By: Frenzied Femme
We have a deal with our kids. When they turn 13, they have the privilege of choosing the family vacation. Our daughter is 12 1/2 this summer, so we let her pick for her 13 year trip.
I will be sharing a series of blogs about the experience. I like to think of it as the good, the bad (almost), and the ugly. For a little explanation, the bad (almost) are things that I thought might go bad but ended up fine. I will share the experience through many different angles including both overall impressions and actual product reviews.
Our trip began in the US. We flew to the Great Barrier Reef, the the Outback, Sydney, Hawaii, and Los Angeles. We were there a little over three weeks, and returning home never felt so good. Of course, that was at 9 pm when I could sleep from exhaustion. 11 pm was a little different (too many time changes, and I was wide awake). The upside was, I was able to wash all the laundry and scrub the very empty fridge.
The second aspect of our trip to fall into the Good, the (Almost) Bad, and the Ugly are the car rentals. We rented cars in Cairns, Australia, Uluru, Australia, Honolulu, Hawaii, and Los Angeles. We did not rent a car in Sydney. We relied on public transportation and walking. And, having seen the traffic on our walks, this was a good decision. Sydney has adequate public transportation in the form of trains, buses, and ferries. They also have a "free bus". But, because of it's popularity and infrequency of operations, we were only able to use this bus once.
The car rental at Cairns falls into the category of good. We rented from Europcar. They gave us a brand new Mitsubishi ASX. It only had 17 km on it and no damage. The process was as expected (there were no unwanted surprises or delays). I did struggle to find where to return the vehicle (but a couple of very nice Australian workers were able to help guide me).
The next car rental falls into the (Almost) bad category was in Uluru. It was rented by Avis. It was dirty. But, I knew it was dirty before I even saw the car. The clerk who attended to the desk is the same clerk who cleans the cars. The airport is very small in Uluru. He was frantically trying to prep the vehicles for the plane that had just arrived. However, he didn't quite finish. He told us before we saw the vehicle and offered two solutions: we could take it as is, or we could wait until he distributed all of the vehicles and he would clean it for us. We opted to take it as is. He did give us a discount. One note, it had a broken lens cover. I alerted them to the issue.
The car rental experiences in Honolulu and Los Angeles both fall into the bad category. I used Budget in Honolulu. The car was not damaged, but I felt cheated. I rented a "full size vehicle" which they give examples of as Chevrolet Impala. What they gave me was a Nissan Altima, which I rented previously as Mid-Sized. They said they only alternative they had was a Toyota Camry (also well recognized as Mid-sized). They charged me more for this and refused to discount me the difference between these two sizes. The rental in Los Angeles was through Dollar. It took 35 minutes for a shuttle to appear (note: I observed 20+ Enterprise shuttles in this time). Because of the infrequency of shuttles, it was standing room only when it got to us. Standing room only is not easy with a 5 year old who just flew a red-eye flight. When we arrived at the rental office, most people ran in to get in line. However (once again), this is not something you can do with a 5 year old who just flew a red-eye flight. The line was long. In fact, my 15 year old pointed to the allowed capacity for the building. Having nothing better to do, we started counting. The building was over capacity by around 20%. We rented a full size vehicle from them, and I am pleased to say it was a Chevrolet Impala. However, we passed over 5 Impalas before selecting the one we took. They all had large visible damage (bumpers that had hit something, large dents in all other areas). I cannot imagine what the previous drivers had done to create such wrecks. Then, I was still concerned with their process (and time involved). I was so worried about making it to the airport to leave that I ended up turning in the car the night before and having our hotel shuttle us to the airport instead. This meant that my 15 year old daughter and I walked from the rental office to the hotel late a night.
Overall, good experiences for Europcar and Avis, bad for Budget and Dollar.
Frenzied Femme is a workaholic mother of 3. She has reluctantly conceded membership in middle age, however is not yet a member of AARP. In her spare time, she feebly tries to maintain the house.