Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dueling Tex-Mex - Restaurant Reviews

This wasn't an intentional plan, but when we went to Memphis over Thanksgiving, my sister took me out for Mexican food for my birthday, and when she visited us in Dallas a month later, we returned the favor and took her out for Mexican food here.  It just so happens each was our respective favorite Mexican joint in our respective hometowns, so this morphed into a dueling restaurant review.  Like me, my sister grew up in Texas, so she knows a thing or two about good Tex-Mex.  Can the best of what Memphis has to offer compare to the real deal in the Lone Star State?  Find out after the jump!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Belize in Review

I've now posted reviews of everything significant we did in Belize, so I thought I'd end with a "recap" post.  I'll quickly go through what we saw, what we wish we had seen, and some quick tips if my series has convinced you to add a vacation in Belize to your life's to-do list.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sightseeing at 35,000 Feet - Miami to Belize City

A few months ago, you have may noticed a post by the same name, where I tried to convey the unique views of landscapes from a moving airplane.  Even a familiar place can look very different when you're looking at it from a bird's-eye view.  I've decided to make this a semi-regular series to showcase the various landscapes I see while flying, especially since it's a lot easier to take photos on planes with the electronics restrictions now a thing of the past.  I'll start off with some beautiful shots of the Caribbean on our trip to Belize in October.  In case you're wondering why we flew from Miami, the nonstop flight from Dallas to Belize City was canceled a few months before we went, and we were re-routed through Miami.  I would normally complain, but a bank error in our favor got us upgraded to business class on the way back without us having to pay for it, so I'm willing to call things even.

The Gastronomy of Hopkins, Belize - Restaurant Reviews

If you've been reading my reports about our trip to Belize in October, you'll recall that we stayed in the village of Hopkins, on the central coast of Belize about 2 1/2 hours south of Belize City by road.  It's a small garifuna village of about 1,500 people, but there's a surprising variety of small restaurants and cafes in the village.  Unfortunately, many of these were closed since it was the off-season, but we did have the opportunity to try two local joints - one serving garifuna cuisine, the other serving more traditional Belizean cuisine - while we were there, along with the restaurant at our hotel, the Jaguar Reef Lodge.  Hungry yet?  See the details after the jump.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Get Your BBQ Fix in Memphis - Restaurant Reviews

If you're wondering why this blog post is late, "Icemageddon", the weather system that was forecast to produce the Apocalypse across the DFW area, is to blame.  While it wasn't quite the Apocalypse, it did knock out my cable, and my internet with it, for nearly 2 days, which made it sort of difficult to put up a blog post.  But don't take my word for it; take a look at these photos to see what we've had to deal with.  I'm just glad we didn't lose our power.

Anyway, with that out of the way, my mom wanted to visit my sister and my two nephews over Thanksgiving, and being the road trip freak that I am, jumped at the opportunity to offer to drive her up there.  And a road trip to Memphis means one thing - time for some good BBQ.  For the uninitiated, as opposed to the Texas variety, BBQ in Memphis means pulled pork and ribs, with a sweet yet tangy vinegar based sauce.  We hit up my two favorite joints in Memphis - the Germantown Commissary and Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Q.  Read my review of both after the jump.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins - San Ignacio, Belize

If you've read my post on the Altun Ha ruins, you'll know that we initially planned to also visit Xunantunich in the west and Nim Li Punit in the south, but weather and a miscalculation on how long it would take to get there, respectively, foiled those plans.  After finding the river ferry to Xunantunich closed, I remembered seeing a sign for Cahal Pech a few miles earlier, so we headed back that way.  After all, I didn't drive 3 hours, including getting stuck in traffic in San Ignacio for 30 minutes, not to see anything!

Altun Ha Mayan Ruins - Belize

If you've been following my series of posts about Belize, you've no doubt seen that it's a good place to go if you're looking to lounge on the beach, or if you want to go jungle trekking.  There is, however, one other must-see experience if you come to Belize, and that is, visiting the Mayan ruins.  The ruins in the Yucatan of Mexico and Tikal in Guatemala get more attention, but Belize also has several excellent archeological sites containing Mayan ruins.  We had intended to visit three sets of Mayan ruins in Belize - Altun Ha in the north, Nim Li Punit in the south, and Xunantunich in the west - but flooding prevented making it to Xunantunich, and we ran out of time on the day we intended to go to Nim Li Punit, so we ended up visiting Altun Ha and Cahal Pech (a short distance away from Xunantunich).  Enjoy a virtual tour of Altun Ha after the break, with Cahal Pech featured in a future post.  NOTE:  there are actually many, many Mayan sites of varying quality and accessibility in the country.  12 are maintained by the National Institute of Culture and History, and more information can be found here:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Reserve - Belize

During our recent trip to Belize, our #1 priority was to visit the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.  I'm a huge fan of big cats, and we'd selected our hotel (the Jaguar Reef Lodge, subject of a separate post here) based on its proximity to the park, about 25 minutes away.  Billed as the world's only jaguar reserve, in a country with one of the highest densities of the big cat in the Americas, it's a fantastic place for hiking and exploring, and is a definite must-visit if you come to Belize.  Learn more about our experience after the jump.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Proud Bird Restaurant, Los Angeles, CA - Restaurant Review/Obituary

We went to SoCal last weekend to visit Prita's parents.  A few weeks ago, I read an article on another blog I follow, the Cranky Flier blog, about an aviation-themed restaurant called The Proud Bird on the grounds of LAX.  Sadly, this article had been posted because the Proud Bird would be shutting down on November 21st, as the city of LA wanted to increase the rent beyond what the owners wanted to pay.  We just happened to be flying in to LAX right at lunchtime, so we had the perfect excuse to check it out.  After the break, enjoy my review, but if you like what you read, you'll have to hurry if you want to try the place out yourself.  As mentioned above, next Friday is the end of the line (hence the "obituary" part of the title).

Hopkins and Dangriga, Belize

As you know, my wife and I went to Belize for our 7th wedding anniversary.  We started making plans several months earlier, and the first order of business was figuring out where to stay. Belize isn't a very big country, and most tourists either a) go to one of the Cayes, especially Ambergris Caye, to get in some beach time, or b) stay in a jungle lodge to do some trekking in the backcountry or one of Belize's national parks.  My wife and I wanted some beach time AND some jungle time to look for jaguars, so we settled on the village of Hopkins, approximately 120 miles south of Belize City.  Hopkins is a small Garifuna village of maybe 1,000 people, though there are a surprising number of beach resorts here, including the Jaguar Reef which I reviewed in my post last week.  Hopkins itself is about 20 miles from the larger town of Dangriga, also a garifuna settlement of about 10,000.  Today's post will feature these two towns, and a few things to see in the general vicinity.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Jaguar Reef Lodge in Hopkins, Belize - Hotel Review

I've done several restaurant reviews on this blog so far, and while I've wanted to do something similar for hotels that we've stayed at, I've never been in the habit of taking photos of hotel rooms, and I hesitate to do too many reviews without photos.  My opinion, but a review really doesn't have as much meaning without a few photos for you, the reader, to visualize the experience.  In any event, I remembered to take pictures on our recent trip to Belize, and so after the break, I present you with my first hotel review - the Jaguar Reef Lodge in Hopkins, Belize.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Guide to Driving in Belize

The Western Highway outside Belmopan
I'm normally pretty wary of driving in developing countries, but after reading several other travel blogs online, and talking to a couple of friends who had done so themselves, I decided to rent a car and drive around Belize during our recent trip there.  There was one overriding reason why I seriously considered it:  he resort we would be staying at was a good 125 miles from the main airport in Belize City, which would entail either an expensive transfer from the hotel ($150 one way), or a flight on a single-engine aircraft, and I'm deathly afraid of any airplane not made by Boeing or Airbus.  So, the decision was made, and we took the plunge.  After the jump, I'll provide a quick guide to driving in Belize, along with a short review of the roads we traveled.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wildlife Photography from Around the World

 Tiger in Ranthambore National Park, India
One of my favorite things to do while traveling, wherever I'm at in the world, is to visit national parks/nature reserves to view, and hopefully photograph, wildlife (big cats are my favorite, though I just like wildlife in general).  I will say, though, that it's not just about the wildlife; it's just as much about the setting, inside the world's greatest treasures, the national parks.  After the break, I'll share my 15 favorite wildlife photos to date, in no particular order or geographic location.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Weekend Getaways - San Antonio

Remember the Alamo
Every now and then, I get the urge for a quick weekend getaway, just to get out of the house for a couple of days.  Fortunately, if you live in the Dallas area, we have a couple of great options that don't even require flying - Austin and San Antonio.  I'll cover a weekend in Austin in a future post, but today, I'll hit up the Alamo City, and highlight some things you can see and do in a typical weekend.

NOTE:  you can theoretically do San Antonio as a day trip from Dallas, but I don't recommend it.  It's 270 miles, which means a 4 1/2 hour drive assuming you DON'T get stuck in a traffic jam on IH-35, which isn't an assumption you want to make.  Stay for an entire weekend, and you'll have a much better, more relaxed time anyway.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Downtown Dallas Tex-Mex - Restaurant Reviews

The Metroplex has a very good food scene, which is good news if you're a visitor to the area.  Not as good as Houston's in my opinion, but still, whatever kind of food you happen to be in the mood for, you can probably find it somewhere in Dallas or the suburbs.  As you might expect anywhere in Texas, Tex-Mex is a staple of the local scene, with no less than a billion restaurants to choose from in the area.  After the jump, I'll review five plus one restaurants that fit the bill if you feel the need for an enchilada fix while you're downtown visiting the Sixth Floor Museum or the Arts District.

NOTE:  This is NOT intended to be an all-inclusive list of Mexican restaurants downtown.  I haven't tried to figure out how many there are, and probably never will visit them all.  This review also does not cover national chain restaurants.  You really are wasting your time if you come to North Texas to eat Tex-Mex at a chain place.  Since I'm reviewing several restaurants in this post, I'm doing so on a highly abbreviated schedule, with a standard order (most of the time) of enchiladas (chicken or cheese), chips and salsa or queso, and rice and beans (though since I hate rice, I never actually eat it).  And as a reminder, here is my double-secret proprietary restaurant rating system:

5 - I Would Walk 500 Miles (And I Would Walk 500 More) to visit this place
4 - Worth a visit when in town
3 - Meh; I won't object if a friend suggests it, but I wouldn't recommend it on my own
2 - Only if nothing else is open
1 - Run, Sriram, Run!

And with that, off we go!  First up...

Saturday, October 5, 2013

No Post This Week

Sorry to disappoint regular readers of this blog, but there will be no post this week.  I had a death in the family last weekend, and just don't have it in my to write something today.  I plan to resume posts next Saturday at noon, as scheduled.  Until then, happy trails!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Death Valley Travel Tips

Approaching Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park
I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour of Death Valley National Park in my 3-part series highlighting our visit in November, 2012.  If you haven't read it yet, click here for easy access:  Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.  If you've now decided that you'd like to pay this most terrific National Park a visit, I've put together a short travel guide to make the most of your experience.

America's Mordor - Death Valley National Park - Day 3 of 3

A lonely road in Death Valley
Welcome to the third and final installment of my trip report on Death Valley National Park.  If you haven't read the first two parts of this series yet, I encourage you to do so; you can access Part 1 here and Part 2 here.  As a reminder, this series goes in chronological order of what we saw each day, and the following outline gives you an idea of our trip plan:

Day 1 - arrive in park, Mesquite Sand Dunes, Scotty's Castle
Day 2 - Mosaic Canyon, Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, Rhyolite Ghost Town (Nevada), Dante's View, Twenty Mule Team Canyon, Artist's Palette
Day 3 - Salt Creek Oasis, Mustard Canyon, Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon, Devil's Golf Course, Badwater Basin, leave park

After the jump, we pick up where we left off at the end of Day 2, with the ultimate destination being the park's most famous landmark, the Badwater Basin.  NOTE:  I had intended to put some general travel advice in this post, but given that it's gotten pretty long with all the photos, I'll do a separate post with that information.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

America's Mordor - Death Valley National Park - Day 2 of 3

Badwater Basin in the distance
In Part 1 of this series, I gave a brief background of Death Valley National Park, along with our adventures on the first day of our visit.  After the break, I'll cover the second day of our trip.  Part 3 will cover the final day of our trip, along with general travel advice if you would like to go to Death Valley and a few items we didn't see but wished we had.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

America's Mordor - Death Valley National Park - Day 1 of 3

Badwater Basin as seen from Dante's View
I'd always had a certain fascination with Death Valley National Park.  As a weather and geography geek, the idea of visiting the lowest, hottest, and driest spot in North America always had its allure.  I'd thought about going several times over the years, but for one reason or another, things never quite worked out.  Finally, last November, I made it out there for a 3-day trip.  After the jump, take a virtual tour of one of America's most isolated yet beautiful places - America's Mordor, Death Valley National Park.

NOTE:  Once again, I realized as I started writing this post that there was too much content to squeeze into one post, so I've broken this up into three, one for each day we were in the park.  I'll post the first two installments this week, and the third next week.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Road Trip! Tips to Successfully Prepare

Rainy landscape on US 40, outside of Vernal, Utah
The road trip is one of America's favorite pastimes.  Those of you who know me well know that I'm the master of the road trip, being a veteran of many cross-country journeys, and even a couple in other countries, since the age of 5.  Despite the time involved, road trips remain popular because there are just too many places in the world that can't be reached by plane, unless you own one yourself, and many people just don't want to deal with the hassles of flying today.  I can testify that road-tripping can be a ton of fun, but a little bit of advance planning can help make your journey all the more enjoyable.  After the jump, I'll share my tips for making your next cross-state or cross-country jaunt a successful one.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sightseeing at 35,000 Feet

One of my favorite things to do when flying, on a clear day anyway, is looking out the window and trying to figure out where we are.  Occasionally, I even get to indulge in some sightseeing while in the air, either with cloud formations (I admit to being a weather geek), unique views of coastlines or other physical formations, or city skylines seen from a bird's-eye view.  For those that enjoy photography, the clearer air above 10,000 feet can produce especially vivid color contrasts, as long as the plane's windows don't get in the way too much (reflections through or smudges in the window can be problematic).  After the jump, I'll share a photo essay of some cool sightseeing opportunities that have presented themselves while chilling at 35,000 feet.

Next time when you're flying, keep your camera handy and pass away the time by putting together your own photo album!  Hey, it's cheaper than paying for the WiFi or shopping in the Sky Mall catalog...

Day Trips from Dallas - Caddo National Grassland

It occurred to me that I kicked off this blog with an article about trips that can be done in a single day from Dallas, but haven't done another one since.  I'll pick up where I left off today.  For the first time since 2001, I was actually able to enjoy Labor Day weekend without working at all, and my wife suggested that we take a quick "road trip" to enjoy the day.  I say "road trip" in quotes, because in my warped mind, a drive doesn't count as a "road trip" unless it's long enough to require an overnight stay somewhere.  But anyway, after the jump, I'll talk about our quick trip to Caddo National Grassland, along the Red River Valley to the northeast of Dallas.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

2 1/2 Days in New York City - Part 2 of 2

This is Part 2 of my trip report for our recent trip to New York City.  If you haven't read Part 1 yet, click here.

We didn't get back to our hotel room until a little after midnight thanks to train construction, but with no plans until noon, it was no big deal.  After a free breakfast at the hotel (thanks, Hilton HHonors gold status), we still didn't get our lazy butts out of the room until 10:30.  No worries, we'd still have a full day to enjoy the city!

2 1/2 Days in New York City - Part 1 of 2

On Monday, my cousin's son was having a religious ceremony done, so my wife and I traveled to New York for a long-ish weekend of fun and family.  This was going to be a pretty quick trip, leaving Saturday afternoon and coming back Monday evening, with a full schedule thanks to lunch with Prita's friend and a surprise party for my cousin on Sunday.  It's been a few years since we've been to NYC, so we decided to pack in as much as we possibly could (not the most brilliant idea, in hindsight).

I intended to do this as one post, but quickly realized it was getting long in the tooth, so I broke it up in to 2.  The first post will cover our first day, last Saturday, August 24th.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Oh @!*$&% - My Flight Is Delayed!!! What Now?

Washington's Columbia River Valley from a 737
If you're traveling by air, one of the most frustrating things is when your flight is delayed or canceled, potentially disrupting your business or vacation plans.  Now, statistically speaking, the chances of a delayed or canceled flight ruining your day are actually pretty low.  Around 80% of flights, give or take, arrive at their destinations on time, and of the 20% or so that are late, many of these delays are relatively minor, on the order of a half an hour or so.  But, if the delay bugaboo does strike, I'll share some tips I've learned over the years after the jump.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Visiting the Taj Mahal - A Virtual Tour

The Taj Mahal at midday
Thursday was India's Independence Day, so in honor of this great country, I decided that this week's blog post would highlight someplace in India.  Today, I will spotlight perhaps the country's best known and most visited tourist attraction, the Taj Mahal.  When people book tours or vacations to India, this is the place that is typically at the top of everyone's list, and is regarded as one of the wonders of the world.  It is also regarded as something of an unofficial symbol of India.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Road Trip Through Texas? Stop at These Places if You're Hungry.

On the road (but not in Texas)
Planning a road trip that will take you through Texas on the interstates?  The nation's interstate highways generally aren't known for great places to eat, but there are a few gems to be found if you know where to look.  After the jump, I'll reveal five places worth stopping at that are just off or within a few miles of the state's vast network of interstate highways, in no particular order (in fact, worth planning your driving to make sure you get to one of these places at lunch or dinner).  Disclaimer:  I stopped at all of these places long before I decided to start a travel blog, so I don't have photos.  I may go back and add them later.

Note also that this is not meant to be all-inclusive.  There are probably plenty of other great little joints off the interstates, which I just haven't bothered stopping at because I'd rather power for a couple more hours and get home.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

North to Alaska! Part 7 - Victoria, BC - June 29, 2013

Another cruise ship stalking us to Victoria
This is the 7th and final installment in my series about my recent trip to Alaska.  This installment will cover our short visit to Victoria, British Columbia.  If you haven't already done so, I suggest reading the first six parts of my series:

Part 1 - Background Info
Part 2 - Seattle, Mt. Rainier, and Sailaway
Part 3 - Ketchikan
Part 4 - The Tracy Arm Fjord
Part 5 - Juneau
Part 6 - Skagway and the Klondike

If you would like to view my entire collection of photos from Victoria, you can find them on Flickr here.

North to Alaska! Part 6 - Skagway and the Klondike - June 27, 2013

Emerald Lake, Yukon Territory
This is Part 6 in my series about my recent trip to Alaska.  This installment will cover our visit to Skagway and the "Klondike" region stretching up to the Yukon.  If you haven't already done so, I suggest reading the first five parts of my series:

Part 1 - Background Info
Part 2 - Seattle, Mt. Rainier, and Sailaway
Part 3 - Ketchikan
Part 4 - The Tracy Arm Fjord
Part 5 - Juneau

If you would like to view my entire collection of photos from Skagway, you can find them on Flickr here and here.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Restaurant Review - Season's 52 Plano

You might think this is out of place in a travel blog, but isn't one of the great things about traveling discovering new places to eat?  I will occasionally spotlight restaurants I've visited, either here in the Metroplex if you're visiting here, or places I run across while traveling.

Season's 52 Fresh Grill ( bills itself as a "fresh dining experience", where every dish is 475 calories or less.  They apparently accomplish this by not using any butter, and by coaxing as much natural flavor out of the food as possible through grilling.  This would seem like an odd choice for me, and indeed, I was rather skeptical.  But, American Express sent me a coupon for $20 off.  And anyone that knows me well knows that I never let a coupon go to waste.  So it was off to Season's 52 for a date night with the wife.

A Guide to Driving Overseas

Highway in the Burren, Ireland

When traveling overseas, one of the first questions to consider is whether to rent a car, and try and drive yourself around to the various tourist sites you want to see, or whether you should rely on group tours and/or public transportation.  Today's article will focus on the pros and cons of driving in foreign countries, and a few things to consider.  NOTE:  for purposes of this blog post, Canada doesn't count as a "foreign country".  Driving in Canada is really no different than driving in the U.S., except that gas is a little more expensive, and your biggest hazards come from moose, caribou, and the occasional polar bear.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

North to Alaska! Part 5 - Juneau, June 26, 2013

I bite, just like this travel blog.
This is Part 5 in my series about my recent trip to Alaska.  This installment will cover our visit to Alaska's capital city, Juneau.  If you haven't already done so, I suggest reading the first four parts of my series:

Part 1 - Background Info
Part 2 - Seattle, Mt. Rainier, and Sailaway
Part 3 - Ketchikan
Part 4 - The Tracy Arm Fjord

If you would like to view my entire collection of photos of Juneau, you can find them on Flickr here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Are Prepaid Hotel Rooms Worth It?

View from my room at the Marriott in Colorado Springs, CO
Let's face it - unless you're Bill Gates or something, all of us are looking for ways to save a few bucks when we travel.  Usually, it's just a matter of waiting for a sale or lucking out with a coupon.  Almost everyone today knows that cheap airfares are nonrefundable.  In other words, you pay when you buy your ticket, and if your plans change, tough luck, unless you want to pay a change fee, unless you're flying Southwest.  Hotels have always been different.  When you book, there's almost always a cancellation policy attached, but it's usually pretty lenient.  The standard terms usually require that you cancel or change somewhere between 6 P.M. the day of arrival or 48 hours before arrival, or you forfeit one night's room charge (I should note that policies can be much more restrictive in resort areas, national parks, and during holidays, though).  But what you might not know is that...

Hotels Are Becoming More Like Airlines (Sort Of)

Yes, that's right.  If you're looking to save a few bucks on a hotel room, the travel industry has come up with a new option - the prepaid, nonrefundable hotel room, which appears to have been pioneered by online travel agencies (OTAs) like Travelocity.  I first noticed this about 15 years ago, when planning for a road trip to Vancouver.  I used to book most of my hotels through Travelocity at the time, since that (or Orbitz, or Expedia, or whatever) was the easiest way to see all of your options in a given place in one sitting.  While searching for a hotel in Oklahoma City, what popped up at the top of the search results was something called a "Good Buy" rate.  If you use Travelocity, these still exist, as shown in the screen shot below:

If you zoom in, you'll see the "Good Buy" designation at the bottom.  What's not entirely obvious at first blush is that this rate is NONREFUNDABLE - once you book it, your credit card is charged, and refunds are not allowed for any reason.  If your plans don't change, it's no big deal, really.  You've saved a few bucks.  But if you decide you don't need the room, you're in for a surprise when you call to cancel - you don't get your money back.  No option to even pay a change fee; your entire purchase has been flushed down the drain with no recourse.  Which usually generates a reaction similar to this:

I'll call it the "Flaming Angry Hissing Cat Award", since this pretty well sums up what you want to do to the poor customer service rep on the other end.  (For the record - Hercules wasn't really angry in this photo.  He was just yawning.  Though a mouthful of cat breath in the face isn't pleasant, either.)

Prepaid Rooms Carry Risks - Are They Worth It?

So now we've established the risk of booking a prepaid, nonrefundable hotel room.  You could end up with a big bag of nothing if you have to cancel.  But is the risk worth it?  If we use the Crowne Plaza (the first option) in the screen shot above, you'll see the following if you select it:

The prepaid, nonrefundable room is $18 a night cheaper than the standard rate, which allows you to cancel up to 48 hours prior (it's possible the savings is even less than that, if you are eligible for a discount through AAA, AARP, or the like).  That's why I said "sort of" in the subheading; while the difference between a nonrefundable and refundable plane ticket can be several hundred if not thousands of dollars, the difference in hotel rates is typically minimal, on the order of 10-20%.  If you're staying for a longer period of time, say, 5 nights, that means you'd save $90, but you also would have to plunk down $400+ today that you'd have to flush if you ended up not making the trip.  Is it worth it?  Guess it depends on your perspective, but you really should think before booking.

Another thing to be careful about - in the initial screen shot, unless you know what a "Good Buy" rate is, it's not obvious that the rate is nonrefundable. The same is true if you use a "metasearch" site like Kayak to do your initial search, or for that matter, even if you go directly to the hotel's website.  The rate that pops up in the display might be nonrefundable.  Make sure to click on the rate and read the terms and conditions before giving your credit card info.  Hotels tend to be highly unforgiving if you book a nonrefundable rate and then try to cancel, even a few minutes after booking.

So far, I've talked about nonrefundable rates offered through the hotels directly, through an OTA like Travelocity or Orbitz, or that you find on a metasearch site like Kayak. What I haven't covered, through, are the prepaid options offered through sites like Hotwire or the old "Name Your Own Price" feature on Priceline (despite Captain Kirk's recent attempts to downplay bidding on Priceline, Name Your Own Price does still exist).  These are a little different; you are offered a rate in a general area of a city, but you don't find out the name of the hotel until you pay.  You can often figure out what the hotel is by the features noted and the TripAdvisor rating, but I digress.  These deals are known as "distressed inventory" deals - in other words, the hotel can't get rid of the room - and as a result, they are often marked down substantially from the normal rate.  Here, the savings may well be worth the risk, especially at fancier hotels, since you could be talking half off or more from the rack rate.  But, there is a significant risk involved - the recent proliferation of "resort" fees, which aren't included in the rate displayed.

Personally, I think "resort" fees are pure evil.  It is usually something like a $10 a day additional fee, often buried in the mouse print, that provides "free" services like parking, pool towels, or WiFi.  The fees are mandatory, so there is no way of avoiding them.  I find these mandatory fees highly dishonest (they are a way to show a deceptively low rate, and dodge lodging tax and travel agent commissions on the fee in the process), and go out of my way to boycott any property that charges such a fee.  I am not a big government guy by any means, but this is one thing where I think the FTC needs to step in and order that mandatory fees be rolled in to the displayed rate.  If you get a room through Hotwire or Priceline, you are responsible for the fee in addition to the rate.  Trouble is, you don't find out about the fee until after you've already paid, at which point you can't ask for a refund.  So buyer beware.

In fact, I find resort fees so repugnant, they deserve THREE Flaming Angry Hissing Cats.










My Advice

Frankly, since I have AAA, I don't find the risk of a nonrefundable hotel rate worth the savings of maybe $10 a night.  If you really want to save some money, a better approach is to book a regular rate, then troll sites like Hotwire or Priceline as the date of your stay gets closer.  Often times, unsold rooms don't become truly "distressed" and marked down until a few days before you plan to go.  If a really swell deal comes along at the last minute - like say, $99 a night at the Four Seasons - you can always cancel the first room and then book the deal.  Chances are, by that time, you're going to be pretty certain of your trip, so the risk of canceling and losing your money is very low.

North to Alaska! Part 4 - The Tracy Arm Fjord, June 26, 2013

Anyone up for an ice cream social?
This is Part 4 of my series of trip reports about my recent trip to Alaska.  This installment will cover our visit (or more correctly, our ship's visit) to the Tracy Arm Fjord, about 100 miles south of Juneau.  If you haven't already done so, I would suggest reading the first 3 parts of my series.

Part 1 - Background Info
Part 2 - Seattle, Mt. Rainier, and Sailaway
Part 3 - Ketchikan

If you would like to view the entire collection of photos covering the Tracy Arm Fjord, you can view them here.  Disclaimer:  some people apparently believe that all photos of glaciers look alike.  There are a lot of photos of glaciers both in my Flickr set, and in this post.  View at your own discretion, and don't say you weren't warned.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

North to Alaska! Part 3 - Ketchikan, and a Major Personal Milestone - June 25, 2013

Overcast skies and rain greeting our arrival in southeast Alaska

This is Part 3 of my series of trip reports about my recent trip to Alaska.  In this post, I will cover our visit to Ketchikan, our first port-of-call in Alaska.  If you haven't already done so, I suggest reading Parts 1 and 2 first.

Part 1 - Background Info
Part 2 - Seattle, Mt. Rainier, and Sailaway

If you would like to see my entire collection of photos of the Ketchikan area, you can see view them on Flickr here.

North to Alaska! Part 2 - Seattle, Mt. Rainier, and Sailaway

Mt. Rainier, Washington

This is Part 2 of my series on my recent cruise to Alaska.  In this post, I'll cover our time in Seattle on June 21st and 22nd, prior to boarding our cruise on the afternoon of the 23rd.  If you haven't already read Part 1 of the series, which provides background on the trip, you can read it here.

If you'd like to see the complete photo album of our time in Seattle, you can find them on Flickr here.

Please note that this series is a report on the trip in general, and not specifically the cruise.  I'll post a review of the actual cruise separately.  In the meantime, if you can't wait, you can read my review on Cruise Critic here.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

North to Alaska! Part 1 - The Background

South Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm Fjord

I've been wanting to go to Alaska for a really long time.  Finally, the chance presented itself this past week.  Along with my mom and dad, my brother, and my youngest sister and her husband and son, we took off for a 7-day cruise to Alaska, with a day in Seattle to start off with.  This will be a multi-part trip report, as we saw a whole bunch of stuff, and honestly, each port we visited is deserving of its own write-up.  This will serve as Part 1, some background on how this trip came together.

Scheduled Posts Starting Saturday

Now that I've (sort of) gotten the hang of this blogging thing, I've decided to start posting on a set schedule.  I'll make one last exception with my first post on my recent trip to Alaska tomorrow, but thereafter, all posts will go live Saturdays at noon.  That way, I won't have to waste your Facebook feeds with announcements of new posts, and also, won't have to promise more than I can deliver when work is busier.  In weeks I have a lot of stuff to write, I'll have several posts going up at once.  I may occasionally make an exception and do an unscheduled post if there's something that's just really burning a hole in my brain, but I'll try to avoid that as much as possible.

Thanks for your readership!

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Ethics of Exploiting Travel Pricing Errors

Nothing gets travel bloggers, not to mention the travel industry's customers, more riled up than the issue of "pricing errors" when it comes to car rentals, hotel rooms, and airfare (though the problem tends to be most acute in the area of airfare).  Today, I'll compare the competing views on whether or not it's ethical to take advantage of pricing errors, and my personal take on the issue. 

For those who are dying for a report on my recent trip to Alaska - relax.  I'll start putting posts up later this week.  It takes longer than you might think to sift through photos and write up an article that's interesting to read, after all.

No, This Blog Isn't Dead...

...the author has just been on vacation.  I will have a multi-part trip report to post about my recent visit to Alaska, starting later this week.  In the meantime, I'll venture into the world of "travel ethics" in today's post, appearing later today.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Tips for a Floating Vacation

Cruise ship docked in Cartagena, Colombia
Note:  While my first few posts have been trip reports or travel suggestions, I intend for this blog to be a "general interest" blog, where I'll post not only my own personal adventures, but also general travel-related discussions that you (hopefully) will find interesting.

We're embarking on another cruise shortly, so I thought I'd now would be as good a time as any to write a post providing tips if you're considering going on a cruise.  I will say, when my dad first suggested the idea of a family cruise back in 1997, I was skeptical.  Like most folks, I had the stereotype of a floating retirement community in my head.  Lo and behold, I tried it, and ended up really enjoying cruising, have done 3 more since then.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Day Trips from Dallas - Turner Falls, Oklahoma

I'll kick off this blog with a series about day trips that can be done from Dallas.  Here's the first installment, and my most recent trip, over the Memorial Day weekend - Turner Falls, Oklahoma.

You don't exactly expect to see mountains. much less mountains with a waterfall, in southern Oklahoma, but then again, that's what makes travel interesting.  My wife and I went to Turner Falls Park mainly to see the namesake falls and to hike, but the park also offers tubing and swimming in Honey Creek, as well as camping.  The park also claims to have several "caves", but these were really just some old, abandoned buildings.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

I Want to Go to India! Any Advice????? Part 4 - Five Must-Visit Places

Finally, the last installment in my series about traveling to India.  If you haven't read the first three parts in this series, you can find them here:

Part 1 - Getting to India
Part 2 - Getting around India
Part 3 - General things to keep in mind

First, I must emphasize that these are just the five places I'd put at the top of the list if you visit India.  This is NOT meant to be all-inclusive.  There are honestly far too many places to visit to fit in to one vacation, unless you have a month or more.  I'd suggest making your India vacation a minimum of 10-14 days, and these five places can be fit in to a vacation of that length.  Just go in with the knowledge that you can't do everything on one trip, and if you have a good time, well, you'll just have to plan another trip to see more!  Also, these descriptions are significantly abbreviated, just to give you a taste of why I think you should go.  I'll put up full reports of these places, and more, in future posts.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I Want to Go to India! Any Advice????? Part 3 - General Things to Keep in Mind

I had originally planned for this to be the final installment in this series, but it turned out to be so long that I thought it better to break it up into two parts.  If you haven't read the first two, I recommend reading those first before continuing:

Part 1 - Getting To India
Part 2 - Getting Around India

This post will be some general things to keep in mind

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I Want to Go to India! Any Advice????? Part 2 - Getting Around

Traffic on a typical street in India

This is part 2 in my series about travel advice if you're planning to go to India.   If you're new to this blog, I'd recommend reading Part 1 first, which discusses how to pick the right flight to get to India in the first place.  You can read it by clicking here.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

I Want to Go to India! Any Advice????? Part 1 - Getting There

Jaipur, Rajasthan

When people want to go to India, I get a lot of questions for advice, because...well, I'm Indian, and I guess that goes with the territory.  If you've been thinking of a trip to India, I'm putting together a series of posts on how to plan a vacation there.  And if you haven't considered visiting India, you should go, at least once.  It's at once fascinating and mystical, yet at times frustrating and tragic - a living paradox that you won't find anywhere else.  I'll start off with a seemingly easy task, but one that can actually be quite the headache - how to get there.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Torrey Pines State Park and Beach - San Diego, CA

We go to Southern California quite a bit to visit Prita's parents.  Usually we fly in to one of the LA-area airports, but this time, fares were ridiculously cheap from DFW to San Diego, so we decided to fly there instead and drive in the rest of the way.  On the way back, our flight wasn't until after 4, so we decided to stop at Torrey Pines State Park and Beach for a quick hike before heading back to the airport.  Unfortunately, due to user error, I lost all my photos, so you'll have to make do with a description.

Cheap Summer/Fall Getaways

Heads up - if you're looking for a cheap place to head to for a summer/fall vacation, San Diego might be the place for you.  While checking fares to Southern California for a possible fall visit to the in-laws the other day, lots of fares showed up in the $275-300 range on both American and Southwest, and as low as $198 on Spirit (assuming you're willing to put up with Spirit).  If you do end up going to San Diego, check out my next post for some ideas of what to do.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Hello and Welcome

There's at least 10,000 travel blogs out there already, and I don't mean for this one to be particularly special compared to all the others.  I've had the fortune of traveling a lot over the years, and I've always wanted to share what I've seen with others - and hopefully give you some ideas on what you'd like to see, and maybe steer you away from others that really aren't that great.  My goal is to try and post at least once a week, depending on how much work I have to do.  Most of this blog is going to center around things I've actually done, though I may occasionally link to or editorialize about stories I see on other travel blogs.  I hope you enjoy what you see, and thanks for reading!