Category Archives: Example Trips

Special Experiences

It is still amazing to me the world of special experiences that opens up when you play the travel hacking game.  In yesterday’s post, I talked about how I got $10 to upgrade to first class.  And today I have another special experience to talk about. 

My husband has a close group of friends who get together for activities like a beer swap (around Christmas time), biking and playing poker.  It’s been awhile since they’ve had a get together because of schedules.  Well, one of them just turned 40 and I thought it was a great excuse for an outing.  So I suggested that they have a guys weekend.  They talked through several possibilities including going to Montreal, the Connecticut casinos, Atlantic City and they finally Niagara Falls. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up south of Buffalo, so I’m familiar with Niagara Falls.  They decided on the Falls because it had casinos, plenty of fun activities and was close to some foodie hot spots (like the Anchor Bar and Duff’s).  Here are the suggested activities that I sent to them to help them plan for the weekend:

  • Friday night, the Falls has a Fireworks display.
  • You must go on the Maid of the Mist (you can get it on both the US and Canadian sides) and the Cave of the Winds (US). 
  • There are casinos on both the Canadian and US sides. 
  • Go to the Anchor Bar or Duff’s.  My family tells me that they think the wings at Duff’s are better.  You could also head out to West Seneca to enjoy some Beef on Weck at Schwabl’s.
  • I checked to see if there were any outdoor events at Art Park, etc, but didn’t see anything that I thought you guys would like.  I also checked to see if Old Fort Erie had any special events for the War of 1812 that weekend, but didn’t see anything.
  • You may like to visit the Skylon Tower.  They have a fancy revolving restaurant and a more casual (non-revolving) restaurant (Summit Suite Restaurant).  I’m not totally up on all of the best dining and view locations, so you might want to do some research of your own.  The Skylon has been around for years, so I remember hearing about it when I was a kid.  Some of the sites I looked at said that the Hilton restaurant had the best dining view of the Falls.

A trip like this doesn’t require a ton of travel hacking because we live driving distance from Niagara Falls.  But they did need to book a hotel room.  And nice hotels near the Falls can be quite expensive.  That’s where travel hacking comes in handy.  I recently got the Virgin Atlantic credit card which you could get a 50,000 mile sign up bonus.  Those points could be transferred at a 1:2 ratio to Hilton.  So I ended up with over 100,000 Hilton points.  That allowed me to book a night at the Embassy Suites in Niagara Falls.  Now they get to stay at a nice hotel right next to the Falls.  I love this game!

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Maui’s Northwest Region and Iao

We had nearly a full day on our last day in Maui because our flight left at 10 PM.  We asked the hotel for a late checkout to give us a little more time at the resort.  But even with the late checkout we had many hours until our flight.  I had read in Maui Revealed about some cool sites along the Northwest coast and my husband really wanted to visit Iao.  Since we were staying in the Ka’anapali Beach area, we decided to take the northwest road clockwise from Maui and hit the Nakalele Blowhole, then the Olivine Pools and finally Iao.  Let’s just say that the day didn’t turn out the way we expected.

On our way up to the Nakalele Blowhole, we started hearing a clicking coming from our tire.  My husband thought that a rock may have gotten lodged in the tire, so we pulled off the road to investigate.  He did find a rock and removed it.  However, when we started moving, we continued to hear the sound.  He pulled off a second time and found a bolt (washer included) stuck in the tire!  The tire didn’t appear to be losing pressure, so we continued on.

We pulled off in the first parking area for the Nakalele Blowhole (I think we should have gone to the second one).  There were a lot of trails and absolutely no signs as to where to go.  We headed down the path that seemed the most well traveled. 

The dirt path area changed to a landscape that looked like it was from another world.  (The first picture looks scarier than it was.)

When we got to the cliff over the ocean, but weren’t sure where the blowhole was.  (I saw a little nervous being near the cliffs with the boys, so we had a rule that they had to be over 30 feet away from the edge.) We saw one blowhole that came out of the side of a rock.  Luckily I had seen pictures of the blowhole and knew it was came out of the ground and not the side of a rock.  We continued on about another 3 – 5 minutes and then found the Nakalele Blowhole.  I have to tell you that was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip!

We spent quite a while at the Nakalele Blowhole and the bolt in the tire was making us nervous so we decided to skip the Olivine Pools.  (I had also read a story on the internet of a couple that got swept out to sea when they were at the Olivine Pools and got too close to the ocean – which the guidebook discouraged.)

After passing the area for the pools, the road became very narrow.  This road already had a lot of switchbacks.  One of my coworkers told me I should skip the Road to Hana and just take this Northwest road.  I have no idea what he was thinking!  We were white-knuckling it almost the entire road.  I kid you not that the road was barely wide enough for one car in most places.  You are driving right next to a cliff with a hundreds of feet drop to the ocean with no guardrails.  I was nervous to look out the window at views because I didn’t want my husband to do the same and accidentally drive off the road.  Add on top of all that scariness that we were worried that the bolt in the tire would cause the tire to pop.  We had no idea how we would get any to help us if that happened given the road was a single lane and cell phone service was non-existent.  The picture below does not do it justice.  Trust me – do not take this road!

Luckily, we did survive!  And we headed over to Iao.  On our first trip to Maui, we asked people we encountered where they would suggest we visit.  A local told us that whenever he has people visit, he takes them to Iao.  He would take them around and they would go swimming in the streams.  We didn’t have a long time, so we just took the paved path up to the Iao Needle viewing area. 

It was a really quick trip.  The Needle is a cool sight and when you turn around you see an amazing view of the valley with the airport in the distance.


Ka’anapali Beach

The Ka’anapali Beach area is one of the most popular resort area in Maui (the other being Wailea).  It is a 3-mile stretch of white sand beach.  It is consistently named to many “best beaches” lists.  We stayed on Ka’anapali Beach during both of our Hawaiian vacations.  Last year we stayed at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas and this year we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.  There is a reason that this beach is so highly regarded.  The beach is absolutely beautiful, is not incredibly crowded and has decent waves and good snorkeling.

I was surprised how few people spent time on the beach in front of the Hyatt Regency.  Most of the time we went to the beach, we were one of the only people on the beach.  I’m guessing there were a few reasons for this.  The pools at the Hyatt Regency are great and many people stay at them all day.  The sand area in front of the Hyatt Regency isn’t huge and it’s non-existent during high tide.  There is an area further down the beach that has a much larger sand area.  You can see it just by looking at the map below.  The Hyatt Regency is located at the bottom of the map.  About half way up the map, you’ll see an area with much more sand.  That’s located around where the Westin Maui Resort & Spa (different hotel than the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas).  It’s not a very long walk at all.  This area also has decent waves.  You’ll see people surfing, boogieboarding and skimboarding.

The kids in front of the Hyatt Regency

At the sandier part of Ka’anapali Beach

Capital One 100,000 Promotion

Last year, Capital One ran an incredible 100,000 promotion where they would match the number of miles in one of your frequent flyer accounts up to 100,000 miles.  That promotion is what made a lot of our Hawaii trip possible.  I got the card with the 100,000 miles match and redeemed the miles for Hyatt gift certificates. 

This year, Capital One is re-running the promotion but it is not nearly as lucrative this time around.  Personally, I don’t think I would apply for the card this time around (I’m not eligible anyway because I got the card last year).  This year, they will only match the amount that you spent on a travel credit card (not including sign-up bonuses).  They will give you 2 miles for every $1 you spent on the other card.  So you’d have to have spent $50,000 on one travel credit card last year to get a 100,000 match.  Plus those 100,000 miles are really only worth 1 cent per mile (or $1,000).  Capital One also pulls your credit report from all 3 credit bureaus. 

Given all of that, if you want to get a credit card that will give you about $1,000 in sign-up bonus value, I would suggest the Chase Sapphire instead.  Their current offer is a 50,000 point sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 on the card within 3 months.  Those points can be transferred to a number of airlines and hotel frequent flyer programs.  And since I value airline miles at 2 cents per mile, that would give you $1,000 in value.  This card has become my go-to card.

I do not get any sort of compensation for my opinions or links.  These are my personal thoughts and you need to decide for yourself what cards work best for you.


Haleakala Sunrise and the Road to Hana

I’m going to start by saying that I don’t recommend that people try what we did.  We went to Haleakala and did the Road to Hana in the same day.  It made for a long day and we only went as far as Hana on the Road to Hana because we were spent (there are couple of sites past Hana on the Road to Hana that many people want to see like the O’heo Gulch Pools a.k.a. The Seven Sacred Pools).  And I don’t mean to be a downer on the Road to Hana, but honestly I could have done without doing it.  It was a beautiful drive and we saw beautiful sites.  But it was long and windy, and for people prone to car sickness – difficult.  Our kids were whining well before we got back to Paia.

We started out our day early, leaving the hotel at about 4:30 AM.  That sounds worse than it was.  Since we were still on East Coast time, it really didn’t feel early (since it was 9:30 AM on the East Coast).  The sun was set to rise at about 6:45.  We got to the summit at about 6 AM and there were already a lot of people there.  And unfortunately, we had a terrible day for seeing a sunrise at Haleakala.  The outside temperature was 32 degrees and there were strong winds.  On top of that, the entire top of the mountain was in a cloud.  So we did not get to see the sunrise.  And our kids were complaining the entire time when were weren’t in the Visitor’s Center.  That just the luck of the draw.  It seemed like most days we were in Hawaii had similar weather at the summit.  As you can tell, my kids were not happy.

After the disappointing sunrise, we started as our trip to the Road to Hana.  One item I suggest you get for the Road to Hana is the Gypsy Guide.  It is a GPS that gives you information about sites to see based on your location.  This device has information for most of the roads you will travel in Maui.  It cost us around $40 for a day, but I think you could also get it for about $100 for 3-4 days.  After renting one of these, I figured there must also be a phone app with similar functionality.  I’m not positive, but it seems like Maui GPS Tour Guide has similar functionality.  It’s $2.99 in the iTunes app store for the base software and then you pay additional amounts for each tour you want (i.e. Road to Hana $5.99, West Maui $3.99, Haleakala $3.99, South Maui $3.99, Central Maui $3.99 or $11.99 for an All Tours Bundle).  There aren’t a lot of reviews on the app and cell phone service is spotty to non-existent on the Road to Hana.  But it could be a big cost savings so it might be worth looking into.

There were 2 narrators on the Gypsy Guide - a man and a woman.  The woman narrated the Halekala tour and the man narrated the Road to Hana tour.  Our kids are Pokemon fans so we nicknamed them Jessie and James.  That made it fun for them.  We’d make comments like, “Oh James, you don’t steer us wrong.”  And whenever we stopped somewhere, the boys would ask if we made sure to put James away.

I highly recommend getting a Gypsy Guide or the phone app.  The Gypsy Guide had a list of the top 5 places to visit on the Road to Hana.  James gave descriptions of many places around the way, but the device would make a special sound if the site was one of the top 5.  Having this device allowed the freedom of just enjoying the views because we didn’t have our heads in a tour guide book.  (I was quite thankful for that because I think I would have gotten car sick really fast if I was trying to read a tour book while we were on those windy roads.)

As recommended in our tour guide books, we stopped in Paia to get a picnic lunch (we had already gassed up before heading to Haleakala – otherwise we would have also gassed up).  There are several places you can get a picnic lunch at in Paia.  We got ours at Anthony’s Coffee Company.  And our lunch was really good.  If you’re staying in the Ka’anapali Beach area, you might also consider going to C.J.’s Deli & Diner.  They also do a picnic lunch for the Road to Hana.  And it was one of my favorite places to eat on Maui (I’ll write more about it in another post).

Here are a few pictures from the Road to Hana.

Painted Eucalyptus Trees at Ke’anae Arboretum (one of the coolest trees I’ve ever seen)

Ke’anae Peninsula

Wai’anapanapa’s Honokalani Beach (black sand beach)


Hyatt Regency Maui – Activities

There are many, many activities, shops and restaurants at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa.  We attended the Drums of the Pacific Luau and our kids attended Camp Hyatt at night while we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Japengo.

Last year we attended the Royal Lahaina Luau.  We were worried that it wasn’t going to be good based on the review on TripAdvisor.  People were rather harsh, especially about the buffet.  We really enjoyed the show and the fact that they had a kids buffet.  This year, we decided to try a different luau to get a different perspective. So we decided to attend the Drums of the Pacific Luau since it was located right at the Hyatt Regency.

The location for the Drums of the Pacific luau was definitely better than the Royal Lahaina luau.  The food for adults was also better, but I did miss having a kids buffet area.  I’m not a drinker so I can’t really tell you if there were major differences in the drinks.  They both served mai tais as the main drink for the adults.  At the Drums of the Pacific you could also get beer or wine.  But I have to say that I enjoyed the Royal Lahaina performance much more.  The Drums of the Pacific show had a fashion show of different ways you could where pareaus (sarong).  And there dances were slower paced with several of them telling a story.  After the performance at the Royal Lahaina performance last year that was very upbeat, I wasn’t expecting so many slow songs.  And considering the Royal Lahaina luau was less expensive (especially if you have kids), I would recommend it over the Drums of the Pacific.

Before we left for our trip, we decided that we should treat ourselves to a nice night out alone.  Using Hyatt’s e-Concierge service, I set up reservations for the kids to attend Camp Hyatt while we went to Japengo.  I got a confirmation email from Hyatt for both reservations.  Camp Hyatt opens at night at 6PM.  Our reservation for Japengo was for 6:30.  We decided we’d take the kids down to Camp Hyatt at 6 and walk around on the beach until 6:30.  However, when we got down to Camp Hyatt, it was closed; all the lights were off and the door was locked.  We walked down to the Concierge Desk to find out what happened.  Long story short, they lost the reservation.  At one point, they said it wasn’t even possible to book Camp Hyatt through e-Concierge.  I then showed them the email confirmation which showed that it was possible and which concierge had confirmed the reservation.  This may sound like a little nightmare, but it really wasn’t.  The concierge who assisted us was absolutely wonderful.  She got someone up to open up Camp Hyatt, talked with the manager about the situation (who asked for a copy of the email so he could look into it) and called Japengo to let them know we were on the way.  We got there right at 6:30.  They also reimbursed 50% of the Camp Hyatt charge.

Our dinner at Japengo was incredible!  I had read reviews on TripAdvisor where people complained about the price.  It’s a fancy restaurant overlooking the ocean at a resort on Maui – do you really expect it to be inexpensive?  We were seated outside near the ocean.  Our waitress was attentive without being annoying. And the food was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. We got sushi and the crab and shrimp cakes as our appetizers and loved it. I got the Tengu Seafood Grill and my husband got the China Town Chow Fun for our entrees. I seriously wanted to lick the sauce off the plate it was so good.

And while we were enjoying our dinner, our kids had a great time at Camp Hyatt.  They made “stained glass” crafts and watched the Smurf movie.  It was an amazing end to an amazing vacation.

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