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DansDeals Forum => Trip Reports => Topic started by: mochjas on January 17, 2016, 04:55:59 PM

Title: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: mochjas on January 17, 2016, 04:55:59 PM
Sorry if I ramble this is my first TR I will try to make it detailed let me know if there is TMI

Also I do not know how to do it Dan style by inseting the pictures so I will put them in after

Background:

Back in October Dan posted a great deal (at least back then it was but now it's the norm) 54 dollars each way to miami. I've been to Miami many times and love going there but my wife keeps bugging me that she wants to go somewhere else. I booked Jan13-20 as my round trip and figured that I would use Avios to go to a nearby island for 5 nights. The islands I was looking into were the Bahamas, St. John, Cancun, Aruba, Puerto Rico and Grand cayman. Once I discovered that you can't bring food to cancun that was out. I know there is a Chabad there with rave reviews but I just didn't feel comfortable ordering from there. PR looked like a great option but the dates didn't work out with the 2 hotels that I was looking into which were either the w or the st regis. The Bahamas and Aruba don't have starwood options and again I didn't like the value out of the hotels that they had so it came down to either St. John or Gcm. Based on the pictures the westin in cayman looked old and not so great and they had no suites available so St. John it was. I read lots of reviews about stj and the westin in particular and most ppl had good things to say which helped reassure me that I was making the correct choice.

Now I had to find a flight there and back to Miami. I checked how long the flight was and it was 2.5 hours and a direct flight from NYC was only 4 hours and I felt stupid for not going straight to STJ. But at least I get to spend a little time in Miami. I found a flight for Thursday the 14th at 6pm and it had 1 bus class seat available for 15 k Avios I quickly booked it. The price of the flight was 450 dollars so it was a pretty good use of points at 3 cents per mile after checking every day many times finally a month later another business class seat opened up on the same flight and I nabbed that one as well. For the next 2 months all I did was keep checking. It was getting real close about 10 days before my trip and I still didn't have a flight. Finally later that day a 3rd seat opened up and I was booked to STJ with 3 bus class tickets for me my wife and two kids(one 3 and one is 1.5) a few days later 7 coach seats opened up on the plane so I cancelled the 3 business class seats and booked 3 coach seats for 22.5k avios and was all set. The price of a coach seat was 293 so I got almost 4 cents per point.

Meanwhile I was also looking at return options back to MIA. After realizing that it did not make sense to fly back to Miami on Tuesday night in order to leave back to ny on wed morning, I decided to skip going back to Miami and go straight back to NY from STT. There are only two carriers who fly this route direct (daily AA only goes like 3 Xs per week ) United and delta. Delta wanted 250 pp in coach and United wanted about the same I prefer delta as I hate to land in ewr. None had coach saver award availability for the direct flight (the non stop took about 10 hours) but delta had 2 first class semi saver tickets for 37500 miles per ticket. I considered taking those two and buying 1 coach ticket. When I was ready to book luckily the delta price shot up to 350 and United went down to 178. Thanks to some Ddfers who sold me United credit at 80% the way back cost me $425 total for all of us. So I had my return flight before my flight there. (Not something I would have done a couple of years ago)

Now for hotels in STJ. I knew I was gonna stay at the westin I just wasn't sure if it would be the resort or the villa after doing some research I found out that they were both basically the same just the villas are across the street and you get a bigger room so it was a no brainer to choose the villas as I would get a bigger room and have all the resort amenities. I had a starwood cs rep who owed me a favor so she was able to book me in a studio villa for 5 nights at the low season rate of 48k points instead of 64k points that it should cost. You still have to pay the 40 dollar per night resort fee. The price per night for a studio villa was 604 (including tax so I got about 6 cents per point)

Now I had to book my hotel for the one night in Miami. Before the Spg merger I was very hesitant to use spg points as they are so hard to get. So I was deciding between the four points and the royal Palm and I was gonna pay with cash. After the merger I decided that sitting on my Spg points wouldn't do me any well so I decided To splurge for the st. Regis. I booked an Astor oceanfront junior suite for 32500 points hoping that it would give me a better chance at upgrading to a suite. The room was going for 1550 dollars so that is about 3.5 cents per point which isn't too bad.

Food: in Miami we have no problem as there is tons of kosher. For STJ we brought along pomegranate meals. I got 10 meat meals, 3 dairy, 2lbs of assorted deli, some salads and chalah rolls somehow got everything to fit in 1 pom box and we also brought along 2 dz mini pizza and 2 dz franks in blanks for the kids. All fit in the box except the challah which we put in the carry on


Finally I was all set!

Day 1 January 13 2016

Flight was from LGA at 8 so we left to the airport at 5:30  and got there at about 6:30 got  3 free checked bags with my AA card and we were by the gate at 7:15 with time to spare. Landed at 1115 Took uber from mia to st regis for 20 dollars!

We got to the st Regis and they welcomed us and were very friendly. They sat us down to check in. Right away they brought a bag for each kid filled with beach toys, crayons, and a coloring book and they brought me and my wife ice cold water. I asked for an upgrade due to my platinum status and they said no problem and gave me what is called the royal suite. This room was going for $4400 for that night. It was basically a junior suite connected to a 1 br suite so we had a 2 br suite with 2 kitchens 3 bathrooms and 3 balconies. Also when I checked in that asked me what I wanted for my platinum amenity I told them that I pre ordered the kosher breakfast and wanted to use that as my amenity instead of paying the 35 dollars per person it costs and they said no problem even though on the phone they told me I couldn't do that!

We unpacked and went to go get a light lunch since we would be eating dinner soon as it was already 2 o'clock. We decided to take the kids for pizza so we headed to b and h but they only do takeout so we ended up going to vert cafe. My wife got the frappucino which she did not like and a Greek salad that she said was very good. I got macaroni with sauce for my 2 kids to share which they loved and I had a chocolate crepe which was very good

We then went to buy milk for the kids and grape juice for kiddush for STJ as I didn't think they would have any there. My wife then went to publix to buy a powerball ticket she ended up having to wait 45 minutes (of course the winner was from a publix in Florida unfortunately it wasn't us) meanwhile I took the kids back to the room to put the groceries and there was a bottle of baron herzog Chardonnay sitting on the table with a bucket of ice and a card saying happy anniversary as I told them my anniversary was 3 days ago. Very nice!!

We then went to visit my grandmother in Hallandale since it was very cloudy and we couldn't really sit by the beach or pool and the kids ate dinner by her. Uber costed 10 dollars to get there and another 10 to get back

We got back to the hotel and while my wife bathed the kids I went to Kosh to make a pick up order for us to have dinner. We hate going to restaurants with the kids so we decided to eat in and open the bottle of wine we got.  We got the Korean beef which was great and the tostones which were also very good! For mains my wife chose the New York strip steak which she didn't really like so she switched with me the reserve steak and I was able to eat her steak by dipping it into steak sauce.

At about 930 we were able to get my wife's sister who was also in Miami to babysit for an hour so we went to the fontaineblue for drinks and came back again took uber for $18 round trip.

Day 2 January 14 2016

I got woken up by the kids at about 6:30 and let my wife sleep till 8 when I went to pray at the Shul on 95th street. They had a Sephardic minyan at 8. I told room service to bring my breakfast at 9. On the dot they came in my wife got scrambled eggs with mushrooms and potatoes on the side. She said it was very good. She also got an onion roll with butter and some rugelach. I got assorted Danishes and and a fruit platter all were certified by orb and were sealed. Not worth 35 dollars a head but for free I'll take it. (The check came out to 100 with tip and delivery charge) my wife and I took turns working out at the gym which was very nice. Every treadmill has a bottle of water and a towel ready for you and about 12 we were ready to go.

Again the weather wasn't great so no use going to pool/beach so we decided to meet up with my wife's sister and her kids to have pizza and ice cream. My wife loves shemtov frappes so we decided to go there. But there were no tables so we went to Lenny's down the block. The pizza was amazing. we fed all the kids pizza and fries and they loved it. Later they got ice cream from shemtovs. We had a flight to catch we were already packed just had to repack the Pom food and shower the kids. We got back to the hotel at 3 and I wanted subway for dinner I dropped my wife and kids by the hotel and told the uber driver to continue to take me to subway as we were planning to leave to the airport at 4 for a 6 pm flight. This would turn out to be a big mistake anyway I got to subway at 325 was out by 340 and got to the hotel by 4 we loaded the car and were on our way to the airport. We didn't get there until 5. Somehow we were through the gate at 530 and by 545 we got to the plane and everybody was already on and thank Gd we were able to board. ( uber cost to go from shemtov to st regis to subway back to st regis back to MIA was only $53. amazing!)

The flight was 2.5 hours and we landed at 9:30 local time in st. Thomas since they are an hour ahead of eastern time. We got off the plane by steps and got our luggage. And went to the westin lounge in the airport which is where you check in. The guy thanked me for being a platinum member and said he can upgrade me to a 2BR villa for all 5 nights! Awesome!! That villa goes gor $860 a night so for 48000 points I got $4300 of value almost 9 cents per point!

I elected to use the Westins shuttle which cost $120 per adult round trip luckily kids 3 and under are free. IMO it's a great value as it is a 35minute taxi ride to the ferry and then a 15 minute ferry for 120 total each way is not bad. Plus you get unlimited use of the ferry if you want to go back to st Thomas throughout your stay. We got to the westin at about 11.

More to follow.............. including pics
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: Proisrael on January 18, 2016, 10:27:58 AM
Great report!
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: mgarfin on January 18, 2016, 10:29:53 AM
Nice, St  John deserves a detailed TR  on DDF.
Was there last winter and it's so relaxing
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: Tzadik Nistar on January 19, 2016, 12:08:04 AM
Great report, following
looking into st john for a long time already but couldn't find much info here on ddf
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: tzifanya54 on January 19, 2016, 08:02:24 AM
Very nice. What did you do to end up with a Starwood CS owing you a favor?  ;)
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: asks on January 19, 2016, 03:25:25 PM
Very nice. What did you do to end up with a Starwood CS owing you a favor?  ;)
+1000
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: coralsnake on January 19, 2016, 03:44:42 PM
What was the big mistake? Leaving to the airport at 4? Subway? Something else?

Nice job btw.
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: yos9694 on January 19, 2016, 03:58:43 PM
This sounds great. Just want to mention for the sake of anyone using this for trip planning, that if you want to have a car on STJ it's generally more expensive to rent one than on STT. So even though taking the Westin ferry from the airport is a convenient way to start your trip, picking up a rental car at the airport instead and driving to Red Hook could be a better (and cheaper) option.
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: mgarfin on January 19, 2016, 06:25:50 PM
This sounds great. Just want to mention for the sake of anyone using this for trip planning, that if you want to have a car on STJ it's generally more expensive to rent one than on STT. So even though taking the Westin ferry from the airport is a convenient way to start your trip, picking up a rental car at the airport instead and driving to Red Hook could be a better (and cheaper) option.

When I was there I picked one up in airport, also if you want to get to the really off road beaches.... you need a 4x4
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: Fan of Dan on January 21, 2016, 12:47:05 AM
This sounds great. Just want to mention for the sake of anyone using this for trip planning, that if you want to have a car on STJ it's generally more expensive to rent one than on STT. So even though taking the Westin ferry from the airport is a convenient way to start your trip, picking up a rental car at the airport instead and driving to Red Hook could be a better (and cheaper) option.
I also found that doing it this way meant I had everything I needed in my car from the airport instead of having everything all over the ferry. And we were able to stock up on groceries in Red Hook, although the price difference between there and the market next to the Westin wasn't that much. Looking forward to hearing the rest.
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: AJK on January 21, 2016, 01:09:44 AM
Blowin' those SPG like they're on fire!

How'd SR know you needed/wanted kosher wine?

Looking forward to the rest!
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: mochjas on January 21, 2016, 08:01:28 AM
Very nice. What did you do to end up with a Starwood CS owing you a favor?  ;)
to make a long story short they were booking me a hotel in Hawaii and confirmed it and then showed it was sold out so they told me to call them back when i figure out another destination and they would help me out.
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: mochjas on January 21, 2016, 08:03:41 AM
Blowin' those SPG like they're on fire!

How'd SR know you needed/wanted kosher wine?

Looking forward to the rest!
I used to hate to use SPG points!
I never asked for the wine. They just sent it to me with a card that said happy anniversary. The kosher part they probably knew since I told them that I pre-ordered the kosher breakfast.
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: Denverite on January 21, 2016, 09:10:27 AM
I used to hate to use SPG points!
I never asked for the wine. They just sent it to me with a card that said happy anniversary. The kosher part they probably knew since I told them that I pre-ordered the kosher breakfast.

Awesome TR and I love all the details.
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: mochjas on January 21, 2016, 09:29:03 AM
What was the big mistake? Leaving to the airport at 4? Subway? Something else?

Nice job btw.
the big mistake was leaving to the airport at 4 I just made the flight! The traffic in Miami starts early! I personally love subway even though their deli is terrible (it was so good 2 or 3 years ago) their chicken is very good so I go for the chicken sandwich.
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: mochjas on January 21, 2016, 08:38:55 PM
We got to the room and it was an amazing room. They bring all of your luggage via the golf cart straight to your room together with you. Right when you walk into the room on your right there are steps to go upstairs. When you go up there is a hallway with a desk on the side, from there you can see downstairs. When you continue walking there is a master bedroom with its own living room which has a TV and a mini fridge. Then you have the bedroom also with another TV and its own private bathroom with a big hot tub and separate shower with 2 sinks. Also upstairs is another room which we were able to fit 2 cribs. The room had 2 double beds and its own bathroom with a bathtub for the kids. As well as another 2 sinks. Downstairs you have a kitchen which has a large fridge/freezer, stove top, dishwasher (no oven) and a big dining room table with 3 chairs a a bench on the other side that seats three more. Followed by a living room with a sofa that turns into a bed, and has a balcony attached. We put the kids to sleep unpacked and went to sleep.

Day 3 January 15 Friday.

The kids woke me up at about 7:30. I took them to go check out the free platinum breakfast which is located in the restaurant. They have a cold buffet with a nice amount of kosher items. They have bagels (plain and raisin) which are not packaged but I asked them to bring me a closed package which they did and it had an Ou and they let me take from the closed package. There was peanut butter and jelly a Philadelphia cream cheese which is oud. All were in small individual packages. The milk is also oud I asked to see the container. (You can buy the milk and bagels next door in the deli as well if you do not get free breakfast) they also have a nice assortment of cereals in small boxes. Lots of fruit as well but the only whole fruit that wasn't cut were bananas. The lady gave us a brown paper bag we filled it up with what we needed and were on our way.

I went back to the room prayed and my wife and I took turns going to the gym which is pretty nice and at about 1130 we were ready to start the day. We decided to feed the kids lunch early so we didn't have to come back to the room so I gave them to eat the mini pizzas that we brought.

Thereís a deli located near the breakfast restaurant which is also a mini market with reasonable prices. They have Starbucks coffee as well so my wife got an iced caramel (oud) coffee and we were on our way. (I don't drink coffee)

We went to the Westins beach which was very nice and sat until 2:30 the kids enjoyed playing with the toys they got from the st. regis and it kept them busy! The weather was very nice about 80 degrees and sunny.

At about 2:30 we decided to go to the St. John market which everyone kept telling us is 2 minutes away walking (it took a while to find but it was pretty close but itís a nice walk) to get bottled water, drinks and grape juice. My luggage in mia was overweight and I took a random bag out to put in my carry on and of course when we got to the TSA it was grape juice and they confiscated it. (This was the flight that we were running late to and this didn't help) of course there was no grape juice or kosher wine. I wanted to get water but was not interested in carrying a case of water all the way back to the room so we just got some grapes for  and  headed back since I was told that there is another supermarket which delivers to the villas. I go to the hotel lobby to ask about this service and asked them when the delivery would arrive. They said it takes 2 days. Great it is 4:00 Shabbat is starting in an hour and a half and we have no drinks or grape juice. I decided not to waste any more time so I went to the deli and bought 6 1 liter bottles of dasani water which cost $3 but only 2.55 with the discount card that the westin gave me earlier that day which gives you 15 percent off all drinks anywhere on the hotel. (Make sure you carry it with you as they will not give you the discount unless you show it to them. I also bought 2 cans of beer for kiddush, some soda cans, a few bags of chips, and 2 bowls of cereal for the kids  since I wasn't able to go get breakfast and bring it back to the room since I don't think you can carry from building to building but I'm not an expert. Total was about 50 dollars which isn't so bad! (Unfortunately the cereal and some of the chips were stale).

We all showered. I plugged in the hot plate and we were ready for Shabbat. We fed the kids chicken noodle soup from Pom that we heated up in the microwave right before Shabbat. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take pictures. They loved it and had some hot dogs that we brought, some grapes for dessert and went to sleep at about 6:30. My wife and I were starving since we didn't really have lunch so we decided to take out the 2 meals that were supposed to be for that night plus the one extra one that I bought.

I made kiddush on the beer (by mistake I said hagefen but then corrected myself) and we had our first course. Delicious chalah rolls that we dipped into tahina and matbucha from Pom. I also bought avocado salad but it burst when I emptied the box in Miami so I had to throw it out :(  Since we had tons of deli (was supposed to be for some lunches) we opened a pack of corned beef which was delicious as well.

Now for the main course. Mine was the schezuan beef with white rice and mashed potatoes. All was very good especially the mashed potatoes which unfortunately we only got once. My wife had the sesame chicken with mushroom rice and roasted potatoes also very good. The 3rd meal we had was hot pastrami which was all fat when I specifically told the guy from pom that I don't want fat. It was really half fat I wish I could have taken a picture. This also had roasted potatoes (I got it a lot for some reason) and cabbage w noodles. The sides were good but I wouldn't get the main again.

We ended up finishing my schezuan beef but had leftovers of the other 2 which we saved for Shabbat lunch.

We ended up going to sleep about 8:30. The beds were very comfortable. I had a great night sleep!
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: Denverite on January 22, 2016, 12:15:32 AM
Except for some food hiccups it sounds like the perfect warm weather getaway with kids!
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: AJK on January 22, 2016, 12:59:23 AM
Nice! Waiting for the pics.
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: Joe4007 on January 23, 2016, 07:27:01 PM
Nice TR. Thanks!

I was actually at that same Publix that night and the line was indeed crazy. Good thing some store across the street was selling them with no line.
Title: Re: Mochjas mid winter vacation 2016 TR Miami/ St. John
Post by: mochjas on January 23, 2016, 08:49:00 PM
Nice TR. Thanks!

I was actually at that same Publix that night and the line was indeed crazy. Good thing some store across the street was selling them with no line.
we knew we could find another place but I knew that the winners are always from a publix in Florida so we thought it was worth the wait!