Kauai Sheraton – Hotel Overview

View of the beach in Poipu from the Sheraton property.

We were originally planning to come to Kauai on the Marriott Vacation promotion, which included 5 nights at the Marriott Beach Club in Kauai.  We wanted to extend our stay, so we planned to stay at the Sheraton for 2-3 nights.  After the original plans fell through, we booked 5 nights at the Sheraton using Starwood points (well, we paid for 4 and got the 5th night free!), and then, because we didn’t have enough Starwood points for a full week, we used some of our Chase Sapphire points to reserve the next two nights.

We loved it in Poipu and we’re so glad we decided to try something different from last time (and we can’t wait to go to a different island maybe next year?! I can dream, right?). Kauai feels a lot less crowded/touristy, but it’s so beautiful and still has plenty of things to do.  Our trip felt a lot different this year because there isn’t much relaxing to be had when there’s a 7 month old with you, but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

Price.  I didn’t pay too much attention to the stated price online, since we never planned on actually paying.  We paid 12k Starpoints for 4 nights (and for the 5th free), and then we booked two nights through Chase, for 52,773 points (which translates to $791.60).  I do want to mention that there is a $31.25 resort fee per night, so even though we reserved “free” nights, we still have to pay it.  It’s mandatory and it includes: free self park (because I’m a Gold member we were gifted free valet for the duration of our stay, which was very nice since we used our car a lot and generally had a lot of stuff to carry), two water bottles per day, 24-hour access to the fitness center, activities (such as lei making, yoga, and hula lessons), phones calls, and nothing else too exciting.  The hotel is not cheap, but it seems like a good deal in terms of point redemption (compared to other hotels at the same level). We’ll see how it changes once Marriott and Starwood officially merge!

Location.  This is the only Starwood hotel in Poipu, and the location is great (the St. Regis, also Starwood, is located on the North Shore in Princeville, overlooking Hanalei Bay).  The hotel is right on the beach, and also close to two shopping centers – one, the Poipu Shopping Center, was walkable from our place (about 10-15 minutes) and a great spot to find breakfast.  Staying in Poipu was the right decision for us, for what we had planned for this trip, but the North Shore has a more natural, remote atmosphere, and is equally beautiful.  If staying for longer than a week, it might be tempting to split time between the two areas.

Room.  Since we booked free rooms, we had the lowest level, or the garden view room.  For some reason we were upgraded to the Deluxe Garden View room (maybe they weren’t completely booked, or maybe it’s because we’re Gold members).  It worked out well for us because we are in the Ocean Wing, but facing away from the ocean.  It was still nice (though admittedly not nearly as nice as having an ocean view!) because we were closer to the restaurants and pool area.  We’re a little confused about how the hotel works, because there appears to be an area across the street (away from the ocean).  There’s also a portion of the hotel by the pool that is currently undergoing renovations.  The room we were upgraded to was recently renovated, so that was another plus!

In room we had a small fridge, hair dryer, ironing board + iron, and we requested and received a crib, but it’s smaller than a standard crib, and the rails are metal.  So it was great for night time sleeping for Oliver, but not for naps because he would try to stand up before falling asleep.  It’s just a skill he hasn’t quite mastered and I’m not wiling to let him fall and hit his head on metal.  I almost wish we had brought our pack n play, but we made it work.  The room also had robes, wine glasses (+ opener), a coffee/tea maker, etc…the essentials.

Dining.  Rum Fire is a dinner-only restaurant on the property and it is amazing – we ate there our first night and it was the best meal of the trip!  We ended up returning for our last meal as well.  They also have Lavas, which we frequented while hanging out at the pool (happy hour is from 3-5pm, and they will come out to the pool to serve you if you put your flag up, or you can do as we did and just order at the bar).  We ate breakfast there (pricey but convenient – they have a buffet which isn’t much more than ordering straight from the breakfast menu) and had a few poolside snacks.  The Sheraton has a small convenience store that’s open from 6:30am – 11pm, with small bites to eat/drink (including beer and wine to take out – like 6 packs and bottles), sundries, and souvenirs.  This worked well when we wanted a quick and light breakfast (like on our way to out to Waimea Canyon).

Amenities.  The Sheraton is not a resort – it’s quite a bit different than the Westin Villas in Maui.  There is a gym with treadmills, ellipticals, a weight machine, and some free weights.  There are also a few dining options (as mentioned above).  The best amenity is the amazing beach-view pool, which we frequented daily.  They have rentals available for beach chairs and umbrellas, and they have towels (free) which can be used at the pool or at the beach.  They also have a luau onsite, which we attended, but it’s not free.

Overall we were very happy with our (almost) free stay at the Sheraton.  While it’s not the nicest hotel we’ve stayed at, it’s good value, and a good option as a home base while you visit Kauai.  If you want to spend more and are looking for a more luxurious stay, I would choose a different location, but I would not hesitate to stay here on a return trip!

Wine Tasting in Carmel: Is the Wine Passport a good deal?

It’s been a few years since our last stay in Carmel, so on our drive over, I started looking up the wine tasting rooms in town.  I saw many mentions of the wine passport or wine walk, so I looked into it and we decided to buy it to see if it was worth the hype.  I wasn’t exactly sure how it worked, but figured that since we would be visiting a lot of tasting rooms (all walkable, which is a huge plus), we would get some value from the passport.

Was it worth it? For us, no. For some people, maybe.  There are 13 wineries that participate and we only really visited 6 of them (although one has a shared room with a winery we tasted at, so we had wines from 7 of them, and one I just went in to check out so I know how it’s set up). For the most part, there is no discount if you have the wine walk cards, but I’ll get into the specifics at each tasting room (that we went to).

The wine walk passports can be purchased at the Visitor Center at Carmel Valley Plaza (if you enter on the Ocean Avenue side, it’s on that same level).  The cost is $100 and it can be shared – you’re given 10 separate “wine walk cards” so you could even split it between 10 people at one winery.  With the passport you get one 10% coupon that can be used at any of the wineries.  This alone could make it worth it. Although we bought wine, we didn’t use the card yet, but I plan to use it in the future.  Which brings me to the next detail – these cards don’t ever expire!  I’m just hoping I don’t lose our leftover cards before our next trip!

As I mentioned above, this isn’t a great deal and had I known more about it beforehand, I would have passed. But since I didn’t, here’s a quick review of each wine tasting room we visited, and how the cards worked (or didn’t work) for us:

This was our first stop after purchasing the wine passport.  Unfortunately, they are not one of the 13 participating wineries (oops!). They just opened the day before, so they very well could be added to the wine walk passport in the future.  The tasting fee was $20, so Ryan and I split it and tasted two chardonnays and three Pinot Noirs. The wines ranged from $25-$50 (but the $25 Chardonnay and the $30 Pinot Noir were not nearly as good as the more expensive bottles).  There was also a tasting for members only, which included a GSM.  They happened to have that bottle open, so we got to try it. It was our favorite wine, so we bought two bottles. It wasn’t cheap ($45 each), but I wanted at least one, and with the purchase of two bottles the tasting fee is waived, so the second bottle was really only an additional $25.  The tasting room was beautiful and comfortable, and I’d definitely visit again!

Next door to the Cheese Shop, Wrath has three different tasting menus in addition to a cheese and cracker platter.  The standard tasting was $10 and had three wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir), which is what the wine passport cards covered this tasting.  The other two tastings were each $20 and had five wines to taste, and I would have much preferred one of those.  We were not offered the option to use our cards and pay the difference, but I also didn’t ask because I didn’t realize that would be an option.  So in this case, the wine passport doesn’t save any money – each card is worth $10, and the standard tasting was $10. In fact, we only used one card because we bought a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc (only $19) and waived one of our tasting fees.  I do highly recommend the cheese platter, which features three cheeses (purchased from the cheese shop next door).

If you like sparkling wines, make sure you stop at Caraccioli! The tasting here costs $20, so this is where the wine card might work in your favor.  Instead of paying $20 for six wines, the card gets you three tastes.  Since there isn’t an option to only pay $10 for a tasting, this allows you to get a sampling of what Caraccioli offers (including the Brut Cuveé, a Chardonnay, and a Pinot Noir) without paying $20 to taste.  I didn’t want to miss out on the rosé or the extra Chardonnay and Pinot, so we were offered the option to use the cards and pay $10 to taste them all.  Caraccioli also had a Library Tasting for $15, which has the 2007 Brut Cuveé (the one on the standard tasting list is 2010) and the 2007 Brut Rosé.  The cards cannot be used toward the Library Tasting, but if you’re a fan of bubbly like me, this is a must! We didn’t buy anything because our favorite wines were all quite pricey, but I think I’ll plan to use my 10% off coupon here the next time we visit, and get a couple of bottles of the sparkling wine.  We visited Caraccioli not long after breakfast, so we skipped on the food, but they do sell a cheese and charcuterie plate, as well as a few other small bites.

4. Shale Canyon Wines (and Blair Estate)
Shale Canyon was my favorite of the tastings we did in Carmel.  They share a room with Blair Estate, and they trade off each week manning the tasting room. We had the pleasure of learning about both wineries from Jake, who is one of the owners of Shale Canyon. We were told that we could use our cards to taste either the Shale Canyon wines or the Blair Estate wines, and we both chose Shale Canyon because we wanted to take a break from the Chardonnays and Pinots for a minute.  It was a very relaxed and personalized tasting experience, and we ended up being able to taste a couple of wines that interested us from the Blair wine tasting list as well.  Some of the highlights for us included the Shale Canyon Mourvedre, Tempranillo, and Malbec.  We bought several bottles of wine, and Jake waived our tasting fees, which means we didn’t have to use a wine passport card.  We will definitely be visiting the tasting room on our next visit to Carmel!

5. Galante Vineyards
Galante’s western-themed tasting room definitely has a fun and lively vibe.  That being said, it wasn’t one of my favorites, but I may be biased for a few reasons: (1) it was our last stop on a long, hot day, (2) it was overly crowded [and we had a sleeping baby in a stroller – who didn’t wake up!], (3) there were dogs in the tasting room, and (4) I just didn’t love the wine.  The wine passport might make some sense here, but ended up being a wash for us, since I splurged and added an extra wine.  Their normal tasting menu is $15 for a taste of 5 wines – all 4 from the top portion of their list (a 50/50 Malbec and Merlot blend, a Malbec, a Bourdeaux blend, and a Cabernet Sauvignon) and 1 from the reserve tasting list (two Cabs and the “Grand Champion” – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petite Syrah).  You could add additional tastings for $5, so for $25 you could taste all 7 wines.  With the wine passport, we were able to taste all four wines from the top portion of the list, and I ended up paying an extra $5 to try the Grand Champion, since I didn’t love any of the first few wines.  The Grand Champion was definitely the best of the bunch, but still didn’t compare to some of my other favorites from earlier in the day.  They also have wines available by the glass (prices vary) and a cheese plate for $12.

Scheid’s tasting room is clean and bright, and definitely a good place to start the day.  It has a more sophisticated vibe than many of the other rooms, so I wouldn’t want to show up here at the end of a long day of tasting!  This is another tasting room where it didn’t make a difference to us whether we used the passport card or not – their standard tasting is $10 for 4 wines (so you can use the card in lieu of paying $10), and you can choose from a list of 8 (half white and half red).  They also have a Claret Reserve and a sparkling wine, each for an additional $5.  So we did one of these tastings, plus I added the sparkling wine, because I can’t resist.  They also have a reserve tasting for $25 – not covered by the wine passport, but we got one of these as well.  It included three Pinot Noir and the aforementioned Claret Reserve.  We very much enjoyed the wines.  They also waive the tasting fee if you purchase two bottles, which is always a nice bonus.

Finally – a tasting room that actually gave us a reason to use our wine passport cards!  The normal tasting is $15 for 4 wines (Rosé, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Barbera).  With the wine passport, we were able to taste the first 3 wines (remember that each card is essentially worth $10), plus we could add the Barbera for $3!  We added the Barbera (which was well worth it – definitely the best wine they had!), so we tasted all 4 wines while we learned a bit about the owner – Alan Silvestri.  He’s a composer and has scored over 100 films.  They had a list available, so it was fun to look through and count the movies we had seen.

I was debating whether I should do one more tasting before we left on Monday afternoon. I popped into Manzoni to see what they were pouring (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but also Syrah, and they usually have a Rosé, but they were out of it).  Their normal deal is $10 for 4 tastes (they had six wines to choose from normally, but they only had 5 since they were out of the Rosé), and you could pay $2.50 to taste additional wines ($12.50 for 5 or $15 for 6).  With the wine passport pass, you could taste 3 wines, so it’s not a good deal…for anyone!  I didn’t really need another tasting, so I left without trying their wines (if we do visit again and decide to taste here, we will definitely be paying for a tasting and not wasting one of the wine passport cards).

Overall the wine passport was NOT a good deal for us.  There were a few wineries that actually gave it some purpose, but for the most part we would have gotten the same deal if we had just walked in and paid.  However, the 10% off coupon could be a tie-breaker, especially if you use it on a larger wine purchase (I’m not sure if there’s a limit or not).  I wouldn’t recommend the passport to any of my friends, since it’s a big commitment to use all of them (we visited 6-7 participating wineries and we both tasted at most of them, and we still didn’t use them all), and if you are more than a very casual wine taster, you’ll likely be enticed by some of the premium tastings, which aren’t covered by the wine passport.

Note: we did not visit Dawn’s Dream Winery, De Tierra Vineyards, Winery Oaks, Smith Family Wines, or Carmel Road, so I’m not sure what their wine passport deals are.  We do have three wine passport cards left (after our mix of either using two cards, sharing one tasting, or paying for the tasting ourselves), so maybe we’ll check a few of these out the next time we visit Carmel!

Fall 2017 Travel Plans

We’ve always said that having a baby wouldn’t slow us down – and we’re trying to make sure it stays true!  Of course we have slowed down a bit, but we have a busy fall planned.  We’ve completed a few successful overnighters (one weekend up in the Bay Area staying with my mom, and one down in LA at a hotel for a good friend’s wedding), and he did a great job.  So, what do we have planned?

  • Another weekend up in northern California – a couple of nights at my mom’s, and then our first real (mini) vacation as a family in Carmel.  We’ll be spending two nights there and have nothing planned other than enjoying the cooler temperatures!  We’re looking forward to a lot of walking, eating good food, wine tasting, and window shopping.
  • Oliver’s first trip to the beach in San Diego.  Mission Beach is my family’s annual vacation spot (although we kind of stopped for the past few years).  All of us are planning to go again, so Ryan and I rented a house right by the house everyone else will be staying in.  We’ll be down there for 4 nights and I’m really looking forward to morning walks on the boardwalk and relaxing afternoons on the beach.
  • Oliver’s first camping trip!  We’ve been planning to go to Yosemite since the beginning of the year and I can’t wait!  We’re staying in Yosemite Valley at Upper Pines (where we usually stay) and Oliver’s baby friends Emma and Austin will also be there.  So, it won’t be our usual camping trip with lofty hiking goals, but more of a relaxing trip.
  • Oliver’s first plane ride (notice a pattern?  A lot of firsts for Oliver!).  We’re headed to Denver for a week to visit Ryan’s family since most of them haven’t met Oliver yet!  Since we’re spending more than a long weekend there, we managed to sneak in a short trip to Aspen (I’ve never been!) with Ryan’s parents and brother and his wife.
  • And although it’s not booked yet, we’re also planning a trip to Europe!  We’re hoping for October, but we haven’t been able to get Oliver’s passport yet (we tried yesterday morning, but there were too many people so we have to go back sometime this week).  We haven’t yet decided where, but some ideas include: London, English countryside, Paris, southern France, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Bruges.  We need to book this soon since our planned departure date is in 7 weeks (!), so hopefully we can get serious about this in the next week or so.

Just writing it all out seems exhausting, but we are excited to experience old and new places with Oliver.  I am a bit nervous about some things – mostly the plane flights and dealing with feeding and naps while out and about (particularly in Europe), but I’m sure we’ll survive!

 

Hawaii Here We Come (again)!

We had an amazing time in Maui for our babymoon and, after seeing so many little kids during the trip, we decided that we wanted to make it back to Hawaii in 2018. Our original plan was to stay at one (or split time between both) of the Starwood properties on Kauai – the Sheraton or the Princeville St. Regis.  However, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse…

Thanks to my gold status with Starwood and the recent merger between Starwood and Marriott, I am now have Gold Elite status with Marriott.  I’m not exactly sure what triggered the deal for me, but I’m assuming that has a lot to do with it.  While the conversation with the salesman (and his manager) was more than 30 minutes, the short story is that I was offered another $799, 5-night deal to a nice hotel, similar to the Starwood deal we booked last October.

A few differences between this deal and the Starwood deal:

  • We had to decide on the call whether or not we would take this deal.  Luckily sales people like to talk, and I was able to stall long enough to make sure Ryan was on board (since he was at work – I had to wait for a text back!).  This also means that I didn’t have time to google the legitimacy of the deal and had to go with my gut (which said to book it).
  • There are no blackout dates; although I’m still not sure if this means that there is unlimited availability each day.  So, we’ll have to decide on our dates soon so that we can lock them in.  Luckily we shouldn’t be as inflexible as we were for the babymoon.
  • The deal is for more than just the property in Kauai.  That’s what we’re interested, but I’ve been told that my $149 deposit can actually be used at a different property.
  • The $799 does not include a rental car, so we’ll have to pick up that tab on our own.  Since we’d have to do this with or without this deal, it doesn’t seem like an issue to rent a car on our own.
  • Both of us HAVE to attend the timeshare presentation, otherwise we risk having to pay retail price for our vacation, which is not something I’m interested in doing.  We were able to ditch out on the presentation at the Westin Villas in Maui, so I guess we won’t be as lucky this time around.

We hope to book in the next couple of months (I believe I have to book at least 60 days in advance of when we plan to travel), so hopefully there aren’t any surprises. I’m planning to go back to work at the end of January, so the current plan is to go just before I return.  One last getaway before work life begins again!

Full Moon Walk – Logistics and Pictures

After we had booked our flight to Argentina, I was researching things to do and found out about this Full Moon Walk that is offered 5 nights a month (two days before, day of, and two days after the full moon).  I was nervous to check the timing for October, but was pleasantly surprised to find that our trip fell within the window for the night visit!  I used this site to get information on the dates, cost, and times for the tour.

Iguazú - Full Moon Walk

The moonlit road to Garganta del Diablo

I sent an email to make a reservation and was sent three attachments – two info sheets (one in Spanish and one in English) and a booking form, which was only in Spanish.  Here’s the general info for the walk – it’s $500 pesos for the walk, plus $200 if you want to add dinner at La Selva, the restaurant in the park.  Transportation is not included in that cost.  There are three walks per night – one at 7:45pm, one at 8:30pm, and one at 9:15pm.  If you decide to add the dinner and you choose the earliest time, dinner has to be after the walk.  If you choose the middle time, you can eat either before or after, and if you choose the latest time, you have to eat dinner before the walk.

We chose to go with the middle time, and to eat dinner (after the walk – although we didn’t have to specify on the form).  Once I sent off the completed form, they charged my credit card, and I didn’t deal with the company at all until the day of the walk.  For transportation, I contacted our hotel, since we were staying in the park.  I didn’t know at the time, but the Sheraton isn’t actually at the main entrance.  In fact, we never went to the main entrance during our park visits.  So we arranged to have a taxi bring us to the front (it took just a few minutes) and also pick us up after the walk + dinner.  It seemed that most people, even those staying in Puerto Iguazú, arranged for a taxi ride.

We got to the main entrance a bit before 8:30pm (the tour start time).  We didn’t have a voucher (I think if you book the trip while you’re there, in the park, you can pick up an actual voucher).  But our names were on the list, and we were brought in front of a shop to get our vouchers for the tour and for dinner.  There were a few stores still open, so we browsed while we waited for the tour to start.  Nothing happened until 9pm, when they gathered everyone around and explained a bit about the park (there was a Spanish and English group).  The group was about 100 people large, and we finally piled into the train around 9:20pm.  The walk to the falls was very peaceful.  We had just done the walk that afternoon, but for some people on the tour it would be their first time seeing the falls.

The Garganta de Diablo was magical at night.  The pictures don’t do it justice.  The waterfalls were flowing at a tremendous rate, so sometimes the mist would almost completely cover the falling water. We were so lucky that we had such a clear night.  In fact, they will cancel the walk if it’s too cloudy, since there are no lights to guide you other than the moon. We had about 25-30 minutes at the actual platform (it takes maybe 15 minutes to walk out there), and there were no issues getting great views from all angles, even with 100 people.

Garganta del Diablo at nightGarganta del Diablo at night #2

Kristin on the Full Moon Walk

I’m so glad I found out about that walk, and that it worked with the timing of our trip.  I chose the first available night (the second night of our trip) in case bad weather caused the walk to be canceled.  That way we could potentially rebook for the following night.  As I already mentioned, we were ver lucky and had a clear night for our visit.

Dinner at La Selva was pretty good.  Nothing great, but it was a buffet and had a meat station (I didn’t try anything, but Ryan did and enjoyed it).  Since we were staying at the Sheraton, I’m glad we ate at La Selva instead of driving into town, but if you’re staying in Puerto Iguazu, I’d opt to do the walk at 7:45 or 8:30 and then head back to town for dinner afterwards, since there are many dining options that are superior to La Selva.

I’m so glad this all worked out – I was a bit skeptical since booking the visit seemed a bit too easy, and didn’t require any follow-up.  It was a fun way to spend our second night in the park, and a great way to appreciate the falls without as much of a crowd.  While I wouldn’t go out of my way to rearrange my trip to plan around the full moon walk, it’s a bonus if you happen to be visiting at the right time!