Sunday, December 15, 2013

Earn Free La Quinta Points

Those who are looking to earn free hotel nights would do well to sign up for La Quinta Inn's Returns program. La Quinta is offering a Play and Stay game that is like a slot machine. Any user can get five free spins per day through January 31. I've already earned over 2,400 points in just three days. This might not sound like much, and it's really not, but free nights at La Quinta start out at just 6,000 points per night. A hotel in Cancun runs only 11,000, but there are some nicer resort-style properties that run well over 20,000 points per night. I'll likely try to use any free nights on cross-country trips.

I have to give a hat tip to the Frugal Travel Guy and Mommy Points blogs for posting this information that is quite beneficial. I'm hoping to play every day for the next six weeks and see if I can get a few free nights out of it. The link to the La Quinta Play and Stay site is here. You will either need to sign up for the La Quinta Returns program ahead of time or allow the site to sign you up via Facebook. I've never stayed at La Quinta, but I'm definitely up for free nights.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Chichen Itza: Mayan Ruins on the Yucatan

Chichen Itza: Mayan Ruins on the Yucatan

Americans and Europeans by the thousands descend on the Yucatan Peninsula annually to vacation along the Gulf Coast. The small fishing village of Cancun has grown into a very popular vacation destination, as has its neighbor to the south of the Riviera Maya. Most people fly into Cancun International Airport for sun and fun on the beaches of the Yucatan. Everyone should take the time to investigate some of the historic culture of the peoples who inhabited Mexico before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean and those who followed him to the New World.

What Is Chichen Itza

Visitors to Cancun and other locales on the Yucatan Peninsula have a wide variety of options when it comes to checking out Mayan ruins. Tulum, Xel Ha, and Tikal in Guatemala are just a few of the sites that tourists can investigate. Many hotels in the region have concierge services that visitors can use to book a trip. Tours to many of the sites are available on a daily basis.
Perhaps the most famous of the Mayan archaeological sites in the Yucatan is Chichen Itza, which was a dominant city in Mayan culture between roughly 700-1200 AD. Although the Spanish knew about the site, the excavation and study of the area around Chichen Itza was not carried out until beginning in the latter nineteenth century.
The name Chichen Itza refers to the major sink hole that is located on the premises. The name is translated "at the mouth of the well of the Itzas."

El Castillo

The most famous of the still-standing buildings that are located on the site of Chichen Itza is known as El Castillo, which is a step pyramid that rises 98 feet above the ground level. There are nine steps to the pyramid. Each of the four sides of the pyramid originally had steps that ascended to the top layer.
At the bottom of both sides of each staircase is a serpent head. At the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the sun hits the staircases in just such a way as to make it look as though a serpent is descending the staircase. Whether the Mayans intended this is debated, although it seems quite possible.



The Great Ball Court

Another of the most interesting structures on the site is the ball court. The Mesoamerican ball games were quite widespread, and this ball court would have hosted such spectacles. Archaeologists have found no fewer than 13 ball courts, but the Great Ball Court is the best-preserved example in Central America.
The Mayan ball games had the objective of getting a hardened rubber ball through what somewhat resembles a vertical basketball hoop (rather than the horizontal orientation of hoops in basketball). The court itself measures 551 feet by 230 feet and has numerous carvings of feathered serpents and a picture of a decapitated player. It is thought that some of the players were sacrificed after the games (there is some debate as to which side got the treatment).
The Chichen Itza observatory
The Chichen Itza observatory

Other Important Structures at Chichen Itza

There are many structures at Chichen Itza that tour guides point out to visitors. Two more are especially worth mentioning. The first is El Caracol (the snail), which appears to be some sort of ancient observatory with doors and windows aligned for observing astronomical events.
The Temple of the Warriors is also an impressive structure that has a massive number of columns that are oriented around the temple. The pillars have carvings of warriors, hence the name of the structure.
Basically of the major sites that people will visit during a trip to Chichen Itza will have depictions of a feathery snake. This serpent is the Mayan god Kukulcan.

Getting to Chichen Itza

The closest major airport to Chichen Itza that Americans and Europeans would be likely to use is Cancun (CUN). It is best for those not used to driving in Mexico to utilize local buses and taxis, because people do not pay as much attention to the road signs as they might in the US. I found this out on my 2002 visit before I was even off of airport property. A red "Alto" stop sign apparently means go.
Many of the hotels have a concierge that visitors can use to book day trips to Chichen Itza. The tour that I took cost about $60, but that was 10 years ago. It took one of the newest and nicest roads in Mexico to the urban center of Merida, where my tour group had lunch with dancers performing. From there we went to Chichen Itza for a tour. The entire day trip was just that, a day trip. We were basically gone from sunup to sundown. For those who like history and archaeology, it's a great trip.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Links to Travel Information on North Dakota

I've been writing quite a bit lately on a number of various sites, including my other blogs. On one of these sites, I've published a couple of travel-related articles on my adopted home of North Dakota.

When most people think about North Dakota, they thing about cold weather, blizzards, hockey, and ice fishing. These characteristics are definitely a part of life in North Dakota during the winter. There are also a number of other things that visitors to North Dakota can do to have an enjoyable vacation.

I wrote this article on What to Do in North Dakota that gives a number of attractions that are located in a few of the more heavily populated areas of the state. This list is by no means comprehensive, and there are many things to see off the beaten path in the state. I've found the people and the topography to be great (except for the Red River Valley where I live is very flat).

I also wrote a short article on one of the state's airports. One of the biggest airports in the state is in Grand Forks. The Grand Forks International Airport is fourth in terms of traffic with just over 137,000 passengers coming through last year on commercial flights. It does offer flights from both Delta and United, however, so you can get here from just about anywhere in the US or abroad with a stop or two.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My Aruba Vacation for under $300

Over the holidays, I was able to take an anniversary trip to the tropical Caribbean island of Aruba. The list price of this trip was around $2,100 when priced looking at the Delta and Marriott websites. However, by using Delta Skymiles and Marriott Rewards points, I was able to score the trip for the not-so-expensive price of about $298. I've written how I was able to accomplish this on another site.

Looking out at the Caribbean from the Private Island
 Some people may think that hotel points and airline miles are a waste of time because they travel infrequently. This is not the case. Before the past two years, I traveled sporadically. It took me over seven years to accumulate enough miles and points to make this trip work out. I'm hoping that with my newfound methods learned for earning points and miles that I will be able to make these trips happen more often. Here's to hoping that the vendors do not change their programs substantially.

Our Room at the Renaissance Aruba Resort

I reviewed my hotel stay at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and the Discover Aruba Tour that my wife and I were able to take on another site. The hotel was not the nicest I've stayed in, but the location was just about perfect. The tour took place on an air-conditioned bus that was quite comfortable. There are many great eating and shopping establishments in the capital of Oranjestad and the Palm Beach area. Of course, it goes without saying that the weather in Aruba beat the weather for just about all of the United States. It was around 86 degrees each day of the stay. My hotel had a private barrier island that could only be accessed by its guests. Thanks to Marriott Rewards and Delta SkyMiles, I was able to experience the most relaxing time I've had in (probably) years.

An Aruba Sunset from Our Restaurant on the Marina


Saturday, December 29, 2012

E-Rewards and Delta Airlines

I just got an email from E-Rewards this past week that stated that they would no longer be offering Delta SkyMiles as a redemption option. This was a choice on the part of Delta. It appears as though E-Miles is also dropping Delta as well.  Those who have been using Delta as their redemption choice will now have the option of either American Airlines or United Airlines on E-Rewards. From what I've understood, E-Miles users would need to cancel their current account and then sign up with another carrier to be able to earn frequent flyer miles.

In the email that mentioned E-Rewards dropping Delta, it appears that people who have been with the program for a bit (I only signed up in June) will be getting a 25% bonus on their "earnings each quarter. This can be a great bonus. I've earned about 3,000 SkyMiles in the past six months on the site, so that would've raised the total to nearly 4,000 based upon partial redemptions.

In addition to airline rewards, those like to travel are also able to choose from a variety of hotel partners that include HiltonHonors and Club Carlson.  $100 in E-Reward money equals out to 7,000 HiltonHonors points, which is almost enough for a free night at some of the lower-level Hilton properties.  Those who are not into traveling can also earn gift cards to several vendors. All of the rewards are like money that can be earned in spare time. Travel rewards can pay off in wonderful trips that wind up costing very little.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Recent Articles on Saving Money on Plane Tickets

I've recently written a couple of articles that discuss some of the easy ways that people can get a free plane ticket. The first focuses mainly upon how people can earn frequent flyer miles and talks about credit card bonuses, search bars, and online shopping portals. The Top 5 Ways to Earn Frequent Flyer Miles probably includes most of the most common methods, but it should be able to teach people some good tricks to try.

The second article on How to Get Cheap Airfare talks about frequent flyer miles, but it also discusses some alternate ways to get a free or discounted ticket. By using a variety of methods, there is little reason to pay the full price on a legacy airline for a flight.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The 1880s Train in Keystone, South Dakota

Pics of the Train and Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore
Source: Photo by Author
1880 Steam Train
1880 Steam Train
Source: Photo by Author
1880 Steam Train
1880 Steam Train
Source: Photo by Author

Ride the Train

It was early June, and we were winding up a family vacation with a short trip to check out one of the United States' most famous landmarks--Mount Rushmore. After spending over a week in Colorado with very warm weather, the weather as we woke up in Gilette, Wyoming was a bit of a shock to the system. As we made the relatively short trip to Rapid City and then on down to Mount Rushmore, the weather was quite cool for June (46 F) and drizzly. As we drove toward the monument out of Rapid City, we noticed the fog settling in.

I had my concerns, so we stopped for a pizza before ascending the last couple of miles in our journey.
We strapped the kids into their car seats after our pizza, and began our ascent. Unfortunately, the fog was still there and it obscured the mountain. On the bright side, we did find out that there is a really nice pile of rocks at its base. We debated staying the night, as several decent-looking hotels advertised cheap rates. Instead, while we were eating pizza, we picked up a brochure for a ride on a local steam-driven train.

The 1880 Train runs along an old Black Hills line between the tourist towns of Keystone and Hill City. A round-trip takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes, and offers some great views of some of the nearby mountain peaks of of the Black Hills. The railroad follows Battle Creek which saw an influx of prospectors around the turn of the twentieth century. The conductor on the trip discusses some interesting facts about the locomotive and the surrounding area as the trip proceeds, which is a nice feature of the trip. Concessions are also available for purchase on the train. A round-trip ticket costs $24 for an adult or $12 for a child between 3 and 12 years of age. One-way tickets get a small discount, but you'd have to get your way back to your point of origin if you have no one to meet you at your destination.

This train ride is a great experience as it takes riders back to the primary mode of mass transportation for late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Americans. While the locomotive does not travel as fast as a car, it is quite relaxing. Surprisingly, our small children seemed to enjoy most of the ride and were fairly well-behaved.

As we rode the train, we started to see breaks in the clouds. Fortunately, we to advantage of this after our ride, and drove up the mountain to see Mount Rushmore. It's a great national monument, but it's definitely not all that there is to do in the Keystone area.