Preparing for a Trip

How do you prepare for a trip? Are you like me and research it until you know every detail about where you are going? Or wing it and just show up? Please answer by posting a comment below.

As I stated, I research the heck out of a vacation. Currently I am preparing to go on a Mediterranean Cruise. I am utilizing travel podcasts, Cruise Critic, googling reviews, travel books, and just about any piece of information that I can find. I then compile it all on a list. I do not always relook to that list, but somehow it makes me feel better knowing it is there…

Every trip is different. Sometimes the destination determines how much planning is necessary. With Alaska or Europe a little more planning is required. Even if you want to just sit and drink cappuccino and eat dessert, you need to know how you are getting to get to that cafe’. On the other hand, the Caribbean does not require as much advanced planning.

With my European Cruise, I have a word document started, and I update it with all the information that I might need during my trip. This includes train times, points of interest (museums, the must sees, etc.), and just anything that I will need to know while I am in a particular city. I will make sure each city is on its own sheet, print it all off before I leave, and keep each city’s sheet with me during that particular day. This tip can be used for any trip, it is not European Cruise specific.

Comment below, we’re curious – how do you plan for a trip?

If you love a lot of information and would a free travel guide with an emphasis on cruising, including ports of call, send me an email christy@packyourpixiedust.com and I will get it sent out.

Happy Travels!

Celebrity Cruise Day 5 – St. Thomas

St. Thomas in the morning

Day 5 of the recap of my recent Celebrity Cruise aboard the Solstice with my husband to the Eastern Caribbean for our honeymoon.

Today our ship was arriving bright and early in St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Shockingly for those reading this post, we had breakfast on our balcony. And to confirm, we had breakfast in our room each and every morning on this cruise that it was available. Unfortunately there is no option to have room service on the last morning. The choices were just awesome. We truly enjoyed our breakfast in our room each morning.

Our ship was scheduled to arrive in St. Thomas USVI at 7 a.m. I watched us pull in around 6 am, but we weren’t cleared through customs until 8 a.m.  Behind us came two other ships. We were docked at Havensight.

Great things about the port of St. Thomas in no real order:  1.) use US Currency, 2.) those with national service can use their cell phones in port, 3.) it’s easy to get around.

I am not typically a gal who does many shore excursions. I am a big fan of scuba diving, and the Eastern Caribbean is not known for their diving… I typically go on cruises to relax, not to be running from port to port doing activities. However, this was our honeymoon and I was bound to do something different than I typically would on a cruise.  I searched for a shore excursion prior to the trip, and found one that appealed to both of us.  It was a day trip (6 hours) on a sailboat.

To spend our day on the sailboat, we were told to taxi to Sapphire Beach Marina. This is the part that is always an adventure. Trying to get to your shore excursion at the time required. We got off the ship and asked someone in charge of taxi’s for a taxi to the beach. We were put on a taxi that was already leaving the port area. $10 per person and half hour drive in an open air taxi we arrived at the beach.

We spent the day on the New Horizon sailboat. The crew today consisted of a captain and a 1st mate.  There were about 12 people on board with us today- apparently there is typically more. They increase the crew if there are more passengers. The boat was set to make two stops on our day at sea. We boarded and were given a couple of bread options to choose from – chocolate and banana nut. We were also given a choice of juice/water.  We sailed to Honeymoon Beach– on St. John. We were left to snorkel or hang out on the boat. The water was very inviting. We jumped in for a swim and quick snorkel. The water was a bit more fun to swim in than to snorkel, but it was fine. The snorkeling does not compare to that in the Western Caribbean, but it was still fun.  After snorkeling they started serving drinks- mixed drinks, blended drinks, beer and pop.  The crew also set up lunch for us – pasta with meatballs, italian bread, green beans, fruit and brownies. It was a nice spread especially for being served on a sailboat!  We sailed on to Christmas Cove, on Great St. James. More snorkeling and more drinks. It really was a fun fun day!  [Email me if you are interested in booking this shore excursion for your upcoming cruise. christy@packyourpixiedust.com]

As an experienced cruiser, I felt comfortable booking a shore excursion on my own. With that comes the added responsibility of making sure you work out all the details – ship time vs. local time, the logistics of the transportation to the excursion, etc. The one advantage to booking the excursion with the cruise line is they figure all of that out, and just tell you where to meet – typically on the pier or in a lounge on the ship and at what time. Easy.  But some advantages of doing your own excursion are: you usually save money and you can try something different.

We had a couple of hours before the ship departed when we were dropped back off on the ship. We had the choice to do some shopping or head back to the cabin. I had never been to this pier before. The port I am used to has shopping in a normal city. This pier is in a small industrial area has the same shops as usual, but in small stores in rows of strip mall like buildings.  It would make shopping more convenient, because everything is close together. But it was just not inviting.

So, to our cabin we went – up the 10 flights of stairs from floor 2 up to 11. We snacked on cookies and snacks from our butler. If you were not in a suite or concierge class cabin, you could go up to floor 5 and have a snack from Cafe al Bacio (there is not a charge to eat the snacks here, only if you want specialty coffees). The other snack options in the late afternoon can be found at the Mast Grill or the Oceanview Cafe.

So, we had our snacks. And dealt with the sale of my husband’s house. (Which had to be done this week. Another reason to make sure you have valid Power’s of Attorney in place before you leave town. With the POA’s, my mother was allowed to sign on our behalf for the sale of his house.)

Dinner tonight was again in the Grand Epernay Restaurant (the main dining room). On the menu were the famous meatballs and short ribs. Since we had meatballs with lunch that day, neither of us ordered those. My husband ordered and enjoyed the short ribs. I had the NY strip steak from the ‘everyday’ menu. It was good. For dessert they served chocolate souffle, which wasn’t on the menu, but was offered.

That night the show was a husband and wife team of comedy and impersonations (Karen and Don Grainger). We did not attend as we were tired from being out in the sun all day.

Stay tuned for the next post – the final days at sea. Until then – Happy Travels!

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Solstice Day 3

This continues my review/recap of my 7 day Eastern Caribbean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Solstice. If you missed the first one, click to read it from the beginning.

Our cruise was scheduled to arrive in San Juan Puerto Rico at 3 p.m. So for most of the day it was similar to a sea day on the ship. We started our day as always with breakfast on the balcony. After breakfast we decided to take a walk on the jogging track on the 14th deck. The jogging track on this ship would be nearly impossible to jog on. First it is terribly windy while the ship is moving. But the bigger problem is that anyone moving around on this deck has to walk through the jogging track- there is no other way to get around. It is also very narrow. And then there is the issue of inconsiderate passengers putting their lounge chair on a portion of the track. So, it was fine for walking, but a bit irritating at the same time. After our walk, we stopped in the Ocean View Cafe for a snack of fresh belgium waffles- they are the best I have ever had on a cruise.

The afternoon involved reading for a bit, having lunch and then sitting out on the balcony as we approached San Juan. Once we saw land, we turned on our cell phones to check for service. We had a text from our realtor asking to call. From this call we learned that my husband’s condo was finally set to close- WHILE WE WERE ON THIS CRUISE. Apparently it could not be extended and it needed to close on that Friday. We learned that we could close by Power of Attorney (POA) which is just another reason that people should have their estate plan up to date before leaving for a week-long vacation out of the country- you never know when you will need it. Our POA’s were at my law office, and my assistant was able to get them over to the realtor.

Finally after doing a little work dealing with the sale, we debarked the ship in San Juan. The Solstice was docked at Pier 3. We headed out to the Coach store to see if there was anything worth buying (there wasn’t.)  Then stumbled into the Linen Shop that is so well-known. Finally, I was craving guacamole and chips (because apparently when I am on a cruise I want to eat every 2 hours.) We asked someone where to go and was lead to Lupis. It was not that impressive. One beer, 1 virgin daiquiri, and an order of guacamole and chips was $19 without a tip. In terms of the ports, it was the least annoying in terms of pushy island people trying to get you to buy things from them.

After walking around San Juan, and up 9 flights of stairs (our attempt to keep moving and help with the weight gain was to take the stairs) we relaxed a bit in our cabin until cleaning up for dinner.

Dinner tonight was at the Tuscan Grille around 6:45 p.m. In hindsight, I would not have ordered a guacamole snack prior to going here for dinner. There was so much amazing food and there was great service. The Tuscan Grille is one of the specialty dining restaurants on the Solstice. It is located on deck 5 (with all of the specialty dining locations) at the back of the ship. We asked for a table by the window, and were lucky to be seated at the last table. Since we were in port, we had a view nice San Juan.

Our meal started with a bread basket and some spreads, one of which was roasted carmelized garlic cloves. They had a roasted red pepper bread that was great. They then brought us an antipasta plate with prosciutto, melon, roasted veggies, mozzarella and olives. It was so good and we still hadn’t ordered yet.  Finally on to the ordering, I did not have room for an appetizer after the antipasta plate, but I was offered a choice of one. For the salad course, I ordered an arugula salad with pine nuts and fried goat cheese. It was definitely the best salad I have ever had. It was so flavorful. My husband ordered the caesar salad made table side which he really enjoyed. We each ordered the filet mignon for our main course. One of the meals offered baked mac and cheese which I asked for. This SHOULD NOT BE MISSED if you like this dish typically. It was so good, a little salty, but GET it!! We were already full, but were not about to miss dessert. We ordered gelato which was excellent of course. We also ordered the fondue, which was also good. We were just so full by the end of this meal.

I honestly enjoyed every bite of food from this meal. It was all so good. I am not sure, however, if I feel it was worth the surcharge. Would I come again? I am not sure… An extra $60 ($30 each person) above what the cruise cost… But I loved the meal, so maybe it is worth it… I don’t know. We received this meal complimentary because we were in a suite. If dining without paying the surcharge, make sure you tip the staff because otherwise they are not compensated for serving you. $10 (for 2 people) appears to be customary.

The evening show was Jason Bishop. According to the Celebrity Today he performs “stunning, state of the art magic and illusions.” I wouldn’t know as I did not attend. But both my spouse and our dinner companions thought that the show was good. My lack of going is one of the things that I enjoy best about cruises- I can decide that I do not want to do something, and my travel companion can attend the event, without any ill-will on either of our parts. Instead of going to the show I returned to the cabin to relax and watch a little tv.

We made it an early night since we would have a full day in St. Maarten the next day.

Until the next post – Happy Travels.

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Solstice Cruise Day 1

In late January 2012 my husband and I set off for a 7 night cruise on the Celebrity Solstice for our belated honeymoon. We were married in June, but, coming from Michigan, we did not really want to go anywhere tropical in June. (Our summers are very nice.) We take a winter trip every year and thought we would make this one a bigger trip since it was our honeymoon. The Solstice was the perfect way to spend the week.  We splurged and booked an aft cabin S2 Sky Suite. It was the perfect decision. For information about our room and to see pictures, click the link.  Our Eastern Caribbean 7 night cruise had 3 sea days and stops in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Phillipsburg, St. Maarten, and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

We picked this itinerary, travel dates and ship based purely on price. I knew I wanted a Suite on a Celebrity Solstice class ship in late January early-ish February and let price dictate which ship, what date and which ports. I have been on many cruises and was familiar with the ports on both the Eastern and the Western Itinerary cruises.

Our honeymoon started the day before the cruise with our continued splurge and use of frequent flier miles to upgrade ourselves to first class. Travel Tip- when picking your seat, pick a seat in the middle of the first class cabin. With this cabin, closest to the front is NOT better. The first row is out because there is no personal storage space, you have to use the overhead bin, and then have to move every time you want to access your personal items. The second row (our row) was a bad choice because they place the travelers with small children in the first 2 rows. Either the first or second row on many planes have the extra air masks if there was a loss in cabin pressure for a lap child. (Children under 2 sitting on their parent’s lap and not in a seat.) We had a 2 year old in front of us. Parenting Tip: parents please bring something to entertain your child that is not electronic. This way you have something to do with them during the taxiing, etc. The child in front of us opened and slammed the window shade and banged his chair back as his entertainment until electronics could be used. [Edited to point out, that I now have a 2 year old, and my child, which still a kid, and can be a little loud at times, never slams the window shades, nor slams back in his seat. Finally, we have never had to use the phrase, “he’s two” to explain his unacceptable behavior in a plane, unlike the lazy parent in front of us.]  Also, the sound is much more muddled in the rows not immediately in front of or behind noisy rows. Unfortunately there were no other seats that we could move to, so that is where we stayed. The other disadvantage of being too far back or too far forward is you may not get a choice of which meal you are served. On Delta they offer 2 choices, and there are only as many meals as there are seats- so, if they have run out of one choice by the time they ask your row, you are left with what’s left. (On the way to Ft. Lauderdale the flight attendants asked the last row what they wanted to eat first, on the return flight, the front row was asked their choice first.) For those travelers in the middle of the cabin, they received a choice for their meal preference, and were far enough back not to have to hear bored 2 year olds.

Quite a few cocktails and an inflight movie later, we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, obtained our luggage, and were off to stand with the crowds of people waiting for their hotel-provided airport shuttle. There are no shortage of hotels that provide airport shuttles at FLL. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, Davie Rd. For information on that stay, click to see my review.

The next morning we took our privately hired transportation to the cruise pier. We arrived around 11:10 a.m. The pier is CLOSE to the airport, if you are flying in on the same day just take a taxi to the pier. Same is true if you fly into Miami and cruise out of Miami. The porters took our luggage and we entered the terminal. We quickly made it through security, and check-in. Our picture was taken, and then we waited for it to be time for boarding. Cruise Tip: Arrive nicely dressed for your cruise. They take your picture in front a back-drop and the photos turn out nice some of the time. There is no charge for ‘sitting’ for the picture.  You only pay if you like it. Most pictures throughout your cruise are printed 8 x 10. Another tip that I learned (too late on our trip to utilize it on our trip) – you can have the picture “re-printed” in a smaller size for the same 8 x 10 price, which is $19.99.  Back to the pre-cruise photo- these pictures are typically $10 -$15 with the date on them. It’s a great souvenir.

At about 11:35 a.m. we were allowed to board. Upon entry we received a glass of champagne or a mimosa. For the non-drinkers, they did not have orange juice for some reason. It was way to early for the rooms to be ready so we went up for some lunch. I wanted a burger and fries (and onion rings, but they did not have any) so our first stop was to the Mast Grill.  They offered hot dogs, burgers and fries. Other lines have chicken sandwiches, but not Celebrity.  After, we headed over to the buffet (Oceanview Cafe) so my non-burger eating husband could get something. They have a HUGE selection in little stations. The food was very good. It was so early in the boarding process that it was not at all crowded. For the first day, if you arrive when loading starts, I would avoid the Burgers- they had been pre-prepared, which helps the quickness, but not the freshness of the food.

While waiting for the rooms to be available we just relaxed in a chaise lounge chair on the pool deck. We had our carry-on bags still so we read, listened to music, and just relaxed. Around 1:30 we went down to our floor and the doors were opened- the cabins were ready!

I’ve covered the cabin in the previous post so I will skip re-hashing that topic. Our luggage was outside our door by 4 p.m. We quickly stowed our belongings before continuing to enjoy our cabin, balcony and the welcome bottle of champagne (included for concierge class cabins and above.)

My dining preference was early seating with a 6 top table- both requests were honored. Something to note, the main dining room has a lot of 2-top tables, but most are located within 2 feet of another table, so you get served with the other table anyway. There are a few tables off on their own, but they are not the norm for a 2-top. Part of the fun is getting a table with other cruisers. It gives you more to talk about during the meal. The beginning nights include where everyone is from, what they do, etc. Then from there you can share and hear about what everyone did during the day. We arrived a little late to the dining room on the first night so as to not wait as long to be shown our table (we are big fans of waiting in fewer lines). You are shown to your seat since you need to learn your table’s location.  Since this is true for everyone the first night, that line can get long.

Dinner was terrific. I happened to keep track of the entree choices for the evening – lamb shank, salmon and spaghetti carbonara – one of my favorite dishes in Italian restaurants. The main meat dish of the night was Prime Rib, which was excellent. My spaghetti was good, but probably not as good as the prime rib. As do most lines, Celebrity offers an ‘everyday’ menu of choices you will see all week, which was listed on the left side of the menu.  On the right side were that night’s selection of the evening. One of the best items on the ‘everday’ menu were the caprese salad, and my husband was a big fan of the caesar salad- which he ate EVERY night. You get to choose between an appetizer, soup or salad option, and the main dish.  If there is more than one thing on the menu that you prefer, the waiter will bring you more than one of the course. The dessert menu comes after dinner. The everyday dessert menu has apple pie a la mode which I chose. It was fine. For my tastes, I enjoyed the desserts better on Carnival Cruise Line. But the entrees and appetizers were better on this cruise than any I had had before.

After dinner there is a short break worked into the schedule to tour the ship, spend money in the shops, gamble, etc. The show the first evening was properly titled, “Opening Night”  – a variety show sampling each of the shows for the week. It is great way to get an idea of what you want to see for the week. It was enjoyable.

After the show, we called it a night and returned to our cabin. The room was ‘turned down’ during our time out at dinner. I was completely impressed with our room stewards- I had made a short list of things that I wanted to request- extra towels, extra sheet, little things like that. They were all in the room taken care of and the portion for the butler (provided for guests in a suite) was torn off the list and had been given to our butler. It was VERY impressive. They also leave you the next day’s copy of Celebrity Today – the little schedule of the events for that day. I always read it to see if there is anything that interests me in terms of activities for the next day. It is also where you learn the dining options and hours of availability during the day. After my review it was time for one of the best parts of cruising – the nice captain gently rocking you to sleep each night. We had a great night of sleep the first night on the ship!

Stay tuned for the next installment of my cruise vacation!

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Celebrity Solstice Sky Suite

We had the recent opportunity to spend a week in aft cabin 1665, S2 Sky Suite on the Celebrity Solstice from January 29th- February 5th for our belated honeymoon. It was fabulous.

The room was fantastic. For pictures of the S2 Sky Suite on the Solstice, click the link. It feels about the size of a regular hotel room. The storage was great. We had many areas that we did not use. The storage in the bathroom was equally impressive. We had drawers and shelves that went unused.

The cabin is in an alcove on the corner of the 11th floor. PERFECT location. There was a door sectioning off that area and only 1 other cabin was in that section. Perfect. We NEVER heard our neighbors from outside the door.

We did hear loud talkers in the balcony next to ours while we were both on the balcony. Some people do not know how to use their quiet voice. But overall it was a quiet room.

We received the toiletries also given to the Celebrity Aqua Class cabins- separate bottles of Shampoo, Conditioner, Hand Lotion, Bath Wash, a face spray, and chapstick. The smell was lemongrass and very mild. They also included a great sewing kit and slippers for each of us. They think of everything- even q-tips and cottonballs. There were 2 hair dryers in the room- the individual plug in kind- not the crappy vacuum, attached to the wall kind. The room also included a pair of binoculars, and 2 different sized umbrellas.

Because we had a suite, we had a Butler. Ours was Allano. He did a great job. We received afternoon tea, cookies, pastries and sandwiches, as well as canapés, each day. He also brought us a pitcher of ice water daily, as well as a cappuccino for me. Cappuccino and Espresso are included in the suite complementary upon request. We requested the water on the first day, and he brought it on his own each day after the request. Allano also shined my husband’s shoes before formal night.

Each morning we had room service breakfast which was brought by the Butler. He would call about 5 minutes before bringing it. They had a card that you could fill out with what you wanted, for how many, and when you wanted it delivered (within half hour increments). This was the MOST extensive breakfast room service menu of any ship. They offered fresh squeezed orange juice. 2-3 types of smoothies- that were so good. A vegetarian plate of sautéed vegetables with a dollop of goat cheese- yum! Plus of course the normal omelets, french toast, waffles, and continental breakfast choices. We hand wrote requesting crispy bacon on our menu- and when we did that, the bacon was crispy. The first morning the breakfast was not that hot. But it did vary as the week went on.

In theory, because of the suite, we received priority embarkation. But not really. There was no really no line at any of the stations for check-in. In the area of suite check-in, was the check in for concierge and aqua class.  And it was only because of the Celebrity staff essentially saw us continuing to wait for a check-in, did she move us in front of an Aqua Class cabin, otherwise, their line was moving much quicker than our no-line line. Once we made it through check-in, we made it to the “waiting room” to board. [It was about 11:15 am at this point.] We showed our card, indicated that we were in a suite, and were told to wait in a certain area. We waited. Then they called for boarding. The first group that was able to board was Concierge class. The second group to board were Elite Captain Club Members.  We were seated in the group with them, so we just boarded with them.  But this was confusing, and did not feel very “priority” because technically our category was not called.

Being suite guests, we also received priority tendering.  We asked our butler for this, and were given tickets with directions to go to a certain room during the morning in port for tendering. ‘Priority Tendering’ only worked going to the port, not returning. You had to go out before they did open tendering for this to work. Which meant you got off early, but not whenever you wanted.

As to the aft balcony. The Suite balcony is twice the size of the standard balcony.  It had a full-sized table- perfect for eating, and two adjustable chairs with foot stools! There was a small overhang- like less than 2 feet.  We were on an Eastern Caribbean cruise, on the outbound, there was only direct sun in the afternoon- after lunch. On the return we had direct full sun first thing in the morning. There was soot on the balcony on occasion, but the room stewards always cleaned it well each day. It appeared to be worse when we were moving at quicker speeds. As to the location and privacy. If you were standing at the end of the balcony against the railing, you would be seen from above and below, and from above if you were sitting in the middle of the balcony. If you sat against the window, you would have privacy.  I thought I would be concerned about this location, but it was not a problem. I also did not have a problem with motion sickness on this cruise. I am generally very car/sea sick. But I had the least amount of problems on this cruise.

One quick note on the tv’s. They do have an HDMI hook-up, however it does not work.  We wanted to watch a movie from the ipad, but no such luck.

Overall we were VERY happy with the room. I definitely want to stay in a suite again. Check out the pictures for the Celebrity Solstice Sky Suite S2. Fun fun!

Happy Travels!

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Want to Save Money for Vacation, it’s Possible!

Wish you were like the others in cold weather cities getting ready to go on vacation? Wish you had more money for vacation? Even if you don’t have the money this year, by next year at this time you could find that you have a lot more put away for vacation than you thought was possible. The key is saving up all year-long.

I used to be teased that I go to work to afford vacation. It is the motivation needed to get me through long work weeks, long workouts, tiring obligations, etc. I LOVE VACATION! It’s possible for me to go each year because I save, and do with less during the rest of year, and it’s so worth it for me.

Below are some money-saving tips that you can use to enable you to have a vacation fund.

Save money going out to dinner- sign up for “deal of the day emails.” Groupons, or group coupons, are great. They even have same day groupons that you can purchase the day you want to use them.  Save half off dinner out and put the other half in your vacation fund.

Another tip, if you are planning a getaway where you will have access to a car, sign up to receive groupons in that city as well. You and your family can get deals on bowling, dinners out, etc., at a great price.  Restaurant.com is another great place to look for dining out deals. You can even get Character dining at Disney on occasion for as little as $2.00.

Get cash back for your shopping by using Ebates to do your online shopping. I recently earned around $23 just for doing my regular online shopping. To date I’ve earned nearly $300 from online purchases I was making anyway. It is FREE to sign up. You shop at your normal stores, Amazon, Target, etc. – they have pretty much every store, and ebates pays you cash back each quarter via a check. You can use that check as a supplement to your vacation fund.

Sign up for a dining frequent flier club program. Delta has SkyMiles Dining. Likewise with online shopping, you can earn frequent flier miles for items you would purchase online anyway by signing up for Sky Mall, or a similar program with your preferred airline. There is no charge for either of these programs, and it does not cost any money if you were planning to go there already to eat/shop.

Eat out less. It is at least $30 for 2 people to go out for dinner, and that’s with coupons.  Do this 3-4 times a week and that really adds up in a year. But if you are going out to eat and have children, dine where the kids can eat for free with a paying adult.  Check out http://mykidseatfree.com/welcome.asp for places with free dining for kids.

Bring a lunch to work most days of the week. Saving you $5-$15 a day for 3-4 days a week.

Limit the purchase of beverages as restaurants- pop, liquor and wine add up over time. If you go out twice a week for dinner and each have a pop or an adult beverage with your meal you are spending an additional $15 with tax and tip each week for something you can wait and have when you get home. Only purchase extra drinks on special occassions. Same goes for coffee, unless it is a special circumstance – make your coffee before you go to work and save on the $4-$5 a day coffee habit. Even if you drink cheap coffee and spend $2 a day for each work day, you are spending approximately $520 a year on coffee.

Actually view the sale ads that come with your paper or in your mailbox each week. Buy the things on sale that you use regularly. You do not have to do the extreme couponing, although you could, but just buying on sale saves you money. Similarly – observe the prices per items at the stores that you shop. If you an item is cheaper at the grocery store, or big box store, go there are opposed to the drug store. Save money where you can.

A ‘goes without saying’ tip: pay off your credit cards at the end of each month! It will save you unnecessary interest payments. If you cannot afford it, do not buy it.

Use your local library. In addition to books, you can borrow (typically for free) movies, cd’s and video games. This could really cut down what you spend on rentals, iTunes music and trips to Game Stop. Check to see if your library has the item first before shelling out the money. Even a couple dollars adds up over time.  Most libraries offer online search and request systems which saves time. If you have a serious gamer in your family, they can eventually be converted to enjoy games from the library. Check out this blog by a gamer that did just that.

Buy a Sigg water bottle. Yes, I am telling you to buy something. It is a non-metal tasting reusable water bottle. Take the bottle with you everywhere- car rides to visit grandma, the grocery store, the gym. Just fill it up with a drinking fountain, or before you leave for the day, and save the numerous $1 fees per day for water. Don’t forget to take it with you on vacation too. You can fill it up after airport security to save you the $3 for a bottle of water. And the best part – it is good for the environment.

The final tip, obvious but important, add a “Vacation” line to your existing budget. Even a small line item to start will add up. Then if you have a surplus at the end of the month/pay period, assuming that you do not have credit card debt that you should pay into, transfer any extra unspent money into your vacation fund. If you do have credit card debt, and still want a vacation fund, then divide it up – a portion of the surplus into the credit card payment, and a portion into the vacation fund.

For those of you who do not think you can squeeze any money into a vacation fund on the budget, then keep track of your spending and expenses for a month/2 weeks, and see where you are spending your money. You might have more than you think after you cut some coffees, pops, lunches out, etc.

Do you have a money saving tip to share? Post your tips in the comments below.

Now that you have learned to save money for your next trip, contact your Certified Travel Agent to get some ideas on where to go. If you do not have one, contact, Christy.

Happy Saving and Happy Travels!

Preparing for your trip to Aulani

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Hawai`i

Aloha! Like any good travel addict, I have been spending countless hours browsing the internet looking for information about Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa that has recently opened in Hawaii. This post will share the information that I have gathered during my extensive internet research as I prepare for an upcoming trip to the resort. [After the trip I returned to edit this post as well!]

First things first, getting to the resort, please check out my previous post with Tips and Information about getting to and from the resort from the airport.

Aluani is not yet completed, but on August 29, 2011 it  had a soft opening welcoming the public. The completion is occurring in phases. Phase 2 will be complete around November 15, 2011. The final phase is scheduled to be completed in the winter of 2013, but for all intents and purposes the resort is open and ready for travelers.

Disney designed this resort for families. In reading the reviews of Auntie’s House, I can see why. There is a huge children only area, where your child can be supervised during the day by Disney Cast Members without paying an additional charge. My husband and I are traveling without kids, so this preparation blog will be geared towards those traveling sans children.

So, what can we expect? An amazing resort with comparable Hawaiian resort prices and, of course, some Disney characters. The characters are “on vacation” just like the guests. They interact with the children in the pool and have regular visits throughout the day at the resort. So far the characters that have been sighted are: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy,Donald, Stitch, Chip and Dale. Apparently Lilo is not likely to make an appearance, as Disney did not want to insult any natives with the idea that Lilo is Hawaiian.

Dining. This resort is just that: a “resort”.  Being a resort in Hawaii, it has comparable resort prices. There are 2 sit down restaurants on the property, and reservations are a must at both.

‘Ama ‘Ama Beach restaurant – its signature restaurant (think California Grill pricing). Currently it offers lunch and dinner dining, with breakfast dining beginning in Phase 2. Men are requested to wear collared shirts for dinner. The hours of operation are: Breakfast – 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. (beginning in mid-November), Lunch – 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Dinner – 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. A money saving tip is to have a late lunch, thus enjoying the benefits and ambiance of the restaurant at less expensive prices.  Lunch entrees are generally in the $20’s, while dinner entrees are in the $40-$50 range. Desserts range around $10 and are apparently quiet small. Click for the ‘Ama ‘Ama dinner menu and lunch menu.

Makahiki Buffet, which stands for “The Bounty of the Islands” – as the name suggests it is a buffet, serving lunch and dinner. The hours of operation are: Breakfast – 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., Dinner – 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Makahiki has character dining 3 days a week (currently Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday) for breakfast.  Adults $32.00, Keiki’s (Ages 9 and Under) $18.00. The remaining days of the week, the prices are as follows, Adults $27.00, Keiki’s (Ages and Under) $14.00. The prices for dinner are as follows: Adults $43.00, Keiki (Ages 9 and Under) $21.00. Tax and tip are additional. As of now you can request an a la Carte menu for the breakfast service only- I can tell you I am highly looking forward to trying the Chocolate Milk-dipped Haupia Bread French Toast stuffed with Bananas and Peanut Butter off the a la carte menu during my visit. [Post trip comment- I did try the French Toast, and it was AMAZING!! Very worth it!]

Additional dining options include:

The ‘Olelo Room- serving Continental breakfast, drinks all day, and appetizers in the evening. Breakfast 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.;  Lounge 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. In the evening, this bar has singers and other entertainment.

Off the Hook- an open air bar, with some table service, behind Ama Ama. 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight.

The Quick Service options are: One Paddle Two Paddle, Lava Shack, and Rip Swirl. One Paddle Two Paddle offers the same menu as pool side dining, but charge $8 less per item. For a sandwich meal the prices are approximately $14. However, those inclined to have someone else bring their food to them can do so at the pool from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Lava Shack offers grab and go food such as cold lunch box meals, novelty ice cream, etc. Rip Swirl is located within the teen portion of the spa and offers frozen yogurt.

For those interested in other dining options, there are several in the Ko’Olina resort area. There is a free shuttle service that runs between the Ko’Olina resorts. Busses arrive at Aulani about every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Roy’s Restaurant is highly rated and recommended.

Directly across the street (from the parking garage) at the Ko’Olina Center & Station, there are several dining choices: Just Tacos Mexican Grill & Cantina serving Mexican Cuisine for lunch and dinner. Hawaiian Bar-b-que serving contemporary, seafood cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Two Scoops serving ice cream and frozen yogurt all day. There is also a terrific Deli at the Island Country Market. It is full service island deli and market offering the usual souvenirs, Hawaiian Sun drinks & Kauai-made rum. Hours: Mon-Sun 6:30 am – 11 pm. They have a beef and brie grilled sandwich that is supposed to be phenomenal, it even tastes good cold as leftovers the next day. They also have fresh omelettes each morning at a reasonable price. There are a handful of tables outside at the front of the store to eat your meals, or you can bring them back to the hotel, and eat either in your room, or on a bluff ocean side.

On to the Spa. The spa, Laniwai, meaning “freshwater heaven” is apparently that, akin to spending the day in an earth version of heaven- relaxing and exquisite. The prices are similar to those offered on the Disney Cruise and other high-end resorts.  For $45 a day, complimentary with any full-service spa treatment, guests can access the fabulous Laniwai Spa complex, including the outdoor Kula Wai hydrotherapy garden with private vitality pools, co-ed mineral baths, a reflexology path, six different “rain” showers, whirlpool jet spas and more. You must be 18 or older (14 and older with an accompanying adult) to use the Kula Wai facility. Teens (ages 13-17) can enjoy the Painted Sky facility. There is also a private family suite where the whole family can enjoy treatments.

Other random information. Parking is $35 a night for guests staying at the hotel, but is free for Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members. If you are just visiting the resort for the day- the rate is assessed differently.  If you spend at least $35 in the resort, 4 hours of parking will be free. There is a daily paper, Iwa (Aulani’s daily activities schedule and newsletter) available at the reception desk, and delivered to the rooms during turn down service,  find out about “Disney Friends Meet and Greets,” shows, and other free and charged for activities that are happening during your visit. The nighttime Starlight Hui is a must for guests of any age. They also offer evening showings of Disney movies under the stars.

Mahalo ~ thanks for reading this edition. If you do not already have your fabulous trip to Aulani booked, contact me and I can let you know some pricing. Disney is offering a special-  stay 4 nights in paradise, and the 5th night is FREE! Book before Dec. 16, 2011, for stays most nights Nov. 27 – Dec. 16, 2011; Jan. 4-12, 2012 and Jan. 16-25, 2012.

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Originally published Oct. 2011 with some edits that followed.

Making your Vacation Safer

When going on vacation, especially when traveling abroad, it is always important to keep safety first!! Here are some tips to make your trip a little safer. These apply for travel to any location, although some are specific to leaving the country.

  1. Sign your passport before leaving home. Simple but necessary. You could be detained for hours if you don’t.
  2. When traveling overseas, photocopy the inside informational page of your passport. Place one copy in your luggage and leave a copy with a trusted friend/family member. This would be helpful if you lose your passport.
  3. Leave a copy of your itinerary with the trusted friend/family member.  If you lose track of connecting flights or travel times/reservations you can contact them to get the itinerary information.  Additionally, this way someone at home will know where you are “just in case”.
  4. Take two credit cards with you on vacation, leave one in the safe in the hotel room/stateroom, and carry the other with you. If your wallet/purse is stolen, you will still have a means for funding the remainder of your trip. Keep a photocopy of the front and back of the 2 credit cards with the trusted family/friend that has the copy of your passport. If your wallet/purse is stolen before reaching your vacation spot, the person at home can get your credit card number, etc. to you and you can make arrangements to get a replacement while on your vacation.
  5. Use your business address on your luggage, as opposed to your home address. This prevents you from advertising that you are “away from your home” to those that come in contact with your luggage.
  6. Do not advertise on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) that you are going out-of-town. Especially if you are loose with whom you accept as “friends”.
  7. Bring a current picture of any minor children you may be traveling with. If the unfortunate happens and your child goes missing, it allows the authorities to have quick access to work from.
  8. Another tip if traveling with minor children, make a little laminated card with important information that can stay with your child in case he/she gets separated from you. The card should have their name, your name, cell phone number, the name of the hotel/ship, and a telephone number for a person at home.
  9. When traveling in large groups, and especially with small children, research any airports you are traveling out of/through ahead of time. It will make getting to connecting flights a smooth and safe process. All airports provide maps of their terminals online.

Feel free to share this page with those that can benefit from it. For more tips on traveling, “like” www.facebook.com/vacationsbychristy.  Safe & Happy Travels!

Getting to and from Aulani!

Checking out Aulani – Disney’s new hotel and spa in Ko’Olina, Hawaii? Read on for details to make the transportation portion of the vacation a little easier.

So, are you booked and ready to go?  If not get details on booking below.  If you are all set, prepare to go on a vacation of a lifetime. Read below on some tips to be more prepared for the journey.

Aulani is not on the public transportation route in Waikiki. You will have to take either a private car, taxi or rent a car. The private car through Cloud 9 Limo will run you $239.90 round-trip to and from the property (as of the date of this writing.)  The taxi is approximately $75 each way. The final option is the car rental. Something to consider however, you will have to pay $35 a day for parking if you are not a Disney Vacation Club member.

If you were planning on needing a car for part of your trip, there’s a way to minimize part of the expense. Utilize a one-way rental from Honolulu International Airport (HNL) to the hotel. As of the date of publishing, Alamo, the rental car company with a location at Aulani, is not offering the one-way rental. However, Hertz, does allow a one way rental. The drop off location is at the Marriott (JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort & Spa) next door to Aulani.

A creative way to get to the hotel and be cost effective at the same time- get a one way rental from HNL to the Marriott. In route to the Marriott stop at Target on Rogers Blvd., and purchase the essentials for your room for the week- pop, bottled water, peanut butter, bread, bagels, cream cheese, other snacks, etc. If you did not check your luggage, buy your sun block from here as well. Then drop off your luggage at your hotel, and head on back and return the rental to the Marriott, thereby not incurring a parking charge at Aulani. They have late night returns up to 10 p.m. at this location. With some discounts, you can get a rental for about $95.00. And the savings you will have acquired by buying some items ahead of time, far exceeds the difference between the taxi and the rental.

Use a similar idea for the return trip to the airport. Most flights to the U.S. are in the evening, so, make the most of your day in Oahu. Again, obtain a rental from the Marriott (the price is a bit more going in this direction, with discounts it’s about $125.00.) The price will be worth it because you can use your car to do your sight-seeing. Pick up the car in the morning, swing over to Aulani and check out, then go see Pearl Harbor. It could take a good portion of the day.  See whatever other sights on the island that are of interest to you- get some dinner, and then head off to the airport for your late evening flight. Obviously this tip works if you are staying at the Marriott as well.

If you want assistance, contact Christy at to assist you with making a reservation. It does not cost you any additional money to book with a travel agent and many times it can save you money. Happy Travels!

(Obviously, this tip works with travel to any location, apply it where you see fit.)

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