Tags Posts tagged with "Vacation"

Vacation

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The minute we found out that we’d be having a baby in May, we realized that our monster road trip last year would likely be the last of its kind until around 2015.

But just because we have a baby now doesn’t mean that we can’t go on vacation — it just means that we need to scale it back a bit.

Okay… A lot.

So instead of 10 hours in the car on day one, followed by an epic baseball game, we’re only going 4 hours from home.

And just for two nights. Starting tomorrow.

We’re headed for central New Jersey. Exotic, huh?

You’d think that by chosing a destination as unpoplar as central New Jersey, you know, accomodations would be cheap. They are, no question.

Now I know what you financially-minded folks might be thinking… “Hey, at least Brainy’s vacation won’t cost him so much this year…”

But there’s a catch, see…

We’re going to a game worn hockey jersey expo.

I know, I know, it sounds preposterous.

But for me, it’s like being able to go the hall of fame and actually touch the stuff behind the glass.

It’s really just like any other expo or conference though, you know, with a bunch of people with similar interests getting together. They’re not as dorky as a sci-fi or comic book convention and they’re not so glitzy that their held in Caribbean either…
The Habs jersey on the left is a game worn Maurice Richard jersey...  For the basebal fans out there, that's the equivalent of a game worn Mickey Mantle jersey.

This is my only hobby (photography is work, not a hobby) and this is the Super Bowl for the game worn hockey jersey collecting community.

But seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if I still drop $2500 (around the amount we spent last year on vacation) this weekend.

I’m going to try my best not to — even made a list of things I’m looking for so as to avoid any spontaneous purchases — but I’m not making any promises.

Truth be told, I’ve got 30 twenty dollar bills in my wallet ready for anyone that won’t take a check…

Based on that, I’m already embarrassed by what this month’s spending report is going to look like…

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Raymond James Stadium and the St. Pete Times ForumWhile we were down in Florida last weekend, as I mentioned yesterday, we visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

I lamented about how much of a rip-off admission was — $75 per person plus tax. I didn’t even bother to mention the cost of food, but it wasn’t cheap either.

Though there were only two of us, the day cost over $200 total. We didn’t come home with any sort of souvenir either. Not even a novelty cup. That’s an expensive day — I don’t care how much money you make.

Now, I say that the economy isn’t affecting Main Street one bit because we weren’t alone at the park. Tens of thousands of people were there with us — at $75 each.

Hardly a crowd of elites either — fact is, regular people out there are still willing and able to drop a few hundred dollars to go to a terrible zoo, slow economy or not.

But it wasn’t only our trip to Disney.

We also attended an NHL and NFL game in Tampa Bay.

Tickets to those events are NOT cheap.

Neither are the concessions.

Or the souvenirs.

Or the parking.

But you know what? Both the St. Pete Times Forum and Raymond James Stadium were filled to capacity. FILLED. A majority of fans were double-fisting a pair of $6.25 beverages too.

Tickets for those two events were also around $75 each — for the cheap seats where we sat. See the photos? That was my vantage point.

So, again, there were tens of thousands of regular Joe’s (not excluding Joe the Plumber or Joe Six-Pack) that were able to drop well over $100 per person purely for entertainment purposes.

Just across town, the Tampa Bay Rays were playing the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field.

You guessed it, also sold out.

And I’m pretty certain that those ticket prices were considerably higher than $75/seat.

Just something to think about the next time you hear a politician attempting to connect Wall Street to Main Street.

From my recent experiences, an awful lot of disposable income is still out there… The masses aren’t suffering.

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A Really Bored Gorilla at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Last Friday, while in Florida, I visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom. You know, the fourth big attraction on the Disney property after the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, and MGM Studios.

The admission for me and my wife was $159.76. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of money.

And for that kind of money, I expect some top notch entertainment.

I didn’t find it.

In fact, the “adventure” was soured even before we entered the park…

See, the person we purchased the admission from was very pushy with the up-sell.

“Well, a ‘Park Hopper’ pass will allow you to go to a different park within the Disney resort.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that. I just want two adult tickets for Animal Kingdom, thanks.”

“Are you sure you don’t want a multi-day pass? They’re valid indefinitely and,” blah, blah, blah…

I said, “No. Just one day, one park, thanks.”

She went on and on and on — holding on to my credit card and passes so I couldn’t just walk away from the pitch.

“Where y’all from,” she said.

Odd that she worded it that way — her name tag said she was from Syosset, New York. I’ve never in my life heard a Long Islander use the term “y’all”.

“Connecticut,” I responded impatiently…

Then, as if Connecticut was local (a mere 1200 miles away), she suggested a year-long pass…

Sigh… “Two adults. One day. One park. Thanks.”

I’ve always found it funny that their tickets are valid for so long, but they’re still just a flimsy piece of cardboard. I actually have 1 day remaining on one of those “passes” from 1997, but the cardboard has all but disintegrated in my wallet since then…

Even up here, a season pass for Six Flags comes on a laminated plastic credit card type of thing — they even put your picture on it. At Disney, it’s cardboard. Go figure.

Anyway, the experience of purchasing tickets was invasive and uncomfortable. She was just prying for an opening to toss another sales pitch my way. What, am I buying a car here? Certainly not very Disney-esque…

Then, as I’m sure many of you know, you get your finger scanned as you enter the park — otherwise the turnstile won’t turn. What is up with that?

Every time I go to Disney, about once every 5 years, I conveniently forget about that, as I’m sure most other visitors do too.

But I’m sorry, they’ve got my credit card number, my address, my signature, and my finger print.

That’s the exact same amount of information I provided to get my green card.

Think about that.

It’s a freakin’ theme park?! Disney has more of my information than the Department of Homeland Security.

What does Disney need all that for? Imagine what they use it for?

Considering how many people claim to be worried about identity theft or big brother watching over you, well, I’m surprised so many people continue to visit the Disney parks.

The TSA doesn’t even take a finger print at the airport?!

Anyway, once inside the park, it screams Disney. Other than the overpriced knick-knacks, that’s a good thing.

Great landscaping, it’s nice and clean, and it looks and feels like you’re guaranteed to have a wonderfully memorable day.

Then you notice that there aren’t any animals. Anywhere.

This is “Animal Kingdom”, right?

I see a big concrete tree. Oh, and a fake concrete mountain off in the distance too…

Oh! There’s the ever elusive Mallard duck. Finally, some wildlife!

But we have those in Connecticut. You don’t even have to pay to see them.

So we immediately head over to the safari ride. Rafiki’s Rover or some such silly name.

They have this thing now where you can get a “Fast Pass” by swiping your ticket in a machine. It’ll spit out a time later in the day when you can come back. The idea is that you won’t have to spend the day standing in line.

So I walk up to a vacant machine and stick my ticket in. It spits it back out.

Nothing.

I tried my wife’s ticket. The machine spits it out too.

Seeing that I’m having trouble, and I’m not alone, a Disney employee tries again for me — like maybe I’m a moron and I’m putting the ticket in upside down or something.

Same problem for her. This is what she says:

“Yeah, did you have this in your wallet? Sometimes that can mess up the mag-strip so the machines can’t read them…”

Are you kidding me?

Where was I supposed to put my cardboard tickets that are apparently valid until the end of time? The woman I purchased it from made it out as if it was one of the most valuable things on earth — I put it in my wallet for safekeeping.

What if I had run through the mist machines a few times on the way here? Or gone on the water ride? I’m pretty certain the ticket wouldn’t have survived anywhere but in my wallet. I couldn’t believe it.

And by the looks of those around me, most people were keeping their tickets in their purse or wallet. Um, Disney? You might want to make a design change…

After three or four tries on each ticket/card, it eventually worked. We were to come back in about 3 hours. Fair enough.

We walked around some more and eventually stumbled across a few tigers (sleeping, of course) and the obviously bored gorilla pictured above.

Okay, those are two pretty impressive animals to have in the collection, but you can see those at nearly every metropolitan zoo in the country — usually for admission of around $20 (or FREE in Chicago!).

For more than three times that amount, I want to see something, well, let’s just say that if I’d gotten to see a polar bear fight a gorilla, I’d say that I got my money’s worth.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

They didn’t even have a polar bear.

Somehow three hours pass — mostly just walking around nicely landscaped swamplands looking at birds just like the birds that lined the highway on the way there. Seriously, those stork looking things look pretty much the same when you speed by them at 70 mph.

We head back to the Safari ride and, well, stand in line.

So much for a “fast” pass.

Seems everyone uses the fast pass so the line at 3 o’clock is the exact same line that would have been there at noon. I’m not sure the whole idea is working as planned.

So we drive out into the “wilderness” (I use the term loosely) with an over enthusiastic Disney employee having a pretend conversation with a recording blabbing about poachers in the area or something.

I’m not knocking it, I mean, I realize they’re trying to add a little excitement to a rather boring truck ride, but sometimes I wish they’d tone down the Disney-ness of things.

The concrete ostrich eggs left out in the open didn’t need to be displayed…

Or the showcasing of the “upside down” tree that apparently took 2000 years to grow — again, obviously made of concrete and fiberglass.

And how about those phony termite hills?

On the ride, we saw some alligators (also available on the side of the highway in much of Florida), some giant horned gazelle things, a giraffe, a couple of different kinds of rhinos, and some elephants.

No doubt, some pretty decent stuff. But we waited three hours for that?

At a traditional zoo, again, with an admission 3-times less, we could have seen all of those things in the first hour?!

In the end, I felt ripped off.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando can’t compare to any of the zoo’s I’ve been to in the past few years.

The Bronx Zoo has more gorillas. The Brookfield Zoo has more tigers. The Toronto Zoo has orangutans and gorillas. The Lincoln Park Zoo has FREE admission (and more animals). The Pittsburgh Zoo has more stuff for kids to do.

The only thing Animal Kingdom had was more employees and a HUGE fake tree. Oh, and a pushy sales pitch.

So *NOT* worth a $75 admission fee.

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    Delta AirplaneSo we flew down to Florida on Friday morning. Not really much to report about the flight, but the one thing that I did notice, likely due to the price of oil (which oddly enough is really low right now), was that the plane was really full.

    Better yet, before take off, our plane didn’t need to wait in any sort of line. We even took off on time!

    And further, we landed 10 minutes early!

    Hmmmm… Maybe the FAA will figure out that taking a bunch of planes out of the sky improves the entire system?

    The one other thing I wanted to mention was the background music on the plane. Yes, background music piped in through the plane’s speakers.

    I don’t ever recall background music on a plane, though, I must admit that I don’t fly much.

    It was only playing when we were on the ground and it was only a loop of two songs.

    Both had a very smooth jazzy sound with a female vocalist. Light stuff, really, until you listened to the lyrics…

    It was Depeche Mode and New Order…

    “Enjoy the Silence” and “Blue Monday”, respectively…

    Yeah, two new wave euro-techno synthesizer bands from the 1980’s.

    I don’t know, from being covered semi-recently by a band named “Orgy” to being the “elevator” music on an airplane…

    Wow… Never saw that coming…

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    Meerkats at the Metro Toronto ZooAs expected, CitiBank hit me on my latest statement with some Foreign Transaction Fees we unknowingly incurred while we were on vacation earlier this month.

    On my last statement, they charged me $5 for one Canadian transaction that I made online to buy some CFL football tickets.

    Naturally, though I’d made the initial purchase weeks in advance, they didn’t display that additional fee on my “latest transactions” until after I’d already made 6 more purchases while in Canada. Gee, thanks…

    You see, the Metro Toronto Zoo was a pretty good deal and I enjoyed the meerkats, but had I known that it was costing me an additional $5 each time I pulled out my Citi MasterCard, I probably would have kept it in my pocket.

    So on this latest statement that came out this morning, I was kind of expecting $30 in foreign transactions fees, you know, $5 multiplied by 6. That would make sense…

    But I was incorrect.

    The foreign transaction fee listed on my latest statement is $31.33.

    No explanation of where that number comes from. It doesn’t even divide evenly?! Just some arbitrary number apparently…

    I’m not going to call them on it. I’m just moving on and chalking it up as a learning experience: I won’t be using their card in Canada ever again.

    Adding insult to injury, the transaction fee didn’t even get me reward points.

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    Utility BillsI like to think that I’d thought about this in the back of my mind before we even left, but I didn’t think the difference would actually be that sizeable.

    Last month, we shut the house down and went on vacation for 10 days. While our excursion wasn’t exactly inexpensive, we had planned for it financially and it has already been paid for in full. We’re right back to our regular month-to-month budget.

    So it was a pleasant surprise yesterday when the bills came in. All four monthly utility bills arrived yesterday — electricity, natural gas, phone, and cable — and normally I hate when that happens…

    With the exception of the cable bill (which actually went up 1 cent), they were all significantly lower. In fact, the electric bill was the lowest it has ever been since 2004 (when we first started using CFL’s exclusively).

    Weather-wise, the previous billing cycle was very similar to this most recent billing cycle. I mention the weather because it’s very strongly associated with the gas and electric bills in our neck of the woods. In the winter, the gas bill alone flirts with the $400 mark.

    Granted, summer bills are generally lower than winter bills but sometimes running the air conditioners regularly can inflate the electric bill substantially — sometimes over $200 — but not while you’re on vacation.

    Here’s the run down, along with some historical numbers:

    Historical Utility Bill Numbers

    So, while June 2008’s numbers may have been a little high for a typical summer month (I must have turned the heat on every now and then to get the gas bill that high), comparing my most recent bills to the same billing period last year shows that it still cost us $50 less to keep the house running in 2008.

    The fact that the rate on all 4 bills has gone up since that time makes it even a little more impressive.

    Bettering that, we’ve got $470/month budgeted towards these 4 bills. July cost us less than half of that.

    But really, a $50 savings over an entire month isn’t that much money, I know that, but it’s been a long time since I last spent less than $250 on utilities in any given month…

    It was in 2001 to be exact — before I even had a house…

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    And it shouldn’t keep you from traveling either! It’s not *that* expensive.

    This past weekend, we returned from a 10-day/9-night activity filled vacation where we drove 2619.7 miles through 9 states (CT, MA, NY, PA, OH, IN, MI, IL, WI) and 1 province (ON).

    Price of Gas while on Vacation

    With all the doom and gloom reporting of $5/gallon gas by the holiday weekend, we were prepared to spend in excess of $500 on gas alone.

    That didn’t happen. Partly because the $5/gallon gas never materialized in the United States and because, well, gas, in reality, isn’t as expensive as people make it out to be.

    We overestimated. Big time. And I think a lot of people are doing a lot of “rounding-up” in their heads, like us, making the gas seem a lot more expensive than it really is.

    Total spent on gas was $318.77 spread across 8 fill-ups.

    Not a small sum but, really, when compared to the cost of a night in a hotel or (gasp!) amusement park admission (and lets not forget the $5+ sodas once inside!), $30/day in travel costs is nothing. Way cheaper than flying and we had room for 5 adults (though that would have been really tight!).

    For consistency, we filled up on the cheap stuff on each pit stop — regular 87 octane — and we didn’t “hunt” for the best price or seek out a specific brand. Whatever was closest when we needed gas…

    Breaking down the above photo collage into more detail for comparison sake:

    1. $39.82 total — $3.999/gallon at a Sheetz in Mill Hall, PA
    2. $39.42 total — $3.999/gallon at a Valero in Clyde, OH
    3. $40.82 total — $4.119/gallon at a Mobil in Belvidere, IL
    4. $30.53 total — $4.199/gallon at a Citgo in Carol Stream, IL
    5. $30.59 total — $4.399/gallon at a Mobil in Howe, IN
    6. $49.72 total — $1.352/litre at an Esso in Cambridge, ON
    7. $47.06 total — $1.339/litre at an Ultramar in Fort Erie, ON
    8. $40.91 total — $4.219/gallon at a Hess in Cobleskill, NY

    Fill-ups six and seven were in Canada, so a little bit of a calculation is required to “Americanize” them:

    6. $48.63 total US — $5.005/gallon
    7. $46.26 total US — $4.983/gallon

    So you see, south of the International Boundary, gas is still a bargain. It really is. So get out there and travel — the price of gas alone should not be stopping you!

    It’s not *that* expensive, hardly prohibitive, and had we made this trip exactly one year ago (when gas was “apparently” a fair price), the difference would have been a mere $80 over 10 days!

    That, in my book, is nothing over the span of a planned vacation.

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    Garmin Nuvi 260 Vacation StatisticsWhile I can’t really compare it to other GPS devices since I’ve never had a different one, I do have a few things to say about the Garmin Nuvi 260.

    On our recent vacation, we traversed over 2600 miles with the unit “plugged in” and it got us everywhere we wanted to go.

    We didn’t even need to look at our old Rand McNally atlas that we brought along, you know, just in case…

    That isn’t to say that the Garmin Nuvi 260 is flawless…

    The first problem I found with it was in downtown Chicago. While we were on the city streets, it worked just fine. But on the interstates that are 12 lanes wide with jersey barriers dividing it up every 4 lanes or so and city streets running parallel on each side of the highway, well, the Garmin was obviously unsure of which road we were actually on.

    Understandable I suppose, it only appears to be accurate to within a few hundred feet and when there are 3 or more road ways all on top of one another within that accuracy zone, well, of course it was going to have some difficulty.

    The good news is that even though we missed the turn it asked us to take (which would have been impossible due to the previously mentioned jersey barrier), the Garmin 260 was still able to guide us to our destination after “recalculating” a few times.

    The next small issue I had with the unit came in Toronto — a city I’m semi-familiar with driving in. Like most modern cities, the whole downtown area is set-up in a grid style. My destination was north of the city on Yonge Street (a N-S route). At the time, I was on Dundas Street (an E-W route) about 5 blocks east of Yonge Street.

    The simple way to get there would have been to to drive west on Dundas until I hit Yonge, turn right (towards the north) and then hit my destination.

    But the Garmin instructed us to turn right, turn left, turn right, turn left, turn right, turn left — basically directing us towards the destination diagonally.

    Garmin Route Selection

    I immediately understood what it was doing, connecting our current position and our destination in a straight line and choosing the closest route.

    Have you ever tried turning left in the city? On a main road? Where trolleys still run on rails? With tons of pedestrian traffic? And in a country where you need to give pedestrians the right of way?

    It’s something that’s best to avoid.

    I didn’t obey the Garmin in this case, mostly because I knew where I was going, but had this been in another city, one I’m unfamiliar with, it would have been quite the stressful drive when it didn’t really need to be.

    The last little glitch with the Garmin occurred as we were heading home. We crossed the border in Buffalo, New York where the QEW becomes I-90 or the New York State Thruway. I-90 then eventually turns into the Mass Pike which leads right to Boston — which points us towards Connecticut.

    We made a quick side trip to Eden, New York — maybe 10 minutes southwest of Buffalo and I-90 — to visit a kazoo factory. The Garmin 260 worked perfectly. Unfortunately the factory was closed. Boo…

    Afterwards, we punched in our home address as our next destination and the Garmin took us through mile after mile of desolate farmland on slow two lane roads.

    It was slow going and we were a little low on gas — not an ideal situation. I’d say it added nearly an additional 2 hours to our drive when, technically, the Garmin should have just told us to go back the way we’d come and join up with I-90 for some travel at 70+ mph.

    On the bright side, taking the scenic route put us up close and personal to one of the wind farms that have started dotting the upstate New York landscape over the past decade. They’re a pretty neat sight.

    Upstate New York Wind Farm

    In the end, I’d give the Garmin Nuvi 260 a big thumbs up. Its limitations, while annoying, are totally within reason. Best of all, it never failed to get us where we were headed.

    Can You Dig It?

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