Cruising

Hoofing it: Wandering the Windy City (and by Boat)

I had a great time in Chicago, it was a really great city to walk around and enjoy. The city is just enormous and has some of the tallest building in North America. It also well was/is home to some storied companies such as Sears, Montgomery Ward, F.W. Woolworth’s, Prudential, Wrigley and the local Tribune newspaper.

During our visit I had a chance to take the amazing Architectural river boat cruise and see many of these amazing buildings for a really great vantage point. The tour was really really great. It truly brought the city to life and allowed me to see the city on a way that I had not expected to see it in. The tour guide did a great job of describing the buildings and explaining why they were designed the way they were and talked a ton about the history of the city and its growth. Besides that he added a good bit of humor to keep the tour light and interesting too. I know that if I had not been on this three hour tour (really just 1 ½), I would not have come away from Chicago with  as much knowledge as I did about the history of it.

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My golden ticket for the Architectural Boat Tour

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Trump Tower,second largest building in Chicago.

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Categories: Cruising, Photography, Travel, Travel Blog, Trip Report, Wandering the city | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Turning 40 is not so bad

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Sadly all good things must come to an end and for me the Year of Rahul is about over. Wow what a year my 39th was. Without trying to brag, I’m going to take a moment and relive an incredibly fun and amazing year I had. But before I do that I must thank my beautiful and AMAZING wife, which if it wasn’t for her none of this would have been possible. Granted no matter how enthusiastic she was about the YOR, she probably regrets, even suggesting it. Needless to say w/out her encouragement and blessing I never would have had the opportunity to as many really cool things as I did.

So I’m going to start with something that falls just out of the range of my 39th year, but by only three small days. The family went to the Maldives for the second time, and we had an amazing time. It was as magical as the first and exceeded any and all previous expectations. We again got to fly Singapore Airlines First Class, and it too was even better than the last time. Wow, I just can’t get enough of that carrier and relish another opportunity to try them again. I’ll have to wait till they release a massive lot of award tickets by mistake like they did this time. I also got to swim with Whale Sharks, and got probably within 20 feet of one. They are incredibly majestic and to this day I think about the good fortune I had in seeing two of them.

There was no official kick off per se, but March was really when the festivities really got going. That month I had a trip to Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand for work that would span an open weekend. Besides getting an opportunity to visit to really amazing cities again, I had the opportunity to visit Fiji on the free weekend. Yet another place on my lifelong bucket list. As usual for me, part of the fun is the journey there and in this case there was no exception. I had an incredibly circuitous journey to the Southern Hemisphere and back. I flew to Auckland via Narita Japan, then direct to Fiji and on the return I flew via Bangkok,, Beijing and Japan. Nothing like a diversion right. On the return I used my miles to get a pretty comfortable ride on Thai Airways first class, and that was truly a treat.

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What other water should they serve

What other water should they serve

The Pool

The Pool

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That month I also had the luck of going to Spring Training in Scottsdale Arizona, with my buddies to root on the San Francisco Giants 2010 and 2012 World Series Champions. This was our fourth trip down here and boy was it fun. Sadly for us the team was not as good as either year’s winners, but hey there’s always next year, and if they keep this new string up it’s their year again.

Later this year I took advantage of a screaming Business Class deal on American Airlines and flew to Santiago Chile via New York and Miami, and had a great time. All be it, only 12 hours, but for me although a very cool city and one that I must take the family back too and spend more time in, was about going to South America. I’ve always wanted to go to all seven continents and know some day I will, but with all the travel I had booked this year thought I might be able to visit all of them except Antarctica on 2013. Alas, I didn’t make it to Africa, although I tired, but ran out of time, I did make it to five this year and even visited a new one, South America. Santiago was beautiful and had that old world charm of Europe, but with a Spanish feel. It was really really great. If you’re looking for someplace to go, this is somewhere everyone must visit.

The Plaza

The Plaza

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Additionally I was able to “travel” with the team to Colorado and Cincinnati to root on the Giants. My buddy “T” and I have done this three years in a row and although we have a great time, the team sucks when were on the road with them. After this year’s 0-4 stretch we’re now 2-10. Yes that’s right two wins in three years of road trips!!! And the kicker, this year we saw the Giants get no hit (my first time at one of these), and the one game we missed on this road trip, cause we had to travel to Cincinnati, they won. How is that for irony.

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There were three other great trips I had this year, one to Oktoberfest in Munich Germany, Thanksgiving in New York so my wife could march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the other was a real family trip across the Atlantic on a cruise. All of these have been written about here, here and here. So I won’t drivel on and on about them, but I just must say that I am blessed. I have an incredible wife that lets me travel a lot. Not only for my work obligations, but in this year and many past ones the ability to experience some pretty cool things along the way.

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My 39th year on this planet was pretty spectacular and I had many many gifts along the way. If you’re going to crass that magical threshold into the 40’s you might as give the 30’s a pretty good send off and that what I think I did.

One final note, I wrote this whole post a week ago, and the weekend before my 40th birthday, my wife surprised me with the MOST AMAZING surprise party, she’s been planning since March. She gathered up my closest friends and surprised me with a really great dinner. Not only did I get to see all of my friends, but she celebrated my year by making the most amazing world map display of all the places I went to this year. Besides that the place cards were airline tickets. For the airline junkie like me, this was a super cool treat, and I just needed to make sure I took this opportunity to thank her for all that she does for me and our little family.

Categories: Cruising, Family, Oktoberfest, Review, Travel, Travel Blog, Trip Report | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Crossing the Atlantic

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So I’m finally able to sit down and write a little bit about or amazing family vacation across the Atlantic in early November on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. As documented in a previous post, the family including my mom otherwise known as Baba, joined us for a thirteen night trip from Southampton England and onto Port Canaveral Florida.

This turned out to be a really really great vacation for us, it was to be our kids first cruise when we booked it back in January, but at the last minute in September my wife and “S” went on a Disney cruise. Thank you Mommy’s work for providing them this amazing trip. This alleviated one fear though, that we wouldn’t know till we got somewhere across the Atlantic if she would get seasick. Thankfully that was not an issue for us, yippee. The only problem it created was the expectation of Cinderella, Nemo and all her Disney palls would be on this ship too.

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This was our first time on this vessel, but our second time on a Freedom class ship. She was born in 2008 and spends half the year in Europe and the other in the Caribbean. In April this ship went under an extensive refurbishment. During this downtime they added a couple of really cool features from adding a new specialty restaurant called Giovanni’s Table (this replaced Portofino), an outdoor movie screen on the pool deck, the Cupcake Cupboard and I’m sure a few more bells and whistles. But the big one for us as parents was Royal Babies and Tots, a day care service for kids under three. Now Royal has a really great free kids program (or so I’ve been told) called Adventure Ocean, and also in room babysitting at a fee of $15 per hour up to three kids of any age up to 16 I think. But if you have a little Princess like we do, under three only some ships have the Babies and Tots program, and this was one of the ships that had it. In fact that was specifically why we choose this boat. Unfortunately it’s not free but was between $6-8 per hour, depending on the time of day, and it was open from 9 AM to Midnight. Whoo Hoo.

Since there were only 19 kids under three on the boat, we didn’t have to reserve time or worry about the 10 hours per child maximum or the eight kid max in the center at a time. We were just lucky that there weren’t that many kids and had the flexibility to drop her off when we wanted too. The program was really great and the people working the center were also great too. They gave us a cell phone so we could check in when we wanted to and vice versa, plus they really seemed to enjoy their jobs and care for our kid. We didn’t purposely spy on them, but when we came back and peered through the door, every time our kid was enjoying herself, playing with toys or the staff. They were really loving towards her and even when we saw them monitoring the H2O water zone, they made a point to say hi to us. It was little touches like this that will make us do another cruise with our kid sometime in the future.

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So this was an interesting cruise it was 13 nights with the first nine being sea days, to cross the Atlantic. The weather in England was cool probably in the low 50’s, but since we only spent five hours there it was not a matter. Granted we were probably in cooler waters for the first two nights. The pools were closed but the water park was open and so was mini golf, ice skating and the basketball courts. Unfortunately Flowrider, no not the singer, the surf machine was closed for the first couple days and so was the rock wall, but soon enough these activities were open too.

Until the Oasis of the Seas debuted in December 2009 this class of ship was the largest in the world, so the amenities on a new modern ship are pretty amazing, you’ll be hard pressed to find a resort on land with so many of these kinds of activities. The only downside and this really can be hit or miss is the amount of passengers and staff on the ship. At full occupancy it’s close to 6000 people including staff. But at over 1100 feet long and 150 foot beam and 14 stories, it’s a big resort.

The only reason that the large amount of people ever mattered, was when we got on and off the ship on embarkation and disembarkation day and on the few roughs sea days after leaving England. Since there was a good bit of wind and wave I think 10 foot swells, which really is nothing, the outdoor decks were empty and that taxed the open spaces inside the ship. This just meant a bit if a struggle to find a spot to hang in certain areas. But hey this was really not that bad, and by day three or four, this was not an issue.

So what do you do on a ship like this with nothing but sea and nine days of free time, mostly without internet and cell service. You relax of course, being on a cruise ship of this size that’s modern has all the amenities of any fine land resort. That to me is the best part of cruising. Years ago, just like air travel you were really separated from the rest of the world, you were unplugged. Very few ships had internet let alone wireless and phone calls from your room were like 8 bucks a minute, forget using your cell phone, of course times have changed and you get all the connectivity you want but for a price. I know I sound old and crotchety, but I liked being unplugged.

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Back to what did we do, we relaxed. We spend hours at the pool, which was warm and by day three temps were up to the mid 70’s and getting warmer by the day. Besides that we spent lots of time playing with “S” in the kids play area, Royal has partnered with Fisher Price, and had a play area on deck 12 that had tons of toys, games and lots of activities you could do with your kids. This just gave us plenty of time to play with our kid, which is tough to do at home when we both work and I spend so much time on the road. This vacation was exactly what we all needed two weeks of being a family spending tons of time together and even getting a chance to hang with Baba, for an extended amount of time. I think the last time I went on vacation with her was probably 10 years ago.

I’ve only cruised on two cruise lines, but I imagine to some degree activities are the same, each night we’d get a cruise compass which outlined what kinds of activities for the following day. There were activities as mundane as Bingo to things like dancing, napkin folding, ring toss, basketball, trivia’s, Broadway shows, comedy acts, ice shows and lots of casino tournaments. There was something for everyone or just lost of relaxing. It was easy to make a day of breakfast, lunch, pool time and naps. I mean what else can you ask for.

Some of the other things people obsess about or think is signature on a cruise ship would be food and entertainment. In the case of the food there was something like 12 outlets to try, besides the two specialty dining restaurants they had a Johnny Rockets, Ben and Jerry’s, a coffee shop, pizza joint, juice bar, three dining rooms and a buffet. There was little chance of starving, the biggest issue was where and when to eat. If that’s the toughest decision I have to make then I think I’m ok. Most breakfasts and Dinners we ate in the dining room, it offered the best pace for us and most meal options, for a us. Besides the Windjammer (buffet) is jut snot my speed, and sure Ice Cream and Burgers are great bit not for every meal. Regardless, we never starved and really enjoyed the meals, the worst part was coming home and seeing prices on the menu. Ouch.

Well finally after nine nights at sea we hit our first port, St. Martin with additional stops in Puerto Rico and their private island Coco Cay, I’ll save these posts for another post soon, but wanted to share a little bit about our trip and a few pictures of the vessel and the amazing time we had. Stay tuned for another post on our ports coming soon.

Categories: Cruising, Family, Food, Review, Royal Caribbean, Travel Blog, Traveling with kids, Trip Report | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Hanging Loose

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There are so many fun things about cruising, but one of my favorites and now my daughters are the towel animals. I thought I had more pictures but I just can’t find them, but almost every other night we had one of these fine fellows greeting us after dinner in our stateroom. Little S loved them so much that our attendant made a couple to hang in the closet for her to visit with.

Categories: Cruising, Family, Pets, Photography, Royal Caribbean, Travel, Travel Blog, Traveling with kids | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Do you think we have enough luggage

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Whew, we had a 14 night trip two continents (sort of), 10 nights at sea crossing the Atlantic on a very BIG boat. So we needed a ton of luggage. As I mentioned in a previous post we had four of us travelling, so with such a long trip a 2 1/2 year old, we knew this would not be a chance to pack light. We had 12 pieces, yes that’s right 12, eight were suitcases, three backpacks and one stroller. Thank you American Airlines Executive Platinum status for free checked bags. Otherwise, who knows how much we would have paid for luggage.

Sure it’s nice to pack light, but when you need to pack for two different climates with the big unknown, of when the weather would change in the Atlantic from cold to warm. There was also that one small issue, of what do we need for our little princess. To run out of pull ups or diaper cream somewhere in the Atlantic would be awful. Imagine going to a deserted island w/out sunblock, that was our worry.

Our trip started out in San Jose, California with a connection in Dallas on American Airlines. We were lucky to fly on their brand spanking new 777-300 ER, these are really wonderful planes and it really was a happy moment to spend nine hours on a new plane that has helped start the revitalization of the American premium cabin. They offer a business class cabin with four across in a reverse herringbone configuration, which allows direct isle access to everyone. Hurrah for all. In all seriousness, not having to climb over someone to use the bathroom or just move around is just wonderful. These seats are super private which is great for the single traveler, but when you’re traveling with anyone isle, it makes it hard to communicate. Let alone deal with your little 2 1/2 year old who is more than arm’s length away during takeoff and landing. First world problems huh. On this trip since we didn’t need a car seat on the cruise we just took her CARES harness, which is a super safe way to strap monkey into the seat. It’s super easy to install, it just loops around the seat and then threads to the belt buckle. It’s a four point harness, so they’re really strapped in. Sure a car seat is even better, but I just could not justify bringing it. In any event thankfully little “S” was an angel during takeoff, and landing so being that far away was not as much of an issue as we thought. Besides having her favorite animal with her didn’t hurt either.

As I mentioned before traveling with a kid can be challenging, but hey if you love to travel you’ve just got pull off the band aide sometime, in our case it was at seven weeks old when we took the kid to Texas and Alabama. Two and a half years later we’ve taken the kid to four continents and upwards of 70k miles flown. Wow just crazy, that being said we’re by no means are we kid travel experts, but there are a few important things to remember, for the trip and the plane. Bring lots of diapers/pull ups, you don’t want to run out, Ziploc bags in case of wet messy situations, snacks, forget airplane food (if they serve it) you need to bring something you know they will eat. Additionally, entertainment, in our case we let her pick a few out she loves, plus books and of course coloring books and lastly a few new ones she had not played with before. That’s the ace up your sleeve sometimes.

Stay tuned for a few more posts on our trip across the Atlantic on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas and the adventures we had.



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Categories: American Airlines, Cruising, Family, Life, Review, Royal Caribbean, Travel, Travel Blog, Traveling with kids, Trip Report | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Atlantic Adventure Begins

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Vacation is finally here!!! Well really we’ve all been back for a week crying that it’s over. But I finally have time to write up a few posts on our amazing 13 night Transatlantic cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas.

We are heading to London England for about five hours to catch a cruise and get our kid on another continent, this is number four, only one less then me. So crazy, she’s only two and I’m almost 40.

Anyhow why such a short time in the land of Royals, Burberry and Tanquaray. Well we have a ship to catch and we didn’t have enough extra time to get in a proper day at Harrods or Piccadilly Circus so we just decided to fly in the day of and then head to the cruise port in South Hampton, England.

Now it’s time for the adventure to really begin. Stay tuned for further installments on the adventures of mom, dad, s and baba (grandma).

Catching some shut eye

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Categories: Airlines, Airport, American Airlines, Cruising, Family, Travel, Travel Blog, Traveling with kids, Trip Report | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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