Tuesday, October 27, 2015

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

Return to Page 1

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)

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.


  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


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.

Disney World Overview & Tips !

I have been living in Florida for the last 7 years, in the last 2 years I have had the Florida Standard Annual Pass (that includes the 4 Main parks, free parking, discounts on food, lodging, and souvenirs - Disney Swags) and this year, I have the Premium Annual Pass that includes all the above plus Wide World of Sports, Disney Quest, 2 Water Parks.

Disney Tips

FAST PASS It reduces time spent in line at all the popular rides and attractions at Disney. Get there early and grab the fast pass, how it works is, to use the FASTPASS, slip your Park Pass into the FASSPASS machine to receive a ticket that will have an assigned return time.

Hidden Mickey

Additional fun things to do while you are at Disney, finding all the partial or complete impression of Mickey Mouse, the most popular is his head, one big cirlce of his head and two smaller circles for his ears, created by the the Disney's Imagineer and artists to blend into the designs of Disney attractions, hotels, restaurants, and other areas.

Some Disney's Secrets and Fun Facts

Disney World has its own government and in order to do so, Disney must have people living on site, according to the link below, there are cast members that do live there (about 5 members) Disney also has his own air landing strip located behind Epcot. Disney World is protected by a full time fire department with 200 firemen on staff. More fun facts in the link below. http://www.hiddenmickeys.org/WDW/Property/Secrets/Secrets.html

Disney Pin Trading

I heard about this from a coworker, I noticed all these pins every where in the park but I really never thought much about it, just thought it was a souvenir thing. I came to find out that it is really fun, you start of by buying a pin strap and some pings then while you are at Disney, you can trade your pins with Disney Cast Members and other Disney guests. Its great for kids and adults alike, its a fun experience.

More to come on Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Disney Quest, Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, Wide World of Sports.....

If you want to purchase Disney products online or anything before your trip, you can save through Online Shopping and get a percentage back through Ebates

How does it work?

You register through Ebates and select the shop you want to purchase from Orbitz (10.5%), Amazon (5% back), Macys(5% back) to Nordstrom(5% back) to Sephora (8% back) and much more, this could be higher or lower, depending on the month.

For 5% savings to your booking, use Jetsetter

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dominican Republic - Paradisus - The Good and The Bad!

My recent trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to an all inclusive Paradisus Palma Real Resort for 7 days had some pros and some cons.   First, let me mention that the Paradisus Palma Real is connected to the Paradisus Reserves which is a different resort from the original Paradisus.  The amenities such as Fitness center, Spa, and Pool can be used while staying at the Original Paradisus with no extra cost however, the restaurants are not.  The Reserves is significantly smaller and is less crowded this time of year than the original.

Suggestions and Tips

For 5% savings to your booking, use Jetsetter

Upon arrival, you will get an assigned concierge that supposedly will plan everything for you, mainly for tips and basically to waste 2 hours of your time upon your arrival. I didn't find the individual helpful as he failed to mention the weekly activity sheet or the daily special show or events as we come to find out 3 days later.   These special events were posted on a billboard in the lobby daily, each event includes a special buffet and a show.  During our stay, there were at least 5 special buffets, 2 on the beach and 3 in the theater that we didn't know we could attend as we thought it was reserve for a group, we finally attended a show after seeing the billboard in the lobby. The show we saw was the Cirque, it was phenomenal similarly to Cirque Du Soleil and the food spread was awesome, the ambiance was filled with energy. 


There are five restaurants at the Paradisus Palma Real and all require reservations that you can make 3 days ahead of time and only available on certain days and only 1 reservation per room per day.  So upon arrival as earlier mentioned, request an activity sheet for the week and the list of when restaurants are open.  

Every restaurants will have an upcharge menu ranging from $25-$60 for lobster or Kobe beef. We did not pay extra for these as we thought it was ridiculous that they are trying to nickel and dime us at an all inclusive.  Four years prior, the Paradisus did not have these upcharge menus and lobster was included.

Bana which is the Asian restaurant consisted of 3 different sub-restaurants, the bistro with Thai, Indian and Japanese cuisines, with about 10-12 dishes on the menu. The sushi area which is mediocre sushi. Finally, Teppanayaki, not quite as good as Kobe or Arrigato.   All require three separate reservations as only 1 can be made daily, I tried booking the sushi restaurant first for appetizer then Teppanayaki and that was a no no.  One couple did just walk in and got seated but these are usually really late, around 9pm.

Bana Bar

The bar in the waiting area has a martini menu, make sure to ask for Absolut Vodka otherwise you will get really crappy house alcohol and it will taste really disgusting. 

Vento, a Meditterean restaurant that serves steaks, duck, risotto, salmon and a few others.  The food was all very good and I highly recommend this restaurant.

Passion, a white, black and red restaurant with heart shape glass bottles every where, the food was very similar to Vento and were quite good.

Vento / Passion Bar

The bar outside the Vento serves amazing drinks, all these tropical bellinis.  Now remember, you will need to specify a higher end alcohol otherwise you will the house rum or vodka and tasted like crap.  Absolut Vodkas are included and there is a list of higher end Vodkas and Whiskies (such as Greygoose and blue label for $15 upcharge).

Market Grill, an outside steak house by the Gabi pool. Steaks were pretty good.

Agave, a buffet style dinning hall with outside seating.  Lunch/dinner buffet included pasta bar, two grill areas, one seafood and one for steak/chicken, salad bar, dessert bar.  Breakfast buffet include omelet station, pastries, fruits, yogurt, fresh juices, cereal etc.  A really wonderful buffet, highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How to plan an independent tour to Rome, Florence and Venice for cheap (Page 2) !

Continue from Italy for less !!! (Page 1) ....

What I wanted to see:

I wanted to go to the Colesseum, Roman Forum, Baths of Caracalla, Cecilia Metella, National Roman Museums, Palatino and Palatino Museum, Capitoline Museum. So although I was only in Rome for 3 days, I bought a 7 days ROMA ARCHEOLOGIA CARD for € 23,00 (this pass get me entrance into all the museums and site located above) Note: there is a tip of where to get this ticket, do not get them at the Colesseum, the line will be ridiculous, go up the hill to the Roman Forum and buy them there, there will not be a long line as everyone is standing in the line at the Colesseum (I learned this from reading a tip of one of the guides) . The Vatican was separate (€ 15,00) and St. Peter's Bascilia (free). So now I have my list of things to do for a week compressed into 3 days. Below is sample of my itinerary for Day 2 in Roma.

Day 2-Vatican City and Museum/ St. Peter Square
8:00 am: breakfast included

8:30 am: Take Metro line A (Manzoni to Termini)

9:00 am: Palazzo Massimo

10:00 am: Palazzo Altemps (buses 30, 70, 81, 87, 87D, 116, 186, 204, 294, 628)

11:00 am: Crypta Balbi (bus largo di torre argentina)

12:00 pm: Lunch

Vatican City (buy ticket - $15) – opens until 6pm – spends 3 hours

- Sistine Chapel

- Raphael Rooms

- Etruscan Museum

12:00 pm: lunch / gelatto

NON SOLO PIZZAVia Candia, 4200192 Rome, Italy

2:00 pm: Basilica di San Pietro (free entrance) – 2 hours (closes at 6pm)

5:00 pm: Take metro line from Cipro to Lepanto
Castel Sant' Angelo - banks of the Tiber close to the Vatican.

Metro - Lepanto (Line A)

6:00 pm:

Da Francesco S.R.L. - Ristorante PizzeriaPiazza del Fico, 2900186 Rome, Italy

Total Transportation cost for Rome: transportation from airport to hotel and getting around Rome for 3 days: €22

Total Museums/Popular Sites for 3 days: €38

The following links will take you the details of each of the post.

  1. ATM (Bancomat), Bank Card, and Credit Card Overseas !

  2. Safety (When not to ride the metro and buses) .. in progress

  3. Exchange rates (where to get the best rates before you arrive and once you arrive) .. in progress

  4. Popular sites near Rome, Venice & Florence, how to get there without using a tour group

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How to plan an independent tour to Europe (Rome, Florence and Venice) for Cheap!

March 2011 was my first trip to Italy for 10 days. It was a wonderful trip and the experience was amazing, something that I definitely would do again with some modifications, I will include the details below.

I have wanted to go to Europe ever since I was 10 years old and I have been told over the years how expensive it was and how really bad things can happen to you if you don't know the country and its culture. So with that said, I began my research of Italy with the following criteria’s: cost, weather, culture, language, food, public transportation, popular sites, safety, exchange rates, U.S banks available in Europe, ATM, and finally, the cost of everything mentioned above.

First, I had to decide where I wanted to go in Italy, how long, and when. I goggled and discovered that the cheapest and least crowded time to travel was November - March.

When: March

Second, I wanted to know where in Italy and who should I book my trip through. I googled "Italy tours" and reviewed a couple of pre-planned tours on some of these tour guide sites (affordable tours, Globus, Trafalgar) but the prices were so expensive especially with the tours and meals included, so I looked into Independent packages where you get some bus tours but they would drop you off and let you tour yourself in pre-selected destinations, a bit more reasonable costing about $2000 for land only, for 10 days with hotels, breakfast and buses. Still I thought this is too much and continue on my search. I wanted to spend less than $1000 for hotels, transportations, land and air. After looking at every single tour group, I finally came across Gate1 on affordable tours website, I saw the pricing on there and as a rule of thumb, its best to go to the actual tour site for a better deal. I went on Gate1Travel and found 10 days independent tour for $599 - included hotels, rails and breakfast every morning, with flights it was $1099. I was ecstatic, in my mind; I am thinking what the catch is? I started looking into it and the catch was these flights were only out of NYC, flights from other cities would be additional costs. So I started my search for separate flights (initially to fly into Rome and fly out of Venice) using Orbitz which turned out to be a deal also with a caveat that flights would come in a day earlier or later, which at the time, I didn't really think to book an additional day at Rome or Venice, looking back that would been a better way to go...so I looked at just connecting flights to NYC from Tampa but ultimately decided to use Gate1Travel for ease. I booked the package deal so that the connecting flights would be timely. It ended up costing about $1300 for flights, hotels, rail passes, and breakfast daily, which was a phenomenal price.

Where: Rome, Florence, Venice

(note: a good trick to getting a better rate when looking on websites that are middle men for other tour sites, is to actually go to their site, this applies to finding good deals for flights also, for example: Orbitz or Travelocity - once you see the lowest flights rate, go to the actual airline's website, it is usually cheaper by $20-$50 and you may even get a better flight time...this is best for those who do not want to do connecting flights or travelling to multiple locations).

Company to book tour: Gate1Travel.com

Third, I wanted to learn everything I could as previous mentioned above. So my research tools included: the obvious, the internet, bookstore, and finally the local libraries.

1.     Internet: Weather, exchange rates, people's experiences, crimes, etc.

2.     Bookstore: I started of by going to the bookstore a couple of hours one weekend, I wrote down a list of books that I thought would be helpful after cross referencing other books available. Some of the books I used were: (note:I am listing the prices so you can see how expensive these books are and why I made a list) Frommer's Italy day by day - $29.95, Frommer's Rome day by day - $29.95, Frommer's Florence & Tuscany day by day - $29.95, Frommer's Venice day by day - $29.95, Conversational Italian in 7 days - $7.95 (which I ended up buying)....

3.     Library: I went home and logged into my local library's website and reserved these books. Now most libraries allow for books to be checked out for 2-3 weeks at time and you can go online and reserve them longer when your time is near expiration. So now, I have these books for research at my own leisure time rather than sitting in a bookstore for multiple weekends, I can read these books at work, during lunch time, on an elliptical at the gym...I would keep a small post-it pad with me at all times in case I wanted to mark the page(s) for later. After a couple days, I had an outline of my itinerary for my trip. I will be including snippets of my day by day itinerary below and what I did to reduce the cost.

So the itinerary included 2 days of travel time, 3 days Rome, 3 days Florence, and 2 days Venice.

Day 1 - Arriving in Rome

6:00 am: Arriving at Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) - Rome's airport

  • After customs and gathering of baggage
  • Signs will direct you to the trains (treni)
  • Buy tickets for a local train and the Metro
  • Getting from Metro to Hotel
    Transportation: Buses / Metro Passes: Getting around Rome for Cheap!!

1.     Getting from Rome Airport to Hotel: look for signs of "Treni" - train station bought a "biglietto" is a train ticket (approximately 11 euros) at the airport to go into Roma Termini to catch the Metro line A to the hotel.

2.     Getting metro pass to go from Roma Termini to hotel. I bought Metro ticket good for 3 days - Biglietto per 3 giorni B.T.I. ( 3-days tourist integrated ticket) Price: 11,00 Euros, which were good on buses as well as Metro.

Popular Sites, Museums, Baths:

  • Sites I used for info: http://www.rome.info (the price on this site seems to slightly outdated for some things but I still thought it was one of the better sites for actual information about rome), http://www.vatican.va/ (this site is accurate, pricing,etc.)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Getting around Rome for cheap (Part 1)!

Before I left for Italy, I read up on everything about Rome, how to get around Rome by buses, by metro, by rails, airports, when not to ride them, where to pick up trains and what metro station I will need to get on and off to get to my hotel, common phrases and how to say them correctly, yet having all this information in hand, I was excited yet nervous upon arriving at the airport. I was concerned that my research may not be accurate and the information that I read about, may not be up to date. Some information were out of date, like pricing, I have included more details below. And then there were things that I came across that I knew nothing about such as additional costs or free maps. With that said, I hope this blog will help guide you through Rome with a bit more confidence and save you a few bucks.

Getting around Rome is not as bad as one may imagine. Rome has a great public transportation system and the cost is quite reasonable. Don't worry about not speaking Italian fluently, that will not be a problem as I experienced. Knowing a few common phrases were more than sufficient, I have included some common phrases that I learned from a book I picked up for $7.95 - Conversational Italian in 7 days, you can print it out, you can buy the book or you can always check it out from your local library to take with you on your trip. The goal is to get you as prepared as possible in a more cost effective way.

A couple of things you will need to do before your trip and upon arriving at the airport in Rome. You will need to know what Metro station your hotel is closest to (either via the hotel website or get the address and use google maps, print out the directions and bring them with you, street map view and text) and be prepare to walk a few blocks, so either pack lightly or have a luggage with some wheels and some comfortable walking shoes. Another suggestion is, go to the library and check out a Rome Guide with a detailed map attached to use to navigate yourself to your hotel after getting off the Metro. Earlier I mentioned the airport, upon arriving at the airport, there will be a ton of free advertisement pamplets with a metro map and even a street map of Rome inside them, grab a couple of those (one for each day and one for each person, just in case), if not, you can buy the metro map and street map for € 5 - 7 ($7.5 - $10.5 US) euros at the station but again, the point is to reduce your cost, so pay attention to these details to avoid incurring these additional costs. One thing I couldn't find online was information about the bus routes, so you can always pick a map of that at the Roma Termini Metro station (I didn't see any free ones any where, its not like in the states, you have to pay for them).

Airports: Rome has two major airports, I arrived at Fiumicino (also known as Leonardo da Vinci), the bigger of the two airports where most of you will be flying into as only scheduled flights come into this airport. Ciampino is the smaller airport used mostly for business and charter flights. (see information about Fiumicino (FCO) Ciampino (CIA) at this link http://www.romaclick.com/Rome-airports.htm).


London Saving & Travel Tips!

London is a unique city filled with so much beautiful architecture and history.

We recently visited London in October 2012.  We independently planned it and did the following things.

Below are 5 basic suggestions that I would recommend doing to help plan out your London trip

1. Select the timeframe of when you will go.  October was cold but tolerable, definitely bring clothes to layer and an umbrella or a raincoat and some rain boots.

2. Select a hotel in the town that is most suited for your taste, we stayed in Kensington and we would highly recommend the area, very nice neighborhood with easy access to the Piccadilly line. 

3. Research the area you selected to stay at, restaurants, grocery stores, breakfast, buses, tubes, it will make your experience better and will help you save, knowing the information ahead of time.

4. Buying a London pass with a Travel card (only once you have selected your exact time as the  travel card have exact dates on them, meanwhile the London Pass will be activated the day you use it and will be counted as one day even if you activate it at 5pm. The London Pass is not valid from a set time to a set time, its the day of use is counted as one day.

5. Have a daily budget, we did 100 euros a day for 2 people but we also did not have breakfast included with our room (50 euros per person for Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks and Dinner) which equates to 150 dollars a day, you can do easily half of that, see my upcoming blog about how to save on food.

TIP: Use your travel card at the Airport to travel to your hotel, do not take the Express train as the travel card does not cover it but you will save yourself 20-25 Euros each way.  See the chart below.

Where can the ticket be purchased?
Ticket Type
Adult (£)
Child (£)
Express Saver
Online/Ticket Machines/Ticket Offices
Express Standard*
On-board only



London Travel card

Map of Tubes in London

Where we stayed:

Crowne Plaza

Pros: Nice location

Cons: No breakfast is included

Next to the Crowne Plaza is the Best Western, I believe there is breakfast included which will save you about 6-20 Euros, depending on where you go.

London Pass

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Getting Around Rome for Cheap!! (Buses, Rails, Metro) Part 2!

Transportation from Airport Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) to Rome.

Before I started looking at trains, I looked into getting a taxi or a car service, however, I thought the cost was a bit much (45 euros - 67.5 dollars for two people) but if you want to splurge, here is a car service site http://www.romecartransfer.com/english/rates.html and there is also a shuttle service about (36 euros - 54 dollars for two people) http://www.romelimousines.com/shuttle-services/, this one is a bit more on the car service. I found them both to be too expensive for me and opted to take the train into Rome which cost 11 euros per person, plus I also wanted the experience of being on the train.

Trains (Treni): Signs will direct you to the trains (treni), available upon exiting the aiport. Below is a map of the Metro/Train routes/stops (the GREEN line is the train from the Airport into Rome). You will need to take the train to Roma Termini in order to get on to either Metro Line A (RED line) or Metro Line B (BLUE line)

Buy tickets for a local train and the Metro/Buses, Note: Do buy from one of those automated machine, this is a link that shows you how http://europeforvisitors.com/rome/transportation/trenitalia-ticket-machines.htm OR go stand in one of the lines at the Tabacchi (tabacco store), if you see a booth with no lines, those charges € 2 additional euros (mainly for the convenience of not waiting in line, we made a mistake of doing this), here you can also buy Metro tickets (separate from train tickets. Below is a table of different types of tickets. Your purchase is depended on the length of your stay in Rome and if you are a person that can tolerate walking a dozen miles a day or not. I did a lot of walking in Rome, at least 15 miles a day and I did get a 3 days pass (1 of the days, the metro was out service, so keep that in mind also). And remember, you can always ride the bus instead and these tickets are good for the buses also. I did rode a few buses to get to Celia Metella(details of the different sites can be found in my upcoming blogs).

  • Cost for Train ticket: € 11 euros (as of March 2011) of a ticket (biglietto - is italian for ticket). **Note: some of the sites such as www.rome.info indicate that the cost is € 9,50 (this is out of date).
  • Cost of Metro ticket / Bus ticket (see table below).

Transport ticket
BIT (biglietto integrato a tempo- integrated time ticket )
Bus ATAC (illimited ways in 75 minutes you can end the last way only if the convalidation has been done less than 75 minutes before)
Subway Lines A and B (an only way)
75 minutesafter the validation
BIG (biglietto integrato giornaliero- integrated daily ticket)
illimited ways for 24 hours on :
Subway lines A and B
till 24hours of the following day after the first validation
4 Euro
BTI (Biglietto Turistico Integrato- Integrated Turistic Ticket)
unlimited ways for 3 days on :
Subway Lines A and B
3 days after the first validation
11 Euro
CIS (Carta Integrata Settimanale- Weekly integrated Card)
unlimited ways for 7 days on:
Subway Lines A and B
7 days, attention! for some tickets (the old ones not magnetic) To be valid this ticket has to be filled by your self :
The week of validity and your name.

baggage claim
ritiro bagagli (ree-tee-roh bahg-ahl-yee)
How are you?
Come sta? (kom-eh sta)
Where is the restroom?
Dove il banyo (doh-veh ill ban-yo)
Thank you
Grazie (Gra-tzee-ah)
Excuse Me (walking through a crouded place)
Mi Scusi (me skoo-see)
Arrividerci or Arrividerla
Ciao (chow)
My Name is…
Mi Chiamo… (me key-ah-mow)
Per favore (pair fah-vor-eh)
Please speak more slowly.
Per favore, parli piu lentamente. (pair fah-vor-eh, par-lee p-yoo lent-a-men-tay)

Italy Domestic Train cost: http://www.eurail.com/planning/train-seat-reservations/domestic-fees

Rome - Food for less than €30 Euros a day!

1.     Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks: Eat at the bar or standing up, it will be half of the cost of sitting down. In addition, if you sit outside, it may cost even more than sitting inside (depends on the restaurant).
2.     Breakfast – if you are staying in a hotel, most serve continental breakfast (so free), if not, buying a sandwich at a deli or café is about €2-4, café latte or cappuccinos another €1.5-2. Total cost = €6 Euros
3.     Cheaper alternative – buy food from a local grocer known as “Alimentari” and pack food to take with you on your site seeing for the day (just make sure to bring an insulated bag on your trip or just be careful with perishables). Don’t worry about water – bring a canister with you and fill at the public water fountain found throughout Rome known as the “Nasoni” – for big nose.
4.     Lunch – getting food from a local deli or café or wine bar or Tavola Calda (hot table), is typically cheaper - €2-4 for sandwich, €4-6 appetizer plate of antipasti. But if you want to splurge, eating at a Trattoria or restaurant, there is a lunch menu cost €6-9 for pasta/pizza/entrée with a drink. Total cost: on the low=€4, average=€6, and on the high=€9= Total cost @ most €9 Euros.
5.     Do get some pizzas at one of those window stand, they do weigh the pizza slice (so veggies or not, the heavier the higher the cost).
6.     Snacks – Gelatto, gelato…delicious. Its Italian ice cream made with fresh fruits, chocolate, nuts.. My favorite is Pistachio, make sure to get a taste first, some gelaterie do not put as much nuts in theirs but if you like it creamy, then that’s the way to go. It’s about €2 for one scoop, €3 for two scoops, €4 for three. Some gelaterie are cheaper, charging €1,5 for a scoop. It’s everywhere in Rome, must try.  Another favorite is Cannoli, I have never had a Cannoli this good until Rome, the shell was crispy not soggy, the cost was similar to gelato, it is about €2-4 for a Cannoli, depending on the size.   
7.     Stay away from popular tourist areas when selecting a place to eat, for instance, don’t eat at a restaurant across from the Vatican, it is going to cost more. Go to Travestere or Piazza Navona.
8.     Dinner – You can eat for free at a wine bar during happy hour if you buy a drink for €5-9. The happy hour buffet depending on the wine bar, maybe an array of deli meats, cheeses, sandwiches, grilled vegetables, pasta dish, appetizers, quiche. So pay attention when you are walking around during the day, they will have their signs up. You can always come in, take a look and walk out.
9.     Water – if you do decide to eat in a restaurant, make sure to specify Tab water, you don’t need to spend money on bottle waters; Rome has awesome drinking water (as indicated by all those Nasoni).
10.  Do not eat at a restaurant that has a menu with 7 different languages. Go for more authentic ones, Trattoria or restaurants do have dinner specials that would include an appetizer then an entrée for €8-15 Euros. And get a ¼ carafe of house wine for €3-6 Euros or ½ carafe €7-9 Euros.
Based on these suggestions:
Breakfast: €6 Euros at most
Lunch: €9 Euros at most
Dinner: €15 Euros
Totaling: €30 Euros (this is on the high side of all the suggestions above; you can easily do much less by selecting less expensive foods/drinks).

Disney - Epcot Tips & Suggestions!!


Favorite food spots:

The coolest thing to do while in Epcot is lots of eating and lots of drinking. Best deals for food in Epcot would be France, big portions, reasonable price, great variety of Parisian style sandwiches (Ham & Cheese Croissant, Turkey & Brie on a baguette, yummy pastries, cakes, creme brulee, cappucinos, and much more). Pricing $5-$15.

Morrocan is another great place for food, large portions, good enough for two, good price and pretty decent Morrocan food. A plate is about $11-$12 for meat of choice, pita, tabbouleh, hummus, and couscous.

United Kingdom
is a great little area, Pub food like fish and chips, beer such as Guinness, Tea tasting in the shop, and even get some history on the origin of your last name (Surname).

The best ride in Epcot to me is Soarin', it is the coolest ride, it like an exploration of all your sensory, a virtual hang-gliding with a panoramic views, as you pass over the golf course or an orange field, you can smell the scent, and even get splashed with water.

Favorite ride:

I have been to Epcot a dozen times and I didn't even know about this ride until last year. It's an interesting ride is the Living with the Land, its a boat ride that travels through different weather climate showing how different plants can grow and survive in those areas. It also shows how technologies are used to growth vegetables and farmed fish that are used throughout the Disney Parks Restaurants.

If you are planning to purchase what you need before your trip, you can save through Online Shopping and get a percentage back through Ebates

How does it work?

You register through Ebates and select the shop you want to purchase from Amazon (%5 back) to Macys(5% back) to Nordstrom(5% back) to Sephora (8% back)and much more, this could be higher or lower, depending on the month.

What to do in Florence? Tips & Suggestions

Florence or "Firenze" is an amazing city filled with magnificent Gothic architecture and sculptures .  Firenze is home to the famous Michelangelo's David sculpture, famous designers like Prada, Gucci, Chanel, impressive Italian leather.  As you take a stroll through the streets of Firenze, you will find yourself surrounded with amazing work of art, beautiful massive architecture, sculptures, breathtaking cathedrals, grand churches, and of course, Chanel, Prada, and Gucci.  These shops and boutiques are located on Via de' Tornabuoni street, at the center of Firenze, there is no way for you to miss it, you will accidentally run into it once or twice on your stroll through Firenze.  If this is your second stop in your travel to Italy or first, Firenze is where I would suggest buying you gifts, replica sculptures, beautiful genuine leather bag or a shirt, apron or boxer of Michelangelo's David's magnificent part like the picture below, it will sure be the talk among your family or friends.

Suggestions & Tips
Comparing Firenze to Roma, Firenze is significantly smaller than Rome, yet just as impressive in its own right. Firenze is a city small enough that I would suggest spending at most 2 days but can easily be explore in 1 day.
Some things to do before arriving in Firenze, only if you must see the real David's sculpture otherwise, you can easily skip this suggestion below.
Make reservations in advance for the Galleria d'ell Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery, the cost is extra for reservation but will spare 2-3 hours of standing in line (the entrance cost is the same both the Accademia and the Uffizi, 6.50 euros if you stand in line and 10.5 euros if you call ahead). Your hotel conceirge can make these reservations for you and you can request certain time if you make book it in advance, however, if you go to Italy off-peak, between Nov-March, this will not be an issue.  The reservation line is good for both Accademia and the Uffizi:  055/294883; the reservationist speak English).
Personally, I did not find the Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery as impressive as the Vatican in Rome, they are both much smaller in scale, with less interesting art work, and ended up costing more.  I must say, I was quite impress with Michelangelo's David sculpture, knowing that Michelangelo sculpted David from one single block of marble as he imagine in his mind, is just amazing.
The famous sculpture of David is hosted at the Accademia however you can not take any pictures (not knowing this, I did get a picture of the actual David, standing 17 feet tall, impressive) of it and that is the main reason why people do go to the Accademia. The Accademia is about 8 small rooms or so with the main room/hallway with David, one room dedicated to sculptures, one smaller room of musical instruments, one small dedicate to Christianity's paintings, and a couple of smaller rooms of Biblical paintings.
David's replica is also available for picture and admiration at Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall of Florence). So if you want to save your money, you can take plenty of pictures of David here, in addition, across from the Piazza della Signoria, there is Loggia dei Lanzi (also known as Loggia dei Signoria) with replica sculptures such as the Benvenuto Cellini's Perseus with the Head of Medusa, the Medici Lions, and many other famous sculptures. I thought the town hall was much more impressive than both the Uffizi and the Accademia. Firenze is one of those cities where you don't need to go museums to see impressive artwork, Firenze itself is a giant museum, out in the open, available to the public, completely for free.  Its a place you can really stroll along all day, stopping along the way for a scoop of gelato or a cup of latte.

A couple of attractions that I highly recommend paying for are:
Giotto's bell tower (Campanile di Giotto) with about 400+ steps to the top with a panaromic view of Florence, costing 6 euros.Its a great spot for you amateur photographers or those who just want to see the view of Florence.
Boboli Gardens (Giardini Boboli) 9 euros - its relaxing but you have to be willing to walk and explore. We spent about 2 hours walking through museums and then the gardens. **one suggestion - diagonal from the entrance is a little grocery store, we bought some cheeses, salami or salame picante (equivalent to our pepperoni as pepperoni is not known as that in Italy) and a bottle of  (Chianti - even for 3 or 4 euros, its great) wine to take in with us.**
Now if you are in Firenze longer than 1 day, I suggest taking the train to Siena for wine tasting or PisaTrain tickets are about 7-11 euros or rent a car for the day 35-50 euros per day would have been a better way to go then do one of those tours. We booked this tour using those advertising pamphlets available in the hotel (there were about 5 or 6 different tour groups). There were tours for 1/2 day Pisa for 75 euros, full day for 150 euros, 1/2 day Siena/Chianti Wine tasting 55 euros, full day Siena/Chianti 75 euros. We wanted to do a Chianti wine tour, we booked a full day tour for 75 euros per person, meeting spot was about two blocks from our hotel. We did Siena, Chianti, and San Gimignano tour and looking back, we could have saved ourselves 150 euros and got a better experience by taking the train or renting a car.  The tour stated that we would go to Sant'Appiano for Wine tasting and snacks were included, so we expected at least a bottle of wine and a cheese and deli spread, nope, what we got was and I am not kidding you, a small plastic appetizer bowl with one thinly (i mean paper thin, see through) piece of proscuitto, a tiny piece of dried up italian bread (the side of a dollar ripped in half) and a drizzle of olive oil, 4 sips of chianti, not a shot, but rather think of a shot glass, half a shot of wine. I am including the picture below. My suggestion is rent a car for the day, book your Chianti wine tasting reservation online, it will much more reasonable than doing a tour.

If you are looking to shop for leather, Firenze is the place to bargain for a nice leather bag or briefcase. Whatever the price is, you can negotiate for 20-40 euros less, if the one shop will not negotiate, the one next door will, so keep that in mind when you shop.
As for food, find a restaurant that does not charge a cover fee, we got some suggestions from the hotel conceirge and we liked it so much that we went back there for two dinners and one lunch. I suggest getting a quart or pint of house wine, the house chianti never disappoints and so reasonable in price (3-9 euros, depending on the restaurant). I'll blog more about food in Italy shortly, food would be a big blog for me. I am a bit of a food snob, I love to eat but I only love to eat good food, not just anything. More to come on food.
Have a great time in Firenze, feel free to send me a comment, email or a twit if you want more details that I did not cover here.

Basic travel savings and planning tips !!

I have written a lot of details and tips in my previous posts, I came across another blogger post the other night and thought how nice it was that she kept it very simple which lead me to write this basic travel tips.

Travel during the off-peak seasons for 3 reasons:

1. Cheapest flights and cheapest hotels, this is a chance for you to stay in a 4 stars hotel for the price of a 2 stars.  I would suggest March or October, weather is still good during these two months. I traveled to Italy in March and London in October. 

2. Less crowded for places that would typically have a higher volume of visitors (i.e., the Roman Forum or the Coliseum, Louvre - Paris, Tower of London - London, etc.), which will also allow more opportunities for pick pocketters. See my blog:  How to avoid Pick Pocketters

3. Cruising or All inclusive resorts will have lower volume of kids as school is back in session for that that would like a quieter or more calming vacation.


Days to look for flights, vacation packages:
Look to book flights on Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, flights and vacation packages are the cheapest by a few hundred.  My last trip, I looked at it on a Friday, Sunday and booked on a Tuesday as the price dropped by $300.

Additional Savings:
After finding your flights, use ebates.com to reduce the cost by an additional 2-11% for some travel sites (i.e, Orbitz 10.5%, Expedia 5%, Travelocity 3.5%), you will need to have an account with ebates and bookings need to take place inside the ebates site as a redirect.

When staying in a hotel, keep those little shampoo/conditioners/lotion bottles so that when you are planning to travel light, these will come in very handy.

Reduce cost of check-in luggage: this is typically $25 or more by doing these 2 things:

  • Book flights with Southwest.com - free checkin bags (2), Frontier - free for classic and up

  • Pack light with clothing that are that are convertible, there are women dresses that are convertible, rain jackets, shirts, wrinkle free option, and wrinkle free shirts for men, roll your clothes to maximize space.

  • Convertible women's wear: Gloves, Coat, Convertible dress, Raincoat, Royal Blue Convertible dress

  • Convertible Men's wear: Jacket, Gloves, Pants

  • Reduce cost of pet fee if you are flying with a pet by booking with these:

    • Southwest: $75

    • Frontier: $75 class, $125 economy  

  • Bring your own earphones for on plane entertainment, unless you are flying international, you can save $5 by bringing your own or if you don't have one, buy one at the airport, at least they are quality earphones or get some nice ones from Amazon.com or even find some good deals for $19.95 Earphones.

  • Bring some of your own snacks (pretzels, trail mix or even buy some decent food at the airport better than food on the plane) as most airlines do not even give crackers or peanuts any more, you can save $8-$15, I believe a cheese plate on USAirways is $8.

    Happy Travels folks.