Friday, 18 January 2013

Atlantis, Bahamas

       When traveling with 5 it is almost impossible to travel cheap. The only thing you can do is try and reduce your spending with some intense research. As a family we have done the Disney World vacations, we did have amazing times there and often think about going back.  But as a traveler I want to go new places, not only for me but for my kids.

  I thought about them seeing the ocean for the first time on a beach with the sun shining and the sea breeze in their hair. We wanted it to be perfect but we knew it would take money to get there and money to stay. We wanted to stay at the The Reef at Atlantis so we booked it for 4 nights. We spent solid money on the Flight but got a great deal through All-Ways Travel in my home town.

    Our attraction to the Atlantis resort and to the Reef (one of the newest hotels at the resort) would be the water park and aquariums being included in the hotel price. Its also possible to never leave the resort with all amenities on available on site. Also at The Reef they offer kitchenette in their guest rooms.

 The advantages of a kitchenette are many.  You can get up and relax, everyone has cereal, toast and/or fruit. It allowed us to save money when we went to the grocery store(on the way to the hotel). 2 things kids need are drinks and snacks. We loaded up our snacks when we went to the beach for a few hours and we usually weren't hungry for lunch but if we were we got something we could share.

We stopped at the grocery store on the way to the resort from the airport(ask your driver), there I bought snacks, breakfast items and drinks mainly. It cost a bit over $100 but it lasted the entire 4 days with
drinks to spare.

There are lots of restaurants to chose from on site while at Atlantis, 21 of them to be more exact (Note: get reservations months ahead!) and 19 bars to boot. And it is not cheap anywhere.  But  the plan was not to be cheap (the flight and hotel were not cheap). It was just be cheaper than the Atlantis 1200 dollar meal plan that included breakfast and supper for 2 adults and 3 kids age 7,5 and 4 for 4 nights. So I researched a lot about the restaurants.

We booked 3 sit down meals, so we still felt like we were on vacation. We selected  Carmines, Virgil's BBQ and The Mesa Grill .

     Carmine's was very nice but fairly expensive and has a high end Italian Bar atmosphere.  They bring out a fresh assorted bread platter and garlic oil dip which my family loved. We had the Caesar salad it was a bit watery but not bad. The main dish was Spaghetti Bolognese which was good. For desert we tried the very expensive but fresh Chocolate Cannoli's. Meal Cost $ 100 (Note: we found that taking the leftovers from Carmine's which serves family sized portions of Italian favorites, was a great way to save money on lunch the next day. Ever tried fried spaghetti its FANTASTIC).

At Virgils BBQ it has a fun cowboy atmosphere which also serves family sized portions of your favorite southern dish. The meal was good! The portion sizes matched the price. We had the pulled pork (a bit spicy, but good). The staff was one of a kind. Our highlight while there was an anniversary being celebrated, the host started singing in a beautiful gospel voice, a happy anniversary song if you will. Those brought strong cheers from the patrons at the restaurant. Another note the Kids Burger is HUGE. Meal cost $85.

     The Mesa Grill was an amazing dining experience with a very nice dining room and bar (with a very cool flame theme). The staff was very attentive and helpful when picking our food and starving myself was worth it. I tried Conch for the first time.(Crispy Conch served with Hot & Sweet Yellow Pepper Sauce & Mango Relish). The Chipotle Glazed Ribeye was pretty good, my wife had the 16 spice chicken which she loved, and the kids had the kids sized Steak, Cheese Quesadilla and Mac n cheese. At the end of our meal we had the dessert platter , which is about 7 of their deserts on a platter which was worthy of dying for. Meal cost $300.

Before I move on, you probably just read $300 and said "Hey, i thought he was trying to eat cheap?" Well when we go on vacations its for experiences and memories. The Mesa Grill is one of Iron Chef Bobby Flay's restaurants, making this a bit of both. My family enjoys time spent in our home kitchen, which leads to watching the Food Network a few nights a week. A little advice here would be to know when to go big (within reason).

We ate at the Marina Pizza place which is nice to grab a seat outside along the marina ($50) The Marina at Atlantis is a real Gem. We also ate at Johnny Rockets ($75), here they perform a song and dance twice an hour its fun to watch.
We also had Starbucks which the prices resembled prices at home.
All bills come with 15% gratuity added.

      Another place id like to  mention is Seaglass. I purchased several banana daquiris ($9) from there and they went above and beyond in the service department. They were able to get me a Starbucks hot chocolate. One night after Starbucks had closed they saving me from an extra trip and an unhappy wife. Thanks Guys!

We saved about 500 dollars in total and could've saved more. How much can you save?

Have a holiday saving tip for me? hit me up on Twitter @realmantravel 

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Minnesota Vikings Won My Heart 2010

                                      Minnesota vs. Dallas January 2009. Dreams DO Come true...            

    Being a football fan is one of the best and one of the worst things you can do, 2009 was one of those  sweet sweet seasons that left a sour taste in my mouth.

    January 2007 30 below(celcius) Brett Favre carried the Packers to the NFC Championship against The New York Giants. Favre ended that game with a ill advised throw. Interceptions the Achilles Heal of Brett Favre.  As a fan it was devastating. Nothing would prepare any of us for the circus that would follow in the coming years...

    I myself never stopped believing in Favre. I went with the circus, even though it landed me Heartbroken when he retired (real tears), relieved when he came back, shocked when he was traded (then i got my period), then to being a fan of the Jets in a 9-7 season which at points was quite exciting.... The very reason I was a fan of his, was because he was exciting to watch good or bad. He always went for it. Sometimes Amazing, Sometime Not so much. I always braced for the worse to take the edge off the devastation.

   When he retired the second time I figured I never would see him on the field again. I was wrong and I was Happy Happy Happy. Revenge was what I had in mind and what an awesome match up between Minnesota and Green Bay, the drama was rich and as a fan I loved it. The anticipation was killing me especially after I bought Tickets for the September match up vs the Lions.

     The Vikings won that day in Detroit both the game and my heart.

 In 2009 Viking went 13-3!there was quite a few notable games that year one being the home game against San Fracisco, when in the dying seconds of the game Favre laid out a desperation pass right before getting his clock cleaned... Miraculously Greg Lewis Caught this ball and kept his feet in bounds. That play was my play of the year. It was Amazing. (THE CATCH!!!!)

  Also That Year Christmas Came Early, TWICE! 2 blowout Victories against the Packers showed me the old man was in it to win it all. The first victory blew my mind literally and the second victory was like a superbowl win. A notable loss came just before my birthday in December 2008 I knew the Vikings were in the playoffs I started dropping hints saying dont buy me anything for Christmas and my Birthday which are 5 days apart and please get me to Minnesota to see possibly Favre's Last hurrah. It was worth a shot

    My Lovely Wife and Amazing Parents came through with 2 Tickets and a Flight. What great people.

    My Brother and I were on our way! Handle bar Mustache (charity) and all to Minneapolis from Toronto on a Northern Bound Air Canada Flight. Where we would stay 2 nights at the Holiday Inn Metro Dome. Turned out they were facing the Dallas Cowboys, a worthy opponent.  We were so excited to be going there, there was about 10 football fans on the plane going for the game. This added to the excitement. Sam wasnt feeling the greatest but he soldiered on.

     When we arrived in Minneapolis hopped on the tram which is like a slow moving subway that connects the airport to the mall of america to the downtown and you can ride it for 3.00 one way(bargain). we talked football with a lot of the locals, we hopped off the tram at the stop, right in front of the metro dome. Called the hotel for a shuttle pick up waited and took in the city in the -15 air.

    The Hotel was nice about a 10 min walk from the stadium. We didnt rest when we got to the room we started gettin ready to go to the Biggest Mall in Murica. The Mall of America is Huge with many of the stores having doubles. It also had the Nickelodeon land as well as being 3 stories tall. Our Highlight was meeting some of the viking cheerleaders at the Vikings store.(meow) We walked until we were tired then took the tram back downtown. Grabbed some beers and settled in for some Saturday Playoff Games. Then we ordered the BEST Spicy Chicken BBQ pizza I have ever tasted from CiCi's called "The Wrangler" Chicken red onion and hot peppers with an amazing bbq sauce that makes it taste like candy.... (my mouth is watering).It was so good we had it saturday & sunday after the game. It was on the money both times. Amazing Pizza.

       It was all very strange to be doing something you never thought you would do. But we were doing it and we never took it for granted, we knew it could all be over on Sunday, all that money and time would be wasted and we would have to be happy no matter the outcome. I have never liked losing.

When we woke up in the morning we took it easy, grabbed some breakfast the hotel was filled with fans. started watching all the local pre game stuff taking it in, I had some beers Sam still not feeling well, sipped at one. We were both nervous, our first playoff game. How would it end?

     We walked outside the hotel to a beautiful winters day. Hopped onto the shuttle bus where there was 49 Minnesota Fans and 1 Dallas Cowboy fan and we all booed that poor man. Still makes me chuckle. When we got closer to the stadium I could see Tailgating for a mile. "Impressive" I thought to myself. We hopped off the bus, seen some XTREME Viking fans with some pretty wild Viking Goblets they drink out of. The air was filled with electricity. I grabbed a Program a
, a Tshirt for the wife, a toque for me and 3 favre bears for the kids. Then to the beer lineup...
     Grabbed 2 Beers and stood in a large line to get in. It seemed like forever standing in the cold but we had our beer and there was some pretty amusing trash talk goin on between the Fans. Finally they opened the gates. Slowly we made our way in as we got closer to the door, we felt like we were getting sucked in, you have to have been there before to understand.  The metrodome is pretty outdated the hallways very small, same with the bathrooms. We found are seats and then i had to find a bathroom I really had to go (merican beer = water). On my way to the bathroom and  i was pushed out of the way by Jerry Jones' entourage which was pretty cool to see him, but it wasnt worth peeing myself.

After I came back and settled in my seat we had made friends all around us, I love this about football fans. In most cases we have an instant bond , even with the opposition with respectful (hopefully) smack talk. We were also with in earshot of Jerry Jones (too bad for him)  That day I lost my voice, watched Favre play one of his best playoff games ever, throwing four touchdowns three to an amazing Sidney Rice and one touchdown by rice for 47 yards (GOOSEBUMPS)... That play I will never forget. The Defense also played Magnificent sacking Romo 6 times and holding the Cowboys to 3 points.  34-3 the final score for the good guys.

     I remember looking around and seeing the shocked Cowboys fans, it could've been our turn to suffer, Shocked sitting in our seats while everyone was leaving, Sam and I watched as Jared Allen and Ray Allen Celebrated as they left the field and Favre looking like he was 26 hopping around The remaining fans were going nuts  I feel like we really took that moment in. I will never forget it. That moment was for Favre . This is why he came back.
       That moment I thought we had a real chance at the super bowl and i was right we had a "chance". Then Poof it was gone. That Cinderella Season was over. But I will relive most of it with my brother every chance we get.

     That night sitting in the hotel in disbelief of what happened. We ate our delicious Cici's pizza, mine The Wrangler and Sam's pepperoni. We laughed at our previous thoughts of dooming the vikes by being there. We were in football heaven. We watched the night game and retired for the night.

    Looking Back Best Live Game of my life, Metrodome may be old but the homefield advantage is the noise! it is very loud there and I love it. I remember calling friends and family after touchdowns. Just so they. Could be there with us in spirit. That's pretty much why I share my stories. To take you to where I was.

Enjoy the game tonight Cheers