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Fun on the High Seas

Time for another cruise and being able to combine it with both business and a trip to Quartzsite for the annual RV and Sportsman’s Show was too much to pass up. This time I sailed on the Carnival Imagination out of Long Beach with my childhood pal, Irene, who lives near there. This was her first cruise so we opted for a 3 night quickie to see if she likes it.

I broke my own first rule of cruising and flew in the same day of the cruise. Please don’t follow my example. Flying the day of a cruise is very risky. Your car could break down on the way to the airport or the flight could be delayed or even cancelled. Fly in a day ahead of time. I broke the rule because every day I don’t work it costs me a lot of money and I was already going to be gone for two weeks. To me the gamble was worth it even if I missed an inexpensive cruise. I still had business in the area and Quartzsite to go to.

After picking me up at LAX airport, we drove down to the pier in Long Beach. The terminal area is actually rather pretty and there is a restroom located away from the main building which makes it easier to use. Once we got in line, we felt like royalty as we were immediately ushered past the rest of the line thanks to purchasing Faster to the Fun. Talk about fast check in! They rushed us through and got us on the ship within minutes. Woohoo!

We dropped off our carryon luggage in our interior room and headed out to explore. The Imagination is the smallest ship I have been on yet and a little bit of a disappointment. The ship itself was fine but it has fewer pools and hot tubs than I am used to and not as much to explore. There is a small water slide area at the back of the ship and it does have a Serenity adult only area though it is very well hidden.

Carnival Imagination shipCarnival Imagination waterslide

The food did not disappoint though traveling with a vegetarian was certainly a new and interesting experience for me. Thank goodness my carnivore nature did not bother Irene but she did have a harder time finding food she could eat. She never complained though. We did both enjoy the mushrooms and carmelized onions at Guy’s Burgers and raided them a couple times during the trip. For the Main Dining Room, we did anytime dining and the food was good there as well though a bit different again from what I am used to due to changes in the menu fleet wide. We did make a point of going to the Dr. Seuss breakfast to eat green eggs and ham with the Cat in the Hat, Thing 1, and Thing 2, and George. Of course, Irene did not eat ham and I chose steak instead of the ham but we ate green eggs! Sam I Am!

Me and the Cat in the HatMe and George ThingsGreen eggs and steak at Dr. Seuss breakfast

Our cabin was great! I wanted Irene to have an excellent first experience so rather than reserving “just” an interior room, I got us a porthole room for only a few bucks more. We got sunlight in through the windows to lighten the room up and could see out a little. It was cheaper than an oceanview room and still gave us the main benefits of one. I recommend them highly. It was smaller than oceanview with no couch but it was fine for us.

Porthole room

While waiting to test drive the pizza shop on board late one night, we ran into the piano player from the Piano Bar. He was an interesting young man who had been called in quickly to replace someone and had a big world tour gig coming up with another cruiseline. We joined him in the Piano Bar for the rest of the evening for some fine music and every night after. Oh, the pizza was pretty good this time. Better than on previous ships though Dominoes and Pizza Hut have nothing to worry about.

The Piano Man

There was a very large group on board of radio station fans of a particular Tejano music band. They partied every night and the music was terrific! One night the band performed by the pool on Lido while everyone danced and another night they performed in the theater. That was a nice unexpected perk.

Tejano band and fans

Our first stop was at Catalina Island. I was a teenager many moons ago when I was last there. It has certainly changed a lot since then but it is still a nice place for a weekend getaway from Los Angeles. We rented a golf cart to tour the island on our own and took turns driving. You can easily tour it in 2-3 hours as it is a very small island. We made it more fun by geocaching along the way with my phone. We found several caches. Couldn’t find one. After dropping off the golf cart, we hit the shops and found a cruise ship and a sail boat charms. I had hoped to find a charm of the Sea Smoke catamarran I sailed on with the Girl Scouts the last time I was on Catalina but struck out. I knew it would be a long shot after so many years. It was a a beautiful day on the island, though, and I look forward to going back again.

Avalon Harbor, Catalina, CACatalina IslandKissing a Catalina seal

Our next stop was Ensenada, Mexico. We went on the tour to La Bufadora Blowhole. It’s an area where the waves enter a gully, crash on the rocks, and explode up into the air. It was worth seeing once. This is also a huge tourist attraction with numerous shops along the path to the blowhole. While they promote the shopping a lot with coupons, there is no time to do any shopping while there. They really need to add more time to this excursion. We had just enough time to see the blowhole, use the restroom, and quickly eat some excellent fish tacos before being shuffled back on the bus. They could at least eliminate the wine tasting at a historic building on the way there. I liked the building and once upon a time many famous people went there to enjoy it as a casino but it is not a big deal now.

Ensenada, MexicoLa BufadoraLa Bufadora market

I know I enjoyed the cruise very much. Any cruise is a good cruise. I still don’t know how Irene feels about cruising but hopefully I can convince her to go again. We did discover that we are both gimps. We both had issues with our legs onboard. Like an idiot, I failed to bring my cane since I have been working out and walking so much better. Um, that does not matter when one is walking all over a ship, an island, and a blowhole. Lesson learned. I bought another one as soon as we got back to Long Beach for the rest of the trip.

Workamper Selling Online

I have started selling on Amazon and Ebay using a wonderful thing called FBA (Fulfilled By Amazon). What makes it so great is that rather than trying to store a ton of merchandise in your RV and cart it around with you, you send it all into Amazon’s warehouse and not only do they store it for you for a fee, they also market it, sell it, take payment, ship it, and handle the customer service afterwards including returns. They will also ship to customers who order from you on other venues like eBay or your own website. This system is great for RVers! Before you get too excited, it is also a lot of hard work and while you most certainly can start with little investment, you will need to keep reinvesting in inventory and tools to grow such a business. How fast you grow depends on the decisions you make, time you put into it, what you sell, and many other factors. Amazon does not make it super easy. They love to change the rules and throw up roadblocks here and there. You will need to be flexible and determined. Their support people are incredibly frustrating and unhelpful. So why do it? Because you can make a huge amount of money selling online, at flea markets, swap meets, out of rented storage lockers, etc.

Most folks start with retail arbitrage which is catching items on sale or clearance at regular stores and thrift stores as you travel and then reselling them at the normal price or a slightly discounted price. Online arbitrage is the same thing except you you do it through your keyboard from home. You would not believe the kind of deals available out there and you can make them even sweeter by using rewards credit cards, rewards sites like Ebates.com, and gift cards purchased at a discount online.

To create an easier, lasting business you want to move to wholesale as soon as you can get accounts accepted by wholesalers though wholesale prices aren’t always that great. You can also buy wholesale pallets of new overstocked items or returns that stores have gotten rid of and get them at steeply discounted prices. Not every item will be in new condition and some may only be good for parts but there are good loads out there and ways to sell most anything for a profit.  Eventually many sellers move into private labeling items purchased overseas and imported to create their own brand and lessen competition. Bundling is another option where you take two or more different items that go well together and bundle them to form a new third item others can’t easily duplicate.

There are lots of books on Amazon and blogs online on the subject to read. Many tools, both software and physical, are also available to make it easier to find products to sell with a good return on investment, find the discounts, make listing easier, track sales and expenses, print labels, package items, ship items, etc. Many tools are free or a one time payment. Others involve a monthly fee and should only be considered once you have tried selling online, met some success, and decided to keep at it.

If you like making things, Amazon now has a handicrafts department and Etsy is good for that. I have sold crocheted items on eBay.

I’m just starting out but have had some success. It took some effort and expense but I managed to get permission from Amazon (known as “ungating”) to sell in their top 3 categories which are closed to new sellers. They make you jump through a lot of hoops and most folks have to repeat the hoops numerous times to get ungated and some give up. I got in on the first try. It pays to do your homework. 😉 These categories have a lot of items that people buy over and over (replenishables) so they are very important for sustaining a business.

Right now I sell anything I can buy low and sell higher but I am forming a direction or niche for my business to capitalize on my current websites. I already have a tax resale permit and business entity which are necessary to not pay sales tax on purchases, remit sales tax collected, be taken seriously, and unlock business doors. I got inexpensive business cards for meetings and trade shows. Today I got business insurance which is a must and not expensive so it is all coming together. A better business bank account is next.  I am also branching out to other marketplaces for items Amazon won’t let me sell and to cross-sell to other audiences. A lot of folks are also using local Facebook groups and Craigslist to sell when in an area for a long enough time or not RVing.

Next year, I am going to a tradeshow in Las Vegas to meet wholesalers and manufacturers. Woohoo!

It’s an up and down ride like a roller coaster so bear with me as I post updates.

Desperately Seeking…

Are you happily traveling on the open road right now or sitting at home already with the RV winterized and out of commission for the winter? Are you looking for somewhere to go or something interesting to look at or do? Maybe you feel it is time to start seeing and collecting photos of “The World’s Biggest…”. There are so many cool things to see and do all around us. How do you find them? On the internet, of course! For a good time call… oops, wrong wall. For a good time browse to http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/ and http://www.roadsideamerica.com . I guarantee you will find something there to have some fun and maybe earn some bragging rights. Don’t forget to check online for discounts if tickets are needed and bring your camera or we won’t believe you really saw the World’s Biggest Frying Pan, toured a cool cave, ate lunch on an aircraft carrier, found an island where cars are banned, or drove a bathtub. LOL

World's Largest Frying Pan, NCWorld's Largest Frying PanDesoto Caverns

Lunch in Charleston, SC on aircraft carrierMackinac Island, MIDesoto Caverns, AL

Summer Vacation in Seguin, TX

As any one who has been to Texas in the summer knows, the heat and humidity are horrible here and the first week of August is usually the worst. After two months of being in daily survival mode, it was time for me to take a break. I considered lots of places to go but kept coming back to just wanting to have a few days where I could be cool all day and night. The one downside of living in an RV is that they don’t stay all that cool in high temps no matter what you do. That cinched my decision to go to my favorite stomping grounds in New Braunfels, TX including Schlitterbahn waterpark for which I have a yearly pass. Unfortunately, at this time of year hotels there are very expensive and many are already booked up. I couldn’t take my RV which had to stay at my gate to hold it for me. After a bit of searching and convincing myself that trying something new was a good thing even if it was a few miles farther away and would cost a little extra gas, I found a nice hotel 15 miles away in Seguin, Texas.

The Park Plaza Hotel is in old downtown Seguin across from a small park at the center of town. The 5 story building is very old but remodeled fancy. As you will find with most older hotels, the rooms are rather small and they had to get creative to modernize them. The elevator is slow as molasses but at least they have one. In the rooms, there are no shelves in the bathroom or even a countertop. I had to sling my towels over the newer shower stall to dry them. There is no bathtub either. The desk is just a table and chair. The air conditioning is a bit noisy and is mounted high up on the wall but it keeps the room delightfully cool. I had to wear earplugs to sleep. The AC does have a modern control to set and there was a standalone closet in my room with hangers and a bathrobe provided. The windows don’t open but go from floor to ceiling for a magnificent view if you are staying on the best side. The flat screen TV is large with excellent picture and comes with lots of good channels. The bed is why I chose this place. It is neither too hard or soft and comes with a very fluffy comforter instead of the usual old ragged bed spread. It also comes with 4 pillows so you don’t have to ask for one. The room also came with a dorm refrigerator to keep the sodas I brought cool. The WI-FI was good until AT&T went down for the whole town. Grrr!

Park Plaza Hotel, Seguin, TX

The first night I was there, I chose to try out the hotel’s restaurant. Bad move. I see plenty of folks eating in it every night but I don’t know why. I paid twice as much for a meal than I normally would at a nice restaurant. They clearly have a real chef cooking as the portions are small but the food is arranged decoratively. The salad, while odd in it’s ingredients, still tasted very good. The filet mignon though tasted like I had licked a rubber basketball. After that I made sure to stop for dinner before going back to the hotel for the night. Just so you know, Dominoes is nearby and delivers. There are also several fast food places just up the main street.

Park Plaza saladPark Plaza restaurant

Parking at the hotel is a little more difficult than usual. All the streets around it are limited to 2 hour parking only. They have a parking lot with just enough parking but the lane in is narrow and they sometimes block it off at night to keep other cars from cruising through it or parking there as I guess they often do. I had to go In the Out several times and maneuver my wide dually truck around to park late at night.

Across the street is a lovely park I enjoyed every night. There is a beautiful, calming fountain in the middle, a gazebo to one side and a statue to their founder, Juan Seguin, on the other. Lights in all the surrounding trees keep it well lit and create a nice atmosphere in the park at night. Every evening, hotel guests and locals meet and greet each other. Families sometimes bring their chairs to gather and talk about their day. The biggest attraction, however, is the Pokemon gym located at the fountain and numerous Pokemon stops both in the park and around it. Almost everyone walking about or sitting at the fountain has their smartphone out with their eyes glued to it. I downloaded the app myself to see what the big deal is with this new game. In some ways it is like geocaching. You follow the map to a stop and are rewarded. All the stops I went to were either artistic or historical so not only did I get a good workout walking, I also got to know much more about the area which is what I like about geocaching. One Pokestop was at the World’s Largest Pecan. Here and there you come across a vicious Pokemon character you have to toss virtual balls at to defeat and capture. Once you get enough to reach level 5, you can enter a Pokemon gym and select your team to play with but that is about all. I am told you really need to get to level 15 before you can win many battles in the gym. I went with yellow team which plays by instinct which happens to be how I travel too.

Seguin park fountainWorld's Largest Pecan

I didn’t do as much shopping as a normally do on vacation. Just wasn’t in the mood but I did hit up Harbor Freight, Walmart, and a couple others I needed to hit.

Most of my time was spent at Schlitterbahn! I topped my record and went 4 days including the last day of vacation and I stayed cool. I actually changed into dry clothes and came home directly from there. The first day I managed to not get too burned but made a point of wearing a Tshirt and sunglasses for the rest of the trips there. I had my favorite, smoked turkey leg, there one day and a good and not-too-large cheeseburger another day. I learned my lesson about eating a Bahn Burger last time. The other days I picked up lunch on the way there with a quick drive through Jack In The Box. The crowds were ridiculous as expected and forget trying to ride the best slides unless you get there right at opening time. Parking wasn’t too bad though. One thing to remember about Schlitterbahn is no matter how crowded it is, you can still get on the continually looping rides like the wave river or The Falls river with very little waiting. On weekends during summer, they may institute a line and limit to one ride around at a time for The Falls. Those two rides are in the new park. In the old park, there are several pools you can hang around in.

Schlitterbahn raging wave riverSchlitterbahn tubingSchlitterbahn wave poolHanging ten at Schlitterbahn

They have just introduced a ride pass similar to Disneyland where you can make an appointment for a ride and show up in a special line when it is your turn to ride. Great idea! Very pricey idea too. Ouch! It might be worth it during the week but the weekend crowds will keep you waiting just too long even for an appointment.

I thought I knew every inch of Schlitterbahn since I have been going there for three years but this year I discovered a new area at the new park with smaller crowds, food, and a beach, a fast lazy river with crocodiles to ride, a body slide into the river, and a cool obstacle course. From the parking lot and Falls, you go through the tree lodge area to get to it. I spent quite a bit of time there and did the body slide several times.

Newly discovered Schlitterbahn areaRiding river crocodilesWater obstacle course

I picked up a new hat at Schlitterbahn for working the gates. It’s a big shark eating my head. LOL Should I have gone for the octopus instead?

The local rivers were very crowded too. There were lots of folks out tubing which I had also planned to do.  It was just so hot outside that the last thing I wanted to do was sit above the water rather than in it.

Comal River tubing

On the way home one night, the air conditioner in my truck broke. The next morning I went out to assess the situation and saw that it was smoking when run and the clutch was frozen. I drove to the nearest auto parts store and bought a new compressor and clutch. They were kind enough to point me to an inexpensive but good auto shop that was able to take care of it right away. Since I was hungry and it was next door to Dominoes, I bought a large pizza to feed us all lunch.

With the AC now fixed but needing to be broken in for testing and most of the day gone, I finally went to Tanger Outlets. Every time I go to New Braunfels, I get told going to the Outlets is a must. Whoopee. It is just a huge outside mall with lots of big name snooty stores selling their goods at 50-60 percent off which is still way more than I am willing to pay for clothes, shoes, or anything else they had to sell. I did find a couple of new covers for my Pyrex bowls and had dinner at the Cracker Barrel there after raiding their old fashioned candy stix counter. After dinner, I rocked on their porch for a bit as the sun was setting. One good thing about Tanger Outlets is they are loaded with Pokemons! I nailed one inside the Cracker Barrel and a couple outside it. I hopped in my truck and drove through the parking lot catching several more. Don’t worry. I only drove close to them then stopped for the actual capture. By that time the parking lot was fairly empty.

Cracker Barrel foil chicken dinnerCracker Barrel porch rocking

I managed to get to the Golden Corral twice that week to eat. I only meant to eat there once but when I saw their Prime Rib Weekends sign I knew I was going back again. I’m one of those people who goes to Las Vegas not for the gambling but rather for the shows and cheap prime rib. Heh heh. It was GOOOOD!

While I was on vacation my boss called me twice trying to get me to come back and lose all the money I paid for the hotel and gas. Didn’t happen. He had to switch out the very experienced substitute I hired to cover me with another one so that guy could work a busy gate. Oh well. It all worked out and I got my vacation. I spent the last day at Schlitterbahn until 4:30pm then changed and drove to Pearsall for groceries. I got home pretty late and it was too damn HOT again! Bugger! Ready for my next vacation already.