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Showing posts from 2016

How We Saved Over $400 on Vacation Meals

I'm super excited to share our meals and how we saved well over $400 during our vacation!

**Check with your hotel to learn what appliances are/are not allowed. These meals can all be made in the microwave if a skillet cannot be used.**

Originally, we had booked two standard rooms at Cabana Bay Beach Resort. When they offered us a great upgrade deal, we changed to a tower family suite with a kitchenette.  This ended up offering us a huge savings by allowing me to prepare 5 breakfasts, 4 dinners, and some snacks in our room.  The grands ate a few breakfasts and 3 dinners with us, so we were feeding 7-9 people at an average of $15.55 per meal!  (That's $1.73-$2.22 per person!) Big thanks to Trader Joe's for providing such high-quality, quick-prep foods!  (No, this isn't an ad or sponsored blog!)

First of all, if there is any debate about the size of these "mini" fridges at Cabana Bay Beach, see this photo and notice the gallon of milk in the background. These are…

Pencil Case Fish Extender

If you're unfamiliar with the Fish Extender (FE) phenomenon on Disney Cruises, a simple Google search will quickly get you up to speed, but Dis gives an excellent description and this is one of my favorite blog posts about it.

For the past 8 months, we've been a part of an active Facebook group consisting of about 350 of our cruise mates.  It's fun getting to know a bit about our fellow-travelers.  If you are going on a cruise, I highly recommend you join DisBoards or Cruise Critic so you can connect with others.  Our travel group has created tee shirts, booked mixology classes, teamed up for excursions, shared stateroom door decor designs, and of course, organized a fish extender exchange...and a Halloween candy exchange....and an ornament exchange. (Don't let all this fun overwhelm you. We chose to participate in the FE gift exchange only, so you aren't required to do it all! It's meant to be fun, not stressful.)  We are looking forward to meeting up, though,…

Planning A Cruise Excursion

This blog post is the "before" the cruise excursion.  It will be interesting to see how the "after" turns out!

Thanks to an excellent review from Joel Barish's travels Around The World, we knew we couldn't miss The Baths National Park at Virgin Gorda!  (His review of The Baths begins at 04:00) We've never planned a cruise excursion on our own; it's a bit scary!  There are pros and cons to going it alone, the biggest two pros for me being control and money.

Money
If all goes as planned, it's much cheaper to plan your own excursion than it is to book with your cruise line.  The greatest risk, and probably the main reason most people book with their cruise line, is the possibility of being left behind.  If a shuttle breaks down, if traffic comes to a standstill, if some act of God causes you to be late for "all aboard," the ship will not waitfor you.  On the contrary, if you've booked through the cruise line, the ship will wait.  So wh…

First-Class Flying on the Ground

I've only flown first class once in my lifetime.  It was a glorious 13-hour international flight with comfortable seating, personal service, and all the food and drinks we could handle.

When considering taking a bus ride, I had never envisioned a first-class setting...until I met Vonlane.

Earlier this month, I was headed to Houston for a professional conference.  My hotel room was reserved and I had even planned out my stops for a road trip.  A day or two before the conference, I learned that parking would be $16-$20 per day!  That added up to $80-100 just to have my SUV sit in a dark garage for 5 days.  With my low MPG, I was also looking at a $60 gas bill.

Knowing Greyhound busses would not be my cup of tea, I decided to check out Megabus.  Reading this blog review scared me, though, and I decided not to spend $20 one-way on an iffy experience.  When the author said to "lower your expectations" and "we've never taken a Megabus that doesn't leave at least …

Using Google Maps to Plan a Road Trip

KevinAndAmanda.com already have an excellent tutorial, so I'm not going to re-create instructions.  Visit their site for all of the how-tos and I will share how I've used Google Maps to create a plan for our road trip.  The Internet is a fabulous invention! Sure, it, like anything, can be used for evil, but when it's used for good, it's SO good!

I first created the route from Austin to Orlando.  Next, I began looking along our route for rest stops and visitors' centers with restrooms and a play area.  I had the best luck finding them by searching on Google Maps, "safety rest" or "rest stop" as well as "visitors center".  Street view shows you what it looks like and often has user-submitted photos.  Stopping at safety rest stops offers us (in our experience) clean restrooms, a place to run and play, and usually a good photo opportunity with a state sign.  Stopping at rest stops also helps us avoid making pricey gas station and fast food…

Planning, Planning, and More Planning

By nature, I'm a procrastinator.  I've been one who says "I work best under pressure" and it's most often true.  It's not often than my "type A" side shows up, but when it does, it comes on strong! Numbers spreadsheets? Yes! Planning out activities months in advance? Please and thank you! Painstakingly researching and comparing prices? But of course!

Planning a trip awakens my inner geek!

After Ken and I crunched broad numbers and decided we could book a Disney Cruise, I began searching for ways to get to the port (drive for fly?), where to stay overnight (hotel or Airbnb?), and even the best rest stops along the way. That blog is coming up next.

First I created a spreadsheet in Numbers where I could plug in...numbers...and calculate things such as gas prices and compare hotel costs.  Typically, I'd go straight to Airbnb, but since we were looking for one quick overnight stay in Mobile and a possible night near Port Canaveral, hotels are our bes…

Vacation Travel Must-Haves

Other than the obvious: travel documents, sunscreen, tickets and reservation numbers, there are some things we've learned we can't live without while traveling.
Safety Tats This year, we are using these Safety Tats on our trip.  Mostly when we are inside the parks or at various ports of call, we want the boys to have an easy way to share our phone number in the event they are separated from us. When our older kids were young, my sister made ID cards with our contact information for the kids to wear on a clip, like a name tag.  These tattoos are a brilliant, less intrustive alternative! We don't have to worry that other adults won't understand the boys.  If they are upset or crying, all they have to do is hold out their arm. These are customizable, so we can add, "I sign!" or "I use ASL" in addition to a phone number. We hope these won't ever be needed, but why not be prepared when these are so easy use?  I'll give you all a thorough review …

How We Chose Our Disney Cruise

There is a huge debate out there in the Interwebs that starts with the question, "Is a Disney Cruise worth it?"  Seriously, just Google that and you'll see for yourselves.   Like I mentioned before, the answer to that question is completely subjective, depending on what's important to you.  For us, the only other cruise Ken and I have taken was on Disney Cruise Line.  The Disney "magic" cannot be denied!  It also happened to be the name of the ship we sailed back in 2008.

When we began considering a cruise, we did look at other cruise lines.  They cost significantly less. (Click here to read about ways we found to save for a vacation.) My parents cruise extensively, enjoying a few cruise lines, and had taken our older kids on a Royal Caribbean cruise, each on their 13th birthdays, so we knew Disney wasn't the only option. Mackenzie said the Royal Caribbean trip was her favorite cruise, but she wants to see how cruising Disney as a teen will compare.  Ke…

Saving for a Trip

I went in to this a bit before, but here are some small ways we save money daily. These can add up to big savings over a full year:

No cable. We've been without cable for over 10 years. It's become easier and easier with free online content. We do pay for a Netflix subscription, but otherwise watch free Hulu, YouTube, and sometimes take advantage of free 30-day trials of YouTube Red, Hulu Plus, and Amazon.  We have bunny ears we drag out if there is something we really want to watch with the rest of the world, such as Nyle DiMarco on DWTS or the Super Bowl.  Savings: $120/month or $1440/year

Haircuts.  While living in Vegas, a friend taught me some haircutting basics, then I used YouTube to help me do a halfway decent job.  I don't trust myself on the girls' haircuts, but I can use a razor.  I DO color my girls' hair.  That has saved us hundreds of dollars I won't even factor in here.  If they wanted it done professionally, they'd have to pay for it themse…

Debt, Adoption, and Dave Ramsey

My last blog sparked a discussion with a Vegas friend and I realized that before I start talking about our trip planning and budgeting, I should share our philosophy in a nutshell.

Dave Ramsey. That pretty much sums up or philosophy.

A few months ago, I had typed out our entire debt-to-debt-free story, then lost it.  I'm still not up for rewriting it, but will condense the story here.

Ken and I both had debt when we started dating. We were engaged quickly and decided, thanks to wise parental advice, that it wouldn't be good to marry with all that debt, the majority of which was consumer debt.  Ken sold some of his tech gear; I paid down a bit of my credit card, but we liked to buy stuff.

We made some unwise financial decisions early on and even decided to purchase our first home just 9 months into our marriage.  Realizing we needed guidance, we took a class called "Debt-Free and Prosperous Living," which taught what Dave calls the "debt snowball."  We foll…

How We Plan for an Expensive Trip

As mentioned previously, the Brownies have a major 2-week vacation planned for September. It's the first true vacation we've taken since our RV trek to NAD 4 years ago this very month.

I remember when we had our cruise planned back in 2010, a friend asked, "Why would you spend so much money on a Disney Cruise?! Why not buy a car or something? That money is gone in a week!"

Evidently, our friends aren't the only ones who feel that way.  I've recently seen several bloggers discuss and defend their spending on vacations. Here's a snarky one that is Disney-specific, and another post from a general travel blogger.  By the way, I enjoy a little well-placed snark now and then.

We've waited 6 years for this and it's truly a dream vacation for us. After the kids willingly gave up their trip in 2010, we promised we would go in the future. Since that time, we've taken several major hits on our income.  That's a long story, possibly for another blog, …

Temporal Concepts and Language Delay

In my last blog post, I shared the 6-year wait and recent "reveal" of our Universal Orlando/Disney Cruise trip.  Planning for this trip consumes much of my free time these days, so I figured I'd just go head and blog about it.

Ken and I booked this trip late 2015.  After narrowing down trip details, we had to decide when to tell the kids.  We revealed the trip to our older kids on Christmas, but chose to not tell the boys until closer to our travel time.  In the end, Tian, who can hear very well, picked up on our chats and figured out our secret well before the official reveal we did for them earlier this month.  Travis, though, had no idea beyond knowing that we would "one day" go on a Disney Cruise (Mickey boat, as he calls it).  If he would ask about a cruise, we would say, "We'll go when you're 9 or 10."

We considered not telling him at all until the day we were set to leave.  In the past, when an exciting day is upcoming, he gets very fru…

Our Disney Fantasy

This is a screen shot from the email I sent Ken after seeing Tian's profile on Rainbow Kids the day before his first birthday. (Note the date.)

We had booked a Disney cruise for the following spring and had been counting down the weeks and days since Christmas.  The cruise had been the major gift for the kids. (Not easy to give young kids a vapor gift with a promise of reality over a year away. But when you live debt-free, that's what you have to do for big trips!)

I had opened an email with Tian's file and the girls were looking at it over my shoulder.  They instantly said, "That's our China Bro!!"  I'll never forget telling the Brownies, ages 9, 7, and 6 at the time, that we could not both cruise and adopt.  We'd have to choose one for now and put off the other until later.  Ken and I didn't want to start the adoption process by taking something away from our bio kids against their will, so we asked their opinions, truly caring for their feeling…

One Of Many Miracles

For the past 3 days, I've been composing a blog about how Ken and I got in, out, back in, then back out of debt again during our marriage.  Due to some issues with the new formatting I tried on this blog, I managed to lose one entire entry!  One of these days, I'll work on it again, but for now, I'll share with you a miracle story (one of the many) from our adoption.  It's a story we didn't share at the time because it wasn't the appropriate time and we wanted (and still want) to protect identities.

Just weeks before we got travel approval, Ken came to me in the evening and said, "We can't take our bio kids with us to China. We just don't have the money."  My heart sank into my stomach.  We had been counting down for one year, planning and talking with our kids about traveling to China to meet their brothers.  They had given up an amazing cruise vacation for us to adopt.  My middle child didn't even like being away from us for one night, s…