Disney – December 2020

Before I start, let me pat myself on the back and say how nice it is to write a trip report only a month removed from the trip.  Hooray for remembering details!

Disney….

Let’s start with a refresher.  We’ve done some extravagant travel.  Look no farther than my previous report where our 8 nights in hotels would have cost nearly $25,000.  And that’s cheap compared to some of the first class flights we’ve taken.

The key missing detail is we paid $0 for that.  Nothing.  Additionally, I think we are extremely efficient with our day to day travel expenses.  They matter, and I track them excessively – I’m sure I can find the cost of a cab ride from Thailand nearly a decade ago in my master travel excel book.  That’s how we pull it off.

Disney on the other hand is legit expensive.  And there are really no workarounds to it. 

Point being, I can go to Europe for 3 weeks for what it costs to spend a week at Disney on a monorail resort with the mealplan.  That’s always been a holdup for me.  Still, I said I had one trip in me.  The question was when to take it.

Decemberish 2019, our good friends informed us of their plans to do Disney the week after Thanksgiving 2020.  That week is supposed to be one of the best to go.  It would also be great to have friends (both ours and James) there as well.  James would be at a good age – old enough to ride the rides, but young enough to still experience some of the Disney magic.  We didn’t make any firm plans, but Alyce blocked the week for vacation.

Meanwhile…Covid and all that.  First thought: no way we’re going to Disney World in a pandemic.  However, reports seemed to be nothing but positive from Disney – manageable crowds, shorter than usual lines, and no widespread reports of Covid spreading.  As the time got closer, we made the decision to go for it.

To be clear, we ended up staying off site (a Hyatt on points that included breakfast), skipped lunch everyday, ate nice (but not obscene) dinners, and generally did Disney about as frugally as you could.  It still was one of the more expensive trips on a per day basis we have done.  A major, unescapable cost is park tickets.

Still, I’m glad we did the one trip.  This was a good time for James.

Day 1

We hit the road early from home but not absurdly so.  The flight there was Southwest non-stop.  We left December 1, which was the day they started filling planes again.  Still, we had no trouble getting a good boarding group and seats next to each other.

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California and Texas – September 2020

And now we’re getting into Covid times…

This trip was supposed to be to Japan.  I had held out hope we would be able to make the trip, but it was pretty clear that wasn’t happening not too long after the pandemic started.  We also had to cancel a trip to Napa in March with friends for a wedding.  That was a big bummer on many accounts.

Mid to late summer, things were looking up on the Covid front.  Some travel had started back up.  Our vacation time is use it or lose it, so we’d be taking time off either way.  I was interested in finding something for Alyce and I to do that was more outdoor focused and preferably not in a big city.  We had about two weeks to work with.  Just the two of us had not gone on a vacation since our 2017 South America trip, so we were due.

My first plan was Hawaii.  They were set to reopen to American tourism on September 1, and it seemed like a good Covid option.  Not to mention, they have some nice Hyatts at which I’d be able to put my globalist status and points stash to use.

But mid-August, it became apparent that they were unlikely to re-open for September.  [They did not.]

Back to the drawing board.  I looked at Alaska, but it would be late in the year for that trip.  I considered some combination of Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, and Glacier National Park.  Those too were later than ideal in the year (though less so than Alaska) and had some Covid closures.  Plus they were an easier trip that we may want to bring James to one day.

California seemed like the answer.  We could do Big Sur, Yosemite, and Lake Tahoe.  They were good options in consideration of Covid, and again we could stay in nice Hyatt resorts.

Next…bring on the wildfires!  Let me clarify, rescheduling a vacation is nothing compared to the devastation caused to Californians by the fires.  I absolutely do not intend to give even the slightest indication otherwise.  Still, rescheduling the vacation yet again was getting old by this point.  We weren’t sure which – if any – of the destinations would be available or worthwhile to go to.  Additionally, it could vary greatly week to week.  So all we could do was monitor closely.

A week or so out, it became obvious that Yosemite was not happening – and Lake Tahoe too.  We were holding out hope to still do Big Sur with something else but had back up plans as well.

Things worked in our favor, and it looked like Big Sur would be ok to travel to.  It was, and smoke was a complete non issue.  

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Charleston – May 2019

With the house wrapped up, we were anxious to plan something.  Charleston was a relatively inexpensive and easy stop.  James would like it, and we really enjoyed ourselves the last time we visited.  And May had to be more pleasant than August.

We booked award flights on American Airlines.  Not the most extravagant use of miles, but it made sense because the flights were expensive with cash.

For the hotel, we were again staying at the Hyatt House.  The location is pretty central, though not in the middle of any particular tourist area/attraction.  It included a decent breakfast and all rooms are suites.

We Ubered around the first couple days, but rented a car our last day to head out to the beach.  If you stay in the actual city of Charleston, there is no real need for a car.

Day 1

The flight, car to the hotel, and checking in were uneventful.  Despite having to connect to get to Charleston, it is still not a difficult trip.

 

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Boston 2018

This trip was dead center of the house project, but it was a good thing in that it forced us to get out.  Alyce’s first cousin was getting married, and his future wife was from the Boston area (outside the city).  So, this was a great reason to get to the area for the first time.

I can’t find any notes for the trip, so I’ll be going entirely by memory and pictures.  I booked everything with Citi thank you points.  Our flight was on Jet Blue non-stop to Boston.  The group was staying at the Hilton Doubletree Northshore.  I don’t think we got any pictures of the room, but it was pretty standard.

 

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Charleston – August 2017

A random night in September 2016 (about 11 months prior to the trip), I was browsing the internet and reading random articles.  One on the great eclipse of 2017 caught my attention.  I thought it would be pretty neat to see a total eclipse being a bit of a physics/astronomy nerd…and look – the totality was passing right over Charleston.  My wheels were turning.

We had been wanting to go to Charleston for a while.  It just never worked out for various reasons.

Being way ahead of time, I checked for award flights.  Delta not only had available flights, but they were actually at a reduced rate of 9500 miles each way.  I also had Delta status at the time, so I could book and cancel award tickets without paying fees.

Flights were booked right at 11 months out.  I could always cancel if needed.

Next, I found award space at the Hyatt Place Charleston.  This is a category 4 Hyatt, so we were able to each use our annual category 1-4 award night from the Hyatt credit card.  I added on a 3rd day with points.

It seemed the stars were finally aligning for us to make it to Charleston – or should I say the sun and moon were aligning…I can’t resist the nerd jokes.

With nearly a year to go before the trip, I put it on the back burner.  In the meantime, we traveled to Spain and France, booked and canceled a trip to Spain and Portugal, and bought a major renovation project house.  Needless to say, I did not do much planning.

I booked this as an extremely quick trip to minimize time off of work.  And honestly, I was half expecting Alyce to bail on the quick trip when I booked it, but she never balked.

This trip would be just the two of us, and we’d leave Friday evening.  Our return flight departed at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, which left us enough time to watch the eclipse, hop on our flight, and get back Monday night.  With the tight schedule, we only had to take one day off of work.  Of course, if I had known that we wouldn’t be taking 3 weeks off for Spain/Portugal (or anywhere), I would have planned more time in Charleston.

We were all set.  And even though it was a quick trip, we had a great time.  Alyce chipped in with the research, and we ended up eating at some fantastic places by just waiting and eating at the bar (or late at night in the case of our first meal).

Day 1

Our flight did not depart until 4:30.  We each got in a pretty full day of work.  The late start combined with losing an hour to time changes left us not landing at CHS until 8:00 p.m.  The Delta flights again went off without any issue.  Both legs were pretty quick.

Catching an Uber to the hotel was easy enough and cost effective (~$15-$20).  Our driver was an Alabama fan, but he was a friendly guy – so I didn’t hold it against him.

By the time we checked in dropped off our bags and picked a place to eat, it was after 10:00.  Fortunately, our first choice of restaurant was open until 11:00 – Slightly North of Broad.

Alyce had read good things about it, and – even though it was late – we wanted to eat a good meal given our limited opportunities on this quick trip.  It did not disappoint.

We ordered a bunch of small plates and basically created our own tasting menu.  Everything was delicious, and I’d gladly go back for another meal.  That said, it may have been our least favorite of our three dinners…which speaks to the quality of our other two dinners as we had a very good meal at Slightly North of Broad.

One interesting close to the night was that both of our phones were completely out of batteries – something that rarely happens to either one of us.  But with the long day, all the Uber trips, and the fact that our phones were both 3 years old and on their last leg, we were out.  So we had to have the restaurant call us cab, which they didn’t even really seem sure of who to call.  After waiting 15 minutes, our ride finally arrived and took us back to the hotel.

Day 2

The Hyatt Place includes breakfast for all guests.  It is naturally not as nice a Park Hyatt breakfast, but it had multiple hot options and coffee.  We ate it every day and enjoyed it just fine.

After breakfast, we walked all the way down King Street from the Hyatt Place to White Point Garden.  We caught a Saturday morning market at Marion Square by luck on the way.  One thing was that it was pretty, pretty, pretty warm and humid being August and all…

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New York – May 2017

After cancelling our big Spain/Portugal trip, I still wanted to do something quick.  Being late May, our options were pretty open.  That is a good time to go many places.  I looked at several choices, but New York just made the most sense because we already had flights booked there (they would have been the first leg of our flights to Spain…we had to book the connecting flights to New York for Iberia).  Also, Alyce had two free nights to any Hyatt that were expiring soon, and the New York Park Hyatt is as good as any to use them.

We had been to New York once before (see the 2010 retro review).  That trip was mostly focused on fancy dining and more traditional New York tourist stuff – see a couple shows, go to the top of a tall building, museums, etc.

This trip was more about relaxing, hanging out, walking around, and doing whatever we felt like.  Part of that was that we really only finalized the trip about a week or two out.  So, most of the fine dining places were out even if we had wanted to do one, as I doubt we could get a reservation.  Also, the whole saving money thing with the renovation project, two mortgages…

As a result, we decided where we’d eat dinner the day most days – and it worked out just fine.  I had done some minimal research into ideas, but we were mainly winging it based on how we felt.  Same thing for where to walk/what to see.

We settled on a duration of 4 nights.  That’s my preferred length for a quick domestic trip.  While not Spain and Portugal, New York was still a very welcomed trip.  We hadn’t been anywhere since our 2016 Spain/France trip and were anxious to get back on the road.  Plus, being that it was just Alyce and I on the trip, it gave us a nice break from day to day family living.

Day 1

Our flight to New York (JFK) left late morning/early afternoon and was booked with Delta miles.  As mentioned, the original plan was to connect on an Iberia flight to Spain.  It was a completely uneventful flight.  I barely remember it writing this a couple months later.  We were in economy and mostly watched TV shows the whole flight.

The arrival at JFK was smooth, and we were out in a no time as we didn’t check any bags.  I decided to Uber, which was an uncomplicated/smooth process.  The actual ride itself…not so much.

We left the airport around 3:30, and things were moving quickly for the first 20 minutes.  However, we were about to hit some rough traffic.  I knew it was bad when my phone said we had 45 minutes left, then 15 minutes later said we had 50 minutes left.  Overall it took us over an hour and 45 minutes to get to the Park Hyatt.  Neither one of us were really feeling the car ride and were thrilled to get out when we finally made it.

So back to the hotel…We had two free nights from Alyce’s Chase Hyatt sign up bonus.  That meant we still needed to pay or use points for the other two nights.  And with rates over $1000 a night, paying cash was not an option.  Points it is.

I’ve emailed back and forth with an online friend who is a Hyatt “Globalist” (aka the artist formerly known as Hyatt diamond…lame name – I know), and he had offered to book a guest of honor reservation for us if it was worthwhile.  So we did it for the first two nights and hoped the benefits would apply for the whole stay.

At check in…Jackpot!  We were upgraded to a suite for the whole stay, and we received free breakfast for all 4 nights.  It worked out great for our 4 night stay.

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Napa – March 2016

Back to wine country…Yet again.  Fortunately (at least for Alyce), she was not pregnant this time.  Also, we were finally able to work it out so that some friends could join us.  Patrick, who grew up with Alyce and I, along with his wife Stephanie met us late the first night from Houston.

This trip was a Wednesday through Sunday.  That timing worked out for a couple reasons.  First, I used award miles and that was when flights were available within Alyce’s possible vacation time.  Second, I booked the hotel using the 4th night free benefit of the Citi Prestige card.  With that, they give you a credit for the 4th night’s room rate + taxes.  And it is the actual 4th night – not an average of the 4.  So having that be a Saturday got us a much bigger credit.

This was our first trip to wine country in Winter (even though it was a week or two from Spring).  The temperatures weren’t bad, but we had rain every day.  And not misty light rain…We had legitimate hard rain.  We must have heard the following line 10 times over the trip – “Sorry y’all had rain the whole trip…well actually, not really because we can use it.”

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That is the downside of traveling December through March to wine country – rain.  It’s not that it’s a guarantee you’ll get rain (the weekend before and after ours were beautiful), but you are far more likely to get rained on than the other times of the year.  The plus side is that room rates are less and things are generally less crowded. Continue reading

Chicago May 2015

As previously mentioned, the California trip did not exactly go as planned.  We still were facing a trans-Atlantic flight to Italy in September and did not want that to be James’s first time on a plane.  Chicago was the perfect solution.

Several airlines fly non-stop to Chicago, and the flight is only about two hours.  Plus, flights were dirt cheap in May.  We booked on American for $105 round trip all in.  United had some flights even cheaper than that, but we missed them by the time we had plans nailed down.  This time, we went with three economy seats because first class was a lot more expensive.

James did pretty well on the flights.  He got a little antsy, but we broke out something he doesn’t really get at home – the Ipad.  That settled him.  He eventually fell asleep in both directions for about half of the flight.  The turbulence seemed to help with sleep; we were probably the only people on the plane hoping for turbulence.

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