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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ionia Michigan / Ionia State Park Recreation Area, Fred Meyer Grand River Valley Trail, Steele Street Brewing

May 2017


All kinds of last minute trip changes for us this year! We had not planned to stay in Ionia State Park Recreation Area again so soon. Since we did, I am sharing some new travel info about the area. You can find more park details in my April 2017 blog post

Ionia State Park Recreation Area, campsites 77 - 82

We chose a site in the northeast loop near the equestrian campground this time, because the lakeview sites had all been reserved. The sites in this loop are also larger than most of the sites in the lakeview loop.

Site 81
Horse trail behind trees
We stayed on site 81, which was mostly sunny, mostly grassy, and slightly secluded. There are trees/bushes between site 81 and site 79. Site 82 is sunnier than site 81. Site 80 is directly across the road from site 81, although it does not look like it on the campground map. Click on the photo below to enlarge it and see more site details.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mesick and Cadillac, Michigan / Jeep Blessing and Mitchell State Park

May 2017


We stayed at Mitchell State Park to attend the Jeep Blessing in Mesick, Michigan. This was our third stay at Mitchell State Park, and you can find more campground details in two of my previous posts: May 2016, and September 2014.  

Sunset view from back of campsite 180

Mitchell State Park: sites 174, 176, 179, 180, and 181 

We camped in a new area [for us] of the state park this visit, and I am sharing a few photos and information about some of the campsites in the channel area. Information that I shared previously concerning the facilities and amenities has not really changed any.

Sign at park entrance
We were camping during non-peak season, and there was not anyone working at the ranger station during our stay. The sign at the entrance said we could just proceed to our site, if we had a reservation (which we did). Pictures in this blog can be enlarged by clicking on them. The only new thing I observed about the facilities was a sign by the showers saying that the shower cost is $1 for non-campers. Must be they have a lot of non-campers using the showers!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

White Pine Trail and West Michigan Brewery Experiences ~ Brewery Vivant, Cedar Springs Brewing Company, Rockford Brewery

April 2017

At Brewery Vivant

Brewery Vivant

Brewery Vivant is a pretty cool place. The beer and food we have had has always been excellent, and this visit was no different. We shared the beer cheese pretzels and a "limited time" dessert, because the menu said the dessert paired well with Undertaker beer (which I was having). Everything was delicious, and we had our growler filled before we left. Brewery Vivant is located on Cherry Street near Eastown.


Taken from our table at Cedar Springs Brewing Company

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Interlochen, Beulah, and Lake Ann, Michigan / Lake 'N Pines Lodge, Lake Dubonnet State Forest Campground, and more!

May 2017, Weekend, 1-Night/2-Days


We had several places to visit in northern Michigan, which we decided to do in two days. We stayed overnight at Lake 'N Pines Lodge, we drove through the nearby state forest campground, and we visited Lake Ann Brewing Company and St. Ambrose Cellars. Following is information to assist future visitors.

Sunset from boat dock at Lake 'N Pines

Lake 'N Pines Lodge ~ Angler's Nook

We had a last minute change of plans at the time of our stay, and Angler's Nook was the only unit available at Lake 'N Pines. Pines Nature Suite would have been my first choice; however, that unit had already been rented for both weekend nights. Bay Chalet looks like an amazing unit, although it has a higher price than we would usually pay for a quick overnight (and, it was not available either). Definitely, if you are looking for a special weekend away, Bay Chalet would be the way to go. Angler's Nook is located on the ground floor beneath Pines Nature Suite.

Unexpected and nice surprise in the fridge when we arrived!
I have not included many pictures from our room at Lake 'N Pines Lodge because their website is very detailed and accurate. There is a floorpan for each unit along with several room photos on their website. I am including just a couple of photos showing a few unexpected amenities that I did not see listed on the website.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Englewood, Ohio / Hampton Inn & Suites Dayton Airport

May 2017, 2-Nights, Weekdays, 2 Queen beds, Rooms 420 and 320


Diamond perks and check-in

I arrived from the airport after dark. I decided to take 40/National Rd. rather than the interstate, as it looked like a direct route. The drive was about 10 minutes, and it would have been less except that there was a line of traffic behind a car going much slower than the speed limit. Fortunately, my GPS took me to the exact location of this hotel, because it was difficult to see the drive in the dark. There is no outside lighting at the entrance from the road.

During check-in, The agent did not specifically mention my status, although she did confirm that I wanted the bonus points for my on-property perk, and she also offered me a bottle of water. I did not receive an upgrade, and I did not receive the room type in my profile. I had reserved a room with two queen beds, because there were no king bed rooms available when I made the reservation. King study rooms were available, and I did not receive an upgrade to one of those (even after the agent offered to let me switch rooms).

View from guestroom 420

Guestrooms 320 and 420

Both of these guestrooms are exactly the same. The only difference was the style of the soap dish in the bathroom, and the carpet stains in room 320. I did not like the stale and moist odor in guestroom 320, or the cheap perfumey scent that had been used to try and mask the odor. I usually keep a small lavender spritzer in my luggage for situations like this; however, I discovered I did not have this in my bag. I called the front desk to ask if they had Febreeze or something in the hotel that I could use to spray in the guestroom. The agent said yes, and then she offered to switch me to another room. Since I could hear the floorboards in this hotel making noise, I agreed, and I said I would prefer something on the top floor, if possible (I had also made this request in my reservation notes). She told me the room directly above this one, 420, was available. I picked up my luggage, and she met me in the hallway with the new keys. Guestroom 420 did not smell any better than room 320. It was late, and I was ready for some sleep, so I made the best of it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Saranac, Michigan / Ionia State Park Recreation Area, Fred Meijer Grand River Valley Trail

April 2017, 3-nights, Weekday-weekend, Site 13


View from site 13
This was our first visit to Ionia Recreation Area. It looked like a great place to check out in the spring or fall when it is cooler in the Lake Michigan area campgrounds. Also, we stayed over Easter weekend, and Ionia was a reasonable drive from our son's house making it easy for him to visit.

Advance reservations, arrival and check-in

Since this stay was before peak-season, we considered just choosing our site after we arrived to save the $8 reservation fee. There are not many water view sites though, and after I noticed a couple of them had been taken, we decided to make a reservation. We initially reserved site 13 for Friday and Saturday night, and then we called on Thursday to add Thursday to the reservation. 

The camp office was closed when we arrived Thursday evening, and we checked in via the yellow telephone outside the office. I was glad I had called beforehand and taken care of the additional night, or I would have had to provide all the payment information and such during check-in.

Campsite 13

Campsites 13, 15, 18, 22

It was pretty easy to back in on site 13. The site was grassy, and we had a decent view of the lake from outside. From inside, we had a view of the lake out the back window, and the view from our living room looked out toward the trees behind site 15. The online information for this site says that it accommodates a 40' RV. We have a 30' 5th wheel (about 35' overall), and we took up just about the entire site lengthwise. I think it would tight with a 40' RV on this site.

Standing by fire pit on site 13

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.