#SuperFrugalCongressFood Guide – Make Your Own – High Protein Fruit Smoothies

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with or employed by any other company whose services I mention in this article.  Everything you read is my objective advice.  There may be affiliate links in a later update to this post, I will say so if this is the case.  Even so, I only talk about and link to products I personally use and believe in on this blog. No statements regarding the health and effectiveness of food or supplements have been evaluated by the FDA. 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. Consult your doctor before starting any dietary or exercise regimen or changing your current dietary or exercise regimen.]

Another day, another year, another new series here on #FrugalCongressLife.

This new series is called #SuperFrugalCongressFood.

People have rightly pointed out to me that such “convenience” items as protein bars and fruit and vegetable squeeze pouches are not truly frugal foods regardless of where you buy them, because you pay a premium for the portability and convenience.

While this is certainly true, my #FrugalCongressFood profiles were never intended to be about the most frugal foods overall… these profiles are about frugal DANCE CONGRESS foods. In the busy on-the-go travel-experience environment of a dance congress, portability, shelf stability, convenience, and non-perishability are all major selling points for the ideal food. I always try in my #FrugalCongressFood profiles to find a good balance between frugality and saving money, and the time-saving benefits of portability and convenience. One is already being more frugal by not eating out or going to convenience stores for every meal, which can really add up over time.

But, for the benefit of those who want to be frugal to the absolute max and are willing to put some elbow grease in, I will in this new series give a recipe for a low cost meal that has to be prepared in some way, and give tips for how to prepare it on the go if possible.

One caveat to keep in mind is that money saved by using #SuperFrugalCongressFood recipes at a dance congress is offset with time and effort, itself another valuable commodity in the go-go-go environment of a dance congress. You may miss a workshop shopping to make a fruit smoothie and cleaning up the mess, or may have to skip an hour of social dancing to get up early and clean up after that meal you made in your George Foreman Grill before you check out of your hotel. There is a trade-off with everything and the big money/time tradeoff is one every frugal congress attendee must consider.

These food strategies, needless to say, work best if you are commuting from home, staying at an AirBNB with kitchen privileges (not a feature of every AirBNB listing), or staying at a hotel with a kitchen or kitchenette such as the Extended Stay America. If you are doing the latter, be sure to thoroughly clean and sterilize the kitchen or kitchenette before preparing food there – do not count on the hotel staff to have done this, especially in a 3 star or less hotel like the Extended Stay.

These recipes will also really only work well if you are local or traveling by car, as lugging the required gadgets onto a train, plane, or bus is not very feasible and may even add checked baggage fees that would offset whatever money you save making your own food.

Without further ado, here is the recipe for this edition: a delicious high-protein fruit smoothie with chocolatey undertones and a bit of greens mixed in.

Equipment required:

Shaker cup

Blender – the Magic Bullet and the BlendJet are good inexpensive portable blenders

Dish soap

Water

A refrigerator in your hotel is mandatory for this recipe.

Ingredients:

– 1-2 cups frozen fruit of any kind (I recommend pineapples be one of your frozen fruits, as the bromelain in pineapples has anti-inflammatory properties good for aching knees and shoulders)

– 2 cups any kind of milk (cow, almond, whatever)

– 1 cup spinach or kale (frozen or fresh)

– 1-2 scoops chocolate protein powder of any kind (Body Fortress and Optimum Nutrition Performance Whey are both good inexpensive brands of whey protein)

– Stevia or honey to taste

– OPTIONAL: 1 tablespoon coconut oil for healthy fats

– OPTIONAL: 1 scoop Barlean’s chocolate greens powder for some extra servings of fruits and vegetables)

Blend all ingredients together in blender and pour into your shaker cup. To clean blender, pour water into blender, add a few drops of dish soap, and blend until clean, then rinse anywhere you can or with more bottled water.

The base recipe provide 1-2 servings of fruit, 1 serving of vegetables from the kale, and anywhere from 25-60 grams of protein depending on how many scoops of protein powder you use and what kind of milk you use. Adding the coconut oil adds some healthy fats, and adding the Barlean’s powder adds about 3-5 extra servings of fruits and vegetables.

It tastes like a chocolatey fruit smoothie, and you won’t even be able to taste the greens if you add enough fruit to offset their flavor.

Personally, I find making food at dance congresses to be more trouble than it is worth – cooking and preparing food is one thing I travel to get away from – but for those who want to save the maximum amount of money on food (or want the additional health benefits of preparing whole foods) and are willing to put in some time and effort to do so, I am here to help with that as well. As always, hit the comments if you have anything to add and I hope this helped!

Advertisements

#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!

#FrugalCongressFood Profile: Fruit/Vegetable Squeeze Pouches

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with or employed by any other company whose services I mention in this article.  Everything you read is my objective advice.  There may be affiliate links in a later update to this post, I will say so if this is the case.  Even so, I only talk about and link to products I personally use and believe in on this blog. No statements regarding the health and effectiveness of food or supplements have been evaluated by the FDA. 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. Consult your doctor before starting any dietary or exercise regimen or changing your current dietary or exercise regimen.]

I know what some of you are thinking. “You’re telling me to eat baby food out of a fricking squeeze pouch?” Indeed, when I looked up fruit and vegetable squeeze pouches on Google as part of my initial research for this article (how did you think I did research for this blog?), the very first hit was this article. “Adults, please stop eating baby food out of squeeze pouches,” scolds Emily Johnson of Epicurious.com, “you have teeth for a reason.”

I kind of see your point, Emily Johnson, but here is the thing: my readers and I are very busy people who travel a lot and live very active, on-the-go lifestyles. This is a blog for dance travelers, after all.

We all know eating a certain daily allotment of fruits and vegetables is essential to a healthy, balanced diet, and in previous discussions of how to eat at dance congresses, I have stressed the importance of eating healthy. There’s a lot of activity involved in dance congresses and many of you are letting sleep fall by the wayside (all the #TeamNoSleep hashtags and jokes about how the bed is quicksand have much truth behind them), so eating well is doubly important.

Solid fruits and vegetables are not always ideal on-the-go foods though. They’re perishable. They’re messy. Some of them have to be refrigerated. There is preparation necessary with some of them, and they take a relatively long time to actually eat. This is all well and good when you’re at home in your kitchen but in a hotel or dance studio far from home, in some cases without the solid base of a hotel room, or even on a plane, bus, or train, it becomes more of a problem. The squeeze pouch is a very handy and convenient solution here.

Squeeze pouches are exactly as the name would suggest they are. They are shelf-stable small pouches with a small spout and a twist-off cap and once the cap is off you squeeze the food inside into your mouth through the spout. The food itself is usually a sweet and palatable fruit and vegetable puree that provides all the nutrients and minerals of the respective solid fruits and vegetables with no added sugar (sweetened exclusively by the sugar in the fruits) and both natural and added fiber (to offset the loss of natural fiber from the pureeing process).

Squeeze pouches aren’t limited to delivery of fruit and vegetable puree, of course. They can also be delivery systems for almonds, protein, sunflower and chia seeds, espresso, oatmeal, and even meat products. For the sake of keeping this article at a reasonable length, and because I personally usually use squeeze pouches as an on-the-go fruit-and-vegetable delivery system, that is the capacity in which I will be examining them.

I’m going to examine a few of the more visible and well-known brands of adult fruit and vegetable squeeze pouches in the next few paragraphs. I’m mostly limiting my reviews to squeeze pouches marketed specifically to adults, to remove the stigma of “eating baby food” as much as possible.

One very prevalent, fast-rising brand in this market is Fruigees, whose name is a portmanteau of “fruits” and “veggies”. Fruigees was first conceived by two cousins in Los Angeles, CA and their flagship squeeze pouches are now widely available online and in grocery stores all over the US. Fruigees is currently available in three flavors: “24 Carrot Orange” (orange and carrot), “Kaleifornia Grape” (grapes and kale), and “Nothing Beets Cherry” (beets and cherry). Each flavor is very pleasing to the taste buds, and amazingly you can not taste the kale in the “Kalefornia Grape” flavor at all. Fruigees squeeze pouches are all organic as well as GMO and BPA free, and are essentially a mix of fruit and vegetable juice concentrates with tapioca starch and carob bean gum giving them their pleasing pudding-like consistency. Fruigees pouches are available on Jet and Amazon in 26-count boxes for about $27 or about $1.03 per pouch, and offline in stores such as Safeway, Whole Foods, and CVS at a slightly higher markup.

Noka is another solid brand of these pouches. They are available in blueberry/beet and sweet potato/goji flavors, both of which amazingly manage to retain the sweet fruity flavors of their respective fruits, at Whole Foods for around $2.85 per pouch. Each flavor also contains vegan protein and flax seeds.

Mamma Chia, the makers of their flagship eponymous chia-seed-infused beverages, also have recently expanded into their own squeeze pouch offering called Chia Squeeze Vitality Snacks, a mix of fruit juice concentrates and chia seeds.

Target sells Go Gourmet’s Organic Slammers brand of pureed superfood snacks filled with bananas, apples, blueberries, strawberries, beets, acai, and amaranth (a nutrient-rich grain that is also high in protein) for $3.79 for a 4-pack or about 94 cents per pouch.

7-Eleven also makes their own fruit squeeze pouches under their 7-Select brand, but these are not available at every 7-Eleven.

If packaging and marketing aimed at children doesn’t bother you, GoGo SqueeZ pouches are available at Wal-Mart for about $6 for a three-pack and at Harris Teeter for a slightly higher price.

Once the stigma of “eating baby food” is gone, squeeze pouches can be a very easy and palatable way to get some fruits and vegetables into your congress diet easily. Granted, they will always cost more than regular solid fruits and vegetables and juices; that is a given. The key aspects of squeeze pouches that make them attractive to active on-the-go people such as dance congress attendees are shelf-stability, portability, and non-perishability, and those three traits always come at some kind of premium.

That’s all I got for this profile. As always, hit the comments if you have any suggestions or additions and I hope this helps someone!

#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 Events other than being a fan. I have not been hired by Island Touch Events 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 Island Touch Events 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: 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!

#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

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: New Jersey Bachata Festival

[Originally published 8/6/2018, re-written with updated info 10/15/2018]

[10/15/2018 – Travel and pass sections re-written entirely, minor updates to lodging and food sections, tips for pedestrians added, dates changed to reflect dates of 2019 festival]

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with New Jersey Bachata Festival, Mike Gil, or Pura Vida Dance Company, other than being a loyal yearly attendee of NJBF. I have not been hired by them to promote NJBF in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. 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.]

New Jersey Bachata Festival is an excellent mid-size bachata festival held at the Hotel ML and Coco Key Water Resort in the township of Mount Laurel, NJ, on the Philadelphia side of New Jersey. The festival, organized by Mike Gil of Pura Vida Dance Company, and happening from October 10th-October 14th of 2019, features 4 days of workshops by world class national and international instructors and 4 nights of social dancing including the Thursday night pre-party and Thursday evening workshops.

With the right logistics, those living the #FrugalCongressLife within a 6 hour driving or bus radius of Mount Laurel can do this excellent congress covering the entire Quadforce of Dance Congress Expenses for under $200 — that’s with an early bird individual pass, 4 person rideshare from anywhere in a 3-4 hour radius, 4 person roomshare, and ~$50 worth of total personal food expenses.

You can save even more with this festival’s unique pass/hotel room combos. If you are fortunate enough to jump on the cheapest early bird room/pass combo you can do the entire weekend with the above logistics for as little as $170!

This all makes NJBF one of the frugalest congresses on the east coast giving attendees the maximum bang for their bucks. Don’t confuse “frugal” with cheap or lacking in experience – this congress is one of my top five favorite congresses on the east coast and y’all know I don’t say things like that lightly!

Below are the particulars on how to do this excellent festival with maximum frugality while still having an amazing and unforgettable congress experience, covering all four sides of the Quadforce.

ESSENTIAL WALKING INFORMATION FOR MOUNT LAUREL:

One thing to keep in mind about Mount Laurel, and particularly the area of Mount Laurel directly around the Hotel ML, is that it was not designed with pedestrians in mind. It was likely built as a hub for motor vehicle traffic coming off the turnpike (with an assortment of restaurants and hotels to cater to road-weary travelers) and walkability almost certainly wasn’t a factor in Mount Laurel’s design or planning.

Fellowship Road is a high-speed six-lane road located between the Lukoil station and Miller’s Ale House – use caution when crossing this road and do not jaywalk.

The Hotel ML is located on NJ-73, hereinafter referred to as 73, a high-speed high-traffic divided state highway with no crosswalks. Crossing 73 on foot is very dangerous and is forbidden by local laws. If you didn’t drive and want to go to Wal-Mart, Bob Evans, or any other business located across 73 from the hotel, your best course of action is catching a ride with someone who drove. Safety first! Live to see another edition of NJBF!

Additionally, sidewalks along 73 are mostly un-paved. It’s still possible to walk on them, but it’s not ideal – be prepared for this.

See food section for info on all of the above businesses.

Looking at street views of the area in detail on Google Maps or an equivalent service, a good idea in general, is especially helpful for this particular location.

PASS:

Of course, the earlier you buy, the cheaper you get your pass, but there are some other options for passes for this festival that are definitely worth mentioning.

Unique to New Jersey Bachata Festival are pass/hotel packages offering two full passes and two nights at the event hotel for one price, an arrangement with the potential for big savings, especially for those who don’t mind sharing a room.

Package deals for 2 full passes and 2 nights at the Hotel ML for the 2019 festival were sold cash-only in person at the 2018 festival on Saturday and Sunday to the first 20 people to jump on each deal for $250 and $300, respectively. I am not sure if they are offering this deal again in 2019, but come prepared and save big if they are!

If you were fortunate enough to jump on the Saturday deal or if you know someone who is, you can knock out your pass and two nights of lodging right at the event hotel with only one roommate for $125 all in (or reduce costs even further by bringing 1-2 more people into your room). Amazing deal!

Individual full passes were also sold in-person cash-only at this year’s festival for $69.

10/18/18 – Early bird full passes are available online now for $89 for the first 50 passes and $99 after that at http://www.njbachatafestival.com … prices for a full pass will go up to as much as $159 in the weeks before the festival and will be even more at the door.

Buy now!

TRAVEL:

CAR:

Driving and/or ridesharing is the most ideal way to get to this festival, as there is abundant off-street parking all around the event hotel and pretty much everywhere else in Mount Laurel, and also because Mount Laurel is very un-walkable and you will need a car or access to one to go even to places across the street.

A few particulars about driving in Mount Laurel and NJ in general:

– Some of you will be taking the New Jersey Turnpike to get to Mount Laurel. Expect to pay a lot of money in tolls… the 2.5 hour trip from the DC area to ML for example costs about $25 in tolls each way.

DO NOT MISS YOUR EXIT ON THE NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE. I can not emphasize this enough. The exits on the turnpike are spaced as much as 25 miles apart and you can spend upwards of an extra 40 minutes turning around and getting back to your exit if you miss it and probably will have to pay more in tolls too. Be extra vigilant as you approach your exit on the Turnpike and be in the right lane well in advance of your exit. You should generally not daydream while driving as a rule, but the New Jersey Turnpike is an especially bad place to do so.

– Be careful driving on 73 as well; because of the way it is laid out, turning around if you miss a turn or get lost can add upwards of 10 extra minutes to any car trip you take. Follow your GPS directions *EXACTLY* and do not daydream or go into autopilot while driving here. You really shouldn’t be doing that anyway, but you especially want to avoid it here. Also, there are exits to the turnpike located at various points on 73. Avoid these exits at all cost; for the reasons noted above, you are really screwed if you end up on the turnpike unintentionally and can spend upwards of 40 minutes turning around and getting back to Mount Laurel and likely will have to pay a toll as well.

– New Jersey is one of two states where full-service gas stations are the prevailing norm and it is actually against state law for people to pump their own gas. If you go to a gas station, expect to be approached by a full-service attendant and let them pump your gas. Make sure you tip your attendant as well. If you do not like this rule, make sure you get gas in another state and don’t do so in NJ.

BUS/TRAIN:

IMPORTANT UPDATE: #FrugalCongressLife no longer recommends Greyhound as a travel option for this festival.

Long story short, I attempted to use them to travel to NJBF in 2018, enticed by the allure of a slightly cheaper pre-payable trip to and from a location a short walk from the event and being able to relax and watch movies on the trip up instead of driving. I bought a ticket online to and from to the Mount Laurel station, located a three minute walk from the Hotel ML, in July 2018. My destination was abruptly changed from the Mount Laurel station to the Philadelphia station about a 30 minute drive away (one way) on the day of departure (10/12/18) without advance warning or explanation and I had to take a combination of public transportation and an UBER to the hotel for an extra $20 (most of that was the UBER though) and another hour or so added to my trip.

On the return trip, delays of over an hour and a resulting missed transfer in Baltimore extended my four hour trip to over 6 hours. Several other buses were delayed as well. I am definitely driving next year.

That said, if you’re lucky enough to catch them when they’re on point, Greyhound might save you about $10 each way vs. the cost of gas and tolls from anywhere in a four hour driving radius and will drop you a short walk from the Hotel ML, but you really take it at your own risk. In my experience, Greyhound has been one of the most inconsistent, unreliable, and capricious private companies I have ever dealt with and I know I’m not alone – using them is a gamble.

If you try to take Greyhound to ML, there’s a good chance your inbound destination will change to Philadelphia forcing you to find another way from Philly to ML and completely negating Greyhound’s one advantage over the other cheaper AND better bus lines.

If you are riding the bus to NJBF, I recommend saving yourself a lot of potential headaches and taking Bolt Bus or Megabus to Philly and using a combination of Philly and NJ public transit and UBER to get to the hotel, as convoluted and impractical as these options seem on paper. If Greyhound was actually reliable, it would be your de facto option for this congress, but sadly it is not.

Those riding Bolt Bus from NYC have the option of stopping in Cherry Hill, NJ, which is a 14 minute Uber/Lyft ride from the Hotel ML. Otherwise, Philly is your best option for Bolt Bus and MegaBus, both of which will drop you at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. 30th Street Station is also your best destination for Amtrak trains.

DIRECTIONS FROM 30TH STREET STATION:

Try to arrive during the day when PATCO and the El are still running. You will have to take an UBER if you arrive late at night when they stop running and this can get very expensive.

IMPORTANT: there are separate ticket machines for PATCO and SEPTA (the El is a SEPTA train); make sure you are buying your tickets from the proper machine for each train as SEPTA tickets are not honored by PATCO and vice versa. PATCO tickets are red cards that say “PATCO Freedom Pass” on them. A station employee can direct you to the proper gate for Lindenwold and the proper ticket machine for PATCO. A one-use one-way ticket for PATCO is about $3 and about $2 for the El.

– Exit 30th Street Station at Market Street and walk to the 30th Street Trolley station at Market Street and S 31st Street

– Take the El toward Frankford Trans Center 4 stops to 8th Street Station

– Take PATCO toward Lindenwold.

– Take PATCO 6 stops to the Haddonfield station.

The Haddonfield station is personally where I threw in the towel and jumped into an UberPOOL at a cost of about $10 in 2018, but if you’re a determined and enterprising frugal traveler with another 83 minutes to spare and exact change for the 457, read on…

– Take the NJ Transit 457 bus toward MOORESTOWN MALL-Exact Fare. Yes, as the name indicates, it’s cash-only and you have to have the EXACT fare. This is an old-school bus. If you decide to go this route be prepared and have dollar bills and quarters on you.

The fares are determined by a “zone” system measuring how many “zones” your bus travels through. Trying to figure it out is giving me a headache, so I’m going to just list all the fares and advise you to be prepared to pay any one of these fares in cash with exact change: $1.25 for one zone, $1.75 for two zones, $2.10 for three zones and $2.55 for four zones.

From what I can gather from the map, the route from Haddonfield to Mount Laurel appears to be a two-zone route, but be prepared for any one of those four payments.

– Take the bus 35 stops to Fellowship Road and Century Parkway – 14647, and you’re about a 10 minute walk from the hotel, but for safety reasons, have a driving friend pick you up or call an UBERPool rather than attempting to cross 73 on foot.

Follow the reverse of these directions (457 toward Camden to Haddonfield, PATCO toward Philadelphia to 8th Street, to get back to 30th Street Station.

No one said the #FrugalCongressLife would be entirely easy.

Philadelphia is a city supported by Citymapper at the time of this writing. Philadelphia’s surrounding New Jersey suburbs, including Mount Laurel, Haddonfield, and Cherry Hill, and all public transportation infrastructure from these areas, are part of Philadelphia’s Citymapper package.

If you took Greyhound against my advice and had the misfortune of being dumped in Philly instead of taken to Mount Laurel, you will be dropped at the Greyhound station at 10th Street and Filbert Street. To get to the 8th Street Station, make a left out of the station onto Cuthbert Street, make a right onto 10th Street, make a left onto Filbert Street, walk two blocks to 8th Street and make a right, and the 8th Street station will be on your right; follow the above PATCO directions from there.

FLYING:

Fly into Philadelphia International Airport (PHL); that is your most practical option for this festival.

The Rapid Rover shuttle service picks up from PHL and goes to the Hotel ML at a cost of about $22-30, which can be split with other attendees coming from the airport. You should have no problem coordinating a Rapid Rover share as this will be the most popular and the most economical option from the airport.

Uber/Lyft directly from the airport or train/bus stations is not recommended as prices start in excess of $35 one way and can even go as high as $99 one way (!!!!) during a surge.

LODGING:

A big plus for NJBF is the relatively inexpensive cost of lodging, especially if you got one of the aforementioned pass/hotel packages.

Even if you didn’t, the Hotel ML only costs about $100-120 per night for a room depending on when you book. Book far in advance for cheapest rates!

Whatever you pay for your room, it can of course be brought down even further by room sharing with other attendees.

Although there are some other offsite options near by, as always, per my personal code of ethics, and to encourage people to support the event hotel, I will offer no info on offsite options until the Hotel ML fully sells out for that weekend, if that happens.

A pass/hotel package will put you right in the center of the action at the event hotel for a lower price per night than all the budget options nearby anyway.

If the Hotel ML fully sells out before the festival (that means all rooms completely filled), and there is no official overflow block available, I have a separate post detailing the various offsite options nearby written and ready to go. It will go up when the hotel sells out and disappear right after the festival. You are on your own until then if you seek offsite lodging.

The only advice regarding offsite lodging that I do have at this time is that if you are going to insist on staying offsite, seeking only hotels located on the same side of 73 as the Hotel ML is highly recommended for safety reasons if you are not driving to the festival, due to the aforementioned dangers of crossing 73 on foot.

FOOD:

One relatively new addition to the landscape directly around the festival that will be an utmost boon to those living the #FrugalCongressLife is the new Walmart Supercenter across the street from the Hotel ML. This brand new Wal-Mart, built in the spring of 2018 and opened the following summer, is your de facto grocery shopping option in Mount Laurel due to its proximity to the hotel, but walking there isn’t recommended due to the aforementioned safety issues with crossing 73 on foot. Drive there or have someone with a car drive you there.

For your coffee needs, there is a Starbucks a short walk down 73 on the same side as the hotel and across Fellowship Road, as well as a Lukoil gas station with a convenience store nearby for last minute food staples that also houses a Pita Pocket.

As for your one meal out, Miller’s Ale House is located about a 2 minute walk from the event hotel at 554 Fellowship Road and serves American comfort food staples, as well as some Mexican dishes. For me, Miller’s is the dining option I most look forward to, and not just because of how close it is to the hotel. The food is excellent and service is very fast – I was in and out in about 40 minutes on Saturday evening in 2018. Although it’s a chain, I personally do not have one in my area, so eating there is a different experience for me. Because it is so close to the hotel, it is a very popular food option with congress attendees, so if you want to make your meal out a social experience, you will likely have no problem finding someone to go with you.

There is also a Bob Evans located across 73 next to the Wal-Mart. As with Wal-Mart, attempting to go there on foot is ill-advised.

Popeye’s, Burger King, Uno Pizzeria, 7-Eleven, and Dunkin’ Donuts are all located further down the road if you have a car or access to one.

That’s all I got for this survival guide, hit up the comments if you got any other info or can fill in any gaps in my personal knowledge, and I’ll see you at NJBF!

– Owen