Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Lazy Goat: Decent Food, Bad Experience

Last night we finally got to try Table 301's Lazy Goat restaurant, located behind the Hampton Inn on the river. The space itself has an interesting layout and great views; we ate outside and were even treated to live music from a jazz fest happening across the water.

Our reservation was for 8 PM but we arrived a few minutes late and were seated at about 8:20. We were able to order drinks right away - Steve and I shared a pitcher of the St. Germaine cocktail - but then we waited at least 20 more minutes before our waiter finally came back and took our dinner order. One of our friends tried to order the lobster risotto, but they were out of lobster. Thankfully the waiter was ready with the option for her to have the risotto with shrimp at a slightly lower price, and she accepted.

View from the Lazy Goat's patio seating
We had ordered numerous tapas for the table - the duck duck pizza, the fried goat cheese, the Moroccan lamb, and the garlic shrimp. Steve ordered the lazy paella and our other friend ordered the cuban pizza...only to have the manager approach our table about 10 minutes later and explain that they were out of something needed to make the cuban pizza, as well! Our friend changed his order to a different pizza, but at this point the situation had already been frustrating and did not bode well for the rest of our time at the Lazy Goat.

The yummy St. Germaine Cocktail...Pitcher
The tapas came out first, of course, and we munched away. Everything was tasty, thankfully - I especially enjoyed the garlic shrimp and the Moroccan lamb, though the lamb was only tops when served with the yogurt sauce on the pita bread (by itself it tasted a bit over-seasoned).

About the time we finished with the tapas, the waiter brought out Steve's paella. About ten minutes later he brought out our friend's pizza. The risotto never came. Eventually we approached the manager about this; he promised to rush it out but at this point our friend didn't even want it (understandably). The manager, George, was extremely apologetic and honestly handled everything very well; I absolutely have to give him props for that. Obviously we didn't have to pay for the entree that never arrived, but in the end I was charged for extra pita bread that I never received (and only didn't complain because everything had been such a mess and it was just $1) and we weren't really given anything but an apology for the slow service, the fact that they were out of two of the things we ordered, and just the general messiness of the entire experience.

The Lazy Paella
The friends that we ate with have been to Lazy Goat numerous times and said this was the first time they'd ever had anything other than an awesome dinner. I'm obviously inclined to believe them, but to be completely honest the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth. There are so many awesome restaurants in downtown Greenville and when it comes down to it, even if we'd had a perfect meal I wasn't so impressed with the food, especially when considering the prices at Lazy Goat. Tapas-wise, I suggest Cazbah or Nose Dive; if you're looking for a nice meal in the $20-30 per entree range, you're better off at Sassafras or Soby's.

Lazy Goat on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hotel Review: Fort Wilderness Cabins at Walt Disney World

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Some friends and I rented out a cabin at Fort Wilderness because it was the cheapest way for 5 people to stay in one room, and we really liked the idea of having a full kitchen. Needless to say, for the price the cabin itself and its cleanliness were impressive. The only complaint I had about the accommodations was that the little parking area in front of our cabin could have been a bit bigger--we had a little Volkswagen and an average-sized SUV and could barely fit both of them in the parking area...it was a tight squeeze to say the least. Also, as a note - the bunk beds in the main bedroom are very short and obviously mainly made for children. If you're over 5'5" this would not be a comfortable sleeping arrangement. That's just something to keep in mind if you're traveling with a group of adults and considering these cabins.

The things about Fort Wilderness that made my stay just so-so were the transportation issues and the pool. I've stayed at many different Disney resorts, including ones on the monorail line and ones that just run buses, and have never really had major complaints about the transportation--but Fort Wilderness is a bit ridiculous. For instance, from our cabin we had to take one bus to a different bus stop, take another bus to yet another bus stop, walk about 500 yards, and then take a very slow boat, all to get to Magic Kingdom. I understand Fort Wilderness is large, but you would think that they would at least have a bus that went directly from the main bus stop to the Magic Kingdom, which apparently is not the case.

The pool was just gross. It was large but was just a rectangular pool, no slides or anything, and there was a film on the top of the water that was obviously a mixture of suntan oil/sunscreen and who knows what else. It didn't look as if it had been cleaned once all summer (we were there toward the end of July). Also, there were a lot of unsupervised children running around, despite the fact that it was late at night when we finally did go to the pool.

Overall, if you're going to Disney during an off-season, I think Fort Wilderness is an okay place to stay if you have no other option, but I certainly would not suggest staying there during a busy season. You waste too much time trying to get to the parks and the busy seasons tend to be warmer anyway (except for Thanksgiving/Christmas) so you would of course want to swim, and I don't suggest the awful pool here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

#1 Reason to Love Southwest & Not Prepaying Hotel Stays

Okay, maybe no baggage fees is the real number one reason to love Southwest Airlines...but the fact that they don't charge change fees is definitely up there as well!

You see, I was in Chicago this past weekend. A trip that I was definitely looking forward to. I didn't not have fun, but some personal things were going on in my life and I woke up Saturday morning with no desire whatsoever to stay there...despite the fact that I wasn't supposed to leave until the next day.

Let me be very clear - I travel a lot, and at times I do get homesick. I think it's only natural, and it doesn't help that in the past two months I had already spent four long weekends away from home. But this is the first time I've ever actually cut a trip short, and I cannot explain how happy I was that my flight was with Southwest and I had booked my hotel through AAA. Reason being, Southwest doesn't charge change fees - just differences in fare. And as long as I was out of my hotel room by 1 PM on Saturday, I only had to pay for Friday night. In the end, the airfare difference and the money I saved on the hotel evened out and in the end I spent a grand total of 24 hours in Chicago and was home by 9:45 PM Saturday night.

Had I booked my hotel through Hotwire or Priceline or Hotels.com; had I been flying US Air or American or United...I would have been stuck in Chicago for an additional 24 hours and it would have been miserable. Instead, I left on a high note, came home early, and had a great time out with my husband and sister...then got to go home and crash in my own bed and wake up surrounded by three of my six pets and the most amazing man I've ever known.

I don't usually write about truly personal stuff in this particular blog because, well, it's a travel blog. But I'm of the firm belief that it's a good idea to prove to everyone that I'm a mortal, too. I get tired, I get hungover, I get homesick, I miss my husband and my pets and my bed and my house and my wonderful city of Greenville South Carolina. And I'm glad that things worked out for me to be home to enjoy all those things I was missing this weekend :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The DOT: Helping us passengers...again

Many have said that airlines and their fees and the way they are allowed to treat customers are simply not regulated enough.

Well, slowly but surely the Department of Transportation is sticking up for us nearly helpless passengers. After the situations a couple years ago where passengers were stuck in airplanes on the tarmac for hours upon hours at a time, they ruled that airlines were not allowed to do that anymore. Of course it's not cool that those situations had to happen before something was done about the lack of regulation, but at this point we travelers have to take what we can get :-/

Now the DOT is saying that airlines have to disclose basically every possible hidden fee up front. Personally I think that's the least of our problems; where's that rule saying that airlines have to rework their ridiculous baggage fees?

However, having had a friend who recently dealt with quite the delay due to an overbooked flight - and wasn't compensated in any way because she was bumped involuntarily - I definitely like this new rule: "Airlines that involuntarily bump a passenger on oversold flights will have to refund double the price of a ticket, up to $650 for delays over two hours on domestic flights and four hours on international flights. For delays over two hours, passengers will be allowed to recoup up to four times the ticket price, up to $1,300."

It may not sound like much, but it's a step in the right direction.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Vegas Like a Rockstar: Day 3

On this particular trip, my second morning in Vegas was, to say the very least, rough. I immediately knew that something had to be done. I dragged myself out of bed to take Jenna on one last little shopping trip, than for a late breakfast/early lunch at California Pizza Kitchen in the Mirage (I'm sorry, I'm obsessed with their Pear Gorgonzola pizza!). Natalie and Vanessa met Jenna and I and we gorged ourselves on yummy CPK pizza. At this point, it was [unfortunately!] time for Jenna to leave. I bid her adieu, and then did the same with Natalie and Vanessa as they wanted to go shopping.

And then it was all "me" time. A quick stop at the room for robe, flip flops and book, I left my phone behind and made my way to the Mirage spa. $25 later and I had the all-access day pass to the jacuzzis, sauna, steam room, etc...and Holy Mother of God was it worth it!
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To be specific, there were two cold jacuzzis and two hot jacuzzis, a steam room, a sauna, showers, and plenty of free juice and bottled water. Upon entering I was immediately treated like a queen - given a tour, presented with my personal locker, told to help myself to the drinks...and then left completely and blissfully alone.

I was there for three hours! Hopping back and forth between steam room, cold jacuzzi, and hot jacuzzi...and when I finally returned to my room to shower and get ready for an evening out on the town, I felt nearly 100% myself! (I say nearly because yes, that much time in a steam room does take something out of you)

Jonathan and Roshan had disappeared on a Hoover Dam tour, so I grabbed a latte and met up with Natalie and Vanessa around 4:30. Our goal was to check out some of the Christmas decorations at nearby hotels; unfortunately, when we stepped outside it was pouring rain! I mean, it was raining so hard that the road was basically one big river and there was no way for us to cross it without getting wet halfway up our calves. Therefore, we chose to run over to the Forum Shops at Caesars for some wandering and some food - we were all starving!

We ended up basically stumbling into Planet Hollywood for dinner, and it had honestly been...shoot, five years? Maybe longer? since I had eaten at one of these. But the food was actually pretty good! And after dinner I walked them through Caesar's so we could check out all of the Christmas decorations...
By the time we had seen all Caesar's had to offer, it was nearing 6 PM - and our limo was picking us up at 8! We booked it back to the Mirage to get ready for our - well, mine, Jonathan's, and Roshan's - last night out in Vegas.

Honestly, the limo idea was perfect. Why? Well, for something like $270 we got two hours with/in this baby:
(Yeah, none of us got a full-length picture of it. Bad tourists.)
First, we popped champagne.
Oh yeah, I went there.

Then, we drove up the Strip blasting our music and yelling out the window at random passers-by.

And finally, we arrived at the infamous Las Vegas sign! Despite the fact that it was still raining (though thankfully not as hard!), we braved the crappy weather and took advantage of such a Kodak moment...
...and then we all RAN back to the limo to get out of the rain.

Our next limo tour stop was Fremont Street, to see the overhead light show and check out "Old Vegas"...or rather, what's left of it.
At this point, it was time to conclude our limo ride and get dropped off at the Encore for a night out at XS!

We were a bit early, so we wandered the hotel and casino, did a bit of slot gambling, had a drink and then got in line. Thankfully, we were on the list so we didn't wait but 10 minutes...and the girls didn't have to pay!

(Moment of silence over the fact that for the first time that weekend, poor Jonathan and Roshan had to discover what it was like to pay a Vegas club cover charge.)

And now, dear readers, I will give you one hell of a photo dump. Because this was one hell of an awesome night.
A great thing about XS - they have places outside for normal peeps like you and I to sit. No Vegas shuffle there!
Our limo driver showed up later that night!
Shot #3. Note creeper in the background. I told him I liked his glasses and he kinda...hung around for a bit too long. My bad.
Oh, Jonathan.
Natalie's feet hurt and I was trying to get her in trouble for walking around without shoes ;)
Now, as you can see from that last picture ^^^ we were leaving XS and the Encore. Once we arrived back at the Mirage, Natalie and Vanessa whisked themselves off to bed. But the thought of sleep was not appealing to Jonathan, Roshan and I. Oh no. What we wanted...was McDonald's.

But first, a stop at our favorite slot machine! (Or at least Roshan's favorite slot machine...)
Yes, that says "Cougarlicious", folks.
And as you can see, we're pretty classy and bring our wine with us to McDonald's.

And that's that, folks. It was...oh I don't know, a 4:30/5 AM bedtime for us that night, and yes, it was rough getting up for my 11 AM flight the next morning.

All I know is that this trip yet again cemented how much I love Vegas. We partied like rockstars all weekend and yes, I'm already counting down to my next trip to Sin City!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mojito's: Something of a Hidden Gem

I actually found Mojitos through restaurant.com and I can only say that it was one heck of a great find! Had it not been on the list of offered restaurants I have no idea when we would have stumbled on it, because despite being right on South Main Street downtown it's quite unassuming.

First things first, we of course ordered some mojitos! Fresh muddled mint, a decent amount of rum and a splash of mixer...they were great! Considering how many badly made mojitos are out there, I can at least say that you can get a good one at this particular restaurant/bar :)
Classic/Cuban Mojito
Food-wise, we couldn't decide between the Cuban sandwich and the entrees...so we ordered both! Seriously, we each had a Cuban sandwich and we also ordered the Ropa Vieja to share. Although there was a bit more ham on my Cuban than I would prefer, otherwise the sandwiches were delicious. As for the Ropa Vieja (pulled beef brisket in a tomato-based sauce with onions, peppers and garlic)--served with white rice, black beans, and sweet plantains--it was cooked to perfection and the rice and sweet plantains complemented it especially well.

Ropa Vieja
My only note on the decor of Mojitos is that the high-top tables in the center of the restaurant have backless stools, which I personally don't feel are the most comfortable/best choice. However, the bar stools are fairly comfortable and not crowded on top of each other, and there are some great couches against one wall that would be great for a relaxing seating option where you can have a few drinks. They play music from bands such as Pochy Y Su Cocoband, Willie Colon, Celia Cruz, etc. but the music is there as great atmosphere/background music and isn't overpowering. There is a small stage as well where they do karaoke on Saturday nights, for those interested!

Mojitos in Greenville SC
As a whole, Mojitos offers great Cuban food at affordable prices, with the right drinks to complement their menu. Other than some traditional Cuban dishes, you can also get more Americanized sandwiches and, not surprisingly, burgers. It's a short menu, to be sure, but there's no lack of variety. We will be returning!

Mojitos Bar & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Hotel Review: Renaissance Seattle

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From the moment we checked in, our stay at the Renaissance Seattle was great. Every staff member we encountered was friendly and helpful. Although a bit small, the room was spotless and very comfortable. Despite the room itself being a somewhat pricey, the food prices--even room service--were extremely affordable, and all of the food we had was amazing. On our first night we arrived fairly late and ate in the restaurant that's close to the top of the building - amazing views of the Space Needle!

Although I didn't get the chance to try the pool, the fitness center was nice. As for the location, it was great for what we wanted to do--walking distance to Pike Place Market, the monorail to the Space Needle, Pioneer Square, and Safeco Field (although I wouldn't recommend the walk back from Pioneer Square or Safeco Field simply because it is mostly up very steep hills). I would certainly recommend this hotel to pretty much anyone looking for a great stay in Seattle!

As a side note, this was also one of the stops on the shuttle bus from the airport, which was about $12 per person when I was there. We had to take a cab to the airport on our return because our flight was so early; this ran us about $40.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Greenville Drive Opening Night, 4/7/2011

Well folks, it's that time of year again--baseball season, of course--and if you've been reading our blog for a while you surely know that we are big fans of the Greenville Drive. Heck, we had our wedding reception at a game last August! We are also [partial] season ticket holders - we have the weekend package, which gets us tickets to I think 12 weekend games and 3 weekday games. Perfect for us as it's difficult for us to make the weekday games, and the Drive is also great with working with us if/when we need to switch out our weekend games as well!

Anyway, being the 8 to 6-ers that we are, we were a bit late for the game on Thursday. Boo. We arrived to pick up our season ticket package at 7:10 but were honestly surprised to hear that the game had already started...and it didn't help things that the will-call line was a good 20 people deep. It took us about another 10 minutes of waiting to pick up our package, but hey, it was only the bottom of the first at this point, so we sucked it up and didn't complain much about the line.

Unfortunately, when we entered the stadium we realized that the lines to get wristbands (which you need to purchase beer) were twice as long as the will-call line! I've been going to Drive games--mostly weekend ones, and this was my third opening game--since 2007, and I have never, ever seen the wristband line this long.

But of course we waited. And a good 10 minutes later, we finally had our wristbands. And we missed a couple awesome runs by the Drive. So at this point...we were not so happy.

The concessions line was only about 5 people deep but again led to quite a long wait. As such, it was every bit of 7:45 before we took our seats, $5 large Yuengling drafts in hand, and got to actually enjoy the game.

Thankfully, the Drive did not disappoint! They beat the Augusta Greenjackets a whopping 12 to 6, and at the end of the evening we were again quite pleased with our Drive experience ;)

We have yet to try out any of the new concessions; however, the new menus--which are on flat-screen TVs--were definitely a great addition (not surprisingly). We only hope that they work out the kinks with the lines, because as the night wore on and people took their seats this game didn't seem any more crowded than opening night last year, or any of the sold-out weekend games I've been to in the past. Hopefully they were just a bit slow on the uptake and things will improve. Regardless, we'll be attending plenty of games this season and you're sure to hear about our upcoming experiences. Until then...let's PLAY BALL!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Moon Handbook: Charleston & Savannah

I wanted to write a quick review about this guidebook, as I read the Charleston half of it before our trip there last month. I can see how this book would be amazing help for someone traveling down south for a true vacation - spending a week or so in Charleston, Savannah, and other parts of the low country. For me, it gave some great shopping and restaurant suggestions that I hadn't known about before, which was perfect for the type of trip we were taking.

The only two things I didn't care for regarding the Charleston portion of this guidebook was the lack of historical information (I was spoiled by the huge amount of this in the New Orleans guide that I read last year) and the fact that there was little to no information about nightlife! Seriously, the author mentions a couple random bars but nothing about some of the great places I've seen on my past couple of trips to Charleston - Blind Tiger, the Griffon, the Speakeasy, the Gin Joint...thankfully we hooked up with a great tour company that showed us these places, but in the future I hope the author will write a few more pages on Charleston's great nightlife. Because Charleston does have great nightlife.

All in all, I give the Charleston section of this guidebook a 3.5 out of 5. If you're only going to Charleston you may want to look into purchasing a guidebook that focuses solely on this city; again, though, if you're planning a big trip and stopping in both Charleston and Savannah, this "handbook" is probably the way to go.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Discourse on Baggage Fees.

For some time now I've known that eventually I would have to do what so many others have done before me...rant about checked bag fees. But I'll start this with a statement I've seen so few of those other people make: Dear Airlines, I understand where you're coming from.

You're running a business. You need to make money. The more, heavier bags that we passengers check, the more fuel is burned. And fuel is expensive right now. And as you certainly can't go around weighing passengers and charging those of us who aren't, you know, super skinny more than those who are...then charging for checked bags, it is.

But there has got to, Got To, GOT TO be a better way! I mean, I remember back when you first started charging for bags. $15 each way seemed so awful at the time, but looking back I guess we didn't know how good we had it. Then there was that brief period of time when you could pay less if you prepaid for your bag check online...which didn't make much sense considering you still had to go up to the desk at the airport and have someone print you a baggage sticker, but hey, it was something!

Only now here it is, 2011 and $25 to check a bag. Each way. And there's no discount for prepaying anymore. So guess what happens? Every asshole and his or her mother, father, sister, brother, child brings two carry-ons. And I know that these carry-ons are smaller than the bags we would normally check, so sure, you're probably saving yourself a couple hundred pounds of luggage weight in the end. But then there's also the hassle of reminding and re-reminding people that one bag has to go under the seat in front of them--and let's face it, plenty of those people don't listen. And when the flight is full, there's all that extra time it takes to check the bags that won't fit because everyone has two carry-ons, and the second carry on is almost always the max carry on size, and then they won't put one of the two under the seat in front of them. And you can't really charge to check a bag at this point, so aren't you kind of losing out on money there?

So. $25 to check a bag? Each way? Seriously? That is one giant rip-off. Say I'm going to Las Vegas for three nights. If I check a bag it's likely to weigh around 30 pounds because I'm going on a short trip and bringing warm weather/teeny tiny going out clothes. Some other chick on the plane is going to New York City for a week and her bag weighs 50 pounds. Yet we both have to pay $25 to check our bags? Tell me you also see what's wrong with this picture. Especially since nowadays there's, again, no discount for prepaying...and we have to get our bags weighed anyway because heaven forbid they weigh 51 pounds...and if they do we have to take stuff out or pay another flat fee on top of the $25 we've already coughed up...after paying $195+ (because that's the least amount of money I've paid for a plane ticket in years and years) for a seat on your flight!

I have a hard time believing that no one before me has made this suggestion. I'm going to refrain from waxing on about how greedy you are for charging this flat $25 per bag, each way rate. But can we please, please, PLEASE start charging by bag weight? Because then, the aforementioned bag that I would be checking to Las Vegas would only cost me, say, $15 at 50 cents a pound, whereas that girl with the 50 pound bag would be paying your full ::cough::still a rip off::cough:: fee of $25. And then that poor soul whose bag weighs, say, 55 pounds would only have to pay $27.50 rather than the exorbitant $115 (***???***when did that extra fee become $90 by the way***???***) you would usually charge him or her.

And yes, I know that you think you wouldn't be making as much money off us. But you would cut down on a lot of hassle for when we go through security and when we try to store our carry-ons on the plane. And I guarantee that your flight attendants - you know, those folks who work a pretty stressful job made more stressful by the constant repetition of "please store your personal item under the seat in front of you" and then having to explain to those nice (and not so nice) passengers why they have to check their carry on because half of the people on the plane didn't listen to the rules about storing something under the seat in front of them - would much prefer this arrangement.

And in the end, some people would check a bag if they knew that they were getting, as much as I hate to say it, a "better deal". I for one don't want to lug around two carry -ons - one of which is inevitably ridiculously heavy - if I don't have to. But I can't justify checking a weekend's worth of clothes and toiletries at $50 per round trip.

So what do you say, airlines? How about making the intelligent choice for once? No?