On a recent flight to the East Coast, I used my AMEX Platinum credit card as a way to get complimentary access to the Delta Sky Club at ORD. Access can be gained either through status (Diamond Medallion) or a combination of status (Gold and Platinum) and an international ticket, regardless of where you’re sitting in the cabin. If you are using an AMEX Platinum credit card, you must be ticketed on a Delta flight to gain entry. You can also gain access by purchasing a Delta Sky Club membership for $545 annually. Another way to gain access is by purchasing a day pass for $50 but I’d highly recommend not doing that.
The Delta Sky Club at O’Hare is located in Terminal 2, Concourse E, right across from gate E6. During my visit here on a weekday morning, I was expecting it to be packed since it’s the only Delta Sky Club at ORD. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t even half full and there was plenty of seating available. Just about every seat was situated by an outlet and the layout and ambiance were very appealing. There are two larger seating areas which are separated by a wall. It’s not a huge lounge relative to other Delta Sky Clubs but since Delta doesn’t have a hub in Chicago, I suppose they can mostly get away with it for the time being.
Delta has really enhanced its breakfast offering over the past couple of years. Unlike their competitors (I’m looking at you United), they actually offer a hot breakfast. I had the omelet with salsa and since it was bought out just a few minutes before I got there, it was fresh and flavorful. There were also multiple flavors of yogurt, cereal, a variety of bagels and bread, donuts, and pancakes. Their espresso machine offered a variety of beverages and I chose the cappuccino. Compared to other legacy airlines, Delta has done a great job with their food offerings and improving their on-the-ground experience.
The Delta Sky Club does have a business center with a computer and access to printers. It also has clean restrooms (based on my experience) without showers. It’s a nice place to get work done or grab a bite before takeoff. Having warm offerings for breakfast and not being crowded certainly adds to the appeal. With Terminal 2 at ORD set to be replaced by a Global Terminal in the upcoming years, there is a great chance a newer Delta Lounge will have a much larger footprint at ORD. Until then, this lounge is perfectly capable of getting the job done for most business and leisure travelers.
On a recent trip to Chicago, I had an early morning flight out of LaGuardia Airport on Delta Airlines. Delta uses the majority of gates in Terminal C and also has two Sky Club lounges in this terminal. Since I find myself using American, United, or Southwest for most of my travels out of LGA, I’ve never had the opportunity to use a Delta Sky Club. Presented with an opportunity for this particular trip, I arrived earlier than usual so I can experience what they had to offer. As an AMEX Platinum credit card holder, I get complimentary access to Delta Sky Club lounges if I am booked on a Delta flight. Unfortunately, I can’t bring in a guest free of charge. They would have to pay the discounted rate of $29 if they were to accompany me.
Even though my flight was at 7:10 a.m. and I was there by 6:10 a.m., the lounge was certainly not as empty as I thought. I’d say about 30% of the lounge was filled up. There were pockets of empty spaces and it didn’t take much effort to find a desirable seat next to the window. Most of their seats have plug outlets and USB ports and if you want to sit facing the tarmac to watch airplanes land and take off, they have window-facing seats as well.
This particular Delta Sky Club was like one giant room with a pillar here or there that might act as a buffer for privacy but not much else. Compared to the Centurion Lounge in Terminal B which is my go-to lounge at LGA, this lounge was massive. I purposely didn’t have breakfast at home so I can sample the food at this lounge.
I had a bagel, chickpea salad, boiled egg, and some coffee. The chickpea salad was very good and flavorful. Certainly, something different to have in the morning if you’re not used to having a salad at 6:30 a.m. Since I got there early, their bagels were pretty fresh and seemed to be sourced locally. They had a variety of bread, bagels, and muffins among the bakery items. They also had a nice selection of cereal, parfait, and fruits. What they didn’t have were hot breakfast items that the Centurion Lounge is known for. I understand that there are some Sky Clubs that have this option and hopefully Delta brings hot breakfast to their NYC Sky Clubs soon. Their coffee was Starbucks Coffee and it tasted fine.
Delta Sky Club does not provide computers but they do have an area in the back of the lounge that has a printer and a semi-private area that has the daily newspapers. They certainly have the space to add a few desktops and it would enhance the lounge if they did.
This Delta Sky Club had the fastest internet speed I’ve tested at any lounge. This is perfect for business travelers and with the number of guests that fill the lounge during peak hours, their increased bandwidth serves them well.
Overall this was a pretty decent lounge. Delta could definitely improve certain aspects such as adding hot breakfast items, adding a couple of desktop computers, etc. If you need to spread out and get some work done, this is a decent place for that. As an AMEX Platinum credit card holder, would I recommend someone pay $29 to accompany me to this lounge? No, I would not. I would give this the nod over most United Clubs I have visited but it’s simply not at the level of a Centurion Lounge and it has a long way to go before it gets there. Since Terminals B and C are not physically connected at LaGuardia, you do have to take a shuttle between the two. The one advantage the Sky Club has is that it located past security unlike the Centurion Lounge. This removes the fear of having to deal with a long security line after exiting. I would rate this lounge a 3.8/5 with a strong potential to improve if Delta makes a few changes.
Cape Cod is one of those timeless destinations that still has the charm of decades past. Most of the hotels on the Cape are independently owned mom & pop operations and you won’t find many chain hotels. If you ask locals on where to find the best lobster roll and seafood on the Cape, each person will likely give you a different answer as loyalties run deep. Whether you’re staying in Sandwich (the first town on the Cape), Provincetown (the last town on the Cape), or any other town in between, a beautiful beach and amazing seafood are right around the corner. Here is our itinerary for our stay in Cape Cod:
Day 1: West Dennis Beach and Nauset Light Beach
West Dennis Beach was the first place we decided to stop once we crossed into Cape Cod. Since the beach faces Nantucket Sound, the water temperature here is much warmer than the beaches that face Cape Cod Bay to the north or the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
If you come between 9am and 4pm, parking costs $25 for the day and $75 for the week. Since we showed up at 4:30, the parking lot attendant waved us in and we didn’t have to pay. The sand is very clean and the beach doesn’t get terribly crowded. Unlike many other beaches in Cape Cod, I did not see any seals or shark warnings here. I’d still be very vigilant as prior summers have seen shark activity around this beach. The only flaw with West Dennis Beach versus the others I had visited on Cape Cod was the seaweed. It is definitely noticeable (see video below) and it could diminish your experience if you’re getting tangled in it while going for a swim.
Once we were done with West Dennis Beach, we headed to the town of Orleans to check into Skaket Beach Motel. I’ll have a separate review of this motel but it was a comfortable stay and located approximately half-way through Cape Cod. This made it convenient to visit nearby sites such as Cape Cod National Seashore and the various beaches along its coastline. Since we still had plenty of daylight left, we decided to go to Nauset Light Beach which is a part of Cape Cod National Seashore and run by the National Park Service. There are also 5 other beaches on the Cape that are part of Cape Cod National Seashore.
If you park in the lot before 4pm, it’s $20 to park but free thereafter. This is one of the most popular beaches along the National Seashore and the parking lot gets full rather quickly in the morning. Right across the parking lot and a short walk away is the famous Nauset Lighthouse, the logo on the bag of Cape Cod Potato Chips.
Nauset Beach was clean, well maintained, and really spacious if you wanted to spread out. From the shore, we were able to see three humpback whales a few hundred yards away and plenty of seals close to shore. This beach had seen seal predation by a Great White Shark 2 days before we arrived and another predation which occurred about 30 minutes after we had left when we came the second time. Lifeguards were not allowing swimmers to go in water beyond waist-deep. If you do decide to swim here and you see seals, you should probably get out of the water as the threat of being bitten or killed by a shark increases.
For dinner, we went to Arnold’s Lobster and Clam Bar. I got their fried cod sandwich called the “Fishwich” and my wife got the Fried Native Chatham Fish and Chips. Both were excellent and the great reviews we saw on Yelp were very accurate. Their onion rings were so good and they are very generous with the portions.
This place is very popular for dinner and we had to wait about 15 minutes in line that went out the door to place an order. They have indoor and outdoor seating, an ice-cream shop adjacent to the restaurant, and mini-golf right behind the restaurant. They have a big gravel parking lot and parking is pretty easy to find.
Day 2: Provincetown
On our second day in Cape Cod, we made the 30-minute drive north to Provincetown, one of the most vibrant and eclectic towns in all of the U.S. It has great food, great beaches, unique art galleries, and many interesting shops. The people are very friendly and the vibe all around just makes you feel like you’re welcomed.
Provincetown is home to 3 lighthouses and all of them require somewhat of a hike to get to. Due to its location on the Cape, Provincetown has two beaches (Herring Cove Beach and Racepoint Beach) which face west and offer magnificent sunsets. Both of these beaches are part of Cape Cod National Seashore and the same parking rates apply. If you have a parking ticket for any of the 6 beaches that are part of the National Seashore, you can go to any of the other beaches and park within the same day. This is a nice way to beach hop if you get an early start to the day.
First thing I wanted to do was cross over the breakwater to get as close as possible to Wood End Lighthouse. Full disclosure, I was inadequately prepared and I hope you learn from my mistake. I had slippers on rather than shoes and this made walking on the jagged breakwater rocks more difficult than it should have been. I also underestimated the effort required to walk on sand for long stretches once crossing over. The breakwater is over a mile long and the best time to start trekking over is early afternoon in low tide. If you don’t make it back before high tide, you could get stranded.
The breakwater jetty is much longer than it seems at first glance. At high tide, these rocks get submerged underwater.
Once you cross over to the other side, poison ivy is everywhere (another reason to wear shoes) and I certainly stepped on it a couple of times and felt the effects of it later. Since I didn’t carry water or a granola bar, I decided not to take a chance and continue much further towards the lighthouse.
This hike is definitely not toddler-friendly so my wife and 11-month old son explored the town while I hiked the breakwater. If you are driving into town, there is metered parking nearby and meter regulations are strictly enforced. I saw two cars with the dreaded orange envelope stuck on their windshields. I used the Park Boston app (it works for parking in Provincetown) to pay for the meter.
Right near the entrance to the breakwater is an interesting little park with benches called Pilgrims’ First Landing Park. This was the spot where the Pilgrims first arrived in America. This spot really evoked memories of 4th-grade social studies.
For dinner, we went to a very popular seafood restaurant in Provincetown called Lobster Pot.
I got the Lobster Rueben Sandwich and it was just as good as it looks. Had I stayed the night in Provincetown, I would have came back the following day to have the same thing again. It was that good.
After dinner, we made the short drive to Herring Cove Beach hoping to catch the sunset on what was mostly an overcast day. To put it mildly, we were not disappointed.
Seeing the sunset from Herring Cove Beach is one of the must-do things when visiting Cape Cod. I have never seen a sunset so beautiful within the contiguous 48 states. This was the absolute perfect way to end the day in Provincetown. If you go in the summer, bring a lot of mosquito repellant. They are savage around sunset time.
Day 3: Salt Pond, Marconi Beach, and Chatham
On our final day in Cape Cod, we started off by having brunch at a place called Hole In One in the town of Orleans. I had a Benedict called ‘The Green Monster” while my wife opted for the veggie omelet.
We headed over to the Salt Pond Visitor Center which is run by the National Park Service. Since we had a baby in tow in a stroller, we decided to do the 1.3 mile Nauset Marsh Trail, a loop trail which starts and ends at the Salt Pond Visitor Center. If you’re planning to do this trail with a stroller, there are a few things to keep in mind. First off, if your stroller does not have shock-absorbing springs, your child will have a very unpleasant time. The trail does get muddy at various points and if you have a stroller with small wheels, it might be a better idea to go with a baby carrier instead. There are a few points along the trail that have steps and you will be required to physically lift the stroller. It’s a very easy trail without a stroller but with it, it becomes a little more arduous. It can be done though and it was well worth it. Parking at the Visitor Center was free.
The trail itself offers beautiful views of the Salt Pond and is excellent for bird watching.
One of the 6 beaches that’s part of Cape Cod National Seashore, we came here because the parking lot at Nauset Light Beach was completely filled and cars were being turned away. This beach was just as good as that one and not as crowded. The water here was a chilly 60 degrees but it didn’t stop people from taking a dip. There were shark warnings at this beach as well and I didn’t see many people swim beyond waist-deep water. The beach was very clean and well maintained. The sand was nice and soft and my son had a blast playing in it. You are allowed to bring dogs to the beach as long as you keep them leashed.
After we were done with Marconi Beach, we decided to go to Chatham to see the beautiful Chatham Lighthouse. On the way, we made a stop in Orleans to see the Jonathan Young Mill. This was originally constructed in 1720 and has been restored through the donations and labor of volunteers.
Chatham was our final stop in Cape Cod before we were on our way back home. We wanted to catch a glimpse of the Chatham Lighthouse and all its splendor. This lighthouse was actually constructed as a pair. The second lighthouse was moved to Eastham and is now the Nauset Beach Lighthouse (pictured under Day 1). The house next to Chatham Lighthouse is an active Coast Guard station and living quarters for on-duty personnel.
This marked the conclusion of our trip. By no means was this a comprehensive list of places to see in Cape Cod. There is so much more to see and many activities you can do. You would certainly need several more days to experience everything. The whale watching experience in nearby Plymouth is an activity we did a few years back and it allowed us to see humpback whales up close. If you’re into cycling, the Cape Cod Rail Trail is a paved bikeway that runs about 25 miles from South Dennis to Wellfleet. There are many points of interests along the way. There are other beaches which I have not listed that are also worth seeing. Cape Cod is very kid-friendly and family-friendly and a perfect destination to make a family trip. As always, thanks for reading.
During the second week of July, my wife, 9-month-old son, and I took a trip to Grand Cayman Island. Rather than do a separate hotel review, I’m going to combine everything into one post since there are a few relevant details which many of you may benefit from. We chose Grand Cayman Island for a few reasons. First of all, it’s about a 3.5-hour flight from Chicago and that’s approximately the maximum time for my son to be confined to an airline cabin before he really starts getting restless. When he was 5 months old and we took him on an 8-hour flight to Hawaii and he was perfectly fine. Once he hit the 7-month mark, even a 2-hour flight wasn’t easy. So with those considerations in mind, Europe, Asia, and Hawaii were out of the question. The second reason we chose Grand Cayman is that their beaches have been spared from the seaweed problem (sargassum) that has plagued destinations such as Cancun, Dominican Republic, Barbados, and even Florida. Most of these destinations are doing their best to remove it every morning but despite their efforts, it’s still noticeable. The third reason we chose Grand Cayman is that it is infant/toddler/kid-friendly.
For this trip, I was able to find saver level award tickets (tickets which require the least number of miles for a given route) on American Airlines for 30k miles per person round trip. Since my son is a lap infant, his ticket was free. The cash price for a round-trip flight from Chicago to Grand Cayman was $455 per person. Redeeming 60k miles for $910 worth of airfare was a decent redemption.
Owen Roberts International Airport does not have jet bridges so you have to walk down the stairs and onto the tarmac before getting into the airport terminal. The minute you land, you’re greeted by a musical band playing local music. It’s a perfect way to get the vacation vibes going.
Sunshine Suites Resort
We stayed in a boutique hotel called Sunshine Suites Resort. It’s a 3.5-star hotel that is clean, comfortable, and very reasonably priced (usually between $140-$180/night). I saw its 4.5-star rating on Trip Advisor with over 2,000 reviews and that was good enough for me. Now, if you need luxury accommodations with an ocean view, this hotel is not for you. The main reason why I booked this hotel is we got to use all the amenities of the 5 star Westin Hotel which is a 5-minute walk down the street. Their pool, beach, beach towels, lounge chairs, gym, and access to its restaurants and bars are all included as part of the mandatory $35/day resort fee. The nightly price of the Westin was 3x the price of the Sunshine Suites. Since we were going to be out at the beach for a majority of the day anyway, all we needed was a comfortable place to sleep, shower, and get dressed and Sunshine Suites provided all that and more including complimentary breakfast. You can click on the video below to get an idea of the rooms and the property. FYI, if you don’t want to make the walk to the Westin, you can go to the front desk at Sunshine Suites and request a driver to drop you off in their golf cart. It works the same way if you want to come back from the Westin. Just let the front desk at the Westin know in that case.
The breakfast offerings were decent. A nice variety of pastries, pancakes, cereal, parfait, boiled eggs, toast, oatmeal, bananas, muffins, coffee, tea, orange juice, and apple juice. Sunshine Suites also had a restaurant on premises called Sunshine Grill which served lunch and dinner. This is not complimentary and does not come as part of an “all-inclusive” package. The fish tacos they served were delicious. If I can go back and have one meal in Grand Cayman, the fish tacos would be it.
The Westin Hotel
Since we had access to all the amenities of the Westin, we would have breakfast and make our way there for the majority of the day.
Seven Mile Beach
Once you cross over the pool to the beach area, you will be greeted by Westin employees who will direct you to lounge chairs and open up the umbrellas if you choose to have them open. Towels are available to the right of the pool and they must be checked out with your last name and room number of the property you’re staying at. Seven Mile Beach is simply amazing. Among all the beaches I have visited in my life, I would rank it right behind the Maldives for water clarity. There is no seaweed, no litter, it’s perfectly maintained, and waves are calm for water activities.
The water clarity makes it perfect for snorkeling at Seven Mile Beach so be sure to bring an underwater camera and snorkeling gear. You can also rent the gear from the hotel. Seven Mile Beach faces west and if the horizon is clear, you will be treated to some spectacular sunsets. Even if the horizon isn’t 100% clear, the sun reflecting off the clouds will make a for a beautiful and colorful sky.
A point of interest which might be worth visiting if you’re reading this is Stingray City. It wasn’t age-appropriate for a 9-month-old but if you have kids a bit older or you yourself want to experience swimming with stingrays, it’s only a 10-minute drive away. Keep in mind that when driving in the Cayman Islands, you drive on the left side of the road as it is a British territory.
Some of you have asked if the food, water, and snacks are expensive and for the most part, they certainly are expensive. If you purchase from the hotel or even convenience stores right next to the hotel, it will cost you 3 to 4 times would you are used to paying for bottled water. I asked a local where I can just buy a case of water and he directed me to a large wholesale club called ‘Cost U Less’ which was just a 7-minute walk away. If you’re familiar with BJ’s Wholesale Club on the East Coast, this was basically their sister store. It even had the Wellsley Farms brand which is the store label for BJ’s. You don’t need a membership and while the prices aren’t U.S. wholesale club cheap, it’s far cheaper than any other place you will find on the island. If you’re staying at an Airbnb and decide to cook rather than eat out, this is a perfect place to shop for your ingredients since they also carry fresh produce, seafood, and meat.
We had a great time at Grand Cayman Island and the service and hospitality at both the Sunshine Suites and Westin were top notch. I’ve never seen two hotels so well coordinated when it came to transporting passengers between the two properties and accommodating each other’s guests at their respective restaurants. If there is one other important tip you take from this, BRING MOSQUITO REPELLANT and bathe yourself in it. They are relentless and if there any parts of your body that doesn’t have the repellant touching it, they will find it, guaranteed. As always, thanks for reading.
If you’re looking for a place to travel with kids and want to choose a place where multiple attractions are close in proximity, D.C. is that place. The best part about D.C. is most of those sites are free, something that large families will truly appreciate. My wife and I traveled here with our 7-month-old and we found places that suited all of us. If you’re staying in the downtown area or anywhere near the U.S. Capitol, you will be able to walk to the various tourist sites. If you’re staying outside the city and are driving in, I recommend using an app such as Park Whiz or Spot Hero and parking at a nearby garage for the duration of the day. There is also metered parking available but they have two or three-hour limits.
Day 1- National Mall Area
Our first stop was the Washington Monument. It’s the tallest building in D.C. and it’s a great starting point or meetup point because you can’t miss it. The immediate area surrounding the monument was fenced off since it was getting some type of facelift. Nonetheless, it’s an iconic structure and the field surrounding the monument is perfect for a picnic or flying kites.
Continuing on our path, the second stop was the World War II Memorial which was a short walk to the west. The Memorial itself was awesome but the highlight of our time here was the presence of WWII veterans.
Prior to coming here, I had only seen 2 or 3 WWII vets in my life. It was really cool to see an entire group of men and women who served our country decades ago. Thank you again for your service! After spending about 25 minutes here, we continued on to the Lincoln Memorial.
The Lincoln Memorial is the most popular among all the memorials and you will find people here even past midnight when the Lincoln statue is illuminated. As you enter, the first floor will have information on the Civil War and its impact on the country. The second floor is where the statue of Lincoln is situated. They do have elevators if you are unable to climb the stairs or have a stroller.
When you climb the stairs and look towards the east (the path we came from), you get an amazing view of the National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
After spending a solid 40-45 minutes here, we walked over to the Korean War Veterans Memorial and then the Martin Luther King Memorial.
The MLK memorial is right next to the Tidal Basin and you have to walk south off of Independence Ave. The next stops were the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
The Jefferson Memorial is a beautiful building that was influenced by the Pantheon of Rome. If you’re in D.C. during early April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, this is the place to be. If you want to get a visual of our walk from Washington Monument to Jefferson Memorial, the map below shows our path as we went from place to place. I’d budget around 3 hours if you really want to experience all the monuments and take pictures.
By the time we were done seeing all the memorials, it was time to get my restless 7-month-old son to the hotel so he could take his usual nap. After dinner, we walked to the South Lawn of the White House at night to take a few pictures.
No matter who is in office, the White House is just a beautiful building. I prefer the night view as there is a certain elegance in the dark backdrop. Once we were finished taking pictures here, our first day was in the books.
Day 2 – Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and Lincoln Memorial at Night
Mother nature did not want to cooperate with us on our second day in D.C. and we had to deal with rain and thunderstorms so that took most of the outdoor attractions out of the picture. Fortunately, D.C. has a lot of excellent indoor attractions as well so we took advantage of this and visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. There are some fascinating exhibits at this museum and it’s also an interactive museum with hands-on activities that kids will enjoy.
You should budget at least 1.5 hours for the Smithsonian if you want to comfortably see everything. After dinner, the rain had mostly stopped and many people had recommended walking up to the Lincoln Memorial at night. The Washington Monument reflects off the pool and it makes for an amazing picture.
Day 3: Capitol Hill and Smithsonian Zoo
During the early afternoon, we walked to the Capitol Building
Unlike all the other sites we had visited in D.C., the Smithsonian Zoo was a 12-15 minute drive from our hotel in downtown. Like all the sites we had visited thus far, this one was also free of charge. And for a free zoo, it really had a lot to offer.
We saw lions, tigers, cheetahs, gorillas, giraffes, elephants, and various other animals. This is another place that is perfect for kids and offers something for people of all ages.
Other Places of Interests to Consider
Since we were here for 3 days with a 7-month-old, it was going to be impossible to see everything we wanted in that short window. If you are going to D.C., also consider visiting the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, and the Sackler Gallery. The National Museum of Archives is home to the Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and The Emancipation Proclamation. All these attractions are free and if you are so inclined, you can leave a small donation when you enter or exit. D.C. is a wonderful city with no shortage of things to do and places to see. It’s a very walkable city and a great place for budget travelers who get to experience world-class attractions at no cost.
One of the newest hotels in Washington DC at just a couple of months old, my wife and I got to experience this beautiful property courtesy of our AMEX free weekend night certificates. Unfortunately, the American Express Hilton Honors Ascend Card no longer has this benefit on the cardmember anniversary. Now you have to spend $15,000 in a given year to get the free night and I don’t think it’s worth forgoing points with Chase or AMEX Platinum/Gold to pursue a free night with Hilton in most instances. Since my wife and I both have the AMEX Hilton Honors Ascend Card, we were able to combine our free nights into a weekend stay. The nightly rate for our room was $450 so we got $900 worth of value plus $50 credit towards dining for the cost of the annual fee that we paid for both cards ($95 per card).
When you walk into the hotel, take the elevator to the third floor. There is no second floor and the third floor is where the check-in desk, lounge, restaurant, and lobby is located. Upon checking in, the receptionist verified our Hilton Gold status, courtesy of the AMEX card and upgraded us to a room on the 9th floor. We were given a choice between 1,000 Hilton points and a $50 dining credit. We took the dining credit (please don’t ever take the points in this scenario). The receptionist was kind enough to give us a mini-tour of the hotel, Estuary restaurant, and some of the amenities this hotel offers.
My first impression when walking in was that this hotel did not have many 90 degree angles. The architect made a concerted effort to make the interior as curvy as possible. The lobby was beautiful and since the hotel was only 45 days old when we stayed, it still had that brand new scent.
Our room was on the 9th floor which gave us a nice view of New York Street down below. Keeping up with the theme, the room was curvy but spacious and very comfortable.
As an avid coffee drinker, I always appreciate when a hotel provides a Keurig type machine with pods. The coffee was complimentary per usual but the snacks were completely overpriced. If you need snacks, there is a CVS across the street where you can get the same offerings for 1/4 of the price.
The bathroom provided two sinks and a separate blurred door to the toilet so two people can use the bathroom simultaneously while still having some semblance of privacy.
The toiletries were Shanghai Tang and the scent was very nice. Not too overpowering but not too light either. The room also provided slippers, a safe, laundry bag, iron, and bathrobes.
Estuary and Estuary Bar
Estuary is the restaurant on the premises which is located on the 3rd floor. We went there for breakfast on Saturday morning and ordered a custom made omelet and buttermilk pancakes. Both were delicious, albeit smaller in portion than your typical brunch diner.
The Estuary Bar area was spacious and seating was plentiful during the day time. If there is an event going on at the hotel, it’ll likely get packed during the evening going into the late night hours.
3rd Floor Terrace and Rooftop Bar
Since the hotel was only 45 days old during our stay, the Rooftop Bar was not officially open to guests so I could only take pictures from behind the glass door. At this time, it’s likely open and running. The 3rd-floor terrace was open for use.
The fitness center was one of the better ones I had seen at a hotel. Upon entering, guests are greeted with towels, earphones, and apples.
Although I forgot to measure the internet speed, I had no issues with speed or Wi-Fi connectivity. If you are planning to park your car at the Conrad, the price of parking at their garage was $36 a day. I opted to use the Parkwhiz app and found a garage two blocks away which allowed me to park for $14. There is also metered parking on the street but it has a 3-hour time limit during business hours and it’s free overnight. One of the most appealing aspects of staying at Conrad DC is that the National Mall, White House, Capitol building, Smithsonian, and many other points of interest are only 10-15 minutes away by walking. I also want to acknowledge the receptionists on the 3rd floor who always gave us complimentary bottles of water whenever we walked by. The staff made an excellent stay that much better. We look forward to coming back in the future.
This is a long overdue post of our itinerary to Portugal from our trip over the summer. I had finished more than half of this post but never got around to completing it. Since I have a bit of time and with summer just a couple of months away, this is probably the ideal time to finish it since it people are likely in their planning stages at the moment.
Day 1: Arrival
We departed Chicago O’Hare at 10:48 pm on June 24th and were set to arrive at Frankfurt, Germany at 1:50 pm. Since we booked business class on Lufthansa using United MileagePlus miles, we got to enjoy the Polaris Lounge in Chicago as well as the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge in Frankfurt. You can read about the Polaris Lounge here and the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge here. Our layover in Frankfurt was over 7 hours so having access to the amenities of the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge was extremely helpful. We didn’t arrive in Lisbon until after 11:00 pm. Once we arrived, we walked over to the Hertz counter and my car was ready for pick up in the adjacent parking lot. There wasn’t a line (presumably due to the late arrival) and everything was straight forward. We drove to the Holiday Inn Express where we would spend the night before driving about 3 hours south to the Algarve region early the next morning.
Day 2: Lagos
We arrived in Lagos around 1:00 pm and decided to go straight to our hotel, Cascade Wellness and Lifestyle Resort. This was an amazing property which deserves a review in itself and I’ll get to that. Since they had a room available, they allowed us to check in early and greeted us with complimentary tropical beverages. The property has a gate that leads you to a walking path right along the cliffs. Just for its proximity to the cliffs, this resort was worth it.
If you do walk the trail along the cliffs, please don’t get yourself too close to the edge. There have been people who fell to their deaths when they were taking selfies and lost track of the distance. The water below has jagged rocks and it will do some serious damage. Once we were done with the hike, we took a short drive to the colorful town of the Lagos that was about 10 minutes away.
The town of Lagos was one of my favorite small towns in all of Europe. There’s a nice vibe during the summer and everywhere you look, you’ll see the summer colors and unique paintings and patterns on tiles and on the facades of many buildings. Painted tiles are a huge part of Portugal’s artistic history dating back several hundred years. There are other cities in Europe that incorporate it within their architecture but none do it as effortlessly as Lagos. Even their walking paths are tiled (this can get a bit tricky when it rains though).
Several of the restaurants in Lagos offers outdoor seating and the summer months are perfect for it. And speaking of restaurants in Lagos, there is one thing you should know when eating out. When the waiter or waitress puts bread and butter on your table, this is not a complimentary appetizer. It’s common practice within the U.S. that if you are brought bread/butter, tortilla chips with dip, or anything else that you didn’t order to your table prior to having your meal served, it’s a complimentary item that you don’t pay for. In Lagos, if you consume the bread and butter, it will be added to your check. If you don’t eat it, it’s omitted. They probably make a killing with thousands of tourists not knowing any better until they get their check. And if you finish the serving of bread, they will bring more, you might eat more, and that’s another easy 5 euros for them. Don’t be gotten.
Day 3: Lagos
Our third day in Lagos was one which I was really looking forward to since I had booked a kayaking tour that would allow me to kayak around the rock formations and cliffs that the Algarve region of Portugal is known for. Since my wife was well into her pregnancy at this time, she wasn’t able to go so I booked the morning tour which would also allow her to sleep in. This tour only had kayaks for two people and both spots in the kayak had to be filled. Since I was solo, they partnered me with another person who was also solo (if you’re reading this, thanks for being a great partner Stephanie. And sorry for hitting your head with the paddle.) If you find yourself in the Algarve region, I highly recommend doing the kayaking tour. If you’re worried about bringing your phone on the kayak, get a waterproof pouch or bring a GoPro and a GoPro mount. The picture opportunities you will get here are postcard-worthy.
The entire tour takes about 2 hours with a stop on a remote beach in between. You kayak with the tour guide going one-way and there’s a boat that tugs everyone’s kayak back for the return. Wear plenty of sunscreen as you will likely have non-stop sun exposure during the tour.
Later on in the day, we decided to visit the beaches in the area. The one that really stood out was Camilo Beach. Crisp clean water, beautiful scenery, and plenty of space to lay your towel on the sand and just relax. The water was a lot cooler than I had expected but that was not going to deter me from getting in. There is a parking lot available if you want to get to Camilo Beach but the spots get taken pretty fast. Once you park, you have to walk down several flights of wooden stairs but the views from atop are spectacular.
Once we wrapped up our day at the beach, we stopped by the town of Lagos for dinner and it was back to the hotel to prepare for the following day.
Day 4: Lagos and Lisbon
Our rental car was due back at the Hertz at Lisbon Airport by 10 pm. This gave us the morning and early afternoon to check out the rock formations of Ponta da Piedade in Lagos. There is a parking lot that can fit many cars (though it likely will fill up fast during peak season) and you can take several flights of stairs down near the water.
I decided to take a hike up one of the “mini peaks”. There is only room for 3-4 people but it’s so worth it for the views.
Ponta da Piedade was our final stop in the Algarve region of Portugal. Now it was time to drive up north to Lisbon and see what that beautiful city had to offer.
When we arrived in Lisbon later that afternoon, there were overcast skies and a few ominous looking clouds. We thought it would be pretty blah type of day. Fortunately, the clouds moved on and there was sunshine just a couple of hours after we checked into our hotel.
This gave us the opportunity to explore outside our hotel and walk around the city. There is no better way to get a flavor for a city than doing it on your feet. We walked on Av. da Liberdade and just kept going and going. The further we went towards the shopping district, the more it felt like the Las Ramblas area of Barcelona, Spain. Since the World Cup was ongoing and Portugal was still alive (this would change in a few days), there was a vibrant and festive atmosphere no matter where you turned in Lisbon.
While we were walking through Av. da Liberdade, we ended up taking a few turns that led us to a trendy shopping area called Baixa. This neighborhood had excellent shopping, dining, and chic hotels and lounges.
We found a hotel called Hotel do Chiado and on the 8th floor, they had a rooftop lounge called Entrentato. No reservations were needed and there was plenty of seating available. The views of the city and red terracotta roofs were awesome.
If you find yourself in this area check out Entretanto. Baixa also has a historic elevator called Santa Justa Lift that you can experience for 5.30 euros. It takes you to the top and gives you panoramic views of the city from a slightly different perspective. We did not do this since the wait time was over an hour and the rooftop lounge took care of the views we were looking for.
Day 5: Lisbon
The first thing on the agenda for today was going to a place called Pasteis de Belem and have their famous custard pastries. You will find imitators throughout Lisbon but this place is the original. They’ve been churning out their famous custard pastries since 1837. If you come to Lisbon, you cannot leave without visiting this place. You just can’t.
Once we were done eating, we took a walk around the area to see some interesting points of interest. First among them was Jeronimos Monastery. Construction on this building started in 1501 and was not finished until about 100 years later. If you’re into Gothic architecture, this building is a classic example of Portuguese Gothic architecture which can be found all over Lisbon. Jeronimos Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After walking around Belem, we took a 15 minute Uber ride to the neighborhood of Bairro Alto upon the recommendation of locals. Bairro Alto is known for its sloping and cobblestone streets, tiled buildings, and colorful facades.
This quarter of the city was one of my favorites and really what I envisioned what Lisbon would be. It had a unique charm and it felt like it wasn’t trafficked by as many tourists as Baixa and Belem. There were plenty of cafes, restaurants, and local shops. Walking was easy going downhill but uphill was occasionally a struggle. Your best bet is to walk downhill and take the trolley going back up.
As we kept walking, we recognized some of the places we had been to the day before and didn’t realize initially Baixa was adjacent to Bairro Alto.
Many Portuguese restaurants in Lisbon serve ceviche which is raw fish cured with citrus juices and spiced with peppers and other seasonings. Since this was my first ever trip to Portugal, I didn’t want to take a chance on ruining my stomach so I avoided ceviche but it is a local favorite.
Day 6: Sintra and Lisbon
Sintra is a small town about that’s about a 45 minute Uber ride from Lisbon and is home to the Palace of Pena. If you’re in Lisbon, I highly recommend taking the trip to this part of Portugal and experiencing the Palace of Pena for yourself. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was completed in 1854. It served as the home for Portuguese royalty until the late 19th century and was converted into a museum in 1910. The Palace of Pena has a facade that’s composed of vivid colors and architecture that incorporates Romanticism, Neo-Gothic, and Neo-Renaissance. If you are going to visit, I highly recommend not driving to Sintra! The roads are very narrow to go up the hill and parking is almost non-existent. Uber or Taxi will drop you off near the ticketing office. If you haven’t purchased your tickets online, you can do so from the ticket windows. Tickets to get into the Palace of Pena cost 14 euros for adults, and 12.50 euros for children and seniors. From there you can take the arduous 1 km hike up to the castle or you can pay 3 euros to take the shuttle. We took the shuttle and I don’t regret that decision one bit. Everyone we saw walking up the hill looked winded and tired.
They also have a cafe on the premises as well as a souvenir shop. You should budget at least 2 hours here and possibly more if you’re a really detail-oriented person. When you’re outside on the Arches Yard, you get a beautiful panoramic view of Sintra and other points of interest such as the Moorish Castle.
When you’re exiting the Palace of Pena, you take the same shuttle that bought you there and it will drop you off near the ticketing area. The shuttle runs once every 15-20 minutes. Cars are not allowed to pick up passengers in this area. To get down to the town of Sintra below, we paid 10 euros for a ride on a tuk-tuk. Sintra itself is a small quaint town with nice restaurants, cafes, shops, and really nice vibes.
Once we were done walking around Sintra, we took an Uber back to Lisbon. Portugal’s soccer match vs Uruguay was going to start shortly and we did not want to miss the various viewing parties that were occurring throughout Lisbon.
At this point, Portugal was down 2-1 to Uruguay and you can see the look of consternation on the faces of many Portugal fans as the clock keeps ticking away. I wanted Portugal to win badly so I could witness the euphoria of fans who genuinely live and die with soccer every year. It just wasn’t meant to be and the atmosphere around Lisbon went from festive to somber as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The build-up leading up to this game was incredible and witnessing fans slam tables, curse at the TV, and explain to their friends why Portugal sucked, I knew exactly what they were going through. In a sense, it was comforting to know that the same type of behavior I exhibit when the Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, or Cubs are playing terribly is universally practiced. Once the game ended, my wife and I got dinner and called it a night. Our flight back to the U.S. was early next morning so getting sleep was definitely on our minds. This concluded our memorable trip to Portugal.
We tried to fit as much as we could into a 6-day itinerary to Portugal. Although we didn’t get to visit it this time, we hope to visit the city of Porto the next time we visit Portugal. For us, it came down to Lisbon plus either Algarve or Porto. Since there would have been some overlap with Porto and Lisbon, both being proper cities, we decided to skip Porto this time and visit a region that was completely different from either. Lisbon and Algarve have not been overrun by tourists the way London, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Rome have. If you are planning to go, do it before Europe’s best-kept secret is no longer a secret. As always, thanks for reading.
Happy New Year Everyone! I hope 2019 allows more of you to travel and experience various places throughout the world. I’m going to share a few apps which I feel almost everyone would benefit from because of their ability to passively earn points/cashback. You don’t have to use the points for anything related to travel but since this is a travel-oriented blog, I’ll show you how you can if that’s what you would prefer.
As of right now, this is my favorite app to earn points which can be redeemed for gift cards. When you first sign up, you pick 5 retailers from their list for which you would earn points. Pick the 5 you would use the most since you can’t change it once you have made your choices. Based on my shopping habits, I picked Target, Walgreens, Whole Foods, Starbucks, and Uber. Starbucks earns 12 points per dollar while the others earn 8 points per dollar. They also have a multitude of online retailers if you decide to click through via Drop and earn additional points.
That process is also very simple and straightforward. You log into your bank account or credit card account and it will automatically link every credit card with that particular bank. Once the credit cards are linked, there is nothing else you need to do any further. The points will show up 2-3 days after you make your purchase.
Every 1,000 points is equal to $1. Once you get to 5,000 points, you can start redeeming for gift cards.
For travel-related purposes, I prefer to redeem for Amazon gift cards. You can use Amazon gift cards to purchase Southwest Airlines gift cards, Airbnb, and Hotels.com gift cards on Amazon.com. This is a really easy way to lessen the cost of travel in a completely passive manner. If you use my referral code (yc826) and link your first credit card, you’ll get 5k points to start out.
Dosh is another app that allows you to earn cashback passively. It doesn’t have an extensive list of retailers compared to Drop, but it does offer a lengthy list of restaurants which offer 5% cashback.
Among the retailers listed, Sephora, Sam’s Club, and Forever21 are the standouts. Occasionally they will also have Exxon-Mobil at 3% cashback. If you want to see the restaurants which offer cashback on Dosh, be sure to have your location access enabled.
Unlike Drop, you do have to enter each credit card manually so I would just enter the credit cards that I use most often. Once you reach $20 in cashback, you’re eligible to redeem. I like to redeem at the end of the year and use the cashback on travel related expenses. You can withdraw the cash either into your PayPal account or straight into your bank account. If you use my referral code (SHIRAZU1), you’ll get $5 when you link your first credit card.
3. SPENT Money
SPENT is another app that many people will find some value in. They only offer a 1% cashback payout but their categories are the type which many people will use extensively.
They have multiple gas stations (Shell, Mobil, and Chevron), Netflix, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Uber, etc. There’s also a nice little overlap with Drop since they both offer Uber, Whole Foods, and Starbucks. When you add in the fact that Chase Freedom is offering 5x points this quarter on gasoline purchases, having the Chase Freedom linked to SPENT Money essentially gives you 6x cashback if you happen to fill up at any of the listed gas stations.
To add your credit cards, simply log into your account and it will automatically add every card associated with that bank. These apps won’t pay for a vacation by themselves but even they can shave the cost of 2-3 nights off a hotel or Airbnb stay, the few minutes you spent downloading the apps and linking your credit cards would have made them well worth it.
Chase added JetBlue as an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner today, a few days after losing Korean Airlines. JetBlue is one of my favorite U.S. airlines and one of the few that isn’t packing their planes with seats at the expense of leg-room. They provide free in-flight Wi-Fi, free cable TV, and serve gourmet snacks on the flight. I have not flown on their transcontinental premium cabin called Mint just yet. It is a product which many travel enthusiasts have rated as the best business class service for domestic flights in the U.S. JetBlue routinely has flash sales and when the cash price of a ticket is cheap, so is the redemption using their frequent flier miles for that particular flight. If you’re based in the Boston, NYC, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and Los Angeles areas where JetBlue has a vast network, you will benefit from this partnership the most. You can transfer UR points into JetBlue if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred. If you have the AMEX Platinum or Gold, you can also transfer AMEX Membership points. Most of the time, the transfer rate is 1000 AMEX points for 800 JetBlue TrueBlue miles (right now its 1:1 as a promotion) so I would advise against using the AMEX option at the non-promotional rate. Chase has it as 1:1 but also remember to use the Chase Portal and see if you can get a better redemption if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You get 1.5 points per mile by booking through their portal and it’s certainly possible that the UR travel portal may be the better redemption option versus transferring to JetBlue.
Unfortunately, this comes a few days after the news that Chase has dropped Korean Airlines as one of their transfer partners. For international and long-haul travel, this was a very valuable SkyTeam transfer partner as you were able to get great travel redemption’s on SkyTeam alliance partners such as Delta, KLM, Air France, Alitalia, Aerolineas Argentinas, and non-alliance partners such as Emirates. From the continental U.S., it was possible to fly from the East Coast to Hawaii for 25k miles round-trip, a bargain when you consider the cash price frequently tops $1k. Here is to hoping that Chase adds another transfer partner that has a vast international network such as Korean Airlines.
The last time I wrote one of these shopping related posts, it was for JetBlue and their relationship with Amazon. About six months ago, both companies mutually terminated their relationship (unless you purchase on Amazon while flying on JetBlue plane) and everyone who shopped at Amazon frequently lost a pretty easy way to rack up TrueBlue miles. This wasn’t entirely a passive way to earn points since you still had to log-in to your JetBlue account and click on your personal Amazon link to get you to Amazon.com. However, United now offers a couple of truly passive ways to earn miles if you just link your credit card to the United Shopping Portal. One of them requires you to link your credit card with BP and fill up your gas there as you normally would. I made a post about this earlier and you can read about that here. The second is to link your credit card(s) with the United MileagePlus shopping portal. Remember, it costs nothing to have a United MileagePlus account so be sure to sign up if you haven’t already. I took screenshots on how add your credit card(s) to your United account and how to link your credit card to United’s shopping portal so just follow along.
How to Add Your Credit Card(s) to your United MileagePlus Account
Linking Your Account with Participating Retailers on MileagePlus Shopping
You will get a text message from United as soon as you make a purchase with any of your chosen retailers notifying you that the points will be added to your account in 3-5 days. Shopping alone likely won’t get you enough miles to land a business-class ticket (unless you’re a prodigious shopaholic) but it’s a nice way to bump up the United frequent flier miles balance and perhaps get you closer to an award ticket in economy.