spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Matthew and Mickey

Hurricane Matthew is obviously a huge concern for anyone in the Southeast US and Caribbean right now.  Legacy US carriers like American, United, and Delta have announced the usual *free* changes to anyone flying in/out of Miami International Airport (MIA), Fort Lauderdale International Airport (FLL), and Orlando International Airport (MCO), plus many airports in the islands of the Caribbean.  Contact your airline if you are scheduled for any connections or flights to or from that area in the next week.

hurricane-matthew

Walt Disney World (the Theme Parks, water parks, Disney Springs, miniature golf courses and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex ) will be shutting down early today, and 5p EST, and will be CLOSED on Friday, October 7th.  CLOSED!  And the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Parties scheduled for today and tomorrow at the Magic Kingdom are cancelled, obviously.  I keep thinking back to last October, when we attended this party during the exact same time frame.  We had no weather issues and no disruption to our plans.  And today, vacationing families are probably pretty concerned about their safety.  From what I’ve read, Disney does an excellent job of communicating with its Resort Guests and providing supplies, assistance, etc.  I would feel good in their hands.

Stay safe, everyone!

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 6: Disney Springs and MNSSHP

After several consecutive days of early wakeups to hit the Parks, sleeping in on this day was lovely.  I drifted awake at around 9:30am and was immediately excited for the Halloween Party that evening.  We had a long list of things to do before then, so I got everybody into their bathing suits, and we went down to the Big Blue Pool again, with a load of laundry.  DD wanted to keep sleeping, so she stayed in the room with strict instructions to be ready to walk out the door by 11:45am.  The water was a little chilly in the pool!  I guess because it was so early in the day.  But we had a lot of fun in the main pool, and especially in the splash area 🙂

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Dealing with Disney withdrawal…

So, we’re back.  It was a magical, wonderful time.  But the post-Disney depression is just beginning.  Today, I woke up, and had no FastPass+ for any beautifully-themed rides, fantastically-produced shows, or amazing fireworks displays.  No reservations for unique restaurants.  And no MagicBand on my wrist.  So sad.

disney cry

I’ll just have to relive the experience with a Trip Report.  I didn’t take any notes while we did our Park touring, but I have the written itinerary that we followed pretty closely, and my pictures are in order, so it should be too hard to piece everything together.  Some general impressions:

  • FastPass+ worked perfectly for us.
  • I implemented a “walk in the morning, stroller in the evening” strategy for our 5-year-old, and that was a stroke of brilliance with our touring plan.
  • I’m glad to have stayed at Art of Animation, but the walk from our room in the Little Mermaid section in the WAY BACK of the Resort was pretty far (a 10-15 minute walk from the bus stop) and I wouldn’t stay in that section again.
  • The My Disney Experience App was very useful.
  • Memory Maker continues to be worth it.
  • Nothing will ever top IllumiNations for me, but the Hallo-Wishes fireworks, Hocus Pocus Villains Spelltacular, and Boo to You parade during the Not-So-Scary Halloween Party were really impressive.  The Festival of Fantasy parade was visually stunning, too.
  • I wanna go back….now!

Stay tuned for the full Trip Report, including pictures!

 

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Disney Pre-Trip Report: let us in! let us in!

Did you know that some people do “resort-only” trips, where they stay in a new (to them) Disney resort, and just enjoy the facilities, restaurants, and Downtown Disney?  It apparently makes for a very relaxing vacation.  They avoid all the craziness of the Parks, and save a lot of money.    Perhaps I should consider….

<brakes squealing Yeah, right.  No way am I traveling 5000 miles for a hotel, even a Disney one.  Bring on the rides, shows and characters, baby!  Bring on the heat, and the crowds, and the potential for blisters!  Bring me that horizon! (tm Capt. Jack Sparrow)

To experience all that, I need tickets.

I reviewed my choices for Universal Islands of Adventure tickets in that planning post.  After 10 months of looking, I haven’t found any other applicable discount to those darn Universal 1-day-1-park tickets that I need.  But I found a way to get them for free and then some using credit cards…and it’s all totally legitimate.  Explanation to follow 🙂

On the Disney side of the equation, I settled on 6-day Magic Your Way Park Hoppers.  Park Hoppers will allow us to go to any park at any time, for 6 days over the course of our whole vacation (the 6 days don’t have to be consecutive).  Here is a great explanation on the Disney ticket options, including a handy calculator- this is the official site for the Unofficial Guide people.

In the end, it made most sense to purchase all the tix at the same time, in one order, from UndercoverTourist. This is a valid Disney and Universal ticket broker.  Nothing shady here.  I’m on the MouseSavers email list, which entitles me to the special link to UndercoverTourist for additional savings over the standard UT discounts.  Not huge, but every Disney Dollar counts.  Still, I was looking at a large chunk of change.

Hours of research led me to conclude that the best way to buy almost $2k worth of admissions was to charge them on a credit card.

I know, I know.  Let me explain...

I know, I know. Let me explain…

Duh!  But it’s the specific card used that matters.  We haven’t gotten a new credit card in a little while, and I was itching for a fresh sign-up bonus that would help us out with this significant cost…I found it in the Barclaycard Arrival Plus Mastercard.  This card allows for point redemptions on eligible travel purchases over $25.  You get 2 “points” for every 1 dollar in spending.  Cash back (what they are calling “redemptions”) comes in the form of a statement credit.  The 40k point bonus (worth $400) comes after spending $3k in purchases within the first 3 months of getting approved for the card.  This means that you wind up with more than 40k points when you have reached the spending threshold, since you earn points for the spending, too.  Technically, you have at least 45K+ points to redeem against your travel-related purchase after reaching the spend.  You see where I’m going?  We timed our spending on some other household stuff to coincide with the purchase of the tickets so that we reached the $3k spend in the first billing cycle.  Then, when the bonus points were posted, we applied all the points to the Undercover Tourist charge, and received a $450 statement credit.  Boom!  Our total charge for both Universal and Disney tickets was $1996, and we will only have to pay $1545 of that.  Our Universal tickets were completely covered by the statement credit, and then some.

Now, you don’t have to follow this particular strategy of completing the spending all in one billing cycle.  You can redeem for travel-related purchases up to 120 days after the day the charge posts.  But I never carry a balance, and didn’t feel like shelling out the cash now only to reimburse myself later, so we did it this way.  And the extra bonus on top of that bonus?  You get 10% of your redeemed points back, so we now have 4,500 points back (worth $45) to redeem against a different travel-related charge.

The Arrival+ is a great everyday card since you always get the 2 points/dollar, and still have the flexibility of cash in the form of the statement credit- you are not tied to a particular loyalty program.  It carries a $95 annual fee, which is waived for the 1st year.  It’s good for people for whom price is the bottom line on any travel decisions, and people who don’t travel enough to earn lots of miles in one frequent flyer/hotel/rental car program.  It’s hard to justify the annual fee after the 1st year, though.  We’ll see if we keep it long-term.  But for now, thanks for the free tix, Barclay Bank!

thanks bro

I know what you’re thinking…she’s only spending 6 days in the Parks?!  Yes and no.  We’re not doing Parks on the arrival or departure days, and are spending the 1 day at Universal. That leaves a max of 8 Park days, and I always insist on a total non-park day to rest my weary bones.  That still leaves 7 days and you only have a 6-day ticket, you say?  Well, we are attending Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.  It’s one of the only times adults can wear costumes inside of a Disney Park, and it considered a “hard-ticket” event- so your ticket counts as admission, no need to use up a Park Hopper day! The party starts at 7pm and ends at midnight, but party-ticket holders can get in beginning at 4pm.  So we’re really in the Parks for 7 days 🙂

On our Party day, we’ll sleep in, do some laundry, and eat lunch at Downtown Disney before heading back to the hotel to get our sorta-costumes on!  We’ve decided to “DisneyBound” (dressing inspired by the signature colors of a Disney character without using a literal costume) as characters from Finding Nemo.  I’m Dory!  Getting inspired by these images:

dory1 dory2 dory3 dory4 dory5

I saw Jurassic World, and got totally re-pumped for the Jurassic Park River Adventure ride in Universal.  There’s a new Raptor Experience, too!

We’re getting close to Double-Digit Dance Day (aka 99 days left until the trip)!!!  SO. MUCH. EXCITEMENT. 

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Non-Travel Spreadsheets

I’ve got a million non-travel spreadsheets going right now! We’re moving to a new place in a few weeks, and I’m organizing my moving box labels, a change-of-address checklist, a new monthly budget scenario, and tracking moving expenses. It’s super exciting, but time-consuming. This week, DD has a concert, we’re prepping to paint the new kids’ room, and we’re having a garage sale- I’m going in 5 different directions right now. Sorry for the lag in posting- once we’re a bit more settled I’ll share more of the moving organization details.

I recently assisted a friend who was trying to decide whether to use cash or miles on a trip to the Caribbean. We talked (texted!) through several options and she wound up getting a great deal for the dates she wanted. More details on that in a later post 🙂

Amid all this organized chaos, I was able to make all of my Disney Dining ADRs. I got everything I wanted, including lunch at Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom on out first Park day. Sweet! Next up on the Disney checklist, purchasing tickets to the Halloween party (they’re on sale now), and watching all of the Star Wars movies while waiting for our FastPass+ booking window to open. I’ll also share some cute Disney DIYs for shirts and shoes!

Be back soon!

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Disney Pre-trip Report: quick woo!

3 positive updates:

  1. Our DVC points rental waitlist came through, and we are confirmed for Animal Kingdom Lodge for the fall! I happily cancelled my backup POFQ reservation.
  2. I was able to book the Ramada San Diego Airport for a very reasonable rate for our 1st overnight layover. Also booked the Hampton Inn Seattle Airport for the other overnight layover. Both include free breakfast 🙂
  3. The dates for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party are out, and I was right on with my predictions. It fits perfectly into our touring schedule, yay! I’ll be able to purchase the tickets in April.

Dork alert: I audibly gasped when I saw the email about the DVC points rental waitlist coming through, and figuratively tossed some pixie dust in the air as I bowed to the image of Veruca Salt.  I momentarily considered performing this ritual again to ensure we get a package discount for the Art of Animation dates.

I’ll see myself out now.

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Disney Pre-Trip Report: flights are booked!

Q: SpreadsheetsandSuitcases family, you’ve just confirmed the school/work calendar for the next year, what are you going to do next?

A: We’re going to Walt Disney World!


Yes, indeed, we have official trip dates set for October!  My Disney2015 spreadsheeting activities are in full swing, and I’m crossing things off my lists left and right.  Super exciting, especially once I remembered that not only would Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party be going on at Magic Kingdom during our trip dates, we’d also be able to partake in the Epcot Food & Wine Festival.  But in order to enjoy all this fun, we must first travel the 4,747 miles from Honolulu to Orlando.

First order of business was to research flights.  Honestly, I have been tracking flight prices for both trip date options (July/August and October) for months already.  So I knew what the prices would be like, and I knew that, barring any sudden 80% off fare sales, our best bet would once again be using the Companion Fare benefit of the Alaska Airlines Visa.  I did fresh research, and came up with the same answer.  Using the Companion Fare will save us quite a bit- here’s the breakdown on my reasoning and calculations.  Warning: itinerary minutiae ahead!

  • the least expensive (non-Alaska) RT fare on our trip dates in October 2015 was $897 on Delta.  Itinerary is OK, both outbound and inbound flights get us to/from Florida in the one day over the course of 11-14 hours with brief stops in Los Angeles (LAX), eliminating any need for layover hotels.
  • the least expensive Alaska RT fare came in at $843.  This itinerary included overnight layovers both ways, in San Diego (SAN) on the outbound and Seattle (SEA) on the inbound, requiring airport hotels.  When I looked at the options, I decided that a different return flight was a better option for us, which added $20 to the fare, so the final price was $863.  Let’s put our Comparing Caps on!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  • the Delta itinerary includes arriving at Orlando Int’l (MCO) at 5:35am EST…this means our first day in Florida is kind of a wash: nothing will be open, the resort room may not be ready for hours, the parks don’t open until around 9am, and we’re unlikely to have slept enough on the flights to handle a day of activities.  By the time we got into our room, I think we would all just crash and be useless for the rest of the day trying to get off of HST.  In contrast, because of the overnight layover in SAN on the outbound Alaska itinerary, we’d arrive at 6pm EST, giving us time for a hearty dinner and some exploration of the resort before hitting bed fairly early to prepare for Islands of Adventure the next day.  In both cases, we’d be looking at 2 days of travel/adjustment, but the Alaska itinerary is definitely more appealing.
  • on the return, the Delta itinerary leaves MCO at 7:00am.  Since we’re using Magical Express to get to our resort, we’d be looking at a pick-up time of 4:00am. They want you to be at the airport 2 hours early, and sometimes stop to pick up guests at a few different resorts, so they pick you up 3 hours before flight time.  EWWWWWW, and it messes up our last night at the parks.  Either we go to bed super early and miss fun evening activities, or we try to stay up all night.  In contrast, the Alaska itinerary has us leaving at 6:55pm, leaving us most of a day to sleep in, relax at the resort, and have a good lunch before being picked up at 3:55pm.  Side note: Disney’s Magical Express is a complimentary bus service to/from MCO, and is available only to WDW Resort guests staying on-property.  It includes luggage transportation as well- they pick up your luggage at MCO for you and deliver it to your resort room a few hours after you land. Very convenient.
  • finally, with the Delta itinerary, we arrive at HNL at 5pm HST (since we’ll still be on EST, it’ll feel more like 10pm), and we’d need another “recovery day” before going back to work and school.  With the Alaska itinerary, we land at HNL at 1:16pm HST, and can get unwind/unpack with time for a full nights’ sleep and not miss anymore work and school.  DD will be in high school, so I’d prefer to limit school days missed (even though travel is educational, of course :))
  • alright, let’s talk numbers!  Delta itinerary price is $897/traveler, no layover hotels, luggage fee of $25 for 1st checked bag since we have no status (I’ll assume 2 bags each direction, each one assigned to a different family member, 4 flights total): = (897*4)+(25*4) = $3688.  Alaska itinerary price is $863/traveler for 2 of us, and $99 + tax/traveler for 2 of us, 2 layover hotels averaging $115/night each, luggage fee of $25 for 1st checked bag (I’ll assume 2 bags each direction, each one assigned to a different family member, 8 flights total because we have to repay the luggage fee after picking up the suitcases for the overnight layovers- Alaska STILL charges CC holders checked luggage fees, gah), the $75 annual fee for the Alaska Airlines Visa for both of us, and some taxis to the layover hotels since we arrive later at night: (863*2)+(166.08*2)+(115*2)+(25*8)+(75*2)+(50) = $2686.16, a savings of a little over $1000, even with all the extras.  That averages $671 per person for RT transportation, not too shabby.

We bought the flights this week!  If you’re curious about the taxes breakdown with the companion fare, here is my detailed receipt section.

Total transportation cost averages $671/person, round-trip!

Both sets of taxes include: US Alaska/Hawaii Departure Tax $of 17.80, US Flight Segment Tax of $16.00, US Passenger Facility Charge of $18.00, and US Sept 11 Security Fee of 11.20. The difference in totals comes from the US Transportation Tax, which is $24.11 on the Base Fare of 775.89 and $3.08 on the Base Fare of $99.

Now I have to research airport hotels.  I have to tell you, I’m baffled by the lack of airport-only hotels in San Diego based on my research so far.  They’re mostly called Sea World/Airport, or Zoo/Airport…and none of them seem to be within 1 or 2 miles of the airport.   That’s why I factored in the cab rides in my transportation estimate- we’re looking at $25 cab rides to airport hotels in San Diego, because we’re landing near midnight and most of the airport shuttles have stopped running by then.  That’s crazy talk.  I’ll keep looking.  Any recommendations for San Diego?

And will October get here already?!  I have new magnets to buy!

 

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