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2016
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Exploring Sydney

Posted by vaboywnder Apr 24, 2016

In my last blog posting I wrote about eclektech and I arriving at the Sydney Harbour Marriott and how accommodating the staff was.   In planning our trip I utilized a 7 night Marriott Category 8 Travel package in which our entire 7 night stay at the hotel was free.

 

The weather during our 7 night stay was a little unpredictable which apparently is the norm for their fall season as they get lots of on and off showers.   Each day the temp averaged around the mid 70’s. Two of the days it rained throughout the whole day.  Two other days were completely sunny and the remaining days were a mix of sun and showers.   Fortunately the weather forecasts were accurate on the days of all rain and all sun but the other days there was uncertainty of when there would be showers.

 

On our first day we spent exploring the Circular Quay/Harbour area which is only about a block and half away from the hotel.  It is a very easy walk to the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.

 

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During our second day we decided to take a walking tour of the Opera House.  Before taking the tour we had both thought the Opera House was one really large building but as it turns out it is actually multiple buildings sitting next to each other.  Our tour guide was really informative and showed us inside multiple theaters and the main concert hall.   I was surprised to learn that it took over 14 years to construct (1959-1973).

 

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While in Sydney we wanted to visit a zoo to see the different type of animals in Australia. We found there was a zoo located at Darling Harbour called Wildlife Zoo.   Also we discovered there was a great package deal on the zoo’s website where we could get tickets for 5 attractions for the price of $69 AUD. The five attractions included Wildlife Zoo, Madame Tussad’s Wax Museum, Sea Life Aquarium, Sydney’s Tower Eye, and Manly Sea Life Sanctuary.   Most of the attractions were at or near Darling Harbour with the exception of the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary which is located at Manly Beach. Darling Harbour is a great place to visit while in Sydney with many attractions and waterfront restaurants.

 

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Wildlife Zoo had many Australian animals to check out including Koala, crocodiles, penguins, kangaroos, wallabies, and devils. There is also an option to get your photo taken with a Koala.


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The Sydney Tower Eye attraction is connected to the Westfield’s Shopping Mall and is a great place to go up and get great views of the city.

 

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There are two really popular beaches in Sydney which are Bondi Beach and Manly Beach.   Bondi Beach appears to attract a few more surfers than Manly Beach.  During our visit to Bondi Beach we had some overcast and showers.

 

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On our last day in Sydney we were blessed with wonderful weather and took the Manly Fast Ferry from Circular Quay to Manly Beach which was a short 18 minute ride.

 

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Once we got to Manly Beach we walked around The Corso where there were numerous shops and then headed for the beach.

 

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While at Manly we had lunch at the Manly Grill where we sat at a table where we could see the beach. eclektech decided to try their lunch special which was a crocodile burger which he says was “spongy”.  I had some BBQ Wings which were really good.

 

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Before leaving Manly Beach we stopped by the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary which we had gotten tickets to as part of our package deal.  We enjoyed the aquarium and seeing the penguins up close.

 

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There are so many things to see and do in Sydney.  Manly Beach was definitely my favorite.  Some of our favorite restaurants in Sydney include:

 

Kinglsley’s Australian Steakhouse- A friend who travels to Sydney for business recommended this to us. Their beef is all grass fed. Excellent food and service.

 

The Ship Inn- Great place to get lunch and is just a block away from the Sydney Marriott.

 

91 Oxford- Located on historic Collins Street and catering mostly to the LGBT community.   We had dinner here and found the food was very good.


Coming up I’ll be blogging about our stay at the Melbourne Marriott and about our tour of the city. 

Getting to the Hotel:


Prior to arriving in Sydney I did some research to find the best way for eclektech and I to get from the Sydney Airport to the Sydney Harbour Marriott at Circular Quay.  Since we would be departing from the airport during local rush hour traffic taking a cab would not only take an extended amount of time it would also be costly.   Fortunately there is a train that runs from the Airport to Circular Quay with an estimate travel time of 18 minutes.

 

The Sydney Airport train picks up in both the International and Domestic Terminals and an adult fare is $17.40 AUD.  There is both a staffed ticket counter and vending machines at the airport train station. Keep in mind that if you purchase tickets from the vending machine with a credit card you will need to have a PIN code. Also if you’re traveling with a larger luggage you should make use of the Lifts (elevators) and Handicapped ticket gates to get to the train platform as I quickly discovered as a gate closed on me before I could get through with my suitcase. 

 

The train was very crowded when we boarded in the airport but thinned out after a few stops before we arrived at Circular Quay.  The walk from Circular Quay to the hotel was very easy and took about 3-5 minutes.  We also took the train back to the Sydney airport for our domestic flight down to Melbourne.  The train ride back to the airport was not crowded at all.

 

About Our Stay:


We arrived to the hotel about 8:30am and the concierge informed me that our room was not ready yet but should be ready within a few hours.  He gave us keys to the Concierge Lounge to get breakfast and also keys to a Pre-Arrivals Lounge where we could grab a shower if we wanted.  The concierge said he would also hold our luggage for us until our room was ready.  Fortunately our wait was not too long (2hrs) and we were able to get settled into our room.

 

Currently some parts of the hotel are under renovation including parts of the hotel lobby and the Concierge Lounge.  During our week long stay the Concierge Lounge bounced back and forth from a large meeting room to the hotel restaurant both of which were on the 2nd Floor.   The lounge was open 7 days a week and had a very large selection of food offerings for both breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres.

 

Our hotel room was a little small but we did have a view of the Opera House. The bed was very comfortable and we both slept very well.

 

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Prior to our arrival I had notified the hotel that we would be celebrating our honeymoon.  A few hours after we were settled in our room a hotel staff member delivered a bottle of champagne with some chocolate covered strawberries along with a hand written note welcoming and congratulating us on our special occasion.

 

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The Platinum welcome gift offerings were quite different from those in the US.  Normally I would choose the 500 points but this time I decided to try one of the other interesting items on the list: “Homemade chocolate brownie with a vanilla milkshake”

 

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The hotel staff was all very friendly and accommodating.  The location of the hotel was perfect as we were within walking distance of so many different attractions.  Both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge were just a short walk away.

 

Travel Recommendations:


Since we would be away from home for 16 days and did not want to have to bring along multiple suitcases we decided to each pack one large suitcase that would cover about 8-9 days and then utilize a local laundry service.  Wash on the Rocks picked up our laundry one morning and delivered back to the hotel the same day for a very reasonable price.  To make packing easier we utilized some Travel Compression Bags we found on Amazon.  These came in great for packing and keeping dirty laundry separated from clean laundry.

 

Another product that came in useful for our trip was an EZO Voltage converter.  We were able to keep our small electronics charged with this one small device. 

 

Stay Tuned...Next Blog Posting will be about different Sydney Attractions!

After having some fun in LA eclektech and I were ready to head to Australia for our honeymoon.  You may remember my previous blog posting on how I was able to use Delta Miles to obtain our Business Class seats from LAX to SYD on Virgin Australia and how I was able to use United Miles to upgrade Coach seats to Business Class seats on a United Dreamliner Flight from MEL back to LAX.  Here is a look at our experiences on both flights.

 

Virgin Australia LAX- SYD


We arrived at LAX about 3.5 hours prior to our scheduled flight departure of 9:50pm and checked into the Virgin Australia counter which is actually located at the end of Domestic Terminal 3.   After we checked in we were instructed to head back outside and take a short walk over to the International Terminal where we would go through TSA screening, access the airport lounge, and eventually board our flight.

 

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It took about 20 minutes for us to get through TSA screening.  Unfortunately TSA Pre-check is not an option in the International Terminal of LAX.  We were glad that we got to the airport early as there is lots of evening international departures at LAX and the line behind us got rather long.

 

Since Virgin Australia does not have their own lounge at LAX we were granted access to the Star Alliance Lounge which was a really nice treat.  It was definitely the largest airport lounge I’ve seen and it featured lots of food options.  The lounge had separate rooms that you could relax in including a Media Room which had a really large flat screen tv.  There was also a nice outdoor deck that had fire pits.

 

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Once we boarded the Virgin Australia flight we were immediately greeted by an attendant who took our drink order then later brought us a dinner & breakfast menu.  We were also given an amenity kit along with some pajamas. The amenity kit included socks, eye mask, ear plugs, tooth brush, tooth paste, and some REN products.

 

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Since I had eaten quite a bit in the lounge I decided to skip dinner on the flight.  Options for dinner included a steak sandwich, a chicken dish, ocean trout, and seared haloumi.  eclektech opted for the steak sandwich which he said was quite good. The salt & pepper shakers that were given to him were also in the shape of the Sydney Opera House.

 

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Not long after dinner was served the flight crew on Virgin Australia started assisting people in Business Class with setting up beds.  The Business seats are able to lie completely flat and there is a mattress pad the flight attendants place over top the seats.  The crew dimmed the lights and on top of the ceiling you could see their version of the night sky.  The crew also refrained from making announcements and tried to keep the cabin quiet.

 

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About 90 minutes prior to landing in Sydney the crew began to gradually lighten up the cabin and started serving breakfast.  At the beginning of the flight we were asked to fill out a breakfast card with our desired choices and whether or not we would want to be woken up for breakfast in the event we were sleeping.  The main choices for breakfast included scrambled eggs, pancakes, or Bircher muesli.  I chose the pancakes option and found them to be mediocre.

 

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After landing in Sydney we were able to utilize Australia’s Smart Gate System which works very much like Global Entry.  It’s an efficient two-step process involving a kiosk and then a gate in which your photo is taken and then compared to your passport.  We were able to clear customs in about 10 minutes.


United Dreamliner MEL-LAX


For our flight back to the U.S. we arrived at the Melbourne Airport about 2.5 hours prior to our scheduled departure.  We were surprised to learn that we had to once again go through Australia customs before leaving the country.  The United agent who checked our luggage gave us an express card to use to bypass the longer customs line in which we were able to utilize the Smart Gate system once again.  After clearing customs we went through airport security which was rather quick.

 

Since United no longer has a lounge at the Melbourne Airport we were given access to the Cathay Pacific Lounge which is a much smaller lounge especially when compared to the Star Alliance Lounge at LAX.  The Cathay Pacific lounge offered a continental breakfast which included cereal, fruit, pastries, and toast. 

 

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Like Virgin Australia once on board the United Dreamliner we were quickly offered drinks, given a menu and also an amenity kit.  The United Amenity Kit was quite nice and was presented in a leather case.  Contents included socks, eye mask, cowshed products, facial tissues, hand sanitizer, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss pick, earplugs, mints, and a comb.

 

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The United menu offered a full 5 course meal for dinner.  Main Courses included Lamb, Chicken, Barramundi Fillet, and Ravioli.  eclektech had lamb while I had the ravioli which was very good. For dessert they offered ice cream sundaes with your choice of toppings.

 

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Like the Virgin Australia Flight the Business Class seats on the United Dreamliner were able to lie flat for sleeping.  United provides a blanket but does not provide pajamas or a mattress pad like Virgin Australia.  During the time when most people were trying to sleep United continued to make some announcements unlike Virgin Australia.  I wasn’t able to sleep on either flight but tried to rest as much as I could and stayed hydrated.  For resting I found the Virgin Australia flight a bit more comfortable since they provided a mattress pad and tried to maintain a quieter cabin.   

 

Breakfast was also served on the United Flight about 90 minutes before our arrival.  The main options were a Mushroom & Chive omelette or cereal with fresh fruit and yogurt.  Overall we had an excellent experience with both airlines and I would not hesitate to fly with either one in Business Class to/from Australia in the future.

 

As I mentioned in another posting eclektech and I decided to spend some time in Los Angeles  before and after our longs flights to/from Australia.  Before heading out we spent 3 days in the Burbank area and on our first evening we met up with pluto77 at a wonderful restaurant called Castaway.  It is located up in the hills of Burbank and has wonderful views of the city and Downtown LA.  We got there prior to sunset and enjoyed a wonderful meal on their outdoor deck as the sun went down. 


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The very next evening we headed down to Hollywood and took in one of the Paley Festival Events being held at the Dolby Theatre which is the same theater that the Oscars are held. eclektech and I had never been inside the Dolby Theatre before and it was quite a treat.  We were able to see an actor’s panel from the new CBS show “Supergirl”.


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The very next day we decided to go to the West Hollywood area and spent some time at The Grove and Farmer’s Market.  This is a must stop for any new visitor to LA.  Such great shopping and food!


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Later that night we went to Whisky a Go-Go on Sunset Blvd which has been around since 1964 and has been the launching ground for famous bands like Van Halen, Metallica, Guns N’Roses, and Motley Crue.  We got to see a new band called Eyes of One perform.  The lead singer, Casey Moss, is also an actor from Days of our Lives which I’m a fan of.  We got to meet Casey and his co-star True O’Brien along with Tony Moore who is a host of the weekly Afterbuzz podcast “Dishin Days”.


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Before leaving for Australia we stayed at the Burbank Marriott and then upon our return we stayed at the Renaissance LAX.  Our Burbank Marriott stay was fine although due to a convention at the hotel the lounge area was quite busy.  The Renaissance LAX stay was very nice and quiet.  Prior to our stay at the Renaissance I contacted the front desk manager and she was able to match a lower rate I found from the Marriott LAX property next door. The lounge at the Renaissance LAX was also very nice and well maintained.


We were both suffering from some jet lag after getting back from Australia but found some time to take in a little bit of Manhattan Beach which was not far from the LAX Renaissance.  On a 2014 visit to CA we discovered a great restaurant in Long Beach called Nicks on 2nd where we met up with californian .  We were pleased to discover that Nick’s had also opened a restaurant in Manhattan Beach where we got to enjoy another wonderful meal.

 

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Stay tuned as I’ll be blogging about our adventures in Australia very soon!

vaboywnder

The SilverCar Experience

Posted by vaboywnder Apr 5, 2016

Prior to leaving for Australia, eclektech and I decided to spend a few days in the LA area and were in need of a rental car.  I had heard about this relatively new car rental company called SilverCar which only rents Silver Audi A4’s and decided to give them a try.  Currently SilverCar has 12 rental locations in the US which includes: Austin, Chicago, Dallas Love Field, Dallas/Forth Worth, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Phoenix, and San Francisco.

 

Each SilverCar comes with Free Wifi, GPS, and Satellite Radio.  Also included is a transponder for toll roads in which you are only billed for tolls that you incur.  The standard rate at the LAX location is $59 a day which I thought was very reasonable for that type of car and features.

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Prior to arriving in Los Angeles I got a text from SilverCar that stated I should either call them or text them once I arrived.  After we picked up our luggage in LAX I gave them a call and the SilverCar Rep instructed me to head up to the Departures Level outside the terminal and someone would be there in a few minutes to pick us up in our Silver Audi Rental. 

 

About 5 minutes after we got to the Departures Level a Silver Audi pulls up and the driver takes us over to the office.  We didn’t have to go inside he took a quick glance at my Driver’s License and Credit Card to confirm it matched the information in my reservation.  He then asked me to open up the SilverCar application on my phone to scan the barcode on the car. After that we were done and since our bags were already in the car we were ready to hit the road.

 

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This was my first time driving an Audi and I really enjoyed the features of the car.  The leather seats were extremely comfortable.  I really enjoyed having the satellite radio as I have it on my own car and it was nice to be able to pair my phone up to the car with Bluetooth.  I did find the navigation system a little less user friendly but got used to it. SilverCar programs their address into the navigation system to make it easy to return the car.  I was surprised that the car did not have a backup camera as that is one feature I really like but very happy with the car overall.

 

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SilverCar makes car renting easy and fun.  You can get $25 off your first rental by using the following Promo Code:  QXKJPNMU

http://www.silvercar.com


After taking a recent Uber Trip in Charlottesville Va I learned of a new startup company based in Richmond, VA called UZURV (Yoo'-zerv) which allows customers to make Uber Reservation Requests along with the option of picking your preferred Uber Driver.  My Uber Driver in Charlottesville, Jason,  gave me a special invitation card to try the service.  Jason explained to me that after downloading the UZURV application that you can then make reservation requests and correspond with a driver ahead of time.  This will then allow Uber customers in smaller markets to ensure they have a driver when needed (e.g. early morning airport run).  Jason also stated that both the Uber Driver and Customer would complete the ride transaction through the Uber application once the driver picks up the passenger.  According to Jason the new company contacted Uber about the new business and has their blessing so far.

 

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According to the UZURV website they are expanding in many different markets throughout Virginia and North Carolina.

http://www.uzurv.com/cities

 

I also found this video which goes into details on how the UZURV app works:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQeJkj-3NnQ

 

 

As you can see in the video there is an option to add a driver incentive for taking your reservation request which I think is fair especially if you need a really early morning ride to the airport or need to travel to a less populated area.  According to their website the reservation fee during their Beta period is 99 cents and will then later increase to $2.95.

 

I found an online article from January that explains how the startup company got started by two Uber Drivers who met at a local event in the Richmond area and got into a discussion about the need for an Uber Reservation System.

http://richmondbizsense.com/2016/01/11/reservation-startup-hitches-onto-ubers-success/

 

I think that as long as Uber continues to have no objection to this service that it could do really well.  I like the idea of having a reservation option should I need it.  It's also nice having the option of reserving a preferred driver.  I wish the company the best of luck.