Saturday, September 26, 2015

Southwest Bonus Is Back

The 50,000 point bonus is back with Southwest when you apply for the Southwest Chase Credit Card.  This is one of the fastest ways to make your way to the Companion Pass. Click {HERE} for the details of applying to the card.  {HERE} is the blog post about fast tracking for a Companion Pass.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

September contest - ENTER to win!

Planning a trip can be time consuming. While there is so much information out on the web these days, it can still be confusing. A travel agent is a great service to use for planning your trips, but can they really save you money? Turns out he answer is yes, because travel agents don't charge customers for their services.  (They are paid by the hotel, cruise ship, etc)

We've teamed up with Storybook Destinations and for every person who mentions this blog, Our Family Loves to Travel, when inquiring about a trip will be entered to win a $50 Amazon gift card. If you book a trip, you'll be entered again. This will run for the entire month of September. Where do you want to go...on a cruise, a trip to Disney, the beach, Italy, Sandals, snow skiing? Inquire with Storybook Destinations to find out what trip might be right for you.

Storybook Destinations
Direct 1-719-964-1718

*Contest Terms & Conditions: Applicable to new inquires and bookings as of September 1, 2015, with Storybook Destinations. Must mention the blog, Our Family Loves to Travel, at time of inquiry. Open to all US residents during the contest period (September 1, 2015 to September 30, 2015). Winners will be drawn from all the entries received up to 11:59pm/MST on September 30th. Drawing will be held on Friday, October 2nd. Additional conditions may apply.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Traveling with your Sitter

Whether you call the person who helps you watch your kids a nanny, a babysitter, or an au pair, the same basic questions run through everyone's head when it comes to traveling with them. This post is written with the hopes to clear up how you may want to address travel with your nanny.

For the purpose of this post, a sitter is defined here as a person caring for our children. This person does not live with us full time, nor is caring for our children her full-time job; additionally, she does not care for them on a daily basis. On the flip side, she is one of the only people, outside of family, who cares for our children when we are not available.

When our children were younger, we almost always traveled with our sitter. Now that our kids are older, we often find a resort with a kid-zone or child care. Having our sitter with us was piece of mind. And let's all be honest, traveling with our sitter made the trips more enjoyable.

Here are some tips:
  1. Your sitter may not be familiar with travel When you begin discussing traveling with her, don't assuming she knows the area you are going, that she has a passport, or that she'll know your expectations. Therefore, it's important that you...
  2. ...Set the ground rules – It is important that everyone has the same expectations of the trip. You don't want anyone to come home disappointed. What will you be paying for on the trip? What will the sitter be responsible for? Will there be compensation in addition to the trip? How will meals be handled? What will the sleeping arrangements be? When will the sitter be expected to watch the kids?
  3. Make sure your sitter has a passport – Our sitter didn't have a passport, so we covered the expense for her to get one. Passports can't be gotten at the last minute, so there needs to be some planning.
  4. Work out a schedule for your sitter to have downtime – Your sitter may not have the opportunity to visit your destination outside of the trip. She will want to have time to explore the area. Plan to allow her to do this during your family time, so it doesn't take away from your vacation. Plus, you'll want to include your sitter in some of your fun as well.
  5. Remember your sitter is sacrificing something – While your sitter loves being with your kids, she is sacrificing something of her own personal life to travel with you. Make sure she knows she is appreciated and that she is comfortable with the terms you have agreed on from the points mentioned above.

Another thing we always did that you may want to consider is we allowed our sitter to bring a friend. The friend had to pay her own way, but she was welcome to share the room we got for our sitter. This always ended up being a positive for our family. We had another set of eyes watching our children. Plus, when our sitter had her downtime, she had a friend with her. In our experience, this worked out to be a win-win for everyone.

While I have listed the five tips above, you may still want to have a suggestion specifically on how to pay your sitter. Certainly, what we did may not be right for you and your sitter. This is something you need to establish while working through #2 above. I can only share what worked for our family and our sitter with compensation.

The sitters we took happened to always be college girls. They never had to take time off from a full-time job or miss a class to travel with us. We would arrange our travel time to coordinate with one of their semester or summer breaks. We did not pay them hourly. They were invited to go on a trip with us as well as bring a friend along. We always covered all of our sitter's travel expenses such as getting a passport, airfare, her own hotel room, and food. Additionally, we would give our sitter a pre-agreed amount of money for each day. The amount of money was based on where we were going. Whether she spent the money while traveling with us or saved it, that was up to her. All of the terms were given to the sitter ahead of time, so she could be in agreement prior to committing to the job. (Believe me when I tell you we had a number of sitters hoping they would be invited on one of our trips. Therefore, if the first one asked didn't like the terms offered, we had other sitters who would have jumped on it. However, we compensated fairly, and the first sitter we asked always was thrilled to accept the job.) It has always worked out beautifully for us and our sitters. They got to go to the Bahamas, Hawaii, Las Vegas, and various beaches in Florida with us.

Taking your sitter on vacation with you may seem like a huge luxury. However, if the terms are worked out ahead of time and you've budgeted appropriately, you may find that it isn't as big of a financial burden as you may have assumed it was going to be.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The 4th of July at Paris (the one in Las Vegas)

Our view from our chairs at the pool
We stayed at Paris on the Las Vegas strip with our kids over the July 4th weekend. We have always liked the location of Paris on the strip. It is directly across from the Bellagio and somewhat central. It is also a smaller hotel so once you return to the hotel for the evening, you are almost to your room. This isn't the case at other Vegas hotels. Also, there is a monorail stop. 

Paris is a little older as there is always something new going up on the strip. Now that isn't to be misunderstood that the hotel is “old,” just getting older for the strip. However, this didn't bother us at all.

We stayed on a non-smoking floor. Overall, our room was clean. However, the bathroom had wallpaper that was peeling off and rust was on the air vent. Certainly, there could have been some touch ups to the room that would have made a big difference. We had a view of the pool, the Eiffel Tower, and even part of the Bellagio water show. 
View of the pool from our room.  You can also see to the left the view of the Eiffel Tower (I'm not sure why I didn't take a photo of that from the room)
View of Bellagio water show from our room
The best part about our room view was that we were tired the night of July 4th, so we ordered room service and watched the fireworks from our room. It was the perfect view!

The breakfast buffet at Paris is extensive. There is a great selection for everyone.

The pool is great for families. It is large and even on a crowded weekend (like the 4th of July) there was room for everyone to play and swim.

TravelLady Rating: We like Paris. It was a great choice for a family visit. We felt safe; and it really is in the heart of the action on the strip.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Marriott Tempe at The Buttes

This is not the fanciest place you will stay as far as Marriotts go. However, it is clean, has a unique atmosphere, a fun pool, and the staff is nice. As I mentioned the hotel has a unique atmosphere; buildings are placed in a hillside with small caves. Some of these small caves have hot tubs. The pool has a great desert feel. The landscaping is native to the desert as well.

The breakfast buffet was included in our room rate, and I admit – VERY IMPRESSIVE! We could select from a variety of fresh fruits, cold cereal, hot cereal, an omelette station, bacon, sausage, eggs, boiled eggs, breakfast potatoes, toast, juice, coffee, and fresh waffles with toppings.

The room is what I refer to in this blog as a “standard room”...meaning a bathroom, 2 queen beds, and room for a small desk. It also had a mini fridge and a safe. The room felt a little old and worn; however, it did not feel dirty.

We only stayed one night, and I didn't make it to the gym. Therefore, I am not able to report on that.

Unlike the breakfast buffet, the food served at the pool was unimpressive, and the service was slow. The pool is large and there was plenty of seating while we were there. There is a pool at the slide, but my boys said it was slow. This kid aquarium (part of the pool) was a fun place for photos.

If you are looking for a newer hotel with all the bells and whistles, this is not the place for you.  Yet, if you are looking for an authentic Phoenix hotel, you may want to check this out.

TravelLady Rating: We would stay here again and make sure our room rate included the breakfast buffet.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Day 7 - Norwegian Getaway

There is a string of posts about our trip on Norwegian's Getaway. We went on the 7-night cruise which stopped in St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau. Our stateroom was 13234 which was considered a family cabin with balcony. To follow along or get caught up click these links: {What to Pack}, {Preparing for the Getaway}, {Day 1}, {Day 2}, {Day 3}; {Day 4}, {Day5}, {Day 6}; below is the review of day 7.

Day 7 - Nassau

Let me start this entry by being honest and sharing that Nassau is usually one of our least favorite ports on any cruise. We lived in Florida for years, and Nassau was an easy trip for a long weekend. Surprisingly, on this cruise, Nassau was the best day we had as a family!

Our kids love Atlantis on Paradise Island. So we decided to budget for a trip to Atlantis. There are two ways to go to Atlantis while you are on a cruise. I suggest pricing out both and seeing what is best.
  • Option 1 – Book the cheapest room you can find at Atlantis and check in as a guest, even though you aren't staying there. Comfort Suites Paradise Island is also a part of Atlantis. This is where we usually find the lowest rates for the resort. The older parts of Atlantis are somewhat run down, and these are going to be the least expensive rooms. But just keep reminding yourself that you are headed back to the cruise ship to sleep. When figuring out the total, don't forget to add in all the hotel taxes as well as your transfer to and from the hotel.
  • Option 2 – Book the Atlantis excursion through your cruise ship. This will include your transfers.

On Friday morning, we woke up and went for a run on the jogging track and then headed to breakfast at the buffet. The ship didn't arrive in Nassau until noon. So we had time to play on the pool deck for a bit. Since we didn't arrive until noon, it was a little disappointing to know we had to be back on the ship by 6:30. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, we wish the Tortola port was the noon to 6:30 and the Nassau was the longer port stop. In efforts to make the best of the time we had, our family was one of the first families off the boat at 12:15. We got in a line on the pier that ended up being very long for the excursion to Atlantis. (I guess we weren't the only ones with this idea.) We received arm bands and were shuttled over to Atlantis to play in the pools, slides, and lazy river. We had a great day together as a family. It was nice to get off the ship and actually be able to play in a large pool for awhile. We stayed as long as we could at Atlantis, leaving enough time to visit the extensive aquarium there, before heading back to the ship after a full day of much fun!
Here's our photo of M & B at Atlantis.  Everyone has to take a photo in the "big chair."
This was our last night on the ship. We had reservations at Moderno. The kids wanted to go to Splash Academy for the Farewell Pajama Party. We actually took the kids to the buffet for their dinner, dropped them off at Splash Academy, and went to Moderno kid-free. We asked to sit outside. The ship was already cruising, and there was a wonderful breeze! Moderno is a Brazilian steakhouse. They had a salad bar. I am not always a fan of a salad bar, but this was amazing! Oh, salad bar, where had you been my entire cruise??? If I had known about it, I would have frequented that salad bar all cruise long. We had been warned not to fill up on the salad bar as the meat part of the meal was coming. Yet, it was difficult not was so, so yummy! Just think of all the wonderful and uncommon items on a salad bar you love, and it probably was there! When diners are done with the salad bar and want meat to start coming to their table, the coaster on the table is flipped to the green side. Trays of meat will come one after another. It was a fun experience.

After dinner, TravelMan and I walked around the deck and enjoyed the last night of our vacation. We also had to go back to the stateroom and put out our checked suitcases, so that they would be in the baggage claim the next morning. When we picked our kids up from Splash Academy, they were so confused about their feelings. I think they were shocked to feel sad the cruise was coming to an end. For the three years prior, we have cruised with Disney's cruise line. And we have always loved, loved, loved it! I think all of us were surprised that Norwegian was running a close race with our experience on Disney. (Remember that stateroom attendant I told you about at the beginning of my week's review??? He was really the only major let down on the ship.) As the boys were falling asleep that night, they told us that they want to go back on the Norwegian Getaway next summer instead of the Disney Dream. For a family who has adored their Disney cruises, this is saying a lot about the Getaway!

The morning of day 8, we woke up and got off the ship. (Wah!) We really enjoyed the cruise! We got our luggage, went through customs, contacted Uber, and off we went to our next destination for the day.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Day 6 - Norwegian Getaway

There will be a string of posts about our trip on Norwegian's Getaway. We went on the 7-night cruise which stopped in St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau. Our stateroom was 13234 which was considered a family cabin with balcony. To follow along or get caught up click these links: {What to Pack}, {Preparing for the Getaway}, {Day 1}, {Day 2}, {Day 3}; {Day 4}, {Day5}; below is the review of day 6.

Day 6 – Day At Sea

On our last day at sea, it was almost like we were childless. The boys had made so many friends in Splash Academy that they ended up meeting on the pool deck and decided to rock climb, do the ropes course, play in the splash pad, eat lunch together, and do the slides. TravelMan and I spent most of the day on Deck 16 enjoying the sunshine, the breeze of the ship moving, and the view of the mighty ocean. Norwegian had a ton of on board activities planned if anyone was interested. But we just relaxed for the day. Everyone was enjoying themselves and that's really what vacation is all about.

That evening we ate at Le Bistro. TravelMan was hesitant about going to a French restaurant as that wouldn't be his first choice in food. However, we all had a great meal. After dinner, the boys wanted to go to Splash Academy for Wacky Tacky night. The US Open was on, so TravelMan and I headed to a bar to watch a little golf.

On a side note, don't miss the camera kiosks throughout the ship. The boys enjoyed capturing silly photos of themselves that they could email to friends.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Day 5 - Norwegian Getaway

There will be a string of posts about our trip on Norwegian's Getaway. We went on the 7-night cruise which stopped in St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau. Our stateroom was 13234 which was considered a family cabin with balcony. To follow along or get caught up click these links: {What to Pack}, {Preparing for the Getaway}, {Day 1}, {Day 2}, {Day 3}; {Day 4}, below is the review of day 5.

Day 5 - Tortola

The ship got to Tortola's port at 7am. So it was an early morning off the ship if you wanted. We woke up and went for a run on the jogging deck. Then breakfast at the buffet. As a family, we couldn't agree on an excursion offered by Norwegian, so we headed out to explore Tortola on our own. The “thing” to do in Tortola was taking an excursion to “The Baths.” We didn't do this, but a large majority of the passengers did. If you are thinking of doing this, you need to go on TripAdvisor and read some reviews. There is some hiking and a need for water shoes. Since I didn't do the excursion, I don't want to mislead you on information. So please do your own research ahead of time. My family decided to try the beach again. We had given thought to ziplining, but the beach won out. There are several beaches that are recommended. We ended up going with Cane Garden Bay as it was supposed to have the best amenities if you have children. The taxi ride was $8/each way per person. There was no fee to get in the beach. They had activities you could rent as well as beach chairs. The boys enjoyed more snorkling. There was also a little flea market type set up. Of course, the boys had to buy some handmade bobble heads (one of their favorite things to buy while in the Carribbean).

I'm going to pause here and write a little about Tortola. It is a new port for Norwegian. The ship has been going there for approximately 2 months at the time when we traveled. Prior to this, the ship went to St. Marteen. Tortola currently isn't ready for tourist. The roads are scary. The port isn't finished. In fact, they say it's going to be 2 years before the port may be completely finished. In hindsight, I wish Norwegian had Tortola be the short 6 hour stop and made the stop at Nassau longer (more on that port in day 7 review). Tortola was fine, but I'm not really sure why Norwegian gave up St. Marteen for it. We still had a great day together, but the port was an interesting decision on Norwegian's part.

After the beach, we got back on the ship and had a late lunch. Then we played a family round of miniature golf on the sports deck.

This was the only night we had no real dinner plans. We stayed very casual and thought about going to the pools and slides as they were close to empty in the evenings. However, the boys wanted to go to Splash Academy for the Hurray for Hollywood theme night. TravelMan and I just chilled in our stateroom and on the balcony. A perfect vacation day if you ask me!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Day 4 - Norwegian Getaway

There will be a string of posts about our trip on Norwegian's Getaway. We went on the 7-night cruise which stopped in St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau.  Our stateroom was 13234 which was considered a family cabin with balcony. To follow along or get caught up click these links: {What to Pack}, {Preparing for the Getaway}, {Day 1}, {Day 2}, {Day 3}; below is the review of day 4.

Day 4 – St Thomas

TravelMan was convinced that once we were at port and the ship could empty some of the waste that the urine smell would stop. I think he was right on this, as the smell didn't come back until late in the day 6 and day 7. This was great news. I also think our cabin stewart could have done better about cleaning the room. (And not just because we weren't getting towel animals.) But I'm happy to report our sheets were changed this day. And better than that, we got our first towel animal. In the course of the cruise, we got 3 total.

The days at sea were great, but by our fourth full day, we were ready to get off the ship for awhile. We had breakfast at the buffet. (We found it easier to do the buffet with the boys than to go to a sit down restaurant for breakfast. So you'll find we ate there everyday for breakfast. Plus, the food was very good on the buffet.) We got off the ship. It was an easy process. We didn't book an excursion in St Thomas. I had done some reading ahead of time and found out that Magens Bay is a great beach. It cost $8/per person for a taxi ride there and $4/per adult to get into the beach. Once there you could rent beach chairs. There was also a convenient-type store, a bar, and a food stand. They also had non-motorized rentals such as paddle boards and kayaks. I had read to go down the beach a ways to avoid the crowd and was that right! We went just past the last picnic table and while the beach did get full, it certainly did not feel overly crowded there. The water was amazing! It was clear and warm! I had packed a few buckets, shovels, fishing nets, and snorkel gear for the boys. I am so glad I had thought to pack the nets. They boys played in the water catching fish and crabs for over an hour. We built a sand castle; the beach had great sand for this! 

We played at the beach for a few hours and then headed back to the ship where we had a late lunch. We got off the ship again and headed to the Butterfly Garden.

You may recall from day 1's review that we were able to get reservations at the magic show (which included a dinner), Illusionarium. It could be because my kids have a huge interest in being able to perform magic tricks, but they couldn't get enough of this show. It was entertaining for both adults and children. After the show, off to Splash Academy went the kids. TravelMan and I enjoyed having the Unlimited Beverage Package and checked out a few more bars on the ship.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Day 3 - Norwegian Getaway

There will be a string of posts about our trip on Norwegian's Getaway. We went on the 7-night cruise which stopped in St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau. Our stateroom was 13234 which was considered a family cabin with balcony. To follow along or get caught up click these links: {What to Pack}, {Preparing for the Getaway}, {Day 1}, {Day 2}; below is the review of day 3.

Day 3 – Day at Sea

At this point in the review, you know I wasn't thrilled with our cabin's cleanliness. I thought about saying something. Yet, it was difficult to communicate with the cabin stewart for what seemed like a language barrier. So I just let it ride. We weren't in our room that much any way. 

TravelMan and I went for a jog on the track. By today, people seemed to understand better about the markings on the ground for the jogging track, making it easier to get a run in. I also went to the gym.   It was nice & a fair size for a cruise ship – split into two parts, cardio and weights. The gym is free, but the classes they offer have a fee.

We learned from the day before to reserve chairs early. We really don't like to do this as it feels rude if you aren't using them. Yet, the day before all four of us were sharing one chair. So we grabbed two lounge chairs by the adult pool and headed to breakfast. After breakfast, we went to the sports deck to check out the mini golf and ropes course. Of course, the boys thought the ropes course was great!  And I mean, great!  The boys did it over and over throughout the trip.

B on the ropes course
M on the ropes course
This ropes course actually has a “walk the plank” feature where the kids are out over the ocean. Crazy! 
M walking the plank.  He LOVED it!!  One more step off (and no harass) and he would have been in the ocean.
The boys played on the sports deck, on the slides, and in the splash pad while TravelMan and I enjoyed the adult pool, relaxing in the sun.  The ship was set up in such a way, we felt comfortable letting them go on their own between these three things as long as they stayed together.  The boys knew they had to check in with us and always tell us when they were leaving one area to go to another. After lunch, the boys wanted to go to Splash Academy, especially because the theme was Super Heroes vs. Villains for the afternoon. TravelMan and I stayed by the pool all afternoon. It was a great day – felt very relaxed and vacation like and everyone was doing exactly what they wanted to do!

At this point in the cruise, we were really starting to understand what Norwegian's Freestyle Cruising meant.  There are no pre-assigned dinner times.  No sitting at tables with strangers.  No assigned restaurants to eat at each day. We were "free" to eat when we wanted, where we wanted. We didn't feel like we were being herded like cattle.  We ate dinner as a family at Teppanyaki. It is a Japanese style hibachi restaurant that was part of the Ultimate Dining Plan. Teppanyaki took awhile to eat, which is common at hibachi; yet, when it was over, we all headed back to the room to get ready for bed. We had some busy days up to this point and going to bed a little earlier that night was a good idea.

The sheets hadn't been changed in the room still...and no towel I said earlier in the post, I was letting it ride.  The rest of the cruise was proving to be great; this wouldn't get me down.