Hotels, North America

Omni Parker House Boston

On our last trip to Boston, we decided to spend a couple of days in the city before heading out to the suburbs for some serious shopping. For years family and friends have been raving about the Omni Parker House in Boston so we decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Location
Slap bang in the centre of Boston, a 2 minute walk from Fauniel Hall and 15 minutes to Copley Plaza.

 

Transportation
We grabbed a cab from Terminal E which took around 25 minutes to the hotel. Its located less than a minutes walk away from Government Center, but you can practically walk to anywhere in this compact city. The T stops at midnight and a single trip will set you back $2.75 without a Charlie Card, $2.25 if you happen to have one.

Omni Parker House Boston

Style
Think old school extravagant, we’re talking huge armchairs and carved wood. The hotels history proudly adorns the walls in the lobby.

Staff & Facilities
The staff were quite different than anywhere else we’ve stayed. They showed a true sense of pride for where they worked, in the 15 minutes from the taxi to our room we had a lightening fast hotel history lesson and the bell hop gave us plenty of ideas on what to do and where to eat.

Rooms
We stayed in an Executive King Room which was far bigger than we expected. Off the main room was a dressing room complete with vanity and plenty of wardrobe space. The beds came straight from the princess and pea, they are huge and extremely comfy.

The only downside was the view, we had a beautiful red wall to look out at.

Dining
We didn’t dine in the hotel, but we did try a Boston Cream Pie. They are to die for.

Value for money
We nabbed an absolute bargain on Booking.com, getting an Executive King room for just shy of $150 a night. Sadly this is one of those hotels who like to charge an absolute fortune for WiFi. But you can connect for free in the lobby if you can manage to grab one of comfy sofas or armchairs.

Our Thoughts
I’ll admit we both had low expectations when we arrived at this hotel, but we were blown away by both the service received and the standard / cleanliness of this hotel.

I personally love modern properties, but sometimes you just can’t beat the character of an old classic. This property is in pristine condition.

Would we stay here again? 
Yes, we’ll be back again in 2018.

***

Omni Parker House
60 School Street
Boston 02108

T: +1 617 227 8600
W: www.omnihotels.com

News

Qatar to offer free laptops on US flights

Qatar Airways has announced it will loan laptop computers to business class passengers affected by the US electronics ban.

The complimentary laptops will be available to Business Class passengers travelling on all US-bound flights from next week and can be collected after boarding. Customers will be able to download their work on to a USB before stepping on board to pick up where they left-off.

Qatar will also join Emirates in offering a special service allowing all passengers to check their electronics at the gate. Items are then packed, tagged and loaded into the hold and returned to passengers upon arrival in the US.

By supplying laptops Qatar has pulled ahead of its rivals in dealing with the fallout from the ban. Etihad are to provide free wifi & iPads for business & first passengers, while Emirates were first to introduce a laptop handling service.

Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, said; “As an award-winning and global airline we truly appreciate the importance of being able to work on board our aircraft and that is why I have insisted on offering only the best possible solution for our customers. By providing this laptop loan service we can ensure that our passengers on flights to the US can continue to work whilst on-board. This unique ability to offer ‘business as usual’, above and beyond the competition, is yet another example of Qatar Airways justification for being the ‘World’s Best Business Class’.”

Departure Boards
Flights

Matrix Airfare Search, what is it?

You’ve probably seen us reference Matrix when discussing flights before, we pretty much rely on it when planning and booking a trip. It’s a really powerful flight search tool, you can’t actually book anything through it but it’s packed with various search and display options such as time bars. We’re going to run through the basics today and we’ll cover some of the features it in more detail at a later stage.

Part 1 – Matrix by ITA, what is it?

So today, we’ll see how to use ITA for a trip from Dublin (DUB) to New York (JFK) for a couple of days in January. There are usually tons of options on this route from several non-stop daily flights to 2-3 connections across multiple carriers.

The Search Page

Most of the options on this page are self-explanatory. I’ve entered “DUB” into the departure box and “JFK” into the destination box. If you’re unsure of the airport code just type in the city and it’ll list the closest airports.

Matrix Flight Search Page

We’re going to search exact dates so I’ve gone with the 16th – 22nd January. We’re only booking a flight for one in the cheapest available cabin and we’re going to allow airport changes. I’ve also set the currency to € (because we’re in Ireland) and the sales city to Dublin.

Next hit search and it’ll begin loading up the results.

Displaying & Filtering Search Results

Matrix Filter Bar

The blue bar at the top of the results page lists all airlines available and displays fares for nonstop and 1 stop routes. Clicking an airline will show you only flights under that carrier, while clicking a price will show you flights on that carrier that match the number of stops.  The fares listed are “all-in” so it includes taxes and charges.

Complete Trips

By default, Matrix will list flights as “complete trips”. This is the easiest to understand and includes both departure and arrival times, any stopovers and advisories such as short connections or night flights.

Matrix Complete Trips Page

In our case the cheapest possible combination is with British Airways routing via London at a total of €422. Our cheapest direct option is on American Airlines metal but sold as a mix of Air France & KLM. But its €55 more than BA, if you’re travelling as a family that could be an extra €2-300.

Maybe the above combinations don’t suit time-wise? That’s where the two other display options come in…

Individual Flights

The individual flights option is just like the screen you’ll get when booking with an airline. It allows you to pick the outbound flight before proceeding to pick your inbound flight. The price you see beside each option is the lowest possible return fare based on that flight option. It’ll change as you go down the list.

Matrix Individual Flights Search Page

Time bars

My favourite option. It displays each flight as a coloured bar form take-off to landing. It also has a grey connection bar (complete with airport code) to tell you where you’ll be hanging for a few hours, if the flight includes a connection that is.

Matrix Time Bar Search Page

You can hover over a flight or connection to get more information about it. Each flight has an airline code to advise who is marketing the flight, if there is an asterisk beside it you’ll need to hover over to find out which airline is operating the flight.

Let’s stick to time bars for the rest of this. We usually fly BA so I’m going to select the option for €445. It’ll take the 831 to London Heathrow and then transfer onto an American Airlines 777 (which apparently has a stunning new business cabin on-board).

Matrix Time Bar Search Page

Notice how when I get through to pick the return flight there is a mix of carriers. As we go down the list there are several different times. We like to take the sleeper-service when heading east so we’ll go for the 112 back to London.

Itinerary Details

Now that we’ve selected all our flights it’ll open up the summary page which lists all the flights and gives a full breakdown of the fare. You *should* in theory be able to find this fare when booking online with British Airways, but if you can’t you’ll need to give them a call.

Matrix Itinerary Details Page

You can find the fare construction and booking codes under “How to buy this ticket”. You’ll find them useful if booking over the phone or through a travel agent as they’ll know exactly what to look up when searching for your flights.

So that’s the pretty basic rundown of Matrix. I’ll cover some features we skipped over in more detail in a later post.

Tropicana Las Vegas
Hotels, North America

Our stay at the Tropicana Las Vegas

It wasn’t until around two weeks before our trip that it dawned on me, we booked our Vegas trip on a budget. Alarm bells began to sound in my head as I read through the reviews on TripAdvisor. How many Avios do we have in our account, how quickly can I book somewhere else, can we just cancel the trip?

Then the day came, cruising at 36,000ft above the North Atlantic in what can only be described as a flying pub we chatted with some fellow passengers while waiting at the pop-up bar that had formed at the back of the aircraft. We got some very strange looks and awkward silences when we mentioned where we were staying. Panic set in again, we were just hours away from checking in to what was made out to be the hotel from hell.

Location
Located on the south end of the strip, the hotel sits alongside some heavy hitters like the MGM Grand. If you’re driving, valet parking is free, however we never used this due to the car park being so close to the entrance.

 

Transportation
If you’re not renting a car there are still plenty of public transport options. The Monorail is located across the road in the MGM Grand, it’ll take you down as far as the Stratosphere and runs from 7am every morning usually until 2am the next morning. The Deuce operates 24/7 and stops at the Tropicana going Northbound and lets you off at the Excalibur going Southbound. You can view the current Deuce & SDX route maps by clicking here.

Style
Think dried tropical fruit mix, we’re talking white sand with a warm tropical palette, some parts of this hotel really do make you question if you’re in Vegas or Miami (albeit a few years back in time). Somewhat recent renovations have given a new lease of life to this once neglected hotel.

Staff & Facilities
Some of the staff truly go out of their way to help. We had a wonderful experience at check in and it was recommended that we switch to a room with two doubles to get a view of the strip, and when you’re near the top of the Club Tower that makes for some view. The Tropicana may not have as many pools as the newer resorts but it’s still got quite a large pool lagoon style pool with plenty of palm trees and space to lounge out in.

troplv_room

Rooms
Our room was larger than most studio apartments, with a bathroom you could easily swing a chain of cats in. All the rooms have beautiful white plantation shutters on the windows and ample storage space for clothes & shopping. For larger groups adjoining rooms are also available.

Dining
The hotel has a selection of dining options, however during our stay we only ever dined in the Beach Cafe and grabbed some late night coffees from Starbucks. The Beach Cafe has a lovely breakfast buffet and was reasonably priced despite being a hotel restaurant. I’d highly recommend the fruit plate off the regular breakfast menu, just make sure it comes with the illusive carrot cake.

Value for money
We bundled our hotel in with flights so only paid €1200 for the entire trip. At the time of writing this review prices for two are averaging €57.50 for July 2016. However this does not include the $25/day resort fee which covers both the WiFi & access to the gym among other things. Regardless it still represents great value for a hotel of this standard.

troplv_pool

Our Thoughts
I’ll admit we both had low expectations when we arrived at this hotel, but we were blown away by both the service received and the standard / cleanliness of this hotel.

We stayed at this property in early February and temperatures were averaging 18 – 22 Celsius. Sadly the pool wasn’t open, despite the weather being ideal swimming weather by Irish standards.

Would we stay here again? 
Yes, however as we spent most of our time on the north end of the strip we’ll be opting for a hotel a bit closer to the shops next time.

***

Tropicana Las Vegas
3801 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas 89109

T: +1 888 381 8767
E: guestservice@troplv.com
W: www.troplv.com

Airbus Wing View
Flights

How to find the cheapest flights to anywhere

We’ve all experienced the never-ending, repeated searching when trying to find cheap flights. With literally hundreds of search engines, airlines and travel agents offering fluctuating fares, trying to be frugal when it comes to booking flights can be a bit overwhelming. We’ve put together our top tips that will hopefully save you time, money and usual frustration that comes with booking a holiday.

1. Hide

If you’ve ever experienced flight prices going up between searches, you’re not going crazy and there’s not thousands of people trying to book the same flight as you. It’s more than likely the cookies on your browser, airline websites can detect when you’ve searched particular routes multiple times and its smart enough to adjust the fare based off this alone. Always change your browser to private browsing mode, or incognito if using chrome. It’ll enable you to search without having to worry about cookies being stored.

Your cookies are reset each time you open a private or incognito window. So close all your private windows and start from scratch between searches and you’ll start with a clean slate each time.

2. Start with a Flight Search Engine

The likes of Expedia are essentially a middle man when it comes to flights booked through them. So chances are they’ll stick a little something extra on top of the fare. (In saying that, we did find some great value fares last year though, €980 return in business with US Airways from London – New York).

Its best that you familiarise yourself with more than one search engine, as we’ve often found some slight variations between them.

It’s good to note that many of the above do not include budget airlines. If you’re looking for fares from the likes of Ryanair or Easyjet, you’ll have to head to their websites to check fares.

3. What a difference a day makes

When it comes to how flights are priced, it’s pretty complex. The length of a trip can really affect the price. Playing around with different date and length combinations can make a huge difference when trying to bag cheap flights.

For example, business travelers typically won’t spend a weekend at their destination, so if you’re planning to fly back on a Friday, check the price for Sunday instead. We saved over €3,000 on our flights to New York last year by staying for 10 days instead of 7. The only downside was the tiny A318 was packed full of business travelers heading to London for the week ahead.

4. Budget airlines can be your friend

Most budget airlines now offer a more à la carte experience. By stripping back everything but the seat from their fares you can then pick if you want to take a bag, buy food or get priority boarding. If you can live without a checked bag, food and don’t mind where you sit then you’re guaranteed to bag the cheapest flights.

Before going budget always check the following..

  • Check the airport location (some budget airlines fly to airports that might be further out than the main airports).
  • Ensure you’ve booked & paid for any baggage. Make sure you’ve got your measurements and weights right as they can charge a hefty fee if you’re over. They’ll also charge you extra if you pay at the airport.
  • Read the fine print. Some airlines can charge you if you don’t print your own ticket or have more than the allowed pieces of hand luggage (this can include duty free).

5. Not sure where to go?

Kayak Explore is a great little tool if you’re just looking to get away for a weekend on a budget. Enter your departure city and select the month or season you want to fly. It’ll then calculate approximate costs for hundreds of destinations across the globe from your chosen departure airport. (so it turns out it’ll actually price in € if you go through their Irish site here)

Kayak explore map showing the cheapest European destinations from Dublin. It can be used to find cheap flights.

6. Don’t leave it until the last minute

Airline tickets usually don’t get cheaper as your departure date approaches. Airlines will usually split prices into fare buckets, as once one sells out the next one will open, usually at a slightly higher price. If you know where you’re going and have your dates nailed down, book it, waiting on a sale that may never appear is never the best choice.

Borough Market Sign
Food, United Kingdom

Borough Market, London

Having spent over a year running a stall in a farmers market, we just couldn’t resist a visit to the iconic Borough Market. Located a short walk from London Bridge it’s easily one of London’s best food markets. There’s a huge variety of fruit, vegetables, cakes, breads, cheeses, meats and everything in-between. Borough itself has long been synonymous with food markets, so the market is steeped in history.

Lee Brothers - Borough Market Sign

We managed to make our way over jut after noon and was shocked at the crowds. The place was absolutely black with people, which in my opinion really ruined the whole experience. I normally take a fairly relaxed approach when it comes to visiting markets, however this simply wasn’t possible here. Stopping to try a sample, or take a photo resulted in a herd of people quickly helping us on our way.

The Veggie Table - Burger
The monster sweet potato & chickpea burger.

We got lucky and discovered The Veggie Table, who were serving two very different burgers. Sweet potato & chickpea or halloumi cheese with carrots. We both opted for the sweet potato, with a slaw like salad and a mild salsa. It was easily the nicest veggie burger I’ve ever had, and at £5 a pop I did regret not trying to talk them into selling me a few raw ones to take back for dinner.

Neal's Yard Dairy - London
Great to see some Irish cheeses on the counters at Neal’s Yard Dairy.

After 20 minutes of walking laps around the market we eventually found Neal’s Yard Dairy. At first I was somewhat underwhelmed, the first section of the store has a very empty appearance. That is of course until you turn the corner and join the queue to enter the emporium of cheese. Being fairly tired from hours of walking around the city, we let the guy behind the counter do most of the work. After several different samples, we eventually decided on 5 different types along with a wildcard which was recommended to us. In total the cheese alone came to around £13, which was pretty good value for what we got.

 

Borough Market Sign

***

Borough Market
8 Southwark Street
London SE1 1TL

T: +44 (0) 20 7407 1002
E: info@boroughmarket.org.uk

Wahaca Westfield
Food

Wahaca, Westfield London

Pre-trip planning is essential, and having a fairly strong following of foodies on twitter I decided to take a back seat and let them do all the work by tweeting recommendations on where to eat, and what to see. One that constantly came up was Wahaca, brainchild of Thomasina Miers, winner of MasterChef 2005. After looking through the menu online it was quickly scribbled onto the list.

Wahaca White City

We arrived in London on the first flight out of Dublin fit to eat a small horse, having earlier made the mistake to have breakfast in the lounge rather than at home. The DAA lounge has a fairly small breakfast offering, soda-bread or cereal, so in future pockets will be stuffed prior to leaving the house.

We decided we’d dedicate Tuesday to shopping in Westfield and quickly opted to pay a swift visit to Wahaca to eat our first real meal of the day. It was fairly empty when we arrived at around 2pm and we had no problem getting a table outside in the sun. We ordered some chips & salsa while the vegetarian went through the menu. The salsa was certainly fresh, but proved problematic to scoop up with the chips.

Wahaca White City

Food was finally chosen, Black beans & cheese quesadillas with a side of corn for the vegetarian and Chicken taquitos along with Chicken tinga tacos for me. Like most restaurants nowadays, we were told that the food will arrive as it is cooked, however everything came together.

The black bean & cheese quesadillas was in my opinion, the perfect vegetarian quesadilla. I did steal a bit to try, and at home would certainly make a good use for left over black beans. They’re nothing special to look at, but then again it’s pretty hard to make look pretty.

Wahaca White City

I was told the chicken tacos were hot, one of the reasons I ordered them. However didn’t find them very hot at all. While they were still very tasty, I didn’t notice much heat from the “extra-hot chipotle adobo”.

Overall, Wahaca is well worth a visit if you happen to be near one. To keep it simple – the food’s very good, it’s great value and is the perfect place for casual dining and a few drinks.

***

Wahaca White City
1074 Westfield Shopping Centre
Ariel Way
London W12 7GB

T: +44 (0) 20 8749 4517
E: whitecity@wahaca.co.uk
W: www.wahaca.co.uk

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