Friday, December 21, 2012

Last Minute Holiday Presents - Best Booze Deal in Town

With Christmas lurking just around the corner, you might be looking for last-minute gifts.  Okay, maybe it’s just me looking for last-minute gifts… anyways, here to save the day, the very first guest columnist on Economical Explorer.  It’s our best man, who jumped off a bridge into the Intracoastal to show his love for Frank and me on our wedding night… Joseph Schulz!  And he’s speaking on a subject he knows all too well – alcohol at Total Wine and More!

You know he's the best man because he's wearing a shirt that
says "Best Man!"  This is also right about the time he said
"masturbation" in front of all of our family and friends ;)

To those of the lucky ones who live in a 10-mile vicinity of these pillars of capitalism… this is one deal you cannot miss. This is especially true for those of us who enjoy imbibing on a frequent, if not daily, basis. Even if you have to burn a $4 gallon of gas to get to Total Wine and More, I would say it’s well worth it. I am convinced the CFO of this company would be able to eliminate our national debt in three months time based on this business model, probably the most important document since the Magna Carta.

The first thing that impresses you about Total Wine and More is, that once you walk in the sliding automatic door, the sheer size of this architectural masterpiece. Nothing fancy, just rows and rows of bottled happiness. The next thing you will notice is that they mean business.  And by that, I mean you have available a shopping cart. And not one of those baskets or the small ones you find at the drug store. I’m talking a full-on shopping cart so you don’t feel like a lush when you fill it up.

I am partial to vodka and red wine and the deals are just amazing. And the more expensive stuff you buy, the better the savings. A handle of Stoli is $24.  It’s $30 at most other liquor stores, when it’s on “sale.”  Also their selection of fine rums is to die for. I paid $27 for a 23-year-old rum that I have seen go for as much as 50 bucks. You can find quality reds for less than $10. If you buy a case, you basically get one free. The cheap stuff is comically inexpensive. I saw a bottle of white wine for $3.99. I don’t think the hangover would be worth it, however, so I stick to the fancy $8.99 a bottle wines.

The beer aisle is like candy land. All the usuals, plus you can make your own six-packs from the single specialty beers. I like to make mine by country. Remember, you are not a real country unless you have your own beer and airline. Kegs are also available for up to $10-15 cheaper than at most other stores. Bonus: You can actually walk into the beer cooler if you want… always a good time.

The one downer is if you want the really good stuff, you have to ask for a person to open up the safe… I mean refrigerator. Every time I have done this, hilarity ensues. Despite the 30 or so people who work there, like, one person has this key. I would venture a guess that buying plutonium is not this difficult, but once the safe is open, it’s go time. If you are buying multiple items, go to the safe last because they don’t let you carry it around once they give it to you.

There is almost always free wine tasting in the store. If you buy one of the wines they feature, you get a discount. Also, on the weekends there are usually various companies hawking their products, so you can basically get drunk for free if you want. DISCLAIMER: I don’t suggest this.

Also on various nights, depending on the location, there is a full on wine tasting that is paired with cheeses. I paid $25 last time and got a great wine buzz, so, well worth it. They have other classes as well but your columnist has not tried those… yet.

If you don’t see something you like you can go to the customer service and request it. I did this on a bottle of champagne and the guy called my cell phone each and every time it was in stock. His name's Jim, laid off a year ago from UPS… two kids, a wife and a golden retriever…nice guy. This made me feel either (1) like a complete alcoholic, or (2) like a connoisseur.

I get the Sunday paper delivered and there are always coupons for this store, so keep that in mind if you’ re trying to save while supporting your vice.

My close proximity to this store has easily caused me to lose anywhere between five and 30 years from my life, but I will continue to frequent the place, regardless, as my patriotic duty to support the economy.

Total Wine and More, how do I love thee...

Total Cost: Good wines run about $10, champagnes as low as $30, and handles of quality vodka for less than $25
Best Deal: Saving $23 on a bottle of rum
Worst Deal: Ice

Tell Jim I said hi!

Editor's Note: You can also get coupons to Total Wine and More delivered to your email.  Regularly the store sends out deals for $1 off a six-pack of beer (priced $6.99 or higher), $1 off a bottle of wine (priced $7.99 or more) and $15 off every $100 of wine you buy.  You don't even have to print the coupons out, you just show them to the cashier on your smartphone and get the money off!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Experience Gifts for the Holidays – ________ of the Month Clubs

Bacon is meat candy.  That’s the tagline for Bacon Freak, a website from which I bought Frank a membership to the Bacon of the Month Club a few Christmases ago.  Over the course of a few months, he received Apple Cinnamon Bacon, Honey BBQ Bacon, and Hickory Smoked Bacon, among others.  It was more bacon than any vegetarian who loved her man could ask for.

If you can see from the website page there, the Bacon of the Month Club did cost a pretty penny - $145.95, plus tax.  But, it was pretty well worth it when Frank came home to a box of pork on the doorstep once a month. 

A Bacon of the Month Club is just one of the unique memberships you can buy for your friends or family this holiday.  And with just a few days left before Christmas, I tend to think the clubs where you get something delivered once a month are a pretty good idea.  For Christmas 2008, I bought Frank a Wine of the Month Club.  Once a month, we’d get a nice bottle of white and a decent bottle of red.  This wine was most likely consumed that night, but it was better than driving to the store!

Not a bacon fan or wine isn’t your thing?  There are several other “____ of the Month Clubs” you can join.  Fruit, beer, beauty products… think about one thing the person you’re shopping for likes, and I’m pretty sure there’s a club out there.  Lucky Magazine broke down the best “of the month clubs” out there, and I think they did a pretty good job.
Fill-in-the-blank “of the months” club is the gift that keeps on giving, months after the holidays end.

Have you ever tried out one of these "clubs?"  What did you buy?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Experience Gifts for the Holidays – Crafting Class

You may have read about the fun I had at a painting class this year.  I bought a Groupon to Uptown Art for my sister-in-law for her birthday.  But what fun is drinking and painting without me?  So I bought one for my husband and myself as well!  I liked the class so much, I bought a similar Groupon for my best friend’s birthday to Vino’s Picasso in Ft. Myers.

These painting classes are popping up all over South Florida.  They are also popping up all over Groupon, which makes them an economical gift worth giving this holiday.

Right now, Talin Tropic in Boca Raton is offering painting classes for just $19 per person – a $26 discount from the normal price of $45.  The deal is through Gotta Half It and ends tomorrow.

Don’t just limit yourself to painting canvas… Art-Sea Living in Boynton Beach offers wine glass painting classes.  Right now, Groupon is offering the class for two people for just $25, but act fast, because this one is for a “limited time” only.  Still, the deal isn’t so bad without a Groupon either - $25 each.  Art-Sea Living also offers a variety of other crafting classes though, like pottery painting and even ornament-making (to which you can bring your own booze!).  Check out their calendar here.

Looking for something a little more intense?  At McMow Art Glass in Lake Worth, you can fuse glass to create unique plates and other artwork.  Groupon is offering a deal at McMow Art Glass that also runs only for a “limited time.”  For just $35, you get a two-hour class, half off the normal price. 

There may not be a Groupon involved, but the arts and crafts store Michaels (located in Boynton Beach, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, and other areas around South Florida) offers plenty of classes.  The cake decorating is one of their most popular.

I didn't take my cake decorating class at Michaels, but my teacher had taught at Michaels before and used mostly
Wilton products, which is what you'll use at Michaels.
The cost is $22.50 per class.  Michaels recommends four classes for each of their four courses.  That means for less than $100, you could buy someone one complete course.  Michaels also offers crochet classes, beading classes, and a variety of classes for kids.

JoAnn Fabrics also offers classes, for a slightly more economical price.  In January and February, you can buy a cake decorating class for just $17.50
Personally, I'd much rather get an "experience," like a crafting class, mini golf, trapeze teachings, or a spa day before another Christmas sweater (do people give those anymore?!?!).  And one of the best things about buying someone an "experience," especially on Groupon?  It normally includes two for one, which means you can participate in the gift as well!

Did I miss anything?  What other craft classes are out there or would you want to take?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Experience Gifts for the Holidays – Mini Golf

If the spa isn’t your thing, and heights freak you out, and you’re still looking for an economical gift, may I suggest golf and beer? 

Putt’n Around is a mini-golf course in Delray Beach, just north of Atlantic Avenue, full of fun, friendly competition, and most importantly, booze.

What can we say?  We like cider!
Putt’n Around places a priority on drinking while golfing, which is why this ranks as one of my favorite “experience” gifts for the holidays.  While you are golfing on one of the two 18-hole courses, you can sip your beer along the route.

Her score was probably 100, but she has a beer
in hand, so she's still smiling!
The course itself isn’t very challenging – even the youngest players can guide their balls across the green.

That kid is my brother-in-law... he's only 7, but
totally fits the part of a golfer with that hat!
But the actual course isn’t the allure at Putt’n Around.  If you’re on the 5th hole and you run out of alcohol (it happens!), you just call the front desk and they deliver your drinks. 

There is no way we can walk away from a game like this! 
Course service, please!
This mini-golf mecca is always offering great specials.  I’ve purchased deals through Groupon (two for one), but you can also get great deals just by becoming Facebook friends with Putt’n Around.  If you are forced to pay regular price, it’s only $9.85 per person for 18 holes.

Is that Tiger Woods I see?

Total Cost: $9.85/person, plus drinks

Best Deal:  Getting a round for as little as $5.30, just by checking Putt’n Around’s Facebook page (I saw that deal there myself!)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Experience Gifts for the Holidays – Woman on the Flying Trapeze

Wow.  This past weekend, Frank and I took a trapeze class and let’s just say, he wants his next birthday there.  This is the ultimate gift experience for someone on your holiday list if you want to impress with minimal impact to your wallet.

Aerial Trapeze Academy is located very far west in Royal Palm Beach.  It pretty much looks like it’s in someone’s backyard.  No, wait.  It is definitely in someone’s backyard.

Frank and I were a little confused about the area, seeing as how it looked nothing like one would expect a trapeze set-up to look like.  The area was residential, very spread out, and on a canal… But, alas, the team behind Aerial Trapeze Academy was professional, funny, and extremely talented.

They started by helping us do a basic hang… very close to the ground.

From there, we wasted no time climbing an extremely tall ladder for our first trick.

 At the top, you look down about 30 feet below to where you could plummet to your death.

Thankfully, you have a net and safety harness!
I didn't feel the least bit in danger!
But even the safety precautions don’t make you feel any easier when you do a back flip for the first time.  Once the instructor says “Hep!” (they don’t use “go” because it sounds like “no”), it’s time to rock.

Did you hear me freak out as I flipped off the trapeze?  I think I scared the small children attending the class.  But it was SO exhilarating!  The crew made us practice a few rounds of hanging from the bar and then doing a back flip and then they decided if we were “catcher ready.”  That is, ready to fly from the trapeze into someone’s arms.

See that chalk on our arms?  That said we were
ready for the catcher!  We tried not to wash
it off all day!
Frank went first, out of the six people who were considered “catcher ready.”  They were pretty lenient with who went, unless you couldn’t hang from the trapeze (in which case, you should not consider joining a circus... I, however, am considering it now!).

The guy who caught Frank was a little dude, but I wouldn’t want to get in a scrap with him – he was strong.  He held on to Frank tightly, and even Frank was a little surprised to pull the whole thing off.

Then it was my turn.

That was it, I was hooked.  For $50 for two people (we bought a Living Social), we had the time of our lives for two hours.  Next up, I’m thinking the Circus Sampler - trampoline, hoops and the trapeze?  Yes, please!

Total Cost: Without any coupons, the class is $50 a head

Best Deal: As the slogan for Aerial Trapeze Academy goes, we joined the circus and were home in time for dinner!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Experience Gifts for the Holidays – The Spa

Because I will be in Ireland this holiday season, I am trying to find “experience” gifts for my in-laws – gifts I don’t have to cart overseas.  Something I’ve been given as a present more than once is a spa day.  And this gift never gets old.  My favorite spa of all time is the Eau Spa at the Ritz-Carlton on Palm Beach.

Okay, okay, can’t afford the Ritz?  Neither can I!  Luckily, my in-laws gave me a gift certificate awhile back.  That’s when I found out you can spend a day at the Eau Spa without going into debt.

My sister-in-law is just as much of an economical explorer as
I am!  Both of us like to save our money for drinking!
It’s called a “day pass.”  It costs $50, but if you want a gift that will knock the socks off your friend, husband, wife, mother-in-law, whoever, this is it.

Will also knock your clothes off, as you get to
put on this comfy robe!

The day pass covers every area of the 42,000 square foot spa – you just don’t get an actual massage.

We started in the Bath Lounge.

Rubber duckie, you're the one!
This giant jacuzzi features a shower pouring down on you, while jets massage your body.  In the background of that picture you see two “lounge chairs.”  They are made of cement, and while that may not sound comfortable, they are heated and I almost fell asleep on one.  After warming up there, we went to the Relaxation Lounge.

I know, I know, I look like a fat kid shoving cupcakes in my mouth!
This room is aptly named, as it is beyond relaxing.  There is refreshing flavored water and cute little mini cupcakes.  I ate about 10.  There are plenty of couches in the Relaxation Lounge as well.  We sat down for a bit before going to the Self-Centered Garden.

It's all about me here!
I brought a magazine and hung out for a bit, then took a nap.  There are lots of little areas with different water features, including a small pool and fountain.  But nothing beats swinging in a little egg over a pool of water.

Along the sides of this little pool, you'll find water running down the walls, which creates an awesome feeling over your fingers.

We were having a photo shoot with ourselves!
Of course, you can eat at the Eau Spa, but I’m too cheap for that, so we hung up our robes momentarily and walked over to Dune Deck Café, which is next door.

Then, back at the Eau Spa, we jumped in the showers, used all the luxurious Ritz products, and headed on our way. 

The spa is open 8am to 9pm, so you could stay all day if you want.  And most of the night.  But, you must reserve a spot for the day pass, and the spots do fill up, so make sure to book ahead of time.

Total Cost: $50 for a day pass, $10 for lunch

Best Deal: Feeling rich, without paying the price

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Connemara - The Real Emerald of Ireland?

On the western side of Ireland, you’ll find an area called Connemara.  Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer and poet, once said, “Connemara is a savage beauty.”  You can see all of the beauty that Connemara holds for nothing more than the price of food.


The Connemara area includes an abbey, mountains, loughs and about 16 small towns (including Leenane, which I told you about yesterday).  In fact, Leenane is a good place to start your Connemara trip, just head west.

Kylemore Abbey

About 18 minutes from Leenane, you will find Kylemore Abbey, an old castle which later became a Benedictine monestary.

Also on the grounds of the abbey, are six walled gardens, as well as nature trails and a Gothic church.  It costs 12.50€ to take advantage of all Kylemore has to offer.

Or, you can just take a bunch of pictures outside for free.

We enjoyed the architecture of the abbey as well as some of the surrounding grounds – the part we could get into without paying.  Then, we spent some time just lying in the grass, admiring the beauty of the scenery around us.

Then, one last look, before we were on our way.

Connemara National Park

Driving about 10 minutes west of Kylemore Abbey will bring you to the Connemara National Park.

The park is just one place where you can see the gorgeous mountains in Connemara.  You can also see bogs, grasslands, and wildlife.

Admission is free to get into the Connemara National Park.  If you’re smart, you’ll bring your own lunch, a very economical way to eat.

After filling your bellies, you’ll want to hike one of the four trails inside the park.

We hiked the Lower Diamond Hill Walk, but Frank says he has plans to hike the Upper Diamond Hill Walk when we travel back to Ireland later this month.

The trail is not very rugged and is extremely well-marked.  You’ll even find a bunch of giant rocks with which you can take a picture.

We spent a few hours inside the park, between eating and walking.  From there, we headed west again.


This is a really fancy way of saying lake in Ireland.

You’ll find loughs several places along the side of the main road, N59, that leads you around the Connemara. 

About 20 minutes after leaving the Connamara National Park, you will arrive in one of the most well-known towns of the area, Clifden.


This town is just about as small as Leenane, but the main allure for Clifden is that it is on the Atlantic Ocean.

Unlike Leenane, it does have more than one street, as well as more than two bars.


After grabbing a pint (or 12), it was time for us to continue our road trip, back to Leenane, and then soon, out of the Connemara altogether.


Total Cost: We paid only about 10€ for lunch, but goodness knows how much for drinks

Best Deal: Seeing Kylemore Abbey without paying a dime

Friday, December 7, 2012

Leenane - Where the Irish Are Probably Too Trusting

Our road trip around Ireland, where we faced intense roadsand wild sheep, led us to a very small, and very economical, town called Leenane.

There you go, you just saw all of the town
This town is made up of just a few buildings, but amazingly, this town is actually quite popular because the movie “The Field” was filmed here.

I’m not sure of a damn thing said in that movie trailer, sometimes the Irish are hard to understand!  Anyway, the main attraction in Leenane is the Field Bar, obviously named after the movie (which I have fallen asleep trying to watch more than once).  It also goes by the name of Gaynor's.

Why did we go to Leenane, you ask?  Well, Frank’s grandmother has a house there.  So, on our visit to Ireland, we drove to Leenane, without first asking one of Frank’s family members where the house was located.  All Frank knew was that the house was white.  This actually didn’t seem that far-fetched to find, considering Leenane is extremely small.  However, this was the weather when we arrived.

This weather is pretty standard for Ireland, actually
And our cell phones weren’t working.  We drove around for a bit, but couldn’t find the white house.  So, we stopped at the Field Bar for a pint, and to figure out what to do next.

Frank decided to have a conversation with the bartender.

Frank: “So, we’re here to visit my grandmother’s cottage.  Do you know Eileen McAlonan?”
Bartender: “Oh, the American lady!  Of course!  She lives right up the road, where the street makes a sharp turn at the top of the hill.  You can get the keys from her neighbor, Eddie!”

Mind you, no one knew we were coming, they are just offering up keys at the bar.

Oh, and that white house?

Actually yellow.  Could be part of the problem
in finding it!
Once we got the keys (the neighbor handed them over willingly), drank three bottles of wine (we arrived on the day we got engaged!), and the weather cleared, Leenane turned out to be quite beautiful.

Ireland’s only fjord cuts through the middle of Leenane, right outside the window of the McAlonan cottage.

The cottage backs up to the Maumturks, a mountain range that stretches along this area.

The allure of Leenane is the beauty, as it is part of the Connemara, an area in western Ireland where the main focal points are the mountains, pristine waterways, and simple lifestyle.

If you’re in Leenane for 24 hours, you’re probably going to run out of things to do.  There are approximately four eateries, two bars, five shops, and a hotel.

The hotel has a spa too - very fancy for the town of Leenane!

The hotel is actually twice the size of the police station in Leenane.

The post office is in the general store, which is right next door to Hamilton’s Bar, the other pub in Leenane, besides the Field Bar.  Hamilton’s is owned by Tony Hamilton.  His brother, Sean Hamilton, owes the Blackberry Café, which serves delicious food.

I ordered salmon with french fries - yum!
Now, if you are related to us, you might be interested in the headstone for Frank’s family that overlooks Killary Harbor.

Up close, you’ll see a unique inscription.

I married into a hilariously deranged family!
If you aren’t related to us, you just might want to take a ferry trip on Killary Harbor (will run you 21 each).

But as far as tourism goes, that’s about what Leenane has to offer.  After breezing through this town, you might be on your way, off to the next destination in the Connemara, or even the Emerald Isle.  But for me, Leenane left a lasting impression on my heart.


Leenane Hotel: 49€
Drinks at the Field Bar: About 5€ each (10€ for two)
Dinner at Blackberry Café: 100€ for two

Total Cost: About 160€ = $206

Best Deal: Seeing where Frank’s grandparents have vacationed since the 80s