Why We’re Spending $2,540 On Gift Cards In A Single Week

Over the past week, we have spent $2,540 on gift cards.  You might think I’m crazy.  I’m not.  Maybe we’re going nuts for Christmas this year?  Nope.  We’re actually cutting back.

So then why are we spending all this money on gift cards?  Because….we’re going back to Disney World!

What does one have to do with another?  Well, read on.  I’ll first go over the trip, then make clear why we dropped some serious bank on gift cards.

Recapturing The Magic

Long time readers might remember that we went to Disney World in 2015.  We had a great time.  During that trip, we stayed for eight nights.  We stayed at a deluxe resort.  We dined with a Disney meal plan.  It was a fantastic time with all of our family.

My wife is our trip planner, and from the moment we got back, she was planning our next trip in her head.  She wanted us to go while both of our kids were nine or under.  Why?  Because tickets get much more expensive after they turn ten.

We went on a fantastic spring break trip to Tampa last year during the kids week off of school.  We loved it so much that we booked the same rental for the same week in 2018.

It was early fall when my wife brought up the idea of modifying the trip so that we could go back to Disney World.  We looked through the numbers and made it work.

We’re still going to our rental place, but for five nights instead of a week.  Then, we’re going to Disney World!

Trip Variations

It’ll be different than last time in a few ways:

  • Length – We’re staying at Disney World for five nights.  It’s still a longer total trip, but less time at Disney made it more affordable.
  • Resort – Last time we stayed at a deluxe resort to get the best experience.  This time, we are staying at a moderate resort.
  • Dining – Instead of using the Disney meal plan, we’re paying our way.  We’ll still be eating at restaurants around the parks, but we think we’ll save money.  We found that with the meal plan (which was free as part of a promo last time), we were eating all the time.  We ate meals when we weren’t hungry because we felt we had to.  This time, we’ll eat less frequently.  Plus the kids can split meals and such.
  • Driving – We flew down to Disney World on our last trip.  Since we’re going to Florida near Easter, flight prices were not affordable for us, so we are driving.

Where Gift Cards Come In

It’s the holidays.  For some reasons, holidays find great deal on gift cards.  They mark them down so that you shop at the store.  So deals are bountiful and we took advantage.

Meijer

We do most of our grocery shopping at Meijer.  Now, Meijer has a whole display of gift cards.  You can buy gift cards for just about anywhere.  Amazon, Home Depot, Applebee’s.  And also Disney.

Meijer is running a special where, for every $100 you spend on gift cards, you get a $10 credit on your next bill.  Each person registered in their in-store rewards program can spend up to $1,000 to get this reward.

So, we each spent $1,000 on Disney gift cards and each got $100 towards future shopping trips.  By spending $2,000, we are getting $200 in groceries for nothing!

Target

This was another great find.  One day per year around the holidays, Target offers 10% off their own gift cards.  Each person can buy up to $300 in gift cards at 10% off.  You can then use those gift cards to buy other gift cards, including Disney cards.  So, we each bought $300 of Target gift cards for $270.  We then each ‘spent’ those on $300 of Disney gift cards.

Grand Total

So, when it’s all said and done, we spent $2,540 and ended up with:

  • $2,600 in Disney gift cards that we can apply toward our trip costs
  • $200 in Meijer gift cards that will pay for 2+ weeks of groceries.

By spending $2,540, which was money we were going to spend regardless, we ended up with $2,800 in spending power.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

The Offset

The only downside is that we lost a little bit of money on cash back rewards.  Had we spent the equivlant $2,540 directly with our travel agent, we would have gotten 3% cash back on our credit card.  That would have given us $76.20.

Our card gives us 2% cash back at Meijer, and 1% at Target, so we’ll end up with $45.40 in rewards.  So, while we’re gaining $260 in freebies, it does, in a sense, cost us around $30.  But we still come out ahead.  Plus, I always look at the cash back as extra, in that we never count on it.  So, either way we’re still coming out ahead.

All in all, we are pretty pleased with how things turned out.  I love when we can find ways to save on spending that would happen no matter what.

Readers, have you ever used gift card promotions as a way to keep money in your pocket?  Let me know what works for you in the comments below.  Thanks so much for reading!

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Disney World Problems: Unplanned And Unavoidable Issues

As I’ve outlined with my series of posts, our Disney World trip last November was an incredible experience.  It was made more so this way because of all the plans that my wife put into the trip. She spent hours and hours and it definitely paid off.  However, on a week long trip, it’s inevitable that you’ll have issues that no amount of planning could have avoided.  As much as they try to prevent them, Disney World problems exist.

Here are a couple of things that threw us for a loop and how we responded to them.

The Late Snack Delivery

I’m a frugal guy.  I know how expensive Disney World is for just about everything.  That said, we looked at various ways to save money while we were there.  One money saver was trying to get a good deal on all the snacks I knew that we’d need.

We had just recently joined Amazon Prime.  I looked into what they could offer.  It urns out that as Prime members, we have access to the Amazon Pantry.  This is a service  where you can order lots of things like snacks and water.  You do pay a nominal shipping fee, but it’s charged by the box, not by the item.  You also don’t get 2-day shipping, but it is normally pretty quick nonetheless.

We decided to use this. We even called Disney to find out the specifics about whether our hotel would handle this.  It turns out it’s a pretty common thing.  Theygave us the details we needed.  We also got a tip that we can have the shipment show up before we arrived.

Our arrival was on a Saturday, and when we placed the order, it was set for a Thursday delivery.  Perfect, right?

When Wednesday morning rolled around, I figured it was a bit odd that it was still preparing for shipment.  Since it was our first time with Prime, I assumed it was OK.  After all, it’s Amazon, right?

Amazon Isn’t Immune To Problems

Well, it turns out that Amazon had problems too!

Our shipment went out but with a new arrival date of the following Tuesday.  Yikes

We were shocked and very disappointed.  After all, the stuff arriving that late meant that we would have several days without the snacks and water, and we’d have way too much of it given that we’d have a few days less than planned to use it.  Since it’d already shipped, we couldn’t even cancel the order.

We ended up dealing with the issue with a two step approach:

  • My wife spoke to someone at Amazon and explained the situation. They explained that there had been a glitch in the Pantry system, and the problem that we had experienced was pretty widespread.  Basically anybody that used the system over the day or two period that we had was going to see delays.  There was no way they could re-ship the items to arrive sooner, and of course they couldn’t cancel it.  But, they did refund the full order amount, provide an additional $5 credit, and they had no problem with us keeping the order.  So, essentially we got the entire order for free.  Plus $5!
  • We doubled up. My wife was part of a number of Facebook groups where people talked about the trip and shared ideas.  One thing that she’d found was a local grocer that would deliver to your hotel.  We had looked into them prior to Amazon but they were more expensive, so we went with Amazon instead.  After we realized we’d be a few days with no snacks, we revisited them.  We ended up placing an order, and even had a code for free delivery, which was normally around $10 or so on top of the higher price.

In the end we ended up with a ton of snacks and water.  We ended up taking a lot of the snacks home (we still have a few pouches of Goldfish crackers, some applesauce pouches, and some other odds and ends), and left the remaining bottled water in the hallway before checkout.

About That Free Backpack

When we were packing for the trip, we realized that we would need something to carry stuff around to the parks for snacks, things to wipe off with, autograph books, and other various stuff.  We found a backpack that my wife had received for free, and I was assigned the task of wearing it around the parks.

For the first couple of days, all went well and there were no issues.  On the third day, after we got back to the room, I was changing my shirt, and my wife pointed out that I had some weird marks.  I looked in the mirror and saw that it looked like a rash on my right shoulder and under my armpit, in the area where the backpack was.

Strange.  But it didn’t hurt or bother me in any way so I kind of forgot about it.

The following day I went about my business and wore the backpack again.

HUGE MISTAKE!

This time when I got back to the hotel room and changed my shirt, I knew there was trouble.  The two or three small areas had turned into five or six big areas.  And now they were rubbed raw.

Then they started to hurt.mb-2016-01-bandage

Then the blisters started to form.

And that’s when it got really painful.

Many Days Left And I Was Hurting

The big problem wasn’t that we still had a few days left.  For that, it was no big deal not to wear the backpack.  I could just start carrying it around.  I also started thinking that maybe taking a free backpack wasn’t the best idea, especially when, after that, I noticed lots of other people wearing backpacks, but with better straps and additional straps to better spread out the weight, which presumably I didn’t have.

No, the big problem was that I had already inflicted the damage and because of the position of where all the wounds were, there was no possible way I could bandage them  or cover them up.  See, anywhere near your arm moves around a lot, and any type of band aid, gauze tape, or otherwise peels off right away after you start moving your arm around.

So the last couple of days of the trip were very uncomfortable.   Because some of the wounds were under my armpit, I was walking around with one arm a few inches away from my body.  I brought antibiotic cream and petroleum jelly to try to keep it from rubbing the shirt fabric anymore than it had to.

I had my Fitbit with me and we were walking between 15,000 and 18,000 steps per day, just about every day.  That’s a whole lot of rubbing.  By time time we left, I was raw, and the blisters were popping, and it was…ugly.

It was really only after I got back and was able to get back to work and minimize my movement that it was able to start healing.  Even then it took about two weeks before I could even go back to the gym (think about running and all the back and forth that each step takes…yikes).

I found it very strange that it only happened on one arm.  I figure I must carry more weight or handle things differently.  It also, I think, was the strap that I put on last and took off first anytime it went off or on.  Maybe that has something to do with.

It didn’t put too much of a damper on my vacation, but it definitely made things a bit more uncomfortable, that’s for sure!

Readers, what unexpected circumstances have thrown you for a loop on vacation, and how did you end up dealing with them?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Our Disney World Experience: This And That

I’ve spent a few posts over the last few weeks going over our amazing Disney World trip that our family took back in November.  All in all, the trip was great, and past posts have talked about the theme park, our resort, and dining option.

Here are a few categories that really didn’t fit anywhere else but are worth mentioning.  If you have any questions about any of the items below, please let me know and I’d be happy to provide more info!

Magic Bands

The latest technology at Disney World is truly amazing.  Disney spent what is rumored to be over $1 billion to develop and implement the Magic Band system.  And it really is magical!  Each person has a wristband that you wear for the duration of your tip, and it is used for just about everything.

The Magic Band gets you in the parks.  It pays for food using dining credits.  You can make purchases by adding to your room or by charging to a linked credit card.  It gets you in your hotel room.  And so much more.

These things all require a PIN for adult bands, and kids are not authorized to make purchases.  It’s truly a great thing, as you can walk out of your room with no wallet, keys, tickets, or any of the other things that you usually have to carry, and you can work through your entire day!  If you stay at a Disney resort, they’re free, but otherwise you do have to pay for them, though I’d have to imagine that’s well worth the cost!

Disney Transportation

We loved using Disney transportation.  Because we flew into the main Orlando airport and stayed on property, our transportation was automatic.  The Magical Express picked us up from the airport.  They also handled our luggage, dropping it off to our room.  We never had to touch it once we checked it at Detroit.  And, on the way back, we dropped it off before we left the hotel, and never saw it until it hit the luggage carousel back in Detroit.

For all of the park transportation, we used the buses that travel all over the place.  Buses picked us up at our hotel and dropped us off wherever we needed to go.  Buses also ran in between parks so that we could go from one to another very easily.  They’re clean and we never had to wait more than 25 minutes, with about 10 minutes the average wait time.

Disney Smartphone Apps

Disney has some great apps that are a must have these days.  The Disney experience app can tell you up to the minute wait times for every ride and attraction. It can tell you park opening and closing times.  If you’re hungry, it can tell you anywhere that’s close by and what they serve.  If you need a bathroom break, don’t look for a sign, because your app will tell you which way to go.  It really is cool.  Just remember to bring an extra cell phone battery or extra charger for long days!

Disney Fast Pass

Last time we were at Disney World in 2008, they had Fast Pass but it was a paper based system.  Now, it’s all done through your Magic Band (or a ‘gift card’ type swipe card if you don’t have a Magic Band) and on the computer.  You can line up your Fast Pass options months in advance, and the system really does work well, as most rides with long lines mean less than a few minutes wait for Fast Pass users.

Of course, there are some catches.  There are only a limited number of Fast Passes available.  You only get to pick three per day in advance.  Once you’ve used all three up, you can go to a Fast Pass kiosk (sorry, can’t use your app) and select more if they happen to be available.  The system is designed so that it spreads out the traffic across the park and across all the attractions, where it would be more concentrated to the more popular rides without the system.  It also does so in a way that lets more people enjoy the most popular attractions since the waits are spread out.  I am not sure of the ‘math’ behind it, but I can tell from experience that it does work.

A Tip About Money

A word of caution:One thing that you’ll quickly find is that with all of the technology, it makes it very easy to lose track of money.  A wave of your Magic Band to pay for dinner is about as easy as it gets.  However, the bill is still going to have to be paid at some point.  Plus, as cool as the apps are, one thing that they won’t tell you is how much money you’ve spent.

Why?  

Because that would probably make people start spending less if you had that info available.  Every couple of days we would go to the front desk and ask for a printout of our charges.  We were always aware of ‘where we were’ in terms of our spending.  If you don’t do that, you can easily be very surprised at the end of your trip.  Knowledge is power!

These are a few of the Disney themed add-ons that I thought were worth mentioning, as they definitely played a huge part in the enjoyment of our trip.  I have two more posts in mind.  One will be about some non-Disney tips, and another about some lessons learned.

Stay tuned.

Readers, if you’ve been to Disney World, what were your thoughts on any of the items above?  Please let me know if I can answer any questions.  Otherwise I hope that this helps with anybody that might be planning out in the future.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Our Disney World Experience: Disney World Dining

This is the 4th post in my series on our recent trip (November 2015) to Disney World.  This was a huge trip for our family, one that we consider ‘once in a lifetime’ and that my wife planned out to give us the most magical and memorable experiences.  I’ve already talked about our visits to the parks as well as our hotel, so I wanted to concentrate on Disney World Dining.  It’s definitely worth a post of its own.

Meal Plan

We decided to dine at Disney with the standard meal plan.  With that plan, you get one full service meal, one quick service meal, and one snack per day.  You can divide how you use up your dining credits over the course of your trip. Our plan ended up technically being ‘free’ because we upgraded to a deluxe hotel during our stay, and Disney offered the ‘free dining’ option to entice visitors.  And, it did as things were hopping!

Tips On Planning

If you plan on eating at Disney, you will want to be prepared in order to really enjoy your experience.  Here are a few things we learned:

Know what you want

Disney has all sorts of options.  They have fancier options, things that lean toward kid friendly, and everything in between.  We wanted a few ‘character’ meals where the characters will walk around and pose for pictures, and knowing this type of preference up front helped us focus our list.

Plan your days in full

We set out a rough plan of what park we wanted to go to on what day.  In some cases, we planned the park around the dining options available, and in some cases it was the opposite.  Either way, you have to have a plan. However…

Be flexible

You can start booking your dining reservations (I think) 180 days out from the start of your trip. mb-2016-01-ears You want to have a list of places that you want to go, and have an idea, but be flexible.  You may see that a ‘must dine’ place is not available on your preferred day, but is available on a different day, and if that happens, you might have to act quickly.

Don’t lose hope

After you make all your plans, you may find that you’ve settled on some options but don’t lose hope.  There are apps you can download that will allow you to plug in where you want to go and when, and they’ll send you an alert if something opens up.  The problem is that there are probably others who are getting the same alert at the same time, so be prepared to act quickly.

Use resources and past experience

We had a great book we bought off Amazon, plus a plethora of web sites that we used to get our information.  Everybody will find what’s important to them (and hopefully this post helps some), but use the information that’s out there to make sure that you’re getting the best experience.

Our Favorite Disney World Dining Options

Now, onto some of the memorable dining experiences we had.  In each case, I outlined the name of the restaurant, where it was, the type of dining credit that was used, and some thoughts that I hope help.

1900 Park Fare

Grand Floridian Resort – Table Credit – We dined here on our arrival night, and it was a character dinner with Cinderella and some other characters.  It was a buffet and the food was good.  We had an awesome waitress, who was friendly, great with our kids, and gave us some tips that helped us not only at this meal but in just about every other character meal we had afterward.  One of our best Disney meals!

La Hacienda de San Angel

Epcot – Table Credit – We had a dinner reservation as we really enjoy Mexican food, and it’s one of our favorite dine-out options at home.  While there was nothing wrong with the meal, I think that we had higher expectations but it really wasn’t much above some of the options we have at home.  While we enjoyed it, there was nothing earth shattering and we’d probably skip it in the future.

Hollywood N Vine

Hollywood Studios – Table Credit – Another buffet meal that was character based.  It was a good time but the kids were tired, and the characters took quite a bit of time before they made their way to our table.  We actually had another reservation booked at this restaurant for later in the trip, but ended up cancelling it.

Be Our Guest (Breakfast)

Magic Kingdom – Quick Service – This was a really cool breakfast, as the experience of being in the Beast’s castle is the most memorable part, so much that we actually had a lunch and dinner here as well (the lunch was quick service and the dinner table service).  The food was good, and this was the only place where we were able to order in advance, which did make it nice in that the kids didn’t have to wait long to get their food once we arrived.

Tusker House (Breakfast)

Animal Kingdom – Quick Service (pretty sure) – This was another character meal and also a buffet, but had really good food.  In fact, all of the Animal Kingdom dining options seemed a step above most other parks.  We really enjoyed our location, the food, and the characters.  It was very relaxing but fun at the same time.

Sanna

Animal Kingdom Lodge – Table Service – Each deluxe resort has a full service restaurant, and this was a spur of the moment change that we made.  I am not really one to try ‘new things’, so the idea of eating traditional African food was a bit scary to me, but I went with it, and I am glad I did!  The food was really good.  Definitely get the add-on bread service as that’s a basis for the entire meal.  The wait staff was very friendly, the ambiance was great, and while the kids got a little bored by the end, they still enjoyed themselves and the food.

Cinderella’s Royal Table

Magic Kingdom – Table Service (2 credits) – This is the premier reservation, as you actually dine right inside Cinderlla’s Castle.  Pretty snazzy!  Expectations are high, and that’s actually why we dined there twice as our first experience was less than stellar.  We were very rushed and had less than accommodating wait staff, largely because we were the last lunchtime reservation and they were focused on turning things over for the upcoming dinner meal.  We spoke to the manager, and he apologized and offered for us to come back at no charge.  That experience was wonderful.  It was one of our best dining experiences!

In fact, when I e-mailed the manager later in the day to thank him, I said that the breakfast experience was exactly as our family had imagined that dining in ‘the castle’ would be, and thanked him for making sure that we had that.

Wolfgang Puck Express

Disney Springs – Quick Service – This was a spur of the moment decision for us to head to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) and we loved it.  We all got pasta and really enjoyed the quick and easy experience.  In an earlier post, I mentioned how the quick service restaurants at the resorts seem a bit lacking.  See, they might not offer as much because they know that they have a ‘captive audience’.  However, we quickly found that it’s not really that much difference.  In the 45 minutes we might have stood in line to get disappointing food at our hotel’s quick serve, we were able to get ready and take a bus over.  We ended up with much better food and a great family dinner.

Mickey Shaped Stuff

The great thing about Disney World is that Mickey is everywhere, including in the food options.  It’s all over the place.  From waffles to pretzels to ice cream (my favorite), you’ll get to take a ‘bite’ out of Mickey just about anywhere you look!

There Was More

This barely scratches the surface of all of the different places we went and the food we ate.  Still, I wanted to highlight a few options that stood out.  It’s been a little over a month between the time that we got back and when I wrote this. I’d say that food is probably the first memory that tends to fade on a trip like this.  So, that these stand out means they are remarkable in some way.

I hope you found this helpful.

Readers, I’d love to hear your experiences with Disney World dining.  Let me know if I can answer any questions (in which case, the true answer will probably come from my wife as she put all the legwork into getting us well fed!)

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.