Category Archives: Example Trips

Universal Studios Discounted 4-day Passes

I’ve got Orlando on my mind these days.  Travelzoo’s Top 20 has a Universal Studios deal today.  The deal is through Best of Orlando

“With this sale, a four-day park-to-park pass is now just $139.99 (regularly $175.99) for adults and $129.99 (regularly $162.99) for children. Considering a single-day pass goes for $118, this deal offers huge savings on admission alone.

Through Oct. 31, visit the haunted houses, scare zones and live shows at the special Halloween Horror Nights event with this offer admission starts at just $57, reg. $81. Also, not to be missed is the excitement of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, now open at Islands of Adventure.

Select the first option, “2-Day Park to Park (Plus 2 Additional Days Free!),” by choosing the quantity and clicking “Add to Cart.”

Note: An additional $12.95-$13.60 per ticket in fee will apply.”

This is tempting now that the boys are into Harry Potter.  However, I’m not sure if we would actually go to Universal Studios more than one day.


Non-Disney Hotels on Disney Property

Man, this trip to Disney keeps getting better every day.  The last time we went to Disney, my parents were nice enough to let us stay at their timeshare about 20 minutes outside of Disney.  This time, we wanted to try staying on property.  I researched MouseSavers to find out which hotels were the best in each of the category types.  I was fairly certain we were going to stay at Coronado Springs or Fort Wilderness Lodge.  But I have a hard time paying full price (or in this case AAA prices) for a hotel.  I was talking with a friend of ours about where were planning on staying.  During the course of the conversation, he mentioned Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort.  I can’t remember why he mentioned them, but it got me thinking.

Later that night, I was searching around to see if I could find a deal for for the resort.  And low and behold, the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort is a Westin hotel and part of Starwood Hotels!  That means I could use points!  I was hoping that the cash and points option would be available, but unfortunately it’s not right now.  The hotel is listed as a category 4 hotel, so it is 10,000 points per night.  And they give you the 5th night free when you use points for the first 4.  Now I am always very reluctant to use Starwood Hotel points because they are so valuable.  But the hotel is more than $200/night.  We’re staying for 5 nights and using 40,000 points.  When you can transfer 40,000 Starwood Hotel points to an airline, Starwood gives you an extra 10,000 points in the transfer (so you get 50,000 airline miles).  I value airline miles at 2 cents per mile.  So for it to be worth it to me, I need to get at least $1,000 worth of value from 50,000.  And I would in this case, so it’s worth it to me.  You have to love not having to pay for an on-property Disney resort!

What’s great about the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort is it’s right on Disney property (near Epcot and Hollywood Studios).  And you get Extra Magic Hours with this hotel.  The only hotels, outside of Disney owned hotels, that offer Extra Magic Hours are Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort, Hilton Orlando Buena Vista (located across the street from Downtown Disney), and Shades of Green (a resort for U.S. military and Department of Defense personnel).

There are also hotels located on Disney property that are not run by Disney.  These hotels are usually less expensive than the Disney hotels.  And you can use the Disney transportation buses to get to the resort (so you don’t have to get a rental car).  The hotels are:

Check out this map I created to see where these hotels are located in comparison to the Disney Parks.
View Non-Disney Owned Hotels on Disney Property in a larger map

I’m going to continue to check hotel deals as we get closer to our travel dates, but as it stands today, we’re staying at the Disney Swan Resort.

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Free Things to Do at Disney

I love this article on the Frommer’s Family site..  It has 10 free things to do at Disney.  It’s nice to have a list of fun, free things to do considering how expensive Disney can get.  I especially like the watching the fireworks from the Disney Polynesian Resort and going to the Campfire Sing-a-long at Fort Wilderness.  Here’s the full list in case they ever pull the article:

  1. Explore Downtown Disney - My kids loved downtown Disney when we went.  They loved building racecars at the Lego store.
  2. Cruise along the Boardwalk
  3. Visit Disney Value Resorts (you can park for free for 3 hours if you tell the attendant you’d like to visit the resort)
  4. Ride the Monorail - They talk about how you get a bird’s eye view of the resort.  I got a tip from a friend that it’s also a great place to take your kids who need a nap.  It’s air conditioned and runs in a continuous loop.
  5. Enjoy a campfire with Chip ‘n’ Dale (at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort)
  6. Catch a fireworks show from Disney’s Polynesian Resort - They suggest bringing a picnic dinner.  Again you can park for free at the resort if you tell the attendant you want to explore the hotel.
  7. Hunt for Hidden Mickeys at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge – I love this idea.  What a great scavenger hunt for the kids.
  8. Go on a safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
  9. Sample some new types of cuisine - Get pre-dinner samples Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
  10. Enjoy holiday fun at Celebration - We visited Celebration when we went to Disney based on a suggestion from my parents.  The kids really enjoyed walking around and getting ice cream.
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Walt Disney World Phone Apps

I read the following article on USA Today about phone apps for Disney World.  They talk about 3 apps that they liked to make your life easier when visiting the parks.  The apps they suggested were available on the iPhone.  I searched the Android Market and didn’t see them all.  So I searched the Android Market to see which ones had the highest rating.  I also read through the comments to see what suggestions readers had.  Here’s a summary:

  • Disney World Lines (Android – free, but to get all features you have to subscribe to for a year; I talked about this site in my Disney post) – This is an app by the people who write the Unofficial Guide to Disney and the web site  It includes a crowd calendar to help you decide which park to visit on each day and wait times for the rides.  The people commenting on the USA Today article said this was the best app.  If you buy the Unofficial Guide book, you get a discount on the site.
  • Walt Disney World Pro (iPhone, $4.99) – see the article for a review
  • Disney World Magic Guide (iPhone, $4.99) – see the article for a review
  • Disney World Wait Times, Dining and Maps (iPhone – $3.99, Android – $.99, there is a lite version that is free on Android) – see the article for a review
  • Verizon’s Mobile Magic – (Android – free) The commenters who tried this app loved it.  I checked the Android Market and the reviews were mixed.  But hey, it’s free, so what have you got to lose?
  • Ridemax – ($15 app – yikes) The commenter on the article loved this app.  You can download it to your computer via and use it on iPhone, Android, and Blackberry.  Here’s what he had to say about it: “You select the rides you plan on going on, the exact dates you’ll be at the park(s), and what time you plan on arriving & leaving – and this app maps the rides in the exact order you should go on them to avoid the lines. I did it for our trip to Disney 2 weeks ago – and it was amazing.. we hit the busiest rides early & late, and the slower rides in the middle of the day during “peak” times. Also tells you when to get a fastpass or not. Totally worth it!”

New England Fall Foliage

After 5 and a half days without power, we are up and running again!  Now to think about the upcoming Fall season.

I can’t think of a better place to view fall foliage than New England – picturesque towns, winding country roads, apple orchards, pumpkin patches, and hayrides.  I absolutely love Fall.  It’s one of the reasons I couldn’t think of moving somewhere else in the country.  I love when the temperatures dip to sweater weather, the changing colors on the trees, going apple picking, sipping apple cider and going on a hayride to pick pumpkins with the kids.  When I lived in Puerto Rico for a year and a half, I remember coming back up to the mainland in October.  I was so depressed when I had to go back down to Puerto Rico.  If you’ve never experienced Fall in New England, you are really missing out.  Put it on your vacation to-do list.  The best month to visit is October.  Which time in October will depend on the state you’re visiting, so check out their sites below.

Here’s a list of leaf peeping routes in each of the New England states:

Maine - Many people visit Maine only over the summer.  That’s a shame because it is fabulous every season of the year.  We’ve even visited in the winter months to enjoy some clam chowder in Portland at Gilbert’s Chowder House, but I digress.  Here’s the link to Maine’s Official Fall Foliage site.

New Hampshire - I regret to say that I haven’t visited New Hampshire extensively.  Since my husband’s family lives in VT, we tend to go there instead of New Hampshire.  It is a unique state in that the southern part is very close to Boston and more populated, but as you more north it becomes less and less populated.  Here’s the link to New Hampshire’s Official Fall Foliage site.

Vermont - I am so sad to hear about the destruction that Hurricane Irene brought to Vermont.  It really is one of the most beautiful states you’ll ever visit.  That is one of the reasons that my husband and I decide to get married there instead of my own hometown.  Most of the state is very rural.  There are so many idyllic small towns, covered bridges and maple sugar houses.  Because Vermont isn’t overpopulated, you will see tons of trees changing colors.  You don’t need specific scenic routes because most roads in the state are scenic.  If you want to go leaf peeping, but still want to have conveniences of a larger city, visit Burlington.  It is located right on Lake Champlain and within about 30 minutes of ski resorts like Stowe and Smuggler’s Notch.  Here’s a link to the Vermont’s Official Fall Foliage site.

Massachusetts – Eastern and Western Massachusetts are a world apart.  You have Boston and the Cape in the east and the Berkshire’s in the west.  So you can have many different kids of vacations in Massachusetts.  If you visit western Massachusetts, make sure you visit the Yankee Candle Flagship Store in South Deerfield.  Here’s a link the Massachusetts Fall Foliage site.

Rhode Island - It may be our smallest state, but it’s surely not one to miss.  I love the beaches and the Newport Mansions.  As a side note, Newport Mansions are an incredible place to visit around Christmastime.  Here’s a link to a Rhode Island Fall Foliage site.

Connecticut - Okay, I’m a little biased, but Connecticut is a fabulous state.  You have beautiful beaches, wealthy Fairfield County, scenic Litchfield County, wonderful historic sites, wineries, casinos and the Quiet Corner (northeastern CT).  Don’t be scared away based on damage from Hurricane Irene.  We are resilient people and are quickly rebuilding.  And because of the rain we received this year, I’m guessing that the Fall foliage will be vibrant.  Here’s a link to Connecticut Fall Foliage site.  Here’s another site you might like to check out.

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