Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: March 2017

EVA Air – Initial Impressions

As you know we are spending some time in Myanmar this month. To get there we decided to cash in some United miles and fly Business Class from Chicago to Yangon via Taipei and Bangkok. For the longest leg of the trip we took EVA, with their amazing Royal Laurel Business Class product.  A full review will be coming out soon, but I wanted to kick out my initial thoughts.

  1. The timing is wonderful. Leaving after midnight and landing in Taipei the next morning was great. You board, eat, drink, sleep, repeat and land in early in the morning in Asia and can hit the ground running.
  2. The seats are great. Very comfortable and very private. Not great if traveling with someone and you want to spend time actually talking with them. I slept for about 9 hours on the 15 hour flight. 6 or so hours right in a row.

    Royal Laurel Business Class Seat. Very private and extremely comfortable.

  3. The food was good, not stellar, but definitely a higher end, solid business class meal. EVA was better than Lufthansa, but not as good as Austrian or Asiana.

    Dinner of Lobster with Cashew Nuts and Braised Pork with Mixed Vegetables

    Mid-flight snack of steamed rice and chicken in lotus leaf.

    Breakfast of veggie omelette and grilled tomato.

  4. The service was interesting. I love how they would leave you alone, but within 5 seconds of you pressing the call button, they were there, ready, willing and able to help. During meal service the stews seemed to keep running into each other. A little Keystone cops at some points.
  5. Take this flight. Just take it. It delivers on so many levels and is really one of the best options from Chicago to Asia in Business Class.

Have you flown EVA? Did you fly up front or in the back? What did you think of the total product?

Burma Bound

Our big vacation this year is Myanmar…or as most people I know call it, Burma. We selected Myanmar about 18 months ago, the same time we chose Peru as our big trip for 2016. Myanmar isn’t high on many people’s list of vacation destinations. Myanmar made our list because of the rugged beauty, the temples and also because it is off the grid.

Photo courtesy of stampworldhistory.com

It is harder and harder to find a destination that doesn’t allow you to be constantly connected. Just a few years ago, it was difficult to get a reasonably priced data plan on your phone when traveling abroad, now it is just a matter of course for most destinations.

We are spending less than two weeks on this trip, and unlike most of our trips, we used a local guide to help us plan. The problem, if you can call it that, is internet isn’t wide spread in Myanmar, and neither are places that take credit cards. We usually research and plan our trip all by ourselves and hire and guide for specific activities – Machu Picchu or the Cu Chi Tunnels, for example. 

Without hiring a tour company, you would end up booking and paying for the majority of your trip once you land in country. That’s not something I’m too keen on.  I would hate to arrive in Yangon and find out that something I really wanted to do was booked, or otherwise not available. It isn’t like you just pop back over to Myanmar to check that final item you missed off your list.

This trip will allow us to try three new airlines (Eva, Myanair and Air Asia), plus experience Thai First again and my first ever experience flying United Polaris First, before they do away with the concept of First Class.

Updates will be few and far between until I return. Enjoy the end of March and the start of spring. It is 40C in Myanmar, but it gets down to the mid 20s at night. 

Where are you going this spring? Have you planned your big trip this year?

The Spa at the Arrabelle Vail

We had a wonderful weekend at the Arrabelle Hotel in Vail.  I don’t ski, but I do enjoy après-ski and a relaxing weekend away from the City.  We stayed from Friday morning through early Sunday afternoon.  Mike skied Friday and Saturday.

On Saturday I had a 90 minute massage.  You walk outside, behind the concierge to reach the spa entrance – it was a 20 second walk.  I arrived at the relatively small spa about 45 minutes before my appointment to shower and use the amenities.  There was a line of about 4 people ahead of me, checking in for their appointments.  The line moved quickly, except for one patron, who, by my estimation, had never visited a spa before, and likely had never left her house before.  Her questions were basic (which is fine, everyone is a beginner at one point in their life).  She was extremely frustrated that she couldn’t get a massage right then.  The appointments were taken and she had failed to make one.  She couldn’t understand why people behind her in line were getting massages, but she wasn’t.  The staff handled this frustrated woman well.

Spa Reception Area

I was escorted to the men’s locker room and given the high level run down – my guide was a woman who was then going into the women’s locker room with a couple of female guests to show them how things work.  I didn’t need the additional attention – I know how to use the lockers, etc.

The men’s locker room has a handful of lockers, but not much seating near the lockers.  If there are more than 2 people in the locker area you are going to feel crowded – you should just go sit near the hot tub and wait for the traffic to die down.  There are only two showers in the men’s area and during my visit it took a surprisingly long time for someone to come in an refresh each shower after it was used – towels and bathmats were laying around.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine – bathmats are one thing, but all spa users should be respectful enough to put their own robes, slippers and towels in the laundry hampers.  The staff wouldn’t be running so ragged if people would do their fair share.

Men’s Locker Room

The men’s area has a steam room and a dry sauna.  While these rooms weren’t huge, there weren’t many people around to crowd the space (they were likely all on the slopes).  I spent much of my non-massage time in the steam room.  I’d spend 15 minutes in the steam, then left to get some water, relax in the regular sitting area, then return to the steam.  Unfortunately, we ran out of ice water in the men’s area.  I asked a couple of people for a refill, but it never happened by the time I left.  That being said, the people I found to ask to refill the water were women, so they had to track down a guy to do it.  Still a little frustrating.

My massage was great.  Travis was my masseuse.  He managed to really knock the kinks out of my shoulders and neck. The room was quiet, but a bit cooler than  I like for a massage…luckily the table was heated which made the massage that much more relaxing.

Following the massage, I was led to the co-ed relaxation room – the same room where I had waited for Travis to pick me up before the massage. As I relaxed, I was given a glass of cold infused water and a great small portion of vanilla Gelato. After a bit of rehydration, I headed back to the steam room.

I ended up spending a total of about 3 hours in the spa including the massage itself and both pre and post-massage relaxation time.  I found out too late that I could order champagne which would be waiting for me after the massage. I wish I had know that earlier…Nothing like detoxing then immediately retoxing.

I enjoyed my spa afternoon at the Arrabelle.  The spa itself is a bit small and could get crowded very easily.  The massage was really great (although Mike had one the next day and he asked for a deep tissue massage, but the woman didn’t have the hand strength to really dig in).  I don’t think the spa is a destination in and of itself, but if you are having a ski weekend or like me, just après-skiing, you should tack on a visit.  All the pictures in this post are from the spa’s website – while there weren’t a ton of people in the spa when I visited, there was always someone around and I didn’t want to take photos making them feel uncomfortable…I hate being that creepy guy.

Have you been to the spa at the Arrabelle?  What other spa facilities do you enjoy in Vail?

The Arrabelle at Vail Square

We try to take a ski trip each year…but we aren’t very successful. The last ski trip we took was in 2013 to Quebec. This year, since I had to be in Denver for work, we decided to spend a long weekend in the Colorado Rockies. After a bit of research we decided on Vail – it was a close drive from Denver and the skiing conditions looked quite promising.

Since I don’t ski I wanted a place in close proximity to non-ski activities, like a full service spa, shopping and restaurants. The places in Vail Village and Lion’s Head fit the bill perfectly, but were quite expensive. We initially decided on staying at the Marriott in Lion’s Head which was going for about $675/night. It was a litttle less expensive than other options, but I wasn’t too keen on the Marriott – nothing specific against it, I just want something a little more unique for that kind of money. I continued to check for price adjustments adjustments to other properties and found the Arrabelle had dropped to be just marginally more than the Marriott, while it is still a ton of money, I figured we’d splurge on this weekend.

We left Denver in our Silvercar Rental around 09h30 and made it to Vail around 11h15. Using the GPS we had no issues finding the hotel, although some friends who came to visit us did have a hard time at night. Come prepared.

We pulled into the porte-cochère and we’re quickly greeted by two bellmen/valets. They asked for the name on the reservation and went to work. They unloaded our car, explained that they will be taking our skis over to the he Ski Valet and we can grab them in about 10 minutes if we were so inclined.

They then explained the complimentary hotel shuttle that will take you around Vail. The shuttle service was offered in an Audi Q7. Basically, you pop down to the valet stand and tell them where you are going and they’ll take you. I used the service four times – each time to/from Vail Village and it worked flawlessly. When you want to return you just give them a ring and tell them where to pick you up. Use of this shuttle was included in your $50 per day Resort Fee.

We proceeded to check in, where we encountered no line, but did find a lovely woman working the front desk who was so warm and welcoming. She greeted us by name (obviously the bell staff let them know we had arrived).  Since it was only 11h15 our room wasn’t ready for check in yet, but they said that the supervisor was doing her final room check to ensure everything was perfect for our stay. She then suggested we pop over to the bar and get drink and she’d call us when the room was ready.

We headed over to the Tavern on the Square and grabbed a beer, split a flatbread and Mike had a burger (I didn’t eat because I had lunch reservations in the Village at 12h45).

By the time we finished our meal, our room was ready and we took the elevator up to the third floor. Our king room was down hall, away from the elevator (woo hoo! I hate the ruckus around the elevators).

While our room wasn’t big, it did the trick for us. We had a great little sitting area near the gas fireplace (that was on the timer). We didn’t spend a lot of time in the room, but we did use this cozy little seating area the most.

Cozy chairs near a warming gas fireplace.

We had a small balcony with two chairs overlooking the pool,  but it was a little too cold to sit al fresco, although if it was a bit warmer, I could easily see us taking a cocktail out there.

The desk served two purposes, a traditional desk and a dining table for two. It is rare you see a two chair setup like this in hotels. It was a nice option for in room dining, but on our short trip, we wanted to be out and about for each meal.

Dual purpose table: Work desk and two person dining.

The king bed was very comfortable and seemed wider than our king bed at home, not exactly sure how that works, but it made sleeping easy…so much so that I could have just lounged in bed all day. The duvet was tied at the head end of the bed and the strings and knots kept tickling me throughout the night, which did annoy the hell out of me.

King size bed with ample bedside plugs and lighting.

The four piece bathroom was huge and had a separate water closet. The dual sink vanity had ample counter space and was well appointed with Bee Kind toiletries. We didn’t get those tiny single serving shampoos or body washes, both the shower and the separate tub had full sized bottles.

Separate WC. When we checked in only one of the toilet paper rolls was folded to a point…did someone use the toilet after housekeeping serviced the room?

The tub was so deep, I really thought I’d end up taking two hotel baths in a week!

The separate shower was comfortable – not a crowded small space with a low ceiling, but a little dated.  The water pressure and temperature were always  spot on.  One of the things that I was frustrated by during my stay, but realized my issues were unfounded when I was reviewing this photos.  I needed a place to hang my towel while in the shower — I had it laying on the side of the tub, but you can see, clearly there is a hook right where you’d need it.  Can’t see for forest for the trees, some times.

The shower was a little dated, but had nice hot water all day.

The hotel had a $50 per day resort fee.  Usually I find the idea of the resort fees to be just another way to bilk guests…like airlines and all their add-on fees for baggage, seat selection, etc.  Unlike other resorts in which I’ve stayed, this $50 fee included items that aren’t normally a part of the visit, including: valet parking (with in and out privileges), ski valet, complimentary shuttle service in the Audi Q7, limited minibar privileges and the daily breakfast buffet for two.  The breakfast buffet went for $34 per person.  Loyal readers will know that in general, I’m not a buffet guy, unless I’m at a hotel in Asia – they do some amazing breakfast buffets.  I don’t think the buffet at the Arrabelle is worth $34, but as an automatic inclusion in your resort fee, it’s a good addition.  That being said, if I had decided to choose from the a la carte menu, I likely would have ended up spending more than $34.

On Saturday of our visit, I had a massage and spent a couple hours enjoying the sauna and hot tub.  More on that later.

At the end of the day, I don’t ski.  If Mike didn’t ski, we wouldn’t have stayed at the Arrabelle — and we likely wouldn’t have visited Vail in the winter.  That being said, the Arrabelle had everything we needed for a skier and a non-skier.  The location couldn’t be beat.  Visiting Vail Village was the easiest thing around with the complimentary car service.  The ski valet made Mike’s experience that much better (although, he said if it wasn’t included in the resort fee, he wouldn’t have paid extra for it).  The service from the valets to the reception desk to housekeeping were all top notch.  The only hesitation I have with returning to the Arrabelle is the price tag – but the hotels that were cheaper weren’t that much cheaper and I’m positive the service, amenities and property itself would be a huge step down.

When you visit Vail, where do you stay?  Do you choose a ski in/ski out hotel, or do you prefer something a little farther out?  What about après? Where do you go and what’s your favorite way to warm up?  Do you prefer to keep the non-skiers out of your ski vacations, or do you welcome us with open arms?

Never Wait in Baggage Claim Again?

Several years ago, United rolled out a service for people who don’t want to wait for their checked bags. Seriously, who wants to wait in baggage claim after a long flight, then drag your suitcase on the train back home or to your hotel?

While I hate waiting at baggage claim, hell, I hate waiting in general, but the idea of paying for bag delivery, just boggles my mind. I have never used this service, but I am tempted to see if it offers any real benefit in my life.

I write this from Denver and the cost to ship my bag from Chicago would have been. $29.95 each way. Now if I didn’t have status, or a United credit card, I would have had to pay $25 to check my bag, then pay nearly $30 for  the bag to be delivered. You can have two bags delivered for $39.95 and three for $49.95.

So, how does this service work?  You pack your bags and fillout an online form that includes airline, flight and destination info, schlep the bags to the airport, wait in line to check your bag (I find waiting for the contract workers to pull and apply your baggage tag to be the longest and most excruciating part of the checkin process. There are often several people just standing around, but they aren’t allowed to tag your bag…or they aren’t allowed to throw your bag on the belt once it is tagged), you pay your bag check fee (if applicable) and move on to security.

Once you arrive at your destination, you just head out to your cab or car and go about your business.  You’re luggage will be delivered to the address you entered while registering online. Your bags will arrive within four to six hours of landing (if you are going less than 40 miles your bags will arrive within four hours and less than 100 miles in six hours – more than 100 miles requires a conversation with the vendor).

I can find a couple circumstances where this could make sense: heading to a meeting right after landing and not wanting to deal with a baggage claim delay; wanting to visit/explore a city on vacation, but not wanting to go to the hotel first (early arrival, but can’t check in until 15h00). Other than that, I can’t understand how this service makes sense.

I can see if these fees would be in place of the checked bag fees, this may make financial sense in some, I can’t ever see myself paying for a bag delivery service under the current structure.

What do you think? Have you used this service? What circumstances led you to the decision? Would you do it again?