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Big Island Of Hawaii Master Thread Trip report coming soon...
January 25, 2010, 07:50:54 PM
Monsey Master Thread I think it's time for the humble ppl of Monsey to get their own thread :P.

I'm being in Monsey for 2 days at the end of the week, any ideas what to do, eat etc..

July 22, 2014, 10:34:48 AM
Re: @Yehuda's Israel/Eurotrip Honeymoon Trip Report I still can't believe you refuse to invest $300 in a camera, but whatever.

Bummer on the weather, glad you enjoyed anyways

October 30, 2015, 01:00:54 AM
Motorhome Adventures in Utah and Arizona by PBaruch (2016) We are huge fans of America's National Parks and the American Southwest so DW decided to plan an RV trip throughout Utah and Arizona this summer (2016).  Since I selected our adventure in Iceland last summer, it was only fair to let DW choose a trip this summer.  Further, after renting a camper truck in Iceland, we were hooked and looking forward to an adventure in a proper full size motorhome.  The advantages of an RV include freedom to move around on a whim with no need to unpack in a different hotel each night.  However, the cost of an RV rental (including insurance and mileage) and fuel can be expensive.  As anticipated, the kids had a blast and are looking forward to another future RV adventure.

We flew into Las Vegas on an early Sunday morning and took a taxi to El Monte RV on Boulder Highway.  We decided to rent from El Monte because this was one of the few motorhome rental companies that we found to be open on Sunday.  Information about El Monte RV in Las Vegas can be found here:

We rented a 31 foot long Class C motorhome, information about which can be found here:

This particular model has a bed over the front cab, a queen size bed in the rear, a bunk bed in the middle, and a sofa and dinette that convert into additional beds if needed.  This model also has two slides.  One slide extends the living/dining room area while the second slide extends the bunk bed and rear bedroom area.  Although I was a bit apprehensive about driving such a monstrosity, my initial fears turned out to be unfounded.  Aside from constantly correcting the steering as a result of road conditions and wind gusts, it was fairly easy to drive.

Photographs of the RV:

DSC_6442 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6445 by P Bryan, on Flickr

A few interior photographs (more of which can be found on the El Monte website link above):

The rear bedroom with a queen size bed.

The rear bedroom with a queen bed. by P Bryan, on Flickr

The over the cab bed.

Bed over the front cab. by P Bryan, on Flickr

The check in process was painfully slow and if you are expecting car rental service you will be grossly disappointed.  We had to wait for several hours before finally being seen.  After going through the paperwork and a walk through of the motorhome with a primer on how to use the various systems, we were off.

Our first stop was at a nearby Walmart Supercenter, where we purchased cheap sleeping bags, pillows, drinks, and supplies for our journey.  The motorhome rental does not include any bedding/linens and there is a $50.00 per person optional fee to rent blankets, sheets, pillows, and other items.  Instead of paying this fee, we bought sleeping bags for $10.00 each and pillows for $3.00 each from Walmart.  We joined two sleeping bags together to create a queen size sleeping bag for the queen bed in the rear of the motorhome.

The sleeping bags we purchased can be found here:

Our next stop was at Smith's Food & Drug Supermarket, which has a dedicated kosher section with a large variety of take out foods.  Information about Smith's can be found here:

Photographs of the kosher section:

IMG-20160703-WA0008 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20160703-WA0014 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20160703-WA0012 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After stocking up on food at Smith's, we were off to Ruby's Inn RV Park & Campground, information about which can be found here:

We chose this particular campground because it was near Bryce Canyon National Park, our first destination.  We arrived at the campground well after dark and since our site wasn't "pull through," I had to back the RV into our spot.  It wasn't easy but we managed.  After parking the RV and hooking up to electric (which is necessary to run the air conditioning system and outlets unless you are using the built in generator), we went to bed.  DW and I had not slept at all the night before (due to last minute packing) and we were plain exhausted.  Although we didn't have much time to spend at this campground, it was my favorite because the RV spots were nestled among the trees.  Most of the other campgrounds we visited were more akin to cement cities.

The next day we visited Bryce Canyon National Park.  Here are some photographs taken at Bryce:

DSC_6467 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6506 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6475 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6559 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6582 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting Bryce, we drove to Page Arizona, our second destination.  Along the way to Page, we stopped off at Hanging Garden Trail near Lake Powell Dam.  This trail leads to a hanging garden.

IMG_2275 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hanging Garden Trail (near Lake Powell Dam), Arizona by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Hanging Garden Trail, we drove to the Page Lake Powell Campground, information about which can be found here:

The next day we visited Upper Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon located on the Navajo Reservation.  I've been wanting to visit Antelope Canyon for years and it was a dream come true.  Our entire family, including my little guy, walked through the canyon.  Here are some photographs taken at Upper Antelope Canyon:

Upper Antelope Canyon (sunbeam), Arizona by P Bryan, on Flickr

Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona by P Bryan, on Flickr

Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Upper Antelope Canyon, DW let me take a photo tour of Lower Antelope Canyon, which allowed me to bring my tripod into the canyon.  Here are some photographs taken in Lower Antelope Canyon:

DSC_6974 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6960 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6946 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Antelope Canyon - Spot the eagle by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6808 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6787 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, we drove to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  During our drive, DW became concerned about our little guy.  He hadn't been feeling well and felt very hot.  What most concerned us was his refusal to drink or eat.  Upon our arrival at the Grand Canyon, DW found a park ranger who called an ambulance.  The emergency medical technicians checked out our little guy and recommended that we take him to the closest hospital in Kanab, Utah located about 80 miles away.  We were told that our little guy had a fever, was dehydrated, and needed IV fluids.

Before the ambulance arrived, I was able to take a few pictures at the Grand Canyon:

DSC_6988 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7004 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Upon our arrival at the hospital, DW took our little one into the emergency room while I stayed with our other kids in the RV in the hospital parking lot.

IMG_2649 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The little guy returned several hours later with a burst of energy unseen in days.  He was literally bouncing off the walls.  I'm not sure what concoction IV he was given but I'll take a double dose.  After a while our little guy settled down and we all went to sleep.

The next morning we drove to Zion National Park, our next destination.  At Zion, we did the Riverside Walk hike, a paved path running alongside a river.  Here are some photographs taken at Zion:

DSC_7015 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7034 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7058 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW was tired out and decided to rest with our little guy on a bench along the hike while I continued on with our other kids.  While DW was sitting on the bench, one of the ferocious park squirrels chewed through DW's backpack to get to some snacks:

IMG-20160706-WA0009 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The squirrels at Zion have no fear of people and we saw people literally step over squirrels on the path.  Clearly, someone has been feeding the wildlife.

On our drive into Zion we passed by majestic scenery which I thought I'd have an opportunity to photograph on the way out.  However, we drove out of the park using a different route and sadly I didn't have an opportunity to photograph those spots.  Zion is definitely a park I would like to visit again.

After our hike in Zion, we drove to Zion River Resort, where we camped for the night.  Information about Zion River Resort can be found here:

The following morning, we drove to Hoover Dam, our final destination of the trip.  Here are some photographs taken at Hoover Dam:

DSC_7129 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7175 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7121 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7165 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Arizona side of the dam had Arizona time:

DSC_7168 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Nevada side of the dam had Nevada time:

DSC_7158 by P Bryan, on Flickr

It was freakin hot:

DSC_7176 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting Hoover Dam, we drove to Lake Mead RV Village, information about which can be found here:

On Friday morning, we drove back to Las Vegas.  Our first stop was at Smith's where we picked up food for Shabbos.  We then returned the RV and took a shuttle to the Westin, which I booked using SPG points.  We were unimpressed with the Westin but I didn't want to spend money to stay at a nicer hotel for Shabbos.

Our flight home was Sunday morning and we were all looking forward to get out of the Utah and Nevada summer heat.  At the airport, we visited the Centurion Lounge, which turned out to be a major disappointment.  I was very excited when American Express first opened this lounge upon hearing that kosher food was offered.  However, when we visited the Centurion Lounge, no kosher food was available.  Most of the fruit was already cut and they did not offer any disposable cups for coffee.  Further, when I asked for a disposable cup explaining that we could not use the ceramic cups, the woman at the bar rudely stated that they do not offer take out.

Here are some photographs taken at the Centurion Lounge:

DSC_7190 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7191 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We most certainly want to return to Utah and Arizona in the future and I am already planning a hike through the narrows at Zion National Park with a friend for next year.  I hope you enjoyed this trip report and thanks for reading.

August 03, 2016, 10:59:06 PM
Re: Site Suggestions
Perhaps this?
Installed, thoughts?

August 29, 2016, 08:26:06 PM
Re: Site Suggestions
Here's what would need to be changed:
Changed to 99ccff.

August 29, 2016, 09:34:51 PM
Re: Thread Title Rules - HOT!!!! PRICE DROP!!!
Eh. Most of them were worthy of new threads.
Where's the disagree button?  ::)

September 01, 2016, 04:13:47 PM
PRICE MISTAKE! Curved 27 inch LED Monitor for only $39.20 reg $255.00!
September 11, 2016, 10:49:43 PM
Chasing Lava in Hawaii: Warning - May Induce Happiness, by PBaruch (2016) Our love for Hawaii Island (commonly known as the Big Island) is well known and some of you may have read my past two trip reports, which can be found here:

Our story began years ago while I was reading a photography magazine containing an article about shooting lava on Hawaii Island.  I was absolutely mesmerized by the photographs and immediately began planning our first trip.  Although DW had been bugging me to go to Hawaii before that time, I had never been interested until reading about the lava.  Since that time, we have visited the Big Island several times and we have been very fortunate to befriend some truly wonderful individuals.

Earlier this summer, we heard reports that the lava was again flowing towards the ocean.  The last time that there was ocean entry was in 2013 and although I had seen ocean entry on two prior visits, DW and the kids had not previously seen ocean entry from land.  Also, my little guy wasn't even born yet when the lava was last flowing into the ocean in 2013.  As soon as the lava flow hit the ocean, DW told me she wanted to go back to the Big Island and I wasn't arguing with her.  Also, since I had recently become self employed, taking time off was not really an issue.  I asked my boss for two weeks off and his response was take all the time that you need.

Flight to Hawaii:

ewr-hnl-koa map by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20160824-WA0007 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the flight to Hawaii we received Regal kosher meals which weren't bad and they were edible.

For this trip, we decided to stay eleven nights at the Sheraton in Kona and two nights in Volcano.  Although DW and I much prefer Volcano over Kona (the kids prefer Kona due to the swimming pool and nearby beaches), it made more sense for us to stay in Kona rather than Volcano for the bulk of this trip.  DW didn't want to spend Shabbos in Volcano and the cost of staying at the Sheraton was minuscule (using SPG points) compared to Volcano (where I had to pay for the hotel with cash).

We arrived in Kona on Wednesday afternoon, picked up our rental car, stopped by Walmart for some drinks and supplies, and then headed to the Sheraton.  Once again, we were treated well and upgraded to a large ocean front room containing three beds (only such room in the entire hotel).  On the following day, we did some more shopping including buying a jogging stroller for our lava adventure.  We stopped by Target and bought this stroller, which served us very well:

We also stopped by Greenwell Farms, one of our favorite spots in Kona.  We took a farm tour and tasted delicious Kona Coffee.

Taking a tour of the farm:

DSC_7272 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Holding a coffee bean:

DSC_7257 by P Bryan, on Flickr

I love Kona coffee!

DSC_7283 by P Bryan, on Flickr

There is a resident chameleon but we couldn't find it this time.

DSC_7315 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep.  We awoke at about 12:00 a.m. and headed out at about 12:30 a.m. for the drive to Kalapana for our trip to the ocean entry.  At the present time, there are three ways to access the area where lava is flowing into the ocean: (i) walk the approximately 10 miles round trip over the county emergency access road from Kalapana (you can also walk over the road from the National Park side as well); (ii) rent a bicycle from one of several companies and ride to the ocean entry; or (iii) pay for Kalapana Cultural Tours to drive you most of the way and then hike or bike the remaining approximately 1.8 miles each way.  We chose the shuttle tour as it is very important for us to do as much as we can as a family and expose our kids to these wonders.  I was lucky to be introduced to the owner of Kalapana Cultural Tours, who graciously arranged a private tour for my family.  We were shuttled in a 4WD van and we then hiked the remainder of the way to the lava flow.  Unfortunately my buddy, photographer Bruce Omori, was unavailable to join us at that time.  I was able to go out to shoot lava with Bruce later in our trip, more about which is discussed below.

The county emergency access road:

DSC_8005 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs taken at the ocean entry:

DSC_7772 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_3239 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7454 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7854 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7910 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs of the lava from past trips:

Lava ocean entry on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2011. by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lava flowing into the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2013. by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lava flowing into the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2013 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After being out most of the night and into the morning hours, we returned back to the hotel for much needed naps.  We relaxed and prepared for Shabbos at the Sheraton.

On Sunday we visited Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park.  Although we had driven past Punalu'u on prior trips, we had never previously visited this particular park.  Punalu'u is famous for having sea turtles on the beach but none were there during our visit.  I didn't find Punalu'u to be particularly attractive but it is relatively easy to access this park and the black sand beach.

DSC_8020 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lilly pond behind the beach:

DSC_8024 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Punalu'u, we visited South Point where we watched some local kids jump off the cliff into the ocean below.  Also, I went hunting for the South Point marker, which denominates South Point as the southernmost point in the United States.  After an unsuccessful attempt on my own, I asked one of the locals who was fishing in the area about the marker.  He directed me to an area behind a large rock.  Once again, I went off in search of the marker but found nothing.  I went back to the local and he explained that the marker was nothing more than the remains of a plastic rod cemented in the rock:

DSC_8031 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After speaking to the local for a few minutes, he told me that his cousin owned Kalapana Cultural Tours and he asked me to send his regards.  After South Point, we headed back to the hotel to pick up frozen meat that we had brought from home for a BBQ with friends.  On the way to the BBQ, we stopped off at Walmart to buy a grill and supplies.

We met our friends and their families for a BBQ at a beach near Costco:

DJI_0006 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8070 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8075 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We grilled hotdogs, salami, burgers, and vegetables.  Our friends brought lilikoi (otherwise known as passion fruit) and breadfruit (which we grilled as well).

DSC_8045 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The lilikoi was delicious and we couldn't get enough.  The breadfruit was...something to taste once.  The fruits in Hawaii taste amazing and you can immediately tell the difference between Hawaii grown fruit and the stuff we get back home.

The following day we took a snorkel trip to Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.  Although we had snorkeled there once before, it was worthwhile to return.  Once again, the kids had an amazing time.  On the way there we saw a school of flying fish and on the way back we saw a pod of dolphins.

DSC_8101 by P Bryan, on Flickr

P1020600 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the snorkeling trip, we visited the beach by the Lava Lava Club in Waikoloa (near the Hilton), where we stayed for sunset.  We had wanted to photograph sunset from behind the fish pond by 'Anaeho'omalu Beach, but it was closed for construction.  Turtles can often be found on this beach but none were there when we visited.  (Noticed a pattern yet?)

DSC_8244 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8251 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Tuesday we visited Waimea and the Parker Ranch.

Driveway leading to the Parker Ranch:

DSC_8265 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8274 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Inside the main house:

DSC_8292 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Room inside another house at the ranch:

DSC_8318 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Parker Ranch we visited Umauma Falls, which is considered by some to be the most beautiful waterfalls on the Big Island.  We received free admission as it was raining when we pulled up.  However, when we arrived at the falls, the rain stopped and we had a perfect view.

DSC_8344 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8376 by P Bryan, on Flickr

My little guy took this picture of me:

IMG_4349 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Wednesday we visited the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm near the airport in Kona, information about which can be found here:

At the seahorse farm, our kids were able to feed and hold seahorses and it was one of their favorite activities.  We found out about the seahorse farm thanks to my buddy Mitch and his wife, who also happened to be on the Big Island at the same time.

DSC_8384 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8408 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8402 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8436 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Feeding some fish:

DSC_8460 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The touch tank:

DSC_8498 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8510 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8489 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the seahorse farm, we went to the Hilton at Waikoloa, which has a saltwater lagoon that is open to the ocean but contains grates to prevent anything dangerous from getting in.  At the lagoon, you can rent hydro-bike, kayaks, or paddleboats and see colorful reef fish and green sea turtles.  Due to the expected Hurricane Madeline, boat and equipment rentals were ended early.  Luckily for us, neither of the two expected hurricanes affected us at all.  The weather in Kona and Volcano was perfect for the days that we were in each place.

Information about the lagoon can be found here:

While at the lagoon, the kids fed a sea turtle:

DSC_8665 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8689 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Since we were so close, we went back to the beach by the Lava Lava Club in Waikoloa for sunset.  Once again, there were no sea turtles to be seen.

DSC_8707 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Thursday we went to Pololu Valley, a short but steep hike to a black sand beach.  Although it was pretty, Waipio is still my favorite valley and black sand beach on the Big Island.

DSC_8758 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8723 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8746 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Pololu, we visited Kiholo Bay where we stayed until sunset.  Kiholo is another beach know for sea turtles but once again none were to be found.

DSC_8759 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8766 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8773 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Friday, DW and the girls visited Mauna Loa Observatory while I stayed with the little guy at the Sheraton.  Principally NOAA is based there, with a few other agencies also conducting experiments.  A NOAA technician conducted the tour.

Road to the observatory:

IMG_5045 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Ozone detecting equipment is inside this telescope-like structure.  The technician was happy to rotate the dome and open it for them.

IMG_5071 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Touring the observatory:

IMG_5094 by P Bryan, on Flickr

List of famous astronauts who visited the observatory:

IMG_5135 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW requests that I give you the following to ponder: is there more carbon dioxide in the air in the summer or winter and why?

After DW and the girls returned to the hotel, we prepared for Shabbos.  I made a fried potato kugel:

DSC_8792 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW made chicken in a crock pot, which was transferred out right before Shabbos, and replaced with cholent:

12369 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Sunday, DW and the kids went swimming and used the water slide while I helped pack out for our transfer to Volcano.  Along the way to Volcano we stopped off again at Greenwell Farms for delicious Kona coffee.  One of the employees, Chai, recognized us and came running over asking me if I was Mr. PBaruch.  When I responded that I was, she thanked me warmly for our return visit with an Asian greeting.

After Greenwell Farms we stopped off at two roadside fruit stands on the way to Volcano.

Cooks Bounty Fruit Stand:

DSC_8795 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8798 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Basket of lilikoi (DSC_8799) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Judy's Fruit Stand:

DSC_8818 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8811 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8808 by P Bryan, on Flickr

That evening, Bruce and I arranged to shoot the lava flowing into the ocean.  After we arrived in Volcano I did my best to get some rest but the noise from the kids jumping about coupled with my excitement precluded any sleep.  I was scheduled to meet up with Bruce at 1:30 a.m. at a gas station along the way to Kalapana.  I arrived at the gas station at about 12:40 a.m. and went into the gas station convenience store.  Afterwards, I sat in the car for a bit but became restless.  I then decided to linger outside the car for a while.  Several minutes later, four police cars showed up, which I though was due to the strange lurker hanging around.  Luckily I wasn't tackled or tasered that evening.  Bruce arrived at about 1:40 a.m. and we both went into the convenience store (right past the police officers) to stock up on drinks for the trip.  After we exited the store, the police asked us if we were coming or going.  I responded that it was "lava time" and asked if the police officers wanted to join, to which they all had a good laugh.

Bruce was able to drive his truck to the second gate down the county emergency access road (the farthest that anyone can drive), from which point we rode bicycles the rest of the way.  I rented a bicycle from Kaimu Rentals (808-333-4392), which is owned by my friend Junior (same person who guided me and my friend Alex to the lava in 2011).  I could not rent a bicycle from Kalapana Cultural Tours as they did not have anyone available to provide me with a bicycle in the middle of the night.

I mounted the bicycle wearing my heavy camera backpack and tripod, rode forward for a short distance, and promptly fell over sideways.  I hadn't been on a bicycle in years and was off balance with the backpack and tripod (that was hanging off to one side).  What happened next was quite comical.  I got back on the bicycle but must have looked like a drunk as I weaved back and forth.  Once I did get the hang of it, I realized how uncomfortable it was to sit on a narrow hard seat with a heavy load on my back.  My tuchus ached for quite a while but we managed to arrive at the lava at about 3:30 a.m.

Shooting lava is incredibly challenging and the magic light is only there for a very brief period of time.  Despite not always being able to properly capture the lava during the darkness of the night, Bruce and I both enjoyed the show.  At times the lava flowed like a river into the ocean while at other times it dripped as if from a leaky faucet.  We also saw lava exploding like a firecracker and lava balls rolling in the surf.

Pictures taken of the ocean entry:

DSC_8930 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8958 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9272 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9302 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9392 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9686 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Videos taken of the ocean entry:

I returned back to the hotel in Volcano at about 9:00 a.m. and took a much needed nap for a few hours.  We ran a few errands in the afternoon and then visited Volcanoes National Park, where we saw the endangered nene.  We received a free one year family National Park Pass due to the following program for fourth graders:

Pictures of the nene:

DSC_9778 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9768 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9730 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9737 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Flowers at Volcanoes National Park:

DSC_9702 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9749 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9748 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we stopped off at Jagger Museum to observe Halemaumau Crater.  The lava level in the crater was quite high and, for the first time, we were able to see lava spattering from the overlook.  I did not, however, take any photographs at that time as I had previously seen better.

The following day we returned home:

ito-hnl-ewr map by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9781 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On our flight home, we received Regal kosher meals which were absolutely horrible and barely edible.   On our return flight this past February we received kosher meals from Oahu Kosher that were quite delicious.  We were looking forward to receiving meals again from Oahu kosher and were very disappointed with the Regal meals.  I'm not sure of the reason for the change but I hope UA continues to use Oahu Kosher in the future.

In summary, we didn't have the opportunity to do everything we would have liked due to time constraints and the two threatened hurricanes.  Nevertheless, we had an extremely restful two-weeks on the Big Island which is unlike many of our other trips.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this trip report.

September 12, 2016, 08:51:58 PM
@Yehuda's Icelandic A+venture! WOW! That’s the only word I can think of to start off this --- STOP! --- Before reading any further, go book a flight to Iceland right now! Then come back to read. You won’t regret it.

As I was saying, Iceland is simply “Wow.” From the countless – literally countless – waterfalls to the gorgeous hikes and breathtaking views, from living in a camper to getting up close and personal with icebergs, and to even playing with a puffin, Iceland is truly an awesome adventure trip. So, if you’re okay with keeping busy all day on vacation and not relaxing at a beach, then this is the trip for you. It absolutely should be the next trip on your list.

This planning section might be the longest I’ve ever put together. It will show how in love I am with this country and will hopefully aide those who are planning a trip. For many, I hope this section is helpful and interesting, but for those who find trip planning and award flight booking to be a bit boring, hang tight – I hope to get to the actual trip soon, I posted a "Cost Summary" at the end of this intro post, and here's a just a little teaser for later. ;)


Iceland has become quite the popular destination recently, but it hadn't crossed our minds until our friends went last summer. Their pictures and stories got us extremely interested in the country despite making us ask the same question that everyone seems to ask us after hearing we went – “Really…? Iceland?” But the answer is, “Yes, Iceland. Really.” Once our interest was piqued, I headed over to DDF to research. I’ll take a moment right now to thank SomethingFishy for his immense help in putting this trip together, answering so many of my questions, helping plan out the itinerary and even responding on the spot while we were stuck on the trip. Most of the background information I will share here came from my conversations with him. I also want to thank PBaruch who answered many of my questions and whose own trip report came in handy while planning. Finally, a shout out to ushdadude, lfas25 and Moishebatchy for their help as well in giving tips and answering questions.

Everyone’s first thought about Iceland is the Northern Lights/Aurora, but those are only visible (with rare exception) in the winter. A trip to Iceland in the winter is extremely different than in the summer, and while wanting to be adventurous, Fishy’s winter TR made it clear to me that a summer trip would be adventurous enough for our first trip. So, a summer trip it was, and no Northern Lights for us. While I’m sure they are amazing to see, there is so much more to Iceland as well. 

I’m an early planner, which meant that planning for this August trip began back in March. My first order of business was looking into how long you need for a visit. I learned that there are several classic trips that people do. Iceland has one main city, Reykjavik, with other, much smaller towns spread throughout the country. The country is encircled by a “highway” (read, 2 lane road), known as the Ring Road, and the middle of the country contains the mountainous/volcanic region called the Highlands, which are made up of difficult-to-traverse roads, known as F-Roads.

To cover the entire Ring Road with its many stops, you need to plan for at least a 2-week trip. I imagine even more time if you plan to also head inwards and explore the Highlands (which requires renting a car that can handle the F-Roads). No one I know has taken this long/intense of a trip yet, and I knew there was no way we’d have 2 weeks for the trip, so I opted for the second classic option. There’s no name for this trip, but you basically start in REK and follow the southern strip of the Ring Road until about halfway to the east coast, at which point you turn around and head back. While it may seem like you’re barely covering a quarter of the full Ring Road, this section is jam-packed with activities. This trip can be done in 4-5 days.

When you add in flight time, you basically need a week to do this trip comfortably. As there is no Chabad in Iceland (other than one that gets together for the Seder on Pesach), I didn’t want to be there over Shabbos. With that in mind, I went to my wife’s school schedule to see if I could find a full calendar week that she would be off. Because it was so early, her summer schedule was not yet released, so I had to research prior year schedules to try and determine when she would be off this year in between her spring and summer semesters as well as her summer and fall semesters. It was much harder than I thought as there were different lengths of summer sessions and each year didn’t seem to follow a pattern for how long the breaks would be, but I had a general idea and took a guesstimate that our best bet would be the end of August, after she finished her summer classes, but before the fall semester began. I told my wife of the plan, and she was excited, but warned me that if I was wrong with my dates, and she did in fact have class during that time, she would not miss class, and we would have to cancel the trip. I gulped, but agreed. Boy, would that come back to cause me some stress…

As the calendar flipped from July to August, my wife's school released the class schedule, and with less than a month to our trip, I realized our last day in Iceland would be her first day of classes. :-[ I couldn't believe it. I started looking into the idea of changing our dates to start in the middle of the previous week, then flying to London for Shabbos and back for a few more days in Iceland so that we could still get in 4-5 days on the ground while still getting back in time for classes. However, it was clear that the idea was bonkers. Then I remembered that her previous classes hadn't always started on the official first day of the semesters, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and contacted her teachers directly. That was more difficult than expected. There were 2 teachers I needed to reach, and after many emails and calls, I finally got through to the first one, who told me classes would not be starting on that first day, but rather the following week - hurrah! However, the second teacher was planning to start on that day, but also told me that my wife was only responsible to come to one of the first two classes and could technically miss one... So, I broke the news to my wife and after thinking about it, she decided that we could go on the trip and she would miss the one class! Thank you, Mrs. @Yehuda! :-*


Once I knew we needed a full week, I used Google Flights to determine what flights could get us to and from New York without keeping us in Iceland over Shabbos. I learned that the flight is just 5 hours long, that Delta has 2 Motzai Shabbos flights from New York (at least in the summer) and that both Delta and IcelandAir have Friday morning flights returning back to New York that, with the help of the time difference, land around noon on Friday. With Shabbos in August not starting until after 7PM, a noon landing would leave us plenty of time to get home in time for Shabbos.

So, I had the specific week I wanted to travel, and the 2 specific flights I wanted for the return. Talk about having flexibility when booking award travel. ::)

The next step was researching the best way to book the flights with miles. For the return with IcelandAir, only Alaska miles can be used, and although they don't require too many miles, they tack on a good few hundred dollars of fuel surcharges (YQ), which makes it silly to use miles for the flight. Delta on the other hand, doesn't charge YQ, but still had about $50 in Icelandic taxes and fees in addition to 30,000 miles each way. I also realized that on Delta’s later Motzai Shabbos flight, they were flying a 757 with lie-flat business class. With the plan of landing first thing Sunday morning and hitting the road running, I thought it would be wise to ensure we were in the best position to have as good of a night’s sleep as possible on a 5 hour overnight flight. Business costs 62,500 miles each way, but I figured it would be worth it to start our trip fresh and ready. I didn’t have close to enough Delta miles, so I knew I would have to transfer AMEX MR points to Delta to book the flights. That adds in another cost as AMEX charges a tax to transfer miles to a domestic airline, which would have been about another $50 per person. I did some research and found that Delta’s partner, Air France, could book the Delta flights for the same amount of miles and around the same $50 of Icelandic taxes, but without the transfer tax (since AF is a foreign airline). None of that research mattered though, since I couldn’t find the availability to use miles at the 62,500 price anyway. We were 5 months ahead of time, and I was checking several times a day. (Definitely a negative of planning early is driving yourself nuts constantly checking for availability. Plan later on, and there will simply just be less days that you can keep checking. :P )
With that option seemingly impossible, I began to look for other ideas. The cash price for one way in business and one way in coach was around $1250, while even flying roundtrip in coach was still $7-800. Neither of those seemed exciting to me. It’s quite well known around these parts that I am a big fan of using Barclays Arrival Plus points (A+) to redeem for travel costs that other miles can’t cover, and I expected to need a lot of them for the activities on this trip, but I was not ready to also use them for the flights that could otherwise be booked with regular miles. I then got in touch with someone who offered to book the flights for me for $400 roundtrip in coach, and I calculated that I could manage spending my A+ miles on the flights (and still having enough to do some activities), but he informed me that I would not be able to use my credit card nor my A+ points to cover the flights. Not interested in paying $800 cash for our flight expenses, I was left to ponder if there was still anything else to do.

I don’t remember where the idea came from, but at some point, I remembered about an often overlooked way to book travel – the Chase Ultimate Rewards and AMEX MR sites. Booking through these sites gives you a set value for your miles, so you pay based on the dollar cost of the flight, and therefore usually doesn’t give you a value close to what you could get by transferring your miles to airlines and hotels and booking directly through them. However, I found out that the AMEX Business Platinum card has a perk that if you book a flight through the MR site, they give you back 30% of the points! So, I got to work. Searching on the MR site for the flight didn’t help me because the site couldn’t piece together an itinerary with one leg in business and one leg in coach, so I had to call up to book. The agent pieced together the flights for me and quoted me close to the $1250 price I had seen in my prior research. That would require about 125,000 miles per person minus the 30% discount. He explained that they deduct the full amount of miles from your account at first, and then the discount would returned to me shortly afterwards. The rep also had no problem waiving the phone booking fee after I explained to him that this itinerary couldn’t be booked online. So, the total cost was 89,950 miles per person. Had I transferred MR to Delta miles, I would have paid 62,500 + 30,000 for a total of 92,500, and I would have had to pay the $100 in taxes and fees. Even if I would have sold the 90,000 miles, I would have only made about $1200 and still would have been slightly short to pay cash for the flights. So, I believe I found the cheapest way to book the exact flights I wanted. Our flights were booked several months in advance, with no more availability-searching necessary, and it was quite comforting to know that. Iceland was on!


I would say there are 3 ways to do the southern portion of the Ring Road. I guess there’s a 4th option where you visit the city of REK, spend all your time chilling in the city, seeing the landmark church and concert hall, going out to eat and maybe taking 1 tour outside the city to do something like the nearby Golden Circle. But, c’mon, that’s not a real trip to Iceland.

The Golden Circle, a day-trip from Reykjavik

The first real way people visit is to stay in REK and hire tour companies to drive you to the different activities. While that offers the comfort of having the tour company deal with driving and planning out the day while you simply just meet them in the morning, it limits you in having to follow their schedule, how far along the south road you can actually go, how many of the off-the-beaten-path activities you can get to and, most of all, adds a lot of unnecessary travel to your trip as, at the end of each day, you need to return back to REK. I was advised in the Iceland Master Thread not to go this route. (There are 1 or 2 main activities near REK, and I don't think it's a crazy idea to base yourself in REK on the days you do those activities.)

The next option is to rent a car, drive along the road on your own schedule and either sleep in hotels along the way or bring tents and camp at the plentiful campsites. Renting a regular car and bringing tents would probably be the cheapest way to travel in Iceland. The issue with hotels is that you won’t find name brand chains along the road (except for 1 expensive Starwood property that’s outside of REK but not in a convenient place along the Ring Road), but rather small mom-and-pop shops. Many are guesthouses/hostels where you might not get your own bathroom or have to pay more for a private room, but they can often be had for under $100/night.

- Camper Rental

The final option – the one we chose – is to rent a camper/RV, drive along at your own pace and park at campsites overnight. Technically, you can park at gas stations or even on the side of the road, but we decided to stay at official campsites with facilities, especially since our camper wasn’t going to have a bathroom or shower. It also felt safer to park at an official campground as opposed to the street and definitely something I was going to do on a trip with my wife versus if I was just with a bunch of guys. Researching campers was another long process I had to do. Renting a camper is a popular way to travel in Iceland, and therefore, there are many companies that offer rentals. I learned that an automatic camper was going to be much more expensive than a manual one (as expected in Europe), but I don’t know how to drive stick and wasn’t going to learn before the trip. I also learned that all the companies have a minimum 3 day rental requirement and, with the prices they charged, decided to rent the camper just for the 3 minimum days and then spend the last 2 days in a hotel in REK, doing the activities that I explained above are near the city. My final lesson was that the camper places sell out quickly, so book in as much advance as possible – more on that to come, unfortunately. I put together a spreadsheet to compare camper types among some of the main companies that I found on Google.

KuKu Campers came out to be the cheapest, but after Fishy posted about their public negative opinions towards Israel/Jews, I decided (as he did) not to use them. The next cheapest option – which happened to have the nicest looking camper and was very friendly in email exchanges – was Cozy Campers, so I booked with them and was all set for the adventure! Or so I thought…

Several weeks before the trip, I got an email from Cozy Campers telling me that their system was broken and allowed me to book despite having already been sold out! They apologized and recommended another company – which didn’t even come up in my initial research. I was quite disappointed because Cozy was the best/cheapest option. It was now just a few weeks before our trip, and I was somehow expected to find a new company that still had campers available!? I asked them if they could help in any way – perhaps speak with one of the other companies to help me get a discount or, at the very least, cover the difference in price between a new rental and their own rate – but the until-that-point cordial conversation took a sour turn, and they eventually stopped responding to me. My frustration reached an even greater point when I tried leaving a negative review on Trip Advisor, but was rejected under the terms of “not being able to leave a review for a rental that didn’t end up taking place.” >:(

During my original research, I had contacted CampEasy and asked if they could offer a discount to match some of the cheaper companies out there. Incredibly, they agreed to offer a 15% discount, which brought them in line with the price of CozyCampers (as you can see in the Excel screenshot). I had chosen Cozy simply because their pictures looked better. So, at this point, I reached out to CampEasy again and asked if they still had availability and if they could still offer that discount, and they said… yes! Thankfully, my camper was booked once again. It turned out that CampEasy hadn’t updated their pictures in a while because the camper we got was much nicer than the one pictured. :) The final price was 96,900 ISK (Icelandic Krona – but for the most part moving forward, I’ll only list USD prices) which at the time of booking was worth just under $800. They charged 15% (~$150) at the time of booking as a deposit and charged the rest later, at which time the currency conversion had gone up, so the total cost came out to about $830 for the 3 days, or $275/day. I had planned to cover that cost by paying with A+ miles but, I first had to consider which credit card would give me the best insurance for the rental. After a lot of research, I found that almost all credit cards specifically exclude RVs/campers, but thanks to whYME, I learned that Citi cards would in fact cover primary insurance on campers when rented internationally. Their exact terms are, “Any vehicle with more than two wheels that is meant to be driven on public roads.” I tried to get a Citi rep to send me written confirmation that campers would be covered, but the best I could get was a note put on my account. (I called back to see if a different rep could see that note, and they could. :) ) The problem was that the only Citi cards I had were an American Airlines Bronze card and the lower-level Hilton card. Both of those cards have foreign transaction fees, and knowing I would be charged in ISK, I accepted that I would essentially be paying 3% fees to get the insurance. I first noticed this when I paid the deposit and was hit with a 3% fee, but I was able to get Citi to waive it as a one-time courtesy (was only $4 or so). So, my plan was to keep the credit card hold during the rental on my AA Bronze card and then, after the rental (if there were no damages), ask them to just switch the card to my A+ and charge that one. However, that’s when I learned that they charged the full price upon pickup of the camper and not after returning it, which meant that they weren’t just putting a hold on my card, but actually charging it then. That meant I would have to convince them to refund me after the rental and then re-charge me on my A+ card. Aside from that, their CC machine gave the option to charge me in ISK or in USD, and the cashier chose FOR me by picking USD thinking she’d help me save money on the foreign exchange fee. Of course that’s too good to be true, and after some quick math, I realized their CC processor was obviously taking even more than 3% to “conveniently” let me pay in USD. I ended up being charged about $860 for the rental, so they charged me around $30, which is about 3.5% in fees. As you’ll see soon enough, unfortunately I didn’t even have to deal with trying to switch the CC after the rental and whatever currency fees I paid were welllll worth having insurance… :-[ Once I needed the insurance and couldn’t use A+, I covered the cost by paying for it with money I had earned from the Wells Fargo cash back card. So, my advice is to make sure you have a higher-level Citi card so you don't have foreign exchange fees and ensure they charge you in ISK and not USD - then you should be set for camper insurance internationally.

People say a camper can often be cheaper than the alternative of a car rental + hotel each night, but when there are cheap guesthouses you could technically stay at and when you need to pay the premium for an automatic camper, I don’t believe that to be the case. Nonetheless, the camper turned out to be much more than a means of transportation and sleep, it became an awesome part of our Iceland experience.

- Hotel

I couldn’t decide whether to do the 3 camper days first and then the 2 hotel days or vice versa, but my final thought process was that after 3 days of living in a camper, it would be nice to end the trip in a roomier hotel room with our own bathroom/shower. (Good decision.) For the 2 nights that we would be staying REK, I looked into the points hotel options. There are only 4 in REK – the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica (standard hotel), a Canopy by Hilton (brand new and extremely expensive) and two Radisson Blus (both pretty standard). Not having any Radisson points (both hotels required lots of them) or free nights from the Club Carlson credit card, I chose the Hilton at 40,000 points a night. Per reviews, it’s nothing special, but with rates over $250/a night, I decided to use the points. About a month before the trip, I was randomly thinking of future trips and realized how I might want to use Hilton points for a more exciting redemption one day – think Conrad Koh Samui in Thailand, Conrad Maldives, Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem – and started thinking twice about dropping 80,000 points for Iceland, when we definitely weren’t planning on spending much time at the hotel, and it wasn’t even supposed to be that exciting of a property. (Wow, look at me thinking of the opportunity cost of my miles! :P) I tried to think of other options, including AirBNB, Priceline Name Your Own Price, and simply, Expedia, etc., but nothing seemed too exciting and, a month before travel, all would likely have been $200+/night. Finally, I realized that I could get Club Carlson nights here on the forums. Not sure why I didn't think of that sooner, but I learned that these nights go for a lot less than Hyatt, Hilton, etc., and I was able to get 2 nights for just $100/night! I cancelled my Hilton reservation and grabbed the Radisson Blu Saga hotel (the other Radisson didn’t have availability, so it wasn’t an option to consider). Trip Advisor warned that the Radisson wasn’t anything special and was undergoing room renovations so “try to get into a renovated room or else you might see a lot of wear and tear and have bad air conditioning.” Those reviews left me quite confused after we saw the well-kept lobby, our modern room and the front desk agent told us there's no air conditioning in any of the rooms... But we’ll get to that much later.

- Car Rental

For the 2 days we’d be in REK, we needed a way to move around. After WAY too much itinerary planning, I decided that one day would be a tour day to go to Inside the Volcano where we would be picked up and dropped off, so we wouldn’t need a car. This was recommended by the tour company as they said it’s hard to find the activity location, but with 20/20 hindsight, I can tell you it’s not hard to find it, but we’ll get to that later on. The other day, we were going to do the Golden Circle, so we rented a car for it. Again, an automatic was going to be more expensive, and I couldn’t find anything relatively affordable. I’m not a pro with car rental codes and couldn’t find anyone who had any ideas for me. Eventually, someone suggested looking into SIXT since their top status (Platinum) gives you a discount on booking, and it’s easy to match to that status if you have other hotel/airline statuses. I matched from Hilton Diamond and noticed the rates go down by about 15%. I wanted to pickup and return in the local REK location, but going from there back to the airport would have meant a taxi and bus that would have cost around $45. Instead, for a $53 fee, I was able to make the rental a one-way and return the car at the airport location. For a couple dollars more, we were able to have a much more comfortable return journey to the airport. In total, the 1 day rental cost me about $115 or 11K A+.


Kosher food in Iceland is basically non-existent. We found random snacks with Hechsherim, including those mentioned by other travelers – Nature Valley bars, Popcorners and, of course, Coke products – but we also found some that we hadn’t known about before – some cereals like Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios, Baby Ruth bars and jelly beans from The Jelly Bean Factory (had an OU, but never heard of them before). Other than those snacks, everything is produced in Iceland or imported from Europe and therefore don’t have Hechsherim. Despite checking the packaging every time we saw Twix, Mars and Kit Kats, a Hechsher never appeared. :P

Knowing we were going to have to bring food with us, strategic planning went into action. For the 3 days we would be in the camper, we would have access to the included burner, which meant we could bring a pot and boil water for oatmeal for breakfast and tradition soups and pasta for lunch. For dinner on those nights, we took advantage of the included “fridge” (ended up keeping things about as cold as a cooler) to store hamburger patties, Jack’s sausages and chicken cutlets. After deciding not to rent a grill from CampEasy for $50 (and the fact that the grill rack wouldn’t be Kosher), I reached out to random Icelandic Twitter accounts and confirmed that we should be able to buy those prepackaged disposable grills (basically a foil pan filled with charcoal and covered with an metal rack) for a couple of dollars and decided we would pick those up locally instead of schlepping grilling stuff with us. For the last 2 days, we'd be without the camper and, therefore, would actually be in a worse situation since we wouldn't have a burner or grill, so we brought a loaf of bread and peanut butter for lunches and tuna, mayo, deli, wraps and, yes, even avocados for some nice wraps for dinner. Google taught me that keeping avocados in the fridge can extend their life a few days, so after buying the most unripe ones I could find and keeping them in the fridge until we left, they actually became edible at the perfect time when we were ready for our wraps. We also brought a bunch of Chewy and Special K bars and other snacks to keep us going throughout the day. All the food worked out well except for running out of snacks, which turned out to be fine as snacks were the only Kosher food we found locally anyway.

Cell Phone

After discussing with the guys who have gone before, I learned that our best bet would be to buy a Siminn SIM card. In the airport shop, they sell them in a package of 100 minutes, 100 texts and 1GB of data for $25. I figured we only really needed Google Maps and perhaps a few calls to our tour companies, so I though this would be perfect. BOY OH BOY, does man plan and G-d laugh…


Iceland is full of activities and while most of them are natural, many do cost money and need to be booked through a tour company. While the activities usually cost the same as activities you’d find in any other place, the fact that there are so many activities to do (and some that are just exorbitant), you need to budget a nice chunk of change for activities. With that in mind, I think eating Kosher is a blessing in disguise, as otherwise, we would have spent even more by going out to restaurants all the time. There are several tour agencies, but my friends told me about Arctic Adventures, which offers a 10% discount if you book 3 or more tours with them that are operated by them (I mention operated by them since they also act as a travel agency for tours operated by other companies). Having researched a few activities among different agencies, their prices were the cheapest after that discount. They were also super helpful via email and, most importantly for me, allowed me to charge my A+ card $1 to see how it posted on my statement, and it came up as a “Travel” charge and would therefore be eligible to redeem my A+ miles for. ;D I’ll go into detail about the activities as we get up to them, but in total, I spent $1450 or 140,000 A+ on our 4 main activities. Yeah, wow. I also pre-booked a glacier boat ride direct for $100 that I covered with 9,500 A+. I figured we didn’t need to book in advance any of our other activities and that was correct.

With the flights, camper, hotel, car rental, food, cell phone and most of the activities all figured out (and my itinerary planned out in great detail throughout this process), everything was set – on to the trip!

Cost Summary
Flights: JFK-KEF in J and KEF-JFK in Y for 89,950 MR per person
Camper Rental: $830 for 3 days covered with WF $
Hotel: 2 Club Carlson certs ($100 each) for 2 nights
Car Rental: $115 for 1 day covered with 11K A+
Activities: $1550 of pre-booked activities covered with 150K A+

September 29, 2016, 05:00:30 PM