The number of years since I’ve last been to Panama City Beach is growing, but it still holds lots of fond memories and is somewhere I would like to go back to. I did a six month assignment for a former employee where I worked at a hospital doing IT strategic and project management, and had a blast.
My time down there was back in 2004, which seems so long ago! I arrived in April and stayed through October, so to whatever degree of luck you’d consider, I missed Spring Break.
Spring Break has been a staple of many Florida coastal towns for decades, and Panama City Beach has been one of the top destinations for several decades, and has really taken off over the last decade.
Unfortunately, this last decade has really seen it take off the wrong way, along the lines of a swirling toilet flush.
We had a great family mini-vacation last year at the Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City, MI, so this year, we decided to take another trip, only this time choosing to visit their location in Sandusky, Ohio. The main reason we did that is because of the drive time. It’s about two hours less drive time to Sandusky. We figured the lessened drive time would be more time we could enjoy at the park.
We were a little nervous about our choice. Yelp reviews were about half a star different in favor of the Traverse City location. Some reviewers who compared the two said the Michigan location was better. We were a little apprehensive. It turns out things were just fine!
Recently, I wrote about how we are planning a trip to Disney World for our family later in the year. I have been pretty happy about some things that have happened that are allowing us to reduce our budget by a pretty nice amount! Ultimately, the biggest benefit comes from a Disney World credit card. Read on!
When we first looked at tickets early in January, the tickets were $342 per person. Since there are four of us that set our budget at $1,368. We know people that travel regularly, and they told us that anything under $350 was a good deal. Happily, the ticket prices declined several times. We finally pulled the trigger at $268 per person, inclusive of all fees. Total Savings: $296
Credit Card #1
We don’t typically go much for reward based credit cards, but when I saw an offer while looking up flights, I couldn’t resist. By signing up for the Delta Sky Miles American Express Card, and using it to pay for our tickets, we will get a $50 statement credit, 30,000 Sky miles (which is basically one free flight for the future), and we will each get one checked bag for free. We had budgeted $200 for luggage ($25 per person per leg of the trip), which we can now knock off the list. We just need to cancel the card after the trip, so that the $95 annual fee (waived for the first year) doesn’t kick in. It’s already on my Google Calendar! Total Savings: $250+
Potential Credit Card #2
My wife got an offer for a Disney based Master Card or Visa (I can’t remember which) that is no-cost, and once we make $500 in purchases, we will get a Disney gift card for $200. We can simply transfer our grocery purchases for a couple of months to get to this amount. We’d sacrifice 1% in cash back rewards, but the trade-off seems well within our favor. We know we will buy souvenirs and clothing and other items, so this seems like a great way to save on some budgeted spending. Savings: $200
So far, we are already at savings of $746 from our original budget, without downgrading anything!
We go camping a few times each summer, and take two week long trips per summer. This has been the third season of our camping adventures since we purchased our travel trailer.
One of our trips each summer has been to Ludington State Park on Lake Michigan on the west side of our great state of Michigan. The park is one of the most popular parks in the state, as it is big, has two great beaches, is in a great tourist area, and has some great sites. You can book six months in advance, and making reservations is like getting tickets to a Taylor Swift concert, if you’re a few minutes past when the sites become available, you’re not getting one.
Until this year, the park has been somewhat of a bittersweet travel. In 2012, it was our first big camping trip. I was still very raw in dealing with the camper, so when a big thunderstorm blew in off the lake and damaged my awning, I was almost ready to sell the camper and find something else to do (it was made worse by the fact that for the two days that the awning was unusable, it was over 100 degrees and we had no shade). Last year, the weather was cold for a good portion of the trip, and we were on what had to be the two sandiest sites in the park (last year, my in-laws joined us as they also purchased a camping trailer).
Camping is fun but there’s always some element of surprise. On our most recent trip, the surprise came when we were setting up, and I suddenly found an important part of the trailer buried in the dirt.
The tongue jack is an important part of any trailer. It is basically a pipe that runs vertically that provides support to the front of the trailer after it’s disconnected, and it can be moved up or down so that the trailer sits level. A high level overview of the procedure is that you lower your tongue jack onto a piece of wood that sits on the ground, which then disconnects the trailer from the tow vehicle by pushing the ball upward.
This has worked flawlessly every single time…except just recently.
I had the trailer in position, had the wood on the ground, had the tongue jack on the wood and was raising the trailer. For some reason the ball wasn’t coming out of the socket, so I did what I’ve done a few other times, and put a little weight on the back of the car. This typically pushes the ball down enough to pop it loose…which it did this time except that for some reason a lot more force went into it than normal.
My wife has started to really enjoy drinking wine. I’m more of a liquor guy (neither of us likes beer), but she’s started to really get to know different things about different types of wines, and whereas it was usually ‘white’ or ‘red’, she knows and is continuing to learn more and more about what’s out there and what she likes.
One of her first big steps came last fall when she went on a weekend trip to Traverse City, MI. The surrounding area is home to many wineries (yes, Michigan has great wine) and was able to learn quite a bit. She went with her mom, sister, and aunt, and they had a great time.
Earlier in the year, she talked about what fun it was and how she really thought she’d miss it this year. I looked at her and asked why she didn’t plan something with her sister. Her sister has had a bit of a rough patch, with a somewhat recent break-up, and I thought some bonding time would be great. They talked it over, agreed on a weekend, and started planning.
My wife and I went to Disney World in 2008. We planned that trip specifically so the two of us could go by ourselves, as we knew that we wanted to start trying to start a family shortly thereafter, and if that worked out, our future trips would be much different.
We had a great time, and as it happened, we started our family in 2009 by welcoming our son, and added to it with the 2011 birth of our daughter.
We’ve talked about the right age to take another trip down. I think that many early childhood memories are lost, and since Disney World is such a magical place, it’d be a shame to have a child ‘forget’ essentially all of the experience. I proposed, and my wife reluctantly agreed that four years old would be the earliest age. I think my wife was reluctant just because she really has been looking forward to going back!
It’s been a pretty crazy winter here in Michigan. We’re in the top three in terms of seasonal snowfall record. Between January 14th and February 17th, we had one day where it went above freezing. By exactly one degree. We had the snowiest January on record, and February has been no slouch.
This combination has led to snow piles growing and growing. Certainly not melting.
And, this could potentially have very negative consequences as it turns out.
As many long time readers know, we enjoy camping, and we have a trailer type RV that we pull around. It’s lightweight, which works out well since we have a mid-size SUV.
A few weeks ago, after one big snowfall, I wondered aloud whether I should go over to my in-laws (where we store it for the winter), and clean off any snow from the roof. This was probably closer to mid-January when we had no idea the cold spell we’d see. My wife didn’t think it was necessary. My father-in-law didn’t seem to think it would be an issue. Other things came up. I kind of forgot about it. And that was that.