Archive of ‘Travel’ category

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?

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!

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!

REI Outdoor Adventures Moonlight SUP tour

Moonlight SUP Redwood City CaliforniaThis post is sponsored by REI but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

Won’t you come out tonight and SUP by the light of the moon! I can honestly say I never thought I would stand-up paddleboard (SUP) on the San Francisco Bay at night. But last weekend, with the help of REI, I did. The brand had me register for a guided outdoor class of my choosing and bring a friend. I have to tell you, when I chose the Moonlight Stand-Up Paddleboard tour out of Redwood City, I was not wild about going out on the bay at night! The idea of darkness, deep water, unknown sea creatures and shipping boats was a little, shall we say, unsettling. But I wanted to try a new experience, and once I got out on the gentle lull of the water my uneasiness disappeared completely under the starlight.

Gear for Stand-Up Paddleboarding in the Bay

REI took all the stress out of trying a new experience. All we had to do was show up with and they took care of everything else including showing us where to park, providing gear and instruction, and guiding the tour. They brought a big van with boards, paddles, PFDs, headlamps, jackets and wetsuits. There was a kayak tour at the same time–see all the tours offered in your area!

If you’re wondering what to wear stand up paddleboarding, it depends on the time of year and location. This was at night in the cold bay, so I wore my nylon/spandex leggings, old sneakers, a wool long sleeve shirt with an activewear vest, a wetsuit top (provided by REI) and a windbreaker. I’m always concerned about being warm and dry enough, and these things did the trick. REI does paddle boarding tours all winter, our instructor Hayley said, they just supply more layers!

Stand-up Paddleboarding in Redwood City

First we practiced paddling around the Marina, which I’d been to once before for sailing. It definitely looked different by moonlight and by paddleboard. The wind dies with the sunset, so it was a glassy surface for the most part. SUP is definitely an arm workout and it requires lots of balancing muscles throughout the body, but without wind it was accessible enough for beginners. The group was intimately sized–our tour was limited to five participants and one instructor. It was open to different levels of participation–two of our group members owned boards and were comfortable in advanced paddling conditions. My adventure partner had never paddled before, and I had only gone a few times (on lakes in Minnesota). I’m happy to say that no one fell in (including me, and I’ve taken accidental swims off of stand-up paddleboards in the past).

My Experience with REI’s Outdoor Adventures

We paddled by the light of the harvest moon (the full moon closest to the start of fall). Hayley was so very knowledgeable and kept us entertained the whole time with facts about the area, the ecosystem, and, when prompted by me, the most fascinating things that have happened to her while paddleboarding (In New Zealand, she paddled under the milky way through bioluminescent plankton into a glow worm cave. In California, she had a close-up encounter with a whale).

When a fish jumped on Hayley’s board, that was the closest wildlife encounter we had on our SUP tour. Leopard sharks are the only sharks to venture this far down the bay, she assured us. She had us paddle close to a cement seawall to look for crabs, barnacles and anemones there. We also peered into the water with our headlamps to look for fish.

After we left the marina, Hayley led us beyond the buoys and across to Bair Island which provided shelter from the the (very light) wind. I learned that Bair Island is one of the only uninhabited islands in the Bay Area. After floating a bit and taking a break to sit on our boards and drink water, we paddled back across the bay to look at houseboats and then finished the night back at the marina. Hayley was always making sure we were comfortable and not getting too cold or tired, and she adjusted the tour based on our needs which I really appreciated.

See all the tours REI offers! 

Here, you can see me pointing out the general part of the Bay we were in:Truly, stand-up paddleboarding is a way to connect with nature on a deeper level. We were just steps away from Highway 101 and mere miles from one of the biggest cities in the world, but it was like being on a different planet. It was peaceful, dark and remote. We didn’t see any other boats moving on the water except for the kayak tour that embarked the same time as us. The moon provided more light than I expected and we looked for constellations and planets.

I left the experience grateful for having experienced the Bay in a whole new way. Paddleboarding is a graceful outdoor experience that gets you super close to the water, and if you haven’t tried it I recommend it highly!

 

REI offers plenty of other options besides paddleboarding in the San Francisco Bay Area and other cities, including hiking, cycling, nature photography and kayak trips to see whales and otters. I have no doubt they are all as quality as the one I experienced. The nighttime adventures especially are easy to fit into a busy weekend. Instructors don’t push you to purchase any gear or anything but they do try to prepare you to continue the sport on your own independently. Discover a tour for yourself by clicking here.

California’s Most Instagrammable Inn

Are you looking for a photo op location in California, or maybe just a very interesting hotel venue? Or, like us, maybe just looking for a place to stop between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. I discovered the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo through a photographer’s website and I knew immediately it would be worth a look. It’s a mid-century hotel decorated in Bavarian-inspired design set on a ranch hillside in central California.

While driving to Disneyland, we stopped there for lunch. Immediately I knew I would like the place, as everything is lavishly decorated and a bit over-the-top. There is so much attention to detail here, even pink sugar packets with the Madonna Inn logo. There was a lot of pink everywhere, in fact. Upstairs are two shops, downstairs is a restaurant and a bar, so the space caters to people who are just passing through as well as hotel guests.

Since I haven’t stayed here I cannot vouch for the accommodations, but the common areas of the hotel seemed nice. It was a nice place to rest on the long drive between the cities of San Francisco and LA. It was kind of a perfect prelude to Disneyland actually, because the inn reminds me of Fantasyland. The architecture and design is straight out of Beauty and the Beast or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Just across the parking lot is a pasture of friendly cows too.

Everything in this place begs to be photographed, from the wood interior of the restaurants to the pink plush chairs of the dining room. Outside, we were able to walk around and check out the beautiful white staircases and terraces that look out over a surprisingly beautiful landscape, for being so close to I-5.

I tried to practice being a carefree California girl. Did I nail it?

This is a little treasure of a hotel destination in San Luis Obispo. It’s also a short drive to the ocean, where we stopped quickly too on the way to LA. I’d definitely recommend Madonna Inn as a place for lunch and to take photos in San Luis Obispo. I’d love to come back here sometime for an event or a hotel stay, but the bottom line is come here if you can, even just to take a look around and get some Instagram photos!

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