Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Boston ClubAcela

I was in Boston today, attending the Enterprise 2.0 Expo in Back Bay. There's an Amtrak station there, but I opted to wander down to South Station for two reasons: one, I had time; and two, I figured I'd fill up my Thermos with coffee at the ClubAcela.

Amtrak has four ClubAcela locations, one each in Boston (at South Station), New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. I had been to the other three several times. Despite a few trips to Boston, though, I hadn't been to the ClubAcela here.

When I arrived at 8:40 p.m., I was greeted by two guys cleaning the carpet. The attendant was mystified by my presenting him with a Continental Presidents Plus membership card; apparently, news that Amtrak has reciprocity with Continental for club access hasn't made its way to Boston even after being posted on the Amtrak Web site for more than a year.

Despite being utterly unclear as to the value of my membership card, he shrugged and pleasantly told me that I was welcome to wait for my train up here. I think anyone might have done the same.

Alas, he told me, he had already dumped the coffee--odd, since the stated hours go until 9:30 p.m. He did ask if I was hungry; evidently, my lack of demonstrable eligibility (in his mind) didn't preclude me from enjoying whatever he could offer. I had just had some pizza, so I politely refused and wandered a bit.

The ClubAcela in South Station is quite impressive on its merit, larger than the D.C. or New York locations and with some of the elegance of the Phildelphia club. It's elevated above the main concourse, and there are expansive views from large windows that overlook the tracks and the outside street. Furniture is comfy if utilitarian, and they have a pair fo thin-client workstations for Web access.

I didn't stay in the ClubAcela long, on account of the shampoo scent and damp floors. Maybe I'll come back again. It seems worth another try.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Have a baby and renting a car? Bring your own car seat!

Gwen and I recently took Tara with us on a trip to Orlando. 

Being less than a year old, Tara flies free on one of our laps, and I'd found a good cash fare for myself and picked up Gwen's ticket with miles.  I'd also snagged an excellent rate on a rental car, and we'd settled on the Embassy Suites for our lodging, avoiding the pesky "resort fees" so common in Orlando while getting cooked-to-order breakfasts, complimentary cocktails each evening, and free parking.

Another cost that we avoided: $39 to rent a car seat from the rental car company.

Parents often rent car seats because they figure that it will be less of a hassle than bringing them.  And that can be true: we had to coordinate how I could drop Gwen off at the curb with Tara and park the car without Gwen having so much bulk that she couldn't get the car seat checked in.  We also had to get the car seat in and out of the car, which I've learned can be a hassle.

But we did it, and it really wasn't that hard.  Here are some things to consider:
  • Most of the legacy carriers -- we flew United-Continental, as always -- still have curbside luggage checking available.  There may be a small per-pag fee and it's customary to tip a few dollars per bag, but if you have one piece of rolling luggage (as we almost always do) and then a car seat, it's much more convenient to check these curbside then to try and navigate crowded terminals.

  • Although baggage fees have become the norm for most airlines, a carseat can be checked for free because it is safety equipment, like a wheelchair.

  • Even if your car at home doesn't have the modern LATCH system (and ours does not), any rental car in the United States almost certainly will.  LATCH makes it reasonably easy to attach a car seat, and particularly if you don't use it at home, you won't have to resize any of the non-LATCH connections to install the seat in your rental car.
Orlando was Tara's fifth destination by plane -- joining Anchorage, Orange County, Atlanta, and Reno.  Traveling with a baby has plenty of quirks, but it's not impossible.  With planning and patience, it doesn't even need to be difficult, and since children under two years of age travel domestically for free (and internationally for very little), it's not expensive. 

Bring your own car seat, and having your little one(s) with you on a trip can turn out to be no more costly than having them at home.