May 2017 Frugal Finds: Cape Robbin

Who is the top company of all looks for less?? Cape Robbin hands down would be my answer! They are currently working on having their own retail site that you can purchase off of, but I have had the most success buying their brand from Nordstrom Rack, UrbanOG and Amazon. I think they are at the top as far as the quality of their shoes and the closeness to the real thing. If you are on a budget and frugal like we are they are the company to look out for. Oh, I forgot, they sell Cape Robin at TJ Maxx both in-store and online! Below are some frugal finds from Cape Robbin! 

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A Frugal Shopaholics Travel Guide to Cuba Part 2

Ok. Here's part 2. Moving on to things to do and where to eat and drink. We usually make an itinerary so that we get everything we want to do done. This time that didn't quite happen, we just planned the days as they came.

Things To Do
Take a tour in a classic car – Saturday when we met up with our friends at the Parque Hotel where we had lunch on the rooftop by the pool. After we left lunch, we walked across the street towards Hotel Telegrafo, where the vintage cars are. We took an hour long tour with Mike (I think that's his name). He lived in Texas so he speaks English well and he's really cool. If you can find him and take his tour. These classic cars can be found right outside many of the major hotels. They stop by all the major spots in Havana. Make sure you negotiate your price and pay no more than 45 CUC.

Plaza de la Revolución – During our car tour, we stopped by Revolution Square. The square is notable for being where many political rallies take place and Fidel Castro and other political figures address Cubans. The square is dominated by the José Martí Memorial.

Walk the Malecón – We rode along the Malecón during our classic car tour. The Malecón is a broad esplanade, roadway, and seawall which stretches for 5 miles along the coast of Havana from Old Havana to Vedado. We also walked along the seawall Sunday as we headed to the Afro-Cuban festival.

Callejón de Hamel – Sunday we walked to Callejón de Hamel, an alley shrine to Afro-Cuban religions through the art created by Salvador González. The buildings are lined with brightly-colored paintings, murals, sculptures, and objects. Every Sunday starting at noon, there is a festival with rumba bands, dancing, and art. There is rum drink that they had at the bar with honey, I can't remember the name but it was good! Check this out if you in Havana on a Sunday.

Go to Santa María del Mar – After the festival, we headed to Santa María del Mar, the biggest and best beach near Havana. It’s about 25 minutes from Old Havana by taxi (again, negotiate your price, pay no more than 25 CUC). We made the mistake of going on a Sunday and the beach was packed out. So either go early or on a weekday when the locals are at school and work. Another alternative is to go to Varadero, 2 hours from Havana, which is more of resort beach town. We know a few people who have gone and said they enjoyed it. 

Explore the City – Monday we explored the town, shopped at a few markets, and visited the Havana Club Museum. Set out time to explore the streets of Havana to see how the people live and engulf yourself in the culture. Make sure you pack your comfortable shoes, there is a lot of walking. 

Go to Viñales – Tuesday was our last full day in Cuba, so we wanted to make it worthwhile. We visited Viñales, a town in western Cuba. It is best known for its tobacco farms, languid lifestyle and the distinctive limestone hills of Valle de Viñales. We booked our tour through Hotel Seville, a couple blocks from our Casa, for $67. It included transportation, guided tour in English and Spanish as well as lunch. On the tour, we visited a rum factory, a tobacco farm, and also road a boat through the caves. At the farm we were able to buy hand-rolled cigars, the price was 20 CUC for 10. Can't beat that. This day trip was well worth it! We definitely recommend anyone visiting Cuba to go to Viñales. 

Where To Eat
We ate at a number of restaurants. A few were just places we stumbled upon and some were recommendations from friends and other bloggers. 

El Chanchullero – The best food we had our entire trip and it was super cheap. I had the special, which was lobster, plus a drink for 12 CUC. Make a reservation or you will have to wait. We learned the hard way. 

El del Frente – Great food and good, big drinks. Get a table on the rooftop or balcony and enjoy your meal. Try the watermelon mojito. 

O’Reilly 304 - The food and drinks are good here too. The menu is almost identical as El del Frente because they are owned by the same people. 

La Gaurdia – We made a reservation here but didn't make it. The food is said to be good with a nice view. If you to eat here make sure make a reservation before you leave. 

As far as nightlife, follow the music. Wherever you find a live band stop in and have a drink, maybe even dance. Walk down Calle Obispo and you will stumble on many bars, the famous El Floridita, where Ernest Hemingway is also located at the beginning of this street. We wanted to go to Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) but it was closed during the month of May. This is supposed to be the got to spot in Cuba, art gallery by day club by night.

I hope this post helps you plan your upcoming trip or persuade you to visit Cuba. Please comment with any questions you may have about Cuba.

A Frugal Shopaholics Travel Guide to Cuba Part 1

Let me start of this post and excuse my French....Fuck Spirit Airlines. But we will get to why I had to use such foul language for the airline in a second. Cuba was phenomenal. After visiting Iceland back in January we were on the hunt for another international trip but where there's great weather. After a couple options, we chose Cuba. We wanted plenty of time to explore so we planned for a 5 day, 4 night trip.

Getting to Cuba

After finding a few great deals online and going back and forth we decided to book with Spirit Airlines. Spirit is another no frills airline with cheap prices. There was a promo code at the time so we ended up getting our tickets for $215 RT, not bad right.We flew from BWI to HAV with a layover in FLL. NOTE: You can only fly into Cuba from certain airports so you will likely have a layover. We took so long to make up our minds we missed a flight on American Airlines for the same price, and boy was that a mistake. We learned NOT to drag our feet. 
Before you arrive in Havana you need to purchase a visa. You can't get into Cuba without it. The prices range from $50-100 depending on which airline you fly with. We ordered ours online beforehand through Airline Brokers, just to be safe. Thi ended up working in our favor with our travel issues (keep reading). 

Here is the issue with Spirit... if you haven't heard already they are trash and we learned the hard way. The day before our flight we are out enjoying Cinco de Mayo festivities when we received and email from Spirit at 9 pm with a voucher for $50 saying sorry. It didn't mention why they were sorry but after doing research we found out our 6 am flight from BWI to FLL was canceled. WHAT THE HELL?! Right! So we were scrambling calling Spirit and looking for flights on other airlines. We ended up on hold for 3 HOURS until we were able to get someone on the phone and demand that they book us a flight from DCA To FLL through JetBlue so we could still make our connecting flight to Havana. Which they did, after a little pushback. It was such a headache that I could deal without for sure. Tuesday evening, as our trip was coming to a close we got WIFI to check into our flight only to find out that one of the flights was CANCELED again. Thank God for our parents who were able to call Spirit and get them to book us on a completely different flight with American. 

The one flight we did take with Spirit was not that bad but the overall service was awful. That was the first and last time we will patron Spirit Airlines. In fact, we are done with the budget airlines altogether. 

Where to Stay
After booking our flight back it was time to team up with our friends who we were meeting up with to find an Airbnb for the low! Be careful when searching for Airbnb's in Cuba do your research and check out the reviews. That is key if you don't want to be scammed. We heard a couple horror stories from other US citizens while out and about in Cuba. We wanted the true Cuban experience so we opted to stay in a casa particular (private room, very similar to a bed and breakfast). Luckily, our friend Miranda had a link to a Casa in Old Havana that her friend stayed at last year when visiting. There are 3 main neighborhoods in Havana: Old Havana, Central Havana, and Vedado. Vedado is a busy mix of middle to upper-class houses and businesses. The homes are really nice in this area. However, I would recommend Old Havana because almost everything we did was in this area. We didn't have to take cabs that often because everything was walkable.

We stayed at Habitación ANDRESGRISEL.Our host was Andres. He and his family were so hospitable and caring. Their home was very clean and homey. Some may be weird about staying in someone's home that you don't know, but you still have your privacy each room has their own bathroom and set of keys so you can lock your door. Because I'm very anal and a germaphobe I would recommend you bring your own towel and wash cloth along with a flat sheet if you have room. Also, for a small fee, they will cook you breakfast each morning. He and his staff are very friendly and even helped us set up rides for locations that were a little further away. A good perk about staying with Andres was that we could buy wifi cards from him and we could connect at the Casa without going to a nearby hotel.
If you are visiting Cuba you should stay at Andres Grisel's Airbnb. He has multiple rooms that you can book through Airbnb if you are traveling with a group. Now, if you want to go the hotel route. There are a number of options: IBEROSTAR Parque Central, Hotel Sevilla, and Saratoga Havana (Beyonce stayed here) and Hotel Nacional de Cuba to name a few. 

Things to Know

WIFI is scarce in Cuba, but you can access the internet at a hotel and in the parks with a WIFI card. These cards are available for purchase at just about any hotel for 2 CUC per hour. The connection is not the greatest but it better than nothing. Take this time to disconnect and enjoy Cuba. 

As far as currency is concerned it's important to get all the money you'd like to spend out the ATM before you leave the US. Our cards do not work in Cuba and you don't want to run out of money while you are there. We were told by other friends who had already traveled to Cuba, that we should exchange our US Dollars for Euros or Canadian Dollars before we got to Cuba and then exchange those dollars to CUCs (Cuban Tourist Currency). There is an extra tax when converting USD to CUC so changing from Euros or CAD gets you the best rate. Everything is very cheap including food, drinks, and souvenirs; but it adds up. Budget about $100-150 per day. NOTE: 1 USD = 1 CUC

Food Safety
Christen and I possibly picked up some type of bug while in Cuba. It's important to only drink bottled water and be careful about the meats and fruit you consume. Please check out this link about the DO's & DON'Ts while in Cuba. Cuba Food & Water Safety

What to Pack

If you read the travel essentials post Christen did last month you already know what to pack for any trip. But we want to make sure you bring everything you need for an enjoyable trip to Cuba.

  • Toilet Tissue -There will most likely be tissue at wherever you are staying. But when you are out in public you have to pay for toilet tissue. So pack a roll or two in your suitcase. 
  • Toiletries- Hand Sanitizer, Antibacterial Wipes, Sunscreen, Insect Repellent, Feminine Hygiene Products, and Medication 
  • Comfortable Shoes- You are going to walk a lot, so pack shoes that you feel comfortable walking in. 
  • Beach Towel - If you plan to go to the beach bring a towel or sheet to lay out on 
  • Snacks - Pack some snack items that travel well. You may need them throughout your trip. 
  • Comfortable Shoes- You are going to walk a lot, so pack shoes that you feel comfortable walking in. 

There are no convenience stores that you can run to in case you forget something, so pack every little thing you may need. 

Whew... that was a mouthful. In part 2, we will share what we did, along with which restaurants and spots you should go to. Please comment with any questions you may have about Cuba. Check out a few photos from our trip. More to come in part 2.