When to Splurge vs. Save Money at Disneyland

Disney Splurge vs. Save

Fact: Disney vacations are pricey. There’s no way around it–Disney is a magical, a money-sucking pit with a castle on top. As a budget-conscious traveler, I put my skills to the test at the happiest (and possibly most expensive) place on Earth. Here’s what I found worth splurging on and when it’s better to save money at Disneyland. (Note: many of these are applicable to other Disney theme parks too.)

Save: Hotel

You’ll barely ever be there, so any cushy accommodations are basically a waste. At the end of the day Disney will have tired you out so much that you’ll be able to sleep easily, no matter how thin the walls and bedding are. We chose the cheapest hotel that was still within walking distance and never regretted it once, even though it was a glorified motel with absolutely no frills. Sure, we didn’t get the extra magic hour to enter the park early and we had to walk 10 minutes to get to the parks but it was definitely worth saving hundreds of dollars a night over onsite properties.

Spend: MaxPass

This one is a no-brainer. There’s no reason not to spring for the MaxPass. It’s $10 extra per person, per day and it allows you to get FastPasses right on your phone. You’ll also get all the PhotoPass photos taken of you on rides and at photo opps in the parks. Definitely a great deal for everything you get. Make sure to use your app for mobile food ordering too–more on that in a minute.

Save: Snacks

With the exception of a box of popcorn and a Dole Whip float, we didn’t snack in the parks at all. Actual meals aren’t much more than what you’d pay outside the parks, but snacks are typically pricey. You can bring small amounts of food in with you, so toss some easy-to-carry snacks in your bag.

Save: Drinks

Carry a small water bottle and look for fountains and spigots to fill up at throughout the day. In theory you can get cups of water for free at Disney, but it can be a hassle to find a restaurant that will give you one when you need it. It’s better to have water on hand and prevent those paper cups from heading to the landfill. Two places I saw water spigots are Red Rose Tavern in Fantasyland and Galactic Cafe in Tomorrowland.

Spend: Lunch

This one is kind of a save and a splurge at the same time. Lunch prices are cheaper, so if you make lunch your big meal you’ll save money. But I do recommend budgeting for a nice meal at a restaurant because Disneyland food is actually really good. I expected unhealthy amusement park food, but it was far from it. The chefs are amazing with food allergies and healthy, good quality food is the rule, not the exception. If you eat at off-peak times, avoiding crowds is easy. Try a small breakfast at the hotel, a meal at 10:30 am, then another meal around 2:30, and a small dinner (try ordering ahead on the mobile app at Bengal BBQ for fast, delicious food that can be a small meal).

Save: Apparel

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Shopping for Disney t-shirts, ears, hats and more ahead of time can save you big time. Everything for sale in the parks is expensive compared to what you can find online before you go on Etsy, which has the best selection of tees and ears from small makers. Mouse ears are a relatively easy DIY. I made ears for me and a hat for Chad as well as Beauty and the Beast stained glass pocket tees for both of us. Chad wore a Millennium Falcon tee he bought at Maker Faire and I bought a “Paint with all the colors of the wind” tank ahead of time for $9+shipping.  I also bought a secondhand tank top from Poshmark.

Spend: Pins

The parks have the entire selection of Disney pins so if you’re a collector you should definitely shop at the parks. You likely won’t find pins cheaper online after you go home. I did find pins for less at a local Comic-Con, but the selection wasn’t as broad as the parks.

Save: Souvenirs

As we left the park and headed to the hotel, I stopped by a convenience store for a gallon of water for the hotel. Inside, I found a ton of cheap Disney souvenirs for wayyyyy less than inside the parks. Basic Mickey and Minnie ears for $5.99, postcards for .89, etc. You could stock up on these things and save a bundle over park prices. I do admit splurging on Starbucks You are Here mug ornaments because they can only be found in the parks, but I held back from buying any other trinkets.

Spend: ParkHopper Pass

I went back and forth on this one, because it does drive up the cost of the already expensive ticket into the parks. In the end, I was so glad we did though. The first day, we did California Adventure Park (DCA) in the morning and then switched to Disneyland Park for the afternoon. We went back to see the Paint the Night parade at DCA and then made it to Fantasmic at Disneyland. It was super easy to get between the two parks and the flexibility of the ParkHopper let us experience all the rides we wanted to at one park and then go the other one for dinner.

Spend: Locker rental

It’s only $7/day, and it’s so much nicer to have a change of shoes on hand and a place to store things you’ve bought, snacks, a sweater for when it gets chilly at night…

I hope you have success with your mission to save money at Disneyland. Fellow Disnerds, am I on track with these splurge vs. save tips? What are your secrets for navigating the Disney parks?

Where to Donate Almost Anything (and Save it from the Landfill)

Clean Your House But Keep Clutter Out of the Landfill

Okay, I did the KonMari house declutter. Now where does all this stuff go?

A question I see people struggling with lately is “where do I donate my stuff?” With the success of the Marie Kondo Netflix show, we’re all getting inspired to clean house a bit. While there’s nothing wrong with toting it all out of the house in one go, some people prefer to find an ideal charitable recipient for their stuff. And what do you do with stuff that isn’t accepted by the usual charities? I’ve been compiling this list as I discover new places.

In the case of almost everything, there’s a better place for it than the landfill.

What do I do with…

Packing materials

Many UPS stores will recycle your bubble wrap and packing peanuts. Some small businesses that ship stuff will also take packing materials donations.

Vintage lace clothing and linens

The Lace Museum in Sunnyvale, California collects these and sometimes sells them for fundraisers. The nonprofit museum is hoping to raise enough money for a permanent museum location.

Donate broken jewelry

I asked this question on a local Facebook group and got connected with a teacher at an elementary school who runs a jewelry studio. She gladly took a bag of costume jewelry that was missing clasps, etc for the students to take apart and create something new.

Donate formal dresses

First, a cause close to my heart! Prom, bridesmaid, quinceanera dresses can go to local charities such as The Princess Project. I started volunteering with them this year, and it’s such a fun cause. The chapter that I work with collects dresses and jewelry under 8 years old. There’s very likely a prom dress donation organization near you.

Send wedding dresses to a good cause

While collecting dresses for The Princess Project, I got asked about donating wedding dresses. This is a tricky one since there are fewer nonprofits dedicated to wedding dresses. Here are the ones I found around the United States.

In Massachusetts, Brides Across America

In Maryland, choose from fairytalebrides.org, cherieamourbridal.com and brides4haiti.com.

Michigan brides can donate to thebridesproject.org to support cancer research.

Virginia, the nonprofit St. Anthony’s Bridal accepts wedding dresses. 

In New York, http://bridalgarden.org helps disadvantaged children.

In Oregon and Washington, adornedingrace.org and bridesforacause.com.

Charities that take cosmetics

First of all, send all those mascara wands to Appalachian Wildlife Refuge. Other used cosmetics should be tossed if they’re old, but if they’re new they can go to women’s shelters. Call and ask first!

Donate clothes and household items

My go-to is usually to donate to a locally-run thrift shop because I believe they do good in the community. There’s also the strategy of putting it all out on the curb and posting a “curb alert” on Craigslist. Neighbors will come help themselves to your free yard sale and you’ll have way less to haul off to the donation center. The downside is no tax write off, but the convenience factor seems to outweigh that for a lot of people.

Recycle old mattresses

Some Goodwill locations will recycle mattresses free or for a small fee. Goodwill of Silicon Valley says that 90% of mattress materials can get repurposed and tens of thousands of mattresses get diverted from the landfill every year through Goodwill’s disposal program.

Recycle broken electronics 

Cables and small electronics such as cameras and cell phones can be brought to Best Buy for free recycling. Local computer shops will often take old laptops for free recycling as well. 

Donate old towels and blankets

These are often accepted at dog rescue organizations. I found a neighbor through the Nextdoor app who works with a rescue and gave bags of old towels to her. I made sure to trim any ripped or frayed edges before I dropped them off.

Donate old books

My strategy to purge books is to canvas the neighborhood and patronize the Little Free Libraries, but that takes dedication. I can’t unload my entire box of antique books at one lone Little Free Library, you see–they need to be parceled out around town. I’ve read that prisons and women’s shelters take books but I haven’t tried this myself. Books that are musty or outdated can be composted or recycled. It feels weird at first to dispose of books, but sometimes it’s the only option.

Donate magazines

Working in the magazine industry, I amassed a collection of magazines that was ever-growing. Since Reuse comes before Recycle, I wanted to offer the magazines to someone who could collage with them first. The very first memory care center I called wanted them for their residents.

where

These alternatives to donating to Goodwill are often where your donated items can do the most good. I know many people try to avoid donating to Goodwill in favor of smaller local charities, but it’s way better to bring stuff there than to throw it away. Goodwill also does fabric recycling, so it’s a great solution for clothing with holes that can’t be resold! I drop off bags there a few times a year.

Do you have a suggestion for the list? Please leave it in the comments! I’ll be updating this post as I find more places.

What to Do and See at Maker Faire

Maker Faire Bay Area

Maker Faire is an annual event in New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bay Area event is taking place this weekend, so to inspire you to check it out here is a post about what my experience was like at last year’s Maker Faire. This year is rumored to be the Bay Area’s last. I hope that ends up not being true! It’s rare that an event brings together art, culture and tech like this one does. Here’s what I discovered at the fair.

The fair is sponsored by Make: magazine, and I totally appreciated this installation that lets you be on the “cover” of an issue.

The event takes place at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds. It’s a huge campus of tents and buildings and there is a lot to see. Plan on a whole day if you can so you don’t feel rushed. There are plenty of surprises that appear while you’re walking around, such as these people riding around in mechanical cupcakes.

Here’s a hot tip about San Mateo place: it’s almost never warm. I was glad I wore a jacket and a scarf headband.

Maker Faire for Creatives

The tech side of Maker Faire is pretty huge, especially at the Bay Area fair. (There’s an entire tent for robotics.) That’s all totally cool, but as a person on the artsy side of the making of things, I also found plenty of things that were non-techy. A personal highlight was a tea workshop with the founder of T-WE TEA in San Francisco, where we blended our own teas and learned about the science and history of tea. Of note for crafters: there’s a fiber arts section of the fair with tables to sit and do crocheting, knitting and embroidery. Introvert’s paradise.

Shopping at Maker Faire

Like most fairs, there is also the merchant tent for a little shopping. The wares were more definitely more unique than a typical fair, however. Think Burning Man headdresses and 3D printed jewelry. Chad bought some nerdy t-shirts (his favorite) and I bought a rose quartz point for my crystal collection (my favorite). These laser cut pins are pretty nifty too.

Three things I did not expect to see at Maker Faire: a tiny house exhibit, a highly extensive European model train railway and a roving fairy.

There was also this guy:

Many things that happen at this fair don’t really have an explanation (or the explanation is “we had it leftover from Burning Man.”) So you just go with it and take photos. To sum up Maker Faire, it’s a regular faire but with more robots. And you should totally check it out!

How to Keep Miniature Potted Roses Alive

keep miniature potted roses alive Have you ever gotten a little pot of miniature roses as a gift? They’re so sweet! The flowers are bright and cheerful all week and then–suddenly they dry up and drop dead. Sad. With Valentine’s Day upon us and Mother’s Day a few months away, these miniature potted roses will be abloom in stores near you. If you want to extend their lifespan, it is possible to keep miniature potted roses alive with a little bit of work.

Why are my miniature potted gift roses dying?

Here’s what I discovered the hard way: miniature potted roses aren’t grown to live beyond a few weeks after you get them home. It’s a sad fact, but very true. Not only are the little plants pot bound and squished four to a pot, roses are unlikely to get the amount of sun they need while indoors. With the deck stacked against them from the start, it’s not surprising that they don’t survive much longer than a vase of cut flowers. You can, however, help them have better odds at life.

Miniature potted roses I received as a gift last year. Still alive. Yeah!!

How to save miniature gift roses

Twice I’ve taken potted roses and saved them from dying, even if they are pretty close to death. Here are the steps I followed:

  1. First, the roses need to be separated from each other. To do that, remove the pot and place the plants in a bucket of water. Though you’re supposed to leave them in for only an hour or two, but I left them all day and it was fine. Swish the plants around to remove as much soil as possible.
  2. Next, work on gently separating the plants from each other. Try to keep as many roots on each plant as possible, though some ripping apart of the roots can’t be avoided. Now, you should have four bare root rose bushes.
  3. Plant them immediately! Don’t delay. Prepare a large pot for each one or a hole in the ground. I’ve done both.The location should be in full sun, but take care to shade the newly potted roses for a few days by putting a box or bucket over them until they acclimate to their new setting.
  4. Water them every day for a week if it doesn’t rain.

The success rate for this is high. My first batch of roses had a 3/4 survival rate and they’ve lived for a year and a half so far. I tried operation save the roses two more times since, with 100% and 75% success. According to the employees at Trader Joe’s who also try to save the little sad roses, I’m doing pretty good at it. If they all bloom again this year, I’ll have a rainbow of peach, pink and yellow roses–all brought back from the brink of death.

A painting of a rescued mini rose in my garden. 

Keep miniature potted roses alive

By following the above steps, your roses should be separated from each other with room to grow and flourish. While they aren’t as easy to grow as succulents, by putting them outside after the frost and keeping them watered, you have given them the best shot at life. Now, if you live in a zone where roses can live all year, you can just water the roses weekly and prune them in the fall. If you live in zone 9 or above, the roses will need to overwinter in a pot indoors in a sunny location. Any tips my readers have to keep miniature potted roses alive over the winter are highly appreciated.

keep miniature potted roses alive

So that’s it–you CAN save miniature rose bushes from dying. They can bloom again and actually grow to be good size little plants. If you try to keep miniature potted roses alive, let me know how it goes for you. While you’re busy keeping those roses alive, try a fairy garden!

Visit San Francisco’s Life Size Gingerbread House

Visit San Francisco’s Largest Gingerbread House

This was my first year of not home for the holidays! I spent it in the Bay Area, which was nice because it wasn’t negative 30 degree Fahrenheit windchill. When I found out about the Fairmont San Francisco Hotel’s two-story gingerbread house, I had to see it for myself. This real gingerbread house is a real work of art, and it can only be viewed during the holidays.

Facts about Fairmont Hotel’s Gingerbread House

What does it cost to visit the Fairmont San Francisco Gingerbread House?

First of all, it’s free to visit. You can pay extra to dine in the house or have it reserved for a proposal. But otherwise, just show up at the lobby of the hotel between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to view this absolutely amazing construction of real gingerbread and frosting.

Is the giant gingerbread house edible? 

The bricks are made of real gingerbread and it smells divine. There are signs instructing visitors NOT to eat the gingerbread, but little chipped off bits imply that these instructions are not universally heeded. Besides the actual sugary construction, non-edible (but delightful!) additions include a model train, vignettes set up inside glass windows, and figurines (Santa can be spotted in the chimney).

Can you go inside of the house?

There’s a tunnel passageway you can enter and view the vignettes through glass windows. In that sense, you are “inside” the house. The gingerbread structure is actually a series of rooms that create a passageway from the lobby of the hotel to the restaurant. It isn’t the traditional four walls and a roof that you create with a gingerbread kit, but it is incredibly impressive for all ages.

I was surprised at the other things to do and see at the Fairmont San Francisco during Gingerbread season. The entire lobby is decked out for the holidays and is prime for selfies and Christmas photos. I was there after Christmas and it was still packed! Take time to explore the entire hotel lobby, visit the gift shops and see a scale model of Ghiradelli Square.

The 2019 Fairmont San Francisco Gingerbread House will be a completely different design, and I look forward to making it a new holiday tradition!

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