Magic Moments: Travel Planning Fun with Get Away Today!

Magic Moments: Travel Planning Fun with Get Away Today!

I’m extremely excited to announce that I am a partner with Get Away Today travel! When Jeff and I only had 2 girls, we booked vacations through Get Away Today, and as our family grew, family travel took the back burner. It is unfortunate, as traveling is really fun, especially with kids! Thankfully we’ve hit the road quite a few times since, and are looking to expand our travel borders in the near future.

I used to want to be a travel agent, my mom worked for a travel agency when I was younger, and it was always fun to go visit her at her office and see all the images of tropical locations and scenery on the walls. I never really paid attention to what she actually did, it was just fun to visit and dream of being in one of those exotic places as I waited for her to get off work.

Fast forward to today, Jeff and I have five kids of our own and we are learning that “organized travel” is extremely important. When I say “organized” I mean, planned, and plotted, making sure we stretch every dollar and get bang for our bucks. We used to lean towards spontaneous, as in “let’s go next month” type of travel, and that can get expensive and is somewhat stressful. As our income has always fluctuated, it has been challenging to really save for anything, let alone a full blown family trip with bells and whistles! When doing spontaneous travel, a family vacation was never long enough, lasting only 2 -3 days in southern CA with the kids to visit family and sometimes Disneyland (our happy place).

About Get Away Today

Get Away Today takes the guesswork out of booking a full vacation package. They have awesome benefits, like a layaway plan and Peace of Mind travel insurance, which is a plus when you’re really saving towards a family vacation. The downpayment for travel is $125, which includes a nonrefundable $50 layaway fee. The trip needs to be paid in full within two weeks of travel (many other sites require it from 30-45 days prior).

When I became a partner with Get Away Today, I was so excited to finally get back to booking and saving. Our family will get to experience more travel in the near future, especially as I am have embarked on a new journey in my career, so saving is a little easier. Work hard, play hard, right?!

Book with Get Away Today

So what does this mean for you, my readers, family and friends? Well, if you choose to book through Get Away Today Vacations, you will receive a $10 credit towards any 2 night stay (use code “SPARKS” when booking) and I will earn a small commission for referring you. Stay tuned for special offers throughout the year, like Adults pay Kids Price at Disneyland, which is going on until June 26, 2016. I’ll keep you updated and look forward to hearing your travel stories, too!

We just booked our Fall vacation and cannot wait to share our experience with you!

Spread Magic

Back at it Again!

Back at it Again!

Well, it’s the second quarter of 2016, and it has been an eventful year, thus far. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you might have seen what I’ve been up to outside of work and family (surprisingly not too much, especially in the writing area). The past three months have been extremely busy and unfortunately, Sparks of Magic was put on the back burner as I worked, at one point 3 jobs, and maintained my sanity on the home front as mama, wife, and everything in between.

I’m relieved and so excited to say that I am pretty much settled into one full time job and our little business is doing great with my hubby taking the reigns on that!

Here’s a fairly quick recap of our family’s last three months:

December:

Christmas!! We made an epic Christmas card (That I never sent out, aside from social media) dedicated to our family’s favorite franchise: Star Wars. The holiday season was great to us. We were blessed with extra family time and I transitioned out of working multiple jobs. to just one. Yay! And as you can see below, my degree came in the mail! I finished my Bachelors program at the end of November.

January:

I honestly can’t remember January, aside from celebrating my mom’s birthday, working, and staying afloat! This month almost everyone got the flu, it’s kind of all a haze. 🙂

February:

Big changes, the hubby had a job change mid-month, and we began to officially plan our spring break excursion to Southern CA to see family, and our favorite Mouse. 🙂

March:

Spring Break finally rolled around, and the happenings included visits with family and friends in Los Angeles, a whirlwind day at Disneyland Resort, and, unfortunately, the hospital. Thankfully our daughter is doing well, and back at living life 110% full of energy and sass. 🙂 Jeff and the kids that were in good health, spent a night at the beach with the in-laws. We had a blast, but think we need a “do-over” at the Happiest Place on Earth with no wheelchairs or ice packs involved!

So, what’s up for the future?

Sparks of Magic: A lot of fun! In addition to picking up momentum here, I’ll be linking to my writing that can be found on other fabulous sites like Disney Moms of Color, DisneyExaminer, Entertainment New Media Network, and The Blogorail!

I will be attending at least two conferences this year (ConnectHER and ENMN) that I can’t wait to update you on and some ambassadorships/partnerships will be revealed soon! While I will continue to partner with brands that compliment my site and offer value to my readers, my writing will remain transparent and I plan on writing more from my heart. I’m excited for what is in store.

HAN Creative Co: We are thrilled to dive into offering workshops and expand some of our photography and event services. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, you can visit our business site: www.hancreativeco.com. We are currently taking a few design/small business clients over the next month, you can subscribe to our newsletter that will launch this quarter.

The Walls: For our family, we are putting it into the universe to spend more time together and travel as a family more. Whether it is a day trip or weekend getaway, we want to see the world – together. Bits and pieces of our documentation will be found both here on Sparks and on our business site. We are encouraging the kids to write more, and are setting up a place for them to do some of their own blogging and journaling of their lives and experiences on family trips. All in good time. 🙂

I want to thank those of you that have checked in with me to make sure I’m A-OK since my quarter-long blog hiatus. I appreciate all of you and cannot wait to be back in the groove of things again. I hope your 2016 is treating you fabulously!

Spread Magic

 

How to Save Up for the Magic

How to Save Up for the Magic

Let’s face it, planning a trip to Disney can cost a pretty penny. For a family of seven (that’s us), factor in multiple hotel nights, gas, and food, and you’re looking at an amount that would pay your monthly mortgage, or more! Oh, and that’s not including tickets or souvenirs!

Introducing the Disney Vacation Account

For those that want to keep their “eye on the prize” and plan ahead for a magic time at Disney, I’m happy to share that there is a Disney Vacation Account program offered through The Walt Disney Company; it is definitely something that our family is looking to get started before year’s end. It’s an actual savings account and you’re able to create a savings plan, track your totals, and eventually book your trip with those funds.

Image © Disney

Image © Disney

For our family, we tend to take our trips one at a time. We don’t ever plan too far ahead, simply for the fact that money doesn’t grow on trees. Aside from that, it can be hard to save when life throws a curveball and you end up spending that savings on car repairs or dental work. Eek! It can be discouraging, but we keep moving forward.

When I heard about the Disney Vacation Account, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. You see, I am often planning luxurious dream trips, but end up taking quick trips simply because the budget could not afford the luxury. I am so excited to stash away a little bit here and there through this account and thought I’d share this great way to save up for your next magical adventure.

Here’s what I love most about the Disney Vacation Account:

  • It only takes $10 to open the account
  • It’s FREE! And, fee-free, too! You can withdraw at any time
  • Vacation budget estimator tool
  • Payments can be one-time or set up to automatically recur
  • Funds can be used for Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Disneyland Resort in California, Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Hawai’i, Adventures By Disney vacations, and Disney Cruise Line
  • You can track your progress online
  • If you open an account prior to December 31, 2017, you can earn Disney Gift Cards!
  • Funds are insured by the FDIC
Our favorite family ride is Splash Mountain. We want to make memories with each trip. Planning with the Disney Vacation Account will help us get back to the Magic!

Our favorite family ride is Splash Mountain. We want to make memories with each trip. Planning with the Disney Vacation Account will help us get back to the Magic!

When it comes to saving for anything, it will take planning and dedication. Don’t give up hope. Cut back where you can. Can you make your coffee at home instead of purchasing that $5 latte every day? How about save those manis and pedis for “in-home” fun with your kids or special girls’ nights? Your nails might not last as long, but those memories made will last a lifetime. Include the kids with saving, it helps them feel more empowered towards the goal.

Image © Disney

Image © Disney

Every penny counts when you’re saving. By looking at your end goal and assessing what are “needs” versus “wants,” you’ll make your way to the finish line.

Just think, saving $$ on coffee daily in your hometown will be so worth it when you’re sipping a tasty drink on Main Street U.S. A.! 🙂

So, what do you think? Will you try to sock away some extra funds?

Where will you plan your next adventure?

Head over to the Disney Vacation Account website and get started!

Moms Need Magic, too!

Moms Need Magic, too!

You heard it right, Moms (& Dads) need magic, too!

It’s so easy for us to lose a bit of our own magic and dreams as we raise our kids. 

Why do we have to annihilate our hopes and dreams as parents? Does the fun have to stop just because we become parents? Um, no. Quite the contrary, now is the time to live out that example of living life, having fun, and showing your kids that dreams can come true, because hard work really pays off well.

Hi. I am a mommy of five and I really do like to go to Disneyland by myself.

Yikes! Some people find that very disturbing, others cannot comprehend having fun without their kids at the Parks. (gasp) Am I a bad parent? Nope! I am a human being that enjoys life just like my little ones. While it is sometimes hard for the kids to see me leave, and I usually wonder if I really should go or not, we have had many candid conversations about hopes, dreams, goals, and what we enjoy. You can ask any of my children what I love besides their daddy and all of their amazing little selves, and they will tell you – Disney.

 

 

Some moms like to go to the nail salon and relax, others enjoy serious retail therapy.

— Me? Give me a day with my favorite Mouse.

After a recent girls’ trip with one of my friends, Amanda, I took note of many things that you can do when you are kid-free. It is a totally different experience, it can be really fun, and if you get a chance one day, I would suggest going on an adventure without your littles. So, I am listing what I enjoy at the parks by myself, one for each of my kids. Here we go!

5 fun things to do at Disneyland, Kid-Free!

1. Relax

 

 

It’s okay, you don’t have to rush this trip, so relaxing is kind of a given. The only you time you should look at a clock, is when you’re in Fantasyland.  I know, it’s hard to relax with the kids. It doesn’t make you crazy for wishing you had more time to just… BE.

One of my favorite things about being at the Parks, is taking my time, strolling the streets… looking at the Main Street Windows! When is the last time you took notice to the awesome gold-leaf and painted windows and doors? Do you even know that each window is dedicated to a special person connected to the Walt Disney Company? I was on a hunt for Tony Baxter’s window on this recent trip and am so happy that I found it! At the D23 Expo last year, I attended the Disney Legends’ ceremony and could not wait for the chance to scope out Tony’s window. It’s right above the Main Street Magic Shop! 

2. Take Pictures

 

 

“Moooommy. Really? Another one?” … “We have to get to the ride!” … “It’s too hot.” – Does any of that sound familiar? I hear it often when we are anywhere and I decide to bust out my phone for a photo-op. When I am by myself, my creative juices flow a little better. I can wander off the path and attempt to snap photos of random objects, like Main Street Windows, or balloons. Sometimes, it’s my food! When I’m with the kids, I do try to get pics of them walking together, having fun, or just capturing their silly faces on the rides. You would think I was pulling teeth to have them turn around for a quick second and smile. Granted, all of those images are memories that I have, which I am so grateful for!

I am also grateful for the times when I can express my creativity in solitude, without being hassled because it takes up their time! And now that they are all older, it is harder to get them to stand in line for photo ops with characters. I still enjoy my Mickey pictures and yes, I proudly take pics with Mickey Mouse (best boss ever) and Disney Junior characters, too. Even without the kids, ha! They’re adorable!

3. Ride YOUR Favorite Rides

 

 

Name this tune! “There’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware…” Well, I really don’t have to reveal too much of the song to give you a decent hint about my favorite ride at Disneyland! You got it, “it’s a small world!” It truly is. And it’s also a sad park day when mommy’s favorite ride gets pushed to the end because it’s not a thrill seeking ride. I’ve come to terms with this fact. I love it, and it is very nostalgic for me. I have memories growing up and enjoying the happiest cruise. Even now, I stare in wonder as I hop into the cruise boat that sails the world. It’s like my first time, every time. Do you know how many pictures I have of the adorable Filipino animatronic doll? Lilo & Stitch? Every movie character that can be found since they were installed?

When I go to Disneyland, I ride “it’s a small world” and it makes me happy. When I’m with the kids, sadly, my little friends from all over the world do not get to see much of me. At Disney California Adventure I love Hollywood Hotel’s Tower of Terror and now that my kids are older, we can ride that together. We are hoping to introduce our youngest to the ride on our next family trip. FINGERS CROSSED! 

4. Shop

 

 

If you shop with kids, you know that can be very daunting, especially if you’re outnumbered and on a budget! What I love about shopping the cute shops throughout the Parks is the attention to detail that can be found within the stores, like detailed fixtures, or hidden mickeys in the carpet. While it is fun to watch the kids’ excitement over a new toy or plush, it is just as nice exploring the store on your own; Finding special treasures that are sure to be hits with family and friends is a plus! Step into the magic of shopping without feeling like you HAVE to buy something. It really is easier to walk away when you are alone. Granted, I do tend to spend more by myself because I don’t have kids hanging on me or interrupting my better judgements on why I don’t need another really cute coffee mug.

5. Spread the Magic

 

 

When I am at the Parks, I do miss my hubby and kids. Seeing families throughout, lovers holding hands, watching expressions on little ones’ faces as they spot their favorite character(s), I am reminded of why I went to the park in the first place: To be refreshed and inspired; To refresh and inspire others. I am that person. You know, the one that your child might randomly begin speaking to in line for The Haunted Mansion, or the person that will gift you “bits” while playing Disneyland’s retired interactive game, Legends of Frontierland, simply because I noticed it was your birthday and you knew the secret Rainbow Ridge handshake.

I enjoy people and sharing the camaraderie of what we call Disney Magic. I see buttons on honeymooners, birthday celebrants, and first-time visitors, and I say, “hello.” Sometimes my kids get “embarrassed,” but it is just natural for me. Maybe it’s because I worked for Disney at one time, and I kept stickers in my pocket for our youngest guests. 

I enjoy being alone at the Parks, while submerged in a very large community of friends.  So what are favorite moments when I am there by myself? It would be when I help make another guest’s day, whether they are moms, dads, or the kids. I feel like having this magical bond opens a lot of doors to help others. When I would watch fireworks, I would save a bench seat because I enjoy sharing it with others. I get to talk with other guests while waiting for the show, or let their children sit on the bench so they can see.

I’m blessed to go to Disneyland as often as I do, and I am doubly blessed to have trips by myself. Disneyland is like therapy. I advise you to try it one day. You never know what you’ll discover while you see it through different eyes.

 

 

Have you had the opportunity to experience the Parks on your own? What’s your favorite thing to do?

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Love Chic Hotels? Then Style Up Your Stay!

Love Chic Hotels? Then Style Up Your Stay!

*Disclaimer: I was a paying guest that booked through StyleHotels.com. I was not compensated for this review. I am not affiliated with Sunset Magazine, Hotel Avante, Joie de Vivre, or Style Hotels; All opinions are my own.*

As the month of May came to a close, I packed my bags and headed out to Sunset Magazine’s headquarters on a work excursion for their annual Sunset Magazine Celebration. I spent two nights in Mountain View at Hotel Avante, a Joie de Vivre hotel. I honestly found them by chance and as luck would have it, I booked them through StyleHotels.com and ended up with a phone appointment with Mr. Brian Dass, CEO of Style Hotels, upon my return home.

You might be wondering, “What is Style Hotels.com?”
Okay, so let’s backtrack just a bit.

StyleHotels.com is a unique travel booking engine that finds you the best chic, luxury, and boutique hotels at great prices. On top of that, it’s a great experience overall. The bonus?? If you’re like me, aesthetics and guest experience are important. Many times I bypass a website if I don’t like how it looks. There are a few times when I can stay on a website that lacks good visuals, if the interface is extremely user-friendly. However, those can be few and far between.

Personally, I love chic, boutique & luxury hotels. I like clean, simple, chic, stylish, and affordable. I love finding new places, hip places that other people have yet to try. I want to explore and share those places with my friends.

When my boss asked me to book the hotel rooms for the weekend, I naturally did what I normally do… Google, Priceline, Hotels.com… see where I’m going with this? But everywhere I searched, gave me THE SAME RESULTS. And it took forever to find the type of hotels I was looking for. I needed a budget priced hotel, but I wanted a place that was going to be cute, chic, and felt like a getaway, even though I was working.

StyleHotels' welcome page © Style Hotels StyleHotels’ welcome page © Style Hotels

Here’s a look at StyleHotels.com front page. The imagery is clean & hip, much like the hotels that they represent. It has a very user friendly interface and also links up to social media! It is similar to other booking engines in the way that you pay upfront, but you do get special perks and offers that outweigh its competitors. A StyleHotel look and feel is “luxury, urban-chic, lifestyle and boutique.”  It’s about personality and character.

Check out Hotel Avante if you're in the Bay Area! (rates are subject to availability and may change) image © Style Hotels//Hotel Avante Check out Hotel Avante if you’re in the Bay Area! (rates are subject to availability and may change) image © Style Hotels//Hotel Avante

The booking process was simple, quick and painless. Once I got to the site, it took just a few minutes to finalize my rooms and breath a sigh of relief. As mentioned before, we stayed at the Hotel Avante, Mountain View for 2 nights. It was a great little “getaway!”


Brian Dass, CEO, StyleHotels & Appnostic, Inc. Brian Dass, CEO, StyleHotels & Appnostic, Inc.

When I got home, I had a great opportunity to chat with the CEO, Mr. Brian Dass. I must say that I was pretty excited, and a tiny bit nervous. You have to remember, I was simply a guest at that point. I was just responding to an email that told me I was going to have a complimentary bottle of wine in my room. Little things make me extra happy, so I just replied with an exuberant “thank you” and shared my experience on the site, letting them know I’d be happy to do a review in the future. It was that simple gesture that I showed which opened the door. I wasn’t expecting a reply necessarily, just decide to share my thoughts and tell them “good job!” Well, next thing you know, I’m emailing back and forth with Lucy and Dahcia, who are both absolutely amazing, and I ended up with a phone appointment with Brian. That’s probably one of my favorite things about being a blogger, I get to connect with people that I normally would not have. Or I just like to know everything. 😉 But what’s the fun of knowing things and never sharing? The blogosphere is a great forum to express yourself but also enlighten others. I’m blessed!

I must say that it was quite refreshing to conversation with Mr. Dass, he is a wealth of information, especially when it came to breaking down just how the hotel booking engine works. He gave a lot of insight into the back story of StyleHotels.com, his history in the hotel industry; he even shared some tips on being an entrepreneur, coupled with thinking outside of the box in the workplace. Our conversation spanned from the inspiration of StyleHotels to what Brian sees for the future of this unique company. I think what is most admirable from this conversation, is Brian’s humbleness and desire to just grow over time. I’m excited to say that I was the first guest to use StyleHotels to book rooms at Hotel Avante. I had a wonderful experience and I look forward to utilizing this great tool more when I travel.

Wanna go to Paris, France? Check out StyleHotels.com - image © Style Hotels Wanna go to Paris, France? Check out StyleHotels.com – image © Style Hotels

For starters, let’s talk about the advantages that he shared with booking through StyleHotels.com, as opposed to other familiar booking sites. In reference to using other sites Brian stated, “Over time, we  (the consumers) have come to trust and accept [after searching through other known booking sites] that you can’t get better than that.” Why is that? Well, in my opinion, basically we have become so used to seeing the same thing over and over. It took me a few tries to even find StyleHotels. And when I asked Brian if he was at all concerned that there are not mass bookings just quite yet, he calmly chuckled, “No, we are getting bookings here and there. And that’s just fine.”

With over 20 years of specialized experience in global hospitality, Brian and his team continue to perfect the way that people not only book their travel, but experience and engage with others during the process. I think that’s the most important thing for the consumer to understand. StyleHotels.com is not trying to be a huge takeover hotel booking engine. While one of their goals is becoming the “go-to” site for those who seek to stay in a hotel that aligns with their overall lifestyle of urban, chic, hip and luxurious living, Brian is perfectly content with growing organically, authentically and to have a lasting legacy.

Destinations page at StyleHotels.com © Style Hotels Destinations page at StyleHotels.com © Style Hotels

StyleHotels.com compiles over 6,300 likeminded global hotels on one website. Normally, one would find these types of hotels being placed on the third page within other travel booking engines.

StyleHotels.com was founded in 2012, so it is still in the baby stages of business. However, there is something about the power of words and experience. Why? Because as people in an increasingly socially driven society, we can help make or break something or someone pretty easily. Okay, so why is that important? I don’t think we realize just how influential we can be, especially if we are sharing our opinions with the world.

Brian shared that one of the challenges with StyleHotels is that they are growing organically. Initially, I didn’t see that as a challenge, but in all reality, when something is genuine and authentic, going against the grain… sometimes it is the hardest to produce.  There is so much noise on the internet, everyone has an app or business for everything. There are always “experts” and businesses that claim to be the “final authority” on specifically travel or food or life. I didn’t find that attitude with StyleHotels. What I found was a company that’s willing to not just share with its guests, but learn from them. Many times after sifting through all of the fluff, we can find something great. By great, I mean something that has simplicity, but is beautiful all at the same time. I think I found that in StyleHotels. And you know what the greatest bonus was? The people. Brian and his team are wonderful people and I’m fortunate enough to have had great conversations with them.

When asked where he saw the company in the next five years, Brian spoke of developing a mobile app, which I think would be amazing. He also shared that there is a future for social authentication, which he holds a patent to. He wants to bring the personalization about each guest into the planning process of booking their travel. He believes the process should be interactive, we spend so much time on the web and using social media. While the travel industry overall can be slow to adapt, he seeks to create legacy systems that are cutting edge. He believes in building progressive applications; StyleHotels is just that.

I sought to share this content because I had an exceptional experience. I think it’s just right and fair to share more when people and businesses are doing good. I can definitely say that I look forward to watching this company grow and and leave a lasting mark on the travel industry. To me, it’s always been the little things and when I connect with the people behind a brand, it usually makes me either love it more or want to walk away. In this case, I can’t tell you how happy I am to have come across this site!

If you’re likeminded and love staying at hip, chic hotels, I highly recommend booking your travel through StyleHotels.com! They continue to add new destinations all over the world. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have learned more about this company and can’t wait to see what’s in store in the future!

What are you waiting for? Check it out and Style Up Your Stay! 😉

xo {Spread Magic}