Planning some weekend getaways for the family in 2019

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a planner. I have vacations planned months, sometimes years, in advance. When our family decides on a Disney World trip or a cruise to Alaska, it is usually with months of planning.

It is odd that this year begins, and I don’t have definite plans for a family vacation. Last year at this time, I knew we would go to Albuquerque in March, Bastrop in June and an Alaska cruise in August. This year, I have ideas, but nothing has been set.

My husband owns his own law firm. And it sometimes is hard for him to get time away. Honestly, I think since he is the boss he should be able to take time off, but he sees it as more of pain to work extra hours to take a vacation that most likely he didn’t want to go on in the first place. He doesn’t love cruises like the kids and I do as he doesn’t like being without access to email (which is why we paid for the cruise internet plan).

So, to give him a break from planning a week-long vacation, I am thinking this year we plan a few weekend trips. This would mean he would only miss one day – maybe two days – of work and they would be spread out throughout the year. At least in my mind, it sounds like a better deal for him. Of course, his answer was why don’t we only do one weekend trip. Ah…no.

Here is what I am thinking about for this year.

April – The kids have a three-day weekend at the end of April. (All San Antonio schools close for the Battle of Flowers parade which is part of Fiesta, a 10 day festival held every spring.) In the past, my husband and I have used this time for us to take a couple’s vacation but one year, we did take the kids to Dallas. My thought is we again go to Dallas – or more specifically to the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Texas. Great Wolf Lodge is a indoor water park that is only open to people that stay at their lodge.

I have always wanted to go to the Great Wolf Lodge and would like to go before the kids get too much older. I think this date would be good as it shouldn’t be as crowded at this time since most kids are in school.

June – Usually we go to wherever my husband’s attorney conference is being held – Bastrop or South Padre Island. He works and we play. But this year it is here in San Antonio. Now while we may go stay on the Riverwalk for an evening, it isn’t the same thing as going somewhere that has a beach or other outdoor activities. The kids love the beach. And since we didn’t get there last year, I am thinking we should head to South Padre Island for a weekend. Of course, working this into my husband’s schedule may be challenging and we can always change the date to July or August if necessary.

I am also in the beginning discussions with my parents about maybe going some where with them for a few days. This would be without my husband. Just as we left him here when we went to visit my brother in Albuquerque, I think another trip might be fun. My parents haven’t been to Corpus Christi which is only a few hours’ drive away. And this trip wouldn’t have to be a weekend trip though it will have to wait until summer break.

September – In 2017, my parents rented a cabin at the lake. We went up on Friday and stayed to Sunday. It was great. The place wasn’t crowded, and the weather was still nice enough for the kids to play in the lake. We had smores, campfires, and got to see plenty of deer. The kids are hoping we get to go it again. The good news for my husband would be that he would only miss half a day of work. Of course this trip all depends on my parents since the cabin can only be rented by military or retired military personnel.

And that pretty much wraps up our trips. It would be tops 3 1/2 days off for my husband but we would still get to do some fun activities.

Our trip to Disney World starts this week

As you read this, I am off at Disney World in Orlando, Florida for the week. Who-hoo! I am so excited!!!

Now planning a Disney World trip is always a big production – if you want to hit the good attractions, shows and restaurants.

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

I am a big planner (as you might of guessed when I posted that we have the next 3 vacations planned out back in August). This trip came about on what I would consider short notice. We decided in April to rent Disney Vacation Club points and stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge during the holidays. (This is big for me as it means taking the kids out of school for a week – something I have never done before.)

DSCN2988But anyone who has been to Disney World in Florida (which consists of 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, a mini golf-course, 4 regular golf courses, a sports complex, a mega-shopping/entertainment center in addition to fishing, sailboats, canoes and a whole bunch of other activities offered at their 20 on-property resorts) knows you need to have some semblance of planning on this vacation.

In the past I have shared some planning posts. I am going to link back to those posts here for any of you planning a trip. But because they were written in 2013/2014, they may contain information that is no longer accurate. I will try to note here any changes from the posts but when in doubt double check all info. I suggest either a good guide book or to visit the Disboards (a message board full of Disney enthusiasts including some employees who can give you the inside scoop).

Planning Post #1 – Includes suggestions for buying a guide book, a link to AllEars.net and the Disboards, as well as suggestions to make your Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR) at the 180 day mark if you want some of the more popular eateries. Everything in the post seems pretty up-to-date though Star Wars Weekends no longer happen.

Planning Post #2 – Covers staying on Disney property and buying a package that includes hotel, dining plan and theme park tickets. Again, it looks like this is all good info. We didn’t go with a package this year as we rented DVC points from David’s Vacation Club Rentals and bought our theme park tickets from Parksavers at a substantial discount.

Planning Post #3 – This one covers FastPass+ which allows you to skip the standby line on 3 attractions by booking an hour window which you plan to ride/view that attraction. Most of this information on Fastpasses is accurate but I would suggest checking out the FAQ on the Disboards for the most up-to-date info. Also, ignore what I wrote about Star Wars Weekends as they have discontinued that event.

Next week I will address Disney Bounding which is wearing clothing inspired by a Disney character without actually wearing a costume. Intrigued? Then be sure to check back in next Monday.

 

Vacation planning – Destinations picked for 2016, 2017 and 2018!

For those of you who regularly read my blog – you know I am a planner. I typically have our next vacation planned out 6, 9 or 12 months in advance.

But now I think I have reached the pinnacle of planning. Not only do I have our vacation this year (Disney) scheduled, but I know where we are going in 2017 (Houston) and 2018 (Alaskan cruise). Yep, I am feeling like the ultimate planner right now.

Let me start with our newest vacation plan – a family cruise to Alaska! In August 2015, my family, my parents and brother took a Caribbean cruise (courtesy of my parents). We had three balcony cabins in a row and took family excursions in all of our stops. Everyone had a great time.

I guess the kids got the cruising bug because they were all for going again. When I mentioned there were cruises to Alaska, they both jumped on that idea. So we have been mulling this idea around for a while. Research quickly showed us that these cruises book up early, and they are more expensive than a Caribbean cruise. Part of the additional expense is because we will have to fly to Seattle rather than just drive to Galveston to board our ship.

Alaska – 2018

So while I would love to go to Alaska next summer, it just makes more sense to wait, save money and get the cabins/dates we want. And it didn’t take much convincing to get my parents and my brother to agree to go with us.

At the end of July, we booked our cruise for August 2018. My parents and my family will have connecting balcony cabins while my brother decided to go with a cabin that has a French door that partially opens and offers a view of the lifeboats. The price for this cabin is much cheaper, but at least he has a door that will provide some natural light and a cool breeze if he wants to open it.

Now we need to start saving money for airfare and excursions. I have already shown the kids the activities they can plan at each stop and have an idea of what they might want to do but we probably won’t book any of those until 2017. (Yes, yes, we will be booking early. You can’t say you are surprised.)

Houston – 2017

Now next summer, we are finally going to make it to Houston. After a Disney World trip in 2014, we decided that we would do something more low-key (read cheaper) for summer 2015. That was the plan until my parents offered to pay for the Caribbean Cruise in August 2015. So we pushed back the Houston trip until summer 2016. And then it got bumped when we decided to take a November trip to Disney World.

But now it is set in stone that we are going to Houston for a week next summer. We will visit the zoo, NASA, museums, the boardwalk and maybe even throw in a quick stop at the beach in Galveston.

Disney World – 2016

WDW ChristmasA huge tax return and the desire to go once again during the holiday season is what made us decide to do a Disney World trip in November of this year. Originally, we had talked about going in June 2017 but the last few trips have been in the heat of summer. And I can’t say no to going to Disney World when all the Christmas decorations are up. So we decide to take the kids out of school for a week and go this November.

I think I am most excited because we are renting part of a time share and are staying at the Animal Kingdom lodge. We will have giraffes and zebras right outside our room!

So now that we have the destinations picked for the next three years, it doesn’t mean the planning is over. Part of the fun for me is the planning, and I look forward to many months of research what to do on all these vacations.

Our vacation plans changed yet again

Two years ago we took a trip to Disney World. Anyone who has stayed on Disney property knows that it is not cheap. So for the following summer we decided that we would just go on a vacation closer to home. We decided to go to Houston (about 3 hours from here).

But that plan changed when my parents decided to take my brother and my family on a Caribbean cruise to celebrate my Dad’s 80th birthday and my husband and my 20th wedding anniversary. So we pushed the Houston plans to the summer of 2016.

That was the plan when I wrote in January about our summer plans. We were going to save money and go on a vacation closer to home so that we could re-do the counter tops in our kitchen. Then we got a much larger than expected tax refund. And my husband mentioned going to Disney in December rather than waiting until June 2017 as was our original plan.

DSC00789

Christmas Tree outside of the Animal Kingdom Theme Park. (2009)

Now, before the kids were in elementary school, we had taken them to Disney World a couple of times in December. The weather is great and the theme parks and hotels are all decorated for Christmas. But if you recall a post I wrote back in January, I try not to have my kids miss too much school. Typically they have only missed a day if they are sick.

OK…I admit to taking them out early for the rodeo and once for a beach trip. Every June Disney trip has had them missing the last day of school. I always thought I would feel too guilty to take them out of school for a whole week for a vacation.

I stewed over my husband’s suggestion for a week or so. I began looking at prices of hotels to see if it was any cheaper to go in December verses waiting until June. (Nope, not really much of a price difference.) I even talked to a few parents I know who have taken their kids out of school for a family vacation whether it was Disney World or a cruise. None of them regretted it. One, who now is a teacher at my school, highly encouraged me to do it.

“You won’t regret it,” she said. “Think of the memories you will make.”

Our principal is very family oriented. My kids are good students. If the teachers give make up work, we will do it. If they get zeroes on work for the days they miss, it won’t affect their grades that much. And honestly, who really cares what your grades were in third and fifth grade anyway.

So I decided we would do it. We would take them out for five days in December.

CIMG0289

Caribbean Beach Resort

Now each time we have gone to Disney, we have stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort. My husband and I spent our honeymoon there and an anniversary trip before taking the kids to that resort. But when I looked, there was no openings for the time we wanted to go. (9 months in advance and no standard rooms? Weird but it is the same time as a youth sports groups annual competition and they may be holding rooms for them.)

602436_15_z

Animal Kingdom Lodge

I have always wanted to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. But this is a deluxe resort and $$$$$. I was thinking if I could get it on a discount and it was only a little more than our normal resort then I would go ahead and do it. Pricing it out with the discount I assumed might be offered and it was still out of our range for what I am willing to spend on a resort.

Savannah View at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Savannah View at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Then I read about renting Disney Vacation Club points from a DVC member. This would make the Villas at Animal Kingdom Lodge affordable for us. After looking at room options and dates, we booked a Studio with a view of the Savannah for the week after Thanksgiving. I am so excited! I cannot wait to check out this resort!

Taking your kids out of school for non-health related reasons

I always tell my kids that their job is school. It is their job to learn and do their best at the lessons taught. Because I believe school is important, we try not to have them miss school.

I am a firm believer that if they aren’t really sick, then they need to be at school. If they aren’t running a fever (over 100) or throwing up, they are going to school. The one time I relented to this rule, I regretted it.

Of course, there are also doctor or dentist appointments to consider. We try to make those after school but that isn’t always possible, so I try to make them later in the school day, so they don’t miss too much. (School may start at 7:30 am but they have to be in class at 9:30 am to be counted for the day. Even if they come in later than that, they are still marked as absent.)

I know quite a few parents who have no qualms about taking their kids out of school for any reason – vacation, mental health day or whatever. Yes, places like Disney World are less busy during the school year, but I would feel too guilty taking my kids out for a week. There is no amount of makeup work that can replace actually being there.

Jase and Lexie on the tall slide.

Jase and Lexie on the tall slide at the rodeo.

Now, I must admit that I have taken the kids out for some not medical reasons. The last time was just two and a half weeks ago. Every year, San Antonio has a Stock Show & Rodeo in February.  This is a two-week event featuring not just a rodeo and agricultural exhibits but major singers nightly and a carnival.

We don’t typically go to the rodeo though it is very popular (read crowded). I took the kids when Jase was 6 and Lexie was 3 for what they call Dollar Days. Admission, all carnival rides and some foods only cost $1 on these days. Two years later, I took them again and then again this year.

The best way to beat those crowds on these discount days is to go early so I have taken the kids out of school around 11 am (or during the first year just waited until Jase was out of his pre-K class).

Lexie watching baby chicks hatch.

Lexie watching baby chicks hatch.

It isn’t all riding rides. We do some of the other kid activities and check out the petting zoo. I hope that some of it is at least educational for them. It at least lets them see another side of life if nothing else.

This is only one afternoon every other year, so I don’t feel too bad about taking them out. Last year, they also missed a day in the spring. My husband had a conference at South Padre Island, so we went up the weekend before. Since it is a 5-hour drive, we decided the kids and I would just drive back on Monday. But I knew the kids didn’t have any tests or major activities happening that day, so I felt fine with our decision.

And Jase missed the last day of school the first three years of elementary school. But then again, all the teaching is over by then, and we were going on vacation, so I didn’t feel bad at all about this.

As the kids advance in school, I actually expect it to be harder to feel okay with taking them out of school for a day here or there. Yes, there are some things like doctor’s appointments but most of their time is best spent in school learning.

Pros and Cons of writing while on vacation

This weekend, I board a cruise ship for a week-long vacation with my family. Explore Carnival MagicDuring this time, I won’t be working on my latest writing project or my blog. I won’t be updating Facebook or Twitter (though thanks to Hootsuite I will have some Tweets about my blog because I already have things scheduled to post.)

But there are other trips in which I do spend some time writing. The family has accompanied my husband on a few trips, and I took the car ride or some of the downtime to write. I also recently attended a PTA leadership conference and took my early rising time to catch up on my blogging.

So as you can see, in my case, it depends on the trip, whether I write or not. Here are some pros and cons of writing away from home.

Pros

  • If you hold a job or jobs besides writing, vacations or time away from work may be your only chance to get some serious writing done. You are free of burdens and constraints. Of course, you may only be free of some of the burdens if you aren’t vacationing alone. Either way, you can always stake some time to write if you really have the desire or are maintaining a daily writing goal.
  • It can give you something to do during the car ride or plane trip. Or if you have young kids – it gives you something to do during nap time.
  • Sometimes a change of location can inspire your imagination. Or perhaps a location or someone you meet can inspire you to write when you have been having writer’s block. Or maybe you will think of a new story for a future book – so keep a notebook handy to jot down your ideas.

Cons

  • It can take your time away from relaxing or spending time with loved ones or friends. (Though if truly dedicated, you probably can squeeze some time to write in somewhere.)
  • It can be hard to focus when you are off your schedule or out of your typical writing routine or area.
  • It can be hard to write away from home if you don’t have a laptop. I am writing this on my tablet but also write longhand sometimes too. So stash a notepad in your bag if for no other reason to jot down ideas that might come while your mind is distracted by the scenery or your talkative Aunt Muriel.

Since my iPad is going on the cruise, and I will probably have some downtime – most of which I am planning to read – there is a chance I could do some writing but my goal on this vacation is to have fun with the family.

On other trips, I have used my downtime as writing time. When we go to the beach, there is often a rest period during the afternoon in which the kids play with their toys, and I write. On our trip to a resort in Bastrop, TX in June, we had some downtime while waiting for my husband to finish his conference.

It all depends on what YOU want to do. If you need the rest and relaxation, then by all means take the time off. If this is a once in a lifetime trip, again, I would say take the time off and enjoy. But if you have the time or are trying to meet a writing goal, then writing on vacation doesn’t have to take away from the vacation. There will always be some sort of downtime for you to write if you choose.

Planning our next vacation (already!)

While driving back from the beach last month, I began talking to my husband about next year’s vacation. This year we went to Disney World. CIMG3203The beach has always been an annual June trip since my husband has a conference at South Padre Island each year. (That is going to change as next year the conference is moving to a new location.)

As soon as I mentioned a trip for next year, my husband sighed. “We haven’t even gotten back from this one!”

Of course, he wasn’t too surprised. I began planning our Disney World trip last year as we drove back from the beach. With Disney World a lot of planning really is involved – especially at least six months out if you want to attend certain activities or eat at a few select restaurants.

The thing is I like planning. It is almost as fun for me as the actual trip. Since Disney World was an expensive trip, we will do something cheaper next year. That means staying in Texas. Two years ago, we did Disney and then followed it up with a short trip last year to Corpus Christi. For next year, we are planning to go to Houston and Galveston (for the beach).

So I will spend a few evenings this month looking at activities in Houston and their related costs. I will check out hotel rates and locations. I won’t plan out the whole trip this early, but I do want to figure out how long of a trip we need to plan for and how much it will cost so we can save up for it.

Now next year is also my husband’s and my 20th wedding anniversary. We try to go on a trip every five years to mark our anniversary. It didn’t happen on our 10-year anniversary as Jase was born three weeks before the date. (We did celebrate 18 months afterwards with a trip to Disney World – but we took Jase with us so not really the same type of celebration.)

On our 15 year anniversary, we left the kids for three nights with my mom and went to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure in Orlando. (The original Harry Potter section had just opened three months before we went.) It was a nice short trip without the kids.

Now we are considering another trip without the kids. Where we will go, I am not sure. We talked about returning to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure as the new Harry Potter section opens this year. Or we could go back to Las Vegas which we haven’t been to in nine years. I suggested a short cruise, but my husband doesn’t love cruises like I do so that is probably out.

But with the Houston trip to plan and the desire to re-carpet the upstairs, our plan to go somewhere may just end up being an overnight trip to the Riverwalk. So that is why I am going to be spending a few days looking not only at our trip to Houston but possibly a longer trip for my husband and I to take. Knowing how much it will cost and how many days he will be away from work will allow us to have more options than if I waited until next year to plan these trips.