Saturday, July 25, 2009

On my way home from Jones Beach...

Rock The Bells 2009, Jones Beach, NY. If you weren’t there, you missed the best show of the summer thus far. I am a huge music fan, especially Hip-Hop. I most definitely got my fix this past weekend. If you aren’t familiar with RTB, it’s an annual all day music festival filled with top MC’s and groups. This is my second year attending and this year was amazing b/c I was 1 row back from the stage. Seriously, I don’t think I can do another show in the back b/c I felt like I was on stage with them and the energy was crazy, totally different being in the back as I was last year. I had a chance to witness: K’Naan, Big Boi, The Roots, Common, Talib Kweli, Wu-Tang, The Lox, KRS-1, Pete Rock, Supernatural, Nas & Damian Marley just to name a few. By far, I am a fan of this wonderful event and I would highly recommend anyone to go especially if you like good music and Hip-Hop. 5 stars, nothing less! See you next year!

Husband

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Get Your Umbrella Drink for 230 Fifth

My husband and I love to eat Brunch. So my husband found 230 Fifth, a restaurant on the rooftop of a building near midtown. We walked in and were greeted by the security and told to stay right, we walked toward the end of the hallway where there was an elevator waiting for us. I checked my makeup and looked in the mirror to make sure I fit the part.

We arrived at the 15th floor where we were told to walk up one more flight. We were greeted by someone who guided us to our seats. He asked whether we wanted the sun or the shade, but we didn't answer. He sat us at a table where there was both sun and shade. My husband doesn't like the sun, but he sat in the sun because I refused to be in the sun. There was a seat right next to me, so he sat next to me. I'm sure the staff was not too happy that we took two places instead of one. One thing I wasn't too please with was the table. I was already imagining how I would eat because the table was very low. I started visualizing myself eating without dropping any food on myself. I was afraid the food would be cold by the time it got to my mouth, since I had to be careful in order to eat.

The decor and the ambiance of the restaurant really impressed me. It was as if we were in a different world, on an island somewhere. It was relaxing to sit and enjoy the music that played in the background. Just the right kind of music too. The soundtrack of the place was smooth but modern. The Dj played Michael Jackson's music, but not the kind where you gotta get up and dance, but just the type where you can just bop your head from side to side like Stevie Wonder.

I ordered the Homemade Lemonade to drink. Unfortunately, it had that fridge taste. You know the taste, like you're eating the inside of the fridge. It hardly tasted homemade. I also ordered the Pancakes, which were delicious. Although, I do think I can make them just as good.

We ended our brief stay by taking a few photos. Our greeter volunteered to take the photos, which I thought was very nice. He told us that the restaurant had only been opened for three years and that recently started to open for brunch. I'm sure they've been hit by the rough time. Anyway, I would definitely go to 230 Fifth and once again experience the island paradise in the middle of New York City.

-Wife
4 Stars - They've got my Stamp of Approval!

You gotta be cool to eat at 230...

230 Fifth, in NYC is a pretty cool restaurant. This spot is located blocks away from the Empire State building and if you are in town, I would suggest you stop by. It’s located on the rooftop, great views of Midtown and they even had a DJ spinning classics from Michael Jackson, just a wide range of different tunes. As we were eating, it felt like being at a cook out where you can enjoy good music and food at the same time. My wife and I had reservations for brunch, we arrived, were seated promptly. I ordered the Super Grilled Cheese w/ Fries and Cranberry juice. The food didn’t take long to come out and that is something I like when I go out to eat. The grilled cheese was pretty good, I enjoyed it. Based off brunch, the location, and the uniqueness of this restaurant, I would go back for Dinner especially late evenings just to absorb the sunset over the city and to see how it feels at night. I am giving 230 Fifth 3 stars. I will most definitely go back.

Husband

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Go to Bus to Get Lost

One service we forgot to write about for the July 4th Weekend post is the Go To Bus. A friend of my husband recommended the bus service because she used it to come to New York. This was not our first experience on the bus, we used it before on a tour to Boston. We didn't have the best experience, but were desperate because we waited to book until the last minute.

We geared up for five hours of travel by getting a coffee and a muffin. The full stomach didn't prepare us for the big day of travel. We found out we were fortunate to have tickets to board the bus. We were lucky because lots of people were on standby. The only seats we found were at the front of the bus, but they seemed ok.

Everything was going fine on our trip until we started noticing little things here and there. Our bus driver didn't seem experienced enough. He started lightly hitting his leg as if he was a horse and was trying to make himself go faster. All this could be fine, but we lost total confidence when he stopped in the middle of the road to look at a map. I forgot to mention one thing, he had a GPS system that we could see from our seats. The weirdness didn't end there, the bus made one stop Baltimore before heading to DC. In Baltimore we were scorted by an employee of Go To because the bus driver didn't know where he was going. There were lots customers other than us volunteering to give him direction, but he didn't listen.

On the way back home from DC the only problem was getting a bus that was not full. The driver seemed experience and we didn't lose any time. If you want to travel and use the Go To Bus service I would recommend you skip holidays and days before or after holiday, otherwise you'll get stuck with whomever they can find to drive.

-Wife
2.5 stars

Read a Map, call a Co-Worker...

GOTOBUS.com is an online travel search engine that handles trips, transportation, and tourist attractions. My trip to Washington DC was booked through gotobus and I must admit, I think I am done with this company. Let me give you a little history, my wife and I took a trip last year to Niagara Falls and we bought a package through gotobus. The bus ride was really long and here is the catch, they incorporate attractions along the way and they encourage you to buy with them to save money, they are getting a group discount by the way, but if you don’t participate, you must wait for them to go through whatever the attraction is then you get the opportunity to board the bus. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about that trip since it was last summer so let me proceed. Every other bus provider was sold out 4th of July weekend and since we already had our hotel assignment, we had no choice since it was a holiday weekend and after last year, my wife and I vowed not to ride this bus again but we had to renege. The trip down to DC was extremely long since the driver was new and didn’t know where to go so here he was reading a map and calling folks trying to find his way. We arrived in Baltimore, he summons another co-worker of his to help him get to DC, by this time, and I was getting irritated and grew tired of riding this bus. When we got to DC, I was relieved.

It was time to head back to NY Sunday since arriving Friday afternoon and here is where things got really crazy. The wait area was so unorganized and every bus that stopped, we thought it was ours since no signs clearly defined how many different buses leave from this China town location. We waited and waited so finally, our bus arrived and we threw our things underneath and at that moment, we thought we were on our way. Apparently, we were on the wrong bus. The bus was filled at this point before this guy who works for Gotobus came on and said “you all are on the wrong bus, your bus is behind this one.” I am heated! We had to rush off the bus, grab our bags again so we can try to get a seat on the other bus since a lot of folks were going to NY and we didn’t want to wait any longer. We made it! All in all, we got back home safe but this is something I don’t want to do again. Gotobus will not get a “Couple of Reviews” stamp of approval from me. It’s only worthy of 2 stars.

Husband

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cuba in the Middle of Times Square

As I walked by the other day, I saw the colonial windows and bright colors I knew I wanted to go inside and taste Cuba. I got a chance to to visit the Havana Cuba Restuarant on 46th Street in Manhattan last Friday. I walked in and was instantly reminded that I was not in New York anymore. The music, the art, and a completely different ambiance surrounded me. The walls were covered in posters that reminded me of the Cuba I knew from studying art.

We were quickly seated, but the waiter came to quickly. We were only sitting in our semi-booth a minute when the waiter came. When it was time to order, the waiter was nowhere to be found. We asked a bus boy to look for our waiter. My friend and I ordered. I ordered a Sangria, Yucca fritters for an appetizer and the Pineapple Chicken with Rice and Beans.

We waited and tried to enjoy a nice conversation, but the music was very loud. I couldn't even hear myself speak, let alone hear someone else. But I got through it. Half-hour later, our food came. My Pineapple Chicken arrived but where were my Yucca fritters. A few minutes passed, our waiter decided to fess up and let us know that he forgot to order the appetizer. He gave me a new glass of Sangria to make up for messing up. I waited for the appetizer, but what came first was the avocado salad that my friend ordered. We shared it; it was good. But it seemed like my appetizer was once again forgotten and although the waiter said one minute, well that turned into twenty.

Well, I can say that the food was very good and I would go to Havana Cuba just for the food. And if you don't want to talk to the person you're dining with, then Havana is also the place for you. I'll keep on searching though, but for the true Havana the one that feels like paradise instead of chaos.

-Wife
3.5 stars for food and lovely decor

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Crowne that Doesn't Deserve its Title (DC Adventure Continued)

Okay, so when we go on vacation, one of the most important things we focus on is our hotel accommodations. For this trip, my Husband and I traveled with my sister and she insisted on getting a 4 star hotel at an affordable price. This made planning a little more difficult for us. We decided on the Crowne Plaza in Maryland. At $72 per night, it was one of the most affordable hotels we could find July 4th weekend. The Crowne Hotel we stayed in was outside the city. We could not afford downtown DC during the July 4th weekend, the prices there started at $150, which was beyond what we wanted to pay at the time. As I said, we booked this package together with my sister, which made things a little bit more difficult.

We generally do our research before we go to any hotel because we have had bad experiences in the past. My Husband called the hotel to make sure we were not that far from the hotel. They said it is a 20 minute ride from downtown, but turns out, they are wrong. Our ride was more like 35 minutes. They said they offer a free shuttle from the train to the hotel and they were right. But they forgot to mention that it takes a while for the driver to get to the station. Fifteen minutes went by when we first arrived to get picked-up at the train station.

When we arrived at the hotel it looked pretty good. It was nice and clean and seem to be a good fit. We quickly went upstairs and discovered that the room was not that bad. Nicely decorated, equipped with a flat screen, and a desk; the room was impressive at first glance. Then we looked out the window to find that our view was of the dinning room. Then we jumped on the bed and discovered that the sheets were not exactly the best. Then I noticed that I could hear my sister when I stayed in her room while she went to mine to speak to my Husband. OH NO!!!!

Needless to say, I concentrated on the sounds I could hear or could not hear for the rest of the trip. On Saturday, we had an experience coming back from the station. Apparently, there is a shared shuttle with the Inn next door, we go to ride it. The big surprise was the stench coming from either the driver or the van. The smell was indistinguishable. All of us held our breath during the ride home. On Friday, the driver told us about the "the long way" to the hotel and on Saturday on this ride home we began to understand the need for the short way.

All in all the stay was not that bad. It just was not what we expected. I learned my lesson: A Four Star is nothing but a number.

2.5 stars

-Wife

If they say 4, I say No.‏

Crowne Plaza, Washington DC-Rockville, is where we stayed when we ventured down for the 4th of July holiday weekend. As per the stars, it was labeled as 4. Well, I am here to let you know that it was probably about a 3, may 3.1. My wife and I have traveled extensively and stayed in many hotels, suites, etc. For this spot to be labeled 4 stars, I am trying to figure out how. First and foremost, the hotel had one attendant doing everything, i.e., checking folks in/out, answering all calls, scheduling shuttle pick-up to and from train station, you name it, that one person did all the work. In our past experiences, we have seen people in position to accommodate all areas and you wouldn’t have to rely on one person doing everything. Secondly, the room was filled with a lot of furniture which was usable but the space could have been situated differently b/c you felt like everything was close together and in our room, we had a king size bed and that took up quite a bit. Third, I don’t think this particular location knows how handle crowds b/c we waited long to catch the shuttle to the hotel and from the hotel back to the train station which was located about 5 minutes away.

Speaking of the shuttle, they only had one bus and when we got in Saturday either to take the train or coming back from the station it had an unusual smell which was really unbearable, the bus Friday night, didn’t have that smell so it was this particular driver who stunk. Here is the thing, driver’s rotated shifts but the confusion came when we called to have the shuttle pick us up from the train heading back to the hotel. It became confusing when the shuttle arrived and we were trying to figure out if this is ours back to Crowne b/c the bus that took us early on was totally different and we weren’t alerted by the hotel rep of anything differ. We found out when we read the paper sign that was plastered on the door that this shuttle is for us. Apparently, not only did they pick up folks who stayed at Crowne but they did for the completely different hotel next door, now sure how that was assembled and that totally threw us off. The driver’s we had on Saturday weren’t trained properly either b/c they stayed in when we opened the door, didn’t ask to see if anyone need help especially those with bags, we packed the shuttle ourselves, they didn’t look presentable, it seem like they jumped out of bed and just put clothes on. On several occasions, one of the shuttle drivers had her friend in the front seat with her as if they were hanging out, that was so random, never seem that before and they were chatting about information that should have been kept private.

Overall, I give this hotel a 3, far from being a 4 star. We have stayed in 3’s that could have been labeled 4’s and this is far from it. It was a nice hotel from the picture and everything we read seem like peaches n’ cream but once we got there, it was more like oh no, we got just cream. This hotel will not be getting “A Couple of Reviews” stamp of approval from me.

-Husband

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bar Fun in DC (Our DC Adventure Continued)

After our experience during dinner at Ceiba on July 3rd, we decided to try a more familiar territory and try American Cuisine on July 4th, how fitting! Our friend had taken us to Bar Louie the last time we went to DC and we just so happened to remember it as we looked at the outside of the building where Bar Louie lives.

Bar Louie is actually an ordinary hang-out Bar that you'd find in any city, USA. It has multiple flat-screen televisions playing all sorts of sports. We felt at home instantly, as we were guided to our seats near the bar. We enjoyed the atmosphere and decided to try the drink once more. Alas! all is not lost in DC, themojito was great. Oh how I missed the typical taste of cane, mint, lime and liquor.

Other than that, I shared the Hummus appetizer with my sister. It came at a good time since I was really hungry. There's was nothing special about the Hummus appetizer, it was good, just not great. Given what I had to eat, I can't judge the entire restaurant, but the service, the drinks and the atmosphere was all I hoped for when I missed home.

3 stars

-Wife

Wings-N-Things (Washington, DC, July 4th weekend 2009)

Bar Louie, Washington, DC located on 7th Street, NW, was a great spot. My wife and I stopped by for appetizers and cocktails, pretty much taking a break from all the walking around we did visiting the attractions. This was the perfect spot b/c we were not too far from the firework show being held at the National Mall. I ordered barbeque chicken wings, didn’t really wanted a lot b/c we were eating throughout the day and the table required a food order which was cool. This spot was really nice, flat screen TV’s placed all around the bar, the waiter was nice and overall, really cool spot to lounge out at. The wings were pretty good and I also ordered a mojito too, this restaurant makes really good mojitos. I was very much satisfied and I give this spot a 4. I would give this spot “A Couple of Reviews” stamped approved from me, Husband.

Monday, July 6, 2009

La Ceiba: Lost in Translation

For July 4th weekend my husband and I decided we needed to leave the city to experience something new, so we went to DC. On our first day in DC we went out to dinner at Ceiba Restaurant in the middle of downtown DC.

We walked in and were quickly walked to our table in the back room near the kitchen. In my experience "near the kitchen" is not exactly the most glamourous place to sit, but at least it was quiet with very dimmed lighting and a festive painting on one of the walls. We quickly ordered appetizers, my husband and I shared the Guacamole, but were unimpressed by the taste. The Guac was tasteless and I think it needed a little bit of seasoning. My sister said it best, "You can make Guac better than this." Though I loved the praise, I would've like to have gotten a $10-dollar-worthy GUAC.

For my entree I ordered the Whole Crispy Red Snapper Vera Cruz. Unfamiliar with the type of food, I didn't expect that crispy meant soupy. The whole fish was served but unfortunately did not come with any sides. I was in shock mode for the rest of the night and at $27 dollars it wasn't worth it for a penny pincher like me. It was very spicy and uneatable. I wish the waitress would've alerted me to how spicy the fish actually was.

We also had the mojito ( I love them like my husband, this was our wedding drink). It tasted like lemon juice and that's all I have to say about that. La Ceiba left me with a bad after taste for DC luxurious restaurants and I would certainly not like to visit it again. I'd rather get a meal that's easy on the wallet and that leaves me with a full stomach.

2 stars. For service ONLY!

Wife

Our Weekend in Washington DC

Ok, off-topic but fun were the various events we attended July 4th weekend the Independence Day Parade we attended on July 4th in Washington DC. It featured acts from various different culture\ and iconic figures of the US. We both enjoyed it and would love to share a few shots and video from the parade.



Benjamin Franklin and Elvis Presley. What a pair!


These girls from Brasil gave the school bands a run for their money. They were really good.
A sight to see...unexpected but the Washington, DC train station is something
to see specially if you're from New York.

No gracias (Washington, DC, July 4th weekend 2009)

Ceiba in Washington, DC, located on 14th street, NW was an experience. They serve Contemporary Latin American cuisine. The d├ęcor is nice and the location is right in the heart of the city. It seem like this spot had all the fixings of being a sure shot. Sadly, this isn’t that kind of place. I ordered the Grilled Free Range Chicken Breast and it came with Peruvian Fried Rice, Aji Amarillo, and Sauce Huancaina. It was good, the meat seasoned well but I could have gotten a lot more food for the price paid. The food wasn’t really my issue; it was really with the mojito. If you know anything about how a mojito should be, the very first taste will let you know if the person responsible for making it knows how to do it. I was extremely disappointed with the drink and the waitress was alerted. She had the bartender make me another one and even the second one wasn’t all that great either. Overall, I am giving this restaurant a 2.5. This spot isn’t getting “A Couple of Reviews” stamp of approval from me, Husband.

Top 5 Money-Saving Vacation Tips from ACR

We have had many experiences in the good, the bad, and the ugly of travel through which we've learned many money-saving tips. Here are some tips we hope you find useful in planning your next trip.

1. Exhaust all transportation possibilities (car, bus, plane, train) Before making a decision, think about where you are going and whether you can use a different method of transportation. Decide which is the most affordable and convenient for you.

2. Research your Destination. This comes in handy in unfamiliar territory, become familiar with the area where you're going. The more you know, the better you'll be able to find the deals.

3. Ask the Locals. The concierge at the hotel you're staying, a train conductor and a waiter at a restaurant can be good resources of information. They are used to being asked questions and are trained to help you.

This will save you money since most tourists are targets and get may get jipped since they don't know the lay of the land. (A good question might be: How much does a taxi typically charge to my destination? This works! We put it to work on our latest trip to Washington DC, which you'll read about later on this blog)

4. Have an Agenda. This allows you to maximize your vacation and dollars. Find out about attractions, events, and the best restaurants before you go. Make sure you allow time to rest after all it is your vacation. Oh and have a list of more than one thing you can do, that way you can be spontaneous and decide on the spot. Search the web for discounts on event/attractions. If you're working, find out if your job offers discounts through your HR office.

5. Have Cash Money. Your bank may not have a branch at another location which will definitely rack-up on fees.

Husband + Wife