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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tanger Outlet Mall / Grand Rapids, Michigan

January 2016, Friday afternoon

Getting to Tanger Outlet Mall

This was my first visit to the new Tanger Outlet Mall since it opened last fall. It is easy to get to, and much closer than I realized - less than 5 miles away from a family member's home on the south side of Grand Rapids. The mall is located on the southwest corner of 84th St and US-131. The signs are easy to see from the expressway.
Nice sitting area with heat! Too bad it was rainy when we visited.

Coupon books/Shopper services

I signed up to receive text promotions from Tanger Outlets a couple of weeks before my visit. I received a text message for a free coupon booklet, which I tried to redeem at Shopper Services. As I was looking for the text on my phone, the shopper agent said the text coupon was only good in the morning. She said that since it was after noon, the cost for the booklet would be $5. I did not recall reading that in my text; however, I did not continue to look for it, when I learned the free booklet I could get with my AAA membership was the same one.

My past experience with the free AAA booklet has not been very valuable, so I had signed up for text promotions with hopes of receiving something more valuable. I observed two other shoppers who came in for a coupon book, and then left without one after learning they cost $5. As usual, most of the coupons in the coupon book were only good if you were spending a large amount; most of them were discounts off purchases of $100 or more. I did find a couple of coupons good on purchases of $40, $60, and $75. Some of the coupons from nearby business were valuable enough to pay for the booklet. Depending on your interests, the $5 might be worth it, if you do not have AAA or a text for a free one.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Chicago, Illinois / Shedd Aquarium, Transportation, Shopping, Navy Pier, Restaurants and Bars

December 2015 - January 2016

Following is information about our experiences at some of the places we visited while in Chicago. Please let me know if you have questions or want further information.

taken at Shedd Aquarium 12/31/2015

Shedd Aquarium

This was our first visit to Shedd Aquarium, and I wanted to find out the hours and pricing beforehand. It was almost impossible to find the cost of a basic ticket. Any search I did for Shedd Aquarium ticket information relentlessly promoted City Pass, Membership, and other experience/combination passes. I finally found what I was looking for: general admission tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for children. General admission includes Caribbean Reef, Waters of the World, and Amazon Rising. The information on the website talks about skipping the lines by purchasing advance tickets, and general admission tickets were not available for advance purchase. Another way to try and promote purchasing a package!

We visited with general admission tickets, so all of the photos I am sharing are from the three main exhibits. More photos from these exhibits can be seen in the Shedd Aquarium Facebook album. Not having an advance ticket, did not necessitate us having to wait in any lines. Read on for details.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Chicago, Illinois / Homewood Suites by Hilton Chicago-Downtown

December 2015 - January 2016, Weekday-weekend, 3-nights, King 1-bedroom #1207

view from suite 1207
The Homewood Suites by Hilton Chicago-Downtown was undergoing renovations at the time of our stay. Our stay was satisfactory because we had been able to book a reasonable rate. If we had paid a high price for our room, we would have been disappointed. This building was in need of an update, and I am sure it will be fabulous when the renovations are complete.

Reservation, arrival experience, Gold status perks

I had a couple of questions, so I called to speak with someone a few days before our stay. My call was transferred to an offsite service. The person I spoke with sounded willing to assist me; however, I did not feel confident that our needs would be met after the call. The day before our arrival, I browsed the online check-in process. The highest floor guestroom available for online check-in was on floor 8, and this hotel has 19 floors. I also saw that a king bedroom was now the same price as the king studio we had booked, so I decided to call the hotel again. This time, I spoke with someone directly in the hotel, and she changed our guestroom to a 1-bedroom suite.

On the day of our arrival, we had taken the Amtrak to Chicago in the morning. We arrived at the hotel around 10:30 a.m. We went to the 6th floor where reception is located, and spoke with the front desk agent to let her know we were in town. She said check-in is at 4:00 p.m., and she took my cell phone number to call us, if our room became available before then. We checked our bags with the bellman on the ground floor, and our guestroom was ready shortly after 2:30 p.m.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Pere Marquette Amtrak / Grand Rapids to Chicago Union Station with Business Class Return

December 2015 - January 2016

business class seating - details under Chicago to GRR heading

Weekday a.m. departure from Vern J. Ehlers station in Grand Rapids, Michigan (GRR) - December 2015

This was our second time departing from the new Grand Rapids train station on Century Ave. Our first experience was a year earlier, December 2014, after the new train station had just opened. This time, we were familiar with the location, and the fact that it is not easy to get to the station from Wealthy St. or US-131, despite the fact that it is located right next to both roads. Century Ave. goes underneath Wealthy St., and you cannot access Century Ave. directly from Wealthy St. We were arriving on US-131 from the north, and decided to take the first exit after Wealthy St., Franklin St., and then drive the ½ mile back to the train station. If you are arriving from the south, you would also take the Franklin St. exit, and then turn onto Sheridan Ave. to access Century Ave., as Franklin St. passes over Century Ave. with no direct access, just like Wealthy St.

We arrived at the station just before 5:30 a.m. for our 6:00 a.m. departure. The station was not crowded when we arrived, although it was a few minutes later. The boarding process started at 5:45 a.m., and we departed at exactly 6:00 a.m. even though many passengers were still standing and stowing luggage. You do not need to be seated before the Amtrak departs, like on an airplane. Boarding order was called as follows: business class, lower level and/or assistance needed (designated on boarding pass), and then groups with two or more (when we boarded). I assume solo travelers were called after this.