Am I a Crazy Cruise Prepper?! (Umm…Possibly.)

Here at Unintended Domesticity HQ, we’re getting pretty excited about our next big trip: a 7-day Alaska cruise out of Seattle, with passage through the picturesque Tracy Arm Strait. We can’t wait!

This will be our third cruise overall, and while I’m always a little OCD about creating a packing list in advance of a trip (without one, I always forget something…usually the hubby’s socks or my cell phone charger), something about cruise vacations in particular brings out a manic side to my packing planning that may just verge on crazy-armageddon-prepper-territory.

I fully blame the news for this. Every few months there seems to be a story about a poop cruise, a norovirus cruise, a stranded cruise, or some other cruise ship disaster. And then, right after we booked this cruise, ALL THE STORIES came out about how Seattle is essentially a ticking time bomb just waiting to be crushed by a monster earthquake.

So, when putting together this cruise packing list, I thought it prudent to add in a few extra items.  In addition to the variety of clothes and toiletries that all travelers usually take, we’ll also be packing:

  • A can of Lysol –  Some people take the grocery-store variety Clorox Wipes thinking these will save them from the norovirus.  But here’s a twist for you: regular Clorox wipes don’t actually contain Clorox bleach – they just contain alcohol, which isn’t enough to kill norovirus. As soon as we get to our room, I spray down all the surfaces and doorhandles, just in case.
  • Whistles and LED keychains on our backpacks – If “the big one” really does hit Seattle while we’re in port, the biggest initial risk comes from falling buildings and debris. (If a tsunami strikes while you’re trapped, well…at least you’ll go quick.) But if you find yourself alive but inaccessible, then these two small, cheap gadgets could just alert a rescue crew to your whereabouts…and they take zero extra space in your luggage. Plus…don’t act like you didn’t see the end of Titanic. Yay for whistles.
  • A comprehensive first aid kit – The dinky first aid kits you find at the supermarket have a couple band aids and alcohol wipes, and maybe a few aspirin if you’re lucky. You’re protected from a paper cut, but not much worse. My cruise first aid kit includes a variety of bandages, gauze, antiseptic ointment and tape; Advil; naproxen sodium; Benadryl, Claritin and Flonase; Dayquil; Immodium AD, Tums, Pepto Bismol, and motion-sickness wristbands. There’s no pharmacy at sea, and a trip to the ship’s doctor can set you back several hundred bucks, not to mention result in you being quarantined to your cabin if he thinks you might have something contagious.  I’d rather have my own medicine cabinet available if necessary.
  • Battery-Powered Headlamps – Although we have a balcony room, if our cruise ship was to lose power or have some other problem at night, we’d likely find ourselves traversing through window-less hallways and staircases. The headlamps we take camping are small, LED-powered devices that take up virtually no space to also throw in the cruise suitcases. Seems like a given.
  • Collapsible Water Bottles and Iodine Tablets – These bottles are so useful, they can hardly even be considered “emergency” gear. We’ll take them on shore excursions, drink from them overnight instead of the teensy hotel room water glasses, etc. But if we were to get lost while hiking on one of our shore excursions and/or there was a problem with the ship’s water system, we’ve got at least 3 days of drinkable water at our disposal. And since they’re collapsible, they also take up nearly no extra space.

So that’s it.  Am I a crazy prepper? Maybe. What are the odds that we’ll actually *need* any of this stuff? About the same as us striking it rich in the on-board casino. But knowing that we’re not completely helpless should the worst case scenario hit lets me be a little more relaxed while on our vacation. If that makes me nuts…well…I’m ok with that.

Anyone else pack unusual items for your vacations? Tell us in the comments. Header image by Flickr user sgbirch under a creative commons license.

How a Quick Phone Call Earned Me 12,000 Points

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We’re currently deciding where to go with our Citi points. One option: Stockholm!

Around this time last year, I talked about how we’d just started a new round of card churning with the Citi Prestige and Citi Premier cards.

It was a good combo – we earned 100,000 Citi ThankYou Points between the card bonuses, as well as a lot of extra perks from the Prestige card alone.  To date, we’ve received:

  • $500 in air travel credits ($250 reimbursement per calendar year)
  • a $90 statement credit for Global Entry
  • Admirals Club access for me while on a work trip ($30 value in the wine I drank alone)
  • Priority Pass lounge access for the hubby and I on our lackluster Sandals trip (an $80 value in food, drinks and internet).

So, despite the fact that we paid a $450 annual fee for the Prestige card, we essentially got $700 of value, before even taking into account the bonus points — in other words, we MADE $250 by getting this card. And by Citi’s own calculations, the bonus points we got between the two cards are worth somewhere between $1,000 – $1,600 in travel.

However, the Prestige card is up for renewal next month and the hefty fee did cause us to take pause; it didn’t seem worth it to keep it for another year. But since I’d set a reminder on my calendar to call in advance of the fee being assessed, I had a little bit of leverage.

So, I called Citi to see what could be done.  If I cancelled the card outright, I’d lose all the points I’d earned from the account within 60 days.  Since we’re not quite ready to book a trip with all these points, that wasn’t a good option.  I was hoping they would agree to waive the fee entirely, but it appears that wasn’t an option either.  However, I was able to negotiate an additional 4 points per dollar spent on restaurants for the next six months, up to a 50,000 point limit, if I agreed to keep the card.

Considering that we have several trips coming up these next few months, I think we could easily expect the additional bonus from this promotion to be worth 10,000 – 15,000 additional points (so between $100 – $240 in value).  When combined with the additional $250 in airline reimbursement we’ll get in 2017, and the ability to hit up a couple more lounges on trips through the next year, the card will once again pay for itself, and it buys us another year to figure out what to do with our points hoard.

Making that phone call isn’t specific to Citi, either. Whenever I open a new travel credit card, I immediately add on my calendar a reminder one-month before the card anniversary. Then, I can call and negotiate, or if necessary, cancel. It’s just a fundamental step of the travel hacking game that a lot of people forget.  But considering how productive it can be, it’s definitely worth it!

Header photo courtesy of Flickr user Olof Senestam under a creative commons license. 

Skinny Margaritas for Cinco De Mayo!

It’s Cinco De Mayo, that day when white people appropriate Hispanic culture without any knowledge of the day’s historical background at all, but, hey, margaritas, amirite?!

We’re back on a low carb kick here in the Unintended Domesticity household, so for me, any celebratory margaritas have to be of the skinny variety. Luckily, I’ve spent some time perfecting my skinny margarita recipe over the past few years and now have one I’m pretty pleased with.

You’ll Need:

  • Tequila (we like Camarena Reposado)
  • An Orange
  • 1-2 Limes
  • Your favorite hot sauce (I like Cholula)
  • Club Soda

Then, the recipe I follow is about 2 oz tequila, the juice of half the orange, an equal amount of lime juice, 3 dashes of hot sauce – all shaken over ice then placed in a large glass and topped with club soda.

It’s a little sweet (from the oranges), a little sour (from the limes), a little spicy (from the hot sauce), and a lot drunk. Enjoy!

Home Improvement 101: Faking Recessed Lighting

The house my hubby and I call home was built in 1982, and so like many homeowners whose houses were created in this era of tackiness, I’ve been on a mission to eliminate the outdated and garish decor elements from my home for sometime now.

This has included getting rid of brass hinges and doorknobs, almost completely redoing our kitchen, changing out faucets on all the vanities, etc.

And today, one of the last holdouts of ugliness has fallen!

Our upstairs hallway featured three of the ugliest, brassiest, (most-likely) cheapest light fixtures around.  We had wanted to replace these with can lights/recessed lighting for quite some time, but because that requires climbing in the attic, moving insulation around, potentially some drywall repair…we’d been putting it off.

But then, lo and behold, when the hubby went to Lowe’s to buy birdseed yesterday, he stumbled across a set of ultra low-profile (less than an inch!), LED-powered lights in a brushed chrome finish.  They were perfect!  A pair of two only cost $40, and each light took him less than five minutes to install. They’re even dimmable and approved for use in wet locations, if you’re fancy.

So now, we have the look of recessed lighting, with almost none of the effort or expense.  Renovation win!

Trip Report: Weekend in San Antonio, Part Two

Don’t miss part one – link here: Weekend in San Antonio, Part One

Once we’d gotten everything sorted with our hotel for the weekend, it was time to have a little fun! That’s why we were in San Antonio, after all.

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The hubby enjoying his “Texas-sized” margarita

We started things out with a stroll down the Riverwalk from the hotel where we saw the colorful sign for “Ritas” restaurant and decided that seemed like a pretty good idea.  There, we started out the weekend with margaritas the size of our heads and a little mariachi music to boot.

That evening, we headed over to Bliss for dinner, which was indeed rather blissful, though not perfect. The best course of the night was the starter, the chicken-fried oysters on biscuit sliders.  The unctuous, briny oyster paired perfectly with the flaky chive biscuit, sweetness from the candied bacon, and creaminess from the brown butter hollandaise.

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The fried oyster sliders and roasted bone marrow from Bliss

Unfortunately, the other dishes we tried (roasted bone marrow topped with a beef tartare, deconstructed kale caesar salad, and five spice crusted duck with seared foie gras) all suffered from under-seasoning. It was a pity, really.  Everything needed to have world-class dishes were on the plate; the flavor combinations were right on.  It all just needed to be cooked with a proper amount of salt.

After dinner, we ventured over to the Blue Star Arts Complex, a former brewery area that’s been turned into a mixed-use venture with galleries, bars, condos and more. There, we spent some time at the hidden gem called Bar 1919 and enjoyed some fantastic cocktails.

Bar 1919 is one of those hipster-y sounding places that doesn’t have a website, doesn’t have a sign, doesn’t even have their name on the door.  But that’s where the hipster-y scene ends.  Inside, you find a dark, intimate setting with a long wooden bar and people of all types. We each had a nice bourbon-based drink, then some scotch on the rocks before heading back to the hotel for the end of our first night in town.

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The Tower of the Americas, blotting out the sun.

Day two kicked off with a quick breakfast at the hotel (free because of my Hyatt Diamond status) before we ventured out to explore a little of the City.  We headed over to the Tower of the Americas as well as the Institute for Texan Cultures, then walked back over to one of my Riverwalk favorites, Boudros, for lunch, including some tableside guacamole and prickly pear margaritas.

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The hubby hates both guacamole and tableside preparations, so this was alllll for me.
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The hubby’s spicy margarita and my prickly pear margarita from Boudros.

After lunch, the temperature was climbing, so we headed to the rooftop pool at the hotel to cool down and indulge in a couple more cocktails. The pool at the Hyatt Regency is not very large, nor very deep, but was ample for the intended purpose of cooling down on a hot day.

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The pool, from Hyatt’s website.  It had considerably more people in it the day we were there.

Next we got ready for dinner then headed out to the Pearl district to dine at Southerleigh, which had a unique industrial-warehouse-meets-Southern-hunting-cabin vibe. Here the focus was on the Galveston-style cuisine chef Jeff Balfour grew up with in South Texas. And it was pretty fantastic.

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The “Session” and “Imperial” beer samplers from Southerleigh. 

We started out with fried alligator bites, which were just ok, but followed those up with the real star: a macadamia nut crusted rack of lamb in tangy mustard sauce that was perfectly cooked and incredibly juicy. That was accompanied by a spicy crab mac and cheese that was a tad dry but still deliciously decadent. And we washed it all down with samplers of their house made beers. Put simply: this was a fantastic meal.

Afterwards, we wandered the Pearl for a bit, trying to find a place to have a drink.  Unfortunately, with the Spurs game on, every place we visited was super-crowded, so we opted to just head back to the hotel for a drink the hotel lobby instead.

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The charcuterie table at the Las Canarias Champagne Brunch

Finally, our last day, Sunday, we capped off the trip with one of my favorite brunches ever – the Champagne Brunch at Las Canarias. We received a table overlooking the river, and indulged on everything from Tex-Mex breakfast fare like chilaquiles to blue crab mashed potatoes and prime rib with horseradish sauce.

Bellies full and hearts content, we began the two hour drive back to Austin after this fantastic weekend.  I only wish we’d had a few more days to explore! It felt like we’d only begun to scratch the surface of all the new and interesting places that have opened up in San Antonio over the past few years. But that’s ok – that just means we can start planning our return trip 🙂

Tell us in the comments where your favorite places in San Antonio are!

 

 

 

Trip Report: Weekend in San Antonio, Part One – the Hyatt Regency

As I wrote about a couple months back, getting loyalty status with various travel brands can certainly make frequent travel a lot easier. Sometimes, it also makes it a lot more luxurious!

Seeing as how I recently acquired Hyatt Diamond status for free, I figured it was high-time to take advantage of it. And since our anniversary was also coming up, I decided to see if I could book a nice room on the Riverwalk for little-to-no out of pocket cost using my points + status for our anniversary weekend.

There are two Hyatt properties right on the riverwalk in San Antonio – the Hyatt Regency San Antonio (which is older, but in a prime location) and the Grand Hyatt San Antonio (which is huge and new, but in a quieter section of the Riverwalk). Standard room rates for both properties during the timeframe we were looking started around $229 a night, which was a little steep for a last-minute getaway.

We looked at doing a pure points booking, but at 12,000 points per night, that only came out to a redemption rate of 1.9 cents per point. Given that we’d be transferring points over from Chase Ultimate Rewards into my Hyatt account, that’s not a very effective redemption rate. (Chase Ultimate Reward points are roughly valued at about 2.1 cents per point at present; trading in points for a lower redemption rate is considered a poor use of points.)

So, things weren’t looking great – until, that is, we looked at the points + cash rates. 

One of the properties, the Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk, was offering a points + cash rate of 6,000 Hyatt points + $75 a night for the dates we wanted. That meant the points portion of the stay would jump up to a 2.6 cents per point redemption rate – a pretty nice value for the Chase points we’d earned with our Chase Sapphire Visa.

However, my Hyatt Diamond status also comes with four “Suite Upgrade” certificates each year, delivered around the first of March. Each certificate is good for upgrading any regular room booking to a suite for up to a seven-night stay at any Hyatt property, and can usually be confirmed at time of booking. The certificates are only valid on paid stays, but lucky for us, points + cash rates count as a paid booking for suite certificate purposes!

Combining the cash + points rate with a suite certificate, we were able to secure what we thought would be a “Regency Suite,” as that’s listed as the lowest level suite for the hotel on the Hyatt website. Hyatt doesn’t advertise the rates for suites at this property, but compared to other comparable Hyatt properties, it probably averages about $400-$500 a night for a cash booking.

Unfortunately, when we showed up, we weren’t placed in a Regency Suite, but in an “Atrium Suite”.  Fair warning – these may be considered “suites” because they have a separate bedroom and living area but they’re AWFUL. Seriously.  You’re better off in just a standard room, as these have no windows, zero natural light, the world’s worst balcony…just…yuck.

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The living room area of the Atrium Suite was cramped and dark.
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The small, windowless bedroom of the Atrium Suite
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The craptastic balconies of the Atrium Suite. They’re not even big enough to put a chair on and overlook the conference center instead of the outside.

Not wanting to ruin our anniversary weekend in such a horrible room, we returned promptly to the front desk and asked if they had anything else.  They said their suites were sold out, so they offered us an “Executive King with Partial River View.”  Disappointed, we took the offer and went to check out room #2.

Our second room was definitely an improvement over the Atrium Suite (if you’re listening, Hyatt, you should seriously get rid of those rooms altogether…) but wasn’t what we were expecting either.  It was a small room with no couch, only one chair (with a mismatched ottoman) and a small desk. Overall, still quite a disappointment from what we thought we had reserved.

 

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The Executive King Room was small – built for one person, not two – but at least it had  nice floor to ceiling windows.

So, we took to social media, and messaged the Hyatt Facebook account. Hyatt is pretty legendary for their customer service, and has even won awards within the social media industry for their world-class social customer care programs. And they did not disappoint. Within 2 minutes of sending my first message, they had responded to request additional information, and within 30 minutes, had managed to reach out to the hotel manager to make things right.

When we returned down to the hotel lobby for the second time, the manager greeted us by name and apologized for the mix up, then offered us a “Riverbend Suite” — the nicest suite they have at this property, with a separate bedroom, two bathrooms (!!!), and a fantastic river view.

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The view from our Riverbend Suite, where we could see revelers on the Riverwalk below and horse-drawn carriages on the streets above.
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The living area in the Riverbend Suite was spacious, bright and airy.
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The bedroom in the Riverbend Suite was a great size, and very inviting.
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The bathrooms in the Riverbend Suite were pretty standard EXCEPT that we each got our own, which was amazing.

Third time was indeed a charm, and our final room was FANTASTIC. In fact, we liked it so much, we immediately called room service and asked them to send up a bottle of champagne so that we could toast the start of the weekend and do a little people watching of those down below on the Riverwalk.

All in all, we ended up spending just $150 out of pocket (plus taxes) for two nights in the Hyatt’s top level suite, which would have surely cost well over $1,000 if we’d booked the same with cash.  For the points-aholics out there, it was essentially like getting a 7 cents per point redemption value.  That’s a points + status win if I’ve ever heard one. 🙂

Tomorrow, I’ll bring you part two, and detail all the things we saw and (more importantly) ate in San Antonio, so stay tuned!