Cancún Gem: El Fish Fritanga

While visiting Cancún for a timeshare presentation (I won’t say no to 5 days at a resort for dirt cheap!), the concierge at the Westin Lagunamar suggested what we visit El Fish Fritanga if we wanted some fresh seafood. Given our location, I thought this would be an excellent idea, and after a day of exploring Tulum, we made our way down from our room.

Location

El Fish Fritanga is facing the Nichupté lagoon with the entrance on the main-road that runs through the resort district. Though you have to walk between two buildings to get to the actual restaurant, you get to eat on the sand! Plus, it is located in walking distance of most of the hotels and resorts on the peninsula — a short 10 minute walk from the Westin Lagunamar.

Review

The food was spectacular — this was one of the few restaurants that had large chunks of octopus in their ceviche, whole fish for the same price as Chinese delivery in the States, and though I generally stay far away from sugary drinks… the best piña coladas I have ever had. If you enjoy seafood and well made drinks, do not pass up this opportunity!

Raleigh Gem: Tasca Brava

On December 30th, my brother and his girlfriend drove up from South Carolina to spend New Years with my girlfriend and myself. After some poking about online, we agreed on Spanish tapas for dinner at Tasca Brava.

Tasca Brava is a delightful hole-in-the-wall owned and operated by a very passionate married couple: Juan and Marta. I say very passionate because of how enthusiastic they are about their creations — it’s infectious! Give them a chance to wow you and you will not be disappointed!

You can find it at 607 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27603, and there is parking immediately behind the restaurant so there’s no need to fight for parking on the streets.

For dinner, my brother and his girlfriend shared a massive paella (made in the traditional manner, no less), while my girlfriend opted for octopus. I had the lamb, pictured below.

20151230TascaBravaLamb

Juan makes wine choices easy by pairing Spanish wines with the larger dishes so even someone as inexperienced as myself can really enjoy themselves!

I can’t say enough good things about this restaurant and the experience we had; all you need to do is let Juan and Marta work their magic and you will not regret it!

Airport Information: Raleigh-Durham International Airport

As the start a series on various airports from the viewpoint of a traveler (frequent or otherwise), it felt the natural to begin with my local airport: Raleigh-Durham International Airport, RDU.

RDU is quite a gem given its physical location. As the airport for the Research Triangle region, it has a great deal of demand placed upon it, and as a result has some very interesting routes. For example, you can take direct flights to London, Toronto, Los Angeles, and soon to Paris!

There is also very nice availability of choices when it comes to airlines. The list below is a small cross-section of the carriers that travel to and from RDU:

  • Alaska
  • American
  • Delta
  • JetBlue
  • Southwest
  • United

As I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few options when it comes to direct flights that use Raleigh as a origin or destination. A full list is available here, but a few interesting options are listed below:

  • London Heathrow
  • Cancun
  • Salt Lake City (starting March 2016)
  • Paris Charles De Gaulle (starting May 2016)
  • Toronto Pearson
  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco

As with many airports in the United States, RDU offers standard priority security and support services for the “big three” carriers. Additionally, TSA PreCheck is also available as an option. The real surprise is the presence of Global Entry! Global Entry makes for a much easier return from some of the locations that you can reach from Raleigh, and I see it becoming more of a prominent feature as additional routes are added.

There are both a SkyClub and Admiral’s Club located in Terminal 2 – the terminal that houses all airlines other than Southwest. Located immediately after security, it makes it easy to rest a little before or after a flight. Just keep in mind that alcohol isn’t available before noon on Sundays!

What about you? Have a favorite airport or one I should cover?

Christmas Vacation! Honolulu, Day 5

Honolulu, Day 1: Arrival
Honolulu, Day 2: Dole Plantation and North Shore
Honolulu, Day 3: Submarine Tour and Magic of Polynesia
Honolulu, Day 4: Polynesian Cultural Center
Honolulu, Day 5: Return Home

Alas, all trips must eventually come to an end, and we realized that 5 days really isn’t enough time to see even one island of Hawaii — some follow-up trips are clearly in order! The airport is very easy to navigate, thankfully, and there are many lounge options available.

Priority Pass

Since I had access to Priority Pass lounges through my Citi Prestige [non-affiliate link] card (with two guests, no less!), I took Carrie to the IASS Lounge on the garden level. Though there were no alcoholic beverages available, they had interesting drink options — guava juice, for example!

Other lounges available at HNL include a Delta SkyClub, KoreanAir Lounge, JAL Sakura Lounge, United Club, Hawaiian Airlines Lounge, and Quantas Lounge. Quite a few options!

Aloha, indeed!
Aloha, indeed!

HNL → JFK

The return flight was on a Boeing 767-300ER and though we were not able to sit in DeltaOne seats, we were in the Comfort Plus cabin. Unfortunately Delta does not allow complimentary upgrades to DeltaOne even within the US. This made for a somewhat difficult flight back as the lavs in the middle were nonfunctional and the lights over the left third of the plane (where we were sitting) were also nonfunctional.

16A & B
16A & B
Comfort Plus on a 767-300ER
Comfort Plus on a 767-300ER

The flight was a whopping 9 and a half hours, from boarding to deplaning, after a 45 minute delay on leaving Honolulu, so Carrie and I were all kinds of stiff. It didn’t help that the couple in front of us were discourteous in reclining their seats completely only to give us nasty looks if we so much as bumped them.

Given the length of the flight, we were given a rest-kits including earplugs, an eye mask, and a toothbrush with toothpaste. Definitely practical!

Delta Comfort Plus Pack
Delta Comfort Plus Pack
Pack contents
Pack contents

After our second snack service, two of the cabin crew walked down the aisles handing out chocolate to the passengers, which was as nice touch and certainly appreciated after the flight.

Tasty!
Tasty!

JFK → RDU

Oof… here is where the fun began… our flight from JFK to RDU was delayed by three hours according to the Delta app, so I made my way to a counter to inquire to the nature of the delay. I knew the plane was there already thanks to FlightAware, and it turns out one of the pilots was delayed on an earlier connection.

The agent suggested we fly out of LaGuardia instead and provided a taxi voucher. Unfortunately, as our bags were checked we had to hope they would eventually make it home that night.

Thankfully, due to our status, we were able to upgrade to first class on the return leg (even if it was on a CRJ 700), and the SkyClub attendant was nice enough to allow my girlfriend in for free. Honestly, it is their customer service that makes me keep returning to Delta over other airlines.

Their website, however, is ridiculously buggy and would not allow us to track our bags after we filed our delayed baggage claim, so we weren’t able to stay abreast of the situation without calling periodically. The truly frustrating thing is that each time I called, I received a different answer from the representative. The bags finally made their way to us at 1 AM the following day, so everything wrapped up okay in the end, albeit a little stiff from that first flight!

Christmas Vacation! Honolulu, Day 4

Honolulu, Day 1: Arrival
Honolulu, Day 2: Dole Plantation and North Shore
Honolulu, Day 3: Submarine Tour and Magic of Polynesia
Honolulu, Day 4: Polynesian Cultural Center
Honolulu, Day 5: Return Home

Polynesian Cultural Center

Though we were unable to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center on Christmas day, there were seats available the following day. The bus ride was just over an hour and a half each way, but the interior was air conditioned and the seats were comfortable.

We were lucky that our driver also worked with the agency that ran circle island tours of Oahu, so he made sure to point out all the sights on our way to the center. He showed us shooting locations for various well known films including The Karate Kid Part 2, Jurassic Park, and others.

As we purchased Ambassador tickets, we were able to skip quite a few lines and even received shell leis! The tour started with a canoe ride through the canals in the middle of the center that explained the way it was laid out as well as how to navigate it.

Canoe Ride
Canoe Ride

After exploring a little with the tour group, we were directed back to the canal area for a canoe parade. Each canoe was manned by individuals representing the indigenous people of the various islands, and they showed off their native dances on the water.

Tahiti
Tahiti
Tonga
Tonga
Hawaii
Hawaii

Following the parade, we resumed the tour and explored the islands of Tonga and Samoa, having visited Aotearoa at the start of the day. Finally, we wrapped up our day with a traditional lu’au experience (complete with fire dancing and poi) and then the presentation of “Ha: The Breath of Life”. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed during this, either. I strongly recommend the Ambassador package as it is an amazing value (lunch, dinner, leis, better seating for “Ha”, and dessert) and a significant improvement to the experience as you have shorter lines for everything.

Christmas Vacation! Honolulu, Day 3

Honolulu, Day 1: Arrival
Honolulu, Day 2: Dole Plantation and North Shore
Honolulu, Day 3: Submarine Tour and Magic of Polynesia
Honolulu, Day 4: Polynesian Cultural Center
Honolulu, Day 5: Return Home

With the help of the hotel concierge, Carrie and I booked a submarine excursion with Atlantis Adventures. They conveniently dock their ferry at the pier at the Hilton Grand Vacation village, a short walk from the Doubletree that we were staying at.

The Hilton village is a series of towers with a large shopping area in the middle (more on that later!), and with some delightful animals spread throughout the grounds. We saw some massive koi, which appear to have been conditioned to beg for food from passerbys, as well as macaws!

Dog-fish, anyone?
Dog-fish, anyone?
Gorgeous macaws!
Gorgeous macaws!

2015122Macaw1

Atlantis Adventures

Upon reaching the pier, we were allowed onto the ferry vessel which took us to our submarine — there were three submarines available, two of which seated 48 passengers, and the third holding 64. Carrie and I were on one of the 48-passenger vessels, where the individuals were seated in two rows.

Under da sea
Under da sea

Though we did not see too many forms of wildlife we did make a friend which followed us throughout the duration of the tour.

Stewart!
Stewart!

Upon returning to the surface, we made our way back to the pier and began exploring the Rainbow Bazaar — the stores and restaurants located in the middle of the Hilton village. After picking up some whole-bean Kona coffee, we noticed the time and decided some fresh fish was in order!

We happily discovered a Japanese sushi restaurant, Hatsuhana, which had extremely reasonably priced sashimi and excellent presentation. Lunch was a bit of an exploration as well as neither Carrie or I had eaten Sea Urchin or Butterfish. Both were excellent!

Sea Urchin Nigiri
Sea Urchin Nigiri
Octopus Sashimi
Octopus Sashimi
Grilled Butterfish
Grilled Butterfish

Magic of Polynesia

After lunch, we made our way back to our hotel to rest before dinner and a magic show. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted at the venue, so you’ll just have to believe me when I tell you that it was quite the experience!

Christmas Vacation! Honolulu, Day 2

Honolulu, Day 1: Arrival
Honolulu, Day 2: Dole Plantation and North Shore
Honolulu, Day 3: Submarine Tour and Magic of Polynesia
Honolulu, Day 4: Polynesian Cultural Center
Honolulu, Day 5: Return Home

Hilton Breakfast

Carrie and I opted to upgrade our breakfasts to the “full American breakfast” and had custom omelets made while we had some fresh fruit and coffee. The pineapple in particular was spectacular!

Delicious meat!
Delicious meat!

20151224Breakfast2

We talked to the hotel concierge and arranged to get a rental car from a local agency. We didn’t realize that the cars were all SmartCars, though, which was an adventure in and of itself. Our entire drive only took a gallon and a half of gas. After making arrangements for the rest of the stay, we went to get our car.

Dole Plantation

The first step on our exploration was the Dole Plantation. It was only an hour drive from Waikiki, which was not bad at all. Though the car lacked Bluetooth, the rental agency provided GPS devices with all their vehicles.

Entering the plantation
Entering the plantation

The plantation offered a guided train tour, the Pineapple Express, as well as a self-guided garden tour. The train tour was very informative and offered a brief history of the plantation as well as pineapple production in general. Unfortunately, they had recently picked the last crop so we weren’t able to see any ripe fruit in the plantation itself.

Toot toot!
Toot toot!

North Shore

The last stop for the day was the Haleiwa on the north shore of Hawaii. The beach here was wonderful, and though it was in the low 80s, the breeze coming from the ocean made it feel much cooler.

Oh that breeze...
Oh that breeze…