Sunday, September 24, 2023

When Traveling in the U.S., Adjust Your Expectations

Now that the first thrill of travel in the post-Covid period has receded, some of us are noticing more and more examples of lower standards of service offered by hotels, restaurants, and – to a lesser extent – airlines.

An Australian frequent flyer friend of many years standing recently emailed us to ask our opinion of the Seattle Airport Doubletree. He’s locked into a non-refundable stay in October and was alarmed by some recent negative reviews. As it happens, we stayed there ourselves just the other week. Our best reassurance is that we haven’t found the property to be as bad as the image the negative reviews conveyed. 

Whether the shortfall is due to a lack of employees unwilling to take the first job available, greedy business owners trying to recoup the lost profits of the previous couple of years, or some combination of the two factors, the loser is ultimately the consumer who is paying  as much or more for an experience that has significantly diminished in quality since pre-pandemic days. 

We recently stayed a couple of nights at an Embassy Suites in Fort Lauderdale. The soaring atrium typical of ES continues to impress.

Our two-room suite was clean but dark and dated. 

It contains probably the original furniture from its opening a number of years ago – the early 1990s perhaps? 

The showerhead in the tub was close to falling off, and only a small stream of water emerged. The toilet made a loud and unpleasant whining noise after being flushed, downright alarming until we got used to it.

Breakfast (which we skipped) was only available until 9:00AM, and we felt fortunate to extend this property’s standard 11:00AM checkout time to 1:00PM. Hilton markets ES as an “upscale experience.” Compared to what? 

Last year we were burned by a Hilton Tru hotel at DFW that advertised an airport shuttle. It was only after we landed late one night that we learned the shuttle doesn’t run on weekends. That reality cost us two expensive taxi rides. It would have been more cost-effective to stay at a more expensive property adjacent to the airport. Now we always make a phone call before booking an airport hotel to confirm the existence of an airport shuttle and its operating hours. 

Many of our recent dining experiences at home and away have been less than stellar. Just this past Friday evening we went out for dinner at a small local establishment.  We stood in the entry for 7 or 8 minutes before finally being seated. It took another 5 to 7 minutes to get our menus, and a few more minutes after that to get the glasses of water we’d requested. 

The order took a lot of time to be delivered, and nobody refilled our water despite our asking. The food itself was fine but the overall experience was subpar. Unfortunately, subpar seems to be par for the course these days.

We continue to enjoy decent service on airlines, but there’s no question flights are fewer in number and generally packed to capacity. Airports and airport lounges can be extremely crowded. Still we persevere. 

Our advice when traveling in North America is to be prepared to adjust your expectations to minimize your frustrations. We hope that someday things return to “normal,” but we just have to make the best of it in the meantime.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

What Would We Do without 'Travel Experts'?

Every day we read several travel and travel consumer advocate blogs, along with perusing FlyerTalk. 

Occasionally we can't help but be drawn like moths to a flame by "expert" advice offered in other outlets, including the UK's Daily Mail. Here, for example, is a recent headline:

I'm a travel expert - here's my favorite time-saving hack that will get you out of the airport FASTER

After that breathless tease, it's anti-climactic to read that her "secret" is to have your ride pick you up at the departures level if the arrivals level is busy. We've only known about that particular secret for 25 years or so.

Maybe we could also gain 125,000 followers by divulging that you can also save time by being dropped off at the arrivals level when the departures level is busy.

Of course, our Seattle-Tacoma International Airport already announces on a sign when one or other level is particularly busy so that drivers can select the other level. It seems the secret is out.

Gary Leff recently highlighted an even more egregious example in a View From The Wing post:

'Spicy' Flight Attendant Says She'll Hand Out Upgrades To Passengers Who Bring Her Gift Cards

As Gary points out, this is absolute nonsense for a number of reasons. She claims it "works every time." We say it doesn't work anytime.

In the meantime, we do find that some "travel experts" at least provide us with a chuckle or two.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Pleasing Fort Lauderdale Lunch at Willie T’s Seafood Shack

Yet another short walk from the Fort Lauderdale Embassy Suites to find this cute little joint, tucked away in another corner of the shopping plaza that houses Gilbert’s and Koi.

The interior is sparkling and the employees are friendly.

There are printed menus available near the entry and you order and pay at the counter when ready.

We ordered two different $20 plates that included lightly battered large shrimp, some jumbo shrimp, some Andouille sausage, both with French fries and coleslaw. We shared and thoroughly relished every bite of it.

It’s one more joint to visit if we ever stay at the Fort Lauderdale Embassy Suites again. We always have a soft spot for independent restaurants.

After another easy Uber ride, we now have a long but not unpleasant wait at FLL before boarding our 6:25 pm flight to SEA. This has been a fun little trip.

We were upgraded to First yesterday, albeit seated in window seats one behind the other. Even though we were 1 and 2 on the upgrade list, Alaska’s upgrade processor (Flyertalk members sarcastically call it the “upgrade professor”) was unable to place us in the two vacant aisle/window seats.

Once aboard, a very kind man seated next to Kathy volunteered to swap his bulkhead aisle seat for Brian’s Row 2 window seat, a swap we would never request (some passengers strongly prefer one or the other).

Here we are sitting together after all. And we promised the Good Samaritan now seated behind us that there would be no loud arguments!

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Koi Sushi Lounge in Fort Lauderdale

We decided to keep things simple tonight and walked back around to the small shopping plaza behind the Embassy Suites to dine at the Koi Sushi Lounge.

The interior was bright and bustling, but it had cooled off enough that we decided to sit in the quiet outside patio.

Our friendly young Bangkok-born waitress guided us to some interesting dishes. The flash-fried bok choy was fun to try, although once was enough.

We always are ready for lettuce wrap, and this was a good one, even though we would have enjoyed some hoisin sauce on the side.

Their bite-sized roasted duck wrap was cut into six tasty morsels.

We concluded with one shared main dish, a spicy and satisfying Mongolian Beef.

If we ever stay again at the Fort Lauderdale Embassy Suites, we now know of three decent eateries within a short walk.

Gilbert’s 17th Street Grill in Fort Lauderdale: The Hamburger Joint around the Corner

We noticed a restaurant highly rated by Yelp and Trip Advisor sits directly behind the Embassy Suites where we’re staying during our quick visit to Fort Lauderdale.

Trying to stay on Pacific Daylight Time, we slept in a little and set off in the 90-degree heat for the short walk to Gilbert’s.

It’s located in a small strip mall that features at least a couple of other promising eateries, but by now we were ready to try their Certified Angus Beef (CAB) burgers.

We weren’t disappointed.

You go up to the counter, place your order and pay, and take a number. We ordered the basic burger (there are ribs and other items as well), and didn’t have to wait long.

Large, hot, and delicious, $15 for a burger and fries is money well spent. We’re glad we stopped by.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

A Return Visit to Kubo: Asian Fusion and Street Food in Fort Lauderdale

We discovered Kubo when disembarking from a December 2022 cruise in Fort Lauderdale. We thoroughly enjoyed it and wrote about it.

We realized today when we arrived at the Fort Lauderdale Embassy Suites on SE 17th Street that Kubo is little more than a block away. Should we try it again? We’d be fools not to. Off we went.

It’s just as we remembered it, with a friendly vibe and music playing only a little too loudly for our tastes.

They have a huge menu that includes, along with Thai, Chinese, Korean and Filipino dishes, an entire page of sushi and sashimi. We repeated two appetizers that we’d chosen last year.

Lumpia are basically Filipino and Indonesian spring rolls. These were delicious.

The Chinese Bao Buns had a choice of fillings; we selected soft-shell crab and loved it.

We shared a Filipino adobo for our main course, supposedly the unofficial national dish of the Philippines

It’s comfort food that included some pork belly. It was not too spicy but tasty, if a little sweet for us.

We liked it but probably would opt for an alternative on another visit. Since we’re staying here another night before flying home and thereby earning another 2,717 status miles (and 4,076 bonus miles) on Alaska, a second visit is a distinct possibility.

As we wrote last time, kudos to Kubo.

The First Flight of Fall

We’ve enjoyed our summer immensely.

We experienced quite a bit of family time, including some visiting from Rhode Island, New Mexico, and Colorado crabbing on our boat, albeit with repeated mechanical problems, and delicious dining at home and away.

Now we’re halfway through September, our grandchildren and most of their parents are back in school, and it’s time for us to make a quick trip to Fort Lauderdale.

Starting the day with cappuccinos and window seats at Alaska’s N Gates Lounge feels just right.

We’re aboard AS516 SEA-FLL. Premium Economy will do just fine today.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Advice from Tom Stuker, the Ultimate Frequent Flyer

 Brian has been a member of the FlyerTalk website since 2002. He wrote the original post that introduced frequent flyer Tom Stuker. That 2009 thread has since drawn more than 2,200 replies and Tom himself contributes regularly.

In 2011 we got to meet Tom in person at a frequent flyer seminar in Chicago. We, like many other fairly frequent flyers, follow his adventures with admiration and awe.

Tom was most recently featured on CNN, offering some useful advice. When it comes to air travel, Tom is The Man.