Jul 172012
 

Landed in Dominica, and that’s where the drama started. Immigration was a snap, and soon found the small shack/hut that housed the rental car companies. Went over to the Avis “desk” (which, seriously, is an overstatement. It’s a small wooden podium, with a rather nice, but disinterested man who may or may not be behind it.) Nope, no reservation. Showed it to him. “Oh, how interesting. Can’t help you.” He had no car, and while he could get me one from another agency, no matching the rate, etc etc. Chatted with the (much more) helpful lady from the other agency, and she told me for what I was doing in Dominica, I would be much better with her “friend’s” taxi. He would take me round-trip to my resort, and make sure things were happy….all for the same price as my rental car. Since I only planned to hike and chill here, I went with it.

I’d chosen to stay at the Hotel Beau Rive – and in summary – it was an awesome choice.  I normally prefer locations much more in the middle of it all.  Places to go out to eat, walking distance to cool things to see, etc etc.  You get the idea.  Beau Rive?  Well, it was absolutely none of this.  What it was, however, was set in the middle of Dominica’s awesome natural beauty with the most amazing hosts and staff you could ask for.  This is all made very clear on their website, online reviews, etc.  If you’re not ready for an “at home” atmosphere, pets on premesis who are quite friendly, and a home away from home…this isn’t the place for you.  Yet, despite being from from my normal “style” I absolutely loved it here.  I’ll go into more details, but the pics will do much more talking here.

My taxi driver was awesome….on the approximately one hour drive to Beau Rive he told me all about his island, the people, the locations…it was like a mini guided tour.  Plus, the roads were seriously harpin and pretty tricky.  Much less stressful not to drive on them!  Got to the hotel, checked in (I was one of two rooms occupied!) and immediately took this awesome shot from my room’s balcony:

Another shot from the hotel’s veranda:

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Jul 142012
 

The Barbados airport was several times the size of any one I had encountered yet on this trip, which meant I actually had to wait for my baggage a good bit…but it was an air conditioned area with “modern” baggage belts….unlike some of the previous islands whose baggage reclaim areas cum customs cum immigration areas felt like you’d traveled back in time many decades.  The Barbados airport felt modern, efficient, and decidedly different…aka everything the average tourist loves.

While waiting for baggage, I chatted a bit more with the guy who’d been sitting near me.  He was from Barbados, home for a month to visit during the summer, and would return to Canada for university in the fall.  He’d been in Grenada for business, so was back home now to enjoy the rest of his vacation.  I was offered (and accepted) a ride to the hotel, “as long as you don’t mind a few stops along the way.”  Hmmm, I was going to save a $25 taxi and have a fun adventure…why not?  In retrospect, yeah, it’s everything you’re advised not to do…but once again, taking a chance paid off!  After a quick, very bumpy, and bat-out-of-hell style ride in a jacked-up old Hummer, we were at his house where he swapped clothes and dropped off luggage while I waited.  Was nice being in an actual neighbourhood far away from what any tourist ever see, and to see how the locals actually live.

The next part I hadn’t expected.  It was a series of at least four or five stops to pick up friend after friend who was joining him at the beach party.  It was especially cool to get a real view into the diversity of Barbados.  People had come from everywhere, and everyone was some mix of different cultures that blended into something truly local and unique.  Eventually, there were seven of us in the car, and we were off to the hotel.  Right before dropping me off, I was told if I could hurry I should join them for the beach party.  Um, sure, why not!  Luggage dropped off, checked in quickly, and a quick photo from the room:

Back downstairs, and we were off for a five minute drive to the party on the beach.  I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever been to a sunset Sunday night party on the beach before.  It was a completely local crowd, everyone seemed to know everyone, and it was lots of dancing, rum, and just enjoying a Sunday evening.  I checked out after a couple of hours, because I had dinner plans at the Brown Sugar Restaurant near the Hilton.

It was a date for one….me, a good book on my iPad, and a delicious dinner.  Brown Sugar gets very mixed reviews online, but due to location I decided to give it a go.  It was exactly what I expected – not superb, but fun, somewhat local, and good food…even if I did have to sit next to a family from Jersey who kept complaining about things instead of focusing on the things they were liking about their vacation.  Enough said!  After multiple drinks on the beach, I was starving, so went with the Caribbean Jerk Porn appetizer.  Nothing fantastic, but it was tasty, and went well with the rum punch.  (Sensing a theme here?  I mean, I really had to compare how each island did them!)

Then, it was time for the main course.  I decided to go all out and get the Martin’s Choice, described as “A bountiful seafood platter with fried flying fish, grilled Mahi-Mahi Dolphin, breaded shrimps & a crab cake.”  It was rather tasty, but also rather more fried than I would have expected.  I still don’t know what “Mahi-Mahi Dolphin” is, but I’m gonna hope it wasn’t really dolphin.  It tasted like Mahi Mahi so I’m going with that.

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Jun 252012
 

A few months ago, in the midst of declaring bankruptcy and seeing the mess the United/Continental merger was causing, American decided to offer top-tier elite status to disgruntled United elites. Well, you didn’t really have to be disgruntled – I mean, I haven’t seen too many negatives myself, although I know many others have. A quick call, and I was American Executive Platinum through February 2013, with 8 systemwide upgrades good on any fare on top of it.

I mainly took them up on it because I doubted American would be around in another year, and who knows it might come in handy. Well, about a month ago they upped the ante: If you fly 55,000 qualifying miles (instead of the usual 100,000) by December 31 they will renew status (with 8 more systemwide upgrades) through February of 2014. Now…this is interesting. I already have 80,000 of my needed 100,000 United miles booked, and if I plan carefully another 55,000 on American should be possible.

To that end, I started looking at trips for July 4 where I could use American. With the 4th falling on a Wednesday it was a bit awkward, but since I had the Friday before off, by taking Monday/Tuesday off I could get a 6 day trip for the price of 2 leave days…a downright bargain!

So, I started exploring destinations that I’d always missed on United (either because they don’t fly there, or do in very convoluted ways) and where American was strong. I don’t plan for this status to last much more than 18 months so time to make the most of it. Generally, that meant exploring the Caribbean and South America.

First idea was the Bolivia-Peru-Ecuador trip I want to do soon, but that will take much more than six days, and with the dates less than a month away reasonable fares and systemwide upgrade seats were long gone. Plan two…caribbean. This is where I struck gold…I found a way to squeeze in six countries in six days by flying into St Lucia and out of Antigua. The route looks like this:

So the plan is to hit St Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada, Barbados, Dominica, and Antigua in six days.  There’s things to see, but I think for most of them one day will be plenty.  None of the flights are over 90 minutes, so most of my time will be spent exploring.  Anyone who has recommendations of things to see I’m all ears!

I don’t know why I feel like this is such an AAdventure…all domestic airlines are pretty much the same…right?  But, now I feel like I’m cheating on the United much like I originally felt like I was cheating on Northwest when I started flying United about seven years ago.  We’ll see if there’s any difference…and what the plusses and minuses are.

I still need about 21,000 miles on United and 37,000 on American and partners this year…anyone with fun (but short…vacation time is low) suggestions they’re more than welcome!