Thursday, February 11, 2016

How our family of 5 cruised to the Bahamas for around $3000

Wow, I had NO CLUE that so many people would want to hear about this! When I recently posted on a couponing facebook group I follow that we were able to take such a wonderful family vacation for so little, I couldn't believe how many people commented that they wanted details on how we made it happen. So here's what I learned, hopefully someone out there is able to use the info to plan their family's next dream vacation too!

First of all, one of the biggest things I can recommend is PLAN AHEAD, like way, way, way ahead! We started planning about a year and a half out, officially booked and started paying on our trip about a year out. The farther in advance you plan, the more time you have to search for great deals and save!

There are several huge benefits to cruising, in my opinion. Especially with a family. Here are a few of the reasons our family will continue to cruise for future vacations:
1. Everything (necessary) is included in your cost. Yes, your included drinks are limited (coffee, tea, lemonade, juices, and milks are free) and you have to pay extra for offshore excursions but TECHNICALLY speaking, if you are on a very tight budget, once you get on board, it is possible to not spend a single cent and still have a GREAT vacation!
2. It's a great option for a family! With all the kids activities available on board, Chris and I could have felt like it was a couples vacation if we had wanted (we didn't want to, we spent lots of time as a family doing so many great activities). You're kids will never say "I'm bored" on a cruise. And back to that "all included" point, you aren't stuck spending $20-$200 on every little outing your kids want to take while you are on vacation. From water slides to shows to mini golf, there is plenty to do! I have yet to find another vacation our family could take for 5 days that would include our place to stay, all our meals, and all our entertainment for a price even CLOSE to that of a cruise.
3. You get to see more than one place. Unlike a trip to just one all inclusive resort or hotel, you are traveling while you are vacationing. We did some excursions that helped teach our kids local history and culture while we were at our ports, and we got to see so many things we never had before.
4. You can't fly to many of these islands for what it costs to cruise there. When you consider that a cruise can cost a little as $200-$300  for up to 5 days, you'll quickly discover it's hard to fly to the Bahamas for that cost, and then you still have to come up with the hotel, meals, activities. When you are on a budget, I just don't see how you can beat taking a cruise!

Do I have you convinced to book your next cruise yet? Yes? Okay, well here's what we did to get the BEST deal for our family.

1. We cruised Carnival. I have heard AMAZING things about many different lines, and I'm sure they are all great. We cruised Carnival because; 1. we were on a tight budget and they were cheapest and 2. I had cruised them before and had a fantastic time. If you have the extra money, then of course, go Disney or Royal Caribbean or whatever floats your boat. If you need a lot for a little, with Carnival you won't be disappointed.
2. We booked 2 rooms. We could have possibly saved a few hundred dollars all cramming into one ocean view room but, lets be honest, some things just aren't worth the sacrifice. We chose to book two adjoining rooms and kept the door in between open the entire trip. Additionally, we parked our youngest child's pack and play in front of the kid's room door, so there was no way for anyone to go in or out. This route saved us quite a bit over booking a suite but still gave us two bathrooms, and a little more privacy. It also gave us a way to have our younger two nap without ALL of us having to nap (although...I did nap ;) ). I've discovered it's hard to get the two adjoining rooms online, my one complaint about Carnival is their website, but once you know what you want by searching online you can call and their excellent customer service will help you get set up with adjoining rooms.
3. Be flexible with your where and when you want to go. Our anniversary and my 30th birthday fall in the middle of hurricane season (which we didn't realize until after we booked at an amazing price...oops!). What I learned is that as long as you aren't stuck on where you end up, cruising in the fall is great! If a hurricane is a possibility, the cruise ships will reroute to different stops to keep you out of harms way. For example, we were scheduled to stop in Freeport and Nassau, Bahamas. We didn't run into any trouble but if there was a chance of bad weather, they may have taken us to Key West or Cayman Islands, or any of the other Carnival ports that were within sailing distance of Jacksonville, FL (where we cruised out of). Winter and Spring also tend to have really good rates. Also, since we didn't care where we went, we just wanted to go somewhere we had never been before, we were able to search and compare where the cheapest cruises were out of, and then search and compare where the cheapest flights were to, and combine that info to get the best overall rate.
4. Make payments. Carnival often runs "Half Price Deposits," which is what we used when we booked. We "reserved" our rooms for $50 per person, and then paid a little bit every paycheck. As a bonus, we would make payments with Carnival gift cards, which we would buy at Dillons during 4x Fuel Points weekends to rack up free gas! Even during regular weeks we earned 2x Fuel Points on the gift cards so we made sure to ALWAYS make our payments this way. Little $50 and $100 payments every two weeks added up quickly to help us finish paying off our cruise without ever having to use a credit card and rack up more debt.
5. Airfare will cost almost as much as your cruise. Be prepared for this. We have already decided the next time we cruise we are going to plan for a bigger trip but drive to port instead of fly. When it comes to buying 5 airplane tickets and then having to stress about weather and cancelled or delayed flights, sometimes it just might be the easier route. However, with this trip we did fly. We flew Delta, watched for deals for several months leading up, and booked all our tickets when we got our tax return so that, again, nothing had to go on the credit card. My biggest suggestion if you do choose to fly is to fly out at least a day early. If your flight gets cancelled or so delayed you'll miss the boat, you can hop in a car and book it so you don't miss your ship! If you miss your ship all that work and planning and saving will before nothing. That being said, our flight got cancelled and Delta took excellent care of us! It wasn't an ideal situation but we made it in the nick of time (thanks to having that extra day built in) and that's all that matters.

If you've read all that and want to see how our trip broke down to about $3000, here are the details:
Carnival Cruise: We paid right around $260 per person for our 5 day cruise out of Jacksonville to the Bahamas in October 2015. This was for 2 ocean view rooms. I just did a quick search and there some very similar prices available if this was a route you would want to go. Again, you'll have to be flexible with your dates. Our total cruise cost, including taxes and fees (but not including gratuities, which we did prepay a few weeks ahead of the trip) was around $1,680. Again, this includes all the meals and plenty of on board activities. We did spend some extra on excursions and a fun "Cat in the Hat" breakfast, but that was optional.
Flights: We were able to book with Delta for $313 per person including taxes. We only had to buy four tickets since our youngest was still under 2 so our total for that came to $1,252.
Overnight hotel in Jacksonville: This was originally in our budget so I'm including it here, but Delta actually covered our hotel in Atlanta as part of the whole cancelled flight fiasco. We booked at an airport hotel with an airport shuttle for about $130 per night. I can't comment on the hotel because we never actually stayed there but it looked very nice.
Taxi to the ship: Here's a big piece of advice- if more than two are travelling in your party, DO NOT BOOK AIRPORT TRANSFERS THROUGH CARNIVAL! They charge something like $20- $40 per person EACH WAY! We booked through a local company for less than half the cost of the Carnival transfers and had someone waiting for us the minute we stepped of the plane and again as soon as we stepped off the boat. (I think we paid $45 total each way for our transfers).

I hope that gets you all started on booking your next big trip. If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

when forgiveness is hard

Those words, they didn't just sting. They cut to my heart and made me question every piece of myself. They were the same words Satan whispers to me over and over again, every. Single. Day. "You just aren't good enough." I may have fought for  years trying not to believe those words, but coming from you, someone I thought I could trust, coming fresh and new and for the world to see, suddenly their truth swept me up again into a whirlpool of self doubt and depression. 
Wise words reminded me to forgive. Of course, forgive. It's so simple, right? Just utter the three words "I forgive you" and we all smile and pretend the pieces are right where they should be.
But for me, hurting, angry, forgiveness doesn't come easy. Shouting the verses at me doesn't make it easier. I know God asks if of me, so I'll say those three words. I'll say them a hundred times and then a hundred times more. But that hurt. Its still there.
How does that really happen? How does God do it for us DAILY? And why can't I seem to? What does it even mean when you say you forgive but the hurt and bitterness sweeps over again every time we meet? 
And then, tonight, months later, He shows me.
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:1-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬ love...keep the unity.
When, where did I get this idea in my head that forgiveness is for me, or the other person?  If it's possible, I was trying, unsuccessfully, to forgive for all the wrong reasons. Saying three words, no matter how much you should, won't change your heart. 
But I love the Church, the bride of Christ. I would do anything...even...forgive. Because that unity, hear me Church, we will get NOWHERE without it. But if forgiveness really is the key to changing the world, then it MUST start HERE. The world will laugh harder in our faces and hurt will run deeper in our cities until we can get it together. 
And when finally, my heart softened and the forgiveness was real, I found myself also forgiving myself. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

when my heart is overwhelmed

"From the ends of the earth I call to you,
When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I." - Psalm 61:2

when my heart is overwhelmed with joy
When I look down at my children and my heart swells as they smile up at me; a squeaky "I love you," barely audible or understandable except by the one who knows that voice better than my own; when a squeal of joy and arms splayed open greet me, squeezing my legs tight at my arrival from work, as if the entire day has led up to this moment of homecoming; when sleepy eyes finally succumb to the sleep they've been fighting and sighs breathe heavy and this baby that once slept in my arms every night once again falls asleep, if just for a few short hours, near my chest; when laughter abounds and I momentarily escape the reality that these years are going to pass all to quickly and in the blink of an eye these babes will spread their wings and fly; when I consider the beautiful gift that these children you have entrusted to me are, and I'm overwhelmed by your graciousness, lead me to the rock where I'm reminded that I must also entrust them to you, for my joy is made most full in light of the giver of joy.

"Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead."- 1 Peter 1:6

when my heart is overwhelmed with sorrow
When I consider the plans failed and the dreams that remain unreachable; when regret shouts at me that my failures will define my future; when tears stream down the cheeks of dear ones over hurts and brokenness, and my words fail me but my heart shares the pain; when I mourn the relationships of close friends who live faraway and those who have grown distant although they remain nearby and the dark of loneliness begins to suffocate; when I am overwhelmed by the many heartaches of this word, lead me to the rock that promises redemption of every situation.

"I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born, says the LORD." -Isaiah 66:9

when my heart is overwhelmed with anxiety
When uncertainty about the future of my children steals my time and my focus is fixated on the questions looming ahead rather than the guaranteed present; when I shut myself down and stumble backward because these prison walls I create seem more comforting than the fear of rejection; when I close my fists and cling tightly to all I have, as if I can provide myself with a sense of security, because my faith in your provision has once again been given a backseat and my need for control has taken over the steering wheel; when I am overwhelmed by the exhaustion of needing to know what happens next, lead me to the rock that promises a perfectly mapped plan for my future.

"...It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will never leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed."- Deuteronomy 31:8
Oh Father, I tend to find my heart in a constantly overwhelmed state, not often enough with joy and too often with sorrow and anxiety. Plant my feet on the steady rock of your unwavering promises, and when I start to be swayed by the winds, clasp my hand in your nail scarred hands and remind me that even in this moment, you will hold me steady until the storm passes.
"From the ends of the earth I call to you,
When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I." - Psalm 61:2

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Post for the Moms Who Made It Through

There are tons of great "Mommy Bloggers" out there. Seems like everytime I turn around a friend has posted a link to a wonderful blog with a letter from a fellow mom of toddlers. It usually fits into one of three categories: "Post for the Mom Who is Worn Out Like Me", "Tearjerker Letter For Moms About Loving Your Children", or "Moms Unite! The Outside World Just Doesn't Understand What We {moms} Are Going Through." They are all so well written, and provide a bit a salve for our poured out, dried out hearts that yearn for someone to understand us. We take comfort in realizing we aren't the only one who longs for the days when we haven't cleaned up three spills by 9:00 am and are still in sweatpants when we run to buy dinner groceries at 4:30 pm. And then a few minutes {or on a bad day, hours} later we log off our smartphones and rejoin reality. We get called to the kitchen to clean up that fouth spill and try to remember the article that told us these fleeting moments pass all too quickly. This post isn't for you moms.
This post is for those moms who aren't in this life stage anymore, this "tunnel of toddlerhood," or even childhood, or maybe the teenage years. This post is for the ones who've come out on the other side and can say, with absolute confidence, "You've. Got. This."
My generation, my fellow mothers, we are ACHING for women to come alongside us and cheer us on. To mentor us when our harsh words spill over onto our children in our frustration, to rejoice with us when our pride swells for our reading preschooler, to listen to us and cry with us when tears won't stop becuase we just can't seem to feel like we measure up.
Remind me of the working woman in Proverbs when my guilt for picking up an extra shift at work chokes me and tells me I'm failing my children by not being able to stay home. Text us scriptures and pray for us throughout the day because surely you remember how, despite our best efforts to make time for the Lord each morning, undoubtedly one kid woke up early and needed a glass of milk and then the other threw a fit about running out of Cocoa Puffs and before you know it we are running 5 minutes late for work and haven't had time to find where the baby hid our Bible, let alone read it.
Volunteer to love on my kids in the nursery because my weary soul really needs a moment of quiet to just heal. Please invite us over for a meal because I really need a break from all these dishes {and be gracious when my 6 year old refuses to eat the lovely vegetables you put on his plate and my toddler spills his water all over your table}. Understand when I turn down invites to fun ladies nights, it's not becuase I don't want desperatly to be a part, but becuase I can't stand to give up one more night with my family when I already feel like I miss out on so much. Can we do dessert after I put them to bed, instead?
And, more than anything, tell us we are loved, we are enough. And when we say "Thanks" and smile with that smile that doesn't quite reach our eyes becuase we know you are saying that to be nice, say it again, and again, and again, and squeeze us tight so that the love can't help but pour into our bones and refill all those empty places where we've given everything we had left to give.That love that you pour out into us, we need more of that transformational love in our lives.
We need women like you to help mommies like us make it through. Because we are tired, we are beat down, and we are ready to give up. No one else knows this struggle--except YOU.
"By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have LOVE for one another." John 13:35

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

{1,000 Gifts}

I took a look around.
I found myself full of disappointment, discontentment, regret.
I longed for a change. I needed a change. I was ready to change.
I remembered a book a friend had been reading several months back, so I logged onto my Amazon account and two days later I sat down and started the book that began a much needed new journey of graditude and hope.

"Thanks is what multiples the joy and makes any life large, and I hunger for it.. To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and value God gave it." Ann Voskamp

Each day I add to my list of gifts that I find. Each day my perspective for seeing the gifts becomes a little broader, a little clearer. Each day I realize that I am so blessed RIGHT. WHERE. I. AM. In the midst of chores and schedules and dirty diapers, I find myself right were I am meant to be at this very moment in history. This journey isn't always the route I would have chosen, but God WILL use it. He will use every pit stop and road block and detour to shower His blessings on me, if I will only choose to see them.

Todays gifts:
1. Warm, cozy blankets for sleeping with the windows open on cool fall nights
2. All the littles sleeping in sweetly past 7 am
3. A few moments just be and my oldest before heading off to work
4. A midday text from my BFF
5. Candy and gifts from my boss for RT week (happy RT week!)
6. A good laugh shared with a coworker

How about you? Can you name 5 blessings RIGHT NOW?

{{Chris and I are starting a small group on Sunday nights and if you are in the Great Bend area we would love to have you join us! We are going to be doing the 1000 Gifts small group series starting Nov 2nd. }}

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

what i didn't know then

7 years ago, when Chris and I stood on the City Stage of Kansas City's Union Station, there was a lot I thought I knew about marriage.

7 years ago I knew that I was marrying my best friend. I didn't know that my best friend would become so dear to me that his mere presence is the only thing that will often calm my worried heart.
I didn't know that I would look in his eyes at times when I feel tired, defeated, overweight, ugly, and see that to him I am still the only woman in the world.
I didn't know how hard we would learn to laugh at the silliest things, often requiring no words of explanation.
I didn't know how strong his hand would feel holding mine, when I was in labor with our oldest child. I didn't know how deeply that gift of parenthood would strengthen our bond and make my love for him grow ten-fold.
7 years ago, I didn't know what struggles we had yet to face, that he would lift my chin when I cried tears over the loss of pregnancies, grandparents, and failed dreams.
 I didn't know he would find ways to make me smile in my very darkest moments, when my heart felt dead and my faith had given up.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and looking back on my life there are many, many things I would change. There is so much I could do better. There are two words I will never, ever take back. That "I do" that I said 7 years ago, I would say again. I would say it over and over, shouting it from the highest of heights, "I DO, I DO, I DO!"

Christopher William Jeska, you are still the love of my life. With you as my husband, we have overcome many obstacles, and I'm sure we will face many more. But there is no one in this world I would rather do life with.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Let's Begin Again

It's a fine line in the social media world we live in today. Caught between the lines of a fake, picture perfect internet presence and constantly downtrodden, whiny, attention seeking poster. I know there are many that fall gracefully in between the two, but I constantly fear swinging too far to one side or the other.
Lately I've been feeling compelled to blog again. Several times over the past few weeks I've visited my blog and even clicked the "new post" link but haven't been sure where to go from there. I kept feeling like God was telling me to get back on here, keep sharing my story. Be present, be real. I feel like I don't have anything worthwhile to say these days. The few things I do have to say are said so much better by so many other eloquent bloggers. And yet, I felt called to log in again. To be a mom in the midst of all the struggles that go along with being a mom. Maybe it's for my own growth, my own healing. I'd be okay with that.
Whatever the reason, I'm back for now, ready to share my story. I just need to decide where to start...