It’s been a hot few years since I’ve been home for Easter due to one reason or another (just kidding. It’s travel. It’s always travel). But! This year I finally managed and let me tell you something. I have been Missing. Out.
So I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination, and neither is my family, which is why I never really made such a big deal out of Easter. Sure, there’s some chocolate, and some good food, but nothing too crazy.
What I neglected to realize was that my family celebrates Easter like a boss. You see, all the kids are grown up now, with my two younger cousins 19 and 21 and myself 29. But rather than stopping Easter egg hunts, which let’s be real are ridiculously fun, the Easter Bunny has instead evolved the process.
In addition to booze, we hunted Easter eggs containing the best surprise ever- money!
After entirely way too much fun, we then moved the party to Disneyland.
Today I am writing to you from my economy(+!) seat, heading to Madrid for my very first international trip with Brit, my service dog. She’s currently laying on the floor, exhausted from the sprint to meet our connection in Houston. Kidding, that’s me. She’s exhausted from all the floor licking she’s done.
So, last I left off, we were talking about Harrison’s visit to California to meet my family, which went about as well as possible. He returned home just before Christmas, which was good, because for Christmas my family and I crammed four (and a dog) to a room in the Disneyland hotel.
It was actually super cool going to Disneyland for Christmas, and Brit did an amazing job as my service dog, diligently cleaning up any and all crumbs that I spilled.
A mere four days after Harrison returned home I flew out to Israel for a visit. Sadly, Brit wasn’t able to come with me, as Israel requires a rabies titer test (it takes an entire month to process!) and I hadn’t had one done yet.
As an aside here, I know some of you have probably seen my post about PTSD. There’s obviously no miracle cure, but I severely underestimated the effect Brit has/has had on me. So this trip was really difficult, as being separated from her is just…the worst.
Separation aside, this trip was cool for a couple of reasons, the first being that Harrison and I spent New Year’s in Georgia, which is next door to Azerbaijan and equally as weird.
We spent a total of five nights in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, and all of it was wonderful.
Georgians celebrate Christmas on January 7th and we arrived December 30th, which meant I got to celebrate Christmas all over again. Mostly it meant that the Christmas markets were alive and well, and the whole city was dressed up for the holidays.
As you all well know, Christmas is my most favorite thing in the whole world, so it was awesome to rewind myself five days and have more Christmas!
-Carissa, Brit “Floor-Snack”, and Harrison “Please Is Christmas Over Yet?”
I’m currently on my way to another airport…as will surprise none of you, I’m guessing. This time I’m headed out to Cancun for my very first trip to Mexico! I’m not even alone- one of my best friends, Chrissy, is coming with, and we plan on spending an amazing four days at an all-inclusive resort. Obviously, I plan to tell you all about it.
For the last five days I’ve been in sunny Orlando, Florida, spending time at one of my favorite places in the world: Disneyworld! That may seem strange…given all the other places I go, but there’s something really special about this place. Really tugs at my happy strings.
Anyway, this was my first time ever doing Disneyworld alone. It was definitely different, I’m not going to lie. I spent a lot of time considering whether to even come, but in the end I had already paid for a lot of it- and I’m a huge Disney nerd, so I made the choice to do it.
I posted previously about how I was going to stay on points, and the Disney Dolphin did not disappoint. Since I’m a Gold Starwood Preferred Guest member, they even upgraded my basic reservation to a brand new corner room with two (two!) separate balconies. This meant I could watch both the Epcot and Hollywood Studio fireworks from my room. So cool!
So what was it like going to Disneyworld by myself? Well..it was a lot of things.
It was really awkward every time I went to a restaurant as a party of one. People don’t expect people to show up to Disney by themselves. One morning, I went to order a coffee from the breakfast bar downstairs.
“One coffee, please,” I told the barista, pulling out my wallet.
“Two coffees?” She asked, looking over my shoulder for my nonexistent companion.
“…no. Just the one.”
This happened repeatedly, everywhere I went.
“Oh, are you with those kids? A group of three? Is that why you’re sitting alone?”
My favorite was the single rider line at Epcot’s Test Track ride, where the employee informed me and the guy behind me that our party was going to have to split up in order to get on the ride. Faking concern, I turned to the guy behind me and asked, “is that ok with you?”
He definitely thought I was hilarious.
However, there are many, many pros to going it alone. If anyone has ever gone to a Disney park with me (hi family!), then they know that at Disney I ain’t playing around. I walk a zillion miles per hour, weaving through the crowds and sliding past strollers like a ghost. I frequently disappear and end up waiting impatiently at the front of rides waiting for my party to show up. So! It was really cool to just…slip in everywhere and not have to wait for the other slowpokes to catch up.
In addition to this, there are tons of times where just a single spot remains on an attraction, and I was pulled from the line no less than three times in order to fill up a seat. That was pretty awesome. Being alone also meant that I was able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, with no arguments or compromises. Super cool.
Now, I’m assuming many of you are familiar with Disney’s Fastpass+ system. If you’re not, it’s essentially an online ride reservation system. You pick the things you want to go on in advance, and have an hour long return window in which to come back and skip the line. Disney lets you pick three fastpasses up to sixty days in advance, and on the day of, you can make additional choices after you’ve used your first three. Most people will get a 4th and maybe even a 5th one, if they’re lucky.
Guys, the Fastpass system is amazing for single riders. I spent an entire day at Magic Kingdom during a very busy season, and didn’t wait once in a line. I showed up at park open, 9am, walked onto a few rides before lines built up, and then used Fastpasses the entire rest of the day.
Now this is going to sounds braggy, but only because it is. From 9am until 8:30pm, when I left, I rode:
Seven Dwarves Mine Train 3x
Space Mountain 7x
Peter Pan 3x
Pirates of the Caribbean 5x
Haunted Mansion 4x
Big Thunder Mountain 3x
Jungle Cruise 2x
People Mover 1x
Mickey’s Philharmagic 1x
Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor 1x
Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blaster 1x
It’s a Small World 1x
For those of you who aren’t super familiar with Disney, that is a ton of rides. I just refreshed the application on my phone and went from ride to ride, skipping all the lines. It was great!
Anyways, while being at the parks alone was sometimes a little sad (who am I going to share these memories with?), it was also a lot of fun. Would I do it again? Definitely.
I’ll share some tips and tricks I used to keep costs down on this trip later this week. In the meantime, enjoy those landscape photos of Disneyworld! (This is because it’s really creepy to take pictures of people while alone in a theme park full of children. I know better than that.)
So if you know me, you definitely know I love to spend time at Disneyworld. It’s honestly one of my favorite places to be, and David and I go down as often as possible. However, the cost is prohibitive for many families. A lot of the time, we’ll go and stay at a cheap hotel because they’re everywhere around Disney. But sometimes, we want to stay somewhere nice. Somewhere with a little more…magic.
So how do we do this affordably? Everyone knows that the Disney ecosystem is built to suck every last penny from your wallet, but there’s definitely something special about getting to stay within the resort and revel in the benefits that being on property brings. However, oftentimes, the costs of the hotels can get as high as $800/ night. I don’t know about you guys, but I am totally not rich enough for that.
Fortunately for us, there are two hotels within the Disney resort that are no longer owned by the Disney corporation. Starwood bought them some time ago, which means…you guessed it! You can use points (from the SPG Amex cards) to stay for free at Disneyworld.
The two hotels, the Dolphin and the Swan, are a little older than the rest of the hotels, and their theming isn’t *quite* as nice as some of the others, but they are walking distance from Epcot, and get their own special entrance. Because they’re part of the Disney resort, guests staying there also receive the cool extra benefits, such as early entrances to the parks and free transportation everywhere. This can save a bundle in parking fees at the resort.
The Dolphin is considered a Category 4 hotel, which means staying there will cost you 10,000 points per night. However, on award stays, Starwood gives you the 5th night free, effectively bringing the cost down to 8,000 points/night. For a hotel that regularly costs over $300/night, this is a fantastic redemption value.
And did I mention that it’s on Disney property?
So, when David and I are heading down in May, the room rate for the Dolphin is $329/night, not including taxes and fees. All told, the total for five nights would be $2117.59. Instead, we’re spending 40,000 points (5th night free) for the entire stay!
That is a serious chunk of change, and totally worth it for families who are heading down to Disneyworld.
For my Georgia and New England readers, there’s also a special going on right now for a third night free in honor of the Super Bowl. All you have to do is call to book before February 28th, and stay anytime before January 31st, 2018. There might be a way to stack this with the Citi Prestige’s 4th night free offer, but I haven’t tried.
Anyway, these are some tips for saving money down there. If you guys are interested in learning more, let me know! I have tons of info, and obviously love talking your guys’ ears off.