Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thursday, March 05, 2009

La Quinta Disappointment

Well, despite a pretty good stay at La Quinta North in Charlotte on my way to New Zealand, the stay on the way back disappointed.

Picture this. It's 10:30 pm. You've been traveling for nearly 24 hours, with very little sleep. You've just gorged on four slices of Pizza Hut pizza after not eating for a long time. About 30 minutes ago, you took your nighttime meds so you're feeling the sleepy effect of that as well. And you're feeling dirty, nasty, smelly, like the toilets on a bus, plane or train at the END of a very long journey.

Gross.

You're at a hotel, and exhausted. But you know you'd feel oh-so-good if you took a shower before crashing. Come on, you can do it ... tough it out. You won't have to bother showering in the morning ... you can sleep later.

So you give your child strict instructions on NOT to answer the phone or open the door or even respond to anyone while you're in the shower. You gather your belongings, not sure you can do this. You've never been so tired in ALL YOUR LIFE.

You enter the bathroom. Lock the door. Start the water. Take off your nasty clothes. Know you're making the right decision, thinking of how good you'll feel to fall into a clean bed when you're nice and clean.

Then you sample the water, ready to adjust the temperature.

It's splattering out all over the place, spraying you and the floor because someone left it on a strange setting.

And it's COLD.

So you think you didn't work the knobs right. That's ok, you're exhausted. Try again. Splatter, splatter, soak, soak.

Grab a towel throw it on the floor to sop up this water.

STILL COLD.

So you wiggle it again. Splatter some more. Wait some more. Still cold.

You try the water in the sink.

COLD.

You can't believe it.

This is a hotel. How can you NOT have hot water? And how come NOW?

So you grit your teeth, try not to have a breakdown (remember, no sleep, carb overload, sleepy meds), turn off the water, put your clean pajamas onto your nasty, smelly, dirty body. Skip the undies ... don't want to dirty those as well.

You call the front desk to explain the problem.

And this is what you're told: "Oh, I have to come up and fix the water pressure; I'll do it before I leave."

You don't even reply because you have no idea what it is this guy is saying. He is obviously from the islands and has a thick accent. "Water pressure? It's the hot water. I have NO hot water," you repeat.

He says, "Yes, I need to turn it on. I will do it before I leave."

You are stymied. Stupefied. Befuddled. Before he leaves?

"When are you leaving?" you ask, not even sure why you have to be asking this question. Aren't hotels supposed to have hot water? Isn't this like a given?

"At 11:00," he tells you. "I'll come up there before I go home."

You can't believe this. It's like a really, really, REALLY bad joke. This just doesn't happen at hotels. How can the hot water not be on? You suddenly realize that it's going to take a good while for the water to heat up AFTER he turns it on, for whatever inane reason it's off.

You croak, "I've been traveling for more than 24 hours. I'm exhausted. I need a shower." He said, "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, there's no one here but me so I'll come up before I leave."

You hang up. Dumbfounded. Defeated. Still dirty.

No shower for you.

So you wash your face with cold water. Brush your teeth. And crash.

When you awake at 4:00 in the morning, you suddenly wonder, "Do I have hot water?!?!" So you get out of bed to check. If there's no hot water, you're going to be raising cane because you MUST have hot water. You are imaging the conversations you're going to have with the front desk people, asking to speak to the highest person in corporate, demanding another room just for a shower as there's no way you're moving all your stuff.

You stumble into the bathroom in the dark. Turn on the light. And turn on the hot water tap at the sink.

Hot water.

You relax, knowing a hot shower without more hassle is in your near future.

And then you go back to sleep.

This was a true story.

La Quinta, are you listening?

UPDATE: March 6, 2009
After contacting LaQuinta about this incident, the general manager quickly responded. They are refunding what I paid for the night's stay--something I did not expect--and offered me an upgrade should I return the next time I'm in Charlotte. I'm pleased with this outcome and will certainly give them another go. I liked LaQuinta Charlotte Airport North except for this unfortunate incident. Thanks for making things right!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Which travel products were worth the money?

A few posts ago, I covered a list of new travel gadgets and gizmos I bought in preparation for my trip to New Zealand.

Now, on this sleepless North Carolina night (still must be suffering jet lag), I'll share my opinions of those products for you to help you decide whether they'll be right for you on your journey.

Note that I'm not affiliated with any of these firms ... no one is paying me to do this. I'm not an affiliate collecting a percentage or anything. I'm doing it simply because I like to read reviews like this to help me make decisions. Plus, I guess I just like writing :)

The Travel Products

1. Eagle Creek travel pillows from BackCountry.com

If travel pillows help you sleep sitting up, then this is a good pillow to buy. Pros: It looks and feels like a quality piece. It's soft. I inflated it quickly with 2-3 breaths. I deflated it quickly simply by pushing in the air valve and squeezing -- the air zips right out. It has a removable, washable cover.

Cons: Several reviews I read warned about the material making you sweat. I felt this just a tad, but it was pretty cool on our Air New Zealand flight so it wasn't much of a problem.

I don't consider it a product con, but I still wasn't able to sleep sitting up with this pillow. But I don't anything beside a really potent drug would work for me. Next time, I may ask my doctor for that very thing as I couldn't sleep even with an over-the-counter sleep aid.

Good buy? Not for me; I probably could have used a $4 plastic affair with the same non-result. But don't let this stop you from buying if a neck pillow helps you. I'll still keep this and use it for long car rides and on future trips.

2. Coolmax travel blanket from BaseGear.com

I purchased this after reading many people complaining about the filthy, awful quality of the blankets provided by airlines. I didn't want to wrap a dirty piece with unknown blobs of goo and stains all over it around myself. But the Air New Zealand blankets were wrapped in sealed bags. They looked clean and didn't smell funky. They were large. They were thick and warm. So I didn't even use my travel blanket inflight, although I did use it at my sister's place since she had very little stuff yet, her container still being in transit.

Good buy? Not for me. The blanket is very thin ... I'm not really sure how warm it would be. But it is larger than the average travel blanket, so that's something.

3. Baggallini ticket organizer/wallet from Amazon.com

Ok -- I initially felt a little scammed here. One reviewer for this product said how she fit "all of her children's passports" in this product, which cinched it for me. After all, I would only be carrying two passports and boarding stuff and money and one credit card. But it was a tight fit with just two passports; I really had to cram the other papers in.

Also, the reason I bought this was because the airlines say, very clearly, that you're allowed to bring on-board ONE CARRY ON and ONE SMALL PERSONAL ITEM. Well, I already intended to bring a laptop (for which I had to buy yet another gizmo to ensure it counted only as a "small personal item") AND a backpack -- which meant I couldn't also carry-on a purse.

So I figured I'd buy a thin travel wallet I could tuck under my vest or jacket -- it's so small that it wouldn't count as anything at all.

And this wallet, although it certainly won't hold more than two passports, fit the bill.

Beyond the fact that the airlines obviously don't pay attention to their own rules .. I could have easily carried on a purse and a regular laptop bag and my backpack without a problem and could have saved my money ... I did like using this bag. I left me hands-free and I felt very secure with my cash and credit card and travel documents safely tucked away yet easily accessible inside my vest.

Good buy? Yes. I really liked this, although I could have gone for a more stylish color :) I will use this again, even locally, so I can shop with my money and credit cards at hand without worrying about or carrying a larger purse. I recommend the Baggallini.

4. Panasonic portable waterpik from Amazon.com


Good buy? Yes. I'm glad I had this ... if you want to do a really thorough job you need to fill it twice, but it's easy to do. The unit is small and convenient. And, for a unit that runs of batteries, it's got a pretty powerful jet, so it gets down in gumline and in the cracks and crevices like you want it to. I recommend this waterpik and will get much use out of it while traveling!



5. Skooba skin laptop sleeve from CSN Stores (in the lovely shade of plum you see here)

First of all, as I mentioned, I bought this for two reasons: 1) so I could go through security without taking my laptop out of the bag and 2) so it would count as a small personal item on the flights. But I didn't need it for EITHER reason since I had to take the laptop out of the bag at every security checkpoint ... AND since I saw plenty, and I mean PLENTY, of people boarding the flights with regular briefcase-style laptop bags ... just like the one I had at home to begin with.

So the product was a waste of money in that regard.

But, even if I could have used it to get through security without taking the laptop out ... and even if the airlines stuck to their posted rules and required small bags like this for a laptop to count as a small person item ... then it still would not have been a good purchase.

I don't know who designed this thing, but it's AWFUL to carry, even for very short times. My hands were KILLING me even while getting to the gate at Charlotte. It's like the carrying handles dig into your hands in the wrong way ... very painful to carry. I actually looked in a Brookstone shop at the airport hoping to find padded cushions I could wrap around the handles to make it easier to carry. I dreaded the thought of carrying this around LA and then in New Zealand, so much so that I kept stopping at luggage stores and ogling regular laptop bags. But I just couldn't bring myself to buy a new bag when THIS was already a new bag and I had a very nice laptop bag sitting in the closet back home.

So I toughed it out.

I do NOT recommend this product, even though it looks cool.

6. Blackberry Storm from Verizon

I have to say ... despite a few technical difficulties when I first arrived in New Zealand, I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Blackberry Storm. Since I work on the computer, it seems natural to me to want to extend my "connectedness" to everywhere I am. It was a delight receiving e-mail day and night, wherever I was in New Zealand. And being able to do Facebook updates, basic Web browsing, check weather, take and immediately send slice-of-life-at-the-moment photos to family, talk via GoogleChat .... anytime, anywhere ... was truly amazing. And while traveling, I saw LOTS of people with iPhones and Blackberrys and other smartphones, so it seemed like an "in" travel product. Very happy!

Good buy? Yes!