Hotel Review: B Resort & Spa – Orlando / Disney Springs – Lake Buena Vista

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Greetings from Orlando, where I’m on a short family vacation before five nights back in DC and then on to Africa.  I don’t usually review my random domestic hotel stays, but I’m making an exception for this one as I think it might be interesting, and is illustrative of the meaninglessness of elite status these days.

Back in the summer, my sister had mentioned bringing her family down to Disney World for Presidents’ Day week.  So when I saw a deal for the B Resort and Spa in Orlando on that was good for that week — and was fully cancellable — I jumped on it and booked two consecutive one-night reservations. I knew I wouldn’t be able to take the whole week off, but since I had Monday off, I figured Sunday and Monday nights would be good.

B Resort and Spa, Orlando

The deal was hardly bargain mistake rate territory, with rates of about $75 a night.  When you add in taxes and the Orlando-area ubiquitous resort fee (plus parking since I rented a car to get from the airport and for one day), it came to over $130 a night, but it was still a good deal.  This is mostly because of the specific property.  There are so many hotels in Orlando that booking far in advance $150 a night would be nothing special.  But the B Resort is one of the Disney Springs hotels (nee Downtown Disney hotels nee WDW Village hotels), seven hotels on Disney grounds but not Disney-operated.  The benefits of these hotels, include proximity, including walking distance to the Disney Springs complex, a very regular shuttle to the parks, and some other perks about restaurants and tee times that didn’t matter to me.  In planning, I knew my sister’s family would be staying on property, so I thought that this would be convenient and not require a rental car.  (Incidentally, I had stayed at one of the Downtown Disney hotels (then a Courtyard by Marriott, now a Holiday Inn) on my last trip to Disney World — Spring Break in high school in 2001, for much of the same reason.)

The B also had good reviews and seemed like a nicer hotel than many of the chains on International Drive, with a large gym and a nice pool area, good for a solo uncle. The other Disney Springs hotels are affiliated with big brands (3 Hilton properties, a Holiday Inn, a Best Western, and a Wyndham).  B itself is a small chain with a few other Florida properties (Fort Lauderdale and the Keys), plus one in Savannah and one in New Orleans. It definitely aims for an upscale, hip boutique feel (perhaps the B is for boutique??).

The trip turned into a whole family adventure with my paren...

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South Africa & Namibia Preview #2: Planning My Stay, Hotels, the Protea Prokard Explorer, and IHG PointBreaks

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This is post #2 in a series about my February-March 2017 Trip to South Africa and Namibia.

With flights booked into Cape Town and out of Johannesburg, I had to figure out how I would spend my 12ish days in Africa.  From talking to folks, it seemed I really could spend the whole time in Cape Town and its surrounds, and that Johannesburg didn’t require a long stay.  But I also figured I should do a safari or something outdoors; you don’t go to Africa just to see cities.

Several people had recommended Namibia, so I looked at safari options there, after deciding Krueger National Park wasn’t a great option for me as a solo traveler given its location and the options I saw.  (I had also thought about Victoria Falls and Botswana, but the travel time from Cape Town was a negative.) I was pretty limited because I didn’t want to do a very long safari, and there was actually only one tour leaving on days that worked for me, the Etosha Express tour, which will start in Windhoek on a Tuesday morning, spend two nights in Etosha National Park, swing down the Skeleton Coast, and end in Swakopmund, a coastal resort-ish city with a strong German heritage.

Etosha Watering Hole

One reason this tour worked is I was able to get easy nonstop flights that allowed for a half-day in both Windhoek and Swakopmund, for a nice 4 night exploration of Namibia.  I’ll be flying on Air Namibia from Cape Town to Windhoek, and then on South African Express from Walvis Bay (just south of Swakopmund) to Johannesburg.

Two new airlines a-comin’: Ai...

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South Africa & Namibia Preview #1: Booking Award Travel to South Africa

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In a few weeks I’ll be traveling to South Africa and Namibia, which will be my first trip to the mainland of Africa.  (Back in 2014, I went to the Seychelles with layovers in Ethiopia.)  At this point, South Africa, China, India, and Japan are pretty much the only major global destinations I haven’t been, and South Africa seemed like the best to travel to alone – particularly in light of the favorable exchange rate.

I booked this trip back in August.  I had miles I could use on any number of programs, but getting to South Africa on miles basically comes down to the following options:

(1) Nonstop to Africa:   Two carriers fly to South Africa from the US – Delta from Atlanta and South African from JFK and Washington-Dulles.  The South African flight to and from Dulles, though, stops in either Dakar, Senegal or Accra, Ghana both ways.  Ethiopian also flies from Dulles (via Dublin on the return), Newark (via Lome), LAX (via Dublin), and Toronto (via Dublin on the return), but Addis Ababa isn’t really on the way, as you can see from the map below. (Delta also flies to Lagos, Accra, and Dakar, but it doesn’t have a partner to carry you onward to South Africa.)   Of these options,  the Delta flights had no business availability (they rarely do at reasonable rates), and the Ethiopian travel times were long.  South African had availability on the day before I wanted to return to JFK – but since United left JFK, getting back to DC is would be annoying – and then on the day after I wanted to return to Dulles via Dakar.  From reading reports online, it seems the Dulles flight is pretty unpleasant.  Its operated using SAA’s A340 with older-style lie flat seats in business class, and the one hour stop in Dakar is halfway through the flight in the middle of the night.  No thanks.

Mileage Options for flying directly from the US to Southern Africa

(2) Connecting in Europe:  Most award programs allow r...

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New Zealand Conclusion:  LAX Admirals Club and LAX-DCA in American Main Cabin Extra

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This is the conclusion of my 16-part series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

I’ve actually never connected at LAX before.  Particularly if you have luggage, I don’t recommend an international connection there.  Landing at the Tom Bradley International Terminal itself wasn’t that bad, and there was no line to clear immigration at Global Entry.  A lot of people were trying to go through Global Entry when they didn’t have Global Entry, causing a bit of a backup at the desk where you leave the kiosk area.  (As with MIA, it slightly defeats the purpose of Global Entry to require interacting with a human on the way out of immigration itself.)

Bags had already started coming onto the belt when I got through, and mine came pretty quickly, eve...

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The Long Journey Home, Part 2: Sydney to Los Angeles (SYD-LAX), Qantas Economy A380

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This is part 15 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

Sydney International Departures

I had a momentary panic upon landing at SYD, as the monitors showed the flight to LAX as canceled.  I soon realized, though, that it was the American flight that was canceled, not the Qantas one.  It was a long walk from where my AKL flight landed to the Qantas Business Lounge.  While the lounge is quite large, it was quite full.  (Still, I didn’t bother with any of the Priority Pass or AmEx options.).  The lounge staff actually made announcements asking people not to take seats up with luggage.   I had hoped to start to adjust my body to US time, where it was around 6pm, but unfortunately I had traveled back in time, so it was still a breakfast spread at the lounge.  The spread was basically a larger version of what I’d had on the plane and in the Qantas Club in Auckland, scrambled eggs, beans, tomatoes, sausage, hash browns – plus a bit wider variety of pastries.  There was a full self-serve liquor and soft drink display, a juice bar, and a coffee bar- which was the most notable difference from AKL.

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The Long Journey Home, Part 1:  Qantas Auckland to Sydney (AKL-SYD), Trans-Tasman Economy

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This is part 14 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

Unfortunately, my great deal on my ticket to New Zealand required transiting through Sydney on the return, which added a significant amount of time to the journey – about five hours between the layover and three hour flight from Auckland to Sydney.  I decided against spending a day in L.A. on the return figuring I would just want to get home (not expecting that DC would be an entirely depressing place to be).  So that meant that if all went according to plan, I would have a travel time of 27 hours straight from my AKL departure to my arrival at DCA.

My flight out of Auckland was at 7:35am.  I had originally planned to take an Uber at 5:30, but I ended up leaving at 5, because when I tried to check in the day before I had gotten an error suggesting my US passport was not enough for me to enter back into the country.  Had the borders already tightened???  Was I blacklisted by America?   Upon arriving at AKL, there was a bit of a line at the Qantas counter, but the separate priority check-in wasn’t bad.  There was no problem checking me in, and the friendly agent explained where the Qantas lounge was, and gave me a sticker for Express Lane immigration and security as a Oneworld Emerald passenger.

There was a food court and shopping before immigration at the AKL International Terminal, but I decided to just go through. I didn’t actually use the express lane, because there was no line at the E-gates that U.S. passport holders can use.  That line led right into security, which had no real wait.  I then spent the last of my NZD on a gift, and headed to the Qantas Club.

Qantas Club AKL

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Exploring Auckland and Waiheke Island

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This is part 13 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

As the largest city in New Zealand, it seems like Auckland would be great place to visit on a trip to New Zealand.  So I was surprised that a lot of folks told me to skip it entirely.  But as someone who likes exploring cities, I figured it was worth at least a short stay.  I allowed for about a day and a half with two nights, which ended up being the right amount of time – though if you want to explore the areas around the city a bit, you certainly can spend 4 days or more in the general area.  To be honest, though, my entire time in Auckland was filled with a bit of a post-election/end of vacation malaise.

Arriving in Auckland

By the time I got settled into my hotel and took a nap, it was already getting duskish on a Thursday night, so I walked over to the Sky Tower, an observation tower a few blocks from my hotel that stands out in the Auckland skyline.  I hadn’t realized it was part of the larger Sky City casino and hotel complex, and it was pretty schlocky. There are some activities you can do on the tower, including a bungee jump and a “skywalk” outdoors on a glass platform.  I kept it boring and just went to the observation deck itself, which was both expensive and crowded – 29 NZD just to go up, about 20 USD. The main observation deck is on the 51st floor, and then you can ride further up to the Skydeck on floor 60.  There’s also a café on the 50th floor, and fancier dining options on floors 52 and 53.  One thing that was not great is that the windows added a weird bluish hue to the view, as you’ll see in these pictures.  But you definitely could see the whole city.

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Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Auckland

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This is part 12 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

Auckland has no shortage of hotels, with several large international chains well-represented.  I originally was going to spend one night at the Hilton Auckland, which is perched at the end of a pier in the harbor and is well reviewed.  I had reserved a night for 70,000 points, but in the end just decided I’d book two nights at the Crowne Plaza for 30,000 points a night.  The Crowne Plaza was more centrally-located, had decent reviews, and wasn’t as exorbitantly priced.  Plus, I’m trying to minimize Hilton stays given my series of disappointments.  (As I write this, I’m at a Holiday Inn in Brooklyn I booked after canceling a Hampton Inn.)

Crowne Plazas are not really well-known members of the IHG family.  There aren’t a ton of them—only 400, but they tend to be full-service hotels, a step between Holiday Inns and Intercontinentals, created as the upscale/business subsidiary of Holiday Inn back in the 1980s. I haven’t stayed in many – just Montpelier, France, and Columbus, Ohio, I think.   I’ve seen some variation in size, though, and this was probably the largest I’ve ever stayed in- comparable to a Marriott or a Sheraton, I’d say.

Crowne Plaza Auckland

The property...

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2016 Index and Year in Review

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I won’t belabor the point, but 2016 was pretty terrible.  My travels were pretty good,though.  I still owe you all a few posts from my November New Zealand adventure, but as we say goodbye to the dumpster-fire of 2016, here’s a look back at my year in travel.  For previous years’ retrospectives, check out 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

2016, yeah!

I’ve kept the blog as a travelogue, continuing to blog less and less about things other than my personal travel given how crowded the space is for “hacking” and “free” points.  Going into 2017, I’ve requalified for American elite status (Platinum), and let my hotel status’ drop down to be those I have via credit card (Hyatt Platinum/Discoverist, Marriott/SPG Gold, Hilton Gold, IHG Platinum) and Intercontinental Ambassador.

So, what were my tra...

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Mini-Report:  Air New Zealand Queenstown to Auckland

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This is part 11 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.

Air New Zealand Flt. 644
A320, Single-Cabin Economy
Sch. Dep. 2:30pm        Sch. Arr. 4:20pm
Act. Dep. 2:50pm        Act. Dep. 4:43pm

Queenstown International Airport (ZQN)

The Queenstown airport is pretty small.  I really could have taken an extra hour exploring Queenstown, as it took me 20 minutes to fill up the rental car tank, drop the car at Ace, and walk across the street to the terminal (no bus required at Ace’s Queenstown location as opposed to Christchurch).   I did obtain my post-election survival kit at the gas station:

I recommend a peanut slab.

Check-in and bag drop was easy, with no waits at the Air New Zealand kiosks.  The airport only has nine gates, and no jetways.  The

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