Sunday, March 24, 2013

Part Two: My Free Trip to Disney & How You Can Get One Too!

How I am using Credit Cards and Rewards Points to my advantage to take a FREE Trip to Disney 

Part Two // Month Two

So where did we leave off? I am using a small variety of credit card rewards programs to pay for a future trip to Walt Disney World.  The plan is to spend 5 days/4 nights in Disney at the end of the year. We would stay at the Swan (or Dolphin) and plan to visit the parks using park hopper tickets.  We will hopefully be able to catch one of the Christmas Party events as well and pay for our dining using rewards and disney dollars. So far, I used a check-in style app called CheckPoints to earn a $10 gift card for Amazon and ordered myself a 2013 guide!

Here is an update on my point earnings:

1.  Disney Visa Rewards Card 
Goal: Pay for our park tickets + Christmas Party tickets- $650 
Current Earnings: $70 in Disney Dollars (This was from paying monthly bills on the card first then paying them off.  Yes, it created an extra step but this coupled with some online gift buying and adding one more step really adds up!)
Still need: 580

2.  Starwood Rewards American Express Card 
Goal: Cover our stay at the Swan and Dolphin for 4 nights- 40,000 points
Current Earnings: 11,110 (the equivalent of a 1 night stay!)
This card offers a bonus 15k points if you spend 5k on your card in 6 months.  My goal is to do this by the end of the school year so I come in at just under 5 months time. Currently I have spent (and paid off weekly, mind you) 1,110 / 5,000
Still Need: 28890

3.  Jet Blue American Express Card 
Goal: Pay for our flights- 44,000 points
Current Earnings: 12,082 points (These are from points I have earned with past travel that never expires because of my Jet Blue card but remember this is a card you get 1 for every $1 you spend if you don't have travel points!)
Still Need: 31,918 points

4.  Discover Escape Card       
Goal: Spending money/Cover as much of our food expenses as possible
Current Earnings: 2785 (These are from random purchases but the goal here would be to rack up a 10,000s of points since then I can spend that much in 100s in the parks and redeem for credits when we return. This goal is the only that seems unlikely at this time as I simply don't spend that kind of money to use cards for more than bills and regular living expenses so I don't seem to have anything in particular to designate to this card so I am going to set the goal lower to 20k starting now.)

5. Paypal Savings
Goal: This was originally planned for extra spending money and then I realized that we don't have access Disney's Magical Express shuttle service! We will need to pay for the Mears transportation shuttle to and from the airport and the Swan (or Dolphin) which will cost $34 per person, so roughly $70 total.
SavingStar: $1.90    Ibotta: $3.25
Current Earnings total: $5.15
Still Need: $64.85

So after my most recent round of statements, this is where I am.  I have been being organized designating our Disney Visa for bill pay and the Starwood card for purchases, then each week we pay them off.  Again, this does add a second step since usually we would just use our debit card.  But isn't free trip to Disney worth an extra step? I am pretty happy with where I am currently.  As you probably noticed above, the Starwood Rewards card offers a 15,000 points bonus if you spend 5,000 on your card by the six month mark.  If you add the sign up bonus of 10k + the 5k you spent and got points for to reach this goal + the 15k you get as a bonus for reaching it = 30k in points! That means with using the card for $5k in purchases I reach 75% of my goal!

I feel like I am going to have no problem meeting my goal on the Starwood card for our hotel stay, on the Disney Visa for our tickets, and even on my Jet Blue points.  I am not sure I am going to rack up very much on Discover because, as I stated above, I just don't spend that much to get use out of any more points.  Plus the SavingStar and Ibotta money add up so slowly.  I have put out my Disney Vacation Fund Jar to use for saving our loose change so that will be good for some more spending money!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Easy No Sew Disney Tee Makeover!

After some late night pinteresting I came across this great no sew halter tee shirt idea from Wobisobi! I decided that since I had picked the wrong size in part of my order from Second Star Studios I would use my shirt that was a little too large for this craft! 

When you follow the link you will see that the directions are amazingly concise and clear AND all you need is the shirt you want to makeover, scissors, and some chalk!

Here are a couple pics of my finished product: I am in love!! :)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Second Star Studios on Etsy + Gift Card Giveaway!

After searching for Disney's Robin Hood merchandise (a favorite of me and my husband) I came across Second Star Studios over on Etsy.  After receiving my products and having the chance to chat via etsy message and follow along with their Facebook page I am more than pleased to tell you how much we love our products from their shop! They are fun and unique and my husband and I have both gotten compliments on our tees-- and can't wait to where them to Disney World! :)

If you didn't catch the picture above on our Facebook page, then I thought you would appreciate some links to grab your own Second Start Studios items!
1- Never Grown Up tee
2- Night Sky tee
3- Oo-de-lally tee
4- Oo-de-lally tote (while there is not current listing for this item there is a "request custom item" button available in the left sidebar of the shop)
5- Disney Prints

And don't forget to check out their adorable children's apparel!
Interested in some Etsy Disney shopping and SecondStarStudios??
Well, enter below for your chance to win a:
$25 Etsy Gift Card & set of 5 prints from Second Star Studios!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Stop and Smell the Roses

Epcot is gorgeous from every angle during the Flower and Garden festival! Have you ever visited the parks during this beautiful time? What's your favorite part?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bella Note

Some flower pups making there way into the Italy pavilion at last year's Flower and Garden festival.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Love is Flower & Garden Festival

So this is love. <3

Sunday, March 10, 2013

My Free Trip to Disney & How You Can Get One Too: Part One

How I am using Credit Cards and Rewards Points to my advantage to take a FREE Trip to Disney 

Part One

Recently, I decided that with some hard work and perseverance I could really make all these credit cards work for me.  All we ever hear or see in the news is how dangerous they can be and credit cards can be a slippery slope but when you use them as they were meant to they are a huge benefit.

First step is making sure you are out of credit card debt.  If you have previous debt it can really end up pretty confusing or frustrating trying to set everything up. Since applying for cards and closing accounts only messes with your credit score for a few days, I did the next step over a couple weeks, weeding out the paid off cards I had never closed (mostly store cards) and then applying for the ones I wanted to use this year.

Also, I found out which cards I wanted to try and get to possibly pay for our hotel stay using the great resources at Million Mile Secrets for the most part and a couple articles from WDW Prep School. My goal is to meet these in the next 6 months (March to September) so that I can then redeem all points come October to go down this winter for a Christmas trip but I know this may not happen and am fine with that!

Now I have at my disposal the following credit cards to start my earning:

1.  Disney Visa Rewards Card I know the premiere card will always earn me double the points but I ardently believe that I do not owe a creditor any more money than interest.  I have had a Disney Visa for so long that under the area on the front where is says "cardmemeber since" mine says literally "day one".  That being said, I have both accounts.  For the purposes of this trip I will be using the PREMIERE version so I could take advantage of the sign up bonus gift card on my birthday trip and then get the double points but I plan to close the account prior to my one year anniversary and go back to using the regular as not to get a second annual fee. 
Goal: This will be used to earn enough money to pay for our park tickets (including Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party since I want to go over Christmas break) so I am looking to earn at least $650 but since I can use the leftover for dining and purchases, this is just the start. 

2.  Starwood Rewards American Express Card FYI, this will charge you an annual fee after the first year so be weary of when you apply.  I am planning to close this and my Premiere Disney card before the fee is charged next February unless I am wowed by something amazing with either card.
Goal: This will be used (in conjunction with the teacher discount if needed) to cover our stay at the Swan and Dolphin. We are shooting at earning 40,000 points/ 4 nights. 

3.  Jet Blue American Express Card I have in the past used the Southwest Chase rewards card to get the opening bonus-- the points from opening the card alone paid for me and my husband to fly to Florida round trip (and after a delay snafu where we were delayed almost 6 hours in the airport on the way back the company reimbursed us for all of our points which paid for a second roundtrip Florida flight).  That being said, we prefer Jet Blue for flights so we stick with that rewards card. If you love Southwest I do recommend the Chase card though!
Goal: This will be used to pay for our flights.  I am trying to save up 44,000 points to purchase flights roundtrip.

4.  Discover Escape Card Of all the cards I have ever had, this has the best rewards redemption and earnings. Once you have earned 10k points you can get cash $100 cashback on travel purchases.
Goal: This will be used to spend in the parks or if I don't meet the goal amounts somewhere else along the way... basically I want to try and get $300-400 cashback to spend so that would be 30k-40k in points.

Additionally, I will be earning some money with PayPal.  I will be saving all the earnings from my Etsy shop too but am hoping it doesn't come to that for our trip.  If you are crafty, Etsy is a great way to showcase your creativity and make some money!  If not maybe you could earn yourself a few bucks by cleaning out the closest and selling stuff on Ebay- I often sell old designer bags I never use or vinylmation I didn't really want from a blind box to make some trip money off Ebay!

I will also be using the SavingStar and Ibotta grocery coupon apps.  Whatever I make here I will keep in my PayPal account and use towards our food on the trip!

Lastly, I have been using the Checkpoints app to rack up some points so I could start off right- with a travel guide!  It took me about two weeks of checking in wherever I went and scanning things at the grocery store but I got myself up to 3250 points which got me a $10 Amazon gift card and a copy of the 2013 Birnbaum Guide!

Since I placed my order the price on the guide had risen but you can get any of the lovely books in the image below for $10 or less with your Checkpoints Amazon gift card if you choose to use the app to rack up some points for a planning book!!

I hope I have piqued your interest as I truly believe that this is something I can really "make happen".  I appreciate any comments or questions below and check back soon for more tips and to see my monthly updates! ;)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Magical Mouse Schoolhouse Giveaway!!

Remember our rave review of this awesome book?
How would YOU like to win yourself a copy? The author has graciously donated a book to giveaway here on Picturing Disney! Easy as pie... enter below before Friday with multiple chances to win! :)
Good Luck & be sure to check out the Magical Mouse Schoolhouse blog!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Are you WILD About Animal Kingdom?

When I first saw the buzz about Animal Kingdom’s new tour on the Disney Parks Blog a couple years ago, I knew I wanted in!  I immediately grabbed the phone and called, hoping there would be a Wild Africa Trek tour available for our February 2011 trip! And as luck would have it, there were two remaining spots for my first choice: the 10am on February 20! I was so excited after we booked! We were told we needed to arrive outside Tusker House Restaurant at 9:45 sharp with photo ID and be dressed to hike, wearing sneakers.

We arrived at Animal Kingdom for park opening at 9am that morning.  We took a few Photopass pictures and meandered through the park so we could grab some Expedition Everest fastpasses before our tour.  We arrived at Tusker at around 9:40 and did not see tour guides so we asked at the restaurant podium and were directed off to the side and behind the restaurant.  There was a tour podium here where we checked in and were sent to our pre-tour bathroom break, as there is no bathroom stops for the first half of the tour.

Upon our return the rest of our group was gathering together and we were all asked to sign waivers and give our email addresses so that we could fill out a survey of our tour afterwards.  Once we were all set our tour guide came and brought us behind the back of Tusker House and through a gate that lead us along the water to a small hut.  Here we were given our lockers to leave all bags, and items that we could not bring with us.  All we had on us when we got outfitted was our sunglasses and pocket digital camera.  We were then outfitted with vests that had belay hooks (which we were discreetly weighed for so that we would have the proper sizes) and shown how to clip ourselves and our things into our gear.  We were even given canteen water bottles that clipped to our vests.  Our names were written on the bottles with a silver permanent marker.

As we waited for the whole group to be outfitted we were given some “Jungle Juice” which is a similar fruit juice drink to the ones served throughout Disney World.  We also had a chance to clip our harnesses into a cable line and walk a practice bridge.

Once we were all ready to head out for good we back-tracked up by Tusker House, formally introduced ourselves and found that we had two tour guides, one who we were able to listen to through the earpiece and radio we had been given back when we were outfitted, and a second who would be taking pictures.  We headed through the park towards the Pangani Exploration Trail.  We stopped to talk about some of the trees and other flora in the park and headed right into the Gorilla Sanctuary.  Our Wild Africa Trek had officially begun!

We continued on the trail until we reached a small gate in the fence which we entered and began our behind the scenes tour.  We hiked for a few minutes, and then stopped to view a hippo skull and discuss and learn about these great creatures.   After continuing to hike a little bit more we came upon a crocodile skull and our awesome tour guide gave us some great information about these beasts.
We then came out on the water overlooking the hippo area of Animal Kingdom’s habitat.  The hippos were not on our side of the water today but we got to practice hanging out over the water for the Nile crocodiles that were up ahead.  We got some great views of the hippo action up ahead as well.  Plus, we got some really cool photos of ourselves behind the scenes at Kilimanjaro Safaris.  The ride was heading right on through and we got to practice our Disney prince and princess waves!

We then headed back in for a short hike which brought us to our first of a bunch of bridges that would suspend us over the hippos, and then crocs!!  This was so amazing I can’t describe it.  We were completely harnessed and hooked into cable lines above the bridges and went one at a time out over the Disney swamps.  We were given instructions before hand and were completely clipped in and safe.  Then we went out and had time to stop and enjoy the views and take pictures if we wanted.  (I noticed no more than 2 people were on the bridge at once so I am thinking this may be where the weight restriction comes in for those wondering.  There is also only a certain amount of space between the rope rails on the bridges.)

In any case, we spent probably twenty minutes to a half hour exploring the different rope bridges and learning about the different habitats and about the Nile crocs!  We then hooked in and headed to get up close and personal and lean over the crocodiles down below.  This was just a once in a lifetime experience that I can’t properly describe.  Crocodiles just have this amazing prehistoric look and it was crazy to see how slow they move and how scary they truly are up close.  My husband and I kept saying things to each other like “they don’t even look real!”

After we finished with the crocs we hiked back towards where we would be picked up for our VIP safari.  On the way we saw some animals that were nice previews to the cattle we would see on our ride.  We took a couple more group photos before un-harnessing and leaving our vests behind to board our vehicle.

Once we got on board we placed our water bottles (which were ours to keep) under our seats and grabbed some of the binoculars that were in cases under the seats for us to use.  We continued to be wowed by the amazing animals on the savannah.  We saw antelope, giraffes, wildebeests, elephants, and a bunch of African cattle whose names I can’t remember.  I was in awe at all the animals we were able to see that day!  We were able to pull over in multiple areas for better viewing as we made our way around the Kilimanjaro Safari vehicles and continued to do our prince and princess waves! Seeing the baby elephants was such a highlight for us- as we looked out of our vehicle we had truely left Disney World and were magically on an African safari!
We made our way towards our “Boma”, a structure on the savannah that sat high enough to see the flora and fauna far in the distance for us to view animals and enjoy our meal.  We got our bathroom break here (we were about 2/3 into our tour at this point).  The enclosure was a really interesting piece of architecture with hand-carved wood everywhere and a thatched roof offering shade and even a breeze from overhead fans.  Our food was served in a really neat steel tiered canister.  The food here was great.  This was my favorite lunch of our entire trip! There was all sorts of different items including fresh melon, dried apricots, brie, prosciutto, salmon stuffed with creamy dill, a sweet bread, and pita pockets.  There was even an edible flower which I promptly stuck in my hair.

I never felt rushed viewing the savannah.  We had time for our potty breaks, delicious meals, pictures, and just enjoying the fact that we were sitting in Adirondack chairs looking out on animals on an African savannah!!

Once our time here was over we piled back into our tour vehicle for the last leg of our tour.  More fabulous animal viewing was to come: ostriches, rhinos, lions, and more amazing cattle were up ahead. We disembarked with only a few minutes remaining on our tour.

We headed back towards the hut we had been outfitted originally at and retrieved all of our belongings from the lockers.

Some may consider the rest a spoiler so read at your own risk…

We were given Conservation hero pins (these are the somewhat generic pins that they give you when you donate to the Disney Conservation Fund) and told that a percent of our tour price was going toward the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.  The pins we received were Animal Kingdom specific (the night before this we had gotten similar pins from donating after purchasing an item in the store in Epcot’s The Seas with Nemo and Friends).  Personally, I like these pins.  We turned ours into magnets and I smile when I see them on the fridge.  I know some people are looking for a trading pin since most tours come with these but from what I know about the tour as it has progressed is that now they have Conservation Hero pins which say Wild Africa Trek (I actually inquired with Disney about these and they sent me and my husband ones to replace our generic ones about 3 months ago so that is what was being given as of summer 2012).  We were also able to choose which animal we would like our donation to go to and were given animal choices too.

As the final piece of the tour, we were given a certificate and a Disney Photopass card.  The Photopass card had all the images of our tour group from the tour and the certificate was a code to receive a Photopass CD with all the images on it for free!  Isn’t that incredible?  What a great extra and what an incredible experience!

Ever since our return I have gushed to all my Disney World traveling friends about this tour and how they just must give it a go.  It was well worth the money, and even though this was a introductory price, will still be well worth it in the future.  Before this tour Animal Kingdom was a half-day park at best for me and my husband, and thanks to the plethora of information and this amazing experience I am actually looking forward to our return to see my furry friends out on the savannah!

All images (c) to Picturing Disney and/or Disney's Photopass.  Images may not be used without express written permission. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Review: Magical Mouse Schoolhouse

As most of my readers hear know, I am a schoolteacher.  (In case you were wondering I teach 9th grade World History.)  I crossed virtual paths with Jodi a year or two ago when we were both contributors on the same site.  I was immediately in love with everything she is doing! The idea of a website where homeschoolers (and really any parent!) could go to find ways to incorporate all the best of Disney and the Disney Parks into their daily curriculum is both fun and innovative.

When I opened up my copy of the Magical Mouse Schoolhouse book I immediately loved Jodi's "DisneySpeak Glossary"! (I have actually been working on a guide to Disney acronyms for my website here so I loved that this was where she started even more!) I read through nearly every lesson plan.  And mind you I have no children so it was purely for my own benefit.  I think my favorite lessons were the "Thank a Castmember" and "One Man's Dream" ones but there were so many to love and so many fresh ideas that it would be a shame for anyone to miss out!

If you are looking for a fun new way to see the parks with your family, whether you are a homeschooler or not this is a great way to learn "lessons" the Disney way! Kudos to Jodi on her awesome work and amazingly fun book! And if that isn't enough reason to check out it for ya guess who will have the chance to win a copy? YOU! Stay tuned to Picturing Disney for your chance to win!

And be sure to visit Magical Mouse Schoolhouse and their facebook page!