Travel Plans for 2021

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Introduction

My travel plans for 2021 are coming into sharper focus, at least for leisure, now that the US is opening up more and more as I write this in late May. I’m pretty sure I will be back on the road this fall for work, but I haven’t been given an exact date.

I did have an unplanned cross-country drive back in January with my sister that I’ll talk about a bit. The trip to the Bay area coming up this summer is a replacement for one to Japan for the Olympics. And the final venture is still not 100% assured to happen but has been on my calendar since mid-2020.

This post is part mini-trip review and part survey of upcoming plans. So a bit of a mishmash!

Cross-Country Drive

One of my sisters lives in the San Francisco area, and, like many of us, she started working from home in March of 2020. Suffering from a major case of cabin fever, she decided to do a cross-country trip last fall when the infection numbers were dropping in much of the country. She took her time, stopping to visit family and friends along the way, and arrived in the Philadelphia area in November.

After quarantining at a Residence Inn plus getting a negative COVID test, she spent the next couple of months splitting time between our parents’ houses.

BTW, the Residence Inn worked out really well (and didn’t cost me much in points) since she could cook for herself. That was a nice savings over doing takeout. Plus the extra space was perfect for her on-the-road work setup.

Come January, she was ready to be home. Originally, she had planned to take the northern route home and stop to see friends in the Dakotas. But the numbers were starting to spike everywhere, and she decided to just get back ASAP.

So I agreed to go along so we could split the driving and minimize the number of days on the road. Amazingly, especially since this was in the middle of January, we did it in 3.5 days with minimal problems.

Crossing the Mississippi River from Illinois to Iowa
Crossing the Mississippi River from Illinois to Iowa

Luck was on our side with regard to the weather! We somehow managed to find the exact right time between the snow storms in the northern plains. There was evidence of a prior bad storm along the highway in Iowa, in particular, with jackknifed tractor trailers along the sides of the road for miles.

Massive windmill blade being hauled on a truck trailer
Massive windmill blade being hauled on a truck trailer

Heading straight across the country, following Route 80 for the most part, we had three overnights in East Moline (IL), Laramie (WY), and Sparks (NV). I saw parts of the country I had never been through including Wyoming and Utah, which I really enjoyed.

Wyoming 2021
Wyoming 2021

The salt flats to the west of Salt Lake City were like nothing I had ever seen! And, as many times as I have been to California, this was my first time in the Sierra Nevada: just stunning.

Sunset in Nevada January 2021
Sunset in Nevada January 2021

My sister and I had a great time! We played too much 80’s music and stopped at the largest truck stop in the country (world?), among other delights LOL.

Dinosaur statue at Little America truck stop
Dinosaur statue at Little America truck stop

I stayed with her for a few days after we got back to California, in part because I discovered just how stripped back the airline schedules were. I was used to there being multiple nonstop flights between San Francisco and Philadelphia per day. At that point in the year, American was operating only a few per week! So we visited, each did some work, and watched the inauguration.

The flight back home was my first in nearly a year and was both weird and oddly normal. I had indulged in first class for the one-way flight (for greater space) and was surprised at how full it was.

The flight attendant for first was chatting with me and the guy sitting next to me and mentioned how glad she was to see some of her Executive Platinums starting to travel again (my seatmate, like me, was clearly another road warrior in normal times, with top status). Apparently, it was true what I had been reading on various outlets: leisure travelers – as opposed to business travelers – were a far higher percentage of passengers than normal. And the flight crew definitely noticed the difference.

Crossing from Utah into Nevada January 2021
Crossing from Utah into Nevada January 2021

Trip to Japan That Never Was

I’ve been home since that cross-country jaunt in January. But looming this summer was a trip that a couple girlfriends and I had been planning since 2018: Japan and the Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo April 2018
Tokyo April 2018

Obviously, we had to cancel everything last year. I had booked our flights and most of our hotels on miles and points, so they were easy to deal with. Plus, travel companies were super-flexible last year when everything started falling apart. With the Olympic committee announcing they were simply doing a lift-and-shift of everything to 2021, we rebooked everything.

And, then

Once again, no problems canceling the travel plans.

Getting refunds for the Olympic event tickets will take months. And I’ve heard there could be a class action lawsuit in the works against the ticketing agency because of how they’re handling refunds. Fortunately – at least under the circumstances – we had been able to get tickets to only a few of the less-expensive events, so we’re not out the thousands others are.

San Francisco and Monterey

But my friends and I decided we had to plan something in its place. We might not be able to spend 3+ weeks in Japan this summer, but we could still get together and have a fun time.

After much debate, we settled on 10 days in San Francisco and Monterey. We started making plans back in March understanding that we would have to keep an eye on how much would be open in California while we were there.

Fortunately for everyone, vaccinations are going well there – as are the infection numbers – so the state plans to be fully open by June 15th.

Perfect timing!

I’ve been to San Francisco many times since my sister has lived in the area for over 20 years, although I’ve not been down to Monterey. My friends have never been to the area and want to do all of the usual tourist stuff. I’m sort of dreading some of it (how many times can you go to Pier 39?), but it’s more about spending time with friends.

And I’m really looking forward to whale watching and the aquarium down in Monterey.

Weekend in NYC

In the category of First World Problems, I have a couple of free night certificates from Hyatt that expire at the end of the summer. I did not want these precious items go to waste!

One of them was for a hotel up to a category 7 which makes it particularly valuable (the other is up to category 4).

What to do? Since I’m not sure yet when I’ll be traveling again for work, I wanted an easy weekend destination. And one with a Park Hyatt, since I’ve never stayed at one.

My choices came down to either DC or NYC, and I chose New York. Not my favorite place to be in the middle of summer, but I’ll manage! I’ll probably head to a museum, do a little fabric shopping, and enjoy a nice meal or two.

I still have that category 4 to use. A couple options are on my radar, but I’m holding off on making any arrangements for a few more weeks.

Weekend at Walt Disney World

Several of my friends live in the Orlando area. We’ve made an annual tradition – a chain of almost 10 years broken last year – of a girls’ weekend every year that includes Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party plus Epcot’s Food & Wine.

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom at Halloween 2018
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom at Halloween 2018

So when Disney announce the “After Hours Boo Bash” replacement for 2021, we debated going. The cost, however, relative to the reduced experience just didn’t seem worth it. And we nixed the idea.

But I kept thinking about going to the parks, which is unlike me. I enjoy Disney but it’s not really my vacation of choice: I go as often as I do because my Orlando friends love it (and one of them works for the company, so I have rarely paid to get in). Maybe my desire to go is about it being representative of getting back to normal?

Well, whatever the reason, I decided to indulge myself and plan a solo weekend trip in October (sorry, even September is too hot for me in Florida). I’m going to try out the new Swan Reserve and already have my park passes for Epcot and Animal Kingdom. Just waiting for the Boo Bash tickets to go on sale.

Usually when I go with my friends, we’re just doing quick service restaurants for various reasons. But I’m hoping to try a couple of the nicer table service options. Counting down to when the dining reservations window opens for my trip 🙂

Disney Cruise

I did a back-to-back Disney Cruise a few weeks before the lockdowns started. It’s a bit surreal to look back on that trip, for sure.

As I usually do, I booked a placeholder while on that cruise. Basically, you put down $250 and then have a certain number of months to book a specific cruise while keeping the usually benefits of booking while onboard (for example, a reduced deposit and a certain percentage off the fare).

For whatever reason, Disney did not extend the required booking window for the placeholder, so last summer I had to pick a sail date. DCL doesn’t open their booking calendar as far out as the other lines, and I wound up picking a date in fall 2021 to maximize the odds the cruise would happen. I’ll be doing a 7-day on the Fantasy, one of my favorite ships.

It’s still unclear, however, if this specific sailing will take place. In just the past couple of weeks it’s become more likely that several of the major cruise lines will start sailing from the US this summer (the Celebrity Edge just announced for June 26th!).

But we’ve heard nothing yet from Disney.

So, fingers crossed.

Closing Thoughts

So there’s my travel plans for 2021 thus far. Seems odd to not have a big international trip planned. Yes, I realize the cruise will go to other countries, but I’ve visited them all before.

But it’s more than I realized once I wrote it all out. Plus I have a couple other short jaunts in the “maybe” column that might be added to list.

Not bad, all things considered.