(Albuquerque, NM)

Road Scholar 14369

Be a part of the diverse holiday traditions of multicultural Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city. See Old Town decorated for the holidays and attend the River of Lights Celebration at Albuquerque Bio Park. Take a fun, hands-on traditional New Mexican handcrafts class and enjoy a New Mexico wine tasting. Attend traditional Christmas Day dances at Jemez Pueblo. Top it off with a Christmas dinner in one of our fine local McDonalds restaurants. This will certainly be lots nicer that sitting around home staring at the walls.

• Ride through twinkling decorated streets as you experience Albuquerque's annual Luminaria Tour.
• Learn about traditional New Mexican arts and crafts as you create your own piece of folk art.
• Enjoy festive light displays at Albuquerque's annual "River of Lights" at the BioPark.

Rode Skalur made a large number of changes to the schedule between the time I booked it several months ago, and what they offer now. In my opinion, I'm getting short-changed.

Looking at possible weather, long term history shows daily averages for all the days as 26 – 45. Considering the cold weather and freezing rain, I would probably get VERY FEW pictures – due to having to keep the camera “under wraps”, wearing gloves and the camera lens fogging up. In fact, I won’t even take my camera. Sad. I was looking forward to some great pictures. As it turns out, I missed less than a half-dozen pictures.

Day 1, Monday, Dec 21 – Arrive in Albuquerque / Disorientation / Dinner
Winter officially arrives with thunderstorms forecast for Houston this morning. With a decent departure time, no problems catching the StuporShuttle at 11:40 despite a 50% chance of rain. We had a half-inch of rain about 6:30 then that blew on through. As for the shuttle, it was on time and I was the 2nd pick-up. However the third was very inconsiderate and irresponsible and kept us waiting for a half-hour. We picked up one other passenger – waiting on time – but then on the way to the airport, the first passenger who was travelling with a scrawny mutt had to make us stop so Poopsy could take a poop. By the time we got to the airport, there was barely time to get even a bag of chips and a coke. Albuquerque Forecast: High 51, tonight 27. 40% morning showers in Houston.

United UA 5102IAH – ABQ2:35P – 4:02P2:27

Estimated travel time from airport to check in location: 15 minutes (Approximately 5 miles) Ground Transportation Options: Sunport Shuttle (Commercial Van/Shuttle), 505-883-4966. $28 round trip.

Hotel Check-in is available from 3:00 PM. I made it there by 4. Come to the Road Scholar table to register, to get our welcome packet etc. and meet our tour director – Lisa Wilder – who was the tour director on my recent Albuquerque – Taos – Santa Fe trip. Our driver is Martin and there are 32 head of cattle in the herd.Dinner is in the hotel's restaurant between 5 and 7 PM; we go individually – the place isn’t big enough to take all of us at one time, and order from a selected menu of New Mexican favorites. We have vouchers for all our hotel meals and all are open dining time as above. Disorientation: Lisa will review the program theme, the up-to-date daily schedule and any changes. Lodging: Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town, all 6 nights

Day 2, Tuesday, Dec 22 – History of NM and Albuquerque / Old Town / River of Lights
Walking up to one mile over the course of the day over paved terrain; standing at Indian Pueblo Cultural Center up to one hour; walking up to one mile at River of Lights.

Forecast: High 55, tonight 30 10% rain. After a very so-so start to the trip yesterday, we have a cold morning – below freezing. Breakfast (the only good choice is pancakes) is in the hotel's restaurant; order from a limited (4 choices) menu. This morning we'll learn about the history of New Mexico and Albuquerque. We'll then walk over to Old Town but since Lisa’s lecture ran about 30 minutes overtime, there isn’t much time to see anything. Old Town has been the focal point of community life since Albuquerque was founded in 1706. About ten blocks of historic adobe buildings surround the central plaza, including San Felipe de Neri Church, which was built in 1793 and is the oldest building in the city. The city's settlers built their homes, shops and government offices here; many of these have been converted into the restaurants, art galleries and shops that comprise Old Town today.

Lunch (an excellent buffet) is at Church Street Cafe but the service is so slow that we didn’t get our desert. Still, it is probably going down as (one of the) best meals of the trip. As we leave the Café a light drizzle is starting which lasts the rest of the day. We'll board our coach and depart for the NATIONAL HISPANIC CULTURAL CENTER. This was a change from the originally scheduled visit to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is dedicated to preserving, perpetuating, and advancing understanding of Pueblo culture and was a place I definitely had wanted to visit. Bah! Humbug! And other comments! The Hispanic Center is actually just a large art museum so, for me, basically a wasted afternoon.

Return to the hotel before dinner at Vinagarette restaurant – good but not special. After dinner, our coach departs for the Albuquerque BioPark for the annual "River of Lights," New Mexico's largest walk-through light show. We have time to walk around (in the drizzle which fortunately did stop) and do some exploring on our on. There are many sculptures and displays designed and constructed by Albuquerque BioPark artists and craftsmen, as well as live musical entertainment. Although it IS a spectacular sight, it is, to me, overnode and has a Disney-Land atmosphere rather than a Christmas one. It definitely seems to be “family oriented” for children and teens.

Day 3, Wednesday, Dec 23 – CHANGE IN PLANS: SANTA FE
Forecast: High 53, tonight 31, 20% rain. Breakfast is at the hotel. After breakfast, we depart for Santa Fe and independent explorations of Museum Hill. Santa Fe had up to 3” of snow fall yesterday afternoon. However it is clear when we get there. Lunch is at Mama’s New Mexican Kitchen where we had one of the poorest meals of the trip. Then we depart for Sheridan Street downtown. We get a brief guided walking tour of Santa Fe Plaza and are given a “Culture Pass” which gives admission to the Palace of the Governors, New Mexico Museum of History, and the New Mexico Museum of Art. I chose the Governor’s Palace and the Museum of History. As I was leaving the Museum, we had a brief 30-40 minute medium-heavy snow shower (shower, not storm). The museums on Museum Hill and the two downtown were both very interesting.

We depart for Albuquerque and dinner with wine-tasting at the Gruet Winery. It is a catered set meal - they don't have a restaurant/eating area onsite. I’ll skip the opportunity to taste some of their wines before having what will probably turn out as the poorest dinner of the trip. McBarfBurgers would have been MUCH, MUCH better.

Day 4, Thursday, Dec 24 – Holiday Music / Free Afternoon / Luminaria Tour
Forecast: High 48; tonight 30. Forecast: 48 ->34. Breakfast is at the hotel. This morning we can “sleep late before being treated to a performance of festive holiday music presented by "Music for All Seasons." It was a FANTASTIC program! It will probably turn out to be the highlight of the trip.

In this morning's "Music for All Seasons" presentation, we learned the New Mexico version of the 12 days of Christmas.

On the First Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
1 a RoadRunner in a Pinon tree
On the Second Day of Christmas, my ...
2 Red and Green Chilies
3 Mariachis
4 hot air balloons
5 turquoise rings
6 sopapillas
7 bowls of posole
8 bright red reistras
9 margaritas
10 pork tamales
11 bscochitos
12 luminarias

We'll depart for our lunch at High Noon restaurant (our 2nd best lunch of the trip: a big cheeseburger) following the performance. Then we have what is left for a free afternoon to enjoy as you wish, if weather and very sore back permit.

This evening we take our bus from the hotel to the Convention Center where we are split up into groups to ride the 40 city busses to participate in Albuquerque's "Luminaria Tour" as our Christmas Eve entertainment. We'll travel through a twinkling wonderland as the bus takes us around the city to areas that are decked out for the holidays. It is about an hour tour and very nice but a few places had just a few luminarias out as part of the more usual electric light display. I preferred the more traditional ones with just a few extra lights. We don’t get out anywhere – just ride around for a while until we get back to the Convention Center – then our coach back to the hotel.

Dinner is after we get back from the excursion and is another one of those same-old dinners at the hotel.

Day 5, Friday, Dec 25 – Field Trip to Jemez Pueblo / Holiday Luncheon / Free Afternoon
aka the What Else Can Go Wrong Day

Note: Standing for up to 3 hours at the Pueblo; walking up to several blocks over varied, possibly snowy or muddy terrain, at the Pueblo. Considering my very sore back, the amount of standing, and the weather, I made a hard decision to skip the excursion. After the fact weather report: Cold and windy, particularly on Sandia Mountain. I’m glad I skipped it.

Forecasts: 46->30. 10% late. IT’S CHRISTMAS DAY – and is lots more interesting that sitting around home staring at the walls. We have our “same-old same-old” Breakfast at the hotel. Merry Christmas! The weather looks really good down here in the valley as we start the day – clear but COLD with frost on all the car windows and roofs. The “front” is due in later today (same one that will make a mess of Houston on Sunday). About 1PM the wind really started to pick up – the forerunner to the front due later today.

(Revised schedule of what I would have seen if I had gone) After breakfast, we'll board our coach (Martin insists that it is a "motorcoach." not a "bus" which is for "school-kids", and that he is not a "bus driver" but a Motorcoach Operator) and depart for Jemez Pueblo to see the Buffalo Dance. Pueblo dances are both ceremonial and celebratory in nature, and it is a privilege to be allowed to attend. (No photography allowed; no seating – it is reserved for village elders.) This was reported to be very good. But…

After that it was “what ELSE can go wrong?” – Answer: Everything.

We were scheduled to depart for the Sandia Aerial Tram and ride another 2000’ up to the top of Sandia Mountain where we would have our Holiday luncheon at the High Finance Restaurant at the top of the tram. But the wind was so strong that the tram was shut down and all that could be done was to just come back to the hotel and have lunch. Then if we dared the weather, there then some free time. Return to the hotel to defrost before dinner.

I wish that someone had told me about having lunch here – I could have had something more than just a few Ritz crackers for lunch - but that wasn't much less than our supper.

And what else can go wrong? LOTS!

Dinner tonight is a listed as a special private buffet dinner (hopefully better than their usual offerings), and was to have been a smaller version of the big buffet they had for the regular hotel guests last night. However, despite what the contract with RS said, the hotel just set up for a mini-choice plated dinner. To top that, two of the four options they were going to offer – they were sold out of them. So we only had two choices. I chose ham which would have been decent except that it didn’t even resemble being warm, much less hot food. Also the contracted prelim soup and salad never appeared. We’re down to a mini-choice of not much and what we did finally get was poor (as expected – not even hot!) Lisa had to call her office to call the hotel to even get us more to drink than water. Deserts never appeared also. If effect, it was a total disaster. Another 5 Ritz crackers would have been better. The food service here at this hotel is worse than awful.

After a non-dinner, and about an hour and a half late, we meet in our meeting room at the hotel for an optional video (PBS episode) A Southwest Christmas.

Day 6, Saturday, Dec 26 – Handcrafts Class / Museum of National History & Science
SNOW and COLD TEMPERATURES TODAY. Frost on the cars again this morning. High 44 (didn’t get that high - more like 36), low tonight 22 with snow showers. Breakfast, once they finally managed to open, is at the hotel. This morning, we'll learn about some traditional New Mexican religious handcrafts and may try to create our own if we wish. It is already snowing as we head to lunch at the hotel – which turns out to be fairly decent this time.

After lunch, weather permitting (doubtful due to snow in cold and windy conditions but I'll make it for a short visit anyway - excellent), we'll walk over to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. The Museum's exhibits include "Time Tracks: A Walk Through Time," "Fossilworks," and the Naturalist Center. There is an art museum also but I won't go to that.

Dinner (unfortunately it is seafood which I don’t eat) is at Seasons Rotisserie and Grill (its only 2 blocks away to slip-n’-slide along icy sidewalks walk which is fortunate since the weather is going to ****). Then we have to slip-‘n-slide our way back to the hotel in the howling wind.

Day 7, Sunday, Dec 27 – Conclusion / Departures .... What Else Can Go Wrong, Part 2
Forecast high: only 39 with probable snow in the morning. Breakfast is at the hotel. This meal concludes our program. With a noon flight, it should be easy to get to the airport (except for the snow) leaving the hotel at 8:30. For some reason or another, United upgraded my return flight to Business Class. For some reason or another, United upgraded my return flight to Business Class. Oops, it is NOT a Business Class seat. I didn’t get a seat upgrade; we got a plane downgrade. It is now just an aerial go-cart, not a real plane. Row 2 doesn’t mean Business Class; it just means the front of the plane. All the seats are Sardine Class.

United UA 4277ABQ – IAH11:05A – 2:17P2:13
"corrected"ABQ - Corpus Christi - IAH11:05 - 8:40P8:35

Contrary to expectations, Albuquerque was clear, mild wind, and snow mostly melted at the 11:05 am (12:05 Houston) departure time. We were onboard, door closed, ready to push back and Houston airports called a 1-hour ground stop ... which stretched to 3 1/2 hours. We finally took off on a southerly route to avoid most of the weather, but about Corpus Christi, another ground stop. With the amount of fuel in question, we circled CC for a while then landed to refuel and wait out the ground stop. Another 2 1/4 hours down the drain. Finally arrived in Houston at 8:40 - about 6 1/2 hours late.

Luggage - I waited and waited but it didn't show up on the carousel so I got in a 1 1/4 hour line to report missing luggage. It is in Houston, but they don't know where - will be delivered whenever they find it. Luggage update – found and will be delivered Monday.

Then SuperShuttle - instead of a 20 minute wait, it was about 35-40 minutes. So a 2 1/4 hour flight ended up being 8:35, then the luggage, then the shuttle. Home by about 4 hopefully, weather permitting but actually, not until 11:52PM - only about 8 hours late.

If I think about signing up for another Road Scholar New Mexico trip (which I probably would consider), I’ll definitely check first to make sure that we don’t spend even one night at this hotel with its awful food service.