Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Travel a lot? A few traveling tips that might help!

I had my share of traveling this past year. While it has been fun, there are occasion it hasn't. Here are some thing I've picked up and might help you out.

  1. If you are traveling between two locations often and staying at the same hotel most of the time, you could ask them to store some of your liquid items. Such as toothpaste, mouthwash, etc. This way you wouldn't have to check in your bag
  2. Try to sign up for the frequent members card available through the airlines and hotels. Point add up fairly quickly.
  3. If you have your points spread out across multiple hotels and airlines, try to consolidate the points into a few frequently used one. Most hotels and airlines offer conversion process for you. A company called points.com have contract with a few of them, including American Airline. This way you could use the benefit of that company quicker
  4. Usually close to holiday season, these companies will try to get you to use your points. This is because they will be closing their books and these miles / points are consider as a liability to them. If you plan to use your miles / points, this would be the best time to do so. You don't have to use it on travel, most places allow you to get gift certificate to various retailers like amazon.com and starbucks. Or you could redeem them for merchandises.
  5. Delta Airline offer complimentry upgrade to first class on most of their flights if you are a gold member or higher. Take advantage of it, especially when it does not cost you any miles or points. Other airline companies such as American and United cost points / miles to upgrade.
  6. Check in early. Give yourself at least 2 hours for domestic flight and 3 hours for international flight. You might get to the airport quick, but going through the security check point is where you could never estimate time with. You'll never know a group of people in line that day are slower than usual.
  7. If you have just carry on, check in online and print out your boarding pass the night before. Companies like Southwest airline determine by how early you check in to determine your boarding priority. It pays to board the plane early, especially when overhead bin spaces are valuable these days.
  8. Research your destination early. Use google map to obtain map of the location where you will be staying and try to memorize the map and directions. This will help get you to your destination quickly and safely.
  9. Try not to book connecting flight with less than 1 1/2 hours in between. You want to leave enough time to get from one gate to another. Large airport like Atlanta, Chicago, and others have multiple concours. It is a long run / walk between them. This also give you some space in between if your flight arrive late.
  10. If you have a laptop, bring it a long. Airport such as Oregon International offers free wifi internet access. You could use it to check on flight status, email, and kill times while waiting for delayed flight.
  11. Before booking your ticket, visit http://www.seatguru.com/. You will be able to look up the carrier and type of plane you will be flying on and see which seat gives you the best deal. You could also see if they offer inflight power plugs for your laptop or individual LCD monitor to watch movie on. Use http://www.flightview.com/ to track the progress of a flight. It will show you where the plane is located in the air and estimated arrival time.

Last and most important, always be polite to the flight attendents. They have no control to flight delays, lost luggages, etc. You should not vent your fustration to them. It will not make things better or faster. The rule of thumb I go by is "It is always better to be piss off, than to be piss on". Life continues....

Hope you find these tips useful. If you have some of your own, please do share them for other to read and learn as well. Have a fun and safe trip......

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Doubletree Guest Suites - Raleigh / Durham, NC

In recent months, I had the opportunity to stay at the Doubletree Hotel in Research Triangle Park, NC a few times in the past month. The exterior of the hotel closely resemble the Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World resort. Situated at the edge of Research Triangle Park, this hotel is located only a freeway exit away from a new shopping center, while at the same time still allows you to commute to anyone of the companies located in Research Triangle Park in minutes. The nearby shopping center offer many great restaurants for you to choose from. Popular chain such as Cheese Cake Factory, P.F. Chang, California Pizza Kitchen, Firebird Grill, and Maggiano Italian Restaurant to name a few. If you like to catch a movie, the mall also has a nice movie theater for you to enjoy, not mentioning a fairly large super Target next door for you to purchase your daily needs. A popular nearby spot and only minutes away from the hotel is the popular Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. If you are looking to head towards downtown Raleigh, it is less than 15 minutes away.

This particular Doubletree hotel, a part of the Hilton Family Hotel, is a bit different than other Doubletree you might’ve stayed previously. This is the Doubletree Suites Hotel, where have two rooms style suite. Their in house restaurant and room services offer a large selection on the menu.

The two rooms style suites host a wet bar with a microwave, a refrigerator, and a small dinning table for you enjoy room services. The living room area is spacious with a standard size 27” TV. Rooms facing the inner side of the hotel offer a beautiful view of their lake and tennis court. In the morning, you will be greeted by the warm sun reflection off the lake. The bedroom, whether you have a two beds or a single king size bed, is comfortable and you have another TV to watch your favorite show. Interesting enough, this hotel has a surprise in the bathroom area. For the guys who tend to need reading materials during your epiphany time, there is a small old style dial TV right next to the king’s throne. The shower offers a fairly good water pressure and hotel water for those who would like to relax their body.

The exercise room is located inside the pool area and it is fairly large compared to other I have seen. You have two treadmills, three workout bikes, an elliptical bike, a stair master, and a bench machine with 2 TVs. Similar the Embassy Suites I had stayed at in Marin County, having the workout room inside the pool area is not what I would prefer. Fortunately the chlorine level in here isn’t too bad. The pool area has a standard size swimming pool and a spa for you to relax and enjoy. If you need more of an outdoor workout, right outside you have a tennis court, a basketball hoop, jogging around the lake or go paddling on the lake.

While this hotel is old and need some touch up, it is rather clean and well maintained compared to other hotels. A new paint job and minor fixes to the interior and exterior will make this hotel standout. Due to it being old, you will occasionally hear some noises from the pluming system in the bathroom. If you are a light sleeper, it is highly recommended to close the bathroom door when you go to bed. The front desk is friendly and offer quick responses to your need. If you are a diamond member, you will surely be greeted with complimentary breakfasts and beverages coupon to use at the hotel bar. Overall, the Doubletree Suites Hotel is a good place to stay and offers great room services. It is a recommended hotel on my list.


URL: http://www.doubletree.com/en/dt/hotels/index.jhtml?ctyhocn=RDUIIDT

Contact Info:
2515 Meridian Parkway, Durham, North Carolina, United States 27713-5221 Tel: +1-919-361-4660 Fax: +1-919-361-2256

Direction:
From Raleigh/Durham International Airport Directions: Take I 40 West, drive 7 miles. At exit 278, take the ramp down. At the bottom of the ramp, turn left. At the next light, turn left into Meridian Business Park. The hotel is the second building on the left. Transportation: Complimentary van shuttle available 6am-11pm Monday - Friday. 7am - 11pm Saturday - Sunday. Use courtesy phone.

(Note: Pictures were taken by hilton.com, please see hilton.com for further information and make reservation on this hotel)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Embassy Suites Hotel San Rafael - Marin County, CA

A little over a month ago, I had an opportunity to stay at the Embassy Suites hotel in Marin County. It is approx 30 miles north of San Francisco and only minutes away from Sonoma County. The Embassy Suites is located directly across from Marin County convention center, making it extremely convenience for people who will be attending a convention there.

The hotel exterior seems well maintained and clean. Upon entering the main lobby, you will notice one thing in this hotel that is different from other typical hotels. If you close your eyes and listen, you will also hear the differences as well. You are greeted by a nice atrium that includes tropical trees, koi pond, and a water fall.

One key plus about staying at the Embassy Suites is their "manager's special" happy hour. Between 3:00PM to 7:30PM, you can enjoy complimentary beverages that include cocktails, wines, beers, and many other fine drinks specially made to order. What is a drink without some snack? You will find a popcorn cart, making fresh popcorn for you or your kid’s enjoyment. Another nice benefit is the complimentary cook to order breakfast bar buffet.

After you check in at the front desk, enjoy a sip or two of complimentary drinks, it is time to unpack and relax in your hotel room. It isn’t Embassy Suites if the room isn't a suite right? The room will be a spacious two room’s suite, where you will have a living room and a bed room. The room is fully equipped with microwaves, refrig, dinning tables, and a small wet bar for you to use. You have two TVs, so there will be no need to fight on whether to watch Food Network or Cartoon Network. The room is well maintained and clean, but due to the age of the place, it does need to be renovated and fresh coats of paint to bright up the place. The refrigerator isn’t too cold, so don’t expect to keep frozen dinner in there.

When you are ready for a workout, the workout room is hidden inside the pool area. You have to go through the main entrance to the pool and access the workout area from there. For my preferences, I would rather have the workout area having a separated entrance. After a good workout, I would rather not walk through a chlorine area and fill my lungs with junk. At the time I was there, the pool does look like it needs to have the water replaced. It is one thing to treat it with chemical, but at some point in time, the ratio of chemical and pure water gets to high (or when you start seeing cloudy yellowish color) .

Overall, this hotel is a nice due to the amenity it offers. Especially when you have children, the koi pond will surely keep them busy for awhile. During my 3 weeks stay there, I have not seen anything major I would disagree with.

URL: http://www.embassysuites.com/en/es/hotels/index.jhtml?ctyhocn=SFORFES
Contact:
101 McInnis Parkway, San Rafael, California, United States 94903
Tel: +1-415-499-9222 Fax: +1-415-499-9268

Direction:

From: San Francisco Airport: Exit airport heading towards freeways, follow signs for Highway 380. Take Highway 380 to Highway 280 (San Francisco). Follow signs on Highway 280 to Golden Gate Bridge, (Highway 280 turns into 19th Ave.) Go over the bridge and stay on Highway which will be Highway 101 North for approximately 20 minutes. Exit onto North San Pedro Road and stay to the right. Turn left onto Civic Center Drive. Travel 1/2 mile and turn right onto McInnis Parkway. Hotel is located on the right hand side.

From: Oakland Airport, Take US Route 880 N to 580 W. Take 580 W to 101 N. Exit N. San Pedro and veer east. Turn left on Civic Center Dr. Turn right on McInnis Pkwy.

(NOTE: Pictures above were taken by hotel.com. Please visit hotel.com for additional information on hotel)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hilton Hotel - Raleigh Durham, North Carolina

Recently I've stayed at the Hilton Hotel in the Research Triangle Park area of Raleigh, NC (http://www.hilton.com/en/hi/hotels/index.jhtml?ctyhocn=RDURTHF). Being a guy from the West Coast and most specifically from Southern California, I didn't know what to expect.
Upon arriving at the main entrance of this hotel, it looked very nice. It was recently renovated in 2004, so the paint and structure look fairly new. What was interesting to see is a row of white rocking chair on the front porch of the hotel. It reminded of Forrest Gump or one of those movies about places in the south.

As you enter the main lobby, you will be greeted by a nice grand piano and beautiful lobby area. You could sit by the fireplace and listen to someone playing the piano, read a book, or even play chess in this peaceful atmosphere. To the left of it is the bar. After a few drinks there, the most tiring day seems to be just alright.

The rooms are pretty standard style room. The one I was in comes with a king size bed and a sofa. The pillows are a bit uncomfortable for my taste. It was a bit hard. The TV comes with most of the basic channels, including a few ESPN channels, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC and two premium channels like Starz and HBO. The executive suites comes with a nice wet bar, spa style tube and separated shower, a nice comfortable main room area where you could sit back and watch your favorite TV shows. It comes with Starz and HBO included. All of the rooms and the entire places have wifi signal, for those business traveller or kids who want to be anti-social with their parents, time to get hook up online! The shower pressure is fairly weak. During the winter time, especially when it is a busy seaon, you have to fight for hot water. Ouch!

Their exercise room isn't too bad. No weights to do benching with, but they split up the area into two rooms connected together. One side of the room you have a TV and couple of threadmill. On the other side you have a few bikes and a nice suana. Interesting to see, not may hotels have them. You get a pretty nice state of the art water cooler, which look like it is from a star trek movie. Lol!

For those who prefer the outdoor atmosphere, right outside of the exercise room you have a pool area where you could soak in the sun. It is time like this where Southern California doesn't seem too bad. Who in their right mind want to soak the sun when it is so humid out there! But heck, it is there for those who wants it. A few of the first floor rooms have patio doors where it will lead you to the area as well.

Diamond Hilton Honor members get additional perks. Upon checking into your room, you will greeted with a nice soft cotton rob nicely set on your bed and a book of chocolate. Whoohoo!

Within a mile raduis of the place, if you are a Starbucks morning person, don't plan to see one for awhile. There is a sign said coming soon, but the nearest one is 4 to 5 miles away.

Overall, I think this hotel is fairly nice. I have to say it is one of the better looking and conditioned hotels I've stayed at in the past year. It must be because of their recent renovation.

Contact Information:
Hilton Raleigh-Durham Airport at Research Triangle Park
4810 Old Page Road, Durham, North Carolina, United States 27703 Tel: +1-919-941-6000 Fax: +1-919-941-6030

Directions & Transportation:
Interstate 40E: Take Exit #282 (Page Rd.). At bottom of exit, turn right and make an immediate right onto Creekstone Drive (Sleep Inn is at the same turn). Follow the driveway until our entrance. Interstate 40W: Take Exit #282 (Page Rd.) At bottom of exit, turn right and and go through the first stop light. After the light, make the first right onto Creekstone Drive. The hotel is toward the end of the road.

Courtyard by Marriott - Brookfield, WI

I had the opportunity to stay at this location during a consulting project between winter of 2005 - 2006. It is located in the suburb area of Milwaukee, WI.

URL: https://marriott.com/property/propertypage/MKEBC
Contact Info:
16865 West Bluemound Road
Brookfield, Wisconsin 53005 USA
Phone: 1-262-821-1800
Fax: 1-262-821-1548
Sales: 1-262-821-1800 ext. 619
Sales fax: 1-262-821-1548

The hotel was renovated, or supposedly renovated not too long prior to me staying there. The hotel is fairly clean and if you had stayed at any Courtyard by Marriott, you have an idea what to expect. In my opinion, the Courtyard family isn't the greatest nor is it the worst hotel out there.

Upon entering the hotel, directly in front you have the view to the courtyard area with a nice gazebo. In the lobby area, you have complimentary coffee served throughout the day and a fireplace to keep you warm during the winter months. Winter was pretty cold in the Milwaukee area, but sitting by the fireplace, sipping down some hot coffee, and watch the snow fall is a pretty relaxing thing.

Staying at this particular location has some perks which are nice. There is a full size Bally Total Fitness next door for those who is interested in serious workout. Their own fitness room at the hotel is fairly small with one treadmill, one bike, and a bench machine. Next to their fitness room, you have a decent size indoor pool and a spa. It is perfect during the winter time, where you could soak in the nice hot tub and watch the snow drop over the patio glass walls.

Another nice perks you get with this hotel is free internet. Though it is not all rooms have wifi, at least it has a cable jack for you to use. Once a week, the hotel sponsor manager's happy hour, where they will serve snacks and drinks.

At this particular location, all of the rooms have been upgraded with the "new" Courtyard advertised event. They have new beds and pillows, which are more comfortable than the previous one.

I don't know if it is a hotel policy or Courtyard in general but one thing about them that really bother me is the cleaning crew keeps throwing away the bar of soap and shampoo. They give you new one, but heck I've used only once and it is still good for a couple of more uses. Another thing is the cleaning crew doesn’t pay too much attention to detail. I had left a newspaper at the corner of the bed on the floor after reading it, when I came back later that evening to find the newspaper was in the exact location where I had left it. I wonder how often do they really vacuum the room?

The bottom two floors of the hotel, the room furniture’s aren't too bad. Once you get to the top floor and the highest floor which only has room towards the back, the furniture’s are a bit older and need some cleaning.

The Courtyard does not offer room service and they do not have a restaurant inside the hotel. They do, however, offer hotel serve breakfast. You have your choice from made to order breakfast menu or buffet style. It isn't complimentary. The coffee bar is complimentary and is offered through out the day. I suggest you just walk across the street and pay $1.45 for a tall cup of coffee from Starbucks. The one offered by the hotel comes out from a machine and I think it is not coffee ground type. It tastes pretty nasty sometime.

The surround area isn't too bad. Within walking distance, you have Brookfield's mall, a few plaza, Bestbuy, CompUSA, and Circuit City. This is useful when you need to pick up something. Across the street from the hotel is a small pizza pub, which serves great pizza. Cracker thin crust filled with meat. They have a few fairly decent restaurants on that street if you are willing to explore. All else fail, go to the shopping mall's food court and grab yourself Taco Bell or Arby's. There is a list of recommended local restaurants at the hotel if you ask the front desk.

Overall, the location of this hotel is great. It is close to shops and not too bad of a drive into Milwaukee's area. However, the room quality and cleanliness could improve a bit. If you have your choice between this hotel and Motel 6, it is a no brainer you should pick this one. But if it is between this hotel and the Sheraton Four Season down the street, I vote for the Sheraton.

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