Category: vacation

Disney Planning 2020

It’s been a while since we went to Disney World. Over three years, in fact. And that means that it’s time to go again! People sometime ask me for tips on Disney planning when they’re looking at a visit in their future. I have some general ones, but each time I go myself, it feels like there are tons of new decisions to make and things to figure out.

Take this time. I’ve said before that the most economical way to do Disney is just that: to do Disney and nothing else. That means no trips to Universal or Sea World or anywhere else. Disney gets its money out of you in the first few days. The cost for a one day park hopper plus ticket in June is $215. The The cost for a four day is $568. cost for a six day is $615. The cost for an eight day is $653. See a trend there? Each extra day you add at a Disney park beyond the first few just ends up tacking on $20 or so, but the first day will set you back $200+.

So if you just want Disney fun, stick to Disney World and go nowhere else. However, this time around, we had decided we wanted to add Universal to the mix. Yes, it’s a bad decision from a budgetary standpoint. But Muggles need to Muggle, and the only place you can do Harry Potter stuff is at Universal Studios. So it was time to dive into Universal planning.

In order to get the full Harry Potter experience, you need park-to-park passes at Universal. Since we haven’t been in well over a decade, I knew we’d want to do both parks anyway. But I didn’t really want to stay too long at Universal, because doing three or four days at Universal and three or four days at Disney would be the absolute most expensive way of approaching things. Two days at Universal and six at Disney would be cheaper-ish. But let’s be real: adding Universal threw the budget out the window. The new question wasn’t “how can I go do Disney as cheaply as possible,” but rather, “How can I fit in Disney and Universal, go on the rides I want to go on, and do that as economically as I can?”

It would take me forever to go through all the steps I took to find the answer to that, so I’ll just fast forward to the end result:

  • We’re starting off our trip staying on site at Universal. They’ve got a deal where you can stay at one of their nicer properties and get what amounts to a permanent fast pass at their theme parks, reducing all lines to something like 5-10 minutes. This way, we should be able to do everything we want to at both Universal parks and not have to worry about crowd sizes. Yes, the hotel costs more than what we’re paying for the rest of the trip, but I was able to buy it with Chase points, which gave me a 33% discount, and was essentially free, since I already have the points.
  • I also bought the Universal tickets with Chase points. Again, that gave me the 33% off deal. (This is because I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which lets my points count for 150% of their value when I buy through the Chase portal. Typically this isn’t a great deal, as you can find better discounts elsewhere, but in this case, it turned out to be pretty sweet. I was going to pay the money anyway, and my points turned out to be worth about 1.5 cents per point. Not the best value, but far from the worst.
  • For the Disney part, we bought six day park hopper plus tickets through officialticketcenter.com. Disney just raised their prices this week for these tickets, but you can still get them at the old reduced price through other dealers. (This is why I finally pulled the trigger on the tickets.) One of the days, we’re planning on doing a water park, but I still paid for the sixth day for actual theme park access. Why? Because of fast passes. My plan is to still go to one of the parks in the evening that day, and pick which park based on which fast passes I still want to use up. Going to Disney and waiting in lines is a huge no-no for me, and so I’m trying to use all the tricks I can to avoid it. Paying an extra $20 to be able to go on three of the best rides in a park? Seems like a deal to me.
  • We’ll be staying at the Doubletree Suites at Disney Springs, not on property. Why not on property? Because the Doubletree is twice as big for cheaper. It has a fridge, free breakfast (since I’m a Hilton Diamond member, it gives Denisa and me free breakfast, and we can each bring a kid for free. Maybe we’ll switch off for which kid doesn’t eat free each morning. Not sure.) But yay for a place to store leftovers, since we won’t be doing free disney dining this time. (Tragically, we could have gotten free dining if I’d been more on the ball and bought the trip at the beginning of January. Alas, I was not, and we missed out. I’m not too choked up about it, though. Free dining is a LOT of food, and we’d have had to pay about $1,200 more than what we’re paying for tickets and the hotel, which means “free dining” was actually “eat a ton of food at Disney for six days for $1,200.” That might still end up being a deal, but it depends on how much food we ended up eating . . .
  • Staying at the Doubletree also lets us get access to Fastpasses 60 days in advance, instead of the normal 30 day window you get just buy buying tickets. This increases the odds of getting the fastpasses of our choice, which is key to avoiding those pesky lines.
  • I’ve signed up for Touringplans, a service that shows you which parks are least busy which days, and suggests which rides to go on when–all in an effort to avoid the long ones. I’ve done Ridemax before, but in the intervening years, it seemed like Touringplans has upped their game, while Ridemax stayed stagnant. It was all of $15, so why not?
  • I got my tickets through Southwest, since there’s a direct route from Manchester, and Denisa still has the companion pass, meaning I get to fly for free. Yay for points!

All told, that means I paid out of pocket for the Disney hotel and the Disney tickets. The Universal tickets and hotel and airfare were all covered with points. If I had paid for the whole trip without points, it would have cost . . . around $9,000 plus food? That would have been a whole lot of money, and I would have felt quite bad for paying for all of it. By using points, I shaved $5,000 off that cost, which brings it to a much more manageable amount and makes me feel like all those hours figuring out which credit cards to use and get have paid off. (Even if it took almost all my Chase and Southwest points to do it . . .)

Anyway–that’s all I’ve got for you for now. If you have any questions on anything, I’m happy to answer them. I’ll let you know how the trip goes when I get back in July. The biggest questions I still have are how hot it’ll be, and how crowded it will get. It’s been a loooong time since I went to Orlando in summer. I’m hoping all my planning lets me avoid the worst of things, but you never know.

Wish me luck!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

On the Road Again

I’m heading out on the road again today. Down to DC for ALA Annual, then up to Pennsylvania for some vacation, along with a stop in NYC to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It should be a fun trip, but it also means I might be around here only now and then, depending on what my schedule is like.

If you’re going to be in DC for ALA, let me know. I’m there Friday through Monday, and I’m always on the hunt for people to eat lunch with or have a laugh with in the exhibitor hall. Not doing any signings this time, though hope springs eternal that one day I’ll have some more books coming out to change that. Some rumblings here and there, but nothing I can share, and nothing solid enough to go looking for a place to celebrate.

And if you’re around PA and want to get together, let me know. My schedule’s going to be a bit zanier, but I might be able to squeeze some extra visits in here and there.

This also means that today’s is my kids’ last day of school. Tomas is done with ninth grade, DC with fifth, and MC will no longer be a kindergartner. Crazy. It’s been a good year for them all, with plenty of learning experiences (some good, some bad, but that’s always the way it is, isn’t it?) Happy to be able to celebrate by taking a vacation.

Anyway. Now you know why I’ll be heavy on pictures and light on posts for the next while. See you on the flip side!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Biggest Surprises of My European Vacation

One of the things I love about traveling are surprises. You never really know the experience you’re going to have until you’re in the middle of it. (Ironically, one of the things I hate most about traveling are also surprises. When you think everything’s going to zig, but it does nothing but zag, that can be either very good or very, very bad.)

This past trip, I was revisiting a lot of places where I’d already been before. Salzburg. Vienna. Prague. I didn’t really think I’d get too many surprises out of those places, but I was okay with that, since they were some of my favorite places to visit. And yet they still managed to surprise me. In Salzburg, I read in advance about how incredible the Untersbergbahn was. Supposedly it was a gondola ride up a mountain.

I’ve done some of those. They’re fine, but I didn’t know if I really wanted to do another, especially when there were so many other things I could be doing, and this would require a special trip out of our way. But all the reviews I read of it said it was great, so we tacked it on at the last minute. As we followed the GPS to the spot, I was impressed by the mountains. We were in the Austrian Alps, and those peaks are pretty tall. I kept looking for a small peak where the gondola would take us, but I couldn’t see it.

When we were ten minutes away, I saw a tiny little house perched near the top of the biggest peak in the area. Surely that couldn’t be the . . . But then I saw the gondola heading up the mountain, and I knew it was. 4,300 feet up into the sky in under 10 minutes, leaving you 6,000 feet above sea level at the top. It was gorgeous and exhilarating, and I can’t believe it took me three times to Salzburg to find out about it.

Likewise, the trick fountains of Hellbrunn were a great surprise. I’d been there before (it’s where the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” gazebo resides from The Sound of Music), but somehow never checked out the fountains. They were made hundreds of years ago, designed to spurt out water on unsuspecting guests. They’re very successful in that task. I thought I’d be smarter than the fountains, but I got quite wet through the course of the tour. Each time you thought you’d escaped the worst of the water, but there was almost always a fountain right where you’d run for safety, and it would only turn on once you’d stopped to catch your breath.

The kids loved it. Salzburg was already a favorite city. To find two new fantastic experiences there was a real treat.

But the biggest surprise of the trip for me was a new city: Krakow. I’d never been to Poland, and Krakow was just about 3.5 hours from Denisa’s mom’s house, so it seemed like an easy trip to make. I didn’t know much about the city. It was nothing much more than a somewhat familiar name on a map. My expectations weren’t extremely high. It was just something to do, some place to go.

But it was absolutely charming. It’s got a compact old city, packed full of beautiful churches and buildings and a castle. It’s walkable, with great restaurants and a fantastic central square. It also feels very Eastern European, with the architecture and building design. We stayed right in the middle of the old city (had to walk a half mile to the parking lot where we stashed our car, since there was no parking or driving where we were). Sure, there was no AC at night, and the apartment was a bit run down, but the city itself was marvelous. I definitely want to go back. It didn’t dethrone Prague as my favorite European city, but I still loved it.

As for worst surprises of the trip . . . the last apartment in Budapest probably wins that award, but we won’t dwell on that. Remember the positive, I say. And nothing’s better than a really great surprise.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Budapest in Three Trips

This past vacation, I had the chance to visit Budapest three different times. Once at the beginning, once in the middle, and once at the end before we flew home. It was interesting how each time I went gave me a different experience, and I wanted to use that as a place to discuss how little things can make us each have entirely different impressions of a place or event.

First, a description of each visit.

Denisa and I stayed in Budapest together when I arrived in the country. She’d left the kids with her mom, and we had two days to explore the city on our own. (Well, more like one day, seeing as how on the first, I was still very jet lagged.) We stayed in one of the nicest hotels in the city. (Easy to do, when the city is fairly inexpensive. I think our hotel was about $150 a night.) It had a wonderful breakfast included each morning, air conditioning, modern facilities, and was very conveniently placed.

We spent our time going to different restaurants and exploring the city, walking 10 miles the one full day we were there. We had dinner at a lovely Hungarian restaurant with live music. We tried different ice cream shops and food trucks. It was an adventure, and tons of fun. Budapest seemed quite safe, friendly, and modern.

On our second visit, we were with our kids, and we met up with my sister and her family. 13 of us in all. We stayed in an apartment that was also close to downtown. It was fairly modern, if spartan. It had air conditioning, but the building itself had seen better days. (One of my nieces was startled by a rat running down the stairs as she was heading back one day.) No elevator, and it was quite a hike to get to our rooms. (Three flights of stairs, and then my own room was another two flights up.)

We spent our days going to actual places. Visited Parliament (gorgeous!), cathedrals, and parks. Budapest still felt safe and friendly, and the kids all had a great time. It was much more hectic than when it had just been Denisa and I, but that was to be expected.

On our third trip, we stayed one night, right before we left on an early flight in the morning. The apartment was downtown, but it was in a building that was poorly lit and in bad condition. The “air conditioning” advertised was in reality two old fans. The room was sweltering at night, and I couldn’t stand up in the shower (the ceiling was too low). It took a half hour for us to check in.

The city felt much colder, somehow. Darker. Less safe. We still had a good time, but really only when we went back to the places we’d been before.

If I’d gone to Budapest only one time, my experience of the city might have been very different, depending on where I’d stayed and what I’d seen and who I’d seen it with. But it was the same city, each time. I kept asking the kids what their favorite city was. Vienna came up a lot, and I think a fair bit of that had to do with the fact that our first night there was perfect. Beautiful apartment. A subway ride into the heart of town, where we saw Stephansdom and then walked to the old Rathaus, where there was a food and film festival going on. We ate under the stars and watched opera on the big screen. It was fantastic food and great atmosphere.

A vacation isn’t just where you go. It’s who you go with. What you eat. Where you stay. What you do. It’s the weather. Your health. The other people you meet. A few bad or great experiences one way or another can really skew the whole experience. In the future, I think I’ll be more ready to spend a bit more money to ensure good accommodations, as having a solid home base makes a huge difference. Our first two places were great. The third . . . not so much.

I remember seeing Dublin. We stayed way outside the city in a chain hotel, taking the bus thirty minutes in each time we wanted to see anything. I’m glad I’m at the point where I can spend more to be able to have a better experience, but it’s important to remember that this extends beyond vacation and into everyday life. The way we experience our towns and our jobs can be heavily influenced by what we can afford (or not afford) to do. Where we can afford to live. What we can afford to eat.

If someone ever tells you about the experiences they’re having in a place or with a person, never dismiss them because they conflict with what you’ve seen or done. Remember how complex everything can be, and listen.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

A Peaceful Weekend

I’m back at work after a nice, restful three day weekend. Well, not entirely restful. I still worked on writing, which I do pretty much without fail, because at this point, I don’t feel like a day was a good day if I didn’t get my 1,000 words in. Can you write yourself into an addiction? I suppose there are worse things to be addicted to.

We took the family off to a vacation home on Springy Pond, about 45 minutes away from Acadia National Park. The original plan had been to go to Acadia while we were there, but the traffic . . . did not bode well for a trip out there. Acadia isn’t the biggest park to begin with, and between gorgeous weather, the long weekend, and the fact that the leaves in Maine decided to wait to change color until just barely, and it was a perfect storm for big crowds.

So instead we did a couple of outings. Went down to Ellsworth, checked out Woodlawn, did some shopping, and ate some good food. (Big G’s on the way home, and 86 This! on Saturday. I can heartily recommend either.) We also played a bunch of games at the rental house we were staying in, and went kayaking on Springy Pond.

I wasn’t on Facebook much at all, and I have to say I felt a lot better for it. Before the weekend, there’d been another garbage fire of a conversation on my Facebook wall, and it left me with a very sour taste. The vast majority of people I interact with online are respectful and considerate. I believe there are some people who don’t have that gene, or they somehow didn’t have it properly develop during their upbringing. But interacting with people who are blatantly rude can be very depressing. I hate just walking away from someone who’s saying obnoxious things, but I feel like sometimes that’s just what I need to do.

Which of course begs the question, “Why do you still post to Facebook?” I know plenty of people who have stepped away from the venue, or they’ve locked down their posts so only friends can view them. I continue to believe that if my posts are just read by people who agree with me, then they stop really filling a purpose. I want people of all mindsets to read them. I just wish they’d all be polite in their responses.

Perhaps the real answer is just to do what I did this weekend, and unplug for a while now and then to remind myself that mouth-breathing trolls on the internet just don’t matter.

In any case, it’s time to head back into the fray. The semester is practically halfway over, believe it or not. Better yet, there are no conferences between me and Thanksgiving break, so maybe I can catch up on just about everything.

A guy can always hope, right?

%d bloggers like this: