Monthly Archives: August 2015

Planning a Disney Vacation on a Budget

Do you think a Disney vacation is totally out of reach?  It is probably every child’s dream to go to Disney World.  So what can you do to keep it from being your nightmare?  Or do you have a Disney addiction but find yourself unable to return because the prices keep going up and up?

Yes, we are aware that Disney is one of the most popular places in the world.  Disney is aware of that and they are also aware that they can charge just about anything they want and people will gladly hand it over.

So what can you do about it?

Here are a few tips on planning a Disney vacation on a budget and enjoying yourselves without breaking the bank.

Look for Discount Tickets
Daily admission to the Magic Kingdom at Disney World is $105/$99 and not much cheaper at Disneyland.  For a family of four that is a pretty big outlay.  If you are staying more than a day you can save money by buying a multiple day ticket.  If you are a member of AAA you can sometimes get discounts through them.  Many companies offer discount tickets to their employees so it would pay to check that out.  So it definitely makes sense to buy tickets ahead of time.  Check online (but not Disney’s site) at places such as Undercover Tourist.  You could save a bundle.

Save on Food
Eat breakfast in your hotel room.  Bring your own snacks to the park.  You can even brown-bag it to an extent.  If you do dine in the park look for the counter service stands, they are usually cheaper.    If you are really into food and you are a big eater you might check out the Disney Dining Plan.  Do plan on splurging on at least one nice meal if you can swing as that can be part of the total experience.

Do One Park a Day
The adult ‘park hopper’ pass lets you visit multiple parks in one day.  However, the cost for one day is $142 compared to the $105 for a day at the Magic Kingdom but the daily prices drop for longer stays.  There is plenty in each park to stay busy for an entire day and unless you are totally sure you will need to visit multiple parks stick with the one-park pass and avoid the needless expense.

Save on Your Accommodations
Another way to save is to consider the value hotels.  If you are staying in the park there are several moderate and value resorts available.  There is even a campground.  You may think it would still be pricier to stay on site but if you consider the free transportation opportunities you can eliminate the need for a rental car (if you didn’t drive).  You can also sometimes get ticket deals if you didn’t buy them in advance.  But don’t stay in the pricier hotels, if you are spending all day in the parks that is definitely  a waste of money.

Buy Souvenirs Ahead of Time
If you really want to save money do NOT buy the overpriced merchandise sold inside the Disney theme parks.  Shop the local stores or look online before you travel.  You can even hide them from the kids until you get there and dole them out daily.  This could also help eliminate the wanting of the high-priced merchandise that they will see at all the shops.

Do some Free Stuff
Spend one day in the hotel at the pool, sometimes kids are just as happy being able to play in the pool all day.  Take in the sights at the resorts.  Ride around on the monorail.  There are free playgrounds around the park, younger kids don’t know the difference and will still have fun.

So by planning ahead and budgeting you can keep your costs as low as possible. Don’t miss out on the experience of seeing your child’s delight meeting the characters and seeing the sights for the first time.  And knowing you saved a bundle will be the second best part of the trip.

How to Get a Refund on a Plane Ticket

You’ve planned your trip to the last detail, booking hotels and waiting until the exact moment that airfare was lowest to book.  Then the unexpected comes up and you must change your plans.  If this is the case you may find yourself stuck with an airline ticket that you can’t use.  You probably booked online and got the cheapest fare, which is usually non-refundable.  Is there anything you can do? Would you know how to get a refund on a plane ticket?  You probably won’t get a full refund (since it is non-refundable), but there still may be some ways to recoup some of your costs.

The 24 hour rule
If it has been less than 24 hours since you booked you are in luck.  The U.S. Department of Transportation regulations require that, as long as you’ve booked a non-refundable ticket 7 days ahead of your flight, you’re entitled to hold your reservation and the fare and change or cancel your reservation within 24 hours of booking, without paying a cancellation fee.  You can either cancel the reservation or change it within that window.  If you decide to change it you will have to pay the fare difference, but there is no penalty.

Rule 260 – The ‘Involuntary Refund’
There is a rule in airline contracts of carriage that states if the airline refuses to carry you for any reason, or if your flight is delayed more than a designated length of time, or if your flight is canceled, you can apply for a full refund.  This applied even for non-refundable tickets.  So if you bought a ticket and you have passed the 24 hour rule limit you can still avoid the cancel/change fees if something happens to your flight like being canceled or severely delayed.  You still have to check in for your flight, but it may be worth your time to show up at the airport and hope something happens.

Change of Schedule
You can also get a refund if there’s a significant schedule change before your departure.  For example, if your flight is moved from 10 a.m. to 7 a.m., or they change the layover time or cause you to have an overnight stay.  It could even apply on a change from non-stop to connecting flight. Just remember that the airline man not notify you it there is a qualifying change, so it would be in your best interests to check the flight schedule to see if there are any changes.  If there have, call the airline and tell the the change is not good for you.  Just make sure the change is significant as just a few minutes does not qualify.

If all else fails, review your airline’s policy on ticket exchanges.  You may not get a full refund but you may be able to get a voucher for another ticket though you will probably pay an exchange fee.  Also, if your reason for needing a refund is an emergency, check with your airline’s website or representative.  If you have to change plans due to illness or death in the family the airline may have more lax rules on exchanges. Just make sure you can provide documentation to prove the emergency.

Of course, if you are worried about losing your money on a ticket you can’t use you can always buy a refundable ticket or make sure you buy travel insurance.  You will pay more for the ticket or extra for the insurance but it will give you peace of mind if you are risk-averse.

Theme Parks in the Southeast – Georgia

2941551448_b3ea80442f_qThe southeastern United States has a rich heritage of theme parks in practically every state. Found in these parks are some of the best roller coasters in the world, water parks where you can get as wet as you please, and parks where families can just enjoy a day together.

Today we begin our tour of theme parks in the Southeast by looking at four amusement parks in the state of Georgia.  In case you are driving down from the north, I have listed these starting from north with the first one being near the Tennessee border to the last one being near the Florida border as they are all along Interstate 75. I will leave it to the reader to decide which one are best.  I am sure you will find something that will provide days of thrills and adventures for your whole family.

Lake Winnepesaukah

This is a traditional amusement park that has lots of Southern charm.  It is located on the border of Georgia and Tennessee.  It is just a few miles from Chattanooga and is usually referred to as being in that city, though it is technically in Georgia.

Lake Winnepesaukah or Lake Winnie surrounds the lake from which it gets its name.  This is an old park, in fact it has been in operation since 1925.  Families will enjoy it because of it large selection of family friendly rides.  You will find the classic amusement rides in the park as well as some thrill rides which have been added more recently.

cannonball1Attractions include the Cannon Ball wooden coaster, a boat ride (with a drop) which has been there since 1926 and a 1916 PTC antique carousel.  One of the latest attractions is a 14-story freefall ride.  There are also bumper cars, kiddie coasters, train rides as well as some of the standard attractions.

Prices for 2015 are $33.95 adults one day pass, $16.95 children (ages 1 and 2) and seniors (55 and older).  The price includes unlimited rides and access to both Lake Winnie and the water park.

Six Flags Over Georgia

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Six Flags is the largest regional theme park in the Southeast, featuring 11 heart-pounding coasters and the all-new Hurricane Harbor water park which is included with park admission.  It is located on 230 acres just west of Atlanta.  The park has over 40 rides and attractions with coasters such as Goliath, Superman, Ultimate Flight, Batman The Ride, The Georgia Cyclone and a stand-up freefall tower called Acrophobia.  There are also a ton of things to do with the smaller kids, there are shows to see and they also have over 100 acres of landscaped gardens.

So if you are looking for the extreme roller coaster thrills or want to take the little ones, you will find something at Six Flags.  The great shows and great rides have kept four generations of families returning year after year to this world-class theme park.

Prices for 2015 are $61.99 for adults, $41.99 for children under 48″, children 2 and under are free.

Save money on the 5 best attractions in Atlanta with Atlanta CityPASS

Fun Junction

Roller-coaster-200x300Fun Junction (formerly known as Dixieland Fun Park) is a smaller amusement park located in Fayetteville just south of Atlanta.  It was established in 1990 and was originally just a fun center but it has grown to be the third largest amusement park in Georgia.
According to their website, Fun Junction offers over two dozen family attractions, 3 miniature golf courses and go kart tracks,  The major rides are the Screaming Eagle coaster, the Drop Zone, and the Giant Swing.

This park is different from the others as you purchase individual tickets for rides and attractions.  Tickets sell for $1 each and rides can cost anywhere from 2 to 8 tickets each.

There is a $5 parking fee but you do get 5 ride tickets with your parking pass.

Wild Adventures

lg frame boomerangJust before you leave the state, located in a more rural area, you will find Wild Adventures.  Wild Adventures is near Valdosta, Georgia and just a few miles from the Florida line.  However, don’t let the rural setting fool you,  This park which began in 1996 as a small petting zoo has grown to become on of the Top 50 theme parks in North America.

Wild Adventures has one of the largest collection of rides of any amusement park in the South.  There are eight roller coasters and seven water rides,  It is home to hundreds of exotic animals and there are live concerts and seasonal festivals.  The Splash Island Water Park is included and it has attractions such as a 20,000 square-foot wave pool, lazy river, speed slides, tube slides, children’s play area and the Wahee Cyclone,a five-story multiple rider tube slide.

Daily Ticket prices for 2015 are $46 for adults and $41 for children ages 3-9 and guests 55 years of age or older.

Fun Things to do in Florida With the Kids – LEGOLAND

d54b64731cc0478483f8b7973f08632dIf you are planning a vacation in Florida with the kids you are probably either thinking about Disney or the beach.  But I want to mention another newer fun place that I am sure you have heard of: LEGOLAND.

Maybe you have already thought about LEGOLAND (and maybe you saw my earlier post where I gave you a video about it) and were wondering what age kids would enjoy this park.  Well, the LEGO group created this theme park with children in mind.  They seem to have specifically targeted the 2 to 12 age group.  So there will be a lot of rides, shows, restaurants and large gardens for them to explore.  However, this doesn’t mean you can’t bring an older child along.  There are several offerings available for each age group that you might want to check before making your plans.

For the youngest crowd –  LEGOLAND has Duplo Village.  Here the toddlers can put out fires like a fireman, fly a plane and ride a train, and climb and slide all over the Duplo Farm.  In addition, there is an indoor play area and a water playground outside.  There is also Fun Town which offers a double-decker carousel.

If you have tweeners – LEGOLAND Florida has something called Heartlake City that is based on LEGO friends.  There are interactive shows to enjoy, a place called Stephanie’s Newsroom (which is great for photos), Mia’s Riding Adventure which is a circular-motion ride, and Heartlake Mall where, naturally, you can purchase all sorts of LEGO products.  They may also enjoy the LEGO World of Chima, which is presented by Cartoon Network.  It features a water ride and a 4D movie experience.

For the teenagers – LEGOLAND may or may not be for them, but all is not lost.  There is a water park which has features like water slides, wave pools, and lazy rivers to float down.  They also have cabanas available for rental.

LEGOLAND Florida!Check out LEGOLAND Discounts!
So if you are looking for fun things to do in Florida with the kids don’t be afraid to bring the whole family to LEGOLAND.  It is a great way to spend a day or two and you are still close to beaches and other large attractions in the state.  LEGOLAND also has it’s own hotel and you can get early entrance to the park by staying there.

This article originally appeared in family vacation critic.

How to Plan a Beach Trip

It is summer time and many of us think that summer is not complete without at least one trip to the beach.  Of course, most of us don’t have a clue about how to plan a beach trip successfully.  So we wind up getting sunburned, rained on, hungry, thirsty, spend too much… Should I go on?


So it doesn’t matter if you have rented a condo at the beach or you are more than an hour from it, planning ahead can help you have a more relaxed day so you can enjoy your time rather than spend it worrying.

Here are seven tips compiled from around the web and from personal experience.  Hope these can help you have fun on your beach day.

Check out the weather forecast
You don’t want a rain out on your beach day, and if it is too cool you could be miserable.  See what the rain chances are.  If you are going to a place like Florida then be prepared for afternoon thunderstorms, get there early.  If it looks bad all day then reschedule.

Prepare for the sun
Make sure you have sunblock and be generous with it.  Put it on before you leave the house.  Put it on again when you arrive.  Put it on when you or your kids come out of the water.  Make sure you have sunglasses to protect your eyes.  A hat is also a good idea to protect your head.  A beach umbrella can also help. A sunburn will make you tired and sore, and the long term effects are bad. So please protect yourself and don’t forget about the kids.

Be comfortable
If you are making a day of it you will need to stay as comfortable as possible.  So to avoid being miserable remember to bring along the essentials such as towels, blankets, umbrellas and beach chairs.  Make sure you have two towels per person- one to lie on and one to dry off with.  Blankets are even better to lie on as they are usually larger and thicker.  The ultimate comfort is a beach chair or even a chaise lounge (don’t forget the umbrella).  Many people bring a book to read or their own music to listen to.

Dress properly
Yes, you know you need a swimsuit but that is not all.  You can wear your swimsuit under comfortable clothing like a tee shirt and shorts, a beach coverup or a sundress.  Make sure you have something extra in case everything gets wet and and it starts getting cooler.  Flips-flops or sandals are usually the footwear of choice.  Also make sure whatever you wear into the water (swimsuit, shorts, shirt, etc.) is made of material that dries quickly.  And here is a little tip: extra clothes make a nice pillow!

Bring fun stuff
This is extra important if you have kids, but it can also help your enjoyment.  Things like Frisbees, volleyballs, footballs can keep the whole family entertained and are beach traditions.  Things like skim  boards or surfboards can also be fun.  Just remember to keep an eye on the kids as they may get too daring.  Smaller kids love just a pail and shovel to dig in the sand or to pick up shells.  Oh, and don’t forget to build a sandcastle.

Pack water and snacks
It is easy to get dehydrated in the sun so make sure you have plenty of water.  It is recommended that you have 1/2 gallon of cold water per person.  So bring a cooler with ice and keep the water in it.  Also use the cooler for pre-made sandwiches and fresh fruit, which also helps with hydration.  Carry snacks such as chips and pretzels, and avoid the candy.  Bring garbage bags for your trash and put your trash in it immediately.  You don’t want to attract the birds (seagulls can be quite a nuisance) and you certainly don’t want them hanging around..

Rest when you get home
A day in the sun can sap your energy.  Don’t plan anything big after you get home or back to you rental.  A nice calm dinner and off to bed early is the best medicine to end the day.

 

How to Save Money on a Road Trip

family road trip in car with luggage rack clipart

Road Trip!

Most of my trips these days have been through the air.  But I still like a good road trip every now and then, and I still remember the road trips we used to take when I was younger.  In fact, I did not fly until I was in my late 20’s.  So some of my fondest vacation memories were created from the back seat of a Ford.

So if you are planning on a road trip soon, maybe you are doing it for the fun of it or maybe it is because air travel can get expensive with a family.  Either way, I thought that these tips on saving money on a cross-country road trip would come in handy.  By using a little planning and common sense you can get great value for your money since this could still be a big expense.

So here are four tips that I have used to save money while traveling, check them out and let me know if you have used any of them.

  1. Plan Your Accommodations Wisely.
    Do you like to camp?  You can usually save a lot of money at campgrounds as opposed to hotels.  Still want to stay at a hotel?  Use a property that you have travel or reward points with when you book.  Even if you don’t have the points for discounts yet you will be building for that future trip.  Another way you can save on accommodations is to go through a cash back site such as Dubli.  We saved around $200 on a week stay in Las Vegas this year.
  2. Watch Your Speed.
    One of the fastest way to eat up the gasoline in your tank is to drive fast.  You would be surprised at how much difference there is between 65 mph and 75 mph.  And you don’t save that much time with the extra speed.  And we all know that gasoline is one of the major expenses on a road trip.  Also, keeping your car well-tuned can help save gas and make things run more smoothly.
  3. Have a Picnic.
    Another big expense on road trips is food.  Eating at restaurants can add up quickly, especially with a large family.  Why not bring a cooler, fill it with drinks, snacks, and sandwich fixings and stop at a roadside table  It can be fun and save money at the same time.
  4. Check Out the Discounts.
    You can almost always find discount booklets at hotels and restaurants on the road.  You should never have to pay full price for an attraction.  Another good source of discounts are sites like Best of Orlando, which offers online discounts specific to a given city.  Other discount sites include Groupon and Living Social, just make sure you sign up for the cities you will be visiting so you can receive the discounts.

So here are just a few tips on how to save money on a road trip.  While I am sure there are many more ways you can find to save while taking a road trip, these have worked well for us.

How do you save money on your road trip?

This article originally appeared on MoneyNing.com.

5 Tips for Fun Family Vacations on a Budget

Some of the fondest memories I have while growing up was of the times we took our family vacations.  It seems like in those days it didn’t cost nearly as much to travel and, even though we stayed in mostly budget hotels and ate a lot of fast food and sandwiches, we still had loads of fun.

trampoline-241899_1280So maybe today you are wanting to create these memories for your family but can’t find the funds to do so.  Everyday life gets in the way, kids expenses, house repairs, etc., and the short vacation seems out of reach.  But don’t let these things take away potential family memories that will last forever.  Here are some tips originally posted in Moneyning.com which can help you have your fun family vacations on a budget, and some of these will even become part of the memories themselves!

  1. Consider group travel.  Have you thought about vacationing with another family (that enjoy spending time with)?  You can find that splitting the cost of a cabin or vacation home can many times save over the cost of two hotel room, and you can usually find great, roomy accommodations.
  2. Don’t travel during the peak season.  Most people travel during the summer because of kids being out of school and the weather being warmer.  But if you travel during the off-season you can get much more bang for your buck.  Resorts will often give off-season discounts, cruises are much cheaper, and many time you can find travel incentives.
  3. Pack your lunch.  One of the biggest expenses when traveling is the cost of eating out, especially if you have a larger family.  If your kids are like mine they can pack away the food.  One thing we have done is to bring a cooler along.  When we got to our destination one of the first things we did was hit the local grocery store to get snacks and sandwich materials.  We found we could use this to offset at least one meal a day (sometimes two if we had a light breakfast).  This always resulted in a huge savings which can be used to do other things or help stay within the budget.
  4. Order delivery.  Our kids loved pizza and we always had pizza night at least once a week..  Why not have pizza delivered to you hotel room.  Our kids actually preferred that since they could stay around the hotel without having to stop what they were doing to get dressed to go out.
  5. Find out what the local do.  Usually the people who live in the area are glad to share where the best places are to eat and visit.  They may even be able to clue you in to specials and discounts that you could find otherwise.  So strike up a conversation with the desk clerks, waiters, bartenders, and bellhops.  Be friendly and usually people will be friendly in return.

These are just on few tip you can try if you are vacationing on a budget.  Please let me know if you have other tips or what you think of these.

The original article was posted in Moneyning and can be read here.