Thursday, June 30, 2016

JetBlue Bags VIP Review

I had to relocate cross-country with 7 check-in bags and was wondering how would I manage lugging the luggage around when I came across the JetBlue Bags VIP service. I searched around looking for reviews but the reviews are hard to come by so I thought I would post my  JetBlue Bags VIP review since I have now used it.

To begin, I think the value for money for multiple bags is great. You pay $29 for one bag (not worth it), $39 for two bags (a bit pricey but I would still use it for my parents, but not for me) and just $49 for 3-10 bags (so worth it).

As part of the purchase, you are required to give the description of your bags which was easy and my purchase was done. When we went to the JetBlue check-in counter at Boston, and Boston is the hub for JetBlue, I was required to "identify myself as a Bags VIP customer at the JetBlue ticket counter" so they can tag my bag with the Bags VIP tag. When I did that, the agent asked me if I was a Mosaic member? (JetBlue's elite frequent flyer status) I said no, and mentioned she needs to put the Bags VIP tag. She didn't know what that was and mentioned they don't have such a service. She was very professional, courteous, and polite throughout. I pushed back, so she went and asked a supervisor who knew what it was. She came and confirmed with me if it is Bags VIP and whether I have paid online (as it does not show in their system whether I have paid or not, or signed up for the service). She didn't know where the tags were so she went and asked a supervisor colleague. He knew where the tags were, found them and handed them over to the other supervisor.

After that, there was a small congregation around my bags. The JetBlue staff was curious as to this service, they were discussing among themselves, "Just say bye-bye to the bags? So cool!" and "Have you ever seen this? Wow, never had a passenger user this." I was asked questions about the service, how to opt for it etc.

Bags went through. After landing, it was an awesome feeling to take an Uber to my place without worrying about the bags. Bags VIP kept me updated via email when my bags were picked up from the carousel, when the van started from the airport, and when they were delivered. I got them in 4 hours after pick up from the luggage carousel (around 5 hours overall). My place was around 15 miles from the airport. The delivery agent was very polite and professional. No problems there. They also have a 24x7 helpline which was very responsive when I called initially.

Overall, I think its a fantastic service and I think JetBlue should do a lot more to promote it. The fact that the agents at the hub are unaware of the service is not a good sign on its sparse usage. Stronger marketing by JetBlue should help make the service more popular and deservedly so. This is a great value-add service well worth the money.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Cruising the Western Caribbean: Mexico, Belize, and Honduras

Hello All,

It has been more than a year since my last holiday so I was super excited about this trip. Previous travelogues can be read at www.whereissanmay.com

The Travel

The flight from Bombay (Mumbai) to London was a special one for me. I have always dreamed of flying in the upper deck of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet. This wish finally came true as I got to fly in the upper deck on the British Airways Boeing 747 jumbo jet during this trip. I will be comparing my experience in Club World on the upper deck of the 747 to my previous Club World experiences on the British Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the British Airways Boeing 747 lower deck.

To begin with, the upper deck is much more smaller, and gives you a private cabin feel. There is also a dedicated lavatory for the upper deck which is very welcome. The window seat has this deep stowaway space with a lid. This means you can safely store all your personal items without worry of them getting tossed around without issue. A huge advantage even when compared to the newer Dreamliner Club World. The Elemis amenity kit has greatly improved as well compared to my flight over a year ago with a great range of Elemis products now in the kit. As I was travelling with a companion this time around, I also got to appreciate the window-aisle facing-each-other seats as the front-rear seat design made for great conversation and companionship. 

However, I was in the aisle seat this time around which was a first for me in Club World, and was I disappointed with the seat design. I have loved the Club World window seat as it is extremely private once you put the privacy shade up. It feels like you have your own personal cabin, and it is one of the most private business class seats out there thereby allowing you to sleep in complete peace. Couple it with the 747 storage lid, and it makes for one fantastic seat. In the aisle seat however, there is absolutely no personal storage space. Zilch. Secondly, there is no sort of privacy whatsoever. You are completely exposed in the aisle which gives you a very weird feeling. You can actually see the person sleeping across you (and vice-versa)! British Airways should be charging lower for an aisle seat. It truly is terrible. You are in constant fear of someone from the aisle hitting you when passing.

Surprisingly, the food was a disappointment as well, both for breakfast and dinner. The menu was:

Dinner
  • Fresh seasonal salad served with olive oil
  • Paneer kali mirch served with saffron rice and dal masala: Paneer cheese picata in a pepper cream sauce served with saffron pulao and tempered lentils
  • Praline mousse
  • Selection of fruit
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Breakfast
  • Chilled fruit juice
  • An energising fruit smoothie of mixed berries
  • Fresh seasonal fruit
  • A selection of warm breads and breakfast pastries
  • Mature farmhouse cheddar Omelette with tomato, grilled mushrooms and sauted potato wedges

In champagne, one could choose between the Champagne Tattinger Brut Reserve NV and the Champagne de Castelnau Brut Rose NV.

Service was sub-par as well. I asked for an extra blanket as I was feeling a bit chilly, and apparently, they didn't have any spare blankets as Club World was full. I later realized on th flight that the one particular flight attendant (same one who refused the blanket) was the cause. When I asked for an extra bowl of fruit, I was denied, but the same request to another flight attendant, and the request was taken care of.

Our flight from London to Houston was in the Boeing 777 Club World. The food in this flight was fantastic from presentation to taste. Service was far stellar as well with all requests promptly catered to. The Club World on this flight used the newer in-flight entertainment system as found on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner which made for a better entertainment experience with a greater variety of on-demand entertainment. The menu was:

Lunch
  • Kohlrabi salad with Cashel blue, pickled walnut, chestnut crumble and apple gel.
  • Fresh seasonal salad served with olive oil.
  • Conchiglie pasta with Black olive, basil and tomato sauce, rocket and bocconcini.
  • Black currant cream slice.
  • Dorset cheddar and west country brie served with quince jelly and biscuits
  • A selection of fruit.


Refreshments
  • Golden beetroot, ginger and cucumber salad with goat's cheese mousse, pine nuts and orange and thyme dressing.
  • Buttermilk and fruit scones served warm with clotted cream and strawberry preserves.
  • Fruits of the forest fondant, chocolate and caramel galette and lemon meringue tart.
Houston
We spent a day at the NASA Space Center in Houston. The place is a great visit. We got to see the actual Mission Control Center which was used for the Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 flights. We also got to see a Saturn V, which was an American human-rated expendable rocket used by NASA between 1966 and 1973. With a height of 363 feet lying in a horizontal position, and a diameter of 33 feet, one felt like a dwarf against it. Made for some great photo moments. There was also a tour of the entire NASA facility such as the Astronaut training center, the construction and testing labs etc.

On our way back from Houston after the cruise, we visited, "Tacos A Go Go" (http://tacosagogo.com/) which is considered one of the ten best Taco places in the USA. With this visit, I have now visited two of the ten best taco places in America.

The Ship: Norwegian Jade
We proceeded to board our ship the next day, the Norwegian Jade. I have sailed once before on Royal Caribbean's (RC) Voyager of the Seas (the largest cruise ship in the world at the time of her maiden voyage in 1999), the travelogue of which can be read on www.whereissanmay.com I was really excited to be Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) for the first time. The Jade is a much newer ship having entered service in 2006. Our penthouse suite was amazing with a large aft-facing balcony that gave us an amazing private view of the sea while lying down on the balcony sundeck chairs throughout the cruise without the wind hitting us straight on. Bvlgari bathroom amenities were provided. Our butler was a delight who surprised us everyday with treats. One day there was champagne, the next day cookies, the third day a selection of fine cheese with dips, the fourth day gourmet chocolates and so on. We looked forward to each day to return to the cabin only to guess and see what was in store for us. Our concierge made our life a lot easier by helping us with our embarkation/disembarkation, restaurant reservations and so on. But the star was the cabin attendant who made sure our stateroom was in tip-top shape every single day. The service standards of NCL truly match the service standards of RC. The stateroom in NCL is however far superior.

On-board entertainment was good as well. I loved the stand-up comedy act (can't remember the name of the comedian), and the production show Elements was fantastic. I really enjoyed the Deal or No Deal game shows. Bingo was a rip-off with the ship charging $50 for three games and just one prize in each game.

Where RC trumps NCL is the complimentary food for vegetarians. The complimentary vegetarian food was mediocre at best on NCL, and despite making requests on several nights, the main dining restaurants forgot to make vegetarian food for us. Breakfast at Cagney's was a delight everyday morning. In comparison, RC has fantastic food choice for vegetarians (I still remember Johnny Rockets!). The story was slightly different in the specialty restaurants. The Tuscany restaurant, "La Cucina," had delicious vegetarian food. The Japanese Hibachi restaurant, "Teppanyaki," surprisingly had great vegetarian food. We sat around a shared table as as the chef prepared our meal on a large steel grill right before our eyes. The Asian Fusion restaurant, "Jasmine Garden" had some fantastic food as well. The signature French restaurant, "Le Bistro" was a disappointment with no vegetarian food, and even the chocolate fondue was served to us cold.

Overall, I loved sailing on the NCL Jade, and would recommend sailing on the ship.

The Ports-of-Call
Mexico
Our first port was Cozumel in Mexico. We chose to visit the ancient Mayan city of Tulum. Tulum was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya; it was at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. The ruins are situated on a tall cliff, along the east coast of the Yucat√°n Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea which made for a fantastic viewing experience. The main temple still stands tall and is one of the best structures to lookout for during your visit. You can read more about Tulum at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulum

We also got to try Mexican Coke (Coca-Cola) which is made of pure cane sugar. We also got to experience native Mexican salsa which is made from one of the give hottest peppers in the world (forget the name) in a restaurant run by a native Mayan, and it was truly something that I had never tasted before. Loved it!

Belize
Our second port was Belize City in Belize. This visit really helped me know more about Belize. Belize if the only English-speaking nation in Central America. It is a country that has never had any civil war despite its bordering nations having a violent past. Belize does not have an army, but just a skeletal defense force of 1,050 which includes the police department, and the coast guard. The country has only six traffic lights, two of which are in working condition, and are informally considered, "optional" to adhere to.

Another interesting trait we noticed during our trip is that the local people do not refer to citizens of India as Indians but as Hindus instead. For example, when the guide was talking about how the Mayans were one of the first civilizations to use zero, she mentioned, "the Mayans, along with the Babylonians and the Hindus." Or when another guide was talking about who owned what businesses in Belize, he mentioned, "the Hindus own most of the boutiques, but when talking about all other nationalities, he referred them by their nationalities such as Chinese, British etc." Therefore, for them, "Hindus" are a nationality, the term they use to refer to people from Hindustan.

In Belize, we chose to visit Altun Ha. While Tulum was first occupied in AD 1200, Altun Ha dates back to BC 900 and has been discovered as recently as 1963. The site is important as due to its multi-layer building over time (each generation built over the next using the same structures), unlike Tulum, looters were unable to get to the deeper levels resulting in modern archaeologists discovering thousands of ancient artifacts over time. In fact the earth we walked on still houses several layers of undiscovered ancient city underneath touted to be as deep as five kilometers underground. One can read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altun_Ha

Honduras
Our final port was Roatan in the Honduras. We decided to do a Zipline here in which we enjoyed the thrill of a 12-line canopy adventure with magnificent views of the Caribbean Sea and the forest below us. The longest run was 1,300 feet, the highest point was 100 feet, and the total line length is about 2 miles. One can see photos of the Zipline, and the service we used at: http://www.southshorezipline.com/

This was the most adventurous port for us as one could do the zipline alone without an expert with you, thereby controlling your own speed, and navigating on your own. This also meant you could not afford to do any mistakes as there was no backup and you would fall hundreds of feet down into the jungle below! None of the safety backups one would find in the countries with more stringent safety standards!

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Overall, a very memorable trip, and one must definitely consider visiting these often overlooked but beautiful locations while being in the comfort of a ship in which you come back to the same room every night without worrying about flights, airport security, delays and all. And of course enjoying entire days at sea which is a truly unique experience!









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