Wednesday, July 27, 2016

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 best bet.  (Airbnb stays typically require a longer visit.)

Numbers for Mac
Our family stays in Hilton family hotels 95% of the time.  Staying in Hilton hotels builds loyalty, which converts to major savings and free nights.  We enjoy Hampton Inn, Double Tree, and Embassy Suites, all in the Hilton family of hotels.  Since we've stayed in these hotels all over the country, we know what to expect in terms of cleanliness and quality.  Breakfast is always a nice perk as well!

As I started calculating numbers, I saw we could spend a few extra days in Florida. After a bit of discussion, we decided to vacation full-force and spend 4 days in Universal Orlando. We considered visiting Disney World, but because of our family's current interests, Universal was a better fit this time.  (Harry Potter, Superheroes, Dr. Seuss, and Jurassic Park!)

I made another spreadsheet to compare staying on-site and off-site.  Figuring in convenience, meals, transportation, parking, hour-early entry into parks, and "stay more, save more" specials, we opted to stay on-site at the economy on-site hotel, Cabana Bay Beach Resort.  The prices are great, in part because they don't include an express pass (EP) like the more pricey on-site hotels.  Since we are going in off-peak season, we don't think the EP will be worth the money. Additionally, EPs can be purchased the day-of for the same price, so it's always an option.  The real clincher for us was the hour-early admission into the parks. That is the prime time to visit Gringott's and Forbidden Journey without an hour-long wait!

Since we booked way in advance, the rate for Cabana Bay was less than neighboring hotels!  As a family of 7, we have to get two rooms, so any small savings we can find adds up a lot!  We considered booking the family suite, which includes a kitchenette.  The cost was $40 more per night.  That equals $80 per night and the only reason we'd book it is to safe money on breakfast and snacks.  We can buy food items from Trader Joe's that don't require refrigeration or microwave and use the $400 savings elsewhere!

Next, I calculated Universal ticket prices. Many travel websites claim to have discount ticket prices, but I never found that to be the case. I made a spreadsheet (see a trend?) of ticket prices, plugging in any new websites I came across listing discount ticket prices.  After looking for a few weeks, the lowest price was always, 100% of the time, Universal.  My original table compared 3-day, 4-day, single park, and park-hopper.  The 4th day in the park only cost $10 more per person at the time we purchased, so purchasing that extra day was a no-brainer.

We could have saved a couple hundred dollars purchasing the tickets in January before Universal raised prices, but we hadn't planned for it that early, so opted to wait.  Always scour the internet to learn if and when prices will be raised, but it seems if prices will go up, it will happen early in the calendar year.

Spreading out expenses
Notice multiple tabs for various aspects of planning.
After all the major decisions were made, another Numbers spreadsheet was created to keep track of our shopping list and upcoming expenses.  With columns of months and rows of weeks, I plugged in expenses such as "update passports," "cruise payment," "water shoes," "new suitcase," and even "suncreen."  Since we're a family of seven traveling to the Caribbean, we'll go through about one container of sunscreen per day.  That's $70, which isn't such a hard hit when I buy one bottle every few weeks.  Same goes with all of the other items on our shopping list!

What's cool about Numbers (and same probably goes for Excel) is that I can take any cell from any table and plug it into another table. So as I calculated tickets, gas, hotels, and groceries in various tables, I plugged the totals each into a master budget table, so when any changes were made in one table, it would automatically update the total budget.

To keep everything in one place, I created pages for our itinerary and packing lists.  The next blog will show how we've used Google Maps to plan out the details of our road trip!


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing all of these details, especially about making such intricate spreadsheets. I love finding useful ways to organize information like that. It sounds like your family trip will be a blast!

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