Morocco in Busch Gardens

Tampa in 24 Hours

Oh, JetBlue, I really love you some times!  There was this great fare sale flying JetBlue out of New York to various domestic destinations.  The tricky part about many airfare deals is that they are normally for sub-optimal days; you’ll likely not be able to buy your complete round trip on a deal for a strict weekend of Friday night to Sunday night.  After making sure there would be reasonable flights to return home Sunday,  I snagged $30 Saturday morning tickets to Tampa for a quick weekend adventure.  Luckily for us, we are pretty flexible and willing to pull the trigger quickly; various routes sold out very quickly and the sale ended by 4pm!

Ryan and I had some pretty good options to come home: $200 if we wanted a late night flight, $140 for a lunch flight, and only 8k points last minute to book a spare early morning Southwest flight in case of evening inclement weather in New York.  With a companion pass this was a real steal!  These Southwest flights don’t show up in results on Kayak so if you are looking to do a price comparison always check Southwest just in case!  In the case of NYC-TPA, there aren’t any direct Southwest flights, but considering its great no change fee policy, it was so convenient to book a last minute connecting flight to make sure I could get to work on Monday.

We landed Saturday afternoon, checked into the Sheraton Suites, which was a bargain on points (only 3,000 for a $300 night which is 10 cents per point), then went straight off to Busch Gardens.  We preordered tickets with AAA which turned out to be cheaper than plum discounts or working advantage.

So it turns out, you only really need one afternoon as fast walking adults to do the entire park.  Lines were pretty short in February–the longest we had to wait was 35 minutes (just enough time to get over our motion sickness from the last ride haha!).

We left the park around 5:30 to get to Clearwater Beach to watch the sunset and grab some seafood.  The drive was spectacular!

Clearwater Sunset

I recommend the Clear Sky Cafe for simple well executed fresh seafood right next to the beach.

Sunday morning we headed back to the airport because there was bad weather in New York. Was the short trip worth it?  It depends on how much you need the sunshine and like roller coasters!  Next time I want to check out Big Cat Rescue and we’ll probably skip the park.

Weekend Itinerary: Toronto and Niagara Falls

Toronto isn’t my favorite weekend destination because in many ways it is very similar to New York, but I do love the occasional escape for good Cantonese food.

Friday Night: Drive up to Toronto after work and hit the hay.

Saturday Noon: head to Lai Wah Heen to grab the best dim sum in town.

Saturday Afternoon
: Drive around the Downtown Area and explore a gallery, museum, or sporting event of your choice (to be honest, there’s nothing that I’ve found that’s too far off what you can already find in New York–and no, hockey wasn’t invented in Canada).  Check out a Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, or Marlies game if you can!

Saturday Evening
: Grab a traditional or street-style Cantonese meal in Markham, perhaps at Richmond Court.

Saturday Night
: Take a two hour drive back the way you came around Lake Ontario to see the gorgeous night lights at Niagara Falls.

Sunday Morning
: Take a walk around the falls to take in the views, then drive for 30 minutes to the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo for the 12:00 tour.

Sunday afternoon
: Grab a bite to eat at the home of the original buffalo wings, Anchor Bar, then return home to NYC with a full belly!

Niagara Falls by Andrea Baptista

Weekend Trips from NYC: Toronto and Niagara Falls

How about a trip to Canada?

Ryan and I just took a quick trip up to Niagara Falls and Toronto.  He had never been to Canada so I tried to throw together a few things I loved about my road trips as a kid.

We took a straight shot drive up to Niagara Falls for about 6.5 hours from New York City on a Friday night.  We just missed the falls lit up, so definitely check the schedule and plan accordingly.

The Sheraton on the Falls Hotel is a great deal–we paid ~$90 for the most basic room and were upgraded to a high floor with a great view of the falls with Starwood Gold status.

In the morning this is what we woke to:

Niagara Falls

After a quick drive and walk along the falls to see them from different vantage points on the Canadian side (arguably the better view), we drove up to Toronto.

Our first stop is a New York Times favorite–Lai Wah Heen.  First picked up by FloFab in 1997 and reappearing many-a-times, the restaurant claims many dim sum hearts as people’s favorite Cantonese stop in Toronto.  Everything was spot on and came out piping hot (often an issue with dim sum in North America and the popular cart style service).  Make sure to order these cute pig shaped glutinous rice meat fritters with garlic ears:

Glutinous Rice Fritters from Lai Wah Heen by Andrea Baptista
After dim sum and driving around Downtown to see the CN Tower, we struggled with what to do.  As a kid all I did in Toronto was visit family, see Blue Jays vs. Yankees games, go Chinese goods shopping and eat Chinese food.  Not to discount how awesome the Chinese shopping and food is, but I could understand the lack of appeal for someone in Toronto for the first time, and January isn’t exactly baseball season.   Luckily, Ryan had a great idea: hockey.

With the Toronto Maple Leafs out of town, we were left with a minor league Toronto Marlies game. It was actually a lot of fun and I definitely recommend it!

Same day online tickets are limited–by the time we decided to go, they were no longer for sale. Luckily Ryan wasn’t dissuaded and we walked up the ticket counter at Ricoh Coliseum with a bunch of well-garbed fans (and an unpleasant scalper who tried to sell us tickets for 20 CAD).  Turns out there aren’t many levels at the stadium–just the 100s and the ~5 row lower level by the ice so all the seats are great. Our tickets in Row G of section 101 face value was 37.50 CAD, but a lovely woman approached on the ticket line to give them to us for free (so nice!).  The stadium capacity was 7.8k and our crowd was at 7.5k so even for a rivals game, I’m sure there were plenty of last minute seats left.

The local crowd was great and really into the game–this furry guy, Duke, teasing a fan from the opposing team helped too:
Duke at a Toronto Marlies Game

That night we ate some awesome Cantonese style casual food and checked into the Sheraton Parkway Hotel.  A no frills decent Sheraton with a really low rate at ~$90, the hotel is right in the center of really great Cantonese food!  We woke up and went to eat amazing rice noodles and congee at Sam’s then started our trek back.
Sam's Congee Delight by Andrea Baptista

On the way back to New York we stopped at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, home of the original Buffalo wings.

All in all, a great quick trip!  If we had flip flopped and did Toronto first then Niagara we would have made it back in time for the last tour at 1:30 of the Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin D. Martin House and seen the falls at night, but there’s always next time!

 

Sheraton on the Falls
SPG Category 4
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel & Suites
SPG Category 3
Richmond Hill, Ontario

Lai Wah Heen (takes reservations and pre-orders)
Metropolitan Hotel Toronto
108 Chestnut St
Toronto, ON M5G 1R3
+1 416-977-9899

Sam’s Congee Delight (no reservations)
4390 Steeles Ave E
Markham, ON L3R 9V7

See my explanation for staying in Starwood from my last post.

seville-hotel-alfonso-xiii-345704_1000_560

2015: Starwood Platinum and Reward Travel

Photo of one of my favorite hotels, the Starwood Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville, Spain.

Fortunately and unfortunately for my friends and family I’ve set a few fun travel goals for the year: attain Starwood Platinum and book leisure travel strictly on points/vouchers whenever possible.  With the exception of important occasions and mandatory trips, 2015 will be the year of cheap flights, points education, and lots of fun weekend trips!

Hopefully my family, friends and boyfriend don’t get sick of the “but can I go on points…and is there a Starwood there?  Maybe we can wait until 2016–”.

Why the points game:
I’ve accumulated a lot of points from credit card spend and bonuses and the good old fashioned way: flying.  It’s free money for what you already spend.  Religiously avoiding cash and always going for miles and points has paid off  (I do not condone spending specifically for points unless you are experienced and you’ve done your research!).  I’ve never consistently spend them because I’m also a bit of a freak when it comes to getting good value out of them–I prefer 3-5¢/point or more; booking those prime time $800 flights to Vegas with 25k points always felt really good!  1¢ cash back is just not enough, so when a flight wasn’t a good deal on points I ended up paying in cash.

My target value per point won’t change, but my approach towards travel booking will. Instead of picking destinations then figuring out how to get there, I’m going to challenge myself to think harder about how to use up my points and be the most cost/point effective.  There are so so many places left to explore that I don’t really need to do the former.

Why Starwood:
I love Starwood, right down to my Westin Heavenly Bed in my apartment.  My Dad has always been a Starwood guy, so naturally I have an affinity to the hotels I grew up running around in.  It’s also helpful that I have Starwood Gold this year and realized that if I was more consistent with my hotel choices, I may actually reach Starwood Platinum.

How:
A lot of accumulated points.

Leisure travel on the weekends or vacation time!  My consultant/former consultant friends snark at me that if I just got a consultant job I’d get it so quickly.  Well, haha, no.

Southwest Companion Pass from the guidance of some travel and points blogs on how to attain one.  Some smart spending will allow me to translate my accumulated points to unlimited travel for a designated bud (the lucky boyfriend, Ryan) whenever I’m flying Southwest.

In the coming year, I’ll be posting some fun weekend getaways out of New York City.  Stay tuned!