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Iceland vacation and bachelor party – anyone been? What should I expect?

Reader question: I’m headed to Iceland for a bachelor party and have pretty much no idea what to expect. Has anyone here visited there?

I know two people that have gone – one for a bachelor party and one for vacation. The bachelor party guy has done the full route of Vegas, NOLA, South Beach and said he enjoyed Iceland more than the others. According to him it was a great party atmosphere, women were beautiful, and everyone hooked up easily. Simply being American went a long way. One thing I’ve heard about going there during the summer is that it’s crazy with young adults from continental Europe. The partying is nonstop with the almost 24 hours of sunlight.

The other guy did a vacation and had fun, they did a volcano tour of that one that snarled European flights a few years back and did scuba (or was it snorkeling) – he said the scuba was fun despite the cold, had a ton of cool rock features but not much in the way of marine life. He said the volcano hike was fun but they def don’t have the safety standards we’re used to in the US. The were rock climbing and ice climbing aspects that they were completely unprepared for (which they enjoyed) so keep that in mind.

Some of the things I would recommend:

– Blue Lagoon Geothermal pool: an outdoor year round pool. It’s pretty cool to be swimming outside in 20 degree weather with snow coming down. I would visit on the day you’re leaving because its out by the airport.

– Golden Circle Tour: this tour takes you out to the Geysir hot springs, the Gullfoss waterfalls and Þingvellir national park, before going for an snow mobile tour on the Langjökull Glaicer. You can buy the tour package at the bus station, but you can do the same thing by car service and save money. Get a business card from the car you take from the airport, they tend to be more than willing to be on call for you.

– Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur: You have to try a hot dog from this stand in Reykjavik downtown. It’s different from any hot dog you’ve had before. Check out the pics of James Hetfield and Bill Clinton enjoying one. When you have a sausage or hot dog in a natural casing, when you bite down there is a “snap” as you bite through it. it’s a pleasing “mouth feel”. Yes the Icelandic women were beautiful, the woman serving your hot dog at the stand may very well be the best-looking woman you ever saw.

– Þrír Frakkar: Really good restaurant where you will have chance to try puffin, reindeer, horse, and whale.

– Stay away from Ice Bar! It’s basically a walkin freezer where you can get an overpriced drink.

– Alcohol is definitely very expensive there, I suggest grabbing stuff from the airport duty free.

– Be careful, safety is kind a loose and you can walk up to enormous waterfalls if you dared.

– There are many other outdoor springs which are pretty cool. They have these indoor/outdoor public ones in town also. It appeared many locals go to these after work to relax/socialize. My favorite part was they make everyone take a showers before you enter to keep it clean.

Non touristy restaurants in Maui

Reader question: Can anyone recommend non touristy restaurants in Maui for local Hawaiian food? I’m looking for a mix of nice and just good food but the emphasis is on where locals would eat and preferably seafood. My wife does not want steakhouses. Thanks in advance.

Never having been to Maui, I had to talk to a few people. Most of my friends are Australian travelers that are frequently spending their holidays in the Hawaiian Islands. They recommended some local restaurants in Maui that you can find below. There are some cheap holiday packages to Hawaii that already include hotels and few local restaurants for tourists from neighboring countries like Australia, United States and Japan. However do not expect to be the only tourist there. Tourists are a big part of the island population, especially on the two most well-known islands, Honolulu and Maui.

The general consensus is that locals like these places but they all see their share of tourists. It’s Maui – tourists are everywhere.

Mama’s Fish House. Great location and food. It’s a little pricey but the seafood is fresh and the setting is beautiful. You need to make a reservation. Ask for Eli for your server. He’s been working there 20 years and knows everything on the menu. We asked him to bring us his favorites for appetizers and entrees. Everything he brought us was A+. Tuna and Calamari appetizers were the best ever. Hawaiian Snapper for entree was amazing. Try to get there for sunset and bring your camera.

Longhi’s in Kanapali. In Wailea, The Monkey Pod. Very nice. Little pricey, but they have a good happy hour. Maui Brewing brews good beer. Decent Menu. The fish sandwich place in Paia is good. Charlie’s in Paia is pretty good. If you want grocery type stuff Mana Foods in Paia is excellent. And make sure you go to Star Noodle. And if you like sushi make sure you go to Sansei in Kapalua.

Vacation in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic worth it?

Reader submitted question: Is it worth it to vacation in the Dominican Republic? I might go to Punta Cana. I just want to know if it is worth it..we found a deal that will cost
about $900/person for 6 nights…Cofresi palm beach resort and spa… just want to relax on the beach and have some drinks and good food!

My answer: I can’t comment on the specific resort because I’ve never seen it. You should be able to find some reviews online though. Regarding price, for your average (pretty nice) all-inclusive maybe 100/person per night. $75/person per night – the deal you have – sounds pretty good as long as the resort is good.

To comment more generally, what do you want out of the vacation? Punta Cana is similar to Cancun in that its basically a manufactured resort area with a ton of all-inclusives along a strip of beautiful beach. There’s not a ton to do off of the resorts and both have the typical options on the water. Both have some nightlife options though I can only speak from hearsay – Cancun will have mostly young Americans in the clubs. Punta Cana does attract more Europeans.

I’ve been to both Punta Cana and Cancun. In both places I stayed in the all-inclusive resort the entire time. When I’m at an all-inclusive, my cheapness often stops me from doing the excursions and things they sell at the resort. I preferred the Punta Cana resort and beach. The water in Cancun was too rough while we were there but I’m sure that’s just an issue with timing.

So, if you find a nice resort I’d think you can also get a pretty decent value in Punta Cana (though Mexico is practically giving away vacations right now) and good if you just want to go somewhere and sit on the beach and sip drinks.

I’ve called in a few friends:

1. I was at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in late January this year for a week. Beautiful place. Great people. Super weather and gorgeous beaches. Out side of the hotel it’s pretty third world. Some of my friends went and did some zip lining etc. and said it was great buy we mostly stayed on the resort.

2. Back in 2009 my wife and I went to Deams La Romana Resort & Spa and loved it. The beach was phenomenal. We didn’t leave the complex, so if you are planning on staying in one place it is highly recommended. If you like to go out and explore I would not recommend so highly. The neighborhoods we drove through on the route from the airport did not make us feel safe.

3. I’ve been to Punta Cana twice and loved it each time. It is however a “chill on the beach” type of vacation. Town wasn’t dangerous, but there’s nothing there. The resort though was great and the beach spectacular.

4. Just was in the DR for Spring Break with some of my friends. Obviously my perspective might not be the best as I was a college kid on spring break but I’ll give you my thoughts. Punta Cana is lots of All Inclusive resorts along one giant stretch of beach. I stayed at the Grand Paradise Bavarro and for what we paid I thought it was actually pretty good. Food kinda sucked unless you got into the a la carte restaurants. Not too much to do outside of the resort, actually ZERO really, besides night clubs. Me and my buddies took a cab to the Hard Rock several nights to go to their casino. Its a pretty awesome casino and has an enormous Sports Book and we wanted to watch the Michigan game. Hard Rock seemed extremely nice and was a huge property.

Weather was amazing and the beaches were also really great. This may seem like a strange comment, but I have never felt sand that soft. And for early March the ocean was a pretty good temperature. We did notice a lot of Europeans and Canadians at our hotel and had some friends at neighboring resorts who said the same. I don’t know what your price range is or what you’re really looking for, but I would say the place I stayed was far from upscale. I think they were also shutting down for remodeling and renovation soon. Hope that helps.

5. Stayed at Iberostar Punta Cana, loved it but the food was disappointing. If you are looking for an area that’s less touristy, check out the Samana peninsula. Las Terrenas looks like a cool town.

6. I’ve been to DR several times. I’ve stayed at Bahia Principe Esmeralda each time. The resort was secluded and geared towards a more adult crowd. I saw maybe 1 family at the resort the entire time. The food was better than many other all inclusives on the island and the beach was great.

If you like the ease and comfort of a normal airport, be prepared to be in for a shitshow when you get to DR. You’ll probably be on the arrival/passport line for a good 45-60 min, so pack a tshirt or something cool to change into when you get there (the airport is a hut without walls or air conditioning). I would suggest making a trip to the Hard Rock, if you don’t stay there, but I wouldn’t wander to far off into the actual city. The pools were great, but the beach and water were usually thick with seaweed which is common in that area (Punta Cana).

Flying for the first time – advice

Reader question: I have no experience and have never been on a plane before. I’m going to visit my friend in Tallahassee, Florida sometime in June for 10 days.

Any “tricks” that I need to look for? As in any particular day is cheaper. Which airline is best? Worst? Anytime of day or night? I’m more than likely flying out of Philadelphia to the airport in
Tallahassee. I’ve heard that its better to order your plane tickets far in advance for them to be cheaper. Also about approx how much would be a reasonable round trip from Philly to Tallahassee? United has a ticket for $450…

I would be going by myself. I’ve always avoided flying, but this time around I do not feel like driving and I just caved in. Thank you

Some advice: Check kayak.com and similar sites to compare fares. One thing to keep in mind about the aggregator sites like Kayak and Orbitz is that a number of bargain airlines don’t work
with them. Check the list of airlines that fly in and out of Philly (it will be on the airport website), and see if Southwest, JetBlue or AirTran fly from there. They will likely have the cheapest flights to FL. JetBlue would be my first choice.

Many say that Tuesday and Wednesday flights tend to be cheapest. Generally, tickets mid-week are much cheaper than tickets on the weekend. They say 50 days or so out is when you should look to buy.

Flying out of Philly, I would tend to avoid US Air. If you do fly US Air, go in a different terminal and then cut over once you’re past security. Tallahassee is a tiny airport. You might be able to save money by flying to someplace like Jacksonville and driving the rest of the way.

A couple basic things: Pack light. Join a frequent flier program for whatever airline you choose. Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off. Check the TSA list of things you can’t have in a carry-on – don’t be that guy.

If you’re really afraid of flying, your doctor should prescribe Xanax or another anti-anxiety drug. It works for many who are afraid of flying but I wouldn’t take one for the first time on a plane in case you have some side effects.

Mohegan Sun vs. Foxwoods casino

Reader question: Thinking about surprising my wife with a little getaway this weekend . Never been to either place and I’m looking for input as to which is the better bet for a weekend trip from North Jersey. Anyone? Thanks.

The first person I talked to voted for the Mohegan – The Borgata. But if choosing between Foxwoods and Mohegan for a trip with your wife then I would say Mohegan. It is far nicer inside, better shops, restaurants and entertainment. Foxwoods is more for the degenerate gambler, while the Mohegan has a spa, and just a much nicer ambiance/atmosphere.

Another friend also voted for the Mohegan, begrudgingly – Mohegan but even Mohegan sucks now. It smells like a pine tree air freshener, like you’re walking into a cab. the smokers ruined it. Foxwoods is much bigger and has somewhat more to do, but Mohegan is nicer, easier to navigate, and has some awesome restaurants. including Pepe’s pizza, which isn’t the same caliber as the original, but still awesome. If you do you to Foxwoods you should check out Mystic which is a really nice town.

There was one vote for Foxwoods though: I’d say stay at MGM at Foxwoods. It’s the nicer place to stay than Foxwoods proper and it’s all attached. It’s as nice as Mohegan, but usually for a better price and that way you can also take advantage of the fact that Foxwoods is bigger and has more. I enjoy restaurants offered at both so I find that a push. I just think Mohegan is too small. When I was looking for hotel rooms Foxwoods was significantly cheaper than Mohegan. But the Mohegan will feed you free drinks all night at the bar if you play the bar games (and if you find the right bartender).

EMV Chip credit cards necessary in Aruba?

Reader question: I have seen a few articles over the last few years about people traveling to Aruba.

Well, I’m going next week and apparently a Bank of America representative told my girlfriend that we would need new checking/credit cards that contain the EMV chip. I called BOA today and was told that it is not necessary to get a new card with this chip. I have already placed a traveling note on my accounts. Can someone with experience please clarify this?

Thanks in advance.

My friend’s answer: You do not need a card with the chip. All EMV terminals allow for a card swipe. I went 9 months ago and used my cards everywhere, as did my wife who has BoA.

See also: Cruise miles credit cards, Chase Sapphire, American Express Gold, and other rewards cards

Snorkelers / swimmers: How do you handle coral and fish?

Anyone have any tips on how to relax while swimming with fish? One of my students was telling me about how she loved swimming in places where fish brush up against you and stuff like that. I told her that she and I were pretty different – touching fish freaks me out. Touching coral really scares me.

I think I preferred Waimea Bay and Falls to Hanauma Bay. At Waimea Falls, there were no crowds (just don’t bring your own crowd by taking a tour) but even better, no fish or coral. I could just hang around in the water, splash under the falls, and it felt like a vacation – no worries, no stress.

At Hanauma Bay, it was crowded and not uncommon for people following a fish they like to be pretty inconsiderate about getting in your way or bumping into you. But what kept me heading out of the water for breaks was my fear of touching the coral or fish.

Snorkeling still appeals to me. I’m willing to risk touching coral or fish to see that cool stuff I saw in Hawaii, but I just can’t get totally comfortable doing it. Guess I wouldn’t be the best underwater photographer, even though when I was in high school, I was pretty keen on something like that.

Brief visit to Ireland advice

Reader question: I’m making a brief visit to Ireland next week, flying into Dublin because I found some cheap Air Canada tickets online, driving to Belfast for dinner and staying the night there, and then potentially free the next day and evening before flying out of Dublin again late the next morning. I have not been to Ireland before. Looking for advice. Should I spend my free evening in Dublin? (which would seem to make the most sense since I’ll be flying from there the next day). If so, where? Or is there someplace between Belfast and Dublin compelling enough to stay the night there instead? And any advice on not to miss (given my very brief stay). Thanks!

My answer (or rather a friend’s answer since I have never been to Ireland). If anyone can add something useful, please comment below.

Dublin is great, especially Grafton Street. Temple Bar district in Dublin is very cool. There are better places than Dublin in Ireland BUT it is still a great city. I worked as a journalist in Belfast back in the ’80s, but Dublin is where I would go for a great weekend night out. It’s hard to top. My favorite Dublin night spot is The Brazen Head, which may very well be the oldest pub in the world (12th century). It’s a great place for a good pint and live music.

Belfast is a great, great town. The city center has come a long way. It’s a small city but one where you can have a lot of fun. Take a Black Taxi Tour in Belfast. Driver takes you out to all the former hotspot areas in the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Very knowledgeable guides, fascinating tour. I’ve been to Belfast a half-dozen times and would go back in a heartbeat. A bit of a drive from Belfast but the Giants Causeway is really close to the Bushmills distillery.

In the end, if I was flying out the next day I would want to stay in or near where I was leaving from. One, that is a lot of traveling in one day between the car and flight. Two, who wants to drive hung over? Get on that plane and sleep. So a plan might be, and this is what i would do on the free day, the Black Taxi tour around Belfast, then drive down to Dublin, and walk around Temple Bar shooting photos and pub crawling till I can’t drink anymore (with an if found return to The Morgan Hotel stamp on my forehead). But stay sober enough to make sure I got to the brazen head at some point.

If you had the time, Book of Kells at Trinity College. James Joyce Tower. Pilgrimage to St James Gate (Guinness Brewery) or O’Connell Street.

Things to do with 2.5 and 5 year olds in Washington DC?

Reader question: Going down with the family to DC for a weekend – getting down Friday, and I’m looking for one or two fun things to do with the boys (2.5 and 5) on Saturday. A couple of people have mentioned the Spy Museum, but my understanding after further investigation is that it’s ideal for older kids, not for kids my age. All input appreciated – thanks in advance.

My response: I’d guess your kids are too young for the Spy Museum. The National Zoo is better, while Air and Space might have some things the 5-year old likes, but less for the 2.5 year old. Right near Air & Space is the Natural History Museum. Walking around the mall is good for kids too, if it’s windy people have kites and there are always fun things to look at and a carousel. A walk over from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial can tire them out nicely as well. There’s also an aquarium I think on 13th street, National Aquarium. Finally, the Building Museum is fun for little ones and has some free stuff, some pay exhibits.

You can also rent bikes. The 2 and a half year old would obviously be in a cart you pull, probably even the 5 year old depending on the child. Bikes can make getting around the mall so much more fun if the family enjoys the ride to the various monuments and museums.

If you can add some advice, please do leave a comment.

Best sights and restaurants in Nashville and Memphis?

Reader submitted question:

Going to nashville and memphis TN. Could you guys recommend the best sights to see in Tennessee?
Also some good restaurants? Thanks for the advice.

My answer – I’ve never been to either place but both are on my list and I have a short list of stuff you want to do in each place. Hopefully someone can add to my little list by leaving a comment below.

Memphis:
-Rock and Soul Museum, Sun Records, and Graceland – You can buy all
these tickets in a package.
-Gibson Hollow and Semi-Hollow Electric Guitar Tour.
-Peabody Hotel at 5pm to see the ducks walk – Get there an hour early.
-Majestic Steak House, Flight Restaurant, and Rendezvous (great barbecue) are places not to miss.
-Beale Street can be a fun place the drink, but be careful at night.

Nashville:
-Country Music Hall of Fame and B-Side record tour.
-Frist Center of Visual Arts – Decent Museum type thing.
-Definitely eat at F. Scott’s. Best food I’ve had in the South.
-Drink on Broadway and check out all the bars, with Tootsies and the
Stage being the better ones.

One more thing:
-If you’ve got kids, stop for gas in Bucksnort, TN (on 40 between Nashville and Memphis).
They’ve got hats and t-shirts available and your kids will love the
souvenirs.