Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dirty Disney Hacks

This is *Katie Anne Clark. The asterisk (*) denotes that she is a member of Actor's Equity. We felt that her performance in this photo was worthy of marking this distinction.

We occasionally refer to  Katie as "Kaddy," or as, "our wife." 

Kaddy is the only friend that RSVP'd for Lenni's elaborate 30th birthday festivities in Disney World this year...

...but no hard feelings over here for a couple of reasons... 

We understand that Disney World is NOT a vacation. It is straight up WORK and getting it right takes skill. Also, Disney can be ridiculously expensive, even when budgeting with careful precision! 

In this post, we will share the "Dis-takes" we've made, and the hacks we've discovered when taking on that magical mouse.
So why JetBlue? JetBlue is by far our favorite airline for domestic trips...that is mostly because we have never flown on any other airline. Also, Lenni is a "fearful flyer" and prefers consistency when possible.

But, seriously, who doesn't like Terra Blue Chips, the official chip mascot of JetBlue Airlines,  and their own mini-tv screen that will undoubtably be re-running episodes of FRIENDS? 

For our upcoming trip in March using the JetBlue Vacation Package, we paid $1895.69 (+$91.96 in Taxes and Fees) for a total of $1987.65 for both of us

This includes JetBlue direct flights to and from Orlando, a 4-night stay at the budget friendly Disney's All-Star Music Resort, and two 4-day park base-tickets (one park per day).

Dirty Disney Hack #1: We also are coming to understand and navigate the True Blue Member Rewards Program. You earn 3-points for every dollar spent and you can earn additional points by taking on-line surveys for which you qualify! You can literally spend all day taking surveys about what fabric softener you prefer AND pay your travel fare!

Now the dollar to point conversion rate for flights doesn't make for a super lucrative system, but as we've calculated, in about 6 more annual Disney trips using Jet Blue, we should be able to cover the cost of our airfare with points...this monumental point accumulation will  at least conveniently coincide with our 10-year Disney-versary!

Lenni made the silly mistake of creating  a True Blue account and not signing in before booking flights. Fortunately, if you are like this dum-dum, CALL the JetBlue True Blue Program: 1 (800) 538-2583. They will retroactively transfer points for trips made within 12-months!

Jet Blue, you get an A+ for customer service!

Ok, but the Disney's All-Star Resorts are so BASIC... Exactly! The All-Star Resorts give you everything you need at the lowest price. Now remember, it's essentially a long weekend, so we are talking about a CRASH PAD in terms of accommodations. There is no need for fancy digs if you are spending the majority of the time in the parks...and like, what else are you actually doing in your hotel room other than sleeping? Adult stuff? GET OUT- you're too grown up!

Dirty Disney Hack #2: Also, All-Star Resorts are some of the MANY Disney resorts that provide complimentary transportation between the airport and resort on Disney's Magical Express... Don't make the mistake we made the first time we went by NOT STAYING DISNEY...pool shuttle fare from the airport was almost $100, and we were the LAST hotel stop...such a waste of time and money!

So why the 1-Park per day ticket instead of the Park Hopper? In the past we've always done the Park Hopper, but we've typically only had 2-days to do the 4-parks we wanted to do: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. In that case, Park Hopper is essential.

Dirty Disney Hack #3: On our upcoming 4-day trip, we can leisurely give each park a full day (Animal Kingdom we can do in half a day, so we will be doing that on our final day before we catch our evening flight home). In this case, we save $150 that would have been spent on Park Hopper tickets for 4-days.

Is it cheaper in March?   We decided to take this trip in March for one reason alone:


Dirty Disney Hack #4: We have found that outside of school vacation periods and the holiday season, our trips to Disney have been pretty comparable in terms of price. The key for us is to book early on a credit card that offers travel rewards or points, and to pay it off in monthly increments. You can even apply some of the points from your transaction to paying off that trip! We have always booked our Disney trips about 6-10 months out and always charge it on a Travel Rewards Credit Card (see Dirty Disney Hack #7). Having a monthly payment towards the total helps to make the cost more manageable, and the travel points that you can accumulate will be super helpful for future travel. 

So HOW cheaply have you done Disney?
It will be tough to keep this March trip under what we've paid before, but remember, we are staying 4 nights instead of 3, so it's all relative (and it's Lenni's 30th birthday...)!

The CHEAPEST that we've tripped to Disney was during mid-Septemberjust in time for Fun Fall decorations! 

Due to a SICK Park Ticket hook-up that a friend's boyfriend had with his uncle who worked in the park, we paid just the sum  of the flight and 3-night stay at the Buena Vista Palace Hotel, which totaled $762. 

Dirty Disney Hack #5: *Disney has since taken away the employee perk of giving highly priced tickets to total strangers and letting them roam about unaccompanied...go figure. But if you know someone who works there and they have the ability to accompany you around the park while you are there, this could be a HUGE money saver for you!

We were spoiled this first time- the parks were free with the exception of food and gifts. Unfortunately, the Buena Vista Hotel that we were staying at did not have airport transportation and this cost us another $100, which was no big deal because were saving like a million dollars on park tickets.  We spent another $400 that we saved in cash, specifically for this trip on food, gifts and airport stuff....totaling about $1262 including spending money.

Dirty Disney Hack #6: DISNEY MAGIC IS DANGEROUS! You can charge anything right to your happy little Magic Wrist Band without even seeing a bill until you check out of your hotel. We have found that you are less likely to break the bank with impulse Goofy Hat and Princess Mug purchases if you wear a fashionable fanny pack containing exactly the amount of cash you are comfortable  spending. Like this:

In 2016, we attended Veterans Day weekend for a 3-night stay at the All Star Movie Resort (FREE Mickey's Magical Express to and from the airport for the WIN!) for $1283.36, and bought two adult 2-day Park Hopper Tickets directly from the Disney Parks website for
$562...enter Chase Bank

Dirty Disney Hack #7: Chase Bank was offering a Disney Magic Rewards Credit Card, advertising a statement credit of $200 for $500 in purchases within 3-months of opening the account.  We charged the tickets to the card and at the end of the billing cycle, $200 was credited to our account... BOOM!  $362 for our Park Hoppers bringing our total of $1645

What happens when you calculate Food and shopping into the mix?
Our last trip was at the tail end of the Food and Wine Festival in Epcot, so we knew we would be spending a little more to indulge in non-crappy park meal options. We fanny-packed about $320 bucks for food and souvenirs and still had enough to still feed ourselves at the airports! This entire trip totaled about $1965 including spending money.

Ok, but the food? How can we make this cheaper?

We have a whopping 3 hacks for you here!

Dirty Disney Hack #8: The Chase Disney Magic Rewards Card was even worth it after the initial credit! We actually charged our upcoming trip on it and have accumulated about $100 in points. We sent away for a redemption card, which we will be able to use like cash for food and gift options in the Parks!

Dirty Disney Hack #9: Most Disney Park food is disgusting and over-priced, like this non-turkey-meat, turkey leg that Devon insists on purchasing, eating a few bites of and then always says, "it's gross," and throws it away 40 seconds and $20 later. This is always followed by desperate search for floss (which is something we now bring to the park in the fanny pack). Instead, save money by sitting down for a real meal in a restaurant in the Magic Kingdom and buy filling food a few times throughout the day so that you don't waste your money. This is less of a problem in Epcot! (If you are REALLY thrifty, you CAN bring your own snacks into the park...but who wants to deal with that.)

Dirty Disney Hack #10:  Do NOT buy the $4,000,000 water bottles that you will have to toss before getting on a ride 5 minutes later...these add up significantly.  Stands that offer fountain beverages will give you LARGE free cups of water if you ask. Then you won't feel bad about dumping between rides...because it was free and still recyclable. 

Our magical journey ends here. We hope you have learned some thrifty Disney tricks that will make your next trip even more magical! So until next time, "ana!"

Friday, November 10, 2017

Meet the Stones

Hey Everyone!

What is this blog? We are the Stones and we've created this blog as means of documenting our travels together. 

Why are YOU here? Chances are that you are one of Lenni's 6 friends and she made you read this. If you are a friend of Devon's, we have no idea how you got here...he is not a sharer... If you fall into neither category, maybe you are a person of modest financial means, like us, who has been dying to do some travel, and want to see if we have any insightful tips to offer you. We will likely disappoint, but in a totally endearing way.

Who are WE? Lenni and Devon have known each other since they looked like this: 

(Yes, we are 16 and 17 years old in this photo. We've known each other since we were 12 and 13, and we like each other A LOT!)

Our brilliant wedding photographer made us look like this (photo credit to Gillian Gordon): 
But in reality, we look like this....
So why this blog? Lenni and Devon spent the better part of their 20's living in and out of NYC, while pursuing careers as actors. When they grew endlessly DONE with the unimpressive lifestyle of eating Easy-Mac 3 times per day and collecting seat cushion change to pay their NYC rent, they returned to their native Boston. In their first shot at a vacation together, Lenni dragged Devon to the happiest place on earth: Disney World! Devon had never been and didn't understand the hype....until he saw the flight of the macaws at the opening morning ceremony at Animal Kingdom.* 

*Side note:
Devon truly prefers animals over humans. If he could legally marry his cat, this blog would feature no Lenni and more photos like this:
Needless to say, Devon was reduced to a puddle of tears at the sight of the majestic and colorful birds flying in tandem... his condition did not improve on the Safari either. 

Our next stop was Epcot. And it was here that our travel dreams began. At the time, we had decided that Epcot's Plastic Tower of Pisa was probably the closest we'd get to a European excursion. We'd be lying if we denied that we walked around the park immersing ourselves in the architecture, food, and fun that Disney presented to us,  pathetically taking it all authentically at face value... 

Post-Disney, we began collecting magnets of all the places we'd been. You can see our tremendous travel variation below:
It was this VERY, VERY, sad occurrence, that led us to the re-evaluation of our priorities. It suddenly became clear that our noble pursuits of remaining starving artists for all eternity were the very thing in the way of us experiencing the wide world's offerings beyond our annual visits to Cape Cod and the Plastic Eiffel Tower at Epcot

Enter the O.G. of independent budget travel, Rick Steves.

It was true love for us both. Rick became a staple of entertainment in our apartment. Between his adorably awkward antics with the locals and his savvy tips on saving money, we knew we were in excellent hands. Fortunately, Netflix was able to help us get our daily fix of Rick Steves. With his gentle guidance and silvery tones, in a 2-week period, we were convinced that we were ready, and impulsively booked a trip, 10 months out, to Amsterdam. 

                                Thanks, Rick Steves!

What's next? So here we are in 2017, married, and about to take our first international trip together. And...this will be Devon's FIRST TIME EVER out of the country! We will be filling up "Our Adventure Book"...

Stay tuned for our tips, tricks, recommendations, and anecdotal adventures.

Up Next: 
December 2017: Amsterdam, 4 day, budget friendly, bundle package.
March 2018: Disney World (3.0), Lenni turns 30 and brings a friend to crash the romance.
June 2018: Greece (Athens, Santorini, Mykonos & Paros), our official Honeymoon.

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