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Messages - kivabb

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This past summer my wife and I went on a long awaited 11-day West Coast family trip. San Francisco, Yosemite, Los Angeles, Grand Canyon, Sedona and finishing in Phoenix. I would think that the places we went to won’t be so informative for most of the readers, as I probably got many of our ideas from this forum. What I hope might be beneficial for some is that our companions were our 9 children ages 2-20, and our experience with them from beginning to end. With my oldest at age 20, I view these trips as potential last licks of being able to disconnect from the fast pace of life as well as have special family bonding time before some of the kids move on. I start planning and scheming the trips 10 months in advance, and the anticipation and involvement with the family of the different planning stages is almost as fun as the trip itself. I also feel that in a world (at least my world) of dwindling kosher outlets, the idea that we can pass the message over to our kids that going on a beautiful hike….these beautiful national parks….seeing this beautiful country…..a fun filled action packed vacation without compromising on our standards….especially with the people you love…. is a great gift we will have given them.

Flights
Outbound - We booked Alaskan Air from EWR-SFO on an 8AM Sunday morning in August as we found tickets for $129 One Way (includes hand bag). My wife and I also each had the Alaska BOA credit card which got us like 4 checked in bags for free. At some point, we were notified that our flight was cancelled and we were being put on the night flight which was leaving Sunday night. That created some complications as we would lose the whole Sunday, as well as start the next day exhausted. Typically, it seems that Alaskan Air would have just allowed for us to either take the evening flight or cancel with no penalty. Neither of those solutions helped as the current one-way on any airline was at least $250 one way at that point. I noticed that Alaska had a morning flight from PHL-SFO for $250, and they told me that since we were a group that they would change us to that flight for same price. I’m sure most of you that are experts at sweet talking an agent for reconsidering a credit card application could have easily done what I did without the group. But for me, this was definitely a crisis averted.
Return – For the return we booked on United PHX-EWR that I also found at $129 including the hand bag. United has this great Group Flights feature that if you have a party of 10 or more people, they will hold that fare with a deposit and it’s totally refundable if you cancel 3 months in advance. They’ll even lower the fare if you notice the tickets drop and in price and you call in before they’re ticketed. It has other perks which people would benefit from like name changes for some, but those didn’t apply to me practically.

Luggage – As I said earlier, handbags were included so you can be sure that we all had one. Backpacks too. As far as transporting the food on the plane, this site at some point posted a sale on Bear Cooler Bags at 50% off. We were in for 4 which we used to transport our perishables.

Entertainment – Like I said earlier, we have kids of all ages. So, the idea of stepping onto a plane or hotel room for that matter and having the onboard entertainment system with lures galore in front of everyone without proper preparation would almost guarantee to be a compromise on the message my wife and I are trying to give over to our kids. Yes, we probably could have found some cartoon without too much innuendo. But what about the before and after? And that would have satisfied the younger ones. But what about the older ones? Once we’re giving the green light, they would obviously want to watch something more “age appropriate”. And once my older ones would be watching something more exciting, the younger ones would definitely want to jump on board. So where do you draw the line? And what’s the message to them? That what we don’t do back at home, we can do on the plane or the hotel room? That would be confusing. But at the same time, can I realistically expect the kids with those screens with endless selection to sit there for 5-6 hours and not turn them on? So, I’m going to share what we did. Not because I’m tooting my horn, but rather if there’s someone reading this who might have thought that such a task was daunting, I hope this could be helpful on some level as well as encouragement that it could be done. It’s not all or nothing. First, I went and bought several DVD players with us on the plane.  I then tried to find and purchase appropriate videos for the different age groups that they would find interesting. I had a pep talk with all the kids expressing to them our goals for this trip, which basically were to have great family time and fun together…… see beautiful places…….make a Kiddush Hashem (I gave specific examples)…..and to try the best we could to keep God on our team…..to not compromise on what we felt God wanted us to do or not do….that life experience has shown me that when I hustle for God on a trip, I feel like we have an extra dose of Divine Intervention when we go. I then turned to the older ones and said to them that without getting into if it was halachically permitted or prohibited to watch certain entertainment, that I was asking them as a favor that at least when we’re on our family trip to help us reach our goals by doing their part. I also offered an incentive that whoever helps me with the above would get to go one day of the trip on something really special. In this case it was the Sedona’s Broken Arrow Jeep Trip tour which was one of the highlights of our trip. It cost me $100 each (which was steep) but it was all part of the message. I tried to plan an action-packed trip full of structure and activity which I felt would help the game plan. Spending, for example, a week in a vacation home in NMB with no real schedule of what’s being done everyday I feel would make it much harder to keep the unintended entertainment off. Lastly (and probably most importantly), I prayed for success. Yes, I think it does help that I’m somewhat out of the box. I’ve also discovered that if I’m having a great time…. then so will our group. B’H, we have been doing this ever since the kids were little and our win streak continues.

Transportation – We rented a 12-passenger van from Avis using Costco Travel. No credit card is needed to hold the reservation and the second driver is included in the price.  It’s really a 15-passenger Ford Transit van that has the last row taken out for luggage room. I have come to notice that Full Size Vans that Alamo and Enterprise rent usually are the full 15 seaters with the last bench included (advertised as 15-seater with 2 pieces of luggage). Avis, and sometimes Budget, many times don’t have the last row in there and is advertised as full size 12-seater van. (Just make sure you confirm with that location as it’s possible to have a 12-seater without that extra luggage space). The idea that we can all fit in one vehicle without stressing about luggage space coming in and out of hotels was huge.  The lowest price from SFO with drop off at PHX, was $1300 for the 11-day rental. I searched in the SFO area to see if they had cheaper Avis options and found a few places that had $650 for the one way. I figured I would take an Uber while they’re getting the luggage. But we were arriving on Sunday and these local places are either closed Sunday or close at noon which make it too close to call. I was also concerned that those smaller rental locations usually have just one van in stock, and if someone is late on a return, then I’m in trouble. So, I did a one-day one-way rental from SFO to Hayward (like 20 minutes from hotel) for $180. The next morning as I was going to pick up the van, I received a call that my van had not yet arrived and they were anticipating it later in the afternoon. That would have been bad news at $180 a day and an Alcatraz cruise scheduled at 11:30AM. The backup plan worked and they allowed me to just keep the van I was in which saved me $470.

Food – We needed to bring enough food to satisfy some big eaters. Yes, we would go out for lunch and dinner a couple of times, but going out to eat for anything more then pizza is an easy $150-200 per meal. We also didn’t want spend time every day preparing meals from start to finish as we had places to go during the day, and lots of tired kids by the time we got back to the hotel that night. So, we brought raw marinated and breaded chicken cutlets in Ziploc freezer bags, frozen hamburgers, cold cuts, shredded cheese, homemade granola squares, homemade muffins, cream cheese and milk (for coffee to save a stop in SFO). As far as cooking utensils, for breakfasts we brought along a frying pan, spatula and a sandwich maker. A sharp knife. Tongs. For the BBQ dinners we stopped in Walmart on our first day to buy a portable grill that you can attach those disposable mini propane tanks. We were a bit challenged with finding one as it was late in the season (mid-August) and they already removed those seasonal items. Luckily, we found the last one in Kmart. Next time I’ll plan better and arrange an online order with pickup in store. Paper goods, eggs, condiments, breads, snacks, water, we bought our first day in San Francisco, and stocked up every few days.

Time Zone – We had a 3-hour time change from EST to PST. With our 2 and 4-year-old, we suspected they would be up early each morning no matter what. We also had several good reasons to get an early start each day like the late minyan in SF (at 6:30AM!!), getting up for an early morning hike on The Mist Trail before the crowds fill or South Kaibab Trail before the sun bakes us. So, we decided to try to keep to the EST time zone in regards to going to sleep and waking up times (my oldest son even kept his watch on EST) so when we woke up many mornings at 6AM (9AM EST) it’s wasn’t only less painful, but it gave us a great jump on the day.

Hotels/Vacation Homes
Hyatt House Emeryville - Travelling with 11, needing space to eat, lots of fridge and freezer space, and not breaking the bank can be a challenge. Taking 4 standard rooms anywhere peak season is very expensive. Besides, that wouldn’t allow us a kitchen or living area for the family time to eat together and schmooze at the end of a long day. The suite rooms are usually double the price and we would need 2. That can easily be $550-600 a night. The VRBO’s and AirBNB’s usually have those steep fees that don’t make it worthwhile for a few night stay. Plus, there’s just something about the hotel that make it part of the fun experience. So, I have come to discover Hyatt House which many times has 2 queens in private room, Large L shaped couch with Queen pull out bed (and room for someone younger on remaining couch), full size fridge/freezer kitchen, as well as seating area. They also usually have free breakfast to stock up on fruits in the morning, cereals, as well as paper supplies. In order to be comfortable, we need 3 of those Hyatt House Suites that can also run $200 each a night. But many times, you can pick up at 8K points per night (x 3) and that’s what we did. In San Francisco, we stayed in a beautiful Hyatt-House-Emeryville right over the bridge and a 10-minute drive to minyanim. We spend 2 nights here and it was great.
River Rock Retreat Yosemite West – We booked this through a reservation center called Scenic Wonders that organizes vacation homes in the Yosemite area. You can usually get these same homes through VRBO or Airbnb, but I found that with the extra fees and stuff, that Scenic Wonders was cheaper with one set fee. We stayed in a really cool home called River-rock-retreat. I should warn that although entrance fees to National Parks are close to nothing (and free if you have a kid going into or out of fourth grade), and we had 3 days in the park where activities didn’t cost us anything….. finding appropriate lodging in the park is a fortune. The idea of staying outside the park is much cheaper, but you end up spending a good 1 to 1.5 hours getting into the park which could be waring on little kids (and their parents). In our case we were 15 minutes from Yosemite Valley. $700 a night for a beautiful home that fit us all comfortably. 10 people is usually the cutoff in many of these homes but I told them that it was 10 plus a baby and they allowed. We spent 2 nights 3 days here and it was definitely very cool, comfortable and convenient.
Home of Close Family Friends – After many summer trips that included a Shabbos away from a community and spending it in a hotel all cooped up with the kids, I try to make it a big priority to be able to spend Shabbos in a community where at least a minyan is in walking distance. But again, needing accommodations for all of us with eating space, food preparation space and a kitchen is many times a big challenge to find. One thing is to reach out to the community to put up my wife and I for a meal, but to ask to get invited to a meal for 11 people out of town would be a chutzpa. Even in my hometown, very few people would dare to invite us for a meal. Los Angeles is one of those exception situations where we have some close family friends that put us up and fed us all so graciously. Besides the recharge of Shabbos itself, it was an opportunity to make a few washes and restock on some kosher rations in the kosher supermarket section in preparation for the next part of our trip. And after spending 2 nights and Yosemite and spending a fortune, spending 3 nights here definitely helped the budget.
Yavapai Lodge – No frills hotel inside Grand Canyon Park, but gave us everything we needed for a one-night stay: They have something called an East Family Room that consist of one room with 2 Queens and 1 bunk bed, AC, as well as a shuttle stop right outside to the South Kaibab Trail for which we were planning an early morning hike down. Each room was $186 plus tax and we needed 2 rooms.
Villas of Sedona – I was having a hard time finding suites or several individual rooms for one night in Sedona for under $600 (total) until I came upon this place. A two-bedroom villa with a loft ($200) plus 1-bedroom villa with loft ($150) with full kitchens in each had room to spare.

Minyanim – With the exception of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix, we weren’t too successful in finding a Minyan even during peak season. I tried to set up temporary minyanim for our days in Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Sedona on GoDaven but we were unsuccessful.

Itinerary-
Sunday, we flew PHL-SFO, picked up our Van with Avis, set out over Golden Gate Bridge, stopped at Battery Spencer (free) right past the bridge to get some beautiful views of the bridge and the water. We then continued to Muir Woods. It’s a beautiful paved path through Redwood trees and definitely worth a stop if you have a National Park Pass. Muir Woods National Monument is officially part of the National Park System, but (even with my National Park Pass that gives my fourth grader and everyone in her family free entrance) some of us still needed to pay something to get in. If you go on a Sunday like we did, be sure so reserve advance parking for like $10 as it gets full in the summer. We then continued to Muir Lookout (free) which is a few minutes’ drive from there which offers beautiful views of the Pacific Coast. We then headed for some food shopping and in search for a BBQ Grill and propane before heading back to the Hyatt House.
Monday - Avis Rental from Hayward,  Alcatraz Cruise 11:30 AM departure, Fisherman’s Wharf, Sea Lions on Pier 39, Lombard Street, Frena Bakery  (a nice break for my wife after a long first day). They had some early dinner options for us and we had confirmed that it was Cholov Yisrael. Back to Hyatt House.
Tuesday - Drive to Yosemite NP, Tunnel View, Check in to River Rock House, Glacier Point Road, Washburn Point, Glacier Point. Stunning! Sleep in Yosemite West
Wednesday – One of the most popular hikes in Yosemite is the Mist Trail. But we were warned that in August the crowds get so big that it takes away from the hike (as well as the parking spaces). For us, all being at the trailhead at 7:30AM was a great feat and helped provide one of the highlights of our trip. The hike is officially 3-4 hours and strenuous, but if you have some determined little ones as well as some backup shoulders on the older ones, then it will be well worth the effort. We spent the rest of the day in Yosemite Valley seeing the different falls and beautiful stops via the tram. Sleep in Yosemite West.
Thursday - Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoias, drove to LA, Slept by close friends in LA.
Friday – I wanted to use this day to give my wife some needed downtime while I take the kids for the day and let her stay behind. An amusement park made the most sense until I realized the price tag for most on admission. I came across on Ebay tickets in “bulk” for Knotts Berry Farm. Considering it came out to $20 a person (versus over $100), it was an easy decision. The park was nice, had something for everyone, and most importantly gave my wife the break she needed.
Shabbos – Beautiful Shabbos in Los Angeles. Motzei Shabbos went to supermarket to stock up for next leg of our journey.
Sunday – The goal of the day was to drive to the Grand Canyon South Rim to try to catch sunset on the canyon. We made a few stops along Historic Route 66 like Oatman, Arizona to watch a gun show and feed some of the mules. These stops were cute and touristy, as well as an opportunity to stretch our legs, but nothing to write home about. We all got a kick out of watching the outside temp in the van reading 118 degrees. Thankfully, we made it to the South rim with time to spare, checked into our rooms, unloaded, and then headed out to the trams to catch a glorious sunset over the canyon. Slept in Yavapai Lodge.
Monday – First order of the day was a 3-mile hike down the South Kaibab Trail. We had taken two rooms in Yavapai Lodge. So, we made up the night before to divide the rooms for the night with the early hikers (myself and 5 oldest) in one room and the rest in the other so my wife and the younger ones would hopefully get some more sleep. The plan was to get up so we can daven with the netz, and then head out on the shuttle to the South Kaibab Trail head and head out to Cedar Ridge. The early morning was so peaceful. The hike was breathtaking. We then met up wife my wife, (had some quick showers before check out,) and went to some of the famous canyon vistas, as well as the visitor center where there’s a short (free) film about the Canyon. A datapoint that might be helpful for some is that the IMAX about the Grand Canyon that they have outside the park has a bikini scene, in case you’re sensitive to that. My wife and I did almost this same trip when we were first married, and (for better or for worse) I remembered that scene (it’s the same film) and we didn’t go this time. We then started our drive to Sedona. What a beautiful place and beautiful just driving around. We checked into Villas of Sedona, made a BBQ, took a dip in an empty indoor pool we had found and went to sleep. We were wiped.
TuesdaySedona/Phoenix. Pink Jeep Broken Arrow Tour for myself and the 7 oldest. Only 8 people fit in a jeep and my wife gets nauseous easily so she was more then happy to stay behind with the 2 younger ones and get us ready for departure with some quiet to spare. The jeep tour from the driver, to her photo taking abilities, to the scenery she took us to was incredible. Yes, it was the most expensive 2 hours of our trip, but as explained earlier it was part of an incentive and a really special way to spend our last day. We had taken a 9AM two-hour tour so we can hopefully be back at hotel and freshen up before Noon checkout as we had a red eye that night from PHX. Little did we know then how stifling PHX would be that night. We headed to a trampoline park in Phoenix area as we were looking for something with AC where kids can jump around for a few hours. We then went to Nordstrom Last Chance Clearance Store to check if any great deals. Our experience there was that you really need a lot of patience, mazel, as well as some defensive tackle skills to make it worth the trip. I don’t think we would return there, especially with the 9 kids. After catching a Mincha/Maariv, we went for dinner to LaBella Pizzeria. We were pleased and would return.  We then headed to the airport for the most uncomfortable van drop off I ever did. I’m from Miami and I’m used to the humidity, but it was pretty oppressive and any hopes of feeling clean for a 4-hour flight were gone. The red eye was hard and thinking back I should have rushed for the 4PM earlier in the afternoon to at least get some semblance of sleep. But we made it.

For a recent wedding anniversary, our girls surprised us and made for us a slideshow video clip in which they composed a song for the occasion and went to a recording studio to have it recorded. The combination of the words in the song along with the 20 years of family pictures they had put together brought me to tears. It was a 5-minute clip and we must have watched it 5-6 times. As we were watching, I couldn’t help notice that a good 75% of the memories and pictures in that clip were from those amazing trips we had taken together as a family.

My wife always says that when her and I go somewhere just the two of us, it’s a vacation….but when go with the kids, then it’s a trip. Yes, it’s exhausting (as well as expensive). But the lessons hopefully learned, the incredible memories and bonding time together I think will last a lifetime.



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Allstate just sent me an email offering this offer for free through end of year

https://www.allstateidentityprotection.com/

Anyone with any experience or input if worthwhile?

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Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Re: Colorado Master Thread
« on: January 26, 2020, 12:10:34 AM »
Planning summer trip.

Hyatt House Tech Center versus Hyatt House Lakewood/Belmar. Both with points. Both seem to be about 10 minute drive to Minyan (Aish has 7AM Shachris and Yeshiva seems to have 7:30 Shachris assuming they have minyan bein hazmanim).

Plan to be here 4-5 days and take day trips with family and then go to Avon following week.

Is one location more advantageous over the other?




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Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Re: Colorado Master Thread
« on: December 27, 2019, 12:06:38 PM »
Can anyone recommend some large suite hotels where I can get away with a few rooms for myself, wife and 9 kids aged 3 - 21? The VRBO & ARBNB are a fortune once I pass 9-10 people. I'm hoping to do the Wyndham in Avon, but getting stuck finding like a 3 bedroom suite situation in Denver.

Shabbos will be seperate challenge as 2 nights in that Staybridge Suites even if just for 2 nights would cost us over $1K for 2 nights and that's with check in after 3PM. And that's for a place with pretty bad reviews.

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Credit Cards / Re: Misc Credit Card Questions
« on: October 03, 2019, 05:38:12 PM »
How often can you churn a Chase ink preffered card and still get bonus?  I'm not convinced it was exact same product but just in case.

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Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Re: Colorado Master Thread
« on: September 25, 2019, 04:40:14 PM »
Planning a 11 day trip with wife and 9 kids aged 3 - 21 in the summer BE"H. Colorado seemed like a great destination as we love nature and it seems you can be based in one or two places for the span of the trip (which makes life much easier and less stressful for my wife with the little ones).  I was thinking of doing Sunday to Sunday based in Denver doing day trips and then going 3-4 days to Vail area. I read all 81 pages in this forum and it has been so helpful.

RMNP seems pretty amazing. Granted that we can't take any intense hikes, but with some strong boys and carriers, we do okay. (We spent 2 nights in Yosemite West this past summer and being right there was amazing.) But after looking further, I couldn't imagine going to Colorado and just making RMNP a day trip.  But the lodging for a family our size is complicated as many of the places require a 3-night minimum and the 2-night places would probably run me $700 a night which is a bit. Not really any ideal one night places for our group that size. At the same time, it seems that the masses run to Vail and there's minyanim factories in the summer, but that there wouldn't be a minyan (to sat the least) in Estes Park. I'm sure the lodging selection is a heavy factor for many (especially with no point hotels in Estes Park)

So my question is, do I just make RMNP a one (or two) day trip from Denver? Do I prioritize making at least 1 (or 2 ) night in Estes Park work? Anyone nature lovers that went for one day wished they stayed overnight or vice-versa?

Thanks



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Credit Cards / Re: Barclaycard Aviator (AA)
« on: July 14, 2019, 06:29:24 PM »
Looks like I won't ask for AF back unless someone can tell me different

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Credit Cards / Re: Barclaycard Aviator (AA)
« on: July 12, 2019, 01:58:27 PM »
Okay, I just took the plunge and closed the account via secure message.

Will they automatically credit the annual fee if the card is less then 60 days old?

I'd rather avoid the phone call and I now have limited online access and therefore I'm not able to send another secure message

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Credit Cards / Re: Barclaycard Aviator (AA)
« on: July 10, 2019, 02:27:45 PM »
Can I close my account after my points post and request annual fee credit without risking losing points?

Is it worthwhile to pay the annual fee and just close 3-4 months later in hopes that it will give my approval of new card higher chances of approval?

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Credit Cards / Re: American Express SPG Luxury
« on: May 06, 2019, 02:35:37 PM »
I hope to do one more next April before downgrading.

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Credit Cards / Re: American Express SPG Luxury
« on: May 06, 2019, 02:06:37 PM »
Yes I was.

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Credit Cards / Re: Amex Platinum Master Thread
« on: May 02, 2019, 04:25:02 PM »
Anyone have success downgrading to green card from Platinum...... and then getting within the year 50K upgrade option back to Plat?

The annual fee is due and I'm trying to justify keeping a card which benefits don't really suit me.

Thanks

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Credit Cards / Re: American Express SPG Luxury
« on: March 25, 2019, 02:22:27 PM »
So far I received my $300 for GC's during my upgrade year....

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Credit Cards / Re: American Express SPG Luxury
« on: March 20, 2019, 04:02:34 PM »
Do you think you are getting 3 credits?

That would be real nice.

Now I'm just hoping the GC's will be credited for my "upgrade year" as I upgraded yesterday...purchased $300 in GCs today....and my anniversary day is April 5th.

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Credit Cards / Re: American Express SPG Luxury
« on: March 19, 2019, 03:17:12 PM »
Good info. Another DP here

My basic Marriott card renews in 1 month. According to your DP,  I hope to be able to get $300 credit this month with an upgrade, buy $300 gift card, and then $300 again at renewal next month. Would justify the $450 fee.

I'll post results here BE"H.

Thanks.

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