Sunday, March 26, 2017

Benefits of staying at a Disney resort . . . or not

Here and there, I've mentioned Disney planning tips but I've been thinking of pulling together a comprehensive post listing out the steps I take when planning a vacation.  One of those steps is deciding where to stay and weighing the benefits of staying at a Disney resort or offsite.  Because that discussion can be lengthy in and of itself, I'm creating a separate entry here to provide you with thinking points in determining whether or not it's worth it to stay at a Disney resort.

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Benefits of staying at a Disney resort
It's in Disney's best interest for its park guests to also be its resort guests.  Why?  Revenue.  And not just revenue earned from hotel charges.  Guests who stay at a Disney resort are more likely to eat at Disney restaurants, shop at Disney stores and spend more time in the parks, which will result in an increase to my first two points.  When you choose to stay at a Disney resort, you almost feel like you're in a bubble and there's really no need to leave that bubble.  Disney doesn't want to make it easy for you to visit SeaWorld or Universal because then you'll be spending your money there instead of at Disney.

Staying at a Disney resort can be expensive so if one were to simply weigh the cost alone, choosing to stay offsite would most likely be more cost effective.  Because of this, Disney has incentives to make staying at a Disney resort more appealing than staying offsite.

Free transportation to and from the airport
Last year was the first time we used Disney's Magical Express and admittedly, I was skeptical.  I have to tell you, I was quite pleased with our experience.  The cast members were extremely efficient and friendly.  Magical Express will even take care of retrieving your luggage for you so there's no need to waste time waiting by the luggage carousel.  You just head right over to the busses and Disney will take care of the rest.  (Note that it may take up to 3 hours for your luggage to be delivered to your room so pack bathing suits, or other items you may need when you arrive in a carry-on bag.)

Using Magical Express saves you from renting a car or paying for taxi service.

Free transportation to and from Disney parks
Once you're at your Disney resort, you can either take a Disney bus, ride the monorail or simply walk to a Disney park.  It's all free.  If you do have your own car and you decide to drive to a Disney park, the standard parking fee of $20 is waived.

Jump start on Advance Dining Reservations
Anyone can make an Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) for a Disney restaurant 180 days in advance. But when you are staying onsite at Disney, at that 180 day mark, you can make ADRs for the first 10 days of your vacation.  So if your vacation begins on a Monday, 180 days from that Monday, you can log on and make ADRs for your entire vacation (up to 10 days.)  This gives you a huge advantage and the ability to snag popular ADRs.

Earlier booking window for FastPass+
When you're a guest at a Disney resort, you are able to make your FastPass+ reservations 60 days prior to the start of your vacation.  Not staying at a Disney resort?  You need to wait an additional 30 days.  FastPasses, in my opinion, are such a huge timesaver and should be carefully thought out and used to your advantage.  Time is money!

Extra Magic Hours
These are designated hours prior to the park opening to the public or after the park closes to the public where only guests of Disney resorts are allowed access to the park.  The hours and which park vary so you'll need to take that into account when you're planning but this can give you an advantage of touring with fewer guests.  Tomorrow, Monday, Animal Kingdom will open at 8:00 AM to Disney resort guests.  The park opens to the public at 9:00.

What are the benefits of staying offsite?
Lower costs.  This is the main reason given as a reason to stay offsite.  Many guests to Disney parks stay offsite because it saves them money.  There's no shortage of hotels and homes for rent in the Orlando area.  I have friends and family who have rented homes and quite enjoyed the benefits of having their own place.  With a full kitchen, you can save money by cooking meals and/or having the ability to prepare food to bring the parks.  Some simply prefer to have their own pool, and peace and quiet after spending the day at Disney.  Nothing wrong with that.    

What should you do?
Maybe you have hotel points to use or you plan to spend half of your vacation at Universal.  There are so many variables at play.  Whatever your plans may be, only you can make the decision of where to stay for your family.  My goal in presenting this information is to provide some thinking points.  Now, we've always stayed onsite at Disney.  Our main reason for doing so is to reduce the amount of time spent traveling to and from the parks and our resort.  For us, it's worked out and we've been happy with our decision.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What a week

So, Allie has pneumonia.

Tuesday felt like it should have been Thursday.  This has been the longest week.

On Monday, we were able to refill Allie's prescription for an inhaler.  She used it Monday afternoon and there was no improvement in her coughing.  I helped her use it again at bedtime with the same results.  While Sunday had been a day of recovery, she seemed to be sliding downhill Monday evening so I brought her to the pediatrician first thing Tuesday morning.  I was shocked when her temperature came in 100.9.  She'd had a fever on Friday and Saturday but I'd stopped checking it Sunday night because she had been getting better and hadn't had a fever since early Saturday afternoon.  She was diagnosed with lower left lobe pneumonia.  It was caught on the early side and she's been on antibiotics, which have aided in her recovery.  I need to bring her back in two weeks for a lung check.

I fully expected the doctor to tell me Allie had a sinus infection, so I'd intended to bring her to school late.  Yeah, that didn't happen.  When we went to pick Anna and Emily up at school, they were surprised that Allie had stayed home and asked what she had.  When I said pneumonia, Anna gasped a little and asked, "Is she going to die?"  No, no, no.  She's going to be fine.

Have I mentioned how we're going to DC for a few days at the end of April?  We have family and friends down there so it will be a combo trip of visiting and sightseeing.  We've been trying to fit in a DC trip for a few years now but the timing never worked with my work schedule.  The girls are at a great age for DC too.  The last time we were there, we visited the zoo and that was about it.  They were just too young to "get it."  So I've been doing some planning, with the girls' input, of course.

On Saturday, as I was caring for a sick Allie, Rich says, "Maybe we should go to Florida instead of DC.  I saw a commercial for Key West the other day and it looked nice and warm."  Five minutes later, I see the same commercial.  What are you trying to do to me?  You better believe that I scoped out this imaginary vacation to the Florida Keys.  We actually would have been able to get a hotel room with points but the airfare was ridiculous.  So DC it is!

I want to thank you all for the kind comments.  It helps me to see things from a different perspective.

TGI (almost) F

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Playing the comparison game

It started over the weekend.  Rich was looking for a movie to watch Saturday night on the Fire Stick.  My attention was half focused on my laptop and the 80 something photos of fourth graders that needed to be edited.  He gave up and chose something with Gwyneth Paltrow based on the ratings.  "Ugh.  Not a fan," I commented.  The movie was blah so we quickly changed it to What's Eating Gilbert Grape because Johnny Depp.  AND it's a really good movie.

The next day, as I'm hurriedly unloading my groceries at the checkout counter, I spot Gwyneth on the cover of Women's Health magazine.  Have you seen it?  She's wearing a red bikini and written next to her abs is the statement "Get. Her. Abs.  Just 3 moves."  Does anyone, especially in this day and age, actually believe that three abdominal exercises completed three times a week will actually give them abs that look like Gwyneth's?  A celebrity.  Who I bet has a personal trainer.  Who I bet has a maid.  Does anyone actually believe that Gwyneth is scrubbing her own toilets and bathtubs?  

I scoffed as I threw my Cadbury Creme Eggs and chocolate fudge Pop-Tarts onto the conveyer belt.

Dear Women's Health - I gave birth to triplets at 35 weeks and 6 days.  Before I started shrinking, I stood at just under 5'4" tall.  I have a petite frame so carrying three babies for that length of time stretched my skin and muscles beyond my body's natural ability to "bounce back."  I could do these 3 moves till the cows come home and I will never look like Gwyneth.  Thank you and have a great day.

I don't know.  Maybe this just set me up for a bad week or something.

Here's the thing - we spend so much of our lives in competition with others.  Whether measurable or not, it's there.  In high school and college, there's your class rank based upon your grades.  Do high school seniors still vote for "most likely to succeed" and "best looking"?  When I was working, we ranked the staff based upon their work abilities and performances.  I'm sure I was ranked as well.

As required by the state of Massachusetts, the girls participated in statewide testing for the first time at the end of third grade.  Several months later, the results were mailed to parents.  There was a graph that marked the grade the state considered passing, the average grade of the entire third grade of our school district and your child's score.  How do you compare to everyone else?  It's all laid out right there in front of you.  

When it comes to photography, I've always been the first one to tell you not to compare yourself to others.  Find your own style.  Don't follow trends.  Stop caring what others are doing!  But I found myself doing just that this week.  Maybe it's a combination of the time of year and everything going on right now - sick kid, tax returns, yearbook photos - but my photography has felt flat.  This isn't the first time I've felt this way but now that I'm not working outside the home, I sort of feel like my presence online is work.  I was scrolling through IG on Monday morning and I suddenly felt so insecure.  I'm too old.  My kids are too old.  While technically correct, my photos of my kids have never been and will never be called magical or whimsical.  I'll never be named one of the "fill in blank" photographers of the day, month, year.  Really, there was just a lot of self-induced negativity going on.  I try not to take things to heart but man, there are some cliques on social media.  Don't get me wrong, I've meet some super nice people - including some who live locally.  On the other hand though, I tried to connect with some others who live here and I was basically invisible.  Okay.

I apologize for my negativity.  I know some don't like reading it as it pulls them down.  I try to stay positive but I've always said I would stay true to myself and this has been a low week.  I can't imagine I'm the only one who has days like these which is why I'm sharing.  Okay, I'm going to end this so I can work on a tax return.  I don't have a desk so it's all spread out across the kitchen counter and I'd really like to clean that all up.  Thanks for listening.  And tomorrow is a new day!  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Snowed In

For us New Englanders, March is not the beginning of spring but merely the continuation of winter.  There's a downside to those unseasonably warm days we had back in February.  It was so nice to be able to feel that warmth but it made it that much more difficult to return to freezing cold temperatures.  Last week, we had a little storm blow through and then earlier this week, a much bigger storm hit but due to a shift in the rain/snow line, the precipitation in our area turned to freezing rain and washed away half of the snow.  We're supposed to see more snow this weekend but apparently how much is still up in the area.

So, yes, I agree.  Winter storms, newly fallen snow - it's all beautiful while it lasts. (But we can't wait for beach weather!)

I began writing this on Thursday.  That night, Allie became ill.  Flu-like symptoms.  Fever.  She's better now.  Still not 100%.  Coughing tonight and her inhaler has expired. There's nothing in it anyway.  We'll have to request a new one tomorrow.  I was awake half the night Thursday and I still feel exhausted.  Slightly fog-brained.  A lot on my plate which seems absurd for me to say because I'm not working.  I hung out with Allie on Friday watching cooking shows and HGTV (per her request), too tired to do much else.  Eh, laundry and tax returns can wait.

This school year has been fairly healthy for the girls.  There were a few very minor colds until January, when one by one the stomach virus hit.  It was spreading like wildfire in the schools and mine didn't get it at the same time or close to each other, which leads me to believe they picked it up at school.  I was bleaching every possible contaminated surface at home.  A few weeks ago, Emily had a cold - not very bad.  And then Anna and Allie.  Allie had just gotten over hers when this virus hit.

I'm definitely feeling that winter grumpiness right now.  I think we all are.  When life becomes too routine, I start to feel caged in a bit as well.  Time to change things up.  

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tax, as it relates to the blogging world

Almost five years ago, I wrote this post regarding blogging and taxes.  I received the equivalent of hate mail for publishing those thoughts.  Or truths, really.  I obviously hit a nerve with some people.  At that time, monetization of blogs was really picking up speed and I was watching bloggers "sponsor" other bloggers or showcase "c/o" clothing.  It's kind of crazy to think how earning money from a blog has changed over these past five years.

I've come to realize that after 20+ years of tax work, most tax related topics are of interest to me so when I came across an online discussion of a large blogger and the assumed tax treatment of that blogger's expenses, I couldn't help but read.  A common statement is that these popular bloggers, who are most obviously generating a considerable amount of revenue, are writing off everything.  "Writing off everything" apparently means they are deducting their expenses directly against gross income.  However, some of their blogging expenses would be considered personal (nondeductible) expenses for a non-blogger.

I think we can all agree that with blogging, and social media in general, there's a very fine line between what's real and what's fake (or curated.)  A blogger goes on a lunch date with her husband, takes photos of her outfit and food, and generates a blog post about this lunch date.  Said blogger makes money off of links to the outfit she wore in the post.  Blogger claims that the date was set up specifically for purposes of generating blog content.  This is her image.  She dresses in these outfits for lunch dates with her lovely husband.  Don't you wish you had this outfit?  Don't you wish you had a husband like mine to sneak away with during the week for a lunch date?  Don't you wish you could eat this meal of carbs?  Is the blogger therefore allowed to deduct the costs of the meal (subject to the 50% allowance) and the outfit as business expenses?  What percentage of these expenses are personal?

Blogging as a business is still so new that tax standards have not yet been established.  Plus, unless you are taking outrageous positions on your tax return, you'll most likely slide right past scrutiny with the IRS.  There have been severe budget cuts within the IRS which means that audits have significantly decreased.  The odds of being randomly selected for an audit are extremely tiny.  I hate to say all of this because it gives off the impression that you can take pushy deductions on your return, keep your fingers crossed and simply get away with it.  Tax is not a black and white world.  There are so many gray areas that you sometimes have to take a position because there simply isn't a straightforward answer.

If you're interested, here's an article published by Forbes last year regarding bloggers and the US Tax Court.  As outlined in the article, a blogger (vlogger, actually) took a position on his return and the IRS and the Tax Court both disagreed with him.  Yes, I'm a tax nerd who searches the internet for articles related to bloggers and the Tax Court.  As you can see from the article, there have only been a handful of Tax Court cases involving bloggers.  This is a new chapter in the tax world.