Archive for the ‘Caribbean’ Category

Escape the Snow in St. Lucia

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

This winter I tried out an all inclusive hotel for our family vacation in St Lucia. Unfortunatly we were to leave one Snow-mageddon when the airlines cancelled all their flights. We got to St. Lucia, saw the sites, and enjoyed the sun This is how we did it in the worst snowstorm of the century.

Febuary 2nd was the day of the worst snowstorm Chicago had seen in years. It was so bad the airlines shut almost all operation for that day. Luckily for my family, we were able to leave a day early. We purchased tickets on an airline instead of nonreving which is something many of us in the airlines are doing. The increase in taxes on our passes, blackout days, and extremely high load factors make it much more economical to buy tickets. But as I say, don’t take our word for it, check it out for yourself at our Timetable

Our layover was in Miami so I called the Sheraton at the Miami Airport. I was able to get an airline discount on the room AND the staff was happy to drive us downtown to get a bite to eat. They were one of the best hotel staff I had the pleasure of meeting. The Hotel Staff suggested my family try Chilorio’s which is a great Mexican restaurant. It was very low key but the food and service was excellent. They also had free wifi so I was able to look up information for the next day of travel.

The Coconut Lodge has several crews that Layover and their crew rates are much lower than you could find on sites like Perx. The lodge has another great attribute, the is a family side and a couples side. The Family side has all you could want to entertain children from the standard zero depth pool to a “lazy river’, a water slide, and a kids club. The couples side had its own pool, spa and beach. Every night there was live entertainment from a steel drum band to a magician. There was also a talent night for guest and staff. There never was a night that there wasn’t anything to do. Even though the resort is on the southern tip of the island, removed from the towns, we didn’t feel the need to go into the town.

Volcano and Mud Bath for what ails you.

One of the places we did go to was the Volcano. Not only is it active, put there is a mineral bath that you can visit. The mineral bath is said to be able to relieve everything from arthritis to sunburn. It is also marketed as a mud bath that will make you look 10 years younger. The bath is heated by the volcano and the mud is actually volcanic ash. I met a man from Germany who said he spends his winters in St. Lucia and goes to the bath once a week. He swears by the bath and said his doctor can’t believe his improvement. Whether he was a plant or not I don’t know but I thought is was fun to visit.

Botanical Gardens

The other place we visited was the Botanical Gardens. Not only was there beautiful flowers, but a waterfall. There is also a mineral bath from another volcano. This bath boasts the Napoleon’s wife Josephine came her to bathe in the mineral water.

St. Lucia is a great place to go to avoid the cold and the snow. Now it is even more affordable with an all inclusive hotel that gives discounts to airline employees. The biggest problem now is how do you get there?  Use these tips to get the most out of your stay. To see more deals from around the world, go to

Cruise Discount Tool

Monday, November 8th, 2010

With the Economy still acting anemic, the Cruise Lines are trying to increase sales through discounts. They even have wireless so you can access this site from your cruise. The secret is the deals other nonrev sites are advertising are not the best deals. You can find them but you need to dig.

You know how Priceline lets you name your price but then tells you what hotel to stay in? The worst part is not only do you not have a choice of where to stay, but you must take the hotel. What if you could bid and see what you get BEFORE you submit to the program? Well, we figured out how to do that for cruises on the web. First, you need to got to our search engine where we have partnered with Google: .Put in what you want, like Carnival Cruise, and then put in the price like this, Carnival Cruise Caribbean $899…$799. Make sure you put in the three dots, … , between the range of price you want to pay. But don’t stop there, try it again with $799…$699 and see what you get. Keep going and see how low you can go!

The great thing about this function on our search engine is it resets everything in the results to your price range, even the ads. That means that the sponsored links on the top and side of the results page are even better deals. They are motivated to sell to you since they bought ad space. They HAVE to pay Google so they really, really want your business which may mean you can bargain for more perks for the price. To quote the competition, “now that is negotiating!”

Top 3 Places in Panama

Monday, July 13th, 2009

This trip is one of my wife and my favorite adventures. Not only did we get to visit three beautiful and diverse areas, but almost everyone treated us extremely well. In fact it took us a while to lower our guard, although we still didn’t do anything stupid.

This trip started out like all the rest, with a great deal of research. We looked at all the travel books we could find. Unfortunately there are not many books in circulation on Panama. The best we could find was by Lonely Planet. It was printed in 2001 which means some of the Restaurants might have changed, so use the web sites to double check before you head out. We were told that a new travel book would be coming out soon, but the exact date is not known. It should be sometime in 2005.

We found 2 great areas besides Panama City to visit. One was Bocas del Toro in the Caribbean Ocean and is touted as on of the last undiscovered gems in Central America. The other, Boquete, was suggested by one of our favorite resorts in Costa Rica.

I was fortunate enough to have a flight to Panama city before our vacation. This allowed me to arrange certain items in person instead of over the phone or internet. The first contact I tried to make was with the station manager. Since our trip was to entail several flights, finding someone with local airport insight was invaluable. That contact added greatly to the ease of our vacation.

The next contact I made was with the hotel my company put the crew up in for the overnight stay. This person not only helped me with the rate, but explained what benefits are available. This face-to-face contact was worth more than my Platinum Priority Club Rating on my Credit Card ever would be.

Finally, I talked to the driver about who I could get for tours of the city. It turned out our driver, Ivan, was very reasonable and eager for the business. Since he had a contract with the company I work for, his quality was guaranteed. All this research paid off to make this one of the most memorable trips ever.

The first day of the trip focused on one all encompassing goal, getting there. Like the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” my wife and I fought extremely overbooked flights. While we did everything possible to guarantee we would have no problems, non-revving turned out to be very challenging. To assure the successful completion of our connection, we took the 6:00 AM flight out. .We took advantage of our experience and travel when others don’t want to, that is when it is inconvenient. The downside of this strategy is the fact is we had 8 hours between flights, but it turned out to be the only way get there.

Having all this spare time allowed us to relax. Also, we introduced ourselves as nonrev employees. Being nice and helpful to those working for the airline makes a huge difference. Since people have not discovered Panama, there were some first class seats available. The gate agent has the power to give those seats to nonrev employees or not. Be friendly and you will be in First Class.

When we arrived in Panama, it was too late to continue on to Bocas del Toro. The crew was nice enough to let us go with them and the driver happened to be the person we talked to about touring Panama city. We arranged for him to take us to the other airport the next morning for about 10.00 which was very reasonable.

The next morning we went to the Alberto airport to catch our flight to Bocas. We traveled on Miaplex which is the only airline to have pressurized aircraft, Jetstream 31’s. This allowed them to get above the bumpy weather. When we arrived at Bocas del Toro, a taxi took us from the airport to the dock so we could catch the hotel boat to Punta Caracol. After about 15 to 20 minutes, we arrived at what was ranked one of the world’s most romantic hotels.

After settling in, we toured the city of Bocas del Toro. The quaint little village took about 2 hours to walk through. That night we ate at the restaurant at Punta Caracol which not only was delicious but very romantic. It is probably the best restaurant in the area.

The next day, we went on a boat tour of the inland waterways with one of the area’s best know tour guides, Gallardo Livingston (See Lonely Planet P.204.). Along with the beautiful scenery, we had the opportunity to see many dolphins at Dolphin Bay. We then went to snorkel on a couple of reefs. The last reef, Cayo Crawl, had some of the best coral I had ever seen. It looked like a dense jungle underwater.

For lunch, we went to Alfonso, a group of thatched roof huts with good food and lots of character. Then we weaved our way through the mangroves to a place called Red Frog Island. It is named after the small red which inhabits the area. To get from the dock to the beach, a two dollar fee is required per person. This allows you to go across private property and a tour to find the very small Red Frog.

After our stay on the beach, we took a water tour of Bocos del Toro. This water tour was well worth going on and I highly recommend it. Livingston also gives a tour of the islands further out in the Atlantic which we heard was just as good.

The next day we left for Boquete, a 45 minute plane ride or 3.5 hour drive. If you have the time, we were told the drive is well worth in. For our transportation from the David Airport to Boquete, we took a taxi for around 30 Dollars. This is reasonable, but we discovered it would have been more economical to have the hotel arrange for transportation. We arrived at the city at lunch time and grabbed something to eat while we waited to check in. We ate at a great place called Bistro Restaurant. Once we were full, we went to our hotel, The Coffee Estate Inn (See Lonely Planet P. 231). This place was recommended to us by other resort owners who go here for their vacations. Basically we had a house on the side of a mountain for about 90 Dollars a night. This also includes fresh fruit and coffee to brew while you are there. The grounds are well maintained and worth exploring. They also prepare some very good dishes and serve it in your room.

The next morning we had a guided tour of the mountains around the town. It included several stops to take photos of the waterfalls and valleys. We ended the tour at Mi Jardin es Su Jardin, a wonderful garden to explore ( See Lonely Planet P. 224). We then had coffee at Café Ruiz which also gives tours. Next we had lunch at Hotel Panamonte, an old world Spanish restaurant. The afternoon we spent exploring the city.

Our last day we went with a guide climb up The Rock. The climb is very strenuous but scenery is well worth going. Once finished, we had lunch in a great little Mexican restaurant called La Casona Mexicana ( See Lonely Planet P. 224). Then the coffee estate gave us a tour of its coffee plantation which ended with the roasting and packaging of our purchased coffee. They also arranged for our trip back to the airport at David for the most reasonable price===.

We were finally on our way back to Panama City on Miaplex which was arranged by our Station Manager. It was only pressurized aircraft back, which allowed us to get above the bad weather. We were then met by Ivan who took us back to the Hotel Intercontinental.

The next day, we boarded a ferry to the island of Taboga. The ferry cost 11 dollars and lasts about an hour. We were dropped off at Hotel Taboga and had breakfast at the resort which charged 7 dollars for the use of its facilities including pool and changing area. They also give 5 dollars credit to be used for food and drink. The ground also has exotic birds like cockatoos and peacocks roaming the grounds.

Our tour book, Lonely Planet, had a great self tour on page 166 called ‘Casco Viejo Walking Tour.’ It gives a great description of the town if you want to do some light walking. For those more adventurous, take the hike to the old WWII bunker. It has the best view but is advised; it is tough and takes about 1.5 hours from the edge of town to the top.

After our trip back to Panama city, we left for dinner. We were driven to the causeway, a manmade landmass created by the sediment from the creation of the canal. Restaurants on the causeway have the best view of the skyline.

The next morning we had the hotel’s breakfast buffet which was very good. Ivan then picked us up for a tour of the canal. Within the last year, the government put in new viewing facilities including a new museum. Watching the boats come in the canal from the grandstand was worth the entrance fee, but the museum with its freighter simulator makes it something you don’t want to pass up.

The afternoon we spent touring old Panama City starting with the area around the French Embassy. We then parked at the square and walked to the President’s Offices.

The afternoon we spent looking for emeralds. We ended up at Alessi Joyeros in Downtown Panama city. This store made us feel like we were royalty. In other words my wife was extremely happy and that made me extremely happy.

All in all it was a great vacation and any one of the three places would be a great vacation. Not many people know about this place yet. Better go there before everyone finds out how great Panama is.

See more information like this at .

Save Money With ID 90s in the Caribbean

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

On this trip I tried to use an ID 90 and it almost ruined my entire trip when. going to Trinidad. The lack of knowledge in the airline industry of ID 90s and code shares rivals that of a user friendly computer.

This trip really started 2 Months prior when I started looking for Books on travel options. I started looking for flights on the Web Timetable. Since our trip was to Trinidad and my airline doesn’t go there at the time, I knew I would have to use an ID 90. The only airline timetable that brought up any flights was American’s Saber. There were several three leg choices, but only one out of my city that had two legs, British West Indies Airways (BWIA). Unknown to me it was a code share flight on United. Since it is difficult to tell on American Airlines website if it is a code share, check all the timetables on the web to be sure. It was also the first strike.

With an idea of how to get to Trinidad, it was then time to see where to stay and what to do. All the printed books that could be found were reviewed and The Rough Guide on Trinidad was selected. It encompassed all the unique characteristics of the Islands which were almost non-existent. On Trinidad we selected the North Shore due to the fact it had some of the best beeches. On Tobago, we selected Mt. Irvine due to its close proximity to the best the island had to offer.

Armed with this information, I then went to my base’s office to check policy. The secretaries in the office informed me of my benefits without looking at the policy manual. My second strike.

At the ticket counter, I started to put my travel plan together. I timed my work for my tickets to coincide with their low time. They were very personable, but were quite new and not sure on how to book ID 90s. I literally had to bring up my web site timetable to show them the flights . It showed that BWIA WOULD GO to Mia to Port of Spain (POS) . The return trip would go Tobago (TAB) to POS to MIA then home on BWIA and American. That was strike three. I was not going on my trip a month before I showed up at the airport and didn’t even know it.

Two weeks prior I called BWIA to check loads It turned out to be a code share with United.  They assured me there was 2 seats in first class and 10 in coach. 1day prior I checked loads, still wide open 2 and 10 with no standbys. They didn’t tell the whole truth.

I showed up at 6:45AM for an 8:30 flight. The United ticket counter was taken aback by our tickets . I explained it was a code share flight but they needed a United ticket for there record. Back to my airline’s ticket counter to reissue our tickets with plenty time to spare. Even if we missed this flight, I had backup on American. Back to United only to find the Aircraft is oversold. When asked about BWIA code share, they had no idea what I was talking about. Back to my airline’s ticket counter to exchange my United ID90 for an American ID 90 when problems really started to happen. The ticket person informed me that I couldn’t use the tickets I was given because I was not eligible. I quickly called the secretary who insisted I was eligible. I then got out of line to call the personnel office and get the final word. It turned out that I wasn’t eligible and had to go into damage control mode.

Rule number one, the 10% rule. 90% of the people want to help you. If you find the 10% who don’t help you, walk away like I did. I found an agent who was an expert with the reservation system and pass privileges. He actually saved me money.

Rule number two. Travel as long as you can on your own airline, no mater how many legs it takes. I thought that using an ID90 would reduce the amount of legs and make it easier to get to my destination. At least I thought that by having an ID 90, my seniority would have some weight, but it didn’t. Try to fly on your own airline for as far as you can and use the ID 90 on the last portion. Then only use the ID 90 as a backup if you cannot jumpseat.

If you must use an ID 90 make sure it is not a code share. Make sure you are on the airline who is actually flying the leg on you ticket. When you get your tickets, put them together in separate bunches for each airline. This keeps the ticket agent from getting confused on what your flight itinerary is.

Finally, don’t rely on someone else’s interpretation of company policy for travel. Get a copy of the rules to show the 10 % of the agents who don’t want to help what your benefits are.

We picked up our ID 90, American Eagle, in San Juan. We checked in 4 hours before the flight which is the earliest time I could. It was also the earliest time we could get the jumpseat. We had enough time to get the Cornish Hen Cuban style near the airport called the Metropal, great recommendation by the gate agents at American Eagle. After a 2.5 hour hop on an ATR42, we were in t e new Port of Spain airport which is very modern and efficient.

Our stay was on the north side of the island which is known for it’s picturesque secluded beaches. The area did not disappoint. Along the winding road, the first quaint village worth taking advantage of is Maracas. Not only does it encompass great ocean views framed by high cliffs, but many stands are available to sell souvenirs as well as the local delicacy, shark and bake. Even though souvenirs can be obtained here, this location is for those who want to get away from the tourist traps.

We traveled past Maracas deeper into the lush vegetation to a remote fishing village named Blanchisseuse. This place is only for those who want to get away from it all.

Coco’s Hut and Laguna Mar Beach resort owned by Fred is probably the most luxurious inn at the end of the more improved road . Fred, a Marine who was with VMCJ-3 stationed in 1958 in Japan, is very personable and will take good care of you.

We also took a walking tour to Paria. This is were you get to see mot of the flora and fauna of Trinidad. Get a guide to walk the 7 mile trek but it is for the very experienced even with a guide.

Better to walk toward Paria until the road is impassable by car. These are the best coastal views.

Take the boat to get to see the waterfall and great beach views.

We then took the ferry from Port of Spain Trinidad to Scarborough Tobago. Another adventure which was to last 5 to 6 hours. in reality it was 6.5 there ( leaves at 2:00pm) and 6 hours back (leaves at 11:00PM). The cost for this return trip was 60tt coach, 80tt first, and 160tt for a cabin which you can sleep in. We took the cabin and used it as a hotel on the way back to Port of Spain Trinidad to catch the early morning flight home. Be sure to get there at least 2 hours early, which is the soonest to board, and remember this is roughing it. For those how don’t mind turbo props, for 300tt return you can take a 1/2 hour flight .

Once on Tobago, there are many beautiful beaches to visit. This island is defiantly more for the tourist, but is by no means a tourist trap. People here are friendly and helpful. Crown Point has most of the action and entertainment like the great steel band, Our Boys, Golden Star. It also good locations to see sunsets like the bar at the Crown Point Hotel, which also has great rooms.

Other great beaches to watch sunsets and lounge around on are Mt. Irvine beach and Grafton beach. Grafton Hotel is great and has a great location with many things to do. Although the best rum punch is at Mt Irvine Beach Bar just down the road.

Now is the time to go to Trinidad and Tobago. It is Carnival time so the party is finally warming up. Hurry up and enjoy!