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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan / Holiday Inn, Boat Show, 20 Monroe Live, Happy Hours

February 2017, Friday afternoon - overnight

View from Holiday Inn guestroom 511

Holiday Inn, King executive suite 511

This was our third or fourth stay at this Holiday Inn, and our experience was pretty similar to our past stays. Here is a link to photos and my 2014 post for executive guestroom 811. The only real difference in the guestroom this time was that the in-room coffeemaker had been upgraded to a Kuering K-cup machine. I was surprised there were only disposable cups in the guestroom, as there had been ceramic coffee mugs in 2014.

Coffeemaker in guestroom 511

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mexico - Riviera Maya Excursions

January 2017, Monica Rendon private tour - Sac Actun Cenote, Tulum Ruins, private beach, local taco stand

We initially thought we would take the bus (colectivo) to the ruins, and then I happened across information about an amazing private tour guide operator. I contacted Monica via email to make arrangements. You can find more reviews for her on TripAdvisor, and she has a Facebook page titled SOY La Pesera. Our excursion was a bit unusual, as we had friends who happened to be staying at a resort in Cozumel at the same time we were staying at Luxury Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an. Monica picked up our friends at the ferry dock in Playa Del Carmen, and then she picked us up at the resort for our day.

Meeting, transportation, etc.

Our friends had no trouble finding Monica at the appointed time and location when they disembarked at the ferry dock. I had provided Monica with our stay information, and she was able to enter our resort to pick us up in front of the lobby. The vehicle/van had two seat rows behind the driver's seat, which easily seated 2 to 3 people in each row. The vehicle was clean and comfortable. Monica had a cooler in the back for us filled with cold Corona and bottled water. She spoke good English, and she assisted us perfectly with our day's activities. She exchanged our cash for pesos, negotiated and made our purchases for us at each stop, provided information about the best restrooms, beaches, food, and more.

View from Tulum Ruins

Tulum Ruins

Our first stop was at the ruins, which was just a short drive from our resort. It was not too busy when we arrived before 9:00 a.m., although it was quite busy with a few tour groups by the time we left. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Riviera Maya Mexico - Luxury Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an Adults Only

January - February 2017, 7-nights with Friday arrival, King Jr. suite #41223

We enjoyed our week at Luxury Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an, and hope to be able to visit again. This post takes up where one of my previous posts, Travel between Lansing, Michigan and Cancun, Mexico..., left off. Our check-in and arrival experience is covered in that post.

Sunrise from guestroom balcony 41223
More photos and information about Bahia Principe can be found in my Travel Reviews Facebook album.

Guestroom 41223

This room is located on the top floor in building 12 near the two main pools and Cenote snack bar. Our room number designated the exact location, just as I had read in a post by someone else: 4(resort - Sian Ka'an) 12(building number) 2(guestroom) 3(floor). There were two guestrooms at the top of the stairs to our room, and the room number across from us was 41213.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lansing, Michigan / Crowne Plaza Lansing West

January and February 2017, 2 separate nights - weekday and weekend, King deluxe room #547 and King corner room #416

Our stay at the Crowne Plaza Lansing West was just as impressive this trip as it had been November 2016. The hotel is very clean and well maintained, and the staff is excellent. There was a minor snag with my first night's stay, and staff members went above and beyond to make this right. There is more information about that at the end of this post. I had two separate stays here, which I am combining into this one post. We stayed on a weekday, and then on the weekend a week later. I used points for both nights.

View from the 4th floor

Platinum perks and check-in

I received the Platinum on-site amenity choice for both stays: bottled water, beverage in the lounge, or bonus points. I always choose the points, since I tend to use my points so frequently. I had reserved a corner guestroom for my first night, and a deluxe room for my second stay. I would have reserved a corner room for both nights, except I was not able to do that when I made the reservation online. When I checked in for the first night [corner guestroom, weekday], the front desk agent had difficulty finding me a corner room. She said there had been one set aside for me, although it was showing that it had not been cleaned. I waited a few moments while she called someone to confirm whether the room had been cleaned or not. While we were waiting, she told me there were deluxe rooms available, and I said that would be fine. She assigned us a guestroom on the top floor, and said she would request a corner guestroom for us when we returned.

When I checked in for the second stay, we received a corner guestroom on the 4th floor. One of the employees had told me there are no corner guestrooms on the top floor. I think the larger corner rooms on floor 5 are suites. The employee apologized for the fact that I had not received this type of guestroom the week earlier, and she said there was an amenity in the guestroom fridge for me.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Travel between Lansing, Michigan and Cancun, Mexico via MiamiAir booked through Apple Vacations (destination Luxury Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an in Riviera Maya )

January - February 2017

This post could easily become extremely long. I have condensed the information somewhat to focus on the main points. If you have any questions, or would like more details, just ask!

Although our travel experiences include over 15 resort stays in Mexico and the Caribbean (some before I started this blog), this was our first experience with Apple Vacations and MiamiAir. You can find separate posts in this blog for Luxury Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an and our excursions.

Booking through Apple Vacations with MiamiAir charter flight

We booked our vacation over the telephone with an Apple representative, since we had not booked with them before, and I had a few questions. If you want to have access to your Apple Vacations booking online, I suggest booking online instead. I found out afterward that you can access your Apple Vacations booking online, if you book online; however, you cannot access your itinerary and such for reservations that have been booked over the telephone.

We booked this trip at the last minute because we happened upon an amazing price--$839 each for 7 nights, including air. We then paid an additional $78 each to upgrade our airline seats to Preferred Perks Plus roundtrip, which is similar to first class. The airline upgrade said it included the following per person each way: fresh meal/snack box, two standard alcoholic drinks (21yrs.), and preferred check-in, security, boarding and seating. Without Preferred Perks Plus, there is a fee to select seats, and another fee to check bags ($40 roundtrip per bag when purchased through Apple beforehand--$50 at the airport).

The telephone number provided in our travel documents to check flight status before heading to the airport was incorrect. The telephone number Apple Vacations provided was for Norwegian Air. The telephone number on the MiamiAir website to check flight status is: (305) 871-8001.

Miami Air in Lansing, Michigan

Departure from Lansing, Michigan via Miami Air 

The MiamiAir website provided the following information for check-in: Ticket counters will open 3 hours prior to departure. Check in locations are as follows: Lansing, Michigan Capital Region International Airport (LAN) – Main Terminal, check-in counters located at Door 2. I also found this news story about the Apple Vacations/MiamiAir/Lansing Airport relationship.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan / local breweries, Homewood Suites, and JW Marriott

December 2016

You can find more details about the Homewood Suites, JW Marriott, and local tid bits downtown Grand Rapids in previous blog posts. Click the links above, or click on any label at the bottom of this post. I am sharing newly discovered information and hotel guestroom photos in this post.

Old door made into a table at Atwater Grand Rapids

Downtown Grand Rapids breweries and Happy Hour specials

We visited Atwater Grand Rapids Brewery, which opened in the fall of 2016, for the first time. The brewery is located on the northwest corner of Monroe Ave. and Michigan St.—very close to DeVos Place. It is worth a visit to this brewery just to see the decor. Tables, and the front of the bar were constructed from old pieces of wood, such as house doors and cabinet doors. Some of the light shades were made from barrel halves. The table picture I posted above does not clearly convey how cool the inside of this brewery looks.

Atwater Grand Rapids Sampler

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Online Passport Renewal Process and Delivery in Michigan

December 2016

We got our first passports 10 years ago via our local post office. The only thing I remember from that experience is that the cost was $90 each. I almost let our expiring passports slip by, as this is the only type of identification or travel document I have that does NOT give holders a warning about the upcoming expiration date. I receive notices before my Driver's License and GOES membership (Global Online Enrollment System for US Customs and Border Protection) are going to expire. My initial GOES membership expiration notice arrives 6 months ahead of time. I realized our passports were about to expire right after we had booked a last minute International trip.

I am sharing current costs and our passport renewal experience below. Our renewal experience was more difficult than our first-time application experience. The process for renewals is expected to be completed entirely on your own; however, the process was not without hiccups. I suggest adding a reminder to your calendar at least two months before your current passport is set to expire.

Passport processing times from the government website

Routine service: Approximately 4-6 weeks from the time of application, including mailing time.
Expedited service: Approximately 2-3 weeks from the time of application, including mailing time.
Expedited at Agency: 8 Business Days or Less than 2-3 weeks, depending which page you read the information on. You need to be traveling within 2 weeks, or have need for a foreign visa within 4 weeks, to use this service.

Passport fees in December 2016

Routine service for passport book: $110
Routine service for passport card: $30
Expedited service: additional $60
Priority Mail Express Delivery of passport book: $20.66
Expedited at Agency: the fees page says this is an additional $25; however, if you use the online calculator, the fee given is $60. We did not use this service, so I cannot provide details about the actual cost or time frame.  

More fee information, including name changes and passports for children, can be found on the passport website. The link to the fee calculator is at the top of that page.