Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fun Weekend in Chicago

This past weekend, I attended my first Strictly Sail in Chicago show and had an absolute ball.  Strictly Sail is an annual four-day boat show featuring gorgeous, high-end sailboats and a whole boatload (yes, I said boatload) of fun sailing stuff.

We paid $15 per person for a Saturday ticket.  What a bargain!  Our $15 investment allowed us to climb aboard several luxury yachts, shop for boat accessories and attend four informative seminars. Seminars took place all day long but we only had time to hit four.  I am fairly new to sailing and I feel as though I learned quite a bit.  The whole day was fun, educational and inspiring.  The show has both a Facebook page and a website,  http://www.strictlysail.com.
 
We found a nice affordable Doubletree Hilton on Ohio Street.  It is a warm and welcoming facility, plus when you check in, everyone in your party gets a big, warm cookie.  How can you not love that?  The location of this Doubletree cannot be beat – it sits halfway between Navy Pier and Michigan Avenue, making it perfect for Mag Mile dining and shopping.  The hotel has on-site parking for $45 a night but you can park in the area around the hotel for $35-$39.  We parked at the garage just across the street and paid $39. 

We enjoyed a casual, cozy dinner at Giordano’s on Rush Street.  As we arrived at prime dinner time on Saturday night, we had to wait 45 minutes.  I generally don’t wait more than 20 minutes for a table but we were already there, it was very cold outside and they had a nice warm bar, so we opted to wait.  I was so glad that we did.  The food and the service were excellent.  I didn’t keep track of bar bill, but our huge pizza and salad for two came to roughly $40.00.  It was a great, genuine Chicago deep-dish pizza experience.  I enjoyed it so much that I now plan on taking my girls there when we make our trip back to the city in August.  Check out their menu at http://giordanos.com.
Little overnight trips are a great way to shake off the winter blues.  My trip to Chicago certainly did that for me.

 

 

Monday, January 21, 2013

How to Get the Best Hotel Rates

$883 or $580 - which price would you rather pay?
 
These are the two different rates that I was quoted for the same Chicago hotel, on the same nights, for the same type of room.  So what made the big difference?  On the first reservation request, I did not use a promotional code and the price I was quoted was $883.  When I made the same request using the promotion code “NAVY”, the quote fell to $580.

I am planning a short stay near Navy Pier in August, so I checked to see if Navy Pier offers any special deals, such as hotel & dinner or hotel & theater packages.  While there were no specific packages offered, the promotional code for the nearby hotel was posted on the pier website.  Using it will save me about $330.  I believe that nice little savings more than justifies the five extra minutes I spent looking for a bargain.
There are several ways to find codes.  You can simple Google it.  Let’s say you want to stay at the Chicago Hilton.  In the Google search field, just type in “Chicago Hilton + promotional code”.  If that fails, look at websites for attractions located near your destination to see if they sponsor package deals or promo codes.

Oftentimes, hotels offer special rates to corporate or government employees.  Check with your employer’s H.R. department to see if any such travel benefits are available to you.  AARP and AAA offer travel discounts, as well.   Travel websites such as Orbitz or Expedia can also help you find great deals on great rooms at the last minute. 
Just be sure to check out all of your options before you book.  Taking a few minutes to do a little research can, and often will, result in big savings.  Why pay $883 when you can pay $580? 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What to do in Indianapolis During the Winter

At the beginning of this year, I wrote that one of my goals was to take my grandchildren to explore some sites close to home.  This past weekend, the kids came to visit and we had all of Saturday to spend together.  We’ve done the popular Indy sites (Zoo, Children’s Museum, etc.) over and over again, so we were looking for something different to do. The weather was incredibly warm for this time of year, so we headed to downtown Indy to see what we could see. 

We started our day at the Indianapolis Central Library, just off of Meridian Street.  Now you might not think of a library as an entertaining destination but the one in Indy is a wonderful place to visit.  Parking could not be more convenient as it is right in the basement of the library.  At $2.00, it was a bargain, as well. 
Once in inside, we took a scenic (yes, scenic) ride on the escalators up to the top floor of the library.  The best view of Indianapolis awaits you just as soon as you step off of the escalator.  After posing for a picture in front of that window, we walked the entire floor just to take in the views all around and to explore the massive collection of books.


Next, we took the elevator back down to the family area and with its fabulous reading and play areas.  The kids were fascinated by the pod reading chairs and the giant green screen room where kids can romp and see how they look on television.  After exploring every nook and cranny of that floor, we ventured outdoors.
In front of the library you will find a long grassy area, somewhat reminiscent of the Mall in Washington, D.C.  We walked approximately two blocks to the Indiana War Memorial, a museum and tribute to veterans of every war in American history.  I was surprised to see how much U.S. history is housed there.  Located in a beautiful old building, the path through this little gem takes you from the Revolution up through 9/11 and our current involvement overseas.  It was a pleasant, educational diversion and, best of all, it’s totally free. 

You can look up the names of your ancestors who have fought for Indiana and, if they’re not in the database, fill out a form to have them added to it.  You can linger as long as you want but I let the kids set the pace and we were out in about an hour. 
Rain was in the forecast later in the afternoon and we didn’t have umbrellas, so when we finished our tour of the museum we went back to the library and moved our car to the Circle Center Mall.  The parking garage at the mall is one of the cheapest places to park in Indianapolis.  Again, I paid only $2.00 for the time I was parked there.

Next we headed to Monument Circle, just a couple of blocks south on Meridian.  Oops.  It was closed for the day because volunteers were taking down the Christmas lights.  Ah well, we can go there another day.  I should have checked the website before we went.  We were able to walk around the outside of the Monument and take a nice picture of the kids with the State Capitol in the background. 
The afternoon was drawing to a close and we were all getting hungry, so we walked down Meridian Street to The Old Spaghetti Factory.  By getting there just before 5:00, we avoided having to wait for a table.  If you go there, be sure to ask for a table in the trolley car.  Kids love The Spaghetti Factory because, well, what kid doesn’t love spaghetti?  They also love the fact that every meal comes with spumoni.  The d├ęcor is fun and the price is right.  We all came away well fed for about $40.00, plus tip. 

As we left the restaurant and headed back toward our car, we spotted horse-drawn carriages coming off of the Circle.  We hailed one to ask if it was available.  The driver was on her way to another appointment but she gave us the company phone number along with instructions to walk to the Circle and call the office as we went.  We did so and were able to step right onto a Yellow Rose Carriage without waiting.  The cost was $50 for roughly a 30-minute ride.  Our driver, Josh, was as nice as can be and even used my camera to take pictures of our little group.  We finished up our ride and our evening just before the rains came. 
 

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Miracle of Baby Wipes

I was going over my packing list for an upcoming trip and it occurred to me that when I wrote about travel essentials, I forgot to tell you about baby wipes.  Baby wipes are probably the most helpful thing that you can take with you any trip.  In fact, once you see how many uses they have when you travel, you might start carrying them with you all of the time.  I do.

Baby wipes are lightweight and inexpensive and they have so many uses.  They pose no problems whatsoever when going through airport security.  Unlike many other products you might carry with you, they won’t melt in a hot car or spill open and ruin the luggage you’ve tucked them into.
I use baby wipes to:
  1. Remove make-up.  They are an economical alternative to the wipes put out by the cosmetic companies.  If you worry that they won’t be gentle enough, consider that they are designed to safely clean newborn baby bottoms.  If you worry that they won’t be strong enough to do the job, consider what they are designed to clean off of those newborn baby bottoms.  Nuff said.
  2. Shine shoes. 
  3. Wipe down the outside of my purse. 
  4. Remove stains from clothing.  They work just as well as stain removing pens. 
  5. Clean ATM buttons before I use the machine.  I once saw a man with grimy hands walking away from a machine just as I walked up to it.  I haven’t touched an ATM since then without wiping it down first. 
  6. Clean my hands.  Baby wipes are less drying than hand sanitizer. 
  7. Freshen up all over.  If you get hot and sweaty while you’re out sightseeing, running a wipe over your neck, legs and arms will cool you down and eliminate that awful sticky feeling.  
  8. Wipe down airplane armrests and trays.  Those things never get washed.  After you see what comes up the first time you use a baby wipe to clean the area around you and get a good look at the true ick factor made obvious on the wipe, you will never again sit in an airplane seat without giving it a good cleaning. 
  9. Sanitize that infamously contaminated hotel room TV remote control.
These are just a few things that you can use baby wipes for when you are out and about.  Once you start traveling with them, I’m sure you will come up with even more creative ways to put them to work.