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1st Segment- Trip Planning:

This trip all started after I did a trip to the Maldives (My TR is here: http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=66086.0) in 2016, which was the first high-end, all on points, not just eating tuna and crackers and cheese, trip that I planned after seeing all the cool stuff other people were doing and realizing I could do it too!  So after I got back from that trip, I was trying to figure out, where I wanted to go next and somewhere that would be fun for my whole family, kids included.  We see a lot of cool trips, on DDF, to amazing places for couples or with babies and toddlers but I wanted to write this up for other families to see what I planned for a far off trip with older kids.  I didn't bring a single pot on this trip, although I did bring snacks and milk and except for our first stop we did have a microwave (which is really important for me).

Once you throw older kids in the mix, it made everything SO much more complicated for me, with the extra points and seat availability, dealing with food for 5 people (and picky eaters) and also as my children have gotten older it's very important to me to help them have great adventures while also trying my best not to put them unnecessarily in inappropriate settings and environments.  Add to these issues, that I have very little desire to go to Europe, wanted somewhere warm over winter break, we had just had an amazing family trip to Panama (TR for that one is here: http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=75186.0) so I wanted somewhere not in Central/South America, oh and on top of those things my husband said I could knock myself out planning whatever crazy vacation I wanted as long as a he got one hot, fresh, meat meal per day (that took out Hawaii, unless I wanted to kill myself cooking)! SOOO, where to go?!?! ;D

I decided Asia.  Here is the itinerary I booked and I hope you enjoy this trip report!

Most airlines open a max of two or four J seats so I looked toward Cathay Pacific from the beginning because they often open five seats.  Since they also have the best deal in J when booked with Alaska miles (50k OW pp), that is what I worked toward amassing points and then booking.  We wanted to have our Shabbats with a minyan and heard both Hong Kong and Singapore were great.  We could also eat both meals in the synagogues there so that also led us to those cities for both weekends (Thailand sounds like they also have amazing Shabbat experiences so I'm not trying to discount them, I just thought our family would enjoy these cities more). 

This is what we ended up with (ideally the trip would have included more Thailand time but because of time restraints we couldn't add more onto this trip):
Denver-Hong Kong (stayed three nights)- Koh Samui, Thailand (stayed 4 nights), Singapore (stayed 3 nights)- Denver

Den-SFO (had to purchase)
SFO-HKG CX J  50k AS plus $61.10 so 250k for 5 people and $305.50
     Used Hotels.com nights for 3 nights at the Royal Garden and it was a perfect location to Kehillat Zion in Kowloon

HKG-BKK CX included in the above mileage ticket but I ended up cancelling once I booked the direct flight from Hong Kong to Koh Samui

HKG-USM   Bankok Airways Y, Only 10k pp and 50k total AF miles
     Used HHonors for 4 night at the Conrad Residences Koh Samui

USM-SIN Silk Air Only 10,625  miles pp so 53,125 total SQ miles  (booked before award chart change so got the 15% discount but paid a little YQ)
      Used HHonors for two nights at the Hilton Garden Inn near the shul for only 10k HHonors a night (one of my best ever redemptions) and the last night was paid (yes, it was horrible to pay but fun to stay) :P at the Marina Bay sands

SIN-HKG-LAX on CX J  Again only 50k AS

LAX-DEN originally booked on American for 7500 Avios and and 5.60 fees pp for a total of 37.5k and 28.00 but then I cancelled them when those same tickets went on sale for $44 per person.

All together, I spent:
500k AS I was able to take advantage of that short-term deal where I transferred to Virgin with the SPG bonus and then got another bonus when exchanging to AS so those tickets really cost me about 300k SPG or 60k SPG pp RT (yes, I know that's not going to happen again)!!  That's more than an $.11pp redemption of SPG points for those CX flights.

50k AF
53,125k SQ

Even with all this planning, no large YQ, etc.  the total taxes, fees, and tickets from Denver to California was still about $400pp and $2000 for the family.  I'm not complaining, just trying to give the true costs, when I put every together.

I'm going to work on uploading my pictures and get started with the next installment soon!

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I'm not gonna write too much on this one because you all know where Southern California is and what to do there (Disneyland, all the stuff in San Diego, etc.) BUT some things I want to point out. 

There is an awesome little market and takeout place near SNA airport called OC Kosher (https://www.ockosher.com/ and although their only seating is outside they have an extensive menu and the food (try the homemade sausages) is really good.  We always stop there for lunch on the way home from the airport, get extra takeout to heat up plus whatever else my kids want.  There is also a Trader Joes right down the street from the hotel.

The Marriott Newport Coast Villas in Orange County is possibly one of the best Marriott Cert Redemptions for a family anywhere in the continental US (there are some great villas like these in Hawaii).  It's a Cat 8 and all units are 2Brm villas so a 2brm villa is the smallest unit you can book!  The nightly rate when we stayed last month was $850 a night plus tax.  Seriously, I'm hesitant to write this because I don't want the place to turn into the Westin Lagunamar and get overrun by frum families but I'm sharing anyway.  ;D

Here are some pictures of the unit and the resort:



Living room with a very comfy and large sleeper sofa:







From the living room into the dining room and kitchen (ignore my son acting silly): :)







Second Bedroom with another sleeper sofa:










Master Bedroom (excuse the mess) and the attached soaking tub and bathroom:








Views from the lobby, walking down to the pool and pool area:



















Some pictures of the grounds and activities.  Because this is a timeshare, resort property, they have SO many free activities and amenities for kids.  My youngest loved the activities room where she got to do art projects.  My older boys loved the play station.  We got to watch Start Wars in the movie theater and also went to a "Dive in Movie" at the pool one night.  The volley ball, tether ball and mini-golf courses were also fun.





























All the beaches in California are public and right below the resort is Crystal Cove State park.  Since you have to pay for parking, you are better off taking the free shuttle from the hotel, that runs hourly.  It's just a great family beach and my kids really enjoyed playing there.  The resort has beach chairs, umbrellas, sand toys, frisbees, footballs, etc. for either loan or rent (all very reasonable) so you don't have to pack a thing for the kids.












Hopefully the pictures are self explanatory but if you have any questions about the place or nearby I'll do my best to answer and coming up next the truly spectacular, brand new Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills!




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Trip Reports / Panama TR- a Hidden Family Gem (w/AWESOME restaurants)!
« on: March 15, 2017, 01:52:28 PM »
Before I get into all the details of our trip that we took for mid-Winter break.  I just want to let you know that we were traveling with 3 kids from pre-school to middle school so I wanted somewhere where we could both relax and do excursions but at a low-key, non-stressful pace and in a comfortable environment that all my kids would enjoy.

With Panama, I basically found a place that has the ease of vacationing in Miami or Scottsdale but with the adventures you can get in the rainforest and beaches of Costa Rica and Brazil.  On United or Singapore it is also only 35k RT in Economy or 60K in J, with tons of flights out of NY, LA and other markets. Since there are no direct flights from where we live in Denver we booked the outbound through IAH and on the return we did a two night stopover in Cancun.  Because we knew we were going to Cancun we did not make the effort to visit some of the amazing beaches and islands they have in Panama, although I'll try to still provide info on them.

Ok here is it goes (and before I begin, thank you to @Yehuda for helping me with the pictures)...we arrived late on a Sunday and thanks to this AMAZING app called Kosher PTY we had awesome sushi and pasta waiting for us at our hotel!





The app is in spanish but a lot of the words are the same and y'all have google translate so you should be able to figure it out!  Also, they do NOT accept payment over the app, it is just for ordering so remember you need to be there at your delivery time (so you can't have food waiting at your hotel for you).

We stayed at the Hilton on Avenida Balboa, and I would HIGHLY recommend it!  Because hotels are so cheap, I actually decided not to waste any points and just paid for the room (Panama City would be a great place to spend less points by booking with your Sapphire Reserve although I will also have info later on one hotel that might be the best possible use of your Marriott 7 night cert in the whole system).  Since it cost less than two rooms, and I don't like being crammed with our kids into one room we booked an Executive Master Suite.  It was HUGE, over 1100sqft. with a full kitchen and 2 bathrooms.

Here are some pics:

Kitchen, Living and Dining Area




We had a huge bedroom and Master Bath and another full bathroom with shower although my pictures of those are loading her upside down so if someone wants to help me figure out how to post them correctly, I can add some pics of them too!  ;D


Most people don't know that Panama City has more skyscrapers than any city in Latin America (yep, more than Rio and Mexico City) and it has a truly stunning skyline...





The hotel lobby was also just gorgeous with stunning two story windows and views of the Pacific Ocean and Bay:



This is a picture take from our suite of the Waldorf Astoria, one block over (sorry it's showing landscape and not portrait).  You can see it is a row back so it doesn't have water views from most rooms or the pool.  The pool also looks really small.  Because of those reasons and also no breakfast or lounge, I decided to book instead at the Hilton and was very happy with my choice.  The Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Le Meridian and InterContiental are all super close and in what I think is an excellent location.



Since it was a long day of outbound travel and we were there a full week, we decided to make the first day a lazy one.  That morning got up late and went to the Kosher Coffee Bean literally a block from the Hilton and enjoyed some awesome pastries and empanadas and they have beautiful salads and sandwiches too (and all those wrapped goods had a hecsher on each product, in addition to the teudah on the store). I have a picture from here but that one also is loading upside down so it's not included.


We then walked a few blocks more to the Multi-Centro Mall to the HUGE Deli K Supermarket.  My kids actually had fun picking out stuff from Israel and all over that we can't buy in Denver.  They also have a sit down meat and dairy restaurants (we did not order from those though).  For those of you that keep CY, they even had shelf stable CY milk.  We didn't do any overnight or extreme excursions while we were there but if you were you wouldn't have to bring anything from the US and I would pick up everything here.  I regretted packing any snacks as they really do have everything!



After our little shopping trip and laden down with bags we decided to take a cab the almost mile back to the hotel and it was a whopping two bucks and I didn't even have to bargain (try that in Israel or Cancun where you better be ready to battle the cab drivers over fares)!

We then headed down to the gorgeous Hilton Pool, it's on their 12th floor, with great views.




Hope you enjoyed the beginning of my TR, my apologies for newbie photo or other errors and hopefully more is coming soon!

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Up In The Air / Hot! RT ORD-TLV for Pesach on Swiss for only $646!
« on: December 20, 2016, 10:05:01 PM »
April 5-19 on Swiss for only $663 and Lufthansa is only $687!

This is a great deal in general for Pesach but if you live OOT this is a smokin' deal because there are such cheap flights from so many cities to Chicago and lots of seats on American into ORD to use Avios.  I used Avios for our outbound connection and bought a cheap return ticket to Denver and saved about $400 pp from if I'd bought a ticket from Denver. Plus you'll obviously earn Star Alliance miles.

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Trip Reports / A little different Maldives TR
« on: September 08, 2016, 11:19:19 PM »
I'm sitting right now in the Conrad Rangali Island and while I can't quite manage a live TR I wanted to open this so that I won't be lazy when I get back and make sure to write it.

We're watching some football, about to head out snorkeling as soon as the game is finished but for now GO Broncos, from the Maldives!

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Deals/Deal Requests / YYZ-TLV over Pesach on Turkish Airlines for $539RT
« on: December 23, 2015, 08:50:37 PM »
Just posted this in the thread about ways to take advantage of the weak Canadian Dollar:

Right now on Turkish only $539, YYZ-TLV with great connections (returning 5/2 but even if you return 5/1 then it's still only $645):


    Apr 20, 2016
    From Pearson Intl. (YYZ)
    To Ben Gurion (TLV)
    10:35pm    YYZ
    to
    8:20pm    TLV
    14h 45m, 1 stop
    Arrives Thu, Apr 21   

    May 2, 2016
    From Ben Gurion (TLV)
    To Pearson Intl. (YYZ)
    5:00am    TLV
    to
    5:50pm    YYZ
    19h 50m, 1 stop


    Traveler 1: Adult$539.23
        Flight $143.00
        Taxes & Fees $396.23

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