December 7, 2009

'Tis the Season

It's winter and holiday travel is upon us.  In Florida we gauge the seasons by traffic flux instead of weather.  You complain about the snow while we complain about the snow birds and some mornings I  just wish I could hibernate.  This morning we woke to temperatures in the 40's.  Brrrr!  We were supposed to hang the outside Christmas lights first thing this morning but that will have to wait until noon or so. Yes, I admit it, we are wimps (as is depicted on the right by cartoonist Doug MacGregor in Saturday's News-Press.  
(I'd love to share more of his work but it's probably best that you look at it online at the News-Press so I don't get in trouble.  Just so we're clear neither Doug MacGregor nor The New-Press supports or endorses this Blog in any way.)  
So this wimpy Florida girl went back to bed until 9AM.  Winter really has to be my least favorite month (o.k., sometimes it's two months).  I figure if we must endure the cold we ought to get snow and we haven't seen snow in these here parts since the winter of '73.  Yes, I'm old enough to remember it.  I also remember our northern relatives coming down in the winter and dragging our butts to the beach so they could bask in the sun while we kids sat huddled under our towels.  Anyone up for a bonfire?
The part that's so jarring about cold weather in Florida is that it sneaks up on us usually as a cold snap (thus the term) and we have to scramble to dig out jackets, blankets and, oh yes, put up with that burning smell from the heat setting of our thermostats.  What is that anyway, cobwebs being burned away?  We just don't get it, do we?
For those of you heading for Florida you'll be happy to know the cold snap will be over by Tuesday?  For you and anyone else that's traveling this holiday season here are a few travel tips:
1) Call the hotel before you book it.  Ask if there's anything you should be aware of like construction at the hotel or nearby.  Even minor construction on or adjacent to the hotel property or nearby road construction can be a nightmare.  Ask if the pool will be open and if it's heated.  Ask if everything is on property: like the spa, golf course, restaurant, etc. and if there are any "use restrictions".
We once stayed at a hotel that advertised a lazy river (which we love). It turned out to be at their sister property and only a limited number of guests were allowed to use it each day.
2) If you're flying and not renting a car ask the hotel if they have free airport transportation.  If not ask what service to use and how much it costs to and from the airport.  They should have a discounted service they use.  If you're staying near a theme park ask about park transportation.
3) Always pack a spare set or two of clothes in your carry on bag.  Lots of luggage gets lost and you don't want to be unprepared.
3-1-1 for Carry-Ons main graphic4) If you can buy it where you're going don't pack it.  Toiletries can be purchased at a drug store near your destination so avoid the hassle.  If you must bring it remember the 3-1-1 rule for carry-ons:  3.4 ounce (100ml) bottle or less (by volume) ; 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag (Gallon size bags or bags that are not zip-top such as fold-over sandwich bags are not allowed.); 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin. One-quart bag per person limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring. 3.4 ounce (100ml) container size is a security measure. (Note: Medications, baby formula and food, and breast milk are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding three ounces and are not required to be in the zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint.) You can pack things over 3.4 oz in your checked bags. TSA has a helpful printable checklist for packing to make going through security easier on their website.
5) The moment you get to your destination turn your cell phone completely off and then back on again.  You'll get better service because your cell phone will connect to a local tower rather than trying to find the one at home.
6) Whether you are sunning, skiing or hitting an outdoor attractions do not forget sunscreen (don't bring your sunscreen from home it could be expired. Yes, sunscreen has a shelf life).  Sunscreen can save your trip and your life.
7) Ask for a room upgrade or better rate at check in.  Chances are the hotel won't be full (tourism is down) and they are trying to earn more of your business.  The worst they can say is no.  Ask for the best view they offer for your room type.  It can mean the difference between a parking lot view and a partial ocean view.
8)  Let your credit card company know you're traveling.  One thing they still do is try to make sure someone else isn't fraudulently using your card.  If you use your card in NJ and then in FL a few hours later they might question charges.  It's not a bad thing and it's easy to avoid if you let them know in advance.
9) Call your credit card companies and see what their charge dispute policies are. Not all credit card companies have your back.  American Express is one that will back you up 100% if you feel you've been ripped off.
At a hotel in St Thomas we reported our AC wasn't working.  The hotel didn't move us for two days but offered us 3 free nights at any of their hotels within the next year as compensation.  It would have been great but the voucher never materialized.  American Express disputed the St. Thomas hotel charges and we were reimbursed for the entire weeks stay.
I hope this helps you with your holiday plans. If any of you have any travel tips please share them in your comments.

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