All Aboard Train 59

I arrived at Chicago union station at just after 6pm on the 4th of June 2016. I checked into the first class waiting lounge as I had booked a sleeper for the trip. I rearranged my hand luggage for the train and then checked my suitcase. In the lounge they had complimentary drinks and snacks. There was also free Wi-Fi!!!. my headphone batteries had died on the CTA ride over and so I purchased some new batteries and a few snacks, a bottle of sparkling water and a Cosmo magazine for the trip. At 7:30pm we boarded the train, I am staying in Roomette 004 which is smaller than the pictures lead me to believe, but is perfect for 1 person.

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After I dropped my stuff off I headed over to the dining car for dinner, which is included in the price of my ticket. Dinner was a cold sandwich. I had the turkey and Swiss on whole grain “ciabatta”, it came with potato chips and a pickle??? America is strange y’all. I also had a root beer, which is caffeine free because I am dying for sleep at this point. I diner with a few other people, each table seats 4, I met a really nice couple and a guy who was travelling on his own. All heading to New Orleans for vacation.

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After dinner I met my room steward, a lovely girl called Keisha and she turned my room into a bed for me. By this time it’s 10pm and it is finally getting dark. I looked out at the scenery for a while before it got too dark, set my alarm for 8am and I finally got a good night’s sleep.  I woke up several times throughout the night partly from jet lag and partly from the trains whistle.

I woke up in the morning around 6am, I dozed on and off until the first announcement came in at 7am, after which I grabbed some coffee and headed off to breakfast. This morning I had a cinnamon roll with yogurt and fruit cup and several cups of coffee. I was joined by a really nice guy and his son, who had just spent 2 days in Memphis doing as much as humanly possible and then a bit more before heading home to Baton Rouge.

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After breakfast I headed back to cabin with another cup of coffee to watch the world go past and to edit my blog until lunch time. I’m finding my cabin Is quiet chilly and the air con dial doesn’t seem to have any impact on the temperature so I asked Keisha to leave my room made up as a bed till lunch time in case I need another nap and so I can have the blanket.

It seems to be mostly farm land which the odd small town along the way, these towns are small capsules lost in time. Picturesque farm house or ghost town main roads with abandoned shops and houses going to ruin and slowly begin reclaimed by nature.

This was pretty standard for the rest of the trip. I got off and walked around at the Jackson stop, singing Johnny cash in my head the whole time. After we got back under way I headed in to the observatory car and chatted with my new friends Emma and Glen. Lunch was probably the best meal of the lot lasagne.

All the meals are pretty much airline food, pre prepared and pre-packaged items, mostly cold sandwiches and what not. Definitely not what I was expecting when the website said “chef prepared”. There was also no Wi-Fi on the train either.

After lunch we had an hour and a half till we arrived in New Orleans, I waved good bye to derrick and his son at Hammond and then packed up all my things to get ready for our arrival.

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After arriving in New Orleans, I had to wait for the luggage to be unloaded. I had checked my big suitcase and I’m glad I did. The room on the train was not as spacious as I had anticipated. Certainly perfectly sized for 1 person but very cramped for 2. If going on a longer journey, I recommend getting a full on family room.

With my luggage in tow I headed on down to my hotel in Lee Circle. After checking in jumped straight into the shower before heading out to explore my new city.

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Thanks for reading !!

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Adventure is now…

This post is updated after each step and then uploaded once I reach any Wi-Fi signal.

 

Packing

 

My journey to the other side of the world began very early on Saturday morning. My very first flight departed at 6:20am. This meant I had to be at the airport by 4am, which in turn meant leaving the house just before 3am.

At around 1am I received a call from Qantas staff advising that my connecting flight from Brisbane to Los Angeles has been delayed an hour. The trip hadn’t even started yet and already plans were changing. This delay shouldn’t have too much of an impact as I have a 3-hour window in LAX before my connecting flight to Chicago.

Flight One – Auckland to Brisbane

Made great time to the airport. Had the traditional al maccas breakfast and tank juice before wading through security and dosing my gate. My flight was delayed three time before we actually took off. Supposed to depart at 6:20, it was pushed to 6:40 and then to 7am before we finally departed.


I think I got about an hour of sleep before breakfast was served. Fairly average scrambled eggs and baked beans with sausage and hash brown. I did quite enjoy the lemon muffin though. I then decided to watch how to be single which had me alternating between laughing out loud and crying quietly – definitely do not recommend to watch in front of other people.

 

Eggs and Baked Beans

 

Flight Two – Brisbane to Los Angeles

Arrives into Brisbane at around 9am. First purport was get somethings. To munch on. I decided to get a boost Caribbean green juice smoothie and some BBQ pork buns for lunch. I then visit the transfer desk and got my seat changed from a middle seat to an aisle seat. I had originally hoped to get a row to myself but there were no free seats on the flight.

After sorting food, I headed down to the departure gate. After we were advised of 2 more delays I asked about my connecting flight but they didn’t have any information. But they did need to put my visa information in the system. The flight itself was pretty uneventful I watched several movies: sisters, joy, and wild. They were all quit good. I cried in almost of them. I got a couple of hours sleep before breakfast.

Flight Three – Lax to Ord

Landing in Los Angeles was minor lily stressful because I was waiting for information on my connecting flight and we landed at just before 8am with my next flight departing at 9:05am. I was advised at the gate that I had been rebooked and I would find out more at baggage claim.
Side note: passport control at Lax is really smooth. If you’d been into the USA in the same visa and passport before they let you check min at these machines which prints you out a receipt which you take to CBP officer and they wave you through.

After I picked up my luggage I got my new flight details. I had been rebooked on to an American airlines flight departing LAX at 2:15pm and arriving in Chicago at 9pm. So this wasn’t going to work because my Train was departing at 8pm an hour away from the airport.

So I lugged my luggage up to the recheck desk where a lovely lady got me rebooked onto a virgin America flight departing at 10:30am and arriving at 4:0 pm. New ticket in hand I checked in my luggage and went in search of terminal 3 to check in for my next flight.


The lines in the terminal were ridiculous. I wanted to change into fresh clothes and get some Starbucks for my flight but there was a line 20 people long for each activity. So I choose bathroom and instead of getting completely changed I changed my shirt and reorganised my bag in the waiting area.

Last flight of the journey went quickly and smoothly, I managed about 2 hours sleep and watched some TV. Nothing else to report, they don’t feed you on domestic American flights.

Chicago

I arrived into Chicago airport, I was on the lookout for a cell phone store to pick up a sim card but I couldn’t find one unfortunately. But I was feeling pretty time conscious because I still had quite a way to go to get to Union station and catch the train to New Orleans.  At this point I’m running on around 5 hours of sleep over the last 2.5 days.


Get all my luggage and I start following the sign to the CTA trains to the city signs. I bought a ticket to the train and it was $5, I only had $10 notes and the machines don’t give change, so I tried to use my Qantas cash card but it wanted a zip code for the transaction and I had no idea what that was and it wouldn’t accept so in the end I used my MasterCard visa to pay for the ticket. All the trains from the station are the blue line heading to forest park. The stop I wanted was Clinton and was I think 15 stops away from the airport (approximately). Once I arrived at the station I heaved my luggage up the stairs and wandered along the street till I found Union Station. It was after 6pm by this time and I still hadn’t found a cell phone store.


Check out my next post for the next step in my trip

New Orleans 

Oh My God! I’m so excited guys! This Saturday is the day. The day my latest adventure begins.

As always on a trip I like to have a basic plan and then wing it once my feet hit the ground. This is of course because plans change at the drop of a hat and as I am a solo female traveller. What I actually end up doing can be drastically different than the plan I envisioned while sitting at home. Continue reading

Barista Cats – Cat Cafe

 

Ever wanted to visit a Cat Cafe ? Find yourself browsing the internet, looking wishfully at articles about Japan with its Hedgehog Cafes, Bunny Cafes and the ever coveted Cat Cafe.

Recently 2 cafes have opened in Auckland City and i was lucky enough to visit one. If you are considering a visit to the Cafe or just want to find out what the hype is all about read on to find out.  Continue reading

Planning my Trip – Flights

Step 1 – Getting There

So in my quest to visit America, I have not given myself any time to really save up. I also now have a full time job so I couldn’t take too much time off either. However, because I like a challenge I’m still planning to go to at least 2 American cities and Australia.  This trip will be like most of my others, I will be travelling by myself, but I will be meeting up with friends in both Orlando and Brisbane.

I am always looking for the best deals on flights. For this trip I am budgeting at most $2,000 on flights and around $5,000 in total.

Original budget:

$2,000 –  flights

$3,000 – accommodation, activities and spending money.

The process

I always start looking for flights on Expedia, they have a really great range of companies to search from and can definitely give you a starting point.

I try not to book on Expedia as I always have a terrible experience. You can never really change or get a refund, you can’t mix and match your flights, or specify what is important without compromising other aspects of your trip. Have a look at Kayak, Sky Scanner and Flight Centre.

I also try to price out individual flights versus round trip, especially in the planning stages while I’m trying to decide where I want to go and what I want /how I want to get there.

For example, while I was in the early stages of planning this trip I was going to go to New York and only spend 3 days in Orlando. I also looked at spending some time in California and Texas. though while researching what I wanted to do and where I would stay, nothing jumped out at me and made me decide on Texas or California as the place to visit on this trip. I have however always wanted to visit New Orleans. Something about the history and the culture there just really interests me.

I also am a member of the Qantas frequent flyer and I desperately want to get to silver membership!!!! I almost made it last year but my points expired before the end of my last contract so I missed out!

So the final flight plan I settled on:

  • June 4th – Auckland to Chicago
  • June 22nd – Orlando to Brisbane
  • July 3rd – Brisbane to Auckland

On Expedia the trip was looking around $2200.

To be honest I was kind of disappointed, I didn’t want to spend like half my budget on flights alone!

By chance I decided to search my full itinerary on the Qantas website as I had chosen the fully Qantas trip on Expedia and had decided to fly Qantas if possible so I can finally attain the coveted silver membership.

And buy was I happy I did! I found the Qantas website so useful! You can choose each individual flights to choose price or arrive or depart times. I managed to shave almost $500 off the total price. As I am always travelling on a budget, always looking to the next trip, this is always a bonus.

So my final flights are as follows

  • June 4th – 6:20am depart Auckland fly via Brisbane and LA a finally arrive in Chicago at 3pm on the same day
  • June 22nd – 7:30pm depart Orlando fly via LA and land Brisbane at 6am on the 24th June
  • July 3rd – depart 6:55pm and arrive in Auckland at 00:00.

All in all, I think I paid $1850 including the visa fee for booking and paying online.

These flights will add just over 300 points to my membership which will take me well and truly into silver level which will be amazing for my next adventure at the end of the year.

I’m really really happy with my flights. Now you may be thinking why are you going to Chicago, and how are you planning to get to Orlando???

I decided to book another flight from New Orleans to Orlando, I like to book southwest mostly because of the free luggage and the great prices. I probably could have booked either united or American airlines which would add points to my Qantas membership. However, I like the free 2 bags that southwest offers more.

This flight is June 9th 7:55pm arriving Orlando 10:35pm.

I was/am a little worried about how late I booked in regards to storing my luggage. I have emailed my hotel about storing my luggage for the day but I have yet to hear back.

My final thoughts on booking flights

Shop around! Look at sky scanner or kayak, southwest won’t show on any discount sites be sure to check their site separately.

I still haven’t decided whether it’s better to book like 6 months in advance or a week out. I booked my flights and then the next week air New Zealand and Qantas released cheap flights to LA, but my flights wouldn’t have been too much different as I have several legs of the trip.

Why I Quit Disney…

Hey all,

So I’ve been toying with the idea of this post for a while now, but I think it’s time I breached the subject. So stay tuned and read on for why I left Disney.

So I officially stopped working for Disney Cruise Line January 8th 2016. I has decided I was not going back to the ship about 2 months into my last contract. This is largely because I didn’t like who I became while I was working/living there.

Working on a ship;

My life while working on the ship became eat sleep work. This is not so different to life on land, but the main difference is you are mostly trapped on board. You can’t just pop to the shop or get delivery pizza or basically feel like you left work at all. You are stuck 2 mins from your work with a group of people who are on board for a bunch of different reasons and you don’t always like or get along with them either. You are never off duty.

I worked an average of 70 hours or more, most often more just to try and punch my pay check up. Your average day is in 2 or 3 large chunks. With between half an hour and 4/5 hours break between the chunks of work time.

I loved my job, if I could do the job but on land and for 40 hours per week would do it in a heartbeat. It is literally customer service at its finest. You met amazing and inspirational people from all over the world. You get a new challenge with each new person and it teaches you problem solving, empathy, and resilience. One of the things working for Disney had taught me is to be yelled at all day (in multiple languages) and still be able to sleep at night because I don’t take it personally.

While you are at work you are expected to give 110% on day one and more and more everyday while you get less and less sleep and with no further incentives. You start to play roulette with yourself to see what is more important to keep you sane.

On my first ever day on aboard my training officer told me I would give up food for sleep and I laughed, I LOVE food I wouldn’t give it up for anything!! Oh no she was so right on a good day I would have at least 1 meal in the crew mess. Most days however consisted of various amounts of coffee and sugar and n real food because I could find the energy to go to the mess when instead I could eat the snacks in my room and then pass out for 3 hours till my next shift.

The pay;

I didn’t realise when I agreed to the job at just what I was agreeing to. 70 hours’ minimum per week, over time is paid out at like $5 per hour. In America I know that this is maybe more than the average waitperson gets paid, but I was unable to accept tips to buffer this amount of money.

In New Zealand when left minimum wage was $13.50 it is now almost $15, I was earning about half working twice if not three times as hard.

However, I will mention while you are on aboard your food, board, uniforms and their cleaning and utilities are covered. The only things which you need to pay for yourself are: internet around $20 for 500mbs, any snacks or alcoholic or speciality beverages read drinkable coffee.

Life on aboard;

When you work in guest services you are one of the only departments, and the only one guest facing that is open 24/7. This means you very rarely can get time off in port, you often find yourself unable to go to the crew events because you’re working. So you start to decide what is more important rested and getting enough sleep to function at work or stay up late to have a few drinks with your friends and let off some steam so you can stay sane while trapped on a hunk of metal in the middle of the ocean for 6 months at a time.

For my first contract for the first 3 months I cried in my cabin at night, I txt my mum and told her how miserable I was. I had no friends I was working way to hard and I had no energy.

I eventually made friends and started going to the crew bar, but the fun and joy I had of spending time with people was also met with a bitter lack sleep and early mornings. There is little to no balance in this life style and you have to work very hard to find time to remember why you are or find someone to make you feel wanted and appreciated because you don’t get it anywhere else.

Extras;

On top of working 11-13 hours per day at top speed, you are also expected to be willing to save the ship and sacrifice your own life for the good of the guests and other crew. I was a first responder while on board, this consisted of weekly drills which no matter your shift when the alarm sounded you had to be fully dressed and presentable and at work to answer phones and help at the desk. Every second week was a full drill this meant muster stations and pretend evacuations.

So when I was on night shift I would work 10pm – 9am with no breaks, then at 10 the alarm would sound and I would have to go back to work for an hour finally at 11am the day was done.

My decision

At the end of my first contract I looked at why I wanted to go back

  • 1 year at Disney Cruise Line on my CV
  • Experience a dry dock
  • Try and get a step up position
  • Friends

All of these reasons pooled together into my decision to return to the Disney Dream.

However, I accomplished all of these in my second contract, I became the guest services coordinator, I hated dry dock with a passion. I lost respect for a lot of my managers and I watched perfectly amazing people lose sight of who they were under the mounting pressure of not being enough to fill the gaping needs of the company.

When it came time to look at whether I wanted to return for a 3rd contract there was only 1 reason which was friends, all the step positions had been filled for the next 6 months which basically mean there would be no opportunities in my next contract, I would be stepping down and losing everything that made the rest of my last contract bearable. I had stuck it out for a year and now had 2 years at Disney under my belt. Id decided that for my own sense of self I would not be returning to the Disney corporation.

The aftermath;

Personally my feeling is Disney is a great place to vacation, they treat guests better than any company I’ve ever experienced. The magic is truly real when you are a visitor, but that does not extend to working there.

It’s been a couple of months since I was supposed to go back to Disney, I miss my friends like crazy they are spread around the world and every time I see them on Facebook I feel like I left a piece of me with them. But I would be so unhappy to still be there working alongside them.

I have since moved home, and while I can’t say I’ve found the perfect job, I have definitely found a new challenge and this one is only a 37.5-hour week and treats me (mostly) like a human and not a machine.

I don’t regret my time working on the ship, but it definitely wasn’t what I had dreamed about. So I am once again adrift looking for my next dream and trying to accomplish everything I set my mind to in the mean time.

Vacation!!!

Hey Wanderers

My First Official Contract with Disney Cruise Line finished on March 30th 2015. I had extended my contract by 3 days so that  could stop working on a Castaway Cay day, which means I boarded the dream in a foreign port and re-board the dream on my tourist visa instead of my work visa.

I did this as one of my on-board friends and I went on a 1 week vacation to Orlando/ Disney world!!!!!!!

Cue 1 week of shopping and seeing friends and eating!!!

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We caught up with some friends, we shopped and slept and tanned at Mickeys Retreat. It was a great end to a contract.

After Orlando I flew home to New Zealand where I spent a wonderful 10 days seeing friends and catching up on sleep and snuggling my favourite animal.

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I then flew to Australia to visit my friend from the college program, we were proper tourists we visited museums and art galleries. Walked through botanical gardens. Drove to the gold coast and of course bummed around at home.

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After Australia I flew home and visited my mum who has a new favourite animal as unfortunately Mary Jane had to be put down in March.

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RIP Mary Jane

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Welcome Lily

I had 7 weeks’ vacation all up. I finished up my time at home spending as much time as I could with friends and family, doing driving lessons and slowly packing my bags and counting down the days till I flew back to Florida.

Bye for Now

Xx