Amtrak Cascades Line Vancouver to Seattle (Review)

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

After our quick stay in Vancouver, it was time to make our way to Seattle, the embarkation city for our Alaskan cruise. And what a scenic journey it was!

View from Amtrak Cascades Line

As I mentioned in the introduction for this trip report, I kinda tripped upon the Amtrak Cascades Line as our method of transportation from Vancouver to Seattle. To recap:

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!

Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station

We arrived at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station about an hour before the train departure.

Outside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station

We weren’t sure what kind of Canada customs or exit processing there would be. There was a dedicated line for the Cascades line, since it was crossing into the United States. There was also a dedicated line for business class passengers.

We walked around the station for a little bit.

Inside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station Inside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station Inside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station

After a short while, they started processing the passengers, including checking our passports and providing seat assignments.

Amtrak Cascades Line Business Class Review

Amtrak Cascade Line’s business class consists of seats in a 2–1 configuration, which I had learned long before our departure. However, I wanted to make sure that we were on the “coast” side of the train. Since the train was heading south to Seattle, that meant we wanted to sit on the right side of the train to have the best views of the coastline. But, I was never able to figure it out in advance if the coast side was the “2 seat” side or the “1 seat” side.

Amtrak Cascades Line Business Class configuration Amtrak Cascades Line Business Class

At the check-in, we were assigned seats in the “2 seats” side of the train. I asked the agent if that was the “coast” side, and she said no. That traveling south, that’s the “1 seat” side. Even though it meant not sitting next to each other, we opted for the “1” side. But, as a bonus, she was able to give us two single facing seats, instead of sitting one in front of the other.

Seats facing each other on Amtrak Cascades Line | Business Class Seats facing each other on Amtrak Cascades Line | Business Class

Since we still had quite a while before the train departure time, I went outside and took some photos of the exterior of the train.

Exterior of Amtrak Cascades Line from Vancouver to Seattle Exterior of Amtrak Cascades Line from Vancouver to Seattle

Views from Amtrak Cascades Line, Vancouver to Seattle

This train route has been touted to be one of the most scenic in the world, and I dare say that I have to agree! [Photo overload to commence] View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

It’s worth pointing out that since we were traveling south, and seated on the west side of the train nearing sunset, it was incredibly sunny! Ken wore his hat and sunglasses even on the train!

Sunny side of Amtrak Cascades Line View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

Seriously, SO scenic. I couldn’t take my eyes off the outdoors.

View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

At the Canada-US border crossing, everyone had to stay in their seats while US Customs and Border Patrol officials boarded the train and checked passports. We were stopped for about 20 minutes or so at the border, and then the train continued on.

View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

Photo Tip: The glare from the windows of the train really could have affected our photos if we had not had our polarizer filters on our SLRs! Seriously, if you do this train ride, be sure to have a polarizer filter, otherwise your photos will be filled with glares!

I walked around to some of the different cars and took some additional photos.

Menu on Amtrak Cascades Line Dining car on Amtrak Cascades Line Snack bar on Amtrak Cascades line Snack bar on Amtrak Cascades line Advertisements for Amtrak Cascades

As we got closer to Seattle, farmland started to mix in with the coastal views (which were still scenic!)

View from Amtrak Cascades Line

And then, the sun started setting farther below the horizon.

Sunset from Amtrak Cascades line Sunset from Amtrak Cascades line Sunset from Amtrak Cascades line

We arrived in Seattle, disembarked, and took a taxi to our hotel, the Grant Hyatt Seattle. Highly recommend Amtrak Cascades!


Cathay Pacific 777-300ER Review (First and Business Class) – JFK-YVR

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

After our long, but lovely layover spent in the British Airways lounge at JFK, it was time to board our Cathay Pacific flight to Vancouver!

You can read more about why I sat in business class and Ken sat in first class in my previous post, but here’s a quick excerpt for the lazy:

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.

Cathay Pacific Business Class Review – JFK-YVR

My business class seat was fantastic. I sat in the “front row” of the business class cabin, which the ticket counter agent was kind enough to do so Ken and I were really only one “row” apart, even though we were in different classes.

Business class seat review on Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR 777–300ER Business class seat review on Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR 777–300ER Business class seat review on Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR 777–300ER

The business class cabin is set up in a 1–2–1 configuration, and I had a single seat. I snapped a photo of the middle seat configuration as well:

Two center seats of business class configuration on Cathay Pacific 777–300ER

The TV screen was at an angle, but popped out for viewing.

TV screen Cathay Pacific business class

The remote control and TV controls were above the seat, which I much appreciated after constantly adjusting my seat by accident thanks to the poorly placed seat controls on Air Berlin’s Business Class.

Seat controls Cathay Pacific Business Class

There was also a small, convenient table between the seat and the window.

Cathay Pacific Business class seat

The food was decent, but to be honest, I was getting pretty tired by the time food was being served. It was a 10PM flight departure, and I had already been, ahem, imbibing quite a bit at the lounge, so I was feeling pretty sleepy 🙂

I opted for the Potato Leek and Vegetable Strudel. I thought it was quite tasty!

Cathay Pacific Business class menu JFK-YVR

My starters were placed on my tray first.

Meal tray on Cathay Pacific Business Class

Followed by my main dish, the Potato Leek Strudel.

Main dish in Cathay Pacific Business Class

After dinner, I reclined my seat, put on my headphones, and started watching Selma. I fell asleep shortly into the movie (which is no indication of how I felt about the movie! Tiredness was just winning out at that point!)

I woke up to some turbulence and turned on the airshow, which showed that we were over Montana. I peeked out the window and saw some lightning in the clouds far off in the distance to the south.

Airshow Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR Airshow Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR

Cathay Pacific First Class Review – JFK YVR

Ken thoroughly enjoyed his first class seat! Toward the very end of the flight, the flight attendants even let me come up from business class to join him in his “guest” seat for a cup of Hong Kong Milk Tea.

Cathay Pacific First Class Guest Seat Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Milk Tea

Although, I had snuck up there briefly to talk to him before, and snap a picture of him cozy in his bed-in-the-sky. (Full disclosure, he’s not actually sleeping, just pretending for the photo)

Sleeping in Cathay Pacific First Class

Here were some photos he took of his bed. And seriously, how can one person have SO MANY CABLES AND ELECTRONICS next to him on his seat?

Cathay Pacific First Class Lay Flat Bed Cathay Pacific First Class Lay Flat Bed

Ken is a fairly picky eater. Basically, if there’s any “fancy” sounding ingredients, it’s pretty much safe to assume that it won’t be anything he’ll want to try. So, this gorgeous looking ramen bowl didn’t get eaten much. (Sorry, we didn’t get a picture of the menu, so I’m not sure of its precise name).

Cathay Pacific First Class Dining Cathay Pacific First Class Dining

He did indulge on the bread though!

Cathay Pacific First Class Dining

And dessert too.

Cathay Pacific First Class Dining

And check out the fancy sink in the first class cabin lavatory. Since there were only two passengers in first class, and two lavatories, each passenger basically had their own bathroom. 🙂

Cathay Pacific first class lavatory sink

Ken didn’t sleep as much as I did on the flight, so he enjoyed flipping through the inflight entertainment system.

Inflight entertainment on Cathay Pacific First Class Inflight entertainment on Cathay Pacific First Class Inflight entertainment on Cathay Pacific First Class

Also worth pointing out were the seat massage controls available!

Seat massage first class Cathay Pacific

Once we landed in Vancouver (nearly 1AM PDT), we transited immigration and customs, and then hopped in a taxi to our hotel, which I’ll review next in this trip report!

Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans (Mardi Gras Hotel Review)

This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series Mardi Gras in New Orleans 2016

Back in February, Ken and I took a bucket list trip! Mardi Gras! I did a quick recap post when we got home, but I’m starting the full trip report today! Starting with a review of our hotel, the The Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria property.

Roosevelt Hotel New Orleans sign Roosevelt Hotel Lobby

We booked our hotel for Mardi Gras 11 months in advance. I opted for the Roosevelt, a Waldorf Astoria property in New Orleans. It was close to most of the major parade routes, close to the French Quarter (just across Canal Street), and had good points redemption options through Hilton (at 50,000 points per night.) Be aware that it looks like the hotel may now be up to 70,000 points per night. I booked 3 nights, using a mix of HHonors points as well as some Amex Membership Rewards points that I transferred to HHonors at a rate of 1MR for 2HHonors.

I was a little hesitant about booking this hotel. Our last stay at a Waldorf Astoria property was VERY underwhelming. But, this stay in New Orleans was perfect.

The Roosevelt was what I would describe as a very “old world” hotel. Those typically aren’t my style, but in this case, and for New Orleans which already has such an “old world” feel, it was fantastic.

We booked a King Bed Superior Room, Non-Smoking.

The room was quite spacious.

King Bed Superior Room at Roosevelt Waldofr Astoria

The bed was literally the most amazing hotel bed I have every slept on. Within a month of our return, Ken and I started buying Waldorf Astoria bedding, like their featherbed. We’re waiting to splurge on the actual Waldorf Astoria mattress though. 🙂

The sleep was HEAVEN

Room at Roosevelt

I always like having an extra (non-bed) sitting space in a hotel room, so the couch was perfect for that.

Couch in Hotel Room | Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria Couch in Hotel Room | Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria

The only TV in the room was on a bit of a weird angle to the bed. It’s not a huge deal, but sometimes I like to watch the local news or something as I’m laying in bed before falling asleep. But, it was great for watching from the couch.

The bathroom was fairly basic. It didn’t have any terribly fancy finishes like the Park Hyatt Moscow or Andaz 5th Avenue, but the water pressure was great and the towels were luxurious, so I always find that to be a plus.

Bathroom | Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria Bathroom | Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria Bathroom | Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria

There was also a decent size closet:

Closet in hotel room

One minor annoyance about the room was that we could hear church bells ring every morning at 7AM. I’m not sure where the church was located, but if you’re a light sleeper or want to sleep past 7AM, you might want to request a room away from the church bell sounds!

The hallways in the hotel were so wide, definitely a sign of an old world hotel.

Hallways at Roosevelt Hotel

Even the area on room floors near the elevataors were spacious and had fun decorative touches.

Hallways at Roosevelt Hotel Hallways at Roosevelt Hotel

The lobby was also glamorous with high ceilings and lots of chandeliers.

Lobby at Roosevelt New Orleans Lobby at Roosevelt New Orleans Lobby at Roosevelt New Orleans Lobby at Roosevelt New Orleans Lobby at Roosevelt New Orleans Lobby at Roosevelt New Orleans Lobby at Roosevelt New Orleans

There were two entrances to the hotel, one on Roosevelt Way, and One on Baronne Street. Each side was staffed with helpful doormen. Since it was Mardi Gras, we were required to wear wristbands (a different color denoting each day), and had to show them to the doormen when we entered the hotel. They were checked once again when we wanted to get on an elevator to go up to our hotel room.

Lobby at Roosevelt New Orleans

There were several restaurants and lounges on the first floor of the hotel.

Restaurants at Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria | New Orleans Hotel Review during Mardi Gras Restaurants at Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria | New Orleans Hotel Review during Mardi Gras Restaurants at Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria | New Orleans Hotel Review during Mardi Gras Restaurants at Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria | New Orleans Hotel Review during Mardi Gras Restaurants at Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria | New Orleans Hotel Review during Mardi Gras

I never got a great picture of it from outside, but I also loved the signs for the Roosevelt Hotel. You can see it in this photo, on the top right. The sign for the Roosevelt had a fun art deco look. (The street we were crossing here was Canal Street, shortly after a parade had ended. So you can see just how close the hotel is to the parade route!

View of Roosevelt Hotel from Canal Street | New Orleans

I’d definitely recommend the Roosevelt to anybody planning a trip to New Orleans, whether during Mardi Gras or not. It was also so close to one of the main parade routes, so all you had to do was walk right out the door and less than half a block away to see all the excitement.

Results of my January 2016 Credit Card App-o-Rama

I decided to go ahead and apply for some new credit cards a few weeks ago. I was starting to get a little panicky over Chase’s new 5/24 rule, so I especially wanted to get my husband in for a Chase Ink Card since he has fewer applications on his credit report than I do.  I applied for cards for both of us, which is a first for me. Usually I’ll just get cards for the one of us. But, I’ll explain in a minute why that was!

Capital One Venture

Ah yes, Capital One.  You don’t hear much about “lucrative” Capital One cards. Their travel cards usually can’t be used to redeem fancy pants first class flights or $700/night hotel rooms unless you can shell out multitudes of points.  But, as I mentioned a while back, we’re planning a family trip to Disney World, and I wanted a way to offset some of the costs of the Disney trip. I had read over at My Dollar Plan that Madison used Capital One Venture points for some of her Disney expenses. And I thought that was a fantastic idea.

So I applied for two cards. One for me and one for Ken.

Bonus: 40,000 points after spending $3000 in the first three months

Approval Details: Ken was approved immediately for a $30,000 credit limit.  I received a “pending decision” message, and a few days later, I was denied.  Why?  Get this:

“Based on your credit report from Equifax, too few or no revolving accounts have a balance.”

So wait, Capital One doesn’t want to give me a card because I don’t have enough credit card debt?  I didn’t bother to call for reconsideration because there are a lot of threads that say Capital One doesn’t even do “reconsiderations.”  Womp womp.

Barclays World Arrival

I’ve had this card for several years now and have redeemed points at some great places, like the Anglers Hotel in Miami, and a few other hotels that have reviews forthcoming. In the same vein as the Capital One Venture card, I thought we could use some extra Barclays World Arrival points in the coffers to cover even more Disney expenses if necessary (and if not for Disney, they always come in handy for other expenses, like non-chain hotels).

Bonus: 40,000 points after spending $3000 in the first three months.

Approval Details: Had Ken apply and he was approved immediately with a $12,500 limit.

Chase Ink Bold

Chase recently changed their application rules and cards can be denied if you’ve had 5 credit applications (from ANY bank) in the past 24 months. At first this was just for Ultimate Rewards earning cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but it will soon be applicable to all Chase cards.  Yikes! Since Ken doesn’t apply for cards as often as I do, I definitely wanted to get one of the Ultimate Rewards cards before 5 credit card applications hit his credit report.  I’ve had this card for several years now, so it was just Ken that applied for this card.

Bonus: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5000 in the first three months.

Approval Details: Received “pending decision” message, but within a day, the application was approved with a $5000 limit without any action on our part.

 

Citi HHonors Signature Visa

It’s almost comical how many times I’ve applied for and been approved for this card. Seriously, I have never been denied and have probably had this card a half dozen times now.  Well, this time was no different.  It was just me who applied for this card, mostly because I didn’t want our minimum spending requirements to get too crazy for the next three months.  I was running pretty low on HHonors points, so I thought it was a good time to apply.

Bonus: 50,000 HHonors points after spending $2000 in the first three months (However, shortly after I applied, there was an improved offer of 75,000 points, so I may call to see if I can get my bonus bumped up).

Approval Details: Approved immediately with a $15,500 limit.

 

Have you applied for any points and miles cards recently?

Angler’s Hotel Miami – Hotel Review (Florida Keys Trip 2014)

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Florida Keys Trip Report

Nearly two years ago, I stayed at a Kimpton property in Seattle, the Hotel Monaco Seattle, and man was I blown away. Before booking the reservation, I had requested a status match to the “Inner Circle” elite status of Kimpton Karma Rewards based on my Hilton Gold Status (which, apparently is now a defunct option – You need to have Hilton Diamond now for the match). Based on the Inner Circle status, I speculated that I was upgraded to a much nicer room at the Hotel Monaco in Seattle, and I was hoping that would also be the case for the Anglers Hotel (a Kimpton property) in Miami. And why yes, we were upgraded to a MOST SPECTACULAR ROOM. You can read more about how we selected our hotel room in the introduction post for the Trip Report.

Manor Villa – Two Story (Angler’s Hotel Miami Room Review)

We had originally booked a Tower Duplex Terrace King, which was going to include a hot tub on the balcony. When we checked in, we were upgraded to a Manor Villa, Two Story. It was the room I was hoping to be upgraded to, and after our dismal room at the Casa Marina Waldorf Astoria property in Key West, it was amazing to have a truly fantastic room at the Angler’s.

The room had it’s own private patio and entrance. The entrance to the patio was just a simple locked gate. Up a few stairs was the entrance to the room, and on the right of the patio was a private hot tub for 8 people.

Patio and hot tub at Manor Villa at Angler’s Hotel Miami Patio and hot tub at Manor Villa at Angler’s Hotel Miami

There were also two very comfortable lounge chairs on the private patio.

Lounge chairs and hot tub in Manor Villa suite

Next to the door to the suite were some comfortable patio chairs and a small table.

Patio chairs and table in Manor Villa suite

The suite itself was two floors. Right after entering the door, you were in the living room, which had a couch, two chairs, and a flat screen TV (about 40 inches).

Living room area in Manor Villa Suite | Angler’s Hotel Miami | Kimpton Living room area in Manor Villa Suite | Angler’s Hotel Miami | Kimpton Living room area in Manor Villa Suite | Angler’s Hotel Miami | Kimpton Living room area in Manor Villa Suite | Angler’s Hotel Miami | Kimpton

There was also a full bathroom accessible from the living room.

First floor bathroom in Manor Villa First floor bathroom in Manor Villa

An endtable on the first floor housed a Keurig coffee maker:

Coffee maker in suite

In the corner of the living room was a well-stocked bar and a spiral staircase to the second floor of the suite.

Bar and Spiral Staircase in suite Bar in room

I will say that the spiral staircase was a bit of an inconvenience for doing things like carrying luggage upstairs. But, I understand that no other type of staircase would work in that room given the space constraints. (Not that it’s a small room, but just that regular stairs take up so much space.)

Top of spiral staircase in Manor Villa

The top floor had a king size bed, ample closet space, another full bathroom, a desk with an iPhone/iPod Dock speakers, and a sitting chair. There was also another flat screen TV, probably about 32 inches.

Bedroom area of Manor Villa Suite Bedroom area of Manor Villa Suite Bedroom area of Manor Villa Suite Bedroom area of Manor Villa Suite Desk with speaker dock Closet with safe in suite

The full bathroom was great and had a decent amount of countertop space. There was a shower, but no tub (like the bathroom on the first floor). Who needs a deep soaking tub when you have that enormous hot tub on the patio anyway?

Bathroom in Manor Villa Suite at Angler’s Hotel Miami Bathroom in Manor Villa Suite at Angler’s Hotel Miami Bathroom in Manor Villa Suite at Angler’s Hotel Miami

The bathroom towels and robes were thick and luxurious.

From the second floor, we had a good view of our private patio.

Private patio at Anglers Hotel

We had just one minor complaint about our room. The top floor of the suite (the bedroom) was SO warm. We cranked up the air conditioning as high as it would go, and it was just so hot. Too hot to sleep. I was ready to go to the first floor, where it was cooler, and sleep on the sofa.

We called the front desk, and there were no maintenance folks available to take a look. So some other employee came, took a look at our thermostat that was reading 80 degrees, and did the next best thing: Offered a rotating fan. He came back quickly with a fan, plugged it in, and that made the room comfortable enough to sleep. It was November, so it wasn’t even peak summer heat or anything in Miami, so hopefully this isn’t as big of an issue other times of the year.

Angler’s Hotel Lobby and Common Areas

Like other Kimpton properties, the lobby and other common areas were hip and stylish. I (well, the both of us really) tend to feel a little out-of-place at such hip and stylish places (since I’m a dork), but the friendliness of Kimpton staff made me so much more at ease!

Check in Desk at Angler’s Hotel Lobby area at Angler’s Hotel Lobby area at Angler’s Hotel Lobby area at Angler’s Hotel

There was also a bar and a small dining seating area.

Bar and Dining Seating at Angler’s Hotel - Kimpton Bar and Dining Seating at Angler’s Hotel - Kimpton

Outdoor areas and Pool at Angler’s Hotel

In the evening, the hotel had some fantastic lighting that made the dining and lounging areas very inviting.

Nighttime view of patio at Angler’s Pool at Angler’s Hotel at night

In the daytime, the common outdoor areas looked just as fantastic.

Lounging space at Angler’s Hotel Pool at Angler’s Hotel

Hotel Exterior

The hotel is very unassuming from the street. I was worried that the hotel would be noisy because it sits right on a main street in South Beach (Miami). And, our private patio faced the street, and I thought there might not be that much privacy like when taking a dip in the hot tub on the private patio. However, the trees and landscaping were done in such a way that the hotel still felt very private.

Exterior of Angler’s Hotel in Miami Exterior of Angler’s Hotel in Miami Exterior of Angler’s Hotel in Miami Exterior of Angler’s Hotel in Miami

I also just want to point out that the hotel name is pretty small on the exterior, so we drove right past it when we were first arriving!

Bottom Line

I definitely recommend this hotel, and especially the two story Manor Villa! We paid for our stay using my Barclays Arrival Plus card, so I was able to redeem Barclays points for the entire cost of our stay! (For those not familiar, you essentially get a rebate on your statement). So our entire stay was free!