Trip Reports

Category Archives for Trip Reports.

Review of My Free Stay at the Hyatt Zilara Cancun

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Ahoy, mateys! I have so much to tell you about – just back from a week of meetings in Austin.

I’ve been meaning to report on the Hyatt Zilara Cancun, so here goes.

I booked 3 nights with points in late January.

The flights were paid with Citi ThankYou points (which I’m always rolling in). And I charged the $55 round-trip airport transfer to my Chase Sapphire Reserve, which trigged part of the $300 annual travel credit. And because it’s an all-inclusive, food was covered (more on that in a future post!).

Hyatt Zilara Cancun from above

Hyatt Zilara Cancun from above

So flights, hotel, food, and transportation were all completely free. I did bring $100 in cash to leave as tips for the drivers, bartenders, servers, and housekeeping staff.

This trip would’ve cost north of $2,000 out of pocket.

But back to the hotel!

Hyatt Zilara Cancun Index

Arrival and check-in

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Bahama Breeze: Part 2 – Exploring the Atlantis Resort in Nassau

Atlantis Resort Nassau

I referenced the enormity of the Atlantis Bahamas complex in my earlier review. But wow, this place is gigantic!

Walking through it all would be a nigh impossible task. There’s a free shuttle bus to get around the various towers. Most places are a 5- to 30-minute walk, depending on which tower you stay, and how quickly you walk.

Atlantis Resort Nassau

View from Dolphin Cay

The Atlantis is a city unto itself. It would take several weeks to experience the dozens of bars and restaurants, swim in all the pools, and walk around the beaches of Paradise Island. So go into it knowing you won’t see everything. But do sketch out a rough idea for what you’d like to see and do.

Atlantis Resort Nassau

You won’t get to all 21 restaurants and each of the 19 bars and lounges – not to mention everything else!

I had a Casino Experience Pass included as part of my 4 free nights, and that set us on a course to exploring the Atlantis.

Bahama Breeze Index

Using the Casino Experience Pass

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Bahama Breeze: Part 1 – Review of My Free Room at Atlantis Beach Tower, Nassau

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There are a few things in life that make me say, “Hell, yes!” as fast as 4 free nights in the Bahamas.

atlantis beach tower review

Exterior of the Atlantis Beach Tower

I wrote about the details of how I did it, but in a nutshell:

Booking was simple. I requested my dates (December 10th to 14th), booked a non-stop flight there from DFW to NAS with Avios points, and booked a flight back (with a connex at MIA) with American miles.

I was aflutter about the experience, how the benefit would play out, and what the room would be like. I am happy to report it was a wonderful trip.

Bahama Breeze Index

Arrival and check-in

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Hotel Review: Hilton Hawaiian Village, Honolulu

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After months of anticipation, the day finally came to travel to Hawaii. I was a Nervous Nelly because of a line of thunderstorms moving through Dallas (where I was) and onward to Memphis (where the fam was).

Thoughts of missed connections, rebookings, and sitting in an airport instead of in Hawaii came to mind. But thankfully, it all came together without a hitch.

I flew over with my Mom, stepdad, and Jay. And my little brother met us at HNL.

Entrance to the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu

Entrance to the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu

We took an Uber to the Hilton Hawaiian Village, about ~20 minutes away. Really, couldn’t have gone more smoothly.

Arrival and check-in

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Driving NYC to Dallas: 4 Days of Ups and Downs (and Fire!)

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I set the date, said my goodbyes, and cut the ties. 

The move to Dallas has been a long time coming. I picked Memorial Day weekend to drive from Brooklyn to my new place in Dallas.

Now I’m here and it’s been about 4 weeks. Everyone kept talking about “getting settled.” Pssh, I don’t need to get settled. I’ll just pick right up.

It’s been a crazy few weeks:

  • 2 new Airbnbs
  • Buying investment property #2
  • Unpacking boxes
  • Werkin’
  • Getting acquainted with a new city
  • Visits from friends (already!)

In short, I guess, yeah, I did need time to “settle.”

The drive down took 4 days. I thought it would take 3. Here’s how it went down and why it took longer.

Day 1 – Brooklyn, NY to Winchester, VA

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Hotel Review: ANA Crowne Plaza Osaka

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I should say up front: I really wanted to stay at the Hilton Osaka, but there wasn’t availability – paid or with points – for my dates.

And the Hyatt Regency Osaka wasn’t available, either. (Even if it was, it’s pretty far from most attractions, unless you want to be near Universal Studios Japan, which I hear is incredible.)

Lobby of the ANA Crowne Plaza Osaka

Lobby of the ANA Crowne Plaza Osaka

The only thing available as far as chain hotels was the ANA Crowne Plaza Osaka, an IHG hotel. It was between this and an Airbnb.

In the end, I opted to pay 50,000 IHG points for 2 nights here because:

  • It was free
  • I randomly earned IHG Spire Elite status and wanted to see if it made a difference
  • IHG Spire Elite status comes with 25,000 bonus IHG points, so one of the nights was a total freebie
  • I have a ton of IHG points and wanted to burn some of them
  • The Chase IHG card gives you 10% of your redeemed miles back in your account
  • The stay at the Hilton Tokyo was paid and I wanted to decrease the overall price of the trip

Arrival and check-in

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Review: American Airlines First Class 777-200 Dallas to Tokyo-NRT

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Back in January, American released a whole bunch of First and Business Class award seats on routes to Asia. It was pre-devaluation, and I was starting to think of ways to burn some AA miles before the late March deadline. Awards to Asia in particular went up quite a bit.

It reminded me a lot of when I booked Lufthansa First Class to Frankfurt for Oktoberfest before the United devaluation – similar timing and concept.

Our bird from Dallas to Tokyo - the old livery

Our bird from Dallas to Tokyo

I saw routes were open from Dallas (where my new condo is) to Tokyo – a place I’ve always wanted to visit. Dates were open in early April – prime cherry blossom time! 

Even more serendipitously, I had to be in Texas around that time anyway for a week-long work meeting.

Of course, booking flights to catch the cherry blossoms is always a bit of a crapshoot. But, I’m happy to report, we arrived just in time to see the beautiful blooms.

This flight was an excellent pre-cursor to a lovely stay at the the Hilton Tokyo in Shinjuku.

I’ve been meaning to post about it for a while, so let’s hop to it.

Grabbing the space

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Hotel Review: Hilton Tokyo Shinjuku

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To start, I wanna say, I loved this hotel! The location, ambiance, and staff were all wonderful. Getting out at the Shinjuku station and walking to the Hilton Tokyo with the lit-up neon lights is an experience I’ll never forget.

Hilton Tokyo review

Entrance of the Hilton Tokyo

But first things first.

Landing at NRT

I’ll do a review of the flight over soon.

I was nervous about flying into NRT because it’s a solid 90 minutes from Tokyo no matter which method you choose to get to the city: train, bus, or taxi.

We landed around 5pm, so I figured the train was best to avoid rush hour traffic. The airport is incredibly well-signed. But once you get to the trains, you’re bombarded with a zillion options and routes. I looked at the JR lines, the Tokyo metro, and rapid transit to another station.

To sort through it all, we entered the options into the individual machines until we found the best routing and price. All told, it took 15 minutes to price out 3 or 4 train tickets. We paid a little more to get there a little faster. From NRT, the faster you go, the more it’ll cost. But even the most expensive ticket was only ~$40.

Arrival and check-in

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Vipassana Part 2: My Experience on the Path of Dhamma

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OR,

Learning Through My Legs

OR,

Busting Through Samkaras

OR,

Vipassana: A Magic Cushion Ride

Note: This post is text-heavy and has nothing to do with points and miles. I’m writing about it here for the same reason I write Trip Reports – to share a new experience. That’s what travel is really about anyway!

In you haven’t yet, be sure to read Vipassana Part 1 to get some background info on an experience like this.

During my time at the Dhamma Siri Meditation Center in Kaufman, TX, the weather actually perfectly mirrored the entire experience. It was uncanny how perfect it was.

Days begin at 4am:

Vipassana Timetable

Vipassana Timetable

You’ll hear the loud gong of a bell at 4am. Then again at 4:20am – your signal to head to the Meditation Hall.

At the Center I attended, they have the light switch next to the bed. That first morning, I flicked the switch – and had no idea what I was really in for.

I got up, one foot in front of the other, and shortly before 4:30am, headed to the Meditation Hall for the first time.

Days 1-3: Going Inward (Rainy AF)

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Review: Sala VIP Miro Lounge @ BCN Terminal 1

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“Yo, dude, Harlan. Haven’t you been back from Barcelona for like, 2 months? When you gonna wrap up the Barcelona posts?”

“I knowww. This is it. Last one, I promise!”

But for real. As I get ready to head to Tokyo, I figured I should finally put the lid on the Barcelona series. For now at least. :p

Before flying back to New York in American Airlines Business Class, I made sure to put my Priority Pass (that came with my Citi Prestige card) to good use by making a visit to the Sala VIP Miro lounge @ BCN.

Sala VIP Miro lounge

Sala VIP Miro lounge

I was able to access it with a guest for free. I added this visit to the Citi Prestige by the Numbers page.

The Sala VIP Miro lounge

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Vipassana Part 1: Getting There and About the Course

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Last week, I completed my first 10-day Vipassana course at the Southwest Vipassana Meditation Center in Kaufman, Texas.

Now I’m back in New York and beginning to process the whole experience.

The Wheel of Dhamma

The Wheel of Dhamma

There were so many intangible things. It’s nearly impossible to describe the tactile and transformative qualities. After speaking with a few others about the impacts, I’m realizing how radically different everyone reacts to a course like this.

So I’ll outline my experience. Yours might be similar in some ways, but totally opposite in other ways.

I’ll start with some background and info about Vipassana and the Center I attended. Then, in a second post, talk about the coursework.

And also like, wow.

What’s Vipassana?

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Review: Air France Lounge JFK @ Terminal 1

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Before I headed down to Martinique to stay at the Hotel La Pagerie (with the 4th night free!), I had to get to JFK to experience my first Norwegian flight, departing out of Terminal 1.

What lounges are there? The Air France Lounge and the KAL (Korean Air Lines) Business Class Lounge – Priority Pass gets you into both.

I’ve been to the KAL Lounge before and was underwhelmed. Plus, the Air France Lounge was literally right next to my departing gate (Gate 1). Perfect!

I got free admission for me and up to 2 guests thanks to the Priority Pass I got with Citi Prestige. But day passes are between $35 and $50, depending on time of day. I brought Jay with me, so I peg this visit for at least $70, and have updated the Citi Prestige by the Numbers page to reflect this visit.

The lounge

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