#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Connecticut Salsa Fest

[DISCLOSURE: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Connecticut Salsa Fest other than being an attendee and have not been hired to promote Connecticut Salsa Fest in any way. As of the time of this writing, I am not affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding both the festival and the above companies is my objective advice and is presented as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

For today’s survival guide, we are covering Connecticut Salsa Fest, an excellent salsa festival with a strong bachata component. Connecticut Salsa Fest just celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2019, making it one of the longest-running salsa festivals in the US. In addition to world-class salsa workshops and a large salsa ballroom, there is also a strong bachata component, with equally world-class bachata workshops and an active bachata room hosted by Island Touch. The event also has had a charity component for the last 10 years, with a gala fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital on Sunday that raises over $100,000 for the hospital every year.

In addition, Connecticut Salsa Fest is one of the most child and family-friendly festivals around now, with youth passes and performances as well as special youth parties available. Expect to see a lot of young children running around at this festival.

In 2020, Connecticut Salsa Fest will take place on the weekend of June 25th-28th at the Hilton Stamford Hotel & Executive Meeting Center in Stamford, CT, a heavily urbanized metropolitan New York City-area Connecticut suburb located about an hour outside of NYC and convenient to a variety of transportation options. Stamford has shown up on many a list of the best NYC suburbs that are marginally commutable to New York City while allowing one to avoid NYC’s astronomical rents and cost of living.

PASS:

You know the deal by now, the sooner, the better. For the bachater@s who only wish to participate in the nighttime bachata parties, there is usually a bachata room-only pass sold for around $50 in the late fall season preceding the festival that is good for Friday through Sunday night.

LODGING:

The festival’s organizers offer a room block at the Hilton Stamford for $109 per night. Hilton Honors members purchasing in advance can possibly access even lower rates than this. Of course, roomsharing with up to three other people can bring the cost down to as low as $30 per night once taxes and fees are figured in.

A link to book your room for 2020 will be posted here when available.

Amenities at the hotel include clean, modern rooms and suites with all the room amenities one would expect from a modern hotel, a heated indoor pool, a seasonal patio, a fitness center, a tennis court, and, most notably, a free shuttle going to Stamford Town Center and the Stamford Transportation Center.

With Stamford being an urban transportation hub, there are many alternate hotel and motel options, including some that are less expensive, but you know me by this time. No discussion of alternate options until the hotel is completely sold out.

TRAVEL:

Citymapper supports not only the NYC area via its NYC package but also the immediate Connecticut suburbs, including Stamford, going as far out as the New Haven area. Citymapper will be immensely helpful in planning your trip and I suggest downloading it and using it for this festival and any others in supported cities.

UberPOOL and Shared Lyft are not available in the state of Connecticut at time of writing, making UberX and Lyft the least expensive options available. These options can be split with fellow attendees of the festival with some coordination. As of the time of this writing, Hilton Honors members who have linked their Lyft accounts to their HH accounts will get 3 Hilton Honors points for every dollar spent on Lyft rides. It’s not much, but every little bit helps.

No matter how you get to Stamford, the Stamford Transportation Center, served by Amtrak and MTA Metro North trains and also known as the Stewart B. McKinney Transportation Center, will likely be your ultimate destination and travel hub for the immediate area. Located at 30 South State Street in downtown Stamford, the station is small and aesthetically unfussy, but well laid-out and a breeze to navigate. The station has a Dunkin’ and a small convenience store if you get hungry or thirsty, as well as another cafe that I can’t comment on because it was closed when I was there. The Stamford Transportation Center is located about a 12 minute walk away from the Hilton.

Walking directions from Stamford Transportation Center to the Hilton:

Exit the station at South State Street and walk southwest. Make a left onto Greenwich Avenue and an immediate right onto First Stamford Place. Follow First Stamford Place all the way around the hotel, making a left at the fork in the road, and the hotel will be on your right. Follow the reverse of these directions to get back to the station.

TRAIN/BUS:

For anyone on the east coast, the train and/or the bus will likely be your preferred way of getting to this festival.

Your baller option for train travel on the east coast is the Amtrak Northeast Regional, which will take you right to Stamford Transportation Center. It is very expensive, costing an average of $100 from anywhere in the northeast within 6 hours and even more for business class, but if you want maximum comfort and legroom and a dining car and are willing to spend some extra money, this is a good option.

For most people on this blog, you’ll want to take the frugal option, which is a combination of the bus to NYC, a short walk or ride on the famous NYC subway to Grand Central Station, and the MTA Metro North New Haven Line from Grand Central to Stamford.

Megabus and Bolt Bus are the two recommended options for travel to NYC. Both buses average around $15-20 one way for a trip from anywhere within a 4 hour radius, depending on what time of the day you take the bus.

Bolt Bus stops at 11th Ave and West 34th Street in Hudson Yards near the Javitts Center. From there take the 7 subway train towards Flushing – Main St from 34 St – Hudson Yards to Grand Central – 42 St station, and Grand Central Terminal is a short walk from there. This will cost about $2.75. The walk is about 30 minutes if you have that time and want to save the subway fare.

Megabus now stops at 7th Avenue and 28th Street. From here, take the 1 train uptown toward Van Cortlandt Park – 242 St 3 stops to Times Square – 42nd St. Grand Central is an 11 minute walk east on 42nd St from this famous NYC tourist trap to Grand Central. The subway fare is, again, about $2.75, and the walk is about 24 minutes if you want to save the subway fare.

If you really want to risk riding the Dirty Dog, which we do not generally recommend, Greyhound stops at the NYC Port Authority Bus Terminal, a mere 14 minute walk east on West 42nd Street from Grand Central Station.

Once at Grand Central Station, a digital kiosk for tickets to the MTA Metro North train heading in the direction of New Haven (with some terminating at Stamford station) is very easy to locate. These commuter trains run at about 20 minute intervals, even on Memorial Day. The kiosk is very easy to navigate and purchasing a one-way ticket will take about 5 minutes. The trip between Grand Central and Stamford will take about 52 minutes and cost $11.50 one way. I found the Metro North trains to be clean and comfortable, and many seats have working outlets that you can use to charge your phone and/or external battery on the train. The digital kiosk for Metro North at Stamford is located right next to the ticket window.

For residents of New Haven or any other Connecticut towns served by the train route between Grand Central and New Haven such as Fairfield, Bridgeport, Milford, and Darien, Metro North will get you to Stamford for about $8 one way.

Shore towns east of New Haven such as Branford, Guilford, and Madison are sometimes also served by Metro North, but this service is less frequent. Expect to sometimes drive or take Uber/Lyft to New Haven if you live anywhere east of New Haven, depending on when you go.

FLYING:

For all of you flying, your two most convenient airports are LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in NYC and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in NJ, both of which are served by Spirit Airlines.

The trip from EWR to Stamford is about two hours on average and costs $27.25 one way (that includes NEC/NJCL, subway, and Metro North). Take the AirTrain from Terminal A 4 stops to the Newark Liberty International Airport Stop and take the NEC or NJCL towards New York Penn Station 3 stops to New York Penn. Once at Penn, take the 1, 2, or 3 NYC Subway Trains uptown to Times Square, walk from Times Square to Grand Central following the Megabus directions above, then from Grand Central take Metro North to Stamford Transportation Center.

The trip from LGA is comparatively shorter and less expensive, at about 1.5 hours and $14.25 one way (including M60-SBS and Metro North). From LGA Terminal A, take the M60-SBS bus toward W 106 St./Broadway to the East 125th Street/Park Avenue stop. The Harlem-125th Street MTA station is about a block west, and a Metro North ticket to Stamford can be purchased here for about $8.

CAR:

For everyone driving, parking is offered at the hotel at $20 per day for self-parking, which is not a bad deal for the area. Many people driving will opt for this for convenience purposes, but it is the baller option.

The frugal option is the Harbor Point Gateway Garage which offers daily parking directly adjacent to Stamford Transportation Center for $12 per 24 hour period, for as many days as you like. Parking can be reserved in advance via a web form at the above link.

FOOD:

For the bachater@s, there exists in Stamford about an 8-10 minute drive from the hotel a restaurant that was seemingly put there just for you. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is a restaurant in Stamford called… Bachata Restaurant. This cozy Dominican eatery, located at 822 East Main Street in Stamford, offers cafeteria-style service of a wide variety of delicious Dominican food staples and a sound system that plays a steady stream of… Polish-Iranian industrial folk/death metal fusion music. What else would this restaurant play on their sound system? No really, the sound system plays a wide variety of both traditional and urban bachata. The place isn’t really set up for dancing, but there’s a small area of open floor where you and your partner can have a reasonably restrained and space-mindful dance if it isn’t too crowded and there aren’t other people there with the same idea.

A large plate filled with as much food as the plate will hold costs $11 and a small plate can be had for $9. The service is cafeteria-style with you pointing out what you would like to eat and the workers behind the counter serving it up. There’s a bit of a language barrier if you don’t speak Spanish and can’t identify some food items, but it isn’t a big deal. This restaurant is excellent and wholeheartedly recommended not just for the novelty of a restaurant called Bachata Restaurant but also because it’s a very good restaurant.

Another excellent option right next to Bachata Restaurant is Kumo Ultimate Sushi Bar & Grill. At this sushi buffet, you can fill up to your heart and stomach’s content on a variety of sushi rolls, other Chinese and Japanese foods, fruits, and dessert items for a mere $18. I also wholeheartedly recommend this restaurant as well; the food is delicious and $18 to fill your belly is as good a deal as you will get at a restaurant in this immediate area.

For all the drinkers, also located in this immediate area is a beer and wine SUPERSTORE called BevMax. The yellow and red sign is hard to miss. I don’t drink much, so I did not check this place out, but I’m sure a beer and wine superstore would have everything you need and then some.

Closer to the hotel, the hotel’s restaurant is a Mediterranean farm-to-table restaurant called Tavola selling New England staples such as lobster rolls and flat breads for lunch, and a breakfast buffet during standard breakfast hours.

There are very few coffee options close to the hotel (Starbucks is about a 14 minute walk west). Your best coffee practice is likely to buy a few iced coffee cold brews from the Dunkin’ at Stamford Transportation Center and mix in some Rapidfire powder if you want, and otherwise make coffee cold brews and energy drinks part of your grocery shopping.

My advice for your grocery shopping and staples would be to bring as much as you can from wherever you’re coming from as possible. With Stamford effectively being a New York City suburb, everything is likely to be more expensive than it is where you’re at.

The closest frugal shopping place is the Target at Stamford Town Center (21 Broad Street), which is a short trip from the Hilton on the free shuttle, 8 minutes in an UBER, or a 24 minute walk. The closest Wal-Mart is a 15 minute drive away at 680 Connecticut Ave in Norwalk. You will definitely save more ultimately by going to Target if you did not drive. Walgreens is located east of Stamford Town Center on Main Street, about 3 or 4 blocks west of Bachata Restaurant.

Alternately, Fresh Nation is a three minute walk from the Hilton at 300 First Stamford Place and Utado Grocery is located an 11 minute walk or 4 minute drive away at 60 Selleck Street.

Finally, there is a bevy of food options located in Stamford Town Center including but not limited to: Buffalo Wild Wings, Kashi, Starbucks, Fiesta Atlantic, Fairfield Pizza, Cilantro, Sushi X2, and McDonald’s.

That’s it for this guide… hope to see everyone in Stamford next year!

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