British Airways First and Business Class Lounge at JFK (Serving Cathay Pacific Passengers)

This entry is part 3 of 11 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015


For the first leg of our trip to get to Seattle for our Alaskan cruise, Ken and I had a short hop flight on American Airlines from Washington, DC National Airport to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Since our Cathay Pacific flight to Vancouver was leaving out of JFK, we had to take a taxi from LGA to JFK. It was a flat rate, around $40 I think, and relatively quick despite being the beginning of rush hour.

We had booked a fairly early flight from DCA-LGA to allow for flight delays and traffic delays to get to JFK, but as it turns out, everything went perfect. No flight delays, barely any traffic. So, once we arrived at JFK, we had to wait a while before the Cathay Pacific ticket counter opened before we could check in and proceed past security to get to the lounge. (We had been unable to check-in online!)

Check-in counter for Cathay Pacific and other international departures Check-in counter for Cathay Pacific and other international departures

Can I just point out that the location of the TSA screening line was SO ridiculous at JFK. It was actually on some sort of ramp, so everybody’s suitcases would tip over backwards while waiting in line. And, as the bags came off the conveyer belt and onto the rollers, the bags would drift backwards. Not very well designed!

After we made it through security, we made our way to the British Airways international departures lounge, which first and business class Cathay Pacific passengers are allowed to use.

The lounge is split into two sides: The First Class passenger side and the Business Class passenger side.

As I alluded to in our introduction post, I had originally booked two business class tickets on Cathay Pacific, knowing that they usually open up first class availability at the last minute. The idea was that I would switch our seats from business class to first class. About two months before our departure, ONE first class seat opened, and I jumped on it, booking it in Ken’s name. And I kept checking and checking for one more seat to come available. There were four open seats in first class according to ExpertFlyer (meaning that only two seats were booked, one of which was Ken’s).

Long story short, a second first class seat NEVER opened. I checked all the way until the morning of our departure. The flight did, in fact, go out with FOUR empty first class seats. Ken and I had talked about it, whether we both just wanted to sit in business class together, but I told him I really wanted him to experience Cathay Pacific First Class. So, I sat in business and he sat in first.

Anyway, all this to say that we had access to BOTH sides of the British Airways lounge. The first class side (Ken as a passenger plus me as his guest), and the business class side (which both first and business class passengers can access.)

So, first we went to the first class side, assuming it would be nicer. It was quiet and clean, with a decent spread of food. I’d say about 70% of the seats were full, so there wasn’t a huge issue with seating. But the biggest problem was the absolute SWELTERING heat in the lounge. It was early June, but it really wasn’t THAT hot outside. maybe like the upper 70s. In fact, it was downright pleasant outside for summer weather. So the heat in the lounge was downright perplexing.

British Airways First Class lounge | Cathay Pacific First Class lounge at JFK British Airways First Class lounge | Cathay Pacific First Class lounge at JFK

Food spread at British Airways first class lounge at JFK
Food spread at British Airways first class lounge at JFK

So, Ken ventured off to check out the business class lounge side while I saved our seats in the first class lounge.

Within a few minutes, I get a text from Ken. The below photo was attached along with the caption, “See if you can come find me on the business class side.”

Outdoor seating area at British Airways JFK business class lounge | Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge

I was all like, “Huh?” I gathered up my bags and headed to the business class side. It took me a few minutes to figure out where on earth he could be in an outdoor seating area, but I finally found it!

We sat down on the lovely outdoor couches and enjoyed the gorgeous June air while we waited for our late night Cathay Pacific flight. It was truly a perfect spot to lounge.

Ken at outdoor seating area at lounge Melissa at outdoor seating area at lounge

Now that we weren’t completely sweating like we were on the first class side, we were able to sit back and enjoy the lounge.

There were multiple buffet and alcohol stations throughout the lounge.

British Airways Business Class Lounge at JFK | Serving Cathay Pacific passengers Alcohol at British Airways Business Class Lounge at JFK Alcohol at British Airways Business Class Lounge at JFK

The food and snacks servings were decent.

Food at British Airways lounge at JFK Food at British Airways lounge at JFK Food at British Airways lounge at JFK Food at British Airways lounge at JFK

The business side was more crowded and definitely more bustling than the first class side, but there was almost a festive atmosphere in the lounge. There was a LOT of seating in the lounge, but most of it was full, as it seemed this was prime departure time for a lot of the flights that can use the British Airways lounge.

Seating at British Airways Lounge at JFK Seating at British Airways Lounge at JFK Seating at British Airways Lounge at JFK

Even the outdoor area, which was completely empty when Ken and I first found it, started to fill up quite a bit!

Outdoor seating area at British Airways business class lounge at JFK

I visited the “pub” area of the lounge many, many times during our several hours at the lounge. It had self-serve beer on tap!

Pub at British Airways Lounge at JFK Pub at British Airways Lounge at JFK

There as also an abundance of shoe art on the walls:

Art at British Airways Lounge at JFK

And a decent-looking area for kids:

Kids play area at British Airways business class lounge at JFK

Ken and I tend to be fairly introverted, but the outdoor space at the lounge lent itself so well to socializing. We chatted with a dude from Sweden for quite a while, and many others who sat for a while outside on the couches. It really made our layover fly by!

For what it’s worth, the lounge offers a pre-departure supper for first class passengers.  But, Ken had filled up on snacks, so he wasn’t hungry for the supper.

Pretty soon, it was time to board for our 9:55PM departure to Vancouver. We took care of some adminstrative things in the lounge, like calling AT&T to add the “Canada” plan to our cell phones, and then we headed to the gate for boarding.

The gate area was a complete zoo, so I’m glad we had had some nice quiet time in the louge before our departure. Before long, we boarded, and pushed back for an on-time departure.

The next post in the series will cover our experiences in Cathay Pacific Business Class and Cathay Pacific First Class.

Rome, Italy – Europe 2010 (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

So, the idea of visiting Rome as a stop on a cruise is kinda crazy. Only twelve hours in one of the most historically-rich cities in the world? What to do? Focus on one or two major sites and be done? Or try to do a whirlwind tour of the entire city?

I was open to either option. I mentioned in my Florence post that I had previously traveled to Italy when I was in high school. (It was my first trip to Europe without a family member!) The trip included three or four days in Rome, so I had already gotten a good sense of the city, even if I was just a teenager at the time. My one major interest was the Sistine Chapel. When I was in Rome in 1997, the Sistine Chapel was under restoration, so I wasn’t able to visit. But, I left it up to Ken to decide what he preferred to do regarding whirlwind tour or just one or two places.

Whirlwind tour it was!

My sister and her family (as well as some of her friends) were also on this cruise, but we had not yet been on any excursions together. For Rome, we opted for an independently-organized van tour for our entire group. We figured we could truly maximize our time with a smaller group, because it would mean less time waiting for people, less time loading and offloading a big bus, etc. I can’t remember how many of us there were total (10 maybe?), but it was reasonably priced once you factored in the per-person price. I think the van and tour guide was $1200 for the day, but divided among 10 people, that was only $120 per person and MUCH cheaper than any of the cruise ship-offered excursions.

St. Paul’s Basilica

Our tour guide and van driver were waiting for us when we disembarked, and we were able to leave the port city long before any of the cruise ship buses departed. Our first stop was St. Paul’s Basilica, which, incidentally, I had not visited in 1997.

t t t t

Since we had beaten all the cruise ship crowds, we had virtually the entire place to ourselves.

t t t

My nephew, who was four years old at the time, was so impressively well behaved. At one point, the guide was giving us an explanation of the crypts underneath St. Paul’s Basilica. A few minutes later, my nephew signaled that he wanted to whisper something to me. He pointed to one of the small sets of stairs that led to a crypt, and he said to me, in a VERY concerned voice, “A man died, and they PUT HIM IN THERE!” It was almost like my nephew had interpreted the guide’s explanation as something wrong or inappropriate. I stifled a giggle, and just explained that that is where the man wanted to be buried after he died, instead of having a outside grave. And that the man had died a very long time ago. He seemed okay with that explanation and he continued on with his exploring inside the Cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is a reconstruction of a cathedral that was destroyed in a fire. The original was built in the 400s AD, but then a fire destroyed it in 1823. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1840. There are some remants of the original basilica outside the current basilica.

t t

 

The Colosseum

Our next stop was the colosseum.

t t

Our guide began by giving an explanation outside of the Coloseeum, and then allowing us to go inside by ourselves. We were so thankful that the tour guide had pre-arranged for tickets, because the line was SO LONG to buy tickets at the Colosseum (just to keep in mind for those of you that might want to visit it on your own during a cruise stop … you might spend most of your day in line for tickets). However, we still had to wait in line for security, understandably so.

t

The Colosseum was pretty crowded by this point. I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but I can never understand why cruise ships from different cruise lines all seem to follow the same itinerary. There must have been people from a dozen cruise ships all flooding into Rome on the same day. And it must happen on the same day every week. Anyway, the Colosseum was crowded, but manageably so. Keep in mind that this was early October, so definitely the off season. We had seen virtually no crowds at different sites during our time in Spain the week before, so I tend to believe that the crowds were virtually all cruise passengers.

t t t t t t

 

t

 

A few quick stops – Circus Maximus, Capitoline Hill, The Roman Forum, The Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain

Next stop, Circus Maximus. It is currently a big open field, but if you use your imagination, there used to be a big platform in the middle, with race tracks circling it.

t

Then we made a quick stop at Capitoline Hill:

t t t

Then a drive down some very narrow streets and a stop at the Pantheon:

t t t t

And, of course, the Trevi Fountain:

t t t

(I said this was a whirlwind tour!!)

We hung out in the area of Trevi Fountain for a while and grabbed a quick lunch at a local place. There were cannoli involved. It was glorious.

Then we headed to the Vatican …

 

Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum

I would just like to start out by saying that the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum was a really terrible travel experience.

Allow me to put this in context. In my travels around the world, I have been ripped off, violently groped, nearly robbed of my suitcases, seemingly trapped alone on a mountainside, groped again (and again … that’s what happens when I choose to live in the Middle East I guess), and almost hit by a train twice on the same day (once in an auto rickshaw, once on foot). So when I say that something was a truly dreadful experience while traveling, you can believe me. I have the previous dreadful experiences to compare it to.

So, I visited the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. For context, the Vatican Museum is a huge building with dozens of rooms. Just like any other big museum. You have to walk through the Vatican Museum to eventually get to the Sistine Chapel.

But I barely saw any of the museum or the Chapel. Why? This is what my view looked like for the entire walk:

t

We were shuffled through like herded cattle. Literally shoulder to shoulder, chest to back, with everyone in every room, at all time. A person could not just stop to take a picture or read the explanations of the beautiful artwork or ancient texts. No. You just had to keep shuffling. Or risk getting trampled. Not that we could actually get close to the artwork or other artifacts. We were in the middle of the herd, and obviously had no way to get to the walls and perimiter to see anything. It wasn’t a peaceful experience. Tour guides from all different groups were shouting in all different languages. People were getting upset with other random people over bumping into them.

We were able to snap a few photos here and there (they are permitted in the Vatican Museum), but the photos were mostly blocked by the crowds. The other photos were all taken upwards (luckily the ceilings and high walls were ornate!)

t t t t t t

I should point out that we’ve been to crowded places before. The room containing the Mona Lisa at the Lourve, Stonehenge in the summer, crowded DC metro cars during the inaguration and on the 4th of July, the Kennedy Space Center on a Shuttle Launch Day, the Khan al Khalili on a Friday evening during Ramadan … You get the idea. This was not our first rodeo. But this was probably 20 times worse than any of those other experiences.

t t

People pushed. My brother-in-law eventually had to put my nephew on his shoulders, because the poor kid kept getting pushed and lost in the crowd.

The worst part was, that this could be totally avoidable. I have traveled to plenty of places (the Pyramids and Valley of the Kings come to mind) that limit the number of visitors. Whether by timed entrances (like our tickets to the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence just the day before) or just an overall per-day number (like the Washington Monument), there is ZERO reason that the Vatican Museum couldn’t limit the number of people allowed in at once, so that folks could actually enjoy the museum. At best, it’s greed, at worst, it’s negligence. However, I’d gladly pay twice the price for the entrance to the museum just to have less people around.

I kept a panicked eye out for emergency exits. Because all I could think of was that if there was a fire, we were goners. There would be no escape.

We finally made it to the Sistine Chapel. While the Vatican Museum permitted photography, there was no photography allowed in the Sistine Chapel. However, everybody around us was taking photos. Security guards would yell from the perimeter of the room “No photos!” but the room was too crowded for them to actually get to any of the people taking photos. So, I made sure my flash was off and joined the crowd of taking photos.

The Sistine Chapel itself (viewing the ceiling of course) was gorgeous. Despite the crowds, I tried to enjoy the masterpieces around me. I had been told before that the Sistine Chapel is much smaller than most people expect. So perhaps I had been envisioning it as so tiny, that I actually thought it was BIGGER than I expected. (Again, mostly because I had been picturing it as tiny).

t t t

The crowd, in its continuous shuffle, eventually led outdoors. I was so happy to be breathing fresh air and to actually have room to move around a little bit!

t t

Afterwards, we went into St. Peter’s Basilica. I remember going there in 1997 and being so awestruck by how beautiful it was. Although St. Peter’s Basilica was less crowded than the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, we were so annoyed by that point we couldn’t even enjoy ourselves that much. We had lost the rest of our group, including my sister and her family. But, we walked around the Basilica for a while and took some photos (photography is allowed, just no flash).

t t t t

We left the Basilica, snapped a few photos of the Vatican, located everyone else from our group, met up with our van and tour guide, and headed back to the cruise ship. The entire way back everybody lamented how crazy the crowds were.

t t t

Perhaps the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum are not like this on a “normal” non-cruise ship docking day. I’m not sure. Like I said, I didn’t visit the Sistine Chapel during my previous trip to Rome in 1997, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. Perhaps there are different private tour options, or early morning tours?

Either way, I left completely disgusted. It could have been an enjoyable experience of something so beautiful and historically important, but it was terrible.

As we waited to board, some ship crew members were greeting the passengers, including the captain! My nephew was a hit!

t

And that was it for our whirlwind tour of Rome! Admittedly, that is not the best way to travel. There was just too much to see to absorb everything in a single day. Ken and I plan, in the future, to perhaps do another Mediterranean Cruise. But maybe one that leaves out of an Italian City. Then we could spend a week or more in Italy before the cruise actually departs (like we had just done … Spending the week in Spain before our cruise left out of Barcelona). But, we were happy to see so many exciting things in Rome during our very busy day. And next time, we’ll definitely explore other options for avoiding crowds at the Vatican!

Alaska Cruise 2015 – Trip Report Introduction

This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

 

I’m starting a new trip report today all about our June 2015 Alaskan cruise.  Our trip also included a day in Vancouver and two days in Seattle, which I’ll cover in the trip report as well.  Our out-of-pocket costs on this trip were limited to paying for the cruise.  Our hotels in Seattle and Vancouver, our flights, and a train ride were all covered by points.  Man I love this hobby!

Booking the Cruise

This part didn’t require much work on my part.  We’d be cruising with my sister and her family (her husband, her 9-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter), as well as my dad.  My sister, a VERY avid cruiser with probably 25+ cruises under her belt, had identified a cruise line and itinerary that offered a fairly decent deal.  The cruise would depart in early June, meaning that prices were a less expensive than what they would have been in mid-summer.  The cruise was scheduled to depart just two days after her son’s last day of school, so it really worked out!

We booked a 7-day roundtrip Alaskan cruise on the Ruby Princess.  The cruise would include stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria, British Columbia.  On the day we would arrive in Juneau, the cruise would transit the Tracy Arm Fjord area, which, although not a “stop,” is definitely worthy of viewing from the ship!

alaska cruise itinerary

 

We opted for a mini-suite with balcony onboard the Princess Ruby.  Our Caribbean cruise in 2007 had a balcony, which we loved, but on our Mediterranean cruise in 2010, we opted for no balcony in order to save some money on the cruise.  We regretted our decision to not have a balcony on that cruise, so we definitely wanted our own balcony for this Alaskan cruise.  My sister booked the same type of cabin.  She and I booked cabins on the same deck, but on different sides of the ship.  That way if we were passing beautiful scenery on one side of the ship only, we could all pile onto one balcony inside one of our cabins!  For our dad, we booked a handicapped-accessible room on the same deck.  It didn’t have a balcony, but it was an “obstructed view outside cabin.”  I’ll be doing reviews of both the mini-suite with balcony, as well as my dad’s accessible room, in future posts.

We booked the cruise in November 2014, about 7 months prior to the sailing, but then it became a little worrisome about whether my dad would be able to go.  Luckily we had all added cancellation insurance to our cruise, but obviously the point was that we all wanted to go on vacation!  My dad broke his hip in February, but doctors were optimistic that he’d be healed enough by June to go on the cruise.  Then, just a few weeks after getting out of rehab from his broken hip, he ended up hospitalized for a month in April with pneumonia.  He was put on a ventilator because he was unable to breathe on his own.  (After my dad was better, doctors told us just how close to death my dad really was.)  He had to go back into rehab at the end of April after his hospital stay, and it was really uncertain whether he’d be better in six weeks to depart on a cruise.  All that previous physical therapy on his repaired hip had been undone by a month-long stay in a hospital bed.  So, he not only had to recover from the pneumonia, he had to work that hip all over again.  And luckily he recovered beautifully just in time!  In fact, staff at the rehab facility said that the cruise was probably a good thing, because it gave my dad a goal to work toward.  “I have to be healthier and stronger by June to go on that cruise with my family!’

 

Getting to the West Coast

Our cruise was departing Seattle, so first I needed to figure out the best way to get us from Washington, DC to the Seattle area.  Flights from here to Seattle are nearly as long as getting to some European destinations (about six hours), but the flight options aren’t nearly as fancy.  I explored both coach and first class options.  Alaska Airlines offered nonstops from DC to Seattle, but holy crap the flights were expensive.  I can’t recall exactly, but I think they were in the ballpark of $600 roundtrip for one coach seat!  Ouch.  There were some frequent flyer options available for both coach and first class, but they included some annoying and ill-timed connections.  (A six hour layover at DFW anybody?  No thanks!)

And then it dawned on me!  JFK to Vancouver!  The famed Cathay Pacific flight that continues onto Hong Kong after its stop in Vancouver.  Beautiful business and first class options.  I searched on British Airways for availability, and there were plenty of business class seats!  No first class, but that was just fine.  I had read previously that seats on Cathay First tended to become available as the flight date approached, so I’d just keep checking back.  (Spoiler alert … read the full review post later on to see if First Class seats ever became available!)  I booked two seats in Cathay Business Class for me and Ken using British Airways Avios points.  We redeemed 50,000 Avios (25,000 points each) plus $55.40 total.  Now that sounds like a great way to get to the west coast.  Cheap and comfortable!

british airways flight

british airways redemption

 

To get to New York for our Cathay Pacific flight, I used more British Airways Avios points to book a short-hop flight from DC to New York.  Unfortunately the Avios options were all for Laguardia Airport, and the Cathay Pacific flight was departing New York JFK airport.  However, a $40 taxi ride from LGA to JFK would be far cheaper than paying out-of-pocket for two tickets from DC to JFK.  9000 Avios and $11.20 for two coach seats from DCA to LGA.  Can’t beat that!

dc to lga redemption avios dc to lga avios redemption

For our return flight, we redeemed American Airlines AAdvantage miles for two first class seats from Seattle to DCA (Certainly not the best use of miles, value wise, but it was worth it to us, especially since we didn’t have any other near term plans for AAdvantage miles).  It included a connection in Dallas, which was definitely not ideal, but it was the best we could do without being out-of-pocket a ridiculous amount of money.

Aadvantage redemption

 

Getting from Vancouver to Seattle

So, we were ending up in Vancouver, and our flight was leaving from Seattle.  A small inconvenience for experiencing Cathay Pacific!  My original plan was to just stay at an inexpensive hotel near Vancouver Airport, and then drive the following morning to Seattle (our flight wasn’t arriving in Vancouver until like 12:45AM, so I didn’t want to start driving so late at night.  But there was one issue.  Rental cars were INSANELY EXPENSIVE.  A ONE DAY rental from Vancouver to Seattle was going to be $199 CAD (About $150 USD.)  I swallowed my pride and made a reservation, but I couldn’t help but think that there had to be a better, and cheaper, way.

And lo and behold, there was!  I came across the Amtrak Cascades option!  I had read that it was a very picturesque way to get from Vancouver to Seattle, and much more relaxing than a drive.  Even though we have Global Entry these days, the line at the Canadian-US border crossing can get very long, so the train seemed like a good option to minimize the delay as well!

For just 4000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points (which I transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards), we were able to get two business class seats on the Amtrak Cascades line.  (I should point out that Amtrak Guest Rewards has since altered their redemption chart, so the points needed for the Amtrak Cascades line has likely changed).

amtrak redemption

I am SO thankful that the rental cars were expensive, otherwise I probably would’ve never done additional research to find out about this option.  I can’t wait to give the full review, but it was so gorgeous!

t t t

Of course, I’ll have more pictures (LOTS more pictures) in the full review post.

 

Hotel in Vancouver and Hotel in Seattle

The hotels were the most straightforward part of our booking!  I booked the Westin Grand Vancouver on a cash rate.  (I’d later redeem Barclays Arrival Plus points as a “rebate” for the expense).  Since our train wouldn’t be leaving until the evening, we’d have some time to spend in Vancouver, so I wanted to stay in the city instead of our original plan of staying near the Vancouver Airport.

For our Seattle hotel, I chose a Hyatt property. I had two free nights from my sign-up bonus for the Chase Hyatt Credit Card the previous year.  Since those would be expiring within a few months, we went ahead and used them for our two nights at the Grand Hyatt Seattle.

 

Whew!  It was a lot of fun booking this trip.  Stay tuned for all the individual posts!

Portofino, Italy – Europe 2010 and Mediterranean Cruise (Blast from the Past)

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series Europe 2010 (Spain and Mediterranean Cruise)

 

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!  These posts are usually heavy on the photos, but lighter on the narrative text.

The next port-of-call on our Mediterranean cruise was Genoa, Italy. For this port, we opted for a cruise ship-organized shore excursion to Portofino.

Portofino, Italy

The excursion was supposed to include a leisurely scenic boat ride onboard a smaller vessel to get from Genoa to Portofino. However, the weather was quite rough that day. (Luckily it was the only bad weather day of our entire two week trip in Europe!) So rough, in fact, that they had to cancel the scenic boat ride part, and take us via bus to Portofino.

Except, the tour buses could only take us part way to Portofino (I think it was to Santa Margherita). The rest of the way had to be taken via public buses.

Sign for bus to Portofino Public bus to Portofino

The tour guides were doing their best, and Ken and I didn’t mind, but some folks were getting REALLY cranky. Especially because there was limited seating on the public buses, and the bus went on very narrow and windy roads to get to Portofino.

The locals were especially upset that their public transportation system was being clogged by droves of tourists. We even saw an altercation between one local woman and a bus driver. The altercation drew the attention of the police. So, this trip was quite the adventure! (In the picture below, the police officer is yelling at the woman who was at the center of the altercation)

Altercation

Portofino itself was gorgeous. Luckily the rain had stopped for our time walking around!

Walking around Portofino, Italy Walking around Portofino, Italy Walking around Portofino, Italy

We walked up a large hill in Portofino to a cliffside church, called the San Giorgio Church:

San Giorgio Church in Portofino San Giorgio Church in Portofino San Giorgio Church in Portofino

And behind the church was a cemetery. Although it sounds like a strange thing to say, the cemetery was quite lovely. (I think I said the same thing about our tours of cemeteries in New Orleans!)

Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino Cemetery behind San Giorgio Church in Portofino

The buildings were so colorful and gorgeous in Portofino!

Colorful buildings in Portofino Colorful buildings in Portofino Colorful buildings in Portofino Colorful buildings in Portofino Portofino colors

 

And the rocky cliffsides leading straight down to the sea looked like they were right out of a movie!

Cliffsides Cliffsides

After walking around and having a quick pastry from a local shop, we boarded the public bus back to Santa Margherita. We had some time to walk around Santa Margherita, but unfortunately it started to rain pretty hard while we were walking around. But what we did see of it was gorgeous!

Santa Margherita Santa Margherita Santa Margherita Santa Margherita Santa Margherita

We boarded a tour bus back to Genoa, and then got back on the cruise ship. That was it for our time in Genoa. We probably would’ve had some time to explore Genoa, but the weather was pretty lousy. Instead, we just relaxed on the ship for the rest of the afternoon.

Miami and South Beach (Florida Keys Trip 2014)

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Florida Keys Trip Report

We only had one day to spend in Miami. Since our flight was leaving from Miami, we had made travel arrangements to leave Key West the previous day and spend the night in Miami so we wouldn’t be rushed or worried about sitting in traffic on the Overseas Highway from Key West to Miami in order to make a flight. Instead, we drove to Miami the night before our flight and had the entire evening and following afternoon to enjoy Miami Beach.

Art Deco Walking Tour Miami

Our first stop was the Art Deco Walking Tour. The tour originated at the Art Deco Welcome Center, which was just a few blocks from our hotel, the Angler’s.

Art Deco Welcome Center in Miami Beach

We bought our tickets for the 10:30AM tour and then walked around the Welcome Center for a while, which had Art Deco-related exhibits:

Inside the Art Deco Welcome Center at Miami Beach Inside the Art Deco Welcome Center at Miami Beach Inside the Art Deco Welcome Center at Miami Beach

Then there was an announcement that the tour was beginning. Our guide began our walk down Ocean Drive in South Beach. The tour started with a stop outside the Beach Patrol Headquarters building:

Beach Patrol Headquarters Building on Art Deco tour | Miami Beach Beach Patrol Headquarters Building

Our guide was very knowledgeable and I tried to absorb as much as possible as what she was telling us, but I know I won’t do the descriptions of these buildings nearly enough justice.

Our next stop was the Congress Hotel:

Congress Hotel in South Beach Congress Hotel in South Beach

The guide explained that two buildings side-by-side in Miami Beach cannot contain too many similar design elements. In other words, when new buildings are constructed in Miami Beach, they cannot appear similar to the one next door!

Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach

We made a lengthy stop outside of this building, which used to be the home of the designer Versace. It now serves as a hotel:

Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach

I just kept snapping photos of all the amazing and gorgeous buildings along Ocean Avenue, even if they weren’t a focus or a dedicated stop on the walking tour:

Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach

Even the post office in Miami Beach is an Art Deco style!

Outside the Miami Beach Post office Art deco tour Inside the Miami Beach Post Office Art Deco Tour

The tour includes stops inside a few buildings as well, to see some of the art deco elements used in the interior designs. One of our stops included The Tides Hotel:

Outside Inside the Tides Hotel | Art Deco Walking Tour

The tour group circled back, viewing more Art Deco style buildings:

Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach Art Deco style buildings in Miami Beach

The walking tour ended where we began, at the Art Deco Welcome Center. We walked across the street and took a quick photo of the actual beach in Miami, since we hadn’t even seen it yet. (Even though our walk took us along Ocean Drive, there was almost a slight elevation from the street that blocks a view of the ocean!)

South Beach

We grabbed lunch, checked out of our hotel and put our luggage in storage, and then headed to our next stop, the Wynwood Walls!

Wynwood Walls

We took an Uber and traveled to the Wynwood Walls, an outdoor grafitti art space in Miami. (We didn’t want to worry about finding parking, hence the Uber).

Wynwood Walls entrance in Miami

This was a really cool spot. And it wasn’t terribly crowded at all (likely because it was an early Friday afternoon).

I’ll just let the photos do the talking here:

Wynwood Walls Graffiti Art in Miami Wynwood Walls Graffiti Art in Miami Wynwood Walls Graffiti Art in Miami Wynwood Walls Graffiti Art in Miami Wynwood Walls Graffiti Art in Miami Wynwood Walls Graffiti Art in Miami Wynwood Walls Graffiti Art in Miami Wynwood Walls Graffiti Art in Miami Wynwood Walls Graffiti Art in Miami

There was also an indoor space featuring the works of Peter Tunney:

Peter Tunney exhibit at Wynwood Walls in Miami Peter Tunney exhibit at Wynwood Walls Peter Tunney exhibit at Wynwood Walls

Anyway, this place was well worth the Uber drive (especially since Wynwood Walls is free to visit). I definitely recommend it if you have the opportunity to go.

Wynwood Walls Graffiti Art in Miami Wynwood Walls Graffiti Art in Miami Wynwood Walls Graffiti Art in Miami

Ocean Drive … Drive

We took an Uber back to our hotel. We loaded up our luggage into the rental car, and we still had some time to kill before our 6:00PM flight departure. So we decided to do a drive up and down Ocean Drive. We put the roof down of our Camaro rental car and just enjoyed the drive. It’s definitely a slow drive. Lots of cars, pedestrians, and traffic lights. It’s still enjoyable, but definitely requires a lot of attention!

Driving along Ocean Drive in South Beach Driving along Ocean Drive in South Beach Driving along Ocean Drive in South Beach Driving along Ocean Drive in South Beach

We even spotted some sort of fun-looking photoshoot!

Photoshoot along Ocean Drive in Miami Beach

And that was it! We started our drive to Miami Airport. We hit a TON of traffic on the way out of Miami Beach, likely because it was rush hour. Luckily we gave ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport. We kept the convertible roof down on our entire drive, and we were able to see a stunning Miami sunset while stuck in traffic!

Miami sunset from highway

We dropped off our rental car, checked in for our flight, and we were on our way back home from a fantastic trip!