Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Cruising Hawaii, A Rant on Air Travel and a Thank You!

At Lake Conroe Thousand Trails, Willis, Texas...

First of all, I notice that the pageview counter has gone over a half million on this blog.  That is something noteworthy and a reminder to thank you for taking time to look in and see what we're up to. I don't think it matters that the number there on the counter isn't accurate; the blog has been around a lot longer than that widget has, and it started at zero. Yes, Phannie and Mae is beginning its 14th year of publication, having been started at the very beginning of our first RV trip in 2005 as a means to document our adventures. Each passing year brings with it a little more fogginess in our memories, and this journal becomes ever so much more meaningful in helping us relive all those good times. That's why I always encourage newbies not to fail to make a good pictorial record of your travels. You'll be glad you did!

Since we've been RVing, we really hadn't traveled by air for quite a while before this trip from Houston to Honolulu and back. We knew that the airlines had figured out how to boost revenue by gouging passengers for, well, everything imaginable, but I hadn't really had the experience of being turned upside down until even the change fell out of my trousers. Having been involved with the industry for a long time, I can remember well when a passenger was treated with great respect, coddled in a spacious and comfortable reclining seat, enjoying a nice free meal and plenty of attention from a courteous flight attendant. Those days are obviously gone, based on our recent experience.

We paid more than a thousand bucks each to United for non-stop round trip tickets, only to be shoehorned into a seat so narrow that we needed Crisco on our hips to get in and out of it. And the rows of seats were so close together that pushing the recline button would only get you about two inches of rearward travel of the chair back. This meant that we went from sitting straight up to, well, sitting 'almost' straight up. For eight hours, mind you. Perhaps a better way to explain it was that we went from 'please kill me now' to 'you'll need to call the paramedics when we arrive.' And the 'meal' consisted of a prepackaged bun, inside of which was what appeared to be a ground beef patty that could easily be used as a paperweight. This was accompanied by a little cardboard coffin containing wilted lettuce, a slice of tomato and a dill pickle slice, components that were obviously meant to be assembled by us in order to enjoy fully the privilege of making our own dinner. And for this, they charged us ten bucks apiece! 

If we wanted access to their wi-fi to use our iPad, that would be another ten bucks; or, if we wanted to rent their notebook, that would also be ten bucks. We were almost shocked that we could still have a free beverage, but our euphoria was dashed when we were told that we could not have a whole can of soda. I wondered what they were going to charge us to go to the bathroom! For the world, I thought United should rename its economy section 'Steerage.' 

The flight attendants serving us and the 350 or so other sardines were mostly older and out of shape--like us--and, when they walked down the incredibly narrow aisles, the passengers' shoulders usually got a smack or two from the flight attendants' ample and wayward derriere cheeks. What happened to the young flight attendants in short shorts; remember those? 

Our luggage fees for the round trip amounted to over $200 and, not wishing to fold myself up again for the trip home, I upgraded us to premium seats--which were still there in steerage--but with a little more legroom; they called it "Economy Premium." I called it thievery! The cost for these few more inches between seats? $300. 

Yes, I know that you get what you pay for and, for another thousand bucks each, we could have gotten first-class seats and, by the time we paid all the extra fees, we may as well have done that, I guess. But most people don't want to or can't spend that kind of money, so they are at the mercy of the airlines and their airborne cattle drive. I must tell you that I was disgusted and embarrassed that airline travel has come to this; it was not this way back in my flying days. I was also appalled that pilots in uniform had become so sloppy. I didn't see a single uniform cap being worn among perhaps a dozen pilots we saw, something at which I would have bristled as a former airline chief pilot myself. These guys would have been doing a carpet dance in my office, for sure. 

What the experience did, however, was to make me ever so grateful for Phannie and our comfortable means of RV travel. I'm not sure when we'll be enduring this fiendish hassle again; it won't be soon.

Okay, enough of my ranting; let's get to something more pleasant. We met our friends in Honolulu and boarded our ship for the seven-day cruise around the islands. This was the Norwegian's Pride of America, and here are some photos:

Here is our group (except for yours truly taking the photo); Bubba, LouAnn, Sandy, Mary Lou and Harvey.

Sailing out of Honolulu harbor, with Diamond Head in the distance:

Since we're all fans of southern gospel music, we enjoyed concerts each evening from some of our favorite groups cruising with us, like the Collingsworth family below:

Here are some more photos from the ship: 

The great seal of the U. S.-- Nice touch!

Ah, the food!  Non-stop temptation! This is the buffet area; there were several more restaurants, some of which were surprisingly elegant.

Ours was the first cruise ship allowed back into the big island's ports since the new Kilauea eruptions, and we were very happy about that. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to go near there or even to Volcanoes National Park, a big personal disappointment. We did see a volcano plume from a long distance, however.

Here we all are on deck overlooking Hilo after dinner:

There were beautiful beaches, great waves and lots of surfers on Maui but, somehow, I failed to get a photo. 

The waterfalls and flora on the islands were beautiful and unusual, of course, and I'm going to try to avoid inundating you with photos, but here are some nice samples of what we saw. Most of these were taken in Allerton Botanical Garden on Kauai:


This was the most unusual of all the flowering plants we saw. Note the little violet flower growing out of the pink cone:

In one area of the park were these strange-looking trees. We learned that some scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed here. Easy to see why!

Much of the volcanic rock shoreline was stark evidence of the means by which these islands were formed:

A curiosity was the omnipresence of chickens on Kauai. These are protected here, and they are literally everywhere on the island. There is almost never a time when you don't hear a rooster crowing somewhere in the distance:

Allerton Gardens is a beautiful park; you shouldn't miss it if you happen to visit Kauai.  

Here we are, back (almost) where we started our honeymoon 42 years ago and still sweethearts: 

Our favorite stop for finding crystal clear ocean was Kona (below). We would have loved to go snorkeling here. Mary Lou got some Kona coffee, on which she is now hooked, I think:

Leaving Kauai, we sailed just offshore along the Napali coast and its ruggedly beautiful cliffs on the north side of the island:

Our last stop--Honolulu, early, early on Saturday morning (below). I wasn't quite awake enough to include all of Diamond Head in the photo; it's on the right edge of the photo below. What a great cruise!

Our last photo on the ship; we're about to go ashore in Honolulu:

Of course, no Honolulu port of call would be complete without a visit to Pearl Harbor, so we went to the new very large and informative visitor center, seen here in a panoramic view. The center is much, much larger than the photo indicates:

The presentations included a film shown in the theater as well as other video presentations and memorabilia in the various buildings. Since WWII is a favorite historical period of mine, I found it very interesting. We didn't take a boat out to the Arizona memorial, as it was closed due to repairs. But we had been there before, and I found the Arizona wreck model in the museum to be very interesting:

It was both fascinating and sobering to imagine what this harbor must have been like back on December 7, 1941 during the two-hour attack by the Japanese. Soon, all those who were there will be gone, and only they will have known firsthand of that hellish experience:

Only the Missouri remains visible now, docked adjacent to the Arizona memorial on Ford Island. The battleship is open for tours, but we didn't have time to go before our flight left.  Oh well, we must come back now, mustn't we?!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should each day.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old when when we stop playing.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Hawaii, Here We Come (If You're Still There)

At Willis, Texas...

We just completed a 17-day visit to Conroe and Thousand Trails, where we had some exciting times. RVer friends John and Bobbie Jo drove down from the Dallas area with their beautiful new fiver and visited with us for a few days. We had fun showing them around and taking them to some favorite restaurants, then they joined us for a cookout with Tyler and Mindy and the grandkids. 

John and Bobbie Jo
Speaking of the grandkids, we celebrated Mason's ninth birthday at a trampoline party center in the Woodlands. Hard to believe how fast he's growing up! Here he is, blowing out candles on his cake:

I was going to take him flying as part of his birthday gift, but the airplane developed an alternator problem, causing us to have to postpone until we return from Hawaii.

As an anniversary gift to both of us, I snagged tickets to "The Sound of Music" that happened to be on tour at Jones Hall in Houston. It is our favorite musical, and the group performing was outstanding!  Here's a selfie during intermission:

As we left Thousand Trails, we snapped this photo of a motorhome that had pulled in nearby. Now we make no judgment as to its tastefulness, but suffice it to say that we don't think we've seen this paint scheme before. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, isn't it?

We left Phannie hooked up to electricity at an RV storage facility not too far from Thousand Trails. We'll get S.I.L.Tyler to check on her occasionally and see that all is okay.

As we were packing for this trip, it occurred to us that the next two weeks will be the first time we have spent the night elsewhere than in Phannie in the two and a half years we've been fulltiming. What also surprised us was that we have not had to pack a suitcase in all that time, either. Now, I am not a gifted packer of suitcases, although I spent a lot of time carrying them during my years flying for airlines. The ugly truth is that I have always hated packing, so Sandy always did it for me. She claimed that she was fearful that I would forget something critical, and I certainly would have, but she's just that sweet, actually. And no, I don't deserve her.

For this two-week trip, she was able to get everything into a couple of suitcases and a hangup bag. I thought it was a bit excessive, but if I don't do the packing, I really don't have much say in it, do I? We will be cruising with two other couples who are friends of ours and, of course, women can't be seen in the same outfit over and over. For guys, this is just not an issue, thank God! 

But there was a larger headache with all this packing: We came to realize how much we had rather be traveling in Phannie, where we always have our stuff with us! We had sort of always known this, but it is now etched in our minds for good. Traveling any other way is WORK!

We will have fun, though. We love our friends who are traveling with us, and this will also be a second honeymoon. We honeymooned in Hawaii 42 years ago, and this is the first time we have been back as tourists. (I flew through here as a pilot crewmember on international flights, however.) I found some old photos of us during our honeymoon; these were taken at our hotel on Waikiki, which was the Kahala Hilton at the time:

I was quite a hunk, don't you think?  No wonder Sandy fell for me! Oh yes, she looks pretty good, too. 

I'll post some photos during our trip this time; I'm sure I've hardly changed at all.

Our flight leaves Houston for Honolulu in a few hours. More to come!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should each day.

You don't stop playing because you get old; you get old when you stop playing!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Back "Home" in Conroe; Some Thoughts on Thousand Trails; Strongback Chair Accessory

At the Lake Conroe Thousand Trails, Willis, Texas...

We've arrived at our sort-of home base for a couple of weeks while we get ready to fly to Honolulu and begin our cruise around the islands (perhaps with one exception, depending on what Kilauea is doing to the big island). 

Our stop at the Tiffin Bluebonnet rally in Johnson City, Texas was fun; we really enjoyed seeing our club friends again. We took a little side trip to Canyon Lake and surprised fulltimer friends Karen and Richard, who are camp hosting at Cranes Mill COE Park right on the lake:

Karen, Richard and Sandy
These two are a delightful couple, and we enjoyed a tour of the campground. Absent-mindedly, I forgot to take photos of the campground or the lake. So, I included a couple of downloaded ones that don't really do justice to this gorgeous body of water:

Fortunately, we encountered no more awning or topper issues on our way here, and Phannie ran like a top, so we're happy about that. 

This is the first time we've been back to the Lake Conroe Thousand Trails since the new section B opened. Here are some photos of the 70-odd new sites:

Okay, I know what you're thinking: "Are you sure this is Thousand Trails?"

Well, I had the same reaction, initially. It took quite a long time for us to buy in to the TT system, as it has, for years, seemed like a terribly neglected enterprise that was not exactly a top-tier attraction for most RVers (I'm being kind here). When we saw the improvements being made during the last couple of years, we decided to pull the trigger and buy an Elite level membership. There are several levels of these, but suffice it to say that Elite status gets you a stay of three weeks at a time for free (some parks charge a modest fee for 50-amp electrical service). When the three weeks are up, you can move to another TT park, if you like, and stay another three weeks, and so on.  After the buy-in, which is several thousand dollars (less from an individual or broker), there is also a modest annual membership fee.

This suits our needs perfectly here in Conroe, and it won't be long until we more than make back our initial investment. The downside is that the new Thousand Trails owners cannot meet the vast improvement needs across the system very quickly; it will be a huge undertaking. The company has been around for a long time, but it had the misfortune of being bought, bled dry and then sold by unscrupulous investors on more than one occasion who skimmed the money and invested nothing in maintenance and improvements. Thankfully, that appears to have changed, but the catch-up investment is huge and, for that reason, will likely be slow. However, if the Lake Conroe upgrade is any indication, there are good things to come.

I need to mention a much-appreciated gesture from daughter Mindy and S.I.L. Tyler, involving some new-to-us chairs for Phannie's kitchen table. We had been struggling for some time with chairs that were just too low to be comfortable for the table height and for standing up after sitting. You younger folks may scoff at this but, as you get older and acquire fake knees and hips, arising gracefully from a low chair can be a problem. What we needed was a chair that was taller than a regular chair but lower than one that is the height of a barstool.  Well, they don't make them; or, at least, we couldn't find any. The solution? Sandy bought a couple of used but well-built tall chairs that needed recovering, and our kids remodeled them--Mindy adding new cushions that she recovered and Tyler cutting the legs down to the height we needed. We love the finished product, and we no longer grunt and hang onto things when we stand up! Thanks to both of you!

If you've been reading this for a while, you'll remember that I have been touting the Strongback Chairs we use for outdoor seating:

The main reason we like them is their back support--something that's missing in others we've tried. We did have a slight disappointment in the chairs, however, as they come with a cupholder that fits a soda can but not one of the large Yeti-style insulated cups that we use more often:

It's not that the large cup doesn't fit, but that the holder isn't deep enough to keep it from tipping on its side.

Well, wouldn't you know that Strongback has introduced an accessory that fixes the problem. You can order one of these thingys that has a nice deep holder for your insulated cup, plus a pocket that's the perfect size for your Kindle or other electronic reader:

This accessory costs about 15 bucks, but it's well worth it, in my opinion. 

You should know that I have no financial relationship with Strongback; I merely like their products and recommend them to others. However, because of my longtime status as a Strongback customer and their awareness of this blog and its readership, the company offers a 15% discount to me and to any of my readers who order from their website. Simply include "phannieandmae15" in the space that calls for a discount code, and voila'! 

It's way too hot and humid here near Houston; we're looking forward to heading to the mountains after we visit the kids and grandkids and return from Hawaii. Hope you have a wonderful summer!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I don't appreciate it fully each day as I should.

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing!