Monday, December 28, 2015

Florida (must try!!) Amelia Island

Amelia island plantation is a beautiful area for a week of rest and relaxation. Amelia island is located within the city of Jacksonville, FL. It reminds a lot of Savannah, GA. 


A lot of people own homes and condos there with the exception of the Omni hotel so you can expect quietness and just pure relaxation.



There are boutique shops, tennis courts (where women's tournament used to take place), 2 golf courses with some of the hole right by the beach, an expanded full fitness center (where they film and host the biggest loser), lots of parks with Wifi, swings, Segway rentals, walking trails by the marsh and a couple of restaurants. 

Marche restaurant which where everyone gets lunch or coffee or ice cream. Service is not great, pricing is not amazing either but when in Amelia. The other option is to come with your grocery all planned out (shopping centers are just 15 minutes away) and just enjoy the beach if you were lucky to rent a beach front condo otherwise, pricing for the Omni restaurants are pretty pricey with a very basic selection. 


The Omni hotel has a beautiful setup, beach front as well as a completely renovated pool area with fire pits everywhere.  

We stayed with our in laws on a beach front condo so 80% of our meals were cooked which I would recommend.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Staycation for Seattle (Suncadia Resort & Swiftwater Cellars)!!

Suncadia Resort and Spa - is a wonderful home away from home, especially for folks living and working in the city like us.  Suncadia has the most breath taking expansive mountain views and river view, it looks like it is located in the Swiss Alps. Our first trip there, we stayed at the Suncadia Inn as oppose to the Suncadia Lodge.  We had a balcony room which is standard at the Inn facing the resort instead of the mountain view / golf course.  At the Inn, breakfast is included, at the Lodge, it is not. The room at the Inn is an equivalent to the One bedroom Suite at the Lodge in appearance. It was amazing, big Jacuzzi tub, fireplace, two rocking chairs on the balcony, king size bed, awesome rain shower, nice TV (does not work with an Apple TV though), keurig machine, coffee, teas and 2 robes.
 


There are 4 options that you can select from when coming to this amazing place.
You can opt to stay at:
1)



Inn at Suncadia - this is great for couples, since it is very small and private (there is mini fridge, coffee maker, sink, free continental breakfast, one restaurant onsite, closer to fitness/pool/rental center, fireplace in all of their units, big Jacuzzi tub)
2)

Lodge at Suncadia - this is great for families, lots of children activities throughout your stay, there are rooms with kitchens - the one bedroom suite, the studio has a kitchenette, so microwave, coffee maker, mini fridge, and there is even an option for a double bed room with no kitchenette or microwave or fridge - so plan to eat out daily.
3)

Suncadia Rental Home - this is great for large families that are planning to stay for a while, pricier as it is significantly bigger (not really intimate for 2 people)
4)

Trailhead Condominiums - another great place for both couples or families - full kitchen,
allowing for you to cook for your family similarly to a one bedroom suite




The Inn at Suncadia



PRO: The pro about staying at the Inn versus the Lodge, is how quite it is, there are not a lot of rooms so less people and the rooms are significantly bigger for the same prices as the lowest one bedroom at the Lodge.  Includes breakfast and there is a restaurant onsite that offers happy hour. More focus on adults wanting some alone time. It is closer to the fitness center, summer rentals, paddle boarding, mopeds, and pool.  In the winter, the summer rental area becomes an ice skating rink.




CONS: The only downfall to staying at the Inn versus the Lodge is you are aware from the activities conducted at the lodge, specifically kids activities.  There are two restaurants on site at the Lodge, both good, one adult only and the other family.  However, it is not a very long walk, 5 minutes to walk over from the Inn.




The Lodge at Suncadia





The Lodge River View




PRO: The biggest pro with staying at the Lodge to us, is the breathtaking view.  You must get the room with a river view to get this expansive view of the mountains and river. Great place to just on your balcony or outside and have a glass of wine while taking in nature's finest creation.  The other pro is if you have kids, there are a ton of activities that are planned for them. For example: during the winter seasons, there are making ornaments classes, breakfast with Santa, dancing classes, crafts classes and so much more. 


For adults, the resort has a spa located by the main Lodge that has 3 coed hot springs, 1 female only and 1 male only. The cost is $60 a day just to use or if you book anything at the spa, it's included.  The spa has it own menu which is prepared by the main Lodge kitchen so ordering can take up to an hour before you would get your food, however, it is extremely worth the wait.  The food at the spa as well as every restaurants at the Lodge are exceptional and they are generous with their portions.  The spa menu for services are also reasonable and standard comparable to other spas, however, their massage therapist are also exceptional (very experienced, does amazing with a deep tissue as well relaxation massages), they also do specialty services such cupping) in comparison to other resorts.


On the side of the lodge - hiking trails

The ambiance of the spa is serene and absolutely divine.  There are outside seating on lounge chaise on both side of the waiting area with beautiful man made creeks and ponds, with amazing landscaping. Inside, there are giant bean bag seats as well comfortable oversize recliners.  There are also a make your own tea bag station with a variety of loose tea to create your own blend.

We booked our stayed through Jetsetter (use this link to get a 5% savings) to your booking.


There is also a store on site, next to the lobby to buy emergency necessities (i.e., toothpaste, emergent-C, deodorant,etc..), a fresh cup of latte, some pre-packaged meals,


CONS:  Not much, other than some of the rooms does not have kitchenette and a fireplace.  Breakfast is NOT included so you are either eating at the restaurant onsite - which ranges from $12-25 for standard breakfast dish.  With a kitchenette, you can at least have a mini fridge to store some breakfast items or microwave something.

Amenities on site: at the lodge, they do s'mores from 7-9 on the weekends (free) so that is fun. Lots of planned events for kids to participate in, for example: making their own ornament, or breakfast with Santa.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Tips & Suggestions for Cruising with Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL)

This is our second time on the Norwegian Cruise line (NCL), first time we did a Hawaiian cruise out of Honolulu on The Pride of America and this round we did the Mexican Riviera out of Los Angeles California on the Jewel.





Our first NCL cruise, we had a balcony which turns out to be smaller than a balcony room with Carnival and Celebrity so this time we opted to get a mini suite for more room hoping it would be a better experience as we were celebrating Thanksgiving with family.


The mini suite rooms are a good size, lots of closet space and drawers for extra storage. There is a sitting area that can be separated by the curtains to separate the area from the room with a couch that can be made into a bed, if you were to chose to make into a room for four. It also comes with one of the four packages, ultimate beverage package, ultimate dinning package, wifi or shore excursions.

Upon arrival to the port, they have a water and iced tea stations and separate lines setup for Suites and Haven suites versus interior, ocean view and balcony rooms which for us, went pretty quickly for the suites side. After getting through the line, we made it on the ship.  



What to expect on Day 1 that could go wrong:


Card keys may not work, if you encounter this, they will tell you to go stand in a long  line for the customer service on Deck 7 at which point, your keys still may not work (this is what we encountered after going down and back, still did not work, my suggestions, find a security person and get them to do it for you at your room).


Safe may not lock, again - my suggestions, call "00" from your room and ask them to send a security person to fix it, do not stand in the customer service line.


If you are getting an adjoining room - do not expect to have the balcony door open, this is a security issue however, you can call "00" and get the door unlock from within your room so you can go back and forth during your cruise.  Also - when booking, make sure your room has adjoining room capability (aka, a door inside your room that you can access to go to the room next door, not all rooms are like this).


Ultimate beverage package 

$550+ in cost if bought separately, however with a suite, we get it free and it is much different than the Celebrity drink package in that it includes alcoholic drinks, soda and wine that are less than $15 a drink, here is the kicker, juices are not included unless it is mixed with alcohol (what?!) so Do I have to order a screwdriver but hold the vodka ? Here is why, they have many types of drink packages, $9.95 a day just for juices, $6.95 for soda, $59.99 for a 24 pack of bottle water, and specialty coffee drinks are a la carte. With Celebrity, all soda, bottle water, specialty coffee drinks, pastries, fresh squeeze juices are included in the premium drink package and are typically included with balcony rooms. 

So what's not included:

No bottle water, specialty coffee drinks (I.e.,bake goods from cafes on ship or restaurants, cafe latte or cappuccino - where these are included at Celebrity). No juices (I.e., can or fresh squeezed).

Some of our experiences on day 1, all the drink specials they have on the menu was missing one or two alcohol that are required to make it.  The daiquiri machine was broken and the bartender "Oscar" was downright rude and instead of attempting to accommodate us after telling us the machine is broken, he started to make drinks for all the servers until I flat out said "are you planning to make our drinks are you just continuing to make drinks for all the other servers while I stand here".  So now the other servers are telling him to make our drinks, he started to make our drinks and of course, this second order, another needed liqueur is out (day 1). The problem seems to be that the tip is already included therefore, there is no need for anyone to have a smile on their faces when serving you or even have a sense of urgency. 


Ultimate dining beverage 


You can only be in one restaurant per day or at least made reservation to only one per day per room. 

You can order one entree otherwise you get charge extra unless you have the package then they void it out.


The pros for this package is, all the specialty restaurants have exceptional service and food. The wait staff are extremely attentive and no wait what so ever as opposed to the main dinning rooms. 


Every restaurant we had dinner in, which we opted to do all 7 nights in the specialty dinning after having breakfast in the main dinning room the second day on the ship and it took almost 2 hours.  The food in the main dinning for breakfast was poor, pancakes, bacon were cold upon arrival (of course it took 40 minutes for us to get our breakfast) and coffee, just get it yourself since we sat for 15 minutes without a refill until I got up and went and got the coffee pot myself. 


A couple of tips and suggestions:


Tip 1: All these restaurants have dishes that has an additional fee by $9.95 or $19.95, however, if you have a pre-paid dinning package, these are also included without an additional cost. 


Tip 2: Buy your specialty dinning online as you will be saving 20% versus getting on it the ship, plus this way you can also avoid the long line on the first day of the cruise. More time for you to enjoy yourself.


Tip 3: Pre-book all your reservations online, don't wait until you get on the ship, again, avoiding the lines and getting the best time.


Tip 4: Make sure if you are going to cancel do it within 24 hours otherwise, they will charge you (we did not have any of these issues even though I did cancel a Teppanyaki - I think mainly because everyone wanted to go here and the time I had was 6:30 - so they had no time getting people in, so this is how you would avoid the charges).  La Cucina seems to be the least popular, so getting those book on the cruise was much easier.


Tip 5: Gratuity of 18% is already included in your purchase of the ultimate dinning package, however, you can opt to give more. 


Le Bistro a French cuisine restaurant, dress code restricted (so no shorts), was amazing, food selections top notch, service was top notch. We had the escargot, onion soup, their salads, lamb chops (yum, no fat trimmings, cut into a lollipop), the lobster (also amazing), and the salmon.


Moderno a Brazilian restaurant, no dress code, up on the 12 deck, was also quite amazing.  There is an array of salads, cheeses, cold meats, and vegetables bar available as an appetizer which is followed by one wait staff at a time presenting their meats (i.e., lamb chops, sirloin, filet, chicken, sausages, there are also 2 fish selections).


Cagney's steakhouse is as the name states, a steakhouse, also fantastic.  Great place for steak options and they are big however, for those who prefer fish/seafood, they also have those options.


La Cucina is an Italian restaurant, great dishes as well and very big portions.


Teppanyaki is a Japanese steakhouse, which seems to be the most popular but was not my favorite.  Food was quite good however, the whole ambience and service were not superb and I feel like the options are limited.  With all the other restaurants, you can have an endless array of appetizers to choose from, with Teppanyaki, you get what they give you, which is a small bowl of miso soup and a small bowl of salads.  Their desserts were also extremely limited and not great.  So although I booked 2 reservations before arriving, I quickly changed it to 1 which by the way, is not an easy task to do. Getting reservations upon arrival on the ship is nearly impossible if you don't stand in a long time the first night.


Room service:


This is the only cruise I know that charges for room service, a $7.95 charge will be applied if you want them to bring food to your room.

Now on to room service and using your phone to call for anyone for issues within your room. No one answers the call for 20 minutes at a time.

Our safe stop working again and at 10:25 we called "00" and no one answers then when I was redialing, I got a busy signal continuously for 20 minutes. So I called room service, receptionist and every number available and no one answers. I continued to try for 20 minutes and finally got someone and the rationale is " it's the first day, a lot of things are going on right now" really?!?
We paid a lot of money to be here for only 1 week (7 days) so are planning to refund us our first day because you can't get it together?? No customer service, nothing works and most everyone that works on the ship seems miserable. What is NCL doing ??!?   This continues to happen throughout the cruise.  Customer service is very slow after 10 pm.

There is absolutely nothing they seem to be doing right that I can write about.

Thermal spa


Another giantic waste of money, for $149 a week just to be in a room where you can lounge in stone chairs and have a view while sitting in the therms bath with everyone else..what?? Why are they even charging for this, the room is the size of 3 state rooms. I don't get it?? 

More details to come... 


Monday, November 30, 2015

Waikiki & Ko' Olina Restaurants worth trying and stay away from !!

Waikiki restaurants:
 

  1. Morimoto - excellent seafood and sushi, on the high end side.  There is also a decadent tasting menu @ $120 a person.
  2. Hakone - located in a hotel, with another buffet on the same level (that may be worth trying over this one) Not worth trying, too expensive for low quality fish and meats as well as a very limited buffet.
  3. Marukame Udon - very inexpensive and fresh udon, you can watch them make it as you go through the line and there is always a line forming outside of the restaurant.   Its a cafeteria style restaurant.  This place is a noodle/soup place with deep fried protein on the side, there is not a healthy lean protein no carbs alternative.











North Shore:




  1. Ted's Bakery
  2. Shrimp shack




 
Ko 'Olina restaurants:
 
  1. The Monkey Pod
  2. Thai Loa
  3. Terriyaki
  4. Ramen 'Ya
  5. Longboards









Friday, November 20, 2015

Airport lounges (Pros/Cons)!!

SeaTac centurion studio lounge located at terminal B3. Available through having an American Express platinum (more details:  

http://uihleinstravels.blogspot.com/2015/10/airport-lounges-american-express.html

Entry area 
Food and drinks buffet

Snacks: 

A variety of mixed nuts (regular and a spicy blend), dried fruits (Apple rings, figs, banana chips)

A raw vegetable bar consisting of snow peas, celery, cherry tomatoes, and carrots.

Hard boiled eggs, a fruit salad, an artichoke chickpeas salad, sandwiches (meat and vegetarian selection) and a soup of the day.

Desserts: mini cupcakes, double chocolate chips cookies (large), coconut macaroons.

Beverage: Alcohol are local wines/beers selections. There are sodas, a selection of teas, iced tea of the day and sparkling drink of the day, still and sparkling water as well as a variety of sodas (regular and diet) and an industrial size cappuccino/ espresso machine.

Seating/lounging: There are a variety of sitting options, from a bar style seat overlooking the airplanes to comfortable couches and leather chairs. There are even dark private couches to lounge/nap in. 


Overall, it's a beautiful studio lounge that has a warm cozy feel to it and is well kept. 

Alaska lounges:

The Alaska lounge in SeaTac airport is located in Terminal D. It is two stories and is always pretty packed and rightfully so. It is a 4 stars lounge in comparison to United or Usairways lounges. 


The pros about this lounge are: 
Lots of coffee to keep you going and a selection of syrups (regular and sugar free) and two levels of seating. 


They do have showers, private conference rooms that fits an entire family of 6 comfortably to private small rooms to allow for those business conference calls. There is also a bar on the second floor with decent selections and daily feature selections see below. 

Cons: the main room is always crowded, see pictures below. 


The food selections are very limited in comparison to a centurion lounge but definitely better than a United lounge or a Usairways lounge. Breakfast: there are hard boiled eggs, pancakes, toast and bagels.  Lunch: A small salad buffet available on their second floor. Available all the time are: cheese, crackers, mixed snacks, cereals and fruits (bananas, apples, oranges). 

United ..in progress. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Packing list for Hawaii

1.) Teva: Great hiking shoes (I bought both the Hurricane and the Original for the prices of less than the original one I bought back in college, I included them both below from amazon.  There are many different colors and the price varies based on the size, I got mine for $22.31 - which is some serious savings from $99 and the original for $25)  You can get more savings if you have a discover card or an American express card, you register those and use the points for to pay instead.  Amex has deals that you can save $15 with a $50 purchase.

The Hurricane is more comfortable for super long hikes but not as dainty, the original is more feminine for dresses and not as wide, still very comfortable but not beyond 7 hours as the foot bed has a pattern that will start bothering your feet after 7 hours.  I included a male version as well.




2.) Snorkeling kit (fins not necessary- snorkel and mask will do however, I included the set I bought that comes with a bag to carry your kit and the kit I got for my husband, as it does come in handy for a vacation in the Caribbean, you will need your fins there)  - Here is my rationale, we brought along our fins and we didn't really use it and we struggled a bit making room for them in our luggage (2 pairs of fins are 12-15 lbs), making it room for souvenirs and also save you luggage cost if you were going need to pack 2 luggage instead of one.




3.) Sunscreen with bug repellent - I had mosquitoes marks all over my body after 2 days in Hawaii, going to Waimea Valley and Kualoa Ranch did me in (so I highly recommend getting a bug repellant with SPF, I included the one I bought below.  I found mine at Target nearby).




4.) Patagonia lite bag



5.) Selfie stick - the portable version.  I bought the regular version that has all the attachments separately from  a drugstore for $9.99 and it sucked, the pole constantly rotated if I put my phone on its side to take a portrait picture and every time I had to take the phone off, I had to unscrew the metal phone holder off the pole, then I came across this portable version at Ross so I bought it and it was perfect. It fit well into my Patagonia bag and was all one piece and did not rotate when I put in portrait instead of landscape.  I will include a bad selfie stick below only for comparison purposes so you can see what NOT to buy.

O'ahu - Hawaii 3 days to do savings!

O'ahu Go Pass - Huge Savings - Recommended 3 days itinerary 

Do you have to use it consecutively? No, you just have to use within 2 weeks from the first day you use your pass



Do you have to print it out? No, you can just show it on your smartphone




Do you need reservations for some? Yes, the O'ahu Go Pass will list which ones need reservation - especially for the Catamaran (a month or two in advance, we called 2 weeks in advance and it was not available) however, there are places that are not as crowded - one example: Polynesian Cultural center, we came on a Wednesday and we did not have reservations for the Luau and they said they could accommodate (i.e., weekdays for example - weekend, may be best to make reservations as it would be more crowded)








Day 1: 





1st stop: We started with Kualoa Ranch (we made reservation the week before we left), we got there at 9 AM and got on the tour at 10:15, it took about 90 minutes.  There is a restaurant on site,so you can get breakfast (it's like a cafeteria style setup so you can just pick what you want and pay, at lunch, they setup a buffet that you can opt for instead of you don't want to buy a la carte - $17.95 (Nov 2015 price).






2nd stop: non O'ahu pass stop, however I suggest a stop along the way:  checking out north beach along the way to the Polynesian culture center, there are a couple of good eats along here, i.e., Shrimp shack food truck - check into Yelp and you get 10% off (here is a link to my Yelp to see all my food reviews in O'ahu) and Ted's Bakery for amazing crème pies and the famous crab and bacon sandwich.



3rd stop: the Polynesian cultural center (this is the one place that you can opt to go twice with the pass - this is also the bonus luau that you can make reservation in advance or if you are planning to go during the week, you can just show up that morning to make reservation, we opted not to do the luau here but it would recommend it if you want to spend an entire day here, lots to do and it's a ton of fun for everyone in the family.  Additionally if you skip the 2nd stop. This place has a ton of food options (food trucks, stands, hot dogs, rice plates, etc..)






4th stop: Waimea Valley - there is a restaurant here as well. If you haven't eaten.  Here you can opt to pay an extra $6 per person to get a golf cart round trip tour of the valley or $4 one way. I can see why some people opted for this, we walked for a bit before we saw the waterfall (its about a mile).






5th stop: Dole plantation - you must get here by 3pm if you want to be able to do all 3 places (pineapple express, explore the garden and race the maze to find all the clues) Also-I would recommend getting one order of waffle cones or waffle bowl or just a bowl - it's plenty for 2-4 people and a little savings as well, as a cone is $5.50 without toppings, $5.95 with and a waffle bowl, two times the size,  comes with pineapple and a topping of your choice for $8.95

So all this would have cost you two O'ahu pass in one day.







Day 2: 



We did Pearl Harbor - the USS Arizona to start, this requires a time slot and they were very precise with their start time and end time. I was truly impress with how well they coordinated this USS Arizona Memorial. 


Then we took a bus to USS Missouri then the Aviation museum, all this takes about 3+ hours if you are streamlining it.


Otherwise, it's about 5 hours.  There are food on site and snacks at pretty much every location.


All this separately cost $60+



Day 3:





NOTE: We skipped a couple of days before doing day 3, we spent the day at the resort at the beach and the pool.  The pass does not require usage consecutively just within two weeks from day 1.




1 stop: We went to Sea Life which is the Hawaii version of Sea World but significantly smaller and was not very crowded, great for kids and adults alike (just make sure to get a bug spray with SPF - mosquitoes are so bad).  See my packing list for Hawaii for all the products that I bought.













**NOTE: since you will be on your feet a lot, I would recommend getting a good pair of Teva. I brought my Nike sneakers but it was so humid that I ended up wearing my Teva that I bought back in college and they were amazing, my feet did not sweat or get all hot from wearing sneakers all day.  I was comfortable and happy to how well these Teva withstand the terrain and I can get dirty or wet and can just simply rinse it off.  The ones I have are the original which are not quite as comfortable as these hurricanes (I bought 2 pairs since I returned from Hawaii for half of the cost of the original that I spent I think a $100 back in college).  I am attaching the link to Amazon of the Hurricane that I bought (it comes in many colors).  I also bought another pair of original just because it is more delicate in appearance to wear with my summer dresses for my upcoming cruise - stay tune for those tips).

                                      

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

How to save on your Hawaii vacation







O'ahu go pass - available at:

1.  Costco (4 days pass)
2.  Groupon has a 3 days pass (sometimes 20% off) or
3. O'ahu pass website - signing up on their website (get $10 off) -3,5,7 days pass


3 days though Groupon cost is around  $133 per person which is a great deal considering any Luau in Hawaii is at least $89.


Pearl Harbor has 3 different areas if you buy them all separately, it's about $60+, Kualoa ranch (movies filmed here: Jurassic Park, 50 first dates, Journey to the end of the earth, Lost, etc) by itself is $109 (so even if you just go to Luau and Pearl Harbor - you are still saving $30, if you any other, like the Kualoa Ranch, now you are saving $139) Dole plantation - 3 admissions to 3 sites (maze, garden and Pineapple Express), and much more.



The O'ahu card get you into 30 places around O'ahu (which includes 1 of the 4 bonuses,  Luau at the Polynesian cultural center, Jeep rental for the day, swimming with Dolphins at sea life (***note: make sure you get a bug spray with spf, I walked out of there with at least 10 bites that swelled up like a burn mark for days after*** you can buy this at a Walmart or target, I will take a picture and share shortly)  or the Germaine's Luau) and also discount for some selected shopping.



Recommendations to do each day with O'ahu pass





Restaurants in the area worth trying


Places to stay: you can reach out to a Marriot vacation club to see what deals they will give you for being willing to sit through a sales presentation about 90 minutes of your time and at the end of it, you get a $50 voucher to use at all the restaurants in the area (see below).  Some are $199 for 3 week nights for studio room, you can opt to buy more at a certain rate, maybe slightly more for the weekends). Check out this post about Marriott Ko 'Olina (tips and savings for this resort)



Flights, book well in advance or another way to save is if you are willing to connect to another city or either buy a separate flight out of that city instead of buying a round trip that may cost more.



Food: places like vacation clubs have kitchenette and kitchens, buy a week worth of food at a Walmart or Costco (Costco also sells gift cards to restaurants in the area that you can get for $79.99 worth $100-so that is $20 dollar saving if you want to go out to eat in the area), if you are drinkers, better to just buy a couple of bottles to have in your room and have a cooling insulated cup to refill and use around the resort.  Or if you really want to try the food at the restaurants at the resorts, go there for lunch if open or go to their happy hour, additional you would get a premier Marriot club card that would save 5%-10% off restaurants on site or nearby.  


Another way to save is joining apps like Foursquare or Yelp that when checking in, may give you %10 off the total bill or give you free appetizers or desserts.
 Additionally, Hawaii has a couple of different charity programs where restaurants in Hawaii support that would give you 10%- 15% off participating restaurants however, I had a very bad experience with Hawaii Perks so I am not sure if they are truly legit to recommend here.

Packing for Hawaii




Marriot Ko 'Olina Vacation (beach) club





Tips and suggestions:

Checkout is at 10am and if you stay any later, you will incur a fee which they will call you the night before and leave a message with those details. You are able to spend the rest of the day at the resort though.

Check in is at 4pm, however if you get there early and by some chance your room is done, you may be able to get into your room earlier. We got there at 11:00 and our room was empty but not available and was told they will call us when it would become available (we went shopping for drinks and food in the meantime and was able to get into our room by 2)

Rooms at this resort comes in two sizes, one a one bedroom with a kitchen and the other one is a studio with a kitchenette which means it has a microwave, coffee maker and toaster as the default.  However, I came to find out that there are a lot of kitchen appliances that you can request in additional to the default, for example, a rice cooker - who knew?!?!? Yep, instead of using a microwave to make rice (which is completely doable and actually quite easy). Additionally, a rice cooker can serve as not only cooking rice but also steamed vegetables, pasta (Mac and cheese, spaghetti) and even wings and spare ribs.

Another useful mutli-use is a blender- to make those awesome frozen drinks and anything you can think off without involving an actual gas stove.  Or make a cream soup, Alfredo sauce, mashed potatoes, sauces (chimichurri), sparkling wine drinks, frozen banana ice cream (frozen bananas and some milk - soy, almond, skim or reg)

There are grill stations downstairs that are cleaned daily and a store on site for purchasing of necessity items however, as a caveat, everything in the store is 2-3 times the price as a regular grocery store (e.g., ramen bowls-$1.09 or $1.99 at a Safeway which is pretty high yet on resort expect to pay $5.50 or syrup, $2.49-it's $7.50, however, if you want to save, there is a Costco, Target and Walmart nearby to buy your week worth of meals for a price of 2 dinners at the resort).

Savings on site: upon arrival, you will not get this card, in your paperwork, they will tell you within
24 hours go to the 3rd floor to get a Marriott discount card




 which give you some savings for on site restaurants, ranging in a 5% for dinner and 10% for breakfast. Additionally, restaurants in the area, example: Roy's-free appetizer with a purchase of 2 entrees and Monkeypod- a free piece of cream pie with purchase of 2 entrees..I I will include a picture of all the discounts shortly.

Pool side tips: the resort provides floaty for adults and kids however to score one of these, you must get up early, one good thing is once you score one, you can keep for the remainder of your stay per the Marriot staff so you don't have to try to get one daily.  They also have some snorkels gear for kids and provide swimming diapers.  

This resort is located two resorts away from Disney, so if you want to check out the Disney resort, it's just a short way on the beach away. 

Packing for Hawaii recommendations

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Thailand - Renaissance Phuket and JW Marriot Khao Lat (Page 2 of 2)

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JW Marriot Khao Lat


Entrance to JW Marriot Khao Lat
The JW Marriot Khao Lat is significantly bigger than the Renaissance and much older in style, nevertheless a great experience.

At the JW Marriot Khao Lat, we had a swim up room off one of the many lagoon pools, all their pools are connected, the picture of the entrance is a pool that you would be able to swim up too from any room that has access to the lagoon.  The pool access are not private so anyone can jump in and swim, however, the entrance into it is semi-private.
Olive restaurant outside area


The restaurants on site are all pretty good, we ate on site for breakfast/lunch at the Olive restaurant, which is the only other that is open during the day other than the deli.  Sakura and Ta-krai are open for dinner which requires reservation.  Sakura was decent but I wouldn't recommend it, when in Thailand, eat amazing Thai food -- go to the Ta-Krai.

View of the beach from an onsite restaurant
A couple of unique dishes that I had in Thailand, a must try that some Thai in the States attempt to replicate.  It is an appetizer wrapped with Betel leaves or also known as wild pepper leaves, the dish is known as Miang Kham or Miang Kam which they do serve at the JW Marriot in Khao Lat.






Thailand - Renaisannce Phuket and JW Marriot Khao (Page 1 or 2)

One bedroom Ocean view villa @ Renaissance Phuket, Thailand

Our adventure to Thailand...we stayed at two Marriot hotels, both pretty fantastic in their own way.

The first and last was the Renaissance in Phuket , we stayed here the first 3 days then went to Khao Lat and stayed at the JW Marriot Khao Lat then returned to the Renaissance in Phuket.

Both are beautiful resorts in their own unique way.


Phuket Beach

Entrance to Renaissance Phuket


The Renaissance was smaller and much more modern with the best parts being the private waterfront villa with pool and the amazing breakfast buffet at Loca Vore (1 of 3 restaurants on site) consisting of amazing fresh tropical fruits, smoothly and juice bar, omelette station, salad station, dessert station, juices, Thai dishes, pastry buffet, and more.  The restaurants on site are pretty good as well however not quit as good as going off the resort which requires a cabby to stay with you, in that he sits in the parking lot while you are in the restaurant eating and wait to take you back to the resort so you don't end up in the wrong hands like broken palace or some human trafficking incident.  This really puts us at ease, it was heart warming to know how well the Marriot hotels take care of their guests well being and safety.

View from inside the villa to the pool
How does transportation work: the Renaissance has a shuttle that takes you to shopping areas nearby for free as well as sister resorts (which I will mention later). If you are planning to go off the resort, they arrange a driver for you for a standard fee that stays with you throughout your trip to ensure that you get back to the resort safely.  We even opted to get a driver that drove us to Khao Lat and he was going to pick us up 3 days later, during the to Khao Lat, the driver can take you site seeing or whatever you want for the same rate, not like our taxi here where you pay for one way. There, you pay for his entire day for the same price as a one way trip.

Sister resorts:  Marriot hotels are big and world wide, so when you stay at a close by resort, you can venture over to the sister resorts and use their amenities (I.e., pools, restaurants)

We wandered over two sister resorts in Phuket, one was Marriot Vacation club, one was Marriot, both were pretty amazing.  We also wandered to a nearby resort not related to Marriot and was super happy that we chose to stay with Marriot.

Restaurant on site that is worth trying:
Loca Vore - which where they serve an amazing international breakfast buffet, lunch and dinner
Takieng - an al cart menu of Thai food, also amazing and worth trying, however, as you may or may not aware, food on resorts are much pricier than offsite restaurants. With that said, you would need a driver to go offsite unless you rented a car which we did not.

Restaurant off site that we ventured to with our driver in Phuket:
We love Kindee restaurant:  my favorite was the wing beans dish, amazingly good and since I been back to the states, the closet restaurant that had this dish is in Portland, Oregon (Pok Pok) 
We took the shuttle over to a JW Marriot Phuket, a sister resort for a JW Japanese Sunday Brunch at their Kabuki Japanese Cuisine theatre (reservations are needed and very pricey even in Thailand)
Kabuki

Page 2...for JW Marriot Khao Lat


Friday, October 23, 2015

Airport Lounges & American Express Platinum benefits!!

The American Express Platinum card was something we came across about 2 years ago after my husband started to travel extensively.   This card is a must have for travelers, the benefits are phenomenal.

Cost of American Express Platinum: $450 yearly, however, the perks and benefits make it completely worth it.

Benefits 

  1. $100 towards Global entry application every 5 years (to avoid the long security line at the airport) or $85 towards PRE-TSA Check
  2. Free priority pass (giving you access to hundreds of lounges) - value of $99, access to all priority lounges
  3. No foreign transaction fees
  4. Enjoy complimentary membership in premium car rental programs, including special upgrades and discounts
  5. $200 Airline Fee credit yearly
  6. Free access to Centurion American Express lounges for you and guest
Centurion lounges are amazing, the buffet style for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Free snacks, coffee/sodas/teas, spirits, wines and more.

Priority pass lounges are also incredible, without the pass, you would be paying $50+ every time you go to a lounge.  International lounges are typical better than the ones in the States, the food selection and drinks selection are significantly better. 


Food and drinks buffet

Snacks: 

A variety of mixed nuts (regular and a spicy blend), dried fruits (Apple rings, figs, banana chips)

A raw vegetable bar consisting of snow peas, celery, cherry tomatoes, and carrots.

Hard boiled eggs, a fruit salad, an artichoke chickpeas salad, sandwiches (meat and vegetarian selection) and a soup of the day.

Desserts: mini cupcakes, double chocolate chips cookies (large), coconut macaroons.

Beverage: Alcohol are local wines/beers selections. There are sodas, a selection of teas, iced tea of the day and sparkling drink of the day, still and sparkling water as well as a variety of sodas (regular and diet) and an industrial size cappuccino/ espresso machine.

Seating/lounging: There are a variety of sitting options, from a bar style seat overlooking the airplanes to comfortable couches and leather chairs. There are even dark private couches to lounge/nap in. 


Overall, it's a beautiful studio lounge that has a warm cozy feel to it and is well kept. 



Relaxation in Seattle!!


1. An urban float - a relaxing no gravity floating experience in a giant salt water pod. Very relaxing, you can opt for complete darkness or leave a blue light on. There are also subtle relaxation music under water. Before entering the pod, you must shower which is also available inside the room and put in earplugs. Shower afterwards as well. I tried the pod at urban float in Fremont.  While there you can swing by the Fremont troll, 2 minutes walking distant.


2. Salt mine arium - a salt therapy or also known as halo therapy. You are greeted and walked into one of two salt rooms, floors, ceilings are all salt slab, stone and brick like salt structures.  The therapy to help with respiratory issues, headaches, inflammation and more. A session is 45 minutes long, where you sit in a zero gravity chair in a reclining position and the owner cover you in a blanket then proceed to turn on a machine that flows the salt into the room while all the salt structure changes lights and put a relocation show.  Spa music is played the entire session. Located in Bellevue



3. Suncadia Resort & Spa - is a wonderful home away from home, especially for folks living and working in the city like us.  Suncadia has the most breath taking expansive mountain views and river view, it looks like it is located in the Swiss Alps. Our first trip there, we stayed at the Suncadia Inn as oppose to the Suncadia Lodge.  We had a balcony room which is standard at the Inn facing the resort instead of the mountain view / golf course.  At the Inn, breakfast is included, at the Lodge, it is not. The room at the Inn is an equivalent to the One bedroom Suite at the Lodge in appearance. It was amazing, big Jacuzzi tub, fireplace, two rocking chairs on the balcony, king size bed, awesome rain shower, nice TV (does not work with an Apple TV though), keurig machine, coffee, teas and 2 robes.

The resort has a spa located by the main Lodge that has 3 coed hot springs, 1 female only and 1 male only. The cost is $60 a day just to use or if you book anything at the spa, it's included.  The spa has it own menu which is prepared by the main Lodge kitchen so ordering can take up to an hour before you would get your food, however, it is extremely worth the wait.  The food at the spa as well as every restaurants at the Lodge are exceptional and they are generous with their portions.  The spa menu for services are also reasonable and standard comparable to other spas, however, their massage therapist are also exceptional (very experienced, does amazing with a deep tissue as well relaxation massages), they also do specialty services such cupping) in comparison to other resorts.

The ambiance of the spa is serene and absolutely divine.  There are outside seating on lounge chaise on both side of the waiting area with beautiful man made creeks and ponds, with amazing landscaping. Inside, there are giant bean bag seats as well comfortable oversize recliners.  There are also a make your own tea bag station with a variety of loose tea to create your own blend.

We booked our stayed through Jetsetter (use this link to get a 5% savings) to your booking.