On our recent trip to Northern California, we booked tickets on JetBlue Mint Class. I covered the pricing and points details in our trip series introduction post, but long story short, we booked one ticket with points and one ticket with cash.
The seats were unique compared to other first and business class seats we’ve previously experienced. Specifically, the footrest part was FAR more “tucked” under the row in front of us. This wasn’t a bad thing, just something to point out. Unlike on other seat types where only your feet are tucked or otherwise covered on the footrest, basically your entire leg from your thigh down is under the seat in front of you.
Shortly after taking our seats, the flight attendant offered their specialty beverage, the RefreshMint, which was yummy. We both opted for the nonalcoholic version – it was an early morning flight after all :).
We had Birchbox amenity kits, one for men and one for women.
There was plenty of storage for our needs around the seats, including pockets on the side and in front of the seat.
Two small cubbies on the floor, in between the seats, provided even more storage:
Seat controls were easy to access and simple to figure out:
Each seat had a small lamp, a storage pocket, a spot for bottled water, and USB outlets.
The inflight entertainment screen was a good size, and I really enjoyed having access to live TV. (JetBlue offers DirectTV on its flights).
We could also access our flight’s airshow:
We had a great view on our climb from JFK airport. Looks like a beach! Anyone familiar with the New York City area know what beach this might be?
Meals were served very soon after we reached cruising altitude.
We had some starters of corn salad and tea.
Then flight attendants placed paper placemats on our trays before serving the main courses.
The main courses were actually three mini-courses. I had the Watermelon salad, spicy eggplant shakshuka, and french toast. (Wide shot first, then shots of the individual plates):
We both slept on the flight for a little while. But, since it was an early morning flight, we felt relatively well rested and didn’t need much sleep.
Here’s Ken, “fake” sleeping for a photo:
The seats were very comfortable, both to sit in upright as well as to sleep on in the lay flat position. The blankets were thin, but the aircraft was quite warm, so I didn’t mind the thinness.
As we approached San Francisco, flight attendants distributed boxes of gourmet cookies from Mah Ze Dhar Bakery.
The service onboard was fantastic. We had attentive flight attendants who provided friendly and warm service. The Mint class cabin was completely full, so we definitely appreciated the individualized attention.
Overall, I highly recommend JetBlue’s Mint class without any hesitation. Especially given its reasonable price compared to other domestic lay-flat transcontinental flights. (I’m looking at YOU American Airlines A321 and Delta One!)
Have you flown JetBlue’s Mint class before? What did you think?
Back in July (yeesh, I can’t believe it was that long ago already), Ken and I traveled to Northern California for a week. One of Ken’s friends from college was getting married to his long-time girlfriend in Oakland, and we were invited! We figured, if we’re going to spend 5 hours on a plane traveling from the east coast to the Bay Area, we may as well make a vacation out of it!
It was interesting because Ken and I are not summer travelers. Fall and spring all the way!** I despise heat, crowds, and the more expensive travel rates that come with summer travel. But luckily one of those elements would be avoided – the heat! Northern California weather is gorgeous all year round, so that was a big plus!
We considered lots of itinerary options, and ultimately decided on two nights in Santa Cruz, two nights in Big Sur (Carmel), and four nights in San Francisco.
We used a mix of points and paid travel for this trip.
Knowing that San Francisco is serviced by JetBlue, I pretty quickly decided that I wanted to try out JetBlue’s Mint class. We booked our flights from DCA to SFO (which included a short connection at JFK). We opted for one points ticket and one paid ticket. For the points ticket, I transferred points from American Express Membership Rewards. It doesn’t have a great transfer value (250 MR to 200 JetBlue points), but I didn’t have any big plans for Membership Rewards points coming up, so just transferred some anyway. For the paid ticket, we spent $617 (which included both segments, DCA-JFK-SFO), which I thought was an excellent price for lay flat seats on a five hour flight.
The return flights were a little trickier. I try my hardest to avoid connections when returning from a vacation. But decent seats (read: lay flat) on a nonstop from SFO to any DC area airport was a tough find. Ultimately, I found one daily United flight that was a nonstop from SFO to Washington Dulles on a 777 with lay flat seats! And lo and behold, it had points options available. It was a three-cabin aircraft, but we just opted for business class seats. Boom. 100,000 miles (there was no saver availability) and $11.20 for two tickets.
I tried multiple VRBO and AirBnB options for this trip, but didn’t have any luck, as I lamented in this post. So, we would have to stick to hotels.
Points redemption / chain hotel options in Santa Cruz close to the beach were extremely limited, so we stayed at a B&B called the West Cliff Inn in Santa Cruz. It was actually the first B&B we’ve ever stayed at, and it was fantastic. So, we paid out of pocket for this hotel, but were able to use some Barclay Arrival Card points to recoup some of the costs in the form of a credit card statement credit.
In Big Sur, i was able to score two free nights in an Ocean View King with Balcony at the Hyatt Highlands Inn Carmel. The nights were 25,000 Hyatt points each. That same room was going for more than $600 / night, so that was a great redemption value! Plus, they didn’t charge a resort fee.
After exploring multiple points options hotels in San Francisco (like the Hyatt Regency, and even considering a Fairmont credit card application to get two free nights at the Fairmont in SF), the hotel photos and locations just kind of left me like, meh. So, we opted for another non-chain hotel for the San Francisco portion of our trip: The Scarlet Huntington. This was also another really fantastic hotel.
The Rental Car
The rental car was definitely a splurge. After enjoying our convertible we had rented a few years earlier in the Florida Keys, we decided to rent one for our Northern California trip too! We’d pick it up at the airport, use it for our drive along the Pacific Coast highway in Santa Cruz and Big Sur, and then return it at a San Francisco city location since we wouldn’t need a car once we got to the San Francisco portion of our trip. That worked out beautifully, and in fact, the in-city rental car return location was very close to the Scarlet Huntington Hotel.
What this trip report series will include
I’ll review all the hotels, as well as Jet Blue’s Mint Class and United’s 777 nonstop business class service from SFO-IAD. I’ll also post LOTS of pictures of our pacific coast highway drive, and our sightsee-till-we-dropped activities in San Francisco.
**Interestingly, this was the second year in a row though that we had summer travel plans. The previous year was our Alaska cruise! Although summer is pretty much the only time to travel to Alaska on a cruise!
I had been putting off writing a “review” of Mardi Gras grandstand options for a while. Mostly because I did a pretty terrible job of photographing the actual grandstands and locations. Go me. But, I figured others may find information helpful, especially because when I was researching grandstand options, I couldn’t find much information. And anyway, we have plenty of pictures that we took FROM the grandstand locations, and I figure that’s what is most important anyway, right? The view?
I covered in this post why we were interested in getting grandstand tickets for some of the parades. But, in case you don’t feel like clicking, here’s the excerpt:
Well, first and foremost, we love taking photographs. So, I wanted to make sure we had a decent vantage point for taking pictures of all the parades!
I don’t like the idea of having to arrive at a parade route 4+ hours in advance to save a good spot. I’d rather use that time to see other sites in New Orleans! Having tickets for a dedicated spot will allow us to arrive pretty much whenever before a parade starts and have a good viewing location!
I like the idea of having a place to sit if our legs get tired as the parade route passes. (I’ve found that some viewing stands are bleacher-like seats, while others are just platforms with no seating. I’ve been making sure to book the ones with bleacher seats! Even if people stand on the bleachers as the parade starts, we can still grab a seat.)
Although the grandstands will be filled with people, I figure it will be LESS crowded than the streets and sidewalks, and that we won’t constantly be getting bumped into or anything. That’s just not my cuppa tea.I figure, if the parades really are THAT much more awesome in the midst of the crowds on the sidewalk, we can just cut our losses on the price we paid for the viewing stands and head down to the sidewalk.
Because we weren’t sure if any of the grandstands would be particularly better than the others, we decided to spread the love among the different options.
For the Endymion Parade, we chose the “Place St. Charles” zone for $40 each
For the Bacchus Parade, we chose the “Lafayette Hotel” zone for $40 each.
For the Zulu and Rex parades, we chose the Hotel Intercontinental Grandstands $75 each.
Not cheap, I realize, but because of the reasons I outlined above, it was money well spent for us.
So, how did we like the grandstands? They were great! One of the common complaints about the grandstands that we had read online was that people felt too far from the action or not like you were a part of the parade. I can say that is definitely not the case! And for what it’s worth, we also watched plenty of parades from the sidewalks when we didn’t have grandstand tickets (like the Krewe of Iris, Krewe of Tucks, and others). However, we just kind of happened-upon those parades. We didn’t stake out spots or watch them for hours on end. We did end up getting closer than what I thought we would though without grandstand seats.
It’s also worth noting that sometimes these parades were VERY VERY LONG. The Bacchus parade kept getting “stuck” and there were very long waits in between each float. So, it was nice to have a spot in the grandstands to sit while waiting for the next float to come!
For those interested, here are some of the various views from the grandstand areas!
“Place St. Charles” Mardi Gras Grandstands
It was night time, so please forgive how dark the photos are! But here are the Place St. Charles grandstands before the start of Endymion:
The grandstands were not very high, so there weren’t that many people behind us, and although the grandstands were full, it didn’t feel overly crowded (as you can tell by looking behind us in this selfie). (For what it’s worth, the Lafayette Hotel grandstands the next night were much emptier).
In fact, some of the “best” photos I got of the Place St. Charles grandstands were actually taken from across the street the next day as we were walking to a different grandstand section! They’re the white boxed-in grandstands across the street:
We were in the second row of the grandstands, and we still had a great view!
In fact, when people did “get in the way” of my photos, I feel like it conveyed how fun and festive the atmosphere was!
For what it’s worth, the Krewe of Endymion approached from the LEFT of our grandstands at Place St. Charles.
“Lafayette Hotel” grandstands during Krewe of Bacchus
For this parade, I didn’t take a single photo of our actual grandstands. I’d say that I liked this location LESS than the Place St. Charles grandstands, although they were still just fine. My main complaint is that there’s a lot of excess light from the nearby buildings, which kind of “takes away” from the fun lights on the floats.
For example, whatever that building is here with the columns was a bit too bright and kept affecting my photo exposures:
However, there were more grandstands in this area (Lafayette Hotel) than there were in the Place St. Charles grandstands, so it felt a little less cramped. There was also more space between the first grandstand row and the metal street barriers, meaning there was more room for people to go and take turns to stand in front of the grandstands. We We lucked out with fairly empty grandstands at this location, although that might have been because it was very cold, and that the Bacchus parade was taking FOREVER to pass because it kept getting “stuck.” So there were long delays in between almost every float and a lot of people started to leave.
We got some great photos of the parade though!
Oh, and in case you’re interested in the “St. Charles Reserve A” grandstands, those were right across the street (parade route) from the Lafayette Hotel grandstands, so we got some pictures of the St. Charles Reserve A grandstands:
As you can see, those ones weren’t very crowded either. But again, not sure if that’s because it was so cold.
One upside of this area though was that we could hear the parade emcee. They must broadcast from that area. We didn’t even know there was a parade emcee the night before when we were in the other grandstands!
Intercontinental Hotel Grandstands during Mardi Gras
Again, keeping with my theme of completely forgetting to take photos of the actual grandstands, here is my best photo I have of the Hotel Intercontinental Grandstands:
As you can probably tell, it is more crowded than the Lafayette Hotel grandstands, and they had higher grandstands too. But the REAL upside of these grandstands was having access to clean bathrooms inside the hotel and having a place to go to warm up after being outside during the cold weather and not having to worry about losing a good spot! (Hotels are completely closed to non-guests during Mardi Gras. But since we had grandstand tickets, we were given wristbands to enter the Intercontinental. There are porta-potties available for other parade goers). We also ate lunch at the Intercontinental in between the Zulu and Rex parades. That was a nice option too since so many restaurants are closed on Mardi Gras (it’s essentially a holiday in New Orleans).
We were a few rows up, but people frequently transitioned in and out of the front “standing room” only area, so we were able to go down for some front row photos pretty often. We still had a great view!
So, there you have it! Three Mardi Gras options tried and tested! Have you been to Mardi Gras? Did you opt for any grandstands? What did you think?
And finally, our cruise departure from Seattle to Alaska!
Why did we ship our luggage?
As I’ve mentioned before, I have completely given up on carry-on only packing for long trips. I pack lots of camera equipment (including a tripod), and a lot of international airlines go by WEIGHT of carry-on bags instead of dimensions. So, although I can generally FIT all my items into carry-on bags, it always exceeds the airline’s allowable weight for a carry-on bag. Plus, for a cruise, I generally pack a bigger selection of clothes compared to other trips. Dressy clothes for dinner, casual clothes for the ship, and for this Alaska cruise, cold weather clothes and things like hiking boots. So, a checked back was definitely a necessity for us.
But yikes, the idea of lugging a big suitcase on all those different modes of transportation was kind of daunting. Plus, having to pick up our bag at LaGuardia then re-check it at JFK seemed unnecessarily time consuming. So, we did something that we’ve never done before for a trip! We shipped most of our luggage!
We briefly considered luggage shipping services like Luggage Free and Luggage Forward, but those companies just seemed like an unnecessary middleman, adding lots of cost without much additional service. So, I measured the suitcase we would normally use as checked luggage, and entered the dimensions into FedEx’s and UPS’s website, estimating about 50 pounds for our suitcase. I also sent a quick email to our hotel in Seattle, the Grand Hyatt, to make sure that they would accept a suitcase FedEx delivery. They responded promptly that they could certainly accept the FedEx’ed suitcase. *
The process for shipping our suitcase (and packing the bag)
The estimated price for FedEx’ing our suitcase would be about $60.00. Considering we would’ve had to pay $35 to check our bag on our DCA-LGA flight (since we weren’t flying first class or anything on that leg), it seemed well worth an extra $25 to avoid the hassle of lugging our suitcase in and out of planes, trains, and automobiles. We also signed up for a FedEx account, which was totally free, and that gave us an additional discount on the shipping. The only downside was that the cheapest option was FedEx ground, and that was a five-day transit time from our home to Seattle. Since we’d want to build in a little “cushion” to account for transit delays, that means we’d have to ship our suitcases a full week in advance. I don’t know about you, but, despite multitudes of detailed packing lists, I often think of so many things to pack at the LAST POSSIBLE MINUTE. Or, similarly, needing to rearrange items between checked bags and carry-on bags thanks to space or weight considerations. But, with no LAST POSSIBLE MINUTE available if we shipped our big bag far in advance, we’d have to plan our suitcase packing very methodically!
Luckily, our planning went smoothly. We packed everything that we wouldn’t need for the first few days of our trip in the shipped suitcase. Those included things like our tripod, hiking boots, swimsuits, dress shoes, cold-weather items like long pants and sweaters, (Vancouver and Seattle would be quite warm .. the Alaska portion however was forecasted to be much colder, even in June), and frankly, the vast majority of our clothes we’d need for the trip.
We shipped our bag a week prior to our departure. I was a little nervous about how FedEx would label a suitcase (compared to like a box). I feared that their normal sticker labels would fall off the suitcase material. But they actually have special luggage tags, not that different than what you’d get at the airport. (Just a quite a bit larger). Those shipping labels attached to the suitcase handles.
For the next several days, I obsessively checked FedEx’s website for updated tracking information. Once I saw that the bag was delivered to our hotel in Seattle (which was actually the day we were departing JFK for Vancouver), I called the hotel to confirm receipt of the luggage. They had it, and I also confirmed my reservation and arrival date.
Once we arrived at the Grand Hyatt, we checked in, and the reception staff told us that they would get the suitcase out of storage and have it sent up to our room. That part actually took quite a while! We waited for more than 40 minutes for our suitcase to get delivered, despite one or two calls to the front desk to make sure they didn’t forget about us. At that point I was starting to get worried that our suitcase had been misplaced at the hotel.
But, not to worry, our suitcase finally arrived in our room. We took a quick glance inside and everything looked in order. And that was it! Now the only transporting of that suitcase we’d be responsible for is getting it from the hotel to the ship check-in! Much easier than lugging it around on all those transportation modes!
Anyway, we’d definitely call the luggage shipping experiment a success and we’d definitely try it again for future trips. One thing I might try in the future though is packing a duffel bag instead of a suitcase. Even though we have lightweight luggage, the suitcase alone is still about 11 pounds. Since most of the shipping cost is based on weight, we could’ve saved a decent amount by shipping something that was 11 pounds lighter! But, of course that sets up the potential for damage to the items or the bag ripping. Pros and cons to both options I suppose.
Have any readers ever shipped luggage ahead? How did it work out for you?
* We did consider shipping services directly to the cruise port also. However, I really wanted to make sure that my bag was IN MY POSSESSION prior to boarding the ship. I wanted to be able to shop for last minute items in case my bag got lost or didn’t arrive as planned.
I wanted to cover all our dining experiences in New Orleans during Mardi Gras in a single post. I don’t think there was a single place that disappointed us! Ken is not into “fancy” dining or seafood or any sort of foods that one cannot pronounce. So the restaurants we went to are relatively inexpensive and are great for folks not looking for anything overly elaborate!
This place did not accept reservations via OpenTable. When I called a few weeks prior to our trip, they said that they typically accept reservations, but not during Mardi Gras. But, luckily we didn’t have to worry. When we got there for a late lunch, the restaurant was crowded, but there was no wait!
I had a “meal of appetizers” because I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to eat. A pretzel, hot German potato salad, and an order of pierogies.
And a beer, of course. It is a German restaurant after all!
This place was pretty far from the French Quarter, which we knew, so we just hopped in an Uber to get there. But I’m glad we ventured out there! The food was fantastic, and we walked around the “Magazine District” neighborhood after lunch! We made reservations for this restaurant, and they even called us the day before to confirm!
I had a Bloody Mary because I couldn’t resist the looks of their Bloody Mary “bar!”
I can’t remember exactly what I had, I think it was the Eggs Treme. And Ken had the Banana Foster french toast, and we split a side of brunch potatoes.
Not to be confused with “California” Pizza Kitchen, we had lunch one afternoon at Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. We also had reservations at this restaurant for 2PM, but it was empty when we got there, even during Mardi Gras season! I guess it was an off-time for a meal, in between normal lunch and dinner times.
We started out with a Caesar salad, and then I had a pepperoni pizza and Ken had a cheese pizza.
We even finished everything off with some dessert!
Ken is a HUGE burger connoisseur, so we tried to go to “Port of Call,” a local burger joint with amazing reviews, one afternoon for lunch. However, it was PACKED. Like an hour plus wait. (They did not take reservations). So, we set out to find another restaurant, and we settled on “Dat Dog” just a few blocks away. Well, I shouldn’t say settle, because it was amazing!
I’m pretty sure that I got the Guinness Special dog, with Irish Guinness Sausage, Andouille Sauce, Onions, Shredded Cheddar Cheese, Bacon, & Yellow Mustard.
I’m not sure what Ken got, I think he might have just added a smattering of his own topping selections.
And of course, no trip to New Orleans is complete without a stop at Cafe du Monde!
We had been to Cafe du Monde previously, during our time in New Orleans back in 2008. However, it was a LOT more crowded this time thanks to Mardi Gras! The line was long to get in, but it moved quickly. We had a table in about 15 minutes.
We had an order of beignets and two hot chocolates.
That’s about it. We did go to a few other places as well, like one hotel restaurant at the Intercontinental, right by our grandstands on Mardi Gras day. (Very few restaurants are actually open on Mardi Gras day, so the hotel seemed like a good option). We also ate at a place called Pierre Maspero’s. However, the restaurant was so dark that our pictures didn’t come out very good! And of course we had a buffet dinner the one night at the Bourbon Street balcony party.
What places do you recommend to eat in New Orleans?