Princess Cruise Booking Process Evaluation

January 3, 2019, my wife and I called Princess Cruises to book an Alaskan cruise. There were a number of complicating issues, like cancelling an prior cruise, non refundable deposit on the prior cruise, cabin location, etc. The lady who answered the phone, Regina #1, was the most amazing person I have ever interfaced with from a corporation. Typically corporate sales people come across as worn down by the job. Not Regina. She was amazing in every regard. She understood each issue we presented her with and deftly dealt with each one. She seemed to have all the time in the world to help us with planning and executing the trip. She had answers for every issue and made the trip planning a wonderful experience. We have traveled with Princess Cruises before and have found them very good. My impression of Princess Cruises has gone up with this experience.

Amsterdam Buildings Shifting

I came across a couple of men doing survey work in Amsterdam.  They were measuring the subsidence of Amsterdam buildings which can result in any building to tilt or pitch in any direction.  As you walk through this city you should take special attention to detect buildings that are not lined up correctly with buildings next door.

Building-Tilt

In the image above, you can see that the near building and next building are not lined up properly due to subsidence.

SurveyIn the image above, the near worker is using a survey transit to take site readings at the stick being held by the worker in the far right distance.  In the image below the worker is holding a bar code survey level rod, that rests upon a special bolt that is attached to the building.

Survey-Stick

The individual seen in the picture above places his survey level rod upon a bolt that is driven into the side of the building.

Wall-PinThe survey level rod is placed on top of the bolt in the image above.  Not every building has this bolt, just selected buildings.

Also, there is a mirror that is mounted on the building wall just above the survey stick.

MirrorAs you walk through Amsterdam, you might take note of gaps and tilting among some of the buildings.

For more information about this problem: http://earth.esa.int/fringe07/participants/559/pres_559_carocuenca.pdf

Daughter’s Top 3 Amsterdam Picks

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Europe Vacation

After more than two hours of research (Nov. 29, 2013) looking at about 15 hotels, my daughter came up with her top 3 choices.  We removed much of her research comments such as prices, reviews and any other information that is time dependent.  The comments below do not show our hidden requirements of location near the Dam and the central location close to sight seeing locations.

Radisson Blu Hotel, Amsterdam:  Free Wifi; 6 min. walking distance from Dam Square; 17 min. walk from Anne Frank House.

Hotel Estherea  (on canal) Has internet (wired) in room, when booking, we can get a discount on breakfast.  Cancelations are free of charge up to 24 hours before arrival.  “Special gifts” available if staying more than 3 nights. 4 night gift is a custom canal cruise.  6 min. from Dam Square; 10 min. from Anne Frank House

Inntel Hotel Amsterdam Centre
No Free Wireless internet in room.  ?6 min. walking distance from Dam Square; 13 min. walk from Anne Frank House

November 29, 2013 we booked a stay at Hotel Estherea.

My Daughter’s Spread Sheet Research For Amsterdam

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Europe Vacation

The spread sheet below was done by my daughter, November 29, 2013.  The data in the table may very well become less accurate as time moves on.  We offer this data only as an example of one method for deciding upon a place to stay in a foreign country.  Not stated in the data sheet is the fact that we did some reading about Amsterdam and found that there are certain city sections that we wish to be close to.  I strongly recommend that you do the same.  First, look to see the sights that interest you and you just might decide to stay at a hotel that is within walking distance.

The Amsterdam Hotel spread sheet below is an example of how complicated finding just the right hotel in Amsterdam can be.  The fields shown along the top will probably not be as important to you.  For example, we have one party member that has a walking problem so we need a hotel elevator.  We also want to know how close the hotel is to the attractions we wish to visit so we added distances.  I have removed the hotel cost from this sheet as they would be out of date by the time you read this post.  The ratings are from the Internet web sites and is subjective.  I really recommend that you read the reviews that are posted and you can detect that there are some pretty tough individuals that are hard to please.

 

Amsterdam_Research_Data

Need Advice For Visiting First Part Of Tip: Amsterdam?

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Europe Vacation

A group of 8 adults will be visiting Amsterdam, May 2014.  We need hotel, restaurant, and points of interest ideas in Amsterdam.  We would love to stay 4 days in a hotel by a canal.  We need 4 rooms.  If you have a recommendation to make, please share with us.  Send an e-mail to captain.mclaren@gmail.com

We plan on sharing our reviews of everything about the trip including travel, hotel, restaurant, and places we visit and make reviews in this web site.

Following is what we have discovered so far during the planning for this trip (End of November 2013):

  • Flights into Amsterdam typically arrive early in the morning.  Hotel rooms do not offer up their rooms until about 3pm.  Hotels charge about $40 to $50 for early book in.  Our AAA travel agent said that this is a money maker for the hotels.  My daughter came up with this solution.  Because we need 4 rooms, only pay for one room early book in and everyone store luggage and freshen up during the early hours using this single room.
  • Tip from my son: Use Firefox browser and go to File > New Private Window.  This method should keep the web site booking companies form seeing your interest in any particular hotel and raising the rates if you visit a page frequently.
  • Our top recommended trip web sites for Amsterdam:
    • Booking.com.   I just love the Amsterdam map with all the hotel pins.  I can zoom in and out.  When I pass my computer mouse over any map pin, I get a quick look at price.   We want to stay in the “Canal Belt”, 16 and 17th century waterways and Booking.com worked for me:
      • Singel
      • Herengracht
      • Keizersgracht
      • Prinsengracht
    • Kayak.com does a good job of presenting all your choices.
  • After using a good web site search and finding your top three or more hotel picks, then go to the hotel web sites directly and see if you can get any better deals.  In the United States, this almost always works but we have never been to Europe before.  Here are the  reasons why we like to compare web vacation web sites and hotel web sites.  The booking web site has to make a profit.  Some times the rooms are located in less desirable locations.  Some times the hotel can offer better prices, secret offers or perks.  My daughter discovered that some hotels give better rates for AAA, senior citizens and advanced purchase by visiting the hotel web sites directly.  When you go to any hotel web site examine it carefully as some money saving promotions are another page or two away from the home page.
  • We have been very impressed with AAA travel agents.  We have booked our flights and tour in November 2013.
  • Look into getting a credit card with an imbedded chip and rewards.  AAA is not offering a Visa card with some pretty nifty rewards.  Europe is not credit card magnetic strip friendly.  We applied and got accepted for AAA Member Reward Visa cards.  The rub is that you must ask for the chip.  We had to ask Bank of America for the chip after we received the cards without it; quite annoying.

Asilomar

Asilomar Conference Center, for me is a bit strange and many of its strange components are very much appreciated by me.   First, this is a government facility, owned by the State of California.  It is a state park run by a private company contracted to manage the facility.   It is a conference center that is quite large and located in a terrific plot of land between Carmel and Monterey right on the beach.  In years past you typically can not plan to stay here if you are not part of a pre planned conference so booking a room can only take place within a few weeks of your arrival.  It was really difficult to plan to stay here months in advance.  They only open rooms when large groups do not fill up the place, like for conferences.  This place validates those, like me, who can not or do not like to plan ahead.  I call the center or use my computer to see if I can get a booking just days before arriving.  It is a dice roll whether you will be able to book a room.  I feel like I win the lottery when I can get a room.  However, since Aramark took over running this facility, it appears to me that booking into this resort can be done at any time.  I really recommend that you go to their web site as it shows days that are available.  http://www.visitasilomar.com/accommodations.aspx

 

P.A. Hearst Social Hall is where you check in.
P.A. Hearst Social Hall is where you check in.

Positives

Location, location, location.   You simply can not conceive any better spot in California for this conference center.  You are so darn close to the ocean, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Point Pinos Lighthouse, Pacific Grove shops and down town Monterey.  There are many wonderful restaurants in the area.
The Asilomar grounds is a real positive and they are large.  This is a terrific spot to just hang out and vegetate.   The Asilomar property is right on the beach.  Only a road separates the Asilomar grounds and the Asilomar State Beach.  There are numerous hiking opportunities along the beach and on the Asilomar grounds.  They also have special information posts just outside some Asilomar buildings where you can use your cell phone to scan and launch a web site to learn about items close to where you are standing.
You may possibly save money by lodging at Asilomar when you compare total pricing with other facilities.  The rooms are about $130 for 2 people (this price can change) but this includes a terrific breakfast valued around $20 for each person.  So doing the math, you are getting the room for about $90 when not including meals.
No TV except in the bar (no audio).  I list this as a positive if family members wish to discover one another again and not be distracted by the idiot box.
Free wifi and the signal is really strong.  I was able to play the computer game, World of Warcraft, a most impressive indicator.
Many rooms come with a decent size balcony with two chairs.
Many rooms come with a fireplace stocked with paper and wood ready to light.  They give you a combination to a storage locker typically located quite close to your room so you can pull out extra fire place fuel.  We build a fire every night that we stay at Asilomar  and really enjoy the smell, added warmth and crackling sounds.
I really value being able to open a window to get fresh air.  Most rooms come with sliding glass doors and windows that can be cracked open for fresh air.
The air is clean and free of noise.  For those who remember the fog horn located rather close to Asilomar, it has been removed.
The heater in our last room was terrific and quiet.  I have stayed in many hotels and motor inns where the air conditioner and heater was way too loud.
Social Hall is where you check in and it contains a gift shop, pool tables, coffee shop with coffee drinks and full bar.
Asilomar also offers a swimming pool.

Crocker Dining Hall
Crocker Dining Hall

Negatives:

The rooms are a bit Spartan.   The room furnishings are really basic.  The rugs on the floor are not thick.
With each visit to Asilomar, you will not have any idea of what building and room you will be staying in.  Some buildings and rooms are better than others.
You may have to lug your luggage a distance from vehicle to room.
No TV,
No radio,
No refrigerator.
No coffee maker.
Pocket door to bathroom is a negative for me.  I really do not like pocket doors as they have issues for not completely functioning properly.  They will make noise, not slide, not lock.
The grounds, roads, buildings seem to be laid out by someone who had no sense of proper organization.  At Asilomar, the most direct and closest path is not in a straight line.
Finding a parking place is sometimes a challenge.

Path to coastal dunes.
Path to coastal dunes.

Other Issues:

If you rely on WiFi to get cell phone e-mail due to lousy cell tower signal, you must use your cell phone web browser to log into the Asilomar authorization web site and enter the user name and password given to you when you got your packet of information.  If you notice that the e-mail messages have not been updating, you might have lost this link and need to start it up again.  I found their Wifi coverage to be excellent.

Asilomar beach and shoreline.
Asilomar beach and shoreline.

Summary:
For the rich, famous, and pampered this place will disappoint.  For the budget conscious, progressive hippie, ecologically and environmentally sensitive and appreciative of weird, this place may appeal.   From my budget conscious, affinity for the unique, this place gets my approval.  I really love having breakfast in the Checker Dining Hall where muffins, toast, cereal, drinks are laid out on a huge lazy Susan on top of a larger round table.  As you enter the dining hall you meet a person who takes your meal ticket given to you when you registered for your room   Seating is designated by this person.  They may ask you if you are participating in a group or conference.  If you are, you will be sent to tables reserved for the appropriate group.  If you are independent from any group as we always are, you will be told to go to a table for open seating.  Remember the table number this person tells you.  You then walk into a cafeteria type line where you can select from a limited menu of items and are handed your food on a plate.  You get to sit at a large table with off the road people you do not know if you are not part of a group.  These people are sometimes quite a surprise and enjoyable or dreadfully boring.  The feeling is like being at a summer camp, instead of being waited upon like a typical restaurant.

Point Pinos Lighthouse, Pacific Grove, California.

This particular sight seeing location is very close to Asilomar State Beach and Conference Center, one of our favorite vacation spots located in Pacific Grove, California.  This light house is open from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM weekdays and weekends.  It costs $2 to enter and look around.  The rooms are quite small.  In the basement is a very small room showing the Fresnel lens technology.  When we visited, they were restoring some portions.

20130622-DSC_8766

 

Phone Number: 831-648-3176Web site: http://www.pointpinoslighthouse.org/

 

Walt Disney World, Orlando Impressions

Our family has stayed in two of Walt Disney World Resort locations, Old Key West and the Treehouse Villas within the Saratoga Springs Resort with a number of years in between.  Our accommodations were pretty top drawer so I can only present my viewpoint from those experiences.  I am not being paid or have I received any form of payment or considerations for presenting these views.  What follows is my honest  impressions.

It seems to me that someone with a viewpoint of the customer seems to be in charge and not in some token amount but to a significant degree in designing this resort and making it work as well as it does.  They must have shot or put in the broom closet and locked the door every and all bean counters at Disney World.  In most all other outside  hotels the emphasis is on calculating what impresses the customer and when to impress the customer followed by what can be taken away from the customer so they will not complain or maybe not notice.  All of this to keep costs down for the company.  For example, most all hotels have a large fancy entrance and lobby but when you get to your room the concept is downsize the hallways, your room, your bathroom, and any balcony.  Not at Disney Resorts.  The expense and expanse theme flows where ever you go, approaches, entrances, businesses, eating establishments, restrooms, places to stay, trash can placement, and even very small amenities.  There are so many examples of trying to be bigger, better and more accommodating in this resort. They offer very nice presentation, activities, and living spaces at Disney World, Orlando.

A second but related factor is day to day operation costs.  Most if not all businesses will attempt to find ways to cut back expenses.   I have found that this resort does this also but in ways that are often hidden.  The trash bags in our resort room trash containers are a sleeve of bags at the bottom, under the current used bag.  In this way they can pull the full bag away from the next bag, throw the full one away, and fill out the new empty one to the sides of the can so it is most quickly ready to be used.  We found these bags to be the thinnest I have ever seen and easily torn.

The third factor is they are smart about their choices on most everything they buy and do for medium and long term cost savings.  They do cut back expenses where they can but they seem seem to do so in areas that are far away from the customer being concerned when compared to most other places.  They also seem to save money by doing things in creative ways.  For example, I noticed that they have a special roadway blower that shoots a concentrated blast of air downward so leaves in the forested area of Saratoga Springs Treehouse Resort are cleared quickly.  A second person gets out of the cart towing this blower to do the detail work.

Leaf blower clears roadways and pathways at Saratoga Springs, Treehouse Resorts

The forth appreciation factor is the design and construction.  I do not always agree with the apparent merging together look of different building designs in one place and spacious continuity that most easily flows in other locations.  But, it is my impression that everywhere, Disney World Orlando is never dull to view its sights.

The fifth factor is safety.  This resort is clever and serious in its efforts to maintain a safe environment for the customer.  For example, each bus driver must do a safety inspection for the bus and the items are listed on a form.  Some items are significant enough that the bus will immediately go out of service.  I noticed that the lug nuts on the bus wheels had a white sort of caterpillar attached from the wheel lug nut bolt to the lug nut.  It is an adhesive that tells the people that inspect the bus that the lug nuts are ok or backing off.

Image shows bus lug nuts with white markers that must line up to show nuts have not backed off from being tight.
Walt Disney World, Orlando, bus lug nuts showing they are tight.

The method for accomplishing this apparent and perceived high caliber of operation is by passing their expenses on to you the customer.  When you come on to their property you will pay dearly for everything.  I have dined at some of the most expensive restaurants in this facility, costing hundreds of dollars and I keep thinking that I have better meals for a fraction of the cost in my home town.

Walt Disney World Resort at Orlando is not perfect.  Each time I spot a small problem here and there.  For example, the store at Old Key West is much better than at Saratoga Springs.  My bed at the Treehouse creaked and the master bedroom bathroom had automatic sensors that would turn vent fans on when you entered the room which we had to turn off each time, most annoying.  I offer those as just a few examples.  My point is that I tend to weigh the “wow that is cool” against the “darn it” experiences and this resort is a winner.

Disneyland not able to provide Christmas gift confirmation.

My daughter has an annual pass to Disneyland.  As a Christmas gift, my daughter had the idea of having dad give mom an annual pass to Disneyland so mother and daughter could go to the park together.  My daughter went on line and using dad’s credit card purchased a Deluxe Annual Passport with parking, not a trivial amount of money.  We never received e-mail confirmation.  I called a day later and after a very long hold time, due to being close to Christmas, I was informed that my daughter had misspelled my e-mail address by one letter.    I asked for another confirmation be sent to me, after giving my correct e-mail address, but I was told that that could not be done.  We were given the confirmation number.  Using that number, my wife can go to the park, I was told, and get her pass.  Problem for me was the Christmas presentation was completely missing.  The land of enchantment appeared to me to be the land of alleged indifference.

The Cypress Hotel in Cupertino, California (Yelpers report this location has closed)

Our family stayed at The Cypress Hotel in Cupertino, California April 2010.  We strongly recommend this hotel.  Here are the reasons why.  The location was simply perfect.  We tried to find a location that was central to Santa Rose, Stockton, and San Francisco.  We chose San Jose but my daughter did not like my choice of hotels in San Jose.  She picked The Cypress Hotel in Cupertino.  The city has a relatively low crime rate.  It is nestled among some impressive buildings and fountains.

Image of The Cypress Hotel located in Cupertino, California.
The Cypress Hotel located in Cupertino, California

The  hotel is managed by a very professional company, Kimpton Hotels.  The staff are spot on professional with good attitudes when dealing with customers.  There are restaurants in close proximity, which is one of our requirements.  There is a restaurant in the hotel and one right next door and many more close by.  Most businesses that you might want to use to support your vacation are quite close.  A Whole Foods is just down the street.  If you want to save money, this super market offers terrific offerings for do it yourself meals in your room.  There is a very nice Starbucks across the street and next to that is a very nice bagel shop.  A pizza restaurant is within walking distance.

The hotel interior is quite nice in every way.  The room provided to us was very nice.  I love large room size and our room was spacious.  The bed was firm and pillows were soft.  We had free Internet.  We also had a home theater in our room.  The parking garage was most convenient and we did not get wet getting to and from our car when a huge storm hit while we stayed at this hotel.

The upscale amenities found in this hotel made our stay more enjoyable.  Here are my list of other impressions not in any particular order.

  • Moving the luggage cart down the long hallway was a a bit difficult because the hallway carpet is so thick.
  • Tea and coffee is provided in the morning.  Free wine is provided in the evening.  The wine is not all that bad and we received good pours.  We noticed that some people came  back for seconds and were accommodated.  These free drinks are located in the lobby area.
  • I found free newspapers just opposite the elevators.  They even offered the New York Times.
  • The work out room was, in our opinion, way better than most hotels we have stayed in.
  • There is no designated concierge, but any of the front desk staff, in our opinion, appear to us to be extremely competent to answer just about any question and solve any problem.

From our hotel room, we connected to the San Francisco Alcatraz Island tour web site and found that it sends you e-tickets, tickets that you print out from your home or laptop computer.  We were in a hotel room with no printer.  I called the front desk and they suggested that I get confirmation copy and send it to PrintMe.com.  I did this and the confirmation was ready at the front desk.  The procedure was so slick and easy.  Part of the print process you can tell which hotels subscribe to this service because you have to choose the hotel you are staying in.  The Cypress Hotel, I believe, was the only hotel in all of Cupertino to have this service because it was the only hotel to show for that city.

General Impressions:

  • The elevators are quite fast.  I was really impressed with their speed.
  • The hotel approach entrance is so under stated that it is a bit shocking to us.  You turn off the major street with very little hotel marking to tell you to make the turn.  Once you make the turn it almost looks like your entering a wide alleyway that ends in a parking garage.  This hotel departs from a lot of hotels that put a lot of money in the entrance and lobby but take it away from the rooms.  This hotel appears to do the opposite.

Hidden Cypress Hotel Enterence
Somewhat hidden entrance to The Cypress Hotel

  • We were given a king size bed in one room and a queen sofa in a side room.  The layout of this side room did not seem to work perfectly.  Before the sofa bed was set up a bed, it faced the wall away from the TV in the room.  Once the bed was set up, the passage around it was restricted, a bit tight.  I had to lift our suitcase over a break away L part of the couch.
  • The room desk was in the room with the king bed but we later discovered that a very long Ethernet cable was behind the queen sofa.  It is my guess that the queen sofa bed room originally was configured for the desk.  It still worked for us as my daughter used the Ethernet cable and I used wireless to connect to the Internet.
  • The closet held a rather kinky surprise.  We found two sets of women sleep wear with leopard spots for sale and two bathrobes also with those leopard spot markings for sale.  Next to the women’s sleep wear were bedroom socks for sale.  Inside the closet, leaning against the corner was an umbrella.  An extra pillow was in a zippered bag on a shelf.  An iron and iron board was also inside that closet.
  • The windows to the room could not be opened, which disappointed me a bit.  The room did not seem stuffy and well ventilated.
  • Some slight noise was heard from inside our room and it appeared to be in the  building like cables hitting one another but the sound was very faint and infrequently heard.  We heard no outside street noise or sounds from the next room or rooms under or over us.
  • On our last stay day, our magnetic card keys would not work.  It was most fortunate that we discovered this before anyone got locked out.  We left a person in the room to gain access.  I am sure we could go to the front desk and get this resolved if we chose too.
  • We found a DVD player in the room with very nice speakers and sub woofer.  The room had two large flat screen TV sets.  We used this, in room movie theater, setup to watch two wonderful DVD movies.
  • There was no room coffee pot so we could only have hot tea in the mornings when it was served with compliments of the hotel.
  • The room did not have a refrigerator.  It appears to us that lower scale hotels offer in room coffee pots, refrigerators and microwaves.  This is probably because their customers drink beer and eat pizza.
  • The furniture and decor was most attractive in all hotel spaces.
  • When asked where to eat the staff always recommend the in house restaurant.  In our opinion, it had commensurate up scale decor compatible to that of the hotel but the food was just average.  I am sure the staff is instructed to recommend this restaurant.  We think you should find much better restaurants in the area.
  • The room heater/air-conditioning system worked pretty well.  We found it rather odd that it included three fan speeds.  This was nice because as you increased the speed, the fan noise went up, which is what you would expect.   We did notice that when we attempted to close the door between rooms, the smaller room was just a bit cooler than the larger room.
  • We tried to make the 5pm to 6pm free wine serving but a huge storm caused us to arrive quite late, well after 6pm.  My wife asked and she was given free wine vouchers    at the hotel front desk, which we used at the restaurant bar.  I had driven for over three  hours from Santa Rosa, normally a two hour drive that was white knuckle all the way.  I was most happy to relax with a glass of red wine.  We ordered an extra pour and were charged $8 which seems to indicate the value of getting the free house wine.

Shower/Bath

  • There were no hand bars in the shower.  I really think this is a significant deficiency.
  • A granny, no slip tub, mat is provided, coiled along the side of the tub ready for use.
  • A hair blower is provided in a canvas bag hung along one side of the shower.
  • Bath towels were found on a rack in the shower, opposite side from the water spray head.  I have never seen towel stored inside the shower before.  I must admit this did work.  The towels did not get wet during showers.  As  a test, I hung a used towel from the single bar under this rack and it dried perfectly.
  • There was only one soap dish in the tub area which requires you to line up your shampoos, conditioners, and brushes along the side of the tub.
  • The bathroom door used a pocket door with no lock.
  • The lights inside the bathroom were controlled by two switches.  The switch closest to the mirror  but would only take the lights up to about half setting.  It was a dimmer with an off setting.  The second switch turned the lights on full power or off.

Summary
I had spend two full days using AAA book for California, Kayak.com to evaluate hotels and Google Earth to get down to street level for a final look.  Every hotel and motel that I looked at (Walnut Creek, Berkley, Santa Rosa, Stockton, Menlo Park) seemed to have one or more deficiencies that killed the deal for me.  When my daughter found this hotel within 20 minutes, I must admit, my male chauvinism and awesome dad self image took a hit.   When I looked at The Cypress Hotel on Kayak and Google Earth, it shouted out as being a winner, too good to be true, and it was just that when we arrived and throughout our stay.

 

Updated March 25, 2018:  Reports show this hotel is closed.
Updated March 7, 2019:  I had to reset the link for Kimption Hotel reservations but any attempt failed.