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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Bits & Pieces: FastPass+ update, Disney Dollars, Disney Cruise out of NYC

  • Disney updated their FastPass+ system, for the better!  This applies to WDW only.  Previously, once you’d used up your initial 3 FP+ selections for the day, or the time to use them had expired, you could choose a 4th option in the same Park or another one, if there were times available, but only at an in-Park kiosk.  You could see availability on the app, but not choose it until you’d traveled to the next Park.  Now, with the enhancement, you can choose a 4th option (again, after you’ve used the 1st 3 or their usage time has passed) from the My Disney Experience app on your phone, no need to be in the Park!  This saves time, always a premium at Disney. Note: the in-Park kiosks, with a Cast Member present to help you use them, will still be available. Other great improvements: the ability to only make 1 or 2 selections instead of being forced to make 3 per day, and being able to make selections for individuals instead of the whole group (there was a way to do this before, but it was pretty complicated and often caused all the other people’s selections to temporarily disappear).  On my personal Wish List for the next upgrade…being able to make selections in different Parks in a single day, for when you plan to Park-hop.  If you could just have that in place before we go back in 2021…

great

  • A sad Disney announcement: no more Disney Dollars! As allears.net reports, the manufacture of Disney Dollars has ended.  Disney Stores that still have them in stock will sell until they run out.  The Dollars have no expiration date, so if you have some and want to use them in the Parks, you still can.  I remember using Disney Dollars as prizes for a Disney trivia game I made up for DD and DH before our 2008 trip.  This was a neat way to give kids money to save for Disney, since they can’t be used anywhere else.  But I guess the move makes sense- I didn’t buy any Disney Dollars in anticipation of this recent trip, because gift cards are just so easy.  Aw, farewell, Disney Dollars! dollar
  • When I think about an extended family vacation that doesn’t involve Ecuador, I think about a cruise.  What, no WDW, you say?  You wouldn’t want to have 9 people (my parents, my sister, her DH, my niece, plus the 4 of us) touring a Disney Park at the same time?  The answer is no.  So, what’s better than a Disney Parks vacation for extended family?  A Disney Cruise Line vacation.  You unpack once, visit cool ports of call, the ship is beautiful and air-conditioned, Disney characters are available for greeting, and most lovely of all- the ship is contained.  You can’t get too far away from each other, so meeting up for food/shows/games/swimming is fast and easy, but you still have your cabin close by if you need privacy.  Disney Cruise Line has announced itineraries departing from NYC for Fall of 2017.  No specific dates released today, but this year’s NYC cruises are all in October.  I would LOVE to do this itinerary: depart NYC, days at sea, stop at Port Canaveral, go to Epcot/MK since *1 day Park-Hopper tickets to WDW, including port transfers, are part of the cruise price*, go to Disney’s private island Castaway Cay (pronounced “key”), days at sea, back to NYC.  Alas…..too many school days missed, because of travel time.  My other dream cruise is the Mediterranean one that includes Greece.  Very pricy.  Ah well, a girl can dream…

 

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 11: Final Thoughts

Oh, boy.  This is it. IT.  There’s nothing else to do as far as post-trip activities than finish this last post.  Everything else is done:

  • unpack the suitcases
  • find places in the house/closet/fridge for new souvenirs
  • reconcile the budget/accounts with the trip receipts (My estimate was off by $8, guys.  $8!!!  I pegged it almost exactly.  This gave me an unreasonable amount of pride)
  • have everyone complete my “Post-Disney Trip” questionnaire, the last Trip Tradition.  Just 4 questions: what was your favorite part of the pre-trip preparations, name your 3 favorite rides/attractions from this trip, describe the funniest thing that happened on the trip haha I think we all know what that was: Pool-tastrophe 2015, and your opinion on the new things that you tried on this trip)
  • sort through the PhotoPass pictures, organize and name
  • sort through the personal pictures (from my iPod Touch that I used as my main camera, my phone, my husband’s iPod Touch/camera, his phone, my daughter’s phone, and her videocamera), organize and name
  • print said pictures
  • fill 2015 albums with said pictures, and stick an envelope in back of the photo albums with flat souvenirs like our MNSSHP bracelets, and the resort maps with our room locations circled on them
  • force the family to look at the pretty albums
  • suffer from Post-Disney depression.. sniffle.
  • do the Trip Report!

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 5: Animal Kingdom and more MK

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Jambo!  This morning, we did our usual thing, and got up in time to make Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom.  Something that makes me feel good- the Cast Members (aided by the technology of the MagicBands) were consistently enforcing the rule that only Disney Resort Guests are allowed into the parks during EMH.  Several times, offsite folks were turned away and had to wait outside the tapstiles until the Park officially opened to all guests.  It is nice that the perk is not diluted by lax enforcement.

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 1: flights and arrival

All you need is faith, trust, and pixie dust.  Here we go!

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: teen 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

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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: bits and bobs

I love the British saying in the title of this post.  Makes me want to “pop ’round the shops on the High Street picking up bits and bobs.”

british accent

Currently I’m completing my pre-trip shopping checklist, those last few indispensable items I can’t resist buying before a fun vacation.  If I were you, I’d try reading this very non-British-vocabulary-using post in a British accent now.  I definitely will.

  • ways to make water taste like something other than water:  I hate water, precisely because it has no flavor.  I don’t drink soda, though I do love juice, but all those calories are not good for the waistline.  So I’m the queen of making water taste like juice, with 2 different products: flavor drops, and flavor powders.  Flavor drops came onto the market a few years ago, and I’ve loved them from the start, and ALWAYS have a bottle or two on hand at work, where I drink water all day long.  They are super-concentrated, sugar- and calorie-free liquids that make gross plain water taste like yummy juice.  The pioneering brand was Mio, but now many companies have started producing branded flavor drops.  My favorites are Kool-Aid Cherry, Minute Maid Fruit Punch, and Sunkist Strawberry Lemonade.  They come in a tiny bottle of no more than 2 ounces, and you just squirt a little (or a lot) into your water, mix, and voila…flavored water.  BUT!!!  We all know that taking liquids through airport security is iffy, and I’d rather save my 3-1-1 for toothpaste.  So, for traveling, I opt for flavor packets.  Same principle as the drops, but in powder form.  Each little packet is enough flavor for a 16-20oz bottle.  Again, lots of brands to choose from.  For this trip, I’ll be taking along Snapple Iced Tea, Hawaiian Punch Red, Crystal Light Raspberry Lemonade, and even Mott’s Apple Juice.
  • candy/gum:  Somehow, it became a family tradition to always have Werther’s candy on an airplane ride.  Since we’re always planning a trip somewhere, I get a bag or two when they are on super sale after candy-centric holidays like Halloween and Easter.  I tend to buy both chewable and the traditional hard-candy kind.  Anecdotally speaking, sucking on the hard candy version has always eased any motion sickness I might experience.  On the gum side of the equation, I’ve found that chewing gum really helps to relieve the pressure in the kids’ ears during takeoff and landing- once they are out of bottles/sippy cups/breastfeeding.  So gum is always on our pre-trip shopping list, and we like to try new flavors here as well.  Just bought some Starburst-flavored Juicy Fruit!  Win-win.  You’ve abandoned the British accent already, haven’t you?  For shame!
  • actual food for the plane: shelf-stable items that provide protein and carbohydrate energy.  Quite by accident, I discovered that Ritz crackers and Hormel sliced pepperoni are the same circumference.  My son was getting hangry, and I made a “pepperoni-wich” out of these 2 ingredients, and he was so amused by the tiny sandwiches that he ate several of them and got over his bad mood.  I also pack mixed nuts, raisins, and chewy fruit snacks or fruit leather (like a Fruit Roll-Up but no high-fructose corn syrup).  Sometime I bring regular Fruit Roll-Ups too, because…vacation.
  • swim gear: We bought my son a new swimsuit/rashguard a month ago, because his toddler-size Toy Story one was getting a bit worn, though it still fits.  I have been waiting to buy my daughter a new one because she kept changing her mind on the style she might like.  But now it is the time, because we were cooling off at the pool yesterday, and her board shorts were too small, her rashguard didn’t fit at all (or maybe she “lost” it because the design was too childish), and she only has 1 swimsuit that fits properly.  Anyone who has ever tried to air-dry a bathing suit in a hotel bathroom knows that 1 swimsuit is not enough, because it never dries completely before the next time you want to go to the pool.  Putting a damp suit back on IS THE WORST, so off to the mall we shall go for a second suit.
  • And finally, more spray-on sunscreen.  It smells like paid days off.  Excuse me, I mean, it smells like a jolly holiday 🙂

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you….the 30-day Mickey Head Countdown.

Like Princess Tiana in this picture, I'm Almost There!

Like Princess Tiana in this picture, I’m Almost There!

Legend tells of a chronically organized madwoman who cajoles her husband and children into making 150 construction paper strips, then putting a Disney sticker and number counting down from 180 to 30 on each strip, and stapling those strips together to make a massive paper chain.  This chain takes our crew from 6 months until their trip to 1 month until their trip, when the madwoman deploys the rarely-seen Mickey Head Countdown.  This objet d’art is made from vintage (as in, not available anymore) paint chip samples from when Disney sold home paint at the esteemed orange superstructure known as Home Depot.  Many years ago, exactly 30 paint chips shaped like Mickey Heads were deftly procured with nary an intention to actually buy the paint.  These chips are lovingly stored in a tiny tin suitcase that once held exorbitantly-priced Disney mints until they day they can be attached to a simple piece of cardboard using colorful pushpins.  Each day of the last 30 days of the vacation countdown, a small boy points to the correct Mickey Head with his favorite dry erase marker (CAP ON, of course, the madwoman leaves nothing to chance), and an adolescent girl carefully removes the pushpin from the cardboard, reads aloud the whimsical paint color name the chip once represented (Ariel’s Afternoon Swim, Happily Ever After, Mickey’s Shorts, etc), then carefully returns the Mickey Head to the tiny suitcase to bring untold amounts of joy for a future trip.  At this point the husband has either rolled his eyes, fallen asleep, or both.  But no matter!  The ritual continues until Day Zero, or the last 24 hours before the airport shuttle whisks them away to HNL to begin their vacation adventure.

Have a magical day, friends!

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Disney Pre-Trip Report: FastPass+ing in my sleep

Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration. And, in my case, the organization was easy because our party of 4 will pretty much always be together on rides/attractions.  But I also prepared quite a bit, and I think that contributed to it being a very pleasant experience.

So, in a nutshell, FastPass+ is a ride reservation system.  It lets Disney know approximately how many people to expect, crowd-wise, for a given ride at a given time per day, and also allows them to distribute opportunities to experience their biggest headliner rides and shows.  For all you tin-foil-hat folks, I’m sure it’s also a data-mining opportunity, since by the time you make FastPass+ reservations, Disney knows how many people are in your party, their ages, the kind of tickets you bought, whether you are staying on property or not, whether it’s your 1st visit or 20th, what the average income of people in your zip code is, and even what your favorite color is (based on MagicBand customization).  I don’t mind Disney knowing too much about me- I am a shareholder after all 🙂

There has been a lot of negative stuff printed about FastPass+: specifically, that it forces you to decide your plans for the day so far ahead of time, losing the spontaneity/fun of a Park day, and causing longer lines at attractions that typically didn’t represent long waits because everyone who couldn’t get a Space Mountain FastPass+ opted to get a Barnstormer one instead.  Some of these points are valid.  Obviously, the point about needing to do advanced planning doesn’t bother me!  The point about losing some spontaneity holds a little weight, but in my opinion, you can add fun at Disney in a million different ways, plus, if you PLAN right, you have some buffer time to allow an awesome character interaction to go on longer than you expect or to have that extra Mickey bar on a hot day.  The last point is fairly valid, some rides do suddenly have bottlenecks/long waits because they are FastPass+ eligible.  But again, with smart planning, pretty much any wait can be minimized.  Lastly, a point about managing expectations: Disney stopped having well-defined “slow times” a while ago.  The Parks are pretty crowded all the time now, so no one goes to Disney without having to wait in a least SOME lines.  My personal limit is 30 minutes (and that’s only because a lot of the ride queues are interactive and you might actually miss something fun if you walk through too fast), though with the kids I’d prefer not to wait more than 20.

Quick FastPass + facts:

  1. you can make up to 3 selections per day in advance
  2. all 3 advance selections have to be in the same Park
  3. each FastPass+ is good for 1 hour (so if you get one for 10:00am, you can enter the ride any time between 10:00am and 11:00am)
  4. after you’ve used all 3 of your advance selections, or your FP+ times have expired, whichever comes first, you can use an in-Park FastPass+ kiosk to make another selection in that Park if any are available.  I’ve heard the in-Park kiosks are a bit slow, so people have been choosing whatever ride comes up first on the kiosk screen, then using the My Disney Experience (MDE) app on their mobile devices to fine-tune their 4th, or 5th, or 6th, etc., selection. The kiosks are clearly marked on all Park maps.
  5. Your selections are stored in My Disney Experience, and that information is linked to your MagicBand.  To use a selection, simply tap your MagicBand to the “tapstile” at the ride entrance during your selection time range, and it should light up green.

When you have a FastPass+ for a ride, you can have little to no wait at all!  Disney resort guests (those staying on-property), have the ability to make FastPass+ selections 60 days from their check-in date.  Those off property can make them 30 days before check-in, as long as they have an MDE account that has park tickets linked to it.  As I waited for my magical 60-day date, I checked out the following:

  • TouringPlans.com: this is the sister site to the Unofficial Guide that I mentioned when discussing ticket options.  If you want a customized plan, you need to register and pay the low yearly fee.  I found that taking the book out of the library and being able to access the generic touring plans in the back was enough.  I was then able to customize my plans using some of the advice on the site.
  • easyWDW.com: another great site, they offer FREE “cheat sheets,” touring plans for each Park.  The author lives locally, so he is always posting about new stuff in the Parks, and updating his crowd calendar, where he makes recommendations on which Park to visit on what day, depending on historical/anticipated crowds.  He advocates never going to the Park that has Extra Magic Hours (EMH), stating that this Park becomes more and more crowded as the day goes on because many Guests just gravitate toward it, even after the extra morning time has passed.  I agree and disagree.  Where I Disagree: I always go the EMH AM hours, ARRIVING BEFORE THE PARK OPENING TIME, enjoying the extra hour, plus the 2 or 3 lower-crowd hours after the Park officially opens, and leaving as soon as it starts to get hot/crowded for a dip in the resort pool.  So if Magic Kingdom is open for all guests from 9a-10p, and EMH is from 8a-9a, I arrive at 7:30a to be among the first in the Park, enjoy lots of rides with little or no lines until 10:30a, stop for a snack or show, use some FP+ for things that will have developed a line by mid-late morning, then have a nice lunch and get the heck out of there. Where I Agree: do not go to the morning EMH Park late in the day or anytime after the Park opens, really.  Also, note that some Parks also have PM hours, staying open after the Park is closed to non-resort guests, though in practice they don’t kick those people out- they just can’t get on rides.
  • DISboards.com: again, a site where you easily get lost in minutiae and uber-planning.  I stuck to the Theme Parks Attractions and Strategies board for itinerary research.
  • my own head/heart: yes, this is where my previous Disney experience came in, and where I balanced the tendency to pack a lot into each day with the need to make sure my kids and husband have lots of fun the whole time, i.e., taking time to smell the roses orange groves on Soarin’ 🙂

So what did all this research get me?  Why, it’s a day-to-day itinerary, with built-in breaks, time for snacks, and even distribution of rides, shows, and character meets.  The most important part of the proposed itinerary was the “ideal FastPass+ selections” for each day.  Some days I knew we would sleep in in order to have a later night, so I wanted FP+ afternoon/evening selections.  For our first day, I wanted to guarantee the popular stuff that would really wow the family, so I planned for morning FP+.  Some days, we would be Park hopping, and able to take advantage of the early morning little/no lines at the first Park, so I made FP+ for the second Park.  My final wish list wound up like this:

Wishlist
Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10
MK*/EP EP*/DHS AK*/MK* MNSSHP DHS/MK DHS*/MK AK/EP
FP+ #1 Anna & Elsa 10:30a Seas w/Nemo 10:25a Exp Everest 9:00a Space Mtn 4:00p Disney Jr 10:30a Mickey Mouse 4:30p Character Spot 5:00p
FP+ #2 Enchanted Tales 11:45a Turtle Talk 10:45a Mickey/Minnie 11:30a Barnstormer 5:00p TSMM 11:45a Splash Mtn 6:00p Spaceship Earth 6:00p
FP+ #3 Peter Pan 12:45p Test Track 12:45 Kali River 12:30p 7DMT 6:00p L,M,Action 12:00p Haunted Mansion 7:00p Soarin 8:00p

My abbreviations: MK = Magic Kingdom, EP = Epcot, DHS = Disney’s Hollywood Studios, AK = Animal Kingdom, MNSSHP = Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.  It’s pretty easy to guess the full names of the attractions from what I wrote.  The * is for the EMH Park.  Finally, my chart starts with Day 4 of our vacation because the first 2 days are taken up with travel, and Day 3 is when we go to Universal Islands of Adventure.  And I hereby present to you, my actual FP+ selections!

Actual
Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10
MK*/EP EP*/DHS AK*/MK* MNSSHP DHS/MK DHS*/MK AK/EP
FP+ #1 Splash Mtn 9:50a Seas w/Nemo 9:30a Mickey/Minnie 9:50a Space Mtn 3:00p TSMM 10:35a Mickey Mouse 5:00p Character Spot 5:10p
FP+ #2 Enchanted Tales 11:50a Turtle Talk 10:45a Exp Everest 11:40a 7DMT 4:10p Disney Jr 11:50a Anna & Elsa 6:00p Spaceship Earth 6:30p
FP+ #3 Peter Pan 12:50p Test Track 12:50p Kali River 12:50p Barnstormer 5:10p Frozen Sing 12:35p 7DMT 7:10p Soarin’ 7:30p

Not too shabby!  My 1st Priority was the Anna & Elsa character greet, meaning I would rearrange any other plans to accommodate FP+ availability.  Since Resort guests can make FP+ for any of their vacation  dates as of the 60-day mark, I started searching availability for Day 9 first, since I was planning to be in MK that day, and more people with my check-in date would be searching for earlier in the week (their “Day 1”), as is human nature.  As you can see, my strategy paid off immediately with a FP+ for 6:00pm.  I moved on, working backwards date-wise, and was able to pretty much get everything I wanted.  The whole process took approximately 25 minutes.

With this task done, this will be me until we leave for the trip in October:

Sorry, coworkers.

Sorry, immediate family.  Not sorry, coworkers.

And finally, unless you’ve been under a rock for the past week, you’ve heard about some of the new stuff coming to Disney Parks in the next few years!  Toy Story Land, Star Wars Land, new restaurants, updated rides, shows, etc.!  Here is a great overview…guess I’ll have to start planning my WDW next trip now…haha, START?!  I already have it penciled in for 2020.  With Disneyland coming up in 2018 🙂

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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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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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