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Monday, May 29, 2017

Review of Iberia Business Class Charlotte to Madrid

Iberia Business Class Service is Good And May Offer An Affordable Ticket Compared to Domestic Airlines!

We booked business class flights to Prague via American Airlines codeshare fare with Iberia.

We will start in Prague before a healthy Vermont Bicycle Tour with VBT to Vienna.

Since we travel from Charlotte always, we know everyone, but we will share our experience.  Checkin at priority line was easy with our bags checked through to Prague with priority labeling.  We have already planned on Iberia lounges in  Madrid so that we can freshen up during our layover in route to Prague. We checked in two hours early because it is a holiday weekend and we expected more traffic.  When you book a business class international flight, you are entitled to wait in the American Airlines lounge. You are entitled to 2 coupons each for complementary premium wine, beer, liquor, or bottle water in the lounge.  We had a Matanzas Creek Savignon Blanc and a Tito's black Russian. These are of the better quality then you can receive as a standard member. There is the usual way of soup, cheese, hummus, chips and vegetables at the lounge. At 4 o'clock they have freshly made guacamole to-taste available. There is an upgraded ability to have gourmet coffee of course by a machine.

 The TSA pre-check line was relatively short and quick today compared to usual business days. Charlotte does not have the Clear program in place as of yet.

In Charlotte they do not have showers available for rental, however they do have ample space in the lounges for changing and washing up. Bigelow products are the norm in the lounges.  Wi-Fi access is available and complementary, however during busy times this can be slow.

 The flight itself was comfortable. We started with a sparkling wine. We ordered our meals which were brought promptly to allow for rest. We had the fillet of beef and Prawns. The beef was overcooked but the wine selection was delicious. For dessert we had Ben & Jerry's strawberry cheesecake ice cream which hit the spot. After my movie,  we went to sleep with the Bose noise reducing headphones on as well as my ear plugs. However, despite both we still couldn't sleep since we had a one-year-old in the seats behind us. After a few hours of trying to sleep we got up and watched Rogue One. Going through customs was easy in Madrid. Be aware that it takes quite a lot of time to get from the arrivals area to the connecting gates. You will have to go through security as well.

 The Iberia VIP lounge was difficult to find but it is above the duty-free. The selections of coffee or complicated but typical for European city. There was an array of yogurts, sodas, breads and cheeses but overall we thought breakfast was limited. Wi-Fi was difficult to pick up but once connected, it worked well.  Showers are available. The ladies lounge had soap, hand lotion, and towelettes to use.

Be aware that European Business Class is not like we are used to in the USA.  The seats are not larger, and a 3-3 configuration with the middle seat unoccupied.  This is pretty uncomfortable unless you are in the first bulkhead row, which may have slightly more leg room.  The only benefit that Europe Business class seating affords you is a meal and preferred boarding.  

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017


I had an interesting experience on the phone yesterday.  As Princess Cruises, Elite members, I enjoy taking my longer cruises with them for the free laundry service.  We booked a cruise to the Norwegian Fjords out of Southampton for August 2017.  This cruise in only offered once in August and I paid more than I usually to for this itinerary since I was concerned that it would book up.  Yesterday, my brother pointed out to me that he received an email with advertised rates nearly half of what I paid for the same cruise.  Princess says over and over again that if you find a lower price they will honor it, but I have heard this is not as simple as it sounds.  That certainly is true!

I called Princess with my travel agent and asked to receive the new price.  After an hour of dialogue interspersed with holds, the agent could not find a lower fare.  I was irate and was prepared to cancel the trip altogether since I was within the 100% refundable period.  This is not the way to treat a loyal customer.  At the same time I was ready to throw in the towel, the Princess agent asked if I wished to speak with a customer relations representative.  Yes!!

The representative was very kind and immediately found the promotion my brother received.  She was able to apply it to my booking which resulted in nearly 50% savings.  My airfare with Princess EZAir did not change.  For a 14 day cruise, the savings are enough to take another cruise later in the year!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Last week we traveled to NOLA for The 2017 jazz and Heritage Festival. Headliners for the second weekend included Stevie Wonder and Snoop Dogg.  Prior to the festival we stayed at the Marriott Lakeway in Metairie. This is a conveniently located Hotel to attend the festival but also visit family. The hotel is clean and comfortable. Unfortunately the only option is valet parking at that hotel. It is $22 per day. The rooms are comfortable and clean with the usual Thann amenities.

No shower doors here, as they only have shower curtains. As an elite member, we had access to the M lounge. This is always a good thing to have if you can because they offer generous snacks and refreshments throughout the day. Breakfast consisted of many types of fruits including berries melons and pineapple with many hot selections as well as called selections like yogurt and cereals. as usual, the coffee is a little bit strong for my taste, but they have a great selection of Tazo Teas.

Then on to Dallas for a meeting. We stayed at the Intercontinental Dallas Hotel. The banquet facilities were lovely for a meeting.  Coffee, tea and food provided during the meeting was high quality.  The hotel rooms were dated.  I haven't seen a lighted wall unit in a hotel room for at least 20 years.  The pillows were king sized, but hard as a rock.

At the airport, as I love to do for any flight out of DFW, go to the Centurion Lounge.  In this Centurion lounge, manicures and massages are complimentary, and ask immediately at check in if an appointment is available.  I was able to get a nice manicure despite only having 1 hour until my flight boarded.

RxFitness:  Audubon Park in the Garden District of New Orleans is an outstanding place to walk or run, even in the heat of summer.  There are plenty of bathrooms and water fountains to use in the heat.  Shade is abundant.  People and their dogs are enjoying this park every day.

If you stay in the French Quarter, a quick ride on the St. Charles Avenue street car will get you there.  The stop is for the Audubon Park or the Audubon Zoo, right across from Loyola and Tulane Universities.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

This weekend I traveled to New England and stayed at several upscale locations. While some of these are not what some of you would consider "luxury," they are good clean reasonable options for the trip. First I had a presentation to give in the Bronx, New York. Other than visiting family or going to a baseball game I can't think of anything exciting there. I stayed at a brand new Residence Inn near the hospital where I was presenting. This was a very welcoming, clean option. One of the things I always look for in a hotel is a walk-in shower that has a door rather than a shower curtain. The Residence Inn met my expectations. It was very clean, spacious and comfortable. Another one of my standards are that king-size pillows be supplied for a king size bed. Again, Residence Inn met my expectations. The breakfast was healthy and fresh. I was able to have my favorite breakfast of berries and citrus fruit, as well as yogurt and granola. The coffee was a little strong for my taste, but was delicious nonetheless. Next, I was onto Manhattan where I stayed at the Warwick on 54th St. This was a good location as I was able to easily get to midtown as well as the upper East and West sides where I tend to go to visit museums and go to restaurants. The rooms are spacious and clean. However, The Warwick has a few problems. My safe did not work in my room and even though I called to get it fixed, waited for someone to come for nearly an hour, nobody ever came to the room. Next, as soon as I got to the hotel I turned down the temperature in my room to 68° and when I went to bed the temperature was still in the lower 70s. I woke up at midnight and the temperature was 74 degrees in my room. I called The front desk and they sent somebody up to only move the curtains around. The room cooled a little bit because the fan was now circulating the air in the room but the temperature remained 72° throughout the evening. Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well. The restaurant, Reynolds, had a good selection at a reasonable price for Manhattan, but I wanted to sit down in a dining venue. When I asked the waitress where that was she said I was in it. Unfortunately, I was only in the bar. It was a little noisy and I think the menu is limited compared to what I could've ordered in the restaurant. I found the restaurant after I went to the elevator. I ate breakfast at the hotel in the morning which was an outstanding buffet that clearly reflected the multinational clientele. There were multiple types of fresh fruits, dried fruits, meats and fish, and hot options. The service was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed my breakfast with a copy of the Wall Street Journal. A bonus in the hotel when I arrived was a Manolo Blahnik sample sale on the second floor. I think every woman in Manhattan was there, and I bought a few things. For the afternoon I went to the Turner exhibit at the Frick collection. This was outstanding. The Frick is one of my favorite museums in Manhattan to visit. It is very small, and easily manageable. An audio guide is included. I love portraiture, landscapes and furniture as well as architecture, and the Frick does not disappoint. Funny, there was a tour group from Harvard that was touring the museum near closing time. I thought it was just a docent tour. I joined the tour group for about a half an hour but when I realized that the museum was closing, I decided to leave the group. At that time I realized this was a special group. They all asked me to stay and I continued with them until their tour was over. Next, it was on to western Massachusetts. I met a friend of mine for dinner in Lenox, Massachusetts where the Tanglewood festival is every summer. This is a lovely town and I highly recommend a visit there just to enjoy the fabulous weather and find hospitality. We had a great meal at Bistro Zinc. We sipped on a very nice white Grenache wine, followed by a Burrata appetizer which was outstanding. If you ever go to Lenox I recommend visiting the Norman Rockwell Museum and visiting the summer summer cottage of J.P. Morgan, Ventfort Hall. Also in Lenox is the famed, Canyon Ranch spa. Probably one of the finest hotels in New England, the Wheatleigh, is in Lenox and is a great place to dine in the evenings on the terrace. We were a little more casual. Another location to visit is the Cranwell spa which has a great restaurant too. If you plan to visit for the north of the Berkshires, Greenfield, Massachusetts, my old hometown is a great place to make your homebase. Things that you can do in this area include visiting the Clark in Williamstown Massachusetts, Lenox Massachusetts which I described above, Old Deerfield Massachusetts, Sturbridge Village and the Mohawk Trail. We usually stay at the Brandt House in Greenfield. This is a bed-and-breakfast on by Georg and Angela Burwick. When I lived in Greenfield it was the house of an old physician who saw patients there. Now it's a lovely bed-and-breakfast with an excellent location. The rooms are spacious and the beds are quite comfortable. The bathrooms are older due to the age of the house but are nostalgic. The breakfast is consistently delicious and the house is very quiet. I like to stay there because it is located in my old neighborhood and I can walk to my favorite restaurant, The Hope and Olive, which is about half a mile from The Brandt House. Another restaurant that is one of my favorites in the area is the Blue Heron in Sunderland, Massachusetts. Both of these restaurants have an excellent vegetarian options and non-vegetarian options, with an excellent wine list great cocktails and generous portions. If you are a runner like I am, there are some challenging runs to meet your expectations, starting from the Brandt house. My usual loop is about 7 to 8 miles around the city of Greenfield, starting from and returning to The Brandt House. The last leg of my journey was traveling to Asheville, North Carolina. I have visited Asheville many times, and decided to tell you about my recent stay in case you plan a visit. My favorite hotels to stay at in Asheville are the Grand Bohemian and the Inn at the Biltmore Estate. Both of these are very luxurious and have excellent service. I have stayed at the Grove Park Inn more than once and I find it too busy for my taste. They have a nice bar and beautiful views, but unfortunately it is overly crowded due to tourism and conference business. On this trip I stayed in the Biltmore Park area which is a upscale residential area with restaurants and a Hilton. I've stayed at his hotel before and I find it to be consistently clean and comfortable. Thankfully there is a walk-in shower with a door rather than a tub/shower combination. This is a less expensive alternative if you're visiting Asheville wanting a convenient and comfortable hotel. Parking is free and there are many options for activities due to the shops on site. If you plan to visit Asheville to see the Biltmore or to go hiking, cycling or running, and need to save some money, this is a good alternative. RX tip: if you have an American Express platinum card you can automatically register to be a gold member of the Hilton Honors program. This gives you several benefits including early check-in, late check-out as well as free breakfast and a bottled water. The breakfast buffet at the Asheville Biltmore Park Hilton is outstanding with many local options such as local organic eggs, cheeses, fruits and vegetables.