Monday, August 29, 2016

Tenaya Lodge...Worth the Trip

Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite

Yosemite…say the name and most people come up with an image in their head. Some immediately picture sheer granite walls, some visualize seemingly endless waterfalls cascading over the edge, still others see a valley floor of forests dwarfed by those imposing granite cliffs.

Whatever you picture, how would you like to stay in a lodge where you feel like you’re immersed in part of that natural splendor? Roughing it? Hardly, although you could challenge your skills as you snowshoe through the forest or try out your ice skating ability. If it’s summer, practice your climbing skills on the climbing wall, explore the trails on a mountain bike, or take a leisurely walk. Want to experience some serious granite? If your skills are appropriate, guided rock climbing is available for all levels.

Where would you find all this? Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite offers four-diamond accommodations for families, get away vacations, and meetings. When they say they are a place where landscape and resort become one…they mean it.

Recently, I had the opportunity to have meetings here as well as experience amenities Tenaya Lodge has to offer. If you are looking for the perfect place to immerse yourself in Yosemite and stay in comfort, Tenaya Lodge is your place. Located at the south entrance to Yosemite, use this location to explore the park. Stay several days and experience trails, waterfall hikes, photo ops, and Yosemite history tours. After a day of exploring, come back and relax in the pool, with a spa treatment, or in the lounge.

Best of both worlds…nature’s majesty and relaxed luxury.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy Soaring

Napa Valley Aloft

Travels and Escapes interview with the Kimball family…Jay, Jared, and Jayson

Take an early morning drive toward Napa and a common site is hot air balloons rising above the valley floor. Is there a better way for visitors and locals alike to catch fantastic views of rolling green hills, perfectly aligned vineyards, and eye-popping sunrises? I don’t think so. Just watching those huge, majestic balloons floating is enough to make me want to take a ride.

One special hot air balloon company, Napa Valley Aloft, has more than a stellar reputation dating back to the 1970s. This family-run business understands what it takes to fly the wind currents and find the landing spots, as well as have a great time with those who are flying with them. Their love of flying is obvious. But, so is their attention to detail and their conservative nature.

If the conditions aren’t good, they adjust. Early morning fog can cause them to launch from an alternate site in Pope Valley instead of the green area just north of V Marketplace in Yountville. Too much fog and they will cancel. It’s all about safety.

Their baskets hold up to 12 people. But, they prefer less so they can offer personal service. They like to meet their customers and actually spend time talking to them. You can tell the entire family loves what they’re doing.

All the pilots are FAA certified and all the equipment is inspected regularly at FAA designated repair stations. Jay Kimball started one of the balloon companies in Napa in 1976, adding several other California and Mexico locations. Glider pilot, turned balloon pilot, Jay was a true pioneer in this business.

In the United States, Napa Valley is one of the largest markets for hot air ballooning. According to Travel & Leisure Magazine, this is second only to New Zealand. And, it’s literally right in our back yard.

If you are looking for a magical way to experience Napa Valley, you really should try Napa Valley Aloft. It’s one of those things you just have to do…

As for me, I think we should also try San Miguel de Allende. The family operation is there, too, with daughter, Gretchen as the pilot.

If You Go: Visit their website Reservations can be made at 855-944-4408 and may need to be made well in advance. They are located in V Marketplace in Yountville. Check out their deals and specials and find out the best times to fly. Be sure to have an alternate plan in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Happy Flying…or Soaring

Monday, August 22, 2016

Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, and Customs...some basic information

This article posted by Fodor’s Travel is full of good information on Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. With all the airport security wait times, this might be something you should look into.

If you travel frequently, streamlining the process is essential to getting in and out of airports (and to wherever you're going) as quickly as possible. For domestic and international travelers, Global Entry has made clearing security and customs much easier, allowing you to skip the lines at both. Here's what you need to know about the program and how to sign up.
Global Entry is run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and allows "pre-approved, low-risk" travelers an expedited means of clearing customs upon reentering the country. Travelers with Global Entry use kiosks that read their passports, fingerprints, and customs declarations, allowing them to use an express line at the customs counter. After answering the standard questions, you will receive a printed receipt, which you will hand to a customs official. You do not need to have any additional documentation with you when using Global Entry; all data is tied to your passport number.
Although this is primarily to benefit travelers coming into the United States, some international customs authorities recognize Global Entry in some capacity. Participating countries include Australia, Canada, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.
Global Entry travelers are automatically qualified for TSA PreCheck, which expedites the security screening process at airports. While TSA PreCheck is available without Global Entry, we highly recommend signing up for Global Entry, allowing you to access the international and domestic benefits. The application process is identical, and Global Entry is only an additional $15.
You must be a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, Mexican national, or a citizen of South Korea, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, or Panama to be eligible for Global Entry. (Canadian citizens can access the same benefits through the NEXUS program.) Applicants cannot have been convicted of a criminal offense or found in violation of any customs regulations in any country. A machine-readable passport or a U.S. permanent resident card is also required. See the full list of eligibility requirements here. Global Entry is valid for five years, after which you can renew it.
Begin by filling out the online application (there is a $100 application fee). After you have undergone a thorough background check, assuming there are no problems, you will be issued an online letter asking you to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center, most of which are housed in airports around the country. During the interview, a U.S. Customs Border Protection officer will ask you questions, take your picture, and scan all 10 fingerprints. Be sure to bring two forms of ID and proof of residence (like a bill or a lease agreement) to the interview. You will then be issued a Global Entry ID card.
First, ensure that your boarding pass has the green TSA PreCheck icon. Global Entry participants will be issued a Trusted Traveler number, so be sure to enter this when booking your tickets (for both domestic and international flights) so your boarding pass lists you as preapproved (you will see a green checkmark in the corner of your printed or mobile boarding pass). If you belong to any kind of sky rewards program, you can save your trusted traveler number to your profile. At the airport, look for the designated line at the security checkpoint. You'll still have to show your boarding pass and ID, but you will be able to keep your shoes and belt on, and will not be required to remove your laptop or liquids from your carry-on (although you still must place your liquids in a 1-quart size bag).
Because the Global Entry program is so popular, the TSA PreCheck queue can still have a line, but it will be shorter and move much faster than the regular security line. Be sure to still leave plenty of time for clearing security, particularly before an international flight.
Although you’re issued an ID card, you don't need the physical card to go through security or customs. Anything with border control is just tied to your passport number.
When clearing customs at a U.S. international airport and some Canadian airports (see the full listhere), proceed to one of the Global Entry kiosks and skip the lines for the customs officials. You still have to interact with a customs official to give them the printout from the Global Entry machine, so you can't completely bypass this checkpoint. However, it does allow you to skip the line and significantly expedite the process. Note: Global Entry travelers cannot bring other passengers (children, spouses, etc.) through the fast-track line if they are not also Global Entry members.
Keep in mind that not all Global Entry points are equal. If you’re flying into a small international airport, there’s sometimes just one Global Entry kiosk, which can be slow enough to make no difference.  Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are now both so common that lines for each can be long, although never as long as the regular customs or security lines. However, as popularity increases, more and more airports will get better at accommodating both these services. 
Global Entry is only for re-entry into the United States. If you’re flying between two international airports, Global Entry doesn't get you anywhere. Some countries have expedited lines for certain passports, and American passports are always included, but this has to do with the microchips in American passports (among others) and is not related to Global Entry. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Would you like a room with a telegraph?

When looking for a luxury hotel, is it important for you to have a telegraph on every floor? How about a private bath or five rising rooms? In 1875 these modern technological advancements catered to travelers, business titans, the social elite, and dignitaries who were looking for the best in hotels. At that time, the Palace Hotel in San Francisco was the largest hotel in the world…and a true innovator of its time.

No wonder it quickly became ‘the place’ to stay.

Then came the earthquake of 1906 and in the fires that accompanied it, the Palace Hotel was destroyed. All the marble, crystal chandeliers, and opulence were reduced to ruble. Only three years later, the new Palace opened its doors, using what they found in that ruble and adding new spectacular acquisitions…grander than before the fires. Fast forward to 2015 when the latest renovations were complete. The old…the new…the newest, all blend together as the fresh design pairs with timeless elegance. 

So, what’s the Palace Hotel like now?

One area, the Garden Court, is a San Francisco monument and the crown jewel of the hotel. Sit down, have a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, and look around. Really look at everything. The massiveness of the Italian marble columns might first catch your eye. But, the stained glass ceiling will certainly cause you to sit and stare. The 7 million dollar price tag hardly seems enough. Austrian crystal chandeliers positioned throughout sparkle as the light comes through the stained glass. It’s no wonder the entire room, 110 feet long and 85 feet wide, has seen its share of engagements, celebrations, and parties for literally over a hundred years. Close your eyes and you can almost see a Prince, a President, or a Silicon Valley Techie entertaining their guests here.

Hungry? What better place to have lunch, or tea, or Sunday brunch? In this era of using organic and locally sourced ingredients, the chefs here are no different. You will find 80% of the food offered is local, sustainable, and farm fresh. History even manages to find its way into your lunch. Ever had Green Goddess dressing? In 1923 this dressing was first served at a Palace dinner honoring actor George Arliss. Did you know their famous crab salad has been on the menu since 1909? Same recipe…new crab!

When staying here, you’ll take one of those rising rooms, now known as elevators, to your floor. Check out the wide hallways; wider than in your average hotel. Notice the door knobs on the dark doors. Both are elegant. Even though the doors have been retrofitted for a keyless entry, the knobs are from 1909. They feel substantial in your hand. Finally, pay attention to the doors…solid wood and heavy. Again, from 1909. Entering your room, you’ll notice the room seems spacious. The ceilings are 11 feet, offering a sense of grand size. No wonder The Palace Hotel was and continues to be the premier place to stay.

Want to see another treasure within the hotel? Head to the Pied Piper for a drink and look at the masterpiece above the bar. This Pied Piper painting was commissioned from Maxfield Parish in 1909 for $6,000. It represents the tale of the Pied Piper…with a twist. Parish painted himself as the Pied Piper and some of the 27 expressive faces include those of his wife, his mistress, his sons, and more. What a guy!

Memories of a grand, historic era combined with technology of today…the Palace Hotel offers comfort and style to globe-trotting travelers, families with children, cutting edge business people, and those looking for a magical place to reconnect. Which one are you?

Your room is ready…

Monday, August 15, 2016

Peregrine Falcons, Otters, Sea Lions, and That Rock...Oh My!

If you were dropped into a seaside village with a mild Mediterranean climate and heard the term “Gibraltar of the Pacific”, would you know where you landed?  Would it help if you saw a 576-foot volcanic plug sitting at the mouth of the harbor, a harbor the US Coast Guard regards as one of the most dangerous harbors in the nation? 

Here’s a hint. You’re along the Central California coast.

Morro Bay, to be exact. Morro Rock, the volcanic plug, was named by Juan Cabrillo during his voyage in 1542. He called it El Moro, supposedly as it reminded him of the Moor’s turbans. It was changed to Morro, meaning pebble, crown, or nose. This 22 or 23 million year old rock isn’t alone along this coast. It’s one of Nine Sisters of rocks, formed by volcanic activity and extending form Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo.

While the rock is impressive and easy to see why it’s compared to Gibraltar, there’s more to experience here than just sitting at a waterfront patio, sipping wine from a nearby winery, and watching dozens of otters play in the bay. Although, that’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

For some exercise, leave your car and walk to Morro Rock. No longer open for climbing, this massive rock becomes even more massive the closer you get. Peregrine Falcons and about 250 other species of birds call it home. From here, the giant waves hitting the seawall are spectacular. Prepare to get sprayed. Rent a kayak or paddle board and explore the bay up close. Sea lions and otters will keep you company as they play alongside you.

Looking for day trips? Spend time in the Morro Bay State Park, just a few minutes from the center of Morro Bay. Plenty of trails to walk, birds to watch at the Heron Rookery Natural Preserve, interactive exhibits at the Museum of Natural History, and from November to February the roosting Monarch Butterflies are here. With plenty of sunshine, don’t forget your sunscreen.

Want to wander a little further? A few minutes north is the beach town of Cayucos, which was named the best beach town in California by a popular travel magazine. Watch the waves, take a walk on the California Coastal Trail, or take a hike up to Black Hill.

Or, travel just 30 minutes north to San Simeon and visit the Hearst Castle. This is truly a museum, but not like any other museum you’ve ever experienced. The legendary William Randolph Hearst built and occupied this grand residence, the “Enchanted Hill”, overlooking the ocean and acres below it. Advance tickets are a must, but definitely worth it.

If you’re looking for award-winning wines to taste, head inland to Paso Robles. With over 200 wineries, many boutique and small family owned ones, the Paso blends of Bordeaux, Rhone, and Zinfandel varietals, are sure to please your palette. The proximity to the Pacific Ocean, numerous canyons and hills, a variety of microclimates all combine to create the perfect region for growing grapes. I bet you find some new favorites.

Wherever your day trip was, when it’s finished, head back to Morro Bay for dinner by the bay. Enjoy ocean-to-table seafood, wine from the Paso area, the cool ocean breezes after a warm day inland, and then bring your day to a close by watching the sun slip into the Pacific next to Morro Rock. Ships in the bay appear to be highlighted in a gold light and depending on the time of year, the sky glows pinkish or orange. Morro Rock’s reflection changes from minute to minute. Your camera will work overtime.

If You Go: Morro Bay is located 12 miles northwest of San Luis Obispo, California on California Highway 1.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Cheeriest Little Island

Burano, an island in the northern Venetian Lagoon, has been referred to as one of the most colorful places on earth as well as one of the top 10 most colorful cities in the world. Approaching Burano from Venice, it’s easy to see why. Brightly colored houses, all of them, pop against the green waters of the channels. At first glance, their narrow streets and impossibly bright colors appear almost tropical. One more look and you feel like you’ve just stepped into a postcard view, as small boats line both sides of the canals and the bright colors rise above.

Legend has it the houses were painted brightly so returning fishermen could see them from long distances. Today, your house can be painted certain colors. Just send a letter to the government to see what color you may use.

When you take the vaporetto from Venice, get off at the small island of Mazzorbo, just one stop before Burano. Walk past the 14th century church of Santa Caterina, a local vineyard, and a park. Cross the foot bridge connecting the two islands and it’s easy to walk the island from one end to the other. Check out the Museo del Merletto or lace museum, Galuppi Square, and the campanile of the San Martino church. Now take a look from another angle of the campenile and see how it leans. Yep, they have their own leaning tower.

The pace is slow here; slower than Venice. Flower boxes, overflowing with flowers, offer sweet scents; laundry, hanging from second story windows, is just as common as open shutters; bikes, sitting by doorways, wait for their owners; cats, posing for their close-up photos, lazily groom their faces. This is a real island with real Venetians living their lives. You just happen to be their visitor for the day.

With tiny streets opening up to small squares and eventually to the island’s main square, you’ll find tourists mingling with locals chatting and drinking espresso or spritz. Elderly ladies work on their embroidery as children whisk in and out. Find a little wider spot and you’ll find an impromptu soccer game.

Lace making used to be a main industry with Burano lace exported worldwide. Leonardo da Vinci supposedly came here to shop for cloth to use at the main altar of the Duomo di Milano. Making lace was an exacting endeavor. Each lady specialized in one stitch. Each piece, tablecloth, or shawl required seven different ladies to complete the stitching. You can imagine how long it took to finish.

Today most inhabitants are fishermen and that’s why you’ll have a fantastic lunch of super fresh seafood at a much more reasonable price than across the lagoon in Venice. A couple of restaurants have been featured on food shows around the world. If you visit during a street market day, be sure to look at the fish to catch a glimpse of typical Venetian Lagoon seafood.

It won’t take you long to walk the entire island, but take some time to wander away from the main squares to find a small bar to sip your espresso or spritz and people watch. Eat lunch here and sample the local catch of the day or fantastic risotto.

Take photos…lots of photos. Remember, it’s one of the most colorful places in the world.
If You Go: Take vaporetto number 12 from Fondament Nove, departing every half hour. It also makes one stop on Murano Island so if you reach Murano from another part of Venice, you can transfer to number 12 at the Murano Faro stop. On the scenic 40-minute ride you'll pass the cemetery island of San Michele, Murano, Torcello, and small islands in the lagoon. If you plan on being in Venice for several days, it’s cost effective to purchase a vaporetto pass good for longer periods of time.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Don't Hog the Armrests

Planes are full, people are traveling everywhere, and you want to have a good time. How about using some Airplane Etiquette, which is really just common sense?

Trying new medications:
If you’ve been given a new prescription or if you’ve decided to try a new decongestant, try it at home first. You certainly wouldn’t want to be at 38,000 feet when you discover you’re the one person who doesn’t get drowsy from this med…you get hyper. Worse yet, you’ve given a new med to your child. Not a good place to be when that happens. No one will have a nice flight.

Listen to the safety briefing:
I know you’ve heard it a gazillion times and I know it’s boring. But, will you really know where the nearest exit is if the cabin is filled with smoke? Listen.

Keep your seat in an upright position during mealtimes:
You may want to take a nap. But, the person behind you wants to be able to eat their meal without having your seat and your head leaning toward their food. Be courteous.

Bring non-smelly food:
Those freshly fried onion rings that looked so good in the airport are now going to smell up the whole cabin with a stale, greasy, oniony odor. You wouldn’t want that and neither does anyone sitting around you.

Consume alcohol in moderation:
I can attest to having a seat mate who was drunk…and obnoxious. Not fun. Remember, if you’re too drunk or too obnoxious, the flight attendants are allowed to remove you before the flight starts. Once the flight is in the air, be kind to the rest of the passengers and drink sensibly.

Put your small carry on piece of luggage under the seat in front of you:
Those overhead bins…they’re for the larger carry on pieces. Not your small briefcase or large purse. The plane is full, everyone has carry on luggage, jackets, and backpacks. Don’t take more than your space.

Teach your children not to kick the seat in front of them:
Kids get bored on long flights. We all know that. Crying when their ears hurt is understandable. Kicking the seat in front of them is not okay. Teach them what to do and what not to do.

Use your own space:

We know airplane seats are getting smaller. We know not everyone fits in those seats. Long legs and wider shoulders sometimes spill over into the next seat. But, do your part to stay in your own space as much as possible. No hogging the armrests. Yes, the middle seat gets BOTH armrests. Don’t put your long hair or ponytail over your seat and into the space of the person behind you. Again, be courteous and pay attention.

Any tips you want to pass along?

Have fun flying...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Curbside or Inside?

 Pros and Cons of Curbside Check In

Some Pros might include the fact you can actually visit with an airline employee, especially if there are no lines. That employee is probably in a good mood. I’ve had actual conversations with a less-hurried curb side check-in person.

One of the Cons, however, is that some airlines still charge extra for curbside check in.
American Airlines offers curbside check-in at approximately 30 airports. Some of those are seasonal…think about weather. And, there are ones where you cannot use it for international travel.

Delta has about 100 locations and no charge, but they do accept tips!

JetBlue offers curbside at 24 locations, but charges $2 per bag. They also accept tips.

Southwest curbside is available at most of the airports. No charge, but tips are accepted.

United has about 40 airports for curbside check-in with no cost.

Virgin America offers it at San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas Love. Check online before you plan on using it as some restrictions may apply.

How about others? Any good or not-so-good stories?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Welcome Aboard the USS Potomac

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to take a ride on a Presidential yacht? 

It’s not often one gets the chance to do that…unless you head to Oakland, California. That’s where the USS Potomac, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Floating White House” is located.

Originally built as the Coast Guard cutter Electra, this 165 foot vessel weighed 376 gross tons and cruised at a speed of 10 to 13 knots, or around 12 miles an hour. Two years later she was renamed and converted to the Presidential Yacht USS Potomac by FDR. As a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and FDR’s love of the sea, it’s easy to pick out the traditional Naval touches throughout the ship.

This ship knows history… Known as the Floating White House, FDR could get away from the real White House for both Presidential business and family business. Dealing with the heavy issues of that time, from the Great Depression to an increasingly dark international situation, this allowed him to meet with cabinet members, foreign dignitaries, and advisors in a more relaxed atmosphere. Royal visitors from Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and England met him on board.

He often left Washington for a weekend fishing cruise, heading down the Potomac River into Chesapeake Bay and to a great hidden cove. As a coastal vessel, the USS Potomac stayed close to the harbor, not venturing into the Atlantic. He did, however, take trips to the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Maine, Florida, the Gulf, and up the Hudson River to Hyde Park.

In August of 1941, FDR headed for another fishing trip and a supposed visit to Martha’s Vineyard. From there he was secretly transferred to the heavy cruiser, USS Augusta, which took him to the historic Atlantic Conference in Newfoundland. There, he and Winston Churchill forged the Atlantic Charter, whose principles formed the basis for the allied partnership in World War II and the establishment of the United Nations.

The USS Potomac was decommissioned after his death in 1945. From another stint with the Coast Guard, then as a ferry between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, then a possible attraction at the Seattle World’s Fair, and finally into the hand of Elvis Presley. Yep…Elvis owned her. He donated her to Saint Jude’s, which wasn’t a long partnership. In 1980 she was seized as a drug running front by the DEA in San Francisco and moved to Treasure Island, where she sank.  

Raised two weeks later, the Port of Oakland bought her for $15,000. After spending $5 Million to restore her, this famous piece of American history is now a National Historic Landmark.

Check her out and take a tour…take a ride. You can say you were on a Presidential yacht. Check out the history up close and personal. See FDR’s elevator. Yes, there’s an elevator on the ship to accommodate his wheelchair. Spend some time in the Visitor Center to learn more history and see photos of the restoration process. If you aren’t up for a cruise in the Bay, there are dockside tours as well.

If You Go: The USS Potomac is located at 540 Water Street in Oakland, CA. Website is