Our trip to Taiwan and the Philippines!

March 2018

 

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Travelers:

Orlando, Emily and a married couple.

How did we pay for this trip:

We bought tickets 6 months prior to the trip. We looked up locations on Google Flights that were less than $650 per ticket for the Month of March. We found tickets for under $650 on EVA airlines. We recommend using Google Flights when you are on a budget and have no set location.

What Airline(s) did we fly on:

We flew economy on EVA Arlines. So far, it has been one of the best airlines that we have ever flown on. We decided to give EVA Airlines the following ratings:

Comfort: 8/10 – Pretty spacious seats for basic economy. Emily is 5’7 and petite and Orlando is 5’7 and weighs about 165 lbs.

Food: 9/10 – Tasty food, plenty of snacks and drinks.

Service: 9/10 – Friendly faces everywhere.

Kid Friendly: 8/10 – Although we didn’t take any of the kids on this trip, we saw plenty of young kids with their parents.

Entertainment: 9/10 – Plenty of movies to make the time pass by. Wi-Fi is available for $20 dollars, although we didn’t try it.

We flew economy on Cebu Pacific from Manila to Boracay. Cebu Pacific is your standard low budget airline. You have to pay for a seat assignment, luggage, food, water, etc. Tickets were reasonably priced at $150 round trip.

Comfort: 5/10 – Not bad for a 1 to 2 hour flight, pretty comparable to United Airlines.

Food: N/A – We did not try the food since you have to pay for it.

Service: 9/10 – Friendly faces everywhere.

Kid Friendly: 5/10 – Not being able to choose a seat unless you pay is a pretty big problem.

Entertainment: 5/10 – No entertainment available, but the flight attendants conduct a guessing game during the flight (in English).

Where did we stay:

Monaco Resort in Boracay, 5 star hotel. Overall, one of the best hotel stays. The staff goes out of their way to make sure you are taken care of. Gym, restaurant, outdoor pool, a private beach and ocean views from your balcony.

Price: $300 per night for a 2 bedroom suite using a time share discount provided by our family friend.

Family friendly rating: 10/10

The Fullerton hotel in Taiwan, 4 star hotel. Overall, the location is great and the free breakfast is reasonable. The hotel claims that your stay includes a free minibar. Don’t be fooled by this, you get water, 2 soda cans and fruit. No alcohol.

Price: $130 per night on hotels.com.

Family friendly rating: 7/10

Recommendations:

Taipei Airport:

Don’t be afraid of long layovers at the Taipei Airport. Taipei airport has a free gym facility, free showers, souvenir shops and plenty of restaurants. The free gym is right next to the Adidas Shop in Terminal 1 and the showers are right next to the gym. You do need to buy a towel from the pharmacy nearby as the airport does not provide towels. Towels are $2 dollars though. You can walk from Terminal 2 to Terminal walk in about 30 to 40 minutes.

Taipei:

Book a flight with a 24 hour layover in Taiwan and leave the Airport. Taipei is an amazing city and although 24 hours may not be enough time, it gives you a chance to see the night markets and the city. Make sure to pack some clothes in a carry-on as your baggage will not be available to you until your last destination (unless you asked for it to be available for your layover). Rent a bike with a credit card! make sure you have a Visa or Master Card for each renter as the machine will not allow to swipe the same credit card for 2 different bikes. Visit the Memorial palace, elephant mountain and Taipei 101. If you are planning on visiting the secret Starbucks on the 35th floor, call ahead to make reservations (Google Taipei 101 Starbucks how to make reservations).

Boracay:

Stick to Filipino food, otherwise you will be disappointed. There are tons of foreign restaurants that promise to be good at (insert food type here), but really, it’s not the same. Stick to Filipino cuisine and try an Ice Mango from the Mango place (you will know what place we are talking about once you see it… and the line), or Halo-Halo from a local Coffee Shop.

Avoid the typical tourist activities, kite surfing, kayaking, parasailing, etc. you can do that anywhere else in the world, why do it in such a pretty place? Do go on the island hopping tour. Crystal Cove is amazing and a must see!

Lessons learned:

We were a little bit afraid about taking a 3 year old on a 16 hour plane ride with multiple connections. However, we think he would have been OK. Next time, we won’t hesitate to take the 4 kids on such a cool adventure!

P.S. take lots of sunscreen and water shoes, you will thank us later.

Four day trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto!

May 2017

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Travelers:

The entire crew (four kids, Orlando and Emily) plus the in-laws.

How did we pay for this trip:

We decided to do a road trip from Chicago to Canada. We paid for food, gas and an overnight hotel stay on the way to Niagara Falls.

How did we get there:

We have a 2017 Toyota Sienna SE. If you are familiar with the SE model, the van comes with a wide-screen TV and a Blue ray player. If you have small children then you already know that TV + Blue ray = peaceful drive. If you are thinking about buying a Toyota Sienna, this is how we rate our van:

Comfort: 10/10 – Pretty spacious seats even for the back row. Everyone was comfortable and we had a full van (8 people).

Performance: 4/10 – It’s a van and that is all there is to it.

Gas mileage: 6/10 – Yes, we load this van with 8 people plus luggage. It all fits, but at a cost. We get about 22 MPG Highway.

Entertainment: 9/10 – Widescreen TV, Blue ray player, HDMI inputs, video inputs and nice sound system. Do I need to say more?

Where did we stay:

Our first stop was Toronto. We stayed at the The Westin Prince, Toronto. Overall, it was a beautiful hotel with a good breakfast and good amenities. However, the restaurant staff was limited and it took a while to get an omelet and even a cup of coffee.

Price: $150 per night.

Family friendly rating: 8/10

In Niagara Falls we stayed at the Sheraton on the Falls. The stay came with free passes to a nearby water park. The water park is connected next to the hotel so you never have to go outside to go to the water park. The hotel is a bit outdated, but it’s perfect for the kids. The location is perfect (a few blocks from the falls) and near the tourist area.

Price: $200 per night.

Family friendly rating: 10/10

Recommendations:

The falls during the day and at night:

The falls are beautiful day and night. During the day you get to see the beautiful nature of the falls. At night you get to see the falls illuminated by different colors.  Since we were so many, we did not buy tickets to see the falls up close, but instead walked the boardwalk, which was still plenty misty from above.  Bonus: Go during the winter for an amazing icicle experience.

The tourist area in Niagara Falls:

You will know where this is once you see it. Although it’s full of touristy stuff, it’s worth walking around and watching people.  Our teenagers really enjoyed walking around.  Go to the Hershey store for the ultimate dessert deal ($6 for a shake and a cupcake), but don’t drink it before walking the falls (yikes!).

Downtown Toronto:

Downtown Toronto is easy to walk, but finding parking is difficult and traffic is heavy. St. Lawrence market is nearby and highly recommend you visit the market. Go to the marina and enjoy the outdoor sellers and the music that is randomly played near the food sellers.

Fallsview Indoor Waterpark:

The children had a lot of fun, especially the toddler. The waterpark is smaller than your typical waterpark in the US, but it had enough activities to keep the kids busy for half of the day.

Lessons learned:

We wish we would have stayed a day longer in Niagara Falls. The kids really loved the tourist area and the waterpark. We also wish we had enough time to cross to the US side. Toronto had some attractions that were closed due to the weather and other reasons, so we should have checked ahead of time.

 

Four countries, one week, and a toddler: Our trip to Netherlands, Greece, Portugal and France.

May 2017

 

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Travelers:

Orlando, Emily and the toddler.

How did we pay for this trip:

Emily and I had 70,000 miles each through Delta. Emily also had the equivalent to $500 dollars worth of points through Chase. We started looking up destinations in Europe where we could use 70,000 miles. Our only options were Amsterdam and Paris. Both cities were cold during May so we looked into flights within Europe. To our surprise, flying in Europe is pretty cheap! It’s actually cheaper to go from Amsterdam to Athens than to go from Chicago to Miami; this may be due to our limited airline choices in America compared to the number of airlines in Europe. We ended up paying about $100 per person for flights going to Amsterdam, Athens, Santorini, Lisbon and Paris. We stayed at 4-star hotels at an average of $150 per night (with breakfast frequently included).

Delta is not paying me for this, but if you are interested in the Delta American Express card, you can apply using this link: http://refer.amex.us/ORLANHVbco?xl=cp53. You will get 70,000 miles and I will get 10,000 bonus miles, not bad for a credit card.

What Airline(s) did we fly on:

We flew economy on Delta Arlines getting there and Delta comfort+ coming back. Out of all the domestic airlines, we like Delta the best. Service is good and they are kid friendly. Do yourself a favor and upgrade to Comfort+, basic economy seats are really tight for long flights.

Comfort: 5/10 – We were pretty tight and uncomfortable.  Emily is 5’7 and petite and Orlando is 5’7 and weighs about 165 lbs.

Food: 7/10 – Good food and drinks.

Service: 9/10 – Friendly faces everywhere.

Kid Friendly: 8/10 – They have movies available and the flight attendants do a good job to accommodate parents with kids.

Entertainment: 9/10 – Plenty of movies to make the time pass by.

We flew economy on Aegean Airlines from Amsterdam to Athens, Athens to Santorini and From Santorini to Lisbon. This airline is what I wish all airlines were. Friendly staff, awesome with kids and everything is free.

Comfort: 9/10 – Great space for basic economy.

Food: 9/10 – Food was pretty tasty.

Service: 10/10 – Friendly faces everywhere.

Kid Friendly: 9/10 – Emily loved how child-oriented the staff was.  Our son was given his food first and offered toys and coloring books.

Entertainment: 0/10 – No entertainment available, but no problem since it was a short flight.  We brought an old Asus tablet with Disney digital downloads from the Disney club for our son, too.

We flew economy on Tap Airlines from Lisbon to Paris. We had high expectations of this airline based on how great the Portuguese culture is, but it turned out to not be so great.

Comfort: 7/10 – Your average space for basic economy.

Food: N/A – We can’t recall if food was served on this trip.

Service: 4/10 – There was a lot of confusion about FAA approved car seats and we were asked to move the seat and to check-in the seat. We were also asked a few times if we had paid for a seat ticket for our toddler. I guess in Portugal nobody pays for children tickets?

Kid Friendly: 4/10 – See comments above.

Entertainment: 0/10 – No entertainment available.

Where did we stay:

Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel, Conveniently located right by the airport to make sure you don’t miss your flight the next day.

Price: $0. We used a hotels.com rewards credit and the booking was free.

Family friendly rating: 8/10, no breakfast included

Herodion Athens was centrally located and everything we wanted to see was within walking distance.

Price: $150 per night on hotels.com.

Family friendly rating: 9/10, Amazing and expansive breakfast included, and the front desk offered Henry toys to play with while we checked in.  It was amazing how child-oriented Europe was.

Nautilus Dome is a beautiful hotel located in the same island as Santorini, just on the opposite side.

Price: $90 per night on hotels.com.

Family friendly rating: 8/10, Free shuttles to Fira during your stay if you book with the hotel’s airport shuttle.

Residencial Florescente is an old fashioned hotel centrally located in the most beautiful part of Lisbon. This is by far Emily’s favorite hotel.

Price: $120 per night on hotels.com.

Family friendly rating: 7/10, awesome and expanisve breakfast included.

Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees is a five star hotel centrally located in the tourist district of Paris.

Price: $0 for the first night thanks to a free night that we redeemed on hotels.com. Second night was $225 using a coupon on hotels.com.

Family friendly rating: 7/10, no breakfast included

Recommendations:

Amsterdam:

Go as a couple and enjoy adulting. It can be tough finding activities with children during the cooler months.

Greece:

We loved Athens and its beautiful architecture, but if you are in a time crunch, it can be skipped for the Greek islands.

Portugal:

You will need lots of time for Portugal and even then you will wish you had more time. Lisbon is a beautiful city for adults and children. Don’t forget to go to Sintra! Get an Uber and ask the driver about personal tours, they will know someone who knows someone. We had a private driver take us to Sintra and around Lisbon for the entire day in a BMW. We paid $100 dollars for the entire ride plus a $20 tip.

Paris:

Walk the city! Yes, take a stroller if you have smaller children and walk around the city. We did and we enjoyed every moment of it.  *Bring an umbrella from the hotel.

 

Lessons learned:

We loved the Dutch culture, but the Netherlands is not a country we would visit with children due to the lack of outdoor activities during the cooler months.  Also, we experienced jet lag the night we arrived, in which all three of us were wide awake at 3 am.  We eventually crashed, but missed an opportunity to see the tulip fields in bloom before our flight later that morning.  *If you buy tulip bulbs to bring back, they have to be certified so customs doesn’t toss them.

We loved Greece and we feel like the time we spent there was just enough. Greece is definitely a country to visit in the summer.  Emily recommends the thermal pool on the outside of the city, and let us know if you find Orlando’s wedding band in the water!  Also- we ordered octopus as much as we could.  This is the place to eat octopus.

The weather in Portugal is just right in May. Don’t go there unless you have at least a month to enjoy beyond the Lisbon area.  The culture was very child-friendly, and people were constantly crooning at our toddler and calling him an angel, even when he wasn’t being so angelic.  This culture was Emily’s favorite as a mother.

Paris is beautiful, but full of tourists. The amount of tourists takes the beauty away from any city in my opinion. We wish we would have gone to a smaller, more medieval city.  Do check out the local artists on the street.  Great place to buy an original.

 

Three day weekend trip to Mackinac Island!

August 2017

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Travelers:

The entire crew plus the in-laws.

How did we pay for this trip:

We decided to do a road trip from Chicago. We only paid for gas and food for the 500 mile road trip.

How did we get there:

We have a 2017 Toyota Sienna SE. If you are familiar with the SE model, the van comes with a wide-screen TV and a Blue ray player. If you have small children then you already know that TV + Blue ray = peaceful drive. If you are thinking about buying a Toyota Sienna, this is how we rate our van:

Comfort: 10/10 – Pretty spacious seats even for the back row. Everyone was comfortable and we had a full van (8 people).

Performance: 4/10 – It’s a van and that is all there is to it.

Gas mileage: 6/10 – Yes, we load this van with 8 people plus luggage. It all fits, but at a cost. We get about 22 MPG Highway.

Entertainment: 9/10 – Widescreen TV, Blue ray player, HDMI inputs, video inputs and nice sound system. Do I need to say more?

Where did we stay:

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express St. Ignace-Lake Front. Price was a little bit higher than usual for a Holiday Inn, but all hotels are pretty expensive near this area. The hotel has a free shuttle to the Island so that was pretty convenient.

Recommendations:

Rent a bike:

You can’t go to Mackinac Island and not bike the entire island. Do you go to Orlando and skip on all the theme parks? Maybe you do, but you just can’t come here and not rent a bike. Rent that bike, please.

The Grand hotel:

We have stayed at this hotel in the past thanks to my previous job. The hotel stay is expensive but well worth the price. It is old-fashioned, grandiose and unbeatable location.

Go into the stores:

Souvenirs are all over the place. It may seem overwhelming seeing all these people in the stores, but trust me, it’s part of the experience.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park:

It’s a short drive from St. Ignace, but it is well worth the drive. This park is basically best seen at night. Ok, so you really can’t see the park at night, but what you can see are the stars! We were lucky enough to go on a weekend with shooting stars on the sky. It was really beautiful and all the kids loved it. We did too. Take lawn chairs and blankets.

Lessons learned:

Our only regret is not staying one night on the island. We liked our hotel, but staying one night on the island is well worth the price.

 

Mexico City for the Holidays!

December 2017

 

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Travelers:

The entire crew plus the in-laws.

How did we pay for this trip:

We bought tickets 7 months prior to the trip. We started tracking prices with the Kayak app. We received a notification that tickets were $230 to Mexico City on Delta so we bought eight tickets right away. We did not use any miles, but the tickets were so cheap it didn’t bother us paying for all our tickets.

What Airline(s) did we fly on:

We flew economy on Delta Arlines. We really like Delta, unfortunately, Delta only took us to Detroit and from there we flew on Aeromexico. We decided to give Delta Airlines the following ratings:

Comfort: 7/10 – Pretty spacious seats for economy. Everyone seemed to be comfortable.

Food: N/A since there was no food service.

Service: 8/10 – Flight attendants seemed happy.

Kid Friendly: 9/10 – Delta called for parents with small children and we were not give a hassle about all the kids tagging along for the pre-boarding process.

Entertainment: N/A.

We flew economy on Aeromexico from Detroit to Mexico City.

Comfort: 7/10 – Pretty spacious seats for economy.

Food: 7/10 – Food was tasty for airplane food.

Service: 1/10 – Flight attendants and people at the gate, especially in Mexico City, seemed to be upset at the company which really shows when dealing with clients. When I complained about the pre-boarding with children, I was put on the side for additional screening.

Kid Friendly: 1/10 – No pre-boarding with small children. I was told it is company policy.

Entertainment: 2/10 – The entertainment consisted of a 7 inch, 90’s style, overhead TV with a pre-selected movie.

Where did we stay:

We stayed with family in Mexico City in the Iztapalapa neighborhood. We recommend staying in the Condesa, Coyoacan, Reforma, Polanco or Santa Fe neighborhoods for a more safer, central location in Mexico City.

We also traveled to Guanajuato and Leon. We stayed at the Courtyard Leon at The Poliforum. Breakfast was included and really tasty. The service was excellent and at $110 per night, you can’t beat the value.

Recommendations:

Rent a car:

If you are a big family, rent a car. Make sure your hotel has a free garage to store the vehicle. If you drive to the Zocalo be prepared to spend lots of time finding parking. Better yet, take an Uber or two. If you do rent a car, drive outside of Mexico City. It’s pretty safe as long as you stay on the interstate until you get to your destination and you drive during daylight.

Zocalo, Coyoacan, Xochimilco, Chapultepec Park, Santa Fe Mall and Reforma/Polanco:

There are many neighborhoods in Mexico City and each one offers its own set of attractions. Zocalo, Coyoacan, Xochimilco, Chapultepec Park, Santa Fe Mall and Reforma/Polanco neighborhoods have the most visited attractions. You can’t leave the beautiful city unless you visit most of the neighborhoods in this list.

Teotihuacan:

Another must do activity. Teotihuacan is outside of Mexico City in what is considered the state of Mexico. Teotihuacan is not too far, but the pyramids are worth the trip. Go early!

Leon and Guanajuato:

We drove to Leon to spend New Year’s eve with an uncle. Leon is your typical big city in Mexico with no attractions, except lots of shoe stores. However, Guanajuato is a couple of hours away. Guanajuato is a must see city in Mexico and one of the most beautiful cities we have ever seen.

 

Lessons learned:

If you rent a car, be prepared to pay as much as you would in the US or more. Having a car in Mexico is really expensive and the insurance is no joke. We ended spending over $1000 more on additional fees and insurance.

Don’t fly on Aeromexico unless you really have to. The Airline is not doing well, why go through the hassle if you have other options?

Hit the beach instead. Although the weather was beautiful in the city, we felt a little bit sad that we didn’t hit the beach instead. Mexico City would be perfect for September or October.