Archive for the Category ◊ Travel ◊

• Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Wow, Time just flies and flies fast. If you don’t notice, days became months before you know it becomes years. I just realized it has been be almost 10 months since I wrote something personal so thought posting this blog with some updates.

Change is the only constant in our life. We all know that and nothing can change that fact. In the past 10 months or so, many things have happened in my life like any other active person’s life. I changed my project client and going to move to new one in a week, shifted our base to a new home, competed in another Toastmaster Speech competition, help to close few more houses for my clients, camped with family few times, met some old friends and so much more to share. Let me do quick run down of some important ones.

Sugar Land – Our New Home
Let’s start with an exciting one, we moved to our new home in Sugar land on April 15, 2013. It was tough decision but we have to make it for the purpose of our kids education and family growth. It is just difficult to select the right place to move but it make it more tricky being a Realtor myself. But we put all parameters of importance for us and prioritized them and finally choose Sugar land. It was last in our options but came out as winning choice in all aspects especially kids education, kids activities, commute to any future project destinations like downtown or galleria area, amenities, closeness to all shops and finally important one, easy to visit temple.

It has been almost 5 months so far and things are going good. Ashwin started in his new school during last school year for few weeks and started again in 2nd grade again this year. Akhil is going to Little Fisher Preschool from 9-2pm everyday starting Sept 2nd. That will keep Aruna more busy everyday due to drop off and pick up duty. We also started back swim classes for Ashwin at LifeTime Fitness which he was going previously. Added Akhil also to membership and started Swim class for him as well.

Found a chess group taught by Mr.Chuck Hingle and Arun is going to his class for beginners for almost 2 months now. I thought him little bit of chess previously but now he is doing much better and winning games. Joined Ashwin to Guitar class as well from August as he wanted to learn guitar after seeing his friends going to classes. All these classes are adding more chauffeuring duty for us especially Aruna making the day go by really faster than usual.

Spring Toastmaster Contest
After winning Fall 2012 District Humorous Speech contest, I was asked by many to compete in the Spring International Speech contest. I also wanted to give it a try to see whether I can go above District level to compete in the Region level. So I enrolled in 2013 Spring International Speech contest and started preparing for it. I was in search for a winning speech. In spite of busy schedule settling down at our new home, I also started searching for an exciting topic to talk about. Finally I figured out a topic which was near and dear to me. It was about my personal journey about coming to America, meeting good people all these year and how this country always motivates me to do more in my life. I titled as “OPM Effect – Opportunity People and Motivation” It was a great speech and winning speech up to Division level. I couldn’t go fast division and placed 2nd in Division O Contest. But it was another interesting journey, a serious attempt to show that I am not only Humorous speaker but also Professional speaker as well.

Fun Things
Finally, let me talk about some fun stuff. As many of you know, I love to venture out and take some adventurous trips. In that line, we went to Great Wolf Lodge in Dallas for kids Spring break 2013. It was an indoor theme park. We stayed for a night and spent 2 days in the park. Both Aruna and kids had great time. Later we went to Lego land for Kids and they had good time.

Another exciting trip was to Beaver’s Bend State Park in Oklahoma during the July 4th week with Bala and Deepak family. We couldn’t get any cabins so stayed in a lodge close to the park. We had amazing time Kayaking, Hiking, Swimming in the lake, Scenic Ride and Boating. It was all in all a great trip with lots of activities.

This labor day weekend we traveled to Austin and camped one day at McKinney Falls State Park near Airport. I expected some good flowing water but was disappointed to see only stagnated water. No falls, no water activities due to drought. Park was not really active and it was too hot on top of all. It was around 90’s and only cooled down in mid-night. We managed to stay that night with just ceiling fan in the Shelter but uncomfortable.

Next weekend, we went to another camping with all our Tamil friends to Lake Houston Wilderness Park, New Caney. It was a planned camping trip arranged by our camping friend which we go every year. It was a fun and relaxing weekend. No work, just relaxed, hiked, had decent food, played games, kids enjoyed and

Over all, it has been an active year for us. Moving to new home, getting kids settled down in their school’s and starting after school activities and fun camping activities, all kept us busy. Aruna parents will be in town from Sept 20th and it will be fun for kids to have their company. We(Aruna and myself) are also looking forward for some quite time 🙂

BTW, I have posted few pictures on all these adventurous activities in my Facebook page, so don’t forget to check it out.

• Tuesday, May 08th, 2012

It’s four families with 8 kids ranging from 2 to 13 and 8 adults, what could you expect other than a fun time at a place where you can forget about everything. It is everyone’s dream vacation land, Walt Disney world. We just got back from our much awaited trip to Disney world, Florida. It was 9 day trip, 8 night stay in Orlando. I cannot just say that we all had great time because that’s just an underestimated statement. We had loads of fun but as every Disney world visitor says we needed a vacation after a vacation. We came back with great memories to add to our photo album. Here are some Tips, Tricks and Thoughts from dream vacation with few pictures which should help you plan your dream vacation to Disney world.


(at the Magic Kingdom Park Entrance)

Planning is Key

As many of you know, I am a strong proponent of planning ahead of time instead of figuring out things at the last minute. It really helped in our long 9 day vacation to Florida. Everything went as per plan and we all had great time spending reasonable amount of time and money wherever needed. I started planning 3 months in advance from the place we want to say, which park to go first, where should we eat and which rides are good and so much more.

Tip: Either buy The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2012 (Unofficial Guides) or lend from your library. I borrowed from library and scanned the pages needed and printed them out to help us every day on our schedule.

I started looking at Disney Resorts, Westgate resort & Costco offers referred by few friends and checked out vacation deals from websites. Nothing came close to renting a villa to stay together directly from the Owner. We stayed at a Solana Dream Villa in Terra Verda Resort and paid $120/night for 6 bed/4.5 bath with all other usual stuff. It is not a luxury villa but we just wanted something to stay and eat together. It was only around 9 miles from Disney, not too far and close to all the shopping and eating places. It worked out great.

Tip:We saved few hundred bucks by going directly to the owner instead of the middle management companies. Here are links for the resorts around Disney which sends emails to owners directly,

Tickets & Fastpasses
As a frugaler, I always look out for deals on everything. I know the theme park tickets don’t come cheap so sweeped all over the web. I only found few deals which can save couple of bucks. I also made sure to be careful in avoiding timeshare deal tickets. I didn’t find any deals which can save good money but I finally ended up getting a good deal after talking to Billy from Billy Boys. They sell discount tickets in their website Good thing, I didn’t have to buy the tickets until I get to Orlando. I just got email confirmation about the deal and later called them when I got to Florida and picked up tickets personally before heading out to the park on the first day. They accepted credit card and even offered 2-3% discount if paid cash but we didn’t have enough cash to pay for all our tickets. So I ended up paying via credit card otherwise we might have saved few bucks. They been selling tickets for 10+ years in the same place and they are legitimate and don’t try to sell you any timeshare deals.

I should tell about the FASTPASS system in Disney parks. It was a great, great idea and helped us so much. We used the touring plan suggestions from the guide and couple of adults always go out to get FASTPASS before we head to check out a show or ride. Once we get back from that one, we will get FASTPASS for another ride and go to the one which we got FASTPASS earlier. Their ChildSwap system also helped much so we got company to go with you all the time and kids where able to try out second time. Thanks to Disney for offering FREE!

Tip: Try to follow the touringplan from book and get FASTPASSES for the ride you like to go before ahead and check other out and you will cover most of the rides.

Theme Parks to visit
We want to have fun visiting as many park possible but at the same time we don’t want to visit every park out there in Orlando. There is Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and lot more small parks. We decided to go to Disney which is well known and ranked first in our list. We also decided to go Universal park either for a day or two depending on our tiredness level.

Now comes the decision time to choose which park to first and later in the Disney world. Since I almost completed the Unofficial Guide and bring important print outs. It helped us on every decision from which park to go, which ride is good and plan for the day. As per the book, their recommendation was to head to parks in this way, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom. We discussed and decided to follow their tips and also took the weather into consideration. We did EPCOT as our first park.

It is a decent size park but lot less rides compared to others. We did the Living in Land ride, Soaring which was great. We checked out Captian EO, later Mission Space which made me sick a little bit. Then Universe of Energy show which was fun and Space Earth ride. We didn’t walk the international country side of park instead cut short to hit few countries and ended with the Illumation Fireworks show.

Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom was our next park. We felt the heat a bit more since it was all wandering outside instead of shows in a/c hall. We hit the Kilimanjaro Safari ride first, later Mt. Everest Ride and couldn’t go to Kali ride due to technical problems. We hit the Dinoland and finished the Dinosaur ride. After lunch, we went to Swirl ride in the Dinoland few times and ahead back to Kali River water ride. We bought Pancho’s from walmart to protect us from getting wet. I still got wet but not a lot so I should say it helped a bit. We checked out the 3pm parade and headed to other side of the park using train and kid enjoyed the petting zoo. We ended our fun time at park by checking out the It’s tough to be Bugs which was cool show and did twice as there was no queue.

Since the park closed early and we got to villa bit earlier than yesterday. It was not too tiring so we want to test our capacity and thought it be a won’t bad idea to head to Magic Kingdom. Not really, we found that it is going to rain on the day we plan to go to MG so thought better switch it and finish the big park on the day it’s clear and not raining.

Magic Kingdom
It is the big park compare to other Disney parks and got little more rides and shows. We first ahead to small kids area and checked out Winne the Pooh ride waiting for 30 mins or so while some of us went to get Fastpass for Splash Mountain. Later some checked out “The small world” and later saw the Philamagic show which was fun. We headed to Splash Mountain ride and took the ride which was thrilling so I tried one more time. We get to catch some pictures with the Pooh and Tiger. We had to hurry back to take the PeterPan ride, finished lunch and we aheaded to Tomorrowland. Used FASTPASS to go to Space Mountain ride and check out the 3pm Parade enjoying cold ice cream.

Later we checked out another show across Monster Inc which was ok and saw the Mickey stage show in front of the Magic Palace. Then we headed to Adventureland but missed Pirates of Carribean shows as it was closed due to mechanical problem. Took Tiki boat ride which had fake animals along the way, it was relaxing and fun. Took a break and later gone to Haunted mansion which wasn’t up to expectation. We had more time to kill before parade so we gone back to fantasy land and took kids ride carousel, saucer spin and gone to check out Electric parade and couldn’t get good spot. After that we wait for the big laser show and fireworks at 10pm. It started 9:45pm and it was amazing. It took us more than an hour to get out of the park as everyone wants to get out and transportation was limited. If you want to enjoy till end, that’s what happens and you have to patience and be prepared to stay late and save snacks till end so you won’t be tired out of hunger.


Blizzard Beach
We are so tired and wanted a break before head out to other parks. Since we got package which came with water park admission. We headed to Blizzard Beach Water Park around 12pm and had superb time in the water. It was short but those 5 hours flew fast with great fun rides to try out. I tried every ride except the big one with kids. I even tried tubing multiple times and ended with rafting ride with the family. We left and headed back to villa, refreshed and gone to an Indian restaurant to taste some good Indian food. Next day we plan to go the last park, Hollywood Studios.

Hollywood Studio
We ahead to Hollywood Studies, last disney park on our trip. We again reached the park little late around 9:30am. Started with Disney Junior show for kids, next Great American Movie Ride and Voyage with Mermaid show. We can only get Toy story FASTPASS for 2:30pm only. Had lunch and gone to Tower of Terror and headed to Toy Story Ride which was different and fun with my kids. We had to go back and do Rock Rollercoaster near Tower of Terror. I tried twice with kids and it was great. Later headed to Indiana Jones Show, Star Wars Ride and check out back stage tour and walk around a bit. At end, we walked back to Fantasmic show around 7:30pm to get some seats. We sat close to the water thought it would be good to be close but won’t recommend it. Due to wind, water got all over us. Sit on top seats or may be in the middle. It was one of the great show I have ever seen, excelled with lights, fireworks and action. Don’t miss it.

Universal Kingdom – Island of Adventures
Our last park was the Universal Kingdom, Island of Adventures. I did most of the rides except the big HULK and Dragon roller coaster ones. All the rides more thrilling and little scarier than Disney rides. I happen to get my iPhone wet in one of the ride and it finally crashed. That’s the sad part of the universal park visit. We were also able to get Caricreature done for second son Akhil since we had one done for my elder in Universal Studios, CA. It was another tiring but fun day at the park.

We initially thought of going to both Universal parks but decided to do only one and plan to take rest next day as we have to drive back home. On the 9th day, we took a short ride to Tampa and hit a clear water beach for couple of hours and came back and prepared to vacate the villa. Last day we started early around 4:30am and hit hard to reach Houston around 9:30pm.

Tip: If you going with kids, always take stroller and lots of drinks and snacks so they won’t get hungry and ask your food from the stalls. Don’t try to go every show or ride, be selective as per your group taste and follow the touringplan as much as possible.

Kids take
Kids had a blast. They just want to keep going on the same ride again and again. Since we had too many things to cover, they were satisfied trying only 2 times. My son who is exactly 48inch tried every ride atleast 2 times with the help of FASTPASS since he had great company his cousins from India. They were tired at the end of the day but get right back next day to go to another one. Bring strollers if they are less than 8-9 years old as they get tired and won’t be able to walk at the end of the day.

Adults Experience
Every day was long day starting from 6am to get ready to get to park around 9-9-9:30 and ends around 10-11pm. It was bit tiring after walking back and forth to the rides and shows. We took 2 vans, 8 people in each one. In each van, two adults swapped periodically and drove to avoid tiredness. We took break while going to avoid driving in night. While coming back we just pushed to do it all one day and we did it on time as well.

Disney Park got every aspect to entertain both kids and adults of any age. They have really thrilling rides as well small rides for kids. The shows were really fun with 3D aspects and some exciting factors. Total package for a family and must to visit place for a family with kids atleast one time or one time every few years. Overall, we all had wonderful fun vacation and will surely go back again after few years with my grown up kids.

• Wednesday, April 11th, 2007
 This blog post comes out as an attempt to answer some questions about good places to visit and places to eat in my previous TOUR OF SPACECITY HOUSTON . I like to first, Thank you for all bloggers who stopped by to check outpictures and left comments.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Houston is the 4th largest city in USA. That means its big and better. The city runs about 50 miles in radius. Beyond the misconception Houston doesn’t offer any excitment for visitors, it does have variety of places for every age limit to explore and have fun.
I will try to cover most of the places in such a way that you can plan your trip easily. I am going to talk about places I liked and ventured, also some places I plan to check it out.
I am going use the below convention which might be a great help.
1day – Places you can quickly visit in a short period
2days – Places you can visit in a weekend trip
3days – Places you can visit during long weekends
$$$ Pricy or $Cheap
S – Strongly Recommend
FR – Fairly Recommend
NR – Not recommended
Reach Houston
By Car – To Houston Downtown(Central Point)
Coming from AUSTIN, it takes 3 hrs
Coming from DALLAS, it takes 5 hrs
Coming from SAN ANTONIO, it takes 3 1/2 hrs
By flight
Get to International Bush Airport or Hobby Airport. Try to stay away from Downtown and away from Airport area.

Fun Places

NASA – Space Center, Houston – 30 mins from Downtown ( S, $$, 2day)
Moody Gardens, Galveston – 1 hr from Downtown (NR, $$$,2day)
Galveston Beach – 1hr from Downtown (FR, $, 1day)
Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark – 1 hr from Downtown (S, $$$, 3days)
Splashtown Water Park – 1 1/2 hr from downtown (FR, $$$, 3 days)

Free Rides (I know we all love free stuffs)
Sam Houston Boat Ride – – (FR, Free,1days)

Note: Need reservation 2-3 weeks ahead and all needs your ID to board.
Galveston Boat Ride to an Island – (FR, Free,2days)
Note: During summer, there is a long line for the boat.
Historical Places
San Jacinto Monument, La Porte – (S, $$, 2days)
BattleShip Texas, La Porte – (FR, $$, 2days)
Forbidden Gardens, Katy – (FR, $$, 3days)
Religious Places
Meenakshi Temple – Pearland (S, Free,1day)
SwamiNarayana Temple – Stafford (S, Free,1day)
ISKCON – Houston (S, Free, 1day)
TimePass Places
Downtown – Train Ride
Sam Houston Race Park – Horse Race (FR, $, 3days or more)
Gulf Greyhound Park – Dog Race – (FR, $$, 3days or more)
Downtown Aquarium – (NR, $$$, 3days)
Museum District – (Price vary, 3days) – Lots of museum including children’s, Natural Science, Holocaust Museum
Houston Z00 – (FR, $$, 3days)
Buffalo Bayou Park (FR, Free, 2days)
Sesquicentennial Park – Near Aquarium (S, Free, 2days)
Places to Eat
Houston offers good eats from different ethnicity. I would recommend you to try Sea food and Mexican restaurants like Las Cuocus.
Hillcroft Area – Cheap restaurants all over the street
Mayuri – Westheimer Galleria Area (S, $$)
Dakshin & IndianWok – 249/FM1960 Area (FR, $$)
Check out the site, for others
Places to Shop
Hilcroft Road off Hwy 59 South – Lots of grocery stores including 110/220 shops
Galleria Mall (offers Ice Skating)
Katy Mills Outlet Mall
Conroe Outlet Mall
Visit this Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau site and go to special offer for discount coupons for lots of places..
I covered most of the things which our people(desi’s) like to do. There are other places which you can find out from the Houston Visitors center site.
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• Tuesday, April 10th, 2007
My proud parents visited us for a month long vacation(Apr 2007). I dreamt for this day since I got to America like any other desi. I wanted them to show everything possible and give them an experience of lifetime during this short period.
I took them to some good historic and important places in and around Houston city which I am about share with you via pics.
Houston Downtown Sky raisers -( a nice decent view from the park)

Houston Sesquicentennial Park

The main deities at the temple are Meenakshi, Sundareswara and Lakshmi, the companion of Vishnu. Its located apx. 50 miles from my place. It take atleast 1 hour drive in car during the off-peak hours.

Stafford Swami Narayana Temple

It was the first traditional Hindu Mandir (temple) of stone and marble to be constructed in the United States.The 25,620 sq.ft Mandir is constructed entirely of marble from Italy and limestone from Turkey. There is no iron or steel anywhere in the structure.

The stone that makes up the temple was shipped to India where it was hand-carved with traditional Vedicdeities and motifs. Approximately 33,000 individually marked pieces were then shipped to Houston and assembled like a giant three dimensional jigsaw.

Houston, the city, was the first word spoken from the surface of the moon and the first to build an air-conditioned sports stadium.Houston received the official nickname of “Space City” in 1967 because it is home to NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.

Space vehicle used in the Moon

Kalpana Chawla’s with her crew on the Wall of fame.

Inside the Rocket Cockpit

Design of the International Space Station which is rotating about the earth.

Future Unmanned Space Shuttle

Port of Houston (Boat Tour)

San Jacinto Monument

A bit history – On April 21, 1836, Mexican rule over Texas came to a dramatic close. The climax of the Texas Revolution, the Battle of San Jacinto eventually moved Americas western border to the Pacific Ocean. This worlds tallest 570 feet monument tower was built in memory of this great battle fought by the Texans.

Another interesting fact, in the 57 hours that the foundation was poured, the builders consumed 3,800 sandwiches and 5,700 cups of coffee.

Top view from the observation deck

Hope you enjoyed the short tour of the Space city of USA. Please don’t feel shy to leave your feedback as comments. I would appreciate it..

Check out my new post as per some bloggers request on Houston, Favorite Places to visit and see…

Houston Johnson Space Center – NASA

Pearland Meenakshi Temple (never missmy big temple back home)

Buffalo Bayou Sesquicentennial Park has become an urban oasis in the heart of Houstons downtown Theater District. The George Bush Monument, a tribute to the 41st American president, was unveiled to the public in December of 2004, as a new addition to Sesquicentennial Park.

Houston is the nations fourth largest city, home to 2 million people and a hub of international businesses. It is a vibrant international city that heartily enjoys its tradition of being a place of firsts. General Sam Houston, the citys heroic namesake, was the first president of the Republic of Texas.

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• Friday, January 12th, 2007

Fly Cheap to anywhere around the world !! That’s the airline mantra you hear it all over recent days. You might think that you would find a good cheap price whenever you want to go, but that’s not case. There is always a hook to all the cheap and free stuff. Nothing comes cheap !?!

Let me take you back to the year 1998, when I first boarded my first flight ever to fly out of India. I took the Lufthansa flight from Chennai to Boston via Frankfurt. I still can remember the way I felt uneasy and don’t know exactly how to handle the travel. I was sitting way back in a big flight with 250 passengers. I never couldn’t imagine that that flight can carry these may people. Nobody can tell from looking it outside.

I was travelling to Boston as a Business trip. All expenses paid by the company. I didn’t even bothered to find out how much was the flight ticket. I was just happy and lucky to go to US beating others in the list. I travelled again in 1999 for the long term assignment, in the same airline. This time too, I didn’t know the price of the air ticket. But I guessed it might be around $1500 for a round trip. I really got to know the price, when I had to come back for a visit in 2001. I paid around $2000 for a round trip during the Christmas time. I book it almost 3 months ahead and still got this heavy rate. So I ended up doing a research on my next trip on how to get cheaper tickets and I would like to share it.

Flying Cheaper not always depends on just selecting a right airline offering a cheaper fare. Its way beyond that. There are a few ingredients that can help you get the fare or atleast understand why your fare ends up being slightly higher. Its better to take a right decision before booking the tickets by considering these lists of important ingredients:

1. Season – Low & High Season or Peak & Off-Peak Season
2. Visiting Place
3. Different Routes
4. Understanding Seat Structure of the Plane
5. Booking Tickets

In a year, we have 2 seasons which can be either called as high and low season or Peak or Off-peak season. The high and low season mainly vary depending on the destination location and number of flights available to reach the location. For example, from USA to Chennai Feb, Mar, Apr,Sept,Oct months are low season. May, Jun, July, Aug, Nov, Dec & Jan months are Peak/High season.

Visiting Place

Destination place also decides how big the air fare you need to pay. If you are travelling to Chennai from NY, NJ, Chicago & SF which has only few flights flying in and out by different airlines, you can expect a high air fare in the high season too. But if you travel to Delhi from these places, you have lots of flights flying in and out and can the fare is really reasonable.

Different Routes
En-Routing of the airlines also makes difference in the airfare. If you are ok having 2 or more stopping, you can expect a cheaper fare. But if you want to have only one stop during the high season, better ready to pay a high fare. For example, if you want to fly to Chennai from Houston during July / Aug high season times, you might end up paying $1700 per person thru Lufthansa one stop in Frankfurt. But if you decide to fly via Delta or Air India, stopping Chicago, London, Mumbai & finally to chennai, the air fare might come out cheaper.

Understanding Seat Structure

For instance, if a plane has 300 coach seats the seats are divided as so. This is an approximation. 150 seats sell for full fare
100 seats sell for a lower fare
50 seats sell for the absolute lowest fare

Booking Tickets

Once you are ready with your dates, you have to find a good agent to book your tickets. There are 2 sources as per my knowledge from whom you can buy tickets other than the airline.
1. Consolidators & 2. Agents

Consolidators are like a big agency which sells tickets in bulk from the lot alloted to them by the airlines for a wholesale price without any added commisions. Agents are sub agencies which sell tickets or try to get tickets from the alloted tickets by the consolidators adding commisions. If you can find a consolidator near you, buy tickets from them not from the agent. You will save quite a lot of money.

How to get the absolute lowest fares
In conclusion,
Try to go on dates which doesn’t fall under too high season
Plan in advance **2-3 months for low season. **4-5 months for high season
Avoid flying on weekends (for some airlines)
Be flexible about dates of travel. Some dates get filled up but the next day may be available.
Check different options of flying out like flight options, enrouting options
Call different agency and consolidators to get price for the same dates and compare them
None of the above guarantees the lowest fare but this will improve your chances immensely.