Friday, October 19, 2012

Orlando/Chapada Diamantina/Rio de Janeiro 2012 - several tips

So, since I was really bad about posting a more detailed day-by-day guide of our trip, I will go with the famous Resumão (which is a Brazilian word for Big Summary - an oxymoron).
I feel really bad when I go on my trips and I don't write what happens every single day. But, hey, I'll get better next year.

So, let's go by parts and try to cover everything.

1 - car rentals.
- When renting cars, don't do it too far in advance. You get better deals if you do it about 2 months before your travel date.
- When picking up your car, make sure the jerk at the counter doesn't upgrade you for a fee without bothering to tell you.  Do you think Jerk is a bad word? Really? Well, he's a jerk. A whole lot of counter people are jerks. They screw you over as much as they can.
The jerk at the counter offered my husband a smaller car than what we paid for. He said "too small, what else do you have?" Then he over a car twice as large. Hubby took it. Unaware that the car was being given to us for an extra fee. He handed me the paperwork, I looked it over and the numbers looked very similar to what I had paid for the car a few months before, so I just figured that was the cost of the rental, not a new charge. Well, when we were gone from Orlando, I decided to check my AMEX website only to find a new charge from HERTZ.  It took me a gazillion calls a few screams at the idiots on the other side of the line to get a mere voucher!!!! A voucher!!!! I don't ever want your company to serve me again and you give me a voucher??? (What? Idiot is a bad word? Idiot.)

2-Disney and Universal
     Tickets:  Tickets for these places don't expire, but they do go up in value every year. If you know you'll be travelling 5 years from now, buy them TODAY, tomorrow the price goes up.
      Don't buy the park hop option. It's not worth hopping from park to park. Do a park a day. Have tons of fun and move on. Just make sure you pick your days carefully. For instance  if you are there on fourth of July, where do you want to see the fireworks? We did it at Epcot.
      Day plan: get out of your bed by seven, be on your way by no later than 8:30. You want to get to the park as it's opening.
                          Don't forget to take millions of pictures. Disney is magical and the only way to preserve the magic is by taking magical pictures. Take pictures in front of every place that makes you say wow or feel like a kid again!
                          Then get your group together, get one of those park guides and decide what you want to do. Map out your day according to the make of you group. If you have no kids, skip the kidddy rides. If you like the kiddy rides, than, heck, go for them. Don't try to hit everything just because it's there. Check out the places that make you happy, map them out and go-go-go.
                           By the way, do me a favor and cancel your trip to Disney if you have children that require a stroller. You're only going to make life miserable for all of you. You'll be miserable bc you can't make it to the rides you want. Your babies will be miserable bc it is a long and hot day for someone who has no clue what is going on. Don't bring kids to Disney unless they can wolk on their own.
                           Don't waste time with fancy sitting down restaurants for lunch. Grab a snack and keep going. And don't fill yourself up with snacks. Keep yourself hydrated. There's plenty of drinks stands. Drink. Well, try to drink stuff that has no alcohol in it unless it's hard cider, which won't dehydrate you.
                           Take advantage of the fast pass at Disney. It's free. Don't do it at Universal. It costs too much. Just build in time for the waiting. Keep an eyue out for the wait time electronic boards. They are spread out through the park. If you hear my advice to get there early, the wait will be short for the first  few hours.
      Rides: Let's go by parks. Universal first.
                           Universal has 2 parks Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. They are both awesome places. The two times we were in Orlando we did one park a day.
                           If you are planning on hitting the Harry Potter rides, do it first thing in the morning. I believe that one park opens at 8. Harry's rides do get crowded early and the Olivander was an impossible task for us. Olivander is the wand store in which you can get your personalized wand. SO I was told, bc we could not make it in.
                           The Hogwart School ride is a phenomenal ride. Don't miss it.
                           At Disney a lot of people don't enjoy going to Epcot Center. I have to say I love it. For one major reason - this ride called Soarin'. Soarin'is a 180-ride that takes you places in a flying machine. Since you can't see the ground or the roof and you are put lifted up right in front of the screen it really feels like you are flying over awesome places like the Golden Gate Bridge. They even have wind and fragrances that makes you feel like you're there. Well, this is Disney, so forget all the technicalities and live the dream.

3- Motels - You'll book them online, right? Right. Remember to consider location, cost and amenities. Also remember to make sure they are not screwing you over. If they do that, leave. If they won't refund you for days not used, call your credit card immediately.
                        In Orlando 2010 we had a blast, and our motel was great. In 2012 we had a few issues:
                        Issue #1 - the website I used to book was defective and they booked me a smoking when I required a non. The only reason I know that it's because I tried the same website last month and it tried doing the same thing to me. So, fine. It was not the motels fault. I was going to request a change but knowing that the mistake was mine, not theirs. However there was no time to go request a friendly change. (for the record, the problem website was the Wyndham rewards)
                         Issue # 2 - They charged us almost the same value of the daily rate in extra fees not specified on the booking website - internet (which we didn't need) and Shuttle bus (which we obviously didn't need).
                         Issue # 3 - Dead roaches in the bathroom and cobwebs in the lamps.
                         Well, Maybe I'd pay for the extra fees .... not. But I would definitely not have my aunt, my little brother and my husband in a room that hadn't been cleaned in at least a week. God knows what other creepy animals were going to be crawling on us at night. Considering that I sleep naked ... no, I don't want to think about that.
                         We packed up, went to the front desk and required a refund. Then we left. We drove towrds the same motel we had stayed in 2010. They were advertising $29.99 daily rate. Ooh! But that's when we made a BIG MISTAKE. The four of us walked in. The counter guy looks at us and says "$29.99 is for one single bed only. Two doubles will be $49.99"
                        Thank you sir, we said, turned around and climbed back in the car. Then we drove around the parking lot to the Days Inn. The Days Inn, mind you! Was ran by Brazilians! What are the odds!!! I walked in by myself. I said I wanted a room with two doubles for my husband and I. $29.99. that was it. After chitchatting in Portuguese for a bit, I paid, grabbed the keys and left.
                        They said breakfast at 7. But since the place was ran by Brazilians, it was 7:30 when they started getting breakfast ready... We grabbed a Dunkin Donuts on the way to the park. Hey the rooms were clean and cozy, and the place was ran by fellow countrymen. Their delay was actually a great compliment on my Brazilianhood.
                       A few weeks later, in Rio we had another motel issue. We got to the cozy bucolic motel advertised on the internet. The motel was on the tippy top of an unreachable hill and there were tons of stairs to go up and down once you walked in. This time I had grandma with us. Are you seriously thinking I'd let MY grandma stay in place like that, so she'd go up and down a gazillion stairs jsut to get to breakfast, then down the steepest hill in Rio just to get to the tour bus? NO way, Ray! But, this time it was Aunt Inaja who took charge. Sometimes when I'm travelling with my family I have a hard time acting as the grownup in charge.... wonder why.
                     We drove through Rio's streets for  a few more minutes looking for another motel. We found a great one, which happened to be right where there was a tour bus pickup/dropoff point.
                     So, in a nutshell, don't stay in a crappy lodging. If you hate it, leave. There will always be something else around. Remember, when you're making reservations over the internet you're never really 100% sure of what you're getting. Even if you read all the reviews and they all sound great, there is always a chance you'll be the unlucky winner of the line "I hate this motel. It's the worst place ever."
                      Howard Johnson is a place I will never stay again. Three awful experiences in different places and years. New Jersey's Ho-Jo, 2009, with my family. The place was dirty and unkempt. THe parking lot was disgusting. Latham, NY, 2011. It was supposed to be a romantic getaway in a room with a jacuzzi. The jacuzzi area had broken tiles, the ceiling was peeling and the jacuzzi was dirty. Orlando 2012. Too far from the parks, dirty, extra fees, no complimentary breakfast.
                       Days Inn is one I trust. Never had issues. The crappiest one was this one near Plymouth, but still reasonable. ... Now remember that my husband and I travel on a budget. Not only do we not have money. We are cheap. We want to save on the non-essentials to be able to have money for the fun of the trip.  If you really care about the place you're staying. don't listen to me and jsut stay at some 5 start hotel. I don't care.  It might save you the trouble of having to go to the manager and announce "we are leaving your crappy motel never to return again."
4- Guided tours- If you're an independent traveler, you probably won't need a guided tour. But agian, I was travelling with my my grandma, and two aunts. They wanted a guided tour. And, hey, do you really think I want to get lost in Rio with my grandma and my two aunts? And I get lost quite often... No. The naswer is no. I don't want to be walking around Rio, with Grandma, Aunt Lea and Aunt Inaja, trying to figure out what was that wrong turn we took. We got a tour with the website they had good prices and good itinerary.
You can also rent a van with a driver for the day. Or you can just take public transportation. If you want to know Rio, read no further. This posting is not for you. All I wanted was to get my best friend off my back. She is enfatuated with Rio and she kept driving me insane with her incessant "You have to go to Rio, because you haven't lived till you've been to Rio." Seriously, go to hell. You haven't lived till you've seen Salvador da Bahia. I was born and raised in Salvador, so I have lived a long and beautfitul life.
We went to Rio and we saw the major tourist places. Corcovado (Cristo Redentor), and Sugar Loaf. We walked on the Copacabana sidewalk, we saw the Maracanã, The Sambodrome, the archs, the sao sebastiao cathedral and the presbyterian cathedral. That's all I needed. You can do those things without a tour bus and guide.
I really wanted to see Globo studios, but I was told you had to have a personal invitation to get in there. Well, don't happen to know anyone famous, so I had no personal invitation.
On the next day we travelled up the hill to the IMperial city - Petropolis, where the king of Brazil used to live, as well as Santos Dummond, the real inventor of the real airplane, excuse me ! The Right Brothers were so wrong!
Petropolis is also home to a delicious yummilicious chocolate factory where you can buy a super delicious hot cocoa and a few other flavored chocolate bars. They are also the home for the beer Bavaria. We hired a local guide at their main Cathedral - Sao Pedro de Alcantara.
Do you need a guide? Well, considering, I have traveled all over Great-Britain, California, BOston, New York City, Washington DC, Plimouth MA,  and other little places with out a guide, based solely on my internet searches, and hey, I am still alive, my answer is no. You don't need a guide. BUt when you travel with family members, here's what you do - you compromise. They wanted a guide. We got a guide.
We got a guide for chapada Diamantina as well. But halfway through the trip the fam realized we didn't really need a guide. I had done my homework. We knew where we wanted to go, we knew their open and close times and prices. All we needed was a couple of tips from the inn owners and off we went on our onw.
Was the guide a good idea in the frist few days? Yes. The guide is a local and he gave us a lot of tips on what the local plants were good for. We actually came come and bought seeds to a plant called rue, which can be used for sinus issues. CONsidering Hubby and I are the Inflamed Sinus family, we NEED that plant. Right now, I have two seedlings growing by my window sill.
So, yes, a lcal guide might actually help you for life.
Also, if the place you're going requires knowing how to read rocks and trees, because the trail is not well-marked - hire the guide!

5- Flight -
If they want you to be at the airport 2 hours before the flight - plan for 3. I f they ask 3 plan for 4. If they ask 4, plan for 5. if they ask 5 ... hire a private jet and tell them to f*** off. There's a limit for everything, including my patience.
But, i say, plan to be at the airport at least one hour before the time they ask you to be there. For a few reasons
1 - you never know what the traffic will be like.
2- you never know if you'll get lost. Even the best GPS might die on you, or have a slightly outdated map.
3- your rental car might not be so easy to return.
4- you might find out that your baby brother was carrying illegal and potentially dangerous souvenirs in his hand luggage. If you are just on time, you'll have to watch the airport security officer throw your baby brother's souvenirs down the trash can. If you have one extra hour, you might just have time to pull out your brand-new sponge bob bag, put his souvenir inside it, run back to check in and check in the souvenir. Yes, Sponge Bob will arrive at the destination looking like he was beat-up. But the souvenir will make it home.
5- There's a million things that can go wrong. car, luggage, body scanning, passports with maiden names, check in, puking husbands ... give yourself time to deal with all of that without missing your flight.

6 - Parking at the airport - If you are driving your own car to the airport and don't want to pay airport parking fees, try the hotels in the area. We were able to park our car at a hotel that offered shuttles to the airport every half hour. Our car was parked there a whole week for only $50.  Just don't leave your chocolate milk cup in the car. If you must drink chocolate milk on your way to the airport, do it, but then run inside the motel and rinse the cup. Otherwise, it will take you a few weeks of very strong Yankee candle air fresheners to remove the sour milk odor from the car. Besides, the cup is made of plastic and even the nicest plastic cups might warp. Yes, they only cost $5 a Walmart. But hey $ 5 bucks saved is $5 bucks earned....

Well, I guess that's all for now.

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