Vacation By Groupon

 

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I’ve been receiving Groupon travel/get away emails for several years.  Everytime I scroll through them…click on a few things, then exit out.  I’ve just been apprehensive about traveling that way.  This year, though, I decided to try it and we snagged a few really great bargains.  I will search for Groupons on all future trips.:)

Now….I found that the best bargains are for admissions, rather than hotels.  More on that in a bit…First…

Here’s my story:

Our vacation this year was a little closer to home –  Texas – Presidential libraries (there are 3), Johnson Space Center and 5 days in Galveston (a place we’ve cruised out of several times, but never taken the time to stay and explore)

In my vacation planning this time, I began exploring the Groupon website to find out what they had to offer.

  • George H. W. Bush Presidential Library 
Image result for free images presidential library

Photo Credit: Natl Archives & Records Admin. – Public Domain

I was shocked to see this. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a discount to a Presidential Library.  They all have ‘free days”…in fact, our visit to the Lyndon Johnson Library in Austin jut happened to be on his birthday Aug 27 and admission was FREE!  However, those free days tend to work better for locals who are there to take advantage of them.  That’s a little harder for tourists to do.  Other than the scheduled free days, discounts are rare.

But there it was…Admission for 2 for $10.  Then…as my luck was going, Groupon was offering 20% off of 3 purchases that day.  I didn’t have anything else more expensive I wanted to use that coupon on so I just used it on this.  I got the 2 tickets for $8.  Regular admission for this library was $9 per person.  Savings of $10

  • NASA/Johnson Space Center  Webster TX

This place is PHENOMENAL!!  I’ve been to the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, FL several times.  Though we certainly enjoyed our visits there (That’s where they build the rockets)  Johnson Space Center (Houston) is Mission Control and it’s MASSIVE!  They have a extensive museum, with films, programs, demonstrations and activities as well as a couple of tram tours of the grounds. We arrived here at opening and stayed until they were about to kick us out.  It was a LONG day…but a really good one!  🙂

I snagged a remarkable bargain on this one.  The regular admission was posted on Groupon as $24.95.  Groupons price of $16 each was a good price.However, when we arrived, the admission was actually $31.00.  I basically got a 2 For 1 deal!!  I was patting myself on the back all day for that one!  haha!!!

  • There was one Groupon that I considered, but decided to wait until we got to Galveston to check out before purchasing. (Remember, Groupons are non-refundable) This was a place that rented bicycles, carts, surf boards, body boards, etc…  The groupon was $50/day for 1 paddleboard.  I wanted to check this business out before making a $50-$100 purchase.  When we got to Galveston, we found this shop and went in.  Well… I just didn’t have a good feeling about it….  We left.  I’m SO glad we checked them out first. I will mention here, if we had decided we wanted it, we could have either purchased the Groupon on our phone app  while standing there or gone back to the condo and Bargainsused the laptop for a little more security. With Groupons addition of the phone  app, you don’t have to print them, however, in cases where you DO need a printout, most hotels, condos, etc… have business centers with printers you can use.

If  you find something interesting, but still have questions/reservations about it, check the Groupon expiration date.  If you can wait on it, that allows you to check things out before making a non-refundable purchase.

Restaurants:

I checked out Groupons for restaurants too, but because we rent condos with kitchens and eat out sparingly, we had already used TripAdvisor to select WHERE we wanted to eat. There were no Groupons for those few places.  ha! I should note though, that Groupons DOES offer good bargains on restaurants if you find something you like.  That’s probably another thing I would wait to purchase until we arrived at our destination…just my personal opinion.

Now for hotels:

I really wanted to find a good hotel on Groupon. This was becoming our “Vacation By Groupon” and I kind of wanted to roll with that theme. Our hotel stays were in Austin, Webster, College Station and Dallas. (Our stay in Galveston was a condo through  VRBO  or it’s sister company Home Away  .   If you’re unfamiliar with  these, find out more info at  Finding Frugal Accommodations….) Anyway, in my search for hotels in these other cities, it seemed that Groupon just didn’t have what I was looking for. The hotels were either not in locations we needed or the rates weren’t any better than I could get going to the individual websites and using my AAA discount.

How Does  Groupon Sell Hotel Rooms:

  1. You purchase the certificate then call the hotel to make your reservations. (You’ll be limited to their availability AFTER you’ve purchased a non-refundable certificate)
  2. You purchase the certificate for the exact date you need.  That would typically be my preference, except with it being non-refundable, that doesn’t allow for any change of plans, emergencies, trip cancellation, etc…

When I realized that the Groupon rate advertised is the CHEAPEST they offer at any time…and typically, the night I needed would be significantly higher, I realized Groupon was NOT going to work for us for accommodations.  Oh well.  I learned some important things in all my searches.  It wasn’t wasted time or effort.  I ended up reserving our hotels on their websites using my AAA discount and got really good rates…and they were refundable if I needed to cancel.

Maybe someday I’ll find that perfect Groupon rate for a wonderful hotel stay…but for now, it just didn’t work.

Moving on…..

Cruising with Groupon:

I DID find some short cruises for really good rates on Groupon.  cruise shipsSomeday I think I’ll look into buying one of those.  They advertise the cruise line, ship and port.  (seemed to be a heavy presence of Carnival cruises…) Then you choose your date.  I never went far enough through the process to find out if you can also choose your cabin (which would be a deal-breaker for me…) because I didn’t want to accidentally make a purchase if I clicked one too many times. haha!  I’ll investigate this further someday….

Until then…Happy Grouponing!!  🙂

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam is a structural masterpiece…an engineering wonder…especially considering the fact that it was built in the 1930’s. (1931-1935 to be exact)   It’s a National Historical Landmark, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders.  Need another reason to visit?  It’s just really interesting.  🙂

The Dam is located 34 miles east of Las Vegas. Though we are not the ‘Vegas kind of people’, we planned a visit there (flights and accommodations are quite inexpensive)  just to see some of the things in the area – Hoover Dam,  Death Valley Nat’l Park and the canyons of southwest Utah.  The WEST rim of the Grand Canyon is also within a few hours’ drive, though we didn’t have time to venture that far on this trip.

SOMETHING TO NOTE:  Hoover Dam is NOT a part of the National Park system.  It is managed by the Dept. of the Interior – Bureau of Reclamation. That means that it will not be as economical as the Nat’l Parks are to visit, however, you have a lot of choices on HOW you visit which will determine the final cost.  “Seeing” the Dam is free;  touring will cost.

VISITING HOOVER DAM:

First Point:  EXPECT temperatures in Black Canyon (Hoover Dam) to be 10-15 degrees higher than they are in Las Vegas or the Lake Mead area.  Bring Water!!! 

Because Hoover Dam is a potential military target, there are security checkpoints.  The first checkpoint is on the highway leading to the Dam. They may or may not stop you to inspect INSIDE your car. Then, when entering the Visitor Center/Tour area, there is airport type security.  Bags are x-rayed and are subject to size restrictions. (listed online)  Lines for this can be long later in the day.  Arrive early!  🙂

A visit to Hoover Dam can be done several ways – at a variety of costs.  – The most economical way is to park in the free parking  on the Arizona side.  Walking across the bridge is a ‘significant’ walk, but certainly manageable for those in good health. There are outdoor exhibits on the Nevada side as well as an AIR CONDITIONED gift shop & café. 🙂  A drive further up the Arizona side of the Dam gives some great views/photo ops of the back side of the Dam.  Then, views of the front of the Dam are best from the O’Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge and pedestrian walkway on the Nevada side of the Dam.   These walks will give you a thorough view of the Dam (both front and back).  This plan involves a lot of walking, but for the able-bodied, it’s a fine way to see the Dam exterior and it’s all FREE.

For a more  ‘in-depth’ visit and more information, (and some cost)  there are tours available.

TICKET OPTIONS:  (prices current in 2015)

  • Visitor Center:  This ticket will give you admission to the museum detailing the building of the Dam and how it functions/produces electricity, an observation deck with views of the front of the Dam and a film on the history/building of the dam                                                                                                Cost:  $10 pp.

This is  included in the purchase of a tour (below) but can also be purchased alone.

  • Powerplant Tour: Includes the Visitor Center/observation deck/film (above) PLUS a tour of the power plant portion of the Dam.  They say the tour is 30 min…..but it’s really closer to 15-20 min.                                                      Cost:  $15 pp
 tunnels and passageways on the Dam Tour
  • Hoover Dam Tour: includes the 2 tickets above (Visitor Center/observation deck/film AND Powerplant tour)  PLUS a tour down inside the dam to see the tunnels and passageways.  They say this tour is 1 hour but really it’s 45 min.        Cost:  $30 pp

The two tours (Powerplant and Hoover Dam) are together for the first 20 min.  Then those with the Powerplant Tour wristbands are released to go back to the Visitor Center and those with the Dam tour wristbands continue on.   We took the Dam tour.

producing electricityTours are booked on a first-come-first-serve basis on the day of the tour only – no reservations.  There is no a/c on the Dam portion of the tour.  (There IS a/c on the Powerplant tour portion)  Therefore, an early morning tour is HIGHLY recommended!!  🙂  You will need to be IN LINE at the Visitor Center by 8:30- 8:45 ready to enter when it opens at 9 to get one of those early tours.  (possibly earlier on weekends….)

The last tour of the day is at 3 pm and they typically sell out by noon or 1 pm each day.

VIEW OF HOOVER DAM:

The road that actually goes over Hoover Dam (Hwy 172) was shown on our Rand McNally map to be a through road…but it is NOT!  About 1/2 mile up on the Arizona side, the road is blocked  (see google map below)  It’s still a GREAT road to take…wonderful photo ops with several pull-offs and of course, this is where all the free parking lots are.  There’s a larger parking lot with a nice viewing area at the top of this road.

Since you can NOT see the Dam while you are ON the Dam,  🙂 🙂 it is necessary to either go to the Visitor Center Observation deck, take the road on the Arizona side…or the O’Callaghan-Tillman bridge walkway (Hwy 93) to actually SEE the Dam.  That brings me to…….

THE BEST VIEW  – AND ITS FREE!

IMG_5778

O’Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge

Highway 93 and the O’Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge on the Nevada side gives the BEST view of the front of the Dam.  This is the new highway/bridge built over the Canyon to accommodate ‘serious traffic’ and to avert regular traffic away from the security areas and tourist spots.   Before this was built, it could take ‘regular traffic’ 5-6 hours to cross this bridge during the summer tourist season.  The wonderful thing for tourists is that  Highway 93 and the Bridge spans Black Canyon less than 1/4 mi. from the Dam — giving visitors an incredible view of the Dam.  It should be noted, however, that you canNOT see the Dam when driving over the bridge.

pedestrian walkway

pedestrian walkway

The side wall is too high.  You must park, get out and walk on the pedestrian walkway built alongside the bridge. The parking lot will accommodate a LOT of cars, and there are restrooms and a water fountain there as well.   The pathway leading up to the walkway has both stairs and handicap walkway.  It’s accessible to most.  DON’T miss this!!

 

 

 

 

THE BIGGEST PROBLEM YOU’LL ENCOUNTER – PARKING

There is a parking garage on the Nevada side for $10.  There is also paid parking on the Arizona side that contains some covered spots, but it’s not a garage. The website says this costs $19, but that is incorrect. It is $10 as well. The advantage to this lot, however, is location – it’s right next to the Dam so is a shorter walk for those only wanting to walk across. There is FREE parking on the Arizona side too, however, it is in various lots  #10 – #15 further up the side of the Canyon – that means walking…possibly quite a distance if you’re in lot #15.  NOTE:  These spots are basically gone by 10-10:30 a.m.  After the crowds arrive, you’ll only find a space if someone happens to leave as you are arriving….  There are SO many reasons to arrive early.  )

Walking Across the Dam:  This is an experience regardless of what else you opt to do…    NOTE:  Cars are NOT ALLOWED to stop on the Dam (security issues). Do not plan to stop the car to snap that photo or let out passengers.  The speed limit across the Dam is 15 mph (and they ARE patrolling this…be advised) There are restrooms and water fountains on this walk as well.  🙂  They’ve done everything they can to make this day in the desert surrounded by concrete as comfortable as possible for visitors.

TIPS:

  • NOTE:  Hoover Dam is in the desert….   Deserts are hot….and Dams are made of concrete.  Summer in the desert lasts from April to Oct.  It’s pleasantly ‘warm’ the rest of the year….
  • EXPECT temperatures in Black Canyon (location of Hoover Dam) to be 10-15 degrees higher than in the surrounding area.  PLAN for this!!!
  • FROZEN water bottles are great.  Place them on your neck to cool the entire body   (This really works!)   then when the ice melts (which it will do rather quickly) you have water to drink.  This was my ‘all-time best tip’ for travel in the desert areas.
  • If you’re planning to take a tour and are parking in the paid parking area, ASK  the garage attendant if they are doing the tours that day – before you pay to park.  We pulled into the garage and thankfully asked that question.  We found out that tours had been cancelled that day.  We were able to leave without parking or paying the $10.  We returned the next day when tours WERE running.  You don’t want to find out there are no tours AFTER you’ve paid to park.
  • That brings me to the next point.  The website says they conduct Dam tours 7 days/week. That statement is followed with a disclaimer that tours can be cancelled for any reason – issues with the Dam or generators, a high security alert….or if the tour guides just don’t show up to work that day.  (I know…. ugh ugh UGH!!!)  We were told (by a source that shall remain nameless…ha)  that often the tour guides don’t show up on Sundays…making the tour schedule either cancelled…or limited.  If you can plan your visit on a day OTHER than Sunday, you might not run into problems getting on a tour.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t do tours on Sundays. :/  I’m just sharing our experience…..  We came on Sunday and left because there were no tours.  We returned on Monday and had a tour.  🙂
  • Arrive early….for parking…for tours…for relief from desert heat.  The parking garage opens at 8 am;  Visitor Center opens at 9 am (but be in line by 8:30 if you want to purchase an early tour);  First tour is at 9:35 am.  We were one of the first 25 in line and were put on the 10:35 tour.  These sell fast!!  🙂

NOW TIME FOR MY OPINIONS ON ALL OF THIS:  (Skip if you don’t like ‘opinions’  ha)

  • First, the tours were great!  I highly recommend them.  The Dam is incredible; the tour guides are personable and interesting.  It’s a GREAT tour!
  • Second…the tours were too expensive for what we got in my opinion.  Now, I don’t regret it.   I’m glad we did it our first time there, but I doubt if we would take the tour on a second trip to the area.  We’d just walk across the Dam and be happy.  🙂
  • Third, the Visitor Center is very small.. There’s not a lot there, so $10 was, imho, a  pretty inflated price (I’ve been to a lot of museums and paid a variety of entrance fees.  I have a lot to compare it to)  However, (and PLEASE NOTE THIS) when combined with the Powerplant Tour which is $15, it becomes reasonably priced…For $5 more, you get the tour. That’s the Visitor Center, Observation Deck, the history film and the tour for $15.  That’s not a bad deal at all!  When it comes to paying $30 for the Dam Tour, that’s just a matter of personal preference and how detailed you want to go with your experience, however, we, being who we are, chose to do that.  🙂
 ONE LAST PARTING WORD:  BRING WATER!!!  This is the desert…You’re in a Canyon. It’s hot year-round but especially April-Oct.  Bring Water!!!  🙂

Cruises Part 6 – Besides Clothes, What do I Take?

Now That the Clothes are Packed…What Else? 

Before our first cruise, I spent HOURS reading lists online of what to pack.  We bought, packed and took many of those suggested items….and came home having used about HALF of them. This list is my opinions of the “Must Takes”,  the “Might Need Depending on Personal Needs/Ports of Call” and the “It’s Absolutely Ridiculous to Take”  I hope it helps others to NOT travel as we did on our first cruise…with WAY TOO MUCH stuff!!! But before I get to that….

First, ELECTRONICS:

  • Cell phone: It’s important to know that your cell phone will constantly ‘ping’ for a connection if it is turned on – and that could surprise you with some rather hefty charges on your next bill. Unless you have an international plan (some carriers allow you to add this for just 1 month) data needs to be turned off (or turn on airplane mode) while on the ship OR in most ports. Note:  Incoming texts will incur charges too.
  • Computers:  Ships offer internet minutes packages, however, the connections are extremely slow and unreliable…and quite expensive (charged by the minute).  Remember, you’re in the middle of the ocean…internet connection at all is an incredible thing.  To expect it to be fast and consistent is expecting a mite too much.  If  you MUST connect, find a place in port with free Wi-Fi…or   “wi-fi with food purchase”.  🙂  Crew members will be your best source of information for finding free or cheap internet in port.
    • Carnival has recently begun offering a “Social” package for $5/day.  We didn’t  purchase it. but I believe it provides Facebook, Twitter, etc…. through apps.
    • Princess now offers Princess@Sea that allows access to ship-related info (schedules, menus, etc…) AND texting among other passengers on board – ALL WHILE IN AIRPLANE MODE.   I would expect other cruise lines to follow suit with something similar very soon.   
  • Some take their laptops/tablets JUST to download photos and clear memory cards.  I opt to just purchase another memory card.  Added Bonus:  That memory card  will go on many vacations…and I don’t have to deal with a computer through airport security.  🙂
  • For the ‘quickest’ email (since time is money) write and save emails in your word processing program then copy/paste when you get the online connection.  Expect connections to be VERY slow….and for it to take 5-10 min. to send an email.

Must Take List

  • DOCUMENTS:
    • Passport
    • photo ID (drivers lic)
    • cruise documents
    • Tickets/confirmation for pre-purchased excursions or items purchased from the cruise line ahead of time.
    • Possibly a Vaccination certificate or VISA (Depends on cruise itinerary.)    Your cruise line will let you know if your itinerary requires these.

JUST NOTE:  If you forget your passport/ID, (or other required documents)  you’re NOT going on that cruise!!!!   MAKE CERTAIN (double check, triple check…then check again) THAT THEY ARE IN YOUR CARRY ON.  Do NOT pack them in your checked luggage then give that luggage to the porter….  If you do, instead of waving ‘bye’ ON the ship, you’ll be waving ‘bye’ TO the ship.  😦

I have a small coupon organizer I use for all vacations. File Folder organizer (Purchased at Dollar Tree for $1) I label the compartments as needed for that trip and it keeps everything compact, organized and easy to locate.

 

→   A Word about Passports.  Some cruise line websites say that passports are optional….that your birth certificate will work just fine.  That’s true AS LONG AS you don’t run into any problems.  However, if you have to travel on your own (miss the ship in a port, are transported for medical reasons, etc..) you will NOT be able to board an aircraft in a foreign country without the passport.  I highly recommend getting one.

One Exception: Military personnel can travel with their Military ID card and a birth certificate, however, their family members/traveling companions can not.

As a security safeguard, scan the information page of your passport and email it to yourself  (to a web based email)  This makes it available to you from any computer if the hard copy is lost or inaccessible. Some suggest taking a picture on your phone for the same purpose…  This is NOT a good idea as a lost or stolen phone could create some SERIOUS issues.

Lastly, carry your passport close to your body…in an RFID blocking sleeve or purse/backpack/wallet.  Passports are now a ‘hot’ item on the black market.

  • COPIES:  Make a copy of all important documents -ID, front/back of credit cards with the 1-800 number, and your passport (if not emailing it to yourself).  Keep these in a secure place and separate from the originals.
  • ….and speaking of credit cards….Limit the number of card(s) you take- one or two…perhaps 3 at most.  Leave the rest of your cards at home.  If you are a victim of a pickpocket or other crime, you don’t want to have to cancel 10 cards!  My husband and I each carry 1 credit card – from different accounts.  If one wallet is lost or stolen and we have to cancel that card, we still have one we can use.  If we are both carrying the same card account/number, cancelling would leave us with nothing to use.
  • Duct tapeDuct Tape  Why?  If you’ve read my blog,  you know that I take duct tape on every trip, and it’s gotten us out of more than one bind. It has multiple ‘rescue’ uses and we rarely come home from a trip without using it for something.  🙂  Don’t take the whole roll.  Roll a few feet around a pencil stub, hairspray bottle, or anything else that works.  🙂
  • travel size medicationsMedications/First Aid – Take anything you think you might need….in small travel size bottles.  I suggest:  pain relievers (Tylenol, Advil etc…), antihistamine, antacid, stool softener (eating habits change on cruises), Pepto Bismol, antibiotic ointment and band aids, possibly cortisone creme.  These items are very expensive on the ship, and supplies may be limited…  Don’t forget your prescription meds in the ORIGINAL bottles.

 

  • Sea-sickness medication.  Take 2-3 options, especially if supplying a family.  Different remedies work for different people.  Even if you don’t think you’ll need this, bring it anyway.  This is one of those ‘just in case’ items that I DO recommend.  🙂  Most cruise lines will distribute these pills free, however, it requires a trip down to the medical facility….when you’re not feeling well….and it just might bring you in contact with germs you’d rather avoid.  The generic forms are very inexpensive at Walmart and having them with you is MUCH more convenient.    🙂
  • $1 bills – for tipping. Tips are customary for porters, drivers/luggage handlers at the terminal, excursion tour guides, room service waitstaff.  You are in control of how many of these services you use…Bring the amount of ‘tip money’ you need for the services you plan to utilize.  We usually take $15-$20 because we are willing to take care of ourselves most of the time and rarely order room service….we use it for tour guides mostly.
  • Air Freshener – In addition to the obvious reasons, 🙂 ships sometimes have issues with plumbing/toilets that causes unpleasant odors.  A little scent can go a long way to making everyone more comfortable.  You may not need it…but if you do, you’ll THANK ME for telling you to bring it. Get a travel size at the Dollar Store…for $1.
  • Brita water bottle (the one with the filter in the lid)  I’m an avid water drinker and honestly, there is NO time when it’s MORE necessary than when you’re eating the ‘extra’ food on a cruise. However, the tap water on the ship tastes just like you would expect water that’s stored in a tank to taste.  (Just fyi, it’s filtered/treated water and  perfectly safe.)   The Brita bottles work VERY well.
  • ear plugs

    Ear plugs:  If you’ve chosen your cabin carefully, you may not need these.  However, sometimes, you may not know you have a bad location until you’re on board and it’s too late….  For those situations, a pair of ear plugs really comes in handy. These from the Dollar Tree come with a storage container….for $1!

 

  • Medical information/List of prescription medications:  This is important for anyone with medical issues, but ESPECIALLY for those traveling alone.  A basic medical history and list of medications may be useful to medical personnel on board should you have a medical emergency.  A Word About Insurance:  Chances are, your medical insurance won’t cover you while out of the country,  (That’s another ‘plug’ for travel insurance)  but it doesn’t hurt to bring your card in case you are transported home for medical care.  Also be aware that Medicare does NOT work outside the country.
  • Emergency numbers at home.  Even if you have these numbers memorized, it’s a good idea to list them and put them with your passport/important documents in case someone ELSE needs to access them. (if you are incapacitated) Make sure you have ICE #(s) in your phone. (In Case of Emergency)
  • Journal/notebook & pen/pencil –  I bring a small spiral notebook (3×5) for notes, etc…and for the contact info of the cruise line liason in each port.  (This name will be listed in the cruise line newsletter each day) and is the person to contact if you have any problems in port.  Take this contact info into port each day.
  • Binoculars:  I can’t imagine very many cruise destinations where I wouldn’t want these….

Might Need…..YOU Decide

  • Power strip or one of those plugs that turns one outlet into 3 –   Outlets are VERY limited in cruise ship cabins. (1-2)  If you have multiple items requiring electricity, this will come in handy.  🙂  NOTE:  Celebrity and Princess prohibit surge protectors and will confiscate them at check in.  As far as I know, cruise lines still allow the multi-plug ‘thing’.

nightlight

Night light – Interior cabins, especially, are completely dark when the lights are out.  Outside cabins may have a little light filtering in from the ship exterior lights…and possibly the moon… but it’s not much.  🙂  Note:  There are no street lights on the ocean.  🙂  🙂

 

 

 

  • Alarm clock (Battery operated – one that doesn’t require an outlet)  Cruise ship cabins do not have clocks.  While cell phones may work as an alarm, they don’t make very good room clocks. Passengers in interior cabins especially may need an alarm on port days with no ‘morning light’
    post its and highlighters

    Highlighters or post it notes at Dollar Tree for $1

    to wake up with. Personal preference is the reason this is on the “might need’ list.

  • Highlighter: I use these to highlight activities in the newsletter that interest us. This is particularly helpful when cruising with multiple family members who want to do different things. Each night, we sit down and highlight everyone’s choices with different colors. That makes it easier to locate each other during the day – or plan our ‘together’ times.
  • A few Post-It Notes:  (Remember when we used to communicate with one another with pen and paper???)  🙂  Post It notes are useful for leaving notes for your cabin steward or for others in your party (such as teens).  Awww…  Life without the cell phone….  🙂 🙂
  • Reading material
  • Items Needed in Ports of Call – Consider  Guidebooks? Maps? Foreign Language Dictionary?  Snorkel gear?  (equipment can be rented, BUT I bring my own mouth piece)   Underwater camera(s)?  Children’s water floaties or sand toys (Purchase these at the Dollar Store, then leave them with local children in port rather than toting them back home)    Coats/jackets/gloves/scarves for “northern” destinations?
  • Lanyard for the ship ‘ID card’.  This may kind of SCREAM “Tourist” but for those who like the idea….       It could be a good idea for children during debarkation…so they keep track of their card.
  • Insect repellant (with DEET):  depending on your ports.  (Definitely  Alaska)
  • Over the Door Shoe Holder: Cruise lines are starting to prohibit these…(Disney will actually confiscate them and charge you for damages…) but if your cruiseline allows it, it’s VERY helpful in cabins with 3 – 4 people. It’s probably not necessary in cabins of only 2   
  • Insulated travel mug with lid.  I like hot tea…but don’t like the geno-estrogens in the Styrofoam cups.  The insulated mug is my solution –  In fact, I’m taking a Yeti knock-off on our Alaskan cruise. (My husband doesn’t think taking our real Yeti’s is wise….so we’re buying cheaper look-alikes)  On warmer itineraries, however, these are almost more trouble than they’re worth as I have to carry it around when empty…or make a return stop at the stateroom.  That’s the reason it’s on the ‘Might” list.  🙂
  • Toilet seat covers – This really depends on your itinerary/ports.
  • Wristwatch  Cell phones will sync with local time – which may or may not be the same as ‘ship time’.  Ships leave port on SHIP TIME.  Bring and set your wristwatch to ‘ship time’ so you don’t miss the ship on port days.   🙂
  • Swimmer’s Ear product – (if traveling with children who are prone to this)  All meds are expensive on the ship.
  • Laundry pods – if you plan to do laundry.   These are very expensive on board.   Note:  Not all cruise lines or ships have self serve laundry. (Royal Caribbean does not) Call your cruise line to find out about your ship.clothespins
  • Clothespins or Clips of some kind (I usually bring 4-6)   Clothespins, binder clips, etc….  These have multiple uses.  I’ve used them to clip swimsuits to the clothesline in the bathtub or to the chairs on the balcony –or to  hold curtains closed if the window opens to the deck or if cruising to Alaska in June when there is 18-20 hrs of daylight….or to keep the shower curtain closed…or hanging properly.  There’s just so many uses.  🙂20161016_173519
  • Extra bag folded up in your suitcase – a small lightweight bag is nice to take into port for all those things you need or buy OR to carry towel, sunglasses, book, etc… around the ship.  It can also help you to get off the ship at the end of your cruise if you ‘over-buy’.  🙂  These are cheap bags I found at Dollar Tree….for $1.  I don’t worry if they get dirty or covered in sand…and I like the idea of getting a new one for each cruise….  I don’t feel guilty if I’ve paid $1 for it.  🙂
  • Pre-packaged foods for the ports:  (peanut butter-n-crackers, fruit rollups, etc…)  It may seem strange to bring food when embarking onto a FOOD BARGE, but pre-packaged items are the ONLY food that can be taken off the ship into port.  If you have a medical issue that requires food at regular intervals or with medications, bring a few pre-packaged items.  NOTE: Many countries have VERY strict laws about bringing ‘open’ food or produce into their country. (and the cruise lines take this extremely seriously.)  The person defying this law may find themselves in a LOT of trouble.
  • Extra zip ties:  I use these on our suitcase when zip tieswe disembark.  At disembarkation, you have a choice of either carrying your own bags off the ship (Rather cumbersome, crowded and difficult) or putting your luggage outside your cabin the night before to be stored then unloaded at the port.  Zip ties offer security if you don’t have luggage locks.  You can use these at embarkation too, but realize you will need a way to cut them to unpack.  A cabin steward may be able to do that, but you may have to wait until he/she is able to.

Ridiculous Items

(I include this for laughs more than anything.)   There are online lists who suggest these things….REALLY.   Read and Laugh,  but don’t think I’m suggesting anything here….  🙂

  • Blender  (yes, someone suggested this…. )
  • Bubble wrap for souvenirs!  This is just NOT necessary,  Your suitcase is full of clothes…Wrap any breakable souvenirs in them…or inside shoes if the item needs more protection. You can also carry items off the ship in your carry on.  🙂 🙂
  • Walkie talkies;  It sounds like a good idea for communicating with members of your party on the ship, right?  However, the reality is that these typically have a very short range…500 feet…4-5 decks maximum… so they aren’t very reliable with today’s HUGE ships.  If you have the really expensive ones, they don’t have that static noise…but the cheaper brands can be really irritating to other passengers. :/
  • Windsock for your balcony.  Honestly, there is no need to bring ‘decorations’.  You’re there to sail, swim, explore, sight see, shop, tour, sleep 🙂 enjoy, relax, meet new friends….not decorate!
  • Matches or a lighter to eliminate odors in the bathroom.  OK, Think About This….open flame….on a ship….middle of the ocean.  Folks DON’T DO THIS!!!!  If odors are a concern, bring a small air freshener.
Other Posts on Cruising:

Zion National Park – SW Utah

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is located in SW Utah about an hour west/northwest of St. George, Utah.

https://goo.gl/maps/CpX6FW93Tmo

GETTING THERE:  Las Vegas is the closest and most economical airport for flying to Zion. Though St George has a Regional airport, the smaller airports are typically more expensive to fly in to.  Las Vegas is about a 2 hr drive from St. George.  We flew into Vegas and arrived around noon, got our rental car, had lunch and drove to St. George for the night.   St George has plenty of chain hotels as well as the Wal-Mart Supercenter. We made a trip into Walmart that evening for picnic supplies after we arrived.   Though it was a full day, it wasn’t difficult. The next morning, we had a 2 hr drive to the Park.  If you prefer staying closer to Zion, choices include Springdale, LaVerkin and Hurricane.  They have limited accommodation options…and prices will be a little higher.

Visiting Zion National Park:  The Park is in THREE sections with 4 different entrances/roads. The “Main” road  which most people consider “Zion National Park” is on highway 9 west of  Springdale. This road will be the busiest and most congested..  If you have the time to explore the other “less traveled” roads, you’ll find a more solitary, “connect with nature” experience.

THE SHUTTLE:  Private vehicles are only allowed up to Canyon Junction (the turn off to Mt Carmel Highway) except for those with confirmed reservations at the Lodge.  A shuttle takes visitors beyond that point. Shuttles run every 7-10 min during the summer so this is really not an inconvenience.  We were there in Sept and seemed to never wait more than 4-5 min. for the next shuttle – just long enough to pull out the water bottles or snack. 🙂  The shuttles are not air conditioned. In Sept, it did get a little warm in the afternoon.  I wonder how uncomfortable it would be during the summer months…  The windows open so there is airflow when the shuttle is moving. The greatest advantage though is that the shuttle gives the family’s driver the chance to enjoy the scenery rather than worrying about narrow twisting roads, traffic or pedestrians.  It also eliminates fender benders or rear end collisions that would totally shut down this narrow 2 lane road for ALL visitors.  It’s a ‘positive’ thing. 🙂

Zion National Park Map  – shows the roads, Visitor Center and guest areas as well as park features 

PARKING:  During the busy tourist season, parking at the shuttle embarkation point is at a premium.  The parking lots are usually full from 10 am-3 pm. Visitors who arrive at the park after the lots are full will be directed back to Springdale to park there and catch a shuttle into the park. This shuttle is FREE too…but inconvenient…imho.  🙂  Arrive early  (prior to 9 am) to (hopefully) avoid this happening to you. We got to the park by 8:30 and had no problem entering and finding a parking place at the Visitor center.  It was nice to beat the heat too!  I noticed that by afternoon, people were ‘illegally’ parking along the road – the VERY NARROW, twisting, 2 lane road….  Apparently, they didn’t turn away as many visitors at the gate as they should have….ha!  🙂

HIKING:
Hiking is the best way to see any National Park. Hikes are listed in the Park Newspaper given at the Park entrance – with information about each hike’s length, time required, elevation change (strenuous level) and difficulty level.  If you have any health concerns (diabetes, heart conditions, knee or back/hip issues, etc…)  consult this chart before starting any hike.  Actually, consult it even if you DON’T have any of these issues.  🙂  You always need to know what you’re getting in to.

One Note About This:  Our family has started many a hike that was 8 miles…10 miles…26 miles..with no intention of walking that far. We didn’t want to completely miss the beautiful vistas just because we couldn’t hike 26 miles.  We go as far as we want to, see some beautiful things, then turn around and go back.  I think many people may avoid those hikes because they’re intimidated by the “26 miles” number and miss out on wonderful vistas.  Don’t skip the “Rim” hikes. They’re beautiful!!

The ‘most popular ‘longer’ trails in Zion are Angels Landing (5.4 mi.) and The Narrows (9.4 mi).  Though they are spectacular, several rangers we spoke with said there are more beautiful breathtaking hikes in the park.  They BOTH recommended Observation Point Trial   Its one of those long hikes –  (8 miles) but as I stated above, you don’t have to go the entire length….just a portion of it.  And for those avid hikers, it’s only 2.5 mi. longer than Angels Landing (not significant to a seasoned hiker) and well worth the extra time and effort.

The Narrows (9 miles) is the ‘other’  popular hike in the park, but is NOT recommended for those with diabetes/neuropathy/circulation issues…OR for children.   About 60% of it involves wading (possibly knee to thigh deep)  through swift currents in the river.  These are too swift for children, and the amount of time spent with wet feet precludes it for those with circulatory issues.   The park newspaper and website gives more information advising those who DO choose to take this hike.  NEVER head out on The Narrows without checking with the Rangers at the Visitor Center!!!  This is important!!!!   (read my comments in red below) 

Now….you CAN take the beginning portion of this hike – up to the river crossing and canyon. (about 1.5 mi.)   We did that.  Then I looked ‘longingly’ into the Canyon.  I wanted so much to go further, but we fit into the category of those who should NOT take this so we just looked and ‘longed’.  🙂  We thoroughly enjoyed the portion that we hiked.

IMPORTANT:  Before setting out on any canyon hike, check with the rangers about weather conditions.  The day after we left the park, (YES…..the VERY next day…..) 6 seasoned, experienced hikers were killed by a flash flood in Keyhole Canyon.  These were not novices.  They were men in their 30’s…40’s…who had a great deal of hiking experience and skill.  It’s not always about the weather where you are.  Sometimes it’s about the weather 200 miles away. Rain from that distance can (and will)  SWIFTLY run INTO the canyons and cause a flash flood…all while the skies over Zion are blue and clear. The park rangers are watching the weather events at great distances to determine the risk of flashfloods in the canyon.  Do NOT just look at the sky and say “It’s clear; therefore we’re fine”.  CHECK with the Rangers! 

Last but not least….KNOW the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  These are listed in the park newspaper you will receive at the entrance.  Read through these to be informed so you can take care of your family.

This park is beautiful and can be enjoyed at all times of the year, but like anything else, you MUST understand the dangers present in order to stay safe.

WHAT DO YOU TAKE ON A HIKE?

  • Backpack:   It doesn’t have to be an expensive hikers pack….  We used the kids school backpacks.  🙂
  • Water….  WATER!!!  WATER!!  This is SOOO important.  One gal/pp is the recommendation.  Because our hikes are usually short, we may only take a few bottles per person in the pack, but the rest is in our car.  I freeze these and place in plastic Walmart sacks 🙂 to keep everything else in the pack dry.  You can place the frozen water bottle on your neck to bring down body temperature. Then as the ice melts (which it will do rather quickly) it becomes water to drink.  🙂 🙂   Do NOT try to conserve your water throughout the day.  Drink It!  OFTEN!  Before you get thirsty.  Here’s another tidbit…Thirst is the body’s signal that it is ALREADY dehydrated.  Drink your water BEFORE you get thirsty.
  • Protein snacks (Sugar actually harms the muscles during strenuous activity)  We like to take almonds, cashews & peanuts. Protein bars (withOUT a coating that would melt) are nice too. 🙂  I make my own trail mix of nuts and dried fruits rather than buying the pre-packaged ones….those are rancid.  ha!!
  • ‘High water content’ fruit –   Fruit is what we crave in the heat.   Bananas, peaches, grapes, etc… are good, but apples or oranges travel better. Place these next to the frozen water bottles in your pack and they’ll stay cold for a while
  • Extra socks if there is a chance your feet will get wet (Talk to the Rangers at the Visitor center.)
  • Of course, cameras, etc… and binoculars.  That’s the ‘fun’ stuff.  🙂
  • Most of us rarely go anywhere without our cell phones, and certainly if your cell is your camera, you’ll have it along, but realize that you may or may not have service in Zion….especially on hikes. Use good judgement and don’t get yourself into unsafe situations thinking your cell phone will be there to call for help…..
  • Small flashlight – or headlamp just for emergencies.  Make it a small one…  Don’t add unnecessary weight to the backpack with this.  Obviously, for longer day hikes, a good flashlight with extra batteries is needed.
  • Trail map (for longer hikes). Shorter, more popular trails are paved and self-explanatory, so a map isn’t necessary. Again, rangers at the Visitor Center will tell you if this is necessary.
  • Last but not least:  LEAVE NO TRACE!  Pack out whatever you pack in…and No, there are no waste baskets on back country trails.  🙂  Leave what you find.  No collecting!  🙂

Bottom Line:  Rangers are your friend!  Utilize their knowledge and skill.  Talk to them…and listen & follow any advice they give.  🙂 

MEALTIME/DINING IN ZION:

Like most National Parks, dining areas are limited.  There is a restaurant and small cafe at the Zion Lodge but that’s all.  Most National park visitors bring a picnic lunch to avoid wasting time leaving the park to find something to eat. 🙂  (That’s another reason I wanted my car parked INSIDE Zion – to have easy access to my cooler and picnic lunch.)

OTHER ROADS INTO THE PARK

NOTE: The entrance fee to Zion covers ALL of the Park entrances for 7 days, but you MUST keep your receipt.  You can also purchase the America the Beautiful Nat’l Park pass for entrance into ALL National parks for 1 year (cost $80)  This is a good choice if you’re visiting several of the Utah Canyon Nat’l Parks. (there are 5)  After visiting 3 Nat’l Parks you break even on the cost of the pass…If you visit 4 parks (in Utah or elsewhere) during the year, you’ll save money with the Pass purchase.

MT. CARMEL HIGHWAY:

  • This road connects the South and East entrances.  It’s a 12 mi road (continuation of highway 9) and travels up steep switchbacks and through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel.  The tunnel is quite an engineering Zion National Parkmasterpiece – it’s 1 mile long.  Traffic runs one way through there with park employees stopping and directing traffic.  Both times we went through, we never waited more than 5-10 min.  Large vehicles (RV’s) will have to be escorted through and that incurs a fee.  Check the website for details on this.  It’s a beautiful drive and worth it if you have the time!   🙂

KOLOB CANYONS ROAD

  • I LOVED this little section of the park!  It’s a 5 mi. road – right off of I-15 (Exit 40)  and is totally removed from everything down south…including the crowds!!!  🙂   You see vistas of the red rocks of Kolob Canyon and end at the Kolob Canyon viewpoint and  Timbercreek Overlook Trail (1 mi).
  • We spent about 2 hours driving this road because we like to stop and enjoy!   You COULD cover it in less time, but WHY would you want to?  🙂   There are only 3 hikes in this area – one of which is the La Verkin Creek Trail (14 mi) which crosses the  northern part of the park exiting on the east side. Again, this is one of those you could take partially then turn around.  There’s also a mule trail that looked interesting but alas, we did not have time for that.

Point to be noted:  Mules and horses always have the right of way in a Nat’l Park  🙂

KOLOB TERRACE ROAD

  • This is a steep 20 mi. road that is currently under construction. (Check the website for more information)   It begins in the town of Virgin and climbs north to the Aspen -covered plateaus of the higher elevations. I’m hoping to drive this on our next visit to Zion.  NOTE:  This road is NOT recommended for RV’s or vehicles pulling trailers.

As with all National Parks, visit the  U.S. National Parks website   National Parks – Zion   for complete information  – maps, shuttle schedules, camping/lodging info etc….

8 Things to Do When Checking into a Hotel Room

 

As with most things in life, it’s necessary to find a balance between safety/cleanliness and not going overboard or becoming paranoid.  ha!  Take this list for what it is…suggestions.  Most of these things take less than 30 sec. to do and can save you either time (from unpacking THEN changing rooms)   OR headache (from taking bedbugs home with you)  OR illness (from a room not properly sanitized)….and certainly save you from danger if danger lurks.   Ten minutes going through this list (or portions of it) may end up being time well-spent.

1. AT CHECK IN Confirm that your room is what you reserved:  Check the rate, room type and any special requests (N/S, location, floor, etc…) and CHECK OUT DATE.  Once you ‘accept’ everything at check in, you have no recourse later.  ALWAYS have your confirmation e-mail – either printed or electronically.

NOTE:  Women traveling alone should always request two room keys.  A well trained clerk will automatically give you two,  however, if the clerk is not quite up to par and asks the question,  don’t alert anyone nearby that you’re traveling alone.  

2.  Security Checks:  Before locking the door, check the bathroom, closets, under the bed and behind the curtains. It’s unlikely that there will be an intruder, but checking just takes a few seconds. Once you confirm the room is ’empty’, secure the  door.

3.  Place your luggage on a hard surface.  It’s tempting to throw the suitcase on the bed or chair, but if there are bedbugs in the room, THAT’S where they’ll be. Instead, put your luggage on the luggage rack.

This hotel put the remote in a holder indicating that it was properly sanitized. That’s Great! I still wiped it down.

4.  Quickly use an antibacterial wipe on  frequently touched surfaces like door handles, bathroom fixtures (handles), TV remote, lamp switches, telephone, temperature controls and alarm clock. (whatever you plan to use) While there’s no need to go overboard with this, it really only takes about  90 seconds…. and be aware that hotel TV remotes are often the dirtiest thing in the room.  Yes, housekeeping SHOULD clean these, but you never know if they really take the time to do it.  🙂

NOTE: Purchase a small package of 15 Clorox wipes at the Dollar Tree for $1. It will last through several trips (just seal in a ziploc bag between trips).

5.  Quick Checks:  

  • Check that windows and terrace doors are locked. (Unless you have mobility issues and there’s no elevator, request an upper floor)
  • Check the hot water and the toilet flush as well as the heat or a/c .  (It’s easier to move to another room BEFORE you’ve settled in.)
  • Make sure the alarm clock is turned OFF. 🙂  You don’t want to be awoken tomorrow morning at a time set by the previous guest.

6.  Check for Signs of Bed Bugs:  A telltale sign of these creatures is brown specks around the headboard, mattress seams, and bed frame. Check as briefly – or in depth— as you wish. (We encountered these on our last hotel stay…in a very nice hotel with raving reviews. From now on, I’ll check VERY carefully!!!  Lesson Learned!!)

I minimized this as much as possible (it’s not something I would want to see)  but for those who NEED to know what these creatures look like… Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki – Lic. :Publ. Dom. via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/

Quick Check:  look around the headboard, the seams of the pillowcase or under the alarm clock or lamp

Detailed Check:  (If you’ve ever taken these critters home you’ll be more apt to do an in depth check the next time you’re in a hotel….)  Lift the corner of the sheet and check the seams. Check under the bed around the legs and edges and seams of the mattress.

After determining there are no bed bugs, it’s ‘safer’ to put your luggage on the bed or chairs.

Note:  Bedbugs do NOT spread disease…they’re not dangerous in any way. They’re just very difficult (and expensive) to get rid of if you bring them home with you.

7.  Remove the Comforter  Most hotels do not wash bedspreads, blankets, etc…after each guest.

8.  Wash Glassware before using:  Have you seen the YouTube video of housekeeping staff in a hotel wiping used glasses out with the used hand towel, then putting them out as ‘clean’ for the next guest?  There’s no hot water, no soap, no heated drying to sanitize…just a wipe…with a dirty towel…and it’s ready for you.  The only way to be truly assured these are clean is to clean them yourself….  You can use hot water and the bar soap in the room…or a drop of shampoo.  Honestly, ‘soap’ is ‘soap’.

Undercover news report filmed at a Hilton, Embassy Suites and Sheraton:

I always prefer the single use cups  – wrapped in plastic.  They may not be as ‘luxury hotel’ but at least I know they’re clean.
Again…some of these things may seem over-board to some. However, if you’ve fought the battle of bed bugs at home, you will be more likely to check for them in a hotel. If you’ve ever walked in on housekeeping while they were in your room and seen something that turned your stomach, you’ll be more suspicious of cleanliness in the room. If you’ve ever returned from a trip only to spend a week in bed with the flu, you’ll be more likely to wipe surfaces with a disinfectant wipe. (no you can’t be certain the flu came from the room…)  It all goes back to your personal experiences.  (Isn’t that the way it is with everything in life?  haha!!)
Just take from this what you find necessary and disregard the rest.  🙂

My Personal Step-by-Step Vacation Planning

These were originally posted as I was planning our vacation – It was 7 posts.  As I’ve  ‘cleaned’ things up in the blog and organized everything to make it more user friendly, I’ve combined them….

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January 30, 2015

As I plan our vacation this year, I’ll walk readers through the steps I go through….in real time…as I’m doing it.   My goal is to post every few days (early in the process when there’s much to do) and then every few weeks – detailing exactly what I did.  It’s really not as overwhelming as it may seem initially.

So….here goes…  🙂

Our vacation is in the spring this year – I have just a few months to plan it all.

First – a confession….   We own a timeshare.  This is not something I’m happy about…or proud of, but it’s a fact, none-the-less.  That means that our vacations are often dictated by timeshare availability – to keep from wasting the yearly maintenance fees. Our plan is to get rid of this (SOON!!) but first to visit some places we probably wouldn’t visit otherwise…

Now….Here’s my thoughts and decisions over the last 48 hours:

  1. Our time share offered some great deals to Vegas, Tahoe and Daytona.  We been discussing these 3 options for a couple of weeks and decided we could go to BOTH Vegas and Tahoe in one trip…  This would give us the best value on our timeshare points.
  2. Allegiant Air had REALLY inexpensive flights to Las Vegas.  We could  fly there, spend a few days seeing Hoover Dam, Death Valley, etc… (we aren’t gamblers and don’t care much for Vegas ‘entertainment’)  Then we drive to Tahoe and spend the remaining 5-6 days there (Yosemite is not too far away).
  3. Thought process:  As I began looking into the feasibility of this plan, I discovered that the drive to Tahoe is 7 hrs  (Yosemite is another 4 hrs PLUS a hotel stay). Then of course, we’d need to drive BACK to Vegas to catch our return flight…..  (No Allegiant Air flights from Reno to home.) A one way flight from Reno on another airline would be VERY expensive.  This plan was quickly becoming a vacation of MANY driving days…longer than the time we had….and a LOT of money!!!  It was dying a tragic death….   Abandon Plan!!
  4. We made the decision to skip Vegas –  Instead, we’ll fly into Reno on a round trip ticket, go to Yosemite then spend significant time in Lake Tahoe.  More time to relax sounded really nice!  Now, it should be mentioned that Tahoe is mostly about skiing, water sports and casinos. Obviously, spring when we would be visiting would not be conducive to those things, but that was ‘ok’ with us.   We want to sightsee, hike, tour mining towns, visit museums and relax.  A ‘base camp’ in Tahoe would provide us with all of those things…away from HUGE crowds.
  5. The next day, my search for flights turned up Southwest and American Airlines as having the best fares.  Choosing between Southwest and American will happen later. NOTE:  I compare fares on the consolidator websites, but always purchase on the airlines official website to take advantage of perks there.  I do the same with hotels.
  6. Yosemite is a ‘must do’ for this trip. However, the 4+ hour drive from Reno would necessitate a hotel stay. We wanted to do this either at the beginning or end of our stay in Tahoe. Based on our flight times, I realized it would ‘fit’ better at the beginning. After a little research, I liked the areas of Sonora or Jamestown, CA for our hotel stay.  The area has historical significance so our evenings there will be ‘full’. The tentative plans is to land in Reno that morning and drive to the Sonora/Jamestown area that afternoon.  There will be time to explore this historical mining town that evening.  We’ll go to Yosemite Nat’l Park-  (about a 90 min drive)  the next day.  The following day (day 3) we’ll make a leisurely drive to Tahoe (200 miles)  stopping at anything interesting along the way.
  7. We could make our stay in Tahoe 6, 7 or 8 nights.  I spent a little time reading about things to do in the area.  Based on this, we opted for 7 or 8 nights.  Now, my husband just needed to request time off at work. Every thing (reservations) are on hold until he gets approval.
  8. Tomorrow, he will submit that vacation request.  IF they approve his dates (fingers crossed….)  then we’ll spend the weekend reserving the timeshare and buying airfare.  I’m feeling a little pinched for time.  I don’t want these timeshare availabilities to ‘disappear’.   🙂

For now, everything’s ‘on hold’   🙂

How much time did all this take?  I spent about 2 hours Wednesday night…then a couple of hours Thursday on the research.  I shared it all with my husband over dinner both Wed. and Thurs nights and decisions were made over coffee and dessert!  🙂    This is probably the most time consuming portion of the planning….

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February 1, 2015

Great!  My husband texted Friday afternoon saying that the vacation dates were approved.  Onward!    🙂 🙂

I won’t make any reservations until he gets home…It’s a ‘thing’ with us to make the reservations together.  ha!  In the meantime, I’ll decide between Southwest or American Airlines.

  1. Thought Process:  These flights are the same price – down to the penny… (benefit of competition….ha)    🙂  They both are offering a $100 statement credit  for applying for  their credit card AND using it to purchase the tickets.  American gives 1 free checked bag/passenger to their credit card holders.  Southwest doesn’t charge any baggage fees.  Things look pretty ‘even’ so far…but what about those pesky little annual fees?  Ahha…That’s where they differed.   American is waiving that fee for the first year.  Southwest will charge it immediately – $99.  That totally negates their $100 discount!!!   Decision made – we’re flying American!  🙂  I’m pleased as I don’t really care for Southwest’s boarding process – no reserved seats.  (NOTE:  We’ll cancel the credit card in 11½ months!!.  We REFUSE to pay annual fees…..)
  2. Now I want to know about visiting Yosemite.  This time of year (Spring) may present some off-season disadvantages (roads not yet opened; limited hours at visitor centers, etc…)   However, the advantages to traveling at this time is less congestion, lower rates, etc… I just need to confirm there will be enough roads  open in the Sierra Nevadas to make it worth our time.  This process proved a bit frustrating, unfortunately, as the NPS.gov site was NOT giving clear information and the phone number was automated.  That afternoon I stopped by the AAA office for Tourbooks (a WONDERFUL benefit of AAA membership, by the way) and there I found the information I was looking for.  There would be some closed roads, but we would be able to see as much of the park as we could fit into a day.  We can be happy with that.  🙂
  3. Hotels in Sonora:  We have to choose between a ‘historic’ hotel which will be all about the experience but forgo the amenities or modern updates….OR a modern hotel which would have the modern updates/amenities but omit the ‘flavor’ of the historic area.  After reading many reviews, I still couldn’t make a decision.
  4. Friday evening, we tried to make the timeshare reservation but their website was down.  I finally made a phone call and that ended up being a GREAT thing.  They offered me some incentives for another trip.  I made the timeshare reservation, got my ‘incentives’ and heaved a sigh of relief.  I had been worried the availability would ‘disappear’ while we were in ‘holding mode’.  🙂

Saturday morning:

  1. Time to purchase airfare.  We applied for the credit card to get the $100 discount then used the card to purchase the tickets.  🙂
  2. Now with confirmed flight times, we can reserve a rental car. My strategies for finding the best rate on rental cars is in   Finding Bargains on Rental Cars.  In reading that you’ll see that I don’t worry about rate when I reserve a car.  I just reserve it to get in the system, then cancel and rebook as the rate goes down. I research these on consolidators, but again, only make the reservations on the company websites.  The best deal there (today…) was with  Thrifty – $244.  I reserved it.  Then I grabbed a 3×5 card and wrote pertinent information (company name, confirmation # and rate)   As I find it cheaper I’ll reserve and record the new information there.  This will be my record as I cancel and rebook throughout this process.  I LOVE to go back and see what I have saved…  🙂 haha!!
  3. The last thing I did was to create a ‘vacation’ folder in my email and drop all the email confirmations from today into it.  They will be easy to locate if I have a questions or when I need to locate the rental car reservation to cancel/rebook.

It’s all Done!!!   🙂

Time Invested in This Part:

Friday:   about 1½ hours or research;    Saturday:  about an hour

The most time consuming things are done for now….From here on out, it’s just the ‘fun stuff’  🙂 🙂

Speaking of the ‘fun stuff’….  My husband had to go in to work this evening for a few hours.  It’s a dreary rainy day so I’m going to curl up with a cup of tea and my AAA Tourbooks.image  This sounds like an absolutely marvelous way to spend a few hours!  🙂  I’m not including this in the ‘time investment’.  This isn’t a necessity…this is just FUN!!!  🙂  🙂

I’m going to go read now  🙂

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February 11, 2015

Most of the decisions/reservations are made – so my main focus for this last week was to upload and edit pictures from the camera so the memory cards would be empty and ready for new and beautiful images of Lake Tahoe and Yosemite.  That seems to be the ONE thing I procrastinate with….then stress over in the last few weeks before our vacation because memory cards need to be empty before we leave.

My Accomplishments last week:

  1. I downloaded 600-700 pictures from the camera and began sorting, purging and  editing….   Kudos to those who stay on top of this task!!!  🙂 🙂 🙂
  2. Something interesting came up in a conversation with my husband this week.  I told him I had reserved our rental car – a ‘compact’.  With just the two of us and 2 suitcases, we like to get the best gas mileage possible.  He brought up an interesting point…the steep mountain passes would require a car with more power than a compact would probably have.  This was not something I’d thought of.  Our trips to the Rockies and Smokey’s were in our personal vehicle – which has power to handle the climbs.  He had a valid point – I changed the reservation.
  3. OneDrive is my planning program of choice, so I spent about 5 minutes  setting up my OneNote notebook.  I sent a few webpages there (NPS.gov) then  synced it all 🙂

Several days later:

4. Thoughts progressed to meals and groceries which we’ll need very soon after arriving.   I checked Walmart.com for locations of Walmart stores. Because I live in the “Land of Walmarts”,  I’m used to Supercenters every 3 miles. That is NOT the case in NV/CA. Not only are there fewer Walmarts….but most of what I found were not Supercenters (with groceries). I 2 and sent the maps to OneNote.  They’re not conveniently located so we’ll probably just find a grocery store when we get there.  NOT what I prefer, but not a tragedy by any means.  haha!!   🙂

5. Over the weekend, we went shopping – clearance sales (and ‘fun’)  At Macy’s, we came across this little dandy – “packable” down coats. The coat stuffs into the left hand pocket – In the picture below, there are TWO coats – the green one…..and the navy one packed inside the bag. Identical size, brand, etc…image  I expect chilly mornings – perhaps chilly days in Tahoe and Yosemite. Packing coats (with airline baggage fees) was not exciting to me. These are the perfect solution…extremely lightweight and compact  (approx. 12×6)  🙂    Best part…they were on clearance..  Regular $195 – with 60% off…then an additional 30% off…and a $10 coupon.  We paid about $50 each for them including tax!!  We’re planning an Alaskan cruise… someday….. and they’ll come in handy then too.  That makes it easier to justify the purchase.

Time Investment on all this?

I spent about 3-4 hours on Sunday afternoon with the pictures, however, I don’t include that as vacation planning time….  That’s something I should have done a year ago….  🙂 🙂

I’m also not including the shopping time in my estimates.  Shopping is NEVER a job….and typically takes all day!  haha

With the rest, I probably didn’t spend more than 30 minutes   🙂

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March 28, 2015

It’s been over a month.  With the major plans/reservations made it hasn’t been that ‘pressing’.  This can really all be done with minimal effort once the major decisions and reservations are done.   🙂

So….what have I accomplished this month?  The list is long, but remember, I did this over a month’s time.    🙂

  • I finished the photos and cleared the memory card.  Yay!  🙂
  • More Information Gathering for things to do in and around Tahoe and the Lake.  Everything isn’t open this time of year – or only open limited hours.  That meant I needed to know when they were open to avoid wasting time driving to things that were closed. Finding this info online was NOT an easy task but when I finally found it, I discussed it all with my husband one evening at our favorite coffee shop.  He had some opinions…  🙂  and we each made our “Top List” of things we wanted to do.  Other things went onto the “If we can” or “If we have time” List.  🙂  🙂  All this information goes to OneNote so it can be referenced later.
  • Nps.gov/Yosemite began giving updates on road closures and openings for the spring this month. Everything is still listed as tentative, but that’s better than no information at all.  Some roads were slated to open April 1 and others April 15.  A few won’t open until May but we’ll be able to see enough of the park to make for an enjoyable visit.  That being said, I knew that with the unpredictability of weather, I made a Plan b –just in case there was a huge snowfall in the Sierra Nevadas the week before we arrived.  Our secondary Plan was a trip to Sacramento.  There are quite a few interesting things to see/do there.  I certainly HOPE that Yosemite as a destination doesn’t fall through, but if it does, we have an alternative.  I’m prepared!!  🙂
  • The next thing on my list to think about is menus.

We stay in condos and cook most of our meals. In order to know what spices/seasonings to bring, and what to buy at the grocery store so everything is used and nothing is wasted (thrown away) on our last morning, I have to plan menus. I also bring a few of my own homemade ‘mixes’ for baked goods (cornbread, pancakes, etc…) in order to use whole wheat flour and organic ingredients.

My plan is to have leisurely mornings at the condo with big breakfasts – since we expect it to be cool outside.  Then, we’ll probably want light lunches (fruit, salads, etc….)  We’ll cook nice evening meals that are easy to prepare and require very few ingredients to minimize waste.

I came up with menus that could be planned for one night, then ‘re-invented’ later in the week as an ‘ingredient’ or side item for another meal.  For example, I’ll cook beans one night….then use what’s left in taco salad the next night and as a side item with the enchiladas 3 days later.  Left-over taco meat becomes a topping for the baked potatoes and/or chili on the hotdogs, etc…  Everything is inter-linked.

My Menus:

  • beans and cornbread
  • taco salad
  • baked potatoes with toppings
  • chicken enchiladas
  • hotdogs with chili
  • fried chicken strips and potatoes  and veggies

This is 6 meals for 8 nights, but having done this before, I KNOW that’s enough food- possibly allowing for a last-minute decision to try a local restaurant if we wish…  It will keep us fed all week!  🙂

Breakfast:

  • Fresh fruit  (A staple for us!)  🙂
  • cereal
  • steel cut oats and/or malt-o-meal
  • eggs, bacon and toast  (If we want Sante Fe omelets, I’ll have the ingredients )
  • pancakes (Our preference is waffles, but most condos don’t have waffle makers….)   😦

Lunch:

  • sandwiches & chips/veggies for picnics
  • salads for days at the condo/resort
  • Lighter lunch of fruit, almonds, peanut butter, crackers, etc… when we’ve had a big breakfast  🙂

I make/bring my own homemade baking mixes for cornbread and pancakes.    (I’m particular about ingredients….)  I’ll just add eggs, oil and milk to them.   🙂

Using every item and ingredient we purchase at the grocery store (without having to throw anything away on the last morning) has become like a game for me.  I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years.  🙂

I come up with multiple ways to use things – I mentioned how I utilize the beans and/or taco meat.  I’ll buy a 5# bag of potatoes and between fried potatoes, hashbrowns, baked potatoes, etc… we should be able to eat them all.  If there’s any left, I can always make hashbrowns for breakfast.  🙂   Cheese is in almost every item on the list.  I’ll purchase a LARGE block of it…and HOPE it lasts the entire week without having to return to the store for more.  ha!

I actually bring cereal in our suitcases.  Why?   We could never eat an entire box of hot or cold cereal – certainly not more than 1 box if we wanted variety during the week. So, I bring 2-4 servings of each of the cereals (cold and hot)  in Ziploc bags in my suitcase and we get the variety that we want.  When it’s eaten, I have room in the suitcase for souvenirs.  🙂

Our last day’s menus are always ‘whatever’s in the kitchen’.  We may have some unusual combinations/meals, but it’s always good food….I’ve never heard complaints.    🙂

Now……..with menus decided, I can make my lists of things to take and what to buy at the grocery store in Tahoe.  Any seasonings I need (chili powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper) will be in my suitcase (prescription bottles, washed out, work great for this)  Then, a few weeks before we leave, I’ll pull out coupons for grocery store purchases to take with us.

Time Investment in this:   Photos:  LOTS of time!   Researching Tahoe, Yosemite and coming up with Plan b: 2-3 hours.  Menus & lists – probably 30 minutes.  This list doesn’t really change much from vacation to vacation.  I’ve found what works well to eliminate waste…..No need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ every year….

All of this was done over 5-6 weeks.    🙂  It’s not that much to do in a month and a half.

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April 6, 2015

The vacation countdown is beginning.   🙂

More Information gathering:

  • Day trips to nearby mining towns (Virginia City, Carson City, Genoa)
  • Nps.gov website for updated info on road openings/closing in Yosemite.  Because weather is constantly changing, I needed to keep on top of this.

I learned that Mariposa Road and Glacier Point Road will be open.  Snow has been lighter this year so roads are opening sooner than normal.  🙂 🙂

My searches through the NPS website also turned up an APP for Yosemite.  After so much frustration at the absence of information on their website, I found everything I needed in the app!!!

My Short-Lived Rant:  I understand the concept of putting info in an app.  That’s great!   But to NOT have that info on the Nat’l Park website as well just makes no sense to me.   OK, rant over!  🙂

——————-

Next, I began researching Carson City and Virginia City.

I’ve noted through all this that California and Nevada don’t update their websites with the current season’s information until the season opens making advance planning very challenging. Typically, you would not have this much trouble gathering information as most tourist areas keep their websites updated year round.

What Did I Find?  Some wonderful local Festivals (we LOVE these!!!) going on while we’re in the area.

  • May 1  Free Museum admission to museums in Virginia City, NV   (called Flashback Fridays)

  • May 2-3 Chili on the Comstock in Virginia City
  • Apr 30-May 2  Cowboy Festival in Genoa
  • To NOTE:  Treetop Adventure Park (ziplining, etc…) is ONLY  open on weekends this time of year – i.e. May 2-3.  IF we want to do that, we’ll have to plan it for that weekend.

While we are  “museum people”….We’re also particular about the type of museums we go to.  We only want to spend our time on the really GOOD ones.  ha!!  There are several in Virginia City that I want to check out.

The wonderful thing about a ‘free’ day  (in addition to the ‘free’ part) is the fact that we can walk into a museum, look around for 10 minutes and decide if we’re interested in staying.  If we are, that’s great!   However, if we aren’t interested in what we see there, we can walk out without feeling like we wasted money on the admission.  NOTE:  Most museums have ‘free’ days… at various intervals.  Always check on this if museums are on your list of things to do.  🙂   .

{Edit after we returned:  To get the ‘tickets’ for free admission, we had to go to the Visitor Ctr.  There they told us they wanted a ‘donation’ to support their restoration efforts.  Again…no problem…until they told me what the ‘suggested donation’ was…MORE than it would have cost to come any day and pay the admission to the museums we wanted to visit.  They valued the ‘free ticket’ on someone going to ALL the museums listed.   I donated…but NOT what they ‘suggested’…I came away feeling like the ‘Free Museum Admission Day” was a ploy…joke.  Oh well.  We THOROUGHLY enjoyed the museums we visited….and I think we saved .50 each over what we would have paid for the admissions on a regular day.  ha!    

Looking at the dates above, I came up with a tentative schedule to make sure we don’t miss something that we want to see/do.

  • Apr. 30 Genoa Cowboy Festival:  I don’t know if we’ll like this, but we’ll check it out.  If we decide not to stay, we can head to Carson City  – we’ll be halfway there.
  • May 1 – Virginia City –  town and Museums
  • May 2 Tree Top Adventure Park –   We’ll go there and investigate -.  If we like it we’ll stay, if not, we’ll find something else to do that day.  🙂
  • May 3 Chili on the Comstock in Virginia City –  I think we’ll drive back to Virginia City for this.   My husband enters (and sometimes wins) chili cook-offs.  He’s looking forward to this!  🙂
      • NOTE:  Tickets for this have to be pre-purchased.  We’ll check in to this on our FIRST visit to Virginia City May 1)  🙂  I don’t want to pre-purchase them in case we change our minds….

Moving on…..

  • I’ve been checking the rental car prices every week since I first made that reservation.  The price hasn’t fluctuated until the last 2 weeks.  The rate has FINALLY started to come down.  I’ve saved over $50 by canceling and re-booking our reservation. (3 times)  It took about 5 minutes each time – to check rates, reserve, then cancel the old reservation.  Of course, these confirmations were always dropped into a folder in my e-mail, so they were easy to locate and cancel.

Time investment:  Reading, researching and sending pages to OneNote:  90 minutes;  Finding, downloading and “playing” with the Yosemite app:  30-40 minutes  🙂

Breakfast with hubby at Burger King (where they have wi-fi)  to discuss it all and find out what museums he’s interested in:  a very relaxing and lazy 2 hours (we enjoyed our time and had many refills on the coffee!!  🙂 🙂

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April 23, 2015

Things are getting really busy now so I’ll just give a quick bullet list of things I’ve done this week.

Websites Visited:

  • Yosemite National Park:  Re-checking roads to make sure nothing has changed.  🙂 They’ve had some snow this week but all looks good – no need to worry about Plan b.  🙂  
  • Hotel reservation for Sonora.  I wanted to get the best rate -which was the non-refundable reservation.  When I do that, I usually wait until the last minute to make sure nothing is going to interrupt our travel plans….  (NOTE:  This tactic would NOT work if we were traveling during the busy tourist season.  For off-season travel it worked fine. ) 
  • Rental car rates:  After that $50 drop in the rate a month ago, the rates have not changed.  This time, I deleted cookies in hopes that would produce a rate drop.  It didn’t…. I’ll continue to check every 3-4 days, but the rate we currently have is pretty good – $217 for 11 days
  • Gasbuddy.comThe map feature on this let me know that gas prices go up .50 at the CA border.  (lets me know that the price variance is a state tax thing….)   Our condo is 1/2 mi. from the border so getting gas in NV will not be a problem. 🙂

Last few things I did:

  • Typed up an itinerary for family – lists the airline flight numbers/times and phone numbers for hotel and condo in case we can’t be contacted through our cell phones. I’ll send these out  (Facebook or email) the night before we leave.  I put that on my “ToDo” list.  🙂  The night before we leave is always very hectic and if things aren’t on the list, they’ll most likely be forgotten….  
  • Made arrangements with our (adult) kids to be our ride to and from the airport.  It just so happens that our flight times work within their schedules so they can save us parking fees.  🙂  
  • Gathered coupons for items on our grocery list and a few fast food coupons  (thinking particularly of the airport).   I have 2 coupon envelopes – labeled – one for groceries; one for restaurants.  These go in my carry on.
  • We’ve accumulated quite a few brochures, AAA Tourbooks, etc… through this process.  All of those were very helpful while planning, but would be very bulky/heavy to take with us.  I want some of the information  (maps in particular as GPS is not always reliable – especially in the mountains).  I pulled JUST the pages I needed from those brochures. Everything else went in the trash.
  • I put together my folder and labeled the categories.  wp-1429755874416I’ll print confirmations next week and file them in there.

All of this probably took 2-3 hours over the course of a week….

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April 27, 2015

Well….  It’s almost time to pack and go!  For this post, I’ll write what  I WILL be doing rather than what I’ve already done….  The closer we get to ‘departure day’, the more I will need to be ‘doing’ and not ‘writing’.  🙂

WHAT I’LL DO THIS WEEK:

  • I have a small amount of grocery shopping to do (snack items for our carry on bags, etc.. )  I also need to make sure there’s adequate bread, milk, corn dogs, peanut butter and jelly for my college son who’s staying home. 🙂  (I’ll cook & freeze some of his favorite meals too, but he always asks for an ample supply of corn dogs and pbj)
  • I’ll put the spices/seasonings we’re taking in plastic prescription bottles (washed out very carefully).  Cereal (both hot and cold) will go in Ziploc bags.  I’ll make the baking mixes (cornbread and pancakes) and snack mix bags (dried fruit and nuts).  All of these go in a small Rubbermaid container in my suitcase – just in case something busts with airline handling.
  • Two days before we leave, I’ll cook food to leave here for my son –   He’ll be starting finals that week so I want to make things as easy as I can for him.  He gives me requests of the things he wants (it never changes year to year ha!)   I’ll cook ‘assembly-line style’ and have everything done in an hour or so.
  • Laundry (because clothes have to be clean before I can pack  🙂 🙂
  • Clean the House –  bathrooms, mopping, vacuuming and dusting.  Not only do I HATE to come home to a dirty house, but 2 days after we get home we’ll have guests.  I want to get everything ready for company before we leave.
  • Stop mail and newspaper and take care of the lawn (With all the rain this spring, we’re having to mow earlier than usual)  These things fall to my husband so I don’t really worry about them, however, I ALWAYS put them on my list so I can have the pleasure of marking them off without having to actually ‘do’ them first.  🙂
  • PACK!  🙂    That’s a ‘given’, right?  🙂

THE DAY BEFORE WE LEAVE:

  • Charge camera batteries
  • Print/Copy/Gather
    • Confirmations for rental car, condo, hotel, etc…  all placed in my  travel file folder.  (I’ll check rental car rates one last time before doing this.) wp-1429755874416
    • Auto Insurance:  Put auto insurance card in wallet and copied page from insurance policy showing coverage in rental vehicles in the folder.
  • Check in for flight and print boarding passes.  I like paper copies of these rather than phone apps.  Paper doesn’t break if you drop it…..  🙂
  • Clean the kitchen from top to bottom; run the dishwasher and unload it before going to bed (My son will clean up his mealtime dishes, etc… and put them in the dishwasher IF it’s empty.)
  • Check Weather.com to see if I need to make any last minute adjustments to our packing.    🙂

Time Investment in all this:  LOTS of time!!!  The week before we leave is always VERY full……  but I enjoy it!!  🙂

Information (and Tips) for Cruising with Children

cruise towel animal

Cruising is a nice experience with children. One of the great advantages is that there are activities geared toward them, their interests and energy levels, etc.. which gives parents a little time to themselves. But before you load those little tikes in the car and head to the terminal, there are a few things you should know.

FIRST THINGS FIRST:  BOOKING & PRICING FOR CHILDREN:

  • Cruise fare is based on ‘passengers’. There is no child rate.  The 1st and 2nd passengers in a cabin will pay the higher fare. The 3rd and 4th will pay a lower fare, but the age of the passengers is not a factor. (some cruise lines divide the total by 3 or 4 just to make the number look better’… ha!)
  • Gratuities work the same way. They are assessed per passenger. You might even want to consider adding a little to the tips when the children come along.  As most moms know, cleaning up after children is MORE work, not less.  🙂
  • In booking cabins, be advised that cruise lines generally require at least one adult who is a legal parent or guardian per stateroom….  Some cruise lines say that ‘guardian’ must be 21….others require minimum age 16.  Read the fine print or ask.  🙂

Age Restrictions:

Cruise lines set their own policy about how young a passenger can be to cruise on their line.  If you wish to cruise with a child under 1 yr of age consult the cruise line website or make a phone call before booking.  If you can’t find this information anywhere else on the website, it WILL be in the passage contract…if you’re willing to read LOTS of fine print to find it.  Of course, a phone call is the quickest/easiest way.  🙂

Typically every stateroom must have at least 1 passenger over the age of 21. In the case of family groups, this age MIGHT be 16….or the requirement could be met with adjoining staterooms….parents in 1 room, teens in an adjoining room.  Again, this is a cruise line specific policy, so read websites or make phone calls to find out YOUR cruiseline’s policy.

Children & Passports:

Photo Credit: Robmadeo on FLickr CC Lic.

This topic can get really complicated.  The best way to make it ‘easy’ is to just say:  Children need a passport for travel outside of the country.   Now, within the official guidelines, there are lots of ‘if’s’….’except’s’….’this scenario’ and ‘that scenario’.  Honestly though, Make It Easy On Yourself…get the children a passport.  🙂   Children’s passports cost a little less, but they are only valid for 5 years (adult passports last 10 yrs).   You pay less, you get less.

Now, I’ll try to address this subject with all the ‘if’s’ etc… but be advised, your BEST information will come directly from the government website US State Dept:  Travel.state.gov.   or Passports for Minors Under 16

For round trip cruises departing from a US port and going to Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean, children 15 and under are only required to have proof of citizenship (birth certificate).  A passport is not required…though it IS highly recommended –  Travel these days can be such a delicate situation….and if there was a need for medical transport or boarding an aircraft in a foreign country for any reason, a passport would be necessary.

For cruises departing from ports outside the US (and the same would apply to non-US Citizens when leaving THEIR country) that passport would be required to board the flight to get to the port and enter the country to begin with…  Obviously, a passport would be required to board the ship there as well.

 

NOTE: ALWAYS check passport expiration dates.  For cruises within US and Caribbean, passports much be valid for 90 days from the END of the cruise.  For travel to other countries, policies vary.  Find out more information at travel.state.gov

Applying for a Passport for Children

Consult the State Dept website Travel.state.gov –   Passports for Minors Under 16   for forms, required documentation, and procedures to apply for a passport for a minor child.  There are a lot of restrictions and hoops to jump through  (all in an effort to stop child abductions, sex trafficking etc…). For minors 15 and under, application will require permission from BOTH parents. The simplest way is for both parents to accompany the child when making application, however, if that is not possible, the website gives several other options. If your situation is unique (deceased, unavailable or uninvolved parent, et al.)  it can be a little intimidating at first, but don’t give up too quickly.  There ARE provisions made for families in these situations.  Just don’t wait until the last minute.  Give yourself plenty of time.

 

THE BOARDING PROCESS WITH CHILDREN:

  • Make sure your children (toddlers included) know their middle name.  They may be asked, as part of the customs process, and will need to be able to answer for themselves. (based on itinerary)  Practice this a few times before you arrive at the terminal.
  • THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT!!  If a minor (17 and under) is traveling with only ONE parent….or without parents (i.e. with grandparents, or  family/friends) they will need special documentation (notarized letter of authorization)  from the non-traveling parent(s) in order to be allowed boarding.  In the case of a deceased parent, a death certificate will meet this requirement. This same documentation is required if a child has a different last name than the responsible legal adult.  This rule is taken VERY seriously.  There are NO exceptions!!  I’ve read more than one ‘tragic’ story of grandparents showing up at the terminal with the grandkids…or a divorced parent planning a big cruise for the kids in the summer, only to be denied boarding at the terminal.  Do Your Research And Come Prepared With Necessary Documentation!!!
  • Prepare the kids for the long lines and waits – or better yet, show up later –  Most our-cruise-2014-004passengers arrive at the terminal early to get on board as soon as possible.  If you arrive 2 1/2-3 hrs before sailing time, chances are you won’t deal with the huge crowds…much easier with children.  However, Don’t cut it too close!  ha!!

 

Medical needs:   When a child is separated from his or her parents, receiving  medical care can be complicated.  If children are traveling with a grandparent or other family members, they need a medical proxy/notarized letter from the non-traveling parent(s) authorizing emergency care. (Don’t forget dental care on this as well)  The letter should grant permission for care, and include the full name of the accompanying adult who will be making medical decisions, along with any allergies or health issues, health insurance information and social security number.

CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS ON BOARD:

  • Requirements/Restrictions:
    • Children Should be Healthy: Standards across the industry require that children be free of fever, discharge from nose/eyes, etc… to participate.  Reasons for this are ‘common sense’.   🙂
    • Counselors MAY not be allowed to administer medication/medical treatment or in some cases, change diapers/deal with potty training ‘accidents’.  This MAY also include inhalers. (policies vary by cruise line)   If your child requires medical care/medication, he/she either needs to know how to do this for him/herself or a knowledgeable adult needs to be with them in the children’s areas. Some cruise lines will feed the children; others require parents to pick their child up at mealtime. You will be briefed on all the cruise-specific policies when you bring your child the first time…. or you MAY be able to find that information on the website prior to your cruise.
    • There are Rules here too.  There are rules in the children’s/teen programs. They are NOT a ‘free-for-all”. Children are NOT allowed to be disruptive, disrespectful, unruly or destructive. If a child cannot handle these boundaries, you may be asked to remove the child from the activities/location.
  • Tipping the Staff in the Children’s Area:  These staff members are paid more than the wait staff, et al. throughout the ship. ‘To tip or not to tip’ is a personal preference. Keep in mind the ages of your children, how often they are utilizing the children’s activities and whether or not you have made special requests of childcare staff.
  • Sign In/Sign Out Privileges:  Some cruise lines allow parents to give children as young as age 9 the privilege of signing THEMSELVES in and out of the programs.  This is necessary for some of the activities, but you DO have the option to allow it for those situations but NOT at any other time. Before making a decision on this, PLEASE CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING:
    • Cruise ships are like ‘mini-cities’.  Just as there are ‘nice’ people and ‘naughty’ people in our hometowns, there are ‘nice’ people and ‘naughty’ people on cruise ships. The cruise lines do not perform background checks on passengers and the ship is full of long corridors and cabins with doors that lock…   Also, because cruise lines cater to families with children it could be a perfect haven for those who wish to bring harm to children. There’s no need to travel in fear…just use wisdom and discretion as you set the requirements or restrictions for your children.   NOTE:  You can give your child in/out privileges ONLY during certain activities (i.e. the scavenger hunt)   so they can participate in those activities while not having sign in/sign out privileges throughout the entire cruise.  🙂
    • BEFORE I leave this topic:  This is NOT about whether your child is ‘old enough’, ‘mature enough’ or ‘trustworthy’ (so many parents use that as their reasoning.,..)  It’s about whether or not you trust the 3000+ other passengers (and staff) on that ship.   🙂
  • If you have a child who is shy or ‘slow to warm up to other kids’, encourage them to attend the opening session in the children’s program (or go early in the cruise)  so they can form friendships when everyone else is ‘new’ to the situation. If you wait too long, the other kids will have formed their friendships and it will be harder for your child to find his/her place….kind of like being the new kid in school mid-year.
  • If you want to be assured of family time, you can always require the kids spend a pre-determined amount of time (or certain times) with the family.  On the other hand, if you have a child who tends to cling to Mom and Dad, you could require them to spend certain times (or a certain amount of time) in the children’s programs.  Discuss all of this BEFORE Boarding Day  🙂
Picture of P and O Royal Princess cruise ship - Free Pictures - FreeFoto.com

Photo Credit: Freefoto.com CC Lic.

And Then There’s This:

  • Dining rooms have children’s menus.   🙂  A diligent waiter will offer it before you ask…but in case they don’t…..
  • Be diligent with the hand washing… If your children are old enough to try to limit what they touch (hand rails, elevator buttons, etc…) that’s the best way to keep Norovirus at bay.  If they’re too young to effectively do that, your ONLY recourse will be to be diligent hand washing….because as we all know, the little tikes are constantly touching their faces and putting their hands in their mouths.  Norovirus spreads from surfaces (handrails, door knobs, etc….) to the body via nose or mouth…
  • Seasickness:  Luckily, young children seem to have fewer problems with seasickness than adults do – but for the older kids, I highly recommend the Transderm patches.  (I don’t think preschoolers, et al can use them….check with your pediatrician)  These are available by prescription only.  Each box (prescription) contains 4 patches and each patch lasts 4-5 days. For longer cruises, the body often adjusts to the movement and doesn’t require a 2nd patch  though it’s a good idea to have one with you just in case.
  • BRING any over-the-counter meds that your child might need.  (allergy meds, decongestants, Tylenol, etc…) Children get sick easily and these are very expensive on the ship. SOME pediatricians may give you a wide spectrum antibiotic to take with you.  NOTE:  Amoxicillin can be purchased over the counter in Mexico.  Don’t forget something for Swimmer’s Ear – Though this isn’t a problem limited to children, they do seem to struggle with it more than adults.
  • Bring your own inexpensive water/beach toys if cruising to a beach area – sandbuckets/shovels, goggles, snorkles, inflatable beach ball, etc.  Get these at the Dollar Tree (for $1)  then give them to local children before leaving the beach.  This is not only ‘nice’…but frees up space in your suitcase for souvenirs.
  • Bring SEVERAL swimsuits for each child.  As difficult as it is to get an adult body into a wet swimsuit, it’s even harder to get a preschooler into one.  🙂
  • We allowed our kids to do some things on the ship that we wouldn’t normally allow…like unrestricted access to ice cream. Of course, we gave the parental ‘warning’ about gorging to the point of a tummy ache…. 🙂 (to no avail)  We had a child who HAD to learn that lesson the hard way  😦 but it was a lesson well-learned and a mistake never made again.
  • Establish the ‘spending policy’ with your kids BEFORE you go to eliminate the ‘begging’ that can easily taint the vacation experience for parents.  How about a spending allowance for older kids?? –money that they can spend however they wish, but when it’s gone…it’s gone.  Money works that way for adults…it should work that way for kids too.  🙂
  • This bears repeating – If family time on the cruise is important to you, REQUIRE that the kids spend certain times with you….  You decide:  meal times?  port days?  breakfast each morning?  Just make that decision and go over it with the children before you board the ship so there are no surprises.

Bottom Line:  Discuss your expectations with the children ahead of time to alleviate problems once you’re on the ship.

Our Family Policies For the Children (in case you’re interested….)

I would never presume to tell anyone else how to deal with their children….I just share this for your consideration.  Take what pertains to you and disregard anything that doesn’t.

We always went over these with our children en route to the ship….just to make sure parent and child were on the ‘same page’ when it came to expectations.   🙂

  • Proper Cruise Ship Behavior: 
    • The dining rooms require behavior expected in any nice restaurant.  (stay seated, inside voices, proper table manners, courteous to servers/waiters, etc…)
    • Safety: Walk, not run though the hallways/public areas of the ship.  No roughhousing or horseplay.  No running in the pool areas.  No climbing on anything outside of the children’s area.  Note to Parents:  It’s a big ocean and a long way to the nearest hospital….
    • Elevator Etiquette:  (THIS is a Big One!!!)  Elevators are a method to move from floor to floor…They are NOT a play area.  Allow elevators to empty before getting in.  Allow those in wheelchairs, using walkers or other assistive walking devices to board or exit first.
    • Respect and Courtesy:  Be ‘aware’, use common sense, and be courteous at all times. Hold doors open for people behind you. Watch where you walk and don’t cut people off.  Use inside voices.  Generally, be pleasant and kind.  🙂
    • Remember there are older people on cruise ships.  They may be unstable on their feet, using a walker or wheelchair.  A child running past them is not only scary, but might actually be dangerous.  Always be considerate and respectful of older people.
  • Use the Buddy System:  Always be with another person from our group, unless you are at the children’s program on board. Do not roam around alone.  Do not leave the area without an adult.
  • Cabins are for Families: Do not go into anyone else’s cabin, and do not let anyone else into our cabin. EVER!!!   Even with the door open.  NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!  This is one that would incite an “on board grounding” in our family if broken….
  • Emergency Muster: In a ship-wide emergency, if you are not with us, go immediately to our muster station, STAY THERE and wait for us. Do not go back to the cabin for a life jacket (even if the instructions on the PA system tell you to), and do not wander around trying to find us (your parents).  We will get your jacket and WE will find YOU….That’s! our! job!  🙂
  • As our children entered the teen years, we STILL had ‘rules’ for them to follow.  On our last ‘family cruise’, we asked our 17 yr old daughter to either be accompanied by us or her 16 yr old brother when walking around the ship.  It wasn’t about age, maturity or trustworthiness; it was about her PHYSICAL stature – and the fact that we didn’t feel confident she could defend herself in a physical confrontation……We felt like her brother could.  As it turned out, they never WANTED to go anywhere without each other, so it was never an issue – but the request (which she honored)  gave us some peace as parents.

Have fun with your kiddos!!  Just go over the rules, expectations and safety precautions beforehand….and you’ll have a WONDERFUL family cruise experience!

.Other Posts on Cruising:

 

Hawaii Part 4 – Island Hopping

Island hopping (visiting more than one  Hawaiian island in a trip) will cost a little more money (unless you’re cruising).  However, for most visitors, the airfare to get to Hawaii is the most expensive part of the trip.  After that investment, you’ll probably want to see and do as much as you can on the islands – to get as much value from that airfare purchase as possible.  That means visiting more than one island.

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View of Maui from Mokuele Airlines

Planning transportation for island hopping can be a little over-whelming at first.  However, with just a little time and research, it will all come together and you’ll find it’s DEFINITELY worth the effort.   THEN, en route, it requires patience –as there are bound to be bumps in the plan.  Just do you research, make a plan, then stay flexible and you’ll have a WONDERFUL trip.

 

What Are The Options for Inter-Island Travel?  :

  • By Air:  This is the most commonly used mode of transportation by visitors and residents.  Most of this blog will be devoted to that…in a moment…..
  • By Ferry:  Ferry service was a wonderful option ‘once upon a time’, however, it has fallen victim to EPA regulations/restrictions – and was discontinued to all but 2 islands in 2009. WORD OF CAUTION TO TRAVEL PLANNERS:   The Ferry Company’s website (Hawaii Superferry) is still up as a tribute and ‘eulogy’ to the company (there seems to be a lot of anger over it’s closing….) to remind people of what the EPA cost them. However, only in the ‘small print’ does the website say that their site is a ‘eulogy’;  their last ‘run’ was in 2008. There are schedules, prices, etc…that could lead unsuspecting readers to conclude they can show up and get on a ferry…  I understand their anger, but the website could really affect visitors’ travel plans…ugh!!  Don’t get caught up in that!!!

The ONLY operational  ferries leave from Lahaina Maui and go to the islands of  Lana’i or Molokai.  The Maui-Lana’i Expeditions ferry operates from Maui to Manele Bay Lana’i.  They also offer tour packages  – just fyi.  🙂    The Maui-Molokai Ferry operates from Maui to Kaunakakai Harbor, Molokai.

Please Note:   The channels between these islands can be pretty rough in the afternoon as the winds across the water strengthen.  Even those not typically prone to sea sickness may have problems – especially on the Maui-Molokai route.  Be prepared with sea sickness remedies or travel in the morning.

  • By Cruise Ship:  This, of course, requires the booking of a Hawaiian cruise.  🙂    I’ve never seen the islands this way, but the advantages are having transportation, accommodations, and food all planned/arranged.  That’s probably a nice way to see the islands though the disadvantage, as I see it, is the limited amount of time allowed on each island…    Of course, it’s all a matter of preference.  🙂

Inter-island flights

NOTE AS YOU’RE PLANNING:

  • Some islands have more than one airport. Be aware of this as you check fares to make sure you’re going where you want to go…and to make make sure you reserve the rental car at the right airport.  🙂   On the Big Island (Hawaii) Kona is almost always cheaper than Hilo.  On Maui, Kahului  is typically cheaper than Kapalua and DEFINITELY more convenient than Hana.  Recently, Maui’s OGG (Lahaina)  airport has become a secondary hub within Hawaii for flights to and from the Mainland. (secondary to Honolulu)
  • Flights to Kauai from any other island always include a stop/layover in Honolulu (HNL).  If possible, plan the islands in an order that allows you to take advantage of this rather than having an unnecessary layover.  🙂

IMGP1299Inter-island Air Travel Carriers

There are several airlines that “hop” from island to island:  Hawaiian Air, Island Air, Mokulele Airlines and Go! Airlines (Mesa).  On our recent trip over, we flew on 3 of these.  It seems that these companies come and go as quickly as you can snap your fingers…  However, here’s my “take” (and links) on the companies we used.

Hawaiian Airlines This airline is the flag carrier for Hawaii and has frequent flights to all the major islands.  They are more expensive than the smaller companies, and their baggage fees are significantly higher ($25/bag compared to $15-17 for the smaller airlines as of this writing) however, their more frequent flights, larger planes and more reliable aircraft makes them the preferred airline of many. Depending on your situation, that MAY be worth the extra money.

Go! Airlines (Operated by Mesa  )  Go! was once the second largest inter-island carrier in Hawaii.  They ran a fleet of smaller aircraft. They are no longer in business – something that seems to happen a lot with these small airlines in Hawaii.

We had a “story” about Go! Airlines back in 2013…It started out great, but ended with the cancelling of our connecting flight back to Honolulu that almost caused us to miss our flight home on United.

One More Note:  If you find yourself with a ticket on one of these smaller airlines that falls through for whatever reason, it’s VERY easy to book a last minute flight with Hawaiian Air.  How do I know this?  That’s exactly what we did that night of our flight back to the mainland…bought 2 tickets on Hawaiian Air, the cost of which, Mesa Go! Airlines reimbursed us for when we got home and contacted them.  Though our experience was a little ‘rattling’ at the time, it worked out fine.  We got on flights we needed and were reimbursed for additional costs incurred.

R.I. P. Mesa Go! Airlines

Mokulele AirlinesMokuele Airlines http://www.mokuleleairlines.com/

Mokuele formed as an offshoot of the merger with iGo and is ALSO operated  by Mesa. This very small airline flies to Oahu (2 airports), Maui (3 airports), Molokai (2 airports), Lana’i and The Big Island (2 airports) on Cessna aircraft.  🙂  Yes, they go to all the very small airports.

Do NOT let the size of these aircraft deter you.   Flying with them was actually a pleasant experience.  Their terminal is outdoors…It’s a pre-fab building covered by an awning.  There’s a restroom, vending machines and 15 chairs for passengers as they wait for their flight.  ha!! Mokulele Airlines Kona (When we arrived, I HAD to take this picture. 🙂 .)  We knocked on the door and someone came out of the office to check us in….  We not only weighed our checked bags, but we weighed ourselves while holding our carry ons to get a total weight on the aircraft.  (NOTE:  They have a policy that doesn’t allow passengers over 350 lbs to fly – it’s a weight issue on the aircraft…)  The pilot checked our boarding pass and told us our seat number before we walked across the runway to board.  He then boarded the plane with us and went over safety procedures. Everyone gets a window seat (wonderful when flying over the islands) because there are single seats on each side of the aircraft.  When we got off the plane, we walked around to wait for our luggage, then I took a quick picture with the pilot before we rolled our luggage off the runway.  I didn’t have a problem with any of that.  It was an “experience”.  I just took pictures.  🙂

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Here are some of the wonderful views I got while flying over Maui…and into Kona:

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I would fly with them again!!!

 

 

Island Air  This is an airline that was not flying at our last trip to Hawaii (As I mentioned above, these small airlines come and go…) but it seems to be a ‘big name’ now.  Obviously, I don’t have any personal experience with them, however, a quick online search for fares shows them to be cheaper with lower baggage fees.

Finding the Cheapest and Shortest Flights:   As I’ve said many times on this blog, explore all your options (airline websites AND travel brokers) before making a decision. We went from Oahu to Kona to Maui, then back to Oahu for our flight home- on  3 different inter-island airlines. I checked fares and flight times and made the decisions that were best for us on that day…   There’s no ‘right answer’…  You just have to find what works best for you.

Just Consider these things before making that decision…..

 My Thoughts: 

  • Don’t be afraid of these smaller airlines.  They ARE a savings over Hawaiian Air.  Do your research and be flexible and you can save some money.   however…..
  • Do NOT book with a smaller airline as your last flight if you need to make a connecting flight.  (i.e. you’re flying back to the Mainland)   In that case, book with Hawaiian Air.  Their frequent flight schedule won’t leave you stranded on the islands when you’re supposed to be flying home – You can catch a later flight if yours happens to be delayed.
  • When booking an inter-island flight to return for your connecting ocean flight, allow enough time for possible delays. This is NOT the time to try to squeeze every minute out of your vacation.  CONTINUATION OF OUR STORY ABOVE:  We were due to arrive in Honolulu at 6:30 and fly out at 10 pm.  With our last minute change/purchase of Hawaiian Air tickets, we barely made our connection.  Had we been more “squeezed” for time, we probably would not have made it.   We met another family who was in the same predicament as we..only their connecting flight was at 8:15.  I don’t know if they made their connection or not, but I’m assuming they didn’t as we didn’t make it back to Oahu until 8:30 and we took the first available flight on Hawaiian Airlines.  They just didn’t have enough time to make other arrangements.  Give yourself time to deal with unexpected situations.
  • Though you don’t have to book these flights MONTHS in advance as advised for most other flights, don’t wait too long.  As the airplanes fill up, the rates go up (Law of Supply and Demand….)   My experience is  that booking 3-5 weeks in advance in the Spring should secure fairly good rates…  Book At Least 6-8 wks in advance during the busier summer season.
  • Find out which Inter-island airlines have “agreements” with your airline for the flight home.  They each have their own agreements with different Major airlines   I found out AFTER we purchased our ‘extra’ tickets that Hawaiian Airlines has an “agreement” with United.  We were able to check our bags with Hawaiian Airlines in Maui and THEY transferred them to United in Honolulu for us.  That was such a relief with the changes and delays we dealt with.  Before that change, we were going to have to pick up bags at baggage claim in Honolulu, check in/re-check bags with United then go BACK through security.  With all the delays we dealt with, there just wouldn’t have been enough time to do that.  

Other articles in this series

The Souvenir You’ll Keep (and LOVE) Forever

IMG_4403It’s Christmas time!!  Our tree is up and decorated….and while everyone else is sharing pictures of their Christmas trees on Facebook, I’m sharing ours here, on my vacation blog.

Why?  Because our tree is a compilation and remembrance of all our vacations.  THIS is the very place my pictures ‘fit’.  🙂

Most everyone likes to bring home a souvenir from their travels – that one item (or two…or three…) to remind us of our vacation. We may shop and shop for that  ‘perfect’ item.   The souvenir or curio shops will offer you many MANY options – from t-shirts to trinkets of all types…   How do you choose???  

 

The questions that go through my head as I browse are: 

  • Is this item ‘timeless’?
  • Will I still want it in my house in 10 years?  25 years? 
  • Will it even LAST 10 or 25 years? 
  • Do I want to dust it for the next 10 years?  or 25 years? 🙂 🙂 
  • Do I have room for (and want)  25 more of these as we continue to vacation?  

Perhaps you’ve made souvenir purchases and KNOW that these things can begin to pile up over time.   When an item gets old or out-dated – it stops being treasured and becomes something we no longer want (and something our kids ridicule…ugh!!!)  We may even begin to see it as ‘clutter’…. Then, that ‘memory’ finds its way into the attic…or a garage sale…or worse…the trash bin. Where’s the ‘memory’ in that?  😦

For a while, our family bought t-shirts. However, even that ‘useful’ item had it’s drawbacks. It wasn’t timeless. The children outgrew theirs. They become faded and eventually, the drawers got FULL.  Maybe we could store them in the attic until we have time to make a quilt, but even that plan can get overwhelming with everyone having their own t-shirts…  It’s just difficult to keep up with that.

Photo of the tree WITHOUT the lights so you can possibly see the collection of ornaments from our travels.

I came up with an alternative – on our very first vacation -without even meaning to.  ha!!

It all began on our very first vacation after we got married.  We went to St. Louis, MO and while shopping that that ‘perfect souvenir’ I saw a Christmas ornament of the Arch over the St. Louis skyline. What A Wonderful Idea!!  – Being newly married, we didn’t have a lot of Christmas ornaments, so I bought it.  Our ‘tradition’ had begun…quite by ‘chance’…  🙂   That Christmas, our St. Louis ornament got a prized position on our first Christmas tree.  🙂 🙂  We were hooked!!!   From there came Walt Disney World…and Yellowstone, Tetons, Florida Keys, Grand Canyon, Boston,  and the list goes on and on over the last 26 years.  We’ve purchased an ornament (or several) on every vacation and our tree has ‘filled up’ quickly.

Old North Church, Boston, MA

 

 

In fact, there’s even 2 ornaments our children purchased on their vacations with their grandparents WITHOUT us.  🙂   (ON THEIR OWN, without prompting from us, they made the decision to buy an ornament…  🙂  )  Our oldest has already taken her ornament to her new home (and tree).  Our 2nd will do the same in a few years.  Those are THEIR memories.

WHY do I love this idea?  It’s a ‘remembrance that will NEVER become outdated.  It doesn’t gather dust because it’s not out year round.  It comes out once a year and we ‘delight’ in that time. If you could hear our conversations during our tree decorating evening, you would hear things like  “Do you remember that day when so-n-so  did such-n-such on that vacation?”  or “Oh My, do you remember what Dad said when we walked into _____?”  and the conversations go on and on.  Decorating the tree is always fun for every family – but these ornaments add a whole other dimension to OUR evening.

The Biltmore

The Biltmore

 

Walt Disney World 1990

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve found recently that dated ornaments are best for us as we have ‘repeated’ several vacations.  My husband and I went to Yellowstone in 1991 as a young couple then we took the whole family back in 2011.  We have ornaments from both trips.   We went to Walt Disney World before we had kids  in 1990, then took our children in 2006.  The dated  ornaments differentiate between these ‘repeated’ trips.  Same destinations…VERY different memories!!!    🙂

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta  2014

 

As you’re beginning to think about your next vacation – (it’s never too early…)  give this idea some consideration.  🙂

Merry Christmas To All and To All a Good Night!  🙂

 

Cruises: Part 5 Clothes/Personal Items to Pack

Kona sunsetNormally, I wouldn’t post a list of clothes to take on a vacation.  That seems ‘insulting’ to the intelligent reader.  However, for those new to cruising packing can be a little intimidating…. formal wear, smart casual wear, ports and excursions, etc…  So, just this once, I’m posting a packing list of clothes.  🙂  Note:  This pertains mainly to warm weather cruises.  I plan to write an entire group of posts on Alaskan cruises as they break many of the rules for almost everything ‘cruising’.

 

CLOTHING:

  • Formal Night – The ‘level of formality’ on formal nights seems to be decreasing on many cruise lines (luxury lines excluded).  Cocktail dresses or elegant pant suits for women work well. For the men, a jacket/blazer with dress shirt and tie are adequate. You’ll also see some suits on the men. The general rule is to dress as you would for a nice wedding.   Elegant gowns and tuxedos may be expected on luxury cruise lines, and you will see a few of these on the more casual cruises, but it is not a ‘requirement’.  Most ships have formal wear rentals if you don’t want to pack these items.
  • Non-formal nights in the dining room are typically business or ‘smart’ casual, though you may see some cocktail dresses then too.  The little black dress is so versatile that it’s always an EXCELLENT choice.  Accessorize it ‘up’ or ‘down’ for formal or informal nights and certainly wear it more than once.  Also working well are maxi dresses, sun dresses, pantsuits, slacks and blouses.  Carnival has recently begun allowing jeans in the Dining room on casual nights.  For the men, dress slacks and a collared shirt with or without a tie works fine.   Jackets optional.  🙂   In the interest of packing light, we wear pants/skirts several nights with a different shirt/blouse/top each night. We’re usually changing clothes after dinner, so they’re only worn about 2 hours each night.

  • Days in Port:  Dress is determined by what you’re doing so follow the instructions given by the excursion vendor.  Note:  Do some research on the norms for the port areas.  In some areas of Europe, Asia and a few Caribbean ports, modest apparel is socially ‘required’ to avoid offending the locals.  (i.e. cover ups or shorts/t-shirt over swimsuits)  Modest apparel is necessary for admittance to religious sites.  Remember your Feet:  If you’ll be doing significant walking, ‘comfort’ trumps ‘fashion’….except in European ports where sneakers are considered taboo.   🙂
  • Sea Days:  Obviously, this is determined by climate and temps, but ‘casual’ is the mode here.  Shoes and a cover up over swimwear are required in the dining areas (buffet and dining rooms) on most cruise lines. (Norwegian allows swimsuits in the buffet area.)
  • Swimwear – many recommend bringing 2 – 3 swimsuits for back-to-back pool or beach days.  Swimwear is only appropriate at the pool areas.  (typically a requirement)  A swimsuit coverup is also culturally required in many ports as noted above.  Most cruise lines provide beach/pool towels (ship AND port use) so don’t be concerned with packing your own.
  • Shoes:
    • Low-heel rubber sole shoes for sea days
    • Comfortable walking shoes for excursions/port days
    • Gym/workout shoes ??
    • Shoes for dinner attire
    • Excursion-specific shoes??  consult information about your chosen excursions

NOTE:  Though many people wear flip flops on a cruise, I will never take them again.  We purposely take the stairs around the ship as much as possible and they were difficult to climb stairs/walk in.   Just a personal opinion….   🙂

  • Workout clothing  if you plan to work out on board….or walk the open air decks in the mornings.

    walking deck

    wrap-around deck where everyone walks in the mornings

  • Sweater/light jacket for cool evenings on deck or in the dining room where the a/c can be chilly.

PERSONAL ITEMS:

  • Sunscreen, sunblock and/or after-sun lotion.  This is very expensive on the ship.
  • Personal Products in TRAVEL SIZES:travel size bottlesI buy travel size containers and put my favorite products in them.  Your cruise line may put a few personal items  (toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, etc…) in the stateroom but there’s no guarantee of what will be there.
  • Jewelry:  Keep security in mind as you make your choices of jewelry to bring. Expensive pieces are probably best left at home, however, if you DO choose to travel with them, bring it on board in your carry on and put it in the safe when not wearing it. The cabins have room safes, but only valuables locked in the purser’s safe are covered under the ship’s insurance (check your cruise contract).  I also bring a watch as I turn data off on our phones when we leave port – to avoid roaming charges.
  • Lip balm (with sunscreen)  The sea air can be very drying!
  • Insect repellant with DEET
  • Hat and/or sunglasses
  • Umbrella or poncho  — depends on itinerary
  • Medicine:  These are VERY expensive on board.medication containers
    • prescription medications (obviously….)
    • pain killer of choice – Tylenol, Advil, etc…  Travel sizes!!
    • antacid  (your diet may be quite different from when you’re home)
    • anti-diarrheal
    • cortisone cream
    • antihistamine
    • motion sickness remedy –  Bring more than  one option as you don’t know what will work for you)  For detailed information on medicines and homeopathic/natural remedies.  Dealing with Motion Sickness
    • antibiotic cream
    • stool softener (diet changes affect digestion…..)  🙂20170613_142858
    • Band-Aids/bandages
    • germicidal hand cleaner  (You can get this at Dollar Tree – for $1)

Though the ships have irons and ironing boards, they will be in a laundry room, NOT in your cabin. I try to just bring items that don’t require ironing. If you DO need to iron on formal night, do it early in the day to avoid long lines.

A Word About the Luggage Tags:

Cruise lines provide these.  Most cruise lines put them online for you to print – in an effort to go “green” (I’m not sure that saves much paper ha!  but it DOES save the cruise line money.)   That leaves you to figure out how to attach them to your luggage so that they STAY THERE during travel.

If you are flying and handling YOUR OWN bags at the airport, I recommend NOT attaching the cruise tags until after your flight to ensure they are not lost en route. When you pick up luggage at baggage claim, remove the airline tags and attach the cruise tags.

If you are flying and have purchased transfers from the cruiseline (they’re picking up your bags at the airport) you’ll need to attach those tags BEFORE LEAVING HOME.  I suggest putting TWO tags on each piece of luggage, securely attached,  as they need to STAY attached through all the handling your bags will go through.  (It’s a LOT – airport, transfer and cruise terminal…)

OPTIONS FOR MAKING SURE THOSE TAGS STAY ON:  🙂

  • Print and “laminate” the tags using clear plastic packing tape or contact paper.  Punch a hole  and attach to the bag with a zip tie  OR duct tape
  • Make a luggage tag protector (pocket) from plexi glass. Cut 2 – to size – and tape together with clear packing tape.  Punch a hole in the top and attach with zip tie.
  • Make a protector from a plastic page protector cut down to size, folded, stapled, and taped with clear packing tape over the ends and staples.  Attach with zip tie or staples.

zip tiesZip ties are available at the Dollar Tree – for $1.

Remember… 2 tags/bag is a good idea to keep things attached through much handling.

  • ONE MORE OPTION:  Several years ago,  I ordered vinyl luggage tag covers from Favors by Serendipity   These run around $2.50-$3 each.  – with an extra charge of .25 for the 9″ loops –which I recommend as the 6″ loops are challenging to attach to the suitcase. I’ve used them for all our travels – cruises AND flights.  I really like them!  Similar ones are available from Amazon for a little cheaper, but only in quantities of 4 or 8 and they don’t carry the 9″ loops.  I personally think the 9″ loops are worth the extra $1-2 it costs to order from this company.

Here’s hoping this list takes a bit of the mystery out of packing for that first (or possibly subsequent) cruise.

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