Pacific Northwest 2017!!! (Post 1 of TBD)

Intro to our Pacific Northwest Adventure!

With these next series of posts, we are going to take you on a voyage to the Pacific Northwest of the United States.  Seeing places different from Florida is simply awe inspiring.  Of all the places we have been, this is the first place my wife would seriously consider moving to.  The trip extended 17 days departing from Orlando International Airport and flying into Vancouver International.  If you read our most recent post on booking airfare, you know we got a really good deal.  Our adventures encompassed so many different activities and places, and we want to make sure we tell you about all of them.   To keep it well organized, we are breaking it up into probably 4 posts.

On the way Flight & Airport Reviews

Let me begin this sections with this, if you can avoid making a connecting international flight in Toronto DO SO!!!  Our connection was in Toronto and it was very confusing, and time consuming.  We had two hours from the time we arrived at our gate until our boarding for our next flight, and it took every bit of it to get there!  In partial defense to the Toronto airport, they are going through a lot of construction.  That being said the entire transition and customs process and directions were very confusing.  Our flight to Vancouver, Canada from Orlando was with WestJet.   WestJet is well known in Canada as the low cost carrier of Canada.  They are relatively unknown to us in the United States.  I will add that I would definitely fly WestJet again.  Their customer service was top notch from the time of booking issues I mentioned in our previous post on the flights, to even letting us check extra bags for free at the counter.  I couldn’t be more pleased with WestJet, and they specifically advertise that they NEVER OVERBOOK their flights!  The Vancouver airport is a descent walk to baggage claim and it took a long time to get our bags.  However, all our bags and car seats arrived with no problems.  The best thing about the Vancouver Airport is the free luggage carriers.  In Orlando you have to pay $5 USD to use one.

Rental Car Pickup

We then headed over to the National Car Rental Emerald Club Section.  I can’t say enough good things about National, I have used them for work and personal rentals for a few years now.  If you book a midsize car under the free Emerald Club program, you can pick any vehicle from the Emerald Club Aisle.  We walked over and picked out the first minivan we saw and proceeded on our merry way.  Like I mentioned before, I searched for weeks to find the best rental car rate and for this entire trip we paid less than $500 TOTAL for this minivan.  That price is almost unheard of, especially for a minivan.  The Emerald Aisle section at the Vancouver Airport was loaded with Quad Cab Pickups, SUVS, Full Size cars, and even a full-size Excursion.

Snowater Resort

The first week of our stay we used a timeshare exchange to stay at the Snowater Resort.  I’d hardly call this place a resort, but nonetheless it’s located right outside the National Park on the way to Mt Baker Ski area so they call themselves a resort.  We had a 1 bedroom loft unit that was supposed to be 2 private bedrooms, but it definitely wasn’t a private bedroom as it is open to the living room below.  Nooksack Creek from Snowater Resort - Pacific NorthwestThe scenery is gorgeous with views of the raging Nooksak River out back made for an awesome sound machine at night.  It was a down time for the resort so it was really quiet.  Two big negatives with the resort.  The upstairs loft room gets very hot during the day and takes a while to cool off.  There is no fan up there so regulating the air flow was very difficult.  There was also a cleaning fee of $130, yet they ask you to throw all the trash out at the dumpster down the street, wash all the dishes, and take all the linens off the beds.  All in all the resort met our needs, the location was good, and we lived to see another day.  When we come back we’d probably seek out an AirBNB in lieu of this place.

Glacier, WA

We can’t say enough good things about the town of Glacier, WA.  First on the list is the Wake n Bakery!!  This place was so neat.  Wake 'N Bakery - Pacific NorthwestThey make a really good cup of coffee and several desert bars and cookies.  Our favorite was the Magic Cookie Bar.  In fact, we liked it so much, we bought a half sheet to take with us the Friday we left Glacier for our next destination so we could have some every day!  The owners are very nice, the place just has a cool vibe that makes you feel welcome and the food is great!  If you are passing by or staying anywhere near Glacier, WA, the Wake n Bakery has to be on your list of places to visit.  Give them a follow on Facebook so you don’t forget too!!  Our second favorite stop was the Glacier Public Service Center run by the National Forest Service.  The folks there are very knowledgeable of the entire area, they can point you to some good hikes to check out, road closures, as well as some neat information about the history of the area.  Last but not least, Chair 9 Pizza and Sports Restaurant.  We stopped in here after one of our difficult hikes (more on this later), the beer was good, the pizza was good, and the kids colored while dad got to watch sports, plus they had free WiFi, which in an area with no cell signal is a welcomed site to help plan your next day adventures.

Since this post was pretty long, I figure it’s best to let you read through this and digest it before overloading you.  Don’t worry there is more to come!  The next post will focus on what we did each day the first week as well as direct links to the Washington Trails App as well as All Trails app and my subsequent reviews and pictures of each trail.  For now enjoy the info in this post and if you have questions, shoot them to us in the comments.  Thanks!

Booking Airfare & Flying…..with Kids! (Part 3 of 3)

Our Favorite Airlines

This post will most likely be relatively short.  In our family travels, we have never really stuck to one airline, we have always flown what was the cheapest airfare at the best time we wanted.  That being said, here is our experience with each airline we have flown.

  • When flying with kids they do still let you board early.  However, let’s be real, what benefit is that?  You have sit for an extra 30-45 minutes on the plane and by that time your kids have used up half the activities you had for them.
  • One of the most stressful parts about flying….overhead bin space.  All you have is a couple small backpacks and yet you can never find space to put your stuff near your seat because it is full of suitcases too big to bring on in the first place.
  • All in all, we have never really had any issues flying Delta.  They aren’t out of this world and they aren’t bottom dwellers that’s for sure.
  • For as much flack as they receive, we have actually never had a bad experience flying Frontier.  The seats were as comfortable in coach as any other coach seat, if not more so and all the planes have been in good/new shape.
  • You do have to pay for seat assignments, carry-on bags, drinks, etc.
  • You do NOT have to pay to check Car Seats.
  • Typically considered the top dog in the world of customer service, we have never had any issues to suggest otherwise.
  • We love the fact you have 2 free bags per person.  When booking airfare with a family you most definitely take this into consideration of your rate.
  • The boarding process is rather simple, I almost always pay for at least one of us to board early so we can all get seats together near the front of the plane.
  • You absolutely have to love their witty humor though!
American Airlines
  • 100% without a doubt the worst customer service.  Pray for our return trip in a few weeks as this is the first time as a family we have flown American since my wife and I traveled together almost 15 years ago on American.  I have traveled twice for work on American as I avoid it like the plague and every single trip has turned out to be a disaster and a lesson in what not to do for customer service.
  • Their planes, even though they claim to be updating them, are still so outdated, the last time I flew them 6 months ago for work, the arm rest still had an ash tray in it!
  • The one positive…their rates now rival those of Frontier in some routes.
Air Canada
  • I booked Air Canada for a flight from Alaska to Vancouver mostly because of the Non-Stop option, but also because the reviews I read talked about the added benefits they offered.  On that flight, could have been an off day, I saw nothing different than any other plane or air carrier.
Alaska Airlines
  • A friend of mine swears by Alaska Airlines, mostly because when they lived in Alaska they could go anywhere cheap.  We flew them once, was relatively uneventful and a typical flight.  I’d recommend them solely because they are a niche carrier to a niche market and you will typically get better service in those niche areas as people feel a sense of pride to that area.
West Jet
  • Our flight hasn’t left yet and I have been relatively impressed with their Customer Service, even for them being a carrier like a Frontier which is a you pay for everything type of Airline
  • They DO NOT OVERBOOK their flights.  Check out this funny video.
  • The one negative was they canceled our originally scheduled flights without notice.  I only happened to login to our account to notice their was some error and flight time issue.  I couldn’t figure it out from their website so I called their customer service line.  They fixed everything for me and gave us assigned seats next to each other for Free.  Kudos #1 to West Jet
  • The one negative so far is the TSA Pre check process.  With most American carriers you can submit your TSA Precheck number in advance.  With WestJet you have to wait until you check in.  Let’s hope it’s a painless process.
  • Stay Tuned!  Our flight leaves June 2nd and we will update this post right after!



Booking Airfare & Flying…..with Kids! (Part 2 of 3)

Booking Airfare & Flying…..with Kids! (Part 2 of 4)

I know exactly what you’re thinking….what the heck took them so long to post the next part of this series!  Haha!  For all those who actually are interested you can wait no more!  In this post I will focus on the optimal ways for you to book your airfare when traveling with kids.

First things first….Patience!!  I realize traveling with kids is easier said than done.  I promise you, more times than not your patience will be rewarded.  

Just an Overview

I travel a lot for work.  Often times though, the carrier I fly is not within my control.  However, for our personal travel we have flown to places like Hawaii, Boston, Chicago, Buffalo, Washington D.C., Denver, Vancouver, Anchorage, Calgary, and Austin.  From those trips I have sorta developed a system.  To some of you it may not make a bit of sense.  However, I promise there is a reason for the madness.

Time of day to Fly

Here’s the lowdown on what type of flights typically make up the cheapest airfare.

  1. Overnight Flights
  2. Flights with multiple stops
  3. Red-eye departures

We have flown (and Drove) overnight with our kids quite a few times.  I only recommend choosing the overnight flight if you are truly flying across country or further and non-stop.  Kids don’t react well if they are awoken from a deep sleep.  In addition, it takes them several days to recuperate, so keep that in mind.  It is also much easier if you are flying from the West Coast to the East Coast due to the time change.  It just makes it easier to get back on schedule if you are able to get the right flight.

Making Stops

Most people hate flying and making stops.  When we don’t travel overnight, we actually prefer flights with 1 stop.  For example, in a few weeks we are flying to Vancouver by way of Toronto.  If it were non-stop it would be an almost 8 hour flight.  Flying overnight wasn’t going to work out, so instead we are splitting it up, almost 3 hours to Toronto and almost 4.5 hours to Vancouver.  The flight to Vancouver, though long puts us just past the point of no return with kids on an airplane.  If they don’t fall asleep it could be a long flight haha.  However, our 1 way flight to Vancouver from Orlando was only $130 per person.  You read that right….$130 per person, and yes I booked a one way ticket.  The price was too good to be true.  We will be flying WestJet, which is a first for us, so it should be interesting.  WestJet is a Canadian carrier that is like a Frontier or Spirit from the United States.  I will say my first encounter with their customer service has been a positive one.  They changed our flight times without really telling us and so when I called to ask about it and get some clarification, they went ahead and gave us reserved seats near the front of the plane for free.  To some that seems small, but on a no frills pay for everything air carrier, you take what you can, especially so you can be near the front of the plane (faster to get off), and all next to each other.

Our return trip is with American Airlines.  I have long boycotted American Airlines.  I will save that story for another post.  It will make you never want to fly them again.  I try at all costs to avoid flying them for work too.  The one time I couldn’t avoid it I had pretty major issues.  However, just like the flight to Vancouver, our flight home was just too good to be true as well being $126 one way with a single stop in Phoenix. So that’s $260 roundtrip to fly across all of the United States from Orlando, Florida to Vancouver, BC.  That’s almost unheard of.

The Tools

Ok, so how did I do it?  First, I am a huge fan of Google Flights.  Of all the flight search sites out there, that one is one of the best.  The downside to it is Southwest Airlines for some reason doesn’t have their flight rates show up on Google Flights or any search for that matter.  Southwest airfare rates don’t change dramatically or very often so you won’t need to check them very much.  That being said, for these flights I used the Hopper App on my smartphone.  Where on Google Flights you can look at different dates and use plus or minus days to find the best fares on a single search, Hopper requires that you select a particular date.  This isn’t a huge deal.  I definitely recommend only searching 1 way flights.  First, it gives you more flexibility in what you do, when you book, where you fly, etc.  Second, you will almost always find cheaper round-trip flight fares if you book them as one way flights.

For this trip I set up 4-5 days one way between Orlando and Seattle / Vancouver each and the same number reversed for the flight home.  Each day Hopper notifies you of the current cheapest airfare and predicts based on historical knowledge whether you should book now or wait.  My wife and I were in the parking lot of Office Depot when the notice came through on my phone for the first flights using WestJet, I immediately booked the tickets on my phone knowing the price I saw was almost too good to be true.

Where does patience fall in this?  I had started searching for tickets 5 months prior.  It takes a tremendous amount of trust and patience to know that the right price will make its way to you if you trust the process.  As you start your search, whether you use Google Flights, Kayak, Priceline, Hopper, or some other medium, you will start to understand what the price point typically is for a flight to a given location.  For us, it was 50% cheaper to fly to Vancouver than to Seattle.  Even though we are spending 2 weeks in Washington state, Vancouver is not that far away and we all have passports and the price made sense.  It’s not always like that.  We’ve made mistakes booking flights and could have gotten them cheaper…almost always if we had waited.  Sometimes we wait too long, but for the most part we have gotten really great fares, times, stops, seats, etc for each of our flights.

Still confused or have questions or need clarification?  Send us an email or comment on the post below.

Booking Airfare & Flying…..with Kids! (Part 1 of 3)

I know exactly what you’re thinking.  I have no desire to try and find the best airline for traveling with my kids,  I have no desire to deal with the hassle at the airport, and  I have no desire to be embarrassed by my kids screaming an entire flight.  Before you have even thought of a trip you have already psyched yourself out.  I am here to save you from your fears, or at least attempt to.  In this first part of our 4 part series on Booking Airfare and Flying….with Kids!

First things first….TSA Precheck & Global Entry.  These two programs will save your sanity on more than one occasion.  Here’s the down and dirty.  TSA Precheck affords you the opportunity to go into that little special security line at the airport….with your kids! The best part?  You don’t have to remove your shoes, you don’t have to remove your 3-1-1 bag for toiletries, you don’t have to take your jacket off, and you don’t have to take your laptop out.  All of that and you get to keep your feet CLEAN.

Global Entry takes it one step further, for an extra $15 ($100 covers you for 5 years!), it includes TSA PreCheck and you get speedy processing at Customs coming back into the country if you are coming from an International flight.  You must be a U.S. Citizen and possess a U.S. Passport for this option.

The skinny of it all…signing up for TSA Pre-Check is significantly faster.  However, if you frequently travel out of the country between the US and Canada, waiting for the Global Entry card may make sense for you.

TSA Precheck Benefits over Global Entry

  • Kids under 12 don’t need a separate account.  (Global Entry requires EVERY person to have a card).
  • Processing time is typically 2-3 weeks
  • Only $85 per person over 12.  Global Entry is $100 per person regardless of age

What’s really neat is DHS has come up with their own tool to help you decide if you can’t decide which is best for you.  Follow this link HERE and you can select a couple of drop down to find your best option.