We are going to begin this post with a quiz. (We’re trying to weed out any dimwitted readers so we can maintain our reputation for keen intelligence in fake journalism.)
One of these homes is the one we grew up in a small steel town in Western Pennsylvania. The other is the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Only those of you who can determine which is which are qualified to read on.
Is it ?
The correct answer is A- the first picture shown. The second choice shows why we may have felt just a bit like pretenders in the palace.
However, the bellmen and other staff at the Palace were far too well behaved to laugh out loud when we showed in a taxi and carrying beat-up Samsonite luggage. We were treated every bit as nicely as the people who left their Lamborghini roadsters and Ferraris casually parked in the entranceway.
Fortunately for us we were given a private tour of the Palace so we gained access to places even more beyond our means.
In general when we think of a palace we think of a very old building that has a lot of history and which has housed royal families. That isn’t exactly the case with the Emirates Palace. It was built in 2005 and is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi. However, it has not been the home of ruling families but rather a 5-star hotel run by Kempinski hoteliers. Although there are suites for each of the ruling sheiks of the 7 Emirates that comprise the UAE there are also suites for other extraordinarily wealthy people who may or may not rule countries. We saw a sampling of the suites in the latter categories. They are called the Two Bedroom Palace Suites if you would like to book one.
Let’s have a look around:
Interestingly the husbands and wives (in the UAE cultures) do not traditionally share a bedroom. So the suites with two bedrooms may be to accommodate guests from other cultures.
The second bedroom can be used for one of the spouses or one can always toss the kiddies (or whomever, we don’t judge) in it.
After gawking around a couple suites and asking amateur questions such as were the Rolling Stones going to be staying here when they came to Abu Dhabi a couple days later (no, they weren’t) and how much do these suites cost (depending on size roughly $6,000 USD a night) we were off to see the grounds.
But to get to the grounds you need to walk down (you could take the elevator, but where’s the glamour in that) a fabulous staircase and try to also see the ceiling and not fall down attempting to do those two things simultaneously.
As you may be expecting, the grounds are also lavish and gorgeous (much like the authors of this blog).
It took forever to get Brunette to position that boat properly for this shot. She kept wanting to go up to her helipad and leave.
In addition to the rooms, public areas, 14 restaurants (yes, that’s 14), marina, ballroom, extensive sports facilities, auditorium and meeting facilities the Palace also has a couple Bedouin men living in traditional Bedouin tents on the grounds. (Of course they do.)
Bedouins, traditionally desert dwelling nomadic Arabs, haven’t fared all that well with the rapid modernization and semi-Westernization of the UAE. They have low education rates and high unemployment rates but a couple managed to land good gigs living on the grounds of the Emirates Palace and taking care of their camels. (Arguably their accomplishment trumps ours of merely getting to Abu Dhabi from Pennsylvania.)
After indulging our request for a picture with the man and the camel we (smelling faintly like camels) then went back into the Palace to end our visit with one of their renowned cappuccinos that literally have gold dust on them.
In the event this pictorial has made you want to stay at the Emirates Palace we have done some extensive research to get you the best price as of the date this post was written (we looked on booking.com). The cheapest room available for one night is a “Coral Double Room with Garden view” for $510 a night (not including 16% in taxes or breakfast which is $59.) It’s not exactly a bargain rate but if you’re going to Abu Dhabi you may as well know, it isn’t about bargains, so give it some thought!
If that’s a tad out of your price range at least go have a look around and have a cappuccino.
Don’t mention that you know us. It’s better for everyone.
Six months ago Brunette was the thrilled and lucky winner of 2 Business Class tickets on Qatar Airways. Our plotting commenced immediately. We were in a dither of excitement about traveling in our own little people pods with flat beds, entertainment centers and good food and wine. But where would we go?
With Qatar Airway’s home being Doha we decided to go there and see it before heading off to Abu Dhabi and the Maldives. We got mixed reactions from fellow travelers about going to Doha from “it’s boring” to “it’s OK as a stopover place”. There’s some truth to each of those perspectives. But with Qatar Airways seemingly unstoppable growth and their addition of a good selection of gateway cities in the U.S. we knew that Doha was very likely to become a layover option for long journeys so we wanted to check it out.
We stayed at the Hilton because we were able to get really good rates. It was fine but if we ever go again it would be a lot nicer to stay next door at the Four Seasons. The Four Seasons has much more of a relaxed, resort feeling than the Hilton which feels a bit more like a business hotel. They both have very expensive food but it’s more worth it (especially at the Friday brunch) at the Four Seasons.
There are some interesting places and activities we recommend if you have a couple of days in Doha. Unfortunately, you could spend most of your visit sitting in traffic as Doha is a massive construction site in preparation for the World Cup. Forget about public transportation in the land of people who have drivers and walking isn’t appealing due to the construction, so at least make sure your driver uses the meter and understands you. (It would be fabulous if your driver also used deodorant but that does not seem to be a part of the taxi driver hygiene process – if there even is one. We had to stick our noses out taxi windows twice to survive.)
The sites and activities we enjoyed were:
The I. M. Pei designed Museum of Islamic Art.
The museum is open every day except Tuesday but hours vary so check the website before going. We were amazed that our taxi driver couldn’t reach the museum due to rerouted traffic because of construction. We were deposited in the general area and thought it would be easy to ask directions. That was when we began to learn that no one in Doha (at least who will speak to Westerners) knows where anything is! The result was that we got to the museum late and grumpy but it’s free, so that helped jolly us up.
The collections aren’t particularly large as it’s sort of a stretch to come up with history that’s actually from Doha – that would be a bunch of old fishing boats and some oil wells – so most of the artifacts are from elsewhere in the Islamic world. We also had many a giggle over the curation as things were labelled “bowl”, “door”, etc,. We decided the curator was a person of few words. However, there was some intricate and beautiful pottery and mosaics that we particularly enjoyed and it’s worth a visit even if only for the architecture and setting.
We somehow bumbled onto the elevator and went to the top floor where Alain Ducasse’s first restaurant in the Middle East is housed. Some man exuding importance whisked past us and into the elevator as the guard (who like guards everywhere was playing on his iPhone) nearly fell out of his chair in horror at our sudden appearance. The restaurant was designed by Philippe Starck (there will be a brief quiz on all of the names dropped in this post) and had terrific views of the Doha skyline. It was clearly not a place where we belonged.
The next place to make time to visit is the Souq Waqif (which is very near the Museum of Islamic Art).
The Souq is somewhat faux old. In a country so young (a little more than 40 years) some instant history is needed. There had been a market of some type there for about a hundred years but it was given a facelift and enlarged about 10 or 15 years ago. (Why doesn’t our government give us facelifts?) There are a couple interesting areas in the souk. One was the falconry area with shops with falcons and falcon accessories as well as a falcon hospital.
Another was where they sell fabric and clothing (of dramatically varying levels of quality).
And of course we’re always in favor of the restaurant section of anywhere we visit but, unfortunately, our visit didn’t coincide with meal time. This Turkish restaurant looked very appealing.
You can also sit around smoking a shisha. That seems to involve looking very hostile if you do it in the day time.
The final activity we would suggest on a two-day layover would be a desert safari to the Empty Quarter and the Arabian Sea. However, we will not recommend the company who comped us. Our driver seemed to have a “troubled” personality, played completely obscene rap music at full volume (which actually amused us to no end) and had us do a disconcerting car change out in the desert for no explanation.
A dune bashing safari is fun to do though and you can find a company through your concierge. The trip involves driving out to the desert, hanging around for a few pictures with camels while air is let out of the car tires so it can drive on the dunes, then scaring the crap out of you flying up and sliding down dunes. We wanted a trip that combined a glimpse of the Inland Sea which was cold and rather uninviting but interesting, in part because we could see Saudi Arabia 7 miles off in the distance. (Take that Sarah Palin and seeing Russia from your backyard!)
Our best food experiences were the fabulous brunch at the Four Seasons on Friday. As Friday is the holy day in the Islamic world it’s somewhat equivalent to the Christian version of Sunday brunch (but without any ham). The Four Seasons had a mind-boggling assortment of food from many cuisines, an open kitchen where you could see things being made and the thing our fantasies are made of – a chocolate fountain!
The other gastronomic delight was Paper Moon, an Italian restaurant housed in the Bank District, This is part of a restaurant group begun in Milan in the late 1970s. The staff is actually Italian (this is very notable in a country where everyone who is in service roles seems to be from India or Pakistan) and the whole ambience and taste experience is right out of the best of Italy.
We ate like two not-so-little piggies because there were so many things to try. We rounded out the night with a dessert orgy.
The location we visited cannot serve alcohol but they also have a restaurant in the W Hotel in Doha where you can have the food and your wine too. Amazingly enough we were so caught up in the food and speaking with the delightful manager that we (semi) didn’t miss our nightly wine.
When it was time to leave Doha we took the advice of our hotel concierge and booked a car to the airport rather than take our chances with another aromatic and directionally-challenged cab driver. (Hint: If the hotel has different classes of cars you can save a lot by picking the Ford over the Audi for your ride to the airport.)
We thought we had allowed more than enough time to get to the airport but with all of the construction delays it ended up becoming a nail biter. Also, the current Doha airport is extremely inefficient and you have to ride in a bus over about 30 miles of tarmac to your flight so allow more time than you think you need.
We were back in the arms of our benefactors, Qatar Airways, and soon to be in the Maldives! Doha had been an interesting layover although it didn’t leave us wishing we had more time. But it sure beat exhausting ourselves on a series of long flights (as we learned on the way home).
The reefs in the Maldives, at least where we were staying at Kurumba, are generally healthy and there are more kinds of fish swimming around than the number of STDs we assume Charlie Sheen has flowing through his tiger blood. OK, there probably aren’t that many kinds of fish but you get the idea.
However, changing ocean temperatures and a combination of naturally occurring and human-caused factors are bleaching and killing reefs all over the globe. It is not simply a case of reefs getting carried away with tooth whitening strips; they’re turning white because they’re dead.
As avid snorkelers we don’t want to see our playgrounds being destroyed so were intrigued to learn that Kurumba has a program to help regenerate coral that is dying. It’s something they give guests a chance to participate in so we signed up.
Mady, one of our favorite men from the team that led the snorkeling outings, met with 6 of us to explain the process of creating new reefs. As per our normal behavior Blonde didn’t listen very well to the instructions and Brunette worried that she would kill live coral by mistake so we didn’t set off with well-honed skills. Luckily Mady has seen it all with well-intentioned, vaguely-comprehending guests and gave a demo for us when we got to the ocean.
Two weeks to ten days before our outing the team at Kurumba had used Rebar to form the basis for the new reef we would be creating. The Rebar is sprayed with fabric glue and then coated in sand. It dries and they repeat the process several times until there’s enough sand sticking to the form. (Sort of like Blonde applying her makeup.)
The next step is to have bumbling people like us don our fins and masks and swim around a small area and find and retrieve pieces of broken coral that are dying. If the coral is completely white then it’s too late for it (one of the few times being white doesn’t make life easier but actually makes it impossible). Those that still have some brown or blue will die soon without some intervention. Mady retrieved some samples of what we should be looking for and we set out to identify and collect similar pieces.
Most of us did that but Brunette mostly swam around with concern for harming the coral. Finally she overcame her hesitancy and pulled a piece out of the water. To her horror a woman on the beach, who had no idea what we were all doing, was looking in shocked amazement at Brunette ripping coral off the sea floor. Brunette rushed over to explain the legitimacy of her activity and the woman and her husband then joined our group.
After our United Colors of Benetton collection of Bulgarians, an Aussie, Sri Lankans, Japanese and Americans produced an adequate basket of salvageable coral Mady showed us how to attach it to the Rebar using plastic ties. Blonde hasn’t done any actual work in so long that she managed to tie about three pieces on to everyone else’s ten but hers were really cute.
It will take years for our creation to become a fully grown-up reef – maybe 5 or 10 years – but Kurumba already has some that at 5 years are thriving.
After all of the pieces were attached Mady checked our work and cut the extra plastic from the ties. He then swam the reef out to put it on the ocean floor.
Kurumba’s program has two features that we really liked (besides the whole saving coral thing). They send you a certificate as a coral rescuer or some other dubious credential that we each plan to add to our LinkedIn profiles. More thrillingly they email you a photo update of “your” reef every 6 months. So at least every 6 months we’ll remember that we once did something useful on one of our trips.
Usually our speeding tickets from other countries begin to catch up with us in that timeframe so this will be a pleasant change!
When Blonde and Brunette began planning our trip to Abu Dhabi and deciding which attractions to visit Brunette noticed that the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the #2 rated attraction on Trip Advisor. We contacted the hospital and swooned with gratitude and delight that they not only gave us a tour but that we got to meet privately with Dr. Muller. She is world-famous for her work with falcons, has won lots and lots of awards, is multi-lingual, humorous and charming. We now have girl crushes on her (unrequited, to our knowledge).
Dr. Muller explained that in Bedouin culture, which is the heritage of the United Arab Emirates, falcons are treated as family members. They are not seen as being pets. They have their own room in their owner’s home, they ride in the car with him and get their own seats on commercial flights (and we aren’t talking economy class here). And even falcons must carry ID to fly – in airplanes, that is. They have passports that state their breed, gender, weight, and other identifying information.
Female falcons are about 1/3 larger than the males and constitute most of the approximately 9,000 patients per year at the hospital. On average the falcons live 12 to 15 years. (Please allow us a very discrete chuckle that in Arabic culture the female falcons are more valued than the males because they’re stronger.) They can kill an animal as large as a gazelle but in that case it becomes a buffet because a gazelle is too big for the falcon to carry off. If they get a gazelle they invite their friends over for the falcon version of a cook out (without the cooking part). They also kill desert rats, rabbits and foxes and do not share those with anyone! In the UAE it isn’t permissible to hunt so the owners take their falcons to Pakistan, Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to go hunting.
In the hospital waiting room there were lots of different types and sizes of falcons waiting for whatever procedures they’d been brought in to have performed. (The government subsidizes the cost of falcon medical care. Just wait until the Republicans in the U.S. find out about that!)
A procedure that is done frequently is having their talons trimmed – a falcon pedicure except they don’t get the polish. Even though the falcons are girls they don’t seem to enjoy pedicures so they have to be anesthetized first. (You know how some days your feet are ticklish and some days they aren’t? Apparently they always are for falcons.)
Because the falcons are kept in captivity their talons grow and grow. If they were in the wild their nails would get worn off just doing their day jobs. When talons get too long they can actually dig into the falcon’s foot and cause very nasty cuts that can become infected. When that happens it’s called “Bumblefoot”. (Trivia for you – the guitarist for Guns ‘n Roses is Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal.)
The veterinarian picked up a falcon and before she knew what happened, her head (the falcon’s, not the veterinarian’s) was in a clear mask, she was administered Aerrane and then she peacefully conked out. Some falcons close their eyes when they’re asleep and some don’t. Here’s another trivia game-winning answer for you – falcon eyelids close from the bottom up, the reverse of humans (with the possible exception of Vladimir Putin).
The hospital makes and fits special falcon shoes to be worn by birds that “Bumblefooted” themselves and now need to let the cut heal. As the falcons are predominately female, surely they can’t feel too good about all having to wear the same shoes as the other girls. A good incentive for proper foot care.
Just like in a “real” ER Dr. Muller was called out of the room during the early stages of the pedicure as she needed to go do some emergency surgery. We were quite impressed but had to scurry away before we saw her make the actual incision in the falcon. She has clearly watched Gray’s Anatomy a lot as she performed the incision the same way they do.
The doctor who took over after Dr. Muller was called away offered to let Blonde be the demo person showing how to feed a falcon. It still isn’t entirely clear if this was a reward or a punishment but it sure was interesting! Blonde was given a gigantic glove, a large falcon sans hood and a naked, featherless, cold dead quail. In other words a totally normal day.
After feeding time (for the falcons, not us) we went over to the aviary. When owners go away and don’t take their falcons with them or in the summer when it’s incredibly hot they sometimes board their falcons at the aviary. We were visiting on a cool day so there weren’t many boarders but each aviary has multiple air conditioners running when it’s hot out.
All of the falcons are fed at the same time. If there are 20 falcons there would be about 30 or 35 dead rodents placed on the buffet table (one of many reasons Blonde does not like buffets). This is so those who want second helpings will have an adequate supply. If there isn’t, the veterinarian told us that the next morning one of the smaller, weaker falcons will have “disappeared”. Kind of like dropping your kid off at the Lord of the Flies Day Care Center and getting some bad news when you show up at the end of the day. Do not try to introduce The Clean Plate Club to a bunch of falcons; this is a case where leftovers are a very good thing.
The tour concluded in a separate building from the hospital. The building houses the quite beautiful Shaheen Conference Center where presumably birds of a feather flock together. There is also a small but interesting museum of the history of falconry, a taxidermied camel and a nice man who lets you have your picture taken with him and a falcon.
We hope it wasn’t a commentary on our reporting abilities, but after we took turns posing with the falcon it had an “accident” on the floor and the man had to clean the floor with a tissue. That did not appear to be in his job description but was clearly an occupational hazard.
We have shown massive restraint in not writing a post twice this long about all of the interesting things we saw and learned at the Falcon Hospital but we know you have a very poor attention span and probably didn’t even read this far. However, if you did you will be rewarded with this picture of a Peregrine Falcon, the national bird of the United Arab Emirates.
As Blonde and Brunette prepare to embark on our next adventure we hope to bring back memories of food, nature, architecture, horrifyingly inappropriate giggling fits, high falutin’ hotels, nervousness navigating customs out of our comfort zones and fabulous ceilings. Ceilings?
Blonde is a sleeper who would sweep the gold medals if the Olympics included sleeping as a sport. In her daily life she only sees her ceiling as she glares through the unwelcome fog of real world re-entry while valiantly resisting the entreaties of multiple alarms. Would you be interested in waking up to the ceiling shown above (aren’t ceilings always shown above?)?
However, recently Blonde and Brunette were reviewing favorite pictures from previous trips (yet one of many things we have done to avoid actual preparation for the trip that is alarmingly close at hand) and discovered that many of our favorite photos are of ceilings.
How might waking up to one of these ceilings change a person’s perspective on the new day?
Waking up to Gaudi’s ceiling could inspire the awakening sleeper to resolve to master geometry, buy a kaleidoscopic, or quit drinking so heavily before going to bed. Or possibly all three.
If you were Gala, Dali’s wife/muse, this might have inspired hope or fear. Did she think “Oh goody, we’re going to heaven together”or “does this mean he expects me to die with him because I SO didn’t sign up for that” or even “why do we have black feet, are we going to die dirty or in a fire”? More likely she thought it was just another day at the office.
On a trip to Malta several years ago Blonde and Brunette took a side trip to the island of Gozo. The Kempinski Hotel provided us with a car and driver for a tour of the island. The driver told us about a cathedral with a ceiling that creates the optical illusion that it has a great dome. He pulled up in front of a church and discreetly ”motivated” someone to let us slip in during mass. We thought “Cool, but let’s get out of here and go see that place with the ceiling that makes you think it’s a dome”.
You may be able to guess the ending of this story. That was the place with the trompe l’oeil painting ( by Antonio Manuele de Messina) which creates the optical illusion that we were looking for the rest of the day. Obviously waking up to a ceiling like that would make you doubt your eyes.
This spectacular stained glass ceiling in the concert hall of the Palau de la Musica was created for the Orfeó Català, a choir founded in 1891 with the aim of promoting and preserving Catalan music. Any Catalan awakening under this ceiling could be forgiven for thinking “We’re so superior to the rest of ‘Spain‘ that we need to end this charade and be our own country immediately”. And, come to think of it, that does seem to be what most of them wake up thinking every day.
Last year we went to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. We went in feeling more than a little annoyed at the clothing restrictions for women. But even these two smarty pants, extremely Western women were awed by the magnificence of the mosque.
We did hope they’d used really strong Super Glue to put up this two ton chandelier of Swarovski crystals. It seems that waking up under this ceiling might cause a person to be glad merely to have survived the night, to possibly inspire piety or to just be really, really happy to live in such a rich country.
The mosque and Abu Dhabi left such an impression on us that we are embarking on a trip to Qatar, back to Abu Dhabi and then the Maldives. We sincerely hope that we will behave well enough on this trip that we aren’t sharing any photos of the ceilings of jail cells when we return.
We are power-users (if there is such a thing) of TripAdvisor® and we are both rated as “Top Contributors”. We meet people who claim all of the reviews are fake, who just look to see which hotel is #1 or who read the reviews and react negatively or positively to things that don’t really have anything to do with them.
But you read us, so you’re superior to those people! Here is our advice on how to use TripAdvisor®.
What matters the most to you? The basic requirements we start with are free wi-fi (Blonde) and an acceptable swimming pool for swimming laps (Brunette). Then consider other things that matter. Do you want to be in the city center? Away from it? Do you want 24 hour room service or care more about a coffeemaker in your room? How about an airport shuttle or car service? A spa? A golf course? Evening entertainment?
For Phuket, where we stayed in the property pictured above, in addition to our two basic requirements we wanted to be away from the noise of the town, to be able to use our SPG points to reduce the cost of our vacation, to have a variety of dining options on the premises and to have a free shuttle service when we wanted to get to town.
We were there almost a year ago and it’s interesting to see that the TripAdvisor® comments then and now are quite similar. People laud the location, the pool, the free wi-fi and the private beach. They also cite the often confused front desk staff, complain about the prices of the meals in the restaurants and aren’t pleased by the large number of large Russian “guests”.
We had the same complaints – especially those Russians! But for us the positives outweighed the negatives because it delivered on what mattered to us and the other things, though not thrilling, weren’t news or showstoppers for us because we’d been forewarned.
How recent is the review you’re reading?
Yes, dear readers, that is an 11 year old picture taken with Blonde’s first ever digital camera. If you’re researching a hotel look to check the dates of the reviews you’re reading. Sometimes we go to some fairly remote outposts (Ningaloo Reef, Australia anyone?) and look at a review and react to it before realizing it’s three years old. If it’s really old the property may have another name now, have gone out of business or no one stays there.
Awareness of TripAdvisor® is ubiquitous enough internationally by now that if you don’t see a review from the last month throw a caution flag at your computer screen. (One exception to this, which we generously grant, is that if it is a seasonal property. Then if you see glowing reviews for when they were closed you should throw a “Gottcha” flag at your computer screen.)
Throw out the extremists (this also applies to the U.S. Congress)
Someone will be complaining that it rained during their stay, the prostitute they brought back to their room overcharged them (again) or that there was a fish that bit their toe at the beach (honestly just read this one). Throw these reviews out – they’re undoubtedly chronic complainers who can’t separate what they didn’t like, from what the property could be expected to control.
Others will be raving senselessly about how WONDERFUL!!!! :) ♥ everything was! The linens were clean!!! The food gave them orgasms!!! The manager said “Hello” to them, BY NAME! Calm down everyone. These people are either too easily pleased to be discerning reviewers or are posting phony or at least hyped-up reviews as a “favor” to the property. (TripAdvisor®does a fair bit of work to ensure that they weed out fake reviews but there obviously isn’t any economically feasible way to do that entirely on their scale.)
Review the reviewers
Before we rely much on any one reviewers’s word we look to see how many reviews they’ve done. If this is their first then you don’t have a clue if they’ve traveled very much or have experience comparing properties. If, like us, (ahem) they are frequent reviewers (preferably ranked as Top or Senior) and have gotten a lot of “helpful” votes on their reviews then pay attention. You can click to look at their profile and you can also send them an email asking for more information. We often get requests for more info on our most recent reviews and reward the person by going into more detail than they can endure.
Does management respond to the kudos and complaints?
This is a biggee. If they don’t respond then they are indicating (whether intentionally or not) that they don’t care what their guests think. (Or they care but are too understaffed to respond and that’s not good either.)
And if they always put the exact same answer to everything then you only know they’re good at cutting and pasting (more than can be said for Brunette but she’s coming along). But if they respond to reviews (the majority) in a fairly individualized manner and are accepting and not defensive or deflecting of valid critical comments then they at least have the sense to make it look like they care and they probably do.
Some comments must be horrible for them to try to answer politely. A good one this evening on one hotel was the manager saying he was sorry that the cost of the lamp, mirror and sheets the couple destroyed on their “spoiled honeymoon” was more than they thought the goods were worth! Oh the story behind that story! And when someone complains about the weather and the manager doesn’t tell them where to put something where the sun don’t shine you have to admire the restraint.
Know your hotel terminology
Not surprisingly we seem to have to learn the same lessons a lot but we’ve finally learned some terms to look out for. If a property is described as a “design” or “high concept” hotel it means the rooms will be so dark you can’t read a magazine or even make out the TV remote. It also means there will be so many switches and programs that you will spend a large portion of your time figuring out how to set the alarm clock, close the blinds and get some modicum of privacy in the bathroom.
If it’s “quaint” or “charming” it probably hasn’t been updated since the Eisenhower Administration, the rooms smell musty the wi-fi is non-existent or never works and the staff has a lot of ear hair. “Secret gems” usually means you can’t find the place and once you do you’ll wish you hadn’t. Some of these can only be learned by experience but look for patterns!
No hotel can guarantee the weather, save your marriage, make you look like the person they use in the ads or probably even meet your every criteria. (If they do, you’re an easy grader.) But they should meet your primary objectives and expectations if you spent the time upfront on TripAdvisor®.
No, TripAdvisor® doesn’t know we wrote this and they sure didn’t give us any perks. Drat.
We know this isn’t a sexy topic (although we’ll at least try to get some questionable taste comments in here) but if you are spending a fair bit on a trip, and you don’t have the budget left to fund unforeseen events, you’d be very smart to buy trip insurance for issues that could potentially cause you to incur major additional costs.
Ever since we started buying trip insurance we’ve gotten it from InsureMyTrip.com. Brunette found them early on and liked that they sell over 300 plans from over 25 companies and you can easily compare the policies online. Better yet you can call and speak to a friendly and knowledgeable human. We always end up calling.
This week InsureMyTrip.com offered to comp us on the insurance for our upcoming trip if we would write about the process and we thought that was a great idea! So today we spent time on the phone with Gail, travel insurance rockstar, picking the best policy for our particular circumstances.
What everyone needs to know and consider:
- The factors that will affect the cost of your coverage are the cost of the trip (your personal out-of-pocket costs), the length of the trip and the ages of the travelers.
- If you have a pre-existing medical condition try to get a policy with a short “look back” period to be considered when they look for your last treatment for the condition.
- Ideally you should buy your travel insurance within 10 days of making your first payment on an upcoming trip. This will be to your advantage in terms of pre-existing medical conditions and “cancel for any reason” costs.
- Do not buy your travel insurance from the carrier or tour provider you will be traveling with. For example, if you buy it from a cruise line and they go out of business then you just lost your insurance payment as well as your trip payment.
- Focus on what matters the most to you. It’s like Match.com. Yes, you want a rich man with hair, a boat and a home on Lake Como. But you really just need a guy who has a job and doesn’t live with his mother. Be realistic. As in romance you probably can’t have it all with trip insurance either.
- If you can, be on the same policy as your traveling companion. That isn’t always possible (especially if you live in different states) but when you can do it it will make everything much easier in the event you need to use the insurance.
- If you are going to have to make a claim pretend you’re an OCD IRA employee. Keep records of everything, get people’s names and keep and label all receipts. (We take pictures too because they’re not as easy to lose.)
- Read the entire damned policy before you buy it. Yes, we know you would rather get a rectal exam, we would too. But if something isn’t specifically stated in the policy it isn’t covered. Even if you really really think it should be. Better to know that extreme sports aren’t covered before you land on a rock bungee jumping. (Actually, best not to land on the rock.) Sometimes you can buy a rider for extreme sports if you’re really consumed by a death wish.
- If you buy a policy through InsureMyTrip.com and end up having to file a claim and it gets denied, call them and they will advocate on your behalf (unless you’re the knucklehead who bungee jumped onto the rock).
We have had elderly relatives that we were afraid we’d have to fly home for if they had a medical emergency or died so we’ve purchased insurance for at least 10 years for that contingency. Then we started to add medical evacuation coverage as we got older (really only Brunette got older) and didn’t think we wanted to have major surgery in some remote island off Indonesia (or anywhere else come to think of it).
As an example this is our situation that Gail helped us with today (you can call 1-800-487-4722 and ask for Gail and tell her we referred you and she will either hang up on you or help you).
We are leaving in mid-February for a 16 day trip from Florida to Doha, Abu Dhabi and the Maldives. Tough lives.
Brunette won the airfare for all of the flights except the ones from Florida to JFK and Doha to Abu Dhabi and back. What about the much more expensive business class flights that we got for free? Do we include them as part of our cost?
- We have an aunt who will turn 94 while we are on our trip. Although every indication is that she will outlive us all she is a widow and doesn’t have any children. We are her de facto daughters and Brunette is her health care proxy. If she gets sick or hits her expiration date it would cost a fortune to fly back to the U.S.
- We are going to the Maldives primarily to snorkel and some policies don’t include certain sports. Blonde has what could be most generously described as a woeful coordination record. If someone is going to have an accident, she’s the one to put your money on.
- Brunette has all sorts of lung conditions that are chronic, one of which is known as “Lady Windemere’s Disease”. She’s had it for years and with very little provocation her lungs become very cranky about the whole breathing thing. In other words she has a pre-existing condition and we all know that’s a dark hole to hell in the world of medical insurance.
- The Maldives have had some political turbulence and if they have any when we’re there we want to be able to get our timid infidel butts on the next flight out.
Gail found us a policy we could both be on that would cover us for all of the above situations, has only a 60 day look-back period for pre-existing conditions and that would also cover us for weather or natural disaster delays. And it has primary medical coverage meaning it pays before you have to go to your own insurance company who will probably tell you they don’t cover non-emergency care in foreign countries. Even when you try to explain that your heart jumped out of your body and landed on the sidewalk they will insist that you didn’t need to go to a hospital for that.
You may be healthy, coordinated, have younger relatives, sit on a beach chair most of the time and not mind sleeping on airport floors for days on end while a volcano erupts or arctic weather disrupts your plans. If so, your coverage will cost a lot less than ours. (Not really, ours was comped!)
But even if you’re young and healthy at least know ahead of time how you would deal with problems and if you have realistic solutions and then get coverage where you’re vulnerable. (Sounds like a condom ad but that isn’t what we meant, alhough it probably isn’t a bad idea.)
Better to have a chat with Gail or one of her colleagues and know your options than be sitting in Sudan with appendicitis after having your wallet stolen while the police are having a crack down and your tour operator just went belly up.
We’re just sayin’.