Oktoberfest… and Three Days in Munich

So this past fall was the sixth year straight that I’ve attended the World’s largest festival — Oktoberfest in Munich.   I’ve been accompanied on these Oktoberfest by a varying number of friends over the years — this year was no exception, as there were six of us including my fiancé, who was making her first trip to the Wiesn.

See this post for ten tips to planning a trip to Oktoberfest in Munich.

In order to combat the ridiculous crowds that are prevalent on the weekends, we decided to arrive into Munich on a Wednesday, and focus our time at the Oktoberfest during the week — on Thursday and Friday.

We arrived from our overnight flight in Lufthansa Business Class from Washington on Wednesday around noon.  From there, we took the S-Bahn directly to the Hackerbrucke station, which is only two blocks from where we stayed — the Four Points Sheraton Munich Central.

The Four Points Sheraton - Munich Central

The Four Points Sheraton – Munich Central

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Ten Tips for Planning an Oktoberfest Trip to Munich

My favorite trip  of the year is always my annual pilgrimage to Munich for the World’s largest festival — Oktoberfest!

This coming year will be the sixth year in a row that I’ve attended the Wiesn in Germany, so I’ve learned on the fly, but at this point,  I think I know what I’m doing pretty well.

Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival that runs every year,  from the late September to the first full weekend in October.  Plan these dates accordingly.

Planning a trip to this foreign festival can be a daunting task, but here are ten tips along with several guides and recommendations: Continue Reading →

Oktoberfest… and Six Other Highlights of Munich

I’ve been pretty open about my love for Oktoberfest in Munich.  As the largest festival in the World, Oktoberfest attracts over 6 million visitors each year during the 17 day event.  The past five years, I’ve spent at least a couple days at the Wiesn, and I’ve always had a blast.  This year was no different.

See this post for ten tips to planning a trip to Oktoberfest in Munich.

Instead of going four consecutive days at Oktoberfest, we decided to mix things up a bit in order to conserve some of our energy later in the trip.  As a result, we decided to spend two of our five days in Munich at the Oktoberfest and use the other days explore Munich.  Continue Reading →

Ten Tips for Planning an Oktoberfest Trip to Munich

My favorite trip  of the year is always my annual pilgrimage to Munich for the World’s largest festival — Oktoberfest!

This will be the fifth year in a row that I’ve attended the Wiesn in Germany, so I’ve learned on the fly, but at this point,  I think I know what I’m doing pretty well.

Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival that runs every year,  from the late September to the first full weekend in October.  Plan these dates accordingly.

Planning a trip to this foreign festival can be a daunting task, but here are ten tips along with several guides and recommendations: Continue Reading →

Vegas Baby! For BAcon!

I’m writing this post from about 35,000 feet on a US Airways flight somewhere in between Washington’s Reagan National Airport and Phoenix en route to Las Vegas!  I’m heading out to the desert with my girlfriend in tow for this weekend’s Boarding Area blogger Conference… better known as BAcon!    The primary reason for the trip is the conference, but it’s also the girlfriend’s first trip out to Vegas, so I can’t wait to show her around.Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 10.00.27 AM

This will be my first time attending the annual gathering of all Prior2Boarding and BoardingArea bloggers — some of them you’ve undoubtedly read before if you follow news about traveling, points and miles.  The three day conference is being held at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Resort, and is hosted by M life and Hyatt.  Topics in the conference will range from writing improvement to Google Analytics to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and blogging best practices!  We will also get an overview of the Mlife / Caesars brand,  as they are our hosts at the Mandalay Bay.

There are already several special events planned for us over the next few days, and I can’t wait to see what surprises are in store!  I hope to learn a whole bunch of useful information that will allow me to improve my blog, and I look forward to meeting and networking with my fellow Prior2Boarding and BoardingArea bloggers!

Other than the conference, the immediate task at hand for tonight will be to find a proper viewing location to watch my beloved Auburn Tigers play Kansas State tonight for a highly anticipated non-conference, Thursday night college football matchup!  I may go to the local Auburn Alumni Club Bar, but if there’s a great sports bar that anyone can recommend, I’m all ears!

Anyway, I will keep some updates coming from BAcon, and I’ll definitely make some future posts on the highlights of this weekend’s conference!

Two Days in Melbourne and the Park Hyatt Melbourne

Fifteen Days in Australia

A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea

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Park Hyatt Melbourne

We arrived quite late into Melbourne after a short flight from Sydney and quickly found the taxi queue.  From there, we hailed a cab to our hotel — the Park Hyatt Melbourne.  I booked the Park Hyatt with points for two nights, and with cash for the third night.  We chose the Park Hyatt over the Grand Hyatt solely based on reputation.  Up to that point, some of my best stays ever had been at Park Hyatt properties in Tokyo, Dubai, and Zurich — so I was pretty sold on trying the Park Hyatt Melbourne even though the Grand Hyatt probably had a more ideal location in downtown Melbourne.

By the time we got to the hotel, it was a ghost town.  The Park Hyatt features a beautiful lobby, but we didn’t spend too much time in the hotel facilities.

Park Hyatt Melbourne

Park Hyatt Melbourne

After waiting a few minutes for a check-in agent (like I said, it was a ghost time at 1am), we finally were given our keys to a room on the 11th floor.  We had a standard, Park Twin room.  The finishings in the room were extremely nice and high quality.  There was a generous walk-in closet and a very large bathroom.  The beds were very comfortable, and the room featured most of the creature comforts that I’d grown accustomed to staying at Park Hyatts.  The major drawback for me was the very small size of the television in the room — and this ended up being a big deal for me — I’ll explain later.  Though it was a perfectly nice room and property in general, I just didn’t possess the “wow” factor that I’ve felt at other Park Hyatt properties.  I was overall pretty happy with the property, but if I had to do it again, I’d probably choose the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne due to its more convenient location to downtown Melbourne.

We were pretty exhausted when we got to the hotel room, so we promptly went to bed.  The first full day in Melbourne featured absolutely perfect weather — it would have been a wonderful day to explore the city.  However, my attention was diverted elsewhere.

2014 BCS National Championship Game – Auburn vs Florida State

That day, I had zero interest in touring Melbourne because my alma-mater Auburn Tigers were set to play in the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State that afternoon around noon local time (around 6pm local time at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California).  Since I’m a huge college football fan (I’d already been to four Auburn games that season in person), and this was essentially College Football’s Super Bowl, it was the only thing I really cared about that day.  As such, my nerves were out of control.  Thankfully, my dad is extremely familiar with my Auburn football “problem,” so he was a good sport about it and never once complained that we’d be spending the majority of the day in Melbourne watching a football game on TV in our hotel room.  He was obviously aware of the game, and much preferred watching it with me in Australia over me bailing on him to go to the game (Yes, I briefly considered flying directly back to LAX after our dive drip to attend the game in person at the Rose Bowl).

We grabbed breakfast and took a stroll around downtown Melbourne before heading into a grocery store to load up on some tailgating supplies — snacks and drinks for the room.   As kickoff neared, we headed back to the Park Hyatt, and I setup shop on the corner of the bed ready to watch our very small television as my Auburn Tigers played for the National Championship.  Like I said, I was a nervous wreck during the game.  I didn’t move from my spot on the bed for four hours.  I didn’t eat or drink a thing because my stomach was in knots.

It's Gameday!  War Damn Eagle!  Notice the small TV

It’s Gameday! War Damn Eagle! Notice the small TV

Yes, I take my Auburn football very seriously.  Irrational?  Maybe.  Am I sorry about it?  Absolutely not.

Despite starting out in complete control of the game, Auburn eventually succumbed to a last-minute Florida State touchdown, and lost the game 34-31.  I was pretty silent for about thirty minutes after the game, as I was pretty heartbroken.

Chinatown and Dinner at Hutong Dumpling Bar

Eventually, my dad suggested we go get food, so I agreed.  We decided to take a recommendation from Trip Advisor and tried a Dim Sum place in Chinatown called Hutong Dumpling Bar. The meal was excellent – I mean, it was very, very good.  I certainly recommend this place.  After dinner, we walked around the Chinatown area and then headed back to the hotel for the evening.  By this point in the trip, we were pretty exhausted, so we had no problem with being in somewhat early.

I’M FREE Walking Tour

We really, really enjoyed our free walking tour in Sydney, and thought that it would similarly be a fantastic way to get an overview of Melbourne in the limited time that we had.  The same company, I’m Free Walking Tours offers walking tours in Melbourne, so naturally we decided on that.  We met the group at 10:30am in front of the State Library of Victoria.  Once again, there was a large group ready to take the tour on another perfect weather day in Melbourne (about 76 degrees and sunny).  Like Sydney, the tour was excellent.  We walked from the State Library of Victoria to the Old Melbourne Gaol to the Royal Exhibition Center.  We then proceeded back  through Chinatown and through the many laneways of Melbourne, replete with urban art (basically classy graffiti).  We then walked through Burke Street Mall, and through the galleries to Flinders Street Station and Federation Square.  We crossed the Yarra River and ended the tour in the shadows of Eurkea Tower after about three hours of some awesome sites and wonderfully informative commentary.  The tour ended by the Yarra River with a great, panoramic view of the Melbourne skyline, so we took that in for a bit before deciding that we needed some food.

We backtracked to some of the really cool galleries that we’d walked through.   These narrow passages are located all over the downtown Melbourne area, and are lined with restaurants, cafes, and shops.  We settled on a burger joint called Huxtaburger in the CBD, and it ended up being the best burger we had on the trip (yes — we had a lot of burgers).

Burger

Huxtaburger deliciousness

After this late lunch, we were pretty beat from walking around, so we hoofed it back to the hotel for some rest and to pack for our trip home.

That evening, we took a suggestion from our walking tour guide and tried another noodle / dim sum place called Camy Shanghai Dumpling House.  Though it was much, much cheaper than our dinner the previous night, it was pretty disappointing — especially compared to our excellent meal we had the night before.  We strolled around downtown one last time before retiring to the Park Hyatt for our last night’s sleep in Australia.

 

Review: Spirit of Freedom Live-Aboard Dive Trip

Fifteen Days in Australia

A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea

Spirit of Freedom

Spirit of Freedom

Spirit of Freedom

We were greeted in Lizard Island by Captain Tony and the Spirit of Freedom crew.  After a short walk to the northern beach, we boarded a dinghy in crystal clear water and motored off to the mothership!  After a thorough introduction and safety presentation, we were shown our rooms.  Since it was all that was available at the time we booked, my dad and I shared a quad room with four bunks and a bathroom.  It was exactly what we expected, and all we needed during the trip.

The Boat

The boat itself is basically a three-story yacht configured to make it a diving vessel.  As such, there’s 1/3 of a deck fully dedicated to SCUBA diving operations — equipment setup, tank filling, storage, etc.  Inside from the dive deck is kitchen and dining room where we enjoyed the wonderful meals aboard Spirit of Freedom.   Further forward on the same deck is the main lounge on the boat, which featured a huge sofa, a bar, and television – it was really a great place to relax between dives.  Six of the cabins were located a deck lower, and a few were on the top deck, just forward of the good-sized sun-deck and aft of the bridge.

The Diving

Spirit of Freedom certainly delivered on the promise of world-class diving.  Over the four days, we enjoyed no less than fifteen dives!  Yes, 15!

On the day of arrival, we enjoyed two afternoon dives on Ribbon Reef number 9 on the Great Barrier Reef.  These dives featured incredible corals and marine life, including a school of barracuda and a large hammerhead shark!

Disclaimer:  The below diving pictures from this trip were compiled by the guests and crew of this dive trip on the Spirit of Freedom from 02 January to 06 January, 2014 — I unfortunately did not take these pictures
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School of Barracuda at Ribbon Reef #9

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Hammerhead on the GBR

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Incredibly clear water makes divers 50m away visible

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The Spirit of Freedom from below

Overnight, we steamed over a hundred miles out into the Coral Sea to Osprey Reef – an atoll basically in the middle of nowhere — certainly not a commonly dived part of the world.  The water here was so clear, it was breathtaking.  Visibility was upwards of 200 feet, and was some of the clearest water I’ve experienced anywhere — including the notoriously crystal clear freshwater of the Florida Springs.

We dived five times on the second day of the trip.  The first two dives were on the North Horn.  The second dive was a shark feeding dive, where a box of bait was essentially lowered on to the reef in the middle of about 30-40 sharks.

A feeding frenzy ensued.  And it was awesome.

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

That afternoon, we took in two more dives on Osprey Reef, including “Secret Caves” and “Admiralty” – both dives were complete with a network of tunnels and caves, which were some of my favorite dives of the trip.  After dinner, we enjoyed a night dive of Admiralty, and it was purely spectacular.

The next day, we steamed South to Shark Reef, where we saw an abundance of Silvertip Sharks an unbelievably clear water.  Later in the day, we dove Vema Reef and then returned to the southern tip of Osprey Reef for the final dive of the day at “Rapid Horn” which was probably the best dive of the entire trip due to the impressive wall, abundant sea life, and sheer number of large sharks.  The final day was spent at Bouganville Reef for a fourth day of spectacular diving.  That final day, diving ended a bit early so we could cruise back to Cairns, where we disembarked on the morning of January 6th.

Food

The food was outstanding.  It was far better than I expected, and was frankly better than almost any cruise I’ve ever been on.  The presentation and taste of every meal was top-notch.  Every day, we were woken up at 6:30am for a light breakfast before our first dive.  This was usually a continental affair featuring cereals, muffins, yogurts,  juices and coffee.  We then proceeded to do our first dive of the day.  Upon finishing the first dive, we returned to the dive boat with the aroma of a freshly cooked breakfast greeting us as we walked inside.  This was a hot breakfast of pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, and a variety of other goodies.  Lunch was usually quite elaborate, and featured a wide range of cuisines throughout the trip.  Dinner was alway a treat, as the staff served us course by course with some delicious meals ranging from beef tenderloin to chicken to a wonderful fish dish.  The final night of the trip was highlighted by an on-deck barbecue with chicken, steak, sausage, and kangaroo, along with delicious sides — it was just amazing having the meal on deck in the middle of the Coral Sea.  There was PLENTY to eat, and all the food was just first-rate.

The Crew

Simply fantastic.  They bent over backwards for us all week.  The trip director, Nic led an amazing lot of dives, and provided excellent dive briefings before every dive, and summaries of the day every evening.  Hostess Jill and the team really couldn’t do enough for us all week — everything we needed was taken care of.  The crew was really as good as it gets!

Spirit of Freedom Crew

Spirit of Freedom Crew

Overall

I really can’t say enough about our time on the Spirit of Freedom.  It was a SCUBA diver’s dream — plain and simple.

The diving was some of the best in the world.   The vessel was a world-class live aboard ship.  The crew couldn’t have been any better.  The food was borderline gourmet.  Everything exceeded our wildest expectations.  We really viewed this as THE highlight of our entire Australia experience.  I really couldn’t have thought up a better way to spend some great quality time with my dad than this.

Though the Spirit of Freedom is priced a bit higher than some of its competitors, I can say that you get what you pay for.  Pricing information can be found on the Spirit of Freedom website, here.  I highly recommend this trip to all divers — it’s certainly a bucket list-type trip!

How I Booked it…

No points or miles here!  I sent in a reservation request on the website and finalized the details via e-mail with the Spirit of Freedom staff…

Spirit of Freedom Website

New Year’s Eve at Sydney Harbour

Fifteen Days in Australia

A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea

 New Year’s Eve at Sydney Harbour

I timed this entire trip in order to be able to take in the New Year’s Eve celebration in Sydney Harbour.  As the first major city in the world to usher in the new year, Sydney’s New Year’s celebration is followed by many people all around the world.  This event is decidedly a big deal in Sydney, and as such, lots of people flood into the Central Business District and fight for a good viewing spot to see the massive midnight fireworks display.  Queues to view the show started to form the afternoon of December 30th — a bad sign for us considering we really didn’t feel like camping out in one spot all day on our last day in Sydney.

An ideal solution would have been to arrange to be on a ferry or boat in the harbour during the show.  Alas, this option was prohibitively expensive, and I didn’t really know anybody in Sydney who had a boat.  So instead, we decided to splurge for a private event hosted at the Italian Village — a restaurant off Campbell’s Cove with a wonderful view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.  This shindig featured endless appetizers and alcoholic beverages, and was pretty pricey.  But at that point, we’d figured that we had flown halfway across the World, so what the heck, why not?

The restaurant itself featured a large patio outside right on Campbell’s Cove in the Rocks neighborhood — it is the same small cove that stretches from the cruise ship terminal to the Park Hyatt, Sydney.

This basically meant that we’d have unreal views of the celebration.  The views did not disappoint!

Opera House Fireworks

Opera House Fireworks

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