Monday, July 16, 2018

Vegas Bound- Here's how I'm doing it on the cheap.

Let me start of with a big, fat I've never been to Las Vegas. Gasp! I didn't really know where to start looking for deals since Vegas doesn't seem to have any downtime so I took to the interwebs.

Well, my usual sites and apps are fine for flights, but my Hotels.com account really let me down. I had to get more creative than usual just to be able to find any deals at all and make my money last. Sometimes saving $10 on a hotel price just isn't great when the hotel is over $150 a night. But, as you well know, the Vegas Strip is a tourist zone so nothing is cheap.

My first thought was to get an idea of the Strip and what I wanted to do. Like the Taco Bell Flagship store. My list essentially stopped there.

I know that we wanted a nice hotel for Las Vegas. I love being able to stay with friends (and for free) but it's nice sometimes to splurge and just do something fun as a couple. Hotels.com was kind of letting me down, as I mentioned. I knew LV would be pricey but  man alive! One night in one hotel there cost more than my RT trip to Dublin last month! I decided to look elsewhere. Thankfully I have Ebates, because I booked our hotel, Circus Circus (with free live trapeze shows inside, its own casino *duh*, an indoor theme park and pool) with a 60% off voucher from Groupon and earned $40 cash back on my vouchers from Ebates. I love them both and for some reason always forget that Groupon is an option when looking into new cities. So, don't be fooled- Groupon rocks and Ebates is amazing; together they make traveling, nights out and even just idea hopping THAT MUCH better! I booked a $300 room for $166 each night PLUS two vouchers each night for the buffet. (I've heard they're not the BEST but it's free food including breakfast)

I know Chris has always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, and aside from packing up to visit Arizona for some crazy, asthma inducing reason, I looked into the cost of a tour from Vegas. (Digression coming) I play a free Facebook slot machine game called MyVegas Slots that my brother says cashes in for real prizes, so I slotted and cashed in a few points for the roller coaster at out hotel- but also I was saving up points for a coupon for $50 off a bus tour to the Canyon. Guess what, that tour is over $300 for two adult people. So- nope. (Still rolling in points!) So again I took to Groupon and found a deal for $78 each that includes lunch! Done! Totally worth the leg work to make one of his dreams come true.

We're mostly flying by the seats of our collective pants for Friday in Vegas. I know I'd like to visit the piece of Blarney Stone I heard was there and there's some cool are in one of the men's rooms worth sneaking in for.Chris straight up refuses to see the Backstreet Boys with me, so we will need something else to accomplish. If anyone has any tips, let me know in the comments! 

Note: I'm not sponsored by these two companies (or any companies, I should add), I just really like them because they save me a lot of money. If you don't already use one or both of these, I highly recommend checking them out. You can click the Ebates link above but Groupon has a different landing page for every area. Pro Tip: super great when looking for gift giving ideas, too.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review: Thirsty Thursday at Westview Winery

This week I did another new thing; just like my 2018 New Years' resolutions told me to do!

The whole place is Pinterest worthy

I went with my galpal Kat up to Westview Orchards Winery for their Thirsty Thursday food and wine pairing party held once a month at the winery. This month's theme was a nod to dads- Berry Good Grillin.

Since Kat and I go there semi-regularly to play trivia on Fridays anyhow (we won our passes to the event through a first place win like a couple'a smarties), a bunch of the people knew us. It's like our Cheers, I'd say! Well, we were warmly welcomed to their first time doing it out on their terrace, which was nice because it was great weather out and we could still see the baby goats running around in their pen. And let's be honest- I went for the goats and food. And friendship, of course!

The garden party, as I guess you could call it, started off with a watermelon salad with feta, basil and a nice balsamic glaze. For as much as I don't pick watermelon to eat- it was pretty good with everything else! A little refreshing, even if I did start taking the basil off halfway through. It was paired with the Summer Breeze Chardonnay made on site. Well, all wines are made on site, so keep that in mind. The Summer Breeze was crisp but a little too much for me.

The second dish was grilled vegetables- asparagus, cauliflower, and onion petals in the WVO's (Westview Orchards') roasted garlic oil as well as buttered and grilled sweet potatoes. This plate was served with a Catawba- which is less musky than another brand I had tried. This one was my favorite, and Kat's. She bought a bottle for home, that's how good it was. It paired well with the veggies, too, because it was the added sweetness that asparagus lacks. Only, I got so into the asparagus that I forgot I even had wine there until half my plate was gone. Oops! Guess it was tasty!

The Main Entree- meat! The heart of any BBQ, right? If you eat meat, I mean. I don't eat meat so I just tried to take in the lessons about the cook of it to try later at home. But Kat enjoyed. We had a plate of grilled chicken marinated in WVO house made honey, mustard and apple cider. It had a good cook on it and paired well with the Red we were served for this one, called Sweet Revenge. The second meat was a grilled flank steak with salt and pepper. The chef let us in on her pro tip: marinade your steaks in something carbonated to bring out more flavor and also keep it juicy longer! She used beer for this menu, I think, but she said you can use anything that strikes your fancy. She mentioned having used beer before, root beer, colas, even carbonated water once in a pinch. She said it all works, and if you pick a dark pop you enjoy, like root beer, it may linger a touch in the cook for a fun flavor. I did bring this plate home to my hubby because he loves him some steak, and he really enjoyed it. The cook was perfect and the flavor of the steak was clean with just the light seasonings to taste. He didn't get the Sweet revenge to pair it with, but I'm sure he would have loved that, too.
I realize it looks like strawberry blob but I assure you it was perfection.

Now- the Piece De Resistance! Dessert! The Westview Strawberry Donut Sundae! All the joys!!! Upon reading the menu I said "BRING IT ON, THE MORE THE MERRIER!" Keep in mind, we're in an orchard where cake donuts are made fresh. This sundae was started with said donut, vanilla ice cream and a fresh strawberry sauce from their summer stock that I swear you'll want to take a dive into! It was so tasty for such a simple idea that I'm def going to start doing it at home on special occasions. (You can buy their donuts any time- also for trivia night they do donut flights for $3 in about 8 flavors to choose from like Oreo, cinnamon sugar or Reese's peanut butter cup- and they never skimp on the toppings!) Dessert wine was served here; Just Peachy- a sparkling peach wine that I have had a few times at the winery. This one I do like! If you read me before, you know that I'm not too terribly into wine or alcohol except when it's bubbly! This one tastes like summer to me- it's light and fun, like a nice breeze. So corny, I know, but it makes me think of beaches, friendship and trivia nights.

This place, I love it here! It's so beautiful and they love playing into their theme of being a winery in their decor and kitschy knickknacks. Even if you're like me and don't drink a lot of wine, they have hard ciders, sangria and DONUTS! The atmosphere is beautiful and in the fall the orchard is open, as well as their (difficult as cripe) corn mazes, petting area and pumpkin launch at the end of the season. It's a great family spot during the daytime, but perfect for adults at any time of day. The food is good, the people are swell and there's tons of free parking and baby goats!
Our usual trivia table is the red corner spot on the left

Until next time, be kind to one another! Cheers!



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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Hotel Deal App Review: FreeHotelCoupons, EaseMyTrip, Groupon

Booking a hotel should be pretty easy. But depending on your budget and your tastes, it can get pretty complicated.

Here's my dilemma. I'm looking for a Los Angeles hotel central enough to the city, Universal Studios Hollywood and Santa Monica Pier/ Venice Beach area. I found a couple of cheaper hotels and motels outside of the city, but let's just say that they looked every bit of their 2.5 or less Star ratings. If it were a nicer place then I wouldn't mind the driving distance but to layer a poor quality rating (out of TEN!!), drive time, paying for parking (!!) and what appeared to be small, murky rooms with no space for luggage makes for one unhappy traveler.

Sometimes budget is nice- but sometimes budget just means crappy.

Budget for hostel in central locale= cool.
Budget for cheap motel in outskirts= serial killer dump spot.

So, I decided to try out a few apps I had installed just to see how far I could get.

Behold: my research to better ease your possible trips!

Free Hotel Coupons:


So this app's title is about coupons. I was thinking it was something more akin to hotels.com or Ebates or something that gives rewards or like one of those retail me not things that are just giant coupon databases for your actual spending.


This app, well, this app title is a liar.

First it prompts you to pick your destination and date. Then the takes you to the second step of..... picking your destination and date. Then you finally get somewhere.

Only all it does it basically take you to a compiled list of hotels brought to you by Trip Adviser. One or two hotel options may not have the owl icon next to them, but basically it's Trip Adviser. No coupons. No deals that you couldn't find anywhere else. That's it. That's all it is. It's Trip Adviser hotels. So you may as ell go to the Ta app o site because at least then you can get money back on Ebates.
There's no good here, it's all bad.
No need to install this app.
Deleting.

Ease My trip:

I'm sure this app is fine or just like all the other ones lately with no actual secret deals. I can't tell. It's all in Rupees. I knew something was up with it when all of the major Indian cities were the first thing shown. Too bad it's not mentioned in the app description before you install it.

So, fine, if you're in India. Tough to translate accurately if you're used to USD.

Deleting this one, also. But not salty about it.

Groupon

No introduction necessary, I'm sure. For some reason I always remember the Groupon exists for mini vacations like trips to Cancun for 4 nights and things, but it didn't occur to me until a few weeks ago to look for hotel deals alone. So, in planning for the trip, that's what I did for our weekend trip to Las Vegas following our stay in Cali.

And it worked well. I found a super cool looking hotel on the Strip for two nights for their discounted, "not yet booked to capacity so toss these deals out there" fares! But hey, 66% off per night AND free buffet voucher for each night- sounds good! So, thanks to Groupon and Ebates I found a swell deal and will get getting money back in August so far to the tune of about $66 from booking two nights at the hotel, train and bus excursion.

So, lesson learned; sometimes it's better to just go with what's easy, and what you've used before.  Granted I've never booked a hotel on Groupon before, it seems to be ok!

So, there are three tips so far about Hotel Deal searches. I know there are countless websites like Hotels.com that offer a free night and deals, but at least for our Vegas stay- Groupon had a better price by about $100 difference plus food vouchers.

Are there any specialty apps that you use that I haven't mentioned before? I'd love to keep my research going.

Until then, Be kind to one another! See you on the Strip!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Flight Deal App Reviews: Fare Buzz, SkyJet, Domestic Flights

So I'm booking a *specific date* to a *specific place* for vacation. Seems pretty common. You want to got o a a place, and you want to have some sort of deal or advantage to get there. I'm still so surprised at the habit people get into- "I just use Expedia because I used it once ten years ago and it was fine" is no deal finding goal of mine. Unless it is in fact the best, of course!

It's true that if you search and search the same places and websites over and again for the same trip to score deals or keep tabs, it WILL log that information in your cookies (delete your cookies every so often) and possibly knock up the price based on the needs at which you have shown them. Try different places, look into new avenues. There's always something better than generic.

In my usual research heavy way I started looking up even more websites and apps that claim that they are the lowest fares, or best prices, so on an so on. Some try. Some are just like everyone else- boasting their rates, which, you come to realize, are only about 5% off  "sales". My goal here is to try each one for something specific, a real destination, and break free from the liars and boasters and find the actual hidden gems. I'm doing the leg work so that you won't have to.

I'm booking a one-way flight from Detroit (DTW) to San Diego (SAN) on Saturday, July 21st. Very specific.

Fare Buzz:
Nothing special here. Just another one of those websites that compares flight prices based on generic style platforms. Weirdly, the dot com website is more expensive than that app, of which I downloaded. The app itself is not fully up and running; the other three sections- Hotels, Car, My Trip, were all "coming soon".

The app will ask you to create a log-in to use it but you can bypass that if you're just looking around. Don't be fooled into freely giving away more of your private information than necessary at this time. 

The Good: If you use the web address you can get money back through Ebates. The app is really easy to use easy to use.
The Bad: It's easy to use because the app isn't ready for the market yet. They should have waited until at least half of the app was user ready. Seriously, at least half. The flight deals are not deals at all. Spirit Airlines has a better deal on their own site by $40, which is up from last week's price by just as much, which means it should go down again soon. The prices were different on the Fare Buzz site than they were on the app. Shady? Maybe. Careless, probably. 

And it's still cheaper to book directly with Spirit? Uncanny.

All in all I will not be keeping this app. Not only is it not ready for use, it's not better. It's pretty on par with all the other apps that firstly talk about how great they are. Modesty goes a long way. 


SkyJet:

Turns out that this one if specifically for booking private jets- you have to book them right down to the minute you want them! So, probably not* going to keep this app since I don't have that DiCaprio money.
*it's already on my delete pile.

The Good: It takes you exactly where you want and when. Really easy to use, too, it's pretty straightforward. It's probably a really cool service to have if you can afford it. At least as far as travel is concerned- not the ozone. 

The Bad: I can't afford it, and even if I could- I'm cheap, so, I probably wouldn't even pretend to keep it on my phone. 


Domestic Flights:


A simple app- it's the kind that pulls up all of the common airlines for you and "compares" prices. I can;t tell if these are the best fares or not because this app is the same as all of the other apps and sites that compare for you- so you're seeing the lowest they're showing you, which are almost never the cheapest flights in general. I distrust a lot of these sites for that reason. Yo book a flight with a pat on the back thinking you've done a great service to yourself only to find out the next day that it was cheaper to buy directly from the airline or something else. It's no fun. So what I usually do it look at the site/app. check the price and then look in a few other spaces to compare for myself whether it's the best or not. 

Plus, this app does NO service to itself by naming itself Domestic Flights- it's virtually unsearchable on google because literally every other airline, app, site and graphic will come up for the term "domestic flights" even if you add other words specific to the app. So- no thanks. Not only did it take me too long just to find the icon for this, but I've already seen various shades of this app before. 

The Good: It's easy to use because it's like every other compare app. I can say, though, that only being a day after I did fare Buzz, this app price for the Spirit non-stop trip matches more closely to the Spirit fare online. 

The Bad: It's the same as every other app. No real savings. 


In conclusion, this has been good at one thing only- deleting apps from my phone. Zero for three this time around but it's all for learning what works. Just because I'm not willing to settle for the first thing I see because it claims to be better doesn't mean it's not helping someone else. These apps were not what I was looking for in the way of getting to San Diego, at all, but I am ready to research my next set for you. 

Do you have an app or website that you use that I haven't mentioned yet? Share it in the comments and I will give it a go next time!

As always, be kind to one another. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Review: 2 Lads Winery, Traverse City

This weekend was my first ever wine tasting! Now, if you've read me previously you will know that I am not much for drinking, but it was a group thing and pretty fun!

2 Lads winery on Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan is gorgeous. Not only is the building something Wright himself would be proud of, but the views are spectacular! The Grand Traverse Bay is right across the street, basically, and the rows and rows of grapevines are really satisfying.

At 2 Lads the tasting is only $7 and you get five pours. If I drink wine at all, let it be sparkling! And, boy, it was! When it's your turn to sample, the group is welcomed over to the bar and you're given a sassy tasting menu to choose your samples from. A helpful barista pourer walked through any questions we had, no matter how ridiculous. (Does it taste like feet? Can I try just the tangerine dreams? What do your dreams taste like?) She was top notch and really knew her chiz. Trust ya' staff.

I was thrilled to pick all three from the Classic Sparking variety: Sparkling Pinot Grigio, Sparkling Rose and Crisp Sparkling. By time I got to Crisp I was a little done with wine since it was basically breakfast (I drank half) so I shared that one with a buddy who went and bought TWO bottles of it! So that should tell you something bout it! But by time Joe and Mike tried my glass it was too late for me to want it back. My fault. (it was good, I'm just not used to wines)  I also chose one from the 2 Lads Reserve section which was worth two pours. I chose the 2016 Reserve Chardonnay- " produced in just 5 new French Oak barrels, this Reserve Chard is finished in a classic Burgundian style. Lemon and Stony minerality is enhanced with fresh baked toffee brittle and a creamy finish from 6 months contact on the Lees." I didn't get all of that in the wine taste (is it supposed to be?) BUT it's all apparent in the aftertaste (of cookies)! But $44 is a little much for an aftertaste, I hear... 

The prettiest!

We had a really good time giggling over wines. Glass after glass poured between the six of us, and unlike what I heard, nothing was spat out because that's weird. I joke. A little. The menus were pretty good if you're into sarcasm like I. The description on each is like Leslie Knope doing an April Ludgate impression while drunk on Nutri-yum bars and red wine.
See for yourself:
A crisp underworld!

I loved it. I found some neat rocks in the fields, had a blast with my friends and saw my first ground squirrel. What a time was had!

If you're up in northwest Michigan and want to take a wine tasting tour then Old Mission Peninsula is for you! 2 Lads was tons of fun, the Crisp Sparkling is amazing but the aftertaste of that Reserve section is desserty and delightful! It's well worth your time and dollars, believe me! We went to another spot that had a cute dog but NO sass and it just wasn't as much fun! 2 Lads keeps it real, keeps it clever! We will absolutely be back here. Husband is already out of Pinot.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Review: Abbey Court Hostel, Dublin

When booking my trip back to Dublin I decided that I did not want to stay in a hotel if I could help it. So when I went back, I looked into hostels to keep it budget friendly, but researched those hostels closely. So when I booked at Abbey Court it was not taken lightly or whimsically. Abbey Court has been chosen one of the top places to stay in Europe for years, so that's a good sign.

This hostel was worth it! I paid extra to get a women's only room with 6 beds instead of 15-20 beds, which I would always recommend. It was only about $9 more per night but it felt safer and quieter, and that's worth more.

The Hostel: The wall art out and inside is amazing. I searched the Abbey Court Hostel hashtag on Insta before booking, as well as a few others, just to see what it looked like. Abbey Court looked so beautiful and the umbrella ceiling was worth the stay. The views are colorful and make every step fun. The staff is kind, helpful and know how to help you in, from what I heard, at least 5 different languages. Upon walking in I was welcomed by every employee at the counter and even one from behind the doorway, which was nice, and got to check my bag in early (for a 3Euro fee). Breakfast was good and I liked that the kitchen area was open to guests all day to make and eat their own food. All of the employees were encouraging and tried to include their guests in all of the happenings. We did the Backpacker Bar Crawl (a post for another day) on the recommendation of one of the staff and had a blast and nobody fussed about us (quietly) getting back after 3am. Freedom!
Our door!
The Room: When I got to my room I was hoping that I would get a bottom bunk (nope). The beds were what you would expect- bunk beds that don't feel properly attached to the wall with mattresses made of fluff and something harder like fresh sawdust that were only about two inches thick but with a soft pillow to match. Every time I got on the ladder to the bed I felt like the whole thing was going to fall over. And getting down was tough because the ladder was so slim that you couldn't fit both legs at the same time while sitting on the bed to move down facing forward. No room. Sorry for the impending doom, Ellie!
The blanket was really warm, though, which was nice because it got really chilly out. Ear plugs don't seem to do much good- the walls are cardboard thin and every door slams. Every. Single. Door. It's all you hear, it seems. Plus, not the hostel's fault, but rude ass people WILL take their very loud and very personal cell phone conversations into the hallway on speakerphone at all hours of the night. Pro Tip- be prepared for that racket.
Best idea I could think up at 1am after 46 straight hours awake and still too noisy to sleep- Abbey Court, put some foam or something between the door and the lip of the frame to absorb some of that slamming. Good lord, so much slamming.
But it was really awesome to have extra showers and toilets on our floor- it's never a just in case time for extra stalls with 6 or more to a room, there's always a need!

The Area: What a great location! Seriously, you can hardly ask for a better spot on the River Liffey. It's closer to the O'Connell Bridge but sits between that and the Ha'Penny. The good thing about it is how close it is to Temple Bar area, which means markets and donut shops as well as bus stops and walking tours. The bad is that it's close to Temple Bar- which means drunks at 1am whistling for no reason over and over again, people breaking bottles and shouting. But hey, if you don't factor that into your decision while picking a hostel then that's your bad. I expected that- except for the whistle guy. Screw that guy.

Great people. The best possible location. Clean rooms. Not only would I recommend staying in a Hostel instead of a Hotel whilst in Dublin, I would recommend this specific spot with Abbey Court. I absolutely will be booking here again on my next return to my favorite city and I already am looking forward to whomever I will meet next.

America!

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Dublin- my heart is full.

Made some good friends in Dublin, the kind you can only find as a solo traveler!
I'll update more when I'm home but for now here is one of my favorite spots. 

Ha'Penny Bridge over the River Liffey. 


Vegas Bound- Here's how I'm doing it on the cheap.

Let me start of with a big, fat I've never been to Las Vegas. Gasp! I didn't really know where to start looking for deals since Vega...