arrives, once you pay for the annual fee to keep the card, you will receive a free weekend night at worldwide Hilton properties.

This offer ends on May 31, 2017.


Here is the synopsis on the card's benefits and the offer:

Hilton Honors Surpass Card
  • 100,000 Signup Bonus Hilton Honors Points after $3,000 spent on the card within the first 3 months of card membership. 
  • Plus, earn a free weekend night award after your first anniversary of Card Membership.
  • 12 points per $1 spent at Hilton hotels. 
  • 6 points per $1 spent at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations in the U.S.
  • 3 points per $1 spent everywhere else. 
  • Gold Status. 
    • Upgrade to Diamond Status when $40,000 or more spent on the card in a calendar year. 
  • Receive 5,00 bonus points when the card is used to book online and pay for stay at Hilton hotels. 
  • $75 annual fee.
  • Link
Be sure to check out the Master List of Credit Card Issuers Rules about American Express to best use of your application time.

This offer has been added to the Current Travel Promotion page.

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March 26, 2017

Master List of Credit Card Issuers Rules and Application Time

Before applying for a credit card in order to take advantage of the huge sign up bonus, it's very important that you understand each credit card issuers rules and develop strategies to know when is a good time to apply for the card and how not to waste credit hard inquiries/pulls.

American Express:
  • You can only receive sign up bonus once in a lifetime. So it’s very important that you apply for the card when the past highest sign up bonus re-appears. 
  • American Express does not care about the number of hard pulls on your credit report; however, you must have a credit history of 6 months prior to applying for their card. 
  • American Express only approves one credit card per day and two credit cards within 90 days. These rules, however, do not apply to their charge cards. 
  • Multiple applications on the same day will result in one hard pull. So you may apply for one credit card and one or more charge cards on the same day, and that will result in only one hard pull. 
  • You can apply for one personal and one business card on the same day. Although that will result in only one hard pull, but American Express will only approve one card per day. So it serves no purpose to do that. However, this rule does not apply to charge cards.
  • You can keep at most 5 American Express credit cards, but charge cards are not counted against that limit.  
  • If your application is pending or denied, you can call the Reconsideration Line at 877-399-3083 though they may just tell you to wait for decision in the mail. 

Chase:
  • If you have 5 or more credit card accounts opened with Chase or any other banks in the past 24 months, Chase will deny your application. However, this 5/24 rule only apply to certain Chase credit cards that are not listed below. Some cards are excluded from this rule and they are: 
    • Chase AARP
    • Chase Amazon
    • Chase British Airways
    • Chase Disney
    • Chase Fairmont (discontinued)
    • Chase Hyatt
    • Chase IHG
    • Chase Marriott Premier Business
    • Chase Ritz-Carlton
  • You are not eligible to receive sign up bonus again if you previously received sign up bonus within the last 24 months. Be sure to read the offer terms.
  • Within 90 days after you opened Chase credit card, if the same credit card increases sign up bonus and the link is publicly available, you can send secured message to Chase to request matching the higher bonus. Read my experience on this here
  • Chase does not approve more than 2 credit cards within 30 days.
  • Multiple applications on the same day will result in one hard pull. However, applying for one personal and one business card will result in two separate hard pulls.
  • If your application is pending review or denied, you can call the Reconsideration Line at 888-270-2127. They will work with you on your application right away. 

Citi:
  • You can only apply for 1 card every 8 days and 2 cards every 65 days, whether approved or not.
  • You can, however, apply for one personal and one business card on the same day, but that will result in two separate hard pulls.
  • You are not eligible for sign up bonus if you have opened or closed any same rewards earning card in the past 24 months. Be sure to read the offer terms.
  • Citi does care about the hard pulls on your credit report in the past 6 months.
  • If your application is pending or denied, you can call the Reconsideration Line at 800-763-9795. 

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March 25, 2017

New York City Planning Part 3: How Much To Put On MetroCard?

I am a big fan of taking public transportations, especially the subway in New York City. What bothers me is the fact that I never know how much to put money on the the MetroCard there each time so that after my trip, I don't have any remaining money on the card unused as it's not refundable and will expire. That's how the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) makes money off expired and unused MetroCard. So I took some time to do a little bit of research on how to prevent this from happening for my next trip to the Big Apple!

New York MetroCard Vending Machine

Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard

If you are going to be in New York City just a few days like I will, and will take a few public transportation to get to places there, then getting the Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard makes more sense than the Unlimited Rides MetroCard.

As the name suggests, Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard allows you to add money to the card at the self-service vending machine, then use it to pay for each bus and subway rides in New York City. The thing that I love about this type of MetroCard is you can use it for multiple people. So if you have more than 1 person in your group, you can simply get one card, put the money in it, and use it for everyone in your party. That way you will save money on getting the card in the first place. It costs $1 to get a MetroCard if you don't have one yet. That fee is all calculated in when you try to get the card and put money on it at the vending machine.

How Much To Put On MetroCard?

Currently, the typical fare for a subway or local bus ride is $2.75. When you put $5.50 or more on your card, you will receive a 5 percent bonus. That's great, but it makes the math harder trying to determine how much initially to put on the card so that you don't have too much money left on the card unused at the end of your trip. Thankfully, MTA has developed an online calculator to help us out with that.

The calculator can do the math and calculate the balance for you by telling you how many rides you can get out of the amount you put on your MetroCard. It also gives you an option whether you are refilling or purchasing a new card. It is pretty handy.

If you want a zero balance on the MetroCard at the end of your trip, you will need to pay $21.95 at the vending machine for a new MetroCard or $20.95 if you already have the MetroCard. Here's the breakdown:
  • New MetroCard: $1
  • Put money on the MetroCard: $20.95 + 5% Bonus = $21.9975 or $22 (Total money on the MetroCard)
  • $22 divides by 8 rides = $2.75 each ride (Each ride with MetroCard costs $2.75)
So, if you don't have a MetroCard yet and you put $20.95 on the card, you can ride 8 times on local buses or subway. After the 8th trip, your MetroCard will have zero credit on it.

Keep in mind that within two hours of the time you paid for your fare, you may transfer free from subway to bus, bus to subway, or bus to bus. Subway stations transfer is free as long as you don't exit one station and enter a new station.

As a reminder, you can use one MetroCard for multiple people. So make sure to multiply the bolded amount in bullet #2 with the amount of people in your group, then use the total plus $1 if you have not had a MetroCard.

Go play with that online calculator. It even gives you other suggestions that will give you zero balance on the card. With the current fare set by MTA, the lowest amount of ride that will give you zero balance is 8 rides.



Learn how to purchase New York Metro Card here:
How To Purchase New York Metro Card?

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March 24, 2017

Successfully Matched 100,000 Bonus Marriott Points

Earlier in the year, I wrote about Top 3 Cards for My New Year's 2017's Resolutions. The verdict is I applied for those cards and got all approved. One of the cards that I applied for was the Personal Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card. At the time, the sign up bonus was 80,000 Marriott Points after $3,000 spent in the first 3 months from account opening and additional 7,500 Marriott Points for adding an authorized user. Up until earlier this week, there was another higher sign up bonus of 100,000 Marriott Points after $5,000 spent in the first 3 months from account opening and the same additional 7,500 Marriott Points for adding an authorized user. Unfortunately, that higher offer was a targeted offer so it wasn't publicly available.



Up until today, the 100,000 Marriott Points sign up bonus offer is now publicly available (Link). Right after I learned that information, it hit me right away to go check 'when' I opened my Marriott card. The reason for that is because Chase has this policy that if you sign up for their credit card and the sign up bonus is increased within 90 days, you can request Chase to match you to that higher sign up bonus.

My card was opened on January 4th, 2017 - that means I am still in the 90 days window and thus I do qualify for requesting Chase to match that higher sign up bonus. I went ahead and used secured message to ask Chase to match and they promptly responded the following:

"Thank you for contacting us to match the 100,000 bonus 
reward points offer.

We will be glad to match the new sign up bonus offer of 
100,000 bonus reward points on your account, if you spend 
the total amount of $5,000.00 in 3 months from the account
open date.

We request you to reply to this e-mail on spending 
$5,000.00 in purchases within 3 months from account open 
date and we will add 20,000 bonus reward miles to your 
account."

My previous offer was only 80,000 bonus points after $3,000 spent in 3 months. But because this new 100,000 bonus points offer requires $5,000 spent in 3 months, I have to spend additional $2,000 before April 4th, 2017 in order to get additional 20,000 Marriott Points. Fair enough! So, it's time for me to be productive on how to put additional $2,000 dollars on the card prior to April 4th.

Conclusion:
This is the highest sign up bonus of Chase Marriott Premier Credit Card that I have seen.
  • If you have not had this card and have been wanting to apply for it, I'd pull the trigger now but only if you do not have 5 or more credit card accounts on your credit report as Chase will deny you for that simple one reason. For more information about the benefits of this card, read my Best Hotel Credit Cards article. 
  • If you have applied for this card in the past 90 days with lower sign up bonus, send secured message to Chase to request that they match you to this 100,000 bonus points. If you have not spent $5,000 on the card, you will be required to spend additional $2,000 in order to get that additional 20,000 points. Even if you don't think you can spend additional $2,000 now, just go ahead and request for the match now and worry about the spending later. 


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February 17, 2017

Vietnam Introduced New E-Visa and American Passports Qualify!

We were planning last year to go to Vietnam this year, but Vietnam decided to jack up the fee for visa on arrivals for U.S. passport holders in September last year from $25 to $135 per visa per person. If you travel as a family, this fee can really add up! They stopped issuing the $25 visa on arrival that is for single entry 30 days, whereas the new $135 one is for multiple entries 1 year. I'm fascinated by Vietnam but not enough to visit there multiple times in a year! So we changed the plan an decided to go to other Southeast Asian countries that offer free visa to U.S. passport holders instead. 

Apply For E-Visa & Eat Authentic Pho in Vietnam!
Just like what I expected, Vietnam's tourism industry had suffered due to the increased visa fee. Now starting February 1, 2017, they introduced the e-visa for certain passport nationals and U.S.A is one of the countries that is on the list. The e-visa will be so much convenient and the cheapest way compared to other methods in place for getting a visa on arrival in Vietnam. Best of all, it offers 30 days single entry for only $25! 

I'm excited about this news. I love when a country makes it reasonable to get a visa for travelers to go visit. This is still a new system that Vietnam calls it a "pilot." Therefore,  I'd suggest that we hold off rushing to apply for this e-visa and wait it out to see what other travelers are going to experience with using this type of visa both at the airport and border-crossing. But if you already planned on going to Vietnam anyway, you can apply for the e-visa and let us know about your experience! 



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February 10, 2017

Q&A of Booking Flight and Getting 50% Amex Rewards Points Back With Business Platinum Card

Besides the $200 Airline Fees Credit with Amex Platinum Credit Card, the Business version of this card provides much better benefit when it comes to using Amex Membership Rewards points for flights. You get 50% of the redeemed points back on Business and First class tickets with any airlines and economy class with your selected qualifying airline.

How Does this Benefit Work? 
American Express Platinum Credit Card requires that you first pick an airline. When you redeem the Membership Rewards Points for economy class tickets on that selected qualifying airline, you will receive 50% points back. When you redeem the Membership Rewards Points for Business and First Class tickets with ANY airlines, you will also receive 50% points back.

Does the Cardholder Need to be on the Flight's Reservation?
No. Cardholder can book as many tickets as s/he wants for friends and family. S/He is not required to fly or be on the flight's reservation. The 50% points back still apply to the purchased tickets using Membership Rewards Points even though the ticket has no cardholder's name.

How to Book Flight Ticket With Membership Rewards Points?
Go to American Express Travel website.
Log into your American Express account.
Put in origin and destination, etc. as you typically book a flight ticket.
On the searched page, it will display both the cash value and the points value. It is 1 cent per 1 point.
Select your desired flight and follow the screen to pay using your American Express points.

Cash vs. Points

Do I Receive 50% Points Back Instantly?
The process of getting your 50% points back is NOT instant. The points that you redeem for the flight ticket, however, get deducted from your Membership Rewards Points instantly, but you will have to wait until the charge is settled and then your 50% points back will show up. You will see that the cash price of the ticket will be posted to your account, but 2 days later you will see the statement credit because you use points to redeem for that ticket price. In the meantime, your Membership Rewards Points reflect the 50% points back as well. See screenshots below:

The Charge & Statement Credit Posted!
50% Points Back Also Posted!


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February 9, 2017

$200 Alaska Airlines Gift Certificate With Amex Platinum Credit Card

Either Personal or Business American Express Platinum credit card is a premium card for frequent flyers out there. The annual fee of this card is very steep $450, but it provides a lot of travel benefits from free wifi in the air to hotel status and airport lounge access. One of those benefits includes the annual $200 airline fee credit, and thus makes the annual fee of this card becomes $250. Our topic today is to focus on that airline fee credit.

According to American Express, that $200 airline fee credit can be used for the following charges by the qualifying airline:

"Select a qualifying airline and then receive up to $200 a year in statement credits when incidental fees, such as checked bags and in-flight refreshments, are charged by the airline."

What this means is that, first you pick an airline by January 31st of each year, then for any incidental fees that you pay with your Amex Platinum Card to that airline, you will receive up to $200 in statement credit.

If you play this game by the rule, chances are each year, you might be trying very hard to spend that $200 just to spend it to take advantage of that benefit. Why you torture yourself like that? Instead, here's one trick that you can use to work around that rule.

Introducing Airlines Gift Registry/Certificate
Couple years ago, I used that $200 statement credit for United's gift registry send to myself, and got reimbursed fine by American Express. Gift registry has nothing to do with incidental fees, but it puts $200 credit into my United account and it does not have expiration date.

I also used it for Alaska Airline's gift certificate. With Alaska Airlines though, you don't want to purchase a full $200 gift certificate made to yourself. Instead, you want to make a small purchase such as $50 or $100 gift certificate each time. It is known that if you do entire $200 on Alaska Airlines gift certificate, you won't be able to get back the $200 statement credit from American Express. In my case, I did not want to do 4 times of $50 gift certificate, so I did $100 twice and sure enough I got the $100 statement credits twice from American Express. I now have used up my annual $200 statement credit benefit, and have $200 credit in Alaska Airlines that will never expire to use for future Alaska Airlines flights.


To get $200 statement credits from American Express by purchasing Alaska Airlines gift certificate:
  1. Make sure your airline selection with American Express is Alaska Airlines. Link
  2. Purchase the gift certificate from Alaska Airlines. Link
Conclusion
Incidentals can happen and sometimes you want to pay for checking your bags to the destination. But the important questions are: Are those fees really going to cost you at least $200 per year? Are you going to really use those services and pay at least $200 per year on unforeseeable incidental fees? Do you want to stress out when the end of year is approaching and you are still trying to spend at least $200, so that you can take advantage of that statement credit benefit to cover the expensive $450 annual fee of the credit card?

To me, I'd rather pay for those fees when the incidentals actually happens. For now, I just want to save myself from stress and simply purchase airlines gift credits that will never expire and use those credits for any future flights.

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February 8, 2017

Review: Everglades Airboat Ride at Gator Park

Introduction
When it comes to traveling, we are all about trying something at least once. You have probably heard of swamp tour but have you ever heard of the airboat tour? If not, here's our review on that tour in Florida.

The Airboat At Gator Park
Location 
There are many swamps in Florida, especially around the Everglades National Park. Both Miami and Ft. Lauderdale are close to the Everglades. When we were in Miami and ready to book an airboat tour, we almost ended up going to the swamp in Ft. Lauderdale. There are just so many airboat tours that you want to read up and make sure which part of the swamp that you want to tour at. In our case, we wanted to be as close as possible to the Everglades National Park, and therefore, we did not pick the tour that goes to the swamp in Ft. Lauderdale.

It is worth noting that these places are not the Everglades National Park itself, but the swamps are part of the park.

The Swamp
Pricing & Booking
The price of the tour with pick up and drop off transportation is around $40-$45 per adult online. Although it might be cheaper to book the tour online that is about $40, but you don't have to. There are many tour desks available throughout South Beach or Miami Beach. The price is the same as you were to book online. Also, it's not only one place that operates the airboat. There are a few places that operate the airboat such as Coopertown, Gator Park, Everglades Safari Park... so there's no need to be concerned about the tour being sold out. We paid $80 for the two of us to go to the Gator Park. What includes in the price are the airboat ride touring the swamp, educational wildlife show, and walking around the man-made park to look at the alligators in the cage.

If you can drive yourself to the place where the airboat operates, you will simply get the ticket online or at the place, which is much cheaper without the pick up and drop off transportation.

Airboat Ride Experience
Let me start out by saying that, the airboat ride is very much safe so there's no need to worry about falling into the water and get eaten by the alligators ;)

If you join a tour, you have the priority to board the boat first in the tour group's line, so that was nice. The ride starts out slow so make sure to keep an eye on what may appear under the water such as turtles, fish, and possibly baby alligators. You are provided with ear plugs due to how noisy the airboat is when it goes faster. Any belongings that can easily be blown away such as hat, sunglasses... need to be store properly. When the airboat reaches its potential to go super fast, hang on to your life! Just kidding. It's a very fun joy ride. The twists and turns through the Everglades swamp make the ride super fun!

Safe & Fun Airboat - Video Below

Alligators Encounter
If you join this type of tour, you of course want to see the alligators, correct? As with any wildlife tour, spotting the animal in the wild is never a guarantee. We were lucky though to spot a female alligator named Lily. The boat operator demonstrated to us how alligator responds to noise and we lured her next to our boat that you can see in the video below.

For what is worth, if you don't get to see any alligators in the swamp, at least remind yourself that the airboat ride's experience is something unique, different, yet fun.


The Alligator Lily
After Tour
Each place that operates the airboat may have different programs after the airboat ride. It depends on what is included in your tour ticket. If you did the Gator Park like we did, after the airboat ride, you will get a chance to go sit down and watch educational wildlife show.  This is not about wrestling with an alligator type of show, but rather they educate you about wildlife mainly reptiles and of course alligators. It's educational yet entertaining. You can hold a baby alligator for a photo opt, but it's not free. However, the money goes to taking care of those animals, so it's not a completely tourist trap! After the show,  you can walk around to see alligators in the cage or just grab something to eat, try alligator meat and shop for souvenirs.

Wildlife Show
Alligator Cage
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