Saturday, June 9, 2007

Premium Baggage Protection

Fortunately the Hopeful Traveler purchased Premium Baggage Protection from American Express. For $9.95 per covered person per covered trip, the insurance offers $500 coverage for replacement items if bags are delayed three hours or longer and $2,000 for lost, stolen or damaged baggage.

With the coverage, I immediately headed to Boots, a health/beauty/drugstore, for some basic toiletries (razor, toothpaste) and to Marks & Spencer department store for a dress shirt for the evening. I tried not spend the total $500 limit in case the bag is delayed more than one day. My total is US$186.

Good News, when I returned to the hotel that evening after the theatre, the concierge had left a message on my TV screen (yeah, you read right) that they had a bag delivered and waiting for me at the bell desk. Needless to say I ran down six flights of stairs to the lobby. My bag was intact and nothing was missing. A happy ending to the beginning of this trip.

Upon returning home, I called to file the baggage delay claim and American Express offered me the choice of a check or a credit to my account. They will cover the total expense with submission of copies of the baggage delay report, receipts and airline issued itinerary or ticket.

For more information, click on Premium Baggage Protection in the Quick Links column. American Express also offers Travel Delay Protection and Trip Cancellation Insurance.

Bags Are Never Lost, They’re Just Delayed

Well it had to happen one day and it did. At the American Airlines baggage reclaim at Heathrow, the one bag checked by the Hopeful Traveler never appeared on the baggage carousel. As much I could have felt stressed out by the event, I felt less so because one other chap waiting at the carousel did not find his bags either.

What to do? I headed straight to the American baggage service counter. You must always immediately report the missing bag to the airline. An American associate quickly took down my details and completed a ‘Property Irregularity Receipt’ which includes a file locator number that is necessary when contacting the airline about the status of a delayed bag. She confidently said the checked items are likely on the next flight into Heathrow arriving three hours later. She further assured me that if the bag is on the next flight, it will be delivered to my hotel and that I should inform the hotel staff that a bag of mine is expected. But because of multiple deliveries the soonest anyone could receive their bag is six hours after that second flight's arrival.

I placed my confidence in the airline’s so-called sophisticated baggage tracking system and headed into London to my hotel. But what about a change of clothes, toothbrush/toothpaste? What if the bag is not found that day? The saga continues in the next post.

Forgot Photos of the Lobby

Since T.H.T forgot to take pictures of the hotel common areas, here are a couple of pics from the hotel website of the Kenilworth's lobby. Sorry no pic of the teeny weeny elevator. They give a look at the modern and cozy feeling the hotel offers when you walk in the door. However most of the time the lobby is busy with people waiting in the comfy chairs or heading in and out of the hotel restaurant/bar called Creation.

The Radisson Edwardian Kenilworth Hotel - That's a Mouthful

The Hopeful Traveler has never stayed at the same London hotel twice in a row until now. I enjoyed my stay at the Kenilworth in November 2004 and it is conveniently located in Bloomsbury just a few steps away from the British Museum and within walking distance of the West End, Soho and Covent Garden. The hotel is not in the cookie cutter mode of hotels found on Park Lane near Hyde Park. Each room is distinctive from very tiny to spacious mainly depending on the size of bed chosen. It’s an older structure with a hotel shoehorned into its architectural limitations. This means a room may be of unusual dimensions. But all rooms have modern furnishings, amenities and security (floors are accessed by key card).

A Boots (drugstore), Sainsbury (grocery store), Wagamama (noodle restaurant), Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Road underground station and even a Subway sandwich shop is within a short one or two block walk.
One unusual thing about this seven-story hotel (the hotel entrance pictured above) is the elevator: There is only one guest elevator to all 186 rooms. Probably less than one square yard, at most the elevator can carry four passengers with very little elbowroom. If someone has luggage, the space is even tighter. Thank goodness for mirrors on three sides for the claustrophobic. Also it has to be one of the quietest elevators in the world. You don't feel or hear it moving. One thing I like about this hotel unlike it’s sister hotel (Marlborough) across the street is it has air conditioning; an important convenience when visiting London in the warmer months. I stayed at the Marlborough in 2003 and one warm day a bag of Malteasers (similar to Whoppers) I left in my room had melted into one big lump by the time I returned later in the day.

Unlike American floor numbers, in England and most other European countries the first floor is called the ‘Ground Floor’ and the second floor is called the ‘First Floor”. So if your room number is 514, you need to head for the sixth floor.

For those that need to be wired, this hotel offers free use of computers in the Business Center with free internet service (take a big hint U.S. Hotels) 24 hours a day with no time limit. Saves time from having to travel with a laptop. So I’d check my message before I head out for the day and right before turning in for the night.

The Kenilworth is part of the Radisson Edwardian chain of hotels with twelve hotels located in London. More info at In the pic below, the set of bay windows in the center on the top floor is my room. There is actually one more floor above it.

Sorry Joni Mitchell, it's a Big Black Taxi

One of the simple pleasures about visiting London is riding in one of the city's big black taxis. The passenger seating area is spacious. It can seat two or three persons facing forward and luggage or in place of luggage, two people facing backwards on seats that fold open.

As much as the journey is pleasant while glimpsing the bustling city life, the taxi is another pretty penny. Total cost from Paddington to my hotel is GBP13 (US$26) including tip for a 15-minute ride with decent traffic. Still with luggage in tow, it is more pratical than hauling your bags onto the London subway.

Taxi driving is a respected profession in London. All drivers must pass a rigorous examination. If you see anyone on a bike with a map in tow, it is probably a taxi driver learning all the best routes in London. All drivers must find the shortest convenient route to your destination. If the driver feels a diversion from the normal route is necessary, the driver must inform you before proceeding. Always round to the nearest whole British Pound so that your driver can make easy change for you.

Only authorized taxis are allowed to pick-up passengers at Paddington. Beware of taxis around the city that will charge you an unmetered fare. These taxis differ from the government authorized Carbodies model you see all over London.

After a 5:30am check-in back in Honolulu, over 16 hours of flying on two flight segments and a two-hour layover at LAX; not to mention the delay of a bag (that story still to come), the thought of a cozy quiet moment to stretch my feet and relax is all I can think about.

Below is the taxi queue at Paddington and waiting while other hopeful travelers board one of the taxis. Breaking with tradition, taxis can carry colorful advertising in lieu of the basic black exterior.

Paddington Station – A Bear of a Name

Before you know it, the Heathrow Express has brought you to your desitnation: Paddington Station. The Heathrow Express train I caught arrived at about 1:30pm in London proper. During such peak times you’ll immediately notice the crowds of people standing and watching the boards for train times. This causes for a maze-like journey while searching for the taxi queue.

At the station is a bronze of Paddington Bear sitting on a suitcase. In the children story books, the bear is found just so at the station by the Brown family. The train station serves as a terminus for some long-distance trains in addition to serving as a station for stops along two routes of London's Underground (subway) system. Largely modernized today, the train station opened in 1854.

The Heathrow Express Zips 15 miles in 15 minutes

The most convenient way to London from Heathrow airport is via the Heathrow Express. I purchased my ticket online at and retrieved my ticket from one of the automated ticket machines at the airport (pictured below). These train tickets are not cheap. A round-trip ‘express’ fare is GBP28 (about US$56). For those wishing for added amenities, a ‘first class’ round-trip fare is GBP46 (about US $90). All cars offer Wi-Fi access. First Class cars (at both ends of the train) include complimentary newspapers and magazines, larger seats and tables. The First Class Cars are at both ends for quicker access to and from the terminals at Heathrow.
On all my previous trips to London I have arrived at Gatwick Airport and taken the Gatwick Express to London. The Gatwick journey is 30 minutes long but it does take you through some pretty towns and countryside. The 15-mile journey on the Heathrow Express is very quick at 15 minutes and passes more industrial views between Heathrow and Paddington Station. Pictured below is the station where you board the train underground of the Heathrow terminals. Construction on the Heathrow Express train system began in 1993 and the full route completed in 1998. Here comes the train.
If arriving or departing at peak times, these trains can be crowded. But I enjoy them as the first chance to relax after flying, standing in line at immigration and waiting at baggage reclaim (what Americans call baggage claim). Did I mention that one of my bags did not arrive with me. Stay tuned. The Hopeful Traveler on the train in the pic below.

Have Pen, Will Travel

There has to be something to be said about traveling with at least one ball-point pen. If traveling abroad and back to the U.S.A. especially to Hawaii, always carry a pen with you. In all these instances there is a document that needs to be completed upon arrival. American Airlines flight attendants now distribute the forms during flight. These include Landing Cards, which the Hopeful Traveler completed prior to landing in London; customs declarations for all those entering the U.S.; and agriculture declaration forms for all entering the state of Hawaii. It always happens as several passengers scramble for a pen from flight attendants or other passengers. By the way, never fly with Sanford Uni-Ball Rollerball Pens. After a couple of flight segments at high altitudes, these pens start to leak their ink. It's happen more than once to the T.H.T. A regular stick pen, such as those manufactured by Bic, will do. As a matter a practice, I keep the pen easily accessible in a carry-on bag pocket.

If you make an error on your Landing Card, additional forms are available at Passport Control after landing. The form is completed in capital letters. As much as you may be proud of your ethnic heritage, remember that if you are a citizen of the U.S. you're nationality is 'American'. If you do not have the address of your hotel, just print the exact name of the hotel.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

London Calling

After a break of 2 1/2 years, the Hopeful Traveler finally returned to where it all began: London, England. It was that first trip to London in 1993 that sparked my interest in traveling. This latest trip is as sponataneous as I'll ever get planning all details within two weeks of departure.
In 1993 there was no such thing as the internet so many a weary traveler depended on the expertise of a travel agent. I was no different. Nicholas, wherever you are, helped me plan every single day of my first visit back then and where I learned the basics of planning a trip to London. Who knew one had to catch a train from the airport into the city? I flew on Air New Zealand to London via Los Angeles. I promised myself that I'll never take that flight again. Stuck on a plane for over 10 hours from LA to London seemed almost unbearable. But things happen to come full circle as the best that American Airlines could offer were the same flight segments.
The following series of posts highlight a return to London.
The American Airlines 777 service from LAX to London Heathrow allows every passenger their own video screen to watch TV/films in addition to tracking the flight's progress over North America and eventually over the Atlantic. Since I really can't sleep on a flight, I brought a week's worth of USA Today newspapers, several magazines and my iPod to help pass the time. Unlike domestic flights on American, the international flights still have meal service. Sorry, alcohol will cost you. According to the flight attendants each drink is five dollars, three pounds or three euros. Credit cards accepted. I stuck with my standby of club soda or apple juice.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Get ready Harry Potter fans to immerse yourself in the world you've seen in movies or imagined from the books. The novels by author J.K. Rowling about the young wizard is about to take a realistic form at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park at the Universal Orlando Resort. Scheduled to open in late 2009 or early 2010, the new addition to the park will occupy a portion of the Lost Continent area and an undeveloped area of the park and be comparable in size to the other Islands of Adventure (approximately 30 acres). Such favorite locations from the books and movies as Hogsmeade, the Forbidden Forest and Hogwarts Castle, which will be the anchor of the park, will be included. The whole experience will include new attractions, shops and restaurants, all yet to be announced. Below are artist renderings of the new park experience. Click on any photo for a close-up view. Click back on your browser to return to this blog.

Now this park has the Hopeful Traveler thinking, could a park for "The Lord of the Rings" be next. My hope: the wonderful world of "Charlie & the Chocolate Factory" come to life.

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