Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Is everything geared for a family of 4?

I grew up in a family of 5. Two parents, 1 brother, 1 sister and me.

I remember going on family vacations when we would all pile in the station wagon. Of course, car seats and booster seats weren't around in those days, so I could sit in the very back of the station wagon. We drove from Colorado to New Jersey numerous times, and saw everything in between. When it came time to stop for the night, we'd pull over to a motel (usually a Best Western), and get one room with a rollaway bed. 5 people in one room? No problem.

Now that I'm all grown up and part of another family of 5, I've found that planning vacations and getting hotel rooms for 5 isn't quite as simple as it was back when I was a kid. The majority of hotel rooms now only allow 4 people, and no rollaway beds. They say it's due to fire code restrictions.

The hotels that have bigger rooms for families of 5 charge significantly more for adding a 5th person. I would think that adding a 5th person to a room should make our price increase by just 25%, right? But usually, it's a lot more than that.

Here are a few examples:

JW Marriott near San Antonio: Looks like a beautiful place, we've thought about going down there for just 1 night to enjoy the pools. Family of 4 price: $449. Add in 1 more person, and they have to bump you up to a suite for $1149. Over double the price. Or we could book 2 regular rooms for exactly double the price. The hotel requires wrist bands to use their pool, so it's not like we could sneak a 5th person into a regular room with a sleeping bag, because then one of us couldn't use the pool.

Omni Resort in Orlando: +59% to add a 5th person

I could keep listing examples of hotels that can't accommodate 5 in one standard room...

Then we have Disney, which does have hotel rooms that accommodate 5.  THANK YOU! But, the price increase is still not in line with the occupancy increase. For example, one week at the cheapest Disney resort that accommodates 5 is still +40% higher than the cheapest room for 4 people. Renting DVC points is not cheaper. And you can't really sneak a 5th person into a 4-person room at Disney since your park tickets and Magical Express bus tickets are tied to your room.

And on a Disney cruise, adding a 5th person adds at least 48% to the total vacation (whether it's adding a second room or booking in a higher category room that accommodates 4 people).

I've done the math, and it does not compute!

We just returned from a fabulous weekend at a small resort where we stayed in a cozy cabin. We have been looking for another cabin to stay in next summer, but we are frustrated that so many of the cabins max out at 4 people.

So what is a family of 5 or more to do? Just suck it up and pay more?

Well, that's one option. We have found a few other workarounds:

1. Timeshare rentals--most timeshare places allow you to rent from owners. A few years ago, we rented a 2-bedroom timeshare near San Diego for less than $100 a night. We also rented a timeshare near Disney for less than that. Most timeshares have full kitchens and a washer/dryer, which also saves you money.

2. House rentals--sites like vrbo.com and airbnb.com have houses to rent, many which accommodate 5 or more. We used vrbo.com to rent a house in Colorado. Depending on the house, this may not be cheaper than 2 standard hotel rooms, but at least most houses have a full kitchen and washer/dryer.

3. Suite hotels--some "suite" hotels fit 5-6 people in a standard room. My favorite so far is Springhill Suites by Marriott. We stayed in one last year near SeaWorld, and it slept 6 people. 2 queen beds and a sleeper sofa. Beware that many "suite" hotels do not accommodate more than 4 people, but just have a wall separating the bed from the living room or table area.

If you are a family of 5+, I'd love to hear how you keep vacation costs down and still find bargains on accommodations for your larger family.

(And don't get me started on restaurants, cars, theme park tickets and Groupons that are all geared for families of 4 :) )

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Closest We've Come to Camping--Coyote Ranch

This weekend, my husband rode his bike in the Hotter 'n Hell Hundred bike rally in Wichita Falls, Texas. This was his 3rd year riding this race with over 13,000 cyclists, but our first year going there with our entire family. We found this placed called Coyote Ranch that had cabins to rent, so we snagged a reservation exactly 1 year in advance for this popular race weekend (hotels are really hard to come by during the race weekend).

We rented one of the loft cabins. It had a front porch and a back porch that wrapped around the side, with four rocking chairs and a dining table on the porches.

The living room with a sofa bed:

The kitchen with a small refrigerator/freezer, 2-burner stove and microwave. We brought our own food with us for the weekend. This is probably the closest we've come to camping, ever.

The loft where the kids slept:

The loft had a futon bed and space for another 3 kids in sleeping bags on the floor. In total, you could sleep 8-9 people in the cabin. Although the loft is very short! Only 2 of my 3 kids could stand up in it.

There was storage under the stairs--or as my kids called it, the Harry Potter room.

The master bedroom with a king-size bed:

The entire cabin was decked out in country western decor. Like this pistol lamp in the bedroom.

There are 24 cabins at the resort and many RV hook-ups. The resort also has a wedding chapel and a few conference centers for receptions and family reunions.

Out the back door, we could walk to some of the park's amenities.

What is that yellow thing in the ground? A jumping pillow!

On the way there, we stopped to play tetherball.

The jumping pillow was a huge hit with my kids! I guess it's like a huge in-ground trampoline.

I got on for a while--it was even fun for teenagers and adults.

As you can see, we stayed on the jumping pillow into the evening both nights.

Near the jumping pillow, there were some wagons to explore:

And a playground:

With a treehouse:

The resort had 2 pools. Neither were huge, but we played at the smaller one with a water slide.

It had a small splash pad, also.

The resort had a stocked fishing pond (which we didn't explore) and some miniature horses.

The office sold ice cream bars and popsicles, which we had a few times.

The resort had a fish fry on Friday night and a grill-out on Saturday night with a band. And it offered breakfast to the cyclists at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of the race.

Overall, we had a great time here while Brian was riding his bike in the race. The kids thought we were on vacation and have asked when we can come back here again. We loved that our kids found such joy in the activities here. We plan on coming here every other year this same weekend for the race. But in the meantime, we've been inspired to check out other cabin rentals within the state of Texas. I think Glen Rose is on our list for next summer.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Russian Adoption Reunion at Disney World--Part 3

In case you missed parts 1 and 2:

Part 1

Part 2

Saturday, July 20, 2013.

The boys slept in until after 8:00. I had to wake them up so we could catch the boat and monorail to our character breakfast at Ohana.

This is my favorite character breakfast at Walt Disney World. Ohana is located in the Polynesian Resort, so you don't have to buy a park ticket to get into this restaurant. Breakfast is served family style at your table, which is convenient for those of us with kids. The best thing about breakafast at Ohana is the "POG" juice, or the pineapple/orange/guava juice. We each had 3-4 glasses of it, it's fantastic!

The kids had a great time meeting Lilo, Stitch, Mickey and Pluto. You can read a more detailed review of this character breakfast on this blog post.

After we finished at Ohana, I promised the boys a trip to Downtown Disney for a souvenir from the great big Disney store there. We took a bus from the Polynesian Resort to Downtown Disney. We already had our reunion t-shirts on, and another reunion family recognized us with our shirts. They were kind enough to send me these pictures they took of us at Downtown Disney.

After Downtown Disney, we took a bus back to Wilderness Lodge to rest and swim again. Soon, it was time to hop on the bus to our big reunion dinner at Mickey's Backyard BBQ! We met up with a few more families in the lobby. The Russians took over the bus.

Mickey's Backyard BBQ is an outdoor venue at Fort Wilderness Campground (which is next door to Wilderness Lodge). It is covered and has a buffet for dinner (with unlimited beer and ice cream bars!) It was the perfect place for the reunion dinner. It was kinda crazy--a sea of white reunion shirts, high energy dancing with the characters, lots of picture-taking! (I can't take credit for any of the following reunion pictures--they were all graciously loaned to me by my fellow travelers--thanks!!!)

My boys met up with several other kids from the same city in Russia--and a few of their roommates from the same orphanage! Priceless.

The night was over before we knew it. At that point, I regretted not booking the cruise, because most of the families had the next 4 days at sea together.

Our group really was a sight to see! After the BBQ, Mickey and Minnie came out for a private photo session with our kids. I don't think I can put into words how truly special it was to be a part of this reunion.

After the BBQ, we went for one last swim at Wilderness Lodge. It was late, it was dark, but it was fun.

And I paid for it the next day, because we had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to catch our flight. Yes, I booked the cheap tickets with the absurdly early departure. But we made it.

The group is going to have another reunion in 2015. While we don't know the details of where, when and how much yet...we plan to make it a priority for all 5 of us to attend the next one together.