Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Why I Disagree with this Anti-Disney Blog Post

This morning I read an article on The Humbled Homemaker titled Why We're Not Saving Up to Take Our Kids to Disney World. And while I completely understand that not everyone likes Disney World and wants to go there, I think that some of her reasons for avoiding Disney World are based on incorrect assumptions.

Here are some of the reasons why The Humbled Homemaker and others argue against a vacation at Disney World:

1. "Our kids won't remember the vacation or appreciate it at such a young age." 

The Humbled Homemaker writes, "Yes, we do want to take them one day (when they are much older and will hopefully create real memories and appreciate it more."

I disagree with this logic. First of all, kids DO remember experiences at a young age. Especially if you take video and photos of an event or trip. My daughter still talks about her cruises on the Disney Magic when she was 2 and 3 years old. Does she remember every detail about the trips? Probably not. But she recalls the experience as a whole and associates the trips with happy memories.

I also think that when kids are young on trips, the adults experience joy in watching their kids experience something for the first time. And that creates precious memories for the parents!

There is something so magical about watching a young child at Disney World who believes she is really meeting Cinderella and Mickey Mouse!

My oldest son's first time at Disney World

2.  "Disney World is all about consumerism and materialism."

The Humbled Homemaker says that "Disney is big money." And while that is mostly true, it doesn't have to be.

So many people who are thinking about going to Disney World or going on a Disney Cruise will look up the all-inclusive price on the Disney website (that includes on-site accommodations, tickets, and the meal plan) and faint at the price tag. But that's not the only way to experience Disney.

In 2010, we spent 8 days at Disney World on a small budget. We used airline miles to fly to Orlando for (almost) free. We shared a 4-bedroom off-site condo with extended family members, and our cost was less than $60 a night. We ate breakfast and dinner in our condo to save money, and brought snacks and our own water into the parks. We took two rest days where we didn't go into the parks at all, and instead relaxed and played at the resort. We all still had a blast, despite not spending a ton of money on that vacation!

Our last two times at Disney World were very short trips--two days at the parks in 2012 and one day in 2013. Not over-the-top expensive and still a pleasure. A Disney vacation doesn't have to last a whole week.

To cut down on the cost of "stuff" at Disney, we have asked for Disney gift cards for Christmas for our kids. We found that when our kids have their own money and budget for souvenirs, they make better choices. Disney doesn't make it easy with a gift shop at the end of every ride, but with a little planning ahead, it doesn't have to break the bank.

My kids don't remember most of the toys or souvenirs they have purchased on our vacations (well, except for that build-your-own light saber, that was pretty special.) They remember the experience as a whole.

On our last big vacation, a cruise on the Disney Fantasy, we were open with our kids about the cost of the vacation and the sacrifices we were making to afford the trip. We explained that we couldn't go to the movies every weekend, or go out to eat all the time, if we wanted to take the vacation. After having these discussions, I think my kids really started to understand about budgeting and saving.

(See my tips on finding ways to save money on a Disney World vacation and a Disney Cruise).

3. "Disney World isn't educational and doesn't expose my kids to other cultures."

I see and hear this argument often. The Humbled Homemaker's blog states that she wants her kids to have a "passion for embracing other cultures and learning other languages."

I argue that kids do get exposure to other cultures and languages at Disney World, to an extent. The Orlando Sentinel reports that 18 to 22 percent of visitors at Disney World are international. That means 1 out of every 5 people in line is from another country. Talk to them!

On our last cruise, we met and spoke to several families from other countries. Also, most of the crew members are from other countries and have a wealth of knowledge.

I remember a specific instance on a trip to Disney World when I was about 10 years old. My family was at EPCOT for the day, but we waited too long to make a dinner reservation. The only sit-down restaurant available was the one in Morocco. My parents made the reservation there, and I was not looking forward to it. However, much to my surprise, I actually liked the food and the whole experience at the restaurant. And I remember that my family talked to our server and asked her a lot of questions about her country (the cast members in each EPCOT country are from their respective countries on a short-term contract with Disney).

Disney World can also be as educational as you make it. Do you want your kids to learn about the physics and engineering behind the rides? Enroll them in one or more of the Disney Youth Education Series (YES) classes. Even without the classes, you can learn about animals, animation, science and other countries at the parks.

4. "We don't want our children to view a trip to Disney World as the pinnacle event of their childhood."

This is one of the main points on the Humbled Homemaker's blog post. I guess if a family never left home and the only time they did was a trip to Disney World, then yes, maybe the kids would remember Disney World as the pinnacle event of their childhood.

While my kids would love to go back to Disney World or on a Disney cruise any day, they also ask us if we can go back to that small cabin we visited a few years ago. And they ask if we can go to our neighborhood pool.

I went to Disney World several times as a child, but I certainly don't view any one trip as a pinnacle event. I do, however, remember our family vacations as a whole and have very fond memories of them. Some were better than others, true. But what I remember most is spending time with my family and having adventures.

An encounter with Eeyore

Disney World (and Disneyland and Disney cruises) are not for everyone. And my kids won't grow up with Disney as their only vacation destination for sure. I understand the Humbled Homemaker's desire to visit Costa Rica instead (I've never been there, but would love to go someday).

But my opinion on Disney or any other destination is this: Don't knock it until you're tried it! Or at least researched ways to make it more affordable/enjoyable, etc. (And please don't visit Disney at a peak time without getting any fast passes or research of crowd levels and peak might never try that again!)

What's your opinion???

Yes, we do want to take them one day (when they are much older and will hopefully create real memories and appreciate it more! - See more at:
Yes, we do want to take them one day (when they are much older and will hopefully create real memories and appreciate it more! - See more at:
Yes, we do want to take them one day (when they are much older and will hopefully create real memories and appreciate it more! - See more at:

Friday, December 26, 2014

A sprinkling of pixie dust from American Airlines

A few days ago I was reading an article on one of my favorite travel blogs, Mommy Points, titled 10 Tips for Easier Family Holiday Air Travel. It has some great tips for trips any time of the year. Point #2 was "double-check your seat assignments", and it reminded me to check out our seat assignments for our upcoming trip to Hawaii to make sure we were still seated together. We were ticketed on a flight to the west coast on American, and then a connecting flight to Honolulu on a partner airline.

I logged in to my husband's account, only to see some messages at the top of the screen about flight times changing and that our reservation could not be accessed at this time. I scrolled down and saw that our second connecting flight was moved a few hours earlier, and our first flight to the west coast was moved out 3 hours, making it impossible to get to Honolulu on those original flights.

I admit, at first I panicked. What does this mean??? Why hadn't American Airlines changed us to flights that would still get us to Hawaii? Is it because we booked the super-saver award seats on frequent flier miles and we were the last priority to change?

I decided to call American Airlines, even though it was the day before Christmas and I was sure the phone lines would be swamped with current travelers. We had several presents under the tree that required us to be in Hawaii, and I wasn't comfortable giving those out without being 100% certain we were on a flight.

After waiting on hold and being transferred, I finally got through to an agent and explained the situation. The agent said she would try to find us different flights, but she didn't sound very hopeful. After about 15 minutes, she said our only option was to fly out the night before our original departure date, have a 6-hour layover at LAX in the middle of the night and depart on an early morning flight.

I was both relieved and horrified at the same time. The agent said if we didn't agree to this flight, we would be refunded our miles, which would mean our trip to Hawaii would be canceled. So I was relieved that she found us a flight. But at the same time, I was horrified that  we were now flying on a red-eye flight with a middle-of-the-night layover at LAX (my least favorite airport) with 3 kids who don't sleep on airplanes. And I was confused why they couldn't put us on different flights, since there were many flights to Hawaii at more normal times that were not sold out. The agent explained that those other flights had no more award space available, which is what we needed.

To be clear, we would totally do the red-eye flight and night layover in order to get to Hawaii. We have flown on longer flights in way worse conditions with newly-adopted kiddos, and somehow we survived. But not without many tears of frustration and grumpy parents and kiddos.

I asked to be transferred to a supervisor and tried to remember those old words of wisdom, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar."  I politely explained my situation to the supervisor, who immediately said she was going to take some steps to get us on a direct flight to Honolulu during daylight hours. Yay! Really??? She said she had to work with another department to request more award space on a flight, and then we would be re-ticketed to the direct flight.

Hawaii or bust!
It took a few days for our tickets to be fixed and changed. During those days, my husband wondered if the phone agent just said that to get me off the phone, LOL! But she came through for us, and now we are on a daytime flight to Hawaii on our original date of departure. Our flight is even better than the one we had originally booked with miles, since it's direct and not as early in the morning.

So I guess the moral of the story is...don't forget to check your seat assignments, and be nice to the phone agents!

Has anyone else experienced an involuntary flight/schedule change on an award ticket? What was the outcome?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Today is a good day to book your summer trip

Today, Southwest Airlines released its schedules and prices for June and July flights. While most airlines release these 11 months in advance, Southwest releases them only 6 to 8 months in advance.

Does this mean that you get the best prices if you book Southwest airfare today? Maybe, maybe not. From what I can tell by reading people's experiences, sometimes the best price is on opening day, and sometimes not. But the good thing about Southwest is that if the price goes down in the future, you can call and get a credit for the amount to use for a future flight. Or if you booked on miles, you can get the miles refunded to your account for no charge.

Since we have Southwest miles that we were hoping to use for trips this summer, today I felt like I was Christmas shopping with no bills! I found summer flights from Dallas to Denver for $73 (or 3777 Rapid Rewards points) one-way. I will be surprised if the fares go much lower than that, based on what I've been tracking. However, I'll still check the Southwest website a few times a week to see if prices go down before our trips. (Note: this same route would cost 12,500 points one way on most other major airlines).

Denver--photo credit
Is anyone else excited about summer flights??? Where are you going this summer?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Another golden ticket!

In early 2013, I applied for two Southwest credit cards (a business and a personal card). I met the minimum spending ($2000 in 4 months) to receive a bonus on each card (50,000 miles  x 2) and continued to charge our normal monthly expenses to the cards while paying off the balance each month. In mid-2013, I had earned enough miles to get a companion pass (my golden ticket!) on Southwest Airlines. (See my original blog post here).

Photo credit AARP

My companion pass allowed my husband to travel for free with me on 3 separate round-trip flights, which saved us around $700-$800. The miles I accumulated in the process sent my family of 5 round-trip to Florida twice, along with a NYC trip for 2 for our 10th anniversary and two one-way flights for me to Denver and Orlando (again!). All of these flights were free except for the security tax of $2.50 - $5.60 per ticket. My companion pass expires at the end of 2014 and my miles are all gone...but we got some really great use out of the miles.

But the free travel isn't over husband just earned his own golden ticket! He just finished the requirements for his own companion pass that will expire at the end of 2015. He applied for his own Southwest credit card earlier this year to help us travel for free from the west coast back home after our upcoming Hawaii trip. In November, a different version of the card offered another 50,000 mile sign-up bonus, and it only took him a few weeks to get his companion pass.

These miles and free companion pass are HUGE for us as a large family. Flying for free reduces the price of our vacations by at least $1000. Today, we signed up one of our kids as his companion. Our son will fly for free in 2015 (no $, no miles) on at least two trips we have planned.

The higher sign-up bonuses are no longer available for these Southwest credit cards, but based on history, Chase will most likely offer them a few different times next year.

Let the vacation planning begin!