Leaving

Sometimes you find a magical hotel and you don’t want to leave.

Sometimes you find a hotel where you’re treated so special you hate to say goodbye.

For me it was this week at the Pantai Inn in La Jolla.

I’ll share the details in the next few days.

Pantai Inn

Peaceful…relaxing…pampered

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These are the first words that come to mind as I sit in a private courtyard, watching the ocean meet the sky. Oh yeah, I’ve got a glass of wine in my hand and I can’t believe I’m a few feet from the street.

I could be on a tropical island…this place is like that.

Stay tuned…

To Reserve or Not To Reserve

Do you plan every little thing when on vacation? Do you make any reservations ahead of time? Or, do you just ‘wing it’ and hope for the best?

Certainly, there are upsides to reservations. They slash wait times, allowing you to see and do more. They curb disappointment because there’s no driving for an hour only to find out you can’t get in.

At the same time, there are trade-offs. For instance, spontaneity and serendipity, a large part of what makes travel surprising and rewarding, tend to go away. And as getting reservations for attractions becomes more competitive, travelers may soon no longer be able to choose whether to book in advance or play things by ear.

Increasingly, if you don’t make a reservation, you won’t be able to find a decent seat at a movie theater, camp at a popular national park, see the blockbuster exhibition, get to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or ride the latest roller coaster. Additionally, reservations are typically made online, which can put those without easy access to the Internet at a disadvantage.

In the case of some national parks, reservations can also be essential tools in helping preserve fragile environments. Utah, Zion National Park is considering adopting an online reservation system amid record crowds that are wearing down trails and campgrounds faster than the park can afford to repair them. Zion may become the first park to require a reservation for entrance.

Some of the biggest changes are happening at national parks because of the soaring attendance.

The California State Parks system recently rolled out an upgraded campsite and lodging reservation system, which aims to deliver a digital experience similar to booking a hotel room or airline tickets.

The system also allows users to see detailed campsite maps. You can book up to six months to the day in advance of the arrival date. Reservations at campsites in other parts of the United States can be made at sites such as Recreation.gov.

Being able to browse and book certain experiences has plenty of benefits, especially for travelers who take only one big vacation a year and want to make sure they can camp or hike where they want to.

Yet parks are not the only places making reservations more prevalent. Places like movie theaters and theme parks that already offer reservations for entry.

AMC Theatres announced that Manhattan would be the first major market where all its theaters would have reserved seating. At theme parks, there are reservations for practically every experience inside the gates: rides, shows, parades, restaurants, meet and greets. Walt Disney World’s FastPass+ allows visitors to reserve an arrival window for certain attractions as early as 30 days before you get there, or up to 60 days before check-in if you’re staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel.

No more getting up before the birds, rushing to the park, and waiting in line to get to the rides you want. Nothing better than being first in line…as a kid. No more having to be patient, waiting for the line to move. No more watching the street entertainment while the line inches forward.

So, which way is better?

I don’t know…it’s your vacation. For me, I’m glad we made reservations to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

 

 

 

REAL ID ACT…It’s Real

If you’re planning to fly after Jan. 22, you may not be able to use your driver’s license as a form of identification to get through security. That’s because of the REAL ID Act of 2005, which I have written about previously.

What it is: The law, a counterterrorism measure that followed 9/11, calls for states to issue driver’s licenses with more security features, such as scannable bar codes and digital photos. They will be required for people to board any commercial flight and enter federal facilities and military bases.

Passports or other approved forms of federal identification, such as a border-crossing card, U.S. military ID, TSA Pre-Check, or Global Entry card, can be used as an alternative. You will need this alternative ID if you live in one of 24 states that have yet to add the security measures to the driver’s licenses they issue. And you may need to get a new, updated license if you live in one of the states that already offers them.

Enforcement begins on Jan. 22. You can check your state’s status on the website of Department of Homeland Security. In addition, some states have been granted extensions to make their licenses compliant.

The bottom line: You don’t want to find yourself barred from flying just because you didn’t realize your old driver’s license is no longer an acceptable form of identification. If your state doesn’t have the new IDs, there is still time to get a passport or apply for another ID, says Tom Spagnola, senior vice president of supplier relations at the online travel agency CheapOair.

Spagnola says airlines, not to mention airport security agents, don’t want to face a slew of angry and confused travelers when enforcement begins. Many in the travel industry are working overtime to inform the public, so he’s hopeful the message will get through: “We still have three more months to work on passenger awareness.”

Still…it’s worth checking on before you get ready for your next trip.

 

Napa Valley

Perhaps you’ve read about or watched the news regarding the devastating fires in northern California over the past weeks.

So, what’s going on with wineries? Are they open, should you go, what do you need to know?

Yesterday, we toured though the areas of Napa Valley, the town of Napa, the town of St. Helena, and just north of there. We have not seen Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Glen Ellen, or other parts of the fire damaged areas.

Damage is real in the Napa area. Much of the fire damage is in the hills, on the hillsides, and above the valley floor…especially in the southern area of the Silverado Trail. Signorello Winery is completely gone and many others have damage, some extensive, all important. There is other damage to homes and areas we didn’t see.

But, Napa and St. Helena wineries and businesses are open for business. In fact, we were told they welcome visitors.

Some things we discovered:

Smoke still lingers in many areas. If you’re going to be outside for any length of time, wear a mask. But, it’s not solid smoke. You can still see the vineyards and hills. Also, if you have trouble breathing, a mask is a good idea. We didn’t have any problems breathing.

When the wind shifts, the smoke clears in one area and drifts to another area.

The hills are blackened in many areas. You can see where the fires burned the hillsides and stopped a few feet or less from a vineyard.

For the most part, the vines are not burned. There are some areas where they are singed, but not destroyed. Most of the harvesting of grapes was finished, with some crushing finished as well. We were told it’s a ‘wait and see’ about this year’s vintage.

Dozens of signs, if not more, thanking fire fighters and first responders line the streets and highways. Every business, every home, every corner has a sign. The work of the fire fighters and first responders is not taken lightly. It is all appreciated.

There are thousands of folks working to get these fires under control.

Restaurants and cafes offer free meals to fire fighters, first responders, and those who have lost their homes. In some cases, those restaurants deliver to fire camps or individuals. Everyone is pitching in.

Wineries and restaurants are open. If you plan to go, you’ll probably have your choice of appointment to taste wine and your choice of seating in most restaurants.

We had a fantastic tasting at Stony Hill Winery north of St. Helena. Sitting outside, enjoying the view was not much different than other times we’ve been there. Off in the distance wisps of smoke could be seen, but nothing that bothered us or hindered our tasting.

Lunch at the Goose & Gander in St. Helena was terrific, if not a little quiet. They thanked us for coming in and appreciated our business.

Tasting wine at The Terraces, along the Silverado Trail, we saw smoke in the distance. Business must go on. These people are all working hard to reestablish their livelihood.

Everyone is still vigilant. Fire is not something to ignore, even when it appears to be out. The winds can change, sparks can fly. But, Napa Valley is surviving this and wanting to get back on the road to recovery.

Bottom Line: Take a trip to Napa Valley and see for yourself.

 

New Fees?

 

Recently I read about a new fee charged by some airlines.

It’s called a gate service fee. What does the mean?

If you get to the gate with a bag you’re not able to stow in the overhead bin or beneath the seat in front of you, United and American have created a new fee of $25 to check that bag at the gate. This used to be free…

United calls it a “gate handling charge.” American calls it a “gate service fee.”

Does this mean it’s a penalty on top of a fee?

 

How Deep Is It?

Want to visit America’s deepest lake? If so, head to Oregon…to Crater Lake.

With a depth of 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, and one of the most beautiful. The water’s intense blue color is an indication of its great depth and purity. Surrounded by cliffs, the lake is fed entirely by rain and snow. Scientists consider Crater Lake to be the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world.

Crater Lake rests in the belly of a dormant volcano; asleep but not extinct. That’s an important distinction.

The volcano once stood 12,000 feet tall, but it collapsed after a major eruption 7,700 years ago. Later eruptions formed Wizard Island, a cinder cone that rises from the water. The park has an abundance of fascinating volcanic features, including a second rocky island, the Phantom Ship

Crater Lake is also one of the snowiest inhabited places in the USA. Each winter, deep snow forces the closure of the park’s Rim Drive and North Entrance to cars. Rim Drive becomes a trail for skiing and snowshoeing. The North Entrance road becomes a snowmobile trail. These roads close for the season with the first big October snowstorm, or on November 1, whichever comes first.

Crater Lake itself occupies less than 10% of the park. Beyond the lake, old-growth forests blanket the landscape. Established in 1902, the park protects 15 species of conifers, from towering ponderosa pines to ancient whitebark pines. These trees shelter a wide array of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, elk, and spotted owls.

We visited in September of this year. Fires forced the closure of the roads along the west, but we had the opportunity to drive along the east side. Wizard Island and the deep blue water views were still spectacular and the way I remembered from my visits when I was a teen-ager.

This has to be one of America’s best places to visit.

 

One Time in Monterey

One time in Monterey

Regardless of whether you stay at the Asilomar Conference Center facility or not, you need to take some time to explore Asilomar State Beach.

Asilomar State Beach is a narrow, one-mile strip of sandy beach and rocky coves, with a coastal walking trail. Meander along 24 acres of restored sand dune ecosystem and discover over 450,000 plants, representing 25 species. Located within Asilomar Marine Reserve, all marine resources, animals, rocks, and shells are protected. No collecting or fishing is allowed.

Monterey cypress, Monterey pine, and coast live oak trees make up the surrounding forest. Living here are 90 species of birds…so get out your birding list and find some new ones.

Asilomar’s rich history dates back to its origins as a YWCA Leadership Camp built in 1913. Known as Monterey Peninsula’s “Refuge by the Sea,” the state park is located on 107 acres of state beach and conference grounds, within the quaint and scenic town of Pacific Grove. Asilomar is celebrated for its restored dune ecosystem and architectural significance, with cozy, historic structures designed by renowned architect Julia Morgan between 1913 and 1928.

After exploring the dunes, dust the sand off your feet and hit the road.Thirteen of Morgan’s original structures remain today and constitute her largest collection of Arts & Crafts style architecture in one location. Thirty years later, John Carl Warnecke (best known for John F. Kennedy’s gravesite memorial), created seven more complexes that make up the conference grounds. In 1987, the original Morgan buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Warnecke buildings will likely follow. While updates have been made throughout the decades, the tranquility and harmony found at Asilomar have been preserved.

It’s worth the time to take the 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach. One of the most famous scenic drives in the world winds you through the impressive Del Monte Forest and along the mesmerizing coastline. Homes, mansions, golf courses, horses, and again that fantastic Pacific Ocean coast…it doesn’t get much better.

Back toward Monterey, stop at the Fishwife Seafood Restaurant in Pacific Grove for dinner. Local seafood served with a Caribbean accent…it’s all good.

Then, back to the beach to watch the sun set…the perfect way to end One Time in Monterey.