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Cancun - Trip Notes - Three Night Vacation Lodging: We stayed at a VRBO rental for $120 a night located at the Ocean Dream Hotel in the Hotel Zone on Boulevard Kulkulkan.

Advantages includes a stunning view of the beach, within 10-minute walking distance to Red Heifer, Dag Dag, a Starbucks, and the Playa Caracol port for the Ultramar to go to Isla Mujeres and back.

I don’t have many Hyatt or Starwood’s points, so a VRBO rental gave me the best return for my money (as opposed to staying at a hotel). The condo was located in the Ocean Dream Hotel on Boulevard Kulkulkan. A convenience store (OXXO) was within a 3-minute walk. We weren’t allowed access to the hotel lobby, though we were allowed access to the hotel’s nice infinity pool which was usually empty before 10:30am and after 8pm. An elevated beach area was also accessible through the back of the hotel. The disadvantages of renting a private condo are expected: Toilet paper ran low, internet stopped working twice and we had to reach out the manager for a new Wi-Fi code, no concierge service, etc. However, for only $120 a night, the view, space, privacy, & location were well worth it.

Transportation: We took USA Transfers from roundtrip from airport and back, total was $55. Convenient & dependable. They sent a large van for both trips. For our 8:15am flight back to JFK the online reservation had pickup at 5:15am. I assumed that based on experience the company set the pickup so early due to traffic, customs, etc. However, we ended up at the gate around 6:20am so I guess the company is more risk averse than I.
Buses run along Boulevard Kulkulkan frequently, but after our first trip I decided to use Uber. Uber in Cancun is not simple; the taxi companies, and local government, strongly oppose Uber use. I used Uber about seven times over the trip. Several drivers called me up first to make sure I was American and not an undercover taxi goon or cop. Other Uber drivers told me exactly were to stand when being picked up to avoid the local taxis noticing. And others canceled the trip before pickup when they passed by and saw that a taxi car was nearby. However, Uber is much cheaper than the local taxis – most trips of around 10-15 minutes cost about $3. At one point, Uber noted a surge in demand and the price skyrocketed to 3.5x regular price. But $12 for a 15-minute trip isn’t too shabby. I spoke to several Uber drivers about airport pickup. From hotel to airport (or from airport to hotel) usually costs only $7; far cheaper than the official companies. Yet the drivers told me that riders have been threatened and followed at the airport by taxi drivers when the taxis see what they are doing.

Food: Upon arrival to Cancun, we passed through custom and were given the “green light” (customs official pressing button; red light requires placing baggage through x-ray). As we were about to walk past glass doors out of custom area, a customs official randomly pulls us aside, asks us if we are kosher, and makes us open our bags. After finding some unpackaged meat, he nods knowingly to his fellow customs official something in Spanish about kosher food. They allowed us to keep packaged American cheese, and all other packages foods. The small Supermarkets in Cancun have several classic kosher snack products (Pringles, etc.) but not much else. Everyone warns against drinking Mexican tap water so we bought lots of bottled water. 

Restaurants: Our first & third night we went to Red Heifer (required a walk through the very open night club district). The food the first night was fantastic while the third night was mediocre. Others have commented on this forum about the “bipolar” nature of the food and this description aptly depicts our experience. Even the bread tasted better the first night. But when in the middle of Cancun, it is still refreshing to walk into a nice kosher restaurant. They take CC, and add an automatic tip to the bill (reasonable, about 15%).

The second night we went to Dag Dag. It is oddly located in a mostly vacant retail strip. We sat outside with several other couples and enjoyed the long wait (about 45 min. for the fish & chips –it’s a dairy place). The main attraction here, aside from the fish (very large portion) and fries (tasty!), is the owner of the store who regaled us with stories of his past, and sang folksy spiritual songs throughout dinner from his upcoming album (huh!?!?). If you’re looking for a nice quiet dinner, not going to happen. Cash only – can pay in dollars or Pesos. I think exchange rate was 1:17.

At Isla Mujeres, we went to Maya Café (dairy). Cash only, and if one pays with USD it is 15 pesos for a dollar. This is a terrible exchange rate. The rate at the ferry dock is far better and best to change the money there if you only brought USD to the island. The food here was great. Large portions, reasonably priced, Wi-Fi, and air-conditioning in back room. The café is about a five-minute walk from the Ultramar ferry station on the island. Pretty cool that there is a kosher restaurant in the middle of this small island.

First day I booked through Expedia a 20-minute Jetpacking session & 30-minutes Waverunner for $150 total ( Company is Jetpack Adventure and is located in the La Isla Shopping Village. The Shopping Village is nice place to walk around and waste $20 on a fish foot massage. The company also offers flyboarding. After watching people attempt both, it seems that flyboarding is easier to rise up higher above the water although jetpacking affords the user more control. After the jetpacking & waverunning, we haggled with the company and got pictures from both the Jetpacking & waverunner for $30 total. Great Pics.

Second day we took the 11am Ultramar ferry from Playa Caracol to Isla Mujeres. Ferry ride takes about 45 min. (the ferry from Playa Caracol stops at another port before heading to the island). There is a fellow that plays some Mexican music during the trip for tips. After getting to the island, we headed straight for Maya café for lunch. Afterwards, we walked around a bit. Vibe is more laid back than Cancun hotel zone, and store are mostly catering to tourists (Cuban Cigars, Mexican artwork, etc.). We then rented a golf cart for 2 hours ($30) from a random storefront (you must give them your driver’s license). We drove first to the popular Playa Norte which was beautiful, but very busy with boats and folks at the beach. Cool bar there with swings as chairs along the bar. We then drove all the way from the northern most point to the southern-most point of the island. Golf carts are the slowest vehicle on the island – there are regular cars and many mopeds. We were warned against renting a moped as not all the roads are paved and tourist moped accidents are frequent. We first went to check out the Garrafon Natural Reef Park  (and decided that $30 for zip line fun wasn’t worth it), and then ended up at Punta Sur. Stunning Caribbean/Mexican Gulf views, with rocky coastline. Officially a Mayan ruin, but far more popular for the nice walking areas along the coastline. There is restaurant [for beer & water] at Punta Sur. We then headed back to the port (got lost a bit – went left on the roundabout instead of right when heading north – seems like a lot of people before us made the same mistake). Good to know that one can easily go from northern to southern most point on the island, and relax too, within two hours. The 4pm ferry going back to Playa Caracol was full, so everyone who didn’t fit onto that boat took the next boat to El Embarcadero where a bunch of Pirate ships are docked. We took an Uber back to condo for $3.50 so wasn’t such a big deal.

Third day we went on the Jungle Tour Adventure ( - Great value, $45pp, so $90 we had our own mini-speed boat for a 45 minute ride through some mangroves and the lagoon to the ocean, some snorkeling, and the same 45 minute ride back to the docking area. Mostly calm water and some choppy water, really fun ride. Boats follow each other and arrive at southern tip of Hotel Zone where the boats are all attached to each other and snorkel gear is handed out. Snorkeling is great opportunity for beginners. Not much of a reef, but pretty fish and tour leader is good at spotting the fish & helping ppl out who are having trouble. The company does a good job taking pictures and even have a drone taking photos/videos of individual boats/passengers when the boats depart from the marina. They print your picture and past them on beer bottles, hoping you’ll buy it. We didn’t pay because they charge a bloody fortune.

Random Points:
1.   Remember to hold on to the immigration forms from entrance into Mexico. You’ll need them on the way out.
2.   Exchange rate varies wildly from place to place; from 1:15 to 1:19.
3.   Only mosquitoes we noticed were at Dag Dag at night, and is some quiet areas on Isla Mujeres. We sprayed OFF! constantly & and avoided the Cenote tours which are high mosquito areas. Though I was told that the mosquitoes in the Cenotes are not the same mosquitoes which carry the Zika virus. I wouldn’t know.

May 18, 2017, 04:33:26 PM
Re: any accountants out there that i can ask a question?
If I want to buy something using a taxexempt code but afterwards I want to pay tax (its on a 6 dollar purchase) is there any way I can do that? I can't return it or ask the store to fix it because the rest of the order needs to be tax exempt.
On your income tax form, you're asked if you made any purchases that you didn't pay tax on, like out of state purchases.  You can pay it then.

February 28, 2019, 07:32:04 PM
10 days in Greece- Trip Report Greece TR, July 26-August 5, 2018

Since this is my first TR I’m sorry if I miss some basic details and upload garbage photos. I’m more of an information stalker than poster on DDF, but I’ve gotten tons of useful information from here and I almost never post so I figure it’s time I gave back a little and hopefully this can be of some help to people planning their own trip. I also was not planning to write a TR at the time so I don’t have pics of many things and the ones I did take were on my old iPhone. I don’t own a dslr and don’t really know how to use one (sorry @Something Fishy ) but maybe one day I’ll upgrade and learn.


Since I was originating in Israel, Europe was the most practical destination. But I was looking for a place not overrun by bein hazmanim tourists which ruled out most of Italy, Vienna, Prague and many more cities, including the more popular Greek islands like Santorini and Mykonos. Then I read about Crete, which is an enormous island that is a close to six hour drive end to end, and less than two hour flight from Israel. Figured I can find a quiet corner there. I wanted to get Athens in on the same trip, and after playing around with different flight combinations I came to TLV-HER, HER-ATH, ATH-TLV.

1) Flights

TLV-HER was on Aegean and cost $216 per person. There were no good direct award options so I used 14k UR for it from CSR. HER-ATH was on Ellinair (which I never heard of before) and was $62 (4k UR). ATH-TLV was back on Aegean for $210 per person (14k UR). There were cheaper options for HER-ATH but they were all on ATR-72’s or other turboprops which my wife wasn’t so excited about (not sure what it is about those planes that scare them ;)), so I paid a bit more to get a 737.

2) Hotels

I wanted to see both sides of Crete so I booked 3 nights at Domes Noruz Chania which at the time was 45k/night Marriott points, and 3 nights at Domes of Elounda which also cost 45k/night. Domes Noruz is on the west side of the island while Domes of Elounda is on the eastern side and it is a three hour drive from one to the other. Domes Noruz is an adults only resort and will not allow children under 16. Domes of Elounda, on the other hand, is extremely family friendly.

Since we were going to be in Athens for Shabbos, I was looking for a hotel that was near the Chabad House/Restaurant and that is able to give mechanical keys. I found Athens Lodge, which was literally a 1 minute walk from Chabad, and confirmed with them that all rooms had mechanical key capability. We were staying in Athens from Wednesday to Sunday so I figured I’ll just stay at this hotel for the entire time. It was $218/night for the “Superior Room Partial Acropolis View” (which is one tier above the base room), so I redeemed about 58k UR for the whole stay. But then I discovered that the rooms were extremely small and I wasn’t too excited about staying there for four days so I emailed the hotel about upgrading to a bigger room and ended up paying around 120 extra euros per night to get the largest suite they had which was ”The Athens Lodge Suite with Acropolis View & Veranda”. There are points hotels not that far of a walk from there and I met some people who stayed there for Shabbos and it was fine, so if I would be doing it again I probably would do that as it would have ended up much cheaper.

3) Car Rental

Since I would be driving from one end of Crete to the other, and most attractions and activities are more than just a taxi ride away, I was going to rent a car for the entire stay.

If you search for rental cars in Crete you'll see a ton of results. Some of them had such dumb names that they seem like scams but the big companies were much more expensive so I looked into these little guys. I found one that had great reviews and that everybody liked the owner and I booked a six day rental for a little more than 300 euros. The company name is the very originally named “AutoRentals Crete” :D. Most of their cars have manual transmissions, and although I really want to learn how to drive a manual, Crete was probably not the best place to learn, so I booked the second smallest automatic that they had and stayed upset at myself the entire week for not driving a manual since they were so much cheaper.

From my research it seemed that I don't need a car in Athens unless I'm driving out of the city and it turned out to be true. A car would've been a huge pain to deal with to drive and park in the narrow streets and is totally unnecessary there.

4) Kosher Food

The kosher restaurant in Athens, which is run by the shliach there, delivers packaged meals to anywhere in Greece with a refrigerated shipping company. They have 6 dinner menus and a breakfast and Shabbos meals and you can also add items from the grocery attached to the restaurant. I ordered 5 dinners, 4 breakfasts, Shabbos meals, and some groceries like grape juice, wine, and milk. The order process was quite easy to do online and all the info you can need is on the website. There are clear instructions in English and Greek how to warm it up, not to open the actual meals, etc.. They also needed a contact at the hotel that has been notified about the kosher meals, so I reached out to the hotel and got one.

I also brought along plenty of food for lunches and for after the suppers run out.

Part 1- Day 1-4, Chania, Crete

Day 1- Thursday, July 26

The flight from Tel Aviv to Heraklion was mostly uneventful, besides for learning in some very raucous ways that Greece is a very popular Israeli vacation spot (if you think frum flyers are not so cooperative try flying with a group of secular Israelis heading to vacation). The approach into HER was beautiful. We were able to see how clear and blue the water was even from the plane, as you can see from this very unprofessional iphone pic.

We deboarded at a remote stand, waited in a long immigration line (the soldiers were all smoking outside till they saw our bus coming), and then waited for a half hour for our suitcase at an ancient baggage carousel. The car rental guy had emailed us that there would be someone waiting for us to take us to our car, and sure enough near the exit to the airport there were tons of guys standing holding signs with names. They seemed to all be from different rental companies and it took another five minutes to walk through them and find the guy holding the sign with our name printed in very small letters on it. The big companies have desks closer to the terminal, but the small ones are all in a lot a couple of minute walk from the terminal. The lot was divided up into little squares, with every company having a little hut for an office and a couple of cars in front of it.

The rental guy told me that they would have to switch the car they give me for a different one on Friday (the next day) because of a reason I didn't quite get and that they will come to wherever I am to switch it. I told him I will be a two hour drive away but he wasn't fazed. Then I tried explaining that I wouldn't be able to do the switch after sundown on Friday but he didn't seem to understand and thought I was talking about some party I was going to be at, but he said he'll come earlier.

We left the airport at around 4:30 PM for the two hour drive to Chania. I had gotten an email from the restaurant in Athens while I was in the air that they had reached out to my hotel and confirmed that my food had arrived which gave me one less thing to worry about. Side note, there are many stray dogs near the airport but they don't really approach people.

Driving in Crete is an interesting experience to say the least. Most of the way it was a one lane highway but Cretans treat it as two lanes in each direction. There's the actual lane for people who are driving fast enough and wild enough to put the Italians to shame (and Brooklynites, Israelis etc...), and then there's the shoulder for everybody else. I'm not kidding, it seems like it's really expected of you to drive on the shoulder if someone behind you is going even a bit faster than you, even in what in every civilized country are no-passing zones. Having learned how to drive in NYC I caught on pretty quickly but I did see some clueless tourists merrily driving down the middle of their lane with a long line of angry Cretans behind them. Cretans seem to be known as bad drivers as I kept on hearing throughout my vacation from regular Greeks.

Chania has an old part of the city that's what everyone comes to visit but the hotel is in a newer part that's about a fifteen minute drive from there. After turning off the main road I  drove down this very narrow and slummy looking street until I saw the gate to the resort on the left. The difference between the surrounding neighborhood and the hotel is so stark that is really like an oasis in the desert type of thing.

The resort itself is beautiful and tastefully designed. We were welcomed into a gorgeous lounge/check-in area, were seated, and offered the signature drink (we declined).

She confirmed that my kosher food arrived even without me asking about it and told me who to talk to if I had specific instructions. She then walked us to our room and explained what we were passing on the way. There are two nice pools on site, one regular and one quiet. The quietness of the latter didn't seem like it was enforced too strictly but it was definitely empty more often.

The room itself was nicely designed and had an outdoor section with some seating, a bathtub and a plunge pool.

The base rooms all have plunge pools but they are all right next to the walking paths. They aren't really private as all that divides the pool and the path is a wall of slanted slats so if your standing on the path at one angle you can't see in at all but from another angle you see right in as you can see from these pictures (the ones at the ends of some of the paths were more private since less people used those paths).

The shower in the bathroom was a bit weird. It had no separation or curtain dividing it from the rest of the bathroom so water kind of went everywhere but since it was stone dried up pretty quickly.

There is a narrow beach with seating that only hotel guests were able to use, but there were tons of non hotel guests just walking up and down the beach past the hotel. It does get pretty quiet at mealtimes.

By the time we got settled in it was after seven so we headed to the beach to watch the picture perfect sunset. I wish I knew how to take proper pictures but this is all I have from that sunset.

I went to talk to the kitchen manager Gabriel about my food and he turned out to be quite familiar with all the kosher requirements and was phenomenally accommodating. The restaurant had sent a list of what's in the box and what should be sent with what so there was no need for him to shlep the boxes out to show me. The food came in two foam boxes like this.

I told him which supper to warm up and it was sent to my room in a timely manner.

Day 2- Friday, July 27

All we had planned for Friday was a Segway tour of Chania since it had to be booked in advance. They had a couple of options but we picked the "Old City & Harbor Combo Tour". We left the hotel with ample time to get to the old city but finding parking close to where the segway shop was located was a nightmare. After pulling some NYC parking moves we ran to the shop and arrived 10 minutes late but the others were waiting patiently for us and commiserated about the parking situation.

The tour was incredibly informative and we got to see pretty much every interesting site in Chania without taking a step. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we got a ton of information about the city, Cretan culture, and all other things Greek. (If anyone is planning on doing this tour make sure to bring cash, as they didn’t let me pay the balance with a credit card.)

When we passed places that I wanted to come back and check out, I marked them in Google maps to remember where they are. The streets in the old city are narrow and convoluted and I would never have found certain places otherwise.

After the tour we stopped in a large supermarket on the way back to the resort and bought some fruit and drinks for Shabbos.

We spent some time on the surprisingly empty beach and I spoke to the kitchen manager Gabriel to confirm when to send the heated meals on Friday night and Shabbos day. The are lots of halachic nuances with this so I'd recommend asking your LOR for the details before doing it.

Day 3- Shabbos, July 28

The resort was pretty calm and quiet over Shabbos. Our meals were delivered right on time but the guy that delivered it Shabbos morning insisted on a signature and didn't speak any English. It's not as easy as you might think to mime that you can't write today because of religious reasons and that you'll take care of it at nightfall, but eventually he understood that I'm somehow different (maybe my yarmulka had something to do with that ;)) and that it'll get worked out somehow.

Day 4- Sunday, July 29

We had to get to the other side of the island and we wanted to get back to old Chania so we checked out at twelve, got what was left over of our food from the kitchen, packed up the car, and headed to Chania. There was plenty of parking because many stores are closed on Sundays. I was nervous the entire time in Chania about our stuff in the car that was clearly visible from the outside since we had a hatchback, so I'd recommend getting a closed trunk if you'll be leaving your luggage in the car.

In Chania we explored the streets, checked out some shops, took some pictures at the old harbor, bought some cool locally carved olive wood souvenirs, and then headed out to share the highway with some crazy Cretan drivers for the trip to Elounda.

Part 2 coming soon…..Day 4-7, Elounda

June 11, 2019, 02:12:36 PM
Re: Master Thread Of Trip Reports
Can someone add my Croatia TR?

July 14, 2019, 10:51:30 PM
Re: Global entry application fee for sale Selling @ $15 each
July 21, 2019, 10:45:29 PM
Re: Anyone have a screenshot of Hyatt Chase offer from May?
On the Hyatt card? Can u screenshot it for me?

I looked at mine, for some reason it disappeared.
Sorry it is on CSR. Let me check my Hyatt card.
ETA: Hyatt has it also.

July 24, 2019, 10:42:10 AM
$25 0ff $25 at Use code goFePMTg.  Only works with delivery so shipping charges apply.
July 31, 2019, 09:38:01 PM
Re: Into the Wilds of Minnesota and Michigan, by PBaruch (June - July 2019) Part 4 - On to Duluth

Not being in a rush to get to Duluth, we stopped at the International Wolf Center, which "advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future." 

Ebels to International Wolf Center by P Bryan, on Flickr

They had exhibits on wolves (including a children's area), some presentations, and large viewing windows to hopefully view their wolves.  To find out more:

To lure the wolves toward the viewing windows, they put food nearby.  As the wolves appeared, you can hear the awe in people's voices, "Wow!  They're beautiful."  I found the entire experience quite lame and wouldn't recommend the place.

DW wanted to attend a presentation on "The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale" ahead of our visit there.  Little one was not interested, so I took him to play in the children's play area, while the girls went with her.  The previous program, "Ambassadors to the Wild" was pretty full, so it came as a surprise that they were the only three people that showed up, and they had a private interactive presentation.  They discussed the reintroduction of wolves to Isle Royale that began last fall.  Interestingly, the two "original" wolves left on Isle Royale, from before the reintroduction, were father-daughter as well as brother-sister.  Although they did have a pup together, it did not survive its first year, as it was so inbred.

Photos taken at the International Wolf Center:

International Wolf Center, Ely Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

International Wolf Center, Ely Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

International Wolf Center, Ely Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then went to the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, which I had read about, to see wild black bears.  I'm not really sure what I was expecting to see, but I found the experience to be quite disappointing.  The bears show up to baited feeding stations and you observe them from an elevated platform.  I suppose some might find it interesting, but after seeing bears in the wild in Alaska, it wasn't all that interesting to me.

International Wolf Center to Vince Shutte Black Bear Refuge by P Bryan, on Flickr

Upon arrival, DW and the kids refused to get out of the car.  There were horse flies around, and having finally left them behind in Voyageurs National Park, they did not wish to become reacquainted.  They gave me their blessings to go on my own, and off I went on their bus to the viewing platform.

Information about the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary can be found here:

Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, Orr Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, Orr Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, Orr Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then made our way to Duluth:

Vince Shutte to Duluth by P Bryan, on Flickr

Finally we arrived at the hotel for our second weekend, the Marriott Residence Inn Duluth:

Marriott Residence Inn, Duluth, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Marriott Residence Inn, Duluth, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 5 - Wisconsin

Being right on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border without spending some time in Wisconsin would have been unacceptable to DW and the kids.  The kids each have a map of the U.S., coloring each state they visit.  In anticipation of visiting Wisconsin, my little one had already colored in Wisconsin on his map, so skipping it was not an option.

We got a late start and headed to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (  Along the way, there were numerous "Historical Marker" signs, and when we saw one referring to a windmill, we pulled over to check it out.

Davidson Windmill, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Davidson Windmill, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Continuing on, we arrived at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Visitor Center not too long before they closed, and DW and the girls went in to find out what to do in the area with the weather being overcast.  They also got the Junior Ranger booklets, but did not have time to complete them, and will have to send them in to receive their badges.  Although we were originally thinking of going kayaking among the sea caves, we got there too late, and besides, we were all kayaked out.  Instead, we went to the Bayfield Maritime Museum, information about which can be found at:

This is a small, but nice museum, and we stayed until closing.

Bayfield Maritime Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bayfield Maritime Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bayfield Maritime Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bayfield Maritime Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

In the immediate vicinity is the Frog Bay Tribal National Park, the country's first, and at this time only, tribal national park, so we decided to check it out.

Upon arrival, and seeing an abundance of mosquitoes, the girls refused to get out of the car and decided to sit it out.  Instead, DW took little one (both wearing head nets and bug juice) on what she thought was the Easy Trail to the beach.  After a while, DW expected to see the beach but didn't so, getting concerned about the waning daylight, turned around and headed back.  Turns out they took the Ravine Trail, which was twice as long.

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

When they returned, I headed out on the direct trail to the "beach," which could barely be called that.

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way to and from the Apostle Islands, we passed a tank at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center and pulled over to take a photo of it.  Here it is in its Independence Day colors:

Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

The next day was Friday, and after putting a well-traveled chicken in the crockpot, we headed back to Wisconsin to the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center to see the tank once more.  We splurged on a guided tour - the Heavy Metal Tour -  and our guide introduced himself, saying he was going to be a Sophomore next year at such-and-such school.  It didn't hit us until later in the tour that the school he mentioned was not a college, but rather a high school, and he was in fact younger than our oldest.

It was a nice clear day, and we got some more photos of the tank, albeit without its red, white, and blue colors:

Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Inside the museum, its centerpiece was a World War II-era Lockheed P-38, around which the walls of the museum were built, that was restored to look like the one the museum's namesake flew.

Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

When Major Bong was killed test piloting an airplane in California, his death was front page news and was placed ahead of the news that the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan:

Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way out we stopped at the gift shop.  I was thinking to buy one of their World War II-era deactivated pineapple grenades, but it would not have been allowed on the flight home and I was too lazy to go and ship it.

Our next stop was the Old Firehouse & Police Museum, also in Superior, WI.

Old Firehouse and Police Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Old Firehouse and Police Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Old Firehouse and Police Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Old Firehouse and Police Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Old Firehouse and Police Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Old Firehouse and Police Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

From there we headed back to Duluth, to the Lake Superior Marine Museum, which is barely even worth a mention.  Crowds, and not very interesting.  Here is the only thing that we found to be of any interest, an A-frame steam engine.

Lake Superior Marine Museum by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wanting to pick up some goodies for Shabbos, we searched for a Whole Foods in the area, and found one, but upon arrival, discovered that it was a "fake" Whole Foods.  Despite being a "Whole Foods" in name only, they had some nice Pareve options, like natural gummy fish and natural ice pops.  Plus they had some Chalav Yisroel chocolate wafers.  After picking up some fresh challah at Chabad, we returned to the hotel to finish up Shabbos preparations.  The nice thing about residence-type inns is that they provide you with a place to cook, and you feel absolutely no qualms about doing so.  I made my usual Shabbos kugel on our camp stove in the barbecue area, and shared some with a couple I had been shmoozing with.

MVIMG_20190705_194638 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 6 - Grand Portage

On Sunday, we drove from Duluth to Grand Portage, Minnesota, as we needed to be at the ferry to Isle Royale National Park bright and early the following morning:

Duluth to Grand Portage by P Bryan, on Flickr

We made a quick detour to the Grand Portage National Monument Visitor Center (, where DW ran in to get Junior Ranger booklets, and we'll have to send those in as well.   We spent Sunday night in Grand Portage, at the Hollow Rock Resort, in their "Fish Cabin."  The cabin was large, comfortable, and right on Lake Superior:

Cabin in Grand Portage, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cabin in Grand Portage, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cabin in Grand Portage, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

It was here that our phones started acting wonky, randomly switching back and forth between Eastern and Central time - the demarcation between Central and Eastern time zones runs between Grand Portage, Minnesota and Isle Royale, Michigan.  This wasn't exactly conducive to making an early morning ferry, so I put my phone into airplane mode to lock the time.

At the dock the next morning, we unloaded our four duffel bags, large cooler, two carry-on bags, and assorted other stuff.  We were taking the Voyageur II, a ship intended for those overnighting on the island, almost all backpackers.  Clearly we were not among that group.  Here's the Voyageur II with the Sea Hunter III, the day trip boat, in the background:

Voyageur II - Ferry to Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Trip to Isle Royale:

Grand Portage to Windigo, Isle Royale NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lake Superior is, by at least one measure, the largest lake in the world.  (Ryan Island on Isle Royale's Siskiwit Lake is sometimes referred to as "the largest island on the largest lake on the largest island on the largest lake in the world.")

Lake Superior (DSC_5811) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 7 - Isle Royale National Park

Upon our arrival at Windigo after the two hour boatride, we had the standard Leave No Trace talk and checked into our cabin.  This is easier said than done, as the cabin is up a hill and is more than 150 feet higher in elevation than the dock.  Although we carried up some of our bags, this part of Isle Royale is actually frontcountry, and they were able to deliver our duffel bags to our cabin (named Radisson) by Club Car.  Facilities at the cabin: a drinking fountain/water spigot with potable water and an outhouse.  Although we almost never used the outhouse, choosing to use the comfort station at the bottom of the hill instead, as soon as we'd come up to the cabin, Little Guy needed to "rest," and back down the hill we'd go.

MVIMG_20190708_102559 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cabin at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Water spigot near our cabin in Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Inside, the cabin had three rooms:  a main room with a futon, small table/desk, and two chairs; and two smaller rooms each with a bunk bed.  In total, this tiny cabin had 20 outlets.  Not sure what exactly we could've used them for...2 cell phones, camera battery chargers, laptop?

Cabin at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cabin at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cabin at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cooking on the camp stove:

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

One of the locals paying us a visit:

One of the locals at Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

While we brought most of our food along with us, the Windigo Store was well stocked, even carrying Pas Yisroel bagels and fresh eggs.  If you could catch your own fish, you wouldn't need to bring any food with you.  However, catching our own fish didn't quite work out for us, so it was good that we had backup.  I purchased a cheap $20 fishing rod and reel on the way up to Grand Portage (wished we had it in Voyageurs NP) and we spent lots of time on the dock casting, but to no avail.

Fishing at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fishing at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fishing at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fishing at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fishing at Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

An eight year old boy, Dylan, was at the dock when we came down to fish, and he handed each of us some "real pirate treasure" that his father clarified was from the SS Amazon.  Dylan was there with his parents on their 40-foot sailboat, and they graciously offered us a tour of the below decks area, which was quite interesting to us landlubbers.  I was able to get some nice night shots of their boat as well as another 37-foot sailboat on the one clear night we had:

Isle Royale National Park (DSC_6029) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park (DSC_6038) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We planned to rent kayaks and head out to Beaver Island in Washington Harbor for a picnic, but they only had two tandem kayaks, not enough for the family, and renting the small motorboat didn't work out.  Instead, Dylan took all the kiddos for a little ride in their dinghy rowboat.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Activity-wise, we hiked a bit:

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5884) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5894) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5882) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5987) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5898) by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5842 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Beavers at work:

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5878) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We saw lots of moose prints but no moose (except that I saw two bull moose fighting across the bay once):

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5990) by P Bryan, on Flickr

And we saw an abundance of beautiful wildflowers and butterflies:

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park (DSC_5837) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5917) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5935) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5947) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5950) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5962) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5967) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The company that runs the store and cabins at Windigo also owns a WW II era Willys Jeep, which I was told still runs but needs some parts:

WW II era Willys at Windigo, Isle Royale NP, Michigan, USA (DSC_5945) by P Bryan, on Flickr

WW II era Willys Jeep, Windigo, Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5924) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The one activity we did the most of was hang out on the dock.  Dylan's family set up a "living room" on the dock and we got to know them some.  They were happy to take our pillows when we left, and we were happy we didn't have to bring them back.  I later found out that they passed them along to the park rangers.

Speaking of park rangers, on Monday and Tuesday there was just one ranger program, in the evening.  We missed that first night, but on Tuesday, Ranger Jenna personally invited us, so DW and Co. went and and they all earned their Junior Ranger badges.  The Sea Hunter III arrives on all the other days of the week, so they schedule more ranger programs on those days, and we attended another one with Ranger Jenna. 

On Tuesday night, just after 6 p.m., we saw one of the rangers walk away with the flag that she had just taken down.  Little one was interested in seeing how that worked, so the next evening we made sure to be near the flagpole at 6, and he had his own private ceremony.  In case you were wondering, yup, it was Ranger Jenna's turn to do the honors.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

After spending three nights at Isle Royale, on Thursday, in the early afternoon, we took the Voyageur II back to Grand Portage, passing the wreck of the SS America, which could be seen below the water, at the mouth of Washington Harbor:

Wreck of the SS America near Isle Royale National Park (DSC_6052) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 8 - Back to Minneapolis

Upon arrival in Grand Portage, we loaded up the car, and made the five and a half hour drive to Minneapolis. 

Grand Portage to Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

During the drive, we ordered dinner from the Prime Deli.  I decided to try something a bit different, and got their walleye tacos, which were pretty good, and the burger from the kids menu.  I liked this burger better than their regular burger.

Upon checking back in to the Home2Suites, we were given the same room as we had two weeks earlier.  Opening the refrigerator, we found the light off - we had forgotten to remove the tape that covered the switch for Shabbos and no one had done it in the interim.  Although we intended to remove it after Shabbos, we forgot once more.

The next day, while trying to figure out what to do, and after looking through the trip reports of @saw50st8 and @Dan, we decided to go to the Sculpture Park.

Sculpture Park, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sculpture Park, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sorry guys, but I thought the place was completely lame.

After walking a round a bit, some of us needed a restroom and, not being able to find one, we asked someone who responded that the nearest one was "probably at the Walker."  We had no idea what the Walker was, but headed over.  I walked ahead with my son, with DW just behind with the girls, but on her way in, someone stopped her and asked if she had a pass.  When she said no, the woman handed her a pass, telling her she needed it but the kids were free.  Still not knowing what kind of place the Walker was, she accepted the pass and headed to the restroom.  Who knew that asking for a pass to the bathroom was the secret code word for getting free museum admission.  Afterward, figuring she already had a pass, she wandered off with the girls to figure out where they were.  From DW - turns out it was the sort of art museum where you say "huh?" a lot.

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

They enjoyed it - middle daughter asked to go to more museums like it; I was happy to sit this one out.

We then went to the Breadsmith on Minnetonka to get some goodies for Shabbos, and shared the very tasty margherita focaccia for lunch.  This Breadsmith also had complimentary coffee.

Sunday we packed out of the hotel and went to the Minnesota Streetcar Museum.  Little one enjoyed the street car ride, but don't expect an actual museum.  From there, we went to the third and final Breadsmith in the area and then headed to the airport for our flight home.

Total miles driven: 1622

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

August 03, 2019, 11:18:50 PM
"Why Does No One Care About Violence Against Orthodox Jews?" (Interesting Article Split)

August 28, 2019, 09:58:27 PM
Panama / New Orleans Trip Report 8/17/19-8/27/19 We just came back from an amazing trip from Panama. We all had a great time.  I want to share with you our vacation, and travel tips to pay it forward. We (mostly me) spent about 3-4 months researching this trip, on this site, and on others, and using guidebooks as well. As all vacations, there are ups and downs, you will get ripped off by people trying to make a bucks, but you just have to take it in stride, and hope the planning, minimizes the problems. One thing I like doing in planning for vacations, is to leave time for "unstructured time" that allows you to do stuff in the area, but give you enough wiggle room, that doesn't mean that you are running from item to item without enjoying the moment (like ride to ride at Disney). Thank you to everyone. Any criticism here, is NOT TO COMPLAIN, but rather to help people in the future. We aren't going to trip advisor or Yelp to give 1 star, but just want to help everyone going forward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 29, 2019, 05:16:03 PM