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Re: Pesach Program in Greece Cancelled Just Now! I was there.

The program was complete chaos and disorganization. I was there last year as well and while the food was awful, there was plenty of it and we had a nice time since the property is gorgeous and we enjoyed the crowd. This year was just ridiculous. Not enough food, no tea room, nobody to talk to about the multiple issues.

Regarding the article above, the story was that the hotel gave the program a bill of about $250k at the end of the program for services they claimed they provided (on top of what the program had already paid them) which the program claimed was inaccurate. The program owner slipped out of the hotel at 4AM after chag.

We checked out early since our flight was early afternoon and all was fine. About 1pm the hotel realized that the owner of the program had skipped town and so they started detaining guests and refusing to allow them to leave the property without paying extravagant amounts, from $5k-$35k per family...

The property is about a mile or more off the main road. There is a long road (about 5-10 minutes) once you get off the highway to the property. There are 3 security checkpoints along that road and they do not let you off the property without a pass from the hotel showing you are paid up in full.

As far as I know everyone left, paid with their Amex cards and are planning to dispute these charges.

April 20, 2017, 01:55:07 PM
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Dvol's South Africa / Dubai TR A few months ago I met a sales rep from a South African safari tour company who also did kosher safaris and the idea of a kosher safari stayed stuck in my head. Fast forward a few weeks and my husband and I decided that we would do a South Africa trip in August to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.

I sent an email to the tour company with the amount of time I wanted to spend there (6-7 days), and my dates (anytime in August). I knew absolutely nothing about SA, had never been and knew only 1 person that had visited there. The tour company was fantastic in helping me plan this trip and guided me every step of the way and answered all of my many, many questions. Could this trip have cost me less if I booked everything myself (in which case I could have used points for some of it)? Yes, although without points I donít think the savings would have been too significant. Would I book it through the tour company again and/or recommend others to do so? Definitely. They took care of everything from the domestic flights in SA, to the tour guides, to the kosher food and more. Due to certain circumstances we were able to splurge on this vacation a bit and so booking this way was completely worth it for us, but to each their own.

After I got a few prospective dates from the tour company I had to see which dates would work best with flights that I could find since I did want to book that solely with points. Due to my husbandís work we could not be gone for more than 1 Monday and because we were leaving 2 kids behind we didnít want to be away more than 1 Shabbos or too many days in general. I searched Alaska for availability in F on Emirates and found availability JFK-DXB-CPT on August 9. I transferred 185K SPG points (in 3 increments) to JAL since 115k JAL points were needed per person. I did the first transfer on a Monday and by Friday morning all 3 transfers showed up in my JAL account. There was enough availability on Alaska that I wasnít worried it would disappear in those few days, and worst case I would book alternate dates since I hadnít confirmed the rest of my trip yet. For the return I was not seeing anything on Alaska for Emirates in First on any of my desired return dates. Being that one-way fares on EK in F from SA were pretty decent I ended up booking my return with Amex points and getting 50% back (this was in May). I booked a flight leaving Johannesburg on Wednesday evening August 17 with an 18.5 hour layover in Dubai and arriving back to JFK Friday at 9AM.

All pictures were taken by my iPhone 7 and Iíll be the first to say they are probably awful. My husband did take his GoPro Hero 5 (with Karma grip) but we havenít even looked at all the hours of footage and pictures on there yet.

JFK-DXB-CPT

Since my departure was booked with JAL miles we were not eligible for the chauffeur pickup. We got to the airport about 2.5 hours before our flight time (which was 11:20AM), checked in at the dedicated First desk and headed straight to the Emirates lounge.



While it was a nice lounge it wasnít extraordinary but we did love the fact that we boarded directly from the lounge. This was our first flight on Emirates and what an experience. We boarded and were immediately greeted by the FAs and shown how everything worked and given pajamas and Bulgari amenity kit:



 


We had seats 3E and 3F:



We were immediately offered drinks, snacks, newspapers, magazines and of course champagne and the FAs came through with Arabic coffee and dates. The purser also came by to introduce himself.
There was only 1 more passenger in F on this flight and so after takeoff we had them make up the window seats in row 3 on either side of us as beds and kept the 2 in the middle as seats.



I have of course seen countless photos and reviews of EK F but nothing comes close to the real deal. It was an amazing experience and was almost like a trip of its own.
Being that this was the A380 equipped with showers, we scheduled our showers for 1.5 hours before landing. Since there are 2 we were able to schedule them for the same time and the FA made sure with us that she had our permission to wake us then if we were sleeping.
We were floored by the size and elegance of the bathroom and it was a real treat and unlike any other airplane bathroom Iíve seen before:



And of course, thereís nothing like a shower at 35,000 feet:



The bar/snack area for first class:



 


The bar for business and first located behind business class:





While we ordered kosher meals we didnít end up asking for it as we had brought along sandwiches and that was good enough for us.
Neither of us could sleep much between the excitement and it being in middle of the day for us but the 11+ hours flew by (pun intended :P) and before we knew it we were landing in Dubai. Our connection time was just under 3 hours (They did have a 1 hour connection but I could only find business availability on that flight). We headed straight to the first class lounge which was truly impressive and MASSIVE. It stretches the entire length of the terminal and was easy to get lost in. We scheduled our complimentary 15 minute massages and had some coffee in the lounge while we waited. Besides the numerous bars and snack spreads in the lounge there is a complimentary restaurant inside as well as a pretty large smoking area:



Unfortunately we could not board directly from the lounge for our flight to Cape Town so after a while we made our way down to the gate. They shuttled all passengers to the plane (a surprisingly long almost 10 minute ride) and they had separate shuttle buses for each cabin. While I didnít get to see the economy or business shuttles these were the seats on the First class shuttle:



Our 777 waiting to take us to Cape Town: (I was scolded for taking photos)



This was an older 777 and while the seats themselves were identical to those on the A380, the screen was smaller and not a touch-screen and the remotes were much more outdated. The bathrooms were regular airplane bathrooms and there was no star lighting on the ceilings. There were only 8 seats in first class and besides for 1 empty seat, all were taken. While we were originally seated in 1E and 1F in the middle, my TV wasnít working so I was moved to the only open seat available which was 1A. This was fine since by that point we were exhausted and slept through most of the (pretty bumpy) flight.

Next up: 3 Days in Cape Town


August 24, 2017, 12:23:31 PM
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Re: Dvol's South Africa / Dubai TR
Cold it is, after all it is winter....
Last game drive we did, DD (was 2+yrs old) asked if we can please close the windows.... (it was an open Jeep)

Love the Biltong and Boerwors pics!
thnax for sharing

If only our winter had 80 degree days!

August 31, 2017, 02:02:15 PM
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Re: Panama Master Thread I have plenty of pictures and will post if anyone is interested, but I just came back from 3 days in Panama and will post my trip report here:

I had booked a bulk fare with Priceline departing Saturday night on UA and returning Wednesday morning for $489 p/p. When I checked in online Motzei Shabbos I was offered an upgrade to business for $189 per person which I took. At the end of the day it was a complete waste since it was probably the most uncomfortable 5 hours of my life, and I got nothing from the stewardess besides half a glass of water. I had also had the bulkhead seats booked and while I got the same offer for an upgrade on the return I didn't take and had pretty much the exact same experience sitting in the bulkhead seats in coach as I did in business.

While the flight was uncomfortable it was uneventful and we landed in PTY at about 5AM which is just about when the airport opens and all the shops were still closed. We called an Uber from the pickup area which is in the car rental section and the guy standing in front of us got into one of the parked cars there and that was our ride.

You'd have to be crazy to rent a car in Panama, the driving and parking is even worse than Brooklyn and the Uber rates are a joke. I believe the fare from the airport to our hotel was about $7. In general the majority of our Uber rides ranged from $2-$7.

We had a room booked at the W Panama, however it hadn't occurred to me that they would be completely sold out the previous night, so although we had a room booked with a member that has Lifetime Platinum status we were told they have no rooms to give us at the moment (about 5:40AM). We had booked a regular room and had been upgraded to a "fantastic suite" and while we offered to take a regular room and switch later on we were told that not a single room was available. After asking the manager several times I had just about given up and we were going to look at different properties near us to see where we could get a room when I asked if he could check any of the other SPG properties around us if they could give us a room, at least for a few hours and we'd be happy to pay for the night. While he was checking he told me that their first guest had just checked out and if we waited 30 minutes they would clean it for us. While it was a regular room he'd be happy to switch us to the fantastic suite later on in the day and that's what we did. By the time we got to the room was a little after 7AM and we went right to sleep until about 11AM.

A little about the hotel: It's fairly new, under a year old and very modern with the same hip vibe I've experienced in most W hotels I've stayed in. While even the regular room was very spacious and comfortable the only reason I wouldn't stay in this hotel again is because of its location. It's in the financial district and about a 20 minute walk/5 minute car ride to Paitilla which is the Jewish neighborhood where most (if not all) of the kosher restaurants are located. The area was extremely quiet and we barely saw anyone in the hotel, even the pool rarely had more than 1-2 people in it. However, the service was great and we did love the rooms.

When we woke up we got dressed and took a 20 minute walk to Kava to have lunch. Like I said, I have pictures I can post if anyone would like to see but we had some sushi which was very good, their Thai salad was incredible, but the pasta was definitely of the boxed variety and pretty blah.

I had booked the 4 hour Monkey Island tour with My Friend Mario for 2PM ($90 p/p for a private tour - cash only) so after lunch we headed back to our hotel where we had arranged to be picked up. I forgot our guide's name but he was very friendly, talkative and he brought along an "expert on animals" to help guide us on our tour. We had to drive about 45 minutes to the Gamboa marina where we boarded a small boat that drove us on the Chagres River for about a half hour until we reached the Monkey Islands. We thoroughly enjoyed this tour and had a great time having the monkeys come eat straight out of our hands. We didn't get to see any crocs which apparently disappoints most people but was perfectly fine with us.

After the tour we headed back to our hotel and headed to dinner. We ate at Aria and were extremely impressed with the decor, the food, all of it. We didn't get to at the end, but we had planned on going back at least once more - all the more reason to visit again. After dinner we walked to the Sortis which was a block away to check out the casino but we were so tired we left without playing, but the hotel was busier than the W and looked really nice as well, would definitely check it out if I were to go again as the location cannot be beat.

I had booked a tour to the Embera Village with Sorhay from The Real Panama Tours (https://www.therealpanamatours.com/) for the next day with an 8AM pickup. I cannot say enough good things about her, as many people have said here before. She was friendly, accomodating and a great guide. The drive to the rainforest was about an hour and 15 minutes and we were met there by our Embera guide- Saul. We took about a 5 minute boat ride to the village where we were met by some of the tribe. Sorhay seemed to know everyone there, from adult to baby and they all love her. We had about 6-7 kids trailing us at all times and the entire day was fascinating. While they are not as authentic as they once were (when we arrived we saw one of the tribe trying to catch reception on their cell phone) and they speak fluent Spanish and many go to the city to buy supplies, it's still fascinating to see how they live. We walked around the village with Sorhay giving us lots of information and then took a break for lunch - fried tilapia and plantains (we had brought along lunch). We had also brought along tons of fruits that we had stopped to buy on the way up and the tribal kids showed us the best way to eat passionfruit - by dipping pineapple slices into it. After lunch we took the canoe to the waterfall - many of the kids begged to tag along and 5 of them joined us (according to Sorhay its a rare treat for them and their parents took some convincing). Because the water in the river had already started to lower we had to hike about 20 minutes to the waterfall which was a fun challenge. We spent about 30 minutes there in the refreshing water and then headed back.

By the time we got back to the hotel was pretty late and we got changed for dinner and headed out. We went to Lula by Darne and while the place was also very nice and the food was good, it wasn't as impressive as Aria. I'm not sure if it's always like that, but for some reason every place seemed mostly empty and made us wonder how these places stay afloat.

On Tuesday we didn't have much of a plan, so we woke up late and went to get a massage at the Bristol hotel which was right next door to our hotel (W didn't have availability). While the service was very good they had no facilities to speak of. After that we headed to lunch at La Spezia where we had some apps and the pizza. While very tasty it had TOO MUCH cheese - not a sentence I ever thought I would say.

After that we went to the Milaflores Locks of the Panama Canal which we were told to go to either before 9AM or after 2PM. We arrived at about 2:45 and went to see the 40 minutes Imax movie that's narrated by Morgan Freeman and plays every hour on the hour. While interesting it can definitely be missed. After that we bought tickets for the museum, another 20 minute movie shown in there and the Locks to see the boats being lowered in the Canal. Definitely a can't miss and we spent a few hours there, until about 5:30.

After that we took an Uber to the Amador Causeway. However, what should have been a 23 minute ride turned into an hour and 10 minutes because of the ridiculous stand-still traffic we encountered. After all that our Uber bill was only $7 but we felt so bad we left a $5 tip. It was pretty much dark by the time we arrived so we didn't end up renting a bike like we had planned, just walked around for a few minutes.

For our last night's dinner we really wanted to go to Aria again but we noticed another meat place called Moma and decided to give it a try - it's a lounge/restaurant and they had a nice big outdoor seating area with lots of people smoking hookah and a big screen showing the football game. While all the other places had been pretty empty, Moma was full and had a young, hip vibe with one very large family having a birthday party there complete with clown and everything. We ate outdoors and the food was really good, and their drinks were as well, definitely would go back there.

Our flight the next morning was at 9:30Am so we left our hotel at about 7:30 and while traffic in the reverse direction was a complete standstill we made it to the airport in about 20 minutes. We used our Priority Pass to get into the incredibly crowded, very unimpressive lounge by Copa Club and that concluded our trip.

I always intend to write out short succint trip reports but usually end up with long megillahs and this time it seems was no exception :).

Happy to post pictures if anyone would like to see anything.

February 14, 2019, 01:38:33 PM
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Re: Panama Master Thread Some pictures as per request.

The pool at the W, view from our window on the 16th floor:



Video from the Monkey Island tour:







After Monkey Island we had our guide drop us off at Casco Viejo:



Then dinner at Aria:
Empanadas, cream of tomato soup (HIGHLY recommend), shisito peppers, and then a shredded meat dish on top of yuca - also delicious:



Pretty sure this was called Thai soup:



The BEST version of crispy chicken I have ever tasted:



And of course churros for dessert:



Apple crumble, also delicious:



The next day, some pictures from our trip to the Embera village. Here is the boat you take to the village:



Being greeted once we arrived, as you can see the kids love Sorhay



Our Embera guide told us that the children in the village had just rescued an abandoned monkey that they found near the village. They normally do not keep any pets so this was a major event and all the children were enthralled with it:



Visitors are not allowed into the homes of the Embera, but they have one hut where they make food for visitors only so we were allowed to see their "kitchen" there:



The view:



The fried tilapia and plantain lunch they gave to all visitors:



The fruit we had brought along and they cut up for us, pineapple, watermelon, passionfruit, banana, papaya and some tamarind:



On our way out we were offered a tribal "tattoo" which is similar to henna and lasts about 7 days:



We then took the boat to the rainforest, and some of the children in the village joined us. Here is Sorhay giving them a lesson of some sort:





The children leading us to the rainforest:



There was only 1 local family at the rainforest, but luckily it was empty otherwise. We did climb to the top of this waterfall and took a dip in the water above:



Later that night we had dinner at Lula by Darna, I tried to look up the items we ordered but the menu we had is completely different from the one I found online. I'm going to say this was called French Dip rolls, I could be 100% wrong, but it was very tasty.



Some kind of ground meat inside yuca - was very good:



Empanadas:



Mushroom salad:



Burger:



The next day we went to lunch at La Spezia. Here is the cheesiest pizza you ever did see:



Eggplant Parmesan:



After that we went to the Panama Canal:





The Amador Causeway at sunset:



And then dinner at Moma:

Pastrami rolled in something. I want to say yuca again since I think we saw that everywhere, but it was delicious:



Tuna bites:



Definitely a tie with Aria over the best sesame chicken in the world:



We skipped dessert, headed back to our hotel and left the next morning. All in all Panama should be a food destination if nothing else.

February 18, 2019, 03:51:48 PM
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