A few of my favorite travel apps

 

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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…

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Checking in? Consider these items before your next hotel stay

Hotel Room Key Atop the Bed

We’ve all been there. Here’s the scenario: You’ve just completed your hotel front check in and you’re on the way up the elevator to your room. You suddenly think, “I wish I had asked about _____________.” You make a mental note, thinking you’ll go back to the front desk later, but after you get settled and start your vacation, later never comes and that question you had falls to the least important thing in your memory.

I’ve been jotting down some of those common concerns and questions many of us have wanted to ask before, during or immediately after we check in, but the vacation excitement of ‘first night syndrome’ takes over. To seasoned business travelers, these issues may be automatic but to the typical family vacationer who travels a couple of times a year — not so much. So here are some common items to consider when you check in:

1. Ask about the room itself. What’s the view like from your window? Which direction does it face? What floor is this on? Am I near an elevator, ice or vending machines, housekeeping closet or stairwell? Does my room overlook the roof air conditioning system? Does the room look out to a back alley or parking garage? If you’re concerned about noise or views, obtain or ask to see a hotel property map or room layout before the front desk staff runs your key cards. Many clerks usually will provide a map once you’ve completed registration, but not always. If there’s any doubt, ask to see the room first before you make your decision. A website and mobile app called Room 77 allows users to see the views from popular hotels in select U.S. cities. Think of it as a sort of a Seat Guru for hotels.

2. Ask about the property’s activities. Are there any construction projects happening during your stay? Are all restaurants, shops, services open and operating? Are there any major events occurring the same time – such as conventions, large weddings, etc.

3. Find out about extra fees and local tax rates. Are there daily resort charges? You’ll want to ask about daily parking fees, Wi-Fi or Internet charges, phone call charges and convenience charges for items such as bottled water, snacks and newspapers. Are there early departure fees? (Here’s an interesting item about resort fees.)

4. Special requests usually are made at the time of your reservation.  A day or two before my arrival date, I normally will call directly to the hotel property and confirm my reservation. At that time I will also verify they have received any special requests I have made.  Often special requests made on a website booking or through a toll-free number tend to get ‘lost in the shuffle.’ Popular special requests include room upgrades, connecting rooms, bed types, smoking preference, ADA access, views, specific phase, wing, room or floor location, early check in or late checkout. (At most hotels, bed type and room access usually are standard room rate preferences. Also, an increasing number of hotel chains are now smoke-free.)  Obviously, a good time to request an early check in is at the time of reservation, with a follow-up when you call ahead to confirm your reservation. But if you want to make a special request such as a late check out, and haven’t done so during your reservation, feel free to do it at check in. And it’s best not to overdo the special requests. If you make too many, they may not honor any of them.

5. Room discounts probably should have been a choice when you’ve made your reservation but in case you forgot, it can’t hurt to mention your eligibility for an automobile club, rewards points membership, travel credit card, professional affiliation or senior, government or military discount at check in.

6. Here’s some additional miscellaneous considerations:

  • Check out time
  • Wi-Fi passwords or computer access instructions
  • Special dining features (such as free breakfast buffet or continental breakfast), deals or discounts at gift shops or on entertainment (especially in Las Vegas)
  • Express check out procedures
  • Pet policies
  • Public transportation options such as buses, shuttles, taxis, rental cars
  • Luggage assistance

This list of hotel check in questions includes only what I have jotted down from my travels in the past couple of years, so I’m sure there are many other items to consider. Readers: I’d like to know your tips. What do you want to know about at a hotel check in?

Please also visit AzGetawayTravel.com on Twitter and Facebook.

Five things we love about San Diego’s Dolphin Motel

Great location, guest services and low room rates make Dolphin Motel an excellent value

Does anyone still use the term, “Zonie?” That’s the not-so-affectionate name given to Arizonans who, thinking they need a beach weekend or a break from the 100-degree heat, escape to California, especially the San Diego area. View other definitions at your own risk on UrbanDictionary.com. Californians no doubt, still complain about the high numbers of Zonies causing traffic jams and taking up parking spaces. Conversely Zonies may still gripe about the high prices just to experience a few beaches and ocean breezes. That’s why many Arizonans visiting California are always on the lookout for good deals.  Look no further for the best lodging value in San Diego: it’s the Dolphin Motel.

The sign says it all: "Why Pay More?"

1. Value

Value is our number one reason we love this harborview property. The combination of the motel’s basic amenities, location and inexpensive room rates make it the best lodging value for short stays in San Diego. The Dolphin Motel has free Wi-Fi, cable TV, continental breakfast, refrigerators in some rooms, early check-in and late check-out (upon request) for the low room rate of approximately $55 to $60 per night in San Diego. It’s difficult to find anything less than $100 that’s actually clean, comfortable and close-in.

Nearby parks and piers provide fishing opportunities

2. Proximity

Visitors to San Diego during the winter months will most likely opt for non-beach activities anyway, so they will prefer to stay close to all the events and attractions. Several big attractions in San Diego are just a short 10-15 minute drive from the Dolphin Motel: Sea World, San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park, USS Midway, Petco Park, Gaslamp Quarter, Historic Old Town, Westfield Horton Plaza and San Diego Convention Center. If you’ll be flying into San Diego, you’ll be glad to know that the Dolphin Motel is just two miles from the airport. On our visit to a boat show at the convention center, we appreciated the short distances to marinas, Shelter Island and Harbor Island parks, seafood markets plus some of the best shopping, restaurants and nightlife in the city.

Nearby to Dolphin Motel is the Friendship Bell at Shelter Island

3. Cleanliness

White walls, white sheets, white blankets and white towels: everything is white – even the patio chairs. It’s not really the way I would decorate but it definitely sends a message of clean. And it’s not a dingy, yellowy, spotted kind of white, either. It’s bright white. The rooms have wall art which provide an occasional splash of color. At least you feel confident these rooms are clean! The outside area is spotless too! This well-maintained, well-cleaned motel creates a peace-of-mind you deserve for a good night’s rest for your short stay. The rooms aren’t spacious, but ample enough for all your gear and your new plush Shamu whale from Sea World.

Marinas are just a short walk away from the Dolphin Motel

4. Continental Breakfast

I know, I know: so many places offer breakfast, but here I felt like I was getting something special, even though it’s just coffee, fresh fruit and muffins. While seated on the patio just outside your room, or up on the small corner balcony upstairs, you can eat breakfast, enjoy the harbor views and watch as the sport fishermen prepare to depart. We were fortunate to also see jets taking off and landing at the North Island Naval Complex across the bay.

5. Guest Service

This is the reason Dolphin Motel earns five stars on reviewer-type websites such as Tripadvisor.com.  At least in this case, you can trust the reviews. The Dolphin Motel has been in the same family for over 36 years. Following our recent stay, all of us in our party shared the feeling that the owners and staff are sincere hosts who truly value their guests’ stay. The management provides excellent guest service plus great concierge service, giving you all the information you need about San Diego. These folks offer such a genuine welcome and friendliness, you feel as though you were staying the weekend with long-time friends, or relatives. (Okay, maybe scratch out relatives).

Pelicans are plentiful around the waterfront areas near the Dolphin Motel