Monday, June 30, 2014

Five reasons to go to South Padre Island right now

Don't you just hate that I'm doing that? Going with the "five reasons" peg and using that "right now" imperative that's so excruciatingly trendy in travel writing right now? Me, too. But here we go with a summary gleaned from the trip to my South Padre Island condo from which I've just returned -- with a healthy sun glow and seriously ratty beach hair:

1. The weather is perfect. OK, I'm talking about right now -- it could change at any minute -- but the temps are in the 80s with a nice breeze. It's Texas, it's summer, and it's not 100. Go quickly, before that's no longer the case.

2. The seaweed invasion has slowed significantly. Although the mounds of already-raked seaweed against the dunes do, sadly, made the beach smaller than usual at high tide, the tide goes back out again, and the amount of seaweed washing ashore right now -- as opposed to what's been going on for about three months -- is the usual, small daily amount. Keep in mind that seaweed is good for the dunes, and try not to be bummed when you see it.

3. There are more ways to enjoy the water than ever. To parasailing, surfing, wind surfing, kiteboarding, kayaking, fishing, dolphin cruising, stand-up paddle boarding and personal watercraft zooming (always my least favorite), add two distinctly South Padre cruises: (1) The Black Dragon Pirate Cruise -- a thrilling pirate-themed cruise on a tricked-out pirate ship that typically also includes a chance to see dophins (book it in nearby Port Isabel next to Pirates Landing) and (2) a sunset dinner cruise (book it behind Laguna Bob's bar) that includes grilled shrimp and fajitas, along with music.

4. Fireworks all summer long: Thursday and Friday nights over the bay (watch from Louie's Backyard or Coconuts) and Saturday night over the beach (Clayton's Beach Bar). Oooh. Aaaah.

5.  Sand Castles. There's a new Sand Castle Trail guiding you to about 30 (they come and go; it's sand) professional castles around the island, and numerous of those pros offer sand-sculpting lessons (The Amazin' Walter, Sandy Feet, Andy Hancock -- google any of them; they're all great fun). It's the new hot activity on the island.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Check Below For Errors

I advise you to check this post for errors, because surely I've made one. More likely, four or five. I draw this conclusion from the fact that I typically have to go back at least several times when I'm trying to book a flight because I've filled something out wrong or neglected one of the many boxes.

"Check below for errors," I am directed in red. Sure enough, I find that I have not de-selected buying trip insurance. So I check the box: No, I will travel without insurance ("you idiot," is implied). Once again: "Check below for errors." Ah. I see when the first error was flagged, the secret (not-so-secret these days, because everybody demands it) three-number code on the back of my card depopulated its space. I fill it in again. "Check below for errors." Ah. Forgot to accept the terms and conditions. "Check below for errors." Dangit, now the trip insurance thing has depopulated and I have to fill it in again.

It all gets pretty confusing, in large part because we have to decline the opportunity to spend more money on numerous occasions. OK, on this particular booking I had to accept an extra fee because when it came time to select my seat, only seats carrying an extra $19 charge were available. One seat cost $19 merely to sit next to a window. The others were $19 for more leg room. So I chose both the leg room and a window seat for $19. But I'd have preferred a middle seat free (or, rather, for the $149 I agreed to pay for the one-way ticket), American Airlines.

Anyway, having filled out all the various blanks, I'm flying my flight. The good news is: Barring any crises, this is the last airplane flight I will book for 2014. My blood pressure's about to go way down.

UPDATE: American said "Check below for errors." Through Twitter, I'm told that I could decline to pick any of the extra-$19 seats on the map and just wait until I got to the airport for a seat assignment. I didn't see that option listed, and every seat besides the extra-pay seats was x-ed out on the map. I'd sort of feel like I was flying standby, waiting to see if business travelers declined all the extra-pay seats so I could have one. But that's the way things are these days. Anyway, having made that correction, I await notifications of more.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Making my peace with little planes

Whine of the Day: I really don't like flying on commuter planes. They're small, which means they flap in the breeze more. Their pilots are typically underpaid. There's often no room for a decent-sized carry-on, which means I have to pay $50 more for a checked bag. They're late more often, and they lose luggage more often.

But I'm coming to terms with the fact that I'm going to be on regional jets more than ever. A recent flight to JFK on JetBlue was on a big jet when I booked it and selected seats, but by the time we traveled, it had become a regional jet. There we were in the back of the plane, flapping in the breeze. Still, at least JetBlue includes its in-flight entertainment system in its smaller jets. It was a fine flight, and we managed to get our bags onboard (also, JetBlue allows a free checked bag -- so far; we're hearing that policy won't last).

I fly frequently from Austin or Dallas to Louisville, Kentucky, because my father and brother's family live there. There's only one way to get to SDF nonstop from DFW, and that's on American Airlines. Up to now, I've been able to get big jets in both directions. But when I tried to book a September flight, I saw that only if I'm willing to fly at 6 a.m. can I avoid American Eagle (which uses Mesa Airlines for most of its flights). Because I can't drive in the dark, I can't take that flight. Mesa Airlines it is. And I'm not a fan. My husband and I plan to drive up in September, but we can't do that for every visit.

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines is offering all sorts of interesting routes from Dallas Love Field to Louisville -- through Baltimore and Fort Lauderdale. From Austin, I can still fly to SDF through Chicago Midway. And will. So far, Southwest isn't flying anything smaller than a 737.

While I'm at it, let me whine again about JetBlue dropping its SFO-AUS route. For 1.5 months, Virgin America added a second, daytime flight, but that stops in September, meaning that if I want to arrive in San Francisco before 7 p.m., I'm forced onto United . . . on a regional jet.

What's going on, of course, is airline consolidation. Gates are being freed up at the big New York and D.C. airports, and airlines are repositioning their larger jets, leaving the dinky ones for smaller airports that they choose not to abandon altogether. I should feel fortunate, I suppose, that I still have the smaller jets to climb aboard.