In the 90’s, Trish and I had a period of traveling during which we could not seem to get to our destination. Our problems included drunken pilots (really), being sent to the wrong Caribbean island (really), failed attempts to land planes in the smoke of a nearby forest fire, lots of winter ice delays and many ‘oversold conditions’. In those days, airlines gave high-value travel vouchers every time there was a mishap and Trisha and I made a living off their mistakes. I don’t think we actually paid for tickets (or arrived on time) for about three years in the late 90’s. It was a glorious time for the budget traveler.
Then the dot-coms blew up and fuel costs rose. Airlines got stingy with vouchers. Airlines stopped overselling seats as much. No one gives anything anymore if it’s weather or air traffic controls’ fault. We haven’t seen a voucher for 10 years – until today.
Baltimore-Washington isn’t the best airport, but it’s a easy one to navigate and the prices are good. Our flights to Cancun are on AirTran, the current name of ValueJet airlines, infamous for the plane crash in 1996 that killed 105 people. AirTran’s prices are cheap, cheap, cheap – these tickets are $330 roundtrip direct. And they have blow-up palm trees!
We arrive a little later than recommended. At the check-in counter we are conspicuously told that seats could not be assigned: a very bad sign. Through security to the gate, I find out the flight is indeed oversold and we are not likely to get on the plane. But they are offering TWO free tickets per person to volunteer off the flight and go tomorrow. It wasn’t a hard decision, especially since we were very unlikely to get seats anyway. We now own EIGHT free round-trip tickets anywhere Air Tran flies – which is admittedly not a lot of places. But still! EIGHT! Trish and I are already planning the next trips. Surfing in San Diego? Scuba diving in Bonaire?
Back to reality. Trish gets on the phone to rearrange our hotel and car in Mexico. Expedia customer service does a great job changing our reservations. We could go back to our house, but we hate doing that because it’s a downer once you think you’ve started vacation. So I find a hotel near the Airport and we decide to take a trip into Baltimore to visit Port Discovery, the kids museum.
Hyatt has a new chain called Hyatt Place, which is a weird combo of boutique, business and budget motel. They bought the Ameri-suites chain and improved them with high-tech rooms, limited 24-hour food service, free internet and in our case, a pool. We’re paying $90, so it’s not ultra-cheap but still a very good deal and we get Hyatt points.
The last time we were at Port Discovery Lily was a baby and Emma, three. Kids museums always disappoint us. The exhibits are often broken (by kids, of course) and they tend to be madhouses. PD is definitely a good one, but it’s more fun-oriented than educational. (Our favorite educational one is in Bristol, England.)
We enjoyed it. The center section has a three story climbing apparatus with rope bridges, ladders and crawl spaces barely big enough to fit an adult. The Egyptian section was a hoot even though it was completely inauthentic.
The only bad part of the day was lousy food. McDonald’s for lunch and Ruby Tuesdays for dinner is a poor way to start vacation. But as you’ve read elsewhere, we don’t travel with kids for the cuisine. The dinner highlight was Emma’s surprised exclamation as she did the kids’ menu word-search puzzle: “I found an inappropriate word! ‘ASS!'”
The Baltimore – Washington area’s gravity kept us in orbit one more day. But we got some loot and had fun. Tomorrow we try again to blast off to Mexico.