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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