Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Indonesia & Australia Trip

We recently visited family over two weeks--one week in Jakarta and one week in Sydney & Melbourne.

SFO - HKG - CGK on Cathay Pacific

We flew Cathay Pacific Airlines, this time in Economy, since we booked it somewhat last minute and were not able to find 3 seats in Business class. We knew it would be a long flight, but we also thought it would work out better in Economy as M could sleep and lie down in between us. And it would be easier to pass her back and forth.

At check-in, the agent acknowledged Dan's One World Emerald status and gave us access to the business class lounge. Unfortunately, it didn't come with an automatic upgrade as well. :p

The flight was loooong.... It took 14 hours, and M only slept partly. So we had to entertain her most of the way. Since she's older now, she's able to watch TV or iPad, which kept her occupied for a little while.

We had a short layover in Hong Kong (about 1 hour), which I thought would be enough time to relax at the lounge and shower. However, after I showered, we had to run directly to the gate as they had already started boarding! This was possibly the shortest and tightest connection ever. Thankfully we made our flight to Jakarta.

After we landed, Dan went through immigration, and he no longer needed to pay for a visa on-arrival because the purpose of the trip was personal, visiting family and not for business.

Jakarta

The main purpose of our trip was to visit family; my parents and my sister & her family live in Jakarta.

We mainly stayed in South Jakarta where they live. Our days were filled with trips to the mall, visiting my sister's condo, and meeting up with friends.

My sister's son is around M's age, cousin L. They had so much fun playing together -- cousins really do have a special bond, and it was really neat to see them play and grow together.

M had her second ever haircut! She almost cried, but thankfully her cousin sat next to her and they showed Barney on the TV. :) Aside from the haircut, M enjoyed the many choo choo train rides at the mall.

Here are some of restaurants we ate in Jakarta:
  • Bebek Tepi Sawah: This is a branch of the famous Bebek restaurant from Bali. It tasted very similar to the original location (minus the sawah -- rice field -- location). If you go here, you MUST order the crispy duck! I love eating it by hand, with kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and the sambal bawang (spicy onion "sauce").
Bebek Tepi Sawah - Fried Duck

  • Fook Yew: This is probably one of my favorite Chinese restaurants. My family knows that Chinese is not my favorite cuisine, but I love Fook Yew, which is more Chinese fusion. My favorite dish here is the salted egg crispy corn.
  • Shirokuma: Apparently this is a famous dessert place from Japan. We ordered the matcha cake parfait and loved it! The ice cream was not too sweet, and everything else was yummy! 
Shirokuma Parfait

  • Esina Japanese BBQ: We went here to celebrate my sister's birthday. The quality of the meat was superb, and I would highly recommend it.

Sydney

After one week in Jakarta, it was time to go to Sydney. We flew Qantas direct from Jakarta to Sydney (red-eye flight), and arrived early morning Sydney time. My sister and her husband picked us up after we landed, and took us to a famous breakfast place called The Grounds.

The Grounds

The Grounds is a pretty unique restaurant. There were stands for different foods, and there was a mini-zoo with live animals. M enjoyed having a look at the animals.

We stayed at my sister's house in the Darlinghurst area, which was pretty close to the city center. There's lots of cafes & restaurants around her neighborhood, which we ended up eating at frequently. I noticed there were lots of smaller, local restaurants, but the food quality was superb.

Chiswick at the Gallery, Royal Botanic Gardens

For lunch, we went to the Chiswick at the Gallery. The restaurant had a nice view of the water & city, and we noticed that everyone was very nicely dressed (which later turned out to be the norm in Sydney!). The restaurant is a farm-to-table concept, with bigger main dishes to share. The steak and the fish were amazing, and almost everything we ordered was very good. Food tasted fresh and perfectly cooked. We highly recommend this place.



Sydney Fish Market

We went to the Sydney Fish Market on a Sunday. The Fish Market was actually pretty "clean." I imagined fish lying around everywhere, but they actually had a pretty nice building with lots of restaurants & markets inside. They also sold other food besides seafood (like fruits and juices!).

My favorite thing at the Sydney Fish Market was this "Japanese stall" that sold scallop aburi, which essentially was scallop on the shell with melted cheese over rice, grilled to order. There was a little bit of a line but it moved pretty quickly. I noticed that the people selling the scallops were actually Indonesian, as they were talking to each other in Indonesian! I almost said hi but I didn't. :)

Tables were all first come, first served, outside seating. We saw a lot of people ordering the chili crab, so my father asked my sister to order it for us. It turned out to be around $350 AUD! I was shocked, haha. We saw SO many people ordering, so we thought it must be somewhat affordable. I was thinking maybe $50-$60, but not $350! It's funny because almost every table ordered this dish! It was pretty good, but I think very overpriced. I still prefer the scallops. :)



We also got some coconut water on the shell, which was so refreshing and delicious.

Bronte Beach

One afternoon, my sister rented a minivan and we drove to Bronte Beach. Originally we planned to go to the famous Bondi beach, but it was just too crowded.

The beach was beautiful, but also very crowded. The interesting part was that there's a public salt water swimming pool right next to the ocean.  Apparently this was pretty common in Sydney, which I thought was cool.

Pool at Bronte Beach


Taronga Zoo via ferry to/from Circular Quay

To get to Taronga Zoo, we rode a ferry boat from Circular Quay. It was a short ride (12 minutes), and the ride was beautiful--great views of the city, Opera House, and bridges. Once we got to the zoo area, we took the public bus up to the zoo entrance at the top of the hill. The zoo tickets were a bit pricey (I think around AUD$46 per person). The weather was a little warm at the time, but it wasn't too hot or humid like in Jakarta.

The zoo itself was actually quite hilly. There were some parts where it was uphill. We went straight to look for the kangaroos and koalas.

We first went to the kangaroo area. I was surprised that there wasn't actually a fence in between us and the kangaroos! I was worried that they might jump at us,  hehe...

M was so excited to see the koalas, so we took her to that section. (She said koala was sleeping).

The best part of the zoo (for me), was the giraffe area. From there, we had an amazing, beautiful view of the water & city skyline behind the giraffes, so unreal!



Overall we had a nice trip to the zoo, and would definitely recommend it (especially if you have kids)!

Dinner at Bennelong, inside Sydney Opera House

We had dinner at Bennelong, a fine dining restaurant inside the Sydney Opera House. We could tell the architecture was unique from inside the restaurant.

We were actually slightly underdressed, but we called in advance and they said we did not need to dine with formal attire.

Food was a bit on the expensive side, served fine dining style. Taste-wise, it was just okay, but we were really paying for the experience.


Bennelong

Westfield Sydney

Another day, we spent around the downtown area, specifically at Westfield Sydney. There's a lot of shopping malls around, and some areas were no car zones, which was nice.

We met up with friends of ours who moved from the US and now lives in Sydney. It was good to catch up with them over lunch at Chat Thai (which served excellent Thai food!).

I was fairly impressed at the food selection on the 5th floor of the Westfield Sydney. They had Tim Ho Wan, Din Tai Fung, and Ippudo on the same floor! These are all highly coveted restaurants that usually have super long waits at other locations in the world. I was able to buy the famous pork bun at Tim Ho Wan Sydney for no wait! :)



The Powerhouse Museum

I read about the Wiggles museum in Sydney, and thought it would be nice to take M there since she enjoys Wiggles' songs. It turned out the place was called the Powerhouse Museum, and they had a Wiggles exhibit.

We took a taxi from the Westfield to the museum, which was not too far from downtown. The Wiggles area was not overly huge, but it was nice enough. There was the big red car that M thoroughly enjoyed and asked to ride over and over again. They also had a "fruit salad" section where kids could cut toy fruit and mix them in a bowl.

Babyccinos

The one unique thing in Australia that we have not found in the US is Babyccino!
One day, my sister bought M a babyccino, and we had no idea what it is. We soon discovered almost all cafes in Australia serve frothed milk, served in a mini cup for kids. How genius! They were usually free or cost very little.

M LOVED sipping on her babyccino, and asked for it every time. :)

Melbourne

After Sydney, we went to visit Melbourne for 2 nights. Both my sisters previously lived and went to school in Melbourne. I had visited once before as well and remembered it as a beautiful city. We really didn't have much time in Melbourne, so we spent the majority of the time around the main city area.

Olsen Hotel, South Yarra

My sister booked a 2 bedroom suite at the Olsen Hotel in South Yarra. The South Yarra area appeared upscale and very nice, but was quite a bit away from the city. The hotel itself was pretty nice with modern decor, although we had a small incident where housekeeping didn't clean our room very well. They ended up comping us free breakfast, which was appreciated.



David Jones Food Hall

We went to the David Jones store, downstairs to the food hall area. It reminded me very much of Harrod's food hall in London. There's plenty of ready made food options. I tried some chicken katsu roll, which was actually pretty good. Their fruit selections were very good as well.


Mekong Vietnamese Restaurant

After the food hall, we went to Mekong Vietnamese restaurant, which is very famous in the city. I saw pictures of many famous people, including Bill Clinton who apparently had 2 bowls of soup here. :)

Pho at Mekong

Travel back to SFO

We flew Qantas from Melbourne to Sydney to SFO. At our layover in Sydney, we were able to go to the first class Qantas lounge, which was really nice! We originally thought that maybe we could get in to the business class lounge. Dan's One World Emerald status allowed us access to the first class lounge, which we of course happily obliged. :)

This lounge was probably the nicest one we have ever been to. The area was very clean, bright, and spacious, with views of the runway & airplanes. There was a full service, sit down restaurant. Dan ordered a sandwich and chicken fingers for M. We also ordered ice cream for M's dessert.

I was also able to book a quick 20 minute spa appointment. They actually had a full spa with individual treatment rooms, which was pretty crazy! The treatment was really wonderful. I wish we could travel like this more often!

The flight itself was around 13-14 hours long, but the timing of it was perfect. The flight departed at 3 PM. M actually took a little nap early on, then woke up for a few hours, then slept the whole rest of the way back to SFO! So Dan and I actually got some rest and watched movies. I ended up watching 2 full seasons of the Silicon Valley TV show during this flight.

Summary & Tips:

  • If you are not planning on renting a car, you may not need to bring a car seat! We actually brought a car seat for M from Indonesia to Australia, which turned out to not be needed. A car seat is required in a regular car (or regular Uber). But we were exempt from using a car seat if we took a regular taxi. We ended up taking taxi everywhere, so the car seat was not needed.
  • Before ordering food at restaurants, check to confirm before ordering. :) There were a couple times where I thought I knew what I ordered and the actual food that came was something different. For example, I ordered a fish burger (which I thought would be a fish burger!). What came was a fish fillet, cooked steamed, served with vegetables.  Another time I ordered a sausage roll, and what came was ground beef with sliced potatoes.  Very interesting right?

We really enjoyed our time in Indonesia and Australia. It was nice to be able to visit both places to break our trip up. We actually liked Australia more than we thought we would. It had the familiarity of the US (and the cleanliness), though it still felt like a different country with its own uniqueness. Australia was also very kid friendly!

Until next time!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Disneyland Trip

We wanted to take M to visit Disneyland, and so we marked one weekend in early November. I thought that would be a good time to visit, before the Thanksgiving/Christmas rush.  But this turned out to not be true as the resort was fully packed!

Sheraton Garden Grove

We used SPG points to stay at the Sheraton Garden Grove, which was pretty close by. The hotel was a little older, and having last stayed at the Four Seasons Punta Mita, I could definitely tell the difference. :)  But hey, it was free so can't complain much.

Dan got "upgraded" to the SPG club floor which included lounge access for breakfast/snacks and early evening hors d'oeuvres, which was nice.

The room itself was a bit small, but the King size bed was definitely big enough.


Bathroom was basic but clean.



M kept asking for Kids Club (again because of our last trip to Punta Mita), but this didn't have one. :p

Disneyland

We had lots of fun at Disneyland! We tried to find "Discounted" tickets, but it was really hard for single day tickets.  We ended up purchasing at full price online. We only did Disneyland and not California Adventure since we only did one day and knew a lot of the rides at California Adventure were probably for older kids.



Our friend told us to come early in the morning and do all the rides, since it gets crowded after lunch time. The park opened at 8 AM, and we came around 7:30 AM to park and shuttle to the entrance. They actually let us to Main Street, but not beyond. From 7-8 AM, only Disneyland hotel guests could enter early for the extra magic hour. Exactly at 8 AM we were allowed in and did a lot of rides:
  • Mr. Toad - a little too scary for M
  • Alice in Wonderland - also too scary for her :)
  • Teacup - she loved the teacups!
  • Dumbo - she loved this, too
  • Jr. Circus train - she liked this one
Then we head over to Toontown and to check out:
  • Minnie's house:  There was a small line to enter Minnie's house because Minnie was actually inside. M actually cried when it came time to take a picture with Minnie. :p
  • Toontown playground:  She had lots of fun at the playground
  • Roger Rabbit ride - this was ok.  She liked the steering wheel.
Afterwards we did:
  • It's a Small World: This was probably her most favorite ride. They had all the holiday decorations up and the songs were a medley between Jingle Bells & It's a Small World.
  • Princess meet & greet: We waited probably 10 minutes and got to meet and take pictures with three princesses: Snow White, Cinderella, and Belle.
Just before lunch time, we noticed the crowds started to get bigger and bigger! M took a nap and after lunch & nap, we could only fit a few more rides since it was already really crowded.


We did the following activities after lunch:
  • Carrousel
  • Disneyland Train
  • Autopia
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Watched Mickey's Soundsational Parade
After the parade we were pretty tired so decided it was time to go to dinner. M didn't want to leave, but we told her we could come back another time.


Food in Orange County

Halal Guys

I had always wanted to try this, so when I heard that they recently opened in Orange County, we made sure to stop by right after we arrived at the airport.

We went around noon and waited for 25 minutes. I got the small chicken rice and Dan got the regular combo over rice. The small size was actually very filling and definitely enough for me.

This was my first time trying it and I thought it was definitely yummy. The combination of the seasoned rice with chicken, crispy lettuce, tomatoes, and the creamy white sauce was very comforting. The red spicy sauce was actually VERY spicy, so I would recommend just getting it on the side.


Halal Guys Chicken Rice

Brodard

For dinner we went to Brodard, since I've always wanted to try their Nem Nuong. We went pretty early for dinner to avoid the crowds and were seated immediately.

We ordered the Nem Nuong and a rice dish to share. I was so excited to try the Nem Nuong, but was quite disappointed. It was pretty good, but it didn't compare to the one in Sacramento that we love so much.



Kanghodong Baekjong - Buena Park

Everytime we go to LA, we make sure to save room for Korean BBQ, as they have the best spots!
The newest one that is really good is Kanghodong Baekjong. Last year I went with my sister to the one in K-town LA, and it was really good. They just opened a branch in Buena Park, and Dan wanted to try.

We got the small beef combo to share which included Chadol, Ribeye steak, and Galbi, and they were all soo good! We could tell the meat quality was superb.


Bruxie 

For Brunch the next day, we went to Bruxie in Orange for their waffle sandwich. We shared the fried chicken, prosciutto & gruyere, and the seasonal creme brulee sandwiches. Everything was very tasty!


Popbar at Anaheim Packing District

After Bruxie, we headed over to the Anaheim Packing District. I had always wanted to check it out. It's a really cute warehouse that they converted into a high end food court. It reminded me a little bit of the ferry building in San Francisco, but smaller scale.

I went to Popbar and got a customized ice cream!



Summary:

We had a fun time at Disneyland and would love to come again maybe next year.

Our recommendation is to come early and do as much rides as you can in the morning, as the crowds gets pretty big at around lunch time! If you can stay at the Disneyland hotel and get that extra magic hour, you can even fit in more rides. :)


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Trip Summary Punta Mita: St. Regis vs. Four Seasons

This is a continuation of our Punta Mita trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here.

I had this question on my mind before going to Punta Mita on where to stay: the Four Seasons or St. Regis.  Since we got to stay at both, I'm going to do a somewhat detailed comparison of the two resorts:

Room

The St. Regis' room was definitely better than the Four Seasons. The room size was larger, and I loved the decor. Everything felt newer at the St. Regis, and it had the beautiful tub with indoor & outdoor shower.

Pool

Even though the St. Regis had beautiful pools, we loved the lazy river pool at the Four Seasons -- so if we had to choose, the Four Seasons wins this category. :)



Service

Both resorts provided really good service. The Four Seasons service was a tad better/more personalized, so they win this category.

Food

Food at the Four Seasons was actually slightly better than the St. Regis. Breakfast was comparable (although FS had the smoothie bar!), but in general, we both felt that the food was better at FS.

Transportation

Both hotels had contracted taxi service. We felt that the taxi vehicles at the St. Regis were nicer (more SUVs), versus FS which was more like minivans.

The only thing was car service at the St. Regis was charged separately, whereas FS billed it to our room, which was much more convenient.

Kids Activities

Both hotels had Kids Club rooms with toys, books, arts and crafts and other play things for kids. The St. Regis Kids Club room felt a little worn down and even the toys too.  FS was much nicer, cleaner, and right by the lazy river.  St. Regis set up an arts and crafts area by the kids' water fountain play area in the morning, which was really nice.



Summary

If we were given a choice to pick only one, we probably would go with the St. Regis. But I would say it is pretty close, and we would be happy to go back to either resort!

Price wise, it was somewhat comparable to Hawaii -- probably because both the Four Seasons and St. Regis were on the higher end.

We felt pretty safe in general, and this being our second trip to Mexico, we knew what to expect.

Overall we had a great time in Punta Mita. It's definitely a great destination, not to far from the US West Coast! We loved how the flight was not too long (3.5 hours), and both resorts were family friendly.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Four Seasons Punta Mita

This is a continuation of our Punta Mita trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here.

After two wonderful nights at the St. Regis, it was time to move to the next property, the Four Seasons Punta Mita. We were both very excited, as we had never stayed at a Four Seasons before and had heard a lot of wonderful things about their personalized service.

We took a taxi to the Four Seasons, which was located inside the same gated community.  It was maybe a 5-7 minute drive from the St. Regis.

My first impression was that the property was noticeably older than the St. Regis. The lobby area felt more like a typical hotel lobby.

Four Seasons Punta Mita lobby

We were welcomed by name with a cold towel and then escorted to sit down in the seating area. We were given a juice welcome drink, and M also got one in a plastic cup. They also welcomed M by her name (they had asked for names when we made our reservations).  It was a really nice personalized touch.

Toasting to part 2 of our Punta Mita vacation


Similar to the St. Regis, they transported us to our room in a golf cart. Our driver/host was very nice, and throughout our stay he always addressed us by our name every time he saw us. He mentioned that we could call for a ride 24/7, and so we actually did quite often. The hot and humid weather was a little too much sometimes, and the property was actually quite big. Our room was in the Iguana building, which was a bit further away from the lobby and restaurants, so getting rides on the golf cart was pretty helpful.

Golf cart to take you around the property

The Iguana building was located next to the Kids Club and the entrance to the lazy river, which was super convenient. However, as I mentioned, it was a bit further away from the main lobby. But we did like the fact that it was very close to activities for kids.

Iguana building

One thing to note was that each building had its own laundry room--washer & dryer machines with detergent.  We took advantage of that to do two small loads of laundry.

Room

The room was a good size, but coming from the St. Regis, it did feel smaller. It's basically a regular hotel room size, whereas the St. Regis was definitely larger.

We also noticed that the bed was smaller than at the St. Regis. The decor was a little bit older, but everything was in good condition and clean.

The hotel provided a very nice welcome gift for M, which included both regular and swim diapers, wipes, baby bath set, turtle stuffed animal, and foam letters that spelled M's name. She also got a welcome snack basket--chocolate milk, cookies, and jellies which she loved.



The grounds around the property were very lush, as you can see in the view from our balcony. Our room was the garden view, the entry room category. We did have a small peekaboo ocean view. We didn't use the balcony much though as it was so hot out.

Seating area & balcony

The bathroom area also looked a bit dated, but also in good condition and clean. There's a shower area, a tub, and dual sinks. The bathroom amenities were L'occitane brand which was nice, and they even provided after sun healing balm.

Bathroom

Food at the Four Seasons Punta Mita

Ketsi

Breakfast was included in our Travelzoo package (which would otherwise cost around $100 for 2 people). Breakfast was at Ketsi restaurant, the open air restaurant near the lobby. The view from the restaurant was nice, although we typically did not sit near the edges because there were a few birds who were pretty aggressive. Even for breakfast, I saw on a couple occasions the birds eat off the buffet table!

The breakfast spread was pretty good. There's the typical egg station, pancake/waffle/french toast, bacon/sausage, cereal, fruits, pastries, etc. The one unique thing that the Four Seasons had was a fresh juice and smoothie bar. I always got the smoothie of the day which was always delicious. My favorite was the banana/peanut butter/soy milk smoothie!

Ketsi

Service at Ketsi was typically pretty good. They were very accommodating of M. In addition to bringing a high chair, they always provided her with a set of Hello Kitty utensils, a bib (which she never wanted to wear), and a sippy cup with milk.

They had a pretty good selection for kids meals that we usually took advantage for M. One thing to note at the Four Seasons, kids under 5 eat for free. We didn't know at first but soon were explained this wonderful benefit by one of the servers.

View from Ketsi Restaurant

Bahia

For our first night's dinner, we went to Bahia, located by the beach at the Four Seasons. The food was mostly grilled. We ordered the skirt steak and grilled octopus, and both were wonderful! The skirt steak was very tender, as was the octopus!

Again, M's food was completely comped, which was nice!

I believe that dinner for us cost roughly $70 USD.

Bahia

Another onsite restaurant was Aramara, but it was closed during the nights we stayed there.

Kids Club

The Kids Club at the Four Seasons was definitely much better than the one at St. Regis. It was more adequately staffed, and the toys seemed to be in much better condition. They also had planned activities for older kids. Since M was still young, one of us stayed with her whenever we went.

They also had an option to hire a baby sitter if you wanted to. I believe they cost $17/hour with a 2-hour minimum. During my stay there I saw a couple kids with the baby sitters, so the parents could enjoy some adult time.

Kids Club

We could also order food for the children that would then be charged as room service. I ordered lunch for M one time, and again it was comped!

Pools

One of our most favorite part of the Four Seasons Punta Mita was definitely the lazy river! They had inner tubes and noodles available to float on which was nice. This pool was sooo relaxing and unique. Dan and I would take turns watching M while the other floating around for a lap and then switch off :)

Service at the pool was generally pretty good. They always brought a small cooler with iced water bottles (free), and we could always order food in addition.

Lazy River

The main family pool was located near Ketsi, and was just breathtaking. See the picture below that I took on my iPhone!

Main Pool

There's also a separate adult only pool which was very private and quiet, but I didn't think it was as nice because there weren't any ocean views, and it's not by the beach.


One standard item at each pool was the "sunblock" station where they had multiple types of sunblock to choose from! I also noticed that the restrooms were air conditioned, which was really nice as the temperature was just too hot otherwise.


Every few hours, the staff would bring free little "treats" around. I think we got small smoothies, fruit, and other cold drinks.

Beach Area

We planned on spending a day at the on-site beach, but ended up only staying maybe 20 minutes. It was just too hot!! We ended up going back to the pool to cool off. :)

M had a great time though. They had free sand toys for kids to use so she had a blast.


Summary

We were glad to finally try a Four Seasons resort after hearing so much about it. Service in general was a little better/more personalized than the St. Regis.
  • We loved the lazy river pool; it's so unique!
  • Similar to the St. Regis, water was very available and free everywhere! So no need to make a stop to buy water outside before staying at the resort.
  • Overall the resort was a little bit older and could have probably used some updates (note: during the time of our stay, they were doing some construction work near the lazy river, so maybe the resort was getting some much needed renovation!)
  • The resort provided "free" activities around the resort, such as nature walk, Spanish class, history lesson, etc. We didn't take advantage of it, but there seems to be quite a few options every day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

St Regis Punta Mita

This is a continuation of our Punta Mita trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

We flew to Punta Mita via Alaska Airlines. Even in economy, I felt that the leg room was pretty good. We ordered some in-flight food--chicken banh mi sandwich and the cheese plate--and the sandwich was probably the most delicious paid economy in-flight food we've had! It was warm and so delish! The sandwich cost $7, and we thought it was pretty fair definitely worth it for airplane food.

M did pretty well on the flight; she played with her new sticker book and was also on the iPad a lot. :) She also took her afternoon nap during the 3.5 hour flight.

Airport transfer to St. Regis Punta Mita

We pre-booked transportation from the airport to the St. Regis which cost 1700 pesos (around $120 USD) one way. I figured it was a safe option, so we didn't have to deal with looking for taxi when we arrived. It was definitely a great option as they were waiting for us, had an umbrella ready (it was raining), and even allowed us to make a stop at Walmart to buy water and snacks. The driver was also very professional, dressed in uniform, and spoke good English. I definitely highly recommend considering this option.

I also requested a car seat for M which they had ready (although the quality seemed a bit questionable and also looked quite old :p), but it was still nice to at least have it included.

The drive took around 45 minutes. Punta Mita was actually located inside a gated community, they checked for our name before letting us in, so it did feel somewhat safe. The whole complex looked very manicured and upscale.

Check In

We arrived at the resort and were welcomed in the reception area. As is common in other St. Regis hotels, there was not a check-in desk. In this case we were welcomed with a cold hand towel to cool down and a drink choice of either iced tea or margarita.  The host directed us and provided our stay information in the open air lobby/seating area. Afterwards we were whisked to our room via a golf cart.

St. Regis open reception area

The welcome area/lobby was beautiful with views of the ocean. We really felt like we were on vacation as soon as we arrived!

Room

Our building was next to the kids swimming pool, and not too far from the lobby, which was nice. The room was a good size; to me it felt almost like a suite. There's a small foyer area as soon as we walked in.

Foyer area

To the right was the bedroom area with small desk and TV, as well as a lanai with garden view and a peekaboo ocean view.



To the left of the foyer was the huge bathroom with dual sinks, a bathtub and indoor + outdoor shower areas.

Shower & bath tub
Double sink

The room was in good condition and did not look worn down.  The resort is still somewhat new. (I think 7-8 years old?)

We got a welcome voicemail message from our butler but didn't really use much of his services during our stay. I almost considered calling them for the complimentary tea service and free garment pressing, but ended up not doing it.

Lanai/balcony area

We really loved the room, and it felt bigger than just a room, more like a mini-suite or bungalow.

Pools and Kids Activities

There were several pools around the property. We went to the family pool which was right by the beach. They had some floaties for the kids available in the pool, which was nice. The pool was a good size, but there was hardly any shade. We came in September which was one of the hottest months, so it was too bad that there's not much shade around the pool.



Right by the pool, there's a kiddy fountain play area which M loved! They also had sand toys available, and she had a blast. 



Nearby they also had a small kids table setup for morning activities. M did water painting on ceramics, and she really enjoyed it. I really felt that the resort really tried to cater to kids and families, which was great for us.

Kids Club

Another one of M's favorite was the Kids Club. It was actually located on the other end of the resort, near the spa and gym area. The kids club was actually a bit run down, which was a bit surprising for the St. Regis. There were not that many toys, and even the ones that were available looked very used and old. Nevertheless, M still had a blast. She got introduced to play doh and she loved it so much. When it was time to return to our room she didn't want to go, the attendant allowed us to take one play doh to the room, which was a nice gesture.

Food at the St Regis Punta Mita

For our first night, it was raining really hard so we ended up ordering room service. We shared a pasta dish and chicken nachos. They were both pretty good.

We added the breakfast package for our stay (I emailed the concierge in advance).  The cost was $20 USD per person plus taxes and service charge. I highly recommend this option as breakfast would have cost double that if not already included in the room rate. The breakfast buffet was at Sea Breeze restaurant, which had indoor and outdoor seating. We always sat inside (air conditioned) to keep cool.

The breakfast spread was pretty standard: baked pastries, hot food (pancake/French toast/egg/bacon/sausage), cold station (cheese, smoked salmon), yogurt, milk, cereal, fruit, egg station and a quesadilla station. Overall food quality was pretty good, although it's probably not on the top of our favorite breakfast list.

One thing to note: Breakfast was actually served until noon. So we could have had a later breakfast, skipped lunch, and gone for early dinner (but we didn't).

Sea Breeze

Other On-Site Restaurant Options

Carolina was the fine dining option and apparently very popular; reservations are recommended. We didn't end up eating here since we had our toddler-aged child with us and wanted something more casual. I had heard great things about this, so I would recommend checking out.  :)

Mita Mary was their restaurant on a boat by the beach. It looked really cool but because it was so hot, and the fact that they only had bar seating, we did not eat here either.

Sea Breeze was the main restaurant where breakfast and lunch were served. We had lunch here once, as it was the only option with air conditioning!! All other options were either by the pool or beach with no AC!  :)

Fish Tacos at Sea Breeze

Transportation to other places

The St. Regis had onsite "taxi" service available 24/7. When I say taxi, I mean luxury SUV.  :) We took this to grab dinner in town one day, and also to transfer to the Four Seasons resort after a few nights. One thing to note at the St. Regis, the taxi service was run independently, so we had to pay either cash or credit card directly to the driver.

Summary:

We had a really wonderful stay at the St. Regis. Service was generally pretty good, and everyone was very helpful.  Our room was huge and gorgeous, and I had never been to a place where kids were so welcome and catered to.  It was fantastic overall!

A couple other notes from our stay:
  • Tipping was generally not required. They made a note that a 10 percent service charge was already included and that tipping was not expected. However, I still did get the sense that tipping was appreciated.
  • We bought bottled waters from Walmart on our way to the resort which was actually not needed at all. Complimentary bottled water was provided pretty much everywhere!!! We had never been to a resort where bottled water was free and so available!
  • As I mentioned, try to to get the breakfast package included in your room rate as it is cheaper than paying at the restaurant.
Overall, we loved this resort and would highly recommend it to others. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Punta Mita - Trip Introduction

I've always had Punta Mita on my bucket list. I first found out about it after reading about the St. Regis in Punta Mita from a lot of the travel bloggers. Additionally, a couple friends have vacationed there. Not to mention the Kardashians visit there frequently as well. :)

Punta Mita is a high end beach destination in Mexico, about a 45 minute drive Northwest of Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta itself is a 3.5 hour flight from San Francisco, so quite an easy destination to get to from the West Coast.

Trip planning started when I saw a Travelzoo deal earlier in the year for the Four Seasons Punta Mita. The deal was actually very good in my opinion. We had never stayed at a Four Seasons before since it is usually very expensive. So when I saw the Travelzoo deal, we just couldn't pass it up. We booked the three night deal in a garden view room (their lowest category) for $949 + taxes & fees (an additional $200-ish). This is by no mean cheap, but it is a good deal for a Four Seasons. The package also included breakfast, premium Internet, and 15 percent off food and beverages.

I also booked an additional two nights at the neighboring St Regis, using SPG points at 20,000/night. So we had a total of five nights in Punta Mita! I was so excited, and this trip actually came sooner than we expected.

We were a little nervous traveling with M, but she was older (recently turned 2 years old) and seems to be traveling better as she gets older. So we were hoping that it would be somewhat easier this time around. She could sit still for longer and be distracted with the iPad. She's now also into activities like stickers, coloring, etc. So we just had to make sure to have enough for her to do in flight.

We did not bring a car seat or pack-n-play.  The car service that we booked provided a car seat and she could sleep in our hotel bed. We also weaned her off bottles, so it's nice not to have to bring too many extra things.

Lobby at St. Regis Punta Mita


Here's the breakdown of our trip:

Punta Mita - Trip Introduction
St. Regis Punta Mita
Four Seasons Punta Mita
Summary

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

London & Paris - Summary & Tips

This is a continuation of our London & Paris trip. You can find the full trip itinerary here. 

We had such a great time in London & Paris. We definitely packed in so much for the short stay...hehe. We especially loved Paris and hope to come back some day.

Here are some tips based on our experience during our trip in London & Paris!

Wi Fi:
  • London: We pre-booked a wifi hotspot device since we did it in Japan and thought it was super useful. For London, a lot of cafes actually offer free wifi, so having a pocket wifi might not be as necessary. But it was still helpful -- the cost was just over $8/day and we got it from Tep Wireless.
  • Paris: We felt wi-fi in Paris was more necessary and useful than in London, because it wasn't as easy to find free Wi Fi. We got ours from Hippocketwifi that Dan ordered beforehand, and cost around 30 Euros. You can choose to pick up at airport, or they can deliver it to your hotel. If you can, do the airport pickup to avoid confusion at the hotel.

In City Transportation
  • London
    • Get an Oyster card if you are going to use the tube (subway) a lot. During our first tube trip to Harrod's, we didn't get an Oyster card, and turns out the one way ticket costs double if we buy a single ticket versus loading money into the Oyster card. The Oyster card requires a 5 pound deposit, and you will have to buy it from a booth.  Once you're done, you can get the deposit back.
    • We also took Uber a lot. Distances between places in London were not that far, so going places for the most part only cost us 5-10 pounds. So I would recommend Uber for in-city transport.
  • Paris
    • The Metro in Paris was a lot cheaper than the tube in London. We got the 10 pack tickets for around 14 Euros, so each trip cost roughly 1.4 Euros. The metro lines were all color coded and for the most part pretty self explanatory. One thing to note though, if you have to transfer lines, the distance between one line and the other could actually be quite a bit of a walk.
    • It looks like there's an 8 Euro minimum for in city Uber ride as all our ride cost exactly 8 Euros! We used this a couple times before we figured that out. :)

Airport Transportation
  • London
    • We booked an airport transfer from LHR to our hotel in Covent Garden with Exclusive Airports. They were on time and we were pleased with the service. It cost 48 pounds, and I paid 50 pounds total.  This would probably be my recommendation (versus taking taxi, or even the train). We considered the train but it would still cost around 40 pounds total to get to the city, and then we still have to buy another ticket to get to our hotel, and I really didn't want to be carrying suitcases up and down the stairs.
    • On our way back from the hotel to LHR, we tried requesting Uber, but the driver canceled our requests twice (probably because they didn't want to make the trek to LHR), so we ended up having to find a taxi last minute! I would NOT recommend using Uber to go to the airport, but it would be better to pre-book return with transfer service like Exclusive Airports. We ended up paying taxi a total of 86 pounds, since they were more expensive and charged a fee for paying with credit card. This was 36 pounds more than if we had pre-booked the transfer! The only positive was I got to ride in a black London cab, but at a premium price! :)
  • Paris:
    • We didn't pre-arrange arrival transfer and ended up getting a taxi that supposedly took credit card. However, when we arrived at our hotel, the taxi driver could not process our credit card. We did not have any Euros, so Dan was held up for a while. Thankfully the hotel concierge offered to pay the taxi driver in cash for us, and have it charged to our hotel bill. So in hindsight, we should have pre-booked transport beforehand.
    • For our return to the airport, we pre-booked transport with reservation@shuttle-inter.com for EUR 55. We were very pleased with the service. It was a bit cheaper than our Taxi, and the car condition was much nicer, and we didn't have to worry about hailing a cab. 

Restaurants: Here's a summary of all the places we went and a brief note on each one:
  • London
    • Shake Shack: Great burger place (the shroom burger is really good), but not unique to London as they originated from the US (NYC).
    • Hawksmoor: Famous steak place. Not the best that we've had, but pretty decent. The Sticky Toffee Pudding though was outstanding.
    • Corinthia's Afternoon Tea: Good experience, but not outstanding. I think the most famous one (which we couldn't get in) was the Claridge's.
    • Rock & Sole place: Very low-key fish & chips place. Pretty decent and huge portions!
    • Gauthier Soho: Our most favorite meal in London! Price was not too bad for fine dining.
    • Dishoom: Super popular Indian restaurant. We tried eating here twice but lines were always too long. Finally went in for breakfast and it was really good.
    • Bone Daddies: Hipster ramen place - we both think Ippudo is still better, but this place has unique flavors.
  • Paris
    • Angelina's: LOVE their hot chocolate. Very touristy place but worth a visit, if not for the hype.
    • Breizh Cafe: Excellent crepe place. Must make reservation in advance.
    • L'avant Comptoir: Our favorite meal during our whole trip. Low key wine bar with menu hanging from the ceiling. Everything we ordered was delicious and price was reasonable.
    • Les Cocottes: Solid restaurant near Eiffel tower.

Other Tips:
  • London:
    • West End Shows: We wanted to catch a show very last minute, and tried getting same day ticket from Mathilda's box office the morning of at 10AM. We came a few minutes after 10AM, and the cheapest tickets remaining were 67.50 pounds each. I found an online deal from London Theatre Booking for 33 pounds each, but was too afraid to pull the plug. But we went to their counter next to the Covent Garden station, and ended up getting those seats for 35 pounds each! So definitely recommend last minute tickets from London Theatre Booking!
    • Bath & Stonehenge Tour: I also signed up for Groupon UK (separate login from US), to get Buy 1 get 2 tickets for a Stonehenge & Bath tour with Day Tours London. Definitely recommend looking up for local Groupon discounts during your trip. :)
  • Paris:
    • If you are going to be in Paris for a few days and want to visit museums, definitely get the Paris Museum Pass which allows you to visit several museums and you won't need to be in line to buy tickets. We got the 2 day tickets for 42 Euro. The more museums you visit and the longer your stay, the more back for your buck. Don't confuse it with the Paris Pass, which has a lot more included but costs way more.
    • Versailles Tour: If you want to visit the main palace, either come REALLY early (like 30 minutes before opening), or visit it in the afternoon after the lines die down. We arrived at 10:30 AM (1.5 hour after opening), which appeared to be the worst time. The line snaked around multiple times, and we ended up waiting in line for 1.5 hours. If you arrive around the same time like we did and the line is too long, my recommendation would be to go visit the garden first, and leave the main palace towards the afternoon around 3-4 PM when the line was non-existent.

Until next time!