#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Viva La Bachata Weekend

The Baltimore area’s newest bachata event is officially here in the form of the Viva La Bachata Weekend!

Viva La Bachata, the collaborative brainchild of DC-based international sensual bachata instructor Vladi Aragon and world-renowned bachata DJ Emerson “Emerzive” Morales, has so far produced an outstanding and wildly successful monthly Saturday night bachata social held in Tysons Corner, VA on the first Saturday of every month.

This coming February, the Viva La Bachata crew is expanding onto the congress/festival/weekend stage with this brand new weekend event as their first multi-day offering, which they hope to expand into a full festival starting in 2021.

In the search for a venue that will accommodate a larger crowd, the Viva La Bachata experience is, for this event only, shifting an hour and a half northeast from its usual Tysons Corner location to the northern Baltimore County suburb of Timonium, Maryland. The weekender will happen from February 22nd-24th, 2020 at Towson Dance Studio (hereafter abbreviated as TDS), a gorgeous, classy, and expansive studio named for the adjacent town of Towson, MD, and located next to the Maryland State Fairgrounds at 9486 Deereco Rd in Timonium.

Confirmed artists so far include Vladi & Ximena, Kat Arias, and Spain’s Luis & Andrea, with more to be announced.

Confirmed DJ’s for the evening parties include DJ Soltrix, DJ Emerzive, DJ Manuel Citro, and DJ York from Germany. The schedule so far for the weekend consists of a party on Friday night and workshops in the morning and afternoon followed by performances and a party at night on Saturday and Sunday.

PASS:

If you didn’t jump on any of the pass deals at this year’s New Jersey Bachata Festival, full passes are still available for a very low price (around $70-80) at the time of this writing. The sooner you buy the better, as always!

TRAVEL:

Baltimore City and the surrounding areas, including Towson and Timonium, are supported by Citymappervia their DC/Baltimore package at the time of this writing. Via is not supported in the Baltimore area at the time of this writing. UBERPool and Shared Lyft are not supported in the Baltimore area, making UberX and Lyft your cheapest ride hailing options.

CAR:
Timonium is accessible by public transportation, but is located quite some distance from most of the airports, train stations, and bus stops in the area. Additionally, the closest hotel is a nine minute walk, and it goes up from there, and this festival is at the end of February where temperatures are in the 30s and 40s on average. Therefore, if you are able, driving and/or ridesharing are the most practical options for this festival. There is a good amount of parking near TDS itself, and an even greater abundance of overflow parking at the Park and Ride a stone’s throw away. All the hotels, food options, and grocery stores have abundant parking as well.

Rush hour traffic in both the DC and Baltimore areas are very bad on Friday afternoon and can add multiple hours to your trip (not kidding) – be mindful of this if coming from points south of Towson/Timonium.

FLYING:

BWI is your airport for this festival whether you’re flying a budget airline or balling out in first class. From there you have a couple of transportation options. The baller option, and the time-saver option, is to take an Uber or Lyft directly from the airport to the studio or your hotel of choice. TDS is located about a 37 minute drive from the airport, so this is bound to be staggeringly expensive (about $40-50 one way on average), especially given the lack of shared/pool options. Coordinating a share with other attendees landing at or around the same time as you shouldn’t be hard to pull off, and should ease some of the financial pain of this option. If you’re stuck going it alone, I honestly would recommend renting a car at the airport if you can – it would cost roughly the same as UBER or Lyft both ways and would give you some very helpful extra mobility during the festival.

Your extreme budget option if you are willing to tack an extra 105 minutes (not a typo) on to your trip is the Baltimore LightRailLink. From BWI Airport, head to the light rail platform (about a 3 minute walk up the road from the Spirit and Frontier concourses) and take the light rail north toward Hunt Valley. From there, ride 25 stops to the Timonium Fairgrounds Light Rail station. From there, TDS is either about a 6 minute walk northwest up Deereco Road or a shorter and much less expensive UBER ride. The entire trip will take you 90-110 minutes on average, but will cost you only $1.80 one way. Light rail and UBER can also of course be mixed for a balance of saving money and saving time.

TRAIN:

Amtrak to Penn Station in downtown Baltimore. The area around Penn Station is fairly safe, but as with just about anywhere in downtown Baltimore, it’s a good idea to keep your head up and look alive.

From there you have similar options to the trip from the airport. TDS is about an 18 minute drive/UberLyft ride from downtown Baltimore and will probably be about $20-30 one way on average. I can’t imagine as many people will be taking the train or bus as flying so coordinating a shared Uber or Lyft could be tougher.

The light rail will be about 50-60 minutes from downtown Baltimore, but as with BWI, it will cost you only $1.80 one way. Make a left on Charles Street out of the station and a right onto Oliver Street, walk about 8 minutes then make a right onto Mount Royal Avenue to the Mount Royal & Lt Rail Stat stop. Ride 9 stops to the Timonium Fairgrounds light rail station and walk 6 minutes northwest up Deereco Road to TDS.

BUS:

While Megabus’ Baltimore-area stop at the White Marsh Mall is wildly impractical for the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress’ downtown location or the Zouk Heat Festival’s BWI location, it is only about a 20 minute UBER ride from TDS and UBER will be about $20-25 one way.

If you have an extra 155 minutes to space there is a public transportation route from White Marsh. Walk about 8 minutes east to the BROWN bus stop toward Br Um Medical Center, then take it 17 stops to Belair Rd & Overlea Loop SB – 6553, and transfer to the 33 bus toward Mt. Washington LR. Ride 27 stops to Kelly Ave & Sulgrave Ave WB – 5049. Walk 3 minutes northeast to the Mt. Washington & Light Rail Stat and follow the light rail directions from there.

A more practical route for Megabus, especially if coming from points south of Washington, DC, is to take it to Union Station, then take the Marc Penn Line to Penn Station and follow the train directions from there. Bolt Busstops downtown a block east of Penn Station on Maryland Avenue. Walk west toward Penn Station and follow the train directions to TDS from there.

Greyhound stops closer to the stadiums on the south end of downtown Baltimore. Take an UBER or Lyft to the Pratt Street Light Rail Station and then follow the light rail directions to TDS from there.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT OPTIONS FROM THE DMV AREA:

There are three different specific public transportation options local to the DC Metro area that will take anyone in the DC/MD/VA area to BWI for a very low price, and the light rail route from BWI can be taken to TDS from there.

The MARC Penn Line is an excellent option for getting to BWI from anywhere in the Washington, DC city limits. It picks up at Washington Union Station and will take you the BWI Rail Station for around $6-8.

For residents of Montgomery County, MD, the MTA 201 bus will take you from the Shady Grove metro station (northwestern end of the red line), the Gaithersburg Park & Ride, or the Georgia Avenue Park & Ride in Aspen Hill to BWI for $5 one way. This trip will take a little over an hour. The 201 accepts debit and credit cards for the current trip’s one-way fares only or cash in exact change (no change given if you overpay). This is also a good practical option for anyone who flew into DCA or IAD and can catch it from the Shady Grove metro station.

For residents of Prince George’s County, MD, including the College Park/University of Maryland area, the WMATA B30 bus goes from the Greenbelt Metro station at the northern end of the green line to BWI for $7.50 one way (exact change required). This bus isn’t really practical for anyone outside of PG County, however, as it is located further away from either of the DC airports than the 201 stops above. Additionally, the B30 does not run on Saturday or Sunday, so anyone leaving for PG County on Sunday evening will have to take the 201 back to Shady Grove, then return to PG County via the red line and the green line, which will take close to three hours total.

LODGING:

Since this event is taking place at a studio and not a hotel, I will freely discuss a multitude of lodging options.

There are several hotels located very close to the festival at a variety of price ranges. An official hotel for the weekend has not been announced as of the time of writing.

Your best logistical bet is the Holiday Inn Timonium (9615 Deereco Rd, Timonium, MD 21093) located just up the street from TDS. The hotel is currently going for $111 per night at the time of this writing and is located a 2 minute drive or 9 minute walk from TDS. The hotel was recently renovated and reviews are mostly positive. It will likely be the most popular option for those looking to roomshare as it is closest to the event. Amenities include free high-speed wireless internet, a refrigerator, HBO, and “Refresh” bedding.

Additionally, there is at the time of this writing a cyber sale going on for members of Holiday Inn’s IHG Rewards Program where if you book your hotel room between November 11th and December 17th, 2019 and stay between November 14th, 2019 and May 31st, 2020 (which includes the weekend of the festival), you can save up to 25% on your room, making the Holiday Inn a better bet for this festival.

Another good alternative is the Hampton Inn and Suites Baltimore North/Timonium (11 Texas Station Ct, Timonium, MD 21093) going for about $97-100 per night. It is further from TDS, located about a 4 minute drive or 15 minute walk away, but it has a higher rating on Google and more positive reviews than the Holiday Inn. Amenities include free breakfast, free wifi, a fitness center, a business center, digital key entry, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a 42 inch TV.

Your closest budget option is the Extended Stay America Baltimore North/Timonium located about an 3 minute drive or 12 minute walk away from TDS at 9704 Beaver Dam Rd, Lutherville-Timonium, MD 21093 and going for about $80 per night on average, as well as featuring kitchenettes. Some reviews of this hotel complain of cleanliness issues and all are quick to point out that the Ritz this hotel ain’t. Bring the bleach wipes and caveat emptor, as with any budget hotel.

Located about a 7 minute drive up the road in the adjacent town of Cockeysville at 10100 York Rd is your budgetiest budget option, the Ramada Limited Cockeysville, which goes for about $55-60 per night for the VLB Weekend’s dates. Reviews describe not only cleanliness issues similar to the Extended Stay but bulletproof glass in the lobby and “sketchy characters” hanging out in the parking lot. I wouldn’t recommend this particular option for dancers planning on returning from the VLB socials late at night, but it is the cheapest option.

AirBNB is decidedly not an option for the 2020 edition of the VLB Weekend, as only 19 listings are left in the area for the festival’s dates, and only two of them (averaging $50-60 per night) are located within commutable distance of the studio.

FOOD:

Your closest Wal-Mart is located about 8 minutes up the road at 1 Frankel Way, Cockeysville, MD 21030. Target is located slightly closer, at 9901 York Rd, Cockeysville, MD 21030. If you happen to have a Sam’s Club membership, they are located much closer, about a 5 minute drive or 17 minute walk away at 15 Texas Station Ct, Timonium, MD 21093. Giant is located abouat a 7 minute drive away at 2145 York Rd, Timonium, MD 21093.

Green Valley Market Place, a local organic supermarket, is located about a 4 minute drive or 20 minute walk away at 15 E Padonia Rd, Lutherville-Timonium, MD 21093.

The nearest coffee spots to TDS are a Starbucks located a 5 minute drive away at 2129B York Road and a Dunkin’ a short walk south from there. My plan is to stock up on iced coffees and Bulletproof cold brews at Wal-Mart (yes, Bulletproof cold brews are available at Wal-Mart now) before the weekend.

You have quite a few options for your meal out. If you want your baby back baby back baby back baby back ribs with your bachata, there’s a Chili’s right next to the Holiday Inn at 9615 Deereco Rd, Timonium, MD 21093. If you want your comfort food to be more local, Mother’s North Grille is located about a 4 minute drive or 18 minute walk away at 2450 Broad Ave, Timonium, MD 21093. Hightopps Backstage Grille is another comfort food spot located near the fairgrounds at 2306 York Road and Gibby’s Seafood & Gourmet Market is right next door. Located in the shopping center near the Hampton Inn and Sams Club is a Japanese restaurant called Umi Sake (9726 York Road), an Italian pasta and pizza joint called Fazzini’s Taverna (9811 York Road), and, most important to the frugal congress-goer, and all-you-can eat Indian buffet called Royal Kitchen (9832 York Road). Located further up the road from Royal Kitchen are Taco Bell, Popeyes, IHOP, Wawa, and Chik-Fil-A. The Wits End Saloon (9603 Derreco Road), a whiskey-and-burgers joint, and Liberatore’s Ristorante and Catering, a family-run Italian chain (9515 Deereco Road), are good options for the Holiday Inn and the Extended Stay crowd as bpth are a short walk from both of those hotels. There is also a 7-Eleven located near the Hampton Inn, the Holiday Inn, and the Extended Stay America at 9709 Beaver Dam Road.

That’s it for this guide; hit the comments if you have anything to add and I’ll see you in Timonium this February!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Capital Congress

[DISCLOSURE: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Capital Congress other than being an attendee and have not been hired to promote Capital Congress 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.]

It is a great honor to cover the oldest and longest-running salsa festival in Washington, DC for this #FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide. The Capital Congress, established in 2005 by promoter Shaka Brown under its original name, the DC Salsa Congress, has been drawing dancers to the DC area for the last 14 years for workshops, performances, parties, and socials in four dedicated ballrooms for not just salsa, but also bachata, zouk, and kizomba.

In 2019, Capital Congress is picking up and moving about 10 minutes northwest from its longtime location at the legendary Westin Alexandria to its larger and even better permanent new home at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center, a breathtakingly gorgeous lakeside hotel located near a botanical preserve! Therefore, rather than applying our Westin Alexandria guide to this congress, we will cover the ins and outs of the brand new Capital Congress location in this guide!

Capital Congress happens from June 20th to June 24th in 2019.

PASS:

Capital Congress passes get very expensive (up to $350) the closer you get to the event. Buy as soon as possible for the best prices! We have been advertising super-low early bird prices for this event on our Facebook page in the past few months so hopefully some of you were able to jump on that!

If you are in the DC area or nearby, the Capital Congress lineup reveal party happens at Mr. Mambo’s Salsa Bachata Social at Hollywood Ballroom in Silver Spring, MD on Saturday, March 23rd, 2019 at 8:00pm. In addition to the full artist lineup being revealed for the first time, there will be raffles to win free full passes and heavily discounted full passes will also be sold. $100 full passes were sold at the lineup reveal last year. Will they be this year? Come and find out.

Party and single-day passes are sold closer to the event. A party pass is currently only $60 for all four days a week out from the 2019 event!

TRAVEL:

One very important amenity that sets the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center (hereafter referred to as the HAMC) apart from many other DC area hotels is a complimentary shuttle servicing both Reagan National Airport (DCA) as well as the Pentagon and King Street metro stations. This shuttle, needless to say, will be an immense help with travel logistics.

After some looking around online, I was able to find a shuttle schedule and itinerary courtesy of the National Jewish Retreat. Take a look here.

DRIVING:

Driving or rideshare is a decent option. If coming from points north of DC, be sure to account for the DC/Northern Virginia area’s infamous rush hour traffic (6am-11am, 12pm-8pm on weekdays, not kidding) in your travels.

Self-parking at the hotel is $28 per night and valet parking is $34 per night.

A less expensive and very secure parking option for those who are staying at the hotel and don’t need to get to their cars at a moment’s notice is to park in DCA’s economy lot for $17 per day.  Once at the lot, take the economy lot shuttle (which picks up reliably at regular intervals from various points in the lot) from the lot to the terminal, and then take the free hotel shuttle from the terminal to the hotel from there.

Your most frugal parking option if you don’t have a lot of luggage is parking at one of the Franconia-Springfield Metro station’s overnight spots for $4.75 per day (first come, first served, about 15 spots available). From there take the yellow line toward Fort Totten to the Pentagon, King Street, or National Airport stop and take the shuttle to the HAMC from there.

There are also two third-party 24-hour daily garages run by Colonial Parking located near the HAMC at 4825 Mark Center Drive ($8.50 per day) and 1500-2000 N Beauregard Street ($10 per day).  There are also garages located at 1581 N Beauregard Street and 4660 Kenmore Avenue, but these garages are NOT open 24 hours and close at 5PM and 6PM respectively, so be mindful of this.  The garage at 2001 N Beauregard Street is monthly parking only, so be mindful of this as well.  

It is not clear at press time whether or not overnight parking is allowed at these garages, so for the time being, parking at DCA or the Metro as outlined above is probably your safest bet for those staying at the hotel.  Inevitably, some intrepid frugal adventurer is going to be the guinea pig for overnight parking at these garages and we will know more soon, but for now, our conservative advice is go to with other methods for parking overnight.

These garages DO work very well for local commuters driving to the congress from home — that we can say with confidence at this time. 

Colonial Parking’s online parking locator has up-to-the-minute information on current capacity (including percentage full) and daily rates for each of the garages in the surrounding area.

FLYING:

Fly into DCA (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) and take the complimentary shuttle to the HAMC from DCA.

FROM BWI:

Try to fly in during the day. Take the MARC or Amtrak to Washington Union Station and follow the train/bus directions from there.

From IAD:

Take an UBER or Lyft to the Wiehle-Reston Metro station. From there, take the silver line toward Largo Town Center to Rosslyn, transfer to the blue line toward Franconia-Springfield to the Pentagon City, King Street, or National Airport metro stations and take the complimentary shuttle to the HAMC from any one of those stops.

TRAIN/BUS:

Take any train or bus line to Washington Union Station. From there, take the Metro red line to Gallery Place/Chinatown, then transfer to the yellow line toward Huntington and take the yellow line to the Pentagon City, King Street, or National Airport metro stations and take the complimentary shuttle to the HAMC from any one of those stops.

See our DCBX guide for in-depth info on the DC metro as well as the MARC and Amtrak trains.

DC and the surrounding Virginia suburbs, including Alexandria, are supported by Citymapper at the time of this writing as part of their combined DC/Baltimore package.

LODGING:

There is presently an active room block for the HAMC; book your rooms for $130 per night here.

The hotel’s amenities include:

– Gorgeous lakeside setting that is also near the Winkler Botanical Preserve.

– Incredible views of Washington, DC in suites and select standard rooms

– Shuttles to and from the airport as well as the Pentagon City and King Street metro stations

– Pet-friendly policies (pets up to 75 pounds allowed with $50 deposit)

– Fitness center

– Pool

– Blackout curtains

– 42-inch widescreen TV with Complimentary HBO

– Self laundry available

Rooms in the secluded lakeside “retreat room” are also available at a lower cost (around $125 per night) for AAA members and Hilton Honors members.

As always I will provide no info on offsite options until the event hotel fully sells out. Really, the event hotel is so gorgeous and available at such a relatively low price for the area that you want to stay there anyway.

The HAMC is located at 5000 Seminary Road, Alexandria, VA.

FOOD:

The closest Wal-Mart Supercenter is located about a 20 minute drive from the HAMC in the Belle Haven neighborhood at 6303 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, VA 22306.

Target is located a considerably shorter distance away at 5115 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041. This is about an 8 minute drive from the HAMC. Whatever you save going with Wal-Mart over Target, you may spend on gas in this case. AL-AMAL Super Market is located nearby at 3817 – G S George Mason Dr, Falls Church, VA 22041 as an alternative.

There is also a Giant and a Global Food located in the nearby Shops at Mark Center at 1476 N Beauregard St, Alexandria, VA 22311. This Giant is about a 3 minute drive or 12 minute walk from the HAMC and probably the best bet for people not driving.

For your meal out, the in-hotel options include Finn & Porter, a contemporary surf and turf restaurant, as well as a sushi bar.

Food options nearby include a McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, Sardi’s Pollo A La Brasa, Subway, Noodles, Starbucks, and CVS in the same shopping center as the Giant.

Clyde’s At Mark Center and the Mark V Deli are also located about an 8 minute walk or 3 minute drive from the HAMC at 1700 N Beauregard Street and 1900 N Beauregard Street #100, respectively.

Restaurants located near Target include McDonald’s, Five Guys, District Taco, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Popeye’s, TGI Fridays, Potbelly, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, China Delight (Chinese food), Stone Hot Pizza,

Those craving some Habesha food will be pleased to find THREE Ethiopian restaurants in the same shopping center as AL-AMAL. These restaurants are Nazret Ethiopia Restaurant, Abay Market, and Balagger Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar.

That’s it for this survival guide! Hit the comments if you have any additional info and I’ll see you all at Capital Congress!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Zouk Heat Festival

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Zouk Heat other than being a loyal yearly attendee and Terrisa being a personal friend of mine. I have not been hired by Zouk Heat to promote that organization 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 and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

[Originally published 1/22/19, updated rewritten for the 2020 festival 4/14/19 and 5/21/19]

The Zouk Heat Festival is a brand new Brazilian Zouk festival organized by former DC Zouk Festival co-organizer and DC-based zouk instructor Terrisa Widener that happens every year at the beginning of April. The 2020 edition of the Zouk Heat Festival will take place April 3rd-April 6, 2020. 2019 headliners Pedrinho & Linda will return to the festival in 2020, joined by Carlos & Fernanda, Kadu & Larissa, Leo & Thayna, and many others to be announced.

You will be busy all weekend with workshops in the morning and afternoon and performances and socials at night on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The artist and DJ lineups are both a veritable who’s who of national and international zouk instructors and DJs every year!

Zouk Heat is also a #FrugalCongressLife standout for its affordability, with a full pass very competitively priced for an event of this caliber and a hotel room block priced at only $109 per night, which is very affordable for a good event hotel in the area.

For the 2020 festival, Zouk Heat is picking up and moving northeast from its previous Dulles Airport location to the BWI Airport Marriott Hotel, located a short ride on the free airport shuttle from Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum Heights, Maryland. This is a very good move for this new festival’s continued growth as not only is this hotel larger with more food options, but it is convenient to a more accessible airport, as well as the only airport in the DC/Baltimore area served by budget air travel stalwart Spirit Airlines.

Zouk Heat is the move for fans of Brazilian Zouk on the east coast in the first weekend of April! This guide, originally our first published survival guide in 2019 and now updated for 2020 and rewritten completely for the new location, is your one-stop guide to this rapidly growing new festival!

PASS:

Even if you didn’t get one of the 15 $100 full passes sold in person at the 2019 festival, it is still early enough to get your full pass at a very good price. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all updates on artist and DJ lineups and early bird passes!

LODGING:

Last year’s hotel was very affordable and this year’s hotel continues this positive trend. Terrisa has negotiated a block of rooms for $109 per night at the BWI Marriott, the same price as last year’s Dulles location. A four-person room-share will cost the budget-minded about $30-35 per night with taxes included. Even in two—double rooms, roll-away beds are available at an extra cost of $15 per room! This is a huge and rare benefit as most hotels (including many other Marriott properties) do not supply roll-away beds to two-double rooms. There is a maximum limit of one roll-away, so one person will still have to bed-share or bring the Airlite.

If you do the offsite congress grind regularly, take a break from it at this festival and get yourself an affordable room right in the center of the action at the event hotel.

Link to book your room coming shortly.

The hotel’s amenities include, but are not limited to, a well-equipped fitness center, a heated indoor pool, safe deposit boxes at the front desk, a free airport shuttle that takes you directly to the hotel from BWI and vice versa, and an onsite coin-operated laundry room. Room amenities include, but are not limited to, bottled water, a coffee maker, individual climate control, alarm clocks, an ironing board, foam pillows, and cable TV.

The size and usability of the laundry room is unknown at press time (the laundry room at last year’s hotel consisted of exactly one washer and one dryer that was in constant use all day and night). For this reason I recommend bringing enough clothing to last the weekend just in case. If you do need to do laundry, and the hotel’s laundry room is full, there are three laundromats located within a 15 minute drive of the hotel: the Crystal Laundromat (7446 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd, Glen Burnie), the DCA Laundromat (704 Crain Highway S, Glen Burnie), and Suds R Us (7420 E Furnace Branch Road, Glen Burnie).

For members of Marriott’s new Bonvoy rewards program (a merger of the old Marriott Rewards program, Starwood Preferred Group, and Ritz-Carlton Rewards) which is free to join and a no brainer for dance congress attendees and anyone who stays in hotels regularly, certain Marriott hotels offer 500 rewards points to the person on the hotel room’s folio for every night of refused housekeeping services. It is unclear at press time if the BWI Marriott offers such an incentive, but if they do, that’s an easy 500-1500 extra points (depending of course on how long you stay) that can go toward free or discounted hotel stays in the future for going a relatively short time without housekeeping services. Ask about this program at the front desk when you check in.

The immediate area around the BWI Marriott is a cluster of airport hotels, so there are many other alternate lodging options located nearby, but you know me by this time — I will not be discussing any other lodging options unless the BWI Marriott fully sells out (both the room block and all other rooms outside the block) and there is no official block at an overflow hotel. You’re on your own if it’s offsite options you seek.

TRAVEL:

The entire Washington DC and Baltimore area, including the area around BWI, is supported by the Citymapper app’s DC/Baltimore package, including all of their public transportation.

Via is not supported in the Baltimore/BWI area at this time.

UberPOOL and Shared Lyft are not available in the Baltimore/BWI area at this time. The cheapest UBER/Lyft options are UberX and Lyft; these of course can be split with fellow festival attendees with some planning and coordination.

DRIVING:

Driving or a shared ride with other attendees is an excellent way to get to the BWI area. Parking around the hotel is free! No need to pay to park at the airport!

FLYING:

Whether you are flying Spirit or any other airline, fly into BWI if you can. The hotel is located about a mile away from BWI and there is a free hotel shuttle that takes you directly to and from the hotel’s front door. All shuttle buses from BWI, including the Marriott’s courtesy shuttle, pick up from the LOWER level of the airport.

If you must fly into DCA, you have two options to avoid paying close to $70 one way for an UBER from DCA to BWI. Your first option is to take the DC Metro to Washington Union Station and take the MARC Penn Line from there to BWI ($8 for the MARC and $3-4 for the Metro one way). See the public transportation section for info on the DC Metro system. Your second option is to take the Metro to the Shady Grove stop at the northwestern end of the red line and take the MTA 201 bus from Shady Grove to BWI ($5 for the 201 and $3-4 for the Metro one way). See the bus/train and public transportation sections for more info on these options.

Avoid IAD if you can as not only is it the furthest airport from the festival, but it is also not served directly by a Metro station. If you must fly into IAD, take an UBERPool (available in the Dulles area) from the airport to the Wiehle-Reston stop on the silver line, take the silver line to the red line, and follow the above directions from there.

BUS/TRAIN:

The Amtrak Northeast Regional train picks up at various locations in the northeast and stops right at the BWI rail station; it is relatively more expensive than your other options, but more comfortable.

The MARC Penn Line is your best train option for getting to BWI from anywhere in the Washington, DC city limits. It picks up at Washington Union Station and will take you the BWI Rail Station for around $6-8. A shuttle runs from the rail station to the terminal where you can catch the Marriott’s courtesy shuttle downstairs which will take you to the hotel. The MARC does not run on Sundays, so those returning on Sunday night will have to take Amtrak back to Union Station, which will cost about $16 for an economy trip.

Your bus routes are slightly trickier, but still doable.

Bolt Bus stops in downtown Baltimore two blocks west of Penn Station. Walk up Maryland Avenue to W Lanvale Street, make a right onto Lanvale and a right onto Charles Street and walk south a block on Charles Street and the station will be on your left. The area around Penn Station is reasonably safe, but staying alert, walking quickly, and being street smart is recommended.

From Penn Station, you have two options. You can take the MARC Penn Line to BWI Rail Station and then take the shuttle to the terminal as described above. Alternately, take the Light Rail Link toward BWI Airport 16 stops south from Penn Station (Penn’s light rail platform is located in the northwestern corner of the station) to the airport, where the terminal and the courtesy shuttle to the hotel are a short walk away. The light rail route takes slightly longer than the MARC, but at $1.80 one way, is 3 times cheaper.

Megabus’ Baltimore stop is at the White Marsh Mall, which is nowhere near BWI (close to 45 minutes northeast), and getting to BWI from White Marsh will be a long, expensive, and cumbersome trip. If Megabus is your best or only option, take it to Union Station in DC and take the MARC Penn Line to BWI.

If you take Greyhound, it stops in downtown Baltimore near Camden Yards. Take an UBER or Lyft about three minutes to Hamburg & Lt Rail Station and take the light rail south to BWI. This will be about $8 one way.

An UBER or Lyft directly to BWI from downtown Baltimore will be about $17-20 one way. This can, of course, be split with fellow attendees of the festival.

OTHER LOCAL PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION:

General information about the Washington DC Metro system can be found at http://www.wmata.com, and a map of the system can be found here. The Metro trains and buses require a SmarTrip card; info about how to purchase one can be found here.

There are two different specific public transportation options local to the DC Metro area that will take anyone in this area, as well as any travelers who find themselves in this area (because they flew into DCA or IAD or whatever other reason) to BWI for a very low price.

For residents of Montgomery County, MD, the MTA 201 bus will take you from the Shady Grove metro station (northwestern end of the red line), the Gaithersburg Park & Ride, or the Georgia Avenue Park & Ride in Aspen Hill to BWI for $5 one way. This trip will take a little over an hour. The 201 accepts debit and credit cards for the current trip’s one-way fares only or cash in exact change (no change given if you overpay). This is also a good practical option for anyone who flew into DCA or IAD and can catch it from the Shady Grove metro station.

For residents of Prince George’s County, MD, including the College Park/University of Maryland area, the WMATA B30 bus goes from the Greenbelt Metro station at the northern end of the green line to BWI for $7.50 one way (exact change required). This bus isn’t really practical for anyone outside of PG County, however, as it is located further away from either of the DC airports than the 201 stops above.

Additionally, the B30 does not run on Saturday or Sunday, so anyone leaving for PG County on Sunday evening will have to take the 201 back to Shady Grove, then return to PG County via the red line and the green line, which will take close to three hours total.

FOOD:

You have two in-hotel dining options. Champions Sports Bar & Restaurant is a newly remodeled sports bar serving American food and a large selection of beer and wine all the way up to a half hour before the restaurant closes for the night. Chesapeake, as its name suggests, is a comfort seafood restaurant that serves a variety of seafood items including authentic Maryland crab cakes (or as we call them here, “crehhhb cakes”).

Your coffee fix will likely be supplied by the hotel’s Day/Night Bar, which serves Starbucks coffee.

For the frugal grocery shoppers, the closest Walmart Supercenter is located 11 minutes away at 3601 Washington Blvd, Arbutus, MD. Two other Walmart Supercenters are located 13 and 14 minutes away at 406 George Clauss Blvd, Severn MD and 6721 Chesapeake Center Drive, Glen Burnie, MD respectively.

If you prefer, the Linthicum Market is located 6 minutes from the hotel at 421 S Camp Meade Road, Linthicum Heights, MD. Additionally, the Good Day Gourmet is also located 6 minutes away at 700 S Hammonds Ferry Road, Linthicum Heights. Finally, Dollar General is located 9 minutes away at 7077 Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard, Glen Burnie, and Food Lion is located next door.

Restaurants located in walking distance of the hotel include: Maiwand Kabob (839 Elkridge Landing Road #110), McDonald’s (717 Nursery Road), Chili’s Grill & Bar (1715 W Nursery Road), Chick Fil A (1610 W Nursery Road), Potbelly (1622 W Nursery Road), NY Halal Food Court (1007 Main Avenue), and Adamm’s Airport Deli (891 Elkridge Landing Road – closes at 2:30pm).

Restaurants located slightly further away but still less than a 10 minute drive include: 700 South Deli and Cafe (1190 Winterson Road – closes at 3pm), Wendy’s (1589 W Nursery Road), Ruby Tuesday (950 International Drive), Cracker Barrel (1520 W Nursery Road), Bob Evans (996 Corporate Blvd), Urban Bar-B-Que (802 Pinnacle Dr. #100), Burger King (500 Progress Drive), El Sombrero Mexican Restaurant (529 S Camp Meade Road), and Matsu Japanese Restaurant (517 S Camp Meade Road).

Your food options directly at BWI airport are Potbelly, Chipotle, Dunkin’, Kraze Burgers, The Greene Turtle, McDonald’s, and Phillips Seafood.

Of course I can’t write about food options in the Linthicum Heights/Glen Burnie area without mentioning Crabtowne. This combination seafood restaurant and vintage video arcade, detailed in full in the above linked blog entry, is located only 15 minutes from the BWI Marriott, so if seafood and old-school arcade games are your thing, this is a can’t-miss attraction located close by!

That’s all for this entry. Hit the comments if you got anything to add and I’ll see you all at the BWI Marriott in April!

#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. 

The 2020 Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress, also the 10th edition of the congress, takes place from April 9th-April 12th, 2020. Over 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 a touristy area and 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.

We will post all early bird full and VIP passes and price changes to this congress on our Facebook and Twitter pages, as always.

TRAVEL:

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 and DC including real-time schedules and multiple routes.

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 18 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. If you must fly into IAD or DCA, take Metro to Union Station and take the bus, MARC train, or Amtrak to BWI from there. Our DCBX guide has more detailed info on navigating Metro.

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.

UBER or Lyft from BWI to the Hilton Baltimore is about $20 one way.

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. To get to the light rail, as well as the shuttles to long-term parking, you’ll have to go downstairs to the lower level of the airport.

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.

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 the congress, I recommend parking in BWI’s long-term or daily parking ($8-12 per day) and taking UBER/Lyft or the light rail to the hotel.

BWI’s long-term parking lots ($8 per day) are two large open-air surface parking lots (Long Term A and Long Term B) located on the far outskirts of the airport. These lots, run by SP+ Parking, feature 10,000 parking spaces between them, and the availability of spaces in each lot is tracked in real-time on the above-linked site. The lots are not walking distance from the airport, but a shuttle picks up reliably every 5-10 minutes from various spots around the lot 24 hours per day. These unstaffed lots are somewhat desolate and isolated, so use caution if alone there at night.

Fast Park & Relax is a 24/7 staffed slightly-higher-end open-air alternative to SP+’s surface parking also located a short shuttle ride from the airport. This lot starts at $8.40 per day and features the ability to reserve spots in advance and other amenities not found at the SP+ lot, but some reviews complain of inconsistent shuttle pickups, so keep that in mind.

If you prefer, BWI’s daily parking garage ($12 per day) is a less isolated covered parking garage with more activity much closer to the airport – although still not walking distance, and a fast and reliable shuttle to the terminal is offered here as well.

As a reminder, all shuttles to the parking lots and garages depart from the downstairs level of the airport.

The parking garage next to the hotel costs $30 per night, but there have been discounted rates for attendees of past congresses; it will be announced if this is possible again this year.

BUS/TRAIN:

Both the Amtrak Northeast Regional and the MARC Penn Line 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, about two blocks 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 Megabus 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.

We do not generally recommend Greyhound as a travel option, but if you can catch them on a day when they are actually reliable, they stop near the stadiums, a 5 minute UBER/Lyft ride from the hotel. In our opinion, you use them at your own risk.

OTHER LOCAL PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION:

General information about the Washington DC Metro system can be found at http://www.wmata.com, and a map of the system can be found here. The Metro trains and buses require a SmarTrip card; info about how to purchase one can be found here.

There are two different specific public transportation options local to the DC Metro area that will take anyone in this area, as well as any travelers who find themselves in this area (because they flew into DCA or IAD or whatever other reason) to BWI for a very low price, and the above directions from BWI to the hotel can be followed from there.

For residents of Montgomery County, MD, the MTA 201 bus will take you from the Shady Grove metro station (northwestern end of the red line), the Gaithersburg Park & Ride, or the Georgia Avenue Park & Ride in Aspen Hill to BWI for $5 one way. This trip will take a little over an hour. The 201 accepts debit and credit cards for the current trip’s one-way fares only or cash in exact change (no change given if you overpay). This is also a good practical option for anyone who flew into DCA or IAD and can catch it from the Shady Grove metro station.

For residents of Prince George’s County MD, including the College Park/University of Maryland area, the WMATA B30 bus goes from the Greenbelt Metro station at the northern end of the green line to BWI for $7.50 one way (exact change required). This bus isn’t really practical for anyone outside of PG County, however, as it is located further away from either of the DC airports than the 201 stops above.

Additionally, the B30 does not run on Saturday or Sunday, so anyone leaving for PG County on Sunday evening will have to take the 201 back to Shady Grove, then return to PG County via the red line and the green line, which will take close to three hours total.

LODGING:

Your best and safest option is to stay at the event hotel or, if the event hotel sells out (as it did in 2018 and 2019) before you can get a room, the nearby overflow 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 offers a room block at the event hotel at a heavily discounted rate for both one-king and two-double rooms.  This is almost guaranteed the best deal you will find on this hotel or any other four-star 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.

Be advised that you need a room key to access certain elevators, especially when going to upper floors, so staying in the hotel is recommended for that reason as well.

The hotel has sold out consistently every year I have gone so booking your room as early as possible is recommended. A nearby overflow hotel will be announced when the event hotel inevitably sells out for 2020.

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 can. If you are driving from points north there’s a Walmart in Aberdeen, MD (645 S Philadelphia Blvd) or if you are coming from points south there’s one in Laurel, MD (3549 Russett Green E). There are also three Walmarts located near BWI airport in the Glen Burnie/Linthicum Heights area, at 3601 Washington Blvd, Arbutus, MD, 406 George Clauss Blvd, Severn MD and 6721 Chesapeake Center Drive, Glen Burnie, 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. On the upside, they now take debit and credit cards after being cash-only in previous years (per attendee reports).

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.

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. A CVS is located near Shake Shack for your emergency supply needs.

Another noteworthy spot near the harbor is Sajhoma Restaurant, a cozy Dominican restaurant located on Fleet Street in Fells Point. If you get a ticket for the Baltimore Congress’ infamous party bus (sold separately from all passes), a stop here for food and dancing will be part of the trip.

All locations mentioned are safe areas of Baltimore.

Closer to the hotel, there’s always the hotel’s in-house dining option, an upscale American restaurant called The Diamond Tavern.

Of course, I can’t discuss food at the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress without mentioning their flagship taco artist, the Mexican On The Run food truck, which can be found parked outside the hotel’s ground floor down the escalator from the registration desk between 10pm and 3am on Friday and Saturday night. This is a top-notch food option, especially late at night, but it tends to sell out by 1am or thereabouts, so jump on it early in the night. Hopefully the truck’s operators continue bringing a larger and larger supply every 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: 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.]

[NOTE: As of April 2019, Sensual Day is on indefinite hold until further notice. We will publish updates here when we hear news regarding the next Sensual Day event.]

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 at Tenley Bar and Grill, located about a 10 minute UBER ride from Columbia Heights in the Tenleytown neighborhood. Tenley Bar and Grill was already a DC Latin dance institution locally well-known for District Zouk’s monthly Brazilian Zouk parties, and is a perfect fit as Bachata Brunch’s new location.

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 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.]

[IMPORTANT NOTE: Starting in 2019, the FTLOB Experience has changed locations from Art & Style Dance Studio to the Arthur Murray Dance Center in downtown Pittsburgh. Therefore, I have rewritten all relevant sections of the original article from the ground up for the new location, leaving only the opening and closing paragraphs and any other still relevant info from the original article intact.

Original article published 9/3/18

Re-written for new location 3/5/19]

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 at the Cabaret Theater ($5, not included in the full pass), then moving a block west to Arthur Murray Dance Center of Pittsburgh for workshops and guided social dance practice on Saturday afternoon and a party at night from 10pm-2am, and concluding with workshops at Arthur Murray on Sunday afternoon. The music format for the parties is mostly traditional bachata with a small amount of salsa, urban bachata, and kizomba.

Starting with the Spring 2019 event, the FTLOB Experience has changed the location of its Saturday and Sunday workshops and party from Art & Style Dance Studio to the Arthur Murray Dance Center of Pittsburgh, located on 136 6th Street in downtown Pittsburgh. The Friday night kickoff party remains at the Greer Cabaret Theater (655 Penn Avenue). As much as I liked the festival’s previous location at Art & Style, the location change is ultimately for the best, as Arthur Murray’s downtown location is much more convenient and accessible than A&S (located about 30 minutes northeast of downtown), particularly for those traveling by non-car means (plane, bus, train), and will help this festival’s growth in the long term.

The Spring 2019 edition of the For The Love Of Bachata Experience will take place from Friday, May 3rd, 2019, to Sunday, May 5th, 2019, and will feature returning artists Maria and Alex of BailaMar.

PASS:

A full pass for this festival is very inexpensive. The full pass for this year’s Spring Edition is only $100-112 about two months 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 fall festival as soon as it goes on sale. A student full pass is available for $50-62 for full-time students with ID. A loyalty pass for the 2019 festival is also available at a cost of $80 for the no-lunch pass or $92 for the lunch option for those who attended the Fall 2018 festival.

Again, the kickoff party is a separate $5 cover which is not included in any full pass. Even with this extra charge, the weekend is very competitively priced.

TRAVEL:

All travel directions go to the festival’s kick-off party location at the Cabaret Theater. Arthur Murray Dance Center of Pittsburgh, where Saturday and Sunday’s activities take place, is a one block walk west on Penn Ave from the theater.

Pittsburgh is unfortunately not supported by Citymapper at the time of this writing.

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.

The best place to park downtown near Arthur Murray and Cabaret is the PPA Ft. Duquesne & Sixth Garage, located steps from both FTLOB venues at Fort Duquesne Boulevard and 6th Street, and is open 24/7 at a cost of $8 a day on Friday after 4PM and all day on Saturday and Sunday.

FLYING:

Good news Spirit heads, Spirit goes to Pittsburgh International Airport!

Public transit directions from Pittsburgh International Airport:

Take the 28X bus toward Downtown – Oakland – Shadyside – Bakery Square – North Point Breeze to the Downtown Liberty Ave at Wood Street station.

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.

UBER/Lyft from the airport will be about 23 minutes. UberPOOL and Shared Lyft are not available in Pittsburgh, so this could get expensive. Of course, splitting with other festival attendees is an option, with some coordination.

BUS/TRAIN:

Megabus is a great way to get to this festival, as it stops downtown right down the street from the Cabaret Theater. If you can catch Greyhound on a rare day when they are actually reliable, they stop around the same area as well. 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 and the Amtrak station, walk up 11th Street, make a left on Penn Avenue, and the theater is on your right. Expect about a 9 minute walk.

LODGING:

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

Honestly, I got a bit of sticker shock looking at general hotel prices in the Pittsburgh area and particularly downtown Pittsburgh, as they are easily on par with DC and even approaching New York City in terms of cost.

All of the hotels located nearby with available rooms for the 2019 festival are charging upwards of $200-300 per night. The Renaissance Pittsburgh, the closest hotel, to the event, is charging upwards of $300 per night, but that pain can be eased somewhat with a four-person roomshare for about $75 per night

Ironically, one of the places I listed as an extreme baller option in the previous edition of this article might be one of your budget options this time around. Townplace By Bridge Street, a luxury apartment complex inexplicably doubling as a hotel located on Stanwix Street near Market Square about a 10 minute walk from the festival locations which normally goes for a staggering $507 per night, is being offered for $256 per night on Booking.com for the Spring 2019 festival’s dates. For this, 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. Townplace is close to the Cabaret Theater and Arthur Murray, and 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 this is the hotel to check out, particularly for the comparatively cheaper price at which it is being offered for the Spring 2019 festival.

The Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh Downtown, located about three blocks from the festival location, is going for about $250 per night at press time.

Your absolute cheapest local option outside AirBNB is the Fineview Inn at 419 Catoma St., a bed and breakfast located about a 9 minute drive from downtown, which goes for $86 per night that weekend.

At press time FTLOB still recommends as a budget hotel the Comfort Inn located at 180 Gamma Drive Building B, despite this hotel now being located about half an hour from the festival’s location. This hotel averages about $90-110 per night. With UBER or driving costs this hotel may still come out to being cheaper than downtown Pittsburgh’s offerings. A rental car from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car near the Greyhound and Amtrak stations may be slightly cheaper than UBERing back and forth if you go this route. Reviews online are a mixed bag, but I am told rooms here are generally clean.

But most likely, your best frugal lodging option for this festival is AirBNB. At press time, there are about 100 AirBNBs under $100 per night located in a 10 minute driving radius of Cabaret Theater and Arthur Murray for the Spring 2019 festival; you would be advised to book now before they fill up!

Likely, there will be cheaper and more expansive lodging options further out from the Fall edition of the FTLOB Experience; I will rewrite this section as soon as dates for the fall festival are announced and I can do the research.

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 on each day. 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 on Saturday and Sunday during a designated break time denoted on the schedule in the middle of workshops.

For your coffee fix, there is a Starbucks located directly across the street from Arthur Murray.

Wal-Mart is located about a 13 minute drive from downtown Pittsburgh, at 877 Freeport Road. The Giant Eagle Supermarket is located about a 5 minute drive from downtown on 320 Cedar Avenue and Market St. Grocery is located right in Market Square a block south of the studio. The closest Whole Foods is located an 18 minute drive one way away from downtown at 5880 Centre Avenue.

The food options for your one meal out near the new downtown location are quite expansive. Here is only the options located directly around Arthur Murray: Fu Lai Chinese, Cafe Milano, Giovanni’s Pizza and Pasta, Indian Spices, Meat and Potatoes, Proper Brick Oven & Tap Room, V3 Pizza, and täkō (as you may have guessed, a taqueria).

Market Square houses McDonalds, Chipotle, Noodles, Bruegger’s Bagela, Nola on the Square, Dunkin’ Donuts, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Bluebird Kitchen, another Starbucks, Five Guys, Primanti Bros, City Works Pittsburgh, Las Velas (Mexican), Jimmy John’s, Sienna On The Square (Italian), Prantl’s Bakery, and Vallozzi’s Pittsburgh.

Also located nearby at Liberty Avenue & Wood Street is another McDonald’s, Qdoba, and Arby’s.

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 this festival in 2019, but hopefully I can make it at least one day next year!

#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