Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 A year in travel review

Ima tell u guys a little secret, I don't even like flying that much.  I don't like being that close to other people AND I'm always convinced that the flight I'm on is going to crash *This is the big one Elizabeth* but I'm not big on road trips so in the air we go.  Another secret... I'm not that adventurous with my travel locations, I just want to get to a dayym beach.
Previous years my travel goal was to top the number of carnivals I did the year b4.  This year I had a new goal, to top the number of trips I've taken in a year.  By skipping Barbados carnival that freed up $2000 to add on numerous trips.  This year I did Trinidad, Jamaica, Atlanta, Hollywood, and Miami carnivals, but next year I plan on only doing Trinidad, Atlanta and Miami carnivals (and I'm taking a break from Trinidad carnival in 2017). I love carnival but dammit that's an expensive habit and having added so many other travels to my calendar has brought me year long, nonstop happy happy joy!
So here is a look at where I went in 2015…
 
Started of the year on a trip with my honey bunny when I scored a crazy cheap,
last minute cruise to Mexico
 

Trinidad Carnival

Cabin in the woods/ North Georgia Mountains
 

Jamaica Carnival

Barbados
 

Hollywood Carnival

4th of July in Miami with my guy
No blog because…
 
Before traveling to Dubai I spent a day in NYC in tourist mode, I like being a corny tourist

 

Abu Dhabi & Dubai
 
Nashville for the Titans vs Falcons game with my guy
No blog…  
 
Panama
 
Miami carnival
 
Miami again

More Miami

Curacao for Thanksgiving 

White House Christmas tour

Mid-December in Miami
No blog cause I think you guys are probably tired of me talking about Miami.  $30 roundtrip flight to Miami on Frontier Air.  Used travel hacking for free lodging.  $2.65 South Beach bus for transportation.  $20 boating excursion on Groupon.  Pimped my friend out for a free night out on the town. Miami promoters are like sharks trying to fill the clubs with girls so they can in turn charge guys thousands for bottles.  They give girls free entry, VIP and bottle service, so I had her text a promoter a photo and a request to get on his list. Team work makes the dream work, thanks Rachael!  So ladies if you are ever in Miami and wanna party for free... look this guy up on IG.


 


Christmas in Naples & Miami with my honey bunny.  No blog cause again you guys are probably tired of me talking about Miami. I found a cheap, last minute flight to Ft Myers, rented a car and drove to Miami and flew out of Miami. Even after renting the car I saved $100 on the cost of flying in/out of Miami. Found an online discount for an Everglades excursion and used travel hacking for lodging. 


All together the cost of ALL the 2015 flights and the cruise was about $1800, 4 of the flights (including Trinidad carnival) were purchased using airline points acquired via travel hacking. I’ve heard people say that they don’t travel because it is too expensive, it doesn’t have to be if you plan it properly.  Paying a travel agent is unnecessary (unless you just have $$$ to blow and wanna save time).  I can't tell u what trips 2016 holds (other than Panama, Trinidad, Houston, and Los Angeles in the 1st quarter) because I let the flight deals determine my travel destinations and dates. I’ve said in numerous blogs that the first thing I do every morning is check the various outlets for flight deals. When I find a great deal I book whatever dates are the cheapest and from there I work on cheap lodging.  For hotels I use the travel hacking method a lot (discussed in old blogs) to secure free lodging.  If you are one that can't travel hack via credit cards, maybe you are working towards a big purchase and don't want to mess with your credit score, you can save on lodging by researching travel discount codes.  For instance when I can’t hack… when I stay at a Hyatt I am an IBM employee, when I stay at Hilton I am a General Electric employee, when I stay at Marriott I am a Coke employee. I’ve never been asked to provide proof, but if they did what is the worse that could happen? They make me pay the rack rate that I would have had to pay anyway? www.hiltonfamilymvp.com offers 20% off the rack rate and anyone is eligible to use it, but that’s not always the biggest savings.  Another option is using Google to see if there are any big conventions/events that would have discount rates at nearby hotels.   Also renting an apartment/condo and splitting with friends tends to be a cheaper route than hoteling.  I don’t use Airbnb and similar sites often because I don’t like the hefty cleaning fees they charge so I like to look for apartment hotels that don’t charge cleaning fees. 

I always search Groupon, Living social, and similar discount sites for discounted fun excursions at my destination.  If you need a car here is an Avis discount code for 35% off  AWD: K817165 (anyone is eligible to use it) if you search the net, you can easily locate discount codes for other companies. 

Safe travels in 2016 everyone!!! 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Curacao: ABC Islands

For Thanksgiving weekend we found a $100 roundtrip flight from Miami to Willemstad, Curacao. Curacao being one of the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao in the Lesser Antilles.  Normally a flight from Atlanta to Miami would be dirt cheap, but being a holiday weekend we had to pay a tad bit more and get a little creative on the return of Sunday, Nov 29 (one of the busiest travel days of the year).  We drove to Orlando and caught a flight home from there ($200 cheaper than it would have cost us to fly out of Miami). 

A lot of people complain that they never find flight deals out of the city that they live in, but you gotta get creative and search for flights out of cityz that you can easily get to. How? There are lots of travel search engines, but I like www.skyscanner.com.  I enter the city that I want to fly out of, leave the dates blank and the destination blank, from there I let the cheap destinations determine when I will travel.   
So any who, we were very back and forth about where to lodge in Curacao. Initially we went with the Hilton, but later decided to rent a condo.  Thank goodness we made that decision because 1) the Hilton (and neighboring Marriott) were kinda far out and not near anything of interest 2) the Hilton looked beat the “F” up in person, like an old HOJO. After debating on the many beautiful condos we settled upon The Beach House. It was a great call because the property was intimate, beautiful, and on a great location of Mambo Beach.  Mambo beach is a very happening spot with lots of dining and entertainment during the day and at night, I also hear they have a very lively Sunday beach party that we sadly did not get to attend.
 
The main language of Curacao is Papiamento and I must say it is a very peculiar tongue. It’s a hodge podge of African, Portuguese, Indian, English, Dutch, and Spanish.  When I heard them speaking I could understand like every 5th word, luckily most people in the country also speak English.

We rented a car because all our research indicated that taxis are very expensive.  Luckily they drive on the right side of the road because my brain cannot handle driving on the left side of the road (that was a #FAIL in the Bahamas) If u don't wanna rent a car I would recommend lodging by the port and the Queen Emma Bridge. The Queen Emma Bridge is a beautiful pontoon bridge that connects the Punda and Otrobanda districts. That area is the heart of Willemstad and you will have plenty of lodging options, lots of shopping, dining, casinos, and nightlife.  
 
I just wanna say that they likes their Happy Hour in Curacao, a lot of places have early evening happy hour and also late evening happy hour were drinks are buy 1 get 1 free.  I’m not talking Miami prices of $15 drinks and you get one free, these are like $5 and you get one free #WINNING. We spent one evening at Mambo Beach enjoying the local liquors for the low low. 

We partied two evenings at a spot called The Alley which of course played the Caribbean/African chunes that I likey!!!  It was located in the Punda district mentioned above. Entry and drinks were dirt cheap so it was definitely my kinda party!    
Another evening we were told that we could find the chunes that we were in search of at Zanzibar at Jan Thiel Beach, but upon arriving we heard Caribbean chunes coming from the Mojito spot next door so we let our ears guide us to the bar and then dancefloor.  I just want to share this bottle menu from Curacao, please keep in mind that this is in the local currency which is LESS than US$.  I don’t do club bottle service in the US (cause I’m poor), but at these prices I will pop bottle or two. 

If you don’t make it to the alcohol factory, fret not because there are plenty of shops ready to give you samples of every flavor liquor and attempt to sell you a bottle or 5. 
 
I read in numerous places that Curacao is a snorkeling paradise.  We were supposed to go on an ATV/Snorkeling excursion with ATV & Buggy Tours (they had great reviews online), but a monsoon came thru in the middle of the night and the tour was cancelled because the route was too wet.  Rather than give up we went with a different ATV company (Eric’s ATVs) that didn’t have snorkeling, but did have a cave tour.  That tour was great until 2 ATVs broke down and we wasted a good hour waiting on them to try and fix them and then we had to help tow them back to base.
 
I had a great time in Curacao, there was so much more to see and do that we didn’t have time to do.  If another good flight deal dropped, I was definitely go back. I must say that everyone was so dayym friendly EVEN the customs agents and that is usually NOT the case at many other countries that I visit.     Even the mosquitos were friendly, usually I am bit to death (no matter how much repellent I wear), but this go round I was only bit about 3x.
 
One thing I did find odd was the oil refinery which neighbored the center of town.  You could see flames shooting from silo’s (or whatever they are called) all day long, it reminded me of the hunger games.  Our first nite I saw flames shooting into the sky and thought there was a big forest fire and we were all going to burn to death (I can be a tad bit dramatic at times).

Fun facts before we part:
Their favorite word is DUSHI.  It has multiple meanings, but is basically used to describe everything good, awesome, sweet, lovely, etc
The US$ is a legal tender     
Prostitution is legal
They love to add a Caribbean /Latin/ African beat to American chunes (something I rather enjoyed). I was dancing my life away to artists I would normally never dance to back home. 

The men love and I mean LOVE their murses (man purse), apparently if you don’t have a man purse you don’t have your life together! 

 
And of course I leave you with a recap video *CHOW*

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas at the White House

 

I took a trip to Washington, DC last week and thanks to my chica Charmaine, I had an opportunity to visit the very iconic White House.  I was in awe of the structure itself and being able to go inside was phenomenal.  The White House is currently celebrating “A Timeless Tradition” holiday theme.  Here are some photos accompanied by fun facts about each room via The White House press office.

Starting a new tradition last season, Mrs. Obama asked public school students from Washington, D.C., to share their dreams for their future in the East Colonnade. This year, those goals are featured on the hand-crafted snowflakes.  Other snowflakes represent each of the 56 states and territories and feature iconic symbols from all across America such as the state flags and seals.
 
Outside, 56 “snow people” represent the number of states and territories in the United States

Larger-than-life Bo and Sunny replicas are created out of nearly 55,000 feet of yarn knitted into 7,000 yarn pom-poms. Topiaries, wreaths, and ropes, comprised of tennis balls create a dog’s holiday dream. A holiday poem to all of America from Bo and Sunny is featured on the wall.
 
Fresh pine and greenery obelisks flank the doorways of the China Room and evergreen and eucalyptus garland adorns the fireplace, giving off a fragrant scent embodying the holiday spirit.  Alongside an 8-foot-tree, the central table is wrapped in classic navy plaid and topped with a pine tree and vibrant red gift boxes.

Throughout the room, Kailua Blue ribbons represent the Obama China Service.  Chosen by First Lady Michelle Obama and debuted earlier this year, this china pattern features a bright Kailua Blue, evoking the waters off the coast of the President’s home-state of Hawaii.
 
The Library pays homage to the more than 2,700 books. The room is themed as a holiday forest of novels and manuscripts.  The text of books decorates the room and celebrates our American story

In the State Dining Room, there is a giant gumball machine with snow-white gumballs. The Gumball Tree was created with nearly 4,000 gumballs. The room features a 6-foot-tall teddy bear and hundreds of vintage nutcrackers.  Toys, gifts, and presents garnish two Christmas trees.

The White House Gingerbread House in the State Dining Room is an annual tradition.  This year’s gingerbread house is close to 500 pounds – with more than 250 pounds of gingerbread dough, 150 pounds of dark chocolate, 25 pounds of gum paste, 25 pounds of pulled and sculpted sugar work, and 25 pounds of icing.

I kept staring at this staircase hoping that the President would come walking down to shake my hand and ask me to accompany him and the first lady for happy hour *le sigh*  
 
This year’s White House Christmas Tree, on display in the Blue Room, is an over 18 foot Fraser fir.  Messages to our troops from their families wind around the tree on a ribbon.  At the end of the holiday season, each military family will receive their portion of the ribbon as a symbol of the gratitude the nation feels for their service.  The inspiration for this tree are the stars and stripes of the American Flag which honor the service members who protect our great nation.
 
Throughout the White House there are 62 trees and over 70,000 ornaments.
 
 
 

*Secret Service NO PLAY* His eyes warned me not to touch anything and to be on my best behavior.  Actually all of the secret service staff were very friendly and believe me when I tell you that they were A LOT of them.   
Many thanks to my chica for the wonderful opportunity to visit the White House. The visit was amazing and I would encourage everyone to check out this peace of American history if you are ever in DC. 
 

White House public tour requests must be submitted through one's Member of Congress.  These self-guided tours are available Tuesday through Saturdays (excluding federal holidays or unless otherwise noted). Requests can be submitted up to six months in advance and no less than 21 days in advance. All White House tours are free of charge. https://www.whitehouse.gov/participate/tours-and-events

If you just google White House Tour and include the name of your state you will likely find several links to your elected officials with online forms to request a White House tour such as the link below for my great state Georgia https://johnlewis.house.gov/serving-you/tours-and-tickets