CLEAR goes cardless in select airports

CLEAR LogoWhen traveling out of San Antonio last week, I had my CLEAR card in my hand as I approached the checkpoint.  To my surprised, the agent informed me that my card was not needed.  “We just do biometric security now”, he said.  I walked up to the kiosk, put my finger down on the scanner and I was good to go.  You can also do an iris scan.  The agent then walked me through the TSA checkpoint as normal.  That’s a nice improvement and it makes the process even faster.

I reached out to CLEAR for comments and here is what I found out.  Currently cardless service is available in the following airports:

  • Denver (DEN)
  • Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH)
  • Houston Hobby (HOU)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Orlando (MCO)
  • San Antonio (SAT)

The goal is to bring cardless capability to all CLEAR airports.  The new CLEAR lines at Baltimore and Miami will be cardless when they open.

As CLEAR moves completely cardless, they will then phase out sending cards to its members.  This is good news for the new CLEAR members because it means you can start using the service as soon as you complete the enrollment at the kiosk.

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Disney Cruise Line Series – Castaway Cay

Boats and watercraft greet the cruise ship as it pulls into Castaway Cay

Boats and watercraft greet the cruise ship as it pulls into Castaway Cay

Many cruise lines have their own private island and Disney Cruise Line is no exception with Castaway Cay (“Cay” is pronounced “Key”).  Castaway Cay formerly known as Gorda Cay was acquired through a 99-year land lease from the Bahamas.  While the island is largely undeveloped, the areas open to cruise line guests are quite nice and offer a great day of beach fun.  If this is your first time visiting Castaway Cay on your cruise, follow these tips to make the most of your time on the island.

Arriving at Castaway Cay

Looking down at Castaway Cay port side from Deck 11 Aft

Looking down at Castaway Cay port side from Deck 11 Aft

Depending on your itinerary, you will pull into Castaway Cay around 7:00 am.  The ship backs into the dock, so the starboard side of the ship is where you want to be if you want to get a great view of the island.  We often sit on our veranda and eat breakfast and drink coffee as we are pulling in to see the island.

The runners participating in the 5k get to get off of the ship first.  I find that it’s typically total chaos as people are trying to get off the ship.  Skip that nonsense and go have a sit-down breakfast at one of the restaurants and let everyone else get off first.  The exits are usually at Deck 1 Mid-ship and Aft.

When you get off the ship, be sure and grab some towels if you are not staying in a cabana.

What to bring

The first thing you will want to bring is sunscreen.  You can get more on the island but you will pay dearly for it of course.  You’ll want your swimsuits of course and maybe even a change of clothes.  Plan on getting lots of sand in your flip flops throughout the day.

You may also want to bring beverages.  If you brought water or alcohol then I would bring it with you.  That way you can save yourself money and a bit of walking.

Getting around on the island

If there is anything Disney loves, it is people walking long distances and waiting in lines. Castaway Cay is no different.  When you first debark, you’ll walk a short distance to a tram.  It makes two stops.  The first one takes you to various activities and snorkeling.  The second one takes you to where some of the other activities are such as bike rentals.  As an adult, if you plan on spending the day in Serenity Bay, Castaway Cay’s adult-only area, you have to wait and catch another shuttle.  Be sure and give yourself time to get around the island at the end of the day.  They aren’t likely to leave you behind but you really don’t want to be late.

Cabanas are Cay (Key)

I can’t underestimate the importance of having a cabana on your visit.  The cabanas serve as your home base for all of your activities and they provide you much needed shade.  The cabanas on the family beach go for $500 and the ones on the adult beach go for $600.  While, that may seem expensive, they do come with sunscreen, towels, unlimited soft drinks and water (in a refrigerator), snacks such as chips, snorkeling equipment, bike rentals, inner tubes and other flotation devices.  The cabanas also come with lots of lounge chairs and a hammock to really enjoy the Caribbean.  The family cabanas also feature a private area just for cabana guests.  You can also press a button at any time to have drink service delivered.  It’s really slow, but it beats walking back to the bar.

The path leading to the cabanas on the family beach of Castaway Cay

The path leading to the cabanas on the family beach of Castaway Cay

Unfortunately, for a ship full of people, cabanas are in extremely short supply.  The only way you are going to get one is if you have high status on Disney, you are extremely lucky, or have a unique situation.  There are only 14 cabanas in the family area and 6 in Serenity Bay.  It’s even harder to get them during high traffic seasons such as the summer.  If you can get one, they are definitely worth it.

New cabanas under construction as the family beach of Castaway Cay

New cabanas under construction as the family beach of Castaway Cay

When you rent a cabana, the night before you will get a paper cabana delivered to your guest room along with instructions and wristbands on how to get there.  Don’t forget your wristbands when you debark the ship.

Activities

The beaches are beautiful and feature crystal clear water.  You can see right down to the bottom and it’s not uncommon to see some sea life such as this Sea Star (apparently they aren’t called “Star Fish” any more).  Don’t worry about more serious water creatures as you never see anything else other than small schools of fish.  On the beach, you will find lots of seashells.  However, Disney reminds you not to take them with you as they want to keep them on their beach.

A Sea Star in Serenity Bay at Disney's Castaway Cay

A Sea Star in Serenity Bay at Disney’s Castaway Cay

There are lots of activities for the kids as well.  Pelican Plunge is a water play area on a floating platform with two water slides.  Spring-a-leak is another water play area themed as a washed-away beach dwelling.  Scuttle’s Cove is for young children and features activities arranged by the counselors from the ship.  They also offer free child care here but you need to schedule it to reserve a spot.

If you are into snorkeling be sure and rent some snorkeling equipment and check out the Snorkeling Lagoon with two paths for novice and experiences snorkelers.  The water is so clear there is plenty to see.  You can also rent inner tubes and floats to enjoy your time on the beach.

There are also a number of places to play games such as ping-pong and shuffleboard.  These can be found in the Grouper Game Pavilion  as well as the In Da Shade Game Pavilion.

As with any Disney location, if you happen to be at the right spot at the right time, you will find a character greeting.

Port Adventures

For those that really like the water, you can arrange for various port adventures before you go.  These include activities such as parasailing, watercrafts, and kayaking.  You can also get some hands-on time with stingrays here (although most ports of call have excursions for this)  Most of these activities depart from Marge’s Barges close to where you debark the ship.

An aerial view of Marge's Barges from the aft section of the ship.

An aerial view of Marge’s Barges from the aft section of the ship.

Dining

Just like on the ship, food is included on the island.  You have the choice of visiting Cookies BBQ or Cookies 2 in Serenity Bay (for those without children).   The BBQ features items such as burgers, brats, steaks, and fish.  They tend to cook everything well done.  They also have a few desserts such as cookies available too.

Cookies Too BBQ serves you lunch at Castaway Cay

Cookies Too BBQ serves you lunch at Castaway Cay

Shopping

Of course there are always more opportunities for you to spend more money with Disney while you are on the island.  If you are looking for souvenirs, you can stop by See Sells Sea Shells or Buy the Sea Shore.  You can also buy sunscreen here which is important if you forgot.  Don’t worry about bringing money to the island because you can buy anything you need with your Key to the World card.  Anything you purchase you can have delivered to your stateroom on the ship too.

The island also features their own Bahamian Post Office near the ship which they are particularly proud of.  If you are the type that likes to mail letters or post cards (do people still do that?), then check this out on your way out.

Exploring the Island

If you are one that likes to explore, then go and rent a bike (included with cabanas).  There are bike trails throughout the island.  The first place to check out is the old runway that leads to Serenity Bay.  Off of the runway is a short path that leads to a lookout tower where you can get some great views of the island.

A view from the lookout tower with the Disney Wonder in the distane.

A view from the lookout tower with the Disney Wonder in the distane.

If you get to Serenity Bay and decide you don’t want to ride all the way back, then you can dump your bike there and jump on the tram to ride back.

Pro tip: you can often just grab a bike that has been returned as they are just lying around the bike area.  A lot of times other guest will just pass them off to you as you walk up.  This is especially the case later in the morning and into the afternoon.

Serenity Bay

Looking at the end of Serenity Bay

Looking at the end of Serenity Bay

Serenity Bay is the adults-only area of Castaway Cay.  Not to be confused with an “adult beach”, this area provides a nice quiet time where you can listen to the waves of the ocean (hence the name).  The area is quieter in the morning and tends to pick up a little more in the afternoon as guest realize they can drop their kids off as Scuttle’s Cove and escape.  The beach features a unique sandbar that appears in the afternoon as the tide leaves.

Ending the Day

Castaway Cay can be a lot of fun but it can be quite exhausting as well.  By the end of the day, you may want to get a jump on everyone else getting back to the ship.  If you are all the way at Serenity Bay this means you have to jump on multiple trams to get back.  You’ll hear the ship’s horn for last call to get on a tram and that means you better get going if you don’t want to become an inhabitant of the island.  Trams can be quite crowded so I usually like to leave a little early around 3:30.

Parking challenges continue at Dallas Love Field

When the Wright Amendment expired last October, I don’t think Southwest or Dallas Love Field realized how much demand there was going to be for flights to these new non-stop destinations.  Traffic is up by nearly 40% for Southwest alone.  With the addition of Virgin America, demand is even higher.  As a result, the parking facilities at Love Field are struggling to keep up.  The current A and B parking garages feature Tolltag-enabled parking to 7000 available spaces.  For mid-week travelers though this often means arriving to find both the A and B garages nearly at capacity if not sold out all together.  Luckily, they have already started on a new parking garage bringing an additional 4000 spaces to the airport.  That’s good new in the long term but it doesn’t help you now.

What can you do now?

  • First, give yourself extra time – I used to be able to park in the same spot in Parking Garage A and make it to my gate in a matter of minutes.  Not any more.  Plan ahead and give yourself more time to find a spot.
  • Use Valet Parking – Valet parking, provided by Sewell, can be found on the right as you are approaching the terminal.  I used this last week and it worked great.  The price is a little higher at $24 per day, but well worth the trouble.  They even can fill your car up on gas or wash your car while you are gone for an extra charge.  Just know that sometimes the valet lot fills up as well, so this may not be an option.
  • Reserve a spot at a third party garage – Garages like the Parking Spot are only $10.50 per day and you can guarantee yourself a spot for $4.95.  You can also try, the Parking Spot 2 and Best Parking.
  • Get dropped off – for the business traveler, this is rarely practical.  If it’s an option though, have someone drop you off so you don’t have to worry about it.
  • Follow @DallasLoveField on twitter and check before you go.  When the parking garages are nearing capacity, the Dallas Love Field twitter account will post details about it.  It’s always a good idea to check this on your way out.

Southwest also recommended using public transportation such as DART, a taxi, or a car service.  While this may work for some of us.  For the vast majority of us in the metroplex, we’re simply too far away for this to be feasible or economical.

The expiration of the Wright Amendment has transformed Love Field.  It’s great for travelers and the local business that occupy it.  After speaking to a few of the merchants, business is up by 30% – 40% already.  Love Field is busier now, so be sure and plan for that the next time you go.

Which airlines have the best wine?

WineMy wife and I have become quite the avid wine enthusiasts and we like to sample new offerings wherever we go.  Whether that’s a winery, a new restaurant, or an airplane, we want to try it and see how it compares with the rest.  With our love of travel, sampling wines falls naturally.  We’ve been to vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Texas, Washington, Spain, and more.  It doesn’t matter how you get to the vineyards, one thing is always involved: travel.

What do you drink though when you are traveling?  Our first choice would be wine, but we find the experience can vary greatly on the airlines.  Some do really well while others only provide the worst of the mass-produced wines.  While, serving wine on airlines has certain logistical difficulties, there are some great wines out there even at the back of the plane.

This upcoming series of articles will feature the best and the worst of wines that you can find on domestic and International flights.  Whether you are looking for your next Merlot or Chardonnay in the skies, we’ll tell you where to find it.  Have you experienced a great wine at 30,000 feet?  Tell us where in the comments.  Are there wines we should avoid in economy class?  Tell us where!

Stay tuned for our series where we review wine available on long haul flights!

Changes coming to TSA PreCheck this month

TSA PreCheck LogoAccording to a communication from American Airlines, changes are coming to the TSA PreCheck program this month.  The change specifically targets users opted-in to the PreCheck program via Airline loyalty programs.  If you are not familiar with this scenario, some airlines would opt passengers into PreCheck due to their status instead of them applying for the TSA PreCheck program directly.  If this applies to you then, you will find yourself soon see yourself getting declined expedited screening more often.

The reason for this is clearly that there are too many people eligible for TSA PreCheck now.  As a result, these lines are getting longer and the benefit is declining.  I think this will be a good change and should help the lines at some of the busier airports in the mornings.

If you aren’t in the TSA PreCheck program now, you can always join (assuming you qualify).  If you have been getting TSA PreCheck from your airline directly, know that this doesn’t qualify you to get through the traditional TSA PreCheck enrollment procedure any faster.