Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

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Vino Bello Resort Napa Review

Over New Year’s 2019 I took our older two kids on a 3-night getaway to Napa. Amazingly, I was able to find a property in the Wyndham portfolio that did *not* have the dates over New Year’s blacked out and that looked like it would make for an excellent stay. We weren’t disappointed. Here is my Vino Bello Resort Napa Review:

I used a total of 45,000 Wyndham Rewards points for our stay. Most of these were earned from promotions during 2018, and 15,000 were from the annual bonus I receive each year when I renew my card at a cost of $69. We received over $600 in value, though, so I am not complaining! Wyndham’s award “chart” is a flat rate, as all hotels cost 15,000 points per night per bedroom. I’d booked a one bedroom suite with a king bed and a sofa bed.

Arriving at the Vino Bello Resort Napa

The drive down from where we live to Napa is just under 4 hours. Rather than head through Santa Rosa, I prefer to take Highway 128 and drive through the bulk of the Napa Valley. It’s just so scenic. We left the same way, too.

Dinner was at the same place we ate the year before when I took them on a quick one-night trip to the Best Western in Calistoga (SEECelebrating New Years 2018). It was our one splurge, since the Vino Bello Resort Napa has a kitchen and I cooked most of the rest of our meals. We had maybe another 40 minutes of driving until we finally arrived at the hotel.

Man, was the parking lot full when we showed up. I found a spot, not knowing it was conveniently in front of our building. The lobby of the Vino Bello Resort Napa is lovely. We were greeted warmly by the doorman who chatted it up with me until it was finally our turn at the desk.

Check-in was a bit interesting, as I was quoted a cash rate for our stay. I’m not sure how the system integrates with Wyndham’s but it apparently isn’t seamless. It took the lady most of a minute to confirm that we were indeed on a n award rate. Adding to the complication is that they actually have two resorts in one: the Vino Bello and the Meritage.

We were given a welcome packet after checking in from the concierge, who also tried to get me to sign up for a 90-minute timeshare presentation. If only my wife was along, I totally would have made us suffer through it. Unfortunately, your spouse must be present. We would have all received free breakfast that morning, plus 25,000 Wyndham points. Would have made up for most of our stay!

One Bedroom Suite at the Vino Bello Resort Napa

Our suite was in the Cabernet building, which is closest to the lobby and restaurant, and overlooking the pool. We were on the second floor. You have to go through no fewer than 4 doors to get there, all of which require your key card, which is a bit annoying. But I guess it makes it more secure? I really didn’t understand the point. This tiny “lobby” area was between the first and second doors.

Each door from the hall opens into a small entry room with two doors leading into two separate suites. I guess this would be super convenient if you booked two rooms, as they aren’t truly adjoining, but it would provide a secure way to still pass between them.

A one bedroom suite at the Vino Bello Resort Napa is excellent. The suite is spacious and would easily accommodate our family of five if we brought sufficient bedding one or two kids. You first enter into the kitchen. There is a nice high counter at the end.

Across from that is the large dining table. The bench against the wall is super soft and the kids sunk into the cushion until there chins were barely above the table.

Beyond that is the living room area with a sofa and two armchairs. The sofa also contains the extra queen bed.

The kids immediately eyed the fireplace. I grew up with a wood stove, so this is a sorry excuse for a fire, in my opinion. But they really enjoyed it. My daughter fell asleep with it on each night, and it did keep that corner cozy.

On the high counter was a welcome bottle of wine, part of what is included in the resort fee. Funny how you don’t get one per night, even though you pay the fee per night (unless you’re on an award stay). Spolier: the wine isn’t very good anyway.

The bedroom is connected to both the living room and the bathroom.

There is one king bed, and a second TV, as well as a full closet.

The spa tub is also inside the bedroom and not the bathroom. I’m not really a fan of this. I’d rather it be part of the bathroom as well.

The bathroom itself is very large with two sinks and an oversize shower.

I was in heaven each morning. I love a nice shower. This one wasn’t quite up to the awesome rain shower in our room in Beijing back in November (SEE: Renaissance Beijing Wangfujiung Review), nor did it top the most amazing shower I’ve ever used (SEE: Park Hyatt Milan: A Review). But it was still great. Until I realized one of the kids had dropped the bottle of shampoo the night before and I was suddenly unable to wash my hair and slipping all over the tile in the morning. The things they don’t tell you…

The one bedroom suite also has a deck, or lanai. I’m still not used to that word. Lanai is an island in Hawaii, not an outdoor deck thing. In December, it was exactly the nicest place to hang out. But I’m sure it is amazing in summer.

The best part of the one bedroom suite is the kitchen. Maybe you aren’t the sort of folks who like to cook on vacation, but depending on the situation, we really don’t mind. It’s way cheaper and quite easy when we have a more relaxed schedule, such as on this trip. The kitchen had pretty much everything you’d need for 4-6 people, including plates, cutlery and cookware. There is even a dishwasher and a couple soap packs.

You can ask for necessities from housekeeping and the front desk, but if you want the room actually cleaned, this comes at as a surcharge. I’m pretty sure this is standard to Wyndham’s condo properties. We managed just fine for three days without housekeeping, and it saved us $75.

On the whole, our one bedroom suite at the Vino Bello Resort Napa was excellent. I highly recommend this as a place to burn your Wyndham points as a family.

Facilities and activities

The Vino Bello Resort Napa offers a number of things to do on-property, as well as access to everything Napa has to offer. It may not be the full extent of what many expect from a resort, even though that is part of the name. There is a decent sized pool between the Chardonnay and Cabernet buildings, and we spent and evening and morning here enjoying it.

vino bello resort napa

The kids always try to get me to spend as much time as possible in the water. The pool at the Vino Bello Resort Napa is heated, but with the air temperatures as low as they are in December and January, it still isn’t all that comfortable. The kids didn’t care, but I would last only about 15 minutes before I wanted to soak in the hot tub for the remainder of the time.

On the opposite side of the restaurant and lobby is the Bordeaux building. It also has resort rooms, but also contains the crush lounge, which is where we headed the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. The lounge has a bar, but it is also family friendly (they serve food as well, so it is technically a restaurant). Kids are welcome.

One of the best features of the Crush Lounge at the Vino Bello Resort Napa is that it has a half dozen bowling lanes. Bowling isn’t especially cheap, but it was still reasonable enough that wanted to rent a land for an hour. We got two games in. Prices are per person per hour, $15 for adults and $10 for kids on weekdays. Prices go up $5 per person per hour on weekends.

The concierge is a helpful source of anything else you might want to know about the resort and the Napa area.

The Napa area

I know, most people probably don’t take their kids to Napa. The typical itinerary is probably all-day wine tasting at the many vineyards in the valley. There are a couple that are family friendly, and the concierge pointed these out. Taking them to the Castello di Amorosa, a winery in the style of a Tuscan castle, was an option, but I decided against it, mainly due to the cost. We had what we needed at the resort anyway.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t do any sightseeing. The first day we headed to church at Calvary Chapel Petaluma and then spent the afternoon in Sonoma at Train Town and then the mission.

Train Town is good with kids for a couple hours. The train ride itself is fun for kids of pretty much all ages. The other rides are more fair-style, and aren’t all that thrilling for older kids. But we bought a single pack of tickets for these and had fun on a few.

The morning of our second day we drove over to Fairfield and toured the Jelly Belly Factory. It had been well over a decade since I’d visited, and I hardly remembered anything. Our one bummer: they gave everyone New Year’s Eve off as well as New Year’s Day, so we didn’t get to see any action on the factory floor. But the video monitors spaced out every 100 feet or so still let us have a glimpse into their candy making process.

There is plenty more to do in the Napa area, and I am not a Napa expert, so I’ll have to leave you to do your own research!

Conclusion

Our stay at the Vino Bello Resort Napa was excellent overall. The one bedroom condo is spacious and perfect for a family, I’d happily stay here again. We still have Wyndham points to burn, so another visit might be possible this year.

The one thing I should note is that the Vino Bello Resort tried to charge us a resort fee at check out. This is against the Wyndham Rewards free night policy. I had to pull up the terms on my phone and present it to the agent at the front desk, who then took it to his manager. They did relent, but it was a bit disappointing. There is a separate write-up on this whole experiences (SEE: Waive that resort fee! Holding a hotel to its program policies).

El Colibri Rojo Review – Visiting Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast

**This is very dated, but I decided to finish up a review of the place we stayed in Limón province when we were in Costa Rica in Fall 2017**

After a nice excursion to one of Costa Rica’s beautiful Pacific beaches (SEE: Hotel Punta Leona Review), I figured we’d visit the other side of the country to compare. From all we’ve heard and read, the Caribbean coast is an entirely different animal.

There are no good chain options (unfortunately) along the Caribbean coast, so I started scouring various OTAs and AirBnb for good places. El Colibrí Rojo stood out to us since it offered a two bedroom apartment, a pool, the potential to purchase a reasonably priced breakfast, and proximity to some of the nicer beaches on the Caribbean near Cahuita. All of this for $288 for 3 nights.

Cahuita also came highly recommended to us by Costa Ricans working with us for our adoption. The national park nearby, plus the other beautiful beaches, made it an ideal place to visit on the Atlantic side of the country.

Arriving at El Colibrí Rojo

The drive from San José to Cahuita is about 3.5 hours. Our previous trip was only about 90 minutes, so this was substantially longer for the kids. We warned them of the length a few days before, and even then we started getting complaints. Our trip would have been quicker, but we had to go an alternate route since the main highway experienced a mudslide in the monsoon-like rains and was closed. So the winding, mountainous route through Cartago it was. At least the Costa Rican mountains are stunningly beautiful.

By the time we got to Cahuita, though, the sun was starting to set. We ended up checking into El Colibrí Rojo and then heading back to the sleepy town of Cahuita itself to pick up some dinner. We settled on pizza, taking it back to our apartment to eat. After that, it was pretty much time to get the kids to bed. It had been a long, exhausting day of driving.

The next day we got to see a bit more of the tiny hotel property. The “lobby” at El Colibrí Rojo  is super laid back, an inviting space to spend a little time with a game or guitar, and chatting with the wonderful hosts of the property. The welcome area/lobby is across the drive from the hosts home and attached to the open-air breakfast area.

Across the gravel parking area are the “cabinas”. Most of them are pretty simple, but ours is the largest with a few additional features.

There are a row of hammocks in front of the cabins, welcoming you to relax in the warm, humid climate of Limón, in the shade and hopefully with a nice breeze. The weather here was quite a change from the upper 60s and lower 70s we were experiencing in San José and the central valley.

Our apartment was just called the “apartamento”, without a number. It is the only unit to offer a full kitchen and air conditioning, from what I’d read in the property description of El Colibrí Rojo.

El Colibrí Rojo apartment

The apartment is modest, but plenty nice for what we paid and what we needed for the five of us for a few days in Cahuita. The kitchen comes fully stocked, with everything you need to cook and serve meals for an entire family. It is great.

Attached to the kitchen is a small living room area with a couch and television.

Between the two areas is the dining table, a unique and beautiful high wooden table. It is also the location of the much-needed and appreciated air conditioning. We had that thing running almost the entire stay, likely to the chagrin of the hosts. From what I understand in Costa Rica, power isn’t all that cheap, at least in comparison to earnings. But we are wimps from mild northern California, and there is no way we would have been able to sleep without A/C. And it took running that poor little unit all the time to keep things sufficiently cool in the bedrooms.

The apartment at El Colibrí Rojo has two bedrooms, one with two single beds and the other with a double bed. Pretty spartan accommodations, but just fine for our needs.

The apartment also includes an outdoor dining area that is just for the guests who book it, as well as our own hammock. It is covered to provide shelter from the elements and is a great place to relax.

Here we are at lunch one day, eating soup in the warm outdoors. Not a great meal choice for the climate, but it’s what we’d brought. This is only a little over a year ago, and I’m blown away by how much our kids have grown!

Overall, the apartment was perfect for a few days at the beach enjoying the Costa Rican sun and swimming in the water of the Caribbean.

El Colibrí Rojo breakfast

Breakfast is served each morning in the open-air dining area between the “lobby” and the pool. It is a continental affair, consisting of bread, pastries, fruit and yogurt, although I think that you could order an egg or two if you wanted. I can’t remember. It’s been a bit too long. But I remember it being enough, and worth the minimal price we paid.

Of course there is also coffee and tea, as well as cereal, which the kids enjoyed.

Our hosts were very welcoming, and we got to chat a bit each morning about our time in Costa Rica. They were obviously a bit intrigued to see a fair-skinned couple with a trio or darker Costa Rican kids, and we were able to talk about our adoption. The hosts of El Colibrí Rojo are actually from France, relocated there in search of a quieter and more laid-back life, and it was interesting to get their perspective on the country.

Pool and other facilities

The kids thoroughly enjoyed the pool at El Colibrí Rojo. It is not very big, but it fairly deep. I had to carefully watch our youngest for fear of him falling in. Our daughter was good about carrying him around so he could be part of the fun. The water was about the same temperature as the air, maybe just a hair cooler. Plenty warm for swimming.

When we weren’t at the beach, the kids were generally in the pool.

I liked the overall open-air design of the facilities at El Colibrí Rojo. Considering that it is always warm, it totally makes sense. Although there is also the argument for air-conditioned rooms. I believe ours is the only guest room that contains an A/C unit.

There is not much to the property, but certainly enough if all you’re looking for is a pool and breakfast. The small number of rooms (less than 10, I believe) also means it’s a pretty quiet place as well.

Playas near Cahuita

The nearby national park in Cahuita is the real gem of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, and the main reason we were here. The water is lovely, the sand is lovely, and the weather is lovely. Beach vacations have never been on my radar, but this experience started to change my mind. Now I understand that there is a lot more than the gritty, cold, windy beaches I’m used to in northern California.

Kels was sick some of the time, but she was still able to make it out to the beach with us a couple times to enjoy the sand and sun with the kids. The kids had a blast.

The sun scorches fast, though. We all had to be careful to put on plenty of sunscreen!

Conclusion

Our stay at El Colibrí Rojo was very nice. It was an inexpensive place that gave us some comforts of home (i.e. a kitchen and air conditioning) and the facilities we needed. I’d happily stay again, and I hope the hosts are still running the place and doing well.

Time vs. Cost: Analyzing Work Travel Options

One of the perks of working on projects located on the east coast is that I get to travel now and then. Last year I visited our Roanoke office seven times over the course of 9 months, assisting our Virginia staff in a variety of ways. Now that I’m moving even more heavily into one of the two major projects we have in the state, it’s likely that I’ll be headed there a number of times this year as well.

Consulting travel has pretty open parameters, as long as the costs are reasonable and within the terms of our project contract. When traveling back east, I initially found myself waffling between flying out of our local airport versus flying out of either SFO or Sacramento airport. But now after several trips, one of the options clearly won. And it might not be the one you’d expect.

The dilemma: is driving faster than flying?

Flying to eastern Virginia requires a minimum of one connection. If I only wanted to fly to Dulles and then drive for several hours, I could find a nonstop option. But that would leave me driving on both sides of the trip. Getting to Roanoke means connecting in one of four places: Atlanta, Chicago, Dulles, or Charlotte. There might be a couple other options, but these are the ones most itineraries present me. Have to connect at least one of these places.

If I want to fly out of our local airport, there are a minimum of two connections. The fastest flight I can find out of Arcata has a total travel time of 12 hours. I would depart on the morning flight out of Arcata at 6:00 a.m. to SFO, and then arrive in Roanoke at 9:00 p.m. eastern time. At least…that is how it is supposed to work. Both times I booked this ticket, my flights were significantly delayed, and I clocked travel days of 15-16 hours on a domestic itinerary. I don’t mind a long day, but arriving at 1:00 a.m. is just not my cup of tea.

Fed up, I booked my next work trip out of Sacramento airport. Sure, it is 4.5 hours away, but I’d rather be in command of my own destiny rather than at the mercy of United. The fastest flights from SMF to ROA are 7:15-7:45, depending on the carrier and connection schedule. Definitely better than the option from Arcata. Adding on 4.5 hours of driving, the two alternatives have roughly equal travel times. I know driving 4.5 hours each way to an airport isn’t for everyone, but a seat in a car beats a seat on a completely full plane.

The costs are generally the same, too. Two one-way car rentals plus the plane ticket out of Sac usually adds up to what United is asking out of Arcata. If the client is paying the same, and the total time requirement is the same, what else is there to consider? Easy: reliability and comfort.

Hello, Delta

I learned quickly that flying Delta was the way to go. I tried American as well, but you really can’t beat having seat-back entertainment and a generally more cheerful crew. The service and amenities Delta offers are definitely a notch above the competition. I flew enough (and spent enough on their co-branded credit cards) last year to earn Platinum status, so now I even have the chance for a few extra inches of leg room when flying across the country in their Comfort+ seats. This, plus the fact I’ve never been delayed, will have me driving 4.5 hours every time to fly my new favorite carrier as of last year. It may seem crazy, but it’s what works for me. And fortunately what works for me works for work, too.

4 Funniest Moments from our China Trip

After detailing each day of our trip, I thought I’d compile some of the funniest moments and encounters from our 10 days in Beijing and Hong Kong. You never know what kids are going to say, or how people in other cultures are going to perceive you. Which led to some funny exchanges.

This is China?

While headed to Eureka to pick up the rental car, the little guy chattered on about us going to China. He was excited to stay with mom for over a week by himself.

When we arrived at the rental lot and pulled in, he quizzically asked, “this is China?” Gave us all a good laugh. No concept of geography. Yet. If only we could travel across the Pacific in a mere 30 minutes!

Twenty-nine? No way.

After spending a few hours exploring the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, the kids and I got in line for the toboggan run back down the mountain. This was one of the highlights, from everything I’d read. We had just made it to the front of the line when the operator put the whole show on pause for a coffee break. He also started chatting it up with me and the kids.

Our first exchange was funny enough. He offered my his tin cup of coffee, which I politely declined. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I finally took a swig and handed it back.

Then he asked how old I was, which I found odd, but hey, I don’t mind answering questions. My response of “twenty nine” floored him. “No way,” were the first words out of his mouth. Apparently someone so young shouldn’t have kids so old, as he proceeded to be astounded at the ages of my two older children. He has a son who is three years the senior of my daughter, but at 46, he is quite a bit older than I am.

Ew, that’s its head!

During our last lunch in Beijing, the kids asked if we could order the duck. It was a bit pricier than other options, but I decided to humor them. I’m all about new food experiences (withing reason…we passed up the scorpions on a skewer).

However, I didn’t realize *I’d* be eating the whole thing. The instant my daughter saw the whole duck cut in half and then carved into slices on the platter, she refused to touch it. Apparently it was now the grossest thing ever. Ever. My son decided not to eat any either, so now I was left with a whole duck to consume. Funny, but also not funny.

Falling asleep in an upright lie-flat seat

Our flight back to the U.S. was in business class, a splurge that I justified because, hey, we had the miles, and we’d all arrive more rested back in the U.S. My son in particular wanted to jump right back into school the day after we got back. The only issue with the flight that I chose was that it left Hong Kong after midnight.

I knew the kids would be tired by the time we were aboard, but this would just mean they’d sleep better in their lie-flat seats. My daughter struggled to keep her eyes open as we boarded, and she ended up zonked before we even hit cruising altitude. I had a good laugh when I was finally able to unbuckle my seat belt and check on them, and she was fast asleep in her upright lie-flat seat.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, the difficult or tense moments often stick out the most from our travels, such as almost losing my son on the Beijing subway, or our scary encounter on BART in Oakland. But the funny ones make for better reflection. I can’t wait to see what this current year brings us.

Travel Day – Beijing to Hong Kong

It was a bit sad to wake up and realize that our time in Beijing had already passed. Our five days in the Chinese capital were an amazing experience. I feel like we barely scratched the surface of what Beijing has to offer, but the food, history and people make it a great place to visit. Here are the posts from each day of our adventures in Beijing:

Breakfast was again complementary in the top-floor lounge of our central Beijing hotel (SEE: Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing Review). We even finished up early, a small miracle for my children. My bags in hand, we made our way downstairs and I asked the desk to call us a taxi. We could have taken the subway, but it would have meant a transfer and toting our bags a good distance. Given how cheap taxis are in Beijing, the convenience was totally worth it.

Our ride took off around 8:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I figured we would take an hour to get to the airport. The driver made me a bit nervous at times, cutting quickly from lane to lane. But we made it safely. The ride took 40 minutes on a Sunday morning leaving about 8:45 a.m.

Arriving at Beijing Capital Airport

Front of Beijing International Airport Terminal 3 is impressive. Our flight into Beijing had arrived into Terminal 2, and we’d taken the Airport Express straight from there. I didn’t get a good look at the airport. Plus, it was dark and we were exhausted. We also had an unfortunate incident where my son wet himself, as he hadn’t gotten up to use the lav before our final approach into Beijing. He has a habit of not being aware of his need to use the facilities, not to mention the worst timing on the airplane (every time he got up to go was during meal time). Just one of the hurdles of traveling with kids.

But I digress. The memories of our arrival into Beijing, although it was only a few days prior, already seemed distant. We walked through the doors into the massive departures hall of Terminal 3. There is row after row after row of check-in counters and there were huge queues of people. I’m not surprised Beijing in building a new airport that is projected to be the world’s busiest in short order.

Too early for a flight?

Turns out that due to our early departure from the hotel and faster drive than expected, we were an hour earlier than my anticipated arrival at the airport. We were also there an hour before the check-in desk opened for our flight. Now…I know there are some places where check-in counters don’t operate all the time. But given that Beijing Capital Airport is massive, and Cathay has more than just a few flights per day, the fact that the counter was not yet open surprised me.

There was one counter open. But the signage clearly marked counters for specific flights, something I’d never seen. We unfortunately had to kill an hour wandering the departures hall.

Once we were finally checked in and had dropped the bag, it was time for Chinese immigration. We’d had no issues entering the country on the 144-hour transit without visa (TWOV) exemption, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little bit of apprehension about passing through the country. I’d been instructed to keep the stubs from the original visa paperwork, and they were still in my wallet. Everything should be good.

And it was. We got a couple odd looks from the immigration officials, but we passed through just fine. Very glad that we were able to take advantage of this opportunity for a stopover in the Chinese capital.

Security went smoothly as well. This was the 14th segment for both of my older two kids, and they have learned the drill pretty well. I was a dolt this time though and insisted that my backpack didn’t have any water in it even when the security official flagged it in the x-ray. Had totally forgotten that I’d put in the last bottle from the hotel that morning. Oops.

Once through, we hung out in the lounge for a while where the kids did some school and I wrote a couple blog posts and enjoyed a glass of wine (SEE: Air China First Class Lounge Beijing Airport Review). We also ate an early lunch. All for free with my Priority Pass membership through my Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

Our plane was late, but we still got out early enough to make it to Hong Kong in time. You can read all about our experience flying Cathay Pacific 777 Premium Economy.

Hello, Hong Kong

We landed right before sunset and hopped on the Hong Kong Express toward Kowloon. A short bus ride later, and we were walking the last few blocks to our hotel through the bustling Mongkok neighborhood. I wasn’t so sure about staying here, but I would happily do so again. The energy and everyday-ness of Mongkok makes it a vibrant place to enjoy as a foreigner.

Bedtime came at about 8:30. It was a good travel day. Now we had Hong Kong to explore for our last three days!

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