Monday, January 31, 2011

Aha... Planes Have Fuel Pump Problems Too

No surprise, we're off the plane and waiting to find out if another one will be wheeled up for us to board. We're somewhat joking but maybe it's not impossible.

We're sitting in the RCC only 50 paces away from the former gate along with some of the other refugees from the flight. We've been backed up by the 1K line on a flight to FRA with a long layover and a connection tomorrow afternoon, but we'll hang loose.

It's lucky we're not important people with meetings or conferences to attend. This is all part of the travel adventure and we'll do our best to hang loose.

Update: United just announced that we'll be flying about 9:00 p.m. and arriving about 11:45 a.m. in Rome. We're deducing that they found a spare 767 because the pilot was quite definite that the fuel pump problems would prevent the plane we were on from flying.

This is looking better than the backup plan of flying to Germany and waiting several hours before flying from there to Rome.

Time for another glass of complimentary but drinkable wine at the RCC.
The fuel PUMP keeps running says the captain and it does not look good. We will have to wait Awhile longer.
Three Easy Updates and the latest says we will leave one hour late at 6. We will see. Now it is a fuel PUMP. Next stop ??
Oops. Not one but two mechanical problems. We are only twenty minutes Late so we will wait in comfort in our lie flat seats. Next stop ??
We made our connection without a problem. Next stop on UA 966 is Rome.

Chicago ORD Before The Snow

After a good flight on a 757 SEA-ORD we're settled into one of the several RCCs for a few minutes before boarding.

Snow is predicted as early as 1:00 p.m. with a blizzard warning for Tuesday through Wednesday and UA is issuing Travel Waivers. We appear to have have been lucky, but one never knows. We have an even closer connection at IAD before hopping across the Atlantic to Rome.

This is one of those connections that starts with an early breakfast this morning (omelette for Brian and cereal for Kathy) and ends with an early breakfast tomorrow morning European time. It's good that experts claim breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

An Early-Morning Grope: Thank You TSA

Nothing like starting the day at 4:20 a.m. with a groping search at the TSA check point in SEA. Kathy made it through the magnetometer but Brian, right behind her, was chosen for the X-Ray scanner.

He told the young female employee that he was "opting out," and she explained the search in brief, and then asked hopefully if he'd "still prefer that."

Absolutely, said Brian, and decided to make it humorous rather than getting annoyed. Starting with a loud "Don't fight over me, Guys," to the two male employees discussing which would search him, Brian started to develop the beginnings of a comedy routine that, in his own mind, will keep everybody at future check points doubled over in laughter.

Well, maybe not, but if it's a choice of laughing or simply getting angry, it's probably healthier to laugh.

Brian thanked the employee at the end for being "ever so gentle" and is already working on some funny lines for the next grope.

Next stop is ORD and it looks like we're beating the snow.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

All Roads Lead To Rome

Some folks claim that this historical confluence of strade contributes to the confusion and, yes, grubbiness to be found in one of the world's most exciting cities.

We've spent only a few hours of a single day in Rome, and that was 11 years ago shortly after September 11 2001, one stop on a wonderful Mediterranean cruise with two of Kathy's brothers and their families. We're looking forward to upwards of four days in the Eternal City this time, staying at the Rome Cavalieri Hotel.

Following that we're planning a week in a little hotel about a 90-minute train and bus ride from Rome in the town of Soriano nel Cimino. The hotel, Palazzo Catalani, is affiliated with son David's timeshare and happens to get great reviews.

Our bags are packed, our UA upgrades have cleared, and we'll drive to Seattle tomorrow afternoon to take some cute grandkids out for dinner before flying out early Monday morning, January 31.

UA 732.........SEA 6:10 AM........ORD 11:57 AM
UA 728.........ORD 1:10 PM.......IAD 4:00 PM
UA 966.........IAD 5:01 PM........FCO* 7:45 AM (Tue, Feb 1)

That will also add another 6787 EQMs to our UA Mileage Plus accounts but, as always, who's counting?

*Aeroporto Leonardo da Vinci di Fiumicino

Friday, January 28, 2011

International Driving Permits Vs. A License To Scam

Brian has picked up an International Driving Permit a number of times over the years. We're flying to Rome in a couple of days and plan to spend a week in a small hotel in a town an hour's train ride away. It's possible to rent a car there and we might explore that option, so we headed to the closest AAA office to pick up a new permit.

It's difficult if not impossible to find a definitive list of which countries (or, for that matter, car rental companies) require the IDP, so it seems easier just to pick one up for about $20, including the required photos.

Basically, the IDP is not a license; rather, it's an internationally recognized translation of one's own license, and both documents have to be carried. Automobile clubs (AAA, CAA, etc.) are the only places that issue them. Sad to say, there is apparently something of a thriving industry of scam artists who purport to sell international driving licenses.

Snopes, Scambusters, and a Texas Attorney General all offer warnings of this Caveat Emptor situation.

We've driven somewhat extensively within and through a number of European countries, and Italy can be among the most, ah, interesting, and we now have the IDP in case we decide to get behind an Italian wheel.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Is There A Best Day Of The Week To Buy Airline Tickets?

Maybe it's Tuesday at 12:00 p.m. Pacific Time, or maybe it's Wednesday, according to this Middle Seat column by Scott McCartney in the Wall Street Journal.

It's reasonable general advice to look at buying midweek, but regular and ongoing monitoring seven days a week is still the way to go, if you have the time and the inclination.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Those Dreaded Words: Irregular Ops

Irregular Ops is an abbreviation for Irregular Operations, which is airline-speak for those not uncommon flight delays most commonly connected with weather, especially at this time of year.

In less than a week we're scheduled to fly SEA-ORD-IAD-FCO, with one-hour connecting times both in Chicago and Washington-Dulles. While we have some built-in advantages as long as we maintain UA 1K status, including an "elite" phone line and priority rebooking, we still have to look out for ourselves.

Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal recently wrote a characteristically practical Middle Seat column on this topic, Room Service in Terminal B, that can be found here.

As for us, our cell phone contains the 800-numbers for UA 1K and Customer Relations, our preferred hotel chains, and car rental outfits. We also retain phone numbers for a couple of SEA airport hotels.

We'll be checking airport conditions, UA operations, and weather forecasts starting at least 48 hours before we depart. We're signed up for the text message and e-mail alerts known on UA as Easy Updates (warning: they're not always dependable). We'll continue to monitor conditions on the day of the flight and, as time permits, during our layovers. At the first hint of a problem, we'll decide whether to call the 1K line and ask to be "protected," i.e. to have seats reserved on an alternative flight. We did that a couple of weeks ago when the MIA-IAD leg of our MIA-IAD-SEA flight was delayed in taking off. It turned out we didn't need it, but it was a relief to have it. Needless to say, as soon as there's an actual problem, we'll be on the phone to UA immediately, rather than simply standing in one of those customer service lines.

Finally, we always try to leave ourselves extra time and look on the inevitable delays from time to time as part of the travel adventure. Sometimes that's the hardest lesson to learn.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sehome Sweet Home For A Few Days

We slept in late and still managed to take advantage of the breakfast coupons the SEA Doubletree provided us.

We drove back home through an annoying rain that managed to obscure vision most of the way. Fortunately traffic was light.

It's odd to think that we'll be flying to Rome a week from today, but we're already finalizing some details as we sort through our mail and stack piles of laundry.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Relaxing In The SFO RCC

Our HNL-SFO flight was a little bumpy at times but not enough to bother us. Our meals were just fine and the service was fine. After a few flights on a 767, we're reminded that a 777 is more pleasant. Why? There's that little extra bit of room in general, and both of our overheads fit wheels in up in the overhead bins. The 767 has arguably the smallest overhead bins of any of the larger domestic planes. They're closer in size to some of the domestic foreign carriers we've flown for which we're required to check our roll-aboards in any case.

We're sitting in the RCC, catching up on e-mail, and just relaxing before boarding a flight that will land us in SEA well after midnight. One more night in the Doubletree and then it's home to catch up on laundry, mail, and a few other chores as we ready ourselves for our flight to Rome at the end of the month.

Those Yellow FlyerTalk Luggage Tags

We're sitting in the HNL RCC after an exciting ride to the airport with a friendly "Type-A" shuttle driver who reminded Brian of himself by repeatedly muttering "Come on, come on..." at slow drivers in front of him.

Security was a breeze, as we managed to get into the line going through the magnetometers rather than the X-Ray machines, which would lead to an opt-out by us and a subsequent grope, er, "pat-down."

Twice within the last couple of days, another member of FlyerTalk has spotted our bright yellow FlyerTalk luggage tags. As Fredd posted a few minutes ago:

NevadaRNO spotted our FT tags the other day as we were riding the subway at SEA. We ran into him later at the SEA Doubletree and again the next morning in the SEA RCC.

And today as we walked along that long curving exterior walkway toward the UA gates and RCC at HNL, N751PR spotted our tags while walking toward the terminal after deplaning.

I know HNL is one of the world's crossroads and this further confirms it.

It's fun through FlyerTalk to meet so many nice people who share our interest in travel. We'll soon board our flight to SFO on a 777. We chose again to be seated in bulkhead. Nobody reclines in front of you and you can have a lot of legroom (or occasionally not too much at all, depending on the configuration). The only modest disadvantage is that everything you carry on has to be stored in the overhead for takeoff and landing.

This will be our fourth time crossing the Pacific Ocean between HNL and the mainland within the past few days, and we're really looking forward to it. Yes, we're a little crazy.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Walking And Eating Our Through HNL

We lunched today, as we have on previous trips, at the Todai Restaurant, an Asian buffet much favored by Japanese tour groups.

It's not fancy, close to cafeteria-style, but the food is good. The sushi was perhaps less impressive than on previous visits, but we'd like to think that this is because we're raising our own standards.

The Holiday Inn Beachcomber kept us waiting for our room, although we could have had a room without an ocean view when we arrived shortly before noon. It was 3:10 p.m. by the time we got our room on the 24th floor, but it's proved to be a very pleasant room that's obviously been refurbished.

We'd walked on the treadmills at the Hilton Prince Kuhio before checking out this morning, and strolled the better part of a mile down to the Todai for lunch, so we didn't feel bad about parking in Jimmy Buffett's at the Beachcomber for a couple of their "perfect" Margaritas, along with some nacho appetizers.

Now it's time for bed before a 10:45 a.m. pick up by the shuttle folks and a 1:40 p.m. flight HNL-SFO-SEA flight that will land us in SEA at some point after Midnight.

Honolulu Déjà Vu

Yesterday was leisurely, considering we flew SEA-LAX-HNL. SEA-LAX took off around 11:00 a.m., we relaxed for an hour or so in the LAX RCC between flights, and LAX-HNL was aided by tail winds, allowing us to land nearly an hour early.

We caught the same Roberts airport shuttle into Honolulu and pointedly asked the employees how long this would take, describing our 16-stop marathon the other day. They actually stopped the queue after us, explaining to those behind us that they couldn't have too many hotel stops on one bus. Despite that, we bailed out at the Sheraton Waikiki and walked less than ten minutes to get to the Hilton Prince Kuhio on a beautiful, if crowded, Friday night.

After checking in and leaving our bags in the room, we strolled around the beach area for an hour. On a whim we stopped at our first-ever Häagen-Dazs shop for ice cream cones. $9.70 for two single-scoop waffle cones! On top of that, Brian's cone leaked out the bottom at how many cents a drip?

We're hopping a couple of blocks over to the Holiday Inn Resort later today (working on an Intercontinental promotion) on our final (and only) full day in Honolulu in, well, two days.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Sunset Unlimited

In homage to the evocatively named Sunset Limited train, we'll post a photo taken through very dirty windows (shame on you, UA) the other night SFO-SEA. Beautiful views of the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges shortly after takeoff and a million-dollar view out those really dirty windows much of the way up to SEA.

LAX RCC: No Stars In Sight

After a thoroughly pleasant flight SEA-LAX on a CRJ, and a landing during which Brian spotted the HOLLYWOODLAND sign, we're sitting in the LAX RCC with our electronic gadgets and a glass of house white wine (not bad) in front of us.

FlyerTalkers seem to spot celebrities in this club quite often for obvious reasons, but we've never seen anybody. Of course, there are few stars we'd recognize in any case, so it saves us the trouble of looking.

Next flight is LAX-HNL, boarding in a little less than an hour. A good night's sleep last night in the SEA Doubletree (insert Sleepless in Seattle joke on second edit) so we're feeling up to trying UA's Mai Tais, unique to their Hawaii flights.


We've done this one before and it's not bad if you're sitting in the first row of the tiny F class. It's probably the closest we'll get to know what it feels like to fly in a corporate jet. Thank goodness for iPods for our own in-flight entertainment.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Quick Stop At The SFO RCC

We made it, although a few folks with tight connections probably didn't, especially since the ground crew stopped the plane in the wrong spot and a tug had to be hooked up to back it up ten feet for the jetway.

We're off to our flight to SEA after an enjoyable flight from HNL, sitting in F bulkhead on the 767, nice seats actually.
We're good to fly. Departing shortly. Good.
Hmmm. We're On Decision for a half hour. Maintenance issue means we might not in. Could be interesting given our flight schedule.


Our shuttle was actually early this morning and the trip to the airport was quicker than the trip into the city, resulting in our dropping by the RCC about 1 1/2 hours before boarding.

We'll be sitting in bulkhead on the upcoming flight to SFO. That means nobody reclines in front of us. On the other hand, we have to stow all of our carry-ons in the overhead bins so it's time to get going.

Next stop is SFO.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Business Is Good In Waikiki

Duke's was too busy, and a couple of other places were also hopping as we strolled around Waikiki. We finally stopped in at P.F. Changs, where there was no wait, and enjoyed our second meal ever in this establishment (the first was in Phoenix some years ago). Our waiter was a charming fellow from Brazil.

We chose the Dinner For Two, and specified the Hot and Sour soup, chicken lettuce wrap, Mongolian Beef, and Kung Pao Shrimp. We spiced up the soup and the lettuce wrap with the chili sauce. The beef and the shrimp pretty well stood on their own.

We certainly wouldn't hesitate to return, although we always have a soft spot for the truly independent restaurants. Those are getting harder and harder to find though.

Now it's off to bed and an early ride to the airport in the morning.

Honolulu Hotel Hopping

For the moment we have serious status both with Hilton and with Starwood / Sheraton. It's not surprising that both hotels placed us in desirable rooms for our one-night stays.

Last night at the Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio, despite our long airport shuttle ride, we arrived in time to sample some tasty appetizers in a basement lounge. We ate a reasonably priced dinner in their 24-hour diner-style restaurant, and this morning enjoyed a decent continental breakfast in the same lounge. We enjoyed the view from our 36th-floor room, and sat out on the balcony for awhile. The rooms at least on that floor have been refurbished. While not large, ours was very pleasing, including a large shower in the bathroom, although not actual bath tub. We hadn't stayed there in several years and we're looking forward to returning there in - oh, let's see - another three nights.

Today we pulled our roll-aboards the few blocks over to the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani. We're on the 28th floor of this property with lovely views and another balcony. The hotel is venerable and would benefit from a massively expensive facelift, but the employees are friendly and the price is very competitive for a large hotel located so close to the beach.

Rain? We haven't seen any, and that's after walking all the way past the Hilton Hawaiian Village and back. This appears to be the high season for Japanese tourists, who must be pumping some serious money into the local economy. We also calculated that we can walk from the HHV to Prince Kuhio in a comfortable 15 minutes (Waikiki as we tourists think of it is surprisingly compact) so we'll ask the shuttle driver Friday if he can beat that time.

Tonight we may wander back to Duke's, where we enjoyed a pleasant evening with Bill and Sue, two of our Australian friends, before Christmas.

Early to bed and early to rise, since we've scheduled our shuttle to pick us for the return trip to the airport at 5:00 a.m. local time, to make sure we're in good time for our 7:45 a.m. flight to SFO. And then it's onward to part two of this trip.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Riding The Bus Through Waikiki

We enjoyed a great seven-hour DEN-HNL flight today, probably the longest U.S. domestic flight we've experienced at 3360 EQMs. Flying in we had views of a couple of the other islands, including Maui, and got a good look at Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor.

We landed at HNL around 4:00 p.m. local time (two hours behind Pacific Standard Time) and hopped on the Roberts Airport Shuttle by 4:30 p.m. or so.

Our destination was the Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio. As luck would have it, the driver announced he was stopping at 16 hotels, and the Prince Kuhio, of course, is at the end of Waikiki closest to Diamond Head. We were the last two on the bus and were dropped off about 6:00 p.m. On the other hand, the round trip price is $15 per person, and the desk clerk estimated a taxi could run $35-40 one way. That makes the scenic bus ride a little more appealing.

We enjoyed some appetizers in the Executive Lounge, sitting in the basement of the hotel, and ate a light dinner at the 24-hour diner-style restaurant off the lobby - not bad.

We'll try to sleep in if possible. Tomorrow we walk over to the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani to take advantage of a bargain rate while racking up some Sheraton points. And then it's back to the airport for our first return flight.

A Brief Stop in DEN

It's a pleasant day as we look at the windows of one of the Denver Red Carpet Clubs. And rain is forecast for Honolulu tomorrow. It's probably warmer at HNL, even if more moist.

Adding Up Our Piles Of Miles

Somebody just e-mailed us to ask how many lifetime EQMs we'll have on UA after our flights to HNL. These are flights solely on UA "metal," i.e. United planes. It does not include flights on Star Alliance partners such as Air Canada and Lufthansa - in other words, we've already flown more than a million airline miles from 2001 onward, but only the UA miles count toward lifetime Premier Executive status.

Our total EQMs next Monday, January 24, will be:

Brian = 933,611

Kathy = 937,783.

Among our already scheduled flights to Italy at the end of January, South America in March and Australia in May, we've just about scheduled our millionth flight mile already.

It's really fortunate we're not at all obsessed with it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sleeping In Seattle At The SEA Doubletree

We really like the SEA Doubletree.

They treat us well at this spread-out property in recognition of Kathy's Hilton Diamond status with a room in the tower. Tonight we've finally attained the Penthouse level, although we don't notice much difference.

They also provide with $20 in certs good for dinner or breakfast in the restaurant downstairs. As well, they deliver a complimentary little cheese and fruit plate although tonight they seem to have forgotten about it.

There is free Internet throughout the lobby and a bank of four computers adjacent to the restaurant, although Diamonds now are entitled to free in-room Internet in all Hilton properties and we're tapping this out on our netbook up on the 13th floor.

The restaurant offers surprisingly reasonably priced dinner options starting at $12 for a really good hamburger and fries, and the chef knows how to prepare and present food.

For those times when our flights are too early or too late to stay with our Issaquah grandkids, the Park and Fly options here are surprisingly competitive, making the room itself really cheap when subtracting the cost of the equivalent parking at the nearby long term parking lots.

Only frequent flyers like us would enjoy a view of the airport and the distant rumbling sounds of planes taking off and landing.

Our Own Honolulu Hulu

We'll be flying back and forth, and maybe swaying a little en route, as we fly to HNL not once but twice in the next few days, resulting from bargain fares that we scooped up in November. We are upgraded into F for all legs.

Tuesday morning we fly SEA-DEN-HNL for a total of 4380 miles.

Thursday morning we fly HNL-SFO-SEA for a total of 3068 miles.

Friday morning we fly SEA-LAX-HNL for a total of 3504 miles.

Sunday morning we fly HNL-SFO-SEA for a total of 3068 miles.

The cost-effective flights will total 14020 miles toward our goal of reaching Million-Mile status on UA in 2011. SEA-DEN-HNL alone adds up to a hefty chunk of miles but we're avoiding a red-eye by not flying back through DEN. We couldn't find the same cheap fare for the second trip so we're settling for fewer miles through LAX. It's still a pleasing pile of miles and will total up to 17,247 Elite Status Miles (EQM*) in our 2011 accounts by next Monday morning.

While they don't meet FlyerTalk's classic definition of a Mileage Run - a series of flights taken in a very short amount of time, solely for the purpose of accumulating frequent flyer miles, with a blatant disregard for the destinations - our intent is roughly similar.

In the same spirit, we'll amass seven different hotel stays, divided among Hilton, Intercontinental, and Starwood properties, chosen largely for price.

Crazy as it sounds, we also intend to enjoy ourselves thoroughly.

*EQM used to stand for Elite Qualifying Miles, but it appears UA now calls them Elite Status Miles. For reasons best known to themselves, they're retaining the EQM abbreviation, at least for the time being.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Getting Groped: A "Pat-Down" At MIA

We report herein an amazing statistic. According to the TSA, only 5% of travelers are subject to the groping search... oops, make that "pat-down." Yet, Kathy was the target of a pat-down on our outbound flight, and it was Brian's turn yesterday at MIA.

Giving us one more reason to dislike MIA, a TSA employee told Brian to remove his wallet from his pocket and place it on the conveyor belt. Brian, bemused yet again by the inconsistency displayed at TSA check points, had the effrontery to state that this must be a new policy. The employee replied that it's "always" been the policy that travelers remove their wallets.

Brian had the nerve to question that statement. Gosh, it turns out that Brian is right and the employee is wrong, as you can confirm by clicking this link.

In any case, Brian was selected for an apparently punitive X-Ray scan, and of course opted out. The employees at least were more discreet than we've read about elsewhere. One simply cooed repeatedly into her shoulder-mounted mike "Male opt-out, male opt-out." Brian made it clear that he would be caressed publicly and that Kathy was to be his witness. The male screener had the grace at least to appear as uncomfortable about the procedure as Brian was, ("we don't like it any more than you do") and Brian didn't make it any easier for him, reflexively giggling at the wrong moments. The early parts of the search felt somewhat like a massage, but it gets tricky as the gloved hands slide up and down the legs a couple of times and brush against the tender parts.

At the end of the ceremony, Kathy made a couple of pithy comments about the cost-effectiveness of inflicting this on a couple of old geezers who flew 150,000 + miles in 2010 without committing any acts of terrorism. The screener muttered something about "not disagreeing" with us, and Kathy and her blushing husband exited.

Brian may or may not complain. He'll probably just wait for the next election to vote for any and all candidates who promise to reform the current procedures. Of course, that might just mean he won't be voting at all.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunny Florida

We're back from a pleasant six-night cruise and now relaxing for three nights in Florida before flying home to rainy and snowy weather.

Here it's beautiful and we're spending beach time and pool time for two nights at a bargain Hilton in Deerfield Beach before moving to a Miami Airport hotel for our last night.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

It's Almost Sea Time

Today is the day. Last night we enjoyed a great dinner at Casa d'Angelo. After Tom ordered enough appetizers to cover the table and feed a crew of Italian stone masons, we gazed at the menu and listened to the waiter's eloquent recitation of the evening's specials, before surrendering to lasagna for Kathy and spaghetti for Brian. Mundane, perhaps, but delicious. Another charming college friend of Haley's joined us for dinner - she lives in Miami - and our party of seven had a great time.

Today we drive back over to Fort Lauderdale, turn in our rental cars, and board the Eurodam for our six-night Western Caribbean cruise...

Sunday, Jan. 2 Embark at Fort Lauderdale and sail at 5:00 p.m.

Monday, Jan. 3 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas, 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Tuesday, Jan. 4 At sea.

Wednesday, Jan. 4 Ocho Rios, Jamaica, 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Thursday, Jan. 6 Georgetown, Cayman Islands, 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Friday, Jan. 7 At sea.

Saturday, Jan. 8 Disembark at Fort Lauderdale at 7:00 a.m.

You can keep track of us here. We're not going that fast or that far.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pre-Cruise Hotel Hopping

It wasn't easy finding reasonably priced hotel rooms in this part of Florida around New Year's. Cruise season is in swing and the
Orange Bowl takes place the day after tomorrow.

Last night we stayed at the Miami Airport Embassy Suites. This morning the breakfast buffet was an absolute zoo. Every room must have been filled, and many with families. It's a decent property and we'd happily return, but hopefully at a quieter time.

Today we picked up a cheap rental car and drove to Sunrise, Florida,where we're staying at the somewhat newer and nicer Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza at Sawgrass Mills. We're planning to pick up some mega-points through an Intercontinental Hotels promotion, and this stay will place us one step closer to that objective.

Tom and family are picking up Haley's college friend, who will be joining us on the cruise. Tonight we're scheduled to dine at Casa d'Angelo, so we're skipping lunch in preparation.

Tomorrow we board HAL's Eurodam and blogging, as they say, will be light for awhile, probably confined to the odd untitled text message from our wireless.

In Coral Gables We Choose Mr. Chu's

Our roll-aboards and we are off the plane at MIA and out in time to catch a cab and join Tom, Ellyn, and Haley for a fantastic New Year's Eve dinner at Mr. Chu's Taiwan Kitchen.

Tom had done a lot of research in anticipation of dinner - the reviews are actually mixed - but we have a great time and enjoy some excellent food, including, among other dishes, both Peking Duck and seconds (okay - and thirds) of Taiwanese soup dumplings, a new taste to us that Haley learned about during a recent college trip to Taiwan.

The restaurant itself isn't that busy and Mr. and Mrs. Chu spend some time with us. Luckily for us, they also take pity when no cabs are available at 10:30 p.m. New Year's Eve (what a surprise) to drive us back to our hotel. A young employee stuffs the five of us into her SUV and drives us back, only going astray once.

We thank her and arrive at our room just in time to watch some Midnight fireworks on the flat Miami horizon before calling it a night.

Happy New Year to All!

"You Took My Seat"

After a pleasant break in that uncrowded RCC, we walk out to D6 for our IAD-MIA leg and learn we're numbers 1 and 2 on the upgrade screen with only one seat left in F. We decide the seat will be Kathy's. During boarding, a grumpy fellow roughly in our age group mutters to Kathy as he walks by, "You took my seat." She politely replies, "Is this your favorite seat?" His parting word is "No," as he struggles past her on his way to way back in Y. He also has to gate-check his bulky roll-aboard, leading to more grumbling. Kathy shares her experience with the two flight attendants up front. We wonder if Mr. Grumpy figures out that he's the target of those girlish giggles.

Our flight on an Embraer is as pleasant as a regional jet can be. Kathy sits next to a congenial young member of the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team, and Brian sits by himself in Row 3 with all sorts of space.

We learn something new about the Embraer. We've flown far more on CRJs. Despite our loyalty toward all things Canadian, we have to agree with all of those who think the Brazilians make a slightly more comfortable regional jet. As we're about to leave our roll-aboards for gate-checking, the flight attendant assures us we can stow them aboard. By golly, we can, if we use the overheard bins on the right-hand side of the plane.

Happy New Year Mr. Grumpy, wherever you are.