QUESTION: Dave - Have you ever been to Copenhagen or Stockholm? Seriously considering booking a flight over Xmas Break into NYE. Thoughts? Suggestions? Recos? Thanks! Paola
RESPONSE: Ive been to Copenhagen and its a beautiful city and especially great if you like beer because the Carlsberg brewery is there! If you want to visit Sweden from Copenhagen you can take a commuter train for about $10 across a massive bridge to Malmo, Sweden and spend the day eating Swedish fish, Daim bars, and smoked salmon. Its only a 30 minute train ride and very scenic, but bring your passport. It does get quite cold in those parts in the winter so be prepared so you can wander around outside comfortably.
I have not yet been to Stockholm but I have never heard any bad things, other than that you can expect all of Scandinavia to be rather expensive. Both Stockholm and Copenhagen are known for great nightlife- I think they deal with the cold weather by partying a lot. It is worth checking if either city will have a Christmas market during your visit- the Europeans do Christmas markets unlike anyone else and you can walk around with a beer or mulled wine while eating and shopping in a magical Christmas wonderland- they are not to be missed if you can catch one!
I receive more inquiries about Costa Rica than any other destination. To say that Costa Rica is a popular spot these days is an understatement and it seems that everyone has it on their short list of places they want to visit. Last year the country welcomed a record 2.1 million visitors in search of sun, sand, adventure, and the ecotourism. The once sleepy Liberia airport in the Pacific northwest region of the country is about to introduce a shiny and modern new terminal to help ease overcrowding at the dilapidated tin hut that currently serves as the countrys second international airport.
This was my second visit to Costa Rica and my first time exploring the Guanacaste region on the Pacific coast, just south of the border with Nicaragua. Back in August Continental had a huge fare sale on flights from NYC to Liberia, and I scooped up tickets for $285 for a long weekend escape. Since everyone seems to be obsessed with Costa Rica these days, it was not hard to convince Ben and my friend Erica to join me on this whirlwind adventure. I assured my companions that we would stick to a budget and pack as much adventure as possible into our 48 hour visit.
For accommodation I chose Hotel La Finisterra on Playa Hermosa. This was an easy choice since the Tripadvisor reviews unanimously raved about the hotels amazing views, nice beach, and friendly service. We paid $128 per night for a triple room with stunning sea views, and a delicious traditional Costa Rican breakfast was included each day. They also threw in a $25 food voucher, but since the hotels restaurant was a bit pricier than surrounding places- the $25 mainly went towards 2 for 1 beers at evening happy hour.
Liberia airport is relatively close to Guanacaste and it is less than 30 minutes from the terminal to the beach, however cab rates are absurdly expensive at $70 each way. It was significantly cheaper and remarkably easier to rent a small SUV for our visit, complete with a GPS, for $95. I highly recommend that travelers rent a car when visiting Costa Rica in order to experience the sights and activities at their own pace and convenience. We were able to save an additional $30 each by driving ourselves to the canopy tour 10 km down the road versus scheduling a pickup at the hotel, and we were able to take advantage of shopping for groceries and driving to cheap restaurants during the trip.
CANOPY TOUR Our first activity on Day 2 was a zipline canopy tour through the rain forest. Ziplines are very popular in Costa Rica and despite my crippling fear of heights, it became evident that Ben and Ericas enthusiasm for dangling on a cable at high speeds was going to make it impossible for me to avoid this activity. We chose the Congo Canopy Tour and paid $35 each for a 90 minute thrill ride across 9 ziplines ranging in length from about 200 to 2000 feet, all at death defying heights. Our guides quickly picked up on my vulnerable fear of heights and seized every opportunity to pretend that we were about to die. While Erica and Ben attempted upside down maneuvers and show-off routines, I clenched my harness and gripped the brake with superhuman force. The group consensus believed that the canopy tour was fun and exhilarating and not to be missed, though my opinion was cast aside as an outlier.
FUN WITH GPS After narrowly surviving the zipline tour, our mission was to drive to Playa Tamarindo which is the surfing capital of the region. We plugged our destination into the trusty GPS and settled in for the hour-long drive to the beach. As our journey got underway, the voice of the GPS seemed to be suffering from some absentmindedness. She was intent on guiding us onto very narrow dirt roads with steep inclines and large rocks. At several points we decided to ignore her directions and seek safer roads, hoping she would pick up on our preference for pavement. Eventually, we ended up on a dirt road that was bisected by a raging river. We idled for a few moments to discuss whether our two wheel drive Kia Sportage had the capability of performing as an amphibious vehicle. We quickly decided to turn around and head back to Playa Hermosa to enjoy the rest of the days sun.
BOAT TOUR Playa Hermosa is a beautiful black sand beach with calm water and several restaurant and tour options. We ventured into a yellow and blue painted beachfront bar called AquaSport to enjoy a casual (and inexpensive) lunch and inquire about an afternoon activity. The owner, Jan, was an American born in Montana who came to Costa Rica with her parents at age 10. She offered us a private guided boat tour of the area with a snorkeling stop and sunset view for $120 for 3 hours. We had been considering a touristy booze cruise catamaran trip in nearby Coco Beach for $85 per person, so Jans option seemed like a steal!
We loaded up our gear onto the speedboat and our guide, Adam, took us across the bay for our next adventure. The first stop was on a white coral beach adjacent to the Four Seasons property that could only be accessed by boat. We plopped into the water and headed out to inspect the nearby reef with our snorkels. Ben was lucky enough to spot a giant sea turtle while Erica and I enjoyed the abundant colorful fish. We then opened some local Imperial beers and enjoyed the crystal clear water as the sun began to set. Adam surprised us by catching a blowfish that was inflated to a comical size. We then climbed aboard to head out to Monkey Head Island and watch the sunset. Along the way we watched schools of tuna leap from the water, so Adam decided to drop a line to see what he could catch. Within seconds the rod was bending and Ben was tasked with reeling in the giant fish. To our amazement, he reeled in a 10 lb Tuna! We all immediately gathered for a photo op. Suddenly the rod was bending again as another fish took the line. This time Erica was selected to reel in the bounty, however the fish seemed to be quite the fighter. The two of us battled feverishly to keep the rod steady as we painfully reeled in the second fish- a giant 20 lb Tuna!! (please keep in mind that the margin of error for actual weights may vary by as much as 95 percent) With dinner flopping around in the stern of the boat, we headed back to Hermosa Beach as the sun set over the pacific. Jan arranged for the smaller fish to be cleaned and grilled for us and we gave Adam the larger fish to take home. Somehow we managed to devour every ounce of the enormous Tuna for dinner while listening to the gentle waves crashing along the beach. The group unanimously agrees that the boat tour was the best part of the trip.
One of the best attributes of Costa Rica is its friendly and trustworthy people. Unlike other countries that have seen a rapid growth in tourism, Costa Rica lacks the exhausting haggling and rip-offs that can ruin a vacation. Our funny and engaging guides at the Canopy tour went out of their way to take action photos of us with our camera, yet they were nowhere to be found when it came time to give them their well-deserved tip. We had to go find them as they departed for another tour in order to reward them for a job well done. Our boat guide, Adam, went out of his way to enhance our trip with an unexpected and unforgettable fishing experience and that silly blowfish, yet he was reluctant to accept a cash tip in addition to the fish. Upon returning to the rental car lot, an Avis employee directed us to a nearby gas station where we could refill the tank for less than $1 per liter and avoid the $40 refueling charge. There was an apparent honesty and sincere friendliness among the Costa Rican people that deserves praise and it was a characteristic that we greatly appreciated.
To see my photos from Costa Rica, please visit the Amazing Travel Concierge Facebook page at:
My husband and I took 4 cab rides during our 2-night trip to Boston, and all four cab drivers refused to let us pay by credit card. Each time we asked to use plastic, we were faced with a litany of excuses including claims that the machine was broken, would not print a receipt, or that it would cost extra. It was infuriating to go through the same resistance over and over again, especially since this was a work trip for Ben and he had to use his corporate card for all expenses.
New York introduced credit card payment in taxis in 2007, about two years before it was widely available in Boston. At first, there was some resistance among cab drivers who resented the 3-5% processing fees for credit cards. However, the resentment soon evaporated and it seemed both drivers and passengers accepted the new normality of cashless payments quite quickly.
In 2011 it is absurd for anyone to expect passengers to always have a wad of cash available for taxi fares. Our cab ride from the airport to Waltham was $53 and the driver threw a fit when we asked him to enable the credit card payment screen. I cannnot remember the last time I carried $53 in cash on me! I understand that the small processing fee credit card companies charge erodes a portion of their profit, but I often have to pay $3 ATM fees to access cash when traveling, so I do not depart with my cash unless its absolutely necessary! If cab drivers are not making any money, then why are there so many cabs? And hasnt the expanded payment options increased ridership while also alleviating the need for carrying abundant change for passengers?
When I was living in Washington, DC for college in the late 90s, the taxis did not yet have meters. The same exact ride from the Georgetown front gates to the US Airways Shuttle terminal at DCA could cost anywhere from $16-$27. The price was determined by a Ouija board that the driver whipped out at the end of the ride to summon the taxi fare spirits in a front seat seance. It was ludicrous. Eventually all elements of society have to adapt with the times and credit card payments for taxi fares is here to stay, and I urge you to push back the next time a taxi driver tries to prevent you from using your plastic!
Mileage Run, noun, A flight taken for no reason other than to accrue frequent flyer miles.
My trip to Hawaii was a mileage run. Back in May I received an alert about flights from NY to Maui for $495 on Continental. These flights are usually in the $800-$1,200 range, but the opportunity to earn a heap of Elite-qualifying miles is what really attracted me. I knew that I would be at least 10,000 miles short for retaining my Elite Silver status on Continental/United for the year, and this flight would seal another year of valuable perks when flying this carrier. So, Hawaii here I come!
In total I received 13,866 miles for this trip. This includes a 25% bonus I receive for having Elite status this year and it is enough for a one-way award ticket to anywhere in the Continental US, Canada, or Alaska. But the best part is that I can look forward to another year of free checked baggage and unlimited upgrades to first class when space is available (which has been averaging out to about 1 in every 3 flights). Getting to visit the gorgeous island of Maui was just a small perk in a grand scheme to ensure that I get the most benefits out of my future flights!
-Nicole Kidman was born here
-Plastic bags are illegal
-Population is only 1.3mm, but 7mm visitors pass through every year
-It is home to the only official royal residence in the United States (Iolani Palace)
-It is home to the tallest mountain in the world (If you measured from the base under the sea) Mauna Kea is 33,000 feet from base to summit (4,000 feet taller than Everest)
-No billboards (one of only 4 states to ban these eye sores)
-Hawaii residents consume more Spam per capita than any other state. It is even served in restaurants
-The Hawaiian alphabet only has 12 letters- 5 vowels and 7 consonants. That is why all of the town names kinda look the same!
-It is located 2,390 miles from California
-There are no snakes in Hawaii. There are no tarantulas either- the Brady Bunch writers wish they had Google back then.
Ever since the Brady Bunch took a family trip to Hawaii I have been looking forward to the day when I arrive at Honolulu airport and am presented with a tropical flower lei and a welcoming aloha. Well, I hope you are all sitting down… apparently this only happens on TV. I just landed in Honolulu on a Continental flight from Houston and spent the entire taxi time to the gate practicing my lei acceptance. As I emerged from the jetway, I looked for the procession of welcome leis and to my dismay it was nowhere to be found. I’m ok with airlines cutting meals, peanuts, free booze and even charging for checked bags, but I never thought they’d take away my lei. To console myself, I found the arrival episode of the legendary Brady Bunch Hawaii saga and if you fast forward to 4:00 minutes into the episode, you can relive the lei ceremony that now exists only in my imagination:
Last week a friend had to suddenly cancel her trip to Miami due to the death of a great aunt. We have all seen the Seinfeld where George tries to get a discounted bereavement fare, but do these discounts really exist? Apparently they do, but they are not easy to get.
In the case of my friend, she merely needed to cancel her flight in order to remain in New York for the funeral services. Her first call to American Airlines proved fruitless as the agent told her that there was no way to avoid the $150 cancelation fee. Since the value of the ticket was only $168, this meant that she would basically lose the entire cost of the flight. Her second call to American Airlines provided a glimmer of hope as the agent offered to consult his supervisor. My friend was informed that a supervisor can decide to waive a cancelation fee in the event of a death of a family member, however in this case the supervisor would not waive the fee. This sent my friend into hysterics as dealing with insensitive airline agents was not what she was emotionally equipped for at this particular time. Fortunately, she persevered and decided to make a third and final attempt to seek some mercy from the airline. On her third call, the supervisor agreed to waive the $150 cancelation fee provided that a copy of the death certificate was mailed to American Airlines with an explanation of the cancelation.
It seems that some airlines do still offer bereavement fares and some compassion when it comes to last minute travel plans due to the death of a family member. However, these special considerations are only available over the phone and only if you are persistent. The Delta Airlines website provides information regarding their bereavement fares which can apply to immediate family members as well as in laws:
Neither Delta nor American specifies the amount of the bereavement discounts and both require calling the airline directly. Continental Airlines offers only 5% off round trip fares up to $500, 10% off fares up to $1000 and 20% off fares beyond that. Neither Southwest nor US Airways offer bereavement fares of any kind, but in many cases the lowest internet fare may be considerably less than the bereavement fares offered by other airlines. If you are faced with the unfortunate circumstance of traveling to a funeral, it is best to call around to several airlines for the lowest fare and compare those to the best fares available on the internet.
Even I, the Amazing Travel Concierge, occasionally screws up a vacation. Last night I surprised my husband with a night at the Cheeca Lodge Resort & Spa on Islamorada in the Florida Keys to celebrate his birthday. I put my trust in Conde Nast Traveler Readers Survey which listed the Cheeca Lodge in the top 100 large resorts in the US:
I skipped all of my usual background checks on the resort (like tripadvisor.com) and scooped up a room on hotels.com for $189 which seemed like a great deal for a resort that hob nobs on a Top 100 list along with Ritz-Carletons and Four Seasons resorts. What a colossal mistake!
After a 2 hour drive along the mostly-tacky overseas highway from Miami, we were greeted with a check-in process reminiscent of filing taxes at H&R Block. Guests are invited to sit in desk chairs facing a receptionist behind a giant desk who embarks on an exhausting check-in process. Eventually, the receptionist gets to the unexpected surprise and the reason guests are asked to remain seated during this process: There is an additional $39 resort fee per room per night! She then shoves a sheet of paper in the guests face detailing a list of items included in the guest fee, all of which would be free at any respectable resort. Items include: self parking, in-room coffee, access to fitness center, and local phone calls.
My husband quickly put me in my straight jacket and wheeled me away like Hannibal Lecter so that I would not physically harm the receptionist. I was still clutching her sheet of resort-fee amenities and was in a state of shock that I had somehow missed the fine print while making the reservation. Now this $189 hotel room was actually going to cost $255.32 with taxes and the deceitful resort fee. Nonetheless, we were going to try to enjoy our night at Hotel de Nickel and Dime and somehow earn $39 worth of extra amenities. I kept a running tab of everything we did and applied an appropriate a la carte fee for the service, to see if we could win back the $39 I had mismanaged. Here is the breakdown of how we used our resort fee to the max:
$3 Had the bell boy drive us to our room on a golf cart
$1.50 Guzzled a free bottle of water immediately upon entering the room
$1.75 Cranked up the air conditioning to 60 degrees and left the balcony doors wide open so we could feel the cool air while enjoying wine (we brought ourselves) outside in the humid Florida Keys sun
$2 made a pot of coffee for a pre-dinner wake up jolt
$7 Had the Bell staff drive us to a restaurant (off-site of course, Hotel de Nickel and Dime was not getting another cent from me)
$1.50 bedtime bottle of water
$2 morning pot of in-room coffee with breakfast (purchased at a 7-11 on the way home from dinner the night prior)
$10 morning kayak along the coast to see the neighboring properties of Rip-Off Resort
$2 two cups of lobby coffee
$3 two more free bottles of water
$3 another golf cart ride back to the room in the pouring rain
$2.25 stole all of the Splenda and Sweet & Low in the room to take home
So we did it! We squeezed an extra $39 out of the sleezy Cheeca Lodge and recovered the equivalent of the detested resort fee. The real lesson learned, however, is to ALWAYS read the fine print and check some user reviews before booking a hotel. Almost every entry on Tripadvisor mentions the absurd resort fee at any resort that employs this deceitful method for increasing their margins and artificially discounting their nightly rate. Beware!
Some people go nuts for fancy cars. Others go gaga for diamonds. I am an airlines miles junkie. I will pretty much do anything for airline miles. This addiction has taken me on transcontinental flights to California solely for the purpose of earning 5,000 miles off a cheap domestic ticket. I often agree to take the online survey for a mere 500 mile bonus to my account. And most recently, I have acquired a wallet chock full of almost every airline credit card under the sky.
The airline credit card benefits are actually quite attractive and something I recommend to anyone who travels several times a year. There are several perks and awards for signing up for one of these cards, the most exciting being the instant 25,000 bonus miles credit to your frequent flyer account. This bonus is enough to take you from NY to Vancouver (a route that regularly costs over $600!) for a ski trip to Whistler. But there are more reasons to consider the airline credit card. Free checked bags is my second favorite perk. I may be the only frequent flyer who ALWAYS checks a bag. I get tremendous satisfaction from relinquishing responsibility for my bulky, heavy, suitcase at check-in and letting all of my suntan lotions, razors, and extra shoes find me at my destination (and they always do!). At $25 per checked bag each way, a family of four instantly saves $200 on every trip if they are all booked on the same itinerary as an airline credit card holder. Of course there is the VIP treatment as well. Cardholders have access to the priority security lanes and board the plane ahead of regular passengers in the second boarding group (right after first class!). For those of us who refuse to fly with anything larger than an ipod case under the seat in front of us, early access to the overhead bins is more valuable now than ever. Lastly, there are bonus miles jumping out at every turn. If you book your ticket with the credit card: Double Miles. Buy a bottle of wine onboard with your credit card: Double Miles AND save $2 off that drink! It really seems like the gift that keeps on giving.
However, one must choose their airline credit card carefully. Most people do not want to sacrifice their credit by opening a flurry of new cards (like I did). It makes the most sense to choose the airline that you fly most often- and then stick with that airline for all of your flights as long as the price is within reason. Remember, the $50 round-trip savings in baggage fees can offset the cost of choosing your credit card airline over a cheaper competitor. These credit cards are not free either. In most cases the $75 fee is waived for the first year, but after that you need to take advantage of the free bag check AT LEAST three times per year in order to cover the annual fee. Most importantly, make sure that you can use those bonus miles to your advantage. If you already have 35,000 miles in your account, the bonus will be enough to score an award ticket to Europe or South America! If you are starting from scratch, don’t waste your free ticket flying from NY to Ft. Lauderdale on a $200 flight. Use it for those more obscure routes that usually charge through the roof to destinations like Jackson Hole, Key West, Banff, or Anchorage. Don’t be afraid to cancel the card before the annual fee kicks in- you can take the bonus miles and run with no penalty!
If used properly, an airline credit card can really work to your advantage. As with all credit cards, its only worthwhile if the full balance is paid off every month. With a little planning, you can laugh all the way to Whistler while enjoying all the perks of your new piece of plastic.
You can imagine my horror last week when I learned that the Marriot Gas Lamp hotel I was visiting in San Diego did not have a pool! I had wrongly assumed that a pool was every bit as standard as an ice machine in a city that boasts 270 days of sunshine per year. As panic began to set in, I frantically called the front desk to assess my options. Perhaps they could issue me a guest pass to visit the luxurious Marriot Grand Marquis across the street whose website glistened with photos of an elaborate oasis of pristine pools and waterfalls? But no, even though they both shared the same brand name- their relationship was more like that of North and South Korea.
I had to get a hold of myself. A lack of authorization had never prevented me from accessing luxurious pools in the past. It would just be a matter of reaching into my old bag of restricted pool hopping tricks. There are a number of nearly fool-proof methods for sneaking into pools. Here are some of my favorites:
1. 1. Act like you own the place- Think of all of the times you have walked into the pool of the hotel in which you are actually staying and had no one questioned your legitimacy. When you know that you are entitled to use the facilities, your confidence reflects that and you fit right in. In most cases, if you waltz right on into to any hotel pool with determination and confidence- no pool boy or cocktail waiter would ever dream of asking you to show some credentials.
2. 2. Get the lay of the land- Occasionally you may encounter some version of a check-in desk at the entrance to the pool that asks for your room number. 99% of the time this “check-in” requires nothing more than a self-reported name and a room number. All that matters in this case is that you make up a room number that conforms to the numerical code of that hotel. No one on staff ever checks that the names match the room. Usually it will be a 3 digit number, but occasionally it may be four digits. Before you attempt to make up a room number, be sure to pay attention to the signs in the lobbies and hallways directing guests to their rooms. These signs are a dead giveaway to the numerical coding that the hotel uses! For example, Rooms 301-316 to the left confirms that you will need a three-digit room code. It is important to note the number of floors in the hotel since the first digit almost always indicates the floor number. In large hotel towers, avoid making up rooms starting with a 1 or 2 as the lower floors are often banquet and event space with no guest rooms!
3. 3. Arts and Crafts- Some hotels and resorts will mark guests’ hands with a stamp upon leaving the pool area for re-entry. This process is popular at many country clubs as well. If you keep a few of the standard washable markers with you while traveling, you can make a mark on your own hand and then smudge it by licking your finger and wiping with pressure. When entering the pool area, hold your hand up confidently and proudly to show that you possess the necessary validation for entry. However, if you are stopped for further inspection (which is rare), demonstrate shock that the stamp has smudged and is no longer recognizable- perhaps it was due to sweat? I mean, no person in their right mind would actually go through the trouble to forge a pool-entry stamp, would they ;)
4. 4. Souvenirs- When friends and relatives come to your hometown and pamper themselves with a stay at one of the nicer hotels, it behooves you to make plans with them on the evening AFTER they check-out. While sipping cocktails and catching up, casually request to see their room key and ask if you can keep it for your collection. This key represents a free all-access pass to the hotel pool the next time you fancy a refreshing dip. If this souvenir also comes with the keycard envelope with the room number handwritten on the front- even better! No one messes with a guest sporting an actual room key and key holder adorned with the hotel’s prestigious and very recognizable logo!
Bl 5. Blond Moment- In the very unlikely event that you blow your cover and a manager approaches you to question your status- play dumb! If you know the gig is up do not try to argue- simply explain that you were visiting the hotel for lunch or drinks and thought the pool looked so delightful that you didn’t think it was problem if you indulged. Of course you did not see any of the signs indicating that the pool is for overnight guests only and you are so humbly embarrassed that you will leave right away. Oops!
I decided my best bet for an unsuspecting pool break was to head out to Coronado Island to the sprawling Hotel Del Coronado. The hotel offers numerous shops and restaurants that welcome visitors who are not staying at the hotel, so I knew that I would not arouse suspicion as I entered the property. I took note that the hotel seemed to only have about four floors, and then let out a sigh of relief as I passed a series of rooms with outdoor patios labeled with their respective room numbers 4031, 4032, 4033 - I had everything I needed. The pool was a large, sunken complex facing the ocean with several hundred sunbeds and what looked like a minimal staff consisting of a towel boy and a cocktail waitress. My biggest obstacle was the locked glass door guarding the stairs down to the pool. A sign clearly indicated that the pool was only for overnight guests, and a room key was required to open the door. I changed into my bathing suit ahead of time in order to fit in immediately with the pool guests, and lurked by the menu at the outdoor restaurant while I waited for a guest to exit the pool area. Alas, after just a few moments a mother with two small children headed up the stairs towards the pool exit. I timed my approach to coincide with theirs, and waited patiently as they exited the pool and held the door for me behind them. I was in!!
I settled into a sunbed in a vacant section of chairs and watched as guests sauntered up to the towel boy to help themselves to towels. It appeared that he was not requesting any validation, so I confidently made the trek over and selected an enormous soft white towel for myself. What followed was merely pure relaxation and refreshing floating as I basked in a mission accomplished successfully. I did not dare bother the cocktail waitress for anything- seemed like there was high risk of being exposed if I attempted a transaction. Instead I opted for evening happy hour and appetizers at the veranda bar before heading home, without anyone so much as suspecting that I was an intruder.
I recently embarked on a dream ski trip hitting up a bunch of ski resorts all over New England and it really was an amazing vacation! Christmas is always the most expensive time to travel and I always urge clients to save their more exotic vacations for other times during the year. Christmas vacation is an ideal time to take advantage of nearby destinations and cash-in invites to visit friends and family near interesting places!
I began at Okemo in Vermont where my sister convieniently lives. For early season skiing there is no safer bet than Okemo- they have the best snowmaking force in the East and proved their superiority once again with the most open terrain on the east coast for the holidays, and some attrcative $39 midweek offers for their mobile fan base :)
Next stop was Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch, NH which is a state-owned ski resort in the northern White Mountains. Somehow, Franconia Notch seems to pick up 2 feet of snow every time a small system swings through that leaves 2 inches at the other resorts. The conditions here were excellent! Also, the scenery is astounding with distant views of Mount Washington from the base to summit Arial Tram (so cool!!). Since it is state-owned, the prices are quite reasonable at $67 for an adult weekend lift ticket (Ski Magazine voted Cannon "Best Value for the East").
My home for the nest week was at the loveley Eastern Slope Inn in North Conway, NH. I traded a september vacation week from my unit at Jackson Gore with RCI in exchange for a free week here over the holidays- score!! Cranmore Mountain is across the street and offered a very fun (and cheap- $59) ski day for a local hill. I was blessed with the enormous blizzard that swept through New England on my first day, so every resort had some fresh powder!
The Blizzard of 2010 also brought some severe winds which required me to take off a day of skiing while in North Conway. Not a big deal since there is a TON to do in this quaint mountain town. I filled up the day of "rest" with some outlet shopping, a scenic train ride, a snowmobile tour, followed by some tubing action at Cranmore. To finish up, I discovered the Flatbread Pizza Company in the hotel was perhaps the best (and affordable meal) ive ever eaten!! No wonder there were 2 hour waits for tables every night.
Finally the wind calmed down and I headed up to Wildcat Mountain in the White Mountain National Forest. BIG MISTAKE! Even with the new snow, they barely had enough terrain open to keep me occupied for 2 hours. I had to wait on line for 30 minutes to buy a lift ticket ($70!!!!) and they delayed the opening of the one and only main lift until 10am, even though the wind had stopped. By 11:30 am I was bored of the overpriced mountain and decided to head down the road to their sister ski resort- Attitash- where you can ski with the same lift ticket. BIG MISTAKE #2!! Attitash was a sheet of ice by 1pm with crowded trails and hardly any sign of the fresh snowfall. I lasted 3 runs before calling it quits.
For my final ski day in NH I headed to Bretton Woods, located directly in front of the impressive Mount Washinton white peaks. As I pulled into the parking lot, I was informed that they were out of parking due to the incredible snow storm over the holidays which left them with 34 inches of freshies!! I glanced up at the beautiful blue sky and abundent snow and knew there was zero chance of me leaving. Instead, I obediently turned out of the parking lot and went across the street to the glorious Mount Washington Hotel where I pretended I was a guest for lunch. I then, parked my car, snuck onto their free ski shuttle, and was dropped off at the lift back at Bretton Woods. Drastic Times call for drastic measures. Bretton Woods was the best ski day of the trip! Amazing snow- 100% of terrain opened and despite the crowds in the parking lot- the mountain felt empty!! I was in heaven.
My New England Ski Tour was so much fun that I didnt even mind taking 2 days off from skiing once I made it down to Dorset, VT for New Years Eve. I may be looking to repeat the adventure again next year, but then again what are the chances for a such a perfectly timed repeat blizzard of 2011?
This was my second Thanksgiving trip to the DR and it looks like it is going to become an annual tradition. Of course I feel guilty about missing out on the big feast with my family in Long Island, but after a few Pina Coladas while floating in the 84 degree turquoise Caribbean Sea, the DR seems to be exactly what the Pilgrims needed after that harsh trip across the Atlantic. And with flights over the Turkey holiday as low as $350 r/t, it is an economical choice for spending the 4 day weekend compared to $650 flights to Florida to see Uncle Lester and Aunt Helga.
The purpose of this trip was to scout out some new all-inclusive properties in the DR. Many people have their preconceived notions about the DR and do not think it is a destination that can meet their travel needs, for whatever reason. However, if you are looking for sun + beautiful beaches + prices so cheap it doesn’t seem mathematically possible to turn a profit- then you are silly to overlook the DR.
After a few days in the Capital staying with some locals and indulging in their yacht club, tennis club, and family feast gatherings- I headed up to the Samana peninsula in the north east. A new highway was recently completed that cut down the driving time from 5 to 2.5 hours on a well maintained paved toll road. It is rumored that jetBlue is going to begin the first international service to the Samana airport from the US, so I wanted to discover this highly recommended Gem before the masses do.
My first site to check out in Samana was a beautiful waterfall called El Limon. The only way to get there is to pay a local guide $15 to take you over the steep hills by horseback to the national park entrance. There you descend down a steep rocky staircase to the Falls- where you can take a swim, jump off the rocks, or just take hundreds of photos. Please note- when you point to your Marc Jacobs flip flops and ask the guide if they are ok for the journey and he says “yes”, what he really means is “yes, if you want to look like an idiot.” I ended up descending the muddy rock stairs barefoot- slipping several times- while kicking myself for being too lazy to change into the hiking sneakers I had in the back of the car. Somehow I survived without twisting and ankle or throwing out my back, and the Falls proved to be an impressive and worthwhile sight.
Next stop was my hotel- the Bahia Principe Cayacoa on a steep clip peninsula just west of the main town overlooking the Samana sound. The hotel claims to be a 5 star, but most travel reviews deem it a 4 star at best, though at $99 a night for all-you-can-drink and all-you-can-eat with a beautiful cliff-top pool and spectacular beach- it was heaven for me no matter what the rating. I think about 90 seconds separated my check- in from my first splash into the pool, just in time to join the crowd at the swim up bar for a late afternoon Presidente beer.
As I started to scope out the crowd and listen in on conversations, I realized that I was not surrounded by the loud, obese Americans that I had expected at such a resort. Instead, the pool area was full of British and Canadian accents, although it did seem that a particular group from Toronto could give any loudmouth Americans a run for their money. After 2 deep breaths I was far out of earshot on the other side of the pool, taking in the warm sun and beautiful scenery while sipping my free beer, reminding myself that for $99 I could definitely put up with one or two loud Canadians and maybe a few Jenny Craig dropouts.
Day 2 in Samana had just one plan: Go to Cayo Lenentau! The small islands that dot the Samana coastline are called “Cayos” and one in particular located about 2 miles offshore was home to the nicest resort in Samana (well beyond my budget at $600/night) as well as a beautiful white sand beach that could be visited through a day tour. I hoped into a boat on the beach in front of my hotel at 9:00am, and for $25 we were off for a full day on the tiny tropical cayo. If there is one thing I never get bored of it is floating on a beautiful sunny beach. Before I knew it, 5 hours had passed and it was time to catch the boat back to the hotel before the lunch restaurants closed. I ended up returning to Cayo Leventau again two days later to repeat the indulgence in paradise. It is definitely a main attraction for Samana!
After 5 days it was time to make the drive back to the capital and return home. I was able to squeeze in one last hurrah sunset at the Marina Chica restaurant in Boca Chica near the Hamaca Hotel. In a relaxing white-cushioned seat on the sea I enjoyed a delicious mojito while snacking on some local grilled octopus- a favorite among the Spanish descendants in the DR but considered nothing more than “bait” among the finicky locals. Then it was back to NYC on a Continental flight (they still serve meals btw!) and back to the damp cold of the winter in the Northeast with only a golden brown tan to remind me of my spectacular Thanksgiving trip.
When Virgin America kicked off a west coast price war last month with nonstop flights from NYC to LAX for as low as $99, I knew it was going to be too hard to sit out on these deals. My Continental OnePass miles were teetering at just under 20,000 miles for 2010, just 5,000 miles shy of earning elite status for all of 2011 (Which come with 2 free bags checked, priority check in and boarding, and better availability of upgrades and reward flights- not to mention a 25% mileage bonus every time I fly.
Ever since the United-Continental merger, it has been more attractive than ever to have status within the Star Alliance- as these two airlines now represent the largest airline in the world. I went searching for the cheapest and easiest way to secure a cheap flight to LAX (5,000 miles roundtrip) and some fun things to do on a whirlwind visit.
Even though flights were cheap, the notion of paying $219 still seemed a bit wasteful just for achieving status. I opted to cash in my Citibank Thankyou points (which are converted directly to the plane ticket's dollar value via their website- so cheaper flights are a better use of points) for a free nonstop United flight that would arrive LAX at noon on Tuesday (today) and depart at 2 pm wednesday (tomorrow). United offers its P.S. (Premium Service) flights from JFK to both LAX and SFO- which means that economy is "economy plus" with a generous amount of legroom (33 inches) and suposedly more refined service. It does not, however, mean that you will enjoy your own personal TV (like onjetblue, virgin, frontier, and most delta flights) so i was forced to watch a horrendous film called The Sorcerer's Apprentice on the shared main cabin overhead TVs.
When we landed in LA on time I hit the ground running (literally). I had just 2 hours to get my rental car ($42 on hotwire for 24 hours of wheels- a necessity in LA), hit In N Out burger, touch the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica Beach, and show up to the studio for a taping of Chelsea Lately.
By far the highlight was a front row seat to the taping of the hysterical Chelsea Lately show (Thanks Holly for the tickets!!!!). You cant come to LA and not do sopmething related to the entertainment industry. Best of all- its FREE!!
Now Im resting up at a freind's apartment getting ready for a night out, before my exhausting return to NYC tomorrow- as a proud silver elite member of Continental's OnePass!
I hadn't had a chance to post in a while since the Jet-A-Thon ended but that doesnt mean the traveling has stopped. I went down to sunny Miami for a long Halloween weekend with some friends. There have been TONS of deals to Miami this Fall and i saw round trip airfares from NYC go as low as $77 round trip. I actually ended up making and canceling 3 hotel reservations as I found better and better deals as the trip grew near. Finally, I ended up at the brand new Viceroy in downtaon which is part of the impressive new Icon Brickell development. It was purely 5 star with a great restaurant, amazing decor, and the largest infinity pool in Florida.
South beach was alive and well for Halloween and the beaches were perfect all weekend with 83 degree water and full sun. I attended the Save Dade fundraiser on Saturday which was a hoot and took in super cheesey but fun tour of celebrity houses aboard a pirate ship. Very fun weekend and can't wait to go back!!
For anyone who has ever been sent an album of hundreds of pictures of someone else's amazing trip, you will appreciate this impressive quick glimpse at a couple's trip to Spain and Morocco: