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Quick Family Trip on a Dime (no pics) Disclaimer: this no-frills Trip Report is being written in one sitting with the express purpose to help out those looking for ideas on where to go and what to do with kids in tristate area that doesnt break the bank. Nothing fancy to see here so if you're not searching in this category, i'm sure the Maldives thread has something to offer...
Was looking for someplace to go away with the gang. Our needs were:
  • inexpensive
  • within two hour drive of monsey
  • minyan
  • entertainment for ages 2-12
After discarding several options we decided on Diggerland as the main attraction, and therefore just searched for closest Hyatt House which is where we usually go with the clan.
     Hyatt House Mt. Laurel had availability for my nights for a trio suite but not for points so i made a cash booking and later found agent to switch it to a points booking @ 8000 points a night, but at a minimum of three nights, so that's what i took. A trio suite gave us two closed bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. One bedroom has two double beds, with the other a king bed. The walk in closet was more than sufficient for a crib, and the pull out couch slept two comfortably so that we were all quite comfortable.
     I found tickets for Diggerland on Groupon for 29.95 for those 42" and above which is way cheaper than Diggerland's direct price. 36"-42" was same price as Diggerland, so didnt bother buying through them. 36" and below is free.
     As far as minyan, there are several options just several minutes away in Cherry Hill. We chose Sons of Israel since they had the latest minyan shachris at 8:00.  12 min from hotel
The trip from Monsey took just over two hours, and we quickly settled in for the night so that we could have an early start the next day since Diggerland's hours are 10-6.
After quick 15 minute ride we ended up arriving closer to one and were afraid we would be missing out, but as the weather peaked at about 94 degrees, the park was almost empty and we had just the right amount of time to spend there. Diggerland is awesome! Every kid had a grand time, according to his age and skill. There's something for everyone. It is a construction themed park, so that every ride consists of some tractor or truck retrofitted to suit the needs of the ride. There are tractors to ride and tractors to dig with and tractors to look at... you get the idea but there was truly plenty of variety to keep the kids going despite the weather. There's also a rock climbing wall and a ropes course in addition to a toddler play area. The only separate fee in the park is for the Soaring Eagle Zipling @ $6 a kid, and a gem mining station @ $6 a bag of gems. Officially there is no outside food allowed, but they had no issue with our bulging bags beneath the stroller, so we had plenty to eat just bought drinks every few minutes (3.75 for a coke bottle or 2.95 for a water) The Icee in the park is certified o-u so we tried cooling off with those. They also have misting fans in several areas, but they hardly accomplished much in this heat.
We left at six, got to hotel, ate dinner which was put up in crockpot in morn, played some games and called it a night.
The next morning we woke up to same weather and really wanted to do something water related but couldn't find anything within an hour's drive.
We decided on Johnson's Corner Farm (15 min from hotel) which is an amazing place with u-pick fruits and veggies, playground with splash pad, and animal farm. What we didn't realize is that when they advertise hayrides from 10-1 it means that after 1 there is no way to go picking since you need the hayride to get you out there. In any case we had a fabulous time and spent 3 hours there. There is a playground with very creative play equipment like spider web, huge Connect 4 playing boards, checkers tables, pretend areas, go karts, and the absolute best part which were the splash pads. In the sweltering heat the kids just kept converging there. There's the pail area which literally gets you a bucket of water on your head, some overhead sprinklers, inground sprinklers and the like. The entire play area is not that large it is just truly beautiful with tons of comfortable shaded seating, very clean and plenty of variety. The animal farm was not a petting zoo as we had hoped, but was fun nevertheless. There are sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, donkeys and cows. They provide corn with which to feed them, which you drop in to tubes and they come nibble.  Again, kids had awesome time with that. There's also a farmer's market on premises selling their produce as well as trinkets and the like. Admission was $9 a kid and $4.50 for those 13+. If you pay for hayride (i think 4.50) you get half price admission to the playground and animal farm. After 5 it's only 3 per kid, 1.50 per 13+. Wednesday evenings 5-9 feature free hayrides, pay what you pick.
From there we wanted to go to Laurel Acres Park for a grill, but upon arrival realized that there was some community event going on so we just left. We found Strawbridge Park down the road which suit us perfectly and was completely empty. There is a playground there that occupied the kids while we got the portable grill going. We also brought along a large kite for the bigger ones, and the large open field proved perfect for it.
Upon arrival back at the hotel, we realized that the pool was just about to close, and as we hadnt had a chance to use it yet since it was always full, decided to give it a try. Sure enough, just as we got there, there was some lightning and the pool miraculously cleared for us! We had a grand time, especially given that they came to close the pool half an hour after designated closing time.
All in all, this was a low key, totally kid friendly, tznius-sensitive, low-cost trip which created the family memories which will keep us smiling for a while.
Other kid-friendly options to do in the area (within half hour drive):
Adventure Aquarium (29.95 an adult includes one kid free)
Garden Discovery Museum ($5 admission after 5pm)
Philadelphia Mint (self-guided tour free)
Franklin Institute
Please Touch Museum
Independence Seaport Museum
(bunch of other Philadelphia museums, these are just the ones i looked in to)
Thanks for reading, and good luck with planning your own family trip!

August 08, 2018, 01:18:37 AM
Re: Panama in 3- A mini TR a small picture tour
Random pictures of the city/skyline:

Some of the traffic around the city:

Bridge of America which crosses the Panama Canal:

Getting poorer and poorer as we moved farther from the city:

Shevet Ahim:

Monkeys on Monkey Island:

Native American Village:

The food they offered:

This is one of them, he is dressed regular as he was coming from school in the city, notice how he has a normal smartphone in his pocket

Their school:

Our hotel pool area:

August 10, 2018, 11:07:33 AM
Tallest peak in the alps- Shortest TR Ideally I would start a TR during the trip, or at least write some notes for one, but now I had no intentions of writing a TR rather I just sat down and prepared it in one go so excuse the laziness and whatever it’s missing.

Here is my incredibility short TR of my short trip to the French alps in Chamonix Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in the Alps.

Since we were all flying at the same time I chose to fly together with my companions, which meant I was flying economy, didn’t mind it as I wanted to fly some Y this year to keep my sanity and will do it again. Flying in to GVA out of TLV gives you multiple direct weekly flights, between Elal and Easyjet, booking 6 days out these flights weren’t on the radar as they were ridiculously expensive, or sold out. So we booked Pegasus with a short stop in SAW for under $100. For the return we were flying to different destinations, and at different times, so I was booking a solo flight. For 25k SQ+ roughly $200  I booked LX J via ZRH.

There doesn't seem to be any points options as far as hotels in Chamonix, so we booked the “Hotel Mont-Blanc” which was 1 of the 2 5* hotels there, with the other being sold out. The hotel looked quite nice, and was at the foot of the beautiful Mont-Blanc.

Sunday 01/13
We arrived at around 5AM to TLV for our 7:20 flight, after a long security process we made it to the Dan lounge  with just enough time to have a coffee and a small bite. We got on the bus and boarded in no time. With the plane being the hottest plane I've ever been on, then the combination of a really small seat on the 738 and my long legs, this was going to be a fun ride. In no time we were in the air and was fast asleep for about 20 minutes before the discomfort got to me and despite not sleeping the night before I didn’t sleep anymore. For our 1 hour stop in SAW we went to the ISG International CIP Lounge before going to the next flight to GVA.on the second flight I was lucky to have an exit row, which had amazing legroom. Upon arriving in GVA we took an Uber to Chabad where we discussed the kosher food situation before Davening Mincha-Maariv there.
For dinner we went to the Sushi spot, Ketori which IMO was extremely expensive aside from the stingy portions, and was really not that good at all. Although we wanted to go to the Kosher grocery store that night it was closed so we instead took a 1 hour taxi ride to our hotel for the night.
The Hotel was quite nice

And the view was amazing

We looked around the hotel and checked out the town before retiring for the night.

Monday 01/14
Since we didn’t get to get our food for the trip yet we had to go back to Geneva to shop, and then just spent the rest of the day touring the town as well as enjoying the outdoor pool and hot tub at the hotel overlooking the alps. It wasn’t much of a day, but was certainly a relaxing one.

Tuesday 01/15
We woke up early Tuesday and skied all morning. After going back to the hotel to relax and calm down for a few minutes we went on to go paragliding which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The views from on top are one of a kind, and gliding over a town blanketed in snow is a once in lifetime experience.

And then of course, back to the hot tub with some beers.

Wednesday 01/16
More skiing of course, before going for some amazing night snowmobiling nearly an hour away.

The guides “house’”

Thursday 01/17
Time to head back to the, we arrived in the Airport 3 hours or so before my flight (mine was the latest of us 4)
Those 3 hours were spent across 4 lounges starting with all of us in the KLM lounge

With these 2 in between

-image missing-
And ending with myself in the LX J lounge

Before boarding a half empty A320 where I had the whole row 1 to myself, and was even served a Kosher “snack” on the half hour flight to ZRH.

In ZRH I had just 55 minutes in the Business Lounge which I really enjoyed aside from the fact that it was absolutely overcrowded. As a #AVgeek the balcony for plane spotting felt like home.

At the gate I managed to get a single seat, 5k

The view after takeoff was outstanding

February 19, 2019, 03:11:26 PM
A Getaway to Paradise - as2's Private Island Escape
I will be posting this in chunks, and have links to each section in the wiki.


This trip was taken by @Something Fishy , and detailed quite well, probably better than I’ll ever be able to, but nobody can say it all (he kinda did), so I’ll try to fill in what he left out.

When SF posted his TR, I immediately knew this was a trip I needed to take. I am more of a “relaxing” vacation type of guy, rather than the action packed type, so an island of my own to vegetate on for a few days was super appealing. My wife loves water/beaches (well, most of the time…keep reading) so this would appeal to her too. I showed her the TR and sold her on it almost immediately, and she agreed this had to be done. I decided to plan out our trip for the following January (2018) and began compiling spreadsheets for all our preparations. I mapped out every flight in and out of TGU, SAP, and RTB, with flight schedules, availability, cash prices, etc. As first world problems would have it, I ended up snagging some dirt cheap tickets to Israel and couldn’t bring myself to pass on such fares, so the island was put on the back burner.

Fast forward to October 2018. I had no real vacation plans, but when some sweet overwater villas in the Maldives dipped well below sale price, I booked one, and coordinated with my parents to leave the kids with them. As excited as I was, only 3/4 of me wanted those reservations to be honored, as this wasn’t the ideal time for me to go that far for that short a time. When the reservations were canceled (in some capacity, and for some) I decided this island adventure would fit the schedule perfectly. And so it began…

I emailed the Jackson family, who own the island, to reserve, and was pleased to find availability for the dates I wanted. I requested the night of Sunday, 1/20 through Wednesday 1/23, and we would depart Thursday morning. All “confirmations” (or lack thereof) are just email correspondences, so I did email them to confirm they got my money and we were set for those dates, to which the answer was affirmative. Previously I had seen that the Jacksons accepted payment exclusively through Western Union, but they now offered a Paypal option, which was more appealing to me, even with a fee. I sent them the $560 for my 4 night stay, and incurred a $16.54 fee. I didn’t realize until it posted, that it codes as “travel-lodging” with Amex, so I could have paid for it with A+ points. Oh well.

The rental codes as travel

I read and re-read SFs TR to collect as much info as possible, and heeded his advice (and many others agreed) to fly into RTB, so as to have the best chance of entering the country with all my food. Due to it being an island off the mainland, customs is typically more chilled than the other 2 airports. The flight schedule going to RTB is weak, and there was really only one option that allowed me to maximize my time. United has a Sunday flight from IAH to RTB at 9:55am (The same one SF took). I transfered 60k MT to 35k UA (during 10% promo), and proceeded to book ORD-IAH-RTB for myself and DW at 17.5k UA in Y, as there was no saver availability for J. I paid the $5.60(x2) on my UA Club card for the free bags. For the return, I wanted a bit more flexibility, so I decided to look into SAP and TGU. Ideally, I wanted to stop in PTY, but the only flights available either left me with an hour connection, or a Friday afternoon arrival, neither of which were too appealing. I kept searching, and came across a flight on Deltas site, flying Aeromexico, departing SAP and connecting in MEX for 30k DL in J. I don’t use my skypesos often, so I figured this was the way to go, but it was late, and I decided to take the night to think about it and to spend a bit more time weighing my options. I couldn’t find anything better, so the next afternoon I went back to DL to book it, only to find that the flights had disappeared! I managed to pull up the flight on FB for 34.5k + $83.37 in taxes, and transferred MR over for the booking. Of course, my stupid self had to regularly check back on DL and lo and behold the flights popped back up shortly after(I probably screwed something up, still not sure what). Guess that’s life.

I was now missing only the final pieces of the transportation puzzle, and that’s where I called upon Alice from One World Travel, to help out. Coming highly recommended by SF, and many others online, I knew I could count on her for my travel needs (and little did I know, but this would save a headache later). I shot off an email to Alice with regards to transportation from RTB to UII, and then from UII to SAP. For the RTB-UII route, there was a ferry, and my flight would be arriving a bit too close to the departure time, so I opted for option 2, the private charter. As for the return, I had Alice book us on Sosa Airlines UII-LCE-SAP.  Sosa Airlines shares that route with CM Airlines, but they both only operate every other day, so Thursday was a Sosa exclusive. These airlines are kind of a joke, and you can never be sure your flight will actually happen. They often cancel due to “not enough passengers” so booking via a travel agent is a nice safety net. World Wide Travel happens to be the local representative for Sosa Airlines in UII.
Total cost for the charter was $350, and the Sosa flights were a total of $120 per person (CM is the same price). I opted to pay with a credit card, which incurred a 4% fee. Alice was kind enough to split my payment between my CSR and A+, so I used my TC for the first $300 and paid the remainder with A+ points. If you don’t want to pay with a card, they do work with Chase, and I believe you can somehow pay them directly from your account.

We arranged with the Jacksons that a tuk tuk pick us up at UII, and we would meet Barry at the dock behind Bush’s, the local supermarket. There is a $50 fee each way, (more on that later) for the boat ride to and from the island, which I charged to my A+. Travel arrangements were now complete, and that left us with this:

And a close up of the Honduran legs:

February 26, 2019, 08:50:52 PM