Thursday, August 11, 2016

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, for a group photo in the atrium.  It's been a very cool way to meet people we never would have otherwise.

Another positive of the FE is that it forces me out of my self-focus.  It's easy with trip planning to become absorbed with OUR fun. OUR plan. OUR budget.  The FE gave me time to focus outward and create something fun for people I've never met.

Check out her stuff! She's amazing!
If money wasn't a consideration or if I had mad sewing skills, I would have made or purchased an FE like this one. I love this design! In fact, back when we had booked a cruise in 2009, I bought Disney fabric to start creating something like that. The trip was cancelled and I've grown wiser and more realistic about my lack of skills, so no attempt was made to sew one stitch.

While I can't yet share what we put together for our FE gifts (it would ruin the surprise!), I can share with you how I made our extenders.

As usual, I scoured Google images and Pinterest for ideas. These pencil case FEs sparked my interest, but had no instructions. I decided it was worth a try anyway.

Pencil cases at H-E-B were $2 each. I'm sure they can be found for less, but I was ready to get started and these were heavy-duty with a clear front, which was needed.   Initially, I planned to use hot glue to secure the ribbon, but while at Hobby Lobby, I saw the grommets and figured they would look nicer. I had no experience applying grommets to fabric, but this was a let's-see-as-we-go project.

Unfortunately, I didn't think to take step-by-step photos, but it was as basic as this:
  1. use the grommet and a pen to trace the hole size
  2. cut the hole with scissors (I'm sure a fabric hole punch would be better, but I don't have one)
  3. fit the grommet and use the tool to secure it (here's how)
  4. thread the ribbon through each grommet, starting at the bottom
  5. tie a knot under each grommet as you go so the pouch can hold some weight without slipping
The most fun was creating the designs for each pocket. We used Keynote (think could also use Photoshop or something like it) to bring in elements of each of our favorite things and characters, then had them printed on card stock at Office Depot.

I used the paper cutter at Office Depot to cut the signs to size, then slid them into the pocket so it would show through the window.

red ribbon - $1.50 on sale at Hobby Lobby
grommets - $3.00 at Hobby Lobby
grommet tool - $3.50 on sale at Hobby Lobby
burlap ribbon - $1 at Dollar Tree
pencil cases - $12 for 6 at H-E-B
color prints on card stock - $3
$26, including tax, for two FEs!

Grommets and grommet tool
Dollar Tree and half-price Hobby Lobby ribbon

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

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.

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 wait for you.  On the contrary, if you've booked through the cruise line, the ship will wait.  So when you consider the cost of literally missing the boat and traveling to the next port on your own dime, you could spend hundreds more by flying solo.  While the odds are low that you'll be late arriving to your ship, it's a gamble. You position yourself with the best odds if you plan ahead.

To give you an idea of the savings for the excursion we are taking to The Baths, we anticipate spending $235 by taking the ferry, then a taxi there and back.  It would cost $845 if we booked with Disney or $525 through private tours.

Photo credit:
I do not enjoy the feeling of being at the mercy of an excursion.  I would rather decide how much time we want to spend at the beach, what time we'd like to head back to the ship, and if we want to stop at a restaurant or not.  You'd think I would hate cruising, since no one is letting me steer the ship, but I don't need that much control.

I do believe I'll be somewhat anxious flying solo since this is our first experience, but the planning and review-reading helps!

How Planning Makes the Difference

Compare Prices
Remember those spreadsheets I mentioned earlier?  Well, create a table to compare options: booking a cruise line excursion, booking a private excursion, or planning it all on your own. You can decide where your value lies within the price differences.

Research Research Research
The Internet has been my best friend while preparing for this trip; even more so when planning our own excursions.  Here are some of my favorites:
Cruise Critic - A great place to read others' trip reports, ask questions, and get references.
CruiseTimeTables - See what ships are docked at your port on the day you're there. This helped us feel comfortable knowing we would be the only ship in port at Tortola on the day we are venturing out on our own. We likely would have planned differently if we were one of 3 or 4 ships in port.
General Google Search - Check for holidays and special events that might be occurring on the day you are in that port.  Events such as parades or marathons will greatly affect your travel time, so be sure you're prepared.  We were also able to find the ferry time schedules, taxi rates, and check drive times via Google Maps to help build our itinerary.
Pinterest Board - Pinterest is a nice place to bookmark all of your findings and search for other articles and tips.

Make Plan A, B and C
Vacations are most fun when they are flexible! Be prepared for the unexpected. Our excursion from Tortola to The Baths includes a 40-minute ferry, then a 15-minute taxi ride each way, which creates a lot of room for the unexpected.  I created another trusty Numbers table, plugging in the ferry times and drive times, creating several scenarios depending on when we decide to leave the ship and when we decide to return.  No matter what, we do not plan to take the last ferry back to the island.  We want to give ourselves some wiggle room and we want to be back on the ship to have relaxed time before dinner.  I've also heard the last ferry back to the island can get very crowded, especially when there are many ships in port.
Our plan A: visit the Baths (various possible travel times).  Plan B: forego The Baths and instead sightsee around Tortola. Plan C: stay on the ship and relax.

I can't wait to see The Baths, as long as Plan A is successful, and will report back with my "after" tips!