Back from first Disneyland trip

for the kids. This is my second trip, and the first for my wife and two kids (5 and 1 year old). And we went there during its busiest time (Dec 23/24).

Some random thoughts:
1) I started to appreciate the quality, brand and customer service of Disneyland (and California Adventure) show, ride and parade. Note this is my second trip to Disneyland, the previous visit was 15 years ago, and it was a group bus tour so we had to leave at around 5 or 6pm (no time for the evening show or parade).

A small example is they have this job title of “stroller keeper”, basically there are usually a lot of strollers outside some popular rides, people come and go. The stroller keepers make sure the strollers are lined up, and the area is clean. Cannot think of any other places that have people specialized in strollers. Btw, for those who wish to rent a stroller, it’s at the park entrance (near Disneyland side), and one can pay either at the ticket counter or at the spot.

2) Scale of Southern California city: I read the hotel we stayed Hilton Anaheim is the largest hotel in southern california. And today I read from Wikipedia Anaheim has population of over 300,000, which will 6 times of Chesterfield (one of the largest suburban city in St. Louis area) if we compare two places. Not to mention Disneyland put Anaheim on the map (for that matter, maybe Los Angeles as well).

Some tips:
1) There are very little discount for 2 day tickets. I bought it form aRes, it gives about 1% off :-) The discount becomes more meaningful for 3 days or more tickets.

2) Stay and shuttle bus to Disneyland: some hotels offer free shuttle bus, not all. The hotel we stayed (Hilton Anaheim) does not offer hotel shuttle, but there is another bus (ART, stands for Anaheim Resorts Transit) which is fairly cheap ($5 for adult one day). Note many hotels are in walk distance (e.g., Hilton is about 25 mins’ walk). I did make a mistake by taking other hotel’s shuttle one night, and the driver graciously dropped us off near our hotel.

Breakfast: looking back I think I should probably book a place that offers free continental breakfast, e.g., SpringHills Suites). Hilton Anaheim does not have free breakfast for everyone, it appears they have it for HHonors Dimond and Gold members, I am just silver level. Note breakfast becomes important because it’s more expensive in the park, and for a lot of people, they don’t have a lot time eating well inside the park.

3) Food and meal: the food and drink inside in the park could be a bit expensive. There are workarounds, e.g., some people bring in some water or snacks. I think their official policy is no outside food or drink. But as long as people are reasonable, the staffs are the checkin desks are reasonable too.

4) Rides suitable for the young kids: there are many rides that are suitable for young kids. We did not do the famous rides such as California Screamin’, Soarin’ over California, “Splash Mountain”, “Indiana Jones”, “Star War Tours”, “HyperSpace Mountain”.

(Update 01-01-2016) Came across this article about Disneyland on Yahoo travel. Talking about the stress brought to parents in Disneyland, I recall one evening at California Adventure, I was so tired and by accident my stroller bumped into another stroller (and a lady was feeding a baby), and she was very upset. Not to mention, with all the travel, junk food, we all got sick after coming back from the trip. I think parents (grown-ups) really need to take a deep breath, and put things in perspective, not trying to complete all the rides, just try to relax and have a good time. In one sense, this is a bit like buffet, one really does not need to get stuffed (to get money worth), and then feel really comfortable. But human psychology usually does not work this way.

Christmas thoughts: gift giving

It’s that time of the year again: a lot of shopping or sales, more online than offline, givings in kids school and at work place, bells outside local Schnucks, gift cards, Christmas trees and decrorations, happy holidays or merry Christmas, red cups or white cups. I know I know I won’t go there. 

Gift giving is always fun, as I get older (hopefully wiser too :-) I appreciate more giving than receiving. Actually I barely receive anything :-) That is fine. I have pretty much what I need. I have a Toyota Camry, that’s sufficient. Although I want a BMW. See I am applying my daughter’s school lesson here :-) 

One interesting thing I noticed the other day is at my daughter’s school, they are doing a socks drive for the homeless. And they put an art work saying “donate socks for the poor”. I know I know that’s a poor choice of word, the right word should be “less fortunate”. But I will let go this one, kids have good intentions and they are still learning :-)

Another interesting thing is sometimes people strongly hinted for gifts. That’s ok as long as someone does a good job, or I feel not forced to give. I remember one time (not holiday season) a teenager asked for money outside Schnucks, I have one dollar, and she asked for more :-( 

I realized tip or gift is a meaningful amount of people’s income in Christmas season more than 10 years ago. A coworker told me how much he gave tips to bartender he usually goes to. A former gymnastics teacher told me about all the gift cards he received and the feeling of being appreciated. That’s the good dynamics I like to see when giving gifts. 

Gift cards seems getting popular these days. It does give more flexibility for recipient to avoid gift receipt, hassle of return to store etc. My problem with the gift card is it’s hard to track them, or locate them. Like today, I was going to use my target e-gift card. It took me 10, 15 mins to locate the URL on iPhone. It’s under the menu button of the mobile website. I also have a google docs to put in my unused gift cards. $10 dominos, $15 buffalo chicken wing. A lot of effort. I also flag the email message that contains the card. I wish eventual I can have it in one place. Maybe it’s an iPhone or Apple Watch app idea? Let’s see :-)

Merry Christmas (or happy holidays) everyone! 

Booked air ticket to China using United miles and Chase UR points: some tips

I used the UA miles for my own ticket, it’s not UA saver economy all the way, but I felt it’s ok. The full ticket price was about $1100, and I spent 115000 miles (80k + 35k). Since I was short for about 1200 miles, initially I was worried shell out $75 for those miles, but my Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points came to rescue, I did 2000 miles transfer, and it completed the transfer instantly.

Some tips looking for mileage ticket
Initially I thought all the tickets were out as I searched a few months ago, and could not find any for the date I wanted. This time when I search, it showed me the ticket was available for Tuesday instead of Saturday. Since I also need to buy tickets for my wife/kid, I checked the ticket price on Expedia too (United website was not always working). And I found a ticket/schedule could work in both cases. The only downside is the start time was a bit early (5am), but it’s still manageable. So I did all 3 purchase in a hurry, and by doing that I left out the “lap child” my younger daughter.

Buy award ticket for the right person
Today when I tried to add her, since I only have an award ticket, I could not. And probably due to I bought my wife’s ticket via Expedia, it took almost 2 hours to add my younger daughter. So lesson learned here, next time I should use award ticket for my older daughter. Another reason is the miles accumulated will be more meaningful for me instead of her (I could accumulate miles by flying the China round trip). But anyway, I am going to get Frequent Flyer number for my older daughter, since she is starting travel with us. Actually next week we are travelling to Disneyland, so she will earn some miles in Southwest.

Chase Sapphire with Ultimate Rewards
BTW, if you are interested in getting Chase UR points, it has 50,000 points promotion as of now. I’d appreciate if you could use my referral. More details below.

INVITE FRIENDS TO EXPERIENCE CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED® …
RECEIVE 5,000 BONUS POINTS

FOR EACH FRIEND
who gets and uses the card, up to 50,000 bonus points
Let your friends experience the exceptional rewards and service you enjoy by recommending Sapphire Preferred. They’ll get a welcome offer.

Here’s how it works:
1. INVITE YOUR FRIENDS.
You can invite as many friends as you want by February 5, 2016.1
2. SHARE THE REWARDS.
Each friend will receive an offer for 50,000 bonus points after they spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
3. REWARD YOURSELF.
Receive up to 50,000 bonus points. You’ll get 5,000 bonus points for each friend – up to ten friends – who gets and uses their card.

Here is the ultimate plug from me, if you use my referral and I receive 5,000 points, I will split the bonus with you, via a $25 Amazon GC or other GC of your choice (email delivery only). Sent email to minjie.xu@gmail.com to get started.

Continue reading Booked air ticket to China using United miles and Chase UR points: some tips

Timing

Serenity has 2 birthday party invitation today. Because we already agreed going to the first one, we cannot back out although serenity told us she wanted going to the second. She even says she likes gymnastics now. When did that happen? Last I recall I had to drag her to the gymnastics class, not literally, but her fear on the beam was real. 

Things change as time goes though. That fear on gymnastics was 2 years ago. She may have overcome this now. Another example is I saw from kids math test. I volunteered at this program called math facts scholars. One thing I noticed, is 1st grade kid usually does the addition/ subtraction more proficient than kindtergardeners. It’s not across board, as I saw some K kids do very well too. But I can sense as kids progress in school, they just feel more confident on math and numbers. Again timing is important. Sometimes I was thinking is it worth to make K kids struggle while if we wait 6 month or 1 year, she/he will do it with ease? How about learning piano? Or ice skate? Or swim? I am just thinking out loud.