Friday, November 22, 2013

Resolve To Save for Vacation 2015

Do you have a travel savings plan? A special account, a cookie jar or maybe the 5 gallon water jug to stash loose change; you know some place to save money for your vacation plans. Well, 2014 is lurking around the corner so it may be a good resolution to start putting money away for your 2015 vacation. How nice do you think that would be to pay for a memorable vacation and not have to run up your credit cards?

One good place to start is with your pay check. What if you could put $25, $50 or maybe $75 dollars from each pay check into a savings account? If you get paid every two week and are able to put away $75 of each paycheck, in one year you will have built up $1,950 in your travel account. Certainly not enough to cover the dream, one-in-a-lifetime vacation but it is a very good start.

How about those frequent visits to the specialty coffee shop for the extra-mocha-frappe-espresso-cappuccino concoction that you "need" to kick start the day? Each time you choose to skip your specialty coffee fix, put another $5 to the side. Every little bit adds to the pot. In one year of skipping one special coffee shop visit per week you can have another $260 to add to your fund. (now the account is up to $2,210)

Do you and your significant other go out to dinner, or even drive-thru for dinner more than once per week? This is another opportunity to choose to cut one dinner away from home out of the expenses and stash what you would have spent into a vacation fund. Even skipping one drive-thru dinner each week for a year a couple can save at least $12 per visit or $624 each year. (now the account can reach $2,834).

What do you do with your loose change every night when you come home? Dumping that change into a vacation jar over the course of a year can add up to another$150 to $200. Choosing to make some changes to how we spend in our everyday lives provides an opportunity to save money for the things that we view as important to us. In this example, at the end of 2014 we will have a vacation savings of approximately $3,000. That is a great start and enough to make a deposit on you 2015 vacation. Being unlikely that your 2015 vacation will occur in the early months of the year, you then have several month to continue saving for the vacation you have earned. Best yet, is that you will have much less of the vacation cost to have to float on a credit card. Where will your vacation savings take you to?

There are certainly so many different ways to save for vacations and other important things in our lives. You work hard all year. Don't you think you deserve the most memorable vacation? It is never too early to start planning ahead for vacation 2015. Travel safe.

A Couples Cruise and Family Cruise in One?

This does sound rather odd at first glance but it really can happen. My wife and I have taken our two children on three cruises so far with a forth cruise coming in November and this is how we experienced the best of both cruise worlds. This is one of my best reasons why I believe that cruise vacations are the best family vacation values possible.

Having sailed without children several times this was a new chapter in cruising for us. We knew all the activity and dining options that we enjoy but now, bringing along the kids ages 8 and 10, what were we getting in to? Questions swirled endlessly around in our heads. Will the kids like the food? Will they be bored? What if they don't like the food? What if they hate the youth program? Will we be so worried about their enjoyment that we ruin ours? In the ten months leading up to the cruise embarkation the nervous excitement was building. We really needed the cruise from all the exhausting worries.

Embarkation day finally arrives and we were fortunate to arrive at the pier before long lines had developed and boarded our ship right about noon time. Perfect time to wander up to the Lido deck and check out the buffet for the first time. PIZZA! Thank goodness right off the bat at least one food that the kids definitely will eat. OMG. There's pasta, salad and a deli station also! Great. There are now so many options the kids take forever to decide what they want to eat. Eventually we settle in at a table near the pool to enjoy the first of many meals on this 8-day cruise.

One thirty rolled about and the announcement that the cabins were ready for guests. Let's go check it out and drop the carry-on bags. I have to admit that I am a balcony snob. Once I had sailed the first cruise with a balcony cabin, there was no turning back to insides or ocean views. Through the doors, drop the carry-ons and straight to the balcony. I love watching the harbor activity. Inside however, dilemma number one. Which kid will sleep in the upper berth? A quick coin toss and an agreement that they will alternate nights in the upper and problem solved. On to unpacking which was uneventful. My son and I completely unpacked in less than one minute while my wife and daughter took nearly 30 minutes.

We head off to explore the ship and an uneventful muster drill before sail away. Sadly, there was no live band but the DJ kept the beat nice and lively with a tropical vibe. A couple sodas with little umbrellas in them for the kids, a special sail-away cocktail for my wife and an ice cold beer for me and the clock just hit vacation time. It is so cool watching the ship pull away from the pier and cut it's way through the smooth harbor water, dwarfing the sail boats and private fishing boats. Off into the sunset.

Just about six o'clock we head off to the main dining room for the first real test of the children's liking of finer dining compared to happy meals. My daughter stuck to the children's menu which had chicken strips and French fries but I was pleasantly surprised that my son wanted a steak from the adult menu. Of course they ate enough that they were too full to consider any desert although they had already found the self-serve ice cream machines on deck so I am sure they were not overly concerned with missing desert at the dining room. Our fears about menu choices and the kids finding food that they would eat has vanished.

The next challenge came up shortly after dinner as the orientation mixer for the youth program was scheduled for eight o'clock sharp. We were not so concerned about our 8 year old. She is a social butterfly who makes BFF friends immediately and sure enough, as soon as we walked into the club she was off to the dance floor to dance with the other kids. My son on the other hand is a reserved analytical kid; content to hang off to the sides to check out everyone and everything before joining in. The counselors had several ice breakers centered around dance or music and games and they did a great job engaging all the kids. After five minutes of 'hanging out' my son began tapping his toes to the tunes. At the ten minute mark the shoulders and hips had engaged and by the 15 minute mark he was out on the floor with the other kids. This was the point where the family cruise became the best of both worlds. The kids were loving the youth program.

The mixer only lasted about 90 minutes so as a family we went to the late show in the theater (after some ice cream of course) and had a relaxing evening. When we returned to the cabin, the next day's activity guide was waiting for us. A little competition to get to the activity guide but the warning of receiving a restriction settled them down. Taking a lot of time to carefully plan out their next day's activities, the kids were filling their schedules up so much we were balancing on that double edged sword: we will barely see them tomorrow and WE WILL BARELY SEE THEM TOMORROW! The gentle motion of the ship led each one of us to a deep sleep very quickly.

Well, my son and I are earlier risers and more quickly get ready in the morning so we quietly showered and dressed then made our way up to the Lido deck for breakfast. My son loved that there were pancakes and syrup and biscuits and pastries and....he loaded his plate. I love fresh-made omelets and had one loaded with all the side ingredients then found my son and we took a table out on deck to enjoy the early morning light breeze and fresh air. Breakfast on the open deck is my favorite way to start the day. About an hour later my wife and daughter joined us and both too found plenty of tasty breakfast items to choose from. Once we all had finished breakfast, it was near time for the youth program to begin and we brought the kids to the activity room and signed them in. We equipped my son with a walkie-talkie so that he could call for us if either he or our daughter wanted to leave the youth program before the lunch break.

Now it is just the two of us on a vacation for the first time since before the kids arrived. We casually strolled back toward the Lido deck for some more coffee and took a comfortable seat to go over our plans for the first port call, anxiously waiting to hear the squawking of the walkie-talkie asking that we rescue one or both from the youth club. Over the course of the whole cruise, neither child once asked to be taken out of the youth program. Either my wife or I returned as scheduled to pick them up a lunch and dinner breaks and at the end of the evening programs. The kids had a very good cruise which made for a very good cruise for mom and dad also.

So you see, a family cruise on a ship with a solid youth program enables the parents to get two cruises in one. Enough time for just mom and dad alone-time and enough family time with meals, shows and shore visits that each one of us had a very memorable cruise vacation. Both of our kids are on track to be Platinum level return cruisers by the time they reach age 18. Very cool (wish my parents had taken me on more cruises). Bon Voyage!