Life-condensed, Vacations

It’s a Sign

We’re getting ready to head out to the Bahamas, in case you didn’t know that, and Kevin found some old pictures of when he was there the first time.

(With his first wife. Surprised? It seems weird to think he was married before. He’s happier now, NATURALLY).

We’re on a mission to take another picture of him standing by this sign. In fact, Kevin did a little research and has already found the sign – we know exactly where to go to look for it. I just hope it’s still there. (The research/picture he found was a few years old).

Talk about complete circle! He went there with his first wife and he’s going back with his second (better – ha!) wife AND sons.

A few things about this picture:

1. Wow. Jazz looks SO MUCH like him it’s scary. Though I can see Dude’s face in his, too. (But seriously – Jazz could be his twin).

2. Look at those shortie shorts. SEXY. hahahahaha!!!

P.S. I’m having a blast giving him a hard time about his shortie shorts.

Vacations, Walt Disney World

Full-Blown Vacation Mode

Ten days and counting.

That’s how long we have until we leave for Orlando Florida.

We’ll spend two days at Walt Disney World (we plan on hitting Epcot and Hollywood Studios) and then we’re catching a boat to the Bahamas.

We booked this vacation back in January. We booked it, and I forced myself to not think about it. And I did a pretty good job of just ignoring it until Kevin pinned me down the other day to finalize our shore excursions and after doing some research?

It’s all I can think about.

Which I suppose I should, considering we leave in ten days.

We have a nephew house sitting for us again. (So any would be robbers out there, beware. Our nephew is a football player, buff and not afraid to throw a punch, just saying). I’m sure he’ll have fun having a space to call his own for a week.

We try and plan a family vacation every year. We plan. We save. We research. We save some more. The boys, though they enjoy themselves, don’t always act as enthusiastic as I think they should, but then again, it’s vacation with mom and dad – not exactly the dream vacation for a teenage boy, I’m sure.

But still – it sort of irks me that they act so blasé about taking these vacations. I’m confident they will look back on these vacations and appreciate them, but right now? A little enthusiasm would be nice.

Even though we’re all sharing a room at Disney World (we’re staying at the All-Star Music Resort mainly because of Kevin and Jazz loving music so much), we have separate cabins on the boat. We book separate cabins every time we go on a cruise because it’s just more comfortable for every one involved. We do our thing, the boys do their thing, we all eat meals together and the boys are free to stay up as late as they want – granted they can get up the next day to go on excursions.

We communicate via walkie-talkies and so far, this has worked beautifully. In fact, A LOT of parents communicate with their kids via walkie-talkies while on the boat (you don’t generally have cell phone service on the boat unless you’re willing to pay astronomical roaming fees) and it’s sometimes tough to find an empty channel. But it gives the boys a chance to be independent. They enjoy walking around the boat, eating, hanging out in the teen area, eating, pretending not to notice the pretty girls in bikinis hanging out around the pool, and did I mention they dig the fact they can eat as much as they want whenever they want?

Just checking.

We’re becoming cruise veterans – this will be me and Kevin’s fourth cruise and the boys’ third cruise.

I know what you’re thinking, “Karen. Geez. How can you guys afford that?” But ah, taking a cruise is not as expensive as you might think. In fact, it’s not much more expensive than going to say, a blogging conference. (What are the tickets now – $200 average? And that DOESN’T include the cost of your room, or your transportation. Don’t believe me? You can book a Caribbean cruise for as little as $180 per person Look at me, Miss Cruise Director here).

Considering you’re paying for transportation to ports that you might never see otherwise, and having a blast GETTING to those ports, AND you’ve already paid for all of your food (though soda and alcohol is extra), AND you’ve already paid for some pretty kick-ass Vegas-type shows (seriously, don’t miss the shows, they are top notch), it’s really not that bad. Especially when you compare the price to doing the same thing separately.

Usually, the most expensive part of the trip? Are the airline tickets. And since we use a (as in ONE) credit card that earns us frequent flyer miles that we accumulate and cash in every other year for (virtually) free flights, it’s not really that big of an issue when it’s all said and done.

(*A note about the credit card program: We don’t charge things just to build points. Everything we put on the card are things we would have spent money on anyway. For example: groceries, utilities and other household bills that we have to pay each month … in other words, if we’re going to have to spend that money anyway, why NOT earn points for free airline tickets. Don’t sign up for these programs and then spend money JUST to earn those points – then it’s not worth the program. But if you set up all of your monthly bills to charge to your card, and then pay off that balance each month [don’t leave that balance, interest will kill you], then it’s a smart money investment. I’m bringing this up to inform anyone who is thinking of starting a similar program. Be smart with your money. Jazz took a Personal Finance class this summer and we’ve had LONG talks about spending money wisely. We talked, at length, about this credit card program and what a good deal it is – with the above caveats, of course).

I mentioned I’ve been doing a lot of research – yes. It’s always a smart thing to do whenever you’re going someplace you’ve never been before. Kevin and I usually end up spending hours on vacation forums, reading other people’s thought about the same cruise/areas and picking up tips on what to watch out for, places worth seeing and other places to skip, and just generally what to expect at those places.

This research has paid off in SPADES with past trips. Armed with that information, we’re then in a better position to plan fun, safe outings that will allow us to get more bang for our buck. If we’re going to spend money on excursions, we want to make sure (or as much as we can reasonably make sure) that it’s worth our time and money. Even though we take reviews with a grain of salt (some people just like to complain and seriously, their expectations seem way too high sometimes), we take each into consideration and if we notice a pattern of similar comments, or a particular excursion has gotten more negative reviews than positive (again, taking into account that people are more apt to complain than praise), then we will usually pass on that excursion and look for something else.

It takes patience. Which I don’t have. But when it comes to vacations, and trying to make our dollar stretch as much as possible, I have all the patience in the world. If there’s one thing I CAN’T STAND, it’s being ripped off. Though we’ve been disappointed in the past, we don’t really have any BIG vacation regrets.

I’d like to keep it that way.

I usually end up buying tourist books about the places, too. Even though that sounds cheesy and maybe not worth the money (and even though you can find some of that information online), I’ve still come away with some pretty awesome dos and don’ts about where ever we were going. So again, it pays to do your research.

We booked a Jeep tour in Freeport. We felt that was the best excursion for us. We’ll get to see parts of the island we might not have seen otherwise: landmarks, parks, wildlife, waterfalls, caves, beaches and even a blue hole. (The boys will love that).

Because the Jeep tour was a bit more expensive than what we liked, we’re going to wing it in Nassau and just do our own thing. We figured out (by doing research) that getting around the island by jitney is pretty cheap and reliable and we’ll save some money that way. However, plan B will be to purchase day passes at a nearby hotel so we can use their pool and their private stretch of beach complete with floats and kayaks, if we choose. It also includes a voucher for food (which is ALWAYS a serious consideration with Kevin and the boys – they don’t eat – no one has a good time, trust me). How smart are the hotels for offering THAT option to tourists?

Very smart.

I just contacted Disney to give them our flight information so that we can use their Magic Express transporation. They will deliver our bags to our hotel and we won’t have to pay a taxi to get there. We plan on taking the Express back to the airport where we will then board the shuttle the cruise line offers to the pier to board our boat. Again, to avoid having to pay for a taxi.

See? A little research goes a long way. 🙂 Now let’s hope it all works out as effortlessly as it sounds.

And that brings you up-to-date on the vacation plans.

I think we pretty much have our ducks in a row – we still have a few tweaks (can the boys even wear their swim trunks anymore? Note to self: check), but we’re getting there.

In the meantime? I’m already planning for next year’s vacation.

Because I was born to plan stuff.