Author Archives: stretchingittotravel

Passport Execution Fees Rising April

If you are going to need a passport in the near future do so before April to save $10.

On April 2, 2018 the fee to process your passport will increase from $25 to $35.

From the U.S. Department of State website:

“The Department of State published a Final Rule on January 31, 2018, that increases the passport execution fee. The passport execution fee will be $35 starting on April 2, 2018. This rule increased the fee $10 from the previous $25 fee. Individuals who apply for a passport renewal by mail will not see a fee increase.”

More information can be found here: https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/01/277799.htm

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Wyndham Rewards Offer

Our biggest offer ever

Earn up to one free night at any of our 8,000+ hotels worldwide when you stay twice.* Register and book by June 30, 2018 and complete your second qualified stay by July 1, 2018 to get 15,000 bonus points that you can redeem for a free night* at Super 8, Ramada, Wyndham Grand, and more.

Not a Wyndham Rewards member? You can still book your stays now and register for the offer later.

*15,000 Wyndham Rewards points are good for one standard bedroom per night, subject to availability, blackout dates/rates and other restrictions.  Resort fees apply at Caesars hotels, even for award nights, and cannot be paid with points. See Promotion Terms & Conditions for additional information.

 

Stay twice for 15,000 points is a good promotion if you have lower cost hotels to book to earn the points.  Many Wyndham family hotels in our area are from $65 – $85 a night.

We have used Wyndham rewards points two ways.  #1 any hotel is 15,000 points so we cashed in 15,000 points for a night at the Mills House in Charleston.  Over the weekend rates can be around $270 so I was happy to use points instead.  #2 is a points and cash option.  We did this over Christmas break to spend three nights on Fort Myers Beach. 3,000 points and cash gave us a great vacation for a little money out of pocket.  Rooms again were running $270+ a night.  I do not have that kind of money to throw at a hotel room so I was thrilled to use points to offset the price.

You can register for the promotion here:  Register here

 

 

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Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River

After a change of plans to include manatees on this Florida trip we had some free time on Saturday in Crystal River. We had our amazing swim in the morning, and a little warm up time in the hotel hot tub afterwards.  I had heard that Three Sisters Springs was the place to see manatee so we drove five minutes up the road to the address online.

Parking is available at City Hall.  We had just missed the shuttle and had an almost 20 minute wait.  This gave us time to sit in the sunshine and to grab sweatshirts from the car.

Three Sisters Springs

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Fair Trade Friday January 2018

Fair Trade Friday Jan 2018

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January starts off a new year of Fair Trade Friday packages for me.

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The Crab Plant Restaurant

We have found the restaurants on the Gulf side of Florida to be unusually busy early in the evening.  Where we are from( and most of the places we travel to) if you want to eat at a particular restaurant you can show up at 5:30 and have no issue.  It is a little early for our family to eat dinner but it is usually our vacation plan to have no wait.

Except for on this trip. After running into jam packed restaurants at 5:30 we started to look as we drove around.  Some parking lots were plenty full at 3:30pm.  Back home that is happy hour times for a beer, not a full meal.  We needed to eat even earlier then!

Knowing we wanted to eat at the Crab Plant on a Friday we made sure we arrived horribly early.  The restaurant was really easy to find and maybe five minutes from the Best Western in Crystal River.

We took the last open parking spot and then open table at 5:10pm.  So early!  Families arrived after us and started queuing up for the next open tables.  By 5:45 people would enter, see the wait and leave.  This is not normal so early in the Midwest, oy!

The Crab Plant

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Swim with Manatees in Florida

I am going to ramble on about the amazing thing our little family just got to do in Florida.  I want to go back and do it again as soon as possible, it was that incredible!

While fishing in Florida a couple of years ago we had a mother and calf swim past our boat and surface near us.  I was pretty excited.  They are enormous gentle creatures.

This winter we planned to go back to Florida and spend some time lower on the Gulf Coast.  Husband wanted to see the Everglades and Daughter wanted a nice beach.  I had the plans all set, hotels booked and a shell of an itinerary.  We would be in Fort Myers Beach, Naples and end around St. Petersburg.

I stumbled on a trip review that said  you could swim with the manatees.

Then I watched a video on Facebook and was determined to make this work three weeks before we traveled.  I read up a little more on the tours and knew I wanted a 6am tour for the best luck.  A little more shuffling and I had our vacation plans reworked and found a reservation that I was thrilled about.

We were able to use points to stay at the Best Western in Crystal River.  The hotel was two minutes drive from the Birds Underwater Dive Center.  They offer a noon check out and they have a large hot tub for guests in the pool area.

To make this work we had a long drive from Lido Key the day before.  No matter how I worked this trip we had to cover more miles than I usually want to deal with on vacation.  We set out with the intent to try to break it up into smaller chunks, that really did not pan out for us. We did spend the afternoon in Homosassa State Park and saw many manatees in the river there, so I was really hopeful.

Then “winter” hit Florida.  When we left the Sarasota area it was a nice sunny almost 80 degrees.  It was a cold, cloudy and barely 60 in Homosassa when I got out of the car.

Birds underwater

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Saravilla Bed and Breakfast in Alma

Daughter was invited to a scholarship interview at Alma College.  If you are not familiar with the area you will quickly find out Alma is a very small town. There are no chain hotels, just a couple of old Mom and Pop places. Mount Pleasant is a larger town with several chain hotels but it is over twenty minutes from the college in good weather.   The only real option for us with the impending snow was to stay at Saravilla Bed and Breakfast.

Saravilla Bed & Breakfast

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Guest parking and the entrance were in the rear of the very large house.

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Fair Trade Friday December

I was eagerly awaiting my Fair Trade Friday December box this year and a little worried when the postal service tracking showed it in transit for several days.  On Tuesday afternoon my little box arrived.

Fair Trade Friday

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Yup, this month it was a box.

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Terra Nova Bed and Breakfast in Grove City

We have previously stayed at the Terra Nova Bed and Breakfast back in 2016.  We found the two room Collegiate Suite to be perfect for family travel.  This year when my Daughter was doing an overnight visit at Grove City College I invited my Mom to travel with us.  It can be so boring to travel alone and it is nice to have someone awake in the car to keep me company as I drive the hours to Pennsylvania.

Once again I was able to book the Collegiate Suite for our stay.

Terra Nova

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The suite occupies the upper floor of the bed and breakfast providing two bedrooms and a bath.  The main bedroom has a king size bed, chair, tv and a dining table with four chairs.  The smaller bedroom has two twin beds.

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Christkindlmarket Chicago Evening

I have wanted to visit the Christkindlmarket in Chicago for several years.  Somehow we never made to Chicago over the holidays.  Too much going on, too much snow, and too little time kept us from Chicago after Thanksgiving.  This year I was determined to make it to the Christmas market, it was the one thing I wanted to do on this visit.

We arrived in Chicago on a Friday evening just before the rain started.  We almost made it to the Radisson Blu (free Friday night stay thanks to their last fall promotion) when the heavens opened up.  Trying to crush through the crowd under the entry awning with luggage is no fun in the cold rain.

We enjoyed our room for a couple of hours and hit the business lounge for some snacking.  I was a little resigned that I was not going to be able to visit the Christmas market on Friday night. We were contemplating hitting the hot tub vs putting on pjs and ordering food.

Around 7:00 it looked like the rain was letting up.  By 7:15 I had convinced Daughter to put on the coat, hat and gloves to brave the weather.  The rain was down to a light drizzle as we walked to Daley Plaza past the window at Macy’s.

As negative as the weather seemed it was perfect for visiting the market.  The wind was not too bad in the plaza and the crowds were pretty small.

Christkindle Market Chicago

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