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A little different Maldives TR I'm sitting right now in the Conrad Rangali Island and while I can't quite manage a live TR I wanted to open this so that I won't be lazy when I get back and make sure to write it.

We're watching some football, about to head out snorkeling as soon as the game is finished but for now GO Broncos, from the Maldives!

September 08, 2016, 11:19:19 PM
Re: Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem
If you have a chase sapphire reserve you can use your UR as cash towards any travel at a rate of 1.5 cents per point. So 26k equals a room that goes for $390

It could be worthwhile for Pesach also, where I need a few more nights. It'll be about 40k UR for a $600 a night room so I'm not sure if it's worth it.  I may need to ask elsewhere but any of you know if you'll receive HHonors points on a stay booked through UR because if yes and I got back another 60k HHonors for the three nights then I think it would be an ok redemption.

September 20, 2016, 02:09:36 PM
Re: Hilton Master Thread
That's one of my pet peeves with Hilton. Other than sign up bonuses, it doesn't make sense (unless there's something I don't know), for both spouses to keep the cards.

It might be worth it for the annual free night from Citi but it's probably just better for spouses to trade off getting a new one every two years.  As I see it, the crazy value with Hilton is IF you actually have to travel or spend money with hotels for work because if you can redeem around $.01pp like at the WA Jerusalem, you will earn back between 30-40% in points on every dollar you spend.  You have to redeem wisely for HHonors to make sense but they blow everyone out of the water on how generous their earning structure is.

September 20, 2016, 02:20:56 PM
Re: A little different Maldives TR 1st Segment- Trip Planning:

I know when people start their TR's they do the obligatory thank you's to Dan and DDF and it seems hokey but as I am beginning this TR I really do think it is so necessary although possibly for a different reason than others.  Within the frum community, DDF is known to provide a wealth of information and an amazing community to help people easily earn points and maximize their redemptions (and it certainly has helped me move light years ahead on that since I joined only a little more than a year ago), but more importantly it helped with something even greater and for that I want to express my thanks.  I actually grew up overseas and was a elite level frequent flier as a child because of travels back to the US for vacations and my dad was a DDFer before his time (and before the internet, so I really don't know he figured out all the stuff he did) and we traveled tons of places but all of that was not while keeping Shabbos and kosher.  Actually the first orthodox people I think I ever met were a couple of Bochurim from the Aleph Institute who gave me the Rebbe's Book "Toward a Meaningful Life" in Northern Japan, during High School.  When I became fully observant after college, I just kind of assumed that all the interesting and amazing travels that I had a child were things that I would have to give up, along with the many other things that a Baal Tshuva has to give up when they become frum and I was ok with that.  Fast forward many years and children later, with very nice family vacations basically to Phoenix and LA to get warm in the winter and have fun with my kids without worrying about kosher food and Shabbos, when I heard about DDF at a Shabbos table and started reading DDF.  All of a sudden it hit me that maybe I CAN still go to exotic places, enjoy my food and have top notch travel experiences like I used to have before I became frum but now in an observant way.  DDF opened back up the world to me, without compromising my Jewish values and for that I thank all of you!     

Ok, on to the planning.  My husband was coming upon a milestone date in his life and I wanted to give him a trip of a lifetime to help celebrate that milestone.  Also, we were really poor when we got married plus didn't have the time or inclination back then to take a big trip, so I was hoping to also kind of make up for that with this one.  Both my husband I weren't raised in the US, have been to lots of places, aside from Israel, don't really have very many places we want to go or return to so where to plan an amazing, over-the-top vacation?

 Where was worth arranging babysitting for many days for our kids, arranging precious time-off from both our businesses and worth the time to travel.  My feeling has always kind of been that I wanted a truly spectacular place, otherwise I'm not willing to even take a connecting flight and I can just enjoy a quick getaway somewhere close.  The places that pop up on DDF all the time are Bora Bora or the Maldives.  BOB would have been WAY less travel time for us from Denver, with just a quick flight to LA and then an 8hr non-stop flight but even looking at the beautiful scenery and the nice overwater villas at the different resorts, none of the OWV's in BOB appeared to be very private, where you could sit on your deck and enjoy the view without others seeing you, much less have a private pool.  From my perspective, even though it was more significantly beautiful than other places, if I wasn't getting a private deck or pool, the travel, expense or time to BOB wasn't worth it to me when I could get a not as nice but great experience in Cancun but be there on a direct flight in 4 hours with 8k SW points (obviously Cancun isn't BOB but my time and miles are very valuable to me).  Pretty much then the only place left that I was really excited to go to was the Maldives, because from my perspective, it was the closest I was going to get to being on a private island, in stunning surroundings, while paying with points. 

Once, I decided on the Maldives, I needed to book flights.  Because of the businesses we have, it was very important to be able to go on very specific dates, where business is anyway slow, we wouldn't lose that much money from being away and I could also get flights.  I chose to try to get flights over Labor Day weekend and since it is the exact same distance to the Maldives going either East or West, we decided that we'd much rather fly on an Asian airline, have a stopover in Asia and also there had more possibilities of being able to incorporate some business dealings that would help justify the time and expense of the trip.  Both Cathay Pacific and Singapore airlines consistently have multiple business class seats available to their hubs from LAX and SFO but because I had MR points not SPG (which are the best points deal in J to MLE because it is only 62.5 Alaska miles ow on Cathay Pacific) we chose to go Via Singapore Air, with a two day stopover in Singapore.

Total mileage for both of us in J SFO-SIN, via ICN (stopover), SIN-MLE and then the return on the exact same route was 306k miles total for both us, so 153k pp.
.  We got a cheap Frontier flight from Den-SFO that was the only flight that would give us a comfortable connection and then on the way back to United from SFO-DEN (and they did tag our bags all the way to DEN from MLE).  It was worth it to book these last two segments separately in order to get the 15% mileage discount from SQ.

We were able to set up a great business meeting for one of the days we were in Singapore and also had set it up to have all our kosher food for the Maldives delivered to the Conrad, where were staying.  We ordered the food from and the ordered was fulfilled from the local restaurant.  I could have tried to order it directly from the restaurants but it was so easy from the website that I'd preferred to do it that way.  There were some small hiccups with the food that I will get to later but I do love the way that website works.

I'm not going to describe the Singapore Air flights except to say the seats were amazing, got a great sleep and our 777 flights didn't have suites and I wouldn't probably pay the extra miles for First class because Business class was awesome, I can't enjoy the better food and the bigger seats wouldn't really help me sleep better, which is my personal reason for paying more points for J.  Unlike other DDFers I don't enjoy flying and just want it to be comfortable enough that I can sleep!

The Conrad Singapore is a horrible points redemption but a great Cash&Points redemption, which we were able to get for $127SG (about $100US) and 24k HHonors points for a room that cost about $400SG.  They also gave us a beautiful diamond upgrade to a Centennial Suite.  It is also a great location, easy and direct to the Jewish community center, shul and restaurant.  It's a bit farther but also a nice walk to the kosher Coffee Bean as well.

Next installment- Singapore with Pictures!

September 21, 2016, 01:29:00 PM
Re: Cathay starting HKG-TLV service 03/2017
Is there anything left on April 6th?

Yup, 2 Premium Economy on the 6th and also on the 4th and also 2 J seats on the 4th, so get on the horn and get your tickets for Pesach...and that was special guys I'm not searching for everyone. J

Also, I called Alaska and even though CX website was only showing Premium economy seats from US to TLV they can see the J seats of each segment and would book me for 62.5k miles and $176.20 total fees.

Hope this is helpful to everyone!

November 02, 2016, 05:27:18 PM
Re: Maldives Master Thread
Being that it is peak season i cant really find any good owb for much less than 1500 after taxes and fess, do you know a specific TA or place that you would recommend me check out? and again if someone has a reservation there for 30k or at the Conrad i am willing to buy/trade.

I just booked Jan. 9-12 for you at the Conrad.  It's only got a 15 day cancellation so lots of time to figure out if it will work for you.  I've got no idea what the up charge for an OWB this time of year is but will email them if you like.  I can also double check that the main chef that knows so much about kashrut will be there.  If he's there he'll hook you up for breakfast and can also fix you fish, potatoes, etc. and will let you in the kitchen to check whatever you want (eggs for blood, scales on fish, etc) and he knows to let you light the flame and he keeps separate glass plates to serve on.  The Conrad can also arrange kosher meals from Australia for about $40 per meal.  I'd offered upthread to trade 30k SPG per Conrad night so it would be 90k total.  If you are interested PM me and if not, I can cancel it.

November 28, 2016, 09:28:44 PM
Re: Maldives Master Thread Wow, leave again for a couple hours and get 5 more pages!  C760 thank you so, so much for all the time spent to give all the info on every room and the service.  Just from hearing you describe the butler service it sounds WORLDS away and better than what we had at the Conrad.  Their service was great, but not what you described and that sounds like a huge SR plus.

And just back to the "whole package" of what people are looking for, I happen to 100% agree with Dan that I wouldn't take such a slog of travel (with headache of arranging babysitting) to MLE or BOB without getting the privacy, pool, views and lower down snorkeling (which BTW, the Hilton BOB is being converted to a Conrad with many OWV with pools, although no idea availability or costs to upgrade).  I personally would want all of those things or I can just go back to Cancun or Hawaii. 

I don't know if there is even one other woman on this thread and maybe the privacy isn't as big a deal to other women or they or your wives don't cover their hair (or they do and these things still aren't important to them) but when I was showing my Conrad pics to all my (girl) friends, literally the first thing they all commented on was how nice and relaxing it must have been to just relax in the OWV with such spectacular views, eat on the deck in PJs, not have to wear a swim cap in the pool, etc.  That's part of the reason I loved the OWV so much.  Our Conrad beach villa was awesome but because it was so private, it had no view (and I could have had the same private pool in Palm Springs) so if I wanted to just read and see the ocean or sunset I still had to put on my whole get-up even though I was only 25 feet from the beach.

Hope this isn't TMI and you DDF dudes aren't traumatized :P but just stuff to keep in mind if you're planning a huge trip like this and again everyone has different preferences so different info helps different people, without having to argue or belittle what others find important.  ;)

January 25, 2017, 05:24:02 PM
Re: Panama Master Thread
Hi Denverite, are you going to write up a TR? I would really look forward to it especially since you are traveling with your kids. We are thinking about bringing the family (4 kids ages will be 10, 7, 5, 2.5) for winter 2018 because of all the reasons you mentioned previously. We did Maui this year and loved the green tropics, mountains, and beaches. Panama (or possibly elsewhere in Costa Rica) seems like it would be a good fit for us as well.

I just got back this week and it was so amazing I literally want to move there! ;) We all agreed we want to go back since we purposely took the week easy but then didn't do everything we wanted to and need to return! All my kids had a blast, there are over 20 EXCELLENT kosher restaurants (that cost less than the US) and since Panama is so physically small we were able to have breakfast in the kosher Coffee Bean next to our hotel (there were also a number of bakeries and cafes close by) and later come home from our tour or excursion and have the driver just drop us at a new kosher restaurant to try.  It is the full package of the convenience of vacationing in Miami but can do a lot of of the cool stuff that you'd want to do in Costa Rica, the Carribean or even the rainforest in Brazil.  I don't want to promise but hopefully I'll start to write it up on Sunday.  Also, if you have any specific questions just let me know and I'll try to answer.

February 10, 2017, 05:45:49 PM
Re: Singapore Master Thread New super cheap points redemption walkable to shul in Singapore. Hilton Garden Inn Singapore for only 10k HHonors per night....great redemption value.
March 14, 2017, 11:11:16 AM
Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)! Before I get into all the details of our trip that we took for mid-Winter break.  I just want to let you know that we were traveling with 3 kids from pre-school to middle school so I wanted somewhere where we could both relax and do excursions but at a low-key, non-stressful pace and in a comfortable environment that all my kids would enjoy.

With Panama, I basically found a place that has the ease of vacationing in Miami or Scottsdale but with the adventures you can get in the rainforest and beaches of Costa Rica and Brazil.  On United or Singapore it is also only 35k RT in Economy or 60K in J, with tons of flights out of NY, LA and other markets. Since there are no direct flights from where we live in Denver we booked the outbound through IAH and on the return we did a two night stopover in Cancun.  Because we knew we were going to Cancun we did not make the effort to visit some of the amazing beaches and islands they have in Panama, although I'll try to still provide info on them.

Ok here is it goes (and before I begin, thank you to @Yehuda for helping me with the pictures)...we arrived late on a Sunday and thanks to this AMAZING app called Kosher PTY we had awesome sushi and pasta waiting for us at our hotel!

The app is in spanish but a lot of the words are the same and y'all have google translate so you should be able to figure it out!  Also, they do NOT accept payment over the app, it is just for ordering so remember you need to be there at your delivery time (so you can't have food waiting at your hotel for you).

We stayed at the Hilton on Avenida Balboa, and I would HIGHLY recommend it!  Because hotels are so cheap, I actually decided not to waste any points and just paid for the room (Panama City would be a great place to spend less points by booking with your Sapphire Reserve although I will also have info later on one hotel that might be the best possible use of your Marriott 7 night cert in the whole system).  Since it cost less than two rooms, and I don't like being crammed with our kids into one room we booked an Executive Master Suite.  It was HUGE, over 1100sqft. with a full kitchen and 2 bathrooms.

Here are some pics:

Kitchen, Living and Dining Area

We had a huge bedroom and Master Bath and another full bathroom with shower although my pictures of those are loading her upside down so if someone wants to help me figure out how to post them correctly, I can add some pics of them too!  ;D

Most people don't know that Panama City has more skyscrapers than any city in Latin America (yep, more than Rio and Mexico City) and it has a truly stunning skyline...

The hotel lobby was also just gorgeous with stunning two story windows and views of the Pacific Ocean and Bay:

This is a picture take from our suite of the Waldorf Astoria, one block over (sorry it's showing landscape and not portrait).  You can see it is a row back so it doesn't have water views from most rooms or the pool.  The pool also looks really small.  Because of those reasons and also no breakfast or lounge, I decided to book instead at the Hilton and was very happy with my choice.  The Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Le Meridian and InterContiental are all super close and in what I think is an excellent location.

Since it was a long day of outbound travel and we were there a full week, we decided to make the first day a lazy one.  That morning got up late and went to the Kosher Coffee Bean literally a block from the Hilton and enjoyed some awesome pastries and empanadas and they have beautiful salads and sandwiches too (and all those wrapped goods had a hecsher on each product, in addition to the teudah on the store). I have a picture from here but that one also is loading upside down so it's not included.

We then walked a few blocks more to the Multi-Centro Mall to the HUGE Deli K Supermarket.  My kids actually had fun picking out stuff from Israel and all over that we can't buy in Denver.  They also have a sit down meat and dairy restaurants (we did not order from those though).  For those of you that keep CY, they even had shelf stable CY milk.  We didn't do any overnight or extreme excursions while we were there but if you were you wouldn't have to bring anything from the US and I would pick up everything here.  I regretted packing any snacks as they really do have everything!

After our little shopping trip and laden down with bags we decided to take a cab the almost mile back to the hotel and it was a whopping two bucks and I didn't even have to bargain (try that in Israel or Cancun where you better be ready to battle the cab drivers over fares)!

We then headed down to the gorgeous Hilton Pool, it's on their 12th floor, with great views.

Hope you enjoyed the beginning of my TR, my apologies for newbie photo or other errors and hopefully more is coming soon!

March 15, 2017, 01:52:28 PM
Re: Panama Master Thread And I finally started my TR  :P

March 15, 2017, 01:59:33 PM
Re: NY Post Article On Satmar Couple's Open Marriage (Interesting Articles Split) All I have to say is that article is a great example of the success of frum dating...that Shadchan seriously did a great job putting those two together...
March 15, 2017, 06:37:48 PM
Re: NY Post Article On Satmar Couple's Open Marriage (Interesting Articles Split)
Dating? In Satmer?

Dude, relax it was a joke, although in all seriousness if that story is true as written, there most certainly was a reason they were matched together.

March 15, 2017, 07:10:52 PM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)! Alright I took a long break writing this report so I'm trying to start again and here are some pics of our second day.  We did a city tour and then ate at an awesome kosher restaurant.

We started off at the fish market that my kids thought was really cool.  The boats are literally coming in bringing in their fresh catch daily.

Then we went to the Smithsonian (yep like the one in DC) research institute where we got to see up close tons of fish, frogs, and animals.  There was also a great lookout into the bay.  You can check out their website here: I thought it was perfect for my kids but would never have heard about it if our tour guide hadn't suggested it.

Looks like a big coconut but yup that is a sloth!  :P

April 25, 2017, 07:28:37 PM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)! My family isn't really into shopping but there were tons of cool markets and stalls in the city.  Even an outdoor section with just with barbers doing $3 haricuts (I tried to convince my sons to get haircuts where it was so cheap but they said no)!  ;D

These are the public city buses (old US school buses) that the locals call Diablo Rojos (Red Devils) because they drive so crazy.  My one son really wanted a picture with himself with one so she go out and asked him to wait a minute and the driver let my son pose with a picture with him.  Everyone we met there was super friendly (probably because the country isn't overrun with tourists).

This is a picture snapped from our balcony that afternoon and those islands in the distance that are reached by the causeway are where we were at the Smithsonian Institute earlier in the day.

Here is another of the same view just a little later at sunset:

And here is the skyline off to the right...the Hilton really had spectacular views:

April 25, 2017, 07:40:51 PM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)! For dinner we went to an AWESOME dairy restaurant called Kava.  It is INSIDE the Sortis Hotel which is part of Marriott and you can use your cert there...for those of you guys sitting on Marriott certs, it is only a category 4 or 5 and I think would be a great use of your cert (forgive me for repeating myself because I also wrote this and posted some pics on the Panama Master thread but I did want to also include it here).

I got some kind of specialty sushi and it was insanely good!

Pizza was great too...

I don't have more restaurant pictures to post because my family is in all of them but I can't say enough good things about the place.  The ambience was awesome and they also had great soup, amazing pastas and out of this world crepes for dessert.  It was a great day that ended with awesome food!  It would be cool to stay in the attached hotel and just walk down to the restaurant.  Ok, coming soon, the next installment which was our day trip to the jungle, a hike to a private waterfall for some swimming and then a boat ride to an indigenous Indian be continued!

April 25, 2017, 07:58:08 PM
Re: Pesach Hotel Experiences We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem (rooms free on points, including breakfast) and had to pay for any other meals.  I wrote in detail and posted pictures in the WA Jerusalem thread.  Seders were about $250 per adult and $200 per kid.  I thought it was amazing and all the food was insanely good.  You could save where you wanted to by not doing the big buffets for lunch or all the evening meals (for one Friday night we had matzah and wine ready  in the room and ordered room service sandwiches right before candle lighting).  They've blocked standard rooms for the 1st and last days of Yom Tov but Chol HaMoed March 25-29 is still open.  Considering they gave us an upgrade, a free roll-away bed and fridge and it includes a ridiculously amazing breakfast (that served as our Yom Tov lunch a few days) it was the deal of the century...if any of you are sitting on free night certs and HHonors points, I'd book it and then you could always decide what you wanted to do for the other nights later or cancel it with no penalty. 

Even if you paid $600 per night for for the other 4 nights of Yom Tov next year and got the seders and paid for every Shabbat Yom/Tov meals for next year (it is only 8 total meals because Shabbat falls out on Yom Tov but I think you could easily get away with not paying for every dinner and lunch) you could probably do the whole thing for about $3500 total for two people or $4500 for 2 adults and one kid in the same room. 

Again, you could spend way less by making other arrangements for some of the meals.  You'd get breakfast every day, seriously 5 star food (no kitniyot, non-gebrokst) and there are tons of mehadrin restaurants open where dinner won't cost you that much.  We had an amazing trip, got to do so many fun things also, earned tons more HHonors points from what we did spend and didn't feel stuck to one dining room on a program, I highly recommend it and hope others can book before they block these standard rooms!

April 26, 2017, 05:04:16 PM
Re: Arizona Master Thread
whats the current consensus on the best resort in phoenix?
looking currently at the waldorf biltmore vs Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort. or perhaps any other ones that are top notch

No Way Tapatio Cliffs. Biltmore if you're only looking for high end.  I actually just got back from Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak.  The decor was cheesy there but lazy river and water area are nice and only $12 uber from the airport and $5 Ubers to La Bella Pizza and 613 was way cheaper and less annoying than renting a car and staying in Scottsdale.  Are you looking for a couple or a family? If it was a couple Biltmore is great but I wouldn't take my kids to a place that didn't have a lazy river, slides etc. when so many resorts there do have that stuff.  Squaw Peak also has included mini-golf tennis and basketball courts and the lowest room is a two room suite. It would be my first HHonors choice with kids.

April 30, 2017, 06:04:28 PM
Re: Hilton Master Thread
Best Hilton CC is sapphire reserve. Quickest way to get status is to spend $40k on a Hilton CC.

fair enough but 3x ur x 2c value = 6c
12 HH x .5 c value also 6c

Although I would agree that its easier to get higher values out of the UR and .5 is right around the high value of HH.

i have that. what do you mean? does it give status?

CSR doesn't give Hilton status.  Only AMEX Platinum and Hilton Branded cards.

I have grappled with this a lot because I spend tons on hotels with my business meetings and I do end up putting everything at Hiltons on the Surpass because with the 12ppd and being careful about redemptions (getting close to .01 a point) I'm getting a 8-12% return. When I factor in points I earn from the hotels themselves, I figure hotel stays are earning me about a 30% rebate in points. If you aren't gonna try for aspirational rewards and just want the flexibility get the CSR but my Surpass pass has enabled me to go to the Conrad Maldives and the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem for Shavuot and all of this past Pesach (and they have nights open next Pesach)!  I've booked the Waldorf Astoria Boca Beach club for 64k a night when rooms are $800+ a night and I'm booked into the Conrad Koh Samaui (status gets me free KOSHER breakfast) next winter so again it's not as flexible as the CSR but I have had some truly unbelievable experiences because of this card.

May 01, 2017, 08:04:29 PM
Re: Arizona Master Thread
Want to split up my stay to two of these hotels. Which would you guys say is top two to stay at?

The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa
Hyatt Regency Scottsdale: Scottsdale Hotel

Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort | Phoenix
Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort in Phoenix

Westin has great pools, river, slide and also a surfing machine (although I haven't stayed at the Hyatt and maybe others prefer it) and for couples would go to the Biltmore.

May 01, 2017, 10:02:50 PM
Re: Hilton Master Thread
I don't understand what you are trying to say here

Sorry was trying to say that from all accounts they don't seem to care if the registered guest isn't there at checkin.

May 03, 2017, 09:07:04 AM
Re: Honeymoon- Japan (PH/Andaz Tokyo, RC Kyoto), Singapore(IC, MBS) & StR Maldives
its amazing the knowledge you can get lurking around for a year

Super impressive... particularly from someone with a 35-post count...  Look forward to seeing pictures...

And even more impressive is his one HT you see was for the info about the SR having points booking for only 30k a night (since you had to call to book and nobody else bothered)!!! It was in some random trip planning thread and I just re-posted it to the Maldives thread, all heck broke loose, Dan made like 10 bookings for himself along with any of the other people on the thread sitting on SPG points before Dan posted it on the main page AND scooped Lucky!!  ;D

So seriously beastieb, what a spectacular trip (one of the best I've ever seen put together on DDF), thanks for sharing the info and writing up the TR and before you get to 70 posts can you pretty please give us another Hat Tip like your first while planning your next trip!!!  :P

May 09, 2017, 12:05:01 PM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)! Okay getting started on our Tuesday of Adventure in Panama.

I got up before my kids so I went to enjoy a quiet coffee and empanada ALONE at the Coffee Bean about a block from the Hilton (may not seem like a huge deal to you but that is a huge luxury for me on a family vacation)!  ;D

About 9AM our tour guide picked us up in our private van for our approx 1hr drive to the Chargres river.  Since she knew would could eat fresh fruit (and not other food she provided) she always made sure to have tons for us.  Instead of getting it herself that day, we made a stop in a little town along the way in an open air market and she let the kids pick what they wanted even though she paid (I'll give detailed info later on the tour guide and company but she was a guide par excellance and I feel she helped to make our trip truly special with these little touches).

We continued on our way and in about half hour of a very easy ride (not bad roads at all) we arrived within the National Park and emptied at the bank of the river.  I got concerned when I saw a couple of huge tour buses also arriving but our guide explained that they only bother to go to the first Indian Village and head back (usually to their cruise ships) and we would be riding our boat significantly past there to take a little hike to see a water fall and our own private "swimming pool" within the river.  The canoes were super cool dugouts from one tree trunk, made by the Indian guides.  The one modern accommodation was that it did have a little motor so my kids didn't have to row.  :P

You can see from the picture you are entering the heart of a rainforest and you have the chance to see cool birds and animals along with way.  Shockingly, we encountered literally zero mosquitos, I guess because we came in the dry season, and the weather was perfect and not to hot at all.

May 09, 2017, 12:25:05 PM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)! After the maybe 45 minute, very pleasant boatride, we got out to a little path.  Our hike was shorter than other people's (our friends had gone a month before and had to hike a bit farther because the river was down) because the river was high and she knew some of my family members are extremely lazy.  8)  After a few minutes we arrived at this beautiful waterfall.  Because the Hilton's pool was so cold my kid's said that swimming in the river was actually warmer, plus after walking in the heat it was just so refreshing and didn't seem to cold at all.  DH didn't want to swim so that was great because he snapped some great pics.

I actually brought my daughter's floaties and was glad I did because the pool was quite deep and also you have a current from the waterfall.  Our tour guide was again so awesome and helped me to bring my daughter up to the rocks under the waterfall so we could get some pictures.  My boys were having too much fun playing and couldn't be bothered to come pose for a picture!  ::)

Don't usually post face pictures but figured this one is far enough away. ;)

Without starting a whole halachic argument here, just a word to the wise about privacy and swimming here.  We swam uninterrupted for about half an hour all by ourselves.  It's my own personal issue but in a different life ages ago, I used to be a lifeguard and really love to swim and dive and covering my hair in the water is just very difficult for me (the frum suit doesn't bother me at all in  Since I forgot to bring a swim cap, our tour guide was a woman and we were all alone, I was considering taking off my hat so I could really dive down, play with my kids and enjoy myself.  Literally as I'm contemplating this, a tour guide walks up the trail with 3 or 4 people! 

They just were there to see the waterfall and not swim (According to our guide, she is one of the only ones that tells people to come in swim clothes).  So bottom line, if you are makpid on not doing mixed swimming this is an awesome place to go and have fun, even if someone does happen to come they most likely won't swim and will leave after snapping pics for a minute or two.  It IS very isolated and hard to get to but NOT private so I personally would want to make sure I was dressed tzniusly at all times (again, just my personal preference not giving advice).

May 09, 2017, 12:47:19 PM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)! After the swim, we hiked back to the boat and rode back along the Chargres river to an Embrera Indian Village.  Since it is deeper into the river area, the big tour buses don't go there and only people on private tours like us, were there.

The entrance to the village from the river and the pictures do include the local people in their native dress. The women of the village all come out to welcome visitors and the kids are visibly excited to have people come.  They don't even have electricity there and the kids all know my tourguide and she brings them treats and toys so they especially got excited to see her!

It was really sweet how the children wanted to show us everything and how excited my children were (especially my youngest daughter) to run around and play with them.  Because they subsist mostly off of fish from the river, local fruit and vegetables and some subsistence farming, our guide brought them a treat of raisin bread and sliced cheese and they were so excited to get it.  They all waited and shared nicely and you can see their palpable joy and excitement!  My daughter really wanted to be in the middle of everything but was still a little shy.  :)

May 09, 2017, 01:36:33 PM
Re: What Award Itinerary Did You Just Book/Hold? This one was a big project but I got it all done with I think the best possible routing for trying to get J for 5 ppl and the lowest possible points expenditure.  This will be a family trip post bar-mitzvah for my son, during Yeshiva Week, and I really wanted to make sure we had Shabbos with a minyan and nice meals.  I know it's really only supposed to be flights in this thread but I thought others might like to see where we are booked to stay since a couple of the hotels aren't typical ones DDFers book.  Also, I think it's way harder finding space with more than two people and above 4 ppl trying to get J flights is so hard.  Hope you all find it useful.

Den-SFO (need to still buy or book, wouldn't let me book on the same mileage ticket on Virgin because it wasn't coded yet as Alaska but I'm hoping that will change and I can add in that leg to our outbound to free).

SFO-HKG CX 893 12:55AM arrives 8:55AM Friday  50kAS plus $61.10 so 250k for 5 people and $305.50 and would have been $3500pp so .07 pp (Used free nights for 2 rooms for 3 nights at the Royal Garden next Kehillat Zion).

HKG-BKK CX included in the above mileage ticket but I am planning to cancel this leg because I found a direct flight

HKG-USM   Bankok Airways 8:45AM arrive 11:10 AM  Monday in Koh Samui. Only 10k pp and 50k total AF miles

It was $90pp taxes and fees or $452.30 over .06pp redemption even though they are in economy because it is the only direct flight and are over $600pp for a paid ticket (Staying 4 nights in the Conrad Residences). 

USM-SIN Silk Air 12:05 with a 15:15 arrival on Friday.  Only 10,625 SQ miles pp so 53,125 total miles 

I booked before the chart changes and decided I'd rather pay the $36 fuel fees for the 1375 discount because I had almost that exact amount sitting in Singapore that would only need a couple thousand point addition and I generally try to redeem at much higher than .03 per dollar for my transferable currencies (but maybe that was a mistake).  Total of $75pp in taxes and fees and $305 total.  A paid flight was $271 so was a .0255 redemption in economy.  Staying 2 nights at the new Hilton Garden Inn near the shul for only 10k HHonors a night, so not fancy but such a great redemption.  I want to have our last night there be my only paid hotel night and stay at the Marina Bay Sands.

SIN-HKG-LAX on CX 8:00AM will at 9:25 arrival on Monday the same day.  Again only 50k AS miles plus $81.76 so a total of 250k miles and $408.80 taxes and fees.  Paid tickets are 3158pp so it was a .06 pp redemption

LAX-DEN booked on American for 7500 Avios and and 5.60 fees pp for a total of 37.5k and 28.00

All together, I spent:
500k AS I was able to take advantage of that short-term deal where I transferred to Virgin with the SPG bonus and then got another bonus when exchanging to AS so those tickets really cost me about 300k SPG or 60k SPG pp RT.  That more than an $.11pp redemption of SPG points for those CX flights.
50k AF
53,125k SQ
37.5k Avios

All together all the taxes and fees were $1500 for all 5 ppl.

I am very happy!  :P


May 09, 2017, 11:40:46 PM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)! Here are a few more pics of that day.  They do a nice presentation showing their native songs and dance, explaining how they live.  Others got a fresh lunch of fish from the river and plantains but for us they had a nice fruit plate prepared.  They survive off of the local food, money from tour groups and selling their amazing hand woven baskets and wares so we bought some to take home.  They showed each different fruit or vegetable they used for each dye to get all the colors they used in the designs and my children really loved that.  The kids were excited to show us their school (the only concrete building) and explained they have a Panamanian teacher who comes and sleeps there Mon-Fri.

and that was the end of a truly lovely day so we headed out:

We had an easy drive back where my kids munched a bunch of snacks because they were hungry and then they slept.  We were back in Panama city about 3PM and Sorhay dropped us at Hilel Sport and Grill (the menu is available below) were we had awesome burgers (THIS is what I'm talking about convenience, since we could have such an awesome adventure and get dropped off afterward at beautiful kosher restaurant)!

Next installment will be lazy day on Thurday and then visiting the canal and Monkey Island on Friday!

May 10, 2017, 12:04:03 PM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
reminds me of my honeymoon to panama! great country especially san blas

Yes, SUCH an awesome country, can't wait to go back.

Seriously fantastic report. I imagine Panama will pick up steam around these parts now for family vacationers.

Thanks, that means a lot to me and I do hope that lots of frum families see that a vacation here is just as easy as Florida, Phoenix or Cancun and can be way cheaper and more fun!  :)

May 10, 2017, 07:30:04 PM
Re: Next Vacation - Ideas
Cancun sounds like your best bet
has all of your requirements

Yup, Or Panama and you have a bunch of minyans if you want to stay for Shabbat

May 12, 2017, 11:41:57 AM
Re: Maldives Master Thread For PG J. I was just trying to give you cheapest partner currencies and also where to call to find availability.  Granted it was in Y but I just booked 5 ppl from HKG-USM for 50k total AF because like you I wanted direct, so they definitely have availability on certain routes. Just call AF and ask. Their reps were very helpful and even placed the tickets on hold so I could transfer the points.
May 17, 2017, 11:03:32 AM
Re: Marriott Certs Sale Can you guys put when your certs are expiring?
May 17, 2017, 08:15:54 PM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)! Ok since the last post got me back in here, I'll add a little bit more today. 

Thursday we just had a lazy day and we actually spent the morning looking at one of the Jewish schools.  We're very interested in the Jewish community for a number of reasons and we also have a friend that had a job possibility at one of the schools so we went to check it out for all those reasons.  I have to say, that I was BLOWN AWAY

The school was so amazing and the things they offer the kids puts American day schools to shame.  One of the schools also TOTALLY teaches in English (one school won't take a child after 2nd grade that can't read and write in English) because they want their children to be able to go on to higher education in the US and Israel.  They have 4 Orthodox day schools there plus a boys' Yeshiva, girls Bais Yaacov HS AND a girls BY type college program (for a community of 12,000 total Jews, can you imagine??).  ...gotta love Sephardim and how they try to keep their WHOLE kehilla involved, even if someone is not so outwardly observant.

To compare, we have 90k Jews in Denver and two orthodox elementary schools, a modern co-ed highschool, BY and Yeshiva, all probably adding up to the kids in one of their day schools.  For someone that has an internet based business or other job, Panama could be an amazing place to live (they also will give residency to all Americans).  Tuition is about the same (a little less than the US), oh and also tuition includes all their meals and snacks at the schools and a live in housekeeper/nanny costs about $600 a month...umm, call me sold, I wanna move!  :P  Seriously, I've looked into a lot of things about living there so if you guys have any questions about schools or other stuff feel free to ask.

Since our school tour took up the whole morning and I obviously didn't take pictures there (but I wish I did because the campus was so gorgeous), I'm just gonna put a few city and food pics for the day.

After the tour we took an Uber over to La Spezia, dairy Italian place.  On the way we passed through a lot of the city and you can see all the Ritzy malls feel all the energy of it being a financial hub.  We passed a super high-end mall and also their famous Corkscrew building (apparently exactly the same as the one in Dubai but Panama's one doesn't

I did NOT take these two pictures below (I have some I took but my family is mugging for the camera in all of them). ;)

Here is the main mall:

La Spezia is literally around the corner from the Sortis (Marriott brand) hotel and the Kava restaurant inside.  They are all in the Obarrio district.  It is the financial and business hub of the city and where the Jews actually used to live. There are still active synagogues and minyanim there although most of the community has moved the couple miles over to Paitilla and Punta Pacifica to live the new buildings with huge apartments, Shabbat elevators and lots of other amenities.

DH and I agreed that La Spezia offered one of the best thin crust, brick oven pizzas I've had in my life (and that's saying alot since we didn't always keep fully kosher)!  Also, unlike all the other places that were uber-modern and trendy (which is awesome), this restaurant is in an older building with a beautiful courtyard that really gave you a vibe of being in a Latin Hacienda or courtyard of an old building in Europe.  As is a common theme my family is in most of our food pics but we had amazing pizza, great salads, and a killer pasta with Pesto. This was one of the only places that I don't think they had a menu in English but the waiter was helpful and I'd hope people can figure out a basic menu.  :P

We got a great salad (one pizza is in the background) and you can see their brick oven:

Most restaurants in Panama don't have actual websites but Facebook pages so here is the one for La Spezia:

After lunch, we walked back over to the Sortis hotel and Kava because I wanted to see how close it really was (it was a two minute walk) and I figured it would be easier for an Uber to find us at the hotel (the old buildings in Panama City literally don't have numbers and people just use cross streets to figure location out).  You can see Kava is such a cool place to hang out and it's also got a great vibe, with a whole bar menu and hookahs if you're not running around like me with a bunch of kids!  8)

After lunch we took a quick $3 uber back to the Hilton and hung out at the pool.  Then obviously my kids were hungry again...can any other parent relate? So right after swimming we walked the block over to the complex that has the Coffee Bean and inside is a Pinkberry Yogurt with a teudah and everything is under hasgacha.  You can see the teudah in the background along with the menu of smoothies, parfaits, etc.  I believe they even have some parve sorbets for people that keep CY but would eat parve there.

Then we headed back home.  My husband had a business meeting that evening that he got ready for and I just hung out with the kids.  Obviously, in an hour or two my kids were hungry AGAIN so we headed out to get some dinner.  We went to Pita Plus (meat restaurant).  It's actually the only restaurant we went to twice because my kids begged to go back.  It's not super fancy but they have a solid meat menu with Israeli, Sephardic, Panamanian and even Chinese food. I had let my one son get a steak there because it was so reasonably priced and the other one said the chicken tenders were the best he'd ever had so they convinced me to go back.  It's actually in the same little complex in Paitilla that has four kosher restaurants: Prime grill for meat, Pita Pan which is an awesome family, dairy pizza place and bakery (we ate there earlier in the week and picked up bread for Shabbat that same evening) and a parve fish and sushi place called Metsuyan.  The first time we Ubered there but since I knew my way, we just walked this time. 

That tells you how safe I felt that I walked alone with my kids the mile to dinner.  Here is a picture of my Sancochio soup (my friend who had been the month before told me I HAD to order it) which was a really good chicken soup with Yucca (similar to potato).

You can see the Pita Plus menu here:

After dinner it was fully dark, my kids were tired and since I was carrying bags of bread and food and wouldn't really be able to hold my youngest's hand on the walk, I decided not to walk back (but I would have felt totally safe walking) and we "splurged" for another $3 Uber. I hope you can see how compact all the locations and neighborhoods in Panama City are and how convenient vacationing here is with kids and not worrying about food or driving.  We headed back home to the Hilton after another happy day!   

Next Installment: The Canal and Monkey Island on Friday!

May 18, 2017, 01:28:54 PM
Re: Maldives Master Thread
BA shows the HKG leg for CX. But they don't show a non-stop from HKG to MLE. They only show an overnight through CMB.

Might be because that flight isn't daily, only a few times a week...maybe Sunday, Wed., Friday?

June 01, 2017, 11:51:51 PM
Re: Sawatdee Khap! Shauly's trip to Chaing Mai Great TR! Looking forward to the next installment.
June 04, 2017, 07:31:25 PM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)! Friday trip to Miraflores Locks, the Canal and Monkey Island!

Our tour guide picked us up at around 9AM.  On our way out we stopped at the same market we had on other days.  It was just called the Chinese Market because the owners are Chinese Panamanians.  My kids thought it was so cool how many "native" Chinese are there.  Our tour guide explained that just like Jews and others came in the 1800's many Chinese also came to build the railroad and trade.  This market only had fruit and we made sure to pick up lots of snacks not only for us but also the monkeys!

Our tour guide getting our fruit for the day, with the Chinese store owner:

First stop was Miraflores locks with are truly stunning.  It was the only place all week we saw packed with foreigners (from the cruise ships) but you can see why it is can't miss.  The engineering is astounding, how they move these HUGE ships up and down basically with elevators of water.

This is when the lock is full of water.  You can't really see because I snapped the picture to late but off in the distance is a huge container ship that they had raised up the equivalent of many stories to travel through the canal:

And you should know which kids are mine since they wear Broncos clothing everywhere (I thought it was a cute look with a Panama hat)!  ;D  The one picture inside is in the attached 3 story visitor center, below is a model of the control room.  The center was packed but it was REALLY cool.  They show every aspect of how the canal and trade through it work.  They also have a simulator where my kids got to pilot a boat through the canal and see how hard it is to do...they crashed, unfortunately.  :P

After visiting the locks (I'd say it's 1-2 hours max, including the movie in the visitor center) we headed out on the canal!

This first ship was heading East from Japan (while we were going West), our guide said carrying approx. four THOUSAND cars.  You can see the tugboat pushing it.

Then some huge container ships:

Soon we got to an island that had lots of howler monkeys.  They are these teeny little black monkeys but when they yell they seriously sound like a 400 pound gorilla chasing you in the jungle and if I heard them yelling I would run VERY fast!

They are kind of hard to see so high up in the trees but the black shadow in the middle of these pictures is a howler monkey:

We hung out there a little bit and then headed out to the other islands with the other monkeys.  Forgive me if I mess up any animal species but I think these are the white-headed capuchin:

They'll come right up to the boat and eat out of your hand but my kids (and were a little nervous so we put some fruit on the front of the boat and they come grab it jump back in the trees. It was so AWESOME!

As we were driving among the islands and then on the way back we saw these cool ducks that can basically walk on the water and reeds because of their special webbing in their feet.

We also saw a baby crocodile in the water (search hard to find him in the middle of the picture where the hand is pointing) :)

On the way back we saw lots more cool ships that everyone enjoyed:

When we got back to the van it was about 2PM so I checked by trusted Kosher PTY app to see what was still open.  Our friends had raved about Aroma Gourmet and we had actually gotten sushi delivery from them via the app, the first night at the hotel, so decided to actually try out their restaurant again.  They didn't close until an hour before Shabbat and our guide dropped us there around 3PM.  The decor and food is great and we all enjoyed the pizza, salads and sushi after another great day!

We then Ubered back to the Hilton for me to arrange our food (which had all been purchased the day before) and shower and generally get ready for Shabbat and services at the Shevet Achim shul...more details about Shabbat to come in the next installment!

June 05, 2017, 01:42:58 PM
Re: Is this a scam or not? Don't do it...even if you haven't figured out the exact angle of what kind of fraud it is, there is something definitely off here.
June 07, 2017, 11:26:36 PM
Re: Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem
Not to be negative or say anything that can be taken the wrong way but even the chief rabbis do stuff that isn't %100 kosher and get in trouble for again wondering if our "in house chief rabbi" in what he said or did  was %100 kosher and honest.

I seriously hope that people on here don't try to get compensation for not getting the upgrade they hoped about killing the Golden Goose...

June 11, 2017, 01:10:23 PM
Re: Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem
but would you go for the comp if you didnt get upgraded? like in my case?

Me personally, absolutely not. I'm not saying you personally did something wrong, but I do find a lot of the things people do or brag about on DDF while maybe not against Halacha, distasteful or bordering on a Hillul HaShem (and trust me I'm happy to nicely push for upgrades and extras).

 I like to be rewarded for my loyalty but as a business owner who tries to give great service but also deals with a lot of jackasses manufacturing problems to get discounts or future credits, I never want to be "that guy." 

Most importantly, I try to always remember that at the  end of the day HaShem gives my parnassah so If I do something remotely reflecting bad on myself or the Klal, I'll just lose some other money, client, etc. somewhere down the line...

June 12, 2017, 03:46:06 PM
Re: Marriott Certs Sale
Does anyone know if certificates can be used at Vacation Clubs? I looked all over online and can't find an answer.

YES! As long as they take points bookings in general. Their category will be on their main page. There is also another thread that goes through a bunch of the Marriott timeshare options and has great places that have their base unit as a 2brm so your cert would get you a place to sleep 8ppl (usually cat. 8 or higher) although I think the Miami Doral Vacation club (now attached to the Trump resort since Marriott sold the main resort) might only be a Cat 5.  Some seriously awesome properties.

June 25, 2017, 03:39:56 PM
Re: Private Island Paradise: Something Fishy's Anniversary Adventure Haven't been on DDF in (gasp) a couple weeks and just read through this whole thing.

First off, wow, wow and WOW...I can't wait for the rest!

Just to defend Davidmal for a sec, I guess I'm kinda JAPy but I think he brought up some good points because I'm so ignorant that it never occurred to me that there wouldn't be AC at the place!  ;D

And then in your whole inevitable Halacha discussion you mentioned having to activate a pump just to flush the toilet and that pretty much sealed it that as much as I think this trip is AMAZING it probably isn't a couple's trip that would work for us....I showed this TR to my DH and told him we should do it as a stopover on our next trip to Panama and he was like "No way, don't even think about it"

Seriously, can you do a segment of the TR going through some of the details of what kinds of things are different because you are so isolated and not on the grid?  Electricity, gas for cooking, did you just have a burner or what was actually in the kitchen, where does the waste go (into holding tanks?), etc.

I think people will find it interesting and helpful (like once I learned about having to attach sewer lines to an RV I realized my family would not be renting one...totally OT but husbands of two close friends who rented them independently managed to spray their toilet refuse all over themselves and their surroundings)!  Can't wait for the rest and especially to know if your flight times worked out so you were able to get your killer hamburger again at Pita Plus in Panama!  :P

July 14, 2017, 06:05:53 AM
Re: What Hotel Award Reservation Did You Just Book/Hold
You really do like hiltons!

I get a boatload of points from work and I don't care what anyone says if you aren't just playing the CC churning game but actually spending money at hotels, NOBODY lets you earn crazy amounts of points like HHonors.  I usually end up earning like 30ppd plus another 12 ppd from the Surpass card, so if you can find a redemption close to a penny a point you are getting like a 30% return!

Now on "bad" redemptions like this one where I'm only getting about .35 of a cent per point I figure I'm still getting like 10-15% back on my spend.

how much did it cost?

A little over a million points.  Before I get killed here for the redemption, I was going to have to anyway get two rooms for my family and once I realized that with our flights we can only be there 4 nights and I can't get the 5th night free discount, it wasn't that much more to get the residence, with a ton more space and a full kitchen, than getting two rooms.  Also, almost all these points are earned at a minimum of 12ppd so really it's probably about 75k in spend for these points, same as spending let's say 25k SPG points a night since SPG are so hard to earn with little bonus earning possibilities...I know I'm rationalizing!  :)

July 17, 2017, 10:46:48 PM
Re: Israel & Bali: around the world in 17 days
It's amazing, Yehoshua!

+1 Monkey forest looked really cool!

July 25, 2017, 10:23:41 PM
Re: Israel & Bali: around the world in 17 days

Yes, totally great all around!

July 28, 2017, 12:13:50 AM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)! Shabbat and Cancun Stopover on the way home:

Just a short little final installment.  We went to Shevet Ahim shul for Shabbat and there wasn't any kiddush there that week.  I just wanted to note that because others have been and had full kiddush lunches there but I wouldn't count on that.

Our return flight was early Sunday morning so we mostly just packed up after Shabbat.  I was having trouble finding good saver flights/connections for us back to Denver so I booked us on a Copa flight to Cancun, with two nights at the Westin Lagunamar and then a direct United flight back to Denver.  We arrived early to the airport but the line to check a bag for Copa was INSANE and in the future, if I have to check a bag I would only fly on Copa out of PTY if I was in J.  The line didn't move at all and was total chaos.  Because our tickets were booked with SQ miles we couldn't check in online and really I can't empasize how bad the experience was.  If you are returning home in Y, try your best to book a flight on United or American where they don't have crazy lines and (hopefully) are more efficient.  The only way we made our flight was my husband losing his cool and literally screaming at an agent to let us go to the Business Class line.  After that, immigration was also super slow so we ran to the gate and got there as they were boarding. 

Once we were on the plane, I think it was nicer than United and they had great IFE at each seat so my kids were super happy.  The flight to Cancun was quick and uneventful.  When we arrived there the airport had all the things that I was worried about in Panama (but never happened there), literally getting rushed by people trying to pretend they were with taxis, selling timeshares, just being shady and causing general discomfort, etc.  In the end we found a taxi and headed to the Westin Lagunamar.

Maybe because we were staying at a huge resort, right in Cancun not somewhere more secluded in Riviera Maya but Cancun was just not what I expected.  I felt like I was in Vegas on the beach and although I do love Vegas, it wasn't what I was expecting.  I guess I'm including this in the TR because SO many people RAVED to me about how great Cancun is before the trip and I just never felt the love.  The hotel was beautiful and huge but you definitely had to be out early to get a seat at the pool and I kind of felt like how I'd assume it feels to be on a cruise with a bunch of people I didn't want to hang out with yet couldn't escape.

Also, a warning to those staying at the Westin Lagunamar in the future.  I booked the larger Premium 1BR for our family of 5 and they are VERY strict about maximum occupancy (and I understand why after going to the pool in the afternoon and finding like one empty chair for my whole family).  They asked for our passports upon check-in and before I could stop him, my DH handed them all 5 passports.  The front desk lady made a big stink about having 5 people in the room and said that we'd have to pay for a 2nd room for an additional $350 a night!  I told her that I totally understood their policy and that they might not be able to accomodate us.  I pulled up my app in front of her, found a teeny room for like $40 on there and told my husband that he'd have to go at night and sleep there after helping us unpack!  :P

After seeing that I called her bluff and that there was ZERO chance of me paying for a 2nd room there she relented and said that they didn't want to separate us and would allow all 5 of us but that we'd HAVE to pay for the rollaway (for like $ so I thanked her, said I appreciated her trying "so hard" to help us and checked us all in.  :)  So again, just a little warning about the Westin Lagunamar and extra kids.  If you want to bring more people than allowed just be prepared for some real pushback from them. 

Ok, so why DO people rave about Cancun?  Because the water and beach ARE insanely gorgeous!  We had traveled to the Maldives just a few months before the trip and even though neither of us are really dying to go back to Cancun anytime soon we did both agree that the beach and color of the water were as beautiful as the Maldives.  Below are a few pictures of the view from our room and balcony.  It was a truly lovely view.

Some final thoughts.  If you are planning to book on Star Alliance, now that United changed their stopover policy, booking on Singapore Airlines enabled us to have this nice stopover in Cancun and if you do want to go to Panama and are having trouble finding flights in either direction, Copa has direct flights from NYC, ORD, SFO, LAX, Roatan island in Honduras (check out SomethingFishy's insane Private Island TR where he flew into there), San Jose in Costa Rica, Cancun and lots of other places that might be a fun stopover in either direction.  All in all, this was by far my least stressful family vacation since I've had kids, where we got to have some great adventures AND relax, eat well and have a lovely Shabbos with a minyan. I can't wait to go back to Panama B"H next summer!

August 03, 2017, 04:40:22 PM
Marriot Newport Coast Villas (Cat 8) & the New Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills!
I'm not gonna write too much on this one because you all know where Southern California is and what to do there (Disneyland, all the stuff in San Diego, etc.) BUT some things I want to point out. 

There is an awesome little market and takeout place near SNA airport called OC Kosher ( and although their only seating is outside they have an extensive menu and the food (try the homemade sausages) is really good.  We always stop there for lunch on the way home from the airport, get extra takeout to heat up plus whatever else my kids want.  There is also a Trader Joes right down the street from the hotel.

The Marriott Newport Coast Villas in Orange County is possibly one of the best Marriott Cert Redemptions for a family anywhere in the continental US (there are some great villas like these in Hawaii).  It's a Cat 8 and all units are 2Brm villas so a 2brm villa is the smallest unit you can book!  The nightly rate when we stayed last month was $850 a night plus tax.  Seriously, I'm hesitant to write this because I don't want the place to turn into the Westin Lagunamar and get overrun by frum families but I'm sharing anyway.  ;D

Here are some pictures of the unit and the resort:

Living room with a very comfy and large sleeper sofa:

From the living room into the dining room and kitchen (ignore my son acting silly): :)

Second Bedroom with another sleeper sofa:

Master Bedroom (excuse the mess) and the attached soaking tub and bathroom:

Views from the lobby, walking down to the pool and pool area:

Some pictures of the grounds and activities.  Because this is a timeshare, resort property, they have SO many free activities and amenities for kids.  My youngest loved the activities room where she got to do art projects.  My older boys loved the play station.  We got to watch Start Wars in the movie theater and also went to a "Dive in Movie" at the pool one night.  The volley ball, tether ball and mini-golf courses were also fun.

All the beaches in California are public and right below the resort is Crystal Cove State park.  Since you have to pay for parking, you are better off taking the free shuttle from the hotel, that runs hourly.  It's just a great family beach and my kids really enjoyed playing there.  The resort has beach chairs, umbrellas, sand toys, frisbees, footballs, etc. for either loan or rent (all very reasonable) so you don't have to pack a thing for the kids.

Hopefully the pictures are self explanatory but if you have any questions about the place or nearby I'll do my best to answer and coming up next the truly spectacular, brand new Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills!

August 03, 2017, 06:12:45 PM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Great post!!


I enjoyed my time in Cancun, but I agree with the Vegas comparison. I don't have a great desire to go back.

Yeah, it was nice but seems like so many other great places to go instead.

August 04, 2017, 12:19:58 PM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
Great conclusion to the TR. I really enjoyed reading it. Are you not going to share what you did in Cancun for your time there?

We really only had one full day there.  We arrived Sunday around noon and just spent the day at the beach and pool had food delivered from Red Heifer.  On Monday, I did take my older boys snorkeling and although it was a great first time snorkeling trip (which was what I was hoping to do for not too much money), that trip did just add to the kind of bad taste in my mouth I had for Cancun.

I specifically booked it through the hotel concierge because I didn't want to deal with any changes, shadiness, etc. and wanted it all properly organized, since it was gonna just be me and the two boys.  AFTER I had booked and paid through the Concierge he told me that I had to pay a separate "national park entrance fee" on-site the next day.  It's annoying that they nickel and dime that way and especially that the Westin Concierge only told me afterward.  The bus came at around 7am the next morning and took us to the snorkeling place.  They serve a big breakfast there will a full open bar and yes there were plenty of people drinking at 8AM before heading out to snorkel (perhaps not the smartest idea).  The snorkeling trip was actually fine, we saw lots of fish and it was good for me to see that although my kids are still getting older and strong swimmers that it was scary for them (even with life vests) and although they had fun, I shouldn't plan any vacations around snorkeling any time soon.

The guides were nice guys but again I just kinda felt that it was big money cattle car and that there wasn't a whole lot of caring involved.  They took a bunch of underwater pictures to sell later and really emphasize the tips.  I speak Spanish pretty well and they kept reminding the main guy to really explain to everyone that when they come to you to fill out your survey that is the time to pay a tip.  I'm not blaming these guys and did give them a nice tip, as they may not even get any base salary and only live on tips but it just was a little uncomfortable (our taxi driver said the company only pays them like $10 a day but he keeps the job because on a good day he can earn $100 in tips).  So then you come back, everybody drinks more, they take their time and make you wait for all the pictures to be printed so that you will hopefully buy those.  My kids had fun, I'm glad we went but it wasn't a family environment that I'd prefer for mt kids and I just felt kind of blah about it.

When we got back, we changed, took an Uber to Red Heifer (like $5), which had great food, was expensive but nice to have.  When we went outside there was big van taxi, my husband asked him how much to go back to the Lagunamar and he said $20!  I didn't want to wait for an Uber so we ended up paying $12 for it and the guy did have a huge van that would easily hold all of us and our luggage so we booked him ahead for I think $30 to take us to the airport the next morning.  I don't have any pictures of the snorkeling place and can't remember the company name.

I did add in a couple of pool pics from the Hotel in case people wanted to see.  The pool WAS very fun for my kids, it was just insanely crowded.  My littlest also had fun doing art projects in the Kids Club with my husband while we were snorkeling so the Westin does have it's advantages for families.

Really fun and beautiful infinity pool and waterslide!


One last note about being at the Westin, I thought it was super weird how many obviously frum people were there that seemed to go out of their way to avoid basic eye contact (forget say hello, smile or give a basic greeting).  I figured it was because they were on vacation and didn't want to see other frum people or where embarrased they were at the pool or beach but my friends from NY have assured me that people in Denver are just unusually friendly and Jews elsewhere never acknowledge other people...LOL...either way that was also a little awkward to be at the beach and pool sitting next to other frum people going out of their way to ignore you (btw, I wasn't looking to chat, just normal eye contact, a smile and move on would have been great) so I thought I'd mention that too...and I think that's it folks!  :P

August 04, 2017, 12:48:59 PM
Re: Colorado Master Thread
my brother and 2 friends are vacationing in Colorado and are looking for a place for this shabbos in Denver . any leads?

Tell them to book into the Staybridge Suites in Glendale.  It's in the eruv and they have Shabbos friendly keys.  We are totally inundated with tourists and hospitality requests here now.  Frankly, I think it's bad form to plan to cover the rest of your vacation and ask a stranger to provide your Shabbos vacation lodging.  This is coming from someone hosting sleeping guests for two Shabboses in a row but can this be a teachable moment where you tell them to stop looking and start making arrangements for this part of their vacation like they did for the rest of it?

August 10, 2017, 01:42:55 AM
Re: Maldives Master Thread
Honeymoon Begins in 6 Days!!!!

So far I have NYC-CMB EK J (82.5K AS) Outbound flights

4 Nights Trekking around Sri Lanka

CMB-MLE Sri Lankan Air Y Cash flight

5 nights Conrad Rangali (95k HH) booked for honeymoon in Sept.
(2 Nights in a Beach Villa/3 Nights in a SWV)

MLE-LAX CX J (50K AS) Inbound flights

How does that sound??

Any last minute advice from you fine folks would be highly appreciated!!

Sounds awesome, well done and Mazal Tov!  If you email the Conrad ahead they will be very helpful with your frozen meals. You bringing food from NY or  from Chabad in Sri Lanka?  They will also bend over backward to make you breakfast, double wrapped fish and potatoes, sashimi, whatever you like and feel comfortable with. Barry Lincoln left Pam with the chef for omelettes and I left roasted seaweed with a hechsher so hopefully it's still there for you. :)

And I'd love to see a TR!

September 12, 2017, 11:44:12 AM
Re: Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)! Just booked my tickets for the family for three weeks next summer so hopefully this trip report will have more adventures and great kosher restaurants added then.  With free tickets and about $300 a week for hotel at the Sortis, we decided its cheaper than paying even for day camp for my kids and way more fun!!
September 25, 2017, 04:50:41 PM