Winter vacation 2015

This year has been a crazy one!  We moved to a new house, traveled a lot, got a puppy, and found out we were expecting another little one!  Actually I found out a day or two before we took this trip.  Luckily the morning sickness didn’t really kick in yet, so I felt pretty good on the cruise.  Hunter did great, and the other kids had a blast with their uncle.  The three kids went to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure for 3 days.  They stayed at a Universal resort so they were able to ride the Harry Potter rides early and then get express passes for most all other rides.  They had so much fun and came home with a ton of goodies (including a chocolate frog for me!).  12347953_10153957481507122_5082497160363946333_n

Having fun with their uncle!

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One of the workers there gave them a behind the scenes tour of the Men in Black ride.  They still talk about how cool that was!

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With the Back to the Future car.

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Getting ready for some massive burgers!

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This sign is so fitting! Hahaha

 

While they were off having a great time at Universal, my husband, Nathan, and baby Hunter and I had a great time on a Royal Caribbean 5 night cruise to the Cayman Islands and Mexico.

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We splurged on a balcony room so we could enjoy the scenery while Hunter was napping.  It was worth it!  So beautiful out there!

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Hunter loved the balcony.  Babies can’t swim on the ship so we brought an inflatable pool and put it on the balcony for him to play.

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Selfie and the sea

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Hunter has separation anxiety, so we could not use the nursery as planned (bummer), but he loved playing in there during open play where you stay with the kids, instead of dropping them off.

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We had to take a tender boat to the Cayman Islands, Hunter wasn’t thrilled with this.  He wanted to walk around which, obviously, would not have been safe!

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He was ready for his dinner! (This should be after the Cayman Island pics, whoops!)

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Cayman Islands

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We had a great time in the Cayman Islands.  It was very beautiful here.

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Since we have been to Mexico before, and the morning sickness started to kick in, we didn’t get off the ship at Cozumel.  We took Hunter to play mini golf instead.

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You can’t forget the cute towel animals left in your stateroom!!  I do miss the chocolates that the Disney Cruise leaves every night, but we had $150 onboard credit, so we pretty much could buy all the souvenirs and candy we wanted!

We had a great time, the kids had a great time, and once again, the trip was paid for before we left, so no debt to come home to haunt us!  This next year we will not be traveling so much with a baby coming.  We need to save Hubby’s vacation time for that, however, we have a family reunion in May at some cabins in KY which will be a lot of fun!  Then later in the year we may go back to Universal or Silver Dollar City in Branson, or Great Wolf Lodge. . . .

 

***So she doesn’t feel left out, here is our newest little addition Calypso.  She is an 11 week old goldendoodle.  So sweet and soft!

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School, budget and travel

Wow, this year is flying by fast! So much has happened already and I can’t wait to see how this year wraps up. We are just starting the new homeschool year. We only lasted a few weeks before a stomach virus ran rampant through our home. We also have been having major headaches with our daughter’s car. We are praying the issues are behind us now!! Next on our vacation list is heading back to FL for a much anticipated caribbean cruise for the hubby and me ( and the baby is tagging along) while the kids enjoy Universal Studios again with their uncle and enjoying the FL weather with their grandparents!!  Our budget has been hit a lot this year. Between moving, car trouble, and needing to buy new appliances, we really need to kick it into gear and save, save, save! Our goal is to have our emergency fully completed by the end of next year. We also are looking forward to attending a family reunion and hopefully adding a furry friend to the family next year. Lots to plan for, and I am looking forward to making some fond memories! Hopefully I will be able to stick with the blog better. Life is hectic, but I love to have a written timeline of the year.

Travel budget list

So, you are thinking about taking a vacation.  You want to do it with a budget and no credit card headache when you return.  How will you do it?  Well, keep reading for tips on how to make your budget and stick to it!  The first thing you need to do is figure out where you want to go and how much it will cost to get there.  Let’s say you want to drive about 4 hours away, and stay at a hotel for 5 nights.  First you need to figure out how much it will cost to drive round trip 4 hours.  I drive a huge gas guzzler, so that would cost me roughly $120.  Hopefully your cost on gas will be much cheaper!  Then you need to find a hotel and price that.  Don’t book it yet, just figure out how much it will cost.  Vacations are much cheaper in the off seasons (i.e. when kids are in school!) but even if you travel during the summer/holidays, you can still do it as long as you plan for the expenses.  Ok, back to the hotel.  I like to use http://www.tripadvisor.com to find hotel ratings and prices.  I have never gone wrong using a recommendation from trip advisor!  They also have ratings for attractions and restaurants.  I wish they paid me for this tip, but sadly, this is just me telling you what works! 😉 So, lets say you find a hotel for $100/night, but then you go to the hotel website and enter your AAA number and you can get it even cheaper.  If you are military, you usually can get the best rate! And deservedly so!  Thanks for your service!!  Alright, so this $100/night hotel can be reserved for $80/night with some searching around. Either at the hotel website or even travel sites like expedia.com or travelocity.com.  Check around, but make sure your site is reliable and not a scam.  I have booked using both of those sites and they are legit!

So, now we have $120 in gas and $400 for the hotel ($80×5 nights).  $520 doesn’t seem too bad for a vacation…but we are not done yet!  We need to budget food.  That will depend on your family and your taste in food.  For our family of 6 (5 that eat off of their own plates!) I usually budget $120/day for food.  Then you need to add in parking if your hotel has paid for parking.  You also need to research sightseeing/amusement parks or state parks and add those admission/parking fees to the list.  This can vary widely based on your desires and budget.  We also budget for spending money.  Depending on where we go, we usually budget $50-$100 per person.  Don’t forget to budget for passports if needed.  And if you already have one, check the expiration date.  They actually expire 6 months before that date, so if you are nearing it, make sure you renew before you leave home!  If you fly, you also need to include airport parking/flight/rental car/taxi.  But you get the idea.  Every little thing is put into the budget before you even book your trip.  Then when you are finally done with adding everything up, throw in an extra 10% for issues that may come up.  You may break your sunglasses and need to buy new ones.  Your plane may be delayed and you may need to pay for an extra meal you didn’t count on.  Having a little cushion is a huge stress reliever.  If you don’t use the extra money, that is just more you can throw to your emergency or savings account! I also added a line for things you may need before you travel.  For instance, our upcoming cruise stateroom has a shower only, so I have to buy an inflatable tub for the little guy before we leave, but I am budgeting it into our trip fund.

For quick reference, here is a list of expenses you may incur.  Then, when you have it all saved up, you can book that mini-vacation, dream vacation, family reunion, or relaxing cruise!

Flight:

Airport parking:

Rental car/gas or taxi:

OR

Gas to drive there, back, and around town:

Hotel/hotel parking:

Food:

Spending money:

Attractions/parking:

Tips for services:

Passports:

Little things before you leave: Sunblock, snacks for the road, bottled water, new walking shoes, etc.

10% overage:

TOTAL:

Now, add that up and divide by the number of months you have (or need) until you have all the money for your trip saved up! That gives you a timeline of when to book things, and when you are planning on leaving.  It will show you how much you need to save each month to meet your goal!

*Most, not all, flights are the cheapest about 6 weeks before you plan to leave, and book it on a Tuesday!  This, of course, does not hold true to holidays or high season.  Book those asap, especially if you have a set date that you have to take to ensure you get a flight!  I like to use Kayak.com or my skyscanner app to check out cheapest prices, then I go to that airline page to book.*

**Don’t forget to make sure all your bills at home are paid before you leave, so you don’t have to deal with that while you are gone!**

I hope you have a wonderful/stress-free vacation!

Disney

After we went to Universal and nursed our sore feet, we spent three fun days at Disney!  We decided to cut out Animal Kingdom since there was so much construction there, and we only had one park per day tickets.  Magic Kingdom was fun and we were able to score extra fast passes (thanks Mom!) so we got to ride on all our favorites.  The kids also got to ride double here with the baby swap as well.

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Buzz Lightyear ride

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In front of Cinderella’s castle!

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Gaston fountain!

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Philhar Magic show!

The second day we went to Epcot.  The younger ones were finally tall enough to make their own roller coasters and that was a lot of fun!  My hubby and I snuck away for lunch at Le Cellier in Canada, our favorite restaurant there.  It was nice to have a date alone.  My parents were with the kids and of course, they all had a blast together as well.  The baby napped and the kids enjoyed the Innovations.  They redid Test Track and it is now our favorite ride at Epcot.  You need to try it if you go there! It is so much fun!

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Creme Brûlée at Le Celier. Yum!

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Innoventions!

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She looked everywhere for these Mickey Ears!! She finally found the last pair!

The last day was spent at Hollywood Studios.  Toy Story Mania is still a favorite ride and we ate at the 50’s Prime Time Diner.  The Brown Derby is my personal favorite, but we didn’t have a date their this time because we wanted to stay together as a group, and the kids wanted to go to the 50’s diner!  The younger ones tried the Rockin Roller Coaster (they hated it, the adults loved it!).  We had a wonderful trip and can’t wait to go back!  The kids will spend a few days this winter with their uncle at Universal/Islands of Adventure while Hubby, baby, and I go on a cruise to the Western Caribbean.  The best part of our trip was that it was all paid for before we left home.  Spending money budgeted for everyone, food money (including our date) set aside, even airport parking was budgeted.  So when we arrived home we had nothing but fun memories of a wonderful vacation!  No credit card bill hanging over our heads. I encourage you to try and vacation with cash saved up and no headache when you come home!!!

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The real carriage used in the new Cinderella film.

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Phineas and Ferb!

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We always have to get a picture with the Florida snowman!

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Toy Story mania!

Trip to Universal Orlando/Disney World April 2015

This vacation was so exciting for me!  All of our kids have gone to Disney as a baby, and our new little bundle of joy was no exception!  He, (9 months old), absolutely loved it and did wonderfully well!  Our first stop was to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure for a day with my husband’s family (and meeting up with good friends!) and then 3 days at Disney World with my parents.  We had such a blast!  We made a quick stop at the beach first, which had the perfect waves for boogie boarding!  Our little one did not like the beach very much at all, but I got some cute pictures!

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At the beach

As is common in FL, it rained poured for almost the whole day at Universal/Islands of Adventure.  Some might think that is a bad thing, but since we were only there for one day I welcomed the shower!  We also went on a week day which meant that with those two circumstances put together, we hardly had to wait in line for anything!!  I did ax the stroller in favor of a baby carrier and umbrella for this day because who wants to push a soaking wet stroller around?!  We got around a lot faster with just the carrier.  I won’t lie, by the end of the day my feet were killing me, but we had so much fun, I didn’t care!!

Our kids love Harry Potter, so they were super excited to experience both parks and the Hogwarts Express train ride.  You can only ride the train if you get a park to park ticket.  If you only buy a ticket for one park, you miss our on this opportunity.  It has different views each way it travels, so make sure if you ride the train you ride it both ways at least once! Another neat thing that happens when the park is fairly empty is that all 3 of my kids got to do the wand experience at Olivander’s, when normally only one child in a group gets picked.  You get to try a few wands and when “your” wand picks you, there are lights and wind and is a pretty cool experience!  You can choose to keep the wand that chose you, or you can pick a different one after the experience.  2 of the 3 kids kept the wand that chose them, and my frugal child chose a cheaper non-interactive wand.  While walking around the parks, your wands can activate and move things around throughout the park, when they wave them just right.  But it costs extra for that feature.  The rides were a lot of fun, and there were not too many rides that the younger ones couldn’t ride on.  The baby swap here is better than at Disney, you get to sit inside and watch a movie or at least get out of the sun while you wait to swap.  They also let the other people in your party ride again with you, so the kids all got to ride double on the rides!  (When busy, they only let you bring 1-2 people with you when you swap).  Disney lets you bring 3 people with you for the swap, but you have to wait outside with the baby, then they give you a fast pass. Still nice, but I preferred Universal for this. Here are some pictures of Universal:

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Just arriving for the first time ever to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure!

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So excited to ride the Hogwarts express with their uncle!

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The wand that chose her!

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In front of Hogwarts Castle with the family!

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Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes! Chocolate frogs (which are huge and didn’t melt!) and Pigmy Puff’s!

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She had a great day and didn’t want to leave!

Most of the pictures we got at Universal were at the Harry Potter Land, partly because of the rain!  But we really did enjoy the rest of the park as well!  Next post: Disney World!

A lot has happened!

Wow, I can’t believe it has been so long since I last wrote a blog post!  Since March, we have gone on vacation to Universal Orlando/Disney World, moved to a new house, and now are planning a cruise/kids are going back to Universal.  So I will have a lot to blog about and after our cruise, I will also have some posts on cruising with a baby/toddler!  This will be a first for us and I already have researched a lot of new tips and tricks for cruising with a baby!  So stay tuned if you are interested in traveling with a big family, or traveling in general, with a budget, and without the stress that credit cards bring you after you get home from your vacation!

Sweet 16 Party

Well, this past weekend was very hectic to say the least!  We had very bad weather here, so we had to postpone my daughter’s birthday party.  Thank God, everyone was able to come!  For her 16th birthday, she decided to have a murder mystery fairy tale themed party.  Everyone had to come in costume and they each had their own character to play.  Each course of dinner was a round in the game.  Round one was during appetizers, round two during dinner, and round three during dessert.  You got to know everyone’s character during round one. Round two, someone gets murdered, and round three we find out whodunit! It was a ton of fun, and everyone really got into it.  The younger kids were my helpers, and they did a fantastic job!  The party was a hit, she got some amazing gifts, and the house is all cleaned up again 🙂 So I am happy, too!  Here are some pictures of her sweet 16 birthday party:

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All the suspects

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The beautiful birthday girl!

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My little servants

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Getting to know one another.

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Oh no! I was murdered!  *This is a horrible picture, but the only one I had showing the make-up/victim sign.

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Trying to figure out whodunit! *Spoiler* The girl in the blue chair is the murderer!

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Her gorgeous cake!

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Most parents just give their kids a present, but not me 😉 I filled a box with crumpled paper and wrote a note taped to the bottom.  “Yeah right, like it would be that easy!  Check on top of the fridge for your present…if you can reach!”

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She found a way to reach the top of the fridge!  It was worth it, because she found the keys to her BRAND NEW (to her) CAR!!!

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The party was a blast, she will always remember it, and that is the whole point of throwing an amazing sweet 16 party for her.  We found the party script at www.mymysteryparty.com  They also have non-murder mystery parties for younger kids.  I am sure we will be using their site again!  *I don’t get anything from them,I just wanted to share the info in case someone was interested!