Convention tips and tricks for Star Trek Las Vegas

vegas_logo_2013The Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas is coming up fast! Trek fans: Do you remember your first Star Trek Convention? If you were like me (a convention newbie in 2011), for your first convention you wanted just three things: to see everything, do everything and know everything. In an attempt to be the most prepared as possible for my first convention, I searched the Internet for any advice or tips I could find for Trek convention-goers. Some of you may remember asking the same questions: Do I need to wear a Starfleet uniform? Do I need to dress up as a Klingon? Do I need to learn the Klingon language? Do I need to eat gagh, drink blood wine and participate in mating rituals? (Okay, maybe not the last one.)

Well, this blog post is NOT an attempt to answer those questions, but I can offer a few tips to those who are new to the convention. These tips may also be useful to those of you who are ‘con veterans’ but are new to the next week’s event, which runs August 8-11.

At the Rio Las Vegas Resort & Casino:

Sign up for a Total Rewards card. Even if you don’t plan to gamble, it’s worth the five minutes it takes to apply online. Have your card number handy when you check in to your Rio suite and you can start earning reward points immediately. Show your card everywhere. Not only can you continue to earn points for comps and deals for future visits to any Caesar’s Entertainment resort, but you’ll immediately reap benefits with shopping and dining discounts while at the Rio. Look for the reduced Total Rewards prices on Rio restaurant menus. Read the FAQs and fine print and shop through Total Rewards retail partners throughout the year — inactivity will cause your points to expire in six months.

rio1

Make advance dinner reservations. Why wait in long restaurant lines with a bunch of overpowering Jem’Hadar? Advance dinner booking may work best if you’re confident you’ll be dining on a particular day and time. For example, if you’re already planning a meetup with your fellow Ferengi for a 7 p.m. Friday night dinner at the All-American Bar & Grille, know you can make that reservation online and not wait for a table. (Not available at all Rio eateries.)

Enjoy the resort and the city. Gamble, shop, eat, drink, go to shows — do all that Vegas-type stuff. Get to know what’s playing and who’s performing, whether it’s part of the convention or not. Relax at the pool. Check out the VooDoo Lounge. Pamper yourself with a spa treatment. Explore one of the new casinos. Smart con-goers pad their stay with a day or two before or after the convention for this purpose. (Also see “10 reasons to stay at the Rio.”)

Ask for a map. Especially if you’re new to the Rio, a small map or smartphone image helps immensely. There’s nothing more humbling (or embarrassing if you’re not alone) than walking for half an hour down the wrong hallway… of the wrong floor… of the Ipanema Tower. Only you suddenly realize your room is in the Masquerade Tower! You could ask for one at check-in or find some handy maps and property info on Caesars’ properties website.

At the Convention:

Pack some snacks. Speaking of long walks, it’s a fair jaunt out from the room towers to the convention wing. Now I (almost) understand why so many ‘non-disabled’ people use those mobility scooters!  At my first two conventions, I found it helpful to pack some granola or protein bars to nibble on between panel sessions. Hopefully, again this year a deli-type food concession will be set up adjacent to the registration rotunda for light breakfast and lunch. You may want to bring along a plastic water bottle to fill up at one of the many water stations.

On a related note: Wear comfortable shoes. Standing, walking, waiting: you’ll need them. Even if you need special footwear to complete a costume or to comply with strict Starfleet (or Guinness World Record) uniform regulations, you’ll eventually want to slip into a pair of flip-flops or sneakers.

Don’t forget batteries and chargers — for the laptops, tablets, cameras, phones, phasers, tricorders or portable transporter devices. I like my Mophie Juice Pack for iPhone – it gives me almost an extra day of usage, while on my cell service network. The alternative is paying $13.95 per day wireless internet access in the room or $22.95 per day for access throughout the resort. Of course for some, like those who require WiFi, those extra fees may not seem like a such a bad deal.

Take your time in the dealers room. You may want to plan your tour around the dealers room. For example, you might compare the dealers room to the galaxy: Divide it into quadrants and get ready to explore… or assimilate. Back in 2011, I had the temptation to run around and see every vendor and celebrity in the first hour of the first day. Now I take my time: talking to the vendors, enjoying the parade of fans, chatting with the celebrities, shopping for souvenirs and collectibles — posters, shirts, jewelry, accessories and props.

az4

Take advantage of phone apps, websites and social media. Regularly check Twitter using the hashtag #STLV. This is a great way to stay in the loop with all the impromptu meetups, breaking convention announcements or last-minute schedule changes. Keep track your convention activities with Bloodhound, a smartphone app developed for business conferences. With Bloodhound, you can customize your own schedule of events, view maps, connect with other attendees, and link to Twitter and Facebook.

az5

Help set a new Guinness World Record for most Star Trek costumes in location. After my blog post on Trekmovie.com about the record attempt, I found a webpage outlining the costume regulations. It’s from a Texas Lottery promotion’s attempt from earlier this year. Please set your alerts and alarms to be there. Hopefully the powers that schedule events this year won’t put competing sessions during the half hour or so it takes to complete the World Record attempt.

Finally, and probably the most unnecessary tip: Have fun! I say “unnecessary” because at my first two conventions, I was so amazed and impressed! There’s no dispute — Star Trek fans are the best! They’re the most friendly, patient, courteous, helpful, fun-loving, tolerant convention attendees! Where else can you find several thousand people with different backgrounds, ages, nationalities (or from different planets?) with one common bond? If the Star Trek community is like a big family, the convention is a big family… on vacation!

Please add to this list: What convention tips can you suggest?

az3

Note: Please check out Trekmovie.com for “all things Star Trek,” including news, information and opinions about Star Trek TV shows, movies, events, science & technology, and celebrities. This article is cross-posted there.

What kind of travel-size product consumer are you?

photo 1

Travel sizes, trial sizes, samples, small regular sizes — so many sizes! What size do you pack for your trip? Do you simply toss into your suitcase your regular-sized, daily use products at the last minute? Do you make special shopping trips to the Target travel size aisle and stock up your supply for your vacation? Do you save up complimentary hotel products for future trips? Do you wait until you reach your destination and hope for the best? It seems there’s a different travel-size behavior for every traveler.

First of all, let’s talk about trial sizes and samples. The only time I pack trial sizes would be for a one or two-night road trip, because trial sizes and samples probably won’t provide enough for any longer stays. However, sample colognes, hair treatments and lotions may be a really nice way to pamper yourself while on vacation or at the end of a long day after that out-of-town business seminar.

Some travelers just have to use their own personal products. Of course, if you need specialized hair and skin products because of dermatologist’s recommendation, then you either pack your regular size products or buy refillable plastic travel size bottles to accommodate your specialized shampoos, lotions or soaps. I love my Cerave skin cream, but I’m not tempted to bring a five-gallon tub of it when I travel. My skin will survive a few days with a travel size Eucerin or Lubriderm or even a hotel product.

Some folks are like free spirits when it come to travel sizes. They pack their toothbrush and comb and then depend on the hotel or resort for shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion… and they’re good to go… and stay. If they’re staying at a fairly decent hotel or resort, there’s no problem. Nicer hotels often will provide better lotions and mouthwash. Some may even make available an entire dental kit, with brush, paste, floss, mouthwash and denta-picks. Some luxury resorts may also provide more kits: shoe shine kit, sewing kit, shaving kit, nail care kit and eyeglass kit. There may even be a kit for kaboodles.

Travelers may find some nice locally-made products such as lotions and candles in the hotel gift shop. These make wonderful mementos. Also, there’s a lot to be said for discovering great new lotions and potions when traveling. It’s part of that “ooh-ahh” resort-spa travel experience. At the Wild Horse Pass Resort’s Aji Spa shop, I discovered an excellent, aromatic exfoliating foot soak. I couldn’t leave without buying some “to-go.”

photo 4 (1)

Some travelers like the luxury experience when they choose travel sizes. They will pack their expensive mini bottles of shampoos, conditioners, masks, rinses, mists and lotions in carefully packaged bottles from home. Some will shop onsite for the top local products. They may go to extra lengths to pack them — taping the bottles shut, wrapping in plastic wrap, putting them in waterproof bags then packing them in upscale, luggage-coordinated hanging toiletry bags and shaving kits.

Other travelers are more practical. These folks like to plan their travel size packing, comparing products’ weight, mass, volume, “leak-ability” and make purchases according to trip length. That’s the category I’m putting myself. (Okay, I may be a bit OCD when it comes to travel sizes.) Occasionally, I’m really happy with a certain shampoo I’m currently using, so I’ll buy a refillable container for that, and maybe one for a conditioner. Soaps and shower gels: I’m not so picky. I usually just use whatever the hotel housekeeping staff sets out on the bathroom counter.

For deodorants and anti-perspirants, it’s another scenario. I used to buy a “travel size” but then I realized: the regular size of my favorite deodorant is usually not much larger than the travel size. It doesn’t make much sense to buy a special travel size when the regular size is sold for much less per ounce. And the regular size weighs only two ounces more than the travel size. Next time I see my brand at CVS on sale two-for-one, I’ll grab one for my bathroom cabinet and the other for my travel bag. The same point can be made for hand sanitizer. The small, regular hand sanitizer isn’t much larger than the itsy-bitsy travel size hand sanitizer. Why would you need this miniscule orb rolling around in your luggage or carry-on? Items that small go into some sort of trans-dimensional portal in my bag and are never seen again.

With toothpaste, it’s a toss up. If you’re bringing only a carry-on, you’re required to carry the one-ounce toothpaste, rather than the small regular six ounce size tube. But if you’re checking your bags, a few extra ounces of paste may not make a difference. I could go either way. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I can make a travel size tube of paste last a long, long time.

Now you can’t say the same for mouthwash. It’s a no brainer. Few travelers I know will carry a big jug of mouthwash with them in any kind of luggage. You almost have to get the travel size of Scope, Listerine or other brand. Refillable bottles don’t work well for mouthwash. You may need two or three of these travel size mouthwash bottles — since an ounce and a half of Scope mouthwash is probably only enough for a two mornings. Listerine has a 3.2 ounce size but, if you have a carry-on, what do you do with the 0.2 ounce? Gulp it while waiting in the security line just so your breath is minty fresh for the TSA agent?

photo 5 (1)

Common sense will dictate your travel size product usage. Just ask yourself: Do I need to take my specialized products? How long is my trip? Can I buy items upon arrival? Can I use hotel products? Do I need to be concerned about additional weight and mass in my luggage?

Finally, some hotels have discontinued various complimentary bath and shower products over the years. Some of these I really miss. Holiday Inn used to provide a light but long-lasting hand and body lotion in some of its properties that smelled like a Creamsicle. Los Abrigados Resort’s Sedona Spa line of products at one time included a wonderful coconut-scented shampoo — and it was so rich and creamy. Fortunately most big name resorts often offer their products in online shops. That way, you can purchase that “ooh-ahh” spa experience for your own home.

Find AzGetawayTravel on Facebook and Twitter.

Airline flight packing tips to ease strain on wallet and back

Thank you to free, Microsoft Office Images.

Packing for your next vacation? What will you take? If you’re flying, there’s much to consider. Should you only use a carry-on or check your bags? You can find an abundance of tips online to help eliminate possibility of excess airline fees — and back strain.

When I was packing for my recent 10-day vacation to the United Kingdom, I decided to use the simplest methods possible — packing only what I thought was absolutely necessary — at least so I thought. I had not packed enough of some items, and had over-packed with other non-essentials. Packing for an international vacation is like any other trip. You want the least amount of weight in the smallest suitcase, but you want to take it all! Packing simply requires a lot of common sense and a little ingenuity. I know many of my readers who are experienced travelers have tons of tips. Feel free to add these to comments below and help me improve — for my next trip!

Make a list. Check it twice. (Sorry.) Categorize your list first by items such as clothes, outerwear, shoes, toiletries, medicines, hats, documents, electronics, etc. Then rearrange your list for each bag or container: carry-on, checked bag (if necessary), personal item, pockets.

Layout your items on a flat surface. See how much you’re really going to pack in your suitcase before actually start loading it up. This will avoid unpacking and repacking. If your suitcase has been in the closet, storage unit or garage, check it for stowaway critters such as scorpions. I was stung while packing for a Mexico trip a couple of years ago, and I’ve read accounts that passengers have been stung after boarding a flight.

Consider each item before tossing it mindlessly in your luggage. Ask yourself: Do I really need this? What happens if I don’t take it? Can I buy it at my destination? For example, I probably don’t need a full-size shower gel or a large bottle of Tylenol. I can survive with a smaller amount for a week long trip.  Lotions, shampoos, conditioners, sprays, goos, pastes, gels — all of these pile on the luggage weight. Consider packing basics such as comb, toothbrush and paste, floss, deodorant, shavers, moisturizer and a little bit of makeup. You can probably purchase the remaining sundries at your destination.

Make good use of your shoes. Use Oxfords, sneakers and boots as containers for socks, belts, phone chargers and other small or even breakable items. I usually wear my heaviest footwear — such as sneakers — to the airport, just because I never know when I’ll be spending most of the day on my feet, or running through the airport. Then I’ll pack a pair of dressy shoes, boots or sandals, depending on my destination. My other only footwear is a pair of flip-flops which I pack in the outer, zip compartment of my soft-sided, zippered suitcase. Along with one magazine, these add some stability to my aging, worn suitcase.

If you can, try to eliminate the checked bag and only use a carry-on bag and personal item. I prefer a soft-sided rolling duffel, but currently for most week or 10 day trips, I use a  rectangle case measuring about 20 x 14 by 6 inches. It’s small and light enough for me to lift on to the security check conveyor and the plane’s overhead compartment. Most airlines restrict the carry-on size to 22 x 14 by 9. Many passengers really try to push the envelope with those “expandable” carry-on bags. You know who you are.

My personal item is either a larger “hobo” bag or a smaller backpack which will fit under the airline seat. Personal bag contents: Wallet with one credit card, passport, cell phone, Chromebook, camera, sunglasses, headphones, tissues, prescriptions, mints, water and snacks. If I will need to check a piece of luggage, and I have room in my personal item, I will consider packing a change of clothing.

photo (8)Consider getting rid of the “purse” and packing a small cross-body bag for use at your destination. I pack away small purse in my carry-or my personal item. I bought a small camera backpack in which I would put all my valuables and personal items. It’s a CaseLogic DSLR pack I found on Amazon that not only carries all my gear in neat and compact accessory compartments and zippered pockets, but also fits nicely under the the airline seat. This backpack also fits my Chromebook very neatly. Okay, it may weigh a few pounds, especially when I add a bottle of water, extra lenses and snacks, but I’d much rather tuck a bit of weight underneath my seat and carry it on my back, than attempt to hoist a larger, heavier pack above my head to the overhead bin and strain my back and shoulder pulling it in tow. (Sigh, I guess I’m either too proud or stingy to use a SmarteCarte.)

Carry-on (or checked bag if absolutely necessary) contents: shirts, pants, dresses, skirts, sweaters, jackets — and roll them up tightly — even those unmentionables. I’m not sure if this is something to brag about, but I can fit 10 pairs of rolled undies into a quart size Ziplock bag. Rolls of clothes can wrap around every curve and cubbyhole of your luggage.  If you’re unsure about your destination’s weather, plan to dress in layers.

Pack apparel that can do double duty. For instance, maybe a nice performance workout tank can double as a tankini swimsuit top. Or maybe gym shorts can substitute as swim trunks.

My goal is to save money, and save my back — eliminate the excess: Less to pack, less to tote, less to lose, less to worry about on your vacation.

Thank you to free, Microsoft Office Images.

Who has packing tips and suggestions? I would love to hear some of yours!

Pack up the pooch for pet-friendly Prescott

Molly is ready to spend the day in Prescott!

Molly is ready to spend the day in Prescott!

If you’re looking for cool ways to spend a summer Arizona weekend, consider spending a day, weekend or — even an entire week in pet-friendly Prescott. Just like we do, our furry best friends also deserve an cool getaway during the coming ‘dog days’ of summer. Here are some suggestions for Prescott:

Dog policies are well publicized at the Prescott Farmers Market

Dog policies are well publicized at the Prescott Farmers Market

Vendors from Rabbit's Run Farm sell their produce at Prescott Farmers Market

Vendors from Rabbit’s Run Farm sell their produce at Prescott Farmers Market

Grab a snack and a cold drink at Prescott Farmers Market

Grab a snack and a cold drink at Prescott Farmers Market

Start a Saturday morning by visiting the Prescott Farmers Market at Yavapai College. The market is held weekly from 7:30 a.m. to noon in the college parking lot, at 1100 East Sheldon Street. Find local produce vendors, crafty-types, ready-to-eat brunch and lunch items, artists and live music. We strolled the booths shopping for mesquite honey, artisan breads, homemade soaps and farm-fresh veggies while listening to laidback tunes such as a cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” We snacked on authentic Kenyan samosas — a delicious baked pastry, puffed and stuffed with one of several meats — beef, pork, chicken or chorizo.

We shared our samosas with our border collie, Molly who politely walked along the aisles of this ample farmers market. Know that the Prescott Farmers Market has a policy for dogs — mostly just common sense — but we acknowledge some dog owners need to be reminded: Keep your dog leashed, close to your side, away from the market vendors’ wares.

Crooked Sky Farms' booth at Prescott Farmers Market

Crooked Sky Farms’ booth at Prescott Farmers Market

If there’s a show, exhibit, fair or some other type of activity at Courthouse Plaza (and there usually is on summer weekends), you’ll want to check that out, so venture over to downtown Prescott. Because our visit fell on Memorial Day weekend, we were fortunate the 39th Annual Phippen Museum Western Art Show and Sale was in full swing at Courthouse Plaza. It seems most western art buffs must be dog lovers as well — numerous vendors, shoppers, both visitors and locals had brought their canine pets to the square.

Phippen Museum benefits from the annual Memorial Day art show and sale

Phippen Museum benefits from the annual Memorial Day art show and sale

Oodles of poodles can be seen at summer Courthouse Plaza events

Oodles of poodles can be seen at summer Courthouse Plaza events

Some events at Courthouse Plaza in fact, are just for dogs. The first weekend of June was Woof Down Lunch, a fundraiser to benefit United Animal Friends. The annual event is a pet fair featuring training demonstrations, contests, handcrafted pet food, music and pet adoptions. It was held on June 1st, so we just missed this event but we’ll mark our calendars for next year. Coming up in the fall on October 6th is the 7th Annual Dogtoberfest and Adop-a-Thon, sponsored by The Prescott Dog and the City of Prescott.

After the show, you’ll undoubtedly want a bite to eat. And you won’t have to travel far to find a dog-friendly patio restaurant in downtown Prescott. We opted for the Firehouse Kitchen, just half a block and around the corner from Whiskey Row. We did not see any Dalmations at this two-level firehouse, but we did notice some well-behaved dogs with their owners. Know there are TWO dog patio (one on each level) to allow enough space for pooches to spread out. Our server brought us our lunch meals without hardly any wait, considering this very busy weekend. Chuck ordered a satisfying crab melt with tomato and avocado, covered with cheddar cheese and served on an English muffin. I selected a delicious barbecue brisket sandwich on Kaiser roll with sweet potato fries. Molly noshed on doggie treats from home. She was very impressed that our server brought out a dish of water. Being on second floor, Molly enjoyed watching the street traffic below while we dined. A perfect lunch!

Crab melt sandwich at Firehouse Kitchen

Crab melt sandwich at Firehouse Kitchen

After lunch, you and “Fido” may want to exercise off some calories at a local dog park. Willow Creek Park, located at 3181 Willow Creek Road, is a City of Prescott dog park. Take some time to let your dog run off steam without the leash before heading back to the Valley or checking into your hotel room.

If you need suggestions for pet-friendly overnight lodging, more dining options or things to do with your dog in Prescott, there are a number of websites with information. Here’s a partial list:

1. Prescott.com

2. Petswelcome.com

3. Bringfido.com

One we checked out before our trip is The Prescott Dog, a locally managed website. The information seems to be fairly comprehensive, current and accurate, but we make it practice to confirm pet policies of restaurants and hotels before we go. Two downtown pet-friendly Prescott hotels at which we previously have stayed are  Hassayampa Inn and SpringHill Suites Prescott.  If hotel lodging isn’t an option for you, consider of several nearby campgrounds in Prescott National Forest.

Take the opportunity to visit pet-friendly Prescott at least one weekend this summer. It’s the perfect way to escape the Valley’s hot ‘dog days.’ We already have planned our next weekend in Prescott.

You can also find AZGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook.

Know before you go: Tabacon Hot Springs Resort & Spa

tab2

tab1

305984-R1-05-5_006

tab3

IMG_0194

tab5

To many travelers, Costa Rica’s Tabacon Hot Springs Resort & Spa may seems like an expensive and out-of-reach vacation choice, but this popular thermal springs luxury resort can be accessible to most with a little common budget travel sense.

Tabacon is located at the base of Arenal Volcano near La Fortuna de San Carlos. Geothermal hot springs in the local area have made it extremely popular for tourists. Although there are several places to experience the hot springs, Tabacon — with its beautiful gardens, iconic waterfalls, natural wading pools and romantic private grottos — remains on the bucket list of many travelers. Here are some items to consider if you plan to visit this beautiful resort and attraction:

Opt for an overnight stay at one of the nearby resorts. If the nightly rates at Tabacon are out of your budget, if you’re visiting during a peak season, or if the only room available is one of the $1200 honeymoon suites: don’t despair. You can stay at a nearby resort such as the Arenal Lodge and still purchase a day pass for Tabacon. And unless you’re planning to stay a few nights and book several spa treatments, I’d recommend this option. For example, consider buying a day pass for a morning of soaking and strolling in the hot springs followed by a leisurely lunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for $70. Or you could get a pass for the entire day — from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. without a meal for $60. There are other meal/day pass package combinations available, and I would recommend having at least one meal at the resort, just to top off the experience.

Relax in the lobby bar. Okay, so you’ve decided to stay one or more nights at Tabacon, and maybe your bus or taxi has dropped you off before your room is ready. Know that you can explore the resort or simply relax in the lobby bar. This is a great place to catch up on some U.S. sporting events, or grab an appetizer while you wait for your room.

Explore the resort. Start out by walking Tabacon’s paths weaving through throughout the property. After getting settled in your suite, obtain a map and take some time to inspect the gardens. Take some dusk or nighttime photos of the spectacular plants and tropical flowers. Visit El Palenque Bar for happy hour at the far reaches of the grounds. Get to know your way around the resort before you spend the next day soaking in pools and being showered by warm waterfalls. You can learn at which water features you will want to spend most of your time.

Wear water shoes or at least flip-flops with some decent tread. Tabacon River rocks and stepping stones can be extremely slippery. Because this tropical paradise gets an average of 137 inches of rain and the springs supply a constant mist over the earth, almost every walkway seems constantly wet. Exercise extra caution when stepping into the deeper pools — and use care when negotiating a seat under the waterfalls — that water pressure is very high. Also, know that water temperatures vary. Some pools are a cool 77 degrees, while others are a steamy 102 degrees.

Schedule your spa treatment early. If you don’t reserve a massage or other spa treatment before you arrive, you may miss out. Consider making a reservation when you reserve your room — or at least a week before you arrive. These time slots will book up early — obviously even more so, during peak seasons such as late fall, winter and early spring.

Learn practical photography tips about shooting in high moisture areas. In an effort to save my new Canon from the moisture, I made the mistake of buying a single use, disposable, waterproof camera for my stay at Tabacon. Unfortunately, my prints — those taken while enjoying the pools and waterfalls — came out extremely grainy when I had them developed. I can’t say what exactly caused that, but I understand now there are much better ways to capture Tabacon experiences on film. I’ve heard this will help: Store the camera in an airtight plastic bag until it can brought outside and adjusted to the current temperature and humidity. Online searches will produce even more suggestions for photography in humid, moist, misty or foggy conditions. And just in case your photos didn’t turn out the best, you can always download some from the resort website.

Watch the volcano. You may not see much action, since Arenal’s activity level has decreased considerably since 2010. We visited in 2007, so we were fortunate to see Arenal still shooting up smoke and ash. And In the evening from our patio, we could distinguish a few strings of lava rolling down the mountain. Although volcanic activity has decreased, you may be fortunate to catch a rare display!

tab4

 

More photos of Costa Rica can be viewed here.

Did you know – you also find AZGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook?

Trip tips from Cambridge UK: English pubs

My recent vacation to Cambridge, UK was my first trip to England and with it, my first taste of dining and drinking at a ‘real’ English pub. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the food, drink and atmosphere of the pubs, I also learned some lessons the hard way about pub etiquette and I wanted to pass them along to readers.

photo (2)

The front entry dining table of the The Anchor pub in Cambridge UK. If you sit here to wait for a hostess to come and seat you, you’ll be waiting a long time!

Seat yourself

Find an empty table, booth or place at the bar and seat yourself. When I first walked in to the Anchor Pub in Cambridge, UK I immediately assumed the comfortable looking couch and coffee table just inside the entrance was the place to wait for a host or hostess to show us to our table. Wrong! There are no pub hosts or hostesses – patrons just find a place and seat themselves. And ‘seat’ could mean any one of several options — couch, chair, bar stool, bench, patio chair. The pub’s interior furnishings look like it could be part of someone’s private home, and not a “public house” — hence the shortened identification form: pub. 

photo (1)

“Queue up” at the bar to place your food and drink order

Order from the bar

Not only are there no hostesses to show you to your seat, there are no waiters to take your food order at your table in an English pub. Patrons pick up a menu at the bar or at the table, and after having made their choices, one, some or all will go to the bar and place the order with the bar staff. (Best not to have all of you go to the bar, or you might lose your table.) You will also order your drink — and if you’re drinking a beer, it will likely be one of three or four Greene King beers or a “guest beer.” Greene King is a popular English brewery which distributes its beers to several of Cambridge’s pubs for draft service. Most pubs also seem to carry a variety of global favorites such as Guiness, Amstel, Stella, Peroni or Foster’s. You may even see the odd tap for Blue Moon or Corona. Another popular English drink is Pimm’s Cup — a kind of refreshing, fruity alcoholic drink often mixed with lemonade or ginger ale and splashed with fruit. It’s good for a warm English day when temps rise above 15 Celsius (which is about 60 degrees Fahrenheit — insert smiley face here).  I prefer the ales and I found a couple from the Greene King brewery which I could ‘rather fancy’ — the Abbot Ale and the Morland Old Speckled Hen.

Pay up front, tax included and no tipping

After you’ve placed your food and drink order, and before you’re ready to return to your table, you will first need to pay. Everything is paid in advance. Cash is preferred and sales taxes at retail establishments such as shops, pubs and restaurants are already built into prices. This makes it handy, so you will know exactly what you will be paying. This also means you’re less likely — unlike in the U.S. — to threaten refusal to pay because of poor service or food quality.  Also, tipping at pubs is not expected, in fact you may get some funny looks. Or they may just brush you off as another ignorant American tourist. Also, courtesy and etiquette are very much appreciated, even at the pubs so make sure you mind your manners. It’s only ‘proper,’ of course.

photo (4)

The Anchor Pub allows diners watch the punters on the River Cam

Kitchen or bar staff will serve your food

So by now you’re enjoying your pint of ale and the pub ambiance. A few locals who are done with their day’s work shift are sitting in the next room may have a couple of rounds’ head start on you. A few of their ‘mates’ could start singing old pub songs. Okay, you’d probably not see this much happening in the U.S. — at least not in this decade, or outside of an East Coast or Midwestern big city. But this is a great scenario, because you realize it’s another reminder you’re really in England. After your bar or kitchen staff serves your meal and returns to ask if you’d like anything else, what he or she doesn’t mean: if you’d like additional food. I guess they’re asking if you might need need a steak knife, some salt or more napkins… something like that. I made the mistake of saying, “Oh yes — we’d like some dessert.” Oops! Remember: If you want to order more food, another beer or dessert, you’ll need to head back to the bar.

Pub hours are a bit different

Some pubs may be open from lunchtime through the dinner hour until about 11 p.m., but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be serving food during all that time. In fact, many pubs (if they are open for lunch) tend to close up the kitchen from around 2 p.m. to 5:30 or 6 p.m. then close the kitchen again around 8 or 9 p.m. (Speaking of time, it’s helpful to get used to thinking in 24-hour — or military — time.) If you arrive during a time when the kitchen is closed, or you reach the bar to place your order and the bartender suddenly announces, “the kitchen has closed,” you may be able to order bags of ‘crisps’ to soak up those beers or Pimms.

And If you enter a pub and it’s crowded, it’s not considered courteous to stand around, lingering for a table or place at the bar to open up. Many patrons who come to the pub are there to drink, watch their team and may occupy their spot for a long while — much the same way we do here in the US at our sports bars.

photo (3)

The Eagle is one of the most popular pubs in Cambridge

Pub food and prices 

Most of the menu items include the traditional English pub favorites: fish and chips, bangers and mash, steak and ale pie and burgers. Chips are fries, of course and they typically are the larger cuts of fries — what we would normally call steak fries or ‘wedges.’ Try some jacket potatoes (like our stuffed or twice baked varieties) or a side of mushy peas which is… exactly that. Some pubs have upgraded menus with more eclectic, innovative selections. For example, at the The Eagle, my friend and I split the pan fried salmon with chive polenta cakes and buttered cavolo nero along with a roasted beetroot, goat’s cheese and walnut salad with mixed greens and balsamic dressing. Most meals will run about seven or eight pounds ($11) and pints are about three or four pounds ($5). By the way, a pint in the UK is 20 ounces. It’s possible to order a half pint. Sunday ‘roast’ in the UK means a traditional noontime pub meal, but I missed my chance to enjoy that. Next time…

photo (5)

Outside dining is possible (weather permitting) at The Red Lion in Grantchester UK

No doggie bags allowed

So you can’t finish your plate, eh? Well, don’t embarrass yourself by asking for a ‘doggie bag.’ It’s just not done in England. It’s one thing to go and order food for ‘take away’ (take-out) but it’s entirely different if you can’t finish what you’ve ordered, in fact it’s largely frowned upon. I couldn’t finish a plate of chips and a large burger but I wanted to take the rest of my burger back to the flat. (Yes, as a matter of fact — It was THAT good!) I was informed it would be more acceptable to wrap it in a napkin and sneak it out in my purse rather than to ask for a box.

Most pubs are family friendly – especially in tourism areas

I had heard a few years ago that children accompanying parents in pubs was not acceptable or appropriate, and in many locations, that may be still true, especially later in the evening. However, at many of the Cambridge pubs we visited, I frequently saw signs at the entrances, “Children Welcome” or “Family Friendly.” And I witnessed many a family at the pubs for an early dinner — ‘er, i mean ‘supper’ — after a day of shopping in the markets of central Cambridge.

Find more info on the Web

Naturally, these above items are based on my own perceptions after visiting five pubs over nine days during my stay in Cambridge. Like LeVar Burton said on Reading Rainbow, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” Find out more about English pub dining and etiquette on the Internet. Here’s a great site I found after I returned and I wished I had sought it out before my trip to the UK: Cambridge Pubs. It’s a comprehensive listing, but I’m not sure how up-to-date it’s kept, so combine the information there with review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor or travel sites like Lonely Planet and Frommer’s before you make your pub tour of Cambridge.

Don’t forget to say “Cheers!”

“Cheers” can mean “thanks,” “goodbye,” “agree” or “cheers.” The Brits seem to say it often. However it’s meant, it’s almost always said with a smile.

Find AZGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook.

Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK

museum gallery

If you’re planning a vacation in the United Kingdom this travel season and museums are on your list of ‘things to do,’ you may want to know Cambridge has more museums and galleries within a one square mile area than any other UK city outside of London. The Fitzwilliam Museum is one Cambridge museum you won’t want to miss. It’s a all-encompassing, multi-era representation of art and history. And it’s one of the most popular attractions in this famous English town, known best as home to the university with the same name.

The museum is located just a few minutes from Cambridge City Centre, among a wide variety of shops, eateries and university college chapels. An easy 10-minute walk stretched between my accommodations near Midsummer Common and the museum, location on Trumpington Street. I walked through a maze of foot and bike traffic to the Fitzwilliam, a perfect example of Gothic Revival architecture towering above the street.  The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday and is free, donations suggested.

museum stairs

Here are a few pointers you may want to know some tips before planning a visit.

1. Plan to spend at least two hours. The museum may not seem very large when you initially begin navigating the galleries, or by glancing at the floor plan map. But after we spent 20 minutes in one gallery of Egyptian antiquities, we realized our visit would require more time than we had originally allotted.

2. You’ll be checking your backpack and camera at the front desk. I found out quickly at most museums in Cambridge, photography rarely is permitted. You may be able to take a quick shot with your cell phone as you stroll between galleries. However, after I made a couple of iPhone snaps, a security guard gave me a stern look. And just for the record: I can understand both sides to the no-photography-in-museums debate, but I’ll leave my opinion aside, for another blog post.

IMG_0138

3. Bring a few pounds for the gift shop. This is one of the best museum gift shops I’ve seen in a while! There is really something for everyone. And much of the inventory has really nothing to do with the museum’s collections, Cambridge or even the UK. A large collection of ‘artsy’ greeting cards kept me busy while my son and his girlfriend found some unique gifts.

4. Bring the kids on the first Saturday of the month. Every first Saturday, volunteers and staff provide children with opportunities for drawing and other art activities, as well as interesting ways to explore the galleries and appreciate the museum experience.

IMG_0147

5. Look for more information. We were impressed by several particular works of art and looked for the wall-mounted labels for additional facts. Not finding all the details, we noticed that galleries were equipped with a stand of binders where more information about each of the pieces can be collected using an inventory number. Much of this information is also available online through the Collections Explorer system.

Find AZGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook.

 

A few of my favorite travel apps

 

icons

In no particular order and for no particular reason, I thought I’d share some of my favorite travel mobile apps. Having an iPhone 4S, I rely on some of these apps when planning my vacations, after I reach my destination or merely dreaming about my next travel adventure.

1. Glympse

Several months ago, a friend sent me an email with an unknown link. We were awaiting her arrival to our home for a dinner gathering. When I opened the link, up came a Glympse. It was much more than an itinerary. With the wonder of GPS, I could follow her car in real-time as it entered on the freeway, stopped at the traffic lights and turned onto our street. With Glympse, I could see her speed, estimated time of arrival as well as starting point and destination. It’s also possible to send messages with your trip. (For example: “We stopped to pick up something for dessert.”) “Glympses” can be shared with friends through email or social media.

2. FlightTrack

I know I’ll get some flack from die-hard TripIt users, but I’m not a frequent flyer or business traveler so much of the TripIt functionality is a bit too much for me. FlightTrack has many of the same tools as TripIt. I like FlightTrack Pro for its built-in SeatGuru airline-seating layout. The detailed terminal map and legend make it easy to find connection gates, restrooms, ATM, taxi stands, etc. You can see airport flight boards, earth-view flight routes, historical on-time data and so much more.

3. Hotel Tonight

Relatively new but continually expanding and updating its city database is Hotel Tonight, an app that helps travelers find last minute hotel rooms. Its virtual front desk opens up at noon local time. If you’re searching for local rooms or planning a last minute getaway, this app is for you. For example, I’ll be in London next month and I may want to find a last minute lodging deal  the night before I depart. Those $300 rooms in London’s preferred hotel districts often are available for about $200 or less on Hotel Tonight. (For London lodging options, that’s a great deal.)

4. Kayak

Kayak is my ‘go-to’ app for general travel pricing guidelines — for hotels, airfares, car rentals, etc. When one of my friends or clients asks, “What’s a flight to Hawaii cost these days?” I can usually provide a fairly accurate answer based on my Kayak search. Not all airlines are available through Kayak, though, so I just use as more of a jumping off point, and then I start my search for deeper discounts. Kayak also has discount alert and flight tracker tools.

5. Hawaii Beaches

Okay, I know Hawaii Beaches isn’t really a ‘travel app’ but more of a compilation of beach videos. Actually, I think most of these videos probably have ‘dubbed-in’ wave sounds. But hey, when you can’t get away to the beach, you can make the beach come to you — at least through your mobile device. Click on one of the islands to view a teaser clip of various beaches around one of the Hawaiian islands. Grab an icy Mai Tai, relax in your Arizona backyard lawn chair and experience the beaches of Maui… or Kauai…  or…

6. Surf Report

I’m sure similar apps exist with more features and less bugs but the Oakley Surf Report gives me the info I need in one place. What? Who me? Of course, I’m no surfer. I’m just a beach bunny. Every chance I get, I run to the place where water meets sand. Surf Report provides me with wave size, water temperature, and weather conditions for thousands of beaches around the world. I’m usually on the look-out for warm waters with some ‘mahina’ (low and flat) waves for snorkeling, kayaking and — who knows — possibly trying my skills at stand-up paddleboarding. And if I DO get in the mood to surf, I always can watch the videos — right in the shade of my palapa.

What are some of your favorite travel apps? I’m always looking for new ones…

Find AzGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Feel a Pacific power blast at Maui’s Nakalele Blowhole

photo 2

Considering a spring trip to the Hawaiian Islands? The island of Maui offers a variety of spectacular sights and sounds. Think about hearing the sound of the Pacific Ocean jetting through a lava shelf. Imagine seeing the sight of a huge blast of sea shooting up over 50 feet up above the rocks.  If you can picture these, you’d likely be thinking of the Nakalele Blowhole.

The Nakalele Blowhole is located approximately 16 miles north of Lahaina, just off of Highway 30. This northern tip of Maui claims sweeping views of open fields, majestic cliffs and fascinating rock formations. Near mile marker 38 is a parking turnout and what appears to be an old dirt Jeep trail. Park here and follow this path down to the small lighthouse. Here you will think that the trail ends. You will need to continue following the coast in a southeasterly direction along the rock shelf for about 15-20 minutes. The total distance one-way is probably only about half a mile. There is another, smaller blowhole before you get to the “real one,” so just persevere and eventually you will see – and hear it!

Some visitors park their cars along Highway 30 a short distance past the first turnoff and walk down the hill from the road. That route may be quicker but not as exciting or interesting.

Tips: Wear sturdy shoes, as the rocks are uneven and can be slippery. Wear swimsuits or quick-drying shorts and shirts. Bring towels – plan to get wet!

The hole through rocks is about 18 inches to two feet in diameter, if memory serves. I have learned about accidents at this blowhole that have left visitors severely injured or dead, because they got too close to the opening. New homemade signs now carry the warning. I’d stay several feet back – it’s still possible to feel the thrill and cold spray – and “shoot some footage.”

Read some of the reviews on travel sites like tripadvisor.com and watch a few of the many videos on youtube.com before you go. For the best blowhole shows, try to visit during high tide and high surf.

We recommend using mobile apps such as EveryTrail.com and Oakley’s Surf Report for more information while at the site.

Blowhole is the upper right corner

Blowhole is the upper right corner

You can also find AzGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook.

What’s on your hiking checklist?

Doug and Chuck start off on the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake

Doug and Chuck start off on the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake

 

Spring in Arizona always brings a renewed excitement of outdoor activity. It’s the best time for spring training baseball, festivals, picnics, wildflower watching and day hiking. I already have found myself plotting courses to the Superstition, Catalina and White mountains. I’ve dusted off my day pack in anticipation of my next hike. But first it’s time to do a little equipment inventory before hitting the trail again, so I’m compiling another day hiking checklist. (I knew the last one was outdated because it listed such items as “fanny pack” and “film.”) Please help me — could you suggest some additional items? Here’s what I have so far (in no particular order):

  • Water (100 oz. for my Camelbak M.U.L.E. hydration pack)
  • Compass/GPS
  • Maps (single sheet trail maps can be put in a waterproof pouch if phone service fails)
  • Hiking boots or shoes (I love my Keen’s – they seem to mold perfectly to my feet)
  • Hat (I’m learning to wear a hat that covers ears too.)
  • Gloves (for chilly mornings or steel cable hand-rails)
  • Small flash light or headlamp
  • Reflective emergency blanket
  • Cell phone (Fine, when it’s usable when in cell service area. Otherwise it’s feels like a “boat anchor.” So my phone usually serves as a timepiece and camera.)
  • Mophie Juice Pack Plus (To extend cell phone battery life)
  • Digital SLR Camera (Only if I’m sure I’m going to capture that National Geographic Photo Contest winning shot. Otherwise it’s just another “anchor.”)
  • Pair of binoculars (Best for those view trails when I’m sure I’ll use it – if not: “boat anchor.”)
  • Trash bag (Plain old plastic grocery bag, just for picking up picnic trash)
  • Hiking staff (I need just one pole — for extra balance and traction)
  • Rain poncho (Small fold-up type – but this really doesn’t get much use)
  • Tissue pack
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Gauze, bandages, corn cushions
  • Ace bandage
  • Tweezers/nail clippers or small Leatherman tool (but not too large or it’s just another, you guessed it: “boat anchor”)
  • Benadryl
  • Ibuprofen
  • Lip protection
  • Whistle (Mom always said to pack a whistle – even before the “Titanic” movie)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Matches in waterproof container
  • Identification
  • Food for snacks or lunch including: fruit, jerky/beef stick/salami, trail mix, cheese, crackers, small sandwiches

Did I forget anything? Of course, not all hikes require ALL of these items. What items will be going into your day pack? I’d like to know about your day hiking tips and your hiking checklist recommendations!

You can also find AzGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook.