Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vacationing on a budget - Florida 2010

After planning and saving for this trip for about a year, we finally all packed up (notice we have some friends along with us) and headed to Orlando, Florida. We rented a 15 passenger van (took the back seat out for more luggage space) from a friend at a very reasonable rate. I highly recommend this as it was such a blessing to travel together with our friends and about the same cost for gas since we split the cost. But the time we were able to spend together traveling was worth gold. We did, however, want to save money, so we strategized how we could have fun and not spend all we had saved. A new van fund has been started, so we really wanted to put more in it from our vacation fund. So, here goes. See how we did and what fun we had!

All loaded and ready to pull out of the driveway.

And none of us would have wanted to miss out on all the fun we had together just during the travel down there. Here is our van at yet another Krystal Burger joint. Crazy!!!! And this was day one traveling, so you can imagine how the rest of the trip went. : )

Stopped off, on day two, to stretch our legs and sample some pecans. We got our fill of nuts by trying every kind they had. Delicious and nutritious for a snack and didn't cost us anything!

Yes, we're all nuts. Some a little (okay, a lot) more than others. You know who you are or aren't. : )

Every kind of flavored pecan had a sample we could try. Everything from key lime to barbeque to cinnamon to spicy. It was fun trying them all!

We finally made it to our destination which was a beautiful home nestled in a quiet neighborhood not far from all the hustle and bustle in Kissimmimmee, Florida. Upon walking into our home away from home, we were so excited that we could have these accomodations instead of a hotel. It was perfect for all of us with 7 children who needed more space to move about.

The house not only gave us more room but more extras that we could enjoy. We had a heated pool and hot tub. The children loved the pool and the adults loved the hot tub after children were in bed, and we could sit and enjoy some peace and relaxation.

The garage of this house was a game room which the children enjoyed as soon as we got there. The dads enjoyed it too.
On Saturday we were able to host some friends of our friends that live in the Orlando area. We had a lovely time of worship. We couldn't have done that with other accomodations, and were so blessed by the time together and meeting new friends.

We had game time during date nights. Each couple went out on a date one night while the other stayed back with the children. It was great to not have to work out the details of finding a sitter ( a free one at that) and know that they would be in bed when we got back. We didn't do anything exciting. I bought a new pair of shoes. That's exciting for me since I rarely get new shoes. Rocket Dogs for $10.00. Can't beat that! Then back to the house for some hot tub time.

Sleeping arrangements were great. Our friends so graciously gave us the bigger bedroom. The three girls were able to share a room and were so cute.

We didn't just hang around the house. Florida is a beautiful state with much diversity. I would love to go back when it's 20 degrees warmer (we had some pretty cold temps.) and see more of the mangrove areas and enjoy the beaches more than shivering while we rushed back to the van.

We enjoyed some time at Clearwater Beach and walked out onto Pier 60.

The children enjoyed the play area too. Walking the beach, walking out on the pier and play area were all FREE. It did cost .50 per person to walk clear to the end of the pier, but we didn't see that as really necessary since it was so cold.

We then drove over to Sand Key Beach, which isn't too far from Clearwater Beach. There is a nice little park there and some great areas for pictures. Once again, it was too cold, but we did try to get some pictures since that was the main purpose we wanted to go there. In between photo shots, we quickly put our jackets back on. Poor Benaiah was freezing by the end. I should mention that at both beaches there are parking fees. So it's not completely free. Minimal charges unless you stay over your paid amount and then have to pay a ticket, which we almost had to do. Whew, it was close!
Below are just a few of the pictures that we were able to get despite the cold, sand burrs (watch out for those, they are bugurs) and sunny surroundings.

Christi, Diella, Josiah, Alegra, Jonathon, and Benaiah

The water wasn't terribly cold but that wind was terrible!

Diella took this one. She has a small picture frame that she has been wanting to put a picture of us in. She special requested a picture of just the two of us on the beach for her frame. Cute!

Our good friends and traveling buddies.
Phil, Casie, Zeky, Elli, and Amalyah

Lovely setting, lovely family!
Since most of our day was quite inexpensive, we headed to Bahama Breeze for an absolutely fantastic meal. The food was enjoyed as was the company. We got to sit right beside the fish tank, which the children loved. And the children were so well behaved that two different people came over and commented on how nice the children were. We always have to remember that there are people watching everything we do. Good lessons for the children as they liked hearing such great things said about them from strangers.
The babies enjoying the fish. So cute!

All of us with full tummies after we created many memories on a cold day.
The Brothers wanted to take us to Leu Gardens since we like that kind of stuff, and when we found out that it is FREE admission the first Monday of every month, we planned our Leu Gardens day for Monday, which happened to be the first one of the month. Yay!
Since they didn't get very many pictures at the beach, and they really wanted some to send to family, they dressed matching so we could get some good photos. It ended up that we all matched fairly well again, so we had more fun with pictures despite the cold temperatures once again.

This picture turned out wonderful! So glad we took the time to take this one!

So many places to take great pictures! Was worth the $0.00 for sure! : ) After the garden, we went back to the house for dinner. Another area where we saved quite a bit of money. We did breakfast, sometimes lunch and quite a few dinners at the house. We took food along which helped us save a large chunk of money. Just another perk of renting a house.
One evening we ventured to Old Town. We walked around a bit, checked out some shops (loved the chinese tea shop) and let the children each pick out one ride or game to play.

The girls picked the carousel, Josiah picked the basket hoop game, and the boys picked the go carts.

The go carts were actually next door to Old Town in Fun Spot. There was no admission to get in, so we all walked the short distance and watched the boys ride and have tons of fun.....mostly the big boys. : )
We chose to go to Old Town on Wednesday because they have a cruise in and live music that are oldies tunes. The boys weren't finished with their rides, so us ladies and children walked back over to Old Town to catch some music. At 7:30 they have a lesson of a particular dance step that they teach whoever is willing to learn (FREE). So, Casie and I did the stroll along with mostly old people, and the children sat on the side and watched. Then after that they played some more songs, and we did a little swing to that. Good thing she knows the guy's part since our guys didn't make it back in time to dance with us. We had fun anyways!
After dancing, the guys came back and we headed to the ice cream shop in Old Town for some yumminess. Most of the children got Bubble Gum ice cream. A favorite childhood flavor for sure!
Ice cream is always a must with our families. I think we only hit 2 ice cream shops, but had it back at the house too and with blondies. Just like Applebees. Yummo!
So our Old Town trip wasn't the cheapest with the guys getting their fill of fun, but hey, we were on vacation. Ice cream and some goodies at the tea shop also added to our cost, but all in all, wasn't too bad since we ate our other meals at the house that day.
Thursday was Adventure Day where we wanted to do some letterboxing at Down Town Disney and ride some of the transportation system that is part of the Disney area. First stop was Down Town Disney. The children absolutely loved the Lego store! They had a large area outside where you can build with legos and make a race car to race others.
Josiah and Diella getting ready to race.

This store was also fun because of the amazing creations that were built out of Legos that were inside and outside the store. So much fun!

Alegra, Josiah, Diella, and Benaiah with Lego Woody.

We wanted the children to have something special from the trip, so we decided to let them fill a small container with Lego pieces. We thought it would be fun to get some wheels for them to make cars here at home, so that is what we did. Lego container tip: If you are getting wheels, put the rims inside the wheels and then you can fit more in your container. : )

Diella beside the Lego Dragon.

Tourists and Dog Walkers made out of Legos. Benaiah loved them!
After much time at the Lego Store, we headed out to walk the strip and see what we could see. We browsed through the enormous Disney Store which has an area where little girls can get their hair fixed up like a princess. Just a note, most of the girls we saw that did this, did not look happy afterward. Not sure of how much it cost, but I would hope if mine would have had it done, they would have been feeling on top of the world all day. Definitely witnessed some spoiled children that day. But really, aren't we since we got to do such a wonderful vacation in the first place? It's all the perspective, I guess, and I do hope that when people looked at us, we were smiling, and big. :D
So, next we swung into the Ghirardelli store to grab a FREE sample of their candy cane chocolate, which I will add isn't near as good as the new candy cane Hershey Kisses and much much more expensive.
Then we went to the Mr. Potato Head store. As seen below.
Diella had fun creating a Potato Head (FREE).....

The other children had fun shooting hoops (FREE).....
And we all enjoyed just walking around looking at the train, star wars stuff, little pets, and other toys. Is fun for our children to just look at it all even if they don't get something.

Onto the water show. I'm sure during the warmer months children play in this fountain with their swim suits. Would have been fun, but not with the weather while we were there. Our children did enjoy watching what the fountain did as it changed up and was like a little mini water show. Sometimes the simplist of things can be quite entertaining if we don't look for the huge, expensive things that are really just a distraction.

And at Down Town Disney there are many great places for photo opportunities.
After we walked around Down Town Disney (we did eat lunch at the T-Rex restaurant, which was quite expensive, so we got a couple things and shared), we whipped out our letterboxing stuff and looked for the letterbox that we had a clue for. Stike out #1. No box! Booooo!
We then hopped on one of the Disney transporation buses (FREE) to take us to the Swan Resort.
Where there is fountain, Casie and I jump. : )
We looked for another letterbox that was across the road from the Swan Resort at the Fantasia Gardens Mini Golf. Strike out #2! Boooooo! Was a bad first time letterboxing for the Brothers. Then we took a stroll down the boardwalk that goes to all the Disney Resorts in the area. Our traveling plans didn't go quite as planned, and it was getting late, so we hopped on one of the water taxis (FREE) back to the Swan Resort, and then hopped on the bus back to Down Town Disney. We wanted to do the monorail system too, but just didn't have time, and we were pretty tired and ready for dinner.
So we headed out, stopped at an inexpensive Mexican Restaurant which was also delicious with great service, and then back to the house to begin packing up for our return home.
We had a wonderful time! The cost of the house versus staying at a hotel for a week, was so much cheaper split by two families, and we had the added benefits of saving money on food by cooking in, our own pool and hot tub, and all the extra space for children to play in.
A lot of people think they have to take their children to Disney and give them this amazing, awesome, extravagant experience at the parks, when really, you can experience plenty at Down Town Disney for FREE, and if you use the transportation system, you can really see lots of the parks and have the joy of riding something that is FREE. The monorail system would have gotten us close enough to see Epcot and Magic Kingdom and even takes you through one of the rides in Magic Kingdom. All of these experiences are FREE and can satisfy your child's desire for fun IF they aren't so engrossed in video games and all the latest toys and such. Some of the Disney Resorts that you can get to by bus, boat or monorail even have restaurants that some Disney characters visit, so they can even have that experience of getting to be up close to characters for the price of the meal.
It's doable to have a fun Disney vacation without busting the bank. Make memories while doing small things such as build a car along with your child to race at the Lego store. Your child will remember those kinds of memories if you are truly interacting with him/her and making that moment count in their lives. Don't be afraid to take a big vacation as long as you are willing to do your research in finding ways to save ahead of time.
So, we came home and put more than half of our vacation money into our van fund. Yippee! That excites me along with all the wonderful memories we made with our children and friends.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The children up close

Here are just a few pictures of the children doing what they do.

The boys trying on their new sunglasses for our vacation. Benaiah is very intrigued by them.
They didn't even take the time to take the tags off.

The girls practicing their singing and dancing.

And last but certainly not least, Benaiah, after he spent some time playing in the garden. Not sure how much playing got done, but sure looks like some eating got done. And nobody knows where he got that red spot on his head. Never heard him cry, and we were all busy outside, so who knows what happened. He is a boy, and I'm sure the scrapes will only get worse as he gets older. Increase prayer. : )