Point Me to the Miles

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Archive for the category “Trip Report”

Surf & Sun Tampa Style: Cigar City Brewery and Clearwater Beach

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)

After spending nearly 6 hours at Bern’s the night before, I was determined to finally make it to Clearwater Beach, since as you my readers told me, “that it where it is going on.”

However, rain was in the forecast for the early afternoon, so I decided it would be a fantastic opportunity to give another reader suggestion—Cigar City Brewery.  Living in the Northwest, I am around no shortage of breweries, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to see what Southwest Florida had to offer.

I took a taxi, and arrived soon to a rather unsuspecting West Tampa facility, which is incidentally not in Ybor city.

I arrived about 10 minutes before the start of the day’s first tour.  This worked out well as the $5 cost of admission includes a pint from the tap, and a nifty souvenir glass.

Our tour guide was quite the character.  He was very friendly, and claimed he would wear any hat given to him, as evidenced by the Mickey cap on his head.  I even asked if I could take his picture, and he not only obliged, he even encouraged it!

Lovely Tour Guide

In addition, he repeatedly claimed the Tennessee polo I was wearing was actually a John McKay-era Buccaneers jersey.  He certainly made the brewery tour fun.

Anyway, we were walked through the various stages of the brewery, and it was a very educational process.  I appreciate a good brew, but do not always think about how much work goes into it.

The state of Florida requires them to label each of their tanks, so they decided to go with the following labeling process:

A1, R2-D2, and…

C-3PO!

They were even nice enough to open up their walk-in fridge, and crack open several bottles for chugging…I mean sampling.  I had a little bit more, but I could have easily had a 3rd pint before I left if I wasn’t planning on driving soon after.

After while I swapped out my used glass for a clean, new one and took a taxi back to the hotel.  Could have driven there and back in the first place?  Certainly, but I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going, and didn’t want to worry about finding it.  Ehh.

I gathered my stuff, and headed out for Clearwater Beach, which on a Saturday took a little bit longer than expected.  Eventually, I made it there and found parking.  Once finally there, I made a beeline for the beach and hung out there for the rest of the day.

Not that such would even deter me from at least attempting to enter, but upon leaving I noticed the following sign behind the Hilton.

So much for being a private beach!

Dude Needs a Tan

And yes, I still need to work on my tan!  I hung out on the beach for a little bit, then went swimming in the Gulf for a little while.

In my short life thus far, I had somehow never managed to watch the sunset over the ocean.  I grabbed a chair from the “private” beach—which I later found out that the Hilton property typically charges for using, and watched the show:

I was getting hungry, and was planning to visit Smoking J’s Barbecue as suggested, about 25 minutes away.  However, I called to see if they would have the Final Four on (I’m a sports nut, after all) and they said they would be closing within the hour.  Drat–didn’t think I would be able to make it.

So, I wandered into the Hilton property which owns the “private” beach I was on, and inquired about the best places to get some food.  Clear Sky Cafe down the main strip if you will, was suggested,  Now, I am a little hesitant though, when it comes to eating dinner (or usually lunch for that matter) at a place with the word “cafe,” but it turned out to be a pretty good place to grab some food.

I almost decided to go elsewhere due to the crowds, but one of the waitresses made an extra effort to squeeze me in at the end of the packed bar.  I guess during the Final Four I should expect that type of business.

Anyhow, I decided to order an appetizer of oysters, which was served with lettuce and light dressing.

Oysters

The calamari was a little juicy and paired well with the tangy vegetable.

I generally not a huge fan of ravioli, but since it sounded intriguing, I ordered the lobster ravioli for my main entree.  It turned out to be fairly good and moist, and the stuffing plentiful and rich.

Lobster Ravioli

Surf & Sun Tampa Style: Bern’s Steak House Tampa

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)

Bern’s Steak House was highly recommended to me, and rightfully so.  Few restaurants I have ever been to even compare.  It is an experience in and of itself, evident in the fact that I spent spent nearly 6 hours there.

Their waiters do an exceptional job, as they are highly trained over a period of one to to years.  In fact, due to the intensive nature of their apprenticeship, there is a failure rate of around 60%, consisting of those who can’t pick it up or just don’t really want to do it.

The outside looked a bit unsuspecting, as the exterior doesn’t exactly scream “I’m a world-class restaurant,” in my opinion.  Matter of fact, it started out as a circus-themed fast food joint.  My how times change.

Bern’s Exterior – Courtesy of cltampa.com

I arrived slightly late bit late after my expedition out to Honeymoon Island, and was directed to the lounge room, as my table had been given away.  Really, I think it sounds worse than it really is, as they are very customer-centric, and will take in anyone they can, regardless of reservation.

Once seated, I was offered a complimentary glass of the finest vintage of extraordinary Tampa tap water on the rocks.  Yes that was how Phil, my waiter phrased it, accompanied with elegance and charm.  I was asked if I wanted anything else like a cocktail or wine, and as usual when eating a nice meal, I will hold off so I can pair the wine with my food.  While managing not to be pushy, my waiter offered me samples of a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon which he suggested would pair well with the salad and the steak, respectively.

That part taken care of, I started through the menu’s several pages, which read like quite the exquisite novel, binding and all.

Unlike any restaurant I have been to, the steak section alone covered a couple of pages.  It included  detailed descriptions of the various cuts of beef, and analysis of their various textures.

On the next page was a table, listing each cut by thickness, weight and price:

Steak Table

I knew steak would be the main part of tonight’s feature presentation, but was intrigued by the long list of offerings.  Then it hit my eye–caviar.  For various reasons I had yet to try the miniature delectable spheres, but was always fascinated by the thought of having some.

Not wanting to waste such a chance to finally try some, I inquired to Phil, who proceeded to point out a quite affordable version well-suited for newcomers.  The description read as follows:

Fresh Orange Great Lakes Salmon
Caviar Large soft-skinned beautiful berries.  Hand processed by C. Collins from coho and chinook salmon, and not salty.
 

It was pointed out to me that most folks generally enjoy their caviar with a glass of champagne, or for true purists, a shot of vodka, but that neither was necessary to enjoy the fine delicacy.  Phil put it best when saying “Do you really need the fancy shoes and clubs to enjoy a round of golf?”  And for the record, the sample of the Chardonay (nearly half I glass I might add) drank much like a champagne, and paired well with the caviar.

I really had no clue what accompaniments the caviar would fair well with, so as a courtesy, I was given both the traditional cheese, sour cream, diced egg, and onion in addition to some more contemporary options including guacomole, curry, and bleu cheese, and of course provided with small toast squares.

Great Lakes Caviar Dish

In the end, I found I prefer the combination of the caviar with egg, cheese, and sour cream though avocado is also a great fit, in my opinion.  As far as the texture, it really is unique in that is unlike anything I have ever eaten before.  It tastes and feels like eating fish eggs, with a very subtle saltiness.  I ended up adding the caviar on to the toasts and accompaniments so sparingly (or was provided more than normal) that in the end I was dishing up caviar by itself–which is still pretty good when eaten alone.

As soon as I finished up the delightful caviar, Phil was on hand immediately to replace the empty plate with my salad.  I suppose I should point here, despite the fact the price of a steak at Bern’s is roughly equivalent to what one might pay at a Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris, Bern’s provides a much better deal in that a loaded baked potato, vegetables, both salad and soup are included in the price.  As opposed to Morton’s, where a single side of green beans alone can cost one a whopping $14.

Anyway, I am not a soup kind of guy, but still enjoyed the French Onion Soup with a nice thick layer of cheese on top.

French Onion Soup

I should apologize for the poor lighting, since I really didn’t feel like ruining the ambiance with a flashing camera.

The salad was deluxe yet very refined, while being a bit refreshing.

Gourmet House Salad

Now for the main course–STEAK!  I ordered the 7/8″ Delmonico, cooked Medium, which came out to about 12 ounces with a nice ribbon of fat around the outside.  The description for the Delmonico, which I only knew as the Rib Eye previously, read as follows:

Delmonico is the eye of the rib (called “Rib-Eye” in meat circles). It is known, generally, for its richness; because of the greater quantity of fine fat grains – especially in the outer part of the eye and especially when cut nearer to the chuck end. Some people mistake this outer section for “tail” or flank, but it is absolutely the sweetest and juiciest of beef eating (in our opinion) in the world.
 

Perhaps I should have ordered a larger size, because the way it was plated made it come across as a couple  random chunks of beef.

Delmonico/”Rib-Eye”

This is where I would start to disagree with some Bern’s fanatics about their steaks.  Supposedly due to the hickory chips they cook their steaks with, the outside portion of the meat comes across as a little char-grilled burned.  Maybe some folks like their steak with a bit of “texture” on the outside, but it was a new steak experience for me.  The inside I should note, was plenty juicy, with a good bit of pink.

My waiter, Phil, who did a good job so far and was very courteous, while taking time to explain everything along the way.  I suppose you could label me as more of a food slob more than a food slob.  My father’s epicurean taste in foods had me eating at more sophisticated restaurants early on in life, and even learning to like foods like mussels–which my classmates, even in college didn’t even seem to appreciate.  Thus, I had an appreciation for the finer foods, without much knowledge and appreciation of how they are prepared, what makes them good, and what it goes well with.

In this respect Phil was a perfectly paired waiter for me, because he hadn’t really enjoyed the “finer” foods growing up, and was being groomed for the world gourmet cuisine with a fresh perspective.  In his own admission, he “grew up on a farm in Vermont.”  Very well said.  I came to trust him though, as he had the knowledge I was lacking.

Anyway, up until this point in the meal Phil had done a fine job.  When I inquired about the rough texture on the outside of the steak, he spoke out loud “What can be done about this?  Can you scrape it off with a knife?”  At this point he suggested it was because of the manner in which it was grilled over charcoal, with a crusty outside, while the inside was still nice and tender.

Normally, I would have sent this back, and asked for a new one.  However, I realized this was still not most steakhouses per se, and that maybe it was after all I new style of steak I could at least try to appreciate.  In the end, I dolloped on the butter-rich Bernaise sauce with a little bit of A1, and found it to enhance the flavor.  Not a bad cut of meat… just different.

As I found out later, they do age their own meat on site, and wait to slice it up until the meat is actually ordered.

The meal came with vegetables and onion strings, as well as a loaded baked potato on the side, which was pretty good.

Bern’s Steakhouse Tampa Loaded Baked Potato

Of course the one downside to having all of the sides is that it makes one quite full.  Upon receiving my bill, I had been seated so long (at this point over 2 hours) that I had forgotten about the wonderful caviar.

Despite the guffaw with the steak, Phil did pretty well and I made sure to tip him accordingly.  After paying, he escorted me to the kitchen for a tour of the restaurant/wine cellar.  There happened to be another tour of the kitchen at the time, so I was shown the wine cellar and then headed upstairs for desert.  I ended up getting in on another, much more detailed tour later on, so I will save that part for later.

My Waiter, Phil

Upstairs at Bern’s they have roughly 40 different desert rooms.  Each room has an old phone system placed in it, and at first I couldn’t figure out why.

On the phone are a buttons for a couple different styles of music, which play over the speakers in your dessert room.  I was informed there was Ken, the piano player was performing from their dance floor, and pushing the piano button would “stream” his music into your room.  The cool thing is that the purpose of the phone is for making requests, which Ken seemed more than happy to do.  I was treated to “What a Wonderful World,” in addition to other piano classics such as Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and of course the Mario Brothers theme song!

I am very much a coffee drinker, and was delighted to see they had a variety of coffee drinks on their dessert menu:

Bern’s Steakhouse Tampa Dessert Menu

I ordered the Cappuccino Bern’s Steak House, which turned out to be marvelously exquisite, with a rich and creamy layer of froth.

This long-time specialty features a marriage of our very-finely-ground, freshly-roasted coffee marinated in Kahlúa and flavored liqueurs for an average of ten weeks. Your cappuccino is topped with a float of vanilla cream and finely-ground coffee.

Cappucino Bern’s

I wasn’t real hungry by this point in the evening, but decided to order dessert because I figured it would be well worth it.  I decided to order the Macadamia Nut Sundae, which was described as follows:

“The best sundae in the world. An orange scented cone filled with our extraordinary Macadamia Nut Ice Cream covered in hot fudge, whipped cream and roasted macadamias.”

With the title of best sundae in the world, I inquired if it would be complimentary if I did not agree.

Macadamia Nut Sundae-Best I’ve Ever Had!

Sadly, it was very likely the best one I ever had–no refund.  The combination of fudge and vanilla ice cream was well accentuated by the macadamia nuts, and though I ate little of it, the cone had a sweet, succulent orange flavor.

Miraculously, I finished the sundae, and had my cappuccino topped off a few times before heading to the piano room for a while.

The Piano Man

The extraordinary thing was that Ken seemed willing to take almost any request, and though he might take a look through a book of sheet music, would perform every song with absolutely no sheet music in front of him!  What a delight to listen to!

Eventually, I decided to head back downstairs to see about tour of the kitchen.  I happened to arrive at the right moment, and since it was now nearly 11:00 PM and fewer customers were there, we were able to get a more detailed tour of the kitchen and wine cellar.

It is a fairly impressive operation, given how the age and slice all of their own steaks upon ordering, chop their fresh salads and side items, and even roast and grind their own coffee.

If you know anything about Bern’s, you may have been asking about the wine cellar.  Frankly, there is just so much to cover, I haven’t gotten their yet.  Their wine menu literally reads like a thick novel, without about 3,000 to 4,000 wine labels on it.  This actually represents just a small percentage of what their wine cellar holds on site–roughly 100,000 bottles.  This only accounts for 10% of their entire private collection, which is the largest restaurant collection in the world.  The remaining 900,000 or so bottles sit across the street in the gutted remains of what used to be a 3-story hotel, stacked floor ceiling with hardly enough room to walk sideways down the aisles.

Anyway, the restaurant’s wine cellar is included as part of the kitchen tour, and it is surely a sight to see.  The entire room is climate controlled at about 68 degrees and 70% humidity, and a rich, fruity wine aroma emanates throughout the entire cellar.

Wine Cellar

Wine Cellar, courtesy of igougo.com

Amazingly, the even have some wines dating all the way back to 1850, which I was fortunate to get a sniff of!  Their most expensive wine is a magnum from 1947, that will set you back only a cool $30,000.  Yea, I know.  You can get a pretty good car for that price.

Following the tour, I ended up talking with one of the waiters for a bit about the way that they do things, which was neat.  Things like their waiters not being bothered by people coming in for a glass of ice water, or when the Secret Service came in recently with Hilary Clinton.

And unlike almost every other restaurant in the world, the staff will stick around until the last customer in the restaurant leaves.  Never will the turn the lights off on you or ask you to leave.  Quite special, in my opinion.

On the whole, I experienced PHENOMENAL customer service, from beginning to end.  The experience at Bern’s Steak House is head and shoulders above almost any other restaurant in the world, and well worth visiting.

Surf & Sun Tampa Style: Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Marina

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)

The second night of my stay I decided to stay at the Tampa Marriott Waterside, which is located downtown in the Channelside district, next to the Tampa Times (formerly St. Pete Times ) forum.

Tampa Times Forum

Things were a little hectic when I walked in, considering that a large group had their baggage sitting around.

Lobby

After navigating the maze to check-in, I was recognized as a valued Gold Elite member, and told that I had been given a room on the 25th (of 27) floor with a water view.

Bay View

The room was above other rooms with a balcony, but did not have one itself.  This bugged me a little bit, but at least I didn’t have any chance of a railing obstructing my view.

I went online and checked to see if any suites were available, and found that they were still selling some.  I went back down to the front desk and inquired about being upgraded to a suite.  Without even checking, she flatly told me (with a smile of course) that there weren’t any available.  I quickly replied that their were suites available on their website.  She finally checked, and told me it was on the 4th floor, and thought it had a city view.

I was still a little bit skeptical, but thought for just one night it would better to have a room higher up with a much better view.  And really, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in my room. anyway.  What would you do?

The room seemed a little small, especially compared to my last hotel room.  Right after entering the room, there was a long closet on the right, and the bathroom to the right.

Bathroom

King Bed

Across from the bed, was the desk area, which made for a pretty good workspace.

Overall, I would rate the hotel as decent.  It was good to be recognized as a Marriott elite, and be automatically given a high-floor room with a decent view.  But they didn’t seem forthright and honest with me, especially about just the possibility of a suite upgrade.  And never did they mention that since the Club Lounge was closed (over the weekend) that I would be able to receive complimentary breakfast in the restaurant.

In the end it worked out fine, since I grabbed something from Starbucks, but they could have at least informed me about this benefit.

Surf & Sun Tampa Style: Honeymoon Island

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 posted Friday morning of my trip that I was headed out for Clearwater Beach.  However, what I did not realize is that my plans would end up getting diverted, at least for a day.  I was supposed to pick up a rental car at noon, to drive the 35 minutes or so from Tampa to Clearwater.  Long story short, some delays (mostly on National’s end) on getting the rental, switching hotels, and having a dinner reservation that night (at Bern’s) meant that I didn’t have a whole lot of time.  A number of my readers had highly recommended Clearwater Beach so I put it off for a day, to be able to enjoy it more then.

Reader Natalie recommended Honeymoon Island as a quiet place with lots of seashells, so I decided to give it a go for a little bit.

As I was driving on to Island, I got a little worried when I saw this sign:

Caution!

I got a little anxious on two levels.  First, like Indiana Jones, I absolutely hate snakes.  Second, the area where I live in Eastern Washington is rattlesnake country, so I thought it was a little ironic to go clear cross the country and find them where I didn’t expect any to be.  It is South Florida, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find them down there.  And it didn’t turn out to be a problem for me when I was there.

I should also note that there is a small entry fee,  (~$5) but not too bad.  There is a visitor’s center with bathrooms, but I didn’t really go in.

Visitor’s Center

As soon as I made it on the beach, I realized the beach was indeed littered with tons of sea shells:

Sea Shells by the Sea Shore

There were a few folks up and down the beach, but it wasn’t super crowded.

Beach Front

The water was inviting, and there were even some folks using a surfboard with a raised handle bar.

Honeymoon Island Surfers

The beach was peaceful and nice, but Bern’s was the day’s main attraction for me, and my stomach new it…

Surf & Sun Tampa Style: DoubleTree Suites Tampa Bay

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)

After exiting the SkyClub, I headed to the baggage claim office to claim my bag, which had arrived almost 12 hours earlier.  I called the hotel, considering they offer a complimentary shuttle, and the van arrived fairly quickly.

Within 5 minutes we pulled up to the front entrance to the hotel, which I forgot to take a picture of.  What I found impossible to not take a photo of, was the reason for which I choose this hotel–the fact that it sits right on Tampa Bay.  PHENOMENAL!

Overlooking Tampa Bay

Hotel review aficionados, fear not, I have included entrance and lobby photos, courtesy of kayak.com:

DoubleTree Suites Entrance, Courtesy of kayak.com

Double Tree Suites Tampa Bay Lobby, Courtesy of kayak.com

Upon checking in, I was greeted by a delightful Italian, who’s name tag said he was originally from Rome.  He asked me where I was from, and when I told him Washington, he responded “Ah, right around the corner.”  It took me a second, but I soon caught on.  “Take a left to California,” I responded, “then take a right, and if you come across those strange folks known as Canadians, you have gone too far.  I take it you are from across the pond?”

After checking me in, he inquired if I was allergic to anything.  I quickly responded “Italians.”  Unknown to me, Double Tree Suites is famous for giving out warm cookies, and wanted to make sure I wasn’t allergic to nuts.  Only him–just kidding, it was a very enjoyable check-in.

When I reached my room on the 6th (top) floor, I was pleased to find a small welcome amenity waiting for me, in addition to my cookies:

Welcome Amenity/Kitchen and Desk Area

The room rate was fairly reasonable (~$150), especially considering the standard room is a decent-sized suite of about 650 square feet.  The living room area is fairly spacious:

Living Room

To the right is the entry way to the bedroom area:

King Bed

Down the small hallway to the right is the closet area where I ran into my twin…

The Lorax, My Twin??

As I noted at the time, I was treated to a nice complimentary breakfast due to my Gold status with Hilton.  Really just the food was free, as I was charged for orange juice and coffee, but still a pretty good deal:

Breakfast Plate 1

And why not a little more free food?

Double Tree Suites Tampa Bay Breakfast

Overall, the hotel has some drawbacks, as it is certainly not the most glamorous location to stay.  And there are a couple of restaurants and other hotels around, but the property lies on a peninsula separated from town by a 6-lane highway.  But it still was a pretty good place to for starting my trip in Tampa, with decent service and an EXCEPTIONAL view.

Surf & Sun Tampa Style: Atlanta to Tampa

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)

Unfortunately being in the back on my flight to Atlanta meant that it took 20 minutes to get off the plane once we arrived at the gate…grr.

One of my favorite things about the Atlanta airport is Krystal’s.  As luck would have it, both my arrival and departure gates would be in the A terminal.  Just enough time to grab a Krystal’s!

Krystal’s–My Favorite Fast Food Dive!

Are there any other airports that have a Krystal?

Some don’t like it because they find it overly greasy and gluttonous.  I don’t blame them, I just blissfully enjoy.  I ordered a sackful, and used the two vouchers as payment–and the gal at the cash register said “You have $12 dollars–you want to get a few more?”  I said “Sure, why not!  I’ll help feed the plane!”  View from the Wing has his Five Guys fix, I have my Krystal’s.

Delta 2376
Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) – Tampa International (TPA)
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Depart: 5:22 PM
Arrive: 6:55 PM
Duration: 1 hr 33 min
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200
Seat: 19A (Coach)

I had to run down to one end of the terminal and back to get my fix, and made it on to the plane toward the end of the boarding process.

The service was slightly better than my previous flight. It did include a drink and snack selection–which is ok for a short flight, especially after stuffing myself with Krystal’s.

I was a little disgruntled that I was stuck by the window in coach, but guess sometimes that is the price of taking a bump–your chance at an upgrade goes down, especially if you are just a mid-tier elite like me.

In the end, though I did have a pretty good view of Tampa Bay as we were landing:

Tampa Bay

Ironically, as we were landing, (my phone turned itself on, I promise!) I got an email from Delta that my upgrade on the return had cleared!

I headed head to grab a drink and a snack, and catch up on a few e-mails in the SkyClub, which despite looking toward a parking garage, I think has a neat view:

I noticed that this particular SkyClub was equipped with the new-fandangled battery charger strips, where you can charge your phone just by inserting an adapter and placing it on the map, so I had to try one out for myself. Go ahead, call me a Kettle Medallion.

Also of note, the one time on my entire trip that I was ever ID’d was when I ordered a drink in the club.  Does Florida really not care about checking IDs?  I’m 25 and still get ID’d most of the time elsewhere.

Surf & Sun Tampa Style: LAX to Atlanta

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)

The trip to the airport, despite the early hours and the delay in my itinerary, was an exciting adventure.  I probably could have easily slept the entire 45-minute ride to the airport, but I realized I would have missed seeing a fair amount.  I mean when I planned this trip, I never thought my experience would include a venture through the streets of Los Angeles.

It’s part of who I am.  I am always fascinated by taking in vistas that are a little different out of the ordinary for me, even if it involves frequent stops in residential and commercial areas along the way.  I guess that is part of what I love about traveling.

I couldn’t manage to get a good picture of it, but I was impressed by the tall neon pylons illuminated across the rising sun outside of LAX.

LAX, Courtesy of LAWA.org

I arrived at the airport, and was quite relieved to be able to take advantage of the Sky Priority area, considering the normal line was a bit backed up.

Please excuse my humor, but Mario is alive and well in the 21st century.

Super Mario Business

I breezed through security using the Priority security line, and headed to the SkyClub to get a little bit of work done.

I grabbed some Oatmeal and coffee, then walked all the way to the back, to find an area labeled the “Quiet Area” which was almost eerily silent.  It was very welcome, but definitely hard to believe you could still be in an airport, especially one as busy as LAX.  If you need a nice quiet place where you can hear yourself think, I highly recommend it.

After about an hour, I headed out to the gate just as boarding was beginning.

Delta 16
Los Angeles International (LAX)Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Depart: 8:55 AM
Arrive: 3:53 PM
Duration: 3 hr 58 min
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Seat: 34A (Coach)

My upgrade had no chance of clearing, and I knew it–especially when being re-booked onto the flight about 9 hours beforehand.  Supposedly LAX has more Delta Medallions than any other market.  Thus, I would argue LAX to Atlanta is probably the most medal-heavy route you can find on Delta.

All that to say, I was crammed way into the back in 34A, which is a bit too far back for my liking, but wasn’t too bad:

34A, My home for 4 long hours

As you may notice, all seats on this aircraft featured a personal TV screen with Delta-on-Demand programming.  While working I attempted to use it to listen to music, and my audio did not work.  Soon after mentioning it, one of the flight attendants offered to reset it for me.  To be honest, I was a little disappointed–I wanted to be able to ask for miles as compensation.

Overall, the flight was mediocre.  Maybe having flown in First has made me spoiled, but it did seem like it took the Flight Attendants AWHILE to get to me when I needed something, (like working audio) even when using the call button.  Maybe I am crazy for expecting flight attendants to care about about my total well-being, not just my safety…

The one really good thing about my seat is that I was treated to a spectacular view when we finally started our approach into Atlanta:

View from the Wing

When the plane landed, I felt ashamed that I had sat through the entire flight without realizing that behind me was a uniformed military member.  I made sure to thank him for his service, to which he seemed very appreciative.  I am very appreciative of their sacrifice, and always thank uniformed military members for their service wherever I am.

Surf and Sun Tampa Style: LAX, “The Bump,” and Torrance Marriott

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)

As I noted at the time, I had a pretty good flight from Salt Lake to LAX.  Especially considering it was my first complimentary upgrade as a Medallion, to Delta’s internationally-configured Business Elite product on a Boeing 737-800.

For whatever reason we landed at Terminal 6, instead of Terminal 5 which I suppose is Delta’s main terminal.  Maybe I am crazy, but it didn’t bother me.  I had about an hour to make my connection, and it just meant more for me to explore.

When I arrived into the crazy world of LAX, everything seemed to be in a haze, but maybe that was because my weary eyes were futilely attempting to adjust to the bright signage at 11 PM.

I followed the signs toward Terminal 5 and felt a little like I was walking through a dilapidated high school:

I headed into the SkyClub, and I received an unusual comment.  The lounge dragon checking my credentials remarked “I remember you!”  The only problem is I had never been to LAX before.  Maybe she had worked at another Sky Club that I had visited last year, but I didn’t ask.  Perhaps it was her way of being courteous image, as I heard the same remark made to another passenger.

I left about 30 minutes before boarding to began to inquire if they needed any volunteers to take a later flight, as I had checked the loads (see Lucky’s advice) and the flight seemed quite full.  Worse yet, I knew my upgrade about 0 chance of clearing, so I would be a bit relieved to not have to put up with an uncomfortable red-eye, even if I would have been in the Exit Row.

LAX Sky Club

I managed to be first on the list, and was glad to hear that they would provide $400 in Delta vouchers, plus breakfast, lunch, AND dinner vouchers.  Last time I took a bump, I only received $200, perhaps I should have asked for more…

I checked back in about 30-40 minutes later, when most of the boarding process was complete.  “Unfortunately,” at this point, the ticket agent scarily informed me, “we still need you.”  Pfheeww.  I thought she would announce they weren’t going to need me.

Immediately the agent went to working on printing my vouchers and new boarding pass for the following morning, then began trying to find hotel rooms for the 4 of us who had been bumped off the flight.  She mentioned that there were no rooms in The Hacienda close by (which didn’t seem too bad when passing by it), so they had found a room out at the Torrance Marriott South Bay.  As a newly-minted Marriott Rewards Gold Member I jumped for joy at my luck.

The Torrance Marriott that where Delta had reserved a room for me was about 20 minutes away, and I was given Shuttle vouchers for both the trip there and the return.  Needless to say, not only did I have a hard time finding the shuttle, and then wait for a while, when I finally contacted them by phone they told me they wouldn’t be able to give me a ride. GRR.  Long story short, don’t go with Prime Time Shuttle.

Despite not wanting to pay for a 20-minute taxi ride, I did desire to actually get some sleep that night, so fed up, I finally rationalized paying for a cab.  After about 15-20 minutes, I finally arrived at the Marriott Torrance South Bay.

Torrance Marriott Exterior (Courtesy of Marriott.com)

As a side note, I have contacted Delta about having to pay for a cab, and hope they will reimburse me since the transportation they provided the voucher for, simply was  NOT AVAILABLE.  We shall see.

I proceeded to check-in, and unfortunately no King beds were available.  Oh well, it was a practically free stay, who am I to complain?  And the front desk representative was courteous enough to call the shuttle company for me, and arrange for the shuttle to pick me up in the morning.  He agreed to put me on the Club Lounge floor, but unfortunately my shuttle left before the lounge opened.

Anyway, I guess I gave up on the shuttle idea at the right time, because just as I was leaving the front desk, the other distressed passengers arrived, having also decided to take a taxi.

I decided to take a picture of the room, which by no means was extravagant, but did the trick:

My Double Twin Room

For some reason (maybe weariness) I didn’t take pictures of the bathroom, but while it was serviceable, it wasn’t a whole lot more than that.

The following morning the shuttle called my cell phone 15 minutes before arrival–nice  After a quick shower, I dragged (emphasis on DRAGGED) myself down to the lobby to check out and meet my ride.

Surf and Sun Tampa Style: Pasco, WA (PSC) to Salt Lake City (SLC)

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 arrived at the Pasco airport close to 5 PM, around an hour and a half ahead of our scheduled arrival time of 6:20 PM.  I headed straight to the Sky Priority lane, but unfortunately one or two passengers from the main line were helped before I was.  Finally the ticket agent inquired if I was a Medallion member before helping me.

Too long for my liking, but still a bit better than the regular line:

Sky Priority Lane

It was a good thing I checked, because I noticed I had Pasco to Salt Lake and LAX to Tampa tickets, but none for  the Salt Lake to Tampa segment.  It was probably from being wait-listed for the upgrade, but after some typing and muttering some  programming lingo (anyone know what system they use to validate fares?) the agent was able to issue my remaining ticket.

I headed through the x-ray security area, and got through without much trouble.  There was some announcement for a passenger on the telecom, but since my flight was still an hour away from departure, I tuned them out.  The TSA officer checking my ticket asked if that was me, and I said I hadn’t been paying attention.  She told me I would perfect for working TSA!  Lovely knowing that working for the TSA means you don’t notice anything…

While the Pasco airport is fairly small and may suffer from a lack of venders, a big plus for it is that it features FREE Wi-Fi internet access, unlike most other airports.  After sitting for a little bit, they announced that they would need a volunteer (I’ll be a “Tennessee” Volunteer!) to take a later flight.  Unfortunately, by the time I stashed away my computer and ran to the desk, they had their supposed volunteer.  Drat.  I don’t think it would have really mattered in the end, because the passenger that I thought received it, boarded anyway.

In retrospect, even if it was possible, it’s probably better that I didn’t get it.  I would have missed out on BOTH an upgrade and another bump later in the evening.  But I am jumping a little bit ahead of myself.

Soon boarding got underway, and I was able to board in zone “Sky Priority,” the new number 1.

Delta 4778
Pasco, WA (PSC) – Salt Lake City (SLC)
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Depart: 6:20 PM
Arrive: 8:56 PM
Duration: 1 hr 26 min
Aircraft: CRJ-200
Seat: 1B (Economy)

Upon boarding I noted that the overhead bins really didn’t seem all that big, (something about INCREASED overhead bin space?) but I managed to fit my backpack in since I was sitting in the bulkhead of this one-cabin aircraft.

The flight really wasn’t all that interesting, as it was a fairly short with barely enough time for much of a snack and drink service.

And aside from a very erm.. unique  seat mate, the only other thing to note was my flight attendant, who looked likely to win a John Locke look-alike contest, in a very freaky way:

Flight Attendant John Locke

By the way, I asked him if he ever got comments about looking like John Locke of the TV show Lost, and though he had never seen it, he did mention that he had been told that plenty of times.

We landed right on time, which was good because I only had about 30 minutes to make my connection.

A Decent Flight (Salt Lake City to Los Angeles)

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)

Delta 635
Salt Lake City (SLC) – Los Angeles International (LAX)
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Depart: 9:30 PM
Arrive: 10:37 PM
Duration: 2 hr 17 min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Seat: 4A (Business Elite)

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I am now off on my way to (hopefully) sunny Florida for a break for a few days (can I say spring break if I am no longer in school?), and thankful to all of your suggestions.  I am honestly quite eager to try them out.

At the moment I am cruising at 30,000 feet between Salt Lake and Los Angeles.  My night has certainly been intriguing (in a good way) starting when checked the upgrade list for my current flight after checking in:

I held the number two spot—even as a “lowly” Gold Medallion (mid-week flights, what canya say?).  Judging from my status when I got to the gate in Salt Lake, I decided to boarded with First Class.

Before I go any further I should correct myself and mention that with some aspects, I’ve lucked out.  The aircraft is an internationally configured Boeing 737-800, making it’s way to Haneda with a brief stop at LAX.  Thus, as opposed to their usual domestic “First Class” product, it is instead their international “Business Elite” product.  On a flight of less than 2 hours, not much of a big deal, but I am glad to be upgraded on something that is considered “international.”

I handed my boarding pass over and told the agent, “I think I’ve cleared,” to which she exclaimed “We have a winner!” after scanning it.  I was quite elated and shared it, as this was my very first complimentary upgrade as a Medallion member!  To temper my enthusiasm, I am in the very last row of the cabin, and in a window seat win I usually prefer an aisle seat.  Oh well, #BusinessClassProblems.  There isn’t much of a problem in getting the seat to recline a bit, as some would suggest.

I had to go as soon as I boarded, and rather than my plopping my stuff down on my seat and fight like a fish upstream to get to the First Class lav.  So I hurried to the back of the plane, and was somewhat to manage getting my way back up to the front.  After I politely asked to excuse myself to get into Business, one passenger was appalled that she had allowed herself to get in the way of such an important Business Class passenger as myself, and profusely apologized.  I just chuckled a little and told her it was no problem.  Some people seem to equate sitting in the front of the plane for wealth, despite the fact that in most cases it is just people that travel a lot.  Ehhh.

Then when the Flight Attendant came around with the snack basket and ask if I wanted anything to drink, I barely had time to snatch a small bag of peanuts (with no dinner, mind you) before she headed off to get my drink.  When she came back with it, I asked for some Sun chips as well, and she snarkily replied “I just brought the basket around.”  Not sure if she was joking, but if she wasn’t a little rude.  I apologized for being slow on the draw, and she didn’t seem bothered in the end.

Both her and one of the Flight attendants working coach did a fantastic job checking on drinks and such, and seemed to be on the scene immediately if anything needed to be taken care of.

A pretty good flight, in my book, despite a minor “bump” along the way.

Delta 4778
Pasco, WA (PSC) – Salt Lake City (SLC)
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Depart: 6:20 PM
Arrive: 8:56 PM
Duration: 1 hr 26 min
Aircraft: CRJ-200
Seat: 1B (Economy)

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