Monday, November 29, 2021

Enjoying Sunny Florida (On a Budget)

   We just got back from a trip to Central Florida (flying into Orlando and spending our nights there). We had a lot of fun. Mara, Malcolm, Aaron, Megan and I went. We really would have loved it if Thomas and Jonathan could have come too but they were working. We really love to travel but our travel budget isn't huge. It never really has been but it is less so now so we are traveling on a budget and that can really be a lot of fun.

  Megan was the one that was first bit by the travel bug this time. She just wanted to go somewhere. So I said - "See what deals you can find and we will talk about it" (or something to that affect). I gave her some tips - Search in an incognito window (this is important if you are going to look around and perhaps think about it for a few days - that way they don't keep track of what you are doing and start raising the prices) and check out Kayak. Both of those have been very helpful for finding good deals in the past.

  Megan is a great researcher and when she is into something she really pours her heart into it. Before I know it she has everything planned. We can fly to Orlando (from Minneapolis - we did have to drive down there) for $37 round trip, she had found an AirBnB for around $46 a night, she found deals for Aquatica for $45 for a day which included a meal and a rental car for around $19 a day. Before long she had the whole agenda planned I just needed to start reserving things.

Malcolm seemed to enjoy looking out the window.
 After talking things over and figuring out who was coming I went on to make reservations. I wasn't able to find all of Megan's deals but we did find the right flights. I saw an option to buy it with Edream (which required signing up for a free month of it which I cancelled before they charged me) which put our ticket cost to $32 per person. They did however charge for Malcolm's seat too so it would have been actually cheaper to buy straight through Spirit for $37 each but not have to pay for Malcolm. Live and learn! :-) Either way it was cheap flights! Spirit does try to get you to pay more after being lured in with the cheap flights. I had to go through many options of things like Bring a bag just $60 each way, insure your flight, choose your seats starting at $19 or something like that (they implied that we probably wouldn't sit together if we didn't - we did except on the way back Aaron was in a different area), pay more for better customer service. Anyway - if you want to keep your flight cheap you will need to decline all their additional offers but you do still get to fly. :-)
We arrived around 11 pm. After picking up Malcolm's car seat (which did get to come along for free and Mara sewed a bag for it and tucked some beach towels around it so that was nice) we headed out to catch the shuttle for the Rental Car place.  We waited for a bit but they did eventually come. I rented from Nu Rental Car (though their paperwork all says Action Rental Car). I had found them on Expedia and prepaid $138.30 for the 5 days (Saturday night to mid-day on Thursday). When I got there they said I did also have to pay for the pre-pay toll pass or completely avoid all tolls which I already knew I wasn't going to be able to do so that added on another $59.95 for the week. I wasn't very happy about that and we wouldn't have paid that much in tolls but it was still a pretty good deal for a rental car. We got a Nissan Kicks which worked just fine for transporting us about.
We made it to our AirBnB sometimes after midnight. I knew that I had gotten a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment for $536.86 (total- including taxes and fees) for the 5 nights. I didn't realize that it was basically in a motel. It was a time share. I guess it has become common to rent out time shares on places like AirBnB, Expedia, Verbo, etc. It was a nice place and had 2 pools and hot tubs. The kids thought it was their favorite AirBnB. It wasn't mine because I love to personal touch that it has when you stay in someone's home and get to meet and visit with them but that is a personality thing. It did really work well for us. There was a queen bed in each bedroom and then a sofa bed in the living room so we had a nice amount of space. There was no oven in the kitchen but we had everything else. There was no food whatsoever (no coffee, salt and pepper, etc which a normal AirBnB would have) but we had fun being creative with the groceries that we bought and made some nice meals for our trip.
Shortly before we left on our trip my niece had bought a bunch of temporary tattoos. We were looking through them and decided that it would be fun for all of us to wear an Anchor one on our trip. Here are Malcolm and I with ours. We planned on doing a group picture with them but never managed to do that. On Monday when we were at Cocoa beach a guy walked by and saw Malcolm's tattoo. He said "Starting him young. Nice Tat!" I thought it was funny.

    On Sunday we went to church. My mom suggested the Harrell Road Church of Christ as she was Facebook friends with the preacher and his wife and they went to the same Bible college that we did. So we went there. The people there were quite friendly and we enjoyed getting to meet Christians who are serving God down in Orlando, Florida. I really love visiting churches while traveling and getting a little broader picture of the Body of Christ.

On our way to church we had tried to find a fast food restaurant where we could drive through and eat breakfast. We didn't find that so we ended up buying stuff at a Gas station. It worked. 

After church we headed to downtown Orlando to Lake Eola park. I had hoped to find a farmer's market or some place to get local produce while we were there as I (and Mara) think that is a fun thing to do while visiting someplace different. I was excited to see that there was a farmer's market there on Sunday. How perfect we could go and get produce for the week. The info about it also said that there would be various food vendors. So we decided to go there for lunch.
Lake Eola Park was very pretty. It was around a small lake, there were fountains, streams and statues. There were lots of pretty birds living there. We enjoyed walking around and looking at the flowers and birds and fun trees.

Everybody bought their own stuff for lunch though we did some sharing. Megan got a fresh coconut and really enjoyed the coconut water.
I got some pierogis which I shared. I like them. I think I spent $5 for 2 of them. 

Malcolm thought the coconut water was good too!
I also bought a couple of Empanadas for around $5 which I also shared. Aaron got a Lemon Icy and Mara got a Greek sandwich. There were a lot of booths there but the produce that we really wanted was in very short supply. There was one booth with produce where I did buy Lettuce, Strawberries, A yellow Pepper and maybe something else (I can't remember now) for $6 but I found that a lot of the stuff that they were selling was not local after all.  Oh well!
A pretty fountain at Lake Eola Park.

Then we went to Target because Malcolm was needing more diapers. Because we all came with just a backpack each Mara wasn't able to pack many diapers but we figured they could be bought there.  I also bought a frozen meal and some spicy ramen for supper at Target while we were there, spending a little under $10.

When we got "home" Mara, Malcolm and I decided naps would be nice and Megan and Aaron decided to check out the pool. After I had napped I got up to find that Malcolm hadn't wanted to nap so much and Mara still wanted one so I took him out and we joined the swimmers.

   We had a lovely supper of Asian Chicken with Broccoli and Noodles after getting maintenance up to help us unlock the stovetop. It was a bit of an adventure. Then Mara, Malcolm and I went to Aldi where were went grocery shopping for the week. I spent $49 on that.
Then we picked Megan and Aaron up and drove over a few blocks to the Starflyer which Megan had decided in her research was the ride that we should go on while in Orlando. It used to be the world's tallest swing ride at 450 feet but I guess there is now a taller one in Dubai. Anyway, it is pretty tall and it can get going up to 45 miles an hour. It is a little chilly to ride on when you get up high. It did cost $12 for a 5 minute ride but it was a fun experience and you did get a good view of the city.
Malcolm did not get to go so we took turns going.
Near the Starflyer there was a tourist information place which we went into as it said it had reduced price tickets and Aaron was curious about a slingshot ride that we could see out the window at the AirBnB. They didn't have tickets for that but they did offer me $120 and breakfast for all of us if I would go on a 90 minute tour of a resort/time share place right next to where we were staying. They could schedule me for 8 am the next morning so I agreed to go. 

   The kids were all going to go with me to eat breakfast but decided they didn't actually want to get up and go after all. So I went by myself. The breakfast was basically juice, coffee and prepackaged muffins and cereal so nothing to exciting anyway and the tour was just going into an office where they tried to talk me into buying one of their time shares for an hour and a half. But I did get the $120 so I thought it was worth it. 
When I got back we packed a lunch (I had frozen some bottles (that people had bought beverages in on Sunday morning so we had ice to pack our lunch with) and headed off to Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando.
Megan had found that it is sometimes free on the first Monday of the month and that was indeed true in November. Gardens are something Mara and I are quite interested in so this was very fun. There were so many different bushes and plants that are things that we buy to use in floral work. It was fun to see them growing naturally.
The rose garden had quite a lot of blooms in it but I would guess it wasn't at it's peak right now.
Malcolm seemed to enjoy the fresh air.
I am not sure what this plant is but I thought it was very pretty.
It is fun to see all the different and fun trees in more tropical locations.

After walking around the garden for an hour or so we headed East to the Ocean. Aaron had researched and found that he could rent a surfboard in Cocoa beach and that Cocoa beach is one of the best places for surfing so that is where we went.

    He was able to get a surfboard and a wet suit for 5 or 6 hours for I think $28 or something like that. We were able to park at the store and walk a couple of blocks to the beach.
Malcolm really enjoyed both the sand and the water. Truly both were quite lovely. The water was nice and warm and we really enjoyed our time at the beach. I really thought a lot about the abundance of God on this day. He not only provides for our needs but He blesses us far beyond our needs so very often. So many beautiful plants grow that may not have any body around to enjoy them but God still makes them. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets. An ocean that goes on and on with an abundance of wonderful waves to surf on and jump over. Over and over when we start looking we can be blessed by the abundance that He gives.
I took a couple of videos of Aaron surfing but I can't seem to upload them but I do have these pictures. He really figured it out pretty well. During the beginning of our time there he watched some other surfers a little and then after a little bit a guy was watching him on shore and called for him to come to him and so Aaron went and talked to him. He was a surfing coach and he gave Aaron some tips. So that was really neat. Near the end of the day Aaron was able to hang out with a more experienced surfer and they had fun visiting. 
I enjoyed watching Aaron surf. We girls all tried it out a little but never got to standing up on it. It was fun to ride in on a wave however.

Being at the beach made the girls hungry. They ate up all the sandwiches and cookies that we brought and were still hungry.

I enjoyed the water but not as much as the kids seem to so Malcolm and I were beach buddies quite a bit. We didn't mind that, though looking at his expression maybe he wasn't as happy as I thought. :-)
I made a new swimming suit before going on our trip. The material was some my Grandma had bought years ago and had been in my stash since her death (or perhaps before). I like to have swimming suits that cover more than the normal suit does. I have seen some modest swimsuits advertised and I made one similar to some that I have seen. I made up my own pattern using some of my clothes for guidance. It is a simple dress with a built in bra and shorts to go under it. It worked quite well and I am pleased with it.
It was a blessing that Mara and Malcolm were able to come with us. Their being with us made the trip even more fun than it would have been otherwise.
An attempt at a group selfie. I am not very good at them, obviously. 
Time to take the surfboard back. The store that Aaron rented from had some outdoor showers so we used them to clean off as best we could.
We went to supper at a Latin American restaurant. The kids didn't end up  being all that hungry (after polishing off the food we had packed in the afternoon) and so Mara and I split a shrimp sandwich (I can't remember what country that hailed from) and Aaron and Megan split a plate of Chicken Wings. There was also this coconut (and dairy free) icecream that we got for Mara there. Megan and Aaron also tried out some ethnic beverages. Including a tip I spent $50 on that meal. Not bad for going out to eat but that is also why I prefer not to go out to eat every day even while on vacation. That eats into the budget very quickly. I also realize that for some people that is what really makes a vacation fun so if you are trying to save many you have to decide what your priorities are.
Speaking of priorities... Ice cream tends to be one of ours. We do generally keep an eye out for ice cream shops. And poor Mara (who is dairy free) pointed out that we ate ice cream pretty much every day while on vacation. In Cocoa Beach we found "The Fat Donkey" a unique little place that had hand dipped ice cream. They actually did have dairy free options there but I had already bought Mara some at the restaurant. I don't remember what I got here but I spent between 4 and 5 dollars on a cone.

Malcolm enjoyed the toddler pool
Tuesday we went to Aquatica. It is a water park in Orlando. It was a lovely day with temperatures around 80. The water was around 80 degrees as well. Megan had found a deal where we spent $45 for the day and got a meal with that as well. I admit that I tried hard to talk them out of this. I figured that we were already doing water things at the beach, this cost a fair amount and I figured there would be other fun things that we could see and do that were cheaper and would give us more variety in our trip. But Aaron, Megan and Mara all thought this sounded like lots of fun and so I was out voted. I was tempted to be grumpy about it (I also was tempted to just say no because sometimes I can be that sort of Mom) but thank-fully God worked on my attitude and helped me to see the selfishness in me. And so I determined that I would truly enjoy this day. If I didn't truly enjoy the actual activity I would enjoy seeing the kids having a lot of fun. 

We had a really fun day. There were other people there but not a lot. There were basically no lines at all. The kids paid the $25 parking fee and we each paid for our own entrance fee. Malcolm couldn't go down the slides so Mara and I took turns staying with him. We did also take him down the rapid river a couple of times and so we were all able to go together at that point. Some of the time Malcolm and I would walk with them and watch them do the slides. In the picture above he was just waking up from a lovely nap that he had while I held him. 
Our lunch that came with the package deal was good and seeing how much it would have cost had we not got that deal made me feel like our deal was a pretty good one after all. You are really allowed to bring food in though I guess some snacks/ baby food is acceptable. Mara did bring in a little for Malcolm but he also tried some of our stuff as well.
We all got a big bacon cheeseburger a beverage and a side. 
Megan and Aaron on one of the water slides. I loved all the exercise we got running up the stairs to go down the slides. A lot of the time we were hauling our tubes too so that made the exercise even better. Because of all the exercise neither Mara or I really minded the break when it was our turn to be with Malcolm. We also get plenty of arm exercise from hauling him around. The next day I thought maybe I would feel it in my legs. I didn't but my arms were a little sore from carrying Malcolm around so much.

The big half pipe water slide was fun. 
The kids did all the rides/slides that were open at the park (the lazy river and one other one were closed that day). I did all but one. That one you had to stand in some sort of compartment and they closed the door and then took the floor out from under you that sent you down into a tube where you got water up your nose. They said it wasn't really any fun and I didn't think it sounded that way so I skipped it.

  We were tired after that day. We had thought it would be fun to go to the Disney Boardwalk (or the Universal walk) that evening because there is free parking after 6 but Megan and Aaron were to tired to go.
We went back to the apartment and made Spaghetti (with sausage in it) and salad for supper. It was lovely. I hadn't bought salad dressing so I mixed together mayo, steak seasoning and a little seasoning from the spicy ramen and I thought it made a pretty good salad dressing. I love the challenge of making do with what you have.

On Wednesday we started off with a lovely breakfast of  Bagel and cream cheese, strawberries, fried egg, yogurt and hot chocolate. (I think Aaron may have just had cereal as that is more his preference.)

This day we headed West to the Gulf of Mexico. We headed to the town of Clearwater which we had been told had a lovely beach. We packed a lunch again and as it looked like we were running low on lunchmeat we boiled some eggs and had egg salad sandwiches.

It did have a beautiful beach. We did have to pay $20 to park for the day. The white sand here is lovely. It was also kind of breezy and the water felt pretty chilly.  The beach was also pretty crowded in most places that we saw.
     We didn't do much playing in the water as it felt too cold but we walked around and saw what we could see and played in the sand some. Mara wasn't feeling the best and so she also took a nap on the beach. Aaron found some people to play sand volley ball with.
We also found several ice cream places. Unfortunately none had dairy free ice cream. So Mara had to go without. She instead bought me an ice-cream cone with Praline Plantation Ice-cream which was very good. I shared it with Malcolm who thought it was great as well.
The place that we got from was Beverly's.

When we were back on the beach I thought that I could maybe keep Malcolm on the towel so he wouldn't get so sandy. He didn't think that was a very good idea. So he went up and over the backpack and on to the sand.

Sand is so much more fun!
I decided that Malcolm could wear my hat to protect him from the sun a little. We did have him wear sun screen some and Mara wore it as well the rest of us did not during that trip other than me rubbing some excess on myself after slathering Malcolm up. Mara, the light skinned one of us, was the only one to get a burn during the trip. It wasn't that bad though.
Megan made this lovely sand art.
Ready to leave the beach.
It was so fun to see Bird's of Paradise blooming all over.
This steaming sundial was a fun thing near the beach.

Next stop was Tampa. We were meeting up with Chris and his wife Annette. I had gone through a program called Pathways and Chris was in my class. It was a zoom class so we didn't meet in person and the people in my class were from all over. We had gotten to know each other very well and it is my goal to meet as many of my classmates as I can. I had been able to meet Wendy from my class earlier in the summer (as she lives part of the time in the Twin Cities in MN) which was neat. Chris is from Florida so when Megan figured out this trip to Orlando I hoped to figure out a way to meet. He said that they could come to Orlando (around an hour from where they live) but since we wanted to go to the Gulf anyway it made more sense to meet in Tampa.
We went to Sparkman's wharf where there is this World War 2 battle ship.
It was a pretty area in the downtown of Tampa. At the wharf there were all sorts of food vendors with little booths and then a common outdoor eating area. It was a fun place to go. I spent a little under $40 for food and beverages (I had a fun fruit drink and the kids had lemonades) for Megan, Aaron and I.
It was really neat to meet up with Chris and Annette. We had first met on Pathways in early March and then had 4 more weekends after that were we in the program. It is a program where you really work through a lot of baggage that you may be dealing with from past traumas or whatever you have had going on in your life. You also work on creating life plans and keeping each other accountable for the goals you set. It was a blessing for me to go through that program and when going through it you do share a lot and really get to know very well the other people going through it with you. So though Chris and I were meeting for the first time in person it felt like we were meeting up as old friends. Mara and Annette have also gone through the program just a few months earlier than we had (though not together, Annette was in a class or two before Mara). 
They took a picture of us together while we were there which was nice.

Thursday morning Mara made us a delicious breakfast attempting to use up some of the last of our groceries. We had French toast with fruit, cream cheese and yogurt. We did also pack up a lunch again with a little food that we had left. We didn't waste a lot. In the end we didn't finish the jar of mayo, the non-dairy butter nor the 2nd loaf of bread and I brought the left over steak seasoning home with me. We also had leftover spaghetti that got tossed. But everything else we finished up.
I thought I should show you my baggage for the trip: A backpack, a sweatshirt and a purse. It worked just fine. I didn't even wear all the clothes that I brought. I also was able to bring along a Bible, notebook, kindle and a card game (which we never played). 

We needed to be to the airport by 2 (and drop the rental car off before that) so we didn't have a lot of time to do something on Thursday after packing up (we had gotten back somewhat late the night before and so we slept in). We really thought we should do something Disney related since we were in Orlando. Megan found that there is a Monorail that goes from Disney World, to Epcot to the different Disney resorts that you can ride on for free. You  just have to pay parking. Parking is $25 but I decided that would be a fun ride, would let us see a bit of Disney and be a nice excursion for the time we had available. 
So that is what we did. We parked the Epcot and then rode around on the Monorail. We didn't see as much of Disney as I had hoped but you could see a fair amount. We did see quite a bit of Epcot from the Rail. 
We also saw a lot of trees and lakes. It was just kind of a fun way to ride around.

So that was our little taste of Disney which to be perfectly honest was plenty for me. Megan thinks it would be fun to go someday and I guess I probably wouldn't dislike it but it doesn't have any draw.

We did find out that we could have used our parking pass to go park at any other Disney places that same day and we thought about trying to fit in Disney Boardwalk but decided we didn't have time. Just now as I found that link I see that we were right next to it when we were parked at Epcot. We could have gone quickly. Oh well!
  We then headed back into Orlando proper and I decided to stop at one of the many tourist gift stores. They were all over and had super cheap t-shirts but I didn't need or want any t-shirts that said Orlando. I did however want a magnet. I had a little trouble find one that I really liked but I found one that was nice enough for $4. I also bought an gift of Saltwater Taffy for my parents. 

  Then we headed to the gas station to fill up. There an interesting thing (that I believe was God's perfect timing) happened. I had filled up with Gas and we were ready to drive off when a car drove up beside us. They looked like they wanted to talk with us and I figured they were just wanting our spot. Aaron rolled down his window which they were by and they had some sort of sad story but I really could hear much of any of it because Malcolm was crying in the back seat and the lady telling the story was over on the other side of the driver. I only really heard the little bits he said and basically it was that they needed more gas to get to the airport, could I help? They didn't need cash (which is what I was thinking that I would just hand them as I was feeling a little in a hurry at this point) would I just put gas in their tank. 

  I admit I struggle with just handing out money to strangers. I have a tendency to think - "What poor decisions did you make to get into this predicament?" But, though I think there are times to proceed with caution I think I might do that too much and I really don't want to be the one that is saying "no" to an angel that is disguised. So I said "Yes".

  So they pulled around to the other side of the tank we were at and I got back out of the car to pay for their gas. I pulled out my wallet and when to get my credit card and it wasn't there. A moment of panic came to me. But then I was like - I just used it, it has to be close by. I had been cleaning out the car when it pumped so I looked there quickly and then I happened to look at the pump and sure enough it was still in it. I was going to pull off and leave it sitting there in the pump.

  I grabbed it and went back and pumped gas for the other family. I am so thankful to God that he sent that family at just that moment, that they made the comment that they didn't need cash because I was ready right then to pull away and leave it behind. I wouldn't have missed it until we were at the airport or later and then it would have been too late to go and retrieve it. I could have ended up with fraudulent charges plus all the headache of changing cards, etc. I felt bad that I didn't try to visit more with the family, find out how I could pray for them in their distress but I am glad that I could help a little and I feel that God actually sent them to help me.

The flight home went fine. Malcolm enjoyed cheese crackers. He is getting better and better at picking things up and learning how to eat. He cracks me up.

Coming back to MN we could see a lot of pretty color from the airplane as we prepared to land. It was fun to visit Florida but I am glad to come back to the beautiful state of Minnesota that I love!


Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading all about your lovely vacation! Inspired by you, Abbi!

Connie said...

WOW!!! that was some vacation. Megan should think about a business of planning vacations for people on a budget. It sounds like she is gifted in that area.
Thanks for allowing me to tag along, through your lovely blog post.
God bless you all.
Connie :)

Amy Riley said...

What a wonderful vacation!! - Our current vacation goal is to save to come your way! Mark went on one vacation as a child and it was to MN. His father Entered the Life Eternal this fall and so many childhood memories have been on his mind. Anyway, we've begun researching your beautiful state and dreaming of what we'll do! If you or Megan have any suggestions I would welcome them - there seems to be months worth of things to see and do!

Abbi said...

Thank you all!
Amy, what sorts of things does your family like? Do you want History? Beautiful Scenery? Cool things from the natural world? Museums?
If you come our way I would love to meet you! I would be glad to take you all canoeing in the northern most section of the Mississippi if that sort of thing would be fun for your family.

I do recommend visiting the headwaters of the Mississippi. That is located at Itasca State park (around 50 minutes drive from us) and that park is a beautiful place to camp, hike, bike (you can rent bikes and boats there) and they have interesting visitor's center as well. Up here you also want to see Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox and get your picture with them. There is a visitor center next to them where you can learn more about Paul Bunyan. If you do go see him I would encourage getting books from the library ahead of time to read all the wild stories about Paul Bunyan. I am sure your kids would find them very fun. While there you should go to Big River Scoop across the street (where my boys work) and have some delicious ice cream. In Bemidji there is also an art walk that you can go on. We have interesting statues (that change out regularly) all over town and you can get a pamphlet that will guide you to them all. You can see them, touch them and take pictures with them. We do also have a train depot turned into history museum, a science center that is fun for kids and a Art Museum (that is free to go to).

Down in the twin Cities there are tons of things to do and see. The Mall of America is a popular attraction. The MN History Museum is tons of fun for kids and adults and the MN Science museum is super cool too. You can also visit the Mississippi down there and there are neat parks and trails to hike on.

In Grand Rapids (just East of us) there is a living history Logging Camp. That is really neat. It is called the Forest History Center.

Duluth which is another hour and a half East of Grand Rapids is a super fun place to explore. There is Lake Superior of course. There is a tall rotating restaurant that overlooks the lake and the town. There is a super cool train museum and an old fashioned train that you can ride up along the north shore a ways. There is a big old boat turned into a museum. This coming summer (in August I believe) there is going to be a big event where tall ships (old fashioned ships with sails) come to Duluth. That would be cool to see.
North of Duluth is gorgeous with waterfalls, neat rivers going into the lake, a beautiful lighthouse and just a lot of cool scenery and fun little touristy towns.

Let me know if you would like more details on something!


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