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Trip Reports / Roadtrip TR (w/ pics): Miami Beach to EWR
« on: July 08, 2015, 10:16:00 AM »

I hope that this tr will be helpful to others as I did not find much info on this when I was planning it. I know the general sentiment is that if you can spend 2 hours on a flight why would you spend 20+ hrs. driving- BUT firstly those hours were turned into a road trip broken up over a few days, and because there were some other things that went into this. Here it goes…

We joined my wife’s family this year in going down to Miami for Pesach. During the pre-Pesach planning I was naturally chosen to try and find a good deal on a rental car for the two weeks (basically impossible in MIA during that time of year) as I am known as the “Dan’s Deals guy” in the family ::). During one of my searches I came across the $9 a day one way FL-NY car rental deal that is offered at that time of year. Every April the car rental companies need to get some of their cars back up north for summer season (as more people vacation in NY in the summer and FL in the winter) so they offer you the price of one way rentals at $9 a day for regular cars and abt. $20 a day for a minivan (which is insanely cheap for FL standards (at that time of year a reg. rental for 2 weeks in a minivan could run about 11-1500 dollars!)). 

We decided that we’ll save my wife’s parents some money and take an extended road trip back from Miami to New Jersey after Yom Tov. The total for the minivan for the whole 2 weeks of Yom Tov and the week after was $500!! (Besides the fact that we were anyways pretty sick of flying-even if it was only another 3 hour flight-as we had already been on 5 flights in 2 weeks (coming from Israel and stopping for a visit in LA before going into NJ and then heading down to FL and were about to get back on another flight back to Israel!!)!

For our 2 year old we bought this- and attached it to his car seat and it actually worked really well! We also stocked up on lots of videos, coloring books, crayons and nosh before the trip. One very convenient thing was that we were in the new Chrysler town & country-which is really comfortable and has a lot of connection options like a standard plug so we could always keep our devices fully charged!

Our kid using the Snack n play travel table

(Note to self: Do not do this drive, or any long drive, again during a time when you cannot listen to music!!!!!!!!)

General Discussion / Baby Carriers
« on: February 08, 2015, 06:59:00 AM »
I'm not entirely sure if that was a joke. 
But if not, that still doesn't help me for the transit around the airport
baby carrier?

Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Tr w/ Pics: Thessaloniki, Greece
« on: January 24, 2015, 04:33:14 PM »
I have received a few requests about info on Thessaloniki, Greece so I decided to post a small tr with all the main info there is to know about it.

We went down to Thessaloniki from Israel after Succos last year for a short vacation. I was very close to reaching Aegean gold status :P and had 2 category 1-4 hyatt cert. that were expiring as well and it was really close by so we decided it would be the perfect 3 night-4 day getaway.

During the summer months, Aegean operates a direct flight 3 times a week from TLV to Thessaloniki-the last flight is offered the day after succos. So we booked direct for the way there but for the way back the service was already over so we took an Aegean flight back to TLV with a short stop in Athens.

Thessaloniki has the only Hyatt hotel in Greece and shockingly it’s only a category 3. For 2 nights we used the Hyatt anniversary cert. and for the other night it was 15,000 points. Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece (after Athens) and is considered a business center/tourist destination. The main attraction in Thessaloniki is the beaches, however, the airport is a good 45 minute drive away from the beach area. The Hyatt hotel is located 5 minutes away from the airport and is considered predominantly a business hotel. The hotel is more like a resort with 2 wings and magnificent sprawling grounds! If you go off season then the hotel is only busy on weekends but midweek you could count on your fingers the amount of people staying in the hotel. We arrived on a Sunday morning so it was a little busy but for the next 3 days we had the entire pool/ outdoor area to ourselves!!! The service in this hotel is top notch-everyone is smiley and always eager to help. The hotel is not new but does not look rundown at all-the rooms are super clean! The standard rooms are very large and have huge balconies with patio furniture to relax on. The hotel offers free pick up and return to the airport because it is only 5 minutes away. When we arrived there was a fellow waiting in the arrivals hall with a sign with our name and he drove us quickly straight to the hotel. The other attraction in Thessaloniki is the old town (which we will get to later) and the hotel offers a complimentary shuttle service 3 times a day there and back as well.

Kosher Food:
 The options for kosher food in Thessaloniki are rather limited so we brought along most of our meals. As I was emailing the hotel before our stay I asked them if there were any kosher options at the hotel itself and they put me in touch with their restaurant and events manager. She told me that the hotel has made many kosher weddings and functions in the past and she was actually quite familiar with the whole kosher story. She told me that the hotel had a locked cabinet with kosher utensils in it and only the supervising Rabbi (who is the official Rabbi in Thessaloniki-Israeli fellow-not Chabad affiliated) has the key so we need to coordinate with him as well and he would deliver sealed packages of meat. I would need to come into the kitchen every day and open that closet, turn on the fires and supervise, etc. Before I even got to asking for prices I could not get enough info on how kosher that meat was so I just decided to scratch the idea but if you can find out more info it definitely seemed like a fantastic option (as their restaurant is 5 star and has amazing service!). Chabad has a restaurant but it is located in the old town (which is about a 30 minute drive away from the hotel) so we decided that we would only eat there on the day we went in to tour the old town. For the remainder of the days we brought coldcuts/schnitzel and bread, tradition soups, cereal and milk, etc.

The first day we arrived we just relaxed all day in the hotel and toured the grounds. The hotel has a massive pool, a kiddie pool, huge gardens and grass area with walking paths, and a big playground area for kids.
 The second day we chilled in the hotel most of the day as we had the entire pool to ourselves! In the evening we got a taxi and took a 15 minute drive over to the local mall. The mall is a very large upscale indoor mall with many middle to high end stores. There was a grocery there where we bought some cereal and snacks and vegetables for our sandwiches. We shopped around for some time and then headed over to the fun section of the mall. There are movie theaters and a large bowling alley/arcade place. We bowled 2 games and played some arcades and then headed back to the hotel.
The 3rd day we booked seats in the first shuttle of the day that the hotel offers (you must book seats in advance) and were in the old town within half hour. Our first stop that day was the Jewish museum of Thessaloniki which is actually rather beautiful once you find it and get inside. Basically it seems that before the holocaust Thessaloniki had a thriving Jewish community and it goes through the history and has a very large section on the holocaust in general with lots of artifacts, etc. Everything in the old town is pretty close by so we decided to walk from place to place. After the museum we walked past some town square over to an arch that is supposed to be really old-not very exciting. Then we walked through some of the streets where there is quite a bit of excavations going on there and they are digging up some really old ruins. The old town is located at a port style area on the water (no beach here but lots of paths walking along the water-cruise ships also dock in this area) so we walked down there and went to go check out the main attraction in Thessaloniki-the white tower. A big white round shaped tower located on the water. You pay a couple euros and can go up to the top for great vies of the city and water. You get up to the top via a ramp that circles the circumference of the inside of the tower until you reach the top.  After that we headed over to the Chabad restaurant which is located in the Astoria hotel (and actually seemed pretty nice inside) where Chabad rents a portion of their kitchen as the hotel only serves breakfast and the dining room is empty the rest of the day. The restaurant is opened from 5-11 every day but it is important to call first as sometimes they are opening just for you (as was the case in our situation). The food was fresh, homemade and delicious and the service was great. There was one waiter and the Chabad Rabbis brother was the mashgiach (he was there helping for a couple months on shlichus) and was really interesting to schmooze with. We were given warm pita and chummus to start and ordered schnitzel and fries (which were amazing fries btw) for both of us and kebab burgers and fries for our kid. After we finished supper we walked back along the water to the pickup point for the last shuttle back to the hotel (located on the street right next to the white tower) and were back in the hotel half hour later. Thessaloniki also has some really great beaches but we decided we did not want to shlep out there on this trip for that and instead enjoyed the hotel grounds.

For any more questions or email addresses of the hyatt staff please feel free to PM me!!

View of grounds from porch

Hallway to bathroom


Baby Crib

Kiddie pool and grass/playground area in the background

Looking from pool towards outdoor bar/restaurant area

Pool area

Arch in old town

The white tower

Ramp leading up to the top of the tower

View from the top of the white tower

Walking along the waterfront

Food at the Chabad restaurant

View of resort at night from the bar

Trip Reports / TR (w/ pics):2 weeks in Asia with a 2 yr old
« on: September 04, 2014, 05:16:39 PM »
We (myself, my wife, and 2 yr old) have returned not too long ago from a 2 week trip to Asia including Hong Kong, Thailand, and Singapore. There are a few reasons why I am taking out the time to write up a trip report. Firstly, I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and bothered a lot of people from the forums that I feel it is only right to give back by posting a tr to help more people down the road. I also know how much I enjoy reading everyone else’s trip reports and pics so I hope you all enjoy this like I enjoy yours. Secondly, when researching this trip, I did not come across a lot of info pertaining to doing Asia with a 2 yr old-the vibe I got was generally that it can be done with a baby but it might be too difficult with a 2 yr old (especially a very active one). So, I would like this report to show that not only is it doable but you can even have an awesome time in Asia with a 2 year old.  This TR may be a bit long as I will try to include as much detail as possible (especially details that pertain to having a young child with you), but will also try to include as many photos as well to break it up. Some of the info may sound redundant to other TR’s and the forums, but then again I want to keep all the details for my own records as well……-anyway….enough of all that…..
So, after 4 trips to Europe we were basically able to check off most of western Europe (sorry that you have not seen any TR’s on those but I was not so into the DDF till more recently-but if there is an interest I can def. post old TR’s on those as well). SO together with enough convincing from some of our friends who had already done this trip we decided to take the plunge and head over to Asia for this year’s trip. We were a bit apprehensive before we went because it was something entirely new and we did not know what to expect and because we were doin it all with a 2 year old (almost 2 to be exact-21 mths).
We booked TLV to HKG on ELAL in business for the first leg of our journey ( after we got back we called it a trip but before we left-travelling to Asia seemed more like a journey). Now one of the best things AA ever did was consider Israel to be part of Asia as a roundtrip from TLV to the rest of Asia is a mere 60,000 mils in Business!! Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10 pm on Wed night (night after 9 Bav)-we planned to get to the airport a bit early because  in my research I found that the King David Lounge in TLV offers free 20 min massages (either I just let everyone in on a secret or you are all saying-now he wakes up…..anyway), so I made a res. Online before for 2 massages. But of course we live in Israel so when we told the taxi driver to come at7 that meant come at 8. We checked in and got to the lounge at about 850 and the reception lady tells us that bec. Boarding is at 915 its now too late to get the massage. I was not about to take no for an answer because of a taxi driver so I went upstairs to the “spa” and found the masseuse there and asked him if he minds giving me just a 15 min. massage and he happily agreed (he didn’t seem to mind that I was interrupting his busy schedule of playing games on his iphone). At 915 we left the lounge to head over to the gate. Now, because this was an overnight flight at the start of the trip we needed to be sure that our kid slept at least for most of it, so we decided to give him Benadryl before boarding to help him (as when he is in a place with a lot of other ppl he is usually to busy for that). TIP: try benadryl at home first to make sure it has the desired effect!!!! Basically, for the first 3 hours he was a jack in the box, bouncing off the walls :'( :'(-so most of that time was spent in economy where you can make as much noise as you would like. Finally  finally, we managed to get him to fall asleep and were lucky that there was one empty seat in business, so I laid it down flat for him and there he slept for the remainder of the flight. As soon as he was out, my wife also laid down and went to sleep and I promptly sat down for some wine ;D and a delicious steak dinner. The rest of the flight was uneventful and we arrived in HKG at 130 PM local time on Thursday.

After finally falling asleep.....

HONG KONG               USD $1=$7.75 HKD
Before we left I was a little disappointed as the forecast called for clouds and thunderstorms all 5 days there. When we got there we had a pleasant surprise as there was not one drop of rain the whole time! After clearing customs the first thing was to find a local sim as we had a few imp. Calls to make right away. To buy a sim in the airport go upstairs to departures and there is a china mobile stand where all the shops are. I bought a 3g sim for 80 HKD($10US) which lasted me my whole stay (both net and calls). After they set up the phone for us we went downstairs to buy passes for the metro system (there is a stand before you exit customs but the lines there are pretty big so go outside and over to airport exit “b”-as the stand right where you come into the arrivals hall also has big lines-and there was almost no wait).  We bought “airport express travel pass” which included a round trip on the airport-city express train and 3 days of unlimited MTR use (which can really be up to 4 because the card counts 72 hours  from the first use and then gives you until the end of that day) $300 HKD each ($38 US). We hopped on an express train which comes every 10 min and takes 24 min. to get to Kowloon. HKG MTR is a great way to get around the city-it is clean, air conditioned, and runs frequently and on time. After getting to Kowloon station we had to get over to the Intercontinental Grand Stanford hotel, so I found out that the AE train has a free shuttle service to take you to your hotel-but after hearing that there was a 10 min wait for the next shuttle and that the IGS hotel was the last stop we high-tailed it over to the taxi stand. I was a little nervous with our driver as he must have been in his late 80s and had to take off his glasses and put the paper with the hotel address up to his face to see where we wanted to go-but about 15 min later we were in the driveway of the hotel ( and we were only out about $4 US).
The Intercontinental Grand Stanford is a fabulous hotel! The rooms are spacious and clean and the service is impeccable. I booked 2 nights using points (50,000 points pn) and 1 free night cert. We got upgraded to a harbor view room which was great (especially on Shabbos afternoon-to sit and watch the harbor……).

The Room

The view

Corner Seat

 After settling in we headed over to Kehilat Zion for mincha/maariv and supper at Mul Hayam. The food at Mul hayam was great and the service was too-prices are steep though… We had the cigars and the spring rolls for an appetizer and the chicken breast Milanese and scotch steak for mains.
(The food pics are not great as we were sometimes too busy with our kid to rem to take pics so I cropped them off the pics we took of the 2 of us at the table)
Chicken Breast Milanese

Scotch steak

  (We also tasted their schnitzel and fries that my kid would not eat as it seemed that the Benadryl was starting to kick in again and he became enemies with his high chair). After leaving the restaurant we decided to walk back to the hotel as there was a MILD breeze blowing (believe it or not) so instead of feeling like 105 it only felt like 100 degrees out. After 5 min of walking we looked in the stroller to see why it was so quiet and saw that our kid fell asleep. We decided to take advantage and walked along the whole promenade and avenue of  the stars (about 1 hour) and back to the hotel.

View of the HKG skyline from the Kowloon side

Random free Cantonese cantorial concert on the Avenue ;D

It took about 2 hours and a lot of frustration to convince our kid (who of course woke up right when we got back to the hotel) that it was not 5 in the afternoon, but rather 10 at night and past his bedtime and not time to play.

Friday turned out to be a gorgeous day and after a late wakeup and a bowl of cereal we were off to the star ferry to head across to HKI (Hong Kong Island). The water was a bit rough and after keeping our food down we got off on the other side (it takes about 10 min to cross). 

The star ferry

By the time we got there it was time for lunch (as the rest. In the JCC closea t 2 pm on Friday) so we grabbed a taxi and headed over there. As we pulled up I realized that I left the passports back at the hotel-so I geared up for a fight to get in so we would not go hungry. After pleading with the guard and promising we were jewish and were only coming to eat lunch and not cause any harm to the building, and that my kid was really hungry……… we then had to speak to like 2 other people who finally okayed us in. The dairy rest. is now closed for renovations so only the meat rest. was open. The food was ok, as well as the service, but the prices were lower (you get what you pay for I guess…).  My wife ordered a coldcut salad (which was not very exciting) and I had the sweet and sour chicken and rice.

Chinese Chicken

After lunch we took a taxi to the peak tram but the line was about 1-1 ½ hours long and Shabbos was coming so we decided to hop on the MTR and visit the ladies market instead.  (TIP-visit the peak tram early or late to avoid the lines-they are open from 7am to midnight).  The market was really fun and we got the hang of the calculator game pretty quickly. We spent about an hour there and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for Shabbos.

Ladies Market

The hotel is very accommodating whe it comes to Shabbos requests, so the concierge arranged a bellboy for us to wheel the stroller to kehilat Zion Fri night (we did not take him before Shabbos as he was taking a late nap and we did not want to interrupt it) and Shabbos Morning($50 HKD-$6.50 US each time). The gabbai of KZ arranged for one of the Filipino workers to wheel him back after the meals ($50 HKD-$6.50 US each time).  Kehilat Zion was absolutely amazing as far as hospitality goes!! The food was excellent and plentiful and the “locals” were very welcoming. Our kid had a great time there because he mad e a lot of new friends as we met another family there (fellow ddf’r-who is btw our inspiration for traveling-HKG and Thailand with 5 kids-wowowowowowow!!!!), and Shabbos was overall relaxing and fantastic!!

Motsei Shabbos, we went to the Temple Street night market (mostly the same stuff as the ladies market but not as many ppl selling toys so my kid was not too pleased to say the least) , bought some more stuff, and headed back to the hotel.

A rest. at the night market (just to show how they live there-check out the blue bucket ehere they clean the dishes... :P)

Sunday began with switching over to the Hyatt regency TST (due to points cheshbonos….) which was not a very big deal -5 minute cab ride away. We went up to the club lounge for check in ( they check in diamond members up there)and were upgraded to a view room on the top floor which was not ready upon checkin as it was early but we left and they delivered our luggage and set it all up before we got back. The hotel is ok-room was nice size with a nice bathroom nut not the cleanest we have ever seen. I used a Hyatt cat.1-4 cert. here.

The Room

 We then took 3 elevators down to get down to the MTR level which is right below the hotel (you get to save yourself some time from being in the heat that way-but 3 elevators?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?)   and took it over to Ngong Ping (home to the glass bottom cable car). The lines looked worse than they really were and after about 45 min we had our tickets for the cable car-1 way glass bottom and return on the regular one. We waited about 10 mins for a cable car and were on our way. The experience of a glass bottom cable car was really pretty cool (for those who have been to the glass floor in Chicago Sears/Willis tower this will be eh), and the views of the airport are really awesome!

View of the Airport from the cable car

Up on Nogong Ping we did not find much to do, so we just walked around for some time, saw some free roaming cows and other livestock, got some ice cream at 7-11 and went back to the line for the cable car. When we got there though, the wait for a reg cable car was 45 min to an hour (everyone says summer months are off peak in hong kong-I wonder what peak season looks like….) and our kid had had his share for the day so we asked a nice “guard” if there were any options and he told us we could upgrade the ticket to a glass bottom return and there was no wait for those. We proceeded to do that and were down in 10 min. (TIP-take the reg cable car on the way up and the glass bottom on the way down-if you buy that type of ticket-as there was 0 wait on those both ways).

After getting back down we took the MTR all the way to HKI, got out, and took a cab to the JCC (luckily the same guard was there and remembered me as I forgot the passports again) for the famous Sunday night all you can eat bbq. (TIP-if you are in hong Kong, stay for Sunday-you do not want to miss this.) From sushi, to steaks, to cream puffs-there was tons to eat!!!! We were planning on heading out at 730 to make it to the light show but everyone told us not to waste our time ( I did not need a second invitation to stay longer at an all you can eat instead of seeing a light show), so we hung around until about 9 and then took  a taxi up to the peak. (Beware-the road is very windy-do not do this after the all you can eat….). The taxi got us there in 15 min and cost about 60 HKD=$7.50US and def. beat waiting in the line for the peak tram. The view up there is breathtaking and we were lucky to get a clear night which made it even better.

View from the peak

When we were done taking pics, etc. we went to check out the tram line just to make sure we should indeed take a taxi back down as well. (TIP-never mind the earlier tip-there will always be a huge line whenever you go to the peak tram-plan ahead!!!!)
Monday morning was an early one as we had a direct flight to Phuket on Thai Airways at 1020 AM. We took the train back to the airport, and by the time we checked in (there was an issue with my wife’s ticket as there was a schedule change and United reconfirmed the res. Without issuing a new ticket number so that took some time and nerves until it was all sorted out) we had to go straight to the gate for the flight. We got those tix before the deval for 17,500 united points pp in business. The flight was a short one (2 hours) , the hard product was awesome, and the service was great. (Most of business on that flight was actually occupied by us and the other DDF family that we met in HKG on Shabbos (anyone on that flight probably thought there was some glitch like the delta glitch for that flight…..)

Thai Buisness class A330

Meal-it's Hermolis-YAY!! ;D


Up In The Air / *A Gold upgrades
« on: February 02, 2014, 09:22:16 AM »
Hi, I have * A Gold with aegean, do you know if there is any way you can get upgardes on United or Air Canada to biz (both for domestic and international) or do they not honor it for upgrades. If anyone has experience with this can you post what you asked for, etc. (does the $20 trick work here or maybe the $100 trick :)....) Thanks!!!!

Credit Cards / Getting 2 free Hyatt nights extended?
« on: January 06, 2014, 05:20:15 PM »
Anyone ever got their 2 free hyatt nights extended? If yes-what did you say, etc.? Any info on this would be very helpful!!

Up In The Air / Jet Airways
« on: January 06, 2014, 08:26:02 AM »
Anyone ever flown jet airways before (specifically bet. bkk and ist)? How is their service, their planes, their kosher meals, etc.? Thanks!!

Trip Reports / Tasmania/Hong Kong report PLEASE!!!!
« on: December 29, 2013, 08:42:36 AM »
Dan (or anyone that has as valuable info as him :)), can you please post a trip report (even a brief one here in the forums) about Tasmania and Hong Kong including, acc., activities, and kosher food PLEASE!!!!!! I am trying to plan a trip that includes these two stops and I am having a hard time finding inside info on these two places!! Thanks in advance to Dan or anyone else who takes out the time to help me out!!

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