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Re: @Yehuda's Israel/Eurotrip Honeymoon Trip Report Barcelona

When we landed, we went to the info desk and found out that it would be 2 trains to get to the hotel, so we opted for a taxi that “should be 30”. It came out to 41€ of course. ;) We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal for 7K SPG/night for 2 nights. We settled into the room (w/ free water bottles – perk of staying at an SPG) and went down to the front desk to learn the metro. The closest stop was a bit further than it was in Madrid, but not bad – took a good 5 minutes to walk to. We were trying to figure out how to buy tickets at the station when an English-speaker saw us and helped us get a 10-pass for 10.30€. The metro was nice like Madrid and thinking about it now, it was kinda cool learning the different metro systems throughout the trip although we only got to use each one for a few days. Now I have a list of the all the things I wish NYC subways had. ;)
Funky office building outside the metro station:

We got on a train and got out near La Ramblas, which is basically the pedestrian-only shopping street of Barcelona. Unfortunately we didn’t check the weather and it was raining, so I gave my cap to my wife to protect her shaitel and then bought myself the cheesiest Barcelona hat we could find for… 7€! >:(

Anyway, we strolled down the long strip until we found Maccabi restaurant. We really liked this place. My wife got a hamburger that was full of flavor and I opted for the shnitzel, which was a bit of a weird texture but tasted good. The portions were large enough that we were full halfway through and were able to save the other half for dinner. In total we spent 28.4€ there for what turned out to be 2 meals, so you can see their pricing and portions are pretty good. I spoke to the Mashgiach here about the other Kosher restaurant, Delicias, to find out what the deal was. Obviously, you have to assume that he wants to support his own restaurant so his words have to be listened to with that in mind, but he told me that Delicias is under the Hashgacha of a Rav in Portugal and although there is a Mashgiach on premises, the Rav never comes to check out the place. As opposed to Maccabi, which has the Chabad Rabbi leaving in Barcelona. That was his argument and we ended up not going to Delicias at all. Maccabi was great and cheap anyway, so no big deal. He also told me that Lays regular potato chips are Kosher in Spain – they’re the ones in the red bag and the only ingredients are potatoes and oil.

After we ate, we headed towards our scheduled Jewish tour with Urban Cultours. After 5 minutes of waiting at the meeting point, I realized I misread the address, and we dashed over to the correct place. We found Dominique waiting with an older couple and no one was upset that we were 5 minutes late. The tour was really great. Dominique has been researching the Jewish history in Barcelona for years and is a heavy advocate in protecting Jewish areas like the cemetery that still exists. Dominique showed us the old Roman city that existed within Barcelona (I didn’t even know the Romans were there at any point) and which streets were where the Jews lived. She pointed out stones with Hebrew words that were tombstones taken from the Jewish cemetery and used as building stones, a doorpost that clearly once had a Mezuzah, the old palace where it’s historically logical that Ramban had his famous disputation in and the few other Jewish things you could still see in the streets. You also visit a basement that was most likely once a Shul. A rich Jew bought the property after historians became confident about its past, and now it’s been remodeled to look a little like a Shul from that time. A guide there gives you a brief background into the property and purchase. If you want to just visit the Shul and not take the Jewish tour, you can for a small donation. As students joining others who had already “opened up” the tour, it was supposed to be 45€ pp but when she didn’t have change, she just told us to pay 80€ and that was it – was very nice of her.

*Quick rant on Jewish tours*
As we learned from this tour and the Jewish tour in Rome, you can walk through an area that has a ton of Jewish history and not know it if you don’t have a tour guide since so little actually remains for you to see by “walking around” the Jewish quarter. So for those on the edge about Jewish tours – it seems like each major European city has 1 or 2 companies that offer Jewish tours and the reviews always seem to be amazing, so I would think it’s safe to assume that they usually will be. Your decision, therefore, is likely based on whether you want to shell out the cash for the experience. Obviously in Barcelona for example, you could go around seeing the few remaining Jewish things on your own (if you knew where to look) but hearing the guide take you back in time to those days is really the focus of the tour and these little pieces just added a nice touch to the history. That’s really what we got out of this tour as well as in Rome. It’s basically a live history lesson in the place where the history took place. Sorry for the long rant here, I was just personally debating back and forth whether Jewish tours were worth it, so I hope my explanation can help others in their decision.

It was also here on this tour with the older couple that our trip really hit us. The retired wealthy couple travelling for 2 weeks through Spain and paying probably double what we were for a Jewish tour (as well as taking other Jewish tours throughout Spain) is how travelling the world is “supposed” to be. Yet here we were, just 2 young people going through the same experience that the world has taught us is supposed to be reserved for the rich and/or retired. Felt kinda cool.

After the tour we realized that the functioning Shul, Comunidad Israelita de Barcelona, was completely out of the way from the hotel (and Chabad was even further out of the way and only has Shacharis), plus we had no idea what time Mincha/Maariv was, so we just headed back to the hotel for the night where we had the leftover Maccabi food for dinner.

In the morning, I really wanted to Daven with a Minyan (something I learned throughout the trip was not going to be an easy thing to do), so we got up early to head to 7:30 Shacharis. It was going to be like a 35 min metro ride, which would have meant getting up super early, so we shelled out the money for a 15 min taxi instead for 12.30€. We found out that the GoDaven-listed time was pretty accurate, but there weren’t 10 people there. This Shul could easily fit a few hundred people, and unfortunately, there wasn’t a Minyan. After a little while, everyone started Davening by themselves, and I was disappointed as we took the taxi and woke up specifically for Minyan but then after about 20 minutes, 3 Israeli tourists popped in and we had a Minyan! It was a miracle! Publish it in the next cheesy Jewish story book. :)

After Shacharis, we found the Kosher grocery, Isamar Kosher, down the block and waited a few minutes till they opened. There is a deli counter (not sure about the Hashgacha) and a small grocery. We’re talking the minimum of the minimum here. We picked up hamburger buns and Nutella and a few packages of mini-muffins to last us for food while we travelled out of Barcelona and through Seville. It’s always nice getting food from groceries instead of restaurants as 20€ worth of food lasted 4 meals for us. :) We had some of the muffins for breakfast and it turns out they were Pesachdik, so yeah they were kinda gross, but you eat what you can when you’re in the middle of Spain.

From Issamar, we walked to La Pedrera/Casa Mila, which is the house that Gaudi lived in and designed. (He’s famous for his architecture throughout Barcelona.) The exterior of the house is cool, but unfortunately it was covered in scaffolding (although they designed the image that covered the scaffolding to look like the façade – something we saw throughout our trip – not like it made up for missing the actual view though). We pre-booked tickets for this for 16€, but there was no line at all. We opted to skip the audio guide, as we did for most of the sites on our trip. The self-guided tour starts on the roof and we mistakenly chose to take the stairs to the top instead of the elevator as the building didn’t look too tall. There were a lot more stairs than we realized, and they were just in a small stairwell, so it’s not like you see anything cool while you walk. Anyway, on the roof you can walk around (not really any especially nice views) and see the different weird, random “structures” that are built on it. They’re funky and cool to look at for a few minutes, but then you start heading downstairs.
La Pedrera roof "structures":

Most of the tour was walking through the different floors of the house but it looks more like a museum, not living quarters. We quickly realized we were really in a Gaudi museum with exhibits on how he designed the different buildings he made. Although we didn’t have the audio guide, I don’t think it would have added much – there were enough English plaques to read – but the place was not for us. We didn’t care too much for all the detail on the architecture and were bored, so we moved through quickly. Finally, we entered a floor that was more of a living floor and they had a few rooms that were furnished olden-day style, which we really liked. After we finished, we went next door to another exhibit that came included in our ticket. The enclosed, outdoor lobby of this building was very nice – in Gaudi style – but the exhibit was terrible. It was a collection of photographs from some unknown photographer – and they weren’t very good nor “kosher”. We left after 5 minutes. That exhibit didn’t factor into our “liking” of La Pedrera, but we still wouldn’t recommend spending the money to see it unless you’re into architecture or Gaudi’s work. Maybe pass by the building to see the exterior (when it’s not under scaffolding) if it’s on your way, but yeah, we didn’t really enjoy it. We probably spent an hour there in total.

We then took the metro to Park Guell. After we got out, we had to ask around how to get to the park and were directed toward the famous (at least in the Spain Master Thread) escalator in the middle of the street. The park is at the top of a hill from the metro, and there is literally a row of like 5 escalators built into the sidewalk to go up.
Escalator in the middle of the street:

The park was free and really large. You first walk down a winding, paved path and then you’re at the bottom where you can pay to access the parts of the park that have Gaudi statues and buildings to walk through. We actually bumped into the couple from the Jewish tour here who were waiting for their entrance time to spend money and see the Gaudi stuff. ;) We passed on paying more money (and waiting on lines), as the park was nice in itself and we felt we had seen enough Gaudi in the morning. We stopped under some cool arches and had some chocolate spread sandwiches (the first of many – *barf*) and listened to some band try to perform American music with Spanish accents. ;)
Cool arches (not the ones we are under) in Park Guell:

We continued on the path which now led up the mountain and had some nice things to take pictures of. We ventured onward until we got to a fork in the road and chose a direction which turned out to lead all the way to the top where we had a breathtaking view of Barcelona. (Sorry, I realize now we only have pics of the view with us in them, so you'll have to go yourself to see what the view was like. ;)) There were a bunch of people up there and some cute dogs, and we were really glad we made it up to the top. There was a path descending the hill opposite the way we came, so we started taking it down, but it quickly turned into a dirt path. We couldn’t see any of the actual park down below, and we weren’t sure if we were even still officially in the park, so we went back up and headed down the way we originally came. In total, we probably spent about 1.5-2 hours in the park.
Artistic photo taken with my fancy DSLR that came with a built in iPhone 5 on the back:


We did not go to Sagrada Familia (as its a church so you'd really just be going to take a pic, which we weren't dying to do), but we did see it from our hotel window and in between buildings as we travelled the streets.

After the park, we took a metro to Maccabi for dinner. We ordered a steak and a tuna avocado salad to split. The steak was phenomenal. It came out as 2 pieces (which was great for us) and it was just bursting with flavor. The salad was also really good. We finished off with my wife’s favorite dessert of warm chocolate cake with ice cream, but unfortunately, it was much more cake-ier than most restaurants make it and the inside wasn’t so gooey-chocolatey. Oh well, still didn’t take away from the awesomeness of the steak. Dinner was 43€ and was plenty for 2 people. While we were eating, we had them prepare pastas for us to take with us for dinner the next night in Seville. The 2 pastas together were 19.8€, so again you can see it really wasn't an expensive place.

After dinner, we quickly debated going to Mincha/Maariv and decided not to thinking about our barely-Minyan Shacharis experience and we could only imagine how Mincha/Maariv would turn out. It was too bad that our hotel wasn’t near La Ramblas, which wasn’t near Shul, which wasn’t near the hotel, etc. We enjoyed the Four Points, but if you have the points/money to stay closer to either the Shul or “town” you would be better off IMO, which is something we learned throughout out trip. We knew that by only staying at points-hotels and by trying to stay at cheap ones that we would often be far from things, but that’s what you have to do when you go on such a long trip. If you could stay closer to at least 1 main area, then I would obviously say to do that.

In the morning, we continued our tradition of trying to return to the airport via a cheaper method, and we followed the hotel clerk’s advice to take the metro. Again, I wouldn’t suggest this if you’re travelling with a lot of luggage. We walked to a station that was a bit further than our regular metro stop (took about 15 min after getting a bit lost even with Gmaps). As we had used up our 10-pass the previous night, we had to buy tickets just for this ride. I’m having a bit of difficulty remembering exactly, but I believe that when purchasing an individual ticket, you have to pick your destination like in Madrid and a ticket to the airport was 4.20€ pp. If I remember that correctly, then it shows how getting a 10-pass is really worth it since I think it could have worked for this trip and saved you about 3€ pp. Anyway, we got on the train and were on our way. I assume that because our flight tickets were “confusing” – an AA-booked RTW on different airlines – we were never able to checkin online ahead of time, nor could we even checkin at a self checkin machine. This was annoying because we never able to find out online which terminal we needed, as you saw if you read my Madrid TR above. So, despite the hotel clerk telling us that we would need the terminal that the train drops you off at, airport workers told us we needed a different terminal that had to be accessed via a free shuttle bus. In the end, it was no big deal, but this was one of the reasons why we always tried to be at the airport 2 hours before our flight. Most of the time this meant relaxing in a lounge, but in times like this, it was helpful to have some flexibility. We waited for the bus and finally got to our terminal. This is where the story I posted above came into play.

We walked into the terminal at 7:58AM and couldn’t find our 9AM flight on the board. That’s because our flight was at 8AM, in 2 minutes, and I had misread my itinerary. I freaked out for a bit as we needed to make the connection in Madrid to Seville, didn’t know if/how much we would be charged for getting on another flight, if there was even room on another flight, and would missing a flight affect the rest of the ever-so-delicate OWE ticket? My ever-so-calm wife turned around and saw an IB customer service desk right there, so we went up to the counter and told the guy what happened. He was a bit hesitant at first and mumbled some stuff while looking at the computer and then voila! He had us on the next flight to Madrid FOR FREE and it would even get us there on time for our connection! We didn’t know for sure at the time, but b”h nothing happened to our OWE either. So yeah, thank G-d that all worked out. The flight to MAD and from there to SVQ were 3x3 seating with the middle seat blocked off. I probably said this already, but even though most flights were like that, the other benefits of flying business were really awesome – lounges with free drinks, priority checkin, priority security line, and priority boarding (i.e. guaranteed room for our carry-ons). Obviously, free bags would also be great, but we didn’t need them. ;) We found out that IB wasn’t going to get us KSMLs for the intra-Spain flights, but they did confirm that they will get us for our last IB leg on the way to Rome.

On to Seville!

July 27, 2014, 11:59:54 AM
2
Re: @Yehuda's Israel/Eurotrip Honeymoon Trip Report Ha, not a week later! Thanks for the feedback guys.

Seville

Even with missing the BCN-MAD flight, we got to MAD with enough time to go to the lounge, which we got quite accustomed to being there 3 times in 7 days. We had some more hamburger buns with Nutella for lunch and then we were off to our gate. MAD-SVQ was again a 3x3 plane with the middle seat blocked off. No KSML.

SVQ seemed really small and instead of looking for an information desk to find out about public transportation, we just went straight for a cab to the hotel. You should be able to guess my next words by now... Even though the hotel had told me over the phone a taxi should be 22€, it was actually 30€. >:(  :) The ride was just 10 minutes, which made it even more frustrating, but what can you do?

We checked in to the AC Hotel Sevilla Torneo for one night at 10K Marriott and then asked the front desk how to get to the Royal Alcazar. There's a bus that leaves from right behind the hotel for about 1.6€ pp. It probably took about 20 minutes to get to town and then we walked for about 10-15 minutes till we got to the palace.
Nice street in Seville - cool overhanging sheets to provide shade:

There's a huge, and I mean just gargantuan, church complex right across from the palace that alone was very impressive to look at. We continued towards the Alcazar and got in line. After about 5 minutes, someone came up to us and told us they were all part of a group and that we should just skip them. We then walked straight inside to the ticket counter and paid just 2€ each as students! Unfortunately, by the time we got there, it was too late to get an entrance ticket to the "upstairs" area which I assume has the living quarters. That's one of our favorite parts of these old palaces (and the Ogden Mills mansion we visited in NY) - we love to see the furniture and all the nostalgia. But anyway, we stepped into the courtyard and looked around. They were in the middle of setting up some sort of dinner there and there was a stage set up with a large screen. Maybe all the dignitaries were coming here tonight! (Ya, sure.) There is no 1 specific way to go here (as opposed to the Royal Palace in Madrid), and with my OCD, I made sure we checked each doorway that led out of the courtyard. The first few doorways on the right side lead you into a few rooms inside the palace. Some large tapestries hung on the walls, but the rooms didn't really blow us away. Then we headed into another doorway which led into a series of large (empty) rooms that were all decorated with different Moorish architecture. The rooms were completely covered from ceiling to floor with crazy intricately carved work and mosaic tiles. Some of the rooms led outdoors to mini courtyards decorated in similar fashion.
Mini courtyard:

After checking out these rooms for a while, we find one that led outside to a small garden with some fountains. That led out back to the much larger gardens where we really began to enjoy ourselves. The first garden area was really more of like a large backyard. Most of it was just grass and trees with a few paths running through that led to different statues and some small fountains. In here we found...
Peacocks!

Boy were those things beautiful! As we moved towards the back of the garden (which btw is enclosed by a castle wall - pretty cool) we started seeing some more fancier-looking garden pieces. There's a maze of tall bushes, but it unfortunately had a complete wall around it of bushes, so you can't try to make it through the maze. :( After that, we chose to turn towards what looked to be the real fancy garden and left the backyard area. This are was much larger and was full of long pools of water, incredible landscaping, rows of hedges shaped beautifully, etc. All the things you expect from a palace garden!
Random nice structure (I think it's just a wall) infront of one of the pools:


We had a really nice time at the Alcazar and probably spent about 1.5-2 hours there. We headed out and decided to walk around the city a bit instead of just calling it a night. We ended up finding our way to the river, passed on taking a cruise, and just enjoyed the views. Seville was definitely one of the most beautiful cities on our trip. We loved walking through the streets. When we had enough, we walked back through the city to the bus stop and took the bus (again, like 1.5€) back to the hotel. At the hotel, we ate the dinner from Maccabi in Barcelona that we ordered to go as we were eating there. We both got spaghetti with garlic and even being a day old and not warm, it was incredible! (Both pastas together were 19.8€.) We really liked Maccabi in case you can't tell. ;)

Friday morning, we took a taxi to Hertz at the Santa Justa Railway Station to get our car to drive to Gibraltar . It cost about 8€ and of course, he dropped us off in the lot for 4 other car rental companies, but Hertz turned out not to be there. We walked through the station and out to the lots on the other side and found it. Things went quickly in there except that they wouldn't honor the USAA underage fee waived deal. Instead of it costing about $145, they wanted $234 and that's what they got. :( At the counter, they said they never heard of USAA and later on I called Hertz and they made me email them my original reservation with the lower price. 2 weeks later, they got back to me and said USAA only works in America and even if the reservation went through online, the international pick-up location didn't have to honor it. Now that I'm home, I'm going to try and fight it a bit more as this happened on my Italy rental as well. The car was nice (a Mercedez!) and automatic :) and we were off! Driving in a foreign country was not the most fun but with Waze, we were able to get onto the highway and once there, I was much more comfortable. RT tolls from Seville to Gibraltar were 14.5€ and gas came out to about $32 on my cc bill although I could have sworn I paid close to 38 euro at the pump. When we got off the highway near the border, driving became more difficult. The road to Gibraltar had a ton of roundabouts and getting and out of them was a bit stressful. But more on that next!

July 30, 2014, 11:37:46 AM
1
List of all Credit Card Master Threads Click Here to get more details on this card and compare to other cards!

I thought it would helpful for there to be a wiki of all the different CC discussion threads.

I think this will (1) help people find a thread they're looking for faster than searching/looking through the last few pages of the board and (2) help stop people from starting new threads for a CC that already has an existing thread.

I know a similar concept was created already, but that thread is now in the "Start Here" board, which isn't really useful for someone who's already here in the CC board looking for a topic. It also was very cluttered, in my opinion, as it included basically every major thread in this board.

Obviously, this would only really help if it was stickied to the board, but that's not for me to decide. If you think this wiki is useful, please comment so and hopefully it will get stickied. If you don't think it's useful, then it will die out just like the 5 threads that were started to discuss the Delta card or the 10 threads started to discuss the Hilton card.

October 20, 2014, 01:11:19 PM
1
Re: Jersey Shore Master Thread
ummm creepy... Also there are many "dgindi"s from deal. I doubt we know each other.
Lol late response. But yes, that was still creepy.

November 28, 2014, 12:45:10 AM
1
Re: Bahamas Master Thread
;D ok no problem, i will make a goyish name... lol
Try Chaim Moskowitz  :P

January 15, 2015, 03:08:54 PM
1
Re: @Yehuda's Israel/Eurotrip Honeymoon Trip Report To make up for not having my MCO TR for tonight and because I started writing this on 12/26, here is Gibraltar!

Humbly, I present you with the next installment. I can't guarantee more will come soon, though...

Gibraltar
I think a quick recap is in order to catch you up from where we left off on the way out of Seville. T'was a Friday morning…

We took a taxi to Hertz at the Santa Justa Railway Station to get a car to drive to Gibraltar. The cab dropped us off at the wrong part of the train station, but eventually we found Hertz. Unfortunately, they wouldn't honor the USAA underage fee waived deal. Instead of it costing about $145, they wanted $234 and that's what they got. :( At the counter, they said they never heard of USAA and later on I called Hertz and they made me email them my original reservation with the lower price. 2 weeks later, they got back to me and said USAA only works in America and even if the reservation went through online, the international pick-up location didn't have to honor it. This happened on my Italy rental as well (haven’t gotten there yet). I thought I had posted about this, but in case I didn’t, eventually Hertz agreed to split the cost of the underage fee with me, so I got back about $40 per rental. The car was nice (a Mercedez!) and automatic :) and we were off!

Driving in a foreign country was not the most fun but with Waze, we were able to get onto the highway, and once there, I was much more comfortable. RT tolls from Seville to Gibraltar were 14.5€ and gas came out to about $32 on my cc bill although I could have sworn I paid close to 38 euro at the pump. When we got off the highway near the border, driving became more difficult. The road to Gibraltar had a ton of roundabouts and getting in and out of them was a bit stressful. Shortly thereafter, we got to the border and went right through! No one stopped us, no questions, just go ahead! Maybe that’s because they knew what was lying up ahead…

If we thought driving that last strip from the highway to the border was tough, driving in actual Gibraltar was a nightmare. For such a small country/city, there are SO many people and everyone shares the road. Everyone? Yes, everyone. The road – not the sidewalk – is shared by cars, scooters/motorbike, and people. Everyone walks in the street, there are probably more scooters than cars and to top it all off, they have a bunch more roundabouts. I’m not some weirdo - I’m not scared of roundabouts in America – but these roundabouts had TRAFFIC LIGHTS in them! I had no idea when I was supposed to enter or exit and when I tried, I promise you I almost hit an old lady crossing in an electric wheelchair. People honked at me and screamed at my car because apparently I was getting out of the circle on a red light. Once the lady crossed the street, I sped right through the red just to get the heck out of there. I took a deep breath only to find myself in a maze of narrow roads (with fewer cars/scooters, I’ll admit) that couldn’t possibly be 2-way streets, but who knew? Thank G-d for GPS, because the roads don’t have street signs in Gibraltar! We followed Waze blindly until it had us turn down an incredibly narrow street where I couldn’t see if anyone was coming from the other way. I slowly turned and breathed a sigh of relief when I realized no one was coming. A few more twists and turns and we were outside the Eliott Hotel.

Right outside the hotel is a public parking lot that was just as narrow as the roads. Somehow b”h I found a spot there and ran into the hotel. I asked the clerk for information about the free parking lot at 2-4 Red Sands Roads (that SamKey, I believe, mentioned in the GIB thread), but they had no idea what I was talking about or where it was. We ended up passing by the lot on our Shabbos walk and it was a good, decent walk from the hotel, as forewarned by SamKey. After the driving experience and because we were already running late, I decided to just pay them the $20 for parking (I’ve converted my expenses to USD at this point, but yes, I paid in GBP), and we got our stuff from the car and checked into our room. We got a manual key for Shabbos, but had to put down a deposit of 50 GBP to do so. FIFTY!? For a key!? Lol

At this point, I assume you know that I was trying to spend as little actual cash as possible for the travel costs of this trip. With that in mind, bear with my craziness… I booked the Eliott from Amoma.com for something like $160 IIRC, which was cheaper than booking direct. A few days later, I realized that through the UR booking tool, I could use my UR in a terrible way and redeem them for my stay. So, I paid $15 to cancel my Amoma reservation and then used 14K UR to get the night. Stupid? Crazy? I don’t care. :-)

The Eliott is one of the closest hotels to the Shuls and to our host, as we ate our meals by someone my mother knows. It’s definitely not gorgeous, but it’s also not terrible. It clearly hasn’t been renovated in a while, so the décor was old. This was going to be our first Shabbos at a hotel, so I took all the advice I got from DDF and went through the checklist. The lights/AC in the room seemed like there was no timer issue. There might have actually been one for the AC, but it was cool enough to just leave the sliding door open (there was a door, but no real porch IIRC). The front desk agreed to let us light tea lights (that we brought with us) on the front desk itself, and they happily supplied matches. As I said, we got a manual key. The lobby has a manual door on the side, but at nights, they lock it from the outside. They told us that at night, we could just go to the front doors and wave/they’ll see us and come let us in, but after standing there (just outside the reach of the sensor) for a few minutes, no one was coming. Eventually another guest walked in, and we jumped in right behind her. The biggest issue was staying in the room on Shabbos. Before the trip began, I called up to find out if we could checkout late on Shabbos, but they said we would have to pay for the 2nd night since they’re normally full. I really didn’t want to do that (and nothing changed in that regard when we actually checked in), so we agreed that we would pack our bags before Shabbos and leave them in the lobby’s storage room and just keep whatever we needed with us for the night and move them into the storage room in the morning. Hachana? Maybe. I don’t know. It wasn’t fun at all, but what can ya do if you don’t wanna lay out the cash? It’s not such a cheap place, it’s not such a nice place, but supposedly it’s better than the other options, and since there aren’t too many – I’d suggest staying there. I’d also suggest more time in GIB :-) but you’ll see that soon.

I thought we would get to GIB around noon and have time to walk around and find some food, but by the time we settled into the room, we had less than a ˝ hour till our 2PM pre-booked dolphin boat tour. There are, I believe, 2 companies that run dolphin tours, and I booked from Dolphin Adventure since they had a web-order discount of like 5GBP. Total cost was 20GBP/person. We grabbed a map from reception and made our way to the docks. It was pretty easy to tell that GIB had 1 main street, appropriately named Main Street, so we followed that for about 10-15 minutes. We soon realized that pre-booking might have saved a few dollars, but it was not necessary for the purpose of actually reserving a spot since there were reps (mostly from the competing company) selling tickets all over. It was a bit confusing to figure out where the ticket office exactly was, but a rep from the competitor helped us find our ticket window. We got there just as the clock struck 2, and they said they were holding the boat for us and told us to run to the docks. We got to the boat as the last few people were boarding (so we didn’t feel terribly bad) and within 2 minutes, we were off!
We were probably out on the water for an hour and a quarter, and it was really fun. The water was so clear, the crew was nice, there weren’t too many people on board, and the breeze felt great. After about 20-30 minutes, the boat is far enough from shore that they can start looking for dolphins. The crew told us about the different types of dolphins they have in the area and how they come into this area for food and then swim back out into more open waters. Finally, we found dolphins!





It was extremely cool watching them swim, come up for air, and move together in groups. Interestingly, they also move based on the currents that the boat creates as it moves, so they kind of swim along with the drifting boat. At times we lost them, found them, found other groups, and yeah it was a cool/fun experience! I would say the boat turned around at just the right time as I was beginning to get bored – I mean how long can you just keep following dolphins swim? We got back to shore, checked our watches, and then the realization hit…

We weren't going to have enough time to go up The Rock and see the monkeys.

Because we got to the hotel a little late, we didn’t have time to find food before the dolphin tour, so at this point, we were really hungry. We knew that we wouldn’t have time to get food and still go up the Rock, so we just decided we would get food and head back to the hotel. It was a sad decision, since ideally we would have liked to have done the activity that Gibraltar is famous for, but having prepaid for the dolphin tour, we just decided it was what it was. I realize now that we could have forgone the dolphin tour and considered the money we spent there as admission for seeing the monkeys – to make wasting the $40 easier on our minds – but we didn’t think of that in the moment, and we also thought we would still have time after the dolphins to go up the Rock.

A quick Google search brought us to a Kosher restaurant (I can’t remember the name) down the block. (Surprised now that I didn’t research the Kosher places before I went.) We caught them before they closed for Shabbos, but the guy behind the counter took one look at me and said, “We don’t have certification, you may not want to eat here.” I thought that was really nice, and I was very impressed with his honesty. We left and wandered around until we found Jews who pointed us in the direction of a Kosher grocery. We got some food like cheese and crackers as well as some snacks for Shabbos. The owners told us there’s another grocery a few blocks away as well as a Kosher bakery nearby, so we headed off in that direction. We found the 2nd grocery and got some more snacks and found out that the bakery was already closed. We went back to the hotel to eat the food we got and then got ready for Shabbos. We had time, but unfortunately, just not enough to hike up the mountain. Oh well. Probably one of maybe 2 real mistakes we made on the trip.

Once we were ready, we had to pack up our bags and bring them down to the storage room as I mentioned before. Once that was all settled, my wife lit candles on the front desk (kinda cool!), and we left for Shul. The only thing we took with us was a package of deli that we had bought for meals on Sunday with the hope of keeping it in our hosts’ fridge over Shabbos. Our host had told us how to go to the Shul that he Davens at, Nefusot Yehuda, and we found it without much difficulty. Upon arrival, the security guard outside asked us who we were and who we were visiting. When we told him, he said, “Oh, that’s me!” Hehe. The Shul was beautiful with intricately carved walls and ceiling – what I believe is known as Moorish architecture. Davening was Sefard (or the like) and after it was over, we walked with him back to his house, which was back past the Eliott and up one block. He had a nice house that looked like he owned the first floor and someone else owned the upstairs, and we had a very nice meal with him and his family. The whole family has British accents (which is super cute with kids), and they also have a gorgeous husky! We told him about our restaurant experience. He thought that was nice, and IIRC and I think I do, he also told us that all the restaurants in Gibraltar are iffy with Kashrus. The meal lasted a while, and when it was done, we said goodbye, walked down the block to the Eliott, tried waving at the front desk clerk to get in as I mentioned before, and then collapsed for the night.

In the morning, we went back to the same Shul. I know people here mentioned that all 4 Shuls are gorgeous and worth seeing, but we decided to just Daven in the same Shul as our host. I also want to point out that the Jews were really friendly in Gibraltar. Walking in the street with our host, we were stopped and asked if we needed somewhere to eat. It’s also really cool that everyone feels comfortable wearing yarmulkahs and Tzitzis out in public here. Gibraltar was the only place we really saw that in Europe. Lunch was very nice, and we told our hosts about our hotel dilemma. Right away, they said to crash on their couch if we needed to rest or to go for a walk and gladly come back at any time. We napped on their couch for a while and then went for a walk to find a lighthouse that they suggested to see. They hadn’t been there in a while and knew it was outside the Eruv, but didn’t know exactly how far it was. We walked a good 45 minutes and never got to the lighthouse, so we turned around to make sure to be back in time for Mincha. Was a nice walk (a bit tiring), and it was on this walk that we got a good view of the cable car up the Rock as well as a nice view of the Rock itself. We also passed by a parking lot on a “Red Sands Road” :) Didn’t notice if it was free, but it was definitely a good walk to the hotel, and we definitely could not have handled finding it with our time constraints and ability to deal with GIB driving any longer. We Davened Mincha and then went back to our host for Shalosh Seudos where he informed us that he eats Shalosh Seudos for a few hours and ends Shabbos really late, but that we should feel free to go to Shul for Maariv and end Shabbos when we wanted to. Never heard of that before, but cool. So we caught Maariv and Havdalah in Shul, went back to our hosts to pick up our deli package :) and then went back to the Eliott to get our bags. Driving at night out of Gibraltar was a breeze compared to Friday afternoon and before we knew it, we were back on the highway to Seville.

January 15, 2015, 10:06:09 PM
1
Re: Orlando Master Thread Thursday 1/8

It took me a while to figure out what to do for the 3rd, and last, day of the trip. Why did we go for 3 days? My wife had a final on Monday, and I knew I wanted to be home for Shabbos. So I booked the departure for Monday night and figured, hey we might as well stay for as much of the week possible, so we'll stay till Friday morning. I quickly realized that by flying back on Friday, I’d be taking an off-day from work on Friday just to travel, so I changed my flight (thanks Southwest!) to Thursday night. We simply had a 3rd day because, why not? True, we wouldn't be able to do a big park on that day since you really don't want to be worrying about rushing early out of a park to catch a flight, but because Universal only has 2 parks, I knew we'd be done by day 3 and could just enjoy the warm weather with a smaller activity. The Titanic Museum and mini golf with alligators came up as decent possibilities, but when I went to the Eden Wok DO on Christmas Eve and met ad120 who offered me FREE LegoLand tickets he didn't need and happened to have on him (!), I knew exactly what our 3rd day activity would be! (No, ad120 no longer has any tickets.) He warned me that LegoLand is a bit on the kid-side of things, but I figured, free tickets - why not? My wife was very excited as she had gone to LL as a kid and had fond memories.

But, I wasn't done yet. I still wanted to do something else and get in a little surprise for my wife. For the last night/day of our trip, I very much wanted to rent a home with a private pool on AirBNB so we could have fun swimming privately. My wife loves swimming, so I thought it would be a great idea. I spent the weeks leading up to our trip checking AirBNB all the time for possible rentals. Most places have pics of their pool, but you'll find that a lot of times, (at least the homes in Orlando) are walled in by clear glass walls and are part of a neighborhood of homes that share the same big backyard and all have these glass cages around their pools where you can see in from one pool to the next. This provides privacy, although not modesty. The few houses that I found with fences around their pools wouldn't accept a 1 night reservation (1 owner's concern was that I would be having a party) or were way too expensive. I had some issues while communicating with some of the owners and AirBNB gave me a $50 credit to make up for the hassle. After a few (read: too many) emails, I got AirBNB to combine the $50 credit with the $25 credit I got for signing up so I now had $75 off! I was willing to spend $100 after the discount, so now my options opened up a bit. (As an aside, you'll find that the prices you see are often not so accurate - there's an AirBNB fee and often you'll be hit with fees for cleaning and pool heating that are not included in the sticker price.) I still didn't have a place a week before we left (which wasn't a problem, because I still had the BRG booked), and then got the idea to message owners of more expensive houses and ones that had minimum stay requirements and ask if they would work with me because they were still vacant for just a week away. I got one lady to agree to allow me to stay for just 1 night, include the pool heating fee, cleaning fee and everything (after mentioning it was our anniversary) for about $150 so that after the AirBNB fee, the total cost would be under $175! I plugged in my code, which brought the cost down to just $93 and paid with my Arrival+ card, so that in the end of the day, there was $0 out of pocket cost to me - something you by now know I love :)

Now, I know that my wife prefers to stay in the same hotel when travelling (unless we're leaving the city), and I really only booked the home so we could go swimming in the morning (yeah $93 just for swimming ;D), so I didn't want to cancel the Comfort Inn for the last night just yet. I figured we would wait to see how the room was when we arrived and then decide. But because of the possibility that we would leave on the 3rd night to go to the private home, I needed the car rental to be ready for that night, which is why I arranged for it to be ready after Universal as I posted about above. In the end, we were very comfortable in our suite, and I wasn't going to deal with packing up on the morning of our 2nd day and leaving the bags with the front desk - which would ruin the surprise of going to the private home - so we kept our reservation and stayed the night at the Comfort Inn.

Finally, we can start our day. I woke up on time and made it to Chabad. I figured I could be a little later after yesterday when it took them 15 minutes to get to Mizmor Shir, but of course, today they were actually 15 minutes into Davening when I showed up. Perhaps they're not so consistent with their speed. After Shul, I picked up breakfast - again, yogurts and hot chocolate - and went upstairs to start packing. I told my wife that we needed to be ready a bit earlier since we had to drive to LegoLand, so we were out by 9:30. Checkout was smooth (which is always a bit nerve-racking after a BRG) and we were off! About 30 minutes later, we pulled off onto a small street where every house was identical. Every house had the same shape and same tan/yellow color. It was like we drove into a movie set of some utopian world. Pretty freaky. Anyway, we pulled up to the house and when I pulled into the driveway, my wife gave me a look. I said, “C'mon let's go!” and she confusingly followed me to the door. Of course, the moment was ruined a bit when I couldn't get the code to unlock the door and had to call the property manager who reminded me I had to nudge the door as I entered the code, but we were in! The house was really nice. Very clean and obvious that no one lives there and it's just for rentals (few drawers, empty closets), but I immediately saw how this could be really cool for a family for a week. I took her to the back and had her open the shades where she saw the pool! She was still very confused, but definitely happy and laughed when I pulled bathing suits out of my bag, having successfully snuck them into my suitcase at home without her noticing. Unfortunately, it was cold outside today. Cold for Florida I should say. One touch of the water (even with the heater on), and we knew it wouldn't be fun at all to swim in it. :(

To give you an idea of the modesty level of the pool that I finally went with, here’s a pic. The backside was a forest and the two sides had frosted glass on the bottom layer, which meant that if we were in the pool, neighbors couldn’t see in. You can also see from the picture how close neighbors with the glass-cage-over-the-pool are.
 


We went back inside, and I emailed the owner telling her she was really going to save a lot on a cleaning crew because we were just going to leave. Oh well. It would have been fun, but you can't predict the weather. We were wearing sweatshirts and long pants/leggings that morning, so I knew it may not work out as we were driving, but obviously I was at least going to check out the house/situation anyway.

I had thought we would swim till around noon (got the owner to allow late checkout) and then go to LegoLand for a few hours, but we were obviously on our way earlier than that. 40 minutes later, we pulled into LegoLand, and I realized I forgot to buy parking online for a $2 discount, so we ended up paying $14. Too bad :P You could tell by the size of the parking lot and by how few cars were there at already noon, that it was going to be an empty park which is always great. Right outside the park, they’re building a Lego hotel, scheduled to open Summer 2015. The concept sounds cool – each room is decorated with a different Lego theme, plenty of activities for the kids to do, but the idea of going to Orlando and calling LegoLand your base seems like a bad one. There is 1 park here and you’re 40+ minutes away from Disney and Universal. The official resorts by Disney and Universal make sense because each place has at least 2 parks, and both places are only about 20 minutes away from each other. Anyway, let’s begin with LegoLand!
 


As a kid, I always wanted to come here – a whole world built out of Lego! – and as a kid, I’m sure I would have loved it. My wife had been to the LegoLand in California as a kid, so she was excited to bring back some memories. However, I was a bit let down. The park is not built out of Lego (or built out of things that are made to look like Lego). Sure, there are Lego statues of characters placed around the park, but I was expecting every building, fence, bench, etc. to look like it was made out of Lego. I was also surprised that every life-size Lego creation was worn out with the colors faded. Did no one think about the ramifications of leaving Lego outside in rainy conditions? Seems like that was just overlooked. The park was nice, don’t get me wrong, but the quality of it was a CLEAR notch down from the likes of Disney and Universal. Additionally, almost every ride is geared towards kids (which is obviously the point) with some rides actually being off limits to adults, while Disney still manages to make adults feel welcome and enjoy kid rides, so I think LegoLand just missed out on that. You would also think that with the huge success of The Lego Movie, there would be a ride or a show or something related to it but NADA except for a meet & greet with a plain-faced Lego character that could have been Emmet – or really any other plain Lego character from your childhood. :-\

I’m going to approach this a bit differently than how I broke down the Universal parks. The park does not have a perfectly clear order for walking around, so I’m just going to point out the things we did (not in any real order) and in much briefer fashion than I did for Universal. I will first point out that the park was empty. Like I said, it was very cold today (we were cold in our sweatshirts) so that likely kept the park empty, but I’m curious if it actually gets much fuller in better weather.

The Beginning
Island in the Sky - a round “arena” that gets lifted slowly up above the park and spins slowly around. Nice way to see the park, but it was closed when we got there, so we rode right before we left for the night.

Fun Town
Lego Factory – sounded interesting but was closed whenever we passed by :(. Fun Town 4D Theater – this was the closest ride to a classic Universal ride where you sit and watch a show, except… that it was just a movie theater. It felt like going to the movies. Sit wherever you want (not placed into a specific row/seat), no seat restraint because the seat didn’t move, and yeah just the theater felt used/dirty and not maintained. The video was a cute story about Clutch Powers which apparently (found out afterwards) was a straight-to-DVD Lego movie. The 4D was fun as they poured snow down on top of us. Overall, the experience didn’t come close to the even the worst of Universal’s rides.

Miniland
This was a really fun part of the park. It’s basically a section that contains Lego-size creations of famous sites, like the Las Vegas strip, NYC skyline, Statue of Liberty and Kennedy Space Center as well as a whole Star Wars section with different scenes built out of Lego. A life-size Darth Vader and Darth Maul hang out here, too. Fun to look around and they did a cute job of having Lego boats in the water move around, the fountain at the Bellagio splash water, etc. Once again, most of the creations were faded due to exposure to the elements. How they could have spent countless hours building these wonderful works of art (next to many creations throughout the park, there’s a plaque saying how many pieces are in it and how long it took to build) and not realize that leaving them in the rain would “ruin” them is beyond me.

Pirates’ Cove
Nothing to do here besides watch an on-the-water pirate show, which there were no showings of for the whole day we were there.

Imagination Zone
The focus of this section was an indoor Lego activity center. We could tell from the outside that it wasn’t for us, so we didn’t even go in.

Cypress Gardens
At the end of the park, is a botanical gardens. I can’t figure it out either. The most likely explanation is that it was there before the park was built, and they couldn’t get rid of it because it’s a national something or other. We walked through it because “why not?” and thought it was nice, but no need to stop by here. It takes a while to go through the whole thing and that’s not why you came to LegoLand (I’m imagining you’re here with your kids). At the center of the gardens is a huge banyan tree (funny how Yehoshua just posted about one in Maui, well there’s one in LegoLand, too, lol) which is really cool to walk through as you can actually walk under and through the different trunks that make up one huge tree.


 
Lego Technic
Project X – the first roller coaster that I’m discussing today. It’s like one of those “mouse” coasters with a little cart that goes around very loopy. My wife wanted to go, but there was a drop that I knew I couldn’t handle. Instead, I spent $10 on a game and won her another Minion doll (only because the guy let me have an extra shot at knocking down the clown). This Minion was not nearly as fuzzy, cute or official-looking as the real one we bought yesterday.

Lego City
Because the map I took that day was in Spanish, I can’t tell you the name of the next ride I want to describe. We didn’t end up doing it because my wife wasn’t interested, but I thought it was pretty cool. 4 teams of people get into their own fire truck and they have to get it to drive to a “fire” by pumping a lever that makes it move. Once at the fire, they have to pump a hydrant and aim the hose at a target to put out the fire. First team done, wins. It was cool to watch. Boating School – here, you sit in a 2-3 person boat and go around the short water track. The boat moves with a pedal/wheel, so you are kinda in control. On line, an older gentleman looked at us and asked if we’ve been to Kosher Grill or Simka’s Sweets (Kosher ice cream store) – lol are we that noticeable? Driving School – was really just for kids, but my wife enjoyed watching it and reminiscing her time on it as a kid. Flying School - after watching this roller coaster go around once, I agreed that it was slow enough for me to ride! The line was non-existent, as were most lines today, so we got right on. I don’t know coaster terminology, but it was the type that holds you from over your head/arms and your feet dangle below. It didn’t go fast, but I still didn’t love the twists and turns and drops. Whatever, roller coasters aren’t my thing and by now you know that. :P

Water Park
Right next to Flying School is the entrance to the water park. The water park was closed today, and from the calendar, it seems like it’s often closed when the main park is open and vice versa. If $80 didn’t stop you from entering the main park, perhaps you’d be willing to spend the other $80 or so it costs to get into the water park. From the map, the water park looks a drop bigger than a “section” in the park, yet it costs just to get in there? Okay…

Land of Adventure
Coastersaurus – my wife really wanted me to go on this one, but I couldn’t see enough of the ride, and LegoLand didn’t have entrance agents by each ride like at Universal, so I just couldn’t get myself to go on. My wife was dying to go on Safari Trek as she had very fond memories of taking her disposable camera and snapping away at all the Lego animals that you see on the safari. Unfortunately, adults aren’t allowed on the ride without a kid (kinda opposite how every other park/ride operates lol) and even with some sweet talking, we couldn’t get on. Lost Kingdom Adventure – one of those shoot-things-with-a-laser rides that I love! However, it seemed like everything you shot at didn’t actually get shot and everything you didn’t shoot at did get shot. We finished with about 30,000 points IIRC and the kid infront of us somehow had over 100,000 :o

Lego Kingdoms
The best-made section of the park. You’re in one of the classic Lego castles and yeah, it’s cool. The Dragon – a roller coaster that my wife rode about 100 times as a kid. Or 100 times according to what a kid thinks is 100. She was dying to go and after watching it go around, I was uneasy. Somehow, I agreed. The ride starts out on a slow tour through the castle and you just see such cool things made out of Lego. You go through the King’s dining room, you see treasure, and finally, you approach the dragon. As you pass him, you leave the castle and begin the coaster. It wasn’t fast, it didn’t hurt, and it wasn’t scary – yet somehow I still didn’t like it. When it was over, they told us we could just ride again since there was no line. My wife gave me one look and I agreed, so we rode again. It was more fun the second time, but I’m still ehhh about coasters…

World of Chima
ad120 had told me there was a water ride that adults could enjoy. We finally found Quest for Chi towards the end of our day, but because it was so cold, there was no way we were going to get on it. You basically sit in a boat going around with a bunch of people and you have water guns. People on each boat try squirting each other, and people standing in line also have access to water guns and try to squirt those on the boats. So yeah, lots of water, lots of wet – no thank you.

Duplo Valley
This area, the last we went through, is a toddler zone. One attraction, Duplo Farm, caught my attention as it was housed in a building, and I thought perhaps it’s some sort of petting zoo. My wife said there was zero chance that was the case, yet I proudly walked up to the person standing at the entrance (this ride of all rides actually had someone here) and asked if there were actual animals inside. I got such a look from her as she told me that it’s a toddler playroom and my wife starting cracking up.

We went through some shops as we headed out of the park and went to find our car. (At some point we ate lunch that we brought with us, might have been sandwiches, might have been pasta that I made at home and brought with us – I can’t remember what day we ate the pasta, so I might have lied to you a different day and told you we had sandwiches when we really had pasta – gasp!) LegoLand was cute, is probably a ton of fun for kids, but was just okay to walk through as adults-only. We had a nice day, but yeah, I wouldn’t suggest going without kids.

I had originally thought we’d be at the park till it closed at 5PM and then drive straight to the airport, but because we were done early, we decided to stop by Kosher Gourmet one last time. We ordered 2 helpings of popcorn chicken to go, and I Davened Mincha in the Shul next door while the food was being prepared. We got in the car and headed back to the airport. Found Hertz without much a problem, left the car with the attendants who asked if I was Gold and had taken care of gas. I told them yes, and they said we could go. (Again, I had paid with a free day voucher.) I still never got charged the ~$5 tax so maybe that’s a data point that if you return it by just leaving it with the attendants, they don’t review the file and charge you tax? I don’t know, not complaining. Hertz is a quick walk into the airport, and we had our bags checked with plenty of time to walk around.

MCO is a fun airport, like I mentioned before. Now, we actually had some time to walk around. Unfortunately, they have an interesting layout in terms of gates. There are 4 sections of security that lead to 4 different groups of gates. After security you take a train to that group of gates. We could have gone to either the DL lounge (Amex Plat) or UA lounge (UA Club Passes), but neither were in the same group of gates as SW, so we didn’t want to take the chance of taking a train to a different part of the airport and then having to go back and get to the SW gate for boarding. No worries really as we had a fun time walking through the Universal store (yes, they sell the same stuff at the same prices as the stores in actual Universal – no need to go into the parks to waste $40 on a replica wand) and Disney store. We also had plenty of time to get our shotglass. I’m Makpid on having the name of the city/country we’re in be on the shotglass, so we turned down the Universal one (and even the cute Mickey Mouse one – which would definitely be weird since we didn’t go to Disney) and finally found an Orlando in a newsstand store. Off to the gate where we enjoyed our popcorn chicken – although it definitely had a different breading than the first time we got it (and therefore wasn’t as good) – and just read/played on the phone until boarding for our 8:25PM flight. The flight was empty, so luckily, we didn’t have to pay for an extra seat for Stu.
 


We got back to ISP and within a few minutes we had our bags. It was freezing, and we didn’t have coats (sine I refused to bring one just for the trip to the airport), but the shuttle came pretty quickly. We were back at the Clarion before we could blink, got in the car, and had no traffic on the way home (much better than on the way there). Until next time, Orlando!

January 26, 2015, 01:11:47 PM
1
Re: Funny Tweets
June 14, 2015, 01:31:43 AM
1
Re: Billion $ Ideas A site to learn about travel/CC hacking?
August 11, 2015, 04:35:52 PM
1
Re: Funny Tweets
Repost:
And... banned.

August 12, 2015, 01:50:56 PM
1
Re: @Yehuda's Trips to DEN Thanksgiving 2015

I booked this trip back in August, and as SW usually goes, if you book 6-8 weeks in advance, you can generally find very cheap rates. The RT EWR-DEN cost about 28K and with the magical CP, that's 7K per person each way - a steal! These pictures are my first TR pictures taken with an iPhone 6S. I personally think they're better than the pictures from my iPhone 5 - let me know what you think.

Thanksgiving, Thursday, 11/26
I checked in for the flight exactly 24 hours before and got boarding numbers in the A50 range - not bad. We couldn't fly until Thursday itself and flying on Thanksgiving day turned out to be quite normal, as most travellers likely flew to their destinations on Wednesday night. After leaving the car at my mother's house, she kindly drove us for the short trip to EWR. We got there 1.5 hours before the flight and without checking bags, already having our BPs printed and having TSA Precheck, we were at the gate with over an hour to spare. What can I say? We prefer to give ourselves extra time rather than rush. We picked up a Fresko sandwich from the market; they're pricey, but tasty, and it's especially convenient to have the Kosher option while travelling. Before we knew it, they called boarding, and we got seats next to each other pretty close to the front of the plane. Right on time, we backed away from the gate and took off.


The beautiful view of what must be Linden, NJ.

It was our pilot's retirement flight and boy did he land that bird smoothly to a round of applause. Upon entering DEN, we were shocked to see a new airport kiosk.



I wasn't familiar with Coffee Beans that don't have a Hechsher, so we decided not to get anything. Now I know that the drinks are Kosher everywhere and only the food products need to be avoided. Good to know for next time!

Thankfully we had just slight turbulence and no delay on our flight despite landing in snowy Denver. It was our first snow of the winter - and interestingly my first time being in Denver when it was snowing! - and boy, it's much nicer here than in NYC.



After a sumptious Thanksgiving dinner prepared by my MIL, I was hoping to meet up with a Denverite DDFer, but alas, the travel + food knocked me out.

Black Friday, 12/27
Having bought the printer I needed a few days ago, there was nothing really on my shopping list for today. After Shacharis at the East Denver Orthodox Synagogue (EDOS), we headed to the Denver Museum of Natural History, specifically for the temporary Sherlock Holmes exhibit.



We got there a bit early, so we had time to revisit some of DW's fond childhood memories of the museum, including dinosaurs (!) mummies and gems/mines.


Brachiosaurus


Woolly Mammoth


Our Zaidah? ::)


Crazy how her teeth and eyelashes are still intact!


Stalactites and stalagmites



Seeing these exhibits took less than 30 minutes. Once it was our scheduled time for Sherlock Holmes, we headed that way. The exhibit first goes through Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character creation process, where he was influenced from, etc. and shows up some original handwritten copies of his books. After that, the displays teach you different investigative techniques in preparation for a case you have to solve.


Learn Morse code at the telegraph display.

Once you've picked up all your skills you head to Sherlock Holmes' apartment, where you hone your skills a bit more.





After that, you're taken to the scene of a crime where you need to study certain aspects like the splatter of blood on a wall and dragged footsteps.



Then it was time to test theories by seeing for example, how blood looks when it drips from a cut versus being shot forth from a bullet impact and how footsteps look when being dragged versus running away.

At the big reveal, you just look kinda confused as you never would have guessed who was the culprit. Nu nu, it was a fun exhibit. My only complaint is that it was too crowded. There were way too many people at each station throughout the exhibit, which made the interactive displays hard to use. At the end, there were some displays showing props from the different Holmes' movies/TV shows.


The original Beats by Dr. Dre?

After the museum, we were hungry but with Shabbos so soon, getting a full meal didn't make sense. Have no fear, winter and snow can't stop us from getting Bonnie Brae. ;D




So many fresh, homemade flavors. How to choose??

As always, the ice cream didn't disappoint.

Shabbos was very nice with family, even with the frigid temperatures on the walks to Shul. On Motzai Shabbos - Israel time - I had a fellow, kind DDFer check in for our Sunday morning SW flights for us. Despite checking in exactly 24 hours before, we still somehow got B30s. Must have been a lot of people who paid extra for EarlyBird Checkin.

Sunday, 11/29[/u]
On Sunday morning, we said our goodbyes and headed to DEN. This was our first trip where we couldn't see the Rockies at all during our stay, but we did get to see the airport's first on-premises hotel finally open - the Westin.


Bad quality, I know.


DEN airport, with it's snow-capped mountain roof and the Westin in the background.

Without checking bags, quickly printing BPs at the self-checkin kiosk and TSA Precheck, we were at the train to the terminals in no time. We had less time at the airport than we did in EWR, so we were boarding the plane shortly after arriving. This was my first time that I recall a flight I was on offering to bump a passenger, but $300 wasn't enough to make us wait around all day and then land in LGA 2 hours from my parked car in Jersey. SW offers free live TV and on a winter Sunday, it's awesome to catch the entire Giants game from the moment you step on the plane all the way till landing. (Tough loss :() My mother picked us up and before we knew it, we were heading back home.

Another fun trip to DEN!

December 02, 2015, 02:02:56 PM
1
Re: @Yehuda's Trips to DEN December 2015

Having been to Denver just a month earlier for Thanksgiving, we were fortunate to spend quite some time here again at the end of the year. This trip ending up consisting of Denver for Shabbos, Hawaii for a week, and then back to Denver for another 10 days. You can read all about the flight bookings, our first Shabbos in Denver and our incredible week in Maui over here. Now, it was time to return to Denver for 2 more Shabbosim and a week of Coloradan activities.

Christmas, Friday, 12/25 - Shabbos, 12/26
After flying from Maui to LA on Thursday, we spent the night at an airport hotel before catching an early Christmas morning SW flight to Denver for a measly 4,299 SW points (divided by 2 when you consider the Companion Pass). The airport felt quiet, but it could have easily been due to how early it was and not because of Christmas. The uneventful flight got us into Denver with plenty of time till Shabbos. Our second Shabbos in Denver was as nice as the first, with Davening at EDOS and wonderful family meals.


Getting greeted by a cowboy in the airport. That's Denver for ya.

Sunday, 12/27
Today we went to the Denver Aquarium, which was very nice.




An insanely old turtle.


Otters!




We saw these black-and-white striped fish in Maui!


Cool tunnel you can walk through and have sea life swim over you, including sting rays.



For some reason, they have a few endangered tigers in an Aquarium? The size of their cage brought up feelings of Blackfish...




Finding Dory #classic




Those TEEEETH!!!


Aren't these poisonous little guys so beautiful?

They also had a cool area where you could touch sting rays.


After a fun morning, we headed to our favorite in-between-lunch-and-dinner spot... Bonnie Brae!





After catching Mincha/Maariv at EDOS...[/i]



...it was off to the East Side Kosher Deli for dinner.






Some of their fantastic wings and ranch sauce.


Their classic bourbon burger.


My wife's favorite since she's been a kid - chicken nuggets. :)

That wraps up some #SundayFunday!

Monday, 12/28
We started the late morning off by going to the Cherry Creek Mall. It's on the mid- to high-end level, and looks very nice inside. After shopping, we headed over to Brooklyn Pizza for a late lunch. While I have been very critical of this place in the past, they really changed things around, and the pizza was very tasty. Glad for that!





Nothing too exciting at night, as we just stayed at home.

Tuesday - 12/29
After a chill morning, we got in the car and drove out for a free tour of the Kosher Hammond's Candy Factory. Their website said they don't take reservations in advance, so we just went and figured we'd go on whatever tour was next when we got there. Unfortunately, the place was packed when we got there, and the lady behind the counter rudely told us that all the tours were booked for the remainder of the day! We asked how that could be if they don't take reservations, and she just rudely said, "Sorry." Frustrated, we left, but maybe one day we'll return...





We continued on to our next stop -- more shopping. :P This time, we went to the really nice, outdoor Outlets at Castle Rock.





Turns out there was a ton of Kosher chocolate at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.



We headed out as the sun was setting and got a gorgeous look from the parking lot.



Back in Denver, we stopped by King Soopers, one of the main super market chains in Colorado, to pick up some stuff for dinner. (It's actually located in the same parking plaza as Brooklyn Pizza.)



In the evening, we went out to Monaco Lanes for some bowling.



Wednesday, 12/30
On Wednesday, we were ready to experience our first day of Colorado snow.  We debated between going skiing or snowtubing, but when we researched the costs and considered the anticipated 0 degree weather in the mountains, we decided on snowtubing. The roads were not too kind what with snow coming down for a good portion of the journey, but my father in law handled it superbly. On the way up to the mountains, we were treated to some gorgeous views.





Finally, we pulled into the city of Winter Park.



We had already decided on which company/hill we'd be going with, but there were several that we passed as we got to Colorado Adventure Park. Thankfully, it was also a bit warmer - at 12 degrees - than the forecast predicted.



Our hill looked like a fluffly, white blanket.



The view of the mountains behind the parking lot was quite special.



Whoever brought their husky out for the day wins the awesome award.



Now, here's where things went bad. We went into the office and found out that they had an estimated 1.5-2 hour wait until we could get on the hill! They have a limited number of people that are allowed on the hill at once and everyone pays for either 1 or 2 hours of tubing, so we had to get on a waiting list and just sit around. You never really saw more than 5 people at the top of the hill at once, nor more than 20 people going up the lift at any time, which meant that there was plenty of time that no one was tubing down. I really wonder where they came up with their numbers, because it seemed like they could have even doubled their capacity and everyone would have still been safely enjoying their afternoon. Almost 2 hours in, they told us it would be yet another hour. It was quite frustrating, but we weren't going to just go home. We stayed warm by the campfire they had set up, and eventually got our turn to take the tubes and head up the hill.



Going down had an exhilarating feeling to it, although I'm sure the skiers here will say it's nothing compared to skiing. Yeah, yeah. Part of the hill was smooth, but part of it had 2-3 bumps set up where you could actually catch some air. Some times we went alone, others in double tubes, and sometimes all of us went together by holding onto each others' tubes. All in all we went down probably close to 10 times in our hour.



We had a blast and then headed back to Denver where we, once again, went out to the Deli. As always, the chips and salsa on the table kept us busy while our food was being prepared.



The chicken soup was very good with a homemade taste to it.



I then went for the shnitzel sandwich, which came out as a completely fried chunk that I simply couldn't even bite into.



I courageously asked for it to be replaced, and the next version was much better.



After dinner we called it a night, and that's it for a fun, Colorado-filled day!

New Year's Eve, Thursday, 12/31
Today, we really relaxed by just sticking around the house for most of the day. Towards the evening, we went to our uncle and aunt's house for a New Year's party, where we had an amazing dinner, played games, re-watched some of the Broncos-Patriots Conference Championship game, watched a movie and had some Bonnie Brae New Year's ice cream cake. Yummmm.



New Year's Day, Friday, 1/1 - Sunday, 1/3
On Friday, we went bowling again, hehe, and then spent a 3rd wonderful Shabbos in a row in Denver. On Sunday, we headed to the airport, passing by the famous Bronco.


I know, I know, these pics were in the Maui TR.

We said our goodbyes and headed into the airport. At the self checkin kiosk, I realized that my boarding pass didn't say TSA Precheck on it! So, I tweeted to @SouthwestAir, and while waiting on line to check our bags, they responded that it was typed in wrong, updated it, and when we got to the front of the line, the agent re-printed me a new boarding pass. Gotta love it. We flew through security, got on the train and had enough time to pick up some Coffee Bean before our SW flight back to NY (at an amazing 9,574 SW for 2 people).



What an amazing 2.5 weeks, from the Rockies to Maui and back, topped off with a beautiful picture from the sky.


March 27, 2016, 08:57:30 PM
1
Hyatt Hotels in US48 with Nice Pools/Waterslides/Lazy Rivers Been looking for a points getaway in America with a great pool situation, and since I like Hyatt a lot, I decided to go through all their hotels in US48 and check out pictures of their pools. The wiki contains the list I came up with of properties that have impressive-looking water amenities. Yes, clearly I had some time on my hands today. Would be nice to get through other chains one day.
June 07, 2016, 02:26:31 PM
2
The @Yehuda's First Trip to Miami! Introduction/Trip Planning

At the end of May, I realized that my wife's schedule gave her a free weekend at the beginning of June, and I quickly seized the opportunity to plan a trip. We'd be taking our first trip to Miami! For a short Friday-Sunday trip with a pool/beach destination in mind, I would have preferred going to the Caribbean for the first time, but Zika held us back, and so we opted for Miami. While it may not be an exciting destination for many NYers, for 2 people who have never been before, the warm weather and ocean sounded great.

Flights
Based on availability, and having experienced the ease of flying Southwest out of Islip Airport to Orlando before, we once again chose ISP, but this time to FLL. With the SW Companion Pass, the roundtrip came out to about 13,500 miles + $11.20 per person, even cheaper than it would have cost if Avios had availability.

Hotel
Part of the excitement behind the trip was also the fact that Hyatt had recently taken over it's first beachfront property in Miami as part of the new Hyatt Unbound collection, The Confidante (previously known as Thompson Miami Beach). I booked it for 2 nights at 25,000 Hyatt points per night. The hotel is located on Collins Avenue between 41st and 40th Streets, which as I quickly learned, was the heart of everything we'd need. I reached out to a manager there who offered to order us Kosher food daily as part of the complimentary Diamond breakfast, giving us choices from 2 restaurants (even providing their Hechsherim and Cholov Yisrael/Pas Yisrael status) with a $25 allowance per person. She even agreed to swap out breakfast on Shabbos morning for a brunch that would be waiting for us when we checked in on Friday. Additionally, on her own, she asked if we needed a low floor and let us know that the staff would be more than willing to press elevator buttons for us or change the lights in the room, as well as include an extra refrigerator in the room. We found out that the lobby doors and door to the pool/beach were manual, so that would be great for Shabbos. The room doors, however, were electronic, so we would just have to do the little tape-your-keycard-over-the-door-jamb trick (thanks Dan!). It turns out she herself is Jewish, which helps explain her knowledge of all the Jewish matters. Upon checkin, we were upgraded to a Partial Ocean View room (which really has no view at all). The manager wasn't in, and I couldn't get the agent to upgrade us to anything better. I found out afterwards that the manager specifically told them to keep us on the 2nd floor (which didn't have any suites available), and the front desk agent didn't want to put us on a higher floor (even in a better room). I didn't make my preferences clear enough, but the manager promised to give us a better room on our next trip. All in all, she provided incredible service, as did the rest of the staff, to make our stay as comfortable as possible.

Transportation
As we didn't plan on doing any activities or travelling to distant restaurants, we didn't rent a car and instead just ate at places that were within walking distance. Ubers to/from the airport would be our only transportation expenses.

Shabbos Meals
I hope I'm not forgetting anyone here, but major thanks to yakrot, JJ and jaywhy for their Miami advice in general, but specifically to yakrot for suggesting I look into Chabad for meals. It turns out they only have lunch (served in a Kiddush style), so we brought food from home for Friday night dinner.

Off We Go!

At pre-6AM, there really isn't any traffic on the roads, so we made it to the Clarion next to ISP for parking in less than an hour. Amazingly better than our last experience driving to ISP, for those that recall. We prepaid online for 3 days of parking for $27.46, including a few dollar discount that I found via Google. 10 minutes later, we were at the gate - ISP rocks. Davening Shacharis in an airport is never comfortable, but it is what it is. The flight left on time, and before we knew it, we were touching down. We got our bags and called an Uber. However, the driver did not speak English well and finding each other was very difficult. We told him where we were, the app showed where we were, and of course, we saw him fly right past us. He ended up pulling over at the end of the terminal and told us to walk to him. With that small hassle out of the way, we were on the road for the 45 minute trip to Miami Beach, which came out to $15.33 after a referral discount. I know that people prefer to fly to MIA, but from my understanding, it's only 15 minutes closer than FLL, so I would go with whichever airport has the cheaper flight/points availability.

Settling into the Hotel

OH, THE HUMIDITY!



We pulled up to The Confidante and were greeted by friendly doormen who opened the doors for us and said hello/welcome back/see ya later literally every time we entered or left the hotel. The hotel has a very art-deco style that gives off the impression of old fashioned and yet sleek at the same time. It was definitely unique compared to other hotels we've been to and especially did not fit with Hyatt's normal branding - but that's the point of the Unbound Collection.



After checkin, we went up to our room, and a few minutes later our brunch from Tasty Beach Cafe arrived. The buttermilk pancakes were HUGE and the egg harvest wrap (thanks CS91) had an interesting, but good taste.







Pools and Beach

After eating, it was time to head down to the pool! The grounds were very nice, but not too large, which I assume is the case for most Miami hotels.





The pool area has two, almost identical pools - one for adults only, and the other for families. The staff outside were also incredibly nice, not just giving us lounge chairs, but even laying towels down/tucking them in and preparing the area for us. There was ice water by the pools as well as magazines to read.


Family pool


Adult pool

I figured I'd compare the pools/beach to other ones I've been to, so I'll compare them to NJ beaches, Eilat and Hawaii. Quite the contrast indeed, although you'll be in for a bit of a surprise. For most of our stay, the pool area was kinda crowded. The pools themselves only had a few people in them, but there were lots of people hanging around. I'd compare it to the busyness of the pool in the Hyatt Regency Maui and contrast it with the nearly-empty (aside from a few families) pools at the Grand Hyatt Kauai. Many of the people were there for bachelor/bachelorette parties, as opposed to Hawaii where we mostly saw families and kids. The pools were somewhat heated which made entering them not terribly difficult. I don't really understand it, but the water was a good 20 degrees warmer than the freezing cold pool in Maui.

After a while, we headed out past the pools across the boardwalk to the beach. For those, like myself, who have never been to Miami Beach before, it's basically a strip of hotel after hotel all up against the beach with a boardwalk running seemingly the entire way. Every hotel has their own section of the beach where they've set up chairs, yet the beach also has plenty of public entrances where I imagine you can enter for free and set up your own towels or perhaps rent from one of the hotels out there.


Crossing over from the boardwalk to the beach



The beach area was also crowded, although having all the beach chairs and umbrellas pre-set up definitely adds to the feel of it being full. Here again, the Hyatt reps set up chairs with towels for us. I can confidently say the sand and ocean is a 100% cleaner, warmer and nicer than the Jersey shore. :D Additionally, there were also planes constantly flying overhead with ads hanging off the back, which was VERY reminiscent of Jersey.



Of course, the beach was way better than Eilat's "beach", which is mostly just pebbles. However, the heat and humidity here made it feel like the 100+ degree weather we experienced in Eilat. :)

Compared to Hawaii, the sand was surprisingly similar in color and the ocean was incredibly clear, just like in Hawaii. However, the bottom of the ocean floor was SO sandy that it blew any of the beaches we went to in Hawaii out of the water in that regard. It was so nice not having to watch out for our feet hitting rocks or getting cut up. Interestingly, the ocean is also very shallow. We must have gone 100 feet out into the ocean, and it was still barely 4 feet deep. I don't know if that was just this area of Miami or the whole strip. The water also had a sand bar (if that's the right word) about 20 feet out that was really cool because it broke the waves coming in and also allowed for relaxing on sand with only a light amount of water splashing on you. (You can see people sitting on it on the left side of the above picture.) Regarding the waves, Miami really loses to Hawaii. On the calmer beaches in Hawaii, you could swim and snorkel with the water barely moving, but here, there were waves every 10 seconds that knocked you over and made swimming difficult. Of course, the number one difference is that Miami had no coral and almost no fish (we saw just a few), while snorkeling in Hawaii was a most incredible experience. Of course, you'd say you can't compare Miami to Hawaii (and I agree), but I did it here to discuss specific differences.

I'll also say that the hotels were all kinda similar on the outside - tall, plain, white buildings with not much personality - which was very reminiscent of many Eilat hotels.


The back of the Confidante, on the right

Pre-Shabbos

As the long summer afternoon moved along slowly (thankfully!), we left the beach, went for another quick swim in the pool (much better swimming than the ocean) and ran across the street to a market to pick up some snacks for Shabbos. We then went for a run on the boardwalk, but it started raining, so we headed back pretty quickly. On the run, we saw the backs of many of the hotels/pools and thought that the grounds/pools by our hotel were definitely among the tops in our area. All along the boardwalk, we noticed poles with a string atop them and, upon further inspection of the signs hanging on each pole, realized it was the Eruv! Pretty cool.



We got ready for Shabbos - including preparing the door lock (see above) and setting the lights and timers for the things we wanted on/off. We couldn't figure out how how to turn off the light in the fridge, but we only needed it for our drinks for dinner since we were eating lunch at Chabad, so we filled up a bag inside the garbage can with ice to act as a fridge for the night. We then headed back down to the beach to get some pre-Shabbos pictures. Boy, the water and sky was beautiful.





Shabbos

Once I found out Chabad was 10 minutes away on 41st Street, we decided to just Daven all Tefillos there. It turns out that the Minyan was originally established to be a sort of "Children's Minyan", so there is lots of singing for the kids, and the Rabbi gives out raffle tickets to the kids the whole time. Davening was therefore a bit slow at times and a bit quick at times when they were saying things the kids wouldn't be saying. There was a women's section for my wife, someone asked if we had somewhere to eat dinner, and after Davening, we headed back to the hotel for our little, quiet, super-relaxing meal. Like our hotel Shabbos meals in London, this one will stick in the memory for a long time.



In the morning, we went back to Chabad for 10AM Shacharis (WOW!) followed by the Kiddush/lunch. It was very communal style, so we found seats at a table and met a nice Chassidish couple from Monsey who just finished a trip to Key West, another couple visiting Miami and a local guy. Food was served to the group (i.e. not individual plates) except for very good cholent which was handed out in individual bowls. The rest of the food included salad, egg salad, gefilte fish and chicken. Everything we had tasted good, and I think this is a doable option for someone visiting Miami for Shabbos. After the trip, I sent them a donation online, including something for the Aliyah I was given. I would have liked if there was something more formal to the meal other than Kiddush made after Shacharis - perhaps a Rabbi going around introducing himself, but maybe that isn't so doable with such a large meal likely every week. The truth is that we only met the Chabad Rabbi in Venice because we went over to him, so maybe formalities/introductions don't usually happen at these meals. The Chassidish couple we ate with told us they ate in a restaurant in the Days Inn (I think...?) Friday night and loved it, so perhaps we'd look into that for another trip.

In the afternoon, we went for a long walk along the boardwalk, but couldn't last for too long as the heat was really strong in our Shabbos clothes. Mincha and Maariv back at Chabad and Havdala in the hotel room, and that was it for Shabbos!

Motzai Shabbos and Sunday

For dinner Motzai Shabbos, we were happy to hear that many options were open that late at night. We chose Beyond by Shemtov's, a well-decorated dairy place, and were thrilled with our decision. Their penne ala vodka, baked potato pizza, french onion soup and milkshake were all amazing! The fries were only decent, though. Prices were a bit on the expensive side, but it's clear that this place is not "just" a pizza store. Feeling stuffed, we walked back to the hotel and took a look out back - the pools were empty! The water was still impressively warm enough to quickly acclimate to, and we enjoyed a midnight swim. There was a security guard/staff of sorts that was hanging out by the pool area, and eventually another 2-3 people showed up but stayed in the other pool, but overall it was great and especially nice to finally swim without a lot of people around.

In the morning, I went to Chabad for Shacharis and then came back just as our breakfast from Tasty arrived. The chocolate chip pancakes were even better than the buttermilk ones (just as large), and the egg white omelet was pretty good. Truly a real treat for Kosher Diamond breakfast. After securing a late checkout of 5PM, we spent the day at the pools and beach again. That was our goal for the trip, and we really enjoyed it. We decided that lunch had to be at Shemtov's again, and this time we ordered a small pizza to split. It was plenty (no need for a full pie), but we had chosen the cheddar broccoli pizza thinking there would be some cheddar sprinkled on top, while in reality, the cheddar was the main cheese of the pizza (no mozzarella), so it was an interesting taste. We also got mozzarella sticks which were out of this world as well as a great strawberry mango smoothie. Would definitely go here again. After lunch, we stopped by Carlos & Gabby's to pick up 2 helpings of buffalo tenders to go for the plane (which we weren't even hungry for and didn't eat till we were home). We then packed up our things and went down to the pools for one last swim. As we finished putting our things together, we saw our flight get delayed, but decided not to chance it and rather checkout and grab an Uber to FLL for $18.49 after a referral discount. Good thing, because the flight got pushed forward again and was only delayed a short while. The evening flight got us back to ISP around 10PM, and we got our car and made it home at a relatively normal hour. What a great short getaway to Miami!

July 08, 2016, 10:32:08 AM
1
@Yehuda's July 4th Getaway to the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Introduction/Trip Planning

Knowing my wife and I would both be off for July 4th, we were hoping to go away on a short trip. We hadn't been to DEN in a while, so it would have been nice to go there for Shabbos, but with my wife having school on Friday, making it for Shabbos was just not possible. Instead, we figured we'd go somewhere after Shabbos for 2 days. We were in the mood for a swimming getaway, but weren't in the mood to deal with flights for the short trip. Having recently put together a list of Hyatt properties in the continental US with nice pools, we picked the one that didn't require a flight from NY and got ready for our trip to the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay in Cambridge, MD! I booked it at 20K Hyatt/night for 2 nights. Strangely, I had a harder time getting in touch with a manager at this Hyatt than at any other Hyatt I've tried before. The front desk would only offer early checkin and an upgraded room upon availability, and I couldn't get an email for any manager to actually confirm something in advance. I also didn't expect them to get Kosher Diamond breakfast for us since we were an hour away from Baltimore, the closest Jewish community, so without any "special requests" confirmed in advance, our trip planning was done.

On the Road
We left Sunday morning, and the drive took about 4 hours including a stop for gas. We ended up using about 1.25 tanks for the roundtrip, but with the low gas prices these days, that only meant about $25 of gas. I particularly enjoyed how the trip only had one "long" segment on the GPS as opposed to other drives I've done - like CLE, PIT - where you'll see stretches of 150+ miles before the next "turn". We considered stopping somewhere like Cherry Hill, NJ or Philly for lunch at a restaurant, but anything I found would require a 30 minute detour, and it was still well before lunch time when we passed by those areas, so sandwiches in the car it was.

Checking In
We pulled up to the hotel before 2PM, unloaded the car and then drove to the free self-parking out back instead of doing valet. Boy, is this property HUGE! From a private/gated entrance to the long twisting road and wooden bridges you cross before pulling up, you really get a feel for just how vast the resort is.



The hotel and grounds are beautiful, giving off a warm, lodge feel.


Lobby, courtesy of Google images

We were upgraded to a water view room and checking in early was not a problem at all. The room, as well as the entire hotel, is kept up very well with no wear and tear showing. The staff was also very friendly, always greeting us with a hello, similar to the extremely-friendly staff at the Grand Hyatt Kauai. The room had a nice feel to it with a pretty view.










I guess you'd call this a porch


Despite being cloudy, the view of the marina and golf course (on the left) from the room was great

Exploring the Resort
We then walked around to check out the hotel and grounds. We first visited the Regency Club on the 6th/top floor (were on the 4th), which had plenty of sodas, seltzers and juices whenever we wanted (except when we showed up around 10PM one night), along with afternoon snacks, none of which were packaged/Kosher.




Regency Club porch with views of the marina and golf course

We passed by the pool tables and restaurant/bar, which is kinda out in the open and very nice, and then headed out back. As you can see from this view of the back of the hotel, the hotel looked almost like a house and just had so much more personality than the hotels we've seen in places like Miami or Eilat.



The hotel is very kid- and family-friendly, with lifeguards at the pools (first time seeing that at a hotel), tons of pool toys to buy at the shack, and a chalkboard listing the hourly kids' activities that changed every day. While we were outside, there was a kids' hot dog eating contest going on.



Right next to the contest is a life-sized chess set with a fire pit that's set up at night for roasting marshmallows.



We then made our way to the first pool, which is the infinity pool where toys and games are off limits.



Just a few steps away is the do-whatever-you-want pool that has fountains shooting water and a waterslide. It was very clear that this was the kid/family pool as there were tons of kids in it and plenty of blow-up floating rafts and toys around.



Next to this pool is the outdoor hot tub, which is connected to the indoor hot tub. Surprisingly, these tubs weren't entirely packed.





The indoor hot tub is right next to the large, heated indoor pool. As expected due to its warm water, this pool was jam packed almost the entire time (with kids), except for when they kicked everyone out for maintenance, which is when I snapped a pic.



At night, they have a swim-in kids' movie that they show on a large projector screen while you hang out in the pool. Pretty neat idea.



Inside they also have an activity room with ping pong tables and arcade games, as well as a gym. There is also a spa in the hotel, but we didn't check it out. We then continued on our tour where we found out that they had a free mini golf course!



Right next to the mini golf course is a sand volley ball court.



We headed towards the water and found the boat shack where we checked out the prices for rentals. They have a selection of paddle boats, kayaks and jet skis.



Right next to the shack is the "beach." :P



The water in the marina is not too clean and, as signs all along the path warn, full of jelly fish. It's not a great pic, but you can see one in the middle.



We continued to the end of the marina where we found the BBQ area that we were told was the only approved area for BBQing - our plan for dinners. We then headed back to change and actually do some of these activities!

Swimming and Golfing
I guess we lucked out in that the rain in the forecast never became more than a drizzle, but unfortunately, the weather was still in the low 70s and very cloudy on Sunday and Monday, so the outdoor pools were very cold. We first tried out the infinity pool and "try out" is all we did. After 5 minutes attempting to get used to the water and swimming around, we hopped out. Supposedly this pool is heated and the family pool isn't, so you can imagine that we barely dipped our toes into the freezing second pool. There were plenty of kids playing in that pool, so I guess kids don't really have a concept of cold water when they're having fun. The water temperature reminded us of the pool at the Hyatt Regency Maui, believe it or not. The actually heated indoor pool was crowded, so after a few minutes in the warm water, we got out and headed for the almost-empty hot tubs, which we soooo relaxing. After a bit, we said goodbye to the pools and went for our first round of mini golf. I happen to enjoy mini golf a lot, so I had a lot of fun playing.

BBQ Dinner Take One
After hanging out for a few hours, we headed out to the perfectly-located Walmart directly across the street from the hotel gates to pick up a few things for our bar-b-que. Mainly, we needed to figure out how to grill our food. Before the trip, I was debating whether to buy a portable grill, but I couldn't find a good deal on any, so I figured we'd use the grills at the hotel and just put foil pans on top of them while covering our food with tin foil to keep them warm. With that in mind, we picked up some charcoal, a lighter, and a few other food items (somehow Walmart trips always seem to take forever - this time courtesy of the cash register freezing while we were waiting on a long line) and headed back to the hotel to prep our food and walk the 7 minute or so walk to the BBQ pit hoping it would empty for us. Thankfully one of the grills was available, although there was a rowdy group of people hanging around the area, but I guess I can't say only negative things about them since they offered us some of their crab. ::) Our grilling situation was complicated as we couldn't close the grill cover without double covering our food, which would essentially make our food cooked, not grilled and yeah this is what it looked like:



Let's just say it took a really long time for our food to grill. Eventually, somehow, the chicken got cooked enough and we enjoyed our dinner. There is a firepit here as well that the marina store nearby will light if you request it by 5PM (when they close). It was lit by the time we got there as others were enjoying its warmth, so we enjoyed some roasted marshmallows along with our dinner. As we headed back to the hotel, we decided that we would definitely need a better solution for tomorrow night's dinner.

July 4th - Swimming, Gym and Boating
While some trips require waking up early to hit the road running (at the same time I wake up on a normal work day), it was really nice to wake up at a normal time, get ready slowly and hit the Regency Club for breakfast. In terms of Kosher food, they had plenty of fruit options as well as a few cereals, plus juices and hot chocolate. We then got ready to try out the pools again. Unfortunately, they were still cold, but we lasted a bit longer in the infinity pool this time. It was our first time in one, and it's really cool how it looks like there is no wall at the end of the pool. While in the water, it actually looks like the pool just extends all the way into the water of the marina. When the cold got to us, we headed back to the busy indoor pool and hot tubs. After a while, we went back to the room for lunch where we ate some sandwiches (with some drinks from the Club) while watching Shark Week. After lunch, we hit the gym for a run on the treadmill. The gym had a ton of equipment, the treadmills had TVs in them and there were only a few other people in there. Afterwards, it was time to check out the boats. We rented a paddle boat for 30 minutes for $20 (+$2 tax) and charged it to the room since we didn't have money on us. They have a wall a little ways out that sets the perimeter of the marina and how far you're allowed to go. It started raining while we were out there, but again, it was mostly a drizzle. From here, we could see the entire hotel.



Once back at shore, we saw a Blue Heron, which I've only heard of because of SomethingFishy and are apparently frequent in this area. With the help of iPhone Bursts, I was able to get shots of it taking off, although it seems that Bursts takes lower quality pictures.







BBQ Dinner Take Two
Now it was time to head back to Walmart and rethink our grilling situation. Aside from portable propane or charcoal grills, I had originally hoped to find one of those kits of a foil pan and metal grate cover for $5. I couldn't find one online or in a drugstore or even Walmart. I then thought about a propane one, but Walmart's selection was way more than the $20 I was told to expect to pay for one of them. They did have portable charcoal grills for about $13, but from my research, these types usually don't last very long. So instead, we made our own mini kit. We found disposable (no Toveling) metal sheets that had holes in them (a key ingredient we learned last night to be necessary in grilling as opposed to just putting things in a solid foil pain) as well as a very deep foil pan to hold the charcoal. Armed with our new stash, we were thankfully out of Walmart faster than yesterday and back at the BBQ area. Tonight, it was raining on us, and I smoothly forgot the umbrella in the room. Fortunately, there was only one other person grilling, who was actually vacationing with his family on his boat and made the Hyatt's marina their stop for the night. Sounds like a pretty cool adventure. With our new grill set up on the edge of the fire pit, we were extremely successful in actually grilling our food - and in so much less time than last night.




Success!

With the rain still coming down, we ate in the covered gazebo nearby. The food was delish, especially the flavor-infused Jack's sausages we tried out for the first time. The fire pit was not lit tonight as we forgot to ask them, so we headed back to the hotel and stopped at the fire pit there for some marshmallow roasting. We had bought short sticks at Walmart, but we couldn't reach the fire, as it's set back a bit. Everyone else had these huge sticks, and we found out the hotel store sells smores kits. We went inside and the kind cashier gave us the long sticks for free (since we had our own marshmallows and didn't need to buy the whole smores kit) and back we were outside enjoying our marshmallows. Boy, there's nothing like a lightly-browned gooey marshmallow, eh?

The concierge had informed us of the best spots to drive to for the local fireworks, but with the weather, they were cancelled. So we headed to the pool table and played a few games before calling it a night.

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

After another normal-hour wakeup and breakfast at the Regency Club, we packed up most of our stuff, arranged a late checkout of about 1PM and went outside to greet the so-much-nicer-than-yesterday weather! While the pools were by no means warm, we were able to get used to them and finally got to actually enjoy both outdoor pools. We also went to the gym again and then for some more mini golf before packing up and checking out. The drive back took about 4 hours again with a stop. We picked up some Dippin' Dots and snacks at a rest stop and reminisced about how hard it was to find Kosher snacks at a rest stop we found in Italy - ah, the conveniences of America.

A short, non-flying trip, but another great one nonetheless!

July 25, 2016, 05:16:25 PM
1
Re: Rome Master Thread BA"Ghetto Milky twice a day, every day. I know I didn't try everything at both places, but everything we had at BA"Ghetto was "WOW" and everything we had at Yotvata was "Good".
August 15, 2016, 01:36:48 PM
1
Re: Kauai, HI Master Thread
Please show me LAX-LIH lie flat.
Wow first date that I searched. 🙈

August 31, 2016, 05:58:27 PM
1
Re: Maui Master Thread
Anyone know how long it would take to do Haleakala at sunrise, blowhole and then olivine pools?  Sunrise is about 6:15am that day and coming from the Andaz.

As it stands, looking to do Haleakala, Snorkeling, and RTH each morning Monday - Wednesday with early wakeups every day.  Is this a bad idea?

Thanks!
Look at my TR I did Haleakala day in that order.

September 01, 2016, 03:09:59 PM
1
Re: Thread Title Rules - HOT!!!! PRICE DROP!!!
Eh. Most of them were worthy of new threads.
Where's the disagree button?  ::)

September 01, 2016, 04:13:47 PM
3
Re: New IP address in iPhone? For cellular, go on airplane mode and then off airplane mode, and you'll have a new IP.
September 01, 2016, 07:33:29 PM
2
Re: Iceland Master Thread My G-d, Svartifoss is so beautiful.



(Was just looking through my pics.)

September 07, 2016, 02:06:47 PM
1
@Yehuda's Icelandic A+venture! WOW! That’s the only word I can think of to start off this --- STOP! --- Before reading any further, go book a flight to Iceland right now! Then come back to read. You won’t regret it.

As I was saying, Iceland is simply “Wow.” From the countless – literally countless – waterfalls to the gorgeous hikes and breathtaking views, from living in a camper to getting up close and personal with icebergs, and to even playing with a puffin, Iceland is truly an awesome adventure trip. So, if you’re okay with keeping busy all day on vacation and not relaxing at a beach, then this is the trip for you. It absolutely should be the next trip on your list.

This planning section might be the longest I’ve ever put together. It will show how in love I am with this country and will hopefully aide those who are planning a trip. For many, I hope this section is helpful and interesting, but for those who find trip planning and award flight booking to be a bit boring, hang tight – I hope to get to the actual trip soon, I posted a "Cost Summary" at the end of this intro post, and here's a just a little teaser for later. ;)



Planning

Iceland has become quite the popular destination recently, but it hadn't crossed our minds until our friends went last summer. Their pictures and stories got us extremely interested in the country despite making us ask the same question that everyone seems to ask us after hearing we went – “Really…? Iceland?” But the answer is, “Yes, Iceland. Really.” Once our interest was piqued, I headed over to DDF to research. I’ll take a moment right now to thank SomethingFishy for his immense help in putting this trip together, answering so many of my questions, helping plan out the itinerary and even responding on the spot while we were stuck on the trip. Most of the background information I will share here came from my conversations with him. I also want to thank PBaruch who answered many of my questions and whose own trip report came in handy while planning. Finally, a shout out to ushdadude, lfas25 and Moishebatchy for their help as well in giving tips and answering questions.

Everyone’s first thought about Iceland is the Northern Lights/Aurora, but those are only visible (with rare exception) in the winter. A trip to Iceland in the winter is extremely different than in the summer, and while wanting to be adventurous, Fishy’s winter TR made it clear to me that a summer trip would be adventurous enough for our first trip. So, a summer trip it was, and no Northern Lights for us. While I’m sure they are amazing to see, there is so much more to Iceland as well. 

I’m an early planner, which meant that planning for this August trip began back in March. My first order of business was looking into how long you need for a visit. I learned that there are several classic trips that people do. Iceland has one main city, Reykjavik, with other, much smaller towns spread throughout the country. The country is encircled by a “highway” (read, 2 lane road), known as the Ring Road, and the middle of the country contains the mountainous/volcanic region called the Highlands, which are made up of difficult-to-traverse roads, known as F-Roads.



To cover the entire Ring Road with its many stops, you need to plan for at least a 2-week trip. I imagine even more time if you plan to also head inwards and explore the Highlands (which requires renting a car that can handle the F-Roads). No one I know has taken this long/intense of a trip yet, and I knew there was no way we’d have 2 weeks for the trip, so I opted for the second classic option. There’s no name for this trip, but you basically start in REK and follow the southern strip of the Ring Road until about halfway to the east coast, at which point you turn around and head back. While it may seem like you’re barely covering a quarter of the full Ring Road, this section is jam-packed with activities. This trip can be done in 4-5 days.



When you add in flight time, you basically need a week to do this trip comfortably. As there is no Chabad in Iceland (other than one that gets together for the Seder on Pesach), I didn’t want to be there over Shabbos. With that in mind, I went to my wife’s school schedule to see if I could find a full calendar week that she would be off. Because it was so early, her summer schedule was not yet released, so I had to research prior year schedules to try and determine when she would be off this year in between her spring and summer semesters as well as her summer and fall semesters. It was much harder than I thought as there were different lengths of summer sessions and each year didn’t seem to follow a pattern for how long the breaks would be, but I had a general idea and took a guesstimate that our best bet would be the end of August, after she finished her summer classes, but before the fall semester began. I told my wife of the plan, and she was excited, but warned me that if I was wrong with my dates, and she did in fact have class during that time, she would not miss class, and we would have to cancel the trip. I gulped, but agreed. Boy, would that come back to cause me some stress…

As the calendar flipped from July to August, my wife's school released the class schedule, and with less than a month to our trip, I realized our last day in Iceland would be her first day of classes. :-[ I couldn't believe it. I started looking into the idea of changing our dates to start in the middle of the previous week, then flying to London for Shabbos and back for a few more days in Iceland so that we could still get in 4-5 days on the ground while still getting back in time for classes. However, it was clear that the idea was bonkers. Then I remembered that her previous classes hadn't always started on the official first day of the semesters, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and contacted her teachers directly. That was more difficult than expected. There were 2 teachers I needed to reach, and after many emails and calls, I finally got through to the first one, who told me classes would not be starting on that first day, but rather the following week - hurrah! However, the second teacher was planning to start on that day, but also told me that my wife was only responsible to come to one of the first two classes and could technically miss one... So, I broke the news to my wife and after thinking about it, she decided that we could go on the trip and she would miss the one class! Thank you, Mrs. @Yehuda! :-*

Flights

Once I knew we needed a full week, I used Google Flights to determine what flights could get us to and from New York without keeping us in Iceland over Shabbos. I learned that the flight is just 5 hours long, that Delta has 2 Motzai Shabbos flights from New York (at least in the summer) and that both Delta and IcelandAir have Friday morning flights returning back to New York that, with the help of the time difference, land around noon on Friday. With Shabbos in August not starting until after 7PM, a noon landing would leave us plenty of time to get home in time for Shabbos.

So, I had the specific week I wanted to travel, and the 2 specific flights I wanted for the return. Talk about having flexibility when booking award travel. ::)

The next step was researching the best way to book the flights with miles. For the return with IcelandAir, only Alaska miles can be used, and although they don't require too many miles, they tack on a good few hundred dollars of fuel surcharges (YQ), which makes it silly to use miles for the flight. Delta on the other hand, doesn't charge YQ, but still had about $50 in Icelandic taxes and fees in addition to 30,000 miles each way. I also realized that on Delta’s later Motzai Shabbos flight, they were flying a 757 with lie-flat business class. With the plan of landing first thing Sunday morning and hitting the road running, I thought it would be wise to ensure we were in the best position to have as good of a night’s sleep as possible on a 5 hour overnight flight. Business costs 62,500 miles each way, but I figured it would be worth it to start our trip fresh and ready. I didn’t have close to enough Delta miles, so I knew I would have to transfer AMEX MR points to Delta to book the flights. That adds in another cost as AMEX charges a tax to transfer miles to a domestic airline, which would have been about another $50 per person. I did some research and found that Delta’s partner, Air France, could book the Delta flights for the same amount of miles and around the same $50 of Icelandic taxes, but without the transfer tax (since AF is a foreign airline). None of that research mattered though, since I couldn’t find the availability to use miles at the 62,500 price anyway. We were 5 months ahead of time, and I was checking several times a day. (Definitely a negative of planning early is driving yourself nuts constantly checking for availability. Plan later on, and there will simply just be less days that you can keep checking. :P )
   
With that option seemingly impossible, I began to look for other ideas. The cash price for one way in business and one way in coach was around $1250, while even flying roundtrip in coach was still $7-800. Neither of those seemed exciting to me. It’s quite well known around these parts that I am a big fan of using Barclays Arrival Plus points (A+) to redeem for travel costs that other miles can’t cover, and I expected to need a lot of them for the activities on this trip, but I was not ready to also use them for the flights that could otherwise be booked with regular miles. I then got in touch with someone who offered to book the flights for me for $400 roundtrip in coach, and I calculated that I could manage spending my A+ miles on the flights (and still having enough to do some activities), but he informed me that I would not be able to use my credit card nor my A+ points to cover the flights. Not interested in paying $800 cash for our flight expenses, I was left to ponder if there was still anything else to do.

I don’t remember where the idea came from, but at some point, I remembered about an often overlooked way to book travel – the Chase Ultimate Rewards and AMEX MR sites. Booking through these sites gives you a set value for your miles, so you pay based on the dollar cost of the flight, and therefore usually doesn’t give you a value close to what you could get by transferring your miles to airlines and hotels and booking directly through them. However, I found out that the AMEX Business Platinum card has a perk that if you book a flight through the MR site, they give you back 30% of the points! So, I got to work. Searching on the MR site for the flight didn’t help me because the site couldn’t piece together an itinerary with one leg in business and one leg in coach, so I had to call up to book. The agent pieced together the flights for me and quoted me close to the $1250 price I had seen in my prior research. That would require about 125,000 miles per person minus the 30% discount. He explained that they deduct the full amount of miles from your account at first, and then the discount would returned to me shortly afterwards. The rep also had no problem waiving the phone booking fee after I explained to him that this itinerary couldn’t be booked online. So, the total cost was 89,950 miles per person. Had I transferred MR to Delta miles, I would have paid 62,500 + 30,000 for a total of 92,500, and I would have had to pay the $100 in taxes and fees. Even if I would have sold the 90,000 miles, I would have only made about $1200 and still would have been slightly short to pay cash for the flights. So, I believe I found the cheapest way to book the exact flights I wanted. Our flights were booked several months in advance, with no more availability-searching necessary, and it was quite comforting to know that. Iceland was on!

Accommodations

I would say there are 3 ways to do the southern portion of the Ring Road. I guess there’s a 4th option where you visit the city of REK, spend all your time chilling in the city, seeing the landmark church and concert hall, going out to eat and maybe taking 1 tour outside the city to do something like the nearby Golden Circle. But, c’mon, that’s not a real trip to Iceland.


The Golden Circle, a day-trip from Reykjavik

The first real way people visit is to stay in REK and hire tour companies to drive you to the different activities. While that offers the comfort of having the tour company deal with driving and planning out the day while you simply just meet them in the morning, it limits you in having to follow their schedule, how far along the south road you can actually go, how many of the off-the-beaten-path activities you can get to and, most of all, adds a lot of unnecessary travel to your trip as, at the end of each day, you need to return back to REK. I was advised in the Iceland Master Thread not to go this route. (There are 1 or 2 main activities near REK, and I don't think it's a crazy idea to base yourself in REK on the days you do those activities.)

The next option is to rent a car, drive along the road on your own schedule and either sleep in hotels along the way or bring tents and camp at the plentiful campsites. Renting a regular car and bringing tents would probably be the cheapest way to travel in Iceland. The issue with hotels is that you won’t find name brand chains along the road (except for 1 expensive Starwood property that’s outside of REK but not in a convenient place along the Ring Road), but rather small mom-and-pop shops. Many are guesthouses/hostels where you might not get your own bathroom or have to pay more for a private room, but they can often be had for under $100/night.

- Camper Rental

The final option – the one we chose – is to rent a camper/RV, drive along at your own pace and park at campsites overnight. Technically, you can park at gas stations or even on the side of the road, but we decided to stay at official campsites with facilities, especially since our camper wasn’t going to have a bathroom or shower. It also felt safer to park at an official campground as opposed to the street and definitely something I was going to do on a trip with my wife versus if I was just with a bunch of guys. Researching campers was another long process I had to do. Renting a camper is a popular way to travel in Iceland, and therefore, there are many companies that offer rentals. I learned that an automatic camper was going to be much more expensive than a manual one (as expected in Europe), but I don’t know how to drive stick and wasn’t going to learn before the trip. I also learned that all the companies have a minimum 3 day rental requirement and, with the prices they charged, decided to rent the camper just for the 3 minimum days and then spend the last 2 days in a hotel in REK, doing the activities that I explained above are near the city. My final lesson was that the camper places sell out quickly, so book in as much advance as possible – more on that to come, unfortunately. I put together a spreadsheet to compare camper types among some of the main companies that I found on Google.



KuKu Campers came out to be the cheapest, but after Fishy posted about their public negative opinions towards Israel/Jews, I decided (as he did) not to use them. The next cheapest option – which happened to have the nicest looking camper and was very friendly in email exchanges – was Cozy Campers, so I booked with them and was all set for the adventure! Or so I thought…

Several weeks before the trip, I got an email from Cozy Campers telling me that their system was broken and allowed me to book despite having already been sold out! They apologized and recommended another company – campervanrental.is which didn’t even come up in my initial research. I was quite disappointed because Cozy was the best/cheapest option. It was now just a few weeks before our trip, and I was somehow expected to find a new company that still had campers available!? I asked them if they could help in any way – perhaps speak with one of the other companies to help me get a discount or, at the very least, cover the difference in price between a new rental and their own rate – but the until-that-point cordial conversation took a sour turn, and they eventually stopped responding to me. My frustration reached an even greater point when I tried leaving a negative review on Trip Advisor, but was rejected under the terms of “not being able to leave a review for a rental that didn’t end up taking place.” >:(

During my original research, I had contacted CampEasy and asked if they could offer a discount to match some of the cheaper companies out there. Incredibly, they agreed to offer a 15% discount, which brought them in line with the price of CozyCampers (as you can see in the Excel screenshot). I had chosen Cozy simply because their pictures looked better. So, at this point, I reached out to CampEasy again and asked if they still had availability and if they could still offer that discount, and they said… yes! Thankfully, my camper was booked once again. It turned out that CampEasy hadn’t updated their pictures in a while because the camper we got was much nicer than the one pictured. :) The final price was 96,900 ISK (Icelandic Krona – but for the most part moving forward, I’ll only list USD prices) which at the time of booking was worth just under $800. They charged 15% (~$150) at the time of booking as a deposit and charged the rest later, at which time the currency conversion had gone up, so the total cost came out to about $830 for the 3 days, or $275/day. I had planned to cover that cost by paying with A+ miles but, I first had to consider which credit card would give me the best insurance for the rental. After a lot of research, I found that almost all credit cards specifically exclude RVs/campers, but thanks to whYME, I learned that Citi cards would in fact cover primary insurance on campers when rented internationally. Their exact terms are, “Any vehicle with more than two wheels that is meant to be driven on public roads.” I tried to get a Citi rep to send me written confirmation that campers would be covered, but the best I could get was a note put on my account. (I called back to see if a different rep could see that note, and they could. :) ) The problem was that the only Citi cards I had were an American Airlines Bronze card and the lower-level Hilton card. Both of those cards have foreign transaction fees, and knowing I would be charged in ISK, I accepted that I would essentially be paying 3% fees to get the insurance. I first noticed this when I paid the deposit and was hit with a 3% fee, but I was able to get Citi to waive it as a one-time courtesy (was only $4 or so). So, my plan was to keep the credit card hold during the rental on my AA Bronze card and then, after the rental (if there were no damages), ask them to just switch the card to my A+ and charge that one. However, that’s when I learned that they charged the full price upon pickup of the camper and not after returning it, which meant that they weren’t just putting a hold on my card, but actually charging it then. That meant I would have to convince them to refund me after the rental and then re-charge me on my A+ card. Aside from that, their CC machine gave the option to charge me in ISK or in USD, and the cashier chose FOR me by picking USD thinking she’d help me save money on the foreign exchange fee. Of course that’s too good to be true, and after some quick math, I realized their CC processor was obviously taking even more than 3% to “conveniently” let me pay in USD. I ended up being charged about $860 for the rental, so they charged me around $30, which is about 3.5% in fees. As you’ll see soon enough, unfortunately I didn’t even have to deal with trying to switch the CC after the rental and whatever currency fees I paid were welllll worth having insurance… :-[ Once I needed the insurance and couldn’t use A+, I covered the cost by paying for it with money I had earned from the Wells Fargo cash back card. So, my advice is to make sure you have a higher-level Citi card so you don't have foreign exchange fees and ensure they charge you in ISK and not USD - then you should be set for camper insurance internationally.

People say a camper can often be cheaper than the alternative of a car rental + hotel each night, but when there are cheap guesthouses you could technically stay at and when you need to pay the premium for an automatic camper, I don’t believe that to be the case. Nonetheless, the camper turned out to be much more than a means of transportation and sleep, it became an awesome part of our Iceland experience.

- Hotel

I couldn’t decide whether to do the 3 camper days first and then the 2 hotel days or vice versa, but my final thought process was that after 3 days of living in a camper, it would be nice to end the trip in a roomier hotel room with our own bathroom/shower. (Good decision.) For the 2 nights that we would be staying REK, I looked into the points hotel options. There are only 4 in REK – the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica (standard hotel), a Canopy by Hilton (brand new and extremely expensive) and two Radisson Blus (both pretty standard). Not having any Radisson points (both hotels required lots of them) or free nights from the Club Carlson credit card, I chose the Hilton at 40,000 points a night. Per reviews, it’s nothing special, but with rates over $250/a night, I decided to use the points. About a month before the trip, I was randomly thinking of future trips and realized how I might want to use Hilton points for a more exciting redemption one day – think Conrad Koh Samui in Thailand, Conrad Maldives, Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem – and started thinking twice about dropping 80,000 points for Iceland, when we definitely weren’t planning on spending much time at the hotel, and it wasn’t even supposed to be that exciting of a property. (Wow, look at me thinking of the opportunity cost of my miles! :P) I tried to think of other options, including AirBNB, Priceline Name Your Own Price, and simply Hotels.com, Expedia, etc., but nothing seemed too exciting and, a month before travel, all would likely have been $200+/night. Finally, I realized that I could get Club Carlson nights here on the forums. Not sure why I didn't think of that sooner, but I learned that these nights go for a lot less than Hyatt, Hilton, etc., and I was able to get 2 nights for just $100/night! I cancelled my Hilton reservation and grabbed the Radisson Blu Saga hotel (the other Radisson didn’t have availability, so it wasn’t an option to consider). Trip Advisor warned that the Radisson wasn’t anything special and was undergoing room renovations so “try to get into a renovated room or else you might see a lot of wear and tear and have bad air conditioning.” Those reviews left me quite confused after we saw the well-kept lobby, our modern room and the front desk agent told us there's no air conditioning in any of the rooms... But we’ll get to that much later.

- Car Rental

For the 2 days we’d be in REK, we needed a way to move around. After WAY too much itinerary planning, I decided that one day would be a tour day to go to Inside the Volcano where we would be picked up and dropped off, so we wouldn’t need a car. This was recommended by the tour company as they said it’s hard to find the activity location, but with 20/20 hindsight, I can tell you it’s not hard to find it, but we’ll get to that later on. The other day, we were going to do the Golden Circle, so we rented a car for it. Again, an automatic was going to be more expensive, and I couldn’t find anything relatively affordable. I’m not a pro with car rental codes and couldn’t find anyone who had any ideas for me. Eventually, someone suggested looking into SIXT since their top status (Platinum) gives you a discount on booking, and it’s easy to match to that status if you have other hotel/airline statuses. I matched from Hilton Diamond and noticed the rates go down by about 15%. I wanted to pickup and return in the local REK location, but going from there back to the airport would have meant a taxi and bus that would have cost around $45. Instead, for a $53 fee, I was able to make the rental a one-way and return the car at the airport location. For a couple dollars more, we were able to have a much more comfortable return journey to the airport. In total, the 1 day rental cost me about $115 or 11K A+.

Food

Kosher food in Iceland is basically non-existent. We found random snacks with Hechsherim, including those mentioned by other travelers – Nature Valley bars, Popcorners and, of course, Coke products – but we also found some that we hadn’t known about before – some cereals like Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios, Baby Ruth bars and jelly beans from The Jelly Bean Factory (had an OU, but never heard of them before). Other than those snacks, everything is produced in Iceland or imported from Europe and therefore don’t have Hechsherim. Despite checking the packaging every time we saw Twix, Mars and Kit Kats, a Hechsher never appeared. :P

Knowing we were going to have to bring food with us, strategic planning went into action. For the 3 days we would be in the camper, we would have access to the included burner, which meant we could bring a pot and boil water for oatmeal for breakfast and tradition soups and pasta for lunch. For dinner on those nights, we took advantage of the included “fridge” (ended up keeping things about as cold as a cooler) to store hamburger patties, Jack’s sausages and chicken cutlets. After deciding not to rent a grill from CampEasy for $50 (and the fact that the grill rack wouldn’t be Kosher), I reached out to random Icelandic Twitter accounts and confirmed that we should be able to buy those prepackaged disposable grills (basically a foil pan filled with charcoal and covered with an metal rack) for a couple of dollars and decided we would pick those up locally instead of schlepping grilling stuff with us. For the last 2 days, we'd be without the camper and, therefore, would actually be in a worse situation since we wouldn't have a burner or grill, so we brought a loaf of bread and peanut butter for lunches and tuna, mayo, deli, wraps and, yes, even avocados for some nice wraps for dinner. Google taught me that keeping avocados in the fridge can extend their life a few days, so after buying the most unripe ones I could find and keeping them in the fridge until we left, they actually became edible at the perfect time when we were ready for our wraps. We also brought a bunch of Chewy and Special K bars and other snacks to keep us going throughout the day. All the food worked out well except for running out of snacks, which turned out to be fine as snacks were the only Kosher food we found locally anyway.

Cell Phone

After discussing with the guys who have gone before, I learned that our best bet would be to buy a Siminn SIM card. In the airport shop, they sell them in a package of 100 minutes, 100 texts and 1GB of data for $25. I figured we only really needed Google Maps and perhaps a few calls to our tour companies, so I though this would be perfect. BOY OH BOY, does man plan and G-d laugh…

Activities

Iceland is full of activities and while most of them are natural, many do cost money and need to be booked through a tour company. While the activities usually cost the same as activities you’d find in any other place, the fact that there are so many activities to do (and some that are just exorbitant), you need to budget a nice chunk of change for activities. With that in mind, I think eating Kosher is a blessing in disguise, as otherwise, we would have spent even more by going out to restaurants all the time. There are several tour agencies, but my friends told me about Arctic Adventures, which offers a 10% discount if you book 3 or more tours with them that are operated by them (I mention operated by them since they also act as a travel agency for tours operated by other companies). Having researched a few activities among different agencies, their prices were the cheapest after that discount. They were also super helpful via email and, most importantly for me, allowed me to charge my A+ card $1 to see how it posted on my statement, and it came up as a “Travel” charge and would therefore be eligible to redeem my A+ miles for. ;D I’ll go into detail about the activities as we get up to them, but in total, I spent $1450 or 140,000 A+ on our 4 main activities. Yeah, wow. I also pre-booked a glacier boat ride direct for $100 that I covered with 9,500 A+. I figured we didn’t need to book in advance any of our other activities and that was correct.

With the flights, camper, hotel, car rental, food, cell phone and most of the activities all figured out (and my itinerary planned out in great detail throughout this process), everything was set – on to the trip!


Cost Summary
Flights: JFK-KEF in J and KEF-JFK in Y for 89,950 MR per person
Camper Rental: $830 for 3 days covered with WF $
Hotel: 2 Club Carlson certs ($100 each) for 2 nights
Car Rental: $115 for 1 day covered with 11K A+
Activities: $1550 of pre-booked activities covered with 150K A+

September 29, 2016, 05:00:30 PM
3
Re: @Yehuda's Trips to DEN Labor Day 2016

My 15th trip to Denver was for Labor Day Weekend 2016. We flew SW out of EWR on Friday morning and returned out of DEN on Monday morning, landing in the late afternoon. After parking by my mother's house near EWR, she kindly drove us to the airport. As we walked up to the checkin counter, I reached into my pocket to grab my wallet, and my heart sunk. My wallet! After a brief freakout session, I realized I must have left it in my car back at my mother's house.

That moment when you get to the airport and realize you left your wallet at home.

Thankfully, we were there an hour and a half early, so I was able to run back, grab the wallet and make it back to the airport with enough time to still sit around the gate for 30 minutes before the flight. Phew. What a start, eh?

We landed in Denver a few hours before Shabbos, and my father in law graciously picked us up from our favorite door.



After a great Shabbos with family, we went out Motzai Shabbos to our favorite stop, Bonnie Brae.



Usually on a short weekend trip, we like to leave Denver early Sunday so that we get home with enough time to rest up before the week, but on a holiday weekend, we could leave on Monday, which gives us a full day Sunday to do a Coloradan activity. We decided to go to Seven Falls which is in the city of Colorado Springs. The trip took a little over an hour and passed by some beautiful Colorado scenery.


Timed perfectly as 2 trains passed by each other

When we arrived, we learned that you can no longer drive all the way to the parking lot by Seven Falls. Instead, your GPS will take you to a parking lot by the Broadmoor, a luxury hotel in CO, where you can park for free and take a free shuttle for the 5 minute drive to Seven Falls. There was a good 15 minute wait to get on a shuttle, which I have to imagine was due to the holiday weekend.



Once we arrived at Seven Falls, we waited on another line to purchase tickets. There was a shorter line for those who had purchased tickets online, and I was tempted to buy on the spot from my phone, but we decided to just wait it out as the line was moving quickly. The cost was $14 per adult. Finally, we were ready to head in!

There's a 15 minute walk from the entrance to the falls, where you walk along a stream (the resulting end of the falls) in between mountains. Alternatively, you could take a shuttle for about $2 instead of walking.











After the pleasant stroll, we arrived at the base of the falls. Seven Falls is aptly named due to the tall waterfall that breaks down into 7 separate sections. What makes this activity more than just seeing a waterfall is that there is 224-step staircase you can climb from the bottom to the top of the falls.





The climb was a bit nerve-racking as you felt the stairs tremble as you stepped and you could see through the holes in the metal below. We took a break to catch our breath at the halfway point platform and then trekked up the rest of the way.



Getting to the top is a bit anti-climactic as it doesn't end in some "wow" view, but it felt good to get back on solid ground. We sat down to rest up and then explored a bit. There are 2 paths through the forest, with a sign indicating that one takes 40 minutes roundtrip and leads to an overlook, while the other takes 20 minutes and leads to another waterfall. We opted for the shorter path till the waterfall, which was nice, but as impressive as the main falls.







We headed back to the stairs, took them down (much easier!), checked out the gift shop and then went for the second way to experience the falls. Here, you could either take the 100 or so stairs up the mountain or the elevator inside the mountain. We took the elevator, which led to a small platform atop the mountain that had the best view of the falls.

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I'd say it's worth checking out both experiences. We took some pictures and then took the stairs down. We walked back along the stream, waited on line for the shuttle and took it back to the parking lot where we got the car and  headed back to Denver. For dinner, we went out to the East Side Kosher Deli. I went for something I hadn't had before, the Korean Short Ribs. They were full of flavor and not too fatty. That was basically it for the night and the trip.

The next morning at the airport, we picked up some Coffee Bean.



Unfortunately, I realized I had forgotten to check us in for our SW flight, so we got C boarding positions. (The ONE time we flew on a Monday instead of Sunday, so I could have checked in on Sunday as opposed to when checkin is normally on Shabbos. >:() At the gate, I was offered $40 to upgrade one of our boarding numbers to A6. I could have technically gone on my own and held a seat for my wife, but that's never comfortable, so we just decided we'd sit in the first middle seats we found, even though it meant we wouldn't be sitting together. In the end, this was kinda nice because we were able to get 2 middle seats in the first 5 rows. Before we knew it, we were landing back on the East Coast. Realizing we were by EWR at dinner time, we instinctively headed for New Kosher Special for our favorite Chinese food before heading back home.



Another fun trip to Denver!

October 09, 2016, 12:50:30 PM
1
Re: List of all Credit Card Master Threads
Thanks!  Wikify?
Please do!

October 16, 2016, 07:59:57 AM
1
Re: 2020 Election Pick Your ... Master Thread #Shapiro2020
November 18, 2016, 08:35:29 AM
1
Re: A quick getaway to the "Red City". A cliff notes TR of Marrakech. Nice welcome amenity.  ;D
December 05, 2016, 09:26:47 AM
2
Re: Price Guide Master Thread Very smart idea - thanks!
December 05, 2016, 10:12:31 AM
2
Re: Maui Master Thread
I'm looking to book hotel in Maui May 1-5, and just had my 100k reserve points post. Any suggestions for a good redemption?
I also have 35k SPG.
I saw some hyatt members wanted to keep globalist, happy to trade for points if thats possible (PM me).
We plan to do RTH, Sunrise hike Haleakala, warren and annebelle's, Black Rock snorkeling and Olivine Pools, we would consider one hotel change if that somehow makes booking easier.
Thanks!!
Check the wiki for hotel recommendations. Also Haleakala doesn't require a hike, just fyi.

March 10, 2017, 06:43:50 AM
1
Re: London Master Thread
Harry Potter while Entertaining I wouldn't say that's London

And if your going for a day to London wouldn't you want to get a over view of the major places that are London
Like Big Ben, Tower of London, Tower bridge, London eye, Buckingham Palace , Selfridge's or Harrods
I listed the highlights of London, and then clarified that if you're a big Potter fan, skip all that and go on the tour. Until you're a huge Potter fan and you go on that tour, you won't understand why it's worth skipping the rest of London for that.

March 13, 2017, 02:33:22 PM
1
Re: Iceland Master Thread
Definitely far too short.

If it's on a stopover from Europe it may make sense to see a few of the top sights in this time frame, but to "experience Iceland"? Waaaay too short.
+1 Need 4-5 full weekdays to get a taste. See my trip report intro where I laid out a few of the classic Icelandic trips.

March 17, 2017, 03:39:20 PM
1
Re: Next Vacation - Ideas
I gave up searching until I get to a computer
Try using DDF in browser on phone. It's super small, but I like it way better than tapatalk.

March 24, 2017, 01:55:56 PM
2
Re: 1 day or 2 days in Israel
I don't get it. Why can't you just ask your LOR?
DDF is much more fun than LOR.

March 26, 2017, 08:21:44 PM
1
Re: Hogwarts hagadah on ddms Someone get rid of this troll.
March 27, 2017, 12:59:28 PM
3
Re: Venice Master Thread
Have some spg points . but don't know if wortgto use them here or not
The Gritti Palace and Hotel Danieli are supposed to be gorgeous. The Westin is very nice as well.

April 28, 2017, 11:53:08 AM
1
Re: Venice Master Thread
Alas, the property doesn't have points-based availability in June.  Is there a thread on DDF or elsewhere that lists the Venice properties that accept points and that are in a usable proximity to the ghetto (for Shabbos purposes)?
See the wiki.
I realize that it's going to take a bit more effort and careful watching with all the bridges and water but any major reasons not to go to Venice with a 2 year old?
Bring a baby carrier?

April 28, 2017, 04:37:19 PM
1
Re: Venice Master Thread Potential Shabbos issues at any hotel:
Electronic room door? Put your valuables in the safe, bring tape and tape your key card to the door jamb, leaving it unlocked at all times unless you're in the room, in which case you can lock the chain.
Lobby door? Call hotel and ask if they have a manual door.
Don't want to walk a lot of stairs? Call hotel and ask for room on low floor.
Shabbos candles? Most hotels won't officially allow you to light in your room, either light there and don't tell anyone or ask hotel where you can light (they might allow on front desk or in kitchen) or light at Chabad.

June 19, 2017, 09:47:02 AM
1
Re: Venice Master Thread
All true and thanks for the awesome advice. But I was hoping for someone to chime in with this specific property. It seems from the Wiki, from people's TR, and from JewishVenice that there are only a handful of "sanctioned" properties people are willing to recommend/try but this place looks great and has very high TripAdvisor ratings/reviews.
Just because DDFers haven't stayed here doesn't mean it's not good for Shabbos. Chabad probably listed a few options, but not every single one. Most DDFers either stay at a points hotel or AirBNB.

June 19, 2017, 10:18:37 AM
1
Re: Fairmont Nights Master Thread
Any chance I'll be able to find 4 nights from one person (assuming these are even available any more) or would it have to be 2+2?
Very unlikely to find 4 in 1 account.

June 21, 2017, 09:11:11 AM
1
Re: Private Island Paradise: Something Fishy's Anniversary Adventure Just had a chance to read up. Great job so far as usual. The master storyteller is at it again!
July 06, 2017, 08:25:00 PM
1
Re: Israel & Bali: around the world in 17 days Great new segments! Rosh Hanikra looks really cool - on my list for a future trip. Keep 'em coming!
July 18, 2017, 02:51:01 PM
1
Re: Israel & Bali: around the world in 17 days I'm glad you had lots to eat at all those breakfasts, because that Friday night dinner sounds pretty unsatisfying. :P ;D
July 21, 2017, 04:02:49 AM
2
Re: Rome Master Thread
Anyone ever stopped at EUR near the Sheraton in Rome, anything to see ?
My Rav told me to skip the vatican so I need a half day trip to fill up time.
Villa de este.

July 31, 2017, 07:05:01 AM
1
Re: Manhattan Kosher Restaurants
Meat or Dairy?
Meat. Supposed to be RC style.

August 10, 2017, 03:19:39 PM
1
Re: Switzerland Master Thread Beautiful!
August 30, 2017, 07:47:15 AM
1
Re: Mazal Tov MoisheBatchy on a Baby Boy! Mazel Tov! I hope you spoil him with lots of candy!
August 31, 2017, 11:55:03 PM
2
Re: Grand Hawaiian Holiday, by PBaruch (August 2017) Another great report by the Hawaiian Legend!
September 12, 2017, 04:40:11 PM
2
Re: Iceland Master Thread
Golden Circle
... But not the classic route. Geysir is, well, a geysir. You can see them in other laces and they're not all that exciting. Gullfoss it's hard to get a good view of and is less impressive than Niagara is even other falls in Iceland. Instead, if you can still book a Silfra snorkel trip and then head past the other  activities I mentioned (maybe stop for 5 minutes each as that's all they take) and head to Secret Lagoon, that would be a fun day with unique experiences. If you could somehow pull off seeing Skogafoss (1.5 hours from the lagoon and not in there direction of the airport), you'll see a much more awesome falls than Gulfoss, and get a lot closer too.

September 17, 2017, 07:33:34 AM
2
Re: Iceland Master Thread
Thanks for the tip @yehudah It saves allot of time to skip Geysir and Gullfoss. (also I don't think its recommended to go scuba diving right before you get on a plane something to do with air/ear pressure)
What I would like to do is 4:30am rent a car and drive to Ţingvellir national park on the way hope to see northern lights. (I know its a small chance but i hope)
Daven shachris vasikin
Go to Keriđ crater
Then Hveragerđi
Reykjavik What to do depends on the time (any ideas?)
Then back KEF
I figured about $200 $100 for the rental $100 for gas ($7 a gallon!!!) If any yeshiva buchor wants to join me for this trip (Wed. Morning Sept27 4:50am-6:15pm) let me know
Any insights on this itinerary would be very helpful Thanks allot
As Something Fishy said, go snorkeling, not scuba diving :). I missed Kerid myself, so I can't comment. Hveragerđi is a free option, but from pics it just looks like a stream. Secret Lagoon was a large hot pool (temp of a hot tub even!) and cost about $20-25. Was a real treat. Don't know what to do in Reyk.

@yehuda's idea of going to see Seljalandsfoss is a solid one, I would recommend that. The road out and back is stunningly beautiful. (@yahuda actually recommended Skogafoss, but I believe he meant to say Seljalandsfoss. The former is much further away and not nearly as interesting.)
I actually meant Skogafoss, but I forgot about Seljalandsfoss and I agree it's also a great experience plus closer than Skogafoss - so, good recommendation! I still think Skogafoss was the most powerful falls we saw, but being to walk behind Seljalandsfoss was very cool.

Neither Skogafoss nor Seljalandsfoss are worth a trip out thataway, IMO, but I'd go anyway because of the drive.  Google maps says Skogafoss is just 26 minutes further, and you can see Eyjafjallajokull along the way.  There's a small visitors center on E15.  Just driving along the ring road gives you a feel for Iceland, that I enjoyed very much.  Looming glaciers, meltwater rivers, Icelandic ponies, a sod house or two.  I would definitely do this over Thingvellir, especially if you're not going snorkeling there.

The one thing I regret not doing, is checking out Viking World, or even the national museum (in Reykjavik?).  Iceland=Vikings to me, and most other stuff you can do/see elsewhere.
I kinda agree with this itinerary over the Golden Circle if you won't be doing snorkeling or Secret Lagoon. Drive from KEF straight down the highway along the southern border - nicer drive than the Golden Circle drive. You could even pass by Hveragerđi if you wanted and then see Seljalandsfoss and maybe continue on to Skogafoss then turn back. I didn't plan seeing Eyjafjallajokull properly, unless all it is is looking from the highway, because I didn't see much - just a white capped mountain in the distance. If there is a specific viewing point, I missed it. Passed by the visitor center but heard it wasn't worth visiting on a week-long trip, so I'd say kal v'chomer on a 13 hour stopover. My friends said the viking museum was boring. Iceland=Vikings? Iceland=beautiful sights, not museums... But, I know, to each their own.

September 18, 2017, 10:15:57 AM
1
Re: Private Island Paradise: Something Fishy's Anniversary Adventure What a trip! Thanks for taking the time. Really enjoyed. You are a master storyteller and photographer.
September 19, 2017, 11:49:26 AM
1
Re: Maui Master Thread
Any recommendations for snorkeling gear to buy on amazon in advanced of my trip to hawaii?
I liked this, but you just have to be careful when adjusting the clip, as I wasn't and it cracked off.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00RTMBVAU/ref=ya_aw_od_pi?ie=UTF8&psc=1&th=1
Note different colors have different prices.

December 08, 2017, 08:09:16 AM
1