Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

Mission Cruise Coupons Continues

Sunny Liston Tours, St Thomas VI
A Mission Coupon soldier next to the Sunny Liston tour bus. I think my hat is wilted!

TRAVEL THERE: USING CRUISE COUPONS FOR JEWELRY ON ST THOMAS

As Deb and I glided out of Bobby’s Jewelers in a haze of shopping euphoria, we spotted Milano Diamond Gallery, one of the coupon  stores.

At Milano Diamond Gallery

 

We walked in waving our special offers in the air, because we’d already bought everything we could afford to buy for ourselves.  A nice man took us to the back of the store to give us our free jewelry – a beautiful rhinestone pendant.  And if we bought the silver chain he was offering at a ridiculously low price, he’d throw in the earrings.

I know a good deal when I see one. I asked if I could buy additional chains.  As we’d collected up our free jewelry at other stores, many pieces had been a pendant of some sort, but no chains had been offered along with them.  I was going to need chains anyway and these looked like the kind I’d have to pay a whole lot more money for in Dallas.  Here’s the funny thing, though.  For every silver chain I bought, this guy gave me another pendant of some sort.  I ended up with another bunch of necklaces with pendants for a price I’d been happy to pay for the chains alone.  I still came home with pendants for which I had no chain, but I couldn’t get him to quit giving me free pendants.

On to Little Switzerland, Sort of

We rolled out of the store laughing at the haul we’d made.  Checking our watches, we realized it was time to head back to Sunny Liston’s bus, but instead of back-tracking, we popped through one of the shopping passages and strolled along the waterfront.  Sunny had parked right in front of a Little Switzerland and we were interested in looking at their Impulse Collection.  We’d seen the collection in a shopping guide and it had some really cute items for very affordable prices.  So we were moving along briskly to have plenty of time to shop there.

That’s when we were waylaid by our new best friend.  All along the shopping streets were barkers hired by the stores to get shoppers into their establishments.  We’d ignored most of them, especially after the ugly chotskie incident.  However, a very nice Rastafarian fellow approached us and he was so polite and soft spoken we didn’t even realize he was of the barker fraternity, at first.

Soon, we caught the drift of what he was offering.  The store he represented had the best quality stones at the best prices on the island, just like all his barker brothers were promising.  We listened to his schpiel and though we promised to consider his shop, we were focused on getting to Little Switzerland before the bus left.  As we walked away, he shouted, “Stay focused!” and warned us of other barkers who would try to take us off course.  That tickled our funny bone and we decided to stop by his store, just to let them know they had a sterling employee out there on the sidewalk.

Our Rastafarian friend directed us up Drake’s passage to Eden Jewelers.  After the glamorous shops we’d enjoyed on Dronnings Gade, Eden’s was a little less luxurious, but don’t let that dissuade you from visiting.   The shopkeeper was very nice and he did have lovely things for good prices in his shop.  In fact, he was offering us all kinds of deals that we wished we could buy, but we’d run out of money and were swiftly running out of time.

We felt sorry for the guy, we really did, but there was no way for him to draw blood out of our turnips.  He lamented that our Rastafarian friend had done his job, but that we weren’t allowing the jeweler himself to do his own.  I was impervious, but he finally found something Deb could buy as a gift for someone on her list.  It was all of $12.99, but it made the guy happy and he gave us some free earrings to boot.  I was thrilled with the earrings.  They were freshwater pearls which would match one of the pendants I’d gotten at Milano.

The clock was really running down now and we still had to stop in Little Switzerland.  On our way out of Drake’s Passage, we saw our Rastafarian friend.  I yelled, “We stayed focused AND we bought something.”  Our new best friend was filled with glee.  He ran up the street and hugged us.  That was well worth the $12.99 Deb spent.  She’d bought me two presents that day.

We did avail ourselves of Little Switzerland’s Impulse Collection and fell out into the street and onto Sunny’s bus.  We were those annoying tourists that show up at the last minute holding up everyone else on the tour, but I’m afraid we didn’t care.

Sunny headed up the mountain to continue the tour, but I’ll tell you about that next week.  The fun has only begun.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Our Jewelry Shopping Waterloo

TRAVEL THERE: WE FOUND WHAT WE WANTED AT BOBBY’S JEWELERS, ST THOMAS VI

Still giggling over the ugly chotskie a rude jeweler had shoved at us in Charlotte Amalie, Deb and I pulled out our shopping map and tried to locate the next place to redeem coupons. Out of the corner of her eye, Deb saw a huge poster for Belle Etoile jewelry, something she’d drooled over in one of the shopping guidebooks.  Like moths to the flame, we delivered ourselves to the slaughter.  Luckily, we’d chosen the right place to shop: Bobby’s Jewelers.  They’re not giving anything away, but we had a wonderful experience in their store.  Once Deb found the Belle Etoile counter, she was hooked, but it really wasn’t my cup of tea.  I wandered toward the next counter.

Aquamarine Earrings Set in Gold

The only thing I was even slightly interested in was aquamarine earrings and they were only on my wish list, not my shopping list.  Aquas are my birthstone and my sweet husband has given me both a ring and cross pendant of aquas set in yellow gold.  For several years we’ve been on the lookout for matching earrings when occasions like Christmas and anniversaries came around,  but for some reason, all we could find were aquas set in white gold.  Some jewelers tried to convince me to look at blue topazes set in yellow gold, but I was having none of that.  I know aquas when I see them.

Asking for aqua earrings in yellow gold is also a great way to make jewelers leave you alone and let you browse.  They figure out pretty quickly they don’t have what you came in for, so they move on to the next potential victim customer.  We’d been using the request in other shops on Mission Coupon and, except for the chotskie guy, it worked wonders.  But at Bobby’s they whipped out a selection of aquamarine earrings set in yellow gold.

The first pair they brought out made me laugh.  I’d need an invitation to the Academy Awards to justify wearing them.  “That’s not me AT ALL,” I told the sales lady.  Then she pulled out exactly what I was looking for, beautiful oval aquas on posts.  While Deb salivated over the Belle Etoile jewelry, I salivated over the aquas.

The first price was out of the ball park.  Well, my ballpark anyway, even though it was a fair price.  Since I’d been shopping aquas for a while, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect price-wise and they offered an amount that was right in line with what I’d seen for aquas set in white gold.  But it wasn’t an amount of money I’d spend without my husband’s approval.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I calculated whether there would be time after the shore excursion to come back to the shop with him, but I didn’t tell the saleslady that.

Then they knocked the price down about a hundred dollars.  My shopping arm was itching to grab my credit card, but Bill and I have an agreement.  If I’m going to spend over a certain dollar amount, I’m supposed to run it by him first.  He understands there are situations where it’s impractical to do this and with him somewhere below the ocean on another part of the island, I was beginning to speculate whether this was one of those situations.  Still he’s a pretty good guy and he’d dropped a sizable chunk of change to get me to this shopping opportunity, so I wanted to play fair.

Meanwhile, Deb’s love of Belle Etoile narrowed down to one particular ring and she was having a conversation similar to mine.  The buying urge circled my head and I was in a world of hurt.  That’s when they dropped the price to the floor.  I was in a quandary.  Had Bill been available, I would have called him.  I began to measure just how much trouble I’d be in if I bought the earrings. I was having a birthday in just a few days.  Certainly that justified the purchase.

That’s when Deb spoke up.  She’d share the purchase with me for my birthday and that would put my cost WAY below my personal shopping limit.  Still I hesitated.  The price was beyond right.  This was duty free shopping, so there were no taxes to worry about.  It was the US Virgin Islands, so there’d be no money exchange rate to confuse matters.  And the earrings were gorgeous.

The fear of commitment bug bit me.  What if we walked into the next store and found an even better deal or a pair of earrings I liked even better.  I edged towards the door, but Deb was still interested in her ring.  That’s when Bobby himself walked over and offered to take another $10 off each item if we’d go ahead and buy them.  From many years of shopping, I knew, when the manager shows up, you’ve pretty much found the sweet spot on price.  The aquas glowed on the counter and Deb’s face told me she really wanted to do this – so we did.

The joy I felt was way beyond the two digit investment I’d made.  Deb keeps reminding me that she only bought half the earrings, but without her contribution, I’d never have them at all – so I give her credit for the whole purchase.  We were both so happy our feet weren’t even touching the sidewalk.

However, Mission Coupon was still active and we had time to kill before we had to be back to Sunny’s bus.  Come back next week to shop with us some more.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Nashville to Fairborn

Deb pulls into her hometown.
Deb pulls into her hometown.

TRAVEL THERE: DRIVING FROM NASHVILLE TO FAIRBORN

Driving past the exit for The Hermitage was hard.  Before I left Dallas, I knew the first few days of our trip weren’t about tourist attractions, but I particularly love to visit presidential destinations.  I couldn’t help but have regrets as we passed the exit for President Andrew Jackson’s home.  Oh well, onward and northward.  It wasn’t going to be my last regret of the day.  We were passing through Kentucky and for some reason, every time I go to Kentucky I’m just passing through.  Note to self – go to Kentucky!

On Down the Road

Because we changed time zones, we lost an hour before we’d even had lunch.  It was a shorter drive, so we didn’t make as many potty stops or driver changes.  We rolled into Dayton around two and were in sore need of sustenance.  We found a Chili’s and tucked into some nachos and margaritas.  I kept trying to think of something clever to say about two Dallas dames having nachos and margaritas in Dayton, but mostly I just missed the original Chili’s at Greenville and Meadow.  Do you remember when the whole menu fit on a half sheet of paper and focused on hamburgers? I do!

An Adequate Accomodation
An Adequate Accomodation

The next thing we did was get lost.  You’ve heard that you can’t go home again?  Well, Deb was home, but she didn’t know her way around.  We did eventually find the Ramada and it was adequate, but nothing to waste blog-space over.

Deb’s Home Twon

Fairborn is an interesting town.  There’s a huge airbase there, so parts of Fairborn are booming. Deb was amazed.  One of the roads she usually took to get from one place to another has been completely taken over by the base.  However, the Fairborn she grew up in isn’t there anymore.  Oh, it’s there in the form of a shuttered downtown and an empty movie theater, but the town she knew doesn’t exist.

Our first job was to find a florist.  With Dayton right around the corner, all the local florist Deb knew had closed down.  The only one left in the small town was Hollon Flowers – but what a florist.  If you EVER need to order flowers in the Dayton area PLEASE call them.

The shop was charming.  For many years, she’d had another shop out from town in a suburban setting, but had recently moved in town.  The shop is behind her very pretty Victorian home, just around the corner from a downtown that is striving very hard to come back. (Travel note – Fairborn is full of lovely Victorians!) The shop has more than flowers.  I saw many cute gift items and longed to linger in her garden, but we had things to do.

When we told her what we needed, she was dismayed.  Expecting a truck in the morning, she’d cleaned out her flower inventory of any iffy items, but we needed our arrangement before the truck would get there. She took us back into the refrigerator to see what she had.  We found some pretty purple roses and some white snapdragons.  That inspired her and she found some lovely spider mums and reached for some dark purple flowers to fill in the blanks.  She sent us on our way and told us we’d have something pretty the next morning.  She kept her promise, too.

Memory Lane

Who lives here now?
Who lives here now?

Then Deb made sure she remembered how to get to the cemetery and where her parent’s headstone was.  That out of the way, she wanted to travel down memory lane.  It was a bittersweet drive through her small town.  The new owners weren’t keeping up her old homes the way she wished they would.  The high school was a nursing home.  Nothing was quite what she wanted it to be.

After a while, we had to end the tour.  Deb had contacted an old friend and we were having dinner with her in Yellow Spring.  I can’t wait to tell you about the charming little town and the great restaurant we found there, but you’ll have to wait until next week!

ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

Artless Auctioneer on Norwegian Epic

Welcome Aboard!
Welcome Aboard!

TRAVEL THERE: SPENDING MY MORNING WITH AN ARTLESS AUCTIONEER ON NORWEGIAN EPIC

After my workout in Norwegian Epic’s marvelous Pulse Fitness Center, I returned to our stateroom and freshened up. Eventually, Bill woke up and was ready for breakfast. Unfortunately, by the time he woke up, the sit down breakfast was just about over. He wasn’t particularly happy about a buffet breakfast, but a man’s gotta eat.

The Breakfast Buffet

I’ll be honest with you.  I loved the Garden Cafe breakfasts.  You could get anything you wanted.  There were a lot more choices than we found the next day at Taste.  Bill didn’t really have any trouble with the food, he just wanted the sit-down experience with people waiting on you.  I don’t think he realized, at that point, there were people at the buffet to make omelettes to-order or Eggs Benedict or whategger else you wanted.

Art Auction at Sea

After breakfast we wandered the decks a little, learning our way around, until it was time for the art auction.  I really can’t remember which of my cruises was the first to include an art auction or when I  attended the first one, but I really look forward to them when I cruise.  The last one I’d participated in was on a Carnival ship.  To my best recollection, we were on board several days before the auction and we’d made visits to the gallery to enjoy the art previous to the actual event.

The Epic had an art gallery, too, but it was tucked away under the Epic Theater on Deck 5.  With the auction being so soon after we boarded, we hadn’t really had a chance to look over the art and fall in love with something.  Still we made our way to Le Bistro to enjoy the show.

Right off the bat, Bill wasn’t happy.  The bar they used for the auction on Carnival Ecstacy had been much larger than the Epic’s French Restaurant.  Strolling through the art on Carnival had encouraged lingering and we’d already been sampling it in the ship’s art gallery.  On Epic, too many people and too much art were crammed into too small of a place.  Bill was ready to leave as soon as we got there.  I reminded him of the champagne they’d be serving and he did stay for that, but not much longer.

The cramped display and bidding rooms were somewhat of a disadvantage to the auction, but the auctioneer was the last straw.  As soon as Bill’s champagne glass was dry, he high-tailed it out of the room. I was really interested in the art, so I overlooked the auctioneer’s lame attempts at entertainment.

Unpleasant Situation

Art is not a thing of passing interest to me.  It’s a passion.  I can’t afford to be a collector, yet, but I thrive on the opportunity to visit museums, learn about art and artists, and see pretty things.  The auctioneer for other art auctions I’ve attended aboard cruise ships understood their audience and devoted as much time to entertainment and education, as they did to actually auctioning off the items.  The Epic’s auctioneer took himself entirely too seriously.  He insulted both the audience and the art.  Someone needed to tell him we were on a cruise ship.

He was from Romania and had been working for Park West for five years.  In his opinion that made him an art authority.  If he had any formal art training, he didn’t bother telling us about it.  I’m not going to pretend that I know more than he did about financial side of things, but he wrongly assumed his audience was a bunch of rubes from down on the farm.

The auctioneer’s first sin, in my eyes, was to scold a passenger, before the auction even got going.  The auctioneer was up there bragging on himself and making jokes about Romania when the poor guy in the audience said something to his wife. Unfortunately, the passenger had one of those voices which carry further than intended.  I think the auctioneer was trying to be funny when he challenged the guy, but I didn’t see the humor.  The passenger didn’t even understand what he did wrong and was obviously embarrassed.  The auctioneer continued to pick on the same guy throughout the auction.  I wanted to punch out the auctioneer’s lights, but I remained quietly in my seat.

Then the auctioneer started his schpiel on what did and did not constitute an original work of art.  I happen to know a little something about the business of reproductions.  I understand the difference in a giclee and serigraphy, in lithography, etchings and engravings.  At least I know enough to know that this guy wasn’t someone I would trust.

I stayed in spite of the auctioneer, but I wasn’t happy about it.  Then he pulled out the Thomas Kinkades.  Now people either like Thomas Kinkade or they don’t.  I find his work pleasant, but it’s been overly reproduced, so I wouldn’t buy one.  Apparently, Park West feels the same way.  Before the auctioneer was through, he’d trotted out ten Kinkade giclees and was offering them for $1500 as a set.  I’m not saying the bidding started at $1500, I’m saying he had ten Kinkades up at the front of the room and he said whoever raised their hand first could get them all for $1500.  Even then he couldn’t find a taker.

He hadn’t read his audience at all and he made a mockery of the artist.  I looked at my watch and decided the thing had to be over soon and after putting up with all his stupidity, I should at least stay around for the free art they were giving away.  I cherish a very nice Marko reproduction I got at the Carnival auction, even though it was only am 8X10.  I survived through a trio of modern artist the auctioneer tried to shove down our throats with the same methodology he’d used with the Kinkades.

Next was a Rembrandt etching. As he extolled the value of the Rembrandt, I’d had enough.  Certainly there’s value in owning a Rembrandt etching, but he was going on about it like a carny barker and touting the etching as if it were the first one made, rather than one that had been printed several centuries later.  I relinquished my free gift and went to find Bill.

But let’s leave behind this less than entertaining activity and go to the pools.  See you here next week.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

An Epic Embarkation Norwegian Style

Luggage ready to board the ship
Luggage ready to board the ship

TRAVEL THERE: WELCOME TO MY NORWEGIAN EPIC CRUISE

Welcome to my cruise. The bus Norwegian engaged to transfer us from the Miami Beach Holiday Inn to the Epic showed up right on time. The loading and unloading was training film perfect.  We zipped through check-in.  The obligatory boarding photo was taken.  All of a sudden we were on board Norwegian Epic.

Cruise Hydration

Now, if there’s one thing about me that’s consistent  it’s that I’ve got my priorities figured out.  The first order of business was to be sure I was well-hydrated on the cruise. That meant taking advantage of the wine discount program and finding my thermal soda cup, so I could begin justifying the $6.25 it cost me per day.

Wine Discount Program

The easiest part was the wine discount program.  We sidled up to a bar on the 5th deck and they handed us a form.  All you have to do is mark the wines you want and give the nice lady your room card.  This is a very good thing to do, because it gets you a 20% discount on your selections and streamlines your service.  This is one of those things that you have to know about to ask for.  Even if you don’t retain anything else I say in this blog, please remember this, take advantage of the wine discount program if your cruise offers one.

There’s a dissonance between Norwegian’s website and reality at this point though, so if you’re given to planning the way I am (my husband calls it over-planning), you might download the wine list from the website and select your wines.  Don’t bother, because your discount is on specific lists of wines, not the entire list.  There’s two or three categories of wine programs and each has a nice selection of wines to choose from, but selecting the wines from the wider list was just an exercise in futility.

We chose the least expensive program.  We like a nice glass of wine, but we’re no grape snobs.  Our taste buds demand something more exciting than Beringer White Zin, but don’t ask us the best year for grapes in Argentina. (I know people that could, however.)  Even though we chose the most economical route, one of the best parts of the cruise was the wine.  Every single wine, from a white zin we didn’t realize we’d chosen to the magnificent cabernet sauvignon, was a winner.  Kudos to the alcohol and beverage manager.

Soda Program

Yes, they still have life boat drills.
Yes, they still have life boat drills.

Let me tell you another bit of planning you can skip.  I ordered the soda program by phone before the cruise.  According to the lady I talked to, I’d be handed a refillable soda cup upon arrival.  That didn’t happen.  The cup was delivered to my stateroom during the afternoon.  My friends waited until they got on the boat to purchase their soda programs and were immediately handed a cup full of carbonated caffeine. That’s the way to go.  Cans of soda were $2.50 on board the Epic.  My $6.25 a day got me all the Pepsi product I could drink, on ice, from the fountain.  Since I virtually have a soda in my hand all day, every day, I liked being able to get a fresh drink, on ice, whenever I wanted it.  I can never finish an entire can quickly enough to keep it from getting warm and flat.

I’m a Pepper!

I’m going to complain a little bit here.  Cola, any cola, is not my beverage of choice.  I am a Diet Dr. Pepper addict.  There are no Dr. Pepper products anywhere on the boat.  You’re probably not amazed by that and neither am I, but I’m so fond of the concoction that I make it my business to make an official note of its absence whenever it’s unavailable.

The Staterooms

Next we found our staterooms – mid-ship family balconies.  I’ll describe the room at length later on, but my research saved me from being shocked by the twin towers on either side of the entry door which served as our toilet and shower.  The stateroom was small.  Good design keeps it from looking that way when you first walk in, but you’ll be tripping over yourself and your travel companion soon enough.  But this was our first balcony.  It only took us one cruise to figure out we weren’t fond of interior staterooms, but this was the first time we’d splurged on a balcony.  I spent more time out there than I did any other place on the ship, except perhaps the Garden Cafe.

Speaking of the Garden Cafe, it was time for the Embarkation Buffet, so let’s go eat next week.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

The Reservation Blues

Welcome to Miami!
Welcome to Miami!

TRAVEL THERE: FRUSTRATING RESERVATION EXPERIENCE

I’m usually a do-it-yourself traveler, but on my recent cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, I turned the headaches over to someone else – not without having done my due diligence though. I researched everything from accommodations to transfers and then took a look at what the cruise line,  Norwegian, had to offer pre-cruise-wise.

Doing the Research

During my research, I found amazing bargains on this or that, but with every bargain came a challenge of some sort.  I finally convinced myself that the Norwegian sponsored hotels and transfers were the best deal in town, but when I tried to book them, I ran into a snag … but I can’t blame it all on Norwegian.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of expedia, but I shopped for the cruise on Vacations To Go.  I’ve found their cruises searches to be the most maneuverable and I trusted them, because I’d booked a cruise with them before.   Even though I’m the official researcher for all things vacation, my husband likes to have the last say and he really likes to have it at the last minute.  I’d been trying to get his rubber stamp for quite a while, but he wasn’t very forthcoming.

Buddies
Buddies

Usually, I just wait until he gets around to giving me his OK, but this time, I wasn’t his only traveling companion and my friend Deb was getting antsy.  Over coffee one morning I reminded him that I’d be going over to Deb’s that evening and we’d be booking the cruise.  I got a vague acknowledgement, but knew I still hadn’t received his final seal of approval.  That evening as I walked out the door, I gave his rubber stamp one final opportunity, “You do realize we’ll be booking the cruise while I’m a Deb’s, don’t you.”

“You’re not leaving right this minute are you?” (As if I didn’t leave every Wednesday at 5:30 PM to scrapbook with Deb.)  When I assured him that I was leaving and that we were going to book the cruise, he went into panic mode.  I told him to do his research while I was driving and then he could call me with his findings.

Making the Cruise Reservations

I can’t tell you how happy it makes Bill to find something cheaper than I do, so you can imagine his glee when he called to inform me Priceline had the cruise cheaper than Vacations to Go.  It was not a significant savings in my opinion, but it was worth it to him, so he went ahead and reserved our spots while he was on the phone with the representative.  The rubber stamp had finally arrived.  I called the Priceline rep and finalized the booking, including the flight and insurance.  I must say that the agent was nice and helpful.  I got along with her much better than I do the website.

And speaking of websites, let me tell you about the Norwegian website.  I’d barely gotten the cruise booked, when I started getting emails from Norwegian.  Kudos to them for the way they connect with their passengers.  The initial email led me through the sign-up process and then they kept in touch with me regularly until the day I climbed on board.  Anyone who cruises on Norwegian should take advantage of their digital front door.  There’s a wealth of information available and you can check-in from the comfort of your home.

I only have one complaint.  I have no problem with them requesting me to sign in whenever I went to the site.  My problem was that whenever I clicked on a page outside my personal reservation, they signed me out.  I’d wander around until I found something I wanted to book and then I’d have to sign in again, because something I looked at wasn’t part of my cruise.

Booking the Hotel and Transfers

But let’s get back to Priceline.  I’d gotten all warm and cozy with the Norwegian site and was ready to book our hotel and transfers.  One Friday night Deb and I had both had stinky weeks.  We decided a bottle of wine with some cruise planning was just what we needed, so she dropped by my house on her way home from work.  I called up Norwegian, but because I’d booked the cruise with Priceline, I had to talk to Priceline about land-based arrangements. I felt like the things should have been a little more transparent, but they weren’t.

I called up my friends at Priceline and was immediately assisted by someone who was thrilled to hear from me, but she had a very difficult time doing what I wanted.  To begin with, her computer would only let me book one room at a time, if we were going to use separate credit cards.  Given the chance to do it all over again, I would have begged them to put it all on  one card, but initially, I was assured it would be absolutely no hassle.  Famous last words.

Here’s the thing.  Norwegian made me call up Priceline, so Priceline could communicate with Norwegian to book the Norwegian hotel and transfers.  Unfortunately, they were having a digital lover’s spat and we were left hanging on the phone FOREVER.  Let me explain forever.  Deb and I polished off the bottle of wine, popped a Kashi pizza in the oven and baked it while we waited.

I have to tell you the agent was the epitome of politeness.  She must have been about ready to rip out her hair, but you would have thought her favorite thing to do was hang out on the phone with exasperated customers.  Well, we did our best not to be exasperated, but it WAS taking forever.  Eventually, she confirmed that my reservation at the Courtyard Marriott on Miami Beach had been made, but that I’d gotten the last room.  I confess to being irritated since the call had covered a couple of hours.

Holiday Inn Miami Beach
Holiday Inn Miami Beach

The Priceline rep wanted to keep my reservation in place while she tried to work some magic for Deb, but by the next morning, there was no hope.  So we had to cancel my reservation and start all over.   That wouldn’t have been that big a deal if Bill had not walked into the room during our marathon phone call and heard the per person charge for the room and transfers.  Of course, he thought he could do better.  To make a long story short, it took a few days, but he finally figured out that the Norwegian deal was the best in town.  Then it was up to me to call Priceline again and try to book the Holiday Inn version of the package.

This time things went very smoothly.  We were very happy with our accommodations at the Holiday Inn and even went to the Courtyard for drinks and dinner.  Our transfers were blissfully uneventful.  However, Priceline and Norwegian really need to work on their transparency issues.  I don’t care who gets paid for what, but I shouldn’t have to spend an evening hanging on the phone because their computers aren’t talking to one another.

Has this sort of thing happened to you?  Have you fallen into the crack between the wholesaler and the travel provider?  Is the discount worth it?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Good-bye Oregon; Hello Caribbean!

TRAVEL THERE; GOOD-BYE OREGON; HELLO CARIBBEAN!

It’s a good thing I finally finished my series on Oregon, because I just got back from my cruise and I can’t wait to tell you about it!

Post Trip Blues

When we first came home from Oregon, I feared my husband would never travel with me again. According to him, I’d crammed entirely too much vacation into twelve days and he was none too happy about it.  However, just like mothers forget the severity childbirth pain and have a second child, the trials and tribulations I’d caused us in Oregon soon faded.  Also, I pointed out how on a cruise or a package trip, someone else (besides me) would be in charge.  That got him over his travel phobia. Eventually, he agreed that he might be interested in a cruise – something that docked in Galveston, but didn’t go to Mexico.

Well, that search resulted in zero choices.  All cruises out of Galveston make a stop in Mexico, so it was back to the drawing board. Widening my net, I discovered other places he didn’t want to go: Haiti and Jamaica.  And Alaska was out, because he preferred something tropical.  And Hawaii was out, because he wanted to depart from the continental United States. This also wiped out all the Southern Caribbean cruises which left from San Juan. Eventually Bermuda and the Panama Canal were culled out, too.

That left The Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean.  My next guidelines?  Nothing over seven days, nothing less than a five star ship – oh, and I should really keep an eye on the bottom line. Some folks would have given up, but not me.  If it means I can go somewhere, I’ll go through almost anything.  My partner in crime through all this was my best buddy, Deb Shera.  We’d convinced our husbands to turn the vacation into a super-sized double date and we couldn’t wait.

Finally, we booked a late February sailing on the Norwegian Epic that included three days at sea and three ports of call.  If you’re thinking about your first cruise, let me warn you of something.  The advertised price of this cruise on Priceline was $899 per person based on double occupancy.  So, the first thing most of us have to do is multiply the advertised price by two.  Still affordable right?  You can spend $130 a day at home – right?  But when you go on a cruise, the advertised price is just the beginning.

Then you have to add taxes and insurance and transfers and perhaps a night in a hotel and shore excursions and specialty restaurants and airfare and, and, and… Well, when it was all said and done we were close to doubling the price per person.  It was still a travel bargain, but if you’re looking at your credit card limit and think you just might swing $899, be aware that it’s only the beginning.

All that being said, go on a cruise.  It is just one of those things that every one should do – and they should probably do it as often as they possibly can.  I’ll tell you more about our cruise in the coming days.

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Shopping in the Good Old Days

TRAVEL HERE/TRAVEL THERE: SHOPPING IN DALLAS IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS

I hate to say it, but today’s mall rats don’t know from shopping. Drop me in any mall from sea to shining sea and what do you have? The same hundred-odd stores and fast food outlets they have in every other mall in America.  (YAWN!)

My Memories of Shopping in Dallas

I live in Dallas where shopping centers were invented. (Well, not really, but kinda.)  Forget Mall of the Americas, I shop at NorthPark!  In days of yore, NorthPark only had three anchor stores:  Neiman’s, Titches and J.C.Penney’s.  and the other stores? Margo’s La Mode, Chandler’s Shoes, Continental Coiffures, The Carriage Shop…those were the days.  We didn’t have a food court.  We had El Fenix.  Things have changed since then, but I’m still loving me some Northpark.

Back in the good old days, department stores had departments.  I don’t mean you went to the men’s floor and then wandered from designer department to designer department to find a pair of navy slacks for your dad’s birthday.  I mean you went to the men’s pants department and wandered through islands, seas and oceans of men’s pants.  In fact, the pants department would be divided up into types of pants, so by looking on only two or three fixtures, you’d be able to tell whether they had any dressy navy blue pants in your dad’s size or not.

Shopping in Paris

I foresaw the disappearance of departments, as I knew them, before it actually happened.  In the eighties I visited Paris.  My trip was in December and the city was aglow with twinkling lights and snow.  Galeries Lafayette, all decked out for the Christmas season, was astounding.  I wandered around the store to my hearts content.  As I made my way around the upper floors for my second or third time, I began to realize what was bugging me.  I couldn’t find the blouse department.

See, as a twenty something career girl I didn’t have a lot of money, but I envisioned shrugging off my blazer at work one day and hearing someone say, “What a gorgeous blouse!”  At that point I could have answered, “Oh, I picked it up in Paris.”

But Galleries Lafayette didn’t have a blouse department.  They had blouses from many, many designers, but they were all spread out.  I couldn’t just go to the blouse department, check out the markdowns in my size and see if I could afford any.  To find out if there was a blouse in the store I could afford, I would have had to wander around all the different designer’s boutiques and handle the merchandise.  The perfectly coiffed French-speaking clerks were entirely too intimidating.  I went downstairs and bought a Christmas ornament instead.

Designer Departments Take Over

Back in Dallas I was only able to enjoy the blouse department for a little while longer – the designer departments were on their way.  Now, if I want to go to the men’s department and see all the navy dress pants in one fail swoop, then I’m headed to either Walmart or Target.  (BTW, I love Target, but that’s beside the point.)

I miss the old style department store.  To begin with they had a sort of local flavor and were targeted more specifically to local needs.  I also think that you were more likely to come up with an individualized look in a store where things were not pre-coordinated for you.  I mean you don’t have to go all matchy-matchy to look pulled together.

Nowadays, things are entirely too homogenized.  Sure Nordstrom’s has great service and a great selection of merchandise.  I love Bistro N.  But I still miss Titche-Goettinger.  And I miss the blouse department, too.  How about you?

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Museums, Shopping, TRAVEL

Remembering Dallas Department Stores

TRAVEL HERE: REMEMBERING DALLAS DEPARTMENT STORES

Frequent visitors to my blog know I’m crazy for Neiman Marcus.  It’s a touchstone for my beloved Dallas.  I might be shopping in Atlanta’s NM, but I still feel right at home.  I’m devoted to Neiman’s because it’s the only thing left from my childhood shopping experiences.  Titche-Goettinger, Colbert-Volk and Sanger Harris all bit the dust.

My, How Things Have Changed

The transformation of the crisp turquoise-and-white-striped Titche-Goettinger bag into Dillard’s boring beige plastic thing was a disappointing retail slide for me.  My mom went to work for Titches back in the 60’s.  Along the way they merged with a San Antonio department store called Joske’s.  I didn’t think Joske’s had near the eclat of Titche’s.  For a few years, though they belonged to the same team, they each kept their own identity.  Finally, the Joske’s name won out, but at least it was still a Texas name.

Then along came Dillard’s, an Arkansas company, and bought out Joske’s.  I’d like to be able to say that I haven’t walked into the store since, but my mom retired with a 25% lifetime discount, so I’d be lying.  However, I would be telling the truth if I told you I missed that department store with the turquoise-and-white-striped shopping bags.

For all those decades my mom worked at Titches/Joske’s/Dillard’s her main competition was Sanger-Harris, but it was a friendly competition.  If we could buy it a mom’s store we would, but I had plenty of Sanger’s labels in my closet – especially stuff I’d bought at Red Apple days.  The prices were so low you felt like they were paying you to carry merchandise home.  Joske’s had EOM (end of month) markdowns that were often as drastic, but Red Apple Days just sounded like a lot more fun.

I had a grudging admiration for Sanger-Harris after Titche’s became Joske’s.  I wouldn’t have mentioned it to mother, but I thought they were winning the retail war.  Their stores seemed more upscale and their shopping bags were prettier.  I especially liked the exterior of the stores.  When you went to a mall Sanger’s always stood out, because they had gorgeous mosaic murals on the exterior.  You didn’t have to be able to read to know you’d arrived.

Sadly, Sanger Harris eventually went the same route as Titches.  First, they merged with a Houston retailer named Foley’s and ended up changing their name.  Then Macy’s bought them out, and not too many years ago, at that.  I remember visiting the Macy’s in Temple with my Aunt Edie shortly after the change-over.  We agreed we liked Sanger Harris better.

DMA to Remember, Too

With all these pleasant Sanger-Harris memories it is no wonder that I’m excited about a new exhibit on it’s way to the Dallas Museum of Art.  According to the latest issue of the museum’s member’s magazine, back in the 50’s a young VP of A. Harris & Company (which later merged with Sanger Brothers) commissioned an artist to create a series of paintings of Dallas.  The paintings were exhibited at the DMA a couple of times in the fifties, but they haven’t been in Dallas since.  Now they are coming back and will be presented with photos of my city taken at the time of the paintings.

Art, shopping and Dallas!  That’s like three of my favorite things in the world!  Why do you think I enjoyed the Jean Paul Gautier exhibit so much?  Anyway, mark your calender for May 20th, because George Groz’s Impressions of Dallas is coming to the DMA.  The name of the exhibit is “Flower of the Prairie” and you’ll be able to see it until August 19.  And  Macy’s, since you’ve gone to the trouble to sponsor this exhibition, all is forgiven.  I’ll come spend some money there soon.

ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Remembering Neiman Marcus Fortnights

My Fortnight Christmas Ornaments

TRAVEL HERE: NEIMAN MARCUS FORTNIGHTS

So you think Black Friday is a shopping experience?  To me, it’s just a feeding frenzy.  If Sam Walton has been successful at anything, it has been getting us to focus on price.  I sort of liked the world better before Walmart.

The World Before Walmart

In those days price was certainly a factor, but it wasn’t the only factor.  Designer names were guideposts, not a decoration plastered across the seat of a pair of sweat pants.  Developing your own style was more important than being in style.  In other words, going shopping was about more than consuming.

Wonderful, Wonderful Fortnight

A perfect example of this was Neiman Marcus Fortnight.  During a two week period in the fall, Neiman’s would transform their Dallas stores into reasonable facsimiles of some exciting destination.  The straw ornaments above are from Bavaria and were purchased in 1983 during  the German Fortnight.  D Magazine gives you the details of Fortnight, but I want to convey the experience.

For a middle-class kid living in Dallas in the Sixties, Fortnight was a window to the wider world.  On a special evening, Mom would dress us up in the our best.  The minute Dad got home from work he’d load us in the car and take us to Neiman’s flagship store in downtown Dallas – but it didn’t seem like a store at all.  In fact, once I entered Neiman’s, I felt as if I’d stepped off a plane into a faraway place.

Granted, back in those days I’d never been on a plane, but I thought what was happening to me then must be just like arriving at a long awaited destination.  See, Mom didn’t just dress us up and make us go shopping with her for the evening, she carefully primed us for the experience.  All year we played a guessing game about what country Neiman’s might focus on for Fortnight.  If the evening news mentioned a place we’d never heard of, we discussed why or why not it might be a good country for Neiman’s.  As we studied our history and geography lessons, Mom would ask, “If this country were featured in a Neiman Marcus Fortnight, what products do you think would be stocked in the gourmet food department?”

In additon, Mother took us shopping at Neiman’s all year long, so we’d know the latest in fashion and appreciate quality.  Then we’d go to Titche’s and buy our wardrobes with Mom’s employee discount.  But a splashy ad in the Dallas Morning News Neiman’s would announce our Fortnight destination and I’d be giddy for weeks until our annual Fortnight visit was scheduled.

During Fortnight, we’d wander through the retail wonderland all agog.  The ultimate treat was dinner at one of the NM cafes tricked out like the featured locale and serving their traditional fare.  Along with many items from the featured country for sale, each floor of Neiman’s hosted special exhibits and demonstrations.  We’d watch traditionally garbed dancers perform exotic dances.  We’d see animals, artisans and actresses.   Our family added very little to Neiman Marcus’s bottom line during this annual pilgrimage, but Fortnight was such a retail success, in spite of folks like us, that many stores attempted copy cat experiences.  Yes, shopping was fun back in those days.

During the years I was busy going to school and living the disco scene, Neiman’s sort of fell off my radar.  Then I became an official consumer with a credit rating.  A Neiman Marcus charge card provided a plastic invitation to another world.  Among the most important privileges offered was postal delivery of the famous Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog with its legendary His and Hers gifts of opulence.  Trust me, nothing on the internet can replace that catalog.  The recipient of a gift, in the store’s  traditional shiny red Christmas box with the gold Neiman Marcus logo, expected no additional wrapping paper and bows.  Adulthood arrived when I received my own Neiman Marcus credit card.

I have to confess I did not inherit my parent’s frugality.  I found it impossible to merely visit Fortnight and buy nothing but dinner.  I went to the store as often as I could during those special two weeks to buy myself and others as many little treats as I thought I could get away with.  Being at Fortnight was one of those particularly Dallas experiences, like visiting the Great State Fair of Texas or seeing the Christmas decorations on Beverly Drive.

Now Neiman Marcus has stores all over the world and they belong to some big corporation – not Mr. Nieman and Mr. Marcus.  Most middle class kids in Dallas have flown somewhere before they reach their sixth birthday.  Someone took Fortnight out of the Neiman Marcus budget, but I miss it.

I still have my Neiman Marcus credit card and it gets plenty of use.  Neiman’s is my luxury store of choice.  Having lunch at Neiman’s is one of my favorite indulgences.  I will always love giving gifts wrapped in nothing but a Neiman’s logo.  Nowadays I shop at Neiman’s and buy my wardrobe at the Allen Outlet Mall, because even though Mom retired with her discount intact, department store shopping isn’t as much fun as it used to be.  Drat that Mr. Walton.

Update:  This is by far the most popular post on my blog, so even though I have created Miscellaneous Jane for the purpose of offloading things from this blog, this post stays.