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Re: Orlando Master Thread Just was in Orlando for a week and went to Disney. I've never done a TR yet. But I figured I'd do one to help people out based on our experiences.

We traveled from NYC area to Orlando, and spent a week there. We went to Disney Parks for 4 days. If you do the Disney Parks it is important that you plan in advance, do research, and use the Fastpasses, and use the Disney Fastpass app in the parks. We only waited on 2 lines in the park the entire 4 days (other than fastpass lines). It made the entire difference in the world between an amazing trip, and a trip in which you are waiting on lines the entire time. You must bring with you in the park a battery charger to ensure that your phone does not die. We had a heavy duty Anker fast charger that we use.

If you use Fast Pass, you are allowed to book your Fast Passes up to 30 days in advance, (and 60 if you stay in a Disney Resort). I suggest you get your Fast Passes 30 days in advance. Make sure to book them all for the morning or as early as possible, because once you use up your 3 passes, you then can get them one at a time. What we did, is immediately after going on the ride for the Fast Pass, is book something else right away on the app, even while waiting to get on the next ride, or even on the ride itself. It works. If you can't necessarily find what you want on the app when you are booking when you are in the park, play with it by time, instead of just a generic "afternoon" or "evening". In Magic Kingdom we used more than 10 fast passes alone on a single day.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the times on the Disney App for wait times, is almost like using Waze. The goal of the App is to spread you around the park and to get people from long lines to short lines, and then even them out. So if a line is 20 minutes, it might really be 30 or more. 

We also went out to eat in the few kosher restaurants in Orlando, and the prices are very very expensive. Its the price to pay for having kosher food in a community that is reliant on tourists for seemingly 85-95% of its business.

Day 1 - Flight from EWR to MCO on JetBlue using JetBlue points. We visited the Air Canada Lounge in EWR courtesy of Chase Sapphire. We got there after breakfast was over so slim pickings on the Kosher end. We got a few cans of soda and some lemon water. Our flight was uneventful. Jet Blue now gives free wifi, so that was helpful and the legroom was nice. We rented a minivan from Alamo which we got from Priceline. Alamo is a pain, and they would not give us  free spousal driver privileges. Even though the car was fine, I would not rent from them again just for that.  Since we were going to be staying over the weekend, and it was not high season for orthodox jews, we wanted to stay within walking distance of a shul. So we elected to stay at Westgate Palace with the Chabad Rate. We also wanted to stay at a place that had a full kitchen that we would kasher the oven. Based on my research Westgate was the only decent option. The room was a 2 bedroom suite with a queen in one bedroom and 2 twins in the other BR. There was a pullout coach in the living room. It had a full kitchen with self clean oven (electric flat range though) microwave, full fridge freezer, full washer dryer, 2 bathrooms, and dishes and glasses. We also had free wifi, up to 5 devices at a time. On shabbos if you went to the front desk they would escort you to your room and open the door for you.  The few times we had a maintenance problem (with the toilet and ac), they were at our room within 10 minutes to fix it. The hotel is a time share place, and over the weekend it is crowded with people taking advantage of reduced rates, and having to hear a time share pitch. As a result, on the weekdays we were there, it was empty, including the heated pool, on the weekends (Friday-Sunday) it was packed with people, and even the parking lot was full making it hard to find a parking space in their lot.  There is also a gated basketball court, sand volleyball court, tabletennis, and small playground which my kids played in. (We bought a basketball, so we wouldn't have to rent one at $3 a time, and also we found cheap table tennis stuff there too as well so we wouldn't have to rent it).

We drove to the Winn Dixie to pick up food for the room and our stay. They had a full selection of refrigerated and frozen goods, although many of their stuff (at the end of May) was still kosher for passover, that they were stuck with, and were still trying to sell at Passover prices. The baked goods that they had, especially the challah were not that fresh. We understand, we were there in off season. There was not much turnover when we came.

We went out for supper at Kosher Grill which was 5 minutes from our hotel. The food was good, but like every kosher restaurant in Orlando, pricey. Otherwise they cannot stay in business. At the same time, this restaurant was the only one where we saw "locals", and the only restaurant that actually had in stock everything on their menu.

Day 2- Disney - Hollywood Studios- It was day 1 for us at Disney. We bought a special 4 day "Magic Ticket" from Disney (through undercover tourist) which came out to a little under $1500 for 5 people. It allows 4 days, one day each park, with reentry allowed to the park that day. So one day you can go to Magic Kingdom, and that's it. You can't go to Epcot that day. But unlike a regular 4 day ticket, you can leave and reenter the park. So you were not stuck in the park all day. Also, it was cheaper than a 3 day ticket for us. Its a limited time offer, and the price for it, was actually cheaper for winter admission but we missed it by a few days.

Back to Hollywood Studios, We got there early as we needed to pick up our tickets. Make sure to take a picture of all your tickets and email it to yourself, as we misplaced one ticket during our trip. If you do not have a picture you will be out of luck. If you show them the picture, they will reissue you the ticket without any problem. We Did the Fast Pass for Hollywood, as the Other parks 30 days in advance. Our fast Passes were 1) Star Tours 2) Frozen Show 3) Toy Story Mania, and then later in the day Fast passes for 4) Beauty and the Beast 5) The Great Movie Ride and 6) Fantasia.

This park was the park we spent the least amount of time in. It might be because we are not Star Wars Fans, or it might be because its a park in Transition, that they are building Toy Story Land, and Star Wars Land. You must get fast passes for Toy Story Mania and Star Tours. The lines for those rides are insane. We started with signing the kids up for Jedi training. We waited about 10 minutes to sign them up and then had to pick a time for them later. We didn't end up doing it later because it rained (and we left the park for the afternoon). We then went to Star Tours. Its a cool ride with 3D glasses and simulation.  We then used our second fast pass on the Frozen Show. It was 30 minutes, seated and nice. The kids liked it. Not much Anna and Elsa, but all the songs. After that we went to "Star Wars The Path of the Jedi", with no wait, which was a 10 minute movie about Star Wars. Again, if you are a Star Wars fan, its good, we didn't care so much. Then we went to Muppet Vision that had no wait. Its a 25 minute 3D show with the Muppets. Its was cute and the kids liked it. We then went to everyone's favorite ride in the park the Toy Story Mania. It was a fun ride, and the adults and kids all loved it. You must get a fast pass for this. We then got a Fast Pass for the Beauty and the Beast Show. We ran to make it. Its a 30 minute live show, which the Broadway show is based off of. Its good. The kids then wanted to get a fastpass for The Great Movie Ride. The ride is about 20-25 minutes. Its an original ride from when the park opened in the 80's. Its really outdated, but the kids liked it. Our family is not into roller coasters so Tower of Terror or the AeroSmith ride were not options for us. The forecast was severe thunderstorms and we took a break, went back to the hotel. We got a fastpass for Fantasia.

We swam at the hotel, and went for supper to Lower East Side Restaurant. When we got to the restaurant, we thought it was deserted, as there was nobody in the restaurant. The door was open though. There was a sign in the restaurant, that they are looking to sell the restaurant. So who knows how much longer they will be in business. We were served quickly, and the food was good (although pricey).  The cook/waiter was nice, and there was nothing to complain about. We took our leftovers to the park where we returned to Fantasia.

Of the 4 Parks, the Fantasia show was the best show that we saw. The show is in an outdoor amphitheater that seats thousands, and is half an hour long. Its good with pyrotechnics and water involved. Its Disney Themed of course. You can bring your own food, which we did, so everyone ate while we waited for the show to start. We had a Fastpass so we didn't have to wait in line (which were long) to get in. There is a crush to get out of the show, so you pay want to sit closer to the back if getting out quicker matters to you. After the show we saw fireworks from the park as well.

Day 3- Magic Kingdom - As anyone who has been to Magic Kingdom knows, they try to maroon you there, so you can't leave during the day. The Park is "on an island". It takes a while to park, get into the park and to leave.  We booked fast passes in advance for this park as well. Our Fast Passes were 1) Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin 2) Tomorrowland Speedway 3) Peter Pan's Flight, and then 4)Haunted Mansion 5) Its a Small World 6) The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, 7) Mad Tea Party 8) The Barnstormer 9) Dumbo 10) Journey of the Little Mermaid 11) Pirates of the Caribbean 12) Splash Mountain.  Our kids won't do big rollercoasters so Spacemountain, Big Thunder, and Seven Dwarfs Mine train were out.

We started with Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, its almost a similar version to the Toy Story ride in Hollywood. The kids loved it and was allot of fun, we had a Fast Pass for it. We then went without a fastpass to the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. It was an interactive comedy show. It was cute and the kids liked it. We had no wait. We then went with a Fast Pass to the Speedway, these are the cars (on a track) that the kids love. We then went to the Carousel of Progress, its a 20-25 minute show. There was no line. This is one of the original Disney rides in the park, and selected by Disney himself. Its a bit outdated, but cute. We then went on the Peoplemover, which had no line, and is a 10 minute ride around Tomorrowland. By that time it was time to walk to Fantasyland and go on the Peter Pan ride. We took a Fast Pass for it, because it has one of the longest wait times in the Park. Its a cute ride.  We then saw the Mickey's Philharmonic 3D show which was fun. Then we went with a Fast Pass on the Haunted Mansion, and it was nice for everyone. We then grabbed a Fast Pass for Its a Small World and went on that. We then took a fast pass for Aladdin's Flying Carpets (which is just a giant carnival ride) and then walked through the Swiss Family Tree House. We were then hungry. We went to Cosmic Ray's Cafe, where were ordered Dairy Kosher meals (pizza and lasagna). They were nothing great, but something to eat. While we waited for them to be heated up, some of us went on the Mad Tea Cups (with a FP of course), which are right there. We then got a fast pass for The Barnstormer, while we waited for the time to kick in, the little ones played in the Casey Jr. Splash and Soak Station. We then went on the Barnstormer, (small roller coaster) and then got a Fast Pass for Dumbo (which is just another carnival ride) , we then got a Fast Pass for the Little Mermaid, its a cute ride, and the kids liked it. We then got a fast pass for Pirates of the Caribbean, but in the interim, we went to the Winnie the Pooh ride, where we waited in line for 40 minutes, even though the time wait was 20. This was our only line we waited in, in MK. We then went to the Pirates of the Caribbean, which is a cool ride, that everyone enjoyed. Then we went to the Enchanted Tikki House, which nobody really liked, and they don't even list it as a ride anymore. We then snagged a FP for Splash Mountain, which some of us went on and loved. We then saw the fireworks from there, which is a great location, and then were exhausted and left the park. We took the local monorail which made a stop at the hotels to get back to the parking lot. Otherwise it might have taken us an extra 30 minutes back.

Day 4- Friday. We took a well deserved break from Disney. We woke up late, and did a late morning swim. We then went out for lunch at Kosher Gourmet Restaurant. On Friday they only serve dairy. They only had whole pizzas (14"). They do not have dairy seating there, because the seating is only for meat. You can eat the Pizzas outside on the picnic tables. The Pizzas were surprisingly good. Unfortunately, it was 90 degrees outside in Orlando and there was no shade by the picnic tables. We ate quickly and went back into our car for a leisurely day of shopping and getting ready for shabbos. We picked up a few items at Winn Dixie. We ate Friday night at the hotel, we were able to cook ourselves.

Day 5- Shabbos Day. We walked to Chabad from our hotel. It is at least a 30 minute walk from the Westgate Palace, even though Chabad's website says 20 minutes. It was also hot. We prepaid for lunch for our family at Chabad. Davening is called for 9:30.  Davening was nice. There were about 25-30 people there for davening total. Davening ended at about 12:30. Lunch ended at about 2:30. The food was good and the company was nice. We got back to our hotel at about 3:15.  The kids played the rest of the day. We went swimming after shabbos.

Day 6- Sunday - Animal Kingdom. We had our reservations about the park, since its an animal park. The kids loved it and had a great time.  We also got there day 2 of Pandoraland and Avatarland. We did not go. The lines for that part of the park were insane. 4-5 hour waits for rides, and a 3 hour wait just to get into the giftshop. 

The park has this thing called "Wilderness Explorer" that the kids can explore parts of the park and get badges and stickers. Its essentially a giant scavenger hunt for them all over the park. They love it, but frankly its kind of annoying, because its a way to make you stay in the park longer, and make you (the parent who has $$ to spend) travel all over the park.

Fast Passes for Animal Kingdom - 1) Dinosaur, 2) Primeval Whirl 3) Safari 4) Festival of the Lion King 5) Finding Nemo 6) Primeval Whirl (again), 7) Kali River Rapids.

The park is open until 11pm now (1am if you stay at a Disney property), because of Pandora (which still has crazy lines).  With regard to fast passes for this park, there really aren't many options (unless you are into Avatar), and the Avatar stuff was booked way in advance before the 30 days that we could reserve. This park is nice because it is shaded in most places. So even though it was 95 degrees, it wasn't that bad. We first went to Dinosaur (with a FP), which was pretty cool (a little scary for little kids) (its a FP must), we then went on Primeval Whirl, (also with a FP), which is a little roller coaster, and the little kids went on Tricera Top Spin at the same time (carnival ride). We then went to Its tough to be a bug, with no wait, and saw a 20-25 minute show about Disney Bugs in 3D, it was cute, and the kids liked it. We then got drinks at Starbucks and went to Africa. We went to Rafikis Planet Watch, where you take a Train to get there. There was no wait. There's an indoor science center (with a Meet and Greet with Doc McStuffins) and a petting zoo. All of the stuff the kids loved and there was no wait. Then a train ride back. Lots of animals. We then went on the Gorilla Falls exploration train, which had lots of animals, was shaded and cool. We then went on the Safari (FP). Its nice, lots of animals. Being in the NYC area, it doesn't compare with the 6 flags safari, but still pretty good. We then got a FP for the Lion King Show. We had to run there, and made it just in time. The show is one of the best in all of Disney. Well worth it. When then got the FP for the next Finding Nemo Show. We then had to go across the park to get to that show. The show was okay. Some kids liked it, some didn't. We then got another FP for Primeval Wheel, first we went to the Tricera Top Spin, which had no wait, we then did the roller coaster again, while little ones played in the playground (the boneyard), and then the rest joined them. We then got a FP for Kali River Rapids. The regular wait for this ride was over an hour. Looked like closer to 90 minutes. Its a water ride, but we were a bit disappointed. There wasn't much water, and wasn't that fast. Maybe I'm just getting old, but all the people on our boat said the same. We then went on the Jungle Trek, which was long, and cool. The kids liked it and so did we. Once again, we don't do roller coasters so we didn't do Expedition Everest.

We then wanted to get kosher food in the park. We first went to Pizzafari, and were told that they no longer sold kosher food, and we needed to go to Kusafari. We went there, and were given the run around, and finally after 15 minutes were told that they didn't have any food either. Going forward I would recommend not to count on kosher food in animal kingdom.

At that point, we basically finished the park. The night show, had 3 shows that night, and we were told that there would be no line for the 2nd and 3rd shows (1030pm, and 1145(only for resort guests). We left the park at about 7, and decided to go out for dinner. We went to Kosher Gourmet for meat. There were 3 other families there that night. The restaurant staff comprised of 3 people, and they were working beyond capacity. The food was good, but expensive. They said that they were out of chinese food and anything with ground beef, including hamburgers.  Its fine, we were happy with what we could get.  We then went shopping a bit, and returned to the park for the Rivers of Light Show.

Rivers of Light Show. The Show was scheduled for 1030, and we were in the park at 10pm. We were seated by 10:15, and we had front row seats since its the second show, and the park was empty. It was a nice show, but only 15 minutes long. Its on the water, and has the water and visual effects like fantasmic, but not as good or as long. In retrospect, maybe would wouldn't have returned just for the show. After the show we left the park and returned back to the hotel.

Day 7 - Monday Memorial Day -EPCOT

The park was packed because it was Memorial Day. However, we had Fast Passes. But, 30 days before this day, was shabbos, so we only were able to reserve the FP after shabbos ended and not at 7am.  So we were more limited in the Fast Passes that we got, but we did okay at the end. Also Epcot has different rules about FP's in Epcot, you are much more limited.

Fast Passes 1) Spaceship Earth 2) Turtle Talk with Crush 3) Soarin 4) Living With the Land 5) The Seas with Nemo 6) Journey into Imagination 7) Mission Space

Epcot is a park that seems outdated. It was also really hot there with not much shade, unless you are in an air conditioned building. They have some cool and amazing rides, but then some real duds. Our FP's were limited as you can only choose one of group A (Elsa, Soarin, and Test Track), and the rest frankly are not so great. We did not spend much time in the World Showcase, and basically just walked around the entire thing.

We started with a FP to Spaceship Earth (the ride inside the ball). It is a cool and nice ride. We only did a FP to it, because we had to pick something in the morning, and it worked with our times. We then went to Turtle talk with Crush, which also worked with our times. It is a nice show, interactive (similar to Monsters Inc. Show in MK.) about Nemo and the turtles. We then explored the aquarium in the building which is pretty cool. Its worth spending some time there.

We then went to the Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival. There were a few cute 3D movies. We then went to get a snack and to see Soarin. This may have been the best ride in all of the Disney Parks. However, even with the FP, the line was still 20-25 minutes (The regular wait was 2 hours). Its was worth it. The ride is amazing. We then got a FP for Living with the Land. It was in the same building. I don't understand how people without the FP waited 40 minutes for this ride. It was outdated. With the FP it was fine as there was no wait. We then got a FP for The Seas with Nemo. The kids liked it. Basically its a ride through the aquarium. We then got a FP for Journey into Imagination with Figment. It was okay. After we went to Imageworks, which is a play area for the kids.

We then walked around the World Showcase. The lime for Elsa  was 90 minutes we were not waiting on lines that long. We got a FP for Mission:Space. Its a cool ride. There are two versions, intense and non intense, depending on how old your kids are, is where you should be. We then bent the rules and waited on Single Rider for Test Track, as we were unable to get a FP for it. In fact, I think all FP's were taken 60 days in advance. The Single Rider line was 30 minutes, (standby was 80). The ride is a cool ride, and everyone enjoys it.  We then went on Ellen's Energy Adventure which is a 45 minute (yes 45 minutes!) ride which is 20 years outdated. The kids liked it though, because they are giant Ellen fans. We then were on every ride (other than the World showcase) except Elsa and it was time to go.

We had a great time in Disney, but only because of FP's and we didn't have to wait in lines.

Day 8- Checkout from the hotel was seamless, Flight back to EWR.  Flight was delayed numerous times. Supposed to leave at about 7:20, didn't take off until 10:05 on Jet Blue. However the lounge in MCO was very very nice, with breakfast, and a wii for the kids to play with. We were very happy.

I hope that this is helpful to someone, like other reviews and comments were helpful to us.

June 04, 2017, 01:06:23 AM
Re: San Diego Master Thread We went to SD for a few days. I wanted to be able to share with everyone my experiences, and to pay it forward. We researched the area for months, and looked at guides and on DD's for help. Thank you for everyone for their ideas.

We made a trip going from 11/8 in the evening from EWR-SAN, and then the red eye on 11/13/ from LAX-EWR.

We took Alaska Airlines from EWR-SAN. We got the tickets for about $260 rt. I used an Alaska Airlines CC for the trip, so we got free bags.  We have the Chase Sapphire, but you can't use the lounge in the terminal in the evening. They had Gogo internet on board, which we didn't want to pay for. You can get free chat and whatsapp, and because of that some internet snuck in on the phones.

We rented a car from Avis. The car rental center takes about a 10 minute drive from the terminal to the center.

We need to stay within walking distance of Bankers Hill for Shabbos. As a result we were very very limited in our hotel selection.

We ended up staying at the Hilton Garden Inn San Diego/Downtown.  We ended up booking it at a cheaper rate through the Sapphire Rewards Card.  The hotel is also a Homewood Suites.  The hotel was clean, and nice. They were wonderful for shabbos. The employees knew to let us upstairs and let us in the doors, and did it with a smile, and offered to turn on and off any lights that were needed.

Parking is a major issue in SD. The hotel charged $40 a night for parking. You can find street parking, but you have to be careful about rules and regulations. Generally parking is limited once 8am hits. So if you park overnight in a 2 hour parking zone from 8am-6pm then you can park overnight until 10am free of charge. If its 30 minute parking from 8am-6pm, then you can park until 830 free of charge.

There are also a few free spots all the time. We had to make sure to get them for shabbos.

We landed Wednesday night and checked in.

Thursday morning, we went to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for breakfast. We went to the Mission Valley location. Its in a shopping center which also has a Trader Joes (which has kosher wine, and raw kosher chicken). We then went to La Jolla. We went to the beach, and the Childrens Cove where there are sea lions. It is amazing.  After that we visited the JCC for lunch. The kosher cafe is in the lobby. The food was good, and not crazy expensive. We then went to Ralph's in La jolla to check it out before shabbos. They have a large kosher section, and kosher take out and Sushi. We went back there Friday for shabbos. Remember they close at like 1 or 2 in the winter for shabbos, and then you won't be able to order anything from the deli counter. On Friday they had delicious fresh challah for shabbos. The Challah on Thursday was not fresh. There is a full and complete kosher line and section. They also sell kosher wines as well. They even have a shabbos special with 2 chickens, 2 pounds of salad and a challah for $26.00. Not Bad at all.

We then drove to Coronado Island. The views were breathtaking. Then back to Coffee Bean for dinner.

Friday was back to LaJolla and Ralphs and Lazy Bean.

Shabbos  we had to be in Bankers Hill. The Hills are steep. San Francisco type steep. A cool thing is that the airplanes are literally on top of you when coming in to land. Its really amazing. We then walked to Balboa Park and did whatever free stuff you could do there on Shabbos.  Balboa Park is a must go to, even if you don't go to the zoo. Lots of cool and pretty stuff.

After shabbos back to coffee Bean.  We then went to LA for Sunday and Monday.

Sunday, we drove from SD to LA in the morning. On the way we stopped in Anaheim for Coffee Bean. Its right near Disney. We then went to Fish Grill on Beverley Boulevard for lunch. It was delicious. There is nothing like it in the NYC area, where we live.

We then drove around Beverley Hills (nice houses, we even went on some open houses), Rodeo Drive (nothing special, and overrated), Hollywood Hills, and then went to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour. It was pricey, but really really cool. The Tour is a little more than 2 hours, before they drop you off at the last part which is walk though. The movie sets and lots are really cool. We went to the Ellen set and the Big Bang Theory Set as well.

We then drove to Oxnard to go to Tierra Sur. It took us about an hour from Burbank to Oxnard. We decided to stay at the Embassy Suites in Oxnard which is right on the water. Our room was a 2 room suite, with 2 bedrooms, with our patio right on the beach. It is a nice place. It comes with breakfast in the morning with lots of kosher stuff, and they will show you what is kosher. TS is about 15 minutes from the Embassy Suites. The restaurant is all that its made out to be. Everything was delicious, and the service was impeccable. We were really happy we went.

In the morning we had breakfast, (stopped again at Coffee Bean - kosher in Oxnard), and drove to LA. We went to Griffith Park, saw the Hollywood sign, and then went back to Fish Grill for Lunch. After lunch, we did a little shopping, and then headed to Hollywood Boulevard, where we had Jimmy Kimmel Tickets. I've never been to the area before, and its a bit seedy. It reminded me of walking around the Village in the mid 90's.  We walked around, saw the Jimmy Kimmel show (tiny studio), and ran to Jeff's for dinner. It was delicious. We then ran to LAX to catch our flight back.

Rental return in LAX is a disaster. it took us almost 45 minutes from the time we gave back our car, until we got to the gate. 

We flew Virgin America, from LAX-EWR. The flight was nice, and uneventful . The same internet as Alaska (since they are co-owned now). No lounge again, since Alaska claimed it was full.

I hope that this is helpful to someone.

November 14, 2017, 05:28:47 PM
Re: Philadelphia Master Thread We were in Philly 2 weeks ago, and I wanted to provide a TR.

Congregation Mikve Israel has a great deal with the hotel next door (Wyndham) and has a shul rate for $129 a night. We booked 2 nights (along with our friends) and spent Friday night and Sat night there. The rooms for 129 do not have refrigerators, so if you want one, you need to upgrade to a higher class, which is a whopping $139 a night.  We took it.

The hotel was nice, nothing special, but it had a rooftop pool which is open from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Our kids loved it and spent allot of time there. We also got to see Fireworks over the Delaware River Sat night after shabbos.

Mikve Israel and the Hotel are in the Philly eruv downtown. Its a block away from all the historical stuff, and most of it is free on shabbos.

Mikve Israel also has affordable shabbos meals every week. We didn't go Friday night because they davened at 7pm, and we were driving from NY,  so 7pm for shabbos was a bit early for us.

The Shul is nice enough to let us park in their lot for free while we were there for shabbos. Just that was a savings of at least $100 for 3 days of parking in downtown Philly.

We davened in the Shul by day. It is a Sefardic Service as per the rites of the Spanish and Pourtegese nussach. Davening starts at 9 and ends at 12. It is followed by kiddush/lunch. We pre-reserved the meal over the phone earlier in the week and the shul asks that you please reserve meals by the Wednesday before. Everyone was friendly and the Rabbi was very nice. They davened mincha after lunch this week.

In the afternoon we went to museums. We went to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall (You need free tickets, which we picked up earlier in the morning, or you can reserve for $1.50 a piece in advance, you need 2 weeks in advance to get them), and the visitor center. The entire area is in the eruv, so there is more that we could have done.

The next day we walked around the corner and went to Franklin Place. We got in with a heavy discount, because for every 4th grader you have with the National Parks Pass you get that child free and 3 adults free. We printed off the pass in the hotel.  We then went to Blackbird for lunch (vegan pizza place under the IKC), and then fruit picking on the way back to NYC.

July 10, 2018, 10:13:48 PM
Quick Montreal Trip We did a quick Montreal Weekend for a wedding.

I'd like to share what we did, so others can benefit.

We left 12/2/18 from the Teaneck NJ area to Montreal, (Cot St Luc). We drove from Teaneck to Cot St. Luc after shabbat. It took us about 6 hours. We stopped a few times at one of the Thruway rest stops, for a quick stop. We refueled in Champlain, NY (make sure to get off at exit 42, not 43) to make sure we had a full tank of cheap NY gas instead of insanely expensive Canadian gas. We stopped at Duty free (mostly for the restrooms). If you get off at duty free, you must exit at exit 43 and go straight. If you purchase anything at Duty free, you must go towards the border upon exit.

We we got to the border, we were hassled, because one of our kids birth certificates were from NJ and was a copy. When you make a copy of a NJ Birth Certificate it says, void, so the Canadian guard tried to hassle us but let us through. We got in about 1am.

On this trip the exchange rate was insanely beneficial for people from the USA. $1USD = $1.33CD, and $1CD=$0.75 USD.

We went for breakfast to Expressions. Food is good as usual, but service is slow. We have been here before, and knew what to expect. You need to give an hour minimum to sit down and eat.

We had a bunch of kids with us, and needed to be in the Cote St. Luc area, so we spent a few hours, in the Cavendish Mall or whatever is left of it.  There is a food court in the court, in which all the eateries except for one is kosher. There are other kosher places in the mall as well, as well and a dozen or so stores, including a dollar store which the kids love. There is also an IGA Supermarket which a kosher bakery and a giant kosher takeout, butcher, and kosher section. The mall also has a movie theatre, kosher butcher, judaica shop, and more. We like it also because it has a Scotia Bank, which is free for Bank of American bankholders to use their ATM.

We had a wedding in the evening.

In the morning we went to Cote St. Luc Bagels for fresh bagels to go. They are cheap and good. We then went to Outremount to the factories on Casgrain Street, where we got discounted clothing for the kids for pennies on the dollar.

We then stopped at Cheskies for amazing bakery goods, and got sandwiches for supper at Deli 365 right next door, and then in the afternoon drove back to NJ.

Took us about 5:45 back to NJ. Stopped at Canadian Duty free to get a coffee at Starbucks and bathroom break, and then at another Thruway rest stop to get gas. No line at the border.

Happy Chanukkah.

By day we wanted to eat breakfast sitting down. We went

December 04, 2018, 01:43:00 PM
Panama / New Orleans Trip Report 8/17/19-8/27/19 We just came back from an amazing trip from Panama. We all had a great time.  I want to share with you our vacation, and travel tips to pay it forward. We (mostly me) spent about 3-4 months researching this trip, on this site, and on others, and using guidebooks as well. As all vacations, there are ups and downs, you will get ripped off by people trying to make a bucks, but you just have to take it in stride, and hope the planning, minimizes the problems. One thing I like doing in planning for vacations, is to leave time for "unstructured time" that allows you to do stuff in the area, but give you enough wiggle room, that doesn't mean that you are running from item to item without enjoying the moment (like ride to ride at Disney). Thank you to everyone. Any criticism here, is NOT TO COMPLAIN, but rather to help people in the future. We aren't going to trip advisor or Yelp to give 1 star, but just want to help everyone going forward.

We flew non stop from EWR-PTY on United. We took at 11:50pm flight Saturday night. We used 240K amex points (at 40k a pop) to fly through Air Canada with AeroMiles. Since we booked 3 months out, it was hard to find non-stop award availability from NYC area, and non at all from JFK. The way back we had to do a stop over (we chose MSY - New Orleans), either in Houston or MSY.

The flight on United was uneventful. Take off at 11:50pm, and landing at about 4am Panama Time. Flight time is about 4 hours.

Panama is Eastern Standard Time Year Round. Meaning they never change the clock. So in the Summer they are Chicago time, and in the winter NY time. 

Immigration in PTY is very quick and we had no hassles. The PTY is a transfer hub for Latin America, so most of our flight didn't end up at immigration at all.

Our bags were just laying on the floor when we got to baggage, and customs was no hassle.

The problem with landing at 4am is unless you are going home or to family, you have a hotel issue. Will a hotel take you at 5am or not? Is it near where you are going? etc...

So this is where we had our 2 bigger mistakes on the trip.

1) Transportation in Panama.  We wanted to rent a car, and everyone told us not to. Everyone was right, and we are glad we didn't. We used UBER everywhere. Uber is dirt cheap in Panama. From downtown to the airport should run about $10.00. Regular rides are 3-4 dollars a piece. So our mistake was, that we are a family of 6, and we didn't know where we were going, so we hired a jewish person as a cabbie to wait for us, instead of getting 2 Ubers. So it cost us $65 for the guy, instead of about $25. Ok. We learned, we moved on.

2) Hotels are sticklers for people in rooms, and will rip you off if they think they can. - So we booked a room at the Plaza Patilla for one night. I didn't realize that I needed to be specific in how many people were in the room. They saw that we were dropped off with all our bags at 5am with sleeping kids, so they took advantage. They wanted to surcharge the amount of an entire room, just for one extra kid. Ridiculous. So we left the bags with some of us, who stayed there, and I took a 5 dollar uber to the Radisonon Israel street, and spent a few hours sleeping there with the kids. The rooms were spotless, and its next door to a kosher Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. (Side note - Most restaurants in Panama do not accept AMEX - CBTL does, and you will get your 4x bonus for the Amex Gold Card there) where we ate breakfast afterwards (or pre breakfast, welcome to kosher panama). 

The half at the Radison, then met the others at Jeffrey's for Breakfast. Jeffrey's is a dairy place which is also a bakery. The food was good. We then went across the street to SuperKosher, which is one of 2 giant kosher supermarkets in Panama City (they are a few blocks away from each other). They also have a meat and a dairy restaurant in each of the supermarkets).  The supermarkets are both fully stocked with anything you need. It amazed us at the amount of panamanian kosher items with a local hashgacha like popcorn, ice cream, etc...Unless you are on a strict diet, there is no reason to bring any kosher food with you to Panama City.

We then went back to the Plaza Paitilla, to get our stuff, and the same driver was to meet us, to take us to the Westin Playa Bonita. Once again, we reserved this driver in advance. It cost us $65, (in 2 ubers would have been $30), so we learned our lesson for the rest of the trip.

We booked 2 adjoining rooms for 2 nights at the Westin Playa Bonita using Chase Points. It cost us 77,500 points for the two rooms for two nights. We also added the all inclusive option, which although we keep kosher, would allow us to get unlimited internet, drinks at pool, breakfast, (and any other meal we wanted).  For the experience, we feel that it was worth it, because then the kids could get all the drinks they wanted, at the bars, and at the bars in the pool. We also had what we could eat at breakfast there (fruit, salmon, cereal, drinks, yogurt), so that made it more helpful, plus we brought groceries with us from the City.

The Playa Bonita is on the other side of the Panama Canal. It is a fairly new resort where Kobbe Naval Station was. The resort is nice, with multiple infinity pools overlooking the Pacific/Bay of Panama. The beach there is no for swimming really. Do your own research, but the water isn't the greatest. After 6pm tiny bugs swarm the area, so pooltime is done by 6pm. The views from the pool are stunning. They also have a kidsclub there for the kids.  Its a place to relax.

With regard to food. You must download the "Kosher PTY" app. It includes many kosher restaurants, and every store on the app delivers through the app for a flat $4 fee. They will even deliver to Playa Bonita for an extra $11 (on top of the $4 fee). We ordered dinner to Playa Bonita, on two evenings, one night from Pita Plus (not to be confused with Pita Pan which is dairy), and the other night from Dr. Sandwich. Both were meat places. They both delivered well. They both were Israeli style places.

Sunday was a lazy day once we got to the Resort, (They allowed us to check in early at 1pm with no problem) We had adjoining rooms, we went to the pool and ordered dinner and went to bed.

Monday we went to breakfast, we then took Ubers to the Canal Locks at Miraflores.

With regard to Uber, we were a family of 6. So we needed Uber XL to go places together. However in the more far out places, or if we didnt want to wait 15-20 minutes, we would instead order two ubers to get places quicker. At Playa Bonita, it was more "out there" so even for a regular Uber, you could wait 15-20 minutes. But the cars are available. If you are in Gamboa (like we will explain later) there are no Ubers. So we took 2 Ubers to the locks at Miraflores.

Seeing the Canal. - There are three sets of locks at the canal. Only two are open to the public, one near Panama City, (Miraflores), and one near Balboa. Miraflores has a giant visitors center and museum recently built, and a bleachers section in where you can watch ships pass through the locks. You need to be there before 9am or after 3pm. We got there after 9. We saw a ship or two, and toured the museum. It was nice. There is also an IMAX right there, who's tickets are discounted with purchase to the Canal admission. Its an extra $10pp for the IMAX which is about an hour, and is in English.

The IMAX has a kosher CBTL there. You can go to the canal, and have a kosher coffee and snacks right there. It was really nice, and a nice part of the Panama Experience, that you can vacation normally.

Remember, when going to museums, and other places of interest in Panama, kids are normally cheaper, and kids under a certain age are free. Make sure to ask, otherwise they will try to charge you for kids that should be free.

We then took an Uber to Pita Pan. Its another bakery/dairy breakfast/lunch place. The Uber was a few bucks, and lunch was good. We then took an Uber back to Playa Bonita, and spent the rest of the day there at pool, and ordered in dinner on the app.

Tuesday we went to breakfast, and had checkout by 12pm. With all our luggage we needed to call 2 Ubers (grand total of $30 including tip, instead of $65), to take us to the Hard Rock, which we stayed for the next 6 nights.

We booked a 2 BR suite at the Hard Rock for about 216k points for 6 nights from Tuesday through Monday. Check in was 3, but they let us in about 1pm.  We had a gorgeous view from the 34th floor. The suite came with a small fridge. The service at the hotel was good. When we needed something, they were there within minutes. However, one of the room's ac didn't work for a day or two, but they did fix it.

The hotel locationwise was great. It is connected to a mall (Multicentro) which has a kosher supermarket in the basement (and has two restaurants in it), and all the amenities in the mall. The mall has allot of closed stores, but basically anything you need you can get there without getting super ripped off.

A few minor details that might be helpful. a) Because of the internet there is no english reading material to be found anywhere. English newspapers don't really exist there anymore. Before shabbos, I managed to find two random magazines from 6 months earlier. Make sure to bring reading material for shabbos. b) Panama has completely banned plastic shopping bags. So if you are in a "heimish" store, they still give them out,even with the sign saying they are banned. However, if you are in a regular supermarket or pharmacy, make sure you have a bag with you, or you will be out of luck trying to get your stuff home.

So after checking in, we went to another CBTL (our third so far) a few block walk from the Hotel for lunch. We then took a cab to Panama Casjo (old city of Panama). We walked around for about 1-2 hours. There are old buildings, the presidential palace, some museums, and nice scenery.  Its a nice place to walk around. There used to be a kosher yogurt place there, but it closed down. We looked all over for it. Its not there anymore. Make sure you take a cab to the neighborhood, as the area around it is super shady.

We then took an uber back to the hotel, and we rested and went out to dinner. We walked to Pita Plus for dinner, and it was very good (typical israeli stuff), and then we went to bed.

The next morning (Wednesday) we took a tour to San Blas, we went with . This was our big splurge.

In researching things to do in Panama, everything was really really pricey, making Disney look cheap. However, to go to San Blas, a) You can't do it yourself b) Unless you've done it before, you need to know where to go, c) Its pricey, because there are too many people to "shmear" and are making money off of it.  San Blas Islands are a group of beautiful islands on the Caribbean Sea, that are in an autonomous zone within Panama. You need to travel about an hour west of Panama City, and then an hour north on what can only be described as a torturous 40km road in which someone in your car will probably vomit. Then once you get to the Caribbean sea, you then need to be taken by a guide on a 30 minute boat ride to your island. The islands are gorgeous. It is well worth it.  All of this costs $$. For the six of us, it was about $850. We went to two islands, and then another place in the middle of the Caribbean sea where you can walk on the seafloor for about 30 minutes. It was very nice. 

We were picked up at our hotel at 5:30am, and got back at about 6pm. We were wiped and zonked. We used the PTY app to order in dinner from The Burger Truck, which we all loved. They had the best burgers, (for only like $4.50), and great delivery.  Another annoying thing we learned about the Hard Rock is that they will not accept a food delivery for you, unless you are in the hotel. This was very annoying, since there were times we would have wanted to have food delivered and be ready for us, but we could not do so.

Another thing we learned about the Hard Rock is that the pool was open only from 8-8, and no food or drinks allowed. Oh well.

To be continued... (Thursday through Tuesday is next)>...

August 29, 2019, 05:16:03 PM
Re: Panama / New Orleans Trip Report 8/17/19-8/27/19 Ok. Part 2.

I forgot to mention that Tuesday night we purchased sandwiches from WOW Yogurt which is a yogurt place that now sells bagels and other breakfast food. We were pleasantly surprised at the bagels and that they were actually good and better than allot of bagels that we’ve eaten in the states.

After a full day in San Blas, nobody really wanted to do anything Thursday. But we were in Panama and we had to make the best of it. We got up late and had a lazy day. We first went to the MULTIPLAZA mall which was about a 5 minute cab ride from where we were staying. (4 dollar Uber ride). The mall is a giant mall with a mix of super high end and upper middle class. In terms of kosher there is lots there with a kosher Krispy Kreme, Kosher Mrs. Fields, 3 kosher ice cream/ yogurt places, a kosher CBTL. We also took the kids to Chuckie Cheese there. (Go figure. Fly to panama for Cc). There is also a supermarket in the mall which sells allot of imported kosher goods and diet soda.

It was raining on and off on Thursday so we really didn’t get to do much outdoors on Thursday. We had lunch at Aroma. It is dairy and had good food.

Tangentiality the climate in Panama is tropical. It rains every day no matter what. It can be any time of the day for a long or short duration no matter what. We got very lucky in our trip with regards to weather.

We then went (by Uber of course) to Albrook Mall. The mall bills itself as the biggest in the Americas and is massive. We only got through a third of it. It has a bowling alley, 2 food  courts and rides for kids and is just massive. It caters to a more middle class crowd. There are kosher options there as well. We found 2 kosher yogurt places and a kosher Krispy Kreme there. There are kiddy rides in the food court. This mall has pay toilets though but they are free in the bowling alley.

The currency is the Balboa but it is pegged to the dollar 1:1 and the dollar is used as real currency. Try to use credit cards with no international fee when possible. American Express is not widely accepted. We brought lots of small bills with us as “nobody will have change” when you give a big bill (larger than 10).

On a tangent. You can’t find diet soda in Panama except for Diet Coke. Fresca in Panama has sugar. In some stores they sell various drinks by the can from 12 packs imported from the states.

We then went back to the hotel and the supermarket and went shopping for shabbos. We discovered that the Deli K supermarket has a nice selection of locally made kipaas at prices cheaper than one can find in the states.

We then went back to the hotel. We went to La Spezia for a late dinner. It was good as well, although we didn’t rave about it like others who posted here.

Friday morning we went to Panama Viejo, which is the ruins of 16th Century Panama City. Its about a 15 minute can ride from the Hard Rock. There's a museum and ruins. (There is also a dead body in the museum). We spent about 35-40 minutes there before we left. There was only so much ruins we could see. The museum is in a pretty shady area, so make sure to stay on premises or near the police station when calling for a cab. Kids under 6 are free.

We then went to Deli K, where we ate lunch at the dairy place ($10 special for soup, main and drink), and ordered takeout for shabbos from the meat restaurant. The meat restaurant has a special shabbos takeout menu, however the people working there's english is very very limited. Of all the places we've eaten at in Panama (and there were many), the Deli K meat restaurant had the most limited English service of any place. The shabbos takeout there was typical shabbos takeout. Nothing special. The supermarket sells rotisserie chickens, and will slice deli for you at the counter. They also sell salads prepared, but surprisingly did not have the greatest of variety. They also have fresh challah for shabbos there as well at very reasonable prices ($2 for a big challah, approximately).

We then went back to the hotel, and went the Amador Causeway, which is a must do. The causeway is a road which links 4 islands in the Bay of Panama (Pacific Ocean). It was built by the USA to protect the Panama Canal. After the USA left in 1999 it reverted back to Panama. There are two museums on the causeway. There is the new biodiversity museum in the fancy colorful Gehry building. We did not go to that. Instead we went to the Smithsonian Museum, the Punta Culebra, on Isle Culebra. It was much more affordable, hands on for the kids, and gave great views. $7 for an adult, $2 for kids, and kids under 6 are free. They are only open in the afternoons, and you need to check if they are open before you go. Expect to take 45 minutes to an hour there tops. Around the corner from there we rented pedicabs, which we biked up and down the causeway on the bikepath. We all had a great time.  We then took an UBER back to the hotel for shabbos.

We ended up eating Friday night in the hotel. Shabbos day we went to Beth El. You need to register in advance online, and provide your passports. We brought them anyway (we were in the eruv). We paid in advance for lunch at the shul ($25pp), and ate there. The shul was an ashkenazi shul with Latin American Nusach, while the Rav is Chabad. They reserved a table for all the Americans that prepaid and made sure we all had seats. Davening was at 9, we finished lunch around 2ish. There was an aufruf in shul, so laining took extra long with hasafot, and the rabbi speaking at every other aliyah.

We spent the rest of the day at the hotel.

Saturday night, we went out to eat at Sabra Pizza, which is a small pizza place across the street from the Hotel (right next to Burger Truck). They do a crazy delivery business, and they are NOT on the app. The pizza was good compared to many of the places we had pizza by in Panama.

Sunday -

So we wanted to do other excursions in Panama without breaking the bank. The prices being quoted were insane. So I found a few other options.

Gamboa Rainforest Resort-

This is a resort in Gamboa, which is in the middle of the Canal. We did not stay there. 

However, Gamboa is where all the boat rides to "Monkey island" go.

You can drive/take an UBER to Gamboa (about $25.00 from downtown), to the dock of the Chagres, and meet people, and work out a deal to go on a boat. If you take UBER there, you will not be able to get one back (because it is in the middle of nowhere), so make sure to arrange transportation with your driver to come back for you (pay him/her in cash).

Another option is the Resort, which offers their own excursions at really competitive rates, cheaper than anyone we saw. Its meant for their visitors, but open to the public.

(If you book with the resort, you need to book online, but when you get to the resort, you need to go to the main lobby and re-checkin there, and pay then. You need to get there about 15-20 minutes early (even though nothing starts on time). because we were the only ones on the boat tour, and they would have canceled it otherwise.

1) Boat ride on the canal (Monkey Island). - We did this with them. The guides were good, and were able to get the animals to come out. It was an hour tour.

2) Cable Car ride to lookout tower - This was really cool, and we did this as well. It literally is a 3rd world country cable car ride up a hill, (takes about 15 minutes each way), and then climb (by ramps, no steps) a twelve story lookout tower over the rainforest, and the canal. This was really nice and cool. The entire journey was about an hour and fifteen minutes. They pick you up from the Resort Lobby.

3) "Nature Park" - This we could have done without, and was like $2pp extra, a 45 minute tour of sloths, a few tiny frogs, butterflies.

4) Embera Village - This we got cancelled on with an email on Friday night, so we could not reschedule, as we were leaving on Monday. The resort, relocated a tribe to live right next to the resort. They give a 3 hour tour/experience. I know its not the same thing as the other operators, but its half the price, literally. The shame is that we got cancelled on, because they said the tribe had a meeting to attend to. 

At any event, we finished the Nature Park at about 1pm, we called our UBER driver to come back and get us, ($35), and we went back to the Hotel. We were all tired (We left at 715), at about 2pm, so we went for lunch. We went back to Pita Pan, which we liked again. We went back to the hotel, then supermarket, toured the Multicentro Mall, and back to hotel to relax. We ordered dinner in from Burger Truck on the PTY app.

Monday we had late checkout at 1pm, so we stayed in the hotel until then. Our flight was at 6:30, so we had the hotel hold our luggage for a few hours, which we did. We did one last lunch at Jeffrey's, which is where we started, and everyone enjoyed. We went back to the Multicentro Mall, where we went to an arcade and bumper cars for the kids, which they enjoyed as well. We then went back to hotel, got our luggage and took 2 UBER's to the airport (both ubers totaled less than $30) .

We flew Copa Air from PTY to MSY. Its officially a 3:50 minute flight, but the time in the air is less than 3 hours. We went to one of the lounges, where we waited for about an hour.  At the gate we needed to go through security again, make sure to give extra time for that. We took off at 6:30, and landed in MSY at about 10pm. They gave a kosher dinner on the plane with the Panama Shevet Achim Hechsher. It was decent. Customs at MSY is amazing. In the summer they only have 2 international arrivals a DAY. (London is the other). Immigration and customs were 1-2-3.

We rented a minivan on costco from avis for $72 for two days. pickup was a breeze in the airport, its a small walk from the terminal. We drove to the Holiday Inn Metarie. Its about a 15 drive from the airport (just getting out of airport takes about 10 minutes). We booked a suite on IHG for about $90.00. We would not stay there again. The rooms are "outdated".

We got up early and went to Waffles on Maple for breakfast. The place is one of a kind, (well really two of a kind, if you include their other branch) and is delicious. The kids really enjoyed.

We then went shopping at discount stores all over NOLA. We then went downtown to the French Quarter. First stop, Cafe Du Monde, we sat, drank, ate, and listened to music outside. We then did a walking tour of the quarter. You can do the entire thing on foot in about 45 minutes. We saw the Mississippi took some pics, and then went for more shopping. We ended the day by Cajun Kosher, which is also a really good one of a kind, local institution in NOLA.  We then picked up at the drive through beignets at Cafe DuMonde, and we headed back to the airport.

Check in was easy at MSY, we have TSA Precheck, so it was 1-2-3. Our flight from MSY to EWR take off was 7:40 CDT and landing was 11:45 EDT, we had a sick person on board, so we had a early and very hard landing, and we had an ambulance meet us on the tarmac. We had $$ left on Amex Platinum for airline credits for the year, so we were all able to upgrade to Premium economy, and 4 of us had our own rows.

We then took 2 Ubers back home, but had to pay USA Uber prices.

Also, when overseas, UBER will not allow you to buy UBER cash (which I do all the time for the 5% discount), so make sure to stock up on UBER cash, before you leave the country.

I hope this is helpful to someone out there in preparing any trip. Please feel free to ask q's.

August 30, 2019, 11:36:43 AM
TR Niagara Falls NY/Letchworth SP/Finger Lakes 8/23/2020-8/28/2020 We took a COVID-19 road trip this summer. We got home Friday, I wanted to post this in case anyone this report would be helpful to anyone.

We live in the NY/NJ area and did not want to quarantine, so we only traveled to NY/NJ/PA. All non quarantine states.

We left Sunday morning August 23, 2020 from NNJ and the plan was to stay in Niagara Falls, NY because the border is closed. We wanted to break up our driving both ways, so we would not have the 6.5 drive in one shot. I researched before to the best of our ability to do stuff, and to make sure that things were open, and if they were open the restrictions were not insane, that made traveling to the location not worth it. I used Dans Deals forums, Tripadvisor, other weibsites, as well as a guidebook. I find that if you plan properly, guidebooks are a good resource to fill in the missing cracks.

Some people in our family are fans of The Office, so we decided to break up the trip, and stop in Scranton. It took us about 2 hours to drive to Scranton. We stopped at National Bakery which is a kosher bakery in Scranton to pick up lunch, and to scout it our for our trip back. They take cash only. They close at 12 noon on Sundays. Monday-Friday they have square pizza that is fresh but cold pizza. Some of us liked it, and some didn't. Down the parking lot from the Bakery is a mural of Dwight Schrute. We also went to Steamtown USA. Because of Covid-19, there are no train tours, but the museum is open and there is no admission fee. It took us about 20-25 minutes to walk through. It is really cool and a nice diversion if you want to stretch your legs. There is also a trolley museum, that was open but we did not go there. We also went to the Steamtown Mall (or shops at Steamtown). The place is about 65% vacant. Only go there if you want to take a picture with the "Welcome to Scranton" sign there which is on the second floor. If you are a fan of the show, go there, and then leave. The rest of the mall is a community college, an aquarium (which didn't look appealing), vacancies, and various overpriced stores that seem to be barely making it. There is normally a bridge from the mall to Steamtown USA but it is closed because of COVID-19.

There is also a kosher Krispy Kreme in Scranton, which another car in our party went to, and they said it was good.

We left at about 1pm, and then started our trek to Niagara. We wanted to stop along the way somewhere to break up the trip again, so we decided on Dinner in Rochester at Sabra Grill. We got there at about 5pm. (They close at 7). They have indoor dining with social distancing. The food was very good. The service very good, and the place is run like a real restaurant. They have typical Israeli fare, and the salads were amazing. The prices were very affordable, we paid about 40% less for the same food that we would have ordered in the NYC area. We spent about an hour there. We were very satisfied with the restaurant, we would gladly go back again if we were in the area, and would recommend it.

We ended up staying in the StayBridge Suites in Amhurst (free on IHG points). We had two rooms for our party. For the hotel, it was on points, but we were disappointed. When booking we were told we had interconnected rooms, but the hotel then told us no such rooms exist, We were told the pool was open, but it was not because of COVID-19. We were told that we could have an extra air mattress, but when checking in we were told that no such thing existed. We were also supposed to have 2 double beds, but we were only given a king bed. I confirmed a few times before we got there, but basically the hotel did whatever they wanted. The place was clean. The hotel's pool was closed as stated. Breakfast in the land of COVID-19 is different with no buffet, and you have to wait 1 by one, for the staff to give you what you want. The kosher options were yogurt, milk, muffins, granola bars, and fruit. No cereal was provided. The hotel really caters to parents of U of Buffalo Students with the Campus across the street.

The hotel was a 5 minute drive from all the supermarkets in Amhurst. Within 2 blocks there is a Wegmans, Aldi, Tops, and Trader Joes. The Tops has a kosher bakery in the supermarket, a kosher "deli" and a significant kosher section in the supermarket with frozen and refrigerated foods. We strongly recommend the bakery and the sections to buy kosher foods there. The "deli" is hit or miss, they close at 7pm each evening. If you want to get any food, I strongly recommend that you get there no later that 4:30/5pm. There is one person working the counter and frankly takes his time. You may wait for 30 minutes to 45 minutes just to place your order if one person is ahead of you. The "menu" is basically taking the stuff out of the refrigerated section (hot dogs/hamburgers/knish) and reheating them or putting them in a warmer. We gave up waiting in line and ended up buying refrigerated stuff and kashering the microwave and eating. There is a seating section in Tops to eat as well.

Trader Joes has significant kosher food including A&H hot dogs (at affordable prices), and all the kosher breads (though not as fresh as Tops), but kosher smoked fish and tuna. We would have been better off getting dinner from there. Enough with food at Buffalo.

We then drive to Niagara Falls at night. We spent about 2 hours there. There were no crowds and it was really nice. There is the light show, and no fireworks this year because of COVID-19. We parked a block away from the falls (parking on the street is 5 bucks an hour, I would recommend parking on Goat Island, near Cave of the Winds) and walked around. Walking around Goat Island at night is really nice, and make sure you got to Terrapin Point by Horseshoe falls. Also make sure to view the American Falls near Maid of the Mist. There is allot of walking, but beautiful. Its really nice at night there.

I strongly recommend breaking up the trip to the Falls by doing the night one day, and the day another day. If you do both the same day, you will be very very tired, and tired seeing the same exact thing in a different form. Just my two cents.

We then drove back to the hotel (took about 30 minutes).

The next day, our goal was to do at least 2 things, Maid of the Mist, and Cave of the Winds.  The problem is that there are times tickets for Cave of the Winds, but you can ONLY purchase them there. Plus is there about a 3 hour lag for when you buy tickets (if you are there at 930, they didn't have tickets until about 1240pm). For Maid of the Mist there are no timed tickets, you have to wait in line, and the boats (the same boat) only runs every 30 minutes at half capacity, so the wait is long. What I strongly recommend is as follows: a) Get there early. b) Drop off someone to wait on line at Maid of the Mist. c) Then drive to the parking on Goat Island and Cave of the Winds (more on this later) d) Buy tickets for Cave of the Winds - Make sure they are for at least 3.5 hours later, or you risk missing your time. e) walk to maid of the mist from Goat Island (about a 15 minute walk). f) Get your tickets.

For those who do not know the Maid of the Mist is a boatride that goes into the falls, it is amazing, and a must do. Its worth the wait. The Maid of the Mist is only allowing 175 people at a time on the boat. It is a great experience on the boat because there is no pushing and shoving to get a good view, however the waits are insane. If you are pressed for time when its time to get off the boat, make sure to get off the boat first, because the waits for the elevators are insane because they are only allowing one party to be in an elevator at once. Also try to be on the left side of the boat ride because you will get a better view of the American Falls.

The Cave of the Winds is in Niagara Falls State Park, and is a must-do. Basically they take you down into caves behind the Falls, and then you walk under and into the Falls (its safe don't worry) and get soaked. Because of COVID-19, the movie and exhibits they would show are closed. Don't worry, its still worth it. Also they give you a poncho, but normally they would give you slippers to wear, and you would store your shoes. If you wear shoes on this, they will get soaked and ruined, you must wear water shoes. That is why parking near the attraction is vital, because you can just change there an go. There are snack shops (with kosher ice cream) right there. They are very strict on the timed tickets, they will not take you early, and if you snooze, you lose. This was a highlight of the trip, and well worth it.

Goat Island is an Island in Niagara Falls State Park and really nice. I recommend looking around especially where it faces the falls. There are also two bridges which connect it to the mainland to the Maid of the Mist Area and you literally walk over the entrance to the American Falls. Spend time doing this, its worth it.

Also the parking by Goat Island is $10, and is good for all State Parks for the Day, so if you go to any other park that day, admission will be free (more on that later). Save your parking stub.

We then went to Fort Niagara State Park. We wish we had known about this before. This is a must do. People go for the historic Fort. We did not. The park is on the tip of NY which borders Canada and Lake Ontario. There is a $10 car admission (which was free to us because we already parked at Goat Island). It is about 25-30 minutes from Niagara to the North. Drive along the Canadian Border which gives nice views. (We did not stop in Whirlpool State Park, but next time we will). The Park is just gorgeous and relaxing. Had we known we would have prepared differently. We loved it and our kids loved it. There is a public pool which was open and charges admission for $1.50 a kid and $3.00 for adults. There are places to make bbq on the Lake, and the weather was perfect. We would have brought food for a bbq had we known. We could have spent an entire day here. The fort is historic, but we did not go. You can see Toronto across the Lake from 24 miles away. This is a hidden gem, and if we are in the area, we will be back.

Our hotel was only 35 minutes from the park, and we went back and then attempted to get dinner at Tops (see above), and then just bought some stuff and ate at the hotel.
In terms of activities at night, we went to a drive in movie theatre in Lockport, however we didn't realize that we needed to bring lawn chairs to sit so it wasn't as relaxing as we thought. Also, the movies start late after dark, so by the time it starts and ends its really late (midnight). Live and learn.

The next day (Tuesday) it was time to go. We checked out of our hotel, got breakfast and lunch at Trader Joes, and drove (about 90 minutes) to Letchworth State Park. For some of us, this was the highlight of the Trip.

This Park is a hidden Gem. I will try to give helpful hints and Tips. First admission is $10.00. The park is sprawling and a Wonderful delight. It is called the Grand Canyon of the East for a Reason.

Some tips, There are a few entrances. I strongly recommend the Portageville Entrance. It is close to the waterfalls. (There are three in the park). I would either park right when you come in and hike to the upper and middle waterfalls (there are massive stairs there), if you dont want to really hike, skip the first parking lot and make a right to the second one. For the amazing gorges, I would drive to them. Make sure to drive to Big Bend Vista. It is breathtaking. We lunched by trailside lodge which has bathrooms, a hill for the kids to roll down from, and a nearby nature center indoors and outdoors. The park has no trash bins, so you need to take it with you. I cannot say how amazing the park is. It is a must go.

The North side of the park has the Mt. Morris dam, which they normally give tours, but it is closed because of COVID-19, also you can take Balloon rides over the park (at $300 a pop), but closed because of COVID-19.

We spent about 4 hours in the park. We then drove to Corning. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Corning. Once again on Points. The hotel was clean. We got adjoining rooms. The pool was open, BUT only in 30 minutes slots, with 30 minutes after to clean it. We asked if we could have longer since we had 3 rooms, and were told no. It was ridiculous. They wanted us to have 6-630, break for cleaning, 7-730, break for cleaning, 8-830. What a waste of manpower. No complementary breakfast here.

We made a BBQ in Denison Park in Corning it was nice, there are no lights in the park, and we used our headlights after dark. We purchased food in the Wegmans in Corning. They do not have any kosher chicken/meat etc... For some reason they have a substantial section of kosher cheese and cholov yisroel.

The next morning (Wednesday) we went to the Corning museum of Glass. The museum opens early at 9, and there are timed tickets. You should order them in advance and plan your day. Kids are free and adults are $20 a pop. The also have "make your own glass" and stuff like that. You need to reserve a spot in advance. We did sandblasting, and you get to take home your project. The kids liked it. The museum is a world class museum. I would recommend coming early, going to the 2 presentations right away, and then see the museum, especially with social distancing the shows fill up and they are hard to get to. If you do "make your own glass" schedule it for 2 hours in so you can see the other stuff before people get there.

We went back to the hotel for lunch (travel time 2 minutes). We then spent the rest of the day in Ithaca (travel time an hour). We first went fruit picking. We went to Indian Creek Farm. They do not have a picking fee, and its a real farm, and the prices are very reasonable. I strongly recommend it. We then went to Cornell University to walk around. Because of COVID-19 the kosher dining is NOT open to the public. Its a shame. I recommend parking at the Johnson Art Museum, and walking around campus. Also across the street from it, is the suspension pedestrian bridge over a gorge to Cayuga Heights. Do it, its a must do.

We made a BBQ at Stewart Park in Ithaca by Lake Cayuga. It was really nice. There are grills by the playground. Also remember this is a garbage in-garbage park. The park is really nice and relaxing. There are wooden swings on the lake. There are bathrooms and grills.

We got refrigerated food to grill at Wegmans in Ithaca (Do not go to Tops, they do not have any kosher chicken/hotdogs meat etc...). They had hotdogs, sausage and empire chicken.

The next day (Thursday) we checked out of our hotel, and drove towards home. We stopped in Owego, NY in the Early Owego Antique Center, which is a 2 story antique place in an Old Department store. It something to see if you want to stretch your legs. We then drove to Scranton for lunch, and then ended up in Kalahari for the night.

We had a really nice trip. I hope this was helpful for people. We would go back to Letchworth State Park and Fort Niagara State Park in a heartbeat.

Feel free to PM me with any questions.

August 30, 2020, 10:33:56 AM