Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Adventures in an Unplugged Vacation?

I love the time of year when I'm planning a Disney trip plus getting ready to visit friends on a totally different vacation. DH and I truly enjoy spending money on experiences and trips are one of our love languages. I love traveling!

I also love sharing my travels on social media. I totally believe the studies that show a dopamine spike when you get a "like" or a comment on Facebook from a photo you just posted. I love the comments I get here when I post trip reviews. I love Twitter and Instagram for the same reasons. Being connected to people through my phone is my favorite reason for having one.

But I'm wondering if it's gone too far. I truly love my friends in person and I'm wondering if spending too much time in my phone is hurting those relationships. My husband would say it is.

We're getting ready to visit friends in Seattle this weekend and I was preparing my packing list. I put in my iPhone, our two DSLRs (his and hers) and the point and shoot, plus my Macbook (in case I have to work) and my iPad and my nook for the flight. Oh yeah, and my Fitbit. That is a ton of electronics to take for a five day trip with friends.

I was wondering how I can decrease the technology for this trip. I can put a book on my iPad and leave the nook at home. And I can make a concerted effort not to "live blog" our trip.

I mean, I'll take pictures with both the iPhone and the DSLR and maybe even the point and shoot camera. But maybe this is a trip to enjoy being with friends and not worrying about updating my Facebook by "checking in" at every different spot along the trip. Or maybe holding off on posting every sweet treat that we get in Seattle.

You know why I think that it's a good time to try an unplugged vacation? Because even writing the paragraph above makes me nervous. Not checking in? How will I know where we were each day? Not adding a photo of a funny sign? How will I get someone else's approval on that particular funny joke? I think it might time to try enjoying the trip as I take it, remembering the good parts and have fun with friends. Then when I get home, I'll update those pictures and tell the story here of our trip.

But I think this might be for the best this time around....

Have you ever had an "unplugged" vacation?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Adventures in Big Family Vacation Planning (part 3)

So we're going to Disney. We know when we're going. And we know who we're going with!

Those are some pretty big decisions that are already made. There are a ton more things we will have to figure out over the next few months, such as where to eat and what parks to visit each day.

But first things first - we had to come up with a hotel option for the stay. This always causes lots of discussion amongst the family members. My husband and I like staying at new and different places, but my BIL has one or two resorts that he loves to stay at and doesn't like to switch it up.

When we were trying to decide the dates of our trip, we thought that we might do a split stay. That means we would check into one hotel for the first part of the vacation and then at some point we would check out of that hotel, move our luggage to a new one, and check in there for the rest of the trip. This is relatively common in the hard core Disney community of fans so we've heard a lot about it through blogs and podcasts. We were eager to try it and this was the perfect opportunity!

Back in my first trip to Disney since childhood, we stayed at the All Star Spots. This is a value resort (read: cheapest) and there are LOTS of people who stay there due to the price and number of rooms available. Since husband and I are going to pay for this trip on our own, we told the family we needed to stay in this category of resort this time around.

My BIL requested the All Star Sports instead of the music or movies themed version of the resort. So that was settled - All Star Sports for 11 nights was booked.

However, we have another option. The in-laws purchased a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) membership a few years ago. This is Disney's version of the timeshare. They have a certain number of points that they can use each year, plus move some points around one year in either direction. The DVC resorts are a bit nicer than the others, more expensive, have more amenities, and are usually bigger rooms. You don't get housekeeping each night but you do have a mini kitchenette which makes the stay very nice.

We didn't have enough points to do the full 11 nights at one of those DVC resorts, however. We're going at high season which means increased crowds (so no availability) and increased prices (don't have enough points). We also needed three rooms - MIL/FIL plus cousin's family, me and my husband, BIL and family. That's a lot of rooms for the whole stay! So we decided that 5 nights at a DVC resort might be a bit easier to get.

My MIL is still on the waitlist with DVC, awaiting confirmation on three rooms for this family. DVC has told us they are hopeful in us clearing the waitlist sometime soon-ish. We can only hope for a little bit of pixie dust!

In any case, we have a place to stay, albeit not so fancy. This may change as we get closer! But at least we have a hotel. :)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Adventures in Big Family Vacation Planning (part 2)

So we're going to Disney. And we know when.

Now, we had to decide who was coming.

This trip was going to turn into something big, I had a feeling. Some of my husband's cousins haven't been on a big vacation in a while, and we all love Disney, so I thought this might have a bunch of people add on.

I told my MIL that I was going to take care of the planning for this one, since she's worked on so many in the past. And while it's fun to plan, it's also stressful. I thought I'd take the stress for this particular trip which means corralling all the family and making sure everyone has everything they need. Given that I'm an event planner, I didn't think it would be too hard, but would require patience and organization. I'm only a few weeks into it, so we'll see how it goes!

So for this trip, we have upwards of 19 people joining us over the 11 nights. They include my MIL and FIL; my husband's brother and his girlfriend and their two year old nephew; a cousin and his wife and daughter who live in the Orlando area (they're staying at the hotel with all of us); another cousin and her brother and two daughters who live in George; another cousin with his wife and two sons who live in southern Missouri; and finally, a cousin who goes to school near us in St. Louis and will join us for the last part of the trip. There are 10 of us who will be there the entire time and the rest of the family comes and goes as their vacation schedule allows.

Planning for this big group of people won't be easy! But that's who is coming with us on this crazy adventure.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The 2014 Directive - July (update)

This month, I'm working on relaxing.

I think I'm doing pretty well at it! I've finished the third Game of Thrones book, read Alyssa's book and now I'm on to the Fall of Giants. It's been a good few weeks!

I've also been working on keeping the house clean and doing the top few items on the to do list each day to stay on top of things. Plus working out! I'm exhausted. :)

But things are good. How's life in your world?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Adventures in Big Family Vacation Planning (part 1)

And here we are again. It's time to plan another Disney trip!

We are planning a very long trip to Walt Disney World in Florida to celebrate the New Year with a big old family trip this year. Our last Disney trip was in December 2013 with just me and my husband, to celebrate the craziness of law school and him passing the bar in 2013 and starting his new big job after graduating law school.

This upcoming trip would make my 11th to the World - I've had to start a spreadsheet with a list of the times that we have gone to keep track! It goes back to my first trip in (about) 1993 with my family. I really started to fall in love with the Mouse when I went with my husband's family in 2007 for New Year's. My mother-in-law and father-in-law went for their honeymoon in the early 1980s and have been every year since. The boys have grown up at Walt Disney World and they have so many memories from all the parks and resorts. A few years ago, they purchased a piece of the magic and now we can stay at the Disney Vacation Club when we go. It's becoming a bigger and bigger piece of our lives!

After seeing Sonya's planning of her Disney trip, I thought I'd start a not-so-regular blog series of our planning of our big trip coming up in December.

So first thing up, when to go?

When you're planning any kind of vacation, whether you have a location in mind or not, the first step is to determine WHEN to go. Do you brave the crowds on the busiest weekend of the year or do you save some money by going on an off-week?

We are the crazy people who throw in our lot with the unwashed masses for New Year's Eve. Out of all the 365 days on the calendar, this one would rank the top in their crowd calendars. Imagine the most packed outdoor festival you have ever been to, and add 10% and you're getting close to what it seems like. I mean, even the bathroom gets a half hour wait on this night. Everything is busy. Everyone is hot. EVERYWHERE you go there is a line.

But that's half the fun! Seeing all those people in one spot getting to experience a shared moment during the fireworks is pretty amazing. There are always tears in my eye when I ring in the new year at the parks. We love it and that makes it worth all the stress.

So, we knew New Year's was going to be the one for us this year - the in-laws went in March without us and we've been planning since our December trip for a big one with the whole family. Husband and I wanted to the day before New Year's, December 30. Disney has two nights of New Year's fireworks (as they do for the Fourth of July). If we saw these fireworks on the 30th, that allows us the 31st to spend in Epcot. This park isn't as family friendly but they celebrate the new year with the different countries around World Showcase Lagoon. You get to see one of the evening spectaculars in the early part of the evening and then another huge fireworks show at midnight. We haven't ever experienced that, so going down a day early allows us to accommodate both shows. It's a win-win, even though we do have an extra night in the hotel at the most expensive rate.

We had our arrival date - Tuesday, December 30. Now, how long to stay?

Traditionally, we stay in the World for one week. That would be checking out on Tuesday, January 6. When we started talking as a family, my husband and I floated the idea that we would stay an extra night, to leave on the 7th. When my MIL heard that, she thought they could do that as well. So now we're leaving on the 7th.

When we looked at the calendar, we realized that it was two days before my MIL's birthday. We've never celebrated her birthday in the World before and she thought it would be fun to do so this year. So since we couldn't leave ON her birthday (where's the fun in that?), that meant our check out date would be January 10th. Yikes, 11 nights?!

With lots of activities coming in the next year or so with jobs and other vacations, there may not be another time for a good long trip so we are going to seize the opportunity and make this happen! 11 nights in Walt Disney World, here we come!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Adventures in Colorado

In May, Mom and I traveled to Colorado for a few celebrations with my cousin's family. We had such a good time seeing family members and hanging out for a birthday and then a First Communion.

Since we didn't let the family know that we were staying through Monday for some strange reason, we were left with a Monday without family and without plans (since they had to work).

So Mom and I decided to take a trip up into the mountains and see some fun tourist-y stuff. Without a lot of time and since both of us wanted to see the scenery, we bought a package tour on Grey Line for the morning. It worked out great!

The first stop on the tour was up in the mountains, to Red Rocks. This is an amphitheater from the 1930s that has hosted concerts and other presentations since then. In the mornings, lots of locals come to work on the rows and rows that have been built into the side of the mountain.

It was such a beautiful morning to be outside, I can totally understand why these locals wanted to work out in the sunshine!

After we spent a bit of time enjoying Red Rocks, it was time to set off for the next stop.

This is postcard point, or something like that. All the postcards in the Denver area that have the mountain range on them were supposedly taken from this overpass on the way out of town. Not sure how true that is but my goodness, it is pretty!

The next stop on the trip was Buffalo's Bill grave.

Buffalo Bill had a simply amazing life story. He had such grand adventures! There's a museum at this site that documents everything he had accomplished and then some. His grave is on Lookout Mountain along with his wife, in Golden, CO. It's a gorgeous view.

It's awesome to note that there is also a fake buffalo on the grounds, but like the signs says, we couldn't get on it. :(

You can see all of Denver and the suburbs from up there.

That was the last of the big stops on the Grey Line tour, so they took us back to the mall where we had started. Since Mom and I had a few more hours to kill before our flight left Denver, we did some quick googling of other fun things to do in the area.

We found out that Hammonds Candy Factory gives free tours frequently! Done and done.

 This is a family-owned candy company (until very recently) that's been making candy canes and other yummy things since the early 1920s.

They make everything by hand in this factory and it shows. They give samples at the end of the tour and it is quite good!

Of course, you finish the tour by entering a gift shop. There were so many sweets to try it was almost impossible to choose! We ended up with some truffles for the flight home, and of course some of their famous candy canes for the family we were going home to.

I love trying out little local gems when we travel. Going around Denver with my mom for the day was so much fun - I hope I can vacation with her again sometime soon!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The 2014 Directive - July

I'm working along with a few other bloggers on these directives along with Jessica from Kate and Trudy. More info on the Directive is here.

Kate & Trudy The 2014 Directive

During the month of June, I was focused on my Rosetta Stone and learning French. It went pretty well and I'm happy to say I've completed a few of the lessons! When asked, I can also say a few short sentences and I'm starting to learn about animals and personal pronouns. We are on our way to learning a new language!

For the month of July, I want to focus on relaxing. There's so much going on with the summer schedules and busy events at work so when I come home, I just want to enjoy a chapter or two of Game of Thrones and learn French on my iPad. That combined with all the things that go along with owning a house and being a human being in this world and that's a bunch of stuff.

So this month, I'm going to allow myself to read when I want, scrapbook when I want, or whatever seems to float my boat. This is after I've completed the top items on my to do list every day, though. That was a directive from earlier in the year and really did help clear out that list!