April 2018

Party TimeReviewsRomanceScenery

Miami Beach – Ocean Surf Hotel


It’s that time of year again.  The sun is shining, the water is warm and the beaches are crowded.  This winter seems to never want to end, so our only option is to head to a warmer place and enjoy the sun there.   Miami beach is a popular destination as it’s easy to get to, but can sometimes be costly to actually stay there.  Luckily there are other options such as the Ocean Surf Hotel on the northern side of Miami Beach.  This hotel has fairly poor reviews on most of the web, but they’ve been working hard to change that.  The hotel has recently undergone a complete renovation, updating all of their rooms.  This isn’t a mega resort and doesn’t even have a pool, but who really needs a pool when the beach is 100 feet away?

Versace, Versace..

If this hotel looks familiar, it is probably because you’ve watch the tv series “The Assassination of Gianni Versace”.  This show was shot partially in front of the hotel and on the beach there to recreate what happened as accurately as possible.  During our stay, people would occasionally stop in front of the hotel just to get pictures as a result.

The Penthouse

The rooms at Ocean Surf include your basic single/double room, 4 balcony rooms and one penthouse suite.  For the sake of our review, we will be reviewing this based on the Penthouse suite, as that’s where we stayed.  If available, I highly recommend the penthouse.  This room has been recently renovated as the pictures on their own website don’t reflect the changes.  Our attempt to check in early was denied because they were just finishing up the renovations, so we were either the first ones or one of the first ones to stay there after the changes.  This isn’t a 5 star suite that you may be thinking of, but it is very large, includes a mini fridge, table and chairs for eating, couch, king bed and plenty of space.  You have the entire 4th floor to yourself, which is pretty cool, and you have a nice balcony with a great view of the beach and surrounding areas.  You can actually watch the sun rise and set from the same balcony as there is nothing to block your view.  The lower balcony rooms will still have a great view of the sunrise, but not the sunset.

Getting around/Parking

Most of what you could ever need is within walking distance.  On the same block includes a couple convenience stores, CVS, Walgreen’s, a vegan bakery (a must), a boutique, and a few other places to eat.  If you do have a vehicle, you don’t have to worry about the crazy $35/day fee to park it as there are numerous parking spots on the street and in the parking lot next to the hotel that only cost $1/hour for ten hours/day.  So the most you could have to pay is $10/day.  Overnight, parking is free, so if you’re done during the day you may never have to pay to park.  We found that they weren’t too serious about ticketing for parking as we’d wake up an hour or so after paid parking started and wouldn’t pay until then.  You can use an app on your phone to manage your parking.

The Beach

All you have to do is cross the street.  In addition to that, the hotel will give you beach chairs and towels free of charge.  Everything you need to relax and enjoy the day are at your finger tips.  The beach in front of the hotel is similar to the rest of Miami Beach.  But, it isn’t nearly as crazy or packed as south beach.  This is more of a great place to go and relax.

Everything Else

There was little to complain about except that the hotel doesn’t have an ice machine (though you can get ice next door) and the rooms didn’t have a coffee maker.  There’s nothing worse then not having that first cup of coffee in the morning and we feel that including those in the rooms would be a great addition.

Miami isn’t the most affordable place to stay, especially on the beach.  So, if you’re looking for a place to stay with some history, that’s affordable and convenient, the Ocean Surf hotel is definitely worth a look.

As always you can find more pictures over on our feed in Instagram.  Follow us to get all of our updates.


How to get the Best Deal on Flights


As we are getting ready for our next adventure, I thought it would be a good time to talk about flights.  The one question we hear over and over is, “How do you fly for so cheap”?  Flights are the last thing anyone wants to spend money on for vacation.  All they do is get you to your destination where you’d rather be spending your money.

  1. Flexibility.  The biggest way to save on flights is if you are flexible on the dates you need to fly.  There is always some deals to be had no matter what, but if you are flexible, you can save hundreds or more.  Flying during school times is always a benefit and flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually the cheapest.  Most airlines will show you an entire month at a glance to see when the best times are to fly, and some airlines even have special saver months or weeks where you can get a flight for a fraction of the normal price.
  2. Mix Airlines.  Nowhere is there a rule that you have to use the same airline to depart and return.  Very often, one airline has a great deal to get you to your destination but raises the price to come home.  Take the time to look at other airlines, or even nearby airports to find a better return trip.
  3. Extras.  A lot of airlines try to get you in the door with a low price, but charge fees for extras, like checking a bag, or even a carry on.  Make sure you know all of the fees upfront before booking that trip.  If you have to check a bag, you also want to do it during the purchase process and not wait until you get to the airport.  Prices are much cheaper if you pay for a checked bag upfront.  As always, Southwest still has no baggage fees, but their ticket prices usually reflect the bags upfront.  Spirit won’t even let you have a carry-on without a fee, but most airlines will.
  4. Travel Agents – Just kidding, never use a travel agent.  They don’t care about getting you the best deal.  They’ll help you book whatever gives them the best commission.  This may be the easy way out, but will always cost you a lot more.
  5. Rewards – There are always rewards to be had for flying.  Make sure whoever you fly with that you sign up for their rewards program and get credit for your flight.  Using credit card miles or even the airline’s credit cards can reap major rewards as well.  About one in 3 of our flights that we take is free from rewards, either through a credit card or frequent flyer miles.  Maximizing those miles can be very lucrative.  We’ll go into these tricks in another article as the features of each airline and credit card different greatly.

When we start looking for a flight there are a few resources that we start with.

  1. Kayak Explore – When you don’t really know where you want to go, but are curious to see where the best deals are, this is the site for you.  You can enter in your home airport and it shows you, on a Google Map, all the airports you can fly to and general prices, based on the time of year or month that you choose.
  2. Scott’s Cheap Flights – This isn’t really a site to search for flights, but a mailing list that you can sign up for.  They have a free mailing, but don’t expect to get much good info out of that.  For $40/year you can have flight deals sent to your email address on a daily basis.  Scott’s Cheap Flights mostly only deals with international flights, so if you’re looking for something within the county, this won’t help you (with the exception of Hawaii).
  3. Google Flights – Leave it up to Google to make searching for flights easier.  This is the fastest site to check across most airlines.  Google Flights gives you direct links to the airline’s sites for booking, so there isn’t a middle-man fee.  Keep in mind that Southwest isn’t represented here, as you’ll always need to check them independently.
  4. Momondo – Funny name, but great flight searching capabilities.  Scott’s Cheap Flights has a feature they call “Flight Hacker”, which will mix airlines for your flights.  This can save you a lot of money by giving you the best deal for each leg of your trip.  They link directly to the airlines, so there isn’t a middleman again.
  5. Airfarewatchdog – Another great site to show deals on flights as well as set up your preferred locations in order to receive emails when new deals are available.  This is similar to Scott’s Cheap Flights, but for domestic flights instead of international.

So, when is the best time to book a flight?  There are sites out there that’ll tell you a certain hour of the week is the best time, which may be true in general, but each airline has very complex algorithms they’ve put in place to modify flight prices throughout the week in order to get all of their seats booked for the highest price possible.  As a general rule of thumb, the middle of the week (tues/wed) is the best time to book flights.  If you’re looking early enough, you can watch the price of the flights daily for a week or so and see how they compare.  Or if a really great deal pops up, sometimes you just need to book it right away.  Most of the airlines now give you 24 hours to cancel a flight for a full refund, but check the fine print ahead of time.

Party TimeReviewsRomance

La Torretta Lake Resort and Spa


Sometimes finding a great resort doesn’t mean having to leave the country. Amanda and I have taken a break a couple of times to skip on over to Lake Conroe to stay at La Torretta Lake Resort and Spa. While the overall stay is generally positive there are some things that you need to understand if you do choose to stay here.

Let’s start off with the good though. The rooms at La Torretta are well appointed with plenty of space and luxuries. If opting for a lake view suite, you’ll be put on the 7th floor or higher as the lower floors have their view blocked. They also have cabins for around the same price that offer a quieter and more private setting should you choose. We have stay in both and they both have their own benefits.

Parking at La Torretta is by valet or by driving around back to another lot and a decent walk back. Valet is $12 or $18 overnight, but you can park for free. Just realize that when you park yourself, you’ll have a 10 minute walk back to the hotel. Also, if staying in the cabins on the golf course, you will be making this walk often.

The spa is very luxurious, but pricey. We did a couples massage and enjoyed it, but there was nothing too special about it. Prices overall at the resort are on the high end because there isn’t much competition for them, but if you look around well, you can often find prices for a third of their normal rates proving just how much they mark it up.

The highlight of La Torretta is their pools. A kid pool, a lazy river, another pool with slides and yet another pool for everyone to enjoy. On top of that there is an area that is adult’s only with another pool and hot tub, supposedly. Here’s an area where you can expect to be disappointed. When we came to the pool there were no less than a dozen kids under the age of 10 playing and splashing in the adult pool. I asked an employee what was going on and she said they’d make them leave if we put in an official complaint. So, it was up to us to be the bad guy in order to use an amenity that we were excited about having. As you know we tend to stay at adults-only places and having an adult’s only pool means we can listen to music that may not be appropriate for kids, relax and enjoy the pool without kids running around, screaming and splashing us. As we sat there and stewed, I finally called the front desk and was assured that they would take care of the problems. Two hours passed before anything was done. To make matters worse, the waitresses never came around after that to take orders or serve us. We had to walk to the other side of the water park area just to order a drink.

Some other issues to be aware of include the fact that they have far too few elevators for their size. Expect to wait 5 minutes or more for an elevator. Also, the room keys weren’t working one night and they were having to send someone around to let people in their rooms.

La Torretta has been around a while and is showing it’s age unfortunately. Their lack of concern for their guests is disturbing and needs to be attended to before we can recommend staying there. It’s rare for us to be negative about somewhere to travel to, but our stay at La Torretta is not what we had expected or hoped for.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. And don’t forget to follow Otus on Instagram for more pictures and videos of our adventures.