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Topics - shaulyaakov

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COVID-19 Discussion Board / COVID-19 Reinfection
« on: August 24, 2020, 09:23:28 AM »
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/24/world/covid-19-coronavirus.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur

A patient was diagnosed with a second case of Covid-19 more than four months after the first, scientists in Hong Kong said.

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COVID-19 Discussion Board / Hotels and COVID-19
« on: July 01, 2020, 02:54:09 PM »
I'm thinking about possibly going on a short trip in August. Anyone have feedback on what hotels are doing regarding hygiene and safety? Which brands are better than others?

I found this for Hilton:

https://www.hilton.com/en/corporate/cleanstay/#guestroom

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COVID-19 Discussion Board / New Virus Hot Spots
« on: May 28, 2020, 11:20:27 AM »
According to Kol HaOlam, Sullivan County, NY is a new hot spot.

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COVID-19 Discussion Board / NY Small Business Strike
« on: May 24, 2020, 11:25:48 PM »

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COVID-19 Discussion Board / PSA - Stop Hoarding Masks
« on: March 23, 2020, 10:13:04 PM »
You know who you are.

If normal retail price is under $2 per mask for an n95, stop trying to mark them up to insane prices (I've seen $7 as the low and over $20 as the high). You're endangering people's lives. It's also potentially against state and soon to be federal law.

I asked a Dayan about this, and he told me it was permissible to report people suspected of hoarding/price gouging to the authorities.

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Trip Reports / 4 days in Aruba
« on: January 26, 2020, 11:12:14 AM »
Just got back from an amazing trip to Aruba. We took advantage of my mother being more flexible during Yeshiva Week and went child free. We did similar trips to CUN and OGG and I'll try to compare those trips at the end. As most of the trip was spent relaxing, I'll keep it focused more broadly on the resort and the 1 excursion that we did. We went Sun-Wed, which was fine, though I think Sun-Thurs would have been ideal - we just couldn't make it work schedule wise.

Flight - UA nonstop EWR-AUA in coach. Basic economy meant bad seats on the way there, but I was able to snag the exit row on the way back. It's important to note that on the return, there's US customs in Aruba, so you end up with 2 baage checks, 2 security screens, and 2 sets of customs. There is global entry (as well as what looked like a global entry on arrival interview room). There unfortunately was no mobile passport. My wife (who does not have GE) and I who do split up. GE took about 1 minute, vs. regular that took about 40 minutes. They say to get to the airport 3 hours before your flight, but with GE I'd say you can certainly be fine with 2.5hours on a weekend, and 2 hours mid-week. There is a fairly bad PP lounge once you clear US security. It does have a bar, but nothing kosher to eat and it was pretty crowded.


Hotel - We stayed at the Renaissance Aruba, as it is a Bonvoy Cat 5 and is therefore bookable on credit card certificates. Note that it is subject to peak pricing but it fluctuated a lot - when it is peak, it can no longer be booked using the free nights. I booked 3 nights right before peak rolled out, and I noticed that at least one of my nights was peak when it rolled out a few days later. However, when I checked again out of curiosity a couple days before the trip, it was no longer pricing at peak for my dates, so check frequently if you can't get it. There was also no resort fee, which is nice, especially given how often Marriott charges them these days.

The hotel is located in the downtown area, next to the big cruise ports, and is the closest resort to the airport. It is situated in 2 separate properties about a 3 minute walk from each other - Marina Hotel and Island suites. In between the two hotels is an outdoor mall and a casual casino. The outdoor mall has Häagen-Dazs, which was enjoyable. There is also a second mall and a formal casino on the Marina property.

The base rooms book into the Marina Hotel, which is adults only. Marina has a small pool/bar in the lobby, and not much else in terms of amenities. The Island suites is the family friendly property, where each room is a 1BR suite with a king bed, pullout in the living room, and a fridge/microwave. They would not give me a free upgrade to switch into Ocean Suites - it was a $75/night upgrade fee. As we were travelling without kids, we decided to stay in Marina, which looked slighly more upscale anyway.

The island suites have 2 pools, the larger of which also has a swim up bar. There is also a small lagoon with a man made beach area and a small swimming area. We didn't use it, but it looked fine. However, as I will get to, swimming in the lagoon would be such a waste. Guests of each property can use the amenities of the other, and there is a golf cart to take you around the property, though it is all walkable.

Overall, the hotel was nice. Rooms were in the smaller side, but have been recently renovated, and the service was generally good, though we did have an issue with getting our meals a couple of times. Considering paid rates were $650/night during our stay, I'd venture to say that it's one of the best redemption values for credit card certs. I would not be surprised to see the category bumped up in the future.

I'll note that the more popular hotel is the Cat 6 Marriott Solaris. I very much wanted to use the certs so it was not an option for us, but it seems like a much nicer hotel and is beachfront, vs. the Renaissance which is less upscale and is not on the beach. However, the private island really makes the Renaissance shine, so I'm not sure which is the better option all else being equal.

Food - We looked at the Chabad options, which run $40+ per meal, plus a $20 delivery fee, but decided to BYOK. We brought Grand and Essex travel meals, which the hotel was great about storing and heating. They did charge us $10/per person per service to heat, and were happy to either serve us in our room or in the restaurant.

Renaissance Island - This is the best feature of the hotel, period. Essentially, it is a private island open only to guests of the hotel (free!), as well as a to a non-guests who were able to buy passes, which are $125 per day. Reportedly, they only sell guest passes when the hotel is below 80% occupancy, and they only sell them morning of, so the island should never get too crowded.

The island is about a 10 minute speed boat ride away from the hotels, and if you're at the marina hotel, the boat comes and picks up from the lower level. Pretty neat! The boats come to take you about every 15 minutes. The island is open from 7am-7pm daily.

On the island, there are 2 beaches, Flamingo Beach and Iguana Beach. We spent the majority of our time on Flamingo. Flamingo Beach is the smaller of the 2, and is adults only, and gets it's name from, you guessed it, the Flamingos! The Renaissance has 6 Flamingos on the island that are a lot of fun to interact with (mostly). Note that they do allow kids on Flamingo Beach from 9-10 am, though there were definitely a few kids coming in outside of those hours. Iguana beach is much larger and is for families. I'd say Flamingo is nicer, though on a more crowded day, Iguana probably has more privacy.


The beach is just perfect. Crystal clear water, hammocks, a gym, a bar with water service etc. My only complaint is that the water was a bit shallow. They have free snorkel gear, floats, kayaks (1 and 2 person), and paddle boards. For aviation lovers, the island is located right next to the airport, so there were great views of planes taking off and landing. While there is no lifeguard, the ocean is shallow for the most part, and they built an enclosure with rocks to break the waves.

We snorkeled a lot and saw plenty (as the water was so clear). Unfortunately no turtles, but we did see lots of cool fish. Unfortunately, I left my underwater camera at home, so all pics of fish I have are from land. The shallow water did make snorkeling hated at some points, but the upshot of that was being able to be right next to all the bottom feeding fish.

When you're at the island, be sure to get a "Chill" beer - one of the beers from thr Balashi Brewery, the local Arubian brewery.

Our first day, we went to the beach at about 4:30pm and took the last boat back in at sunset and it was virtually empty when we arrived. Peak time seems to be from about 9am-3pm. Still, Iguana had lots of room the whole time we were there and even at the more crowded times on Flamingo, we didn't feel like it was a packed beach.

Other activity - We did a half day jeep tour with ABC tours, that took us to Arikok National Park. I think the hlaf day tour was the perfect length, and by booking in the afternoon, we weren't required to pay for lunch.

The tour is almost completely off road, so would be pretty hard for one to do independently, though we did see a couple 4x4s out there. The main attraction on the tour was to go to the Conchi, a natural pool formed in the ocean. Technically, swimming was closed when we went, but lots of people went anyway. Still, even without swimming, the views to and from were gorgeous, with cool rock and water formations througout. I'd recommend it, though with the shorter length of our trip, we would have been just as happy spending more time at the island.

Other notes - Aruba is one of, if not the safest island in the Caribbean. It has such a calm feeling and tourists and locals alike were all so kind and welcoming. The water is also some of the safest in the world! Statistically, Aruba has the highest percentage of return visitors to anywhere in the Caribbean, so clearly most people want to come back.

It's honestly night and day compared to Cancun. I'd say the proximity to kosher and Chabad as the only reason why cancun would be better. But for weather, swimming, and overall comfort, I think Aruba is the clear winner.

As far as comparisons to Maui (the other tropical place we've been), I think it rates nicely. Not as much to do, but the beaches are arguably better, and Arikok is similar to the back RTH. Obviously, you miss the waterfalls and water hikes of Hawaii. That being said, for a 5 hour non-stop flight from NYC vs. 11+ hours and 1 stopover to Maui, it's so much more convenient. All else being equal, Hawaii wins out, but if one only has 4-5 days, I think the proximity to the northeast makes it a good option.

Overall, Aruba was perfect for a short trip, and as long as the Renaissance is bookable with credit card certs, I'm pretty sure we'll be back!

Picture Captions

1. View from the "City View" room at the hotel
2. Flamingo Beach, with cabanas in the background - $300/day to rent a cabana - no thanks!
3. Sunset from Flamingo Beach
4. Fish visible from above the water
5-6. Coast off Arikok
7. Plane spotting from Renaissance Island

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Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Grand and Essex Travel Meals
« on: January 16, 2020, 07:00:28 AM »
I have the oven frozen travel meals. Any recommendations on heating instructions to give to the hotel?

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Credit Cards And Finance / Multiple Bank Account Bonuses
« on: October 07, 2019, 02:34:59 PM »
I just liquidated an investment portfolio to use for a down payment for a home within the next 12 months. Rather than park the money in a high yield savings account (up to 2.5%), I realized that I can just divide up the money into a bunch of checking accounts to get the few hundred dollars for each bank that they give you - so if I split the funds enough times, I can net 1-2k in bonuses in a 6 month period vs a few hundred in interest for keeping the money in a savings account.

Before I do this, has anyone done this? And can I double up on some of the banks by opening separate accounts for myself and my wife? Any downsides here assuming all are FDIC insured? I'd also like to avoid going to branches to open accounts.

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Up In The Air / Booking on a 737 MAX
« on: September 16, 2019, 03:01:08 PM »
I am looking at an AA flight EWR-MIA in mid-December. One of the legs is scheduled to be on a 737 MAX. Personally, I would have zero hesitation to board if the FAA re-certifies. However, in all likelihood, the MAX won't be in service. Is it worthwhile to book it anyway as I would be accommodated on another flight for free, or does it make more sense to book on another flight to not have to deal with the possible cancellation?

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Just Shmooze / Maldives Chabad Raffle
« on: July 18, 2019, 01:45:14 PM »
Anyone else entering? Seems much better for me than Antarctica raffle as it's for a shorter time and there's date flexibility. Any catch?

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Trip Reports / Extra Long Weekend in Chicago
« on: July 03, 2019, 02:19:15 PM »
Introduction:
Having qualified for a Southwest Companion Pass through the credit card bonus, I thought that going somewhere for Memorial Day weekend (Sun-Tuesday) with my wife would be a nice use. Living in Bergen County, NJ and wanting a quick non-stop flight, I landed on Chicago due to having non-stop flights from Newark. Once I saw that the Cubs were home (I'm a huge baseball fans and love checking out stadiums), I knew that we should do it. Having parents willing to watch my daughter made it even better! Plus, I've wanted to check out Milt's and Shallots for a while, so it all lined up.

Flights:
Flew Southwest Sunday morning (we didn't want to leave our daughter over Shabbos) and planned to return Tuesday evening. Unfortunately, the Tuesday night flight was cancelled about 15 minutes before boarding, so we left Wednesday night instead. More on that later.

Hotels:
I wanted to use a Hyatt card anniversary night for one night, and either cash or points for the second night. There are a bunch of Hyatts that are 15k per night or less, but none that are close to the Kosher food. In the end, we decided on Hyatt Centric the Loop, due to it's proximity to the Orange metro to get from MDW --> hotel, and the red line to get hotel --> Wrigley. Plus it was next door to a shul (their weekday Minyan has a Mechitzah and uses Koren siddurim, though I believe on Shabbos they have a non-Mechitzah minyan as well). The second night was so cheap due to Memorial day, that I just paid cash for the second night (value would have been less than 1c pp).

We were upgraded to a large corner room, which had a nice view of the area, and a gorgeous bathroom. The hotel has a modern/boutique feel, as well as a lounge with free snacks/drinks open most of the day. There was also a rooftop bar that we did not go to due to time/weather. The location was great. Walking distance to Millennium park ("The Bean"), as well as being close to Lakeview drive that goes up to the Kosher places.
Unfortunately, there was a toddler who did not enjoy sleeping in the room next door. After the first night, I spoke to the front desk about it. They offered to give me either 50% of the next night's room rate back, or the could comp me breakfast (obviously we took the cash). They also saw that that family would still be there, so they offered to move us. When we got to the new room, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was upgraded to a suite! The suite was enormous with a foyer, livng room with a couch, dining table, couch and TV. The bedroom was the same size as the room from the night before, and opened to a bathroom. The only thing I didn't like was that there was no door between the bedroom and the bathroom sinks.

After our flight got cancelled, I booked a night at the Hyatt Regency (cash, to hopefully be reimbursed by CSR travel insurance). This hotel is simply mediocre. It’s massive and takes forever to get from the lobby to the room. The room itself was small, had stained carpets and a tiny bathroom. The lobby and pubic areas are nice, but that’s about it. It’s also very annoying to get in and out, due to being in a part of Chicago where the roads are multiple levels. The bar was nice, and the receipt says “bar and grill” so I’m hoping that my Glenlevit 15 will be reimbursed by CSR as “dinner.”

Activities:

Sunday
As an avid baseball fan, going to Wrigley was always at the top of my list. Luckily, I found cheap tickets on Stubhub for seats in the 200 “level”. For those who have never been to Wrigley, the 200 level is really just the top of the lower deck. So we were about 40 rows away from the field, and right next to the kosher stand – which was helpful as walking around Wrigley is hard! The food at the stands is good (Romanian hotdogs and sausages), but not offering a Chicago style hotdog is criminal. It’s better than Yankee stadium food, but still not the best (that honor goes to Nationals Park or Camden Yards of all the stadiums I’ve been).

After the game we went to the river walk. It’s really nice and gives a great perspective on the area. Unfortunately, there’s some construction and poor signage, and we ended up stuck in a detour the side of a highway for an extra 10 minutes of walking (whereas if the path had been opened, we would have ended up out right away).

We took a horrible Lyft Line to Shallots for dinner. I went in with high expectations and left underwhelmed. The food was expensive even by NYC standards, and while it was good, I would not return at that price (2 apps, 2 entrees, and a dessert ran us over $200 with tax + tip). That’s the same price that I usually pay at Mikes in NYC, and the food was nowhere near as good.

Monday
Monday morning, we walked from the hotel to Millennium park for our obligatory picture at the Bean, and from there, we went to a lake-beach (it was nowhere near swimming weather even if we had been so inclined). After that, we had an architecture boat cruise. Unfortunately, just as we were boarding, the skies opened up, and it started pouring. Sadly, the covered portion of the boat had no view, so we braved the storm with umbrellas and ponchos. We enjoyed, but were completely soaked by the end, when the rain stopped. We went back to the hotel to dry off, and from there, on to Milts.
Milts was phenomenal. We ordered a bunch of half portions, and every time they brought food, I told the waiter “no, we ordered the half portion”, at which point he assured us that these giant plates were indeed a half portion. I had heard mixed reviews about the ribs, but I was not disappointed. The half rack was more than enough for us to share. While they aren’t on par with Izzy’s or Backyard BBQ, I’d give them an 8/10, and for $55 for a half slab that was our entrée for the night (plus 2 apps), it was well worth it.

Our evening plans for the night was the Second City comedy show. Second City is one of the leaders of improv and sketch comedy, and is where many famous comedians have gotten their start (including Colbert). We saw the “Best of the Second City” show, which is essentially their top sketches from various shows plus a few improv segments. The show was about 2.5 hours long plus a couple of intermissions in a comedy club layout. I’d say the show somewhere between a PG-13 and an R, with most of the show being the former, with a few sketches veering to be a little less appropriate, but nothing graphic or egregious. Overall, the show was very good, and I would love to see another one of their shows in the future. They allow kids as young as 12 to come – I wouldn’t bring kids to this show.   


Tuesday
In what was supposed to be our last day in Chicago, the plan was built around going to Romanian to bring a box of salami/deli back. On the way, we went to the Lincoln Park zoo, which is free. It’s a decent zoo, but not somewhere worth more than 2 hours or so.

We went to Himachi for lunch. They have very cheap lunch specials and the food was above average. We had sushi and soup, but they recently added Chinese. After lunch, we hopped in a quick Lyft to Romanian.

Romanian is basically heaven on earth for me and they helped us pack a box of meat for about $100 total.Luckily, I opted to buy a couple of ice packs, which would go a long way to helping our meat during its 36 hour trip back to NJ We also picked up sandwiches for the night for like $4.50 each. Unfortunately, the only sides you can buy are bags of chips. They also don’t have to-go mustard packs, which should be illegal.

Trip Home Saga

We went back to Midway for a late afternoon flight home, checked all of our bags (including our Romanian box), went to the gate, and just as boarding (which was delayed) was about to begin, our flight was cancelled due to storms in NYC. After spending the next 2 hours waiting to be rebooked (in the end it was done automatically before we could even speak to an agent, so we could have left), we were put on a flight 28 hours later, which was the best they could do. I left the secure area only to learn that our bags would be sent to Newark eventually and they had no ability to get them back to us. We were now left scrambling to book a hotel, buy clothing/toiletries etc., as well as try to find a place to work the next day, as we didn’t have laptops with us (Learned my lesson to always travel with a laptop if I’m supposed to work the next day). In the end, we got what we needed, and found a friend in West Rodgers Park who had laptops we could borrow for the next day. Luckily, our meat survived, and our bags made it to EWR when we did.

While we were in West Rodgers Park, I picked up Main Pizza Chalavi food for lunch and Great Chicago for dinner, both of which were fairly mediocre. I had stopped into the Mariano’s supermarket to pick up a couple of things, and noticed that they have a kosher grill, where they’ll grill anything from the meat case for no extra fee. I regret not just buying dinner there.

Overall, it was a nice quick trip, but flight cancellations really have a way of leaving a bitter taste.

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Up In The Air / $56 UA Flights EWR-MIA on New Year's Eve
« on: June 24, 2019, 05:31:09 PM »
Basic economy, did not see if other dates were availiable. The trick is trying to find something affordable for the way back...

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Up In The Air / Southwest IROPS
« on: May 29, 2019, 11:43:21 AM »
Southwest's IRROPS policies are awful. Checked bags for a flight last jgiht that then got cancelled. They had no way to return bags to me, and my reservation can only be modified in the airport now since there are bags attached to it, that now block phone reps from touching it. They also don't have a way to tell me where my bags are. I have no way to find out if and when they'll make it to my destination until someone in the baggage office can physically see them.

This meant that even though I was able to find a window with a better flight, the phone agents couldn't put me on it.

I've generally been happy with SWA but these IRROPS policies make me think twice about using them again. I have points and a companion pass but after that, I might just stop flying them. Feel like Spirit at this point.

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