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Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Holiday Inn Club Vacations at Orange Lake Resort

Back in October when we attended a surprisingly enjoyable time share tour in Cocoa, the salesman talked a lot about Orange Lake Resort. We knew of it but not much about it. We late researched the details and found it to look like a great stay-cation spot for a future trip. The reviews seemed slightly mixed but the majority did still seem positive. For the price point at even peek season, and the location, I figured "why not."

A few weeks ago I started looking into a local spot to take the whole family on a weekend trip for my parents anniversary. I had points in IHG I didn't mind using and the cash + points purchase option is great for splitting the cost with other family members. 35k a night is in my option, a great deal for a villa. We ended up taking advantage of a IHG points promo and buying 30k points for $187. This was just about enough for one night and a lot less than the straight cash price for one night. Not the most ideal way to get points, but my sister is not an IHG member and had no intention of getting the IHG credit card.
Not a terrible deal over all. And still cheaper for her than doing a cash + points option.
I should also note this is mid-June, prime season for Florida tourist and booking only a month out.


So how was it????

Check in was easy and quick. Resort was super busy as we arrived Friday morning but one person ahead of me in line for check in. We arrived at 10:30am, had requested early check in (plus we're gold status anyways, which also gave me 300 points at check in) but I knew it could be anytime between 12-4. Never the less, we wanted to get in and hit the pools while we waited for the room. As we're talking with the super nice woman at the counter, she informs us that there are villas available NOW if we don't mind moving buildings. Considering the building they had us in wasn't the high rise we wanted, and those were the available ones, I couldn't say yes fast enough. She gave us a ton of options with the exact floor and room locations clearly explained. River Island (lazy river village) was the only "village" not available. So we picked the 86700 building in east village. We were in a room and unpacked at 11am. Perfect timing to make lunch in the villa. I don't think I've ever checked in that early.

East village was perfect. The pool in that area was right next to our building, and we were on the 5th floor looking out to the golf course and woods. SO quiet.
We had a 2 bedroom, 2 bath villa. 6 Adults, 3 kids.


The kitchen was full stocked with pans, small appliances like blender and toaster, really anything you need to use. We just brought our food and were good to go.



   We were able to see MK fireworks from here!



 Master suite...and that tub...Look at that tub.


 The second bedroom we shared with my sister and her husband. This side of the unit also had a pocket door to close it off from the rest of the villa.

 Priceless. And oddly enough the same washer I have at home.



The unit was a great size for all of us. No complaints on size.
I have read the reviews about the upkeep problems. No, its not a brand new complex. Sure its not perfect. But it was clean, large and we had no major flaws. We did not stay in a "signature villa" but I would suggest them if you're picky about the quality of the property.  They seem to be a bit nicer and give you access to a separate area at River Island.

Speaking of River Island.
Prepare to pay. The lazy river requires you to rent the tubes. $9 a pop. On our receipt it seems like they only charged us for 4 of our tubes.... not sure why. Maybe BOGO?
Not a terrible cost if you're spending all day at River Island.
A quick Google search gives some great views of River Island. I find the IHG site photos a bit weird.






Additional activities also cost. The lake activities by the pool at the main office were not impressive. Old gear, not the prettiest lake. Stick to River Island.


They offer a refillable cup service similar to the Rapid Fill mugs at Disney resorts.


If you're one to drink soda, it might be worth it for a week stay. But if you're in the parks all day, think again.


Our overall thoughts:

We would come back. And I would recommend it. It's a great base camp for a Disney vacation if you have a large family or multiple couples traveling together.
The location is great. Adjoining property to Animal Kingdom lodge. Publix and Target right around the corner.

We enjoyed the last time share tour we did with Holliday Inn Club Vacations, and are considering another tour at Orange lake if they offer us a good enough deal. While we were there they offered us 20k points for a tour. I'm sure if I had the time to sit a haggle I could have gotten a lot more from them. But I just told them we were with family and didn't have the time. Unlike some of the reviews I read, they did not call us repeatedly about a tour. The only mention was at check in.

If I forgot to cover anything or you have an questions, leave me a comment.










Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Disney getaway...on a budget.

I know, I know. Disney trips are comparable to a down payment on a house. As a Florida native,its hard to fathom the price of a week at Disney for a family.
As a Floridian, sometimes we want a weekend at Disney too.
Here is our breakdown of how we accomplished it on the cheep.

Passes: Annual Passholders.
This gave us the upper hand in two ways. Free parking (Which is now $20) and 10-20% off most dining in the park,at the resorts and at Disney Springs. This saved us a lot of money in the long run, especially by planning our dining around the discounts. This discount excludes alcohol, so picking a place to get a drink based on the discount isn't worth it.

Hotel: IHG (Holiday Inn Disney Springs)
We used a Chase Anniversary certificate (Free night for having the IHG Chase credit card for one year...can be used anywhere as long as "reward nights" are available.) for our first night, and paid cash for the second. We had our $100 IHG gift certificate from our Holiday Inn Resort tour that we redeemed for that second night. The certificate is only for a  Holiday Inn property, not express, not resort. Other wise we would have booked at Orange Lake. The certificate has to be mailed in, with the receipt from your stay. (Since initially drafting this post, we did receive the check as promised)
This made booking a little complex because it had to be two separate reservations. Because we requested a specific balcony view at that hotel, we had a bit of a confusing check-in. But everything was worked out and we had a lovely room on the 11th floor with a great view.
The plus side to this was our "Welcome amenity points". I always choose this on check in, over the drink voucher. And because it was two reservations we received 300 points per night.
Out of pocket we spent less than $100 for our two nights.


Our balcony (with two chairs and a table) had a great pool view and a view of Disney Springs.

 I had no idea we would get balloons and a note for our IHG anniversary.

The hotel restaurant seemed a bit over priced, so we opted to eat in the parks.
 The do offer a park shuttle, but with reservations for breakfast, we were able to park at the Grand Floridian and take Disney transportation the rest of the day.
Parking was an additional cost  at the Holliday Inn. I think $12 a day and valet was $18-20. I wish things like this were waved for higher ranking IHG members.






We had two meals at the Grand Floridian. First, Breakfast was at the cafe, which we had reservations for. Excellent meal, and we had a great view by the window. Also had an outlet next to the table so I could charge the tech hahaha!
I would come back for a nice anniversary brunch here anytime.




 Our second meal was a late lunch at the quick-serve. We really like most of the resort quick serve options. And they almost always qualify for the pass holder discount.

Beautiful sitting area, and super quiet. And a nice short monorail ride from MK to have lunch here.











Sometimes new we tried and really liked was using a tablet for our Disney app. Phone batteries die so quickly in the park, and the Disney app is really essential for an efficient day. We both have smaller tablets, so it was super easy to have them in our backpack. In case you were wondering, there is open WiFi throughout the property.

By the bridge into Avatar land is a great place called Tiffins. Expect the higher end of in park dining when you eat here. We opted for the lounge with super comfy outdoor seating and a nice set of drinks. This was before Avatar was open and so this end of the park was QUIET and EMPTY.
We also found an outlet by our table here, and it was great timing mid afternoon. Phones were dying fast.









We had a couple "splurge moments".
One was wine and tapas with a fireworks view at Epcot. This was at Spice Road Table in Morocco. I am not sure if any of the other countries has such prime dining placement for fireworks. Its hard to beat a romantic table on the water with such a great view.



The drink portions were generous. The food...not so much.
Still, what a view. We arrived early to request an outside table on the water and they had no problem accommodating that request. If you're not sitting in the first or second row of tables by the water, your view is really blocked.

Just a few tidbits from our weekend away. We have since let our passes expire but I look forward to a repeat trip once we circle back to Disney.

(Bought this on Etsy in case you were wondering. He got a TON of compliments on it.)



Coming up on the blog......
Orange Lake Resort trip report AND Blue Apron breakdown.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Car buying takes 5 years off your life

Or least that is what it feels like.


About two years ago we saw the Honda HRV announcement. A brand new model for the states, with promising MPG numbers. I just knew. I told my husband, "In two years when we can buy it used, we're getting one."
He chuckled and just shook his head, like he does most of the time when I have a crazy idea.
But I wasn't kidding. Over the course of time, we looked at the features, read reviews, and eventually test drove one. The test drive was the make it or break it. And in our case, we fell in love. Okay, so maybe I fell in love and my husband just agreed.
But used ones were rare and far away. And not cheep. My plan was failing us.
No one was trading them in. And in our area, the 2016 models were sitting on the lot right along side the 2017 models. A strange turn of events in my master plan.

Our house buying master plan for was postponed, I was craving a bigger vehicle,and our jobs changed for the better. In addition,we calculated the savings of fully financing a new car and paying off some newlywed/medical debt we had with the cash from selling my current car. Financially, the new car financing rates were so low, it made more sense than credit card interest we were trying to get ahead of. (See below for how it feels)




Crazy right? Saving money each month by buying a new car! This idea came to me in the middle of the night in case you were wondering.



Before we knew it, our used HRV shopping turned into haggling the price on a 2016 sitting on the lot with spiderwebs. The price we were quoted after 3 hours of haggling was impressive. And they agreed to include all weather mats throughout. But I didn't want to settle for the manual transmission they wanted to give us.  So we walked away. But we walked away armed with information, including an offer of 0.9% financing through Honda.
I did what any cheapskate would do. And I went to other local Honda dealerships with this information, asking directly "Can you beat this price?". All but one flat out told me "No."
(Side story: I'm so cheep I haggled someone from $5 to $4 on a table at a garage sale this weekend. The value of this antique table is $300.) Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. 
But alas, the rival local dealership said "we will do whatever it takes to earn your business."
My favorite words. Because at that moment, I called the shots.
In a matter of minutes we agreed on a 2017, in the Purple I wanted, in an automatic, with all weather mats, and window tint, for the same price the other dealership offered us a 2016 for.
Considering this was the ONLY purple one left in the state, the first dealership threw their hands up (OK so maybe I just imagined that) and said "we can't beat that offer."
A few hours later we were at the dealership "to talk to them in person and not buy."
Famous last words, I know. But hey... enough answered prayers in one day means we were 100% confident in the decision we made to go through with the purchase that night.




If you hold out long enough and are stubborn enough about what you want to pay, you have a good change of getting to that point.
We were in no rush to buy it, and because of that we didn't feel the pressure to jump.
Check out my sisters post for a whole list of great tips we used!

http://veganrunnermommy.blogspot.com/2016/10/me-vs-dealership-how-to-get-best-price.html



Oh and yes, my MPG is actually exceeding the posted. We have gotten up to 37 MPG, but are averaging 33. Updates will continue, as we are only 600 miles in :)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

First year. Second hand.

January 1st was the final day of my personal challenge to only shop second hand for the 365 days of 2016.

To be completely honest, I had some rule breaking moments.
Twice this year I bought bridesmaids dresses. The second dress I did try to find on eBay , with no success. If you happen to be in a wedding with a common style from Davids Bridal, the odds of finding it on eBay can be surprisingly high. Worth a shot.
In connection with those dresses, I also bought the shoes for those weddings. Again, first attempt was to buy them second hand, but with specification on color and style, I had no success.


My primary shopping spots for 2016 were ThredUp (13 referral credits earned in 2016 equaling $240!!!THANK YOU!), Poshmark, and Goodwill. If we happened to be out of town and had some time, we always looked up the nearest Goodwill. I've learned a lot about the pricing structure of various Goodwills over the year. They're not all the same. And sometimes a name brand item (Express,Ann Taylor, etc..)will be tagged as "boutique" which will roughly double the price. At our local Goodwill this typically means $9 for a shirt, $12-19 for a dress.If the name brand is not caught during pricing, you can get a steal of a deal.

ThredUp continues to be the most successful second hand shopping platform for me. The consistency is unbeatable and the quality is always exactly as promised. They are really starting to explode and I'm currently on a waiting list for a bag to send in clothes!!! Never expected that to happen.
It seems like shipping is taking slightly longer, but that could have just been because my last order was over the holidays. Whatever the case, it my #1 recommendation for online shopping. (Link in side bar)
This what my typical ThredUp savings are per order:



Poshmark is a community of sellers and because of that your experience can vary. The only negative I've seen was when I bought shoes and the seller never sent them. There is not a way to direct message them at that point in the sale, but you can comment on the item. About a week into things, the seller assured me the item would ship the following day. It never did. I gave them 2 weeks before I canceled my order. Getting a refund wasn't an issue, because payment is not released until the item is marked at received by the buyer. I haven't had this happen again, and most of the sellers are extremely nice. Most of the time a hand written note is included even.

 I decided not to stick as strictly to the second hand challenge this year, but I do think I will have a hard time going back to "regular shopping".
 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Selling to second-hand websites? Worth it??

I was really hoping I had as many positive things to say about selling as I did buying on these sites.

But alas.....not so much.

I sent off my first bag to ThredUp a few weeks ago (ok, many weeks ago...the turn around time on them is pretty slow right now) and received a whopping $4.25.


You can only see what they accepted from your bag, not everything you sent. Honestly I forgot most of what I put in there but I do know there was several clothing items and 3 a pairs of shoes.
They only accepted the shoes. Which surprised me. I made sure to include the clothing brands I knew were popular on there (Ann Taylor and the like).


Around the same time I posted some clothing items on Poshmark.
You would think a NWT J. Crew skirt would sell for $30...... spoiler alert. It hasn't. Neither has the other items I've posted.
I'm not giving up yet, and I have lot of things I still want to post on Poshmark.


Yerdle has been pretty successful. Easy to post. For the most part it doesn't seem like people are looking for big names or brands. But Yerdle dollars aren't redeemable in the real world. So you're obligated to use the dollars you earn in the app to buy things.
Unlike Poshmark, Yerdle doesn't take a percentage but the buyers do pay shipping and a processing fee.

In the end, they all have their pros and cons. But as a person who's most likely to shop, ThredUp has proven to be 98% successful for me. Great size accuracy, extra measurement info, and clothing in fantastic condition.


Mercari is my next adventure in second hand shopping.
So far the buying process has been great. And the 2 day shipping is a nice perk.


Coming up soon:
-IHG stay review on two different coasts.
-Using our 1 year IHG certificate on a resort stay.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Updates on ThredUp, Yerdle and Poshmark


What can I say? I am in love with the sites in the title.



Shall we start with the favorite?

Our poor mailman must be convinced that I'm addicted to shopping on ThredUp. In case you didn't know, every package from ThredUp comes in a branded bag or box. No doubt who it’s from.

Thanks to you, lovely readers, using my referral link in the side bar, I have ordered a few...ahem... ok ALOT from ThredUp. Sadly they are no longer offer $20 both ways for referral credits but $10. Still, fantastic. I think I signed up when you could also use the credits towards shipping costs. I have heard that recently they've discontinued that. If you signed up back when it was still $20 but haven't used it yet, they're not reducing it to $10, so good news there!!! The accuracy of the measurements and dress/skirt lengths is EXTREAMLY helpful. And the packaging when you receive the items is always PERFECTLY wrapped. Never ceases to amaze me.  



Yerdle has been super successful for me in selling clothes. (I did send a bag to ThredUp this week but I won't know what they accept or how much credit I get for several weeks. Blog post on that in the future.) I signed up a few friends and accumulated a fair amount of "Yerdle dollars" (No value in the real world). Yerdle provides you with the postage via email to print and attach to your box or envelope when you sell an item. If you don't ship it out in a week, the transaction is canceled and the item is not relisted automatically. This happened to me on the buying end, and there was no way to contact the seller. A beautiful vintage dress I never got. Of course my Yerdle dollars were returned to my account. If you don't check your Yerdle emails or app notifications, you might not realize when you sell something and could end up losing a sale. So far, everything I've bought from Yerdle was a success. One seller in particular I've bought from on multiple occasions. Adding a seller to your favorites is a great way to see what new items they post and a real win win situation if you know clothes you've bought from them fit perfectly.  I don't know how often or how randomized it is, but I have received free shipping credits on my account a few times. They do expire and don't count for the up charge in bundling so watch out for that.



Ahhh Poshmark.

I’ve had only one minor experience with Poshmark, when I bought a shirt with my initial $5 sign up credit. I like that you can submit an offer on an item. Makes it a little different than similar sites. I only have one thing posted in my Poshmark store for sale, and it is because I wasn’t happy with the amount ThredUp would give me and it didn’t sell on eBay. I’ve lowered the price and it still has not sold. But hey, I don’t know why I ordered a J Crew skirt that small…..who is that tiny?!! Not these hips. Just saying.

 This week I’ve made two purchases via referral credit and I’m extremely excited about both. Honestly, I can’t give a real review until I receive the items. But I’ll post an update when that happens. The pricing on both items was fantastic and over all the experience of shopping on Poshmark is easy.



I like to think of it like this:



Yerdle= Goodwill

ThredUp= Regulated consignment with occasional sales.

Poshmark= Online shopping trying to look consignment but with prices set by the people who owned the items and might possibly accept less. Or might just over price them.



I’ve included referral links for your convenience in the side bar. Tee Hee Hee.





This is the referral for https://poshmark.com/   

Use the following code when you sign up VIA THE APP  JPHVZ

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Continuing cleanser cleanse, and some alternative options.



Back in November I decided to challenge myself to 30 days of no harsh cleansers on my face.  Those 30 days have turned into 7 months. That’s right…. Nothing besides what I’m about to talk about has been used to wash my face.


During this time I did not stop using makeup. Yet I DID see a major improvement in my skin. I clearly have to use something to remove my makeup, and being the lazy person I am, I opted for wipes. I went through a few different brands and did like these
LINK

With a good coupon I think they’re an excellent option.

For slightly less (Walgreens and Ulta for price references) I discovered these fantastic wipes





Of course they use coconut milk and anything related to coconuts I’m in love with.

And that’s a segway to my next discovery.

I was already using coconut oil (make sure it’s not the cheap stuff, that will clog your pores.) to remove any extra makeup left over after using wipes. So I thought, there is surely a way to use this for my entire face. And that is when I discovered coconut oil scrub recipes on Pinterest. There is about a million and I would to tell you I have made them all….but I have not. So far I’m loving a simple mix of coconut oil and sugar.




Here is a link to my board on Pinterest with some recipes to get you started.




The need for a “soap product” still existed in my life, and I instantly knew what route to take. Our local (I use that word loosely as we live in the middle of nowhere) flea market has a fantastic lady that makes her own soaps with a base of palm, olive or coconut oil.
Her Facebook link

We already had a habit of buying her bar soaps so I decided to use that (in conjunction with the scrub I made) for my face since I knew the exact ingredients and process.

I have seen a major difference in my face since I started this process.



I have gone into Sephora in recent months, not wearing any makeup and received compliments on my skin. I’d say that is a major success.