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Point Me to the Miles

Navigating the Path to Great Travel

Archive for the category “Trip Report”

Georgia on My Mind: Exploring Atlanta

Introduction
Pasco, WA (PSC) to Salt Lake City, UT (SLC)
Salt Lake City (SLC) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX)
Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Atlanta, GA (ATL)
Hotel Review:  Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta
Hotel Review: Westin Atlanta Airport
Exploring Atlanta

As I mentioned in the introduction post, Atlanta is a city that I am very familiar with, yet I still had never visited their aquarium, which is billed as being the largest in the world.  During my stay at the Ritz-Carlton, I inquired about a ticket to the concierge staff, and they were more than willing to go and snag me one (saving me about $2, actually) even though it meant running down to the lobby.

The exhibits are spaced out around a fairly large atrium, which makes getting between them very easy.  While I enjoyed some of them, such as the touch pools and large whale watching room, the rest of it was alright, in my opinion.

Touch Pool

 

Sting Ray Pool (w/ Sting Ray Barbs Removed)

Large Viewing Room

Piranha!

Two other neat features in the aquarium is a long hallway with an arched tank overhead, so that you stare straight up at the marine life.

Also, they have a dolphin show twice a day–which I just barely missed.  However, I did at least get to see the dolphins swimming around in their tank:

Whale Tank

While I deemed it “alright,” the aquarium did at least have some interesting oddities:

4″ Spider Crab

Eletric Eel

While I was in Atlanta, I also made a visit out to Six Flags Over Georgia, which I hadn’t been to in about a dozen years.  Granted, it was a little challenging to get there since I didn’t have a rental (or much of a reason to get one).  I ended up taking a taxi out there, and taking a bus back.  Anyway, my time there was well worth it.

 

MindBender

Of course, long-time blog readers of mine will know that the MAIN event for me was the Tennessee-NC State football game in the Georgia Dome.

I never actually found my seat, as I was able to sit with a friend due to the fact that there were roughly 11,000 empty seats.

And at least on this date, all was right in the football world! 🙂

 

“The Leather Helmet”

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Georgia On My Mind: Westin Atlanta Airport

Introduction
Pasco, WA (PSC) to Salt Lake City, UT (SLC)
Salt Lake City (SLC) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX)
Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Atlanta, GA (ATL)
Hotel Review:  Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta
Hotel Review: Westin Atlanta Airport

Considering how busy Labor Day weekend in Atlanta was, I fortunate to book my Friday night stay at the Westin Atlanta Airport–despite the stigma of being an airport hotel, for 3,000 Starwood points, before the rate went up to 4,000 closing in.  Added to this, I was able to secure a confirmed suite upgrade for only 1,500 more points, making it the best 4,500 Starwood points I ever spent.

Keep in my that Starwood awards stay credit AND elite bonus points for award stays, so I even got a small return on my investment! 🙂  Also, I do try my best to stay hydrated when traveling, so I appreciate that Starwood places at least one ~20 ounce water bottle in each room, FREE of charge, unlike some hotels/brands that make you pay for the water, or only provide you with a mini bottle.  I’m still a Marriott loyalist, but Starwood is slowly growing on me.

Anyway, after waiting a few moments, I was able to check-in.  It’s not a huge deal for me, but I had to do some negotiation about my amenities.  As a Starwood Gold, they wanted my amenity to be free late check-out, which would have been worthless to me–I was planning on leaving well before noon.  Thus, I asked about complimentary internet, and after specifying that I needed it, my request was granted.  A little teeth pulling, but it probably wounds worse than it was.  I suppose I am a good negotiator, because in the end I talked my way into the Governor’s suite, versus the Junior suite I was booked into.

I was warned it might be loud on the 10th (top) floor, but the irony in retrospect is that I returned after the “noise” had subsided.  And generally, once asleep, I can sleep soundly through even thunderstorms–“What Storm?”

I schlepped my luggage up to my room on the 10th floor, which was right across from the elevator and had a scenic, yet a slightly scary view of the atrium:

Atrium View

This was the first time I had ever stayed in a hotel room with two seperate doors, side by side, as the Governor’s Suite is really two interconnected rooms, as I will describe.

Westin Atlanta Airport Governor’s Suite

Directly to the right when you enter the room was a small kitchen with a fridge and a sink.

Kitchen Area

Past the hallway was the main living area of the suite with a couch, chairs, coffee table and a TV.

Living Room

The connecting part between the separate rooms was a glass door, toward the back and to the left of the main entrance.

A peculiar arrangement I suppose, and maybe a bit much for a single person–but I wasn’t complaining!

Through the door was the bedroom area, with desk and TV, and another fridge, in addition to the ones in the kitchen and the living room.  Maybe a bit much?

Bedroom

One issue I had was that the closet, (at the back of the picture above) which did not have much room for Bertha, my suitcase, due to the rather inconvenient placement of a safe.  As a result, I had to place the suitcase rack on top of the safe, which made the entire arrangement a bit tipsy.

For a suite the bathroom wasn’t all that large, but serviceable.

Bathroom Sink

Of course, I shared my issues with the room’s shower at the time, which was the “double” Heavenly showerheads:  EPIC FAIL, WESTIN!

as

Shower Head Fine Print

I apologize about the blurriness of my superb (camera) phone and in case you have trouble reading it says:

“One of your Heavenly Shower heads has been turned off in an effort to minimize water usage and protect one our most important resources.
To experience the most out of your Heavenly Shower, you can turn the second shower head on by pushing the small button behind the lower head.”

I tweeted my issue to SPG, and they were prompt in saying that while no compensation could be provided (I still had a working shower head) they would flag this as an issue.

Overall, I wouldn’t call the hotel schwank– it’s a bed and a shower, and without a club lounge.  But if you are in need of an affordable hotel to stay at in Atlanta, it’s certainly a reasonable option.

Georgia on My Mind: Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta

Introduction
Pasco, WA (PSC) to Salt Lake City, UT (SLC)
Salt Lake City (SLC) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX)
Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Atlanta, GA (ATL)
Hotel Review:  Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta

As I said before, I had a surprise awaiting me in Atlanta, and one that that didn’t have me to thrilled initially.

Shortly after booking my first 2 nights at the Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta (call me spoiled, but it only cost me $133/night since it was midweek) I had booked a car service to pick me up from the airport, through the hotel’s website.

And this is where it gets hairy.  For starters, no price is directly quoted on their website, despite the fee of $75 or so.  I know maybe I should expect some cost from a service, but it if there is absolutely NONE quoted, it is reasonable I think to expect the service to be free.  Especially when there are hotels out that that provide such.

What I think made things worse was their utter lack of communication.  OK, not all requests can be granted – fine I thought I would just take MARTA to the hotel.    But the key issue is the misleading verbage providing after making the request:  “Please note, that these requests should not be considered confirmed reservations until you receive confirmation from The Ritz-Carlton.

So  despite the nice and comfy ride I was about to have, I was a little miffed when I landed, after taking a later flight, to turn on my phone and discover someone was waiting to pick me up.  Contrary to their own notification system.

I suppose I could have just forgotten the deal, and left on my own but I didn’t want to leave someone their waiting for me.  I didn’t want to be rude, so went along and kinda felt sorry for him.  Until he had the audacity to say I would be charged an extra hour.

Right, I have no clue that you are picking me up, and you are going to charge me double because I wasn’t psychic enough to call and tell you–when I also don’t know your number, that I am going to be late?

Anyway, the ride was fine and I am sure they usually do a top-notch job.  It’s just that the error was in the hotel NEVER informing I would be greeted indeed.

All of that anguish was soon washed away when I arrived at the Ritz-Carlton, and immediately greeted in the valet loop by a charming a bellman asking me how I was doing.  I was whisked into the lobby, where I proceeded to check in.

Ritz-Carlton Entry Way

After checking in, I headed up to my standard King room on14th floor.  I hate to apologize, but WordPress has been AWFUL about uploading some of my photos, so for some of them you will just have to use your imagination.  🙂

While Marriott offers Gold and Platinum complimentary Club Lounge access, the fact that the Ritz-Carlton technically has its own rewards program, so they charge Marriott Rewards members for access.  In addition, I don’t blame the Ritz-Carltons for charging for the access, considering their lounges offer complimentary alcoholic beverages in their lounges.  Between this and the full gourmet spread that is available for breakfast, lunch, mid-day snack, supper and late night cordials, I though it was well worth the $100 I paid for access during my stay.

The Club Lounge on the 25th Floor is fairly wide, with the food at the left end as enter, and plenty of seating, divided up into a couple different sections.

The spread was extensive and included eggs, parfaits, sausage and great lightly cooked salmon for breakfast.  The lunch and dinner fair included finger sandwiches shrimp, and a variety of hors d’oeuvres.

Club Lounge

Dinner Spread

I have to say that the lead concierge, Paula did a fantastic job serving guests, and made probably the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had.

Overall, I think the hotel did a decent job of living up to the the Ritz-Carlton standard for service and luxury, and I would be willing to return again (sans car service) if I were in the Atlanta area again.

Georgia on My Mind: Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Atlanta, GA (ATL)

Introduction
Pasco, WA (PSC) to Salt Lake City, UT (SLC)
Salt Lake City (SLC) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX)
Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Atlanta, GA (ATL)

As I mentioned, out of my 3 flights, only one had an upgrade that had cleared, so I was watching the upgrade lists for the other two like a hawk.

On transcontinental  flights, upgrades clear at the gate as opposed to the booking window, so about 19 out of 24 First Class Seats showed as available before I checked in 24 hours out.  As my flight loomed nearer, I was around 25th or so on the upgrade list, so decided to try my luck on a later flight.

I went on to Delta.com, and noticed that the next flight out, arriving in Atlanta about an hour later, seemed to have better availability.  So after getting off the plane in Los Angeles, I headed straight for the Delta SkyClub.  I inquired about same day confirming, and was told I would be 15th out of 17 or so, two hours out from departure.

I had not utilized the same day-confirm benefit yet, courtesy of being a Gold Medallion or higher, so I decided to take advantage of it and play upgrade roulette.

In the end, I was about 19th or so on the upgrade list, so I missed not one but TWO.  #FirstWorldProblems.

Delta 1554
Los Angeles (LAX) – Atlanta (ATL)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Depart: 2:45 PM
Arrive: 10:02 PM
Duration: 4 Hr 17 Min
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200
Seat: 26D (Economy)

Fortunately, after re-booking, an Exit Row seat opened up.

757-200 Seat Map

Matter of fact, I suppose I was lucky, because while the window seat was occupied, the middle seat was not taken so I had some extra room to spread out:

My Seat Arrangement

One nice thing about the Exit Row seats, compared to Economy Comfort seats, is that because of the amount of space in between seats, there is an extra fold-out table in the arm rest, in addition to the one in the back of the seat.  So between those and, and the two shared tables in between my row-mate and I, I had a whole FOUR tables and a seat to spread out my stuff!  Boy, am I really spoiled!! 🙂

When I first started seriously flying, I always liked the longer flights because of all of the entertainment options.  And with personal Audio/Video Displays, I certainly wasn’t disappointed!  It’s always amazed me that an plane can stream live TV while in the air, and I was able to watch the evening news shortly after take off.

I suppose it’s gotten worse since they require payment for some movies and TV channels in the main cabin, but between ESPN, Discovery, and even a New York Giants game, I was pretty content on the entertainment front.

In covering, Delta’s “Have One On Us” policy, I shared how I like to push the envelope maximize my experience by attempting to use it for the purchase of perishable food.  Well, I tried again, asking for an exception and it seems the new line is “The system won’t let us scan it.”  I wasn’t ready for this answer, and suppose next time I will plan asking “Well can you make an exception and forget to ring it up?

As it was, I ended up using it for a Flight Delights snack box, which isn’t a bad deal, as reviewed in greater depth by Double Wides Fly here.  While maybe not supper-quality, it more than makes up for it in the sheer quantity of food, and it filled up my stomach indeed.

I think one think that sets First Class apart, is the usually attentive service, compared to lousy (and almost non-existent) service coach.  However, on this flight, the flight attendants seemed to be fairly reasonable about refilling drinks and offering snacks throughout the flight.  Unlike some flights–even in First at times, I didn’t find myself hitting the call button when I needed a drink, and was pretty satisfied.

I managed to chug away at some work and a blog post on my laptop during the course of the flight, and we ended up landing in Atlanta right on time.

When we hit the ground, I turned on my phone, and discovered I had a surprise waiting for me in Atlanta…

Georgia on My Mind:Salt Lake City, UT (SLC) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX)

Introduction
Pasco, WA (PSC) to Salt Lake City, UT (SLC)
Salt Lake City (SLC) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX)

I had about an hour and a half between flights, so I headed to the SkyClub–which was conveniently located along my way, between Gates B and C.

SLC SkyClub

While in there, I heard a charming interaction between a father and young daughter, which went as follows:

Father: “I’ll buy you a drink.”
Daughter: “I thought they were free!”
Called out!

I headed over to the gate, where boarding had just begun, so despite using the SkyPriority Lane to board, I had a to wait a few minutes before making the wonderful left turn into the First Class cabin of the Boeing 757-200.

Delta 1299
Salt Lake City (SLC) – Los Angeles (LAX)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Depart: 11:15 AM
Arrive: 12:16 PM
Duration: 1 Hr 1 Min
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200
Seat: 1D (First Class)

I had been sitting for about 2 minutes when the purser came by to offer me a pre-departure beverage.  I took a Glenlivet on the rocks, sat back and enjoyed myself.

While I generally have enjoyed watching the parade of passengers pass by me, I am starting to appreciate the quick and peaceful surroundings afforded in the forward cabin of the 757-200, where the main entrance/exit is behind you.

Anyway, as far as my seat itself, I had the bulkhead in Row 1, which I know some do not like.  I find that the legroom is adequate, maybe a little bit extra, and I have something I can prop my feet against.  Being close to the lavatory doesn’t bother me, as my nose isn’t real sensitive and I take advantage of it often.

Seat 1D

I should also mentioned that this happened to be one of Delta’s longhaul-configured aircraft, as evident by the leg rests on the seats.

I noticed a metal bar running the width of my seat on the floor, and realized it was the foot support for a leg rest, meaning it was an angled-flat seat.  So in addition to a button on the arm rest for the seat recline, there is a second one for raising the leg rest.  These seats, as opposed to lie-flat seats, can be uncomfortable for sleeping, but on a shorter flight it was perfect for reclining.

At just under 2 hours, this flight did not include a meal, but rather a snack basket and drink service.  The flight attendants were good about providing drink refills, and we were landing before too long.

Why do the flights I get upgraded on always have to seem too short?

Georgia On My Mind: Pasco to Salt Lake City

Introduction
Pasco, WA (PSC) to Salt Lake City, UT (SLC)
Salt Lake City (SLC) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX)

I made it to the airport about an hour before my flight’s (early) departure of 6:35 AM.

In the past my usual routine has been to jump straight into the SkyPriority line, courtesy of my Gold Medallion status on Delta.  However, I have learned that if I want to print my boarding pass–which I needed to do in this case, I would be sent to one of the kiosks. I know they do this to make it “easier” and require fewer ticket agents, but it sorta irks me.  Not that I am an elite-ist, but generally it means those with status are not helped immediately and still have to wait a little bit at times.

Evil Kiosks

Anway, one of them opened up right away, so I went ahead and printed my boarding pass, then used the Sky Priority cue to drop off my bag.

At most airports, my Delta Gold Medallion status Whether using the elite check-in line, or not they will simply re-direct you to the kiosks to print boarding passes, which I needed to do, unfortunately.

Check-In

I headed through the single security lane (which hopefully they will add to soon, as part of a proposed airport expansion in Pasco, if anyone cares)  and to the gate area.

While, my Salt Lake to LAX upgrade cleared at the Gold Medallion window essentially four days out, my other two flights had not.  This had me watching the upgrade lists like a hawk, especially since I could tell I was close to clearing.

As it turned out, I was #3 on the list for 1 First Class seat on the flight to Salt Lake City.  Ahead of me on the list was a couple, and I noticed the gate agent call them both over, and inquire about their status.  While they both claimed to be Gold Medallions–meaning they were likely booked on a higher fare class than I was, the agent informed them that only the husband could be upgraded.  This led me to check with the agent myself, and he informed me it was still possible, but didn’t appear likely.

I went ahead and boarded, noting there was still an empty seat in First.  More and more of the boarding process went on, and still an empty seat.   After most passengers had boarded, the same agent came over to me and said he would check on something… He went further back in coach, and upgraded the wife to the empty seat in First.  RATS!!! Oh so close, oh well!

Delta 3359
Pasco, WA (PSC) – Salt Lake City (SLC)
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Depart: 6:35 AM
Arrive: 9:09 AM
Duration: 1 Hr 34 Min

Aircraft:  CRJ-900
Seat: 5B (Economy Comfort)

While obviously disappointed about barely missing an upgrade, it didn’t make a huge difference because it was a fairly short flight (only up in the air for about an hour) and there was no breakfast service in First, anyway.

Plus, as crazy as it sounds, I probably had more legroom than anyone else on the plain–including First Class, considering I was in the first row of Coach, where the configuration changes from 3 to 4 across:

Seat 5B Legroom on a CRJ-900

As a side note, this is considered Economy Comfort now, which costs an extra $15-$25 (I think) if you do not have Gold or higher status, on Delta.  While these Delta elites can select Economy Comfort immediately after being ticketed, if status you lack, you can request these seats within 24 hours of departure, or time of check-in.

As I learned from my seatmate, an Alaska Gold MVP, is not only is there upgrade reciprocity for Alaska elites on Delta, they are not able to select Economy Comfort for free, until 24 before departure.

Like most Regional Jet flights, there wasn’t much excitement, and just enough time for a drink and snack service.

Surf & Sun Tampa Style: New York to Pasco, WA

Introduction
Pasco to Salt Lake City (SLC)
SLC to Los Angeles (LAX)
LAX, “The Bump,” and Torrance Marriott
LAX to Atlanta
Atlanta to Tampa
Hotel Review: DoubleTree Suites Tampa Bay
Exploring Tampa Part 1: Honeymoon Island
Hotel Review: Tampa Marriott Waterside
Bern’s Steak House Tampa
Exploring Tampa Part 2: Cigar City Brewery and Clearwater Beach
Hotel Review: Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel
Exploring Tampa Part 3: Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center and Ybor City
Tampa to New York (LGA)
New York to Minneapolis (MSP)/Minneapolis to Pasco, WA (PSC)

I checked in at the SkyClub, and it wasn’t crowded wall-to-wall like it was the first time I had visited, and I snagged a desk to catch up on some emails.

The cool thing is that they had the IPads on display, which impressed me.  Then again, it doesn’t take much.

IPad in the SkyClub

Unfortunately there are very few windows in that particular SkyClub, and I didn’t feel like transferring terminals to go to a different lounge that did.  After about 2-2 and a half hours, I headed out to the gate for my next flight.  I noticed that the gate area had some signage for Delta’s upcoming upgrade of LaGuardia:

Delta LaGuardia Upgrade Ad

Anyway, boarding was just about to get under way.  Unlike my outbound journey, I would have no luck getting a “bump” today.

Delta 1619
New York LaGuardia – Minneapolis/St. Paul
Monday, April 2
, 2012
Depart: 4:05 PM
Arrive: 6:25 PM
Duration: 2 Hours 20 Minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Seat: 10C (Economy–Exit Row)

Unlike my previous flight, I did not end up getting upgraded and the service was well… serviceable, but not out of this world.

We managed to take off on time, and I managed to snap a pretty good photo of the New York area as we were departing:

Taking Off from New York

After we hit our cruising altitude, a drink and snack selection was offered as usual.

Again, not too much was interesting about this flight–or my next flight for that matter, save an entire group of high school students on a field trip just behind me.  They actually were fairly well, behaved for high schoolers, then again they came from Montana, so maybe not all THAT interesting.

Once we landed in Minneapolis I headed over to Axel’s Bonfire Grill since I wanted some more substantive fare than just a SkyClub could offer.  I ended up having a MEGA  burrito which left me utterly and helplessly stuffed.  I am not a huge fun of the Minneapolis dining options, but Axel’s is a pretty good place to grab some food.

I walked off my gluttony, then hung out in the SkyClub for a little bit.  For some reason, I did not think of taking any pictures, sorry.

I headed out after about an hour for my final flight of the night.  In fact, I was approaching the gate and about to take a picture of it when I was suddenly bull-rushed by a friend headed to Pasco on the same flight.

It was fine and I enjoyed catching up with him.  But things got a little awkward for me when he asked where I was sitting.  I had been upgraded about 2 days out, but didn’t want to look like a First Class snob, so I just said “3A.”  He immediately responded “Oh, you’re in First Class.”  Crap.

You see, maybe it is just me, but in these situations, I am afraid someone will either think A) I’m an elitist (no pun intended) and that I think I’m better than them, B) I am unwise with my money and actually pay for First Class, or C) Both.  So I always get hesitant when I see someone I know and I have been upgraded.

Delta 3435
Minneapolis – Pasco, WA (PSC)
Monday, April 2, 2012
Depart: 9:50 PM
Arrive: 11:16 PM
Duration: 3 Hr 26 Min
Aircraft: CRJ-900
Seat: 3A (First Class)

Anyway, I boarded and I was able to people watch as they came on.  At first I thought it was cliche, but the more I sit at the front of aircraft and watch people board, the more I believe their demeanor says a lot about them.

Anyway, my friend boarded and as he passed by I handed him the (unopened) bottle of water that had been placed in my seat.  Hopefully he appreciated this gesture, but perhaps I should have done more and offered to switch seats.

I texted him after he sat down, and asked if he would like any “free libations” or wanted to trade seats, and he simply responded “not at this point.”   I felt bad when he said “at this point,” like I had failed him.  I don’t try to be a jerk, sometimes things just don’t even cross my mind.

Anyway, I was blessed with a lead flight from Mississippi–accent and all, who promised that there “would be no movie, but it would be the most entertaining flight I had been on.”  She was a character for sure, and received a few chuckles.

After about 15 minutes or so, the door was closed, and take-off commenced.

Delta Flights longer than 2 hours usually include a meal service, but since this one left after 9 PM, it only included a “snack” service.  All it really is a choice of chips, candy bars, peanuts, and pretzels, so I wish they would have some more appetizing options available.

I don’t know if it’s me, but the flights where I have been upgraded seem to pass by faster than the ones where I am sitting in coach.  It’s a shame really.

Once we landed and I was getting off the plane, I thanked Ms. Mississippi, and informed her of the following:

“Of all the flights I have ever been on, this by far….
Was the most recent.”

Really, she did pretty good, I just couldn’t resist.

Surf & Sun Tampa Style: Tampa to New York (LGA)

Introduction
Pasco to Salt Lake City (SLC)
SLC to Los Angeles (LAX)
LAX, “The Bump,” and Torrance Marriott
LAX to Atlanta
Atlanta to Tampa
Hotel Review: DoubleTree Suites Tampa Bay
Exploring Tampa Part 1: Honeymoon Island
Hotel Review: Tampa Marriott Waterside
Bern’s Steak House Tampa
Exploring Tampa Part 2: Cigar City Brewery and Clearwater Beach
Hotel Review: Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel
Exploring Tampa Part 3: Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center and Ybor City
Tampa to New York (LGA)
New York to Minneapolis (MSP) to Pasco, WA (PSC)

I got up around 7, since my flight didn’t leave until about 10.  This gave me plenty of time to enjoy breakfast in the Club Lounge of the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel.  I ended up having to wait about 10 minutes, but after checking out I hopped on the shuttle to the airport.

Delta 2280
Tampa (TPA) – New York LaGuardia (LGA)
Monday, April 2, 2012
Depart: 10:05 AM
Arrive: 12:44 PM
Duration: 2 hr 39 min
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Seat: 1A (First Class)

Hotel Shuttle

I thought I had way more than enough time for checking in and making it through security at this point, but I soon would realize how horrifically wrong I was.

Sky Priority Check-in

Anyway, check in end up being a breeze as there was absolutely no wait in the Sky Priority queue.  As I was heading to security, I began to panic.  I went into to my wallet to retrieve my ID, and that is when I noticed it:  My credit card was missing.  And not just any card, that special American Express “get me into the SkyClub free” Platinum card.

My initial re-action was that I had left it in the the pocket of the shorts I had packed away in my suitcase.  So the gal at the check-in to see me again when I came back to inquire about recalling my suitcase.

I frantically when back downstairs to the baggage claim area, and was soon able to retrieve my bag.  I searched frantically through my bag from pocket to pocket, multiple times even.  No sign of my wonderful card.  RATS!

As I shared at the time, this led to a funny moment.  I woman walked by and saw me rummaging through my suitcase furiously, and exclaimed “Oh gosh!  Is that what I have to go through!”

I re-checked my bag, and remembered the last time I remembered holding my card was the night before, in the midst of my car rental fiasco there at the airport.  (As a side note, I contacted National some time back and the “sneaky” charges I referred to were re-funded).

I went back to the National rental office, and asked about my card.  The agent at the desk was extremely professional and helpful, and he said they had locked it away earlier that morning.  Fortunately, a manager had seen it laying in the ground outside of the office, and she collected it.  My ID was checked, and was returned my missing credit card.  SWEET SUCCESS!!

I walked in, went through security (hardly wait in either the regular or Priority lien) then hopped on the shuttle to the terminal.  By the time I made it to the gate, boarding had just begun.  After a slightly stressful experience, it was nice to know that my upgrade had already cleared and I would be in First Class.

Delta 2280
Tampa (TPA) – New York LaGurdia (LGA)
Monday, April 2, 2012
Depart: 10:05 AM
Arrive: 12:44 PM
Duration: 2 hr 39 min
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Seat: 1B (First Class)

Ironically, my upgrade had cleared right as I was landing in Tampa, which was both good and bad.  Don’t get me wrong, I love every complimentary upgrade I can get, especially as an elite-staus passenger.  I just didn’t like the fact that it made me start to look forward to the end of my trip. 🙂

I arrived on the aircraft, came to my seat in 1A which had a small bottle of water, a pillow, and a blanked waiting for me.

 

I placed my bag in the overhead since I was in the very first row, and was soon offered a pre-departure beverage.

I was in for quite the experience, as this was the kindest and  most courteous Delta flight crew I have encountered, as I will get to.

Boarding took about 10-15 minutes with little issues (other than freaking out and thinking I forgot my laptop at security) and we were off.

Once we made it to 10,000 feet, the lead flight attendant took drink orders.  One nice feature Delta has added in the last year or so, which I don’t think I have actually mentioned, is the addition of a table cloth and ACTUAL silverware on board.  It’s a nice touch, and  makes dining in the sky a bit more “classy.”

Being in 1A, I was offered my choice of salad or a sandwich.  I had read somewhere (and it makes sense) that flight attendants love it if you just take what is left.  So I offered to do that, and the flight attendant thanked me for doing so.

In the end, it worked out because I preferred the sandwich option, and it is what I ended up with.  It came with a dish a fruit, Potato chips, and a brownie.  A decent sandwich with roast beef, lettuce and tomato but a little dry.  I asked for mayo, and they even were gracious enough to check the snack packs, and there was none to be found.  Oh well!  #FirstClassProblems

Throughout the whole flight the crew, especially the lead flight attendant working First Class, were very attentive with drinks and food, and extremely helpful about meeting passenger needs. For example, some would complain about a flight attendant not asking “Can I offer you another drink,” but mine simply said “More?”  Straightforward and to the point, which doesn’t bother me.  And she was actually be pro-active.

Even more important, they acted very professionally and acted with a genuine passion and enthusiasm that cannot be faked.

I was sincerely thankful for the EXCEPTIONAL service I was receiving, so I decided to make sure it didn’t go unnoticed.  I understand that Platinum and Diamond Medallions are given “A Job Well Done” certificates, which the attendants can turn in to receive points which are exchanged for various rewards, such as electronic gadgets.  Even though I am a “lowly” Gold Medallion, and I wasn’t going to let that get in the way of presenting a gesture of my gratitude, and  making sure their management recognized the great service that they were providing.

So I drafted it up a note with my reformed chicken scratch elegant writing, than re-wrote it to make it look nicer.  Unfortunately, I lost the draft version I wrote, other wise I would share it with you here.  I did mention how thankful I was, and how kind, professional, and courteous the flight crew was.

I handed it over to her, and here face lit up.  She seemed very appreciative, and even shared it with the other flight attendant who thought it was great.

I had no problems getting my copious refills, and the flight from heaven ended far too soon, before I entered the you-know-what that is New York LaGuardia.

Surf & Sun Tampa Style: Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center

Introduction
Pasco to Salt Lake City (SLC)
SLC to Los Angeles (LAX)
LAX, “The Bump,” and Torrance Marriott
LAX to Atlanta
Atlanta to Tampa
Hotel Review: DoubleTree Suites Tampa Bay
Exploring Tampa Part 1: Honeymoon Island
Hotel Review: Tampa Marriott Waterside
Bern’s Steak House Tampa
Exploring Tampa Part 2: Cigar City Brewery and Clearwater Beach
Hotel Review: Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel
Exploring Tampa Part 3: Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center
Tampa to New York (LGA)
New York to Minneapolis (MSP) to Pasco, WA (PSC)

Sunday I had a conference call in the mid-afternoon, so despite a late start, I figured I still had time for visiting the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center, as reader Jason suggested.

It was a little bit of a quiet and enjoyable drive–approximately 45 minutes south, and close to Apollo Beach)  When I finally arrived, I was a bit shocked, as the scenery was NOT what I would expect to find at a wildlife observatory:

Tampa Electric Power Station

I mean, perhaps it is just me, but an industrial plant with emissions spewing out doesn’t scream “wildlife sanctuary” to me.

Evidently though the power station adheres to strict environmental emissions standards, and the entire facility prides itself on being very green:

Solar Panels in the Parking Lot

In addition, the warm water discharged from the plant make it a prime spot for manatees to congregate during winter months.

After roaming around in the interpretive center and watching a video on manatees, I went over to the observation deck, looking out toward Tampa Bay.

I searched the waters, and even used the “Pay-per-use” binoculars, but could not clearly make out any manatees in the water.  Bummer.  Maybe the fact that it was 85 degrees out had something to do with that.

At the other end of the viewing center, is a mangrove sanctuary.  The walkway extends out into the heart of the mangrove, making it a neat place to enjoy the
tropical vegetation.

Later in the day, I drove around to a place where “The Bucs stop here:”

Raymond James Stadium

And then circled around to George Steinbrenner Field, home of the Yankees during spring training.  The joke is that the yankees come to watch the Yankees play.

George M. Steinbrenner Field

I decided to finally visit Ybor City, which can be best described as Tampa’s version of Bourbon street.  The Cuban cigar businesses in Ybor are what originally put Tampa on the map, and what makes for a colorful neighborhood today.  I had heard good things about King Corona Cigars and Cafe, so I decided to give it a try.

Unfortunately after walking a handful of blocks from where I parked my car, realized I had forgotten my digital camera phone.  The good news is you can see all the juicy information on there website, which I have linked to here.

I had a traditional Cuban sandwich which included roasted pork, ham, salami and swiss cheese, garnished with lettuce, tomato, a pickle, mustard, and mayo on a hot pressed role.

When in Rome, do as they Romans they say, and so when in Ybor, I decided to have a Cuban.  Laugh at me, but I decided to start off my cigar experience with a cappuccino-flavored one, which was alright and a little tasty.  Fortunately for the sake of my oral health, I ended up with a slight headache, so doubt I will continue the cigar use on a regular basis.

Exploring Tampa was fun, and like any trip I wish I had time to see more, but thankful for the experience I had!

Surf & Sun Tampa Style: Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel

Introduction
Pasco to Salt Lake City (SLC)
SLC to Los Angeles (LAX)
LAX, “The Bump,” and Torrance Marriott
LAX to Atlanta
Atlanta to Tampa
Hotel Review: DoubleTree Suites Tampa Bay
Exploring Tampa Part 1: Honeymoon Island
Hotel Review: Tampa Marriott Waterside
Bern’s Steak House Tampa
Exploring Tampa Part 2: Cigar City Brewery and Clearwater Beach
Hotel Review: Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel
Exploring Tampa Part 3: Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center and Ybor City
Tampa to New York (LGA)
New York to Minneapolis (MSP) to Pasco, WA (PSC)

Exterior

I arrived late after my Clearwater Beach adventures, and proceeded to the Elite counter for check-in.

Hotel Lobby-Forgive my crookedness, please

Check-In Desk

One thing I have noticed in retrospect is that usually hotels–especially Marriott tend to not check my ID upon check-in.  On one hand, it is convenient when I don’t have to pull it out, but it makes me a little bit worried.  One could easily check-in as me, and snatch up my room.  Even worse, my credit card is on file, making it even easier for someone to pilfer from me.  Should I start asking them to check it?  I can’t think of a good solution to their lack of attentiveness.

Anyway, as always I asked about a suite upgrade and was informed that a wedding party was occupying those.  After my near-miss the day before, I had checked and indeed Marriott was showing no suite availability.

I was given a club-lounge level room on the 8th floor. I was informed that as a Marriott Gold member, I would be able to receive complimentary breakfast in the hotel restaurant (of which there are actually 2) by notifying my waiter.

After finding the elevator (Renaissance hotels always seem to be set up as a maze) I proceeded up to my room.  It seemed a little bit less cramped than the last hotel I had stayed at, but with nearly the exact same room configuration.

Desk Area

Bathroom

On the wall across from the toilet, was a robe which I thought was comically hung:

Robe

I had breakfast at the restaurant Pelagia Trattoria my first morning at the hotel (a Sunday) and when I mentioned that I was a Marriott Gold member, was informed that I would be given a $14 credit for breakfast.

Crab Eggs Benedict

I ordered the Crab Eggs Benedict.  The bread that it was served on was a little firm, but it was still pretty good and perfectly paired with a succulent slice of avocado.

The service was excellent.  At the end of my meal, my waitress asked if I would write down my room number, and write that I was a Platinum member.  I quickly said “Gold, but wish I was was a Platinum!”  She remarked, “You don’t want that.  It just means you stay here a lot.”  If only she knew!

And while the price of the dish and coffee exceeded my $14 allotment by about $5, I was only billed for the tip.  A great benefit of Marriott Rewards Gold!

The second morning I ended up using the Club Lounge, which was just down the hall a little ways from my room.

Lounge Spread

There was a fair spread for breakfast including bread, sliced deli meat in cheese, cereal and oatmeal in addition to the staples of eggs, bacon and sausage.

Lounge Breakfast

Lounge Seating

On the whole, I liked the property.  It is conveniently located in the International Plaza, which has a fair amount of shops including a mall and Cheesecake Factory next door.  In addition, the locale works out since the airport is only a 5 minute ride on the hotel’s complimentary shuttle bus.

I really like Renaissance Hotels, how comfortable and trendy they are, while not be overly pricy.  For a mid-size town like Tampa, this property is certainly tough to beat.

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