Free Admission to Mount Vernon February 20th and 22nd

Visit Mount Vernon for Free on February 20 and 22
Visit Mount Vernon for free on February 20 and 22

Washington locals and visitors alike can celebrate President’s Day in style by visiting George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon.

This year marks the 285th birthday of the first President, and lots of festivities are planned at George Washington’s historic home and estate on the Potomac River.

You can enjoy period music, character performances, story-time, tours of the mansion and birthday cake with General Washington.

Regular admission to Mount Vernon is $20 for persons age 12 and older but admission will be free on President’s Day — February 20, 2016 — and on George Washington’s actual birthday — February 22, 2016.

There is lots to see including the historic mansion, many outbuildings where trades were practiced, the slave memorial, gardens, a pioneer farm, and George and Martha Washington’s tomb.  The setting is on the Potomac River is quite spectacular, making for a pleasant family outing.

 

Forget Tokyo’s Robot Cafe; Kyoto has Roberoids!

GEAR Show in Kyoto
GEAR Show in Kyoto — Circus arts at their best

You’ve probably heard the hype about the Tokyo Robot Cafe, but did you know that Kyoto has real life Roberoids?

The Roberoids are stars of the GEAR Show, running at Kyoto’s Art Complex 1928. 

These robots perform mime, magic, juggling, and break dancing.

Art Complex 1928, Kyoto
Art Complex 1928, Kyoto

Their skills are showcased in a non-verbal performance with a story line that pulls at the heartstrings.  The show is very entertaining with lots of incredible special effects.

The production values are amazing.  The technical wizardry reminded me of the Broadway production of the The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime.

The GEAR show has been running for several years straight with a rotating cast.

The theatre is in a cool art deco building in downtown Kyoto.

Tickets are discounted if you order online in advance.  Also, you get a ticket discount any time during your birthday month.

But don’t take my word for it.  You can read all the rave reviews on TripAdvisor!

 

Airfare Deals: Jumping But Not Biting

The School Calendar Rules Travel Time
We are no longer tied to the school calendar.

My daughter graduated from high school this June (hooray!), so we are entering a new phase of life.

For the first time in 13 years, our travel plans will not be dictated by the public school calendar.

As parents well know, travel during school breaks and over the summer is considered high season in terms of airfare and hotel rates.

Flights and hotel rooms are expensive and award availability is limited.  Parents with kids in school simply don’t have the same flexibility as free agents.

We are not quite empty nesters because my daughter is living at home while attending community college.   My husband is looking forward to retirement soon.   That will expand our opportunities for leisure travel.

There are lots of places we want to go, with Japan at the top of the list.

Bargain Flights are Back!

Have you noticed that the airwaves these days are filled with airfare deals?

My inbox and twitter feed are chock full of amazing airfare bargains.

Getting in on these deals requires you to act fast and to have schedule flexibility.

But the deals are fantastic!

  • $99 to Europe.
  • $500 roundtrip to Asia.
  • $19 for domestic flights.

Check out these recent offerings posted by The Flight Deal:

The Flight Deal is One Source for Bargain Fares
The Flight Deal is One Source for Bargain Fares

In terms of frequent flyer miles, I have a stash of American Airlines and United miles, as well as some British Airways and Southwest miles.

My strategy going forward is to spend down my miles balances and to focus on cash back opportunities.

Growing Your Travel Savings Account

Earlier this year, I opened Capital One’s Venture Card.  This card earns 2 times points on all purchases.  Rewards points can be redeemed for travel expenses.

I also opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card early this year.  This card earns 2 times Ultimate Rewards Points on restaurants and travel.  These points can be transferred to the several airline partners or cashed out for statement credits.

Cash Back is King

I plan to concentrate my spending on the Venture card, with the exception of most travel purchases that will go on the Sapphire card.  Cash back is still king, but Ultimate Rewards points can be used as miles or cash.

Both the Venture card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred card carry annual fees, which are waived the first year.  I have heard it is easy to get the fee waived on the Venture card.  That is not the case for the Sapphire Preferred, so I will probably will probably cancel that card when the fee comes due.

In the meantime, I will be accumulating points in my “travel savings accounts.”  These points are a lot more liquid than miles, it part because they are good for any bargain tickets you may grab, and also because partial redemptions are possible.

Has your points collection strategy changed, in light of the raft of cheap flights?

 

 

Burn Your Club Carlson Points at Melbourne Beach Radisson

Mermaid fountain at entrance to Radisson Suites Oceanfront in Melbourne Beach, Florida
Mermaid fountain at entrance to Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront in Melbourne Beach, Florida

If you have Club Carlson points to burn and you need to burn them fast — consider  the Radisson Suite Hotel  Oceanfront in Melbourne Beach, Florida.

Melbourne Beach — where’s that?  

That’s the question I was asked repeatedly whenever I mentioned our Spring Break trip to Florida.

Melbourne Beach is on a barrier island about half an hour south of Cape Canaveral.  This area along the eastern seaboard in Florida is known as the “Space Coast.”  Melbourne Beach is a low key beach town.  There’s no boardwalk or amusements — just a broad sandy beach, the wind, the waves, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Melbourne Beach is a quiet residential area with four high rise hotels, some condos and and garden apartments, and single family homes.  The beach is very clean and not crowded at all.  Day visitors will find free beach parking at a municipal park next door to the Radisson.

The view from my balcony at the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront
The view from our balcony at the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront

Burn Your Club Carlson Points at the Radisson Suite  Oceanfront in Melbourne, Florida

The Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront is a gem of a property, and is especially well suited to families traveling with kids.  It was built in 1984 as condos, but was immediately purchased by Radisson for use as a hotel.

The view from my balcony at the Radisson Suites Hotel Oceanfront

We used 44,000 Club Carlson points to stay for two nights at this magnificent property where every room is a suite and has a balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  Through the end of May 2015, holders of the Club Carlson credit card can get a second night free when redeeming award nights.

As a Club Carlson Gold member (due to having the credit card), I landed a top floor suite. The welcome gift was a bowl full of fruit and pastries.

The “rooms” are actually more like one bedroom apartments.  Both the bedroom and large living room have floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean, and all the rooms have an oceanfront balcony.  The decor is modern.  Each room has a king sized sleep number bed in the bedroom, and a queen-sized sofa bed in the living room.  I especially loved that the floors were travertine tile, which is so much cleaner than carpet.

I didn’t take any pictures of our suite because the panoramic photos on the hotel website are so drop dead gorgeous.  But I can tell you this:  every single room in this hotel is has a full oceanfront view.  Every room is a large suite — modern, clean, and comfortable.

There is a pool, hot tub, sundeck, and poolside bar.  Two beach chairs and an umbrella rent for $20 a day, but beach toys are free to borrow.  My only concern:  no lifeguard on the beach.

If you make your reservations before the end of May 2015, you can have a two-night stay in a gorgeous oceanfront all-suites hotel for just 44,000 points.  Award room availability is wide open through December 2016.

The view from my balcony at the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront
The view of the bay from the room entrance at the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront

There is a shopping center with a Walmart and a supermarket across the street from the hotel.  The Walmart features a large selection of beach items at the front of the store.  There’s also a pizza place, a Thai restaurant, and a Friendly’s.

Did I mention that there are laundry machines at the Radisson?  That is a necessity for our family when traveling with kids.

I am grateful to The Deal Mommy for introducing me to this place.

Everything is super easy, relaxed and convenient.

Where to Eat in Melbourne Florida

If you love seafood you can’t do better than Shells of Melbourne, which features about a dozen different kinds of fresh fish and seafood daily.  Shells of Melbourne is a family style restaurant located inland, near the Melbourne Mall.

Another place we tried was Squid Lips, located just over the bridge on the mainland.  It’s a rambling bayside bar and restaurant, with a view of the fishing pier.  The virgin coladas are highly recommended!

 

Where to Stay Within Walking Distance to Universal Studios, Orlando

Hogwarts Castle
Hogwarts Castle
Photo by Rstoplabe14 at en.wikipedia

A visit to Harry Potter World was on the agenda for our recent spring break trip to Florida.

Onsite hotels at Universal Studios Orlando were very expensive in early April.

I wanted to stay as close as possible in an offsite hotel, so that we could easily walk to Universal Studios.  I knew that we would be doing a lot of walking once we got to the park.

Many offsite hotels offer shuttle services, but these can be quite limited in terms of the hours and frequency of service, and their capacity is capped

Chain Hotels Across the Street from Universal Orlando
Stay with points at chain hotels across the street from Universal Orlando

Which Offsite Hotels are Closest to Universal Orlando?

A lot of hotel properties  advertise that they are within walking distance of Universal Studios.

But the Doubletree (by Hilton at the entrance of Universal Studios) is the absolute closest offsite hotel to the main gate.

The map above indicates where the hotel sits in relation to the massive parking garage at the entrance to Universal.

How Many Points Do You Need for a Free Night at a Hotel Near Universal Studios Orlando?

Several hotels are within a long block of the Doubletree.  Most of these are chain hotels that participate in the major hotel rewards programs.

Here’s how many points you need for a free night at each of these hotels:

  • Fairfield Inn & Suites — 25K points
  • Best Western Plus Universal Inn — 16K points
  • Doubletree — 20K points
  • Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites — 25K points
  • Hyatt Place — 8K points

I imagine these hotels offer similar amenities such as outdoor pools and free breakfast.

But there a lot of variability in the number of points you need for an award stay.

What’s All the Fuss About Hyatt’s Gold Passport Rewards Program

Hyatt Place Universal Orlando -- 8,000 Points
Hyatt Place Universal Orlando — 8,000 Points

At 8,000 points, Hyatt Place Orlando Universal is the clear winner in terms of least number of points needed for a free night.

A lot of travel bloggers rave about Hyatt’s loyalty program — Hyatt Gold Passport.  I never really understood the appeal.

In my mind, Hyatt Hotels are bland business class hotels in office parks or other sub-optimum locations.

Clearly, that’s an overgeneralization.

Now, after completing a stay near Universal Orlando during spring break, I finally get what all the Hyatt fuss is about.

In a word:  value.

The obvious value here was the 8,000 point redemption cost for the Hyatt Place.  Because we there on a peak travel day, the rates at the hotel were very high — $200 a night.  While the rates fluctuate according to demand, the points cost is generally fixed.  (A major exception is Starwood resorts, which sometimes jack up the points cost during high season.)

Hyatt Place Orlando Universal — My Take

Typical room at Hyatt Place Universal Orlando
Typical room at Hyatt Place Universal Orlando –2 full size beds and a pullout couch

The Hyatt Place is about a 15-minute walk to the entrance of the Islands of Adventure or Universal Orlando Theme Park.  

This hotel had very high ratings on TripAdvisor, so I decided to book it for two nights.  I transferred the points to Hyatt from the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program.

We chose a room on an upper floor with a view of Universal Studios, so we could watch the fireworks at night.  The room was well designed and functional.  The room had two beds and a pullout couch so it was perfect for myself, my daughter, and her friend.

The free hot breakfast was generous and varied, with real Starbucks coffee and Tazo tea.

The small outdoor pool was not crowded, despite the hotel operating at full capacity.

There was a convenient Universal ticket desk in the hotel lobby.

TGIF is right next door for teen-friendly meal options.

I would be loathe to pay $200 per night for this hotel, but for 8,000 points, it’s a good deal.

Museum Free-For-All in Los Angeles January 31, 2015

Museum Free-For-All in Los Angeles January 31, 2015
Open House at 20 Los Angeles Museums

Twenty Los Angeles area museums open their doors to the public on Saturday January 31, 2015 for the tenth annual Museum Free-for-All.

The list of participating venues includes diverse art, cultural heritage, natural history, and science museums.

There are a number of top attractions participating — such as the Los Angeles Museum of Art and the California Science Center, but if I had my druthers I would head over the the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits.

Kids love dinosaurs and what could be better than an active excavation site for dinosaur fossils?   We spent half a day at the Tar Pits when we last visited LA with our then school-aged daughter.  Regular admission is $15 per adult and $8 per child, so free admission is a really great deal for families!

 Los Angeles Museums Participating in 2015 Free-for-All

Here are links to the museums that are participating in this year’s open houses.  The Jan. 31 offer is good for general  admission only and does not apply to specially ticketed exhibitions.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 
Annenberg Space for Photography 
Armory Center for the Arts 
California African American Museum 
California Science Center
Chinese American Museum 
Craft Folk & Art Museum 
Fowler Museum at UCLA 
The Getty Center 
The Getty Villa (Timed tickets required)
Hammer Museum 
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Los Angeles Fire Department Museum and Memorial
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) 
Museum of Latin American Art 
Museum of Tolerance (Feb. 1)
The Paley Center for Media 
The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits 
Pasadena Museum of California Art
Santa Monica Museum of Art 
Skirball Cultural Center
The Torrance Art Museum 
USC Pacific Asia Museum 
William S. Hart Museum 
Zimmer Children’s Museum (Feb. 1)

Weekly/Monthly Free Admission Days in Los Angeles and Other Major Cities

If you can’t make it this coming weekend, plan to take advantage of the regularly scheduled free admission days at Los Angeles area museums.

FreeMuseumDay.org publishes a calendar of free museums and free museum days for LA and for these major cities:

Check it out!

Family Travel for Real Life: The Do

Family Travel for Real Life
August 23, 2014 in Sterling, Virginia

Is it a seminar or is it a movement?  The Deal Mommy is organizing a “do” for deal mongers with a passion for family travel.

Family Travel for Real Life will be held August 23, 2014 at the Hyatt House Dulles Airport in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Sterling, Virginia, right near IAD.

This hotel has reasonable weekend prices, so why not plan to stay the weekend and take in the sites.  If you’d rather not go downtown, the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center is just down the street.

Family Travel for Real Life Will Cover These Topics

  • Scheduling around a school calendar
  • Saving money without relying only on credit card bonuses
  • Condo rentals and hotel rooms for families traveling overseas
  • Booking award tickets when you need more than two
  • Destination planning for families
  • Camp Mom:  traveling with your kids for less than the cost of camp
  • How to save on theme park vacations

Several top notch speakers are already lined up, with more to be added:

  • Carolina Travel Girl:  Where to stay when a hotel room won’t cut it
  • Jason Steele:  Booking award travel for families
  • Shawn of Miles to Memories:  Booking loo00ong summer vacations

Follow this hashtag on Twitter to stay in the loop:  #FT4RL

Registration will begin at 9 a.m. and sessions will run from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (possibly 5:00).  Lunch and an afternoon snack break are included in admission.

Sign up early because the first 25 registrants can get tickets for $49.  After that, tickets are going for $59.  Here’s the link to register!