Thursday, June 30, 2016

Booking Flights to Europe and Home from Fort Lauderdale

As many of you know I am not a huge fan of flying. Not that I am nervous or afraid - it is just BORING and not comfortable.  Remember my blog Joys of Flying.  Well not much has changed.

This time this are a little different.  We are wanting to see a dear friend - Federico Castro and his partner Andrea who live in Genoa. Some of you may know Federico he use to be a Captain Circle Host with Princess.  

We first met Federico on the Caribbean three years ago where we started a great friendship.  Then last year the relationship really developed when we were on the Royal for a month. 

You know how you meet someone and you instantly connect and know you will be friends forever, well that is how we felt.  

We were saddened to hear he was leaving Princess but happy he was settling down and was very happy with Andrea in Genoa.

Okay sorry back to the theme of the blog.

So we had to look at flights to Genoa. So many options but what was the most economical and the most convenient.

Thankfully the two charter companies are still flying to Europe in early October. This helped with options and keeping the price down.

The best option was either a flight to London (with Westjet) then flight to Rome, then to Genoa.  Or a flight to Rome direct from Vancouver (with Air Transat) then flight to Genoa.  The second option was the best but it only flew out on a Friday afternoon.

So after some discussion we ended up on the second option with Air Transat.  

This will be the longest single flight we have ever taken - 11 hours and 15 min! 

We searched and booked thru my newest favorite booking site for a price of $500 US each. 

One issue we encountered was when we searched for one person we had no problems, but when we increased the search to two people they said it wasn't available.  We thought that can't be. So we did a little research. We opened an incognito window and searched on two different tabs for the same flight and we had no problem getting it at the great price.  So we ended up booking two separate bookings, one for each of us. Which should not be a problem as we can easily book seats close to each other. And even if we can't, the money saved makes is well worth it.

So now we fly out on a Friday at 15:40 and arrive in Genoa on Saturday at 14:20 (almost 24 hours later, but there is a 9 hour time change).

For the flight home we know this routing the best of all since we often fly to and from Fort Lauderdale.

We did toss around the idea of booking first class tickets for $710 (Canadian) each.  I was really wanting to and Bernie was hesitant. After suggesting this could be my birthday present he said sure! But as I pondered it and the cost (see what I think about when I am driving the bus) I really couldn't go forward with it and ended up booking economy seats with American Airlines.  

The cost of economy seats was $230 (Canadian) each.  So for almost $1,000 we can fly economy and use that $1,000 somewhere else.  Somehow I don't think I will have a problem spending that somewhere on this trip.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Vancouver Airport Tips for Travellers

Are you flying into Vancouver (YVR) anytime soon as a cruisers?  Here is some information you may find helpful.

YVR is constantly wining awards for it's airport.  From Art, Safety, Speed, Offerings, even to sleep in (yes that is an award) you name it, it wins.  It is almost always in the top five airports in the world every year.

Every time I fly thru I am amazed at it's beauty.  

Of course this all comes at a price and it is a hidden cost that is tacked onto every flight traveling thru Vancouver in the form of a tax.  Yes if you want these great things you do need to pay for them somehow.

If you are arriving at the airport for a cruise here is some things you may find helpful

  • If you are flying from a foreign country you will arrive at the international section of the airport.  The airport is a large one with a section for domestic and international.
  • You will have to clear customs first. On the plane you will receive a Customs Declaration Form that needs to be filled out (one per family at the same address).  
  • If you have Nexus (Global Entry) there is a fast track here.  If you don't have Nexus you may encounter long lines for customs especially when quite a few planes arrive (peak times seem to be late afternoon).
  • Once you have seen the Custom Agent, you will be given another ticket/paper that shows you have seen the agent.  So now you have a paper for each person and the original Customs Declaration Form that is one per household.  Don't loose these you need them to exit.
  • You will then have to get your luggage.  Be prepared for custom agents to be wandering around here watching unusual activity and dogs working at checking bags. If an agent approaches you make sure to follow what they request of you. You don't want to miss your cruise because you made a fuss, they are just doing their job.
  • Once you have your bags (everyone in your party that is on the Custom form) has to leave at the same time. You will then leave the area by handing the Customs form (each person gets one) and and the Processing form you got when you were cleared by the agent.  
  • If you are asked to go to secondary screening you will be directed to a different room.
  • Make sure you do not have any meat, fruit or plant products as you will be detained.  Dispose of them before you get to customs.
  • Do not lie on your forms or to the agent.  This is a legal document you are signing so be honest.

Once you clear customs - or if flying domestic and have your bags.  You now have many options for getting to the pier or downtown.

One thing if you need to pick up some essentials (very basic items) there is a 7-11 store on the lower level.  Right beside the 7-11 is a Liquor Store too with a fair selection.  Note neither of these stores will replace a larger store downtown, but in a crunch they will do.  

To get to the stores go towards the domestic terminal arrivals (a few min. walk).  Take the escalator down to the lowest level and the stores are right at the bottom of the escalator.  

Note our pier is located right downtown.  There are numerous hotels to stay at and getting around downtown is quite easy.


  • Ship transfers are usually available at a cost.  You normally need to prebook these but often there will be an agent at the exit of the customs area that you can speak to and see if there is space.  Note cost varies depending on cruiseline but Princess as of last year was charging $35 US per person to the ship.
  • One thing that can happen if you book Princess transfer and you get off the plane from a US destination and are heading to the ship immediately, is you can sometimes have a closed bus (not sure of the actual term).  But it is basically you fly in, clear Canadian Customs, and then board bus immediately. The bus is loaded with your bags and the door is sealed (they put a sticker over the seal). The bus drives right to the pier and when it arrives (and the seal has not been broken) you can get off the bus and right onto the ship.  Basically like you never actually set foot in Canada and did not buy anything. Note if you do this you do not have the option to look around the city, buy any wine, or sundries (even at the airport).  If you want to do these activities you will have to clear customs at the pier to get on the ship (but that doesn't take that long).
  • Taxis are a great option.  Vancouver has set prices for taxi rates from the airport to downtown.  It is currently $35 per cab.  And with the current exchange rate that is around $30 US per cab.  Much more economical to take a taxi if you are two or more in your party than taking ship's shuttle, and much faster.  

  • Public Transit - taking the Skytrain (our metro) on the Canada Line from the airport to Waterfront (where the pier is) is very very easy.  But you do need to manage your own bags, but there is a lot of space on the Skytrain for bags.  For actual directions to the Skytrain check this Link.  Note the fare is currently $4 per person for an adult (over 18, under 65) during the weekday before 6:30.  If you are a highschool student or younger or 65 and older it is $2.75.  Price after 6:30 or weekends is $2.75 adults, $1.75 concession.  Note an added fee of $5 is charge on top of the transit cost if you are leaving from the airport (note it is automatically calculated when you buy the ticket.  So for $9 (adult fare) you can travel right downtown to the pier in about 30 minutes. 

From Ship to Airport:

  • Again you have the ship's shuttle for a fee.
  • Taxis are readily available at the pier and cost should come in around $35 Canadian but depends on traffic. You can pay in cash, debit card or credit card.  I recommend credit card so your credit card provider makes the exchange rate.
  • Skytrain is available too and is easy to get to but you do need to manage your bags.  
  •  You will walk once you clear customs, past all the buses parked in the underground parking all the way to the street - just follow the sidewalk. Cross at the crosswalk for the exit of the terminal and walk six minutes to the Canada Line Waterfront Station.   
  • The Station is at the corner of Hastings and Granville. Not a long walk (but a small hill). Walk up Howe Street two blocks to Hastings and turn left and walk one block to Granville the station is right there.
this is looking the other way, but you will walk up this sidewalk to the road
this is the crosswalk - the sidewalk in the above pic is to the right of the crosswalk

This is Waterfront Station, but it is not the line you want, continue walking up Howe Street to Hastings and turn left

  • Once you arrive at the station these machines are where you buy your transit ticket.  They sell single use tickets, day passes, or loadable cards.  But for just one trip buy a single use ticket which is good for 90 minutes of travel.  Make sure to buy a two zone ticket if travelling during the week prior to 6:30 pm

  • Machines take Canadian cash only, Debit cards or Credit Cards.
  • Follow signs for Canada Line to YVR.  Make sure you get on the right skytrain as only every third train goes to YVR.  The ride should take about 30 minutes.

Airport Specific Information:

  • There are numerous places to buy food items, beverages, souvenirs, and reading material after you have cleared security.  Also numerous places to grab a quick meal too.

  • Make sure to check out all the great art there - especially the Aboriginal pieces.

  • If you have an empty water bottle you can fill it at one of the many water filling stations.

  • The airport is full of lovely areas to sit and relax before a flight.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Final Thoughts on All Inclusive Vacation

Our goal of this holiday was an inexpensive holiday where we could relax.  In the end those two goals were met.

Even though our original hotel was not a right fit, upgrading to the Riu Pacific Palace was the right decision.  It ended up costing us a bit more. In total the vacation cost us $4,000 in the end including spending money.  Since the resort was all inclusive the added cost of food and drinks was kept down.  

Like I have mentioned in previous blogs we use to travel to Mexico to all inclusive every year for two weeks before we really started cruising.  We had vacationed three times to Puerto Vallarta, two times to Huatulco, once to Manzanillo, Loretto, and Mazatlan.  So we knew the product. 

Since those holidays we have cruised extensively on over 60 cruises.  We really knew that product but found because of higher cruise prices and the low Canadian dollar and also because in May our cruise destinations were limited we chose to head back to Mexico.

I am going to break this overview into sections comparing the pros and cons and who does it better, cruises or all inclusives. This is based totally on our views and this last holiday, based on the 5th star Riu Pacific Palace

  • Hotel room is huge compare to ship.  But we really are not in the room much.  Love the large bathroom where both of us could easily get ready.  The deep soaker tub was a nice treat too.  
  • We did find the hotel room to not be as clean as we would experience on ships.  
  • Noticed spots of mold because of high humidity.  
  • Room was normally quieter than on ships.  Here we did not hear the neighbors TV or loud conversations.  However because of noisy kids in the hallways (why parents think it is okay to let their child scream is beyond me) which carries onto the entire floor was a bit annoying.
  • Overall the pluses on the hotel side outweigh the negatives of a small cabin. 
  • Rooms on ships are very clean, functional and cleaned twice a day.  
  • TV on ships has more options as this resort had no channels in English.
  • Here we had free wifi throughout resort including our room which saved us at night.

  • Each room here had complimentary mini bar, with sodas, water, beer and four hard alcohol bottles (which we did not partake in).  We had to get our own ice but that was just down the hall. 
view from balcony
  • And of course every room had a balcony.  On a ship you have to pay more for that.  
  • Note a room in this hotel that faced the courtyard would experience a lot more noise.

For me the rooms end up a tie in my eyes.  Ones positives negates the other's negatives. 

  • The food choices here were quite good but after a week it got quite repetitive.  With only one option for breakfast or lunch we found after a week we were bored.  
  • Heading into town for a meal helped but added to the costs.
  • Quality and presentation was quite impressive.  However we did find many cold items that should of been hot.  But that is not unique to resorts I have seen this on ships too.

  • This resort had four a la carte restaurants and getting reservations was easy but limiting to only two times early or late seating.  I was very impressed with the meals here and especially the service. Also these meals were included in the vacation, unlike ships where it is an added cost.
  • This resort did have a limited room service menu, even more limiting than on Princess.  We did partake and found it to be basic and cold. 
  • Evening dinners often had themes and we're presented with an added flare. 
  • For this category ships win hands down.  With ships having numerous places to get food and higher quality it wins out.  However you won't go hungry here.

Daytime Activities
  • If you are a beach/pool person then you suit a resort vacation.  
  • Daytime Activities revolve around the beach and pool.  Beach volleyball, pool volleyball, soccer, pool games, target practice, horseshoes, zumba, water aerobics happened even day.  Entertainment staff were very welcoming and enthusiastic and approachable. 
  • Pool was always crowded and hard to get a lounge chair, yes chair hogs are found everywhere.
  • The beach here was very large with lots of chairs and palm trees for shade.  Umbrellas also could be had for a nominal fee. 
  • Of course there were excursions you could partake in with Vallarta Adventures being the sole provider.  We did not take any excursions but did venture out on our down quite easily by either walking, taxis, or bus.
  • If you are not a pool/beach person this may not be a holiday for you as there isn't much else to do.  Plus the heat here is oppressive and you need to cool off.
  • Activities are posted on a big board daily.  You are handed a calendar with evening activities but it does vary a bit week to week but most shows were repeated each week.
  • This hands down goes to cruise travel where your options for activities is 200% more and includes sitting around pool and tanning if you wish.  But options for daytime activities on a ship can be but are not limited to: trivias, lectures, casino, shopping, bingo, martini demos, games, exercise classes, galley tours, and much much more.

Evening activities
  • After spending a day at the beach we always retired to the room to shower and rest.  We dress for dinner and then what.  Often we would walk around the resort then end up at a bar.
  • Evening shows were basic and quite amateur but I appreciate their effort.
  • The shows are repeated each week so we got the same show the next week.  So even less to do.
  • Once the show is done there is a disco but not much else.  The lobby bar did have a piano player at times and that was enjoyable.
  • Of course it does depend where your resort is.  This one was a distance from any bars/restaurants in the city, but that would always be an option if you were closer.
Hands down ships win in this category.  Evening activities are 300% more than on land.  Activities on ships include but are not limited to:  Casino, entertainment act in Atrium, trivias, game shows, production show in main theater, comedians, dance/party band in a lounge, another live band in another venue, wine tastings, Movies Under the Stars, Disco and so much more.

  • Resort included all drinks.  Trust me you could really drink all the time if you wish.  
  • Variety was not bad but much much less than on a ship.
  • This was a higher end resort so the selection was bigger and better than the 3 star Jalisco.  
  • Three were three types of wine!
  • Many known brands of liquor were not available.
  • Martinis here were like desserts and not in a good way. For example a Cosmo is not suppose to taste like you are drinking syrup.  And forget about getting a bramble - they just don't have the ingredients.
  • I love a liqueur made in Mexico called Damiana but this resort didn't have it - had to go to a bar in town to get it.
  • Overall I found the drinks to be fair but not great.  They did the trick but at my age I drink more for the pleasure of the taste not the alcohol. Oh to be young again.
Hands down ships win here. With so many different bars featuring so many different drinks - here is the martini menu - here is the wine menu - here is the bar menus.  Yes on the ship you have to pay for your drinks but I would rather pay for a good drink then have a poor drink included.

  • We did get an amazing deal for this all inclusive vacation. So for the price at this time of year this was a better value.
  • However during more prime time (like when we travel to the Caribbean in January) resort vacations are much more expensive. I can often get a 20 day cruise for what I would pay for a two week AI resort.  
  • We did tip waiters, maids, bartenders and servers but in the end that came in less than the normal cruise daily tips.  Plus we usually tip more on the ship.
  • This is very subjective and there are a lot of variables.  
  • Overall I still feel cruising is a better value. But you can get some great deals for all inclusives too.


  • The resort was beautiful. Right on the beach with stunning views. Very ornate, and a little like I was in Venice or something. Not really my taste but for a holiday it was fine.

  • Lots of space with beautiful manicured gardens.  
  • Large pools, with swim up bar, lounges in the pool, tons of lounge chairs.

  • Spa, large buffet, four a la carte restaurants, large theater/bar, lobby bar and huge lobby.  
  • The dreaded sand flies/noseeums loved us and bit us often.  Sure on a cruise when you visit a port you can get bitten but once on board it is rare.
  • Thankfully this resort did not have timeshare sellers. But a short walk down the beach, or the sidewalk had someone approaching you constantly with timeshare (or what they now call Vacation Clubs). If you could keep walking that was great, but if you were waiting for something (like the bus) they would not let up. 
Even though the hotel is lovely cruises win out because they have so much more but it is not a fair comparison as if a hotel had as many guests as a ship it would be much bigger too. So both are great.


  • At this resort in May there were mainly couples of varying ages. Lots of families. Many kids, more than what I see on Princess ships when we travel during off season.  
  • Many British come here thru a charter agency. Quite a few Canadians and Americans too.
  • We felt comfortable here with regards to demographics and it was nice to meet others.
  • Because guest arrive and depart all the time it was hard to connect with guest like you do on a ship where everyone arrives/leaves at the same time. You just have longer to make deeper connections.  
  • On weekends lots of families from all over Mexico would arrive for a mini break.  But there were a lot more families/kids at the Riu Jalisco/Riu Vallarta (especially from US/Canada).
Over all I would give this to Cruise ships. I like the demographics on ships. The line I pick is Princess which fits our needs age wise. We tend to travel in off peak times so we don't encounter many children. We love kids, but don't really want to travel with a lot of them.  

I missed the camaraderie you get from connecting with fellow cruise passengers over a coffee/meal/or even sitting beside them at a show. This just didn't really happy at the resort, and if you did connect with someone they were leaving the next day.


  • Jobs at these resorts are coveted and their employees are very loyal and work extremely hard. Most do not make that much in wages. A tip is what they strive for and augments their paychecks. They work extremely hard for a tip.  Certainly more than the average Canadian waiter does (my opinion of course). Waiters here would see you and ask you to sit in their section and then would have your drink of preference ready for you when you came back with your food.  
  • They work long hours too and I know for at least this resort they were given one day off a week, which doesn't always happen.
  • Most that served the guests spoke very good English, I was impressed.
Of course cruise staff are similar and work very hard too. Have to say the resort staff category is a tie.  


  • I was happy to be going to a resort and get to live in sandals and t shirts for two weeks. Including dining in whatever I wanted. Note you couldn't wear tank tops or bathing suits into dining area at night and it was enforced (unlike ships' dress code).  
  • But after a few days of being casual, I did miss dressing for dinner and making it an event. Now I am not saying formal dress, but just nice pants and a blouse and heading out for a nice evening. Although there were many who did dress for dinner (usually the ladies) but most did not.
  • Most days we were in bathing suits/shorts/t-shirt which was okay for the first few days but found I got tired of it after that.
  • Really missed having self serve laundry service (that you do have on Princess ships). And of course we are elite so we get free laundry. The resort did have laundry service but it was expensive so we made a visit to the laundromat after one week, which cost us 220 pesos. 
So overall for two weeks I would say I prefer cruises for dress. But for a week's vacation I would be okay at a resort and the casual atmosphere.

So who is the winner.  Well for each person it will be different. Both are great holidays.  It really comes down to what you like.

Based on our preferences we certainly prefer cruising for many of the above reasons.  

Ultimately the all inclusive vacation was just a bit too boring for us.  Spending every day at the beach, and nights wandering around with nothing to do just wasn't a fit for us.

We missed the quality in food, drink, and the demographics of cruises.

Will we do another all inclusive, well I will never say never. But I know we LOVE Mexico and we will be back but I think if we do head back we would just book an apartment and air and do our own things for meals/drinks/entertainment.

Sorry this was so long.  Thanks for following.  And of course this is just our experience and our preference.