One Day Adventures: Philadelphia & Eastern State Penitentiary

Like many of you fellow travel geeks, I enjoy traveling as much as I can squeeze into my wild schedule. Some of my friends call me crazy but I enjoy little one day trips. They aren’t quite mileage runs because I do actually have plans when I arrive rather than just hopping around airports. I’m starting a new post series called “One Day Adventures” documenting these little one-day getaways. My latest One Day Adventure was a Saturday visit to Philadelphia.

Getting around Philadelphia is pretty easy; it’s a very walkable city. For my One Day Adventure, the Independence Pass is the best option at $12. It includes unlimited rides on the SEPTA rail, subway, trolley, and bus system. This includes the regional rail to/from the airport and the PHLASH tourist attraction bus.  The weather was quite cool but pleasant as the day warmed up. Living in Dallas, I’m used to the weather being quite warm already by April.

Eastern State Penitentiary was the primary destination during our short visit. We had lunch at Marathon in Rittenhouse Square and then hopped on the Phlash bus. I’d seen all the cool photos online and you might remember the seeing the dilapidated prison in the film 12 Monkeys. The eerinees of Eastern State is not exaggerated. It’s a fascinating look at prison technology for days past. I was intriguqed to learn that the prison operated from 1829 all the way to 1971. At $14 per adult, it’s a visit well spent. You can easily spend hours here wandering the eerie hallways, listening to the audio tour and chatting with the floating guide staff.

 

 

 

As required by all tourists in Philadelphia, we had to stop by the LOVE parking across from City Hall near Suburban Station. As the weather had warmed up, it was quite a popular place to be.

   Philadelphia City Hall is a a massive building at the heart of the city center. It’s a magnificent beauty! This was my first time in Philly and I was incredibly impressed with the architectural beauty of the city.

Before we knew it, our short day was over. We hopped on the SEPTA rail back the airport and hung around the terminals at PHL for a bit of planespotting. I love early evening departures as there are so many international departures. Planespotting in Terminal A is great this time of day.

I constantly tell people I hate the term “staycation”. Staying home is boring. I can do that when I come home from a long day at work! All in all, we earned a decent chunk of AAdvantage miles and got to spend a whole day in a new city. Our roundtrip tickets on US Airways were only $100 from DFW to PHL. All in, we spent about $275 for the whole trip. Not bad in my book at all!

Do these type of adventures sound fun to you? Or just crazy? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Or on Twitter @BenjaminJ84 and @AvionAddiction.

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Lounge Review: Alaska Airlines Board Room at LAX

This past weekend, I had a quite extended layover at LAX, made even longer thanks to a delay on American Airlines. I always find myself on the receiving end of flight delays when flying from either SFO or LAX to DFW!

While I was overwhelmingly impressed with their Seattle Board Room lounge, I really enjoy their LAX location. My main dislike with the Seattle Board Room is how crowded it gets. Located in Terminal 6 near Alaska Airlines, Delta, US Airways gates, you can reach the lounge without leaving security from Terminals 4, 5, and 6. You can either use the hidden tunnel network or ride the AA shuttle.

You enter the lounge via private elevator and access is permitted by purchasing a day pass, or for Board Room members, Priority Pass members, and The Club members. The lounge is warm and inviting with cozy leather chairs, spacious work desks, clean restrooms, and expansive views of the incoming planes. There are TONS of electrical outlets and the WiFi is blazing fast.

You can receive 3 house drinks like beer, wine, or well cocktails at no charge. There are basic snacks, coffee, tea, and soda available. Food is fairly standard for domestic lounges with just drinks and snacks. They do have their famous pancake machine here. For breakfast, they have bagels, toast, and yogurt. In the evening, they have soup and salad. For a charge, you can order a full meal like salmon or pizza but nothing seemed worth ordering to me.

Fancy some robot pancakes?
Fancy some robot pancakes?

This lounge is definitely a place of peace and relaxation amid the chaos of LAX. I have to say connecting at LAX is not my favorite thing but the Board Room makes it much less stressful. Stop by and have a craft beer while you watch the planes go by!

Quick Tips and Thoughts on DART Orange Line to D/FW Airport

With the nation’s longest light rail network and a new Orange Line extension, D/FW travelers have a new great option for getting to and from D/FW Airport. With a location far outside the city center, D/FW has long has the disadvantage of being less convenient than Love Field for central city dwellers and visitors in Dallas. While the Orange Line extensions hasn’t physically relocated D/FW closer to Downtown Dallas, new rail access directly to Terminal A has sure made it a lot easier. Love Field also has a rail station along the Orange and Green Line but unfortunately, the line was routed around the airport to save money and there is no direct terminal access. Rail riders must take the 524 DART bus from Love Field Station to the terminal and the bus frequency is about on average about every 15 minutes.

I’ve had a chance to ride the Orange Line to D/FW a few times now and it’s a breeze, even if you’re not used to riding the rail. Here are a couple of observations I’ve made and a few tips to make your trip to D/FW a tad bit stressful.

Check the route of your train depending on the time and day of the week. The Orange Line runs during peak hours from D/FW Airport to Downtown and then follows the same path as the Red Line all the way to Parker Road station. During non-peak hours, the trains terminate at LBJ/Central station.

Give yourself an extra 30 minutes to an hour for travel. The journey from Downtown Dallas to D/FW airport is about 50 minutes. I usually try and target a train that puts me at D/FW Airport station a minimum of 1.5 hours before my departure time. That way, if I miss a bus or train connection or the Skylink is delayed, I have some cushion time.

D/FW Station is directly adjacent to Terminal A. Take the Skylink post-security to reach your terminal/gate. Sometimes I luck out and my flight (American) departs from Terminal A and I’m already where I need to be. But even if you aren’t flying American, you can still clear TSA in Terminal A and then take the Skylink to the other terminals. It’s much quicker than the inter-terminal bus which is delayed much more frequently the Skylink and you still have to clear TSA when you reach your terminal.

For TSA PreCheck flyers, keep in mind that there is rarely a dedicated PreCheck line in Terminal A. There is still TSA PreCheck option, but unfortunately, there is almost never a dedicated line, even during peak hours. They will hand you a PreCheck card so you can keep your shoes on and your bag intact. Terminal C has more a efficient PreCheck system with a dedicated entry.

I’m thrilled to have a new transit option at D/FW. I think it’s incredibly convenient to air travelers but also a boost for the D/FW economy. Express service from Downtown Dallas to the airport isn’t available yet but there are rumors that it’s a possibility in the near future.

Just How Bad is the Honolulu Airport?

As a travel addict, I’ve seen my fair share of airports around the world, including the good, they bad, and the ugly. I FINALLY got around to visiting Hawaii after all these years and I loved it all around. We visited both Kauai and Oahu and Kauai was by far the big winner. It was truly paradise! Oahu was nice but Honolulu is quite the urban contrast compared to even the North Shore of Oahu. Honolulu felt a lot like Miami Beach so after visiting the peaceful paradise of Kauai, it was a lot to take in.

Shipwrecks Beach, Kauai. So beautiful it doesn't even look real!
Shipwrecks Beach, Kauai. So beautiful it doesn’t even look real!

We flew United in Economy to Honolulu out Denver. We snagged incredibly cheap tickets about 3 months in advance so for the price, Economy was bearable. We connected onto Hawaiian Airlines on to Lihue. We also returned to Honolulu for a few days before returning back to LAX from Honolulu. So throughout the whole trip, we got 3 visits to HNL and a good perspective on how bad the airport is.

Rather than feeling like a major airport, HNL felt more like a small regional airport; quite dated and with limited amenities. While some of the mid-century fixtures were charming, a nice remodel could go a long way in the terminals. Taking advantage of the pleasant Hawaiian weather year-round, a large portion of the terminals is outdoors. The gates are confined into individual air-conditioned areas but they are small and the seating is limited. There are very limited food options, even in the overseas terminal, and the bathrooms were filthy. Imagine transiting from the mainland to Asia through Honolulu and wanting to freshen up, only to find very dirty, dated restrooms!

The layout is disconnected with the overseas terminal, international arrivals, and inter-island terminals completely separate. There is an inter-terminal shuttle but it is usually about a 15 minute wait. The walk is outdoors and takes about the same amount of time as you would wait for the shuttle. There is also no free WiFi and even the paid WiFi was down while we were there. I found this to be quite irritating. Also, don’t plan on finding a spot to charge your phone unless you want to sit on the floor. United clearly did not install power ports like they do at nearly every other major airport they serve.

Through the entire trip, we checked in with both United and Hawaiian Airlines. Hawaiian Airlines utilizes self check-in kiosks and the attendants were friendly. Everything was efficient for the inter-island flights. TSA PreCheck was extremely quick each time. United on the other hand, was a huge hassle. Don’t forget to stop at the USDA station before heading to check your bags. The Premier Access line was incredibly slow and the staff unfriendly. I’ve never had a negative experience with United’s Premier Access bag-check so this was a first.

So long, Honolulu!
So long, Honolulu!

Honolulu definitely gets forgotten by the airlines due to the fact of a low number of business travelers and tons of tourists. There seems to be a low incentive to make updates to HNL since the tourists keep on flowing and the inter-island flights so vital to Hawaii’s economy. While the terminal facilities are among the worst I have seen, the good service by Hawaiian Airlines and the quick TSA PreCheck are bright spots for HNL.