#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I, the author of this guide and current sole proprietor of this blog, am a member of the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress Social Media Promotional Team, otherwise known as the “BSBC Social Butterflies”. However, the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress has been one of my top five favorite congresses for two years prior to me joining the team in October 2018, and the bulk of this article was written in the summer and early fall of 2018 before I joined the team. Although I admittedly have some inherent biases from being on the promo team, this was a congress I could get behind 100% before being on the team, and what you read in this article IS my objective advice. All advice is presented as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

The time has come to cover another entry in the hallowed list of my top five favorite congresses in the USA – the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress!  In 2016, local promoters and DJs Raj More and Dola Ige took over the operations of this congress from its previous management, and have since been growing it into a world-class salsa and bachata festival for the ages.

The Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress takes place at the Hilton Baltimore, a massive, sprawling, gorgeous multi-level modern conference hotel located at 401 Pratt Street right in the heart of downtown Baltimore near the Inner Harbor. The venue is more than capable of handling this large-scale dance festival, and includes clean, modern rooms and such amenities as the region’s only Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shop, a heated pool, a fitness center, and stunning views of Oriole Park at Camden Yards from the suites as well as a select handful of standard rooms.  This year, the festival is happening from April 18th to April 22nd, 2019, and close to 500 attendees from all over the country are expected if previous years are any indication.

Visit http://www.baltimorecongress.com for up-to-date information, schedules, and a link to book your hotel room!

Your days at the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress will be filled with workshops from some of the best salsa and bachata instructors doing it right now, and your nights will be filled with performances, live concerts, and some of the most consistently outstanding and memorable social dancing you will have the entire year in expansive salsa, bachata, and kizomba/zouk ballrooms.  This congress is one of my favorites and I can’t recommend it enough!  Today’s blog entry is your guide to doing this truly superlative congress as frugally as possible!

But first…

A NOTE ABOUT BALTIMORE CITY IN GENERAL:

Being careful where you go is important in Baltimore. While the area of Baltimore city around the event hotel is very safe, neighborhood safety varies further away from the hotel and some neighborhoods can be high-crime.

I am not saying this to fearmonger or to try and discourage anyone from going to this congress – it is one of the best congresses on the east coast and well worth going to – but I have to keep it 100 for the safety of my readers, especially those who may be coming to Baltimore for the first time and may not know which neighborhoods are safe or not.

Again, the area around the hotel is very safe and you need not worry there.

Since I know some dancers are adventurous and like to explore, for those who want to explore other parts of Baltimore City, neighborhoods I recommend are the Inner Harbor, Fells Point, Ridgeley’s Delight, and Federal Hill.

With that note out of the way, on to the guide…

PASS:

You know what to do by now. Buy early, use discount codes, volunteer.

TRAVEL:

FLYING:

If flying to the congress, your best option is good old Spirit, which flies directly into Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). BWI is located about 15-17 minutes from the Hilton Baltimore by UBER/Lyft or 30-40 minutes by light rail.

Important: the Hilton Baltimore on Pratt Street in downtown Baltimore, which is the congress hotel, is not to be confused with the Hilton Baltimore BWI Airport, a smaller hotel located near the airport. Two entirely different hotels. If you go to the Hilton Baltimore BWI and ask where the congress registration desk is, all you will get is a blank stare most likely.

If you take a non-Spirit airline, make sure you fly into BWI, as DCA and IAD are both too far away from the congress to be practical.

Heads up – no form of UBER Pool or Shared Lyft are available in Baltimore at the time of this writing (September 2018 for this particular section, but I wrote large parts of this post this past summer). Your absolute cheapest rideshare options in Baltimore at this time are UberX or regular Lyft, which can get expensive, so figuring out the bus and light rail systems is, as always, your best frugal idea.  Of course, UberX and Lyft can be split with fellow congress attendees with some coordination and planning.

Light RailLink Directions to the Hilton Baltimore from BWI Airport:

The light rail leaves BWI from the southeastern side of the airport in between the entrance/exit for Spirit/Delta (BONUS FOR THE MAXIMALLY FRUGAL) and the entrance exit for CES Airport/British Airways/Condor.

Get on the light rail north toward Hunt Valley | Timonium Fairgrounds and take it 11 stops to the Pratt Street Light Rail Station.  From there, walk three minutes west on Pratt Street and the hotel will be on your left.

This will be a 37 minute trip one way at a cost of $1.80.

To return to BWI, walk back to the Light Rail station and get on the southbound light rail toward BWI Airport, and ride 11 stops back to the BWI Airport Stop next to the Spirit/Delta entrance.

This will be a 42 minute trip one way at a cost of $1.80.

The last northbound light rail train on the Friday schedule leaves BWI at 12:40am Saturday morning.

The first Saturday train leaves BWI at 5:10am Saturday morning, and the last one leaves at 12:40am Sunday morning.

The first Sunday train leaves BWI at 10:40am Sunday morning and the last one leaves at 8:40pm.

The first southbound train leaves from Pratt Street at 4:36am Saturday and the last one leaves around 12:05am Sunday morning.

The southbound trains don’t begin running on Sunday until around 10am, so light rail use will not be possible between midnight and 10am Sunday, and the last southbound train leaves at 8:06pm on Sunday.  The first southbound train of weekday service leaves Pratt Street around 4:15am on Monday morning.

The above times are current as of the time of writing in September 2018.

For more info on the light rail including fares and schedules: https://mta.maryland.gov/light-rail

DRIVING:

I do not recommend driving directly to this particular congress as it is located in downtown Baltimore and parking is expensive and spottily available. If you are driving to this congress, I recommend parking in BWI’s long-term parking ($8-12 per day) and taking UBER/Lyft or the light rail to the hotel.

Otherwise, I recommend taking the bus or train to BWI and going to the hotel from there as described above.

BUS/TRAIN:

Both the Amtrak Northeast Regional and the MARC trains go directly to Baltimore Penn Station and the directions from Penn Station to the Hilton (see below) can be followed from there.  If you prefer, Amtrak and MARC both go to BWI, and the above light rail directions can be followed from there.

Bolt Bus stops at 1578 Maryland Avenue, only one block west of Penn Station, and Baltimore City’s 51 bus (see below) picks up from there as well.

Directions from Penn Station to the Hilton Baltimore:

– Walk south on Charles Street and make a right on Oliver Street

– Walk over to Maryland Avenue to the 51 bus stop at Maryland Ave and Oliver Street (SB 2172) [this is half a block south of where BoltBus drops off so if you took BoltBus walk south on Maryland Avenue to the 51 stop]

– Take the 51 Downtown 10 stops to Hopkins Place and Pratt Street

– Walk west on Pratt Street for two and a half blocks and the hotel will be on your left.

This is about a 26 minute trip one way and costs $1.80.

Directions from the Hilton Baltimore to Penn Station:

– Exit the side facing Pratt Street

– Walk about a block and a half east on Pratt Street to the Pratt Street Light Rail Station

– Get on the Light Rail northbound toward Hunt Vally | Timonium Foregrounds | Penn Station

– Ride 5 stops to the Mount Royal & Lt Rail Station

– Walk southeast on Mount Royal Avenue, swing a left on Mount Oliver Street, and walk east two blocks to Charles Street

– Make a left on Charles Street to return to Penn Station

This is about a 27 minute trip one way and costs $1.80.

More info on the 51 bus including fares and schedules here: https://mta.maryland.gov/share-bus-overview?bus_service=Local+Bus&route=Route+51

Penn Station is also an 8 minute UBER/Lyft ride away from the hotel.

The area around Penn Station is pretty safe, but use your best judgement.  If you’re going 100% public transit, the light rail route from BWI is probably your absolute safest option if you have a choice.

As excellent as Megabus normally is, taking it to the Baltimore Congress is not recommended, as it stops in White Marsh, which is a considerable distance northeast of downtown Baltimore, which will add considerable time and expense to your trip.

Depending on where you’re coming from it may be more efficient if Megabus is your best or only option to go to Union Station in DC, take the MARC to Baltimore Penn Station or BWI and follow the relevant directions to the Hilton from there.  It will honestly take just as much time as trying to get from White Marsh to downtown Baltimore using exclusively public transportation.  UBER/Lyft from WM to downtown Baltimore will be stupidly expensive, especially in light of Pool/Shared not being an option.

Baltimore and all surrounding areas are supported by Citymapper as of the time of this writing, so the app’s combined DC/Baltimore package can be used to easily navigate transit in Baltimore including real-time schedules and multiple routes.

LODGING:

Your best and safest option is to stay at the event hotel.

As with most congresses, but to even more of a degree with this one due to the varying nature of neighborhood safety in Baltimore, your best option is to stay onsite.

The Baltimore Congress team is currently offering a room block at the event hotel at a cost of $130 per night for both one-king and two-double rooms.  This is the best deal you will find on this hotel or any other hotel in the immediate vicinity; rooms at the event hotel normally go for close to $200 per night outside of this room block.

Of course, a roomshare of up to four people can bring the cost per room as low as $35 per night once taxes are figured in.

In 2018 the hotel sold out entirely and that is anticipated to happen again in 2019; the sooner you book your room, the better!

Book your hotel room HERE.

Incredibly, all two-double rooms on the block are sold out at the time of this writing in October 2018, but the Baltimore Congress team is negotiating to add more. More updates to come at a later date.

There will be an overflow block at a nearby hotel if the Hilton fully sells out as it did last year. The overflow hotel will be announced if the Hilton does sell out.

If you are going to insist on staying at any other offsite location, which I do not recommend, do extensive research beforehand on the neighborhood you are staying in and make sure it is a safe neighborhood.

FOOD:

For the grocery shoppers, I recommend doing your food shopping before the congress if you are doing anything other than flying. If you are driving from points north there’s a Walmart in Aberdeen, MD, or if you’re coming from points south there’s one in Laurel, MD.

If you can’t get your shopping in beforehand for any reason, Price Rite of Baltimore, located on 1205 W Pratt Street near the B&O Railroad Museum (9 minute UBER/Lyft one way), is your best bet, and is in a safe part of Baltimore.

The aforementioned Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is the most convenient option for your coffee fix, but be warned that they close at 4:00pm on Friday and Saturday and 6:00pm on Sunday, and were not taking credit or debit cards at the time of 2018’s festival per some attendee reports, but this may change in 2019.

The closest Starbucks is located about a 5 minute walk east (one way) at 1 W Pratt Street in the nearby Baltimore Convention Center, and Heavenly Manna Coffee House is located across the street.

Walk a little further east and you will find two more Starbucks shops, both across the street from one another at 100 and 200 East Pratt Street respectively.  According to comedian Lewis Black, two Starbucks coffee shops across the street from one another is the End Of The Universe, so we can put the End Of The Universe down as one more cool spectacle to see in downtown Baltimore.

Alternately, Peace & A Cup Of Joe, a cozy local independent coffeehouse, is located about a 8-10 minute walk west (one way) in the Ridgley’s Delight area of Baltimore at 713 W. Pratt Street.

These are all safe parts of Baltimore.

As far as places to eat out go, there’s Jimmy John’s, Subway, and Chipotle near the hotel, and you can also find a Shake Shack, Cheesecake Factory, Hooters, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Hard Rock Cafe, Fogo de Chao, Johnny Rockets, and Phillip’s Seafood near The End Of The Universe at the Inner Harbor as well.

The congress also features a taco truck right outside the hotel between 10:30pm and 3am. This is an excellent food option, but it tends to sell out by 1am or thereabouts, so jump on it early in the night. Hopefully the truck’s operators bring double the supplies that they have in previous years this year, because their food is quite good, and it will be a popular option.

That’s all for this survival guide, holla in the comments if you have anything else and I’ll see you at BSBC!

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#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Sensual Day

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Sensual Day other than being a loyal attendee and Sami being a personal friend of mine. I have not been hired to promote Sensual Day in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. 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 these companies is my objective advice. All content in this article is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

The newest addition to the Washington, DC area’s massive abundance of dance events is Sensual Day, a tri-annual one-day bachata/kizomba/zouk mini-festival conceived by DC Zouk Festival organizer and DC-based DJ Sami “Selo” Ahmed as a celebration of sensual dance.

This intimate, personal, and high-quality new dance event has separate winter, spring, and fall editions that take place on one Saturday in January, April, and September every year, and is located for the foreseeable future at the Dance Institute of Washington (3400 14th Street NW), hereafter referred to in this article as DIW.  DIW is a unique, aesthetically pleasing second-floor dance loft boasting three studio rooms with vinyl dance floors and ballet poles, an expansive lobby and hallway, a kitchen in the back, and two water fountains.  DIW is located right in the heart of DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood right next to the neighborhood’s Metro stop, several restaurants (detailed in the food section), a new shopping mall, and a few different bars.

Afternoon workshops featuring a variety of national and international instructors begin at 3pm and go until 7pm.  Bachata, zouk, and kizomba workshops happen concurrently in their respective rooms.  After a two hour break, additional bachata and zouk workshops both take place at 9pm (again, both workshops happen concurrently in their respective rooms), followed by social dancing from 10pm until 3am in separate bachata, zouk, and kizomba rooms.

As with most DC dance events, the main Sensual Day event is flanked by an abundance of pre and post parties.  Pre-parties take place at revered Arlington Latin dance haunt The Salsa Room on Wednesday (as part of their famous Passion Bachata Wednesdays event), former Fusion Thursdays location Meze Restaurant in Adams Morgan (about 5-7 minutes from Columbia Heights) on Thursday, and again at The Salsa Room on Friday.  Sensual Day’s post party happens at the world-famous DC Bachata Brunch, a Sunday afternoon DC mainstay that everyone going to DC must experience for themselves at least once. Sadly, Stanton & Greene, Bachata Brunch’s longtime Capitol Hill venue, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and closed its doors, but Bachata Brunch will continue in the neighborhood by the DC Convention Center at the 1230 Afrofusion Restaurant and Champagne Lounge, located at 1230 9th Street NW, Washington, DC.

The Winter 2019 edition of Sensual Day takes place on Saturday, January 26th, 2019 and the Spring 2019 edition takes place on Saturday, April 27th, 2019. All pre and post parties happen on the corresponding days surrounding the main event.

For up-to-the minute information on Sensual Day, check out Sensual Day’s Facebook page.

This survival guide will help you navigate this excellent new event #FrugalCongressLife style!

GOOD TO KNOW:

DIW does not allow street shoes in their studios, so a pair of suede-sole dance shoes is a must for this event (and is a good idea for most dance events in general).  A good pair of frugal dance shoes is Sansha’s jazz sneakers (about $30) with a pair of stick-on suede soles from Soles2Dance (about $25), for a combined price of $55.  Both products are available on Amazon as well.

A NOTE ABOUT DC STREETS:

DC often has two or more streets with the same name, each located in the northeast (NE), northwest (NW), southeast (SE), or southwest (SW) quadrants of the city, and distinguishes between the streets by putting NE, NW, SE, or SW at the end of the name to identify which quadrant of DC it’s in.

Pay special attention to the quadrant initials at the end of street names when planning trips or consulting your GPS for directions — if you accidentally type in L Street NE when you meant to go to L Street NW or 7th Street SE when you meant to go to 7th Street NW etc., you could wind up in an entirely different part of the city from your intended destination.

This is something us DC natives take for granted from living here for so long but can really trip up those unfamiliar with the area.

PASS:

The price for a pass is very reasonable, and the earlier you buy the less expensive it is.

TRAVEL:

DIRECTIONS TO DIW FROM THE COLUMBIA HEIGHTS METRO:

DIW is located two blocks north of the Columbia Heights Metro stop.  Exit the station at 14th Street (you’ll see Target, Best Buy etc.) make a right and walk north on 14th Street (if you see CVS, the Sprint Store, or Chipotle you’re going the wrong way) and the Dance Institute will be on your left.

Since the DC Metro system did away with paper farecards a while back, a SmarTrip card will be essential for paying the fares on the Metro system and parking at Metro lots (see below). A SmarTrip card costs $10 for the initial purchase but can be refilled as many times as you want at designated SmarTrip kiosks, but prepare for this initial expense. Try and keep your SmarTrip card if you plan on visiting DC again in the future.

Information on the DC Metro system can be found here: http://www.wmata.com

A map of the DC Metro system can be found here: https://www.wmata.com/schedules/maps/upload/2017-System-Map.pdf

DRIVING:

First thing you have got to realize about Columbia Heights is this: there is no parking.  Street parking is so hard to find it’s practically non-existent and the few garages in the area are very expensive. Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan are both considered two of the most difficult DC neighborhoods to park in by locals.

If driving from out of town I recommend parking at one of the Metro stops where overnight parking is available (preferably Greenbelt or Franconia Springfield) and taking Metro to Columbia Heights.  If  parking at Greenbelt or Franconia Springfield, Columbia Heights is a straight shot down the green line to Branch Avenue or the yellow line to Huntington, and you can follow the walking directions to DIW from there.

TRAIN/BUS:

Take the train or bus to Union Station in DC and follow the below directions to DIW.

DIRECTIONS TO DIW FROM UNION STATION:

Get on the Metro red line towards Shady Grove, and transfer at Gallery Place-Chinatown to the green line to Greenbelt, then take that to the Columbia Heights stop and follow the walking directions from the Metro stop from there.

FLYING:

Try to fly into DCA if you can, it will be the closest airport to this event.

DIRECTIONS FROM DCA:

Take the Metro yellow line toward Fort Totten to the Columbia Heights metro station and follow the walking directions to DIW from there.  If the yellow line is only going to Mount Vernon Square/7th Street Convention Center, get off there, transfer to the green line to Greenbelt and take that to Columbia Heights.

DIRECTIONS FROM BWI:

Try to get in early enough so that the MARC train is still running.  If no MARC train is running, see if there’s an Amtrak train that goes from BWI to Union Station, as it will be far less expensive than an UBER (about $16 for Amtrak vs. over $50 for an UBER).  Take MARC or Amtrak to Union Station and follow the directions from Union Station from there.

DIRECTIONS FROM IAD:

Take an UBER to the Wiehle-Reston stop on the silver line, take the silver line to L’Enfant Plaza and transfer to the green or yellow lines toward Greenbelt/Fort Totten to Columbia Heights and follow the walking directions to DIW from there

DC is, of course, supported by Citymapper at the time of writing.

LODGING:

I am local to this event, so lodging has never been an issue for me, but for the benefit of my readers, I did some research into Sensual Day’s lodging options.  I’ll mainly be covering lodging fairly close to DIW for the sake of keeping this article at a readable length, as I expect most of the pre-parties’ attendees will be local.

There are a handful of AirBNBs available near the event averaging at a cost of about $60-90 per night.  This may be your best and most frugal overall option for this particular event, but book quickly and in advance because they are going fast, at least for the January 2019 event.

BEWARE: The “DC Trekker” hostel is reportedly a scam and does not exist in real life.

The closest hotel is the Asante Sana Inn (1207 Kenyon Street NW), a bare-bones B&B type place averaging about $128 a night that has wildly mixed reviews with some reviews complaning about having difficulty checking in, which is inexcusable for a $128 per night hotel.  AirB&B honestly seems like a better bet than this place, as at least an AirB&B has clear check-in procedures usually (depending on your individual host of course).

Adam’s Inn (1746 Lanier Place NW) is the next closest lodging option in the nearby Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, where Meze is located. It is a B&B style hotel in a historic building near 18th Street, about a 7 minute UBER ride or 18 minute walk from DIW. It averages $75 per night, is described as “unfussy” and “quaint” and reviews are generally positive.  Caveat: some rooms have communal bathrooms shared with other guests, which will definitely be an issue if other guests want to shower at the same time you want to take your pre-social shower.  Also, this hotel is very close to one of DC’s main nightlife centers, 18th Street in Adam’s Morgan, and the area is a loud and wild circus on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Washington International Student Center, a long-operating hostel, is close by on 18th Street.  Google reviews describe a filthy and shoddily-run hostel and many of the owner’s responses to negative reviews are less than professional (“Perhaps go join a drama class somewhere”, “Nice hatchet job”), but at $53 per night, it is probably the cheapest non-AirBNB place nearby.

The closest semi-affordable chain hotel with good reviews and no cleanliness or safety issues is the Cambria Hotel and Suites (899 O Street NW), located about 9 minutes from DIW by UBER and 19 minutes walking/Metro and averaging about $150 per night.  This hotel was the site of the excellent but now-sadly-cancelled BKS Rooftop Wednesday salsa/bachata/kizouk socials, and although I have never stayed in the rooms because I’ve always lived 20 minutes or less from any event at or near there as of the time of this writing, the hotel overall is clean, modern and beautiful and I have good memories of dancing under the stars on their gorgeous rooftop.  Reviews are generally favorable and most complaints are about parking (which is bound to be an issue in downtown DC). Honestly if you’re gonna stay at a hotel for Sensual Day this is the one I recommend… most clean and well run hotels in a 5 mile radius of DIW are well over $200 per night making the Cambria your best bet.

The Hilton Garden Inn Washington DC (815 14th Street NW), the Holiday Inn Washington DC-Central/White House (1501 Rhode Island Avenue NW), are both good well-rated budget options at around $116 per night, but are much further away from DIW (15 minutes via UBER or 20 minutes via Metrobus).

BALLER OPTIONS:

For all you history buffs, the Washington Hilton (1919 Connecticut Avenue NW, $308 per night), also known as the Hinckley Hilton, is the site of John Hinckley Jr.’s 1981 assassination attempt on then-President Ronald Reagan, as well as 100+ presidential visits. I was there for a work gig in 2010 and I remember it being very large and expansive, but a fairly normal Hilton hotel. It would make a pretty good congress hotel if there weren’t already five million congresses in DC (maybe if Sensual Day grows enough it could be there one day?). The hotel’s history is not emphasized in its decoration or design, to the point that I didn’t even remember it was the Hinckley Hilton until the guy who got me the gig called it by that name.

If you’re feeling nostalgic for DCBX or Tropical New Year’s Eve, the Renaissance DC is about 15 minutes away from DIW by UBER or 20 minutes by Metro. This legendary congress hotel speaks for itself, but without the subsidy of DCBX’s room block, a room there goes for about $289 per night normally.

Finally, The Jefferson (1200 16th Street NW, $355/night) is an upscale 1920s-style hotel with 24 hour butler service and a spa.

FOOD:

Lodging and parking may be sparse around the immediate area, but food options around DIW are insanely abundant.

Your best bet for grocery shopping staples is the Target (3100 14th Street NW) in the shopping mall next to the Columbia Heights metro two blocks south of DIW. There is a Wal-Mart about 15 minutes away on Georgia Avenue, but in the case of this event, whatever you save buying at Wal-Mart over Target, you will spend getting there. This Target’s grocery section sells all the #FCL staples and anything else you need at comparable prices. If you prefer, there is also a Giant (1345 Park Road NW) right across the street from DIW next to the UPS Store.

Your coffee fix, if you are getting it near the venue, will likely be provided by Coffy Cafe (3310 14th Street NW), a 60s-themed cafe that also serves smoothies, crepes, and baked goods, located about 2 blocks south of DIW. That’s not a misspelling by the way, their name is actually spelled like that.

If the familiar comfort of Starbucks appeals to you more, there is one a block south at 3107 14th Street NW.

The options for your one meal out are also staggeringly abundant.

Directly across the street from DIW is Gloria’s (3411 14th Street NW) a simple no-nonsense eatery that serves traditional Mexican and Salvadorean dishes.  Be advised that Gloria’s is cash-only.

Lourdes Bakery (3419 14th Street NW) is right next door to Gloria’s.

If you desire a burger, fries, and a shake, Z-Burger is located a mere block south of DIW at 3301 14th Street NW.  If pollo is more your bag, Pollo Campero is located across the street at 3229 14th Street NW near the Civic Plaza.  Vegan and vegetarian dancers will be drawn to Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats (1370 Park Road NW), an all-vegan bakery and cafe serving salads, sandwiches, pastries, and cupcakes.

Those in the mood for Tex-Mex have El Tio Tex-Mex Grill (3345 14th Street NW), and those after some Dominican food have Los Hermanos (1428 Park Road NW), a small Dominican eatery featuring traditional dishes.  Alternately, get some pho next door from Los Hermanos at Pho 14 (1436 Park Road NW). Similarly if you want Cuban food you can go to Mi Cuba Cafe (1424 Park Road NW) or those craving some injera and doro wat can hit up Letena Ethiopian (3100 14th Street NW #121).  Vietnamese food can be found at Vietnamese Chelsea Restaurant (1413 Park Road NW).

If you want to get your drink on before the parties (SERIOUSLY, DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL AT DIW) you have a few options.  First and foremost is Zeba Bar, a hookah bar featuring drinks and upscale pub food located half a block up from DIW at 3423 14th Street NW.  Zeba Bar’s second floor is also the site of DC-area Latin event promoters the Bachata Brothers’ eclectic and long-running weekly Latin Wednesdays event.  Lou’s City Bar (1400 Irving Street NW) is a nearby alternative.

CVS (3031 14th Street NW) and 7-Eleven (3012 14th Street NW) are both located on the same block on 14th Street between Irving Street NW and Columbia Road NW just south of the Metro station should you need emergency supplies from there.

Here are some national chain restaurants located in the area, mostly near the Metro station: Subway (next to Coffy Cafe), Chipotle, Chick Fil-A, CAVA, and Panda Express.  Why anyone would go to a national chain restaurant with all of these good local and regional options in the area I do not know, especially if you’re following the standard #FCL “one meal out” guideline, but they are there.  One noteworthy chain nearby is IHOP (3100 14th Street NW), noteworthy because it is the only place open 24/7 in the area, making it your only post-social eating option at 3am besides 7-Eleven.

That’s it for this guide… be sure to hit the comments if you have anything else to add and I’ll see you all at the next Sensual Day event!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival other than being an attendee and have not been hired to promote CSBF in any way. As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Island Touch Dance Academy other than being a fan. I have not been hired by Island Touch Dance Academy to promote them 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.]

Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival is an excellent salsa and bachata event put on by the famed Island Touch Dance Academy and is one of their many regional salsa and bachata dance festivals.  CSBF is one of the Midwest’s top salsa and bachata festivals as well as one of the first festivals of the congress season (generally running from early spring until late fall), alongside Atlanta’s Salsa Bachata Festival at the beginning of March.  CSBF is happening March 22nd-25th in 2019.

The festival takes place in the town of Rosemont, IL, about 30 minutes outside of Chicago proper, at the Hilton Rosemont/Chicago O’Hare, a world-class conference hotel located near Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

CSBF features workshops by local, national, and international instructors, a series of unique bootcamps (priced separately), evening performances, and nighttime social dancing across two different ballrooms.

Today’s entry is your comprehensive #FrugalCongressLife guide to CSBF!

PASS:

Early bird passes are on sale now and are very inexpensive at about $135, snag one quickly if you want to go to this congress for the best possible price!

TRAVEL:

FLYING:

Spirit is where it’s at.  Spirit flies directly into ORD, and the Hilton Rosemont is a brief 1.5 mile ride on the free hotel shuttle away.  If you take a non-Spirit airline, make sure you fly into ORD, as it is the only practical airport option.

DRIVING:

Your most practical and frugal option if driving is to park in O’Hare’s economy parking Lot G ($10 per day) and take the free airport shuttle to the Hilton.

Parking directly at the Hilton is $30 per day for self-parking.

BUS:

Megabus goes from Cleveland (most people will have to take Greyhound to Cleveland also) to West Polk Street between S Clinton Street and S Canal St in Chicago, which is about a 22 minute UBER ride or about 40 minutes on the Chicago Blue Line.

DIRECTIONS TO THE HILTON ROSEMONT FROM THE POLK AVE MEGABUS STOP:

– Walk to the back of the stop to N Kilpatrick Avenue

– Make a left on N Kilpatrick Avenue

– Follow the road as it hangs left past the Mayfair station

– Make a right on Montrose Avenue and the Chicago Blue Line Montrose stop will be on your left

– Take the Blue Line to O’Hare

– Ride 4 stops to Rosemont

– Exit the station on the N River Road side, make a left and walk south on N River Road and the hotel will be on your right

TRAIN:

Amtrak’s Capitol Limited goes to Chicago Union Station, which is about a 22 minute UBER ride or an hour on the Chicago Blue Line from the hotel.

DIRECTIONS TO THE HILTON ROSEMONT FROM CHICAGO UNION STATION:

– Exit the station at S Clinton Street, make a left and walk south on S Clinton Street 2 blocks to the Chicago Blue Line Clinton stop

– Take the Blue Line to O’Hare

– Ride 20 stops to Rosemont

– Exit the station on the N River Road side, make a left and walk south on N River Road and the hotel will be on your right

Flying or driving/rideshare are probably your best, least complicated, and most economical options for this congress.

Chicago is a city supported by Citymapper at the time of writing.

LODGING:

CSBF’s hotel arrangement is very unique as far as congress hotels go.  In addition to the Hilton Rosemont, the congress hotel where all the action occurs, there are two other Hilton-branded hotels in the same general area, and all three are attached to each other (and the nearby Donald E. Stephens Convention Center) via skywalk.  The other two hotels are the Embassy Suites by Hilton Chicago O’Hare, and the Doubletree by Hilton.

The Hilton Rosemont itself is, comparatively, the baller option, at around $140-150 per night for a room, although there may be a congress room block for this hotel offering a lower price. Either way, the convenience of being able to just take the elevator upstairs to your room after a night of dancing and forego even the brief walk to the other two hotels is worth the price of admission to many dancers.  Amenities include a pool, fitness center, digital keys, floor-to-ceiling bay windows with stunning views in all rooms, and in-room massage services.

The Embassy Suites is the slightly less expensive middle option, at around $120-125 per night.  Amenities include a unique open-tiered layout that has the hallway outside the front door of every single room looking down on the lobby below, a complimentary made-to-order breakfast and evening dinner reception featuring light snack food, a heated indoor pool, and a fitness center.

Finally, we have the budget option, the Doubletree by Hilton, priced at around $100-110 per night.  The Doubletree is no budget motel, however, as it sports clean modern rooms with large luxurious showers, and amenities including a breakfast buffet (warning: not complimentary, expect to spend money for this), specialized fitness rooms featuring a Precor trainer and yoga equipment, a pool, a full fitness center, and a complimentary chocolate-chip cookie upon check-in.

You can’t go wrong with any of these hotels; they are all clean, beautiful, recently renovated, 4-star hotels that offer excellent amenities and a comfortable experience.  I also have no ethical qualms with outlining all three of these options, since they are all Hilton properties that stand to do well off this congress and since the Embassy and the Doubletree become the official overflow hotels when the Hilton Rosemont sells out, as it did last year.

Of course, you can reduce your expenses at each hotel by doubling, tripling, or quadrupling up in a room-share.  Even the two technically-offsite options are close enough so that they are a popular option with congress attendees.

If a room block exists for the main hotel, I would encourage you to support the organizers and use the room block first and foremost.

The skywalk connecting the hotels is a godsend for those not staying at the Hilton, but it’s worth noting that it is very labyrinthine and includes an outdoor section.  You enter the skywalk through an elevator in the lobby of the Hilton marked “To Skywalk” and follow the signs from there to your respective hotel. For those staying at the DoubleTree, there is a short outdoor section through the convention center’s attached parking garage.

Walking door to door from the entrance of the Hilton to the entrance of the Doubletree outside will save you about a minute of walking over taking the skywalk (yes, I timed it), but there are little if any time savings going door to door from the Hilton to the Embassy over the skywalk.  Regardless, late at night and when the weather is cold the skywalk is the best and most practical option.  One highlight of Friday night/Saturday morning at this past year’s CSBF for me was watching the sun rise from the skywalk with other attendees of the congress on the way back to my room at 6am after closing down the bachata room.

FOOD:

Wal-Mart shoppers are out of luck here, as the closest Wal-Mart is located over an hour away from the Hilton Rosemont.

The closest discount grocery store is ALDI, which is located about an 8 minute (one way) UBER ride south in Schiller Park at 9310 Irving Park Road.  Almost all of ALDI’s stock is off-brand, and do not expect to find Quest Bars or protein powder here.  It is, however, possible to find off-brand versions of such #FrugalCongressFood staples as peanut butter, jerky, and coconut oil (good for Bulletproofing your coffee for the workshops!) at this store.

Butera Market and Produce World on Cumberland Avenue, both located about 8-10 minutes one-way from the hotel on Cumberland Avenue, are also good alternatives.

There’s a Starbucks in the Hilton Rosemont’s lobby where you can get that all-important coffee to keep you awake through it all, as well as an informal sandwich table selling cold sandwiches for a low cost outside.

If you are up early enough or staying up late enough to catch the hotel breakfasts, those are very good too.  Both the Embassy’s breakfast and evening dinner reception are complimentary; those who are frequently up for hotel breakfast may consider the Embassy the most ultimately economical lodging choice for this reason.

The Doubletree’s breakfast is around $17-20 for a full buffet, and the Hilton Rosemont’s Liberty Tavern, their in-hotel dining option, charges $24.75 for a full buffet and $19.75 for a continental buffet.  Both the Doubletree and the Hilton’s buffets are all-you-can eat – eat your fill then go back to sleep for a couple hours!

Your in-hotel eating options for your meal out are the aforementioned Liberty Tavern (Hilton Rosemont) and Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse (Doubletree), but both are a bit on the pricey side.

Located about a 5 minute walk from the hotel on Park Place is Adobe Gilas, Kings Dining & Entertainment, Five Roses Pub, Sugar Factory Chicago-Rosemont, and Park Tavern.

There are three eating options that I could consider making the 30 minute or so (one way) UBER ride from Rosemont into Chicago proper to be worth doing for if doable.  The first is Portillo’s, an excellent casual restaurant serving hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and other American staples.  Lou Malnati’s, a storied and legendary deep dish pizza restaurant, is the second option making the trip into Chicago worth it.

If you like a little bit of low-end theater with your meal out, the infamous Weiner Circle is definitely worth the trip on Friday or Saturday night before the parties begin.  A quiet, unassuming hot dog stand for most of the week, the place lights up on Friday and Saturday nights when patrons from the nearby bars flood into the stand and exchange seemingly-hostile-but-good-natured insults and trash talk with the staff, who return it in kind.  This is not an option for the easily offended or those with fragile sensibilities – there are four-letter words in abundance, and you should expect some verbal abuse from the staff when you order – but for those with thick enough skin, it is a spectacle that would be fun to witness in person.  Sadly, I did not get to go there this past year, but I have heard good things about the food also.

That’s all I got for this guide.  Feel free to hit the comments section with your suggestions or to fill in any gaps in my knowledge.  Not sure if I’m making it to CSBF this year at this time (it’s very far away for me) but I’ll see you all there if I do!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Masters Of Bachata Takeover

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Masters Of Bachata Takeover or Ferocity Dance Company, except that I am a loyal yearly attendee of this event and Kat Arias is a favorite dance instructor and personal friend of mine. I have, however, not been hired by her or anyone else to promote the event at the time of this writing (as much as it probably is going to sound like it), nor have I been hired by or am affiliated with any of the other businesses whose services I describe, and everything I am writing is my objective opinion and advice. Parts of this entry will sound like a love letter to the event, but they do constitute my actual opinions. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

[The Masters Of Bachata Takeover was set to conclude for good after the 2018 festival, but per Kat Arias’ Facebook Live announcement of 11/12/18, Masters Of Bachata will remain in Virginia Beach until at least 2020, and possibly longer than that if the event continues to grow in attendance! Let’s all come out strong and keep this excellent event going!]

Maybe I have a soft spot for this outstanding weekender because its 2016 edition was my very first dance festival-type event, but the Masters of Bachata Takeover, a weekend-long mini-dance congress created by the inimitable Kat Arias of Ferocity Dance Company, a championship-winning dance school whose reputation speaks for itself, remains my favorite dance event of all time despite, or maybe because of, its smaller size and more intimate nature compared to other larger dance congresses.

The Masters Of Bachata Takeover is located for the foreseeable future in the breezy, laid-back beachfront community of Virginia Beach, Virginia, at the Wyndham Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hotel (5700 Atlantic Avenue), a uniquely laid-out but clean and beautiful two-tower hotel ensconced in a breathtakingly gorgeous beachside setting. The event features a variety of local and international artists, instructors, performers, and DJs.

Following a Thursday night pre-party at the Mambo Room Cultural Dance & Event Center in the nearby town of Norfolk, VA, the weekend’s main events begin on Friday night at the hotel with an evening workshop from 9pm-10pm and social dancing from 10pm until 4am in the hotel’s lone ballroom (a unique aspect in itself in contrast with the multiple ballrooms at most dance events). Saturday begins with dance workshops in the ballroom from 10am-4pm, followed by an incredible day party on the hotel’s outdoor deck right by the beach (weather permitting) from 4pm-7pm, and nighttime social dancing in the ballroom from 10pm-4am. The music for all parties is mostly all subgenres of bachata with a few short blocks of salsa, kizomba, zouk, and reggaeton, and performances happen at midnight on both Friday and Saturday night. Sunday picks up anew with workshops in the ballroom from 10am-4pm and the weekend’s official events conclude with another amazing day party from 4pm-7pm, again located on the hotel’s beachside deck if outside temperatures haven’t dropped too far south by this time.

If the outdoor temperature is too cold for an outdoor day party, as it was on Sunday in 2016 and on Saturday in 2018, the day party is moved to the not-as-spectacular yet usable and aesthetically pleasing event hallway directly outside the ballroom.

In addition to being a top-notch event, Masters of Bachata is one of the single most affordable dance events on the east coast for those within driving distance. With the right logistics, it is possible to have the full congress experience for less than $250 for the entire Quadforce of Dance Congress Expenses, and even for less than $200 if you got the super early bird full pass.

This is one of the most affordable dance events out there today, in addition to being one of my personal favorites. Below is an extensive guide for navigating the particulars of this top-shelf event and having an amazing time #FrugalCongressLife style!

The Masters Of Bachata Takeover takes place on the weekend before Thanksgiving every year.  Since the month of November has five weekends in 2019, putting Thanksgiving on the 28th, the 2019 Masters Of Bachata Takeover will take place the weekend of November 22nd-November 24th, 2019.  Confirmed artists and DJs for 2019 include Fausto & Kate, Luis & Andrea, DJ Emerzive, DJ Selo, and DJ Soltrix.

PASS:

Early bird and super early bird full passes become available in the days after the festival for a very low price, usually about 2/3 of the regular pass price. We advertise any flash sales or promotions for passes on our Facebook page.

Party-only passes become available at a much lower price in the weeks before the festival and include both the day and night parties. Obviously the full pass is the preferred option – the workshops at this festival are always amazing and the international artists won’t be here again for a long time so learning from them while they’re here makes sense. However, if you’re hard up enough so that it’s between you buying a party pass or not going, I’m sure Kat will gladly take you buying a party pass over not going.

If you enjoyed yourself at this year’s event, then get yourself a super early bird pass for next year’s event. Personally, if I miss this event it’s because I’m dead or in jail and I hope neither of those things happen ever so me getting my super early bird pass is a no brainer!

LODGING:

Without question, no matter how frugal you are or what your specific comfort levels are, the event hotel is where its at for this Congress. I have scarcely even looked at any other options… I briefly checked out AirBNBs once right before attending my first year, but they are literally just as expensive or more so than the event hotel. Every year, Ferocity reserves a massive room block at the event hotel with prices as low as $69 per night for a non-oceanfront room, $89 for an oceanfront room, and $115 for a partial oceanfront suite. Staying at the event hotel is a no-brainer at these prices; this is one of the rare congresses where I always get a solo room at the event hotel because of how inexpensive a room is, but a four person roomshare can be as low as $18 per night for a non-oceanfront room. Despite these rock-bottom prices, the Wyndham Virginia Beach Oceanfront is no budget motel — it is a clean, comfortable, beautiful, and aesthetically pleasing place to lay your head after a long day and night of dance.

TRAVEL:

DRIVING:

Driving or ride-share is your best best, period.

Parking is a bit scarce on Atlantic Avenue itself, but there is a lot at the event hotel with abundant off-street parking, more than enough for all of the hotel’s guests, and they give you a paper permit that you put on your car dashboard for the duration of your stay showing that you are a hotel guest and permitted to use their lot. If you are in a roomshare, you may be able to get an extra permit from the hotel if your name is on the room; if not, there is some street parking on the side streets around the hotel.

FLYING:

The closest airport is Norfolk International Airport, which is about a 25 minute drive/Uber ride from the hotel, which will undoubtedly be a very expensive trip, but one that can probably be split with attendees who are also flying, with some coordination. There sadly does not seem to be any public transport options from the airport. Also, sorry Spirit heads, but Spirit Airlines does NOT go to Norfolk, so you’ll have to look to another airline that does go there.

BUS:

Megabus is your best bus option for getting to Virginia Beach.  There is a Greyhound Route, but it is complex and staggeringly long (7.5 hours from DC) so I am not including it.  Also, good luck catching Greyhound on a rare day when they are actually reliable. I am also not including the Amtrak route in this post as it is just as long and complex.

Take Megabus to the Virginia Beach stop at 19th Street and Pacific Avenue.  From there, the hotel is about a 6-14 minute UBER ride away, or about a 16 minute trip on the 035 Hampton Roads Transit bus toward Shore & Pleasure House.  To get to the 035 stop, walk about 5 minutes down 19th Street toward Pacific Avenue, turn right on Arctic Avenue and the top will be on the left.  Take the 035 toward Shore & Pleasure House to Atlantic Avenue & 56th Street, and the hotel will be visible from the station.

To get back to the Megabus stop, go back to Atlantic and 57th and take the 033 bus to Arctic and 19th.  From there, head south on Arctic Avenue toward 19th Street, make a left on 19th Street and walk to the Megabus stop from there.

For more info on Hampton Roads Transit, visit https://gohrt.com/

This will be close to a 6 hour trip from the DC area and longer from points further away, but if you have no other way to get there and time to kill, this is your option.  Book soon if you are going this route, buses are limited and spots will fill up.

FOOD:

There are several Wal-Marts located up and down I-95 that you can stop at for pre-event frugal shopping. I personally usually go to the one in Ashland, VA (145 Hill Center Parkway) as it is nearby and usually comes up around two and a half hours into my drive when the need for a break starts to come up. Avoid the DC Wal-Marts; in addition to being inconvenient to get to, they are a bit more expensive than the suburban and small-town Wal-Marts by virtue of being in DC and having higher operating costs. There are also several Food Lions and an ALDI in Virginia Beach, all within a 15 minute drive of the Wyndham.

For your emergency caffeine and food needs, the hotel has a vending machine located on the walkway between the rooms and the event lobby that takes cards and cash. The walkway vending machine received an impressive upgrade in 2018 and now also carries a wide variety of drinks and food items including kale chips!

For your one daily meal out, the Surf Club Ocean Grille, the hotel’s attached restaurant, is a solid option. I highly recommend this restaurant for its relaxed and calming beachside atmosphere, friendly staff, convenience to the hotel, and excellent interpretation of comfort food staples, particularly the fish and chips if they are serving them, or the smokehouse burger otherwise. The hotel restaurant’s only downside is that it also operates as the hotel’s room service hub, so expect fairly sizable wait times for food despite a dearth of people physically in the restaurant. Despite this, the food is very good when it arrives. The fish and chips are some of the best I have ever had.

If you are looking for a top-notch lunch spot in the area, Citrus Breakfast and Lunch, at 357 N Great Neck Road, is an excellent casual sit-down restaurant serving breakfast and lunch staples in a light, airy, pleasant atmosphere. I go to this place every year for a friend’s birthday brunch and it is very enjoyable. The food is amazing and extra little touches like truffle flavoring in the burgers and pumpkin pie spice on the sweet potato fries bring it to the next level.

An excellent buffet option near Citrus that I had the privilege of checking out at the 2018 festival is Yukai Japanese & Seafood Buffet, located at 1952 Laskin Road in the Regency Hilltop Shopping Center.  This buffet has been voted by Yahoo Travel as the best buffet in the state of Virginia, and I can see why.  $15.99 will get you all the food you can eat at this Japanese seafood buffet offering over 40 different kinds of sushi, chicken and pork dishes, American comfort food staples, and a wide variety of fruits and desserts.

Both of the above places are about a 15 minute drive from the hotel, but are well worth the drive.

If you want to stay closer to the hotel, there are various fast food chains, most notably a Dairy Queen, along Atlantic Avenue. Keep in mind that parking is scarce along Atlantic Avenue, so you may want to UBER to any food spots along that road.

Finally, there is a 7 Eleven located at 3908 Atlantic Avenue that I can’t not mention, because it is where I get the all-important smorgasbord of caffeine that has fueled my drives home on Sunday night after a long and tiring-in-the-best-way weekend at Masters of Bachata. I got home from Masters in one piece in 2016 mostly thanks to this 7-Eleven.

You can see that having an unforgettable experience at this magical weekender without burning holes in your wallet is entirely possible. If I’m not there, something has happened to me… I make sure not to miss this one otherwise. See you there!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: The FTLOB Experience

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing I am not directly affiliated with For The Love Of Bachata other than Jessica Taylor being a personal friend of mine. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly 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 these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

If you are a fan of traditional bachata straight from the Dominican Republic, the FTLOB Experience, formerly known as the FTLOB Festival, needs to be at the top of your list of events to attend. Promoter, blogger, and DJ Jessica “DJ Tay” Taylor has turned the city of Pittsburgh, PA into one of the #1 strongholds in the US for traditional bachata under the banner of her company, For The Love Of Bachata (FTLOB). The FTLOB Experience, named for the aforementioned company, is a bi-annual weekend festival with a fall and spring edition that delivers for fans of this style of bachata, with workshops featuring national and international traditional bachata artists in the afternoon and socials at night. This excellent event has a much smaller intimate family feel compared to a larger dance event, and is one of the few high-profile events in the US to be held at a dance studio rather than a hotel.

Each event follows a smaller “weekender” format, beginning with a Friday night kickoff party, workshops and guided social dance practice on Saturday afternoon and a party at night from 10pm-2am, and concluding with workshops on Sunday afternoon. The music format for the parties is mostly traditional bachata with a small amount of salsa, urban bachata, and kizomba.

Both the fall and spring editions of the FTLOB Experience take place in two locations in Pittsburgh for the immediate future. Friday night’s kickoff party happens at the Cabaret Theater, located at 655 Penn Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh. Saturday and Sunday’s workshops and party take place at Art & Style Dance Studio, a large and inviting dance studio with an excellent wood floor located at 318 Butler Street about 30 minutes north of the downtown area. This fall’s edition of the FTLOB Experience takes place September 28th-September 30th, 2018, and the next spring edition will take place sometime in May 2019.

PASS:

A full pass for this festival is very inexpensive. The full pass for this year’s Fall Edition is only $100-112 three weeks out from the event (depending on whether or not you get the lunch package – see food section for details), and ramps up from an early bird amount of $70, so get your pass for the spring festival as soon as it goes on sale. A student discount is available for $55-67 for full-time students with ID, and if you purchase three or more passes together, you get a $30 discount on the total cost of your passes.

TRAVEL:

CAR:

Driving or rideshare is a solid way to get to this festival. You will most likely be using the Pennsylvania Turnpike if you are coming from the east coast, so expect to pay about $15-20 in tolls. Fair warning: parking around the studio is limited (street parking), so parking at your place of lodging and using UBER or Lyft to get to the studio or arriving very early in the morning or evening is recommended.

FLYING:

Good news Spirit heads, Spirit goes to Pittsburgh International Airport! The bad news is the airport is about half an hour from the studio by car (no doubt a very expensive UBER ride) or about 1 hour and 38 minutes on public transportation at a cost of about $5.50.

Directions from Pittsburgh International Airport:

Take the 28X Inbound-AIRPORT FLYER TO DOWNTOWN & OAKLAND [Stop ID: 4405] to Liberty Ave at 7th St. (Clark Building)

Cabaret Theater is a one minute walk from this stop. Make a right on 7th Street and a left on Penn Avenue and the theater is on your left.

Take the 1 Outbound-FREEPORT ROAD TO TARENTUM [Stop ID: 180] to Butler St. at Center Street

Walk about a block northeast and the studio will be on your right

Directions back to the airport:

Walk about a block southeast to the Butler St. opp Center St. bus stop

Take the 1 Inbound-FREEPORT ROAD TO PITTSBURGH [stop ID: 3369] to Liberty Ave at Smithfield Street

Walk about 5 minutes east on Liberty Avenue toward Smithfield Street (two slight lefts to stay on Liberty Avenue) to the Pittsburgh Greyhound stop

Take the 29 north to the airport

BUS/TRAIN:

Greyhound and Megabus are both great ways to get to this festival, as they both stop downtown in the Cultural District about a 10 minute UBER ride or 24 minutes on public transportation (about $2.75) away from Art & Style and right down the street from the Cabaret Theater. The Capitol Limited and Pennsylvanian Amtrak trains also stop at the Amtrak station in the same area.

Directions to the Cabaret Theater from bus and train stops:

To get to the Cabaret Theater from the Megabus stop, walk up 10th Street, make a right on Penn Avenue, and the theater is on your right. Expect about a 7 minute walk.

To get to the Cabaret Theater from the Greyhound stop, walk up 11th Street, make a left on Penn Avenue, and the theater is on your right. Expect about a 9 minute walk.

Directions to Art & Style from bus and train stops:

Walk to the corner of 9th Street at Penn Avenue

Take the P13 Outbound-MOUNT ROYAL FLYER [Stop ID: 179] to Butler St. at Center St.

Walk about a block northeast and the studio will be on your right

Directions back to bus and train stops from Art & Style:

Walk about a block southeast to the Butler St. opp Center St. bus stop

Take the 2 Inbound-MOUNT ROYAL-FERGUSON DOWNTOWN VIA MILLVILLE [stop ID: 3369] to 9th Street at Penn Ave and walk to your respective bus stop or train station from there

PUBLIC TRANSIT INFO:

Port Authority of Allegheny County – http://www.portauthority.org/paac/

PAAC Ticket information – http://www.portauthority.org/paac/FareInfo/FareInformation.aspx

(412) 442-2000

Mountain Line Transit – WV – http://www.busride.org/

MLT Ticket information – http://www.busride.org/Fares-Programs

304-291-RIDE

LODGING:

Since this event is at a dance studio and no hotel room block exists, I will freely discuss a multitude of lodging options.

The closest hotel physically to the studio is the Morning Sun Inn, located about an 8 minute drive one way from the studio at 1156 Portland Street. The Morning Sun Inn is unique in that it provides the amenities and structure of a hotel, but with the homey down-to-earth feel and personal decor of a traditional bed and breakfast. They have also given each room a woman’s name (The Karen Room, The Sarah Room, The Anna Suite, etc.), which is an interesting if somewhat peculiar touch. At around $140-170 per night on average, this is not what I would call a frugal option, but it will be popular with attendees due to its proximity to the event, so you may be able to find a roommate or two to offset the costs. Maximum number of guests is 2 for the rooms and 4 for the suites (3rd and 4th guests are each $25 extra and the hotel provides deluxe air mattresses for extra guests).

Your closest budget hotel is the Comfort Inn, located at 180 Gamma Drive Building B about a 9 minute drive one way from the studio and averaging about $90-110 per night. Reviews online are a mixed bag, but I am told rooms here are generally clean.

Those are really your two best and most realistic hotel options for the immediate area. If you don’t mind going further out, the Days Inn by Wyndham Pittsburgh and the Super 8 Pittsburgh are both about an 18 minute drive one way from the studio at 6 Landings Drive and both go for about $65 and $78 per night, respectively. Be warned, guests complain in reviews about cleanliness issues at both hotels. They do have Sheetz nearby, so that’s a bonus.

Honestly, I got a bit of sticker shock looking at general hotel prices in the Pittsburgh area as they are easily on par with DC and even approaching New York in terms of cost. I was going to do a section on hotels near the Cabaret Theater to stay at Friday night, but there is literally not one hotel there under $200 a night… it makes more financial sense to use your transportation mode of choice to go back to your hotel near the studio.

Of course on that note, I gotta playfully mention the extreme baller options real quick – the Omni William Penn, located at William Penn Place and averaging about $449 per night (which gets you afternoon tea service, among other luxurious amenities), and Townplace By Bridge Street, a luxury apartment complex inexplicably doubling as a hotel located on Stanwix Street near Market Square at $507 per night… for this staggering cost you get a fully furnished apartment room with a full kitchen, dimmable mood lighting, a basketball court, electric car charging stations, a game room, a movie/cinema room, and the ability to cast Netflix to any TV. These places are close to the Cabaret Theater (making them a doable Friday night option for the big ballers I guess) but about a 30 minute drive one way from Art & Style and are anything but frugal, but hey if you want balling out in style to be part of your FTLOB Experience (you’re on the wrong blog if that’s the case) then these are the hotels to check out!

Back to frugal Earth…

Your very best frugal lodging option for this festival is AirBNB, and I must admit, this is the route I went when I attended the Spring 2017 FTLOB Festival. AirBNBs in the immediate area average around $50-70 per night. There are about 33 AirBNB listings left for this fall’s FTLOB Experience about 3 weeks out from the festival, but AirBNBs are available in abundance averaging between $40-80 per night further out from both the fall and spring festivals. Neighborhoods recommended by FTLOB to look for your AirBNB include Etna, Aspinwall, Lawrenceville, Morningside, Bloomfield, Shaler, Northside, and Millvale. I stayed in Shady Side, located about a 10 minute drive one way from Art & Style, in 2017 and can personally recommend this town as well.

FOOD:

First and foremost, lunch is provided at this festival! For a mere $10 extra with your pass, you can get a two day lunch bundle that typically includes some type of meat sandwich, chips, fruit, and a drink. I’m sure there are also vegetarian and vegan options as well. The lunch is very good and this is, in my opinion, a must-do add-on for frugal festival goers. Lunch is served during a designated break time denoted on the schedule in the middle of workshops.

Wal-Mart is located about a 9 minute drive from Art & Style, at 877 Freeport Road. Shop ’n SAVE is located at 450 56th Street and ALDI is located at 880 Butler Street, both about a 10 minute drive away on average.

There’s quite a few options nearby for your one meal out. E-Town Bar & Grill is located steps away from the studio and serves a solid menu of comfort bar food such as subs and wings. For those looking for Chinese, Hong Kong Taste is located a couple blocks away at 366 Butler Street, or if Polish food is your thing, Cop Out Pierogies is located nearby at 350 Butler Street. For Italian sandwiches and pizza, Amato’s Sandwich Shops is located a short walk away at 376 Butler Street.

That’s all I got. I enjoyed the Spring 2017 FTLOB Festival very much and highly recommend this event. I can not make it to the fall edition, but I do plan to go to at least one day of next spring’s FTLOB Experience!

#FCL Multi-Congress Hotel Guide: The Westin Alexandria

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have I been hired by Interfusion Festival, DC Fall Salsa Bachata Festival or Victory Inspired Events, aside from being a personal friend of these organizations’ respective proprietors, and a loyal attendee of both Interfusion and DC Fall Salsa Bachata Festival. At the time of this writing I am not directly affiliated with nor have I been hired by the Westin Alexandria or any of the other businesses whose services I describe, and everything I am writing is my objective opinion and advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

For my second multi-congress #FCL hotel guide, I am covering one of my top five favorite congress hotels in the US, The Westin Alexandria, located at 400 Courthouse Square in Alexandria, VA, a nearby suburb of DC.  The Westin Alexandria was designed as a “wellness hotel”, a hotel that makes the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of its guests its top priority, and this is evident throughout in its gorgeous, meditative, spiritually inspired design and luxurious amenities.

The Westin Alexandria is currently home to the one and only Interfusion Festival, an eclectic mix of not only Latin and African dance workshops, but also workshops for meditation, yoga, pole dance, tantra, ecstatic dance, acro-yoga, essential oil, and other spiritual topics, in addition to all-night dance socials featuring ballrooms for salsa, bachata, zouk, EDM, and acro-yoga jams.

The festival’s creators, Christian Rodriguez and Umka Pele, could not have picked a more fitting location, as the hotel’s design and amenities complement the spirit of the festival perfectly.

After a year-long hiatus following Winter 2017’s Interfusion Festival: Unleash Your Dreams and Fall 2017’s Interfusion Festival: Awakening, this unique festival returns in the winter of 2019 with the very appropriate title Interfusion Festival: Rebirth.  Interfusion Festival: Rebirth happens at the Westin Alexandria between January 18th and January 21st, 2019.

The Westin Alexandria also recently became the new home of DC-based promoter and DJ Parker Cocolo’s DC Fall Salsa & Bachata Dance Festival, also known as DCSB Fest or DCSBF and sometimes lovingly referred to as “Parker’s Joint” by local dancers in DC. After some technical difficulties with the festival’s previous location in Crystal City, Parker has found a permanent new home for this excellent brand new up-and-coming dance festival, currently in its third year, at the familiar congress-tested Westin Alexandria location, which will provide the Westin’s atmosphere and amenities, as well as larger ballrooms, a greater variety of workshops, and social dancing until 6am.  The DC Fall Salsa & Bachata Dance Festival happens this fall from September 27th to October 1st, 2018 at the Westin Alexandria.

Up until this year, the Westin Alexandria was also the location of the Capital Congress, DC’s longest-running salsa congress (since 2005!), organized by Shaka Brown and also including workshops and ballrooms for bachata, kizomba, and zouk.  For its 2019 incarnation, the Capital Congress has picked up and moved to the Hilton Mark Center Hotel located about 16 minutes west of the Westin.  I will be researching transportation and food options for this hotel and dropping a survival guide to the new Capital Congress location on the blog around April of next year when we are closer out to that particular congress.

To my knowledge, The Westin Alexandria is the only congress hotel on the east coast and possibly in the US to have hosted three separate Latin dance-related congresses or festivals within a two year period.  Feel free to correct me if you know of any others.

With the Westin Alexandria’s credentials out of the way, on to the definitive #FCL guide to this storied congress hotel.

PASS:

Passes to DCSBF are still available for $169… buy now before they go up again!

Early bird passes to Interfusion Festival: Rebirth are available for $175 until September 10th, 2018.  Jump on it now! Prices for this festival will jump up to around $300 closer to the event. Any price is definitely worth it for this truly one of a kind festival, but if you didn’t get a $120 super early bird pass at the end of 2017, you missed the boat on the cheapest possible passes.

TRAVEL:

DRIVING:

Driving and ride-share is a solid way to get to this hotel if able.  Street parking is tight around the hotel and the hotel has no garage of its own to speak of.  However, the hotel basically has an unofficial garage in the form of the West Parking Garage, located at 550 Elizabeth Lane. This garage costs $5-10 all day on weekends and is free after 7PM.  Located right around the corner from the hotel and boasting multiple levels of abundant off-street parking at a low cost and 24-hour access, this garage is your best parking option for the Westin, whether you are staying or commuting.

FLYING:

Try to fly into Reagan National Airport (DCA) if you can – it is the closest airport to the Westin Alexandria by a longshot; BWI is too far away to be practical and you will eat into your Spirit savings a bit getting from BWI to the hotel.  IAD is also too far away to be practical.

FROM DCA: Take the DC Metro yellow line toward Huntington from Reagan National to Eisenhower Avenue.  Once there, follow walking directions from Eisenhower Avenue.

FROM IAD: Take an UBER from IAD to the Wiehle-Reston Metro stop on the silver line, take the silver line toward Largo Town Center to L’Enfant Plaza and transfer to the yellow line toward Huntington and go to Eisenhower Avenue.  Once there, follow walking directions from Eisenhower Avenue.

FROM BWI: If you must come from BWI, try to get there during the day so you can take the MARC train to Union Station.  Once at Union Station, take the Metro red line toward Shady Grove to Metro Center, then transfer to the yellow line toward Huntington and go to Eisenhower Avenue.  Once there, follow walking directions from Eisenhower Avenue.

BUS/TRAIN:

Take any bus or train line to Union Station in DC and follow the above Metro directions from Union Station from there.

From Eisenhower Avenue metro to the Westin: Walk out of Bay E to Eisenhower Avenue and make a right.  Make a left onto Elizabeth Lane, hang a right at Courthouse Square/The Carlyle Club and you will see The Westin Alexandria from the square, you can’t miss it.  This is about a 10 minute walk.

Information on the MARC trains can be found here: https://mta.maryland.gov/marc-train

Information on the DC Metro system can be found here: http://www.wmata.com

A map of the DC Metro system can be found here: https://www.wmata.com/schedules/maps/upload/2017-System-Map.pdf

Since the DC Metro system did away with paper farecards a while back, a SmarTrip card will be essential for paying the fares on the Metro system and parking at Metro lots (see below). A SmarTrip card costs $10 for the initial purchase but can be refilled as many times as you want at designated SmarTrip kiosks, but prepare for this initial expense. Try and keep your SmarTrip card if you plan on visiting DC again in the future.

LODGING:

The Westin Alexandria is where it’s at, period.

There are a few offsite budget options, but when taxes, room fees, and cost of transporting yourself between these offsite locations and the Westin are taken into account, they will save you a grand total of $0-20 per night over both congress’ room blocks at the Westin and may even cost a bit more – hardly worth it.

Stay at the Westin, both to support this outstanding hotel and because it is objectively the best option for any congress or festival held there, period.

Book your room for DCSBF here. You have until September 3rd, 2018. Jump on it!

I will add a link to the Interfusion room block in a later update.

A solid between-workshop-and-party showering option for the brokest of local commuters who can’t even swing a room-share and don’t want to double back home is the Park Center XSport Fitness at 4300 King Street, located about 14 minutes from the Westin at 4300 King Street.  This gym offers $10 day passes and $5 garage parking and full shower facilities as well as a wide variety of free weights, machines, and cardio equipment for your workout.  This option is as frugal as it gets and not really an option for out of towners.  I have done this option sometimes when I was very low on money and lived close enough to the Westin to do it feasibly.

FOOD:

For your frugal grocery shopping, the closest Walmart Supercenter is about 11 minutes south of the Westin at 6303 Richmond Hwy.

As far as other grocery stores go, there is a Whole Foods about an 8 minute walk from the Westin at 1700 Duke Street, a Safeway about a 9 minute drive away on 500 S Royal St., a Harris Teeter about 15 minutes away at 735 N. Asaph Street, and a Balducci’s near Safeway at 600 Franklin Street.  Keep in mind parking around many of these stores could be tight.

The Starbucks located immediately next door is the most convenient option for your coffee needs.

However, as a fan of Bulletproof Coffee, I can’t not mention the presence of Bon Vivant Cafe + Farm Market, one of the only coffee shops in the US at the time of this writing that sells pre-made Bulletproof Coffee, about a 10 minute drive one way from the Westin in the nearby Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria, at 2016 Mount Vernon Avenue.  For time and logistical reasons I still usually choose to save myself the trip and make my own Bulletproof coffee with my own ingredients at Starbucks, but Bon Vivant’s interpretation of Bulletproof Coffee is exceptionally good and worth the extra effort to get it if you can swing it.

As for your meal out options, The Westin’s restaurant, Trademark Drink and Eat, sometimes has special deals for festival guests and it is definitely worth a shot to ask them as their food is quite good.  Pasra Thai, a Thai food bar, is also a very excellent dining option nearby.  More casual options in walking distance include Quiznos, Dunkin’ Donuts, Panera Bread, and Potbelly.  All options I’ve mentioned outside of the hotel can be found by making a right out of the hotel’s main entrance, making a right onto Jamieson Avenue, and walking along that street.

A 7-Eleven can also be found at 504 John Carlyle Street near Potbelly.

That’s all I got, hit the comments if you have any other suggestions and I’ll see you all at both DCSBF and Interfusion!

– Owen

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Classé Dance Company 2nd Anniversary Party

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Classé Dance Company aside from being a sometime student of their classes and Linda being a friend of mine and one of my favorite dance instructors. I have not been hired to promote this event at the time of this writing nor have I been hired by or am affiliated with any of the other businesses whose services I describe, and everything I am writing is my objective opinion and advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

Classé Dance Company, a new DC-based dance school started by Korke and Judith-certified sensual bachata instructor Linda Saenz in 2016, is celebrating their second anniversary on September 8th, 2018 with a huge party at Tysons Ballroom & Dancesport Center, located at 8032 Leesburg Pike #201, Vienna, VA in the heart of VA’s new development in Tysons Corner.

This party will have the feel of a short one-day dance congress.  From 4pm to 8pm, full pass holders have the opportunity to take workshops by a mix of local and international instructors including Linda Saenz, Mario Adame, Spain’s own Truji y Gloria, and one of the creators of sensual bachata himself, Korke.

A dance social with DJ Emerzive and DJ Selo follows at 9:30pm after a short break, and goes until 3:30am with performances by Classé’s teams, Zafire DC, Latin Swag, and many more at midnight.

Look up Classé Dance Company on Facebook for general info.

Since I thought some people may be coming from out of town, today’s post is a comprehensive survival guide for this event!

PASS:

Get your early bird full pass for only $58 until August 18th! The price will go up by an unspecified amount after the 18th.

For those who just want to do the party, a party pass is $25.

Get your pass here.

TRAVEL:

CAR:

Driving or rideshare is a good overall way to get to this event.  There is some limited free parking around the ballroom, and a garage nearby.  If you are staying in a hotel, parking is free around any of the hotels in the area.

BUS/TRAIN:

Take any bus or train route into Union Station in DC and from there, take the DC Metro red line towards Shady Grove and transfer to the silver line towards Wiehle-Reston East to the Tysons Corner metro station.  Follow directions from Tysons Corner Metro Station to the ballroom.

DIRECTIONS FROM TYSONS CORNER METRO STATION TO THE BALLROOM:

From the Metro station, take the pedestrian bridge across Chain Bridge Road to Tysons One Place, make a right on Tysons One Place, a left on International Drive, and a left on Leesburg Pike, and the shopping center with the ballroom will be on your left (look for May Jewlers).

Since the DC Metro system did away with paper farecards a while back, a SmarTrip card will be essential for paying the fares on the Metro system.  A SmarTrip card costs $10 for the initial purchase but can be refilled as many times as you want at designated SmarTrip kiosks, but prepare for this initial expense. Try and keep your SmarTrip card if you plan on visiting the DC metro area again in the future.

FLYING:

Just in case anyone is flying of course…

FROM BWI:

Try to arrive during the day while the MARC train is still running

Take MARC from BWI to Union Station DC

Follow bus/train directions from there

FROM DCA:

Take Metro blue line from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport toward Largo Town Center

Transfer at Rosslyn to the silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East to Tysons Corner Metro station

Follow walking directions from Tysons Corner Metro Station from there

FROM IAD:

Take UBER to Wiehle-Reston East metro station

Take silver line toward Largo Town Center to Tysons Corner Center metro

Follow walking directions from Tysons Corner Metro Station from there

Information on the MARC trains can be found here: https://mta.maryland.gov/marc-train

Information on the DC Metro system can be found here: http://www.wmata.com

A map of the DC Metro system can be found here: https://www.wmata.com/schedules/maps/upload/2017-System-Map.pdf

LODGING:

Most of this event’s crowd (including me) is expected to be local, but for those coming from out of town, there are some lodging options nearby, and I took the time to research some of these options for any out of town guests.

The best overall option is the Tysons Corner Marriott, located directly across Towers Crescent Drive from the ballroom (about a 2-3 minute walk) and averaging around $89 per night for a one-king, $109/night for a 2 double, and $119/night for a larger one-king room on an upper floor.  Booking through the hotel’s website and pre-paying for your room will get you a discount of around $4-5 per night on average.  Amenities include a pool, fitness center, dishes from the Chesapeake region served by Shutters Bar and Kitchen, the hotel’s in-house restaurant, clean and comfortable contemporary rooms and suites, and a $20 breakfast buffet.  This is a 3-star hotel and reviews are generally positive.

The budget option is the Extended Stay America Washington DC Tysons Corner, located about a 10 minute walk from the ballroom at 8201 Old Courthouse Road.  This is a casual 2-star hotel offering suites with full kitchens plus on-site coin-op laundry machines, free Wi-Fi, and free grab-and-go breakfast.  Rooms here average around $68-75 per night.  Reviews are wildly mixed, many complain of cleanliness issues, and many are quick to point out that this is a no-frills hotel.  Expect to get what you pay for if you go this route, but it is the most frugal option.

The Courtyard by Marriott and the DoubleTree by Hilton McLean Tysons are both located next to each other about a 14 minute walk from the ballroom at 1960 Chain Bridge Road and are $98 and $87 per night respectively.  Both are 4-star hotels with mostly favorable reviews.

You have two baller options, although I obviously won’t spend a lot of time discussing these on #FrugalCongressLife.  The Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center at 7901 Tysons One Place goes for around $158 per night and includes a business center, ultramodern rooms, massage services, and pet friendly policies (25lbs and under).

The ultimate platinum baller option for this area is the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, located at 1700 Tysons Corner Boulevard about a 20 minute walk from the ballroom and priced from $199 per night.  Amenities for this 4-star luxury hotel include an espresso bar, a spa and fitness center, town-car service, shoe shine service, a wine bar and lounge, and suites nicer than most of our apartments.  Obviously not a frugal option.

A search of AirBNB listings for the date of this event revealed about 30 available listings around the event location about a month out from the event, with prices ranging from $60-130 on average, many of them a considerable walk from the event.  It looks like AirBNB is not much of an advantage for this particular event, unless you can snap up one of the $60 listings.

FOOD:

The closet Wal-Mart Supercenter is located about an 8 minute drive/UBER ride or 34 minute walk one way up VA-7 at 1500B Cornerside Boulevard.  This Wal-Mart is also Metro-accessible; take the Metro silver line two stops toward Wiehle-Reston East to the Spring Hill station, and the Wal-Mart will be visible from that station.

The Market at Tysons Corner, a specialty grocery store similar to Whole Foods, is located in the nearby Tysons Corner Center shopping mall at 1961 Chain Bridge Road.

For that all-important coffee fix, Tyson’s Corner Center houses a Nespresso boutique, a Turkish Coffee Lady, and, incredibly, two Starbucks shops in the same mall.  Also located about a 2 minute walk up Leesburg Pike from the ballroom past the parking garage is a Peet’s Coffee (8150 Leesburg Pike) and a Dunkin Donuts (8119 Watson Street).

7-Eleven and Vitamin Shoppe are located directly across Leesburg Pike from the Marriott at 1931 Old Gallows Road and 1927 Old Gallows Road, respectively.

Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods are located about a 5 minute drive one way from the ballroom at 7514 and 7511 Leesburg Pike, respectively.

Your options for your meal out are very abundant as well.  Right next to the ballroom is Lei’d Hawaiian Poke and a bubble tea shop called Teas’n You.  Tysons Corner Center houses a Panda Express, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Seasons 52, Wasabi, Subway, Shake Shack, Barrel and Bushel, Coastal Flats, and La Sandia.

Further up Leesburg Pike near the Peet’s is Paddy Barry’s, Roll Play Vietnamese Grill, Silver Diner, with an Olive Garden and Tyson’s Bagel Market across the street.

McDonald’s, Nostos, Chef Geoff’s Tysons, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, and Neisha Thai are right across Leesburg Pike from the ballroom near the Vitamin Shoppe.  For anyone staying at the Extended Stay, these will be your closest eating options.

That’s all I got, hit the comments if you have anything else to add and I’ll see you at Classé’s 2nd Anniversary Party!

– Owen