Now it’s been a month or two since I went to Budapest, seeing as how I totally failed to post for the last couple of months. However, I am pleased to tell you all that Hungary was my 40th country visited, 30th for Harrison, my male traveling companion, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in this Eastern European country.
Hungary was actually my very first visit to Eastern Europe and I had high expectations. I’ve been all over the west, from Spain to Belgium, and have seen the hordes of tourists battling it out over mediocre museums. From what I’d heard, though, Budapest was positively bustling, a very beautiful city, and dirt cheap.
All these things were true. We spent only four nights, as Harrison and I both have limited time (for some reason he keeps running out of vacation time at work), but we Lived. It. Up.
Actually, we did probably one of my most favorite tours ever here, where a local guide took us around with vintage Polaroid cameras to all the best places in the city and let us take some awesome photos.
This served three purposes: one: it gave us the lay of the land, two: it gave us some amazing souvenirs to take home, and three: I mean how cool are vintage Polaroid cameras?!
It’s been a very long time since I last posted, and a very busy last month I’ve had. I’ve been working here in Tel Aviv full time as an Arabic teacher/Translator/Literally any other work that needs doing. I’m also trying to finish up my final project for University. So you can say that it’s been…hectic.
That being said, I’ve still got my two weeks in Vietnam to tell you guys about- I haven’t forgotten! But since I’m a little too busy at the moment (my project is due this Thursday), you guys will have to make do with some photos instead.
See you all soon for story time!
-Carissa “Someone Please Help Me I’m Stressed” Rawson
As is surprising to no one, I’m currently in an airport waiting to start the very long journey to Hong Kong. I’ve got a few things left to tell you guys about Egypt though, so buckle in. Today we’re going to talk about Luxor, where Joni and I spent a whirlwind 2 nights before heading back up to Cairo.
Now, when I vacation I do it either one of two ways. In one, I get up at the crack of dawn with a full day of activities planned and very little sleep involved. In the other, I arrive to a hotel and literally do not move until check-out, whenever that is.
This was the first type.
So it was that Joni and I rose for the fourth day in a row at 3am, dreaming longingly of sleeping in until 6. Alas, our hot air balloon ride was due for the sunrise, which is ludicrously early in the Middle East.
It was so cool!
We soared over the entirety of Luxor, catching glimpses of the Valley of the Kings (King Tut’s tomb!), the Valley of the Queens, Hatshepsut’s Temple, and throughout it all, the Nile winding its way through the ancient city.
For those of you who don’t know, Luxor is considered one of the best places to go see ancient history, much better than Cairo, and has some of the best preserved tombs in the world.
So it was that after the hot air balloon ride we met up with our private guide, who spent the entire day showing us around.
Ok, so. You guys know that Egypt is cheap, right? I’ve spoken about it enough that it should be old news by now. So when the tourism office at the Valley of the Kings wanted to charge us $15 for the ability to take photos, I flatly declined. I mean come on, our guide for the entire day was only $20. I didn’t need no stinking photos.
Or so I thought. I really underestimated how cool the tombs were- definitely photo worthy. And once we got down there, I saw all kinds of people taking photos. So I thought to myself, “hey, I’m gonna do it anyway. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Well, boys and girls, the worst that can happen is that one of the guards can seize your phone, demand you open it, scroll through your photos, and then try to shake you down for a bribe in order not to report you to the photo police.
I pretended not to understand him and Joni and I ran like hell out of the tomb, afraid that he was chasing us. We stuck to postcards after that.
Today I want to tell you about our day spent snorkeling with whale sharks. For those of you who don’t know, whale sharks are absolutely massive, and the Maldives happens to be a hot spot for them. We spent most of our time snorkeling on the house reef (or eating. There was a lot of eating.), so ended up only doing this one excursion. Plus, as you can imagine, it was obscenely expensive.
So what did it entail? Well, to be honest, it was pretty cool. We hopped into a speedboat with about six other people and a guide and sped away from the resort. It was about an hour long ride to our whale shark spotting destination, so we settled down and enjoyed the breeze, the waves, and the islands we were passing. Probably the coolest part was that in our wake, thousands of flying fish skipped away from us. Have you ever seen a flying fish? I hadn’t but they’re really cool, and watching them soar across the water, like skipping stones, was really neat.
The way shark spotting works is that you get to the hotspot and your guide literally climbs up on top of the boat, searching for enormous shadows in the water.
Unfortunately for us, there didn’t seem to be any sharks around. We spent hours trawling the water, slowly, searching for these guys. And it’s not like you can miss them, right? The problem is that whale sharks don’t normally swim so close to the surface, and they can (and do) dive right down and stay there.
They’d told us that the young males were the ones who usually swam up near the surface, but we had no luck.
So. One guy.
One guy had a drone. Brand new, top of the line, really cool. So he volunteered to fire up the ol’ drone and see if he could spot any whale sharks from high up. A cool idea, in theory.
He sent it up, and away we went, following after it as he searched. See, the problem though, was that drones can only fly for about twenty minutes at a time. Twenty minutes pass and we slow down, coming to a stop as he attempted to land it.
I mentioned we were in a speedboat, right? And that his drone was new, brand new?
Yeah. So there he goes, trying several times to lower it to the deck, only for it to- finally- hit the edge of the boat and *splash* right into the water.
And no, it didn’t float. Immediate panic ensues and he runs to grab a diving mask. He jumps in and flails around, while the guide leaps into the water- and- I kid you not, just dives.
It’d had time to sink by now, so I don’t know how far down she went. But she was under there for a while. A long while. I began to wonder if she was dead or simply lost, but then- miracle of miracles- up she popped from the depths, drone in hand.
You guys, this woman freedived into the Indian Ocean to find a lost drone. I can’t even find my goggles in a swimming pool.
The jury’s still out if he ever got it working again, since it wasn’t waterproof, but he did mutter angrily that it was a $1200 waste of money.
Shortly thereafter, we started to make our way back, disappointed at not finding any whale sharks- when- to our immense joy, we ran into a boat that had found one.
And once you find one, you gotta jump in ASAP because they don’t stay at the surface for very long. So in we went, flippers on, choking on saltwater and swimming furiously after this guy.
I’m going to take a moment now to thank my parents for all the swimming lessons they forced me to take, because I managed to stay in the front of the group and get an uninterrupted view. It was incredible.
Our guide had a GoPro with her. Take a look at the video below.
-Carissa “This Is Why I Don’t Have a Drone” Rawson
I’ve got a great many things to say about the Maldives even though it was a relatively short trip, but half of them are to do with points and the other half are about what I actually did while I was there. And if you’re not into points- well, then, today is your lucky day!
Today I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a good story- a tale of both woe and triumph, (but mostly woe), where a girl learns a costly lesson but also has an amazing time. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive, are they?
So. I told you all how the Conrad Maldives is expensive, right? And I knew this going in. In fact, I broke down for you exactly how to save alllll kinds of money during your trip.
It was our first night, you see. Harrison and I had just arrived, met up in the Conrad Lounge at the airport, and made our jolly way via seaplane to the resort. (Which was amazing, by the way).
And we’d enjoyed the bottle of sparkling wine that they’d left in our room. We’d taken a dip in our own private pool, and had already swam off the edge of our overwater villa down into the ocean.
We were flying high, you could say.
So we wended our hungry, tipsy, way down to dinner. It was gorgeous, an absolutely phenomenal view. The restaurant was built on a deck over the beach, and nearly no one else was there, which meant that the lights, softly glowing, fell only on us, the sand, and water, while the gentle crash of the waves kept us company. Such a scene paved the way for excess, as the magic was kept alive through small glasses of champagne, toasted tipsily to each other, to our fortune, and to our immense luck at being there in paradise, together.
One, two, perhaps three glasses of champagne each.
And dessert. You can’t have a luxurious dinner without dessert, right? Molten lava cake and ice cream, melting messily on our plates as we laughed, drank, and toasted.
Such indulgence, the scene was almost fantastical, like something out of a movie. I could write you volumes about it, but suffice to say that it was so great I almost don’t regret what happened next.
You know those places that don’t publish their prices? And their saying is “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”
Well, we should have asked. Because when that bill came- oh Lord did it come.
It was so expensive that at first glance I looked down, scoffed, and reached for my wallet, thinking that the prices were in “Maldivian Money-” some sort of Monopoly money that meant nothing to my mighty US dollar.
No, no they were not.
And that’s the story of how I spent my entire budget on my first dinner in the Maldives.
Are you guys as excited as I am for this series of posts on the Maldives? I had such an excellent time there, and really cannot think of a more excellent way to spend my 28th birthday.
So aside from all the beautiful photos, there are actually quite a few things that went into coordinating my trip to the Maldives.
Our topic today is Hilton Diamond status, which I’ve written about before, but whose importance becomes significant when talking about the Conrad Maldives. You see, when you book a $2,000/night hotel, they sort of expect you to be able to afford it. Their bottom line doesn’t rest on travel hackers who use points to manipulate themselves into luxury. And why would it?
But here’s the thing. When your hotel comes in at 2k a night, it suddenly seems reasonable to start charging $50/person for breakfast. Or $500/person for dinner.
What I’m saying is, it’s not cheap.
And I’m only fake rich. I’m points rich. Which means that I absolutely cannot afford to eat my way through my annual budget.
This is where status comes in. You see, Diamond members receive all kinds of perks whenever they visit Hilton hotels. At the Conrad Maldives, there’s an entire list of benefits you get- check these out!
• Free breakfast for two at their restaurants Atoll and Vilu, daily
• Afternoon Tea at their Mandhoo Restaurant from 4-5pm, daily
• Happy hour at Vilu, from 5-6pm, daily
• Fruit basket with chocolate in your room at check-in (refilled daily)
• Free bottle of wine at check-in
• $25 spa discount card on arrival
These benefits are especially important when you consider the fact that I wasn’t kidding about those meal prices. The price to eat dinner at their underwater restaurant really is $500/person, though you can certainly eat cheaper at any of their other restaurants. Over the course of a four night stay, your meal bill can easily run into the thousands, and that doesn’t begin to cover alcohol. But, if you play your cards right, you can avoid most of the costs of staying at the hotel- eat breakfast late, snack on fruit for lunch, indulge in tea at 4, and run over to happy hour to have a few free drinks before dinner. With that, most of your day is covered. It turns an incredible indulgence of a vacation into something financially manageable.
So that’s what we did. Harrison and I enjoyed the hell out of their massive breakfast, which included a sushi station, an egg station, ice cream, crepes, pancakes, waffles, and even sparkling wine! In short, it’s amazing. You better believe I ate as much food as humanly possible.
Even better, our personal concierge, upon learning that it was my birthday, arranged to have a cake (complete with candles and matches) sent to our room. It was excellent!
Anyway, long story short, the importance of Diamond status cannot be overstated, especially at these crazy expensive resorts, where you can save hundreds of dollars on your vacation simply by having status. Oh, and how did I get it? Check it out here, for a guide to matching your way to elite status.
Ok, final post on the Miraval, and then we’ll get to explore a whole new country. Which one? You’ll find out! *Ooh mystery*
Remember how I mentioned Miraval was an all-inclusive resort? Obviously, this meant that all the food was included. Here’s the thing, though. This place is super focused on wellness, which meant that while you could order an alcoholic beverage, it was discouraged, but there were free unlimited smoothies available. Obviously I had to try every single type.
And the food. Oh man, the food. Like, I always gave celebrities serious props for being thin and beautiful because they have to eat lettuce all the time, but the food here was amazing and healthy. I’m pretty sure this is how famous people eat and don’t end up starving to death.
We did floating mediation while we were there too, which meant we literally wrapped ourselves up in silk hammocks and swung suspended in the air while a woman rang bells at us.
I’m not the best at meditation, so I was like “….prayer….gratitude…inner peace…bacon…”
It was a pretty neat experience.
We also pampered ourselves with 80 minute massages at the spa. I don’t know about you guys, but if I’m not getting beat up in a massage then I don’t feel like it’s worth it. Put some elbow grease into it, man! This was definitely one of the best massages I’ve ever had. The poor masseur was sweating by the time he finished, which equals A+ in my book.
We spent time at the pool, me in the sun and Jill in the shade because her delicate flower skin hates sunlight.
We got up at an ungodly hour and went for a hike through the mountains, which we didn’t want to do and tried to cancel but it cost money so we went. And it was awesome.
Finally, we did what was called “a swing and a prayer,” which is where you get hoisted up thirty five feet in the air and voluntarily drop yourself, swinging through the air as you scream like a maniac. (Ok, I was the only one who screamed).
To my credit, I also hung upside down like a Cirque-Du-Soleil performer because I’m fancy.
I’ve got to tell you guys, I wish we had so much more time here. The Miraval Resort is like a little slice of heaven in the middle of the scorching hell desert of Arizona, and I can’t recommend it enough. If I could afford it again (lol), I would totally go back. One day?
I’m writing to you from the gorgeous Miraval Resort near Tucson, Arizona. My sister, Jill, and I have been staying here for the last few days, doing all kinds of awesome things. I’ll write about those later (ziplining!), but first I want to tell you how we managed to stay here, because this property is absolutely incredible, and you all need to come here.
The Miraval Resort is very unique- it’s one of few all-inclusive resorts in the United States, and its rooms can go for as much as $2000/night. However, as of June 29th, Miraval has teamed up with Hyatt in order to allow points earning and redemptions at the resort.
The Miraval exceeds the normal category 1-7 chart, costing 45,000 points/night for the first person, and 20,000 points/ night for the second person. That’s an awful lot, and speaks volumes about the quality of this resort. The Ellen Degeneres show even came here, and did a segment about it:
However, in order to celebrate their new partnership, Hyatt is offering 50% of your points back if you stay here between June 29th-September 15th. As soon as I saw this place, I knew I wanted to come here. And with 50% off, why not?
So I went ahead and booked two nights for Jill and I here, costing a total of 65,000 points (after the 50% back). Now, I had that amount already in my Hyatt account, but the rub here is that you’ll need the full amount of points in your account when you book, totaling 130,000, and they refund the points back to you after you complete your stay.
This kind of sucks, but is definitely worth it. Chase is a transfer partner of Hyatt, so I went ahead and transferred 65,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points into my Hyatt account. (You can earn Ultimate Reward points with many different Chase cards) I’ll have that many left over when they refund me, so I’ll have to use them somewhere else (the Park Hyatt Maldives, perhaps?)
This trip has truly been once in a lifetime. Jill and I don’t get to spend much time together, so getting some sister time has been really awesome.
The Miraval is a wellness resort, so it’s full of classes offering all kinds of different things to do. We’ve been super busy, what with all the meditation, hiking, and spa treatments. When you book with points, your package also includes a $175/ per person/ day credit that you can use at the spa, or on different, extra classes, like horseback riding and ziplining.
I’ll write about that next! Until then, I’m going to go meditate and ponder chakras.
I’m pretty excited to talk about this today, simply because the Intercontinental was such an awesome stay.
I’ve told you guys previously that I have Platinum status (the second highest) with the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) simply because I hold their co-branded credit card. It’s got a $49 annual fee and gives you some pretty decent benefits. The sign up bonus from this card is also how I booked these nights, as detailed here.
Anyway, the benefits of being Platinum include early check-in, late check-out, a room upgrade, and a welcome amenity. That’s pretty cool, but there’s another oddball program out there specific to the Intercontinental Hotel called the Ambassador program.
Unlike every other program, this one you can purchase for $200, and it provides a host of benefits specifically at Intercontinental hotels. I’d been wavering on whether or not to purchase this, but on the day I was due to check-in, I went ahead and did it. (I’ll detail all the other benefits of the Ambassador program in a later post)
I’m so glad I did. You see, since I was booking my stay using points, I only qualified for the cheapest room available. That room, which goes for $300/night, is a hotel room in the main building.
With my status as a Platinum member, the hotel went ahead and upgraded me to a premium hotel room. This was about a $30/night difference. Not a huge deal, but pretty cool.
However, when I arrived, I wrote down my newly purchased Ambassador number on the check-in form, telling the reception clerk that I was indeed a Platinum Ambassador.
I kid you not, he gasped, starting typing furiously on his computer, and then swiftly disappeared to the back room.
When he came back, he handed me the key to my room, informing me that as a Platinum Ambassador, he’d gone ahead and upgraded me to their best available room, which was an entire bungalow with another private pool.
These rooms go for about $600/night. That’s a difference of $1200 over the course of my three day stay, and an excellent return on the $250 investment in my status ($49 for the card and $200 for the Ambassador program).
I was floored. I thanked him profusely, loaded myself and my luggage (my backpack) into a golf cart, and I was off.
The Intercontinental, while on the same island as the Hilton, is a totally different world. It’s on the opposite side, for one thing, and this hotel is much more…tropical.
Where the Hilton was polished and pruned into perfection, the Intercontinental is a part of the environment, a fact you can see as wild animals climb the many lush trees. This hotel also houses a sea turtle recovery clinic and a dolphin program, both of which are free to check out as a hotel guest.
I really enjoyed my stay here. I dug the different vibe from the Hilton, and I’d have a hard time choosing between the two in the future. However, while the Hilton gave off a very romance-y honeymoon feeling, the Intercontinental seemed much more geared to families, and I saw a lot more kids here. The hotel is also a lot bigger, and takes a while to walk from place to place.
I signed up for the themed buffet here too, since I was interested to see how the shows differed, and what kind of foods they would serve. The food was great- a traditional Polynesian barbecue, but you guys. It was the same show as the Hilton. Like, I don’t mean the same style. I mean the same exact performers came over two days later and did the exact same show at the Intercontinental. I was a little peeved, I’m not going to lie. At nearly $100 for dinner I felt a little gypped, and sat sulkily on my phone for a fair bit of it.
That is, until the lead dancer took advantage of my inattentiveness and pulled me on stage to dance. Luckily there was no one there to film it, so my poorly performed Polynesian dance is forever lost to history.