Thursday, November 6, 2014

Status Update

Pre-Trip Plan

If you did not know, I am currently attending FSU, and I have been extremely busy with starting classes, getting settled, and just this week completing my midterms. Finally, I can take a breather, because midterms are finally over. Furthermore, I have also been extremely busy with planning my around the world trip in 6-7, maybe 8 months. So far, I have planned everything up to April 23rd, and by planned, I mean I'll have somewhere to sleep from December 29th until April 23rd.

These are the things that I have definitely settled and booked and will definitely be doing (These also include things that I will be reviewing):

1. MIA-LAX American Airlines B777 First class
American Airlines is one of the few airlines that flies international first class on a domestic USA flight. I was planning on flying the AA Boeing 777 from MIA-NYC, but the price was about the same to fly it to Los Angeles, so I was like "why not?" I managed to book this five and a hour half flight for around $550, which is definitely worth it to me, especially since I am trying to achieve British Airways Gold status. This flight will get be around 210 tier points which is actually around what British Airways frequent flyers pay if they are trying for tier point runs (where people fly just to get status and for nothing else). I thought this was way worth it because I'll also get to sample American Airlines international first class, which is in a 1x2x1 seat configuration for the price of a one-way coach ticket to Europe. Also, I checked the price the next day, and it had jumped to $2200! Maybe, they forgot it was a B777?

2. LAX-BOS-JFK American Airlines B737 First class
To be honest, I am NOT looking forward to this flight. It's actually an overnight flight, so there won't be any food (I love airplane food!), and just look at the seats! How they can make a transcontinental OVERNIGHT flight with a B737, I will never know. But I booked it so I guess I just answered my own question. If anything, this really is a tier point run. I paid $590, more than what I paid for the B777, but because it goes from LAX-BOS and then from BOS-JFK, I'll get 270 tier points. I could have booked through DFW for around $400, but because the way American Airlines flights are coded and the way British Airways awards tier points, anything over 2000 miles on a first class coded flight (in AA's case, any code that is P, A, or F) gets 210 tier points. Anything under 2000 miles on first class gets 60 tier points. So, if I had booked through DFW, I would have only got 120 tier points. An extra 150 tier points is worth it for an extra ~$200. Regardless, I'll be able to review the Admirals lounge in LAX before I get on the plane. 

3. EWR-LHR British Airways B787 Business class
I definitely am looking forward to this flight! I can't wait to review the hard product, I can't wait to review the Galeries lounge, and I can't wait to be neighed at by the British Airways cabin crew! I paid $1800 for this flight (which is actually incredible value, as most transatlantic business class flights cost around $4000). I had been watching a couple of fare wars between Oneworld alliance and Sky Team, and I was actually about to book out of LAX-LHR-BOD, but as I was buying, the fare was pulled and I was really unlucky. I kept watching for a couple of days, and that's when I saw this price. In retrospect, I wish I had waited a week, because the LAX fares returned. Either way, it's still incredible value, and a flight I have seriously been looking forward to. My return is on May 7 to JFK.

4. LHR-HEL British Airways A321 Economy
There's not much to say about this flight, except that it will get me to Helsinki! Before I board, I'll review the arrivals lounge in LHR. 

5. Scandic Grand Marina - Helsinki - 4* Hotel 1/1/15 - 5/1/15

I'm not super excited to see this hotel, but I am super excited to see Helsinki and its location. Finland is one of those countries that I have always been curious about and have always wanted to see. I'll be sure to go to all the famous cites and try some of Helsinki's most famous restaurants (apparently Finnish food is the only thing worse than British food).

6. HEL-IVL Finnair A321 Economy

Not much to say about this either. Only that it is taking me to the arctic circle!

7. Holiday Club Resorts - Saariselkä - Resort 5/1/15 - 7/1/15
This hotel advertises itself as the northernmost holiday resort in the whole word! I am SOOO excited for this hotel. It has a spa, the rooms seem decent, and there are plenty of activities and restaurants around. Whilst here, I will be going Husky sledding, and I just want to go out at night and possibly see the northern lights! 

8. IVL-HEL Finnair A321 Economy 

9. Rantasipi Airport - Vaanta - 4* Hotel 7/1/15 - 8/1/15

Just a simple airport hotel with a shuttle bus. Apparently, it also connects to a spa, but I won't be using it. 

10. HEL-LHR Finnair A321 Economy 

Return flight with the same aircraft except it will be with Finnair instead of British Airways. 

11. University of London 8/1/15 - 23/4/15

Upon arrival in London, I'll be picked up and transferred to my living facilities in Bloomsbury, where I will stay and study at the FSU study center in association with the University of London. I am beyond excited for this and I cannot wait to study in the centre of London!

More Planning

So far, this is all I have in my trip around the world. I'm planning to take a trip to Cairo, but I haven't booked it yet. I also might go to Rome or Athens, or Bordeaux. I also will definitely be flying JFK-HKG in Cathay Pacific's first class, at which I will stay in HKG for a week, and then I plan to go to mainland china and stay in Kunming for a month. Kunming is the capital of the Yunnan province. I'll also be updating a lot more. In my next post, I'll most likely talk about my new credit cards that I have received this quarter. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Royal Caribbean - Freedom of the Seas 2012 - The Ship

The Ship

Okay, so when I say this, I mean it. You will NEVER find yourself with nothing to do on Freedom of the Seas. I would take this ship on an eight night transatlantic cruise any day for the price of any other cruise. It literally has almost everything that cruise ships these days can offer, except for a water slide here or there, or the occasional zip line on some of Royal Caribbean's newest ships. 

Ice Skating Rink

The Ice skating Rink was definitely fun. If I remember correctly, the rink was only open to the public during the afternoon around 2 PM. The reason for this is because there is actually a show that plays every night and I assumed the actors/ice skaters(?) were practicing or rehearsing or whatever it is they do to prepare. Regardless, it worked out because 2PM is actually the times when nothing else really happens. Also, anyone can do it. It is free of charge, and no reservation is needed. As for the shows at night time, they usually only have 2 or 3 shows playing on a 7 night cruise. I booked mine in advance before getting on the ship. The show was actually really good, and it was very interactive. We were sitting at the front, so I was actually given the privilege of throwing a bunch of rings to a guy that was doing flips and flying all around the rink. He also caught every one. :P

Sure Machines

This was probably my favorite thing to do on Freedom of the Seas. Before boarding, I was actually quite nervous about it, as I literally had never surfed before in my life. For some reason, I was expecting professionals to be using it, doing flips and £$@!, but I was definitely pleasantly surprised to find that the whole experience actually has a very laid back atmosphere to it. Despite this, my first time on the machine caused it to be shut down, with everyone screaming, and me literally knocking a five year old boy off it in the process. I have a video of it, but my mum isn't the most tech savvy person out there. She's aged over half a century, so I don't blame her. Being her innocent self, she thought she had to keep clicking the record button to record, so there were 5 second video clips of me ramming through the barrier and knocking the kid over. 

Regardless, this is me being getting on the flowrider:

This is me breaking through the barrier:

And this is me shutting the machine down, whilst the kid gasps for air:

My mum had a much better time as she didn't shut the machine down. I didn't let it deter me, though! As I did it again and I managed to not do any damage! 

For the Flowrider, you don't need to schedule it. You pretty much just sign a waiver and line up. They give you a wristband to wear so they know you can go on. 

Rock Climbing Wall

I found the Rock Climbing wall really fun as well. This is a picture of me halfway to the top. This was open every day except for when the ship was at the ports of call, and on the last day, because we were going through a thunderstorm and it was raining. To get on, you don't need a reservation, you just line up to get your gear and shoes, and then you get dressed and get climbing. Like everything else, it is also free.

Swimming Pools

Now, compared to Carnival Dream, the swimming pools on the Freedom were amazing! Not only was there two more, but I felt like they were a lot cleaner and deeper than those on Carnival. My favorite pool was definitely the solarium pool. It was an adults only pool and it definitely felt like a little get away. For some reason, this was never nearly as crowded as the two main pools. 

These were the two main pools:

Dining Room

This is one point that I give to the Carnival Dream, as I did enjoy their dining room a lot more. I also enjoyed the food and the service on their ship more as well. Our waiter on Freedom of the Seas was from India, and that's about all we got to know about him. He wasn't very personable, and it felt like he was just running through the motions, which I can completely understand, but it doesn't translate to great service when you compare it to our waitress on Carnival Dream, who is from the Philippines. She was working for Carnival because she can earn a lot more money than if she was to work in her home country, so she actually sends money back to her family. Regardless, she was always there for us if we needed anything, whilst our waiter on Freedom of the Seas would come back to get our appetizer order, our main meal and then our desert. That was about the only times we saw him, and he never said goodbye when we left the restaurant. 

Unique Places

One of my favorite places on Freedom of the Seas was of course, the Cupcake Cupboard. I've never really been a fan of cupcakes to be honest, but oh my god, these cupcakes were good! I literally would have at least one a day, if not two! A good thing about the cupcake cupboard as well, is that they have savings cards where for each cupcake you get, they puncture it so you can get a free cupcake. I think it was for ever seven cupcakes you buy, you get the eighth free. And yes, you do have to pay for this, it isn't included, but I definitely think it is worth it, even if you go there just once to try it out. Also, the lady who worked the counter every day was so nice, and she even let me take a picture of her. 
As you can see in the picture, my favorite cupcake was strawberry cheesecake. Just thinking about it makes me want to go on Freedom of the Seas JUST for that cupcake. :P

Another really cool place was the gym! It's unique in that all of the treadmills look out over the water, and you can see directly in front of the ship. I would go to the gym just so I could get this view, which is always an added bonus, because it would actually motivate me to work out! 

Other Info/Conclusion
This ship also comes with a full mini golf course, which I never actually used because I absolutely can't stand mini golf. (It just makes me angry). But, I always saw other people using it! And as they always seemed to be having fun, I assumed it was good. 

Like I said before, I never ran out of things to do on Freedom of the seas, so if you're looking for a ship where you won't be bored on sea days, then I definitely recommend this ship. If you're perhaps looking for a ship where you can relax and meet new people, then I think Carnival Dream is actually quite good because of the numerous Jacuzzi, and the plentiful amount of deck chairs.    

Friday, July 25, 2014

Royal Caribbean - Freedom Of the Seas 2012 - Introduction

Introduction / Comparison / Summary

As I didn't take this cruise planning to blog about it, this isn't going to be a full review, but more like a recap. Nevertheless, I want to give a couple of thoughts, from what I can remember at least, about this cruise ship. Firstly, this was my second cruise ever and it is one that I took with my mum after saving up my pocket money in my teen years. Wasn't I just the best kid? That's what my mum always said... I know deep down I'm her favorite. Secondly, I definitely preferred this ship and Royal Caribbean tbh over Carnival. Don't get me wrong, I think Carnival is a great cruise line, especially if it is your first, but Royal Caribbean just offers SO much more in terms of things to do. I NEVER found myself twiddling my thumbs with nothing to do, whereas on Carnival Dream, I sometimes did. To start of with, not only does Freedom of the seas have an ice skating rink, they also have a rock climbing wall, a surf machine, and FOUR swimming pools. The only thing that stood out on Carnival Dream was that they have a water slide, which in all honesty, can only last a couple of times down, right? Granted, they also have like a hundred jet pools, which I particularly enjoyed simply relaxing in and talking to other cruisers. But there's only so many hours one can talk to people they don't know. Despite this, I did actually enjoy the food more on Carnival. I felt like the service, and the food in the main dining halls actually exceeded that over the service and food of the main dining halls in Freedom of the Seas. Overall though, I enjoyed Royal Caribbean.

My Itinerary was Haiti, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, and Mexico. Now, I know a lot of frequent cruisers recommend against this, but I actually book all of my island excursions through the cruise line. This is partially due to a nightmare situation on St. Martin one time, when my mum, my sister, and I rented a jeep to travel around on the island. If you didn't know, Petrol/Gas is $@%^£"! expensive, and well, we didn't know. After putting in like forty dollars of gas into the car, we thought we were good. Turns out we weren't. Also, the clock on the car didn't work and we had no idea if we were an hour ahead or behind. Needless to say, we obviously ran out of gas, and we had no idea what to do. Our phones were telling us it was 2PM, and the cruise departed at 3:30PM. Yeah, it was pretty dire, and we were panicking the £"$@ out of ourselves. We didn't want to be this guy:

Luckily, another car came by. After we waved them down like a psychopath was chasing us, we found out they were french. Luckily, they spoke English, and they were helpful enough to get us an emergency gallon for our car from the gas station. Later, we found out they were actually from France, but they had moved to St. Martin on the french side. At least they were willing to help three British people.

Anyways, that's pretty much why I book all of my excursions through the cruiselines, because even if something like this does happen, the cruise is forced to wait for us as a part of their safety guarantee. You're basically paying extra for the reassurance and worry-freeness of it all. Which, I am now more than willing to pay. So, we planned all of our excursions before departure. In Labadee, we just rented two chairs and sat on the beach in the sun. In Jamaica, we planned a snorkeling adventure with a climb up the Dunns River falls. In George Town, we rented a car to travel around the island, and in Mexico, we planned an excursion to the mainland to visit the Coba Mayan Ruins. My favorite was definitely the Coba Ruins, and I would recommend that to anyone visiting anywhere near the Yucatan. In my next post, I'll talk about the ship and its amenities, dining rooms, and staterooms. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

About me!

Hello there! How are you doing? Where should I begin?

My name is Jack Buck and I absolutely love anything to do with travel. I love the hotels, the cultures, the service, and most importantly the food! I think the food and the service are both in the running for first place in my mind. I absolutely love flying, and this may come as a shock to everyone out there, but I even love the food thirty thousand miles high.

To be honest, I'm actually a novice traveler. Growing up in England, my family and I would travel at least once a year. My mum loved warm places near the beach, so almost all of our trips were centered on the Mediterranean. Funnily enough, my most fond memories were those of me flying. When I was five to seven, I would never hang out in my seat next to my family. I was one of those terrors on the plane that went exploring and I usually ended up talking to the flight attendants the whole time.

Regardless, whatever my parents did, they installed a sense of adventure in me, and boy did I lust after it. In my teen years, my family moved to america and we stopped vacationing yearly like we had done in England. These absent years of holidays took its toll on me, and my desire to move and travel grew increasingly. I came up with a plan. I started to save up my pocket money just so I could go on cruises. It would take me years, but I never lived more than modestly. I never spent any of it on play-station games like most boys would. I saved it, and the first cruise I went on was when I was 16. It was a carnival cruise with a balcony stateroom to St. Martin, St. Thomas, and the Bahamas. We went snorkeling, kayaking, and even jeeping. In that first cruise, I learnt a lot about them, and instead of satiating my thirst, as soon as I got back I started saving up for my next one.

After my second cruise on Royal Caribbean, I wanted to go back to Europe, and more importantly, I wanted to go back home, which I hadn't done since moving to America when I was thirteen. My school was conveniently doing a Europe trip and I begged my mum to go on it in my senior year of high school. Finally, she agreed, and she managed to shift money around so she could pay for me to go. It honestly was a trip of a lifetime. With all my friends, we traveled to the ruins of Athens, the hills of Sorrento, the fountains of Rome, the canals of Venice, the ice caps of Zurich, the beer halls of Munich, and finally the rivers of the Rhineland. Did you like this little description? Because that's the best I can summarise in the about me section. I'll be sure to post a review/recap of that trip later. Anyways, it was a trip that started in Greece, went to Italy and Switzerland, and then ended in Germany. I, however, got my first real taste of traveling by myself after this, because I planned a whole extra excursion to go to south France where my aunt lived, and then to London where I stayed at the Marriott County Hall. This is where I learned all I could about train travel in Europe at least. I also learnt a lot of great ways to save money on hotels, which I'll talk about and share in this blog. After my week long stay in London, I went to northern wales, and stayed at a caravan site, which I have to say was a really unique experience.

So that pretty much sums up my traveling experiences thus far. Of course, you must be wondering why I am creating this blog. Well, you didn't think my Europe trip of the summer of 2013 would satiate my thirst did you? I hope not, because it only made me more parched and hungrier for more. And this coming spring, I've planned an even bigger, better, and more exciting trip than the summer of 2013! It'l be the Spring of 2015! and I'm staying in Europe for a whopping six months, bringing you the best reviews and needed information of the blogging world!

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