spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Bits & Pieces: JetBlue to Ecuador, Island Air Explorers program, Disney update

  • There is a new nonstop flight option from the mainland to Quito, Ecuador!  This is big news for our small country.  Does it help me at all?  Absolutely not.  But let’s delve deeper into the details to be sure. On 5/14/15, a press release announced that JetBlue will begin operating a once-daily nonstop from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) to Quito (UIO) during the 1st quarter of 2016, pending gov’t approval, of course.  For all you mileage junkies, remember that JetBlue’s frequent flyer program, TrueBlue,  has sort of a convoluted points/miles redemption system based on price to determine how many points are necessary for a given flight.  I do hear about many 2x and 3x points promos from them fairly frequently though, and they have a co-branded credit card that awards 20K JetBlue points after the minimum spend is reached.  JetBlue does some codesharing w/American Airlines…so if there were ever a HNL-FLL flight, I might be able to use AA miles to book the route, then use the FLL-UIO flight?  Who am I kidding, why would I ever fly into Quito and miss the huge group of family members that can and do come to wait for me at the Guayaquil airport?  Initial assessment confirmed: this is useless to me.  But yay for Floridians who won’t have to go to Miami for their flights to my beautiful homeland.

ecuador176

  • As I was digging around on the Island Air website (digging around on travel/hotel/airline websites is what I do during downtime at work, when I’m not playing Frozen Free Fall or planning my Disney trips, of course), I saw this information about the Island Air Explorers Program.  It’s basically an internship program for kids age 14-20 who are interested in careers in aviation.  From the website:

    This unique, “hands-on” program highlights many of the interesting aspects of a career in aviation. Topics include:
    •What makes an airplane fly
    •How to use a computer reservations system
    •The safety features of the ATR-72 aircraft
    •How flight and weather data is received and used by flight crews
    •What pilots look for during a “walk-around” aircraft inspection
    •What happens to the aircraft at night in the hangar
    •How flight attendants prepare for a flight

    The program also provides an opportunity to learn about various airline-related occupations including the job demands of Pilots, Flight Attendants, Customer Service personnel (including Reservations/Ticketing and Airport Operations), Ramp Operations personnel (including fueling and commissary), Mechanics and aircraft maintenance staff, and Dispatch and Crew Scheduling workers. Additionally, program participants learn about career skills, customer relationship management, and corporate responsibility.

    Participants will also enjoy facility tours, which may include the Transportation Security Administration and Airport Operations Areas, the ATC tower, and the Airport Rescue Fire Fighter station.

    I think it sounds super-cool.  It surprises no one that my daughter loved traveling from a very early age, and has over the years declared her intent to become an airport worker, flight attendant, pilot, and designer of airplanes.  This would be something I might encourage her to do….if it weren’t associated with Boy Scouts of America (BSA).  I just won’t give them any money, even the very reasonable $50 program cost, because of their policies on who is enough of a boy to be a Scout.  Some things have changed for the better, but I still have a bad taste in my mouth about it.  This is a personal choice, so if you don’t have any objections to BSA the program sounds awesome.  Living on an island guarantees that the airport will be a reliable place to find/keep a job.  So getting local kids involved in something like this is great.

     

  • Disney update: so everybody knows that Disney now owns Lucasfilm, the studio that brought us the Star Wars films, among many, many other great movies.  This was a good fit, I think.  Disney has had Star Tours, a Star-Wars-themed ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, since 1987.  I remember riding it in 1989, having recently watched the 3 original Star Wars movies.  The motion-simulator aspect was fabulous at the time, but by my next ride on it in 2001, it was feeling and looking a bit rough. Now, with the new partnership with Lucasfilm, Disney has significantly updated the ride technology and implemented a random storyline element.  Plus, there have been 3 prequels released in theaters since my last trip to the forest moon of Endor.  All this is to say that I decided I must catch up on my Star Wars movie-watching so I could understand the storylines on the updated ride!  [Side note: the franchise uses Roman numerals in the movie titles, but I mostly stuck with regular numbers here for ease of understanding] I took a methodical approach to decide whether to watch the Star Wars move in order of theatrical release (Episodes 4, 5, and 6, followed by Episodes 1,2, and 3), or in chronological storyline order (Episodes 1-2-3-4-5-6): I asked my Facebook and real-life friends.  I got wildly different responses, ranging from “don’t even bother with Episodes 1-2-3 [the recently-released prequels], pretend they don’t exist,” to “it was helpful to me to see them in order because I had no references to draw from, having never seen the early ones.”  I talked about this for days and still couldn’t decide.  So I decided to play library roulette:  I requested both the Episode 1 and Episode 4 DVDs.  Whichever request came through first would determine my viewing order.  As it happened, the Episode 1 DVD came in first, so I have been watching them in chronological storyline order.  My viewing enjoyment has also increased as the movies progress.  I pretty much forced myself to finish watching Episode 1, liked Episode 2 better, and have thoroughly enjoyed Episodes 3 and 4 (Episode IV: A New Hope is the 1st Star Wars movie released in theaters back in the late 70s).  Episode 5 is waiting for me at home, Episode 6 is on its way from the library.  By the time I’m done, I will have invested many hours into understanding and enjoying just 1 Disney ride!  Dedication, folks.  If the Star Wars-Disney connection leaves one lasting contribution to history, please let it be this incredible pun:

darth tater

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Disney Pre-Trip Report: A Disney Way of Life

Psssst.  I have a secret…I’m mildly obsessed with Disney.  I know, big surprise, right?  I was struck with the thought that while many people enjoy Disney movies and maybe one lifetime visit to the theme parks, not everyone strives to get a bit of Disney fun in many ways, every day.  I definitely do, and these little tidbits of fancy become more important and frequent as I get closer to another Disney adventure in the World.  Here are a few ways I live the Magic every day.


I wake up in the morning, and on my way to brush my teeth, I see my framed Disney stock certificate on the wall.

Disney-Stock Certificates

I purchased it through OneShare many years ago, and it is a treasured possession, not only because it is beautiful, but because of the personalized engraving I requested:

Like a bolt out of the blue,

Fate steps in and sees you through,

When you wish upon a star,

Your dreams come true

This excerpt from When You Wish Upon a Star really puts me into a positive frame of mind for the day.  Side note: this stock certificate is now a collector’s item, since Disney stopped issuing paper certificates in 2013 🙂


After getting dressed, I wander into the kitchen.  I make sure I have my favorite Disney Cruise Line Tervis Tumbler cup in my lunch bag to take to the office:

Appropriately, there's a completed Disney/Pixar jigsaw puzzle behind my cup.

Appropriately, there’s a completed Disney/Pixar jigsaw puzzle behind my cup.

I see my flour/sugar/coffee canisters, dish towel, spoon rest, and Mickey timer brightening up the kitchen as well:

canisters kitchen towel spoon rest timer


I head to work, taking my Disney friends with me- they keep my keys organized!

keys


While on breaks at work, I pay Frozen Free Fall, a fun little matching game:

picture from DisneyWiki

picture from DisneyWiki


When I get home, I decompress by listening to a little Disney radio- I have 2 stations I love.  Reedy Creek Radio and Mouse World Radio both stream Disney parks music from around the world via their free apps.  Today I heard the World Of Color soundtrack from Disney California Adventure, and the background music for the Port of Entry area of Tokyo DisneySea.  It really gets me in a Disney planning mood!

mouse-world-radio-logo RCR_Emblem_Logo


We might make a stop by the apartment complex pool, where I use my Festival of the Lion King towel…

towel


On certain evenings, we watch a Disney movie. So many to choose from!

movies


Or we play a round of Disney trivia (or Disney Monopoly, or Disney DVD Bingo, or complete a Disney puzzle).

trivia


My son likes to color and do play-doh at his Toy Story table and chair.

table chair


After the kids are in bed, I might do some light Disney reading about the Imagineers:

This is a small sampling of my Disney reading.

This is a small sampling of my Disney reading.  That dark volume on the right is an autographed copy of “Disney A to Z,” by Disney historian Dave Smith.

while drinking my favorite beverage out of a “year” cup…2008, in this case.

tumbler


I may do some work on the computer, and need to use my Disney Movie Club calendar.

calendar


And the last thing I do before bed is set my work bag on this bench,

No one is allowed to sit on this, and I'm  the only one allowed to use it for any purpose!  A little picky, I know, but they don't make these any more, so I want to keep it pristine.  I store my personal Disney plushes inside.

No one is allowed to sit on this, and I’m the only one allowed to use it for any purpose! A little picky, I know, but they don’t make these any more, so I want to keep it pristine. I store my personal Disney plushes inside.

And play a few rounds of Disney Tsum Tsum, a totally addictive game that inspired stuffed Tsums, now sold in Disney Stores! I have a little Pluto one.
tsum tsum


Well, that’s my typical Disney Day.  Not pictured, but always included, are my visits to DISboards.com, the tracking and tweaking of my Disney spreadsheet, the daily countdown to our trip, and the Disney tote bag I use for my library books.  I like these Disney touches because they don’t overwhelm my home.  I wouldn’t want wall-to-wall Disney stuff everywhere, believe it or not.  I have Ecuadorian art, Spanish ceramics, and lots of non-Disney books, too.  And family pictures of all our travels are absolutely everywhere- just ask my husband, who went through many boxes of picture hangers and seemed to have the hammer and level permanently attached to his hands for a week after we moved in.

Hope everyone had a nice Memorial Day weekend. Here’s to a little daily magic in your life!

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The Junk Drawer: bits of pieces of a bunch of different stuff

This is appropriate post, since I’m right in the middle of moving house and have a bunch of stuff that needs a new home.  For now…they go in the junk drawer.  Or in my case, “junk box.”  My fellow island dwellers know that bugs get into everything, and a bunch of loose items in a drawer is irresistible to roaches.  So I keep my extra screwdriver, birthday candles, and take-out menus in a clear plastic shoebox.   Anyway, since I’m up to be elbows in moving boxes, no time for a good write-up.  Here’s my “junk drawer post” of varying travel/organization/Disney items.

united hawaii promo

  • Alaska Airlines is offering a checked bag promo, 1000 Alaska MileagePlan miles if you Self-Tag at homeYAY…..maybe?  While our Alaska Airlines flights to Orlando are within the promo period, the rules stipulate that you must credit the flight to Alaska to get the bag bonus.  We always credit our flights on Alaska to American Airlines, as they are more valuable to us.  But now that I think about it, we can probably have my little guy credit his flight to Alaska and get a miles bonus for him!  My kids have their frequent flyer numbers and earn miles for flying, but we don’t redeem their miles for family travel- mom and dad do the heavy lifting there.  Let those miles accumulate and they’ll have a nice stash to use for trips to Grandma’s, study abroad, etc.  What I’m saying is, he has plenty of time to earn more American miles before he’ll have a need to redeem them, so crediting this one flight to Alaska makes sense if it earns him some miles.  YAY, YES!
  • Disney has released its Free Dining Promo for 2015.  Our trip fits neatly outside of the eligible dates, sigh.  Not that we would have been able to take advantage of it anyway- as has been the case the last 2 years, the Free Dining Promo cannot be used with the Standard (Little Mermaid) Rooms at the Art of Animation Resort.  Oh well- at least it eliminates the worrying over how to get the biggest value out of each and every snack/meal credit.

That’s all for now!  Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s back to packing I go!

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Disney Pre-trip Report: food, glorious food

As we approach the 180-day mark to our Disney trip, I’m madly revising and updating my park itinerary. Why is 180 days out important? Because Disney has decided that yes, you can decide 6 months ahead of time where and when you will want to eat while on vacation. This is not mandatory- you don’t have to make Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) so far ahead, but since you can, I do.

This little guy always makes me laugh.

This little guy always makes me laugh.

But this doesn’t involve simply sketching out a general plan for each park day, and leisurely deciding when you might want to stop for food.  No- I’m afraid that you have to put some real work into this ADR thing.  Also, you need to know that Advanced Dining Reservations are not true reservations- an empty table is not waiting for you at your ADR time.  ADR means that you will be seated next, when a table appropriate for your party opens up.  There are NO tables reserved for walk-up guests at all, so unless you feel like taking a chance and having to wait until all park guests with ADRs have been seated….make an ADR.  It’s easy, on the WDW website, or through the My Disney Experience app.  You must have an account to make ADRs, so get on it tout de suite if you have a trip coming up.  Let our food journey begin!

Served with a side of MAGIC.  And Disney bacon, of course.

Served with a side of MAGIC. And Disney bacon, of course.

  1. First, we decide how many park days we’re going to have during our trip.  This time, we’re getting 6-day Park Hopper tickets (meaning we are not limited to 1 Park per day, thank goodness, since there are 4 magical Parks at WDW).  So we have 6 days when we can eat some meals in the Parks, a few times when we eat in the Art of Animation food court, at other Disney resort hotels, and at Downtown Disney (in the process of being renamed Disney Springs), plus a day when we will have most of our meals at Universal Islands of Adventure Park/CityWalk (we’ll be strictly Quick Service over there).
  2. Next, we check out the list of Table Service (sit-down, “TS”) restaurants in each Park or Resort hotel.  You don’t need ADRs for Quick Service (walk-up) places, the kind that serve mostly fast food options.  We start making a list of what sounds good.  For this part, while I love the Internet, I much prefer to have a written list that I can refer to.  The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2015 and PassPorter’s Walt Disney World 2015 are perfect for this kind of thing.  The restaurant listings are organized by Park/Resort, and include a description of the kind of food you might expect, plus ratings.  Note: the PassPorter 2015 has not started shipping their pre-orders yet, but when you buy the physical Guide from the PassPorter website, you receive the entire Guide contents as an updateable/savable PDF file at the time of purchase.
  3. Now, narrow down the list.  I always have too many meals in relation to available vacation days, and it’s painful to cut any of them out, but we must be realistic.  Too many TS meals cuts down on Park time and sure puts a dent in the wallet.  This is a great time to make a MUST-DO list (for me, that means a favorite restaurant that I absolutely can’t skip, read: Boma), and MUST-TRY list (usually the hottest new place, hello Be Our Guest!), and an assortment of MAYBEs.
  4. You sort your restaurants, and it’s time to research menus.  I love perusing the Disney Food Blog and AllEars for full menus, and the previously mentioned guidebooks for info on the restaurant opening/closing times and average cost per entrée.  This might also be when you wade into the DISboards Disney Restaurants section- warning: this may be an overwhelming amount of information, as the forum members really get into the minutiae of Disney food and debate the merits of each meal, restaurant, snack, and adult beverage at the World.  There are even Dining Reports, complete with pictures of each and every morsel consumed.
  5. OK, we rescued you from the rabbit hole that is Disney Dining comparisons.  You are left with your A-Team of restaurants, which includes a nice mix of Park restaurants, Resort eateries, and times when you will be in a rush and grab yourself a Kid’s Breakfast Platter from the food court (what?  it’s almost the same amount of food as the adult plate, and usually $2 less.  You are perfectly entitled to the cash and calorie savings in a food court situation).
  6. It’s time for a big decision.  Disney Dining Plan, or not?  The Dining Plan is essentially a (mostly) prepaid dining package.  Official Full Explanation from the Head Cheese here.  Bit more user-friendly version here.  Finally, to find out the exact cost of the different plans, use this Dining Package Calculator.  If you’re still not sure whether it’s a good value for you, use this FANTASTIC Dining Calculator to have somebody else do the math.  But only after you’ve done at least a rough estimate on your own <a math geek always double-checks her work><stern teacher look>.  Basically I have been dividing my time between this step and step 7 over the last month.  No matter what permutation I look at, it just doesn’t save us any money to use a Disney Dining Plan on this trip.  I have used it in the past to great effect, but the plan price has gone up, plus we have another Disney Adult with teen DD now, so it doesn’t wind up making sense.  It is very convenient though, and it’s great to have all that taken care of before you even go on your trip.
  7. It’s almost the moment you’ve been waiting for!  Plan your ideal dining situation.  Dream big!  Character breakfast in Cinderella castle? Done!  Romantic dinner at Le Cellier? Check!  Grab a turkey leg on the way to the Great Movie Ride? As you wish!  <– Gasp! a Non-Disney reference!  Set up your dining preferences on your handy trip spreadsheet (remember that for a Disney trip, you’ll have your dining info on your Itinerary Tab– to see how the food break fits into your overall plan for the day, and on a separate Dining tab- where you make note of the dates/times/confirmation #s of all your ADRs.  Since we’re not doing the Dining Plan on this trip, I also have approximate costs for our TS choices in my Dining tab:
If you look closely, you'll see that some cells have comments- this is where I've noted that a restaurant gives a discount for having the Disney Visa card or some other detail I want to remember.

If you look closely, you’ll see that some cells have comments- this is where I’ve noted that a restaurant gives a discount for having the Disney Visa card or some other detail I want to remember.

8. Wait the torturous amount of time between when you have your ideal plan ready and the date you are allowed to book. Review this helpful step-by-step on how to make an ADR UPDATE: forgot to mention that Disney requires a Credit Card Guarantee for most TS ADRs- make sure you have a linked CC in My Disney Experience before starting to make ADRs.  If you don’t cancel by midnight the night before your ADR, or don’t show up for your ADR, they will charge the CC $10 per person.  You don’t have to ultimately pay for your meal with that card though, it’s just a guarantee. 

9. Ack, it’s still not your ADR date: the 180-day mark. Begin having nightmares of having to survive on the leftovers from Goofy’s Candy Company.  Sugar twitches optional.  <This is my life right now>

10. The night before your ADR date, poise yourself at the computer/smartphone on the Disney site or My Disney Experience app, ready to pounce the moment the clock hits 6:00am EST.  You are fueled with adrenaline, pixie dust, and borderline-legal substances.  YOU CAN DO THIS.

11. And…..go!  Make those ADRs!  Screenshot every confirmation screen!  Record the details in your Dining tab!  Guests staying at a Disney Resort may make ADRs for up to 10 days after the check-in date, so don’t stop until the website’s wheels fall off!  Make sure your ADRs are linked to your resort reservation on My Disney Experience!  Call 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463) starting at 7:00am EST if all else fails!

12. You are now ready to eat, drink, and snack around the World, trusty ADRs in hand/app/spreadsheet.  Mickey Bar, here I come!

mickey bar

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Disney Pre-trip Report: let’s go to WDW! Yes, again.

There are countless resources out there to help you plan a Disney trip- guides help you decide what time of year to go, provide in-depth reviews of all the parks/rides/hotels/restaurants, and help you save as much money as possible before and during your trip.  I could do that too, but I won’t.  Why reinvent the wheel?  I’ll provide a list of my favorite planning websites at the end of this post, so you can check them out at your leisure.  I completely understand if you skip ahead to that list, abandon this post, and get sucked into a Disney-planning-whirlwind.  Just come back eventually!

planning ecard

Welcome back!

My posts about Disney will amount to a Pre-Trip Report.  Some of you who hang out on message boards may be familiar with Trip Reports.  They chronicle a trip from beginning to end: where they went, what they did, what they ate, etc.  This trend has a life all its own, with some reports being focused just on rides, and some just on food- Dining Reports!

A Pre-Trip Report then, details all the planning that goes into the Trip itself.  Since planning is half the fun, I figured I’d do “live” Pre-Trip Report as I plan, and then an actual Trip Report after we get back.  Here we go!


people trap

Walt Disney World 2015: Pre-Trip Report

Cast of Characters:

Me: Disneyholic and planner extraordinaire, 6 trips to the World, 2 Disney Cruises, 1 trip to Disneyland, 1 stay at Aulani

DD: tween daughter, Disneyholic planner-in-training, 4 trips to the World (1 in utero!), 2 Disney Cruises, 1 trip to Disneyland, 1 stay at Aulani

DH: husband, happy to leave the vacation planning to me, 1 trip to the World, 1 stay at Aulani, 1 Disney Cruise

DS: toddler son, loves the characters, 1 stay at Aulani, 1 Disney Cruise


My Disney history begins at age 2, with a visit to the World.  There is photographic evidence of my terrified crying when confronted with a 7 foot tall Pig from The Three Little Pigs.  Little?! I think not.  I’m pretty sure it was the Fiddler Pig, but I’m not certain as I’ve blocked the memory due to trauma. We went to the World again when I was 9, and I really got into this Disney Thing. I especially loved the World Showcase at Epcot (my favorite Park), and vowed to one day take my family there.  Other trips followed: I visited WDW twice more, and went on a Disney cruise, too.

Back in 2008, I took my family (just me, DD, and DH at the time) to WDW.  We stayed for 2 weeks.  It was my husband’s first time, and I wanted him to get the full experience: he explored all the Parks, played golf, had a revelatory meal at Le Cellier, and gradually became Disney-fied.  It was SO fun.  Of course, as soon as we came back I wanted to plan another trip!  But I wanted other Disney experiences as well.  Since that family trip in 2008, I took my DD to Disneyland in 2009, we had a stay at Aulani in 2012 for my birthday, and did a Disney Cruise to Alaska in 2013.

So, why go again?  Especially, why would we travel all the way to Florida from Hawaii to Disney World (there are NO direct flights to Orlando [MCO] from HNL, by the way) when we could fly nonstop to LAX in 5 hours and see Disneyland?  Well, Disneyland doesn’t have Epcot, which is my favorite park.  Nor does it have Animal Kingdom Lodge, the most amazing hotel ever.  And because the Resort is so huge (50 square miles!), once you are in the Disney Bubble, you are super immersed in the magic.  There’s nothing else like passing beneath the Walt Disney World: Where Dreams Come True sign and knowing you are in for a ton of fun!

wdw sign

I really enjoyed Disneyland and plan to go back, especially to see Cars Land, but my son’s first Disney Parks experience has to be at Disney World, period.  And it has to be next year!

There are a few reasons that 2015 is the right year for our next Disney trip:

  • DS will be 4 years old, and I firmly believe that my children should get to go to Disney World before they are 5 years old (DD was 3 on her first trip).
  • I really want to see Barack Obama be the “star” of the Hall of Presidents, and that will only be true until 2016.
  • DD will be graduating from middle school, and we won’t be able to have her miss a few days of school here and there as easily when she is in high school.
  • We have to move out of our current apartment in the summer of 2015. I know we will need a break from all the moving preparations/life changes.
  • It’s been 7 years since I’ve seen IllumiNations.
  • New Fantasyland, including the Beast’s Castle and Be Our Guest restaurant- Beauty & the Beast is my favorite Disney movie.
  • I’m interested in seeing how the MagicBands and FP+ affect my planning.
  • First non-Disney reason: I STILL haven’t gotten to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure.
  • Second non-Disney reason: Jurassic Park is my favorite movie in the world, and I love the ride at Islands of Adventure, too.

So, we’ve established that we’re going in 2015….but when in 2015?  Well…I still don’t know!  Right now there are several factors “on the table” and they won’t be resolved for a few months.  I do know that it’ll be late July-early August or during the school Fall Break in October.  The trip will be a minimum of 9 days, not including travel.

Pros and Cons for late July-early August:

Pros Cons
fewer months to wait HOT
fewer attractions down for refurbishment crowded
no missed school days more expensive
celebrate DD’s middle school graduation
celebrate wedding anniversary

 Pros and Cons for October:

Pros Cons
better weather more months to wait
lower crowds more stuff down for refurbishment
lower prices 1-2 missed school days
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party nothing to personally celebrate

I know that with my itinerary planning, the HOT and crowded stuff can be mitigated. It’s all about well-timed breaks. Though it kills me, I really can’t do much more than hope I can start planning in earnest by February. I do already have a hotel reservation for late July, though 🙂 Some of those rooms in high season go fast!  Gotta plan ahead.

The view from our Savanna View room at Animal Kingdom Lodge

The view from our Savanna View room at Animal Kingdom Lodge

List of oft-visited planning sites:

See ya real soon!

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Travel planning for dorks- spreadsheet tutorial part 5

See Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

We’ve reached what I consider the most important tab in our trip planning spreadsheet- the Itinerary.  This is where you can plan, revise the plan, see what a given day might look like, change your mind many times, and generally map out the …

It was super-fun making this graphic!

It was super fun making this graphic!

Why is the Itinerary so important?  We already have all the budget notes, confirmation details, to-do timeline and packing lists, so, we might be able to wing it, right? NO!  You need to organize your day so you can fit in the things that are important to you. The itinerary is not meant to tie you down and restrict your movements.  It’s meant to free you from having to remember all the things that have to happen in a particular order so you don’t miss out on the very things you wanted to see on a trip in the first place.  We’re not talking 15-minute increments of planning, though I’ll admit that Disney World trips require tighter time windows than any other kind.  But for a regular trip, my rule of thumb for any vacation day is to plan an AM activity, a PM activity and at least 1 meal.  The rest can be filled in as you go.

Your spreadsheet can be organized thusly:

  • the first few Header lines indicate the day of the trip (Day 1, etc), the date, and the day of the week (Monday, etc).
  • the cells below contain general information (hotel breakfast, meet Rosie at 10am, sleep in, etc.)
  • any confirmed or reserved activities or meals should be bolded so they jump out at you when you glance at the sheet  
the planned meal for this day was snacking our way through Chelsea Market, right by the High Line

the planned meal for this NYC day was snacking our way through Chelsea Market, right by the High Line

I like to try to fit 6 or 7 days across, in “landscape” view, as least while I plan.  I sometimes have to rearrange the font size or print area if the whole itinerary doesn’t fit on 1 page when I print it.  Here is a sample of one of my Disney itineraries- it’s much more detailed:

warning: staring at this too long may cause seizures

warning: staring at this too long may cause seizures

I realize that this image looks overwhelming.  But it’s simply a more fleshed out version of the simpler itinerary above.  For example, Disney resort guests (staying on-property at a Disney Hotel) have access to Extra Magic Hours in the parks.  Those details should be noted on the itinerary to take advantage of the lower crowds.  Then, you want to specify what headline rides you want to hit at Rope Drop, where and when you have an Advanced Dining Reservation, whether you will and when you take an afternoon break, etc.  Then it’s color-coordinated by Park.  More on Disney planning in a detailed series of posts on Disney trip stuff.

Anyway, I’ve found that Itinerary planning must be contained to certain parameters- it’s very easy to overplan and go off the deep end with details.  There are some guidelines:

  • the more people involved, the laxer the time constraints need to be.  If you’ve ever seen a Real Housewives excursion on reality TV, you know what a pain it is to wait around for the late people and accommodate those with 40 pieces of luggage.  Be flexible with regard to starting times!
  • the younger the people involved, the lower the mileage per day.  We already know how much stuff you need to haul when traveling with little ones- let’s minimize how much hauling is necessary in a given day.  Think day trips to the pumpkin patch that also has a petting zoo and small café vs. stopping at every antiques shop in downtown Nashville.
  • plan at least 1 meal, or better yet, get your foodie friends or family members to help you research!  The whole, “Where should we eat? I don’t know, whatever’s good.  How about Greek? No thanks, I hate olive oil, lamb, rosemary, and mint…..” conversation is so, so tiring.  I’d much rather go back and forth over the course of 12 texts/emails/FB messages before the trip and have a confirmed reservation than have that kind of conversation while I’m hungry.  My brother-in-law is a whiz at social media stuff, and uses apps like OpenTable and Yelp to find yummy food spots.  He directed us to 2 great restaurants in Vancouver, which I never would have found on my own.  By the way, I’m the person who hates all the most common Greek food ingredients.  I’ve decided that the only way I can ever visit Greece is via cruise ship, so I can avoid actually eating on Greek soil and just eat on the boat.  Sad,  but I have to see Olympia before I die, so that’s the way it has to be.
  • depending on the overall pace of the trip, plan restful mornings or evenings at least every 3 days.  Of course, you know what kind of pace your crew can handle best, but I find it essential to sleep in some mornings, even at Disney.  This is a vacation, after all.  Sleeping in allows you to be more alert for late-night activities like theater and fireworks, where having an early night lets you rest up for an early start the next day.  In my experience, most adults can only burn the candle from both ends for 3 days max before burning out.  Vacation burnout = fighting and stress, ew.
  • plot out your transportation between activities ahead of time.  This especially applies to those with a poor sense of direction, like ME.  I print out maps and put them in my binder, and write out what I call “useful directions,” in which I translate something useless like “travel 500 meters north” to something I can actually understand, like “make a left out of the main door and walk 1/3 of mile (<10 min) towards the waterfront area, if you’ve passed the McDonald’s you’ve gone too far.” Also, make it your business to know about the public transportation you will be relying on, including the cost of the fare, what station you want to go to, what forms on payment are accepted on board, and how to get back to your hotel.
  • leave room for magic and/or cartwheeling.  Easy to do at Disney, where magic lives 🙂 But sometimes you can find travel fun in unexpected places.  My daughter told me that one of her favorite moments of our road trip this summer was an unexpected stop at the Pennsylvania Welcome Center, where we cartwheeled across the grass and took a short break before continuing to drive.  Who knew?
  • make all your planning mistakes before the trip.  By going over your itinerary with a fine-toothed comb many times before your trip, you become very familiar with the rhythm of your journey (drink!) before you even pull out your suitcase.  These planning sessions are where you will catch that Tourist Attraction A is very near to Relative T’s house, plus you’ll pass Food Truck Z on the way back to the hotel- and that’s one day planned, yay!  Or you might notice that Park X and Park Y are very similar and you can choose to visit one and drop the other.  And since you’re looking at all the days at once, you’ll be able to schedule those restful times efficiently.  Plus, you can keep things balanced for the kids- if you’re doing a museum morning, plan a playground afternoon.  Personal experience note: unless you have an iron stomach, keep “seafood dinner” and “ice cream stop” far away from each other on the itinerary- that combination of foods has never ended well for me.
  • embrace this concept: not everyone has to be together all the time on vacation.  Sometimes, you need a vacation from each other, too.  This especially applies to those of us not native to Hawaii- our families are on the mainland and so we’re stuck looking at each other’s faces 99% of the time.  I love my husband and kids, but I also love other people and want to spend time with them.  So, split up, pair off, bow out, or whatever, because absence really does make the heart grow fonder. My kids are happy to spend special time their grandparents, and I’m happy enjoying a museum with my equally-dorky husband.  See if you can squeeze in some solo time, too.  It’s very restorative.
  • be on your trip, and enjoy the adventure.  This means to be in the moment, and not micromanaging what is coming up next.  This was Danny Tanner’s fatal mistake on the Hawaiian vacation episode of Full House- he relied solely on this:
ha!

ha!

Seriously, though, the Itinerary is basically a guideline, wish list, and record of the trip all in one.  It’s the tab I spend the most time on while spreadsheeting.  I print out several copies once it’s finalized, which is usually just a few days before we leave.  The rest is up to the universe.

The final post in the Spreadsheet Tutorial will be about most-used formulas and Excel tips/tricks.  I’ll include any questions if you have them!

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