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Seeking travel advice for my expanding trip itinerary

Over a second round of Coronas and daiquiris Friday, my “Wolf Pack,” or the girls I woke up with in Vegas, decided a New Orleans trip was in order.

So, let’s add that to my growing list of travel destinations during the coming year:

Have you been to any of these destinations? If so, I could use your advice on the following:

Michigan

  • If you had time to do only one thing in the Okemos/East Lansing/Lansing area, what would you do?
  • Charming or exciting restaurants in downtown Grand Rapids
  • ¬†Ann Arbor Street Art Fair parking
  • Classic, must-eat-at spots in downtown Ann Arbor

Montana

  • Budget-friendly and tasty lunch eats in Billings
  • Best Billings microbreweries
  • Fun, budget-friendly (free!) things to do in or near Billings
  • Tips for visiting Little Bighorn Battlefield National Park

New York City

  • Manhattan boozy brunch spots — think unlimited mimosas! Extra points for Saturday brunches.
  • Your favorite things to do in Manhattan

Ithaca, N.Y.

  • Wineries worth visiting near Ithaca
  • Free or on-the-cheap things to do near Cornell’s campus
  • Charming, perhaps family-owned dining options
  • Things to know before tailgating Big Red football games

Florida

  • Chic, clean and won’t-break-the-bank hotels in Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando — Extra points for hotels with affordable suites!
  • Restaurant recommendations and fun things to in Ft. Lauderdale — Extra points for non-beach activities!
  • Tips for visiting the Epcot Food and Wine Festival

New Orleans

  • Fabulous yet affordable hotels in New Orleans
  • Best way to get around the city
  • Quintessential NOLA — places to eat and things to do!

Leave your travel tips in the comments below!

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kelli Ameling #

    Well, I can only offer advice on a couple of these locations, but hopefully it’s helpful.
    Michigan – Grand Rapids:
    1. Zen Asian Bistro and Sushi Restaurant is my new favorite place to go. I fell in love with sushi and it’s pretty reasonably priced. They offer an endless sushi special, which is all you can eat for $21.99 and it’s made freshly for you. This is a great place for drinks and more as it also turns into a night club on the weekends – kind of weird I know, but totally awesome. For lunch, they offer a sushi/chinese buffet for $8.99, which is also good, but not made specially for you. They also have a menu that you are able to order off of for lunch or dinner will sushi rolls ranging from $4 to $16 depending on the specialty.
    2. Peppino’s is my favorite “bar scene” in Grand Rapids. It’s located right downtown next to Van Andel and has great drink specials. About 90 percent of the time, there is a live band and many times that I have gone in there, there had been celebrities eating, drinking and/or performing before or after their show at Van Andel (including members of Maroon 5, Neon Trees, Carrie Lynch Band and much more). Their service is always awesome even on nights when they are packed for shows at Van Andel, they hardly ever miss a beat. Usually on those same nights, they have amazing food specials like a large, one-topping pizza for $2.99 – Crazy I know.
    3. I only live 30 minutes from there, so I could always meet you for a drink!

    Montana – Billings:
    I was born in Great Falls, and although I have never been to Billings, there is one thing that comes to mind about the state – its cinnamon Coke.
    Most restaurants have the cinnamon-flavored Coke in and around Great Falls, so I would recommended seeing if it is offered in Billings. It will rock your world.

    July 14, 2013
    • Kelli,
      Thank you for the Grand Rapids suggestions, and I’ll look for that cinnamon Coke in Montana. I’ll let you know if I find it!
      Erin

      July 15, 2013
  2. Greg #

    Hey Erin!

    Chiming in on Florida.

    Can’t help you out on Fort Lauderdale, but Disney/Orlando I can. (As for Fort Lauderdale, I’d suggest starting your search with VISITFLORIDA.com; it’s Florida’s official tourism agency.)

    EPCOT’s Food & Wine Festival is taking place this year September 27 – November 11.

    Weather wise this is great! Average high is in the low 80’s, average low is in the high 70’s.

    I assume you’re flying, which into Orlando’s MCO airport which is often fairly cheap to fly into, especially from Washington, D.C. and other major cities.

    Cost to the theme park itself is constantly growing as well. Earlier this year Disney announced yet another admission fee hike. Magic Kingdom is now $3 more expensive than the other parks, and it’ll still cost you about $90 to get into JUST EPCOT for one day. So pack your cash.

    As for the event itself there are special seminars, cooking demonstrations, and meet and greets with cookbook authors set up, however the main attraction of the festival is the “eating around the world”. I’m sure you’ve heard about “drinking around the world” at EPCOT? Same thing.

    As you tour the nations around the lagoon you will see outdoor vendors set up offering dishes unique to that nation; i.e. enchilada in Mexico, Scottish Salmon with Cauliflower Puree in Scotland Booth, and Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans, Onions, Avocado, and Cilantro at a Brazil booth…etc.

    You should know that the menus are limited and fairly small at each vendor booth. Sometimes only 3 or 4 food items. The serving of the food is quite small as well, typically just a “sample” size. Enough for 3 or 4 bites and it could cost anywhere from $6 – $8 for each item. The expense of attending can add up quickly. This isn’t taking the “wine” part of the festival into account either. Wine is served the same way as the food. Specialty kinds of wine unique to that particular nation is offered at the vendor booths.

    How you approach the festival is really up to you. Some people elect to go all out, and have dinner by filling up on a sample from each booth. There’s probably two dozen booths total. When I go I tend to have a lunch, and kind of snack at a few booths and here there that may have something that looks interesting.

    And that leads me to the most important aspect. The experience is what YOU make it. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy EPCOT’s Food & Wine Festival. Just come packed with cash and enthusiasm to have a great time.

    RESORTS. Are you looking to stay on property or off property? There are perks to both. Staying on property gives you the piece of mind that you will be fully taken care of. Disney provides transportation to the theme parks, etc. For on site resorts just book directly through Disney online.

    Keep in mind there are Disney partner properties located at Downtown Disney that are very close to not only Downtown Disney but also EPCOT. These resorts also provide transportation to and from the resorts as well. You’ll want to remember that ANY hotel using the name “resort” in it’s name is VERY LIKELY charging a parking fee and/or an addition “resort fee” above and beyond the rate of the room listed online. You will want to check the fine print VERY VERY CAREFULLY. Sometimes it takes some searching, but I can guarantee you that nearly every “hotel/resort” located at Downtown Disney charges a fee. This fee can also vary anywhere from $12-$20 per person per room per day.

    Many of these hotels are located on “Buena Vista Drive” and “Hotel Plaza Blvd.”.
    Some of the resorts include:
    >Buena Vista Palace & Resort
    >Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Resort
    >Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista Resort
    >Holiday Inn Lake Buena Vista
    >Royal Plaza
    >Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort
    >DoubleTree Suites Lake Buena Vista

    Now, kiddie corner from here are a few more resorts that may require you drive yourself (Parking cost $14 at theme park), however you may save a few more bucks in the long run.

    One near by resort is “Orlando Vista” (S Apopka Vineland Rd,) or “the pineapple hotel” as I’d like to call it. That’s because there’s a huge pineapple at the top of the building. I’ve stayed at this hotel numerous times before, though it seems to be a little more run down each time I had stayed. It’s been more than a year since I’ve stayed so really can’t say. (TripAdvisor.com is a great website to always check out any resort).

    Now a great near-by resort is BlueTree Vista Resort (12007 Cypress Run Drive). Pretty impressed with them.

    Know that while the fall is a slower season for Disney, room rates do tend to go up during special events like Food & Wine Festival.

    Hotel options can also depend on YOU. How far or close are you will to be? What’s your budget? I something have the mindset that since I plan on being out for the bulk of the day I just need a place to sleep; nothing fancy.

    I like to check out Travelocity.com and then compare on a hotel chain’s direct website. Just know Disney DOES NOT list their actual resorts on any website except for their own. You will find Disney partners properties on travel search engines, but “not usually” a direct Disney resort.

    Now, part of Food & Wine Festival (Flower & Garden Festival is cool too) is having fun with all the park has to offer anyway. There are the staple attractions like Soarin’, Finding Nemo and Friends, Mission: SPACE, Test Track, etc. Future World operates 9:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. (except for the main attractions listed above which close at 9:00 p.m.) and World Showcase operates 11:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. Every night at 9:00 p.m. is EPCOT’s nightly firework/lazer light show “Illuminations”. Many great views to watch, and while cast members will tell you any spot is a great spot, there are some spots better than others. Along the guardrail in Norway and Mexico is good…so is the patio from Rose & Crown Pub in the UK.

    July 14, 2013
    • Greg,
      Thank you so much for your Orlando travel tips! I’ll be traveling with my mom, and we’ve just begun planning our trip. This information will be incredibly helpful as we continue to plan.
      Erin

      July 15, 2013

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