#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 hired to promote CSBF in any way. As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Island Touch Dance Academy other than being a fan. I have not been hired by Island Touch Dance Academy to promote them in any way. As of the time of this writing, I am not affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding both the festival and the above companies is my objective advice and is presented as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

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

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

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

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

PASS:

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

TRAVEL:

FLYING:

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

DRIVING:

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

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

BUS:

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

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

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

– Make a left on N Kilpatrick Avenue

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

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

– Take the Blue Line to O’Hare

– Ride 4 stops to Rosemont

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

TRAIN:

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

DIRECTIONS TO THE HILTON ROSEMONT FROM CHICAGO UNION STATION:

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

– Take the Blue Line to O’Hare

– Ride 20 stops to Rosemont

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

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

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

LODGING:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Masters Of Bachata Takeover

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

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

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

After a Thursday night pre-party at the Mambo Room Cultural Dance and Event Center in the neighboring town of Norfolk, VA, the weekend proper begins on Friday night at the hotel with two evening workshops from 8pm-10pm and social dancing from 10pm until 4am in the hotel’s lone ballroom (a unique aspect in itself in contrast with the multiple ballrooms at most dance events). Saturday begins with dance workshops in the ballroom from 10am-4pm, followed by an incredible day party on the hotel’s outdoor deck right by the beach (weather permitting) from 4pm-7pm, and nighttime social dancing in the ballroom from 10pm-4am. The music for all parties is all subgenres of bachata with a small amount of kizomba and zouk during the day parties. Sunday picks up anew with workshops in the ballroom from 10am-4pm and the weekend’s official events conclude with another amazing day party from 4pm-7pm, again located on the hotel’s beachside deck if outside temperatures haven’t dropped too far south by this time. If they have, as they did in 2016, the final day party is moved to the not-as-spectacular yet usable and aesthetically pleasing event lobby directly outside the ballroom.

Last year’s Takeover saw the addition of a nighttime “post-party” on Sunday night at Ocean’s 14, a local seafood restaurant in Virginia Beach. I personally chose to set out for the 3.5 hour drive home to DC shortly after the end of the day party on Sunday last year, since I needed to be back in DC at a semi-reasonable hour for work the next morning (damn reality) rather than attend the post-party, but I have heard very good things about this post-party, and those who still have some energy left at the end of the weekend and can swing another night in town (or are local) are encouraged to be there if it happens again this year.

For more general information on the Masters of Bachata Takeover, including this year’s schedule and hotel information, visit http://www.mastersofbachata.com

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

Total maximally frugal cost of entire weekend:

PASS – Super early bird full pass: $70

TRAVEL – Ride-share, 4 people/car to and from anywhere within a four hour radius of Virginia Beach (as determined by TollGuru): ~$30

LODGING – Room-share at event hotel, 4 people, Friday afternoon-Sunday morning, non-oceanfront room: $34.50 ($69 / 4 * 2)

FOOD – ~$60 (likely groceries + 1 restaurant meal per day)

Total for entire weekend: $194.50

Total with non-early-bird pass ($124): $244.50

(all prices subject to change, specifically that of the pass)

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

PASS:

Much like New Jersey Bachata Festival, super early bird full passes were available for this year’s event for $70 immediately following last year’s event. Prices for the full pass have gone up to $124 as of the day this article was published and probably will go up again, but if you enjoyed yourself at this year’s event, then get yourself a super early bird pass for next year’s event. Personally, if I miss this event it’s because I’m dead, incapacitated, or in jail and I hope neither of those things happen ever (knock wood) so me getting my super early bird pass is a no brainer!

LODGING:

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

TRAVEL:

Driving or ride-share is your best best, period. Driving solo is always what I have done; VA Beach is about 3.5 hours one way from the DC area which is a crazy drive for me but there are parts of it I look forward to.

Parking is a bit scarce on Atlantic Avenue, but there is a lot at the event hotel with abundant off-street parking, more than enough for all of the hotel’s guests, and they give you a paper decal that you put on your car dashboard for the duration of your stay showing that you are a hotel guest and permitted to use their lot.

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

Megabus is your best bus option for getting to Virginia Beach.  There is a Greyhound Route, but it is complex and staggeringly long (7.5 hours from DC) so I am not including it.  I am also not including the Amtrak route in this post as it is just as long and complex.

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

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

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

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

FOOD:

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

For your emergency caffeine needs, the hotel has a vending machine located on the walkway between the rooms and the event lobby that takes cards and cash.

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

Also, this particular event is often sponsored by at least one local restaurant (this year’s restaurant sponsors still to be announced), with abundant coupons for discounted meals or free items at sponsoring restaurants available at the event’s entrance and merchandise tables; be on the lookout for those as well! I have heard very good things about Ocean’s 14, last year’s event sponsor and post-party hosts… they are worth checking out as well!

If you are looking for a top-notch lunch spot in the area, Citrus Breakfast and Lunch, at 357 N Great Neck Road, is an excellent casual sit-down restaurant serving breakfast and lunch staples in a light, airy, pleasant atmosphere. I went to this place for a friend’s birthday brunch during the afternoon on Sunday last year and it was very enjoyable and I look forward to going back this year.

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

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

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

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: The FTLOB Experience

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing I am not directly affiliated with For The Love Of Bachata other than Jessica Taylor being a personal friend of mine. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

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

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

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

PASS:

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

TRAVEL:

CAR:

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

FLYING:

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

Directions from Pittsburgh International Airport:

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

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

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

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

Directions back to the airport:

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

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

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

Take the 29 north to the airport

BUS/TRAIN:

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

Directions to the Cabaret Theater from bus and train stops:

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

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

Directions to Art & Style from bus and train stops:

Walk to the corner of 9th Street at Penn Avenue

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

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

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

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

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

PUBLIC TRANSIT INFO:

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

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

(412) 442-2000

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

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

304-291-RIDE

LODGING:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to frugal Earth…

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

FOOD:

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

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

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

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

#FCL Multi-Congress Hotel Guide: The Westin Alexandria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PASS:

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

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

TRAVEL:

DRIVING:

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

FLYING:

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

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

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

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

BUS/TRAIN:

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

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

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

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

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

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

LODGING:

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Owen

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

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

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

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

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

Look up Classé Dance Company on Facebook for general info.

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

PASS:

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

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

Get your pass here.

TRAVEL:

CAR:

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

BUS/TRAIN:

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

DIRECTIONS FROM TYSONS CORNER METRO STATION TO THE BALLROOM:

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

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

FLYING:

Just in case anyone is flying of course…

FROM BWI:

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

Take MARC from BWI to Union Station DC

Follow bus/train directions from there

FROM DCA:

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

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

Follow walking directions from Tysons Corner Metro Station from there

FROM IAD:

Take UBER to Wiehle-Reston East metro station

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

Follow walking directions from Tysons Corner Metro Station from there

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

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

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

LODGING:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Owen

#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

#FCL Multi-Congress Hotel Guide: Hyatt Regency Dulles

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with DC Zouk Festival other than being a loyal yearly attendee and Sami being a personal friend of mine. As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with DC Swing Fling. I have not been hired to promote either festival 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 the Hyatt Regency Dulles or 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.]

For yet another new series on #FrugalCongressLife, I will be writing a guide to specific hotels that are home to two or more dance congresses or festivals as of the time of writing.

The first such hotel I will be covering is the Hyatt Regency Dulles, a beautiful and large-scale airport conference hotel located near Dulles International Airport in Herndon, VA, an outer suburb of Washington, DC located about an hour’s drive northwest of the city.  The Hyatt Regency Dulles is home to both this year’s DC Swing Fling (8/9/2018 – 8/12/2018), a swing dance festival coming up in about three weeks, and the 2019 DC Zouk Festival (6/6/2019 – 6/10/2019), the DC area’s flagship Brazilian zouk festival, which also features kizomba, bachata, and, new for 2019, west coast swing.  The DC Zouk Festival, organized by DC-based promoter and DJ Sami Selo Ahmed, is returning to Dulles in 2019 after outgrowing its new downtown DC venue this year.  The Hyatt Regency Dulles will be home to the largest dedicated Brazilian Zouk ballroom in the US and will assuredly be more than enough room for the swing crowd as well.  Both of these events are well-run massive scale congresses featuring daytime workshops and all-night social dancing covering each of their respective dances.

As always, per my personal code of ethics and to encourage people to support this hotel, I will be including no information on offsite lodging options.  Offsite lodging options are plentiful and varied due to the airport location, but you are on your own for the time being if that is what you seek.  Relatively inexpensive room blocks at the Hyatt Regency Dulles are available for both DC Swing Fling 2018 and DC Zouk 2019, and rooms are clean and comfortable, as one would expect rooms at an airport hotel catering primarily to business travelers to be.

As for your pass, the usual advice of buying early or volunteering applies.  It is decidedly too late to buy early for Swing Fling, as the festival is in three weeks, but early bird passes for the 2019 DC Zouk Festival are on sale at the time of this writing in July 2018 for about $100. Buy now, the price will go up later.

As will be the case for most multi-congress hotel guides, the bulk of this guide will be on travel and food options.

TRAVEL:

DRIVING:

Driving or ride-sharing is the preferred option if possible for this hotel as there is abundant free parking around the hotel and the hotel does not have many food options within walking distance.  Be advised that the fastest road to Dulles from DC and points east is a toll road, charging anywhere from $2.50 for a 2-axel vehicle up to $8.75 for a 6+-axel vehicle in tolls to go from the DC area to Dulles, but if you have some extra time to spare and set your GPS to avoid toll roads, you can get around the toll road by using parallel local roads instead.  Prepare to add an extra 30-65 minutes on average to your trip if you go this route.

FLYING:

This goes without saying, but try to fly into Dulles International Airport (IAD) if you can.  The hotel is located a very short distance from Dulles Airport, and the other two airports are too far away from this particular venue to be practical.

IAD is also at the time of this writing the only airport to not be served directly by a DC Metro station.

Any money you may save by taking Spirit or any other airline to BWI or DCA will be offset at least somewhat by the cost of transporting yourself there, particularly from BWI.

Once you land at IAD, the Hyatt Regency has a free shuttle that will transport you the 4.5 miles from the airport to the hotel.

FROM DCA:

From DCA, take the DC Metro blue line (make sure you are on a blue line train as the yellow line will add extra time and transfers) toward Largo Town Center to Rosslyn, then transfer to the Silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East and take an UBER to the Hyatt Regency Dulles from there.

FROM BWI:

If you must come from BWI, try to get there during the day so you can take the MARC train to Union Station.  Once at Union Station, take the Metro red line toward Shady Grove to Metro Center, then transfer to the Silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East and take an UBER to the Hyatt Regency Dulles from there.

BUS/TRAIN:

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

See my DCBX Survival Guide for detailed info on both MARC and the DC Metro.

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

There will undoubtedly be multiple private rideshares going from the DC area to the Hyatt Regency for both Swing Fling and DC Zouk – I will post info on groups that can connect you with these rideshares as I get it.

FOOD:

There are some food options close by this hotel, but many of them are decidedly driving distance from the hotel, with the exception of the hotel restaurant and the Reston Town Center options, which can be reached via the Hyatt’s airport shuttle.

For your frugal grocery shopping, Walmart Supercenter is located about 12-16 minutes up route 28, at 45415 Dulles Crossing Plaza.  A Giant (1228 Elden Street, Herndon, VA), Harris Teeter (12960 Highland Crossing Dr, Herndon), and Safeway (413 Elden St, Herndon) are all located within a 15 minute drive of the hotel.

Whole Foods is located about 20 minutes east (no tolls but the toll road is faster) at 11660 Plaza America Dr, Reston, VA.

Aside from the hotel restaurant, an upscale bar eatery called Elements On Level One, a Spices & Beyond located right next to the hotel (which also doubles as a convenience store for last-minute staples), and Padella, the nearby Westin Dulles’ hotel restaurant, most of your immediate food options for your daily meal out are located in the airport, and include a Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, Smashburger, District Chophouse, Wendy’s, Au Bon Pain, Bar Symon, Pei Wei (Chinese), Chef Geoff’s, and two different Subways.  Elements On Level One is a bit pricey but good, and will be a popular option given that it is the only one you don’t have to drive to.

A 15 minute or so drive into the nearby town of Reston, VA (whose town center can also be reached via the Hyatt’s free airport shuttle) yields several other options, including Pollo Peru, a casual Peruvian-style chicken place (1675 Reston Parkway), Hibiscus Thai Cuisine, a Thai eatery (11790 Baron Cameron Avenue), and a Silver Diner (11951 Killingsworth Avenue).  Also to be found in Reston is Midtown Kabob (11990 Explorer Street), Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food and Lucky Lounge (11927 Democracy Drive), Big Bowl (11915 Democracy Drive), and sweetgreen (11935 Democracy Drive), among others.

Parking is a little tighter at Reston Town Center, but there are several parking garages located directly nearby that are all free after 5pm on Friday and all weekend.  Info here: https://restontowncenter.com/parking/parking-rates/

That’s all the info I have for this guide, let me know in the comments if you have anything else to add and happy dancing!

– Owen