Posts Tagged With: Pennsylvania

Wrap up on 2016

This is the crazy post where I try to dig back through my brain and figure out how many nights we spent in hotels.  I can safely say not near as many as 2015.   Our family needs are changing and we do more small weekend trips away now that our daughter is older.

2016 saw us take a spring break trip to check out three colleges for said daughter.  The Holiday Inn IHG mail in promotion points came in really handy for this trip to Pennsylvania.

Franklin & Marshall

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We also did a couple of single nights in hotels before a college visit to make sure we arrived on time and for a little family break.  Nothing wrong with relaxing in a hot tub and eating seafood on a weeknight.

Since our daughter was heading to South Africa for a few weeks in June we used a night in Radisson Kalamazoo for a family night.  Enjoying their great pool area and local food before we went our separate ways for most of the summer.

Kalamazoo Radisson

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August saw the girls having free time and Southwest airline credit to use so we went to Savannah and Charleston for a long weekend.  I did not want to lose $124 in credit from when I re-booked price changes. I let Daughter pick the destination and I was surprised by her choice.  She fell in love with the south and everything about Savannah.

Bonadventure Cemetary

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Labor day brought us to South Bend for a quick get away.  The work hard play hard Club Carlson promotion was offering triple weekend points so we took in the Celtic Festival.

Learning to throw an axe.

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Then we took our long December vacation to Louisiana and Mississippi.  This time we cleaned out my husbands IHG points account leveraging it for three nights.  I really wish IHG did more mail in promotions!

Creole Queen foggy ride

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Also new to us this year was staying a hotel night before a long race.  It is easier on the family if they can hang out at the room for a couple of hours after an early starting run.  No parking hassles, no freezing while they wait or looking for bathrooms. I like walking to the start and knowing they are comfortable.

Foreshore adventure run

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So this years math:

3,358 airline miles in 2016

19 nights in a hotel

2 nights in a Bed and Breakfast

Losing the second night free benefit with Club Carlson kept us lower on our stays this year and I am not really focusing on one chain at the moment.  Whomever has the best promotion gets my business for now.   We seem to be doing more driving than flying these days. And with my daughters schedule its really hard to get away for more than a couple of nights at a time.

For 2017 we start off with a bang, my daughter has an opportunity in D.C. so we will soon be headed there for a bit.  We are tossing around heading back to Florida for our winter getaway.  We were lucky with mostly nice and unusually warm weather in Louisiana but going further south should up our warm weather chances.

Creole Queen

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Who knows where this crazy hobby will take us this year!

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IHG Waterpark Hotels

Many of us did the IHG mail in points promotion that was offered this winter.  Looking to burn up some of those 50,000+ points I went looking for IHG waterpark hotel options.

In Florida:

Holiday Inn Club Vacations Orlando – Orange Lake Resort   35,000 points per night or $146 a night. Boasts a lazy river in the twelve acre waterpark and nine restaurants.  https://www.ihg.com/holidayinnclubvacations/hotels/us/en/kissimmee/discv/hoteldetail

In Minnesota:

Holiday Inn Express Brainerd/ Baxter has the connecting Three Bear Waterpark. $225 a night with access to the waterpark. https://www.ihg.com/holidayinnexpress/hotels/us/en/baxter/bwxbb/hoteldetail

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Terra Nova Night in Grove City

Our last night of the trip was in Grove City, Pennsylvania. To this point all of our hotel nights had been free on points so I chose to spend money on a night at a Bed and Breakfast.  There are a few hotels outside of town near the outlets. Comfort Inn, Best Western, Super 8 and a Holiday Day Inn Express. The Holiday Inn Express is 30,000 points or $159.16 a night which did influence my choice of lodging.

I booked the Terra Nova house based on its great reviews and the location. Ryan gave us directions to dinner at Nonni’s and to the campus for in the morning when we checked in.  He gave us a quick house tour and showed us to the third floor for the Collegiate suite.

Terra Nova

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Night in Lancaster

Our second college visit of the trip was in Lancaster. There were three Holiday Inns in the area so we chose the one that seemed to be closest to the school in the morning.  We ended up the Holiday Inn Express Rockvale Outlets location for 25,000 points a night.  We had a two queen room that walked out to the outdoor pool area. The normal price of this room is $149 and the week of our stay it transitioned to a Comfort Inn.

Holiday Inn Rockvale Landcaster

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This location was excellent!  We were right in the huge outlet mall area so we took a few minutes after dinner to hit a couple of outlets.  They have a QVC outlet and a Ten Thousand Villages outlet shop that we had time to check out.

Also we were a five minute drive from the small town of Bird in Hand.  They offered a great Amish bakery where we had ice cream.  A couple of antique shops and the Bird in Hand Smorgasbord board where we ate dinner.  Here is a coupon for a free kids dinner with an adult purchase.  http://lancasterpa.com/coupons/bird-in-hand-restaurant/

Holiday Inn Express Rockvale Landcaster

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Free breakfast the next morning was the usual eggs, sausage, cereal and yogurt.  But they also had two flavors of the waffle machine mix, plain and strawberry.  I could not skip making a strawberry waffle with an image of an Amish buggy in the center.  Almost as good as the Texas shaped waffle makers we saw over Christmas!

We would like to stay here again.  The hotel was quiet and near many chain restaurants.  Unfortunately Daughter did not feel this college was a good fit for her so I do not know if we will make it back to Lancaster.  Such a fun area!

More information here: http://www.hiexpresslancaster.com/

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Valley Forge Afternoon

This falls under the category of since we are there anyway why not visit….  We spent the morning in Gettysburg and our hotel for the night was in King of Prussia.  Looking at the map we were going to be fifteen minutes from Vally Forge.  So we figured why not see what we can see!

I will tell you after our great guided tour at Gettysburg that Valley Forge was a let down.  We arrived at the visitors center to see that we would be able to hear a ranger program on a soldiers life.  We hustled over to the huts to hear the ranger and never did see a ranger at 3:30.  That was a bust!

Valley Forge

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Visiting Gettysburg

When planning what we wanted to see in Pennsylvania my Dad brought up Gettysburg.  A quick look at a map confirmed it was very possible to alter our route to include a stop over to tour the the battle field area.  When I am looking for options in a new to me area I browse through Tripadvisor to get some ideas.  One of the top listed things to do was to book a battlefield tour with the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides.  I also google for more information just to be sure its a good fit for our family.

One option is $30 a person riding the bus on a guided tour.  That would have been $90 plus a tip for the 3 of us to cram on a bus with strangers for two hours.  It works but I would rather have a smaller group.  It is $55 for 1-6 people in your own car with a Licensed Battlefield guide.

You can either book by calling them directly in advance  (717) 337-1709 or by visiting the National Park visitors center the day you want to tour to purchase a tour.   Booking directly with the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides not only saves you a few dollars but also lets you customize your private  tour.  Do you want two hours or longer? Do you want the standard tour or is there something that specifically interests you?  And by booking in advance you know you are guaranteed a tour! Over the summer they can be completely booked if you just hope to reserve a tour at the visitors center the day of your visit and there is a $10 surcharge if you book at the visitors center.

I called a couple of weeks in advance and left my information including my desired tour date and time with my phone number on their answering machine.  A guide called me back, confirmed my information and asked me a few questions.  I was told to pay the guide at the end of your tour when we were done.  Just like that we were booked, very easy!

The morning of our Gettysburg visit was cold and very windy.  So windy that several trees were down in town near the cemetery and there was no power at the visitors center.  Our initial plan was to tour the visitors center at 8am and then meet our guide Bob at 9am.  With no power we left the visitors center to tour the cemetery before meeting our guide.

Gettysburg cemeterey

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It was freezing and we were dressed for cold but the wind was biting!  We spent about 40 minutes viewing where Lincoln spoke and checking out the different monuments.  While it was still snowing back in the Midwest spring was already in full bloom in Gettysburg!

Gettysburg Cemetery

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We meet our guide at the designated spot at 9am.  Even though the power was out the emergency lighting and toilets were still working at the visitors center so we stopped before our tour.  We did not see facilities on our tour so use it before you go!

Our guide took over the driving and led us on a two hour chronological tour of the battles. He would point out what direction the south would advance from and what they encountered.  Then show us what the north was trying to hold while waiting for reinforcements.Without a guide the battlefield looks like a bunch of monuments and stones. Spend the money and hire a guide, there is so much information you cannot gleam from a placard!

Michigan monument

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He would throw in tidbits about our state and the key players.  Wow!  He was a treasure trove of information and told us many things I had never heard before about how the weather played a role.  He showed some of the remaining trenches and where some farms were burned down to prevent snipers.

Gettysburg

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Our two hours flew past and our guide ended back up at the visitors center.  After thanking and tipping our guide we had a couple of places we wanted to drive back to and explore on our own like Devil’s Den.

Devils Den

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More information on the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides can be found here: http://gettysburgtourguides.org/guided-tour-rates/

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Try the town one over…

When my Dad threw out the idea to visit Gettysburg I started looking at my hotel points stash.  I have 3 different chains that I could potentially stay for free with my points.  One was booked and the other two did not work for various reasons.  Marriott was too many points for the Courtyard with no breakfast and Holiday had nothing in the area.  The next option is to just pay for a room.  Spring break in a tourist area left me with prices I was unwilling to pay! Almost $200 for a Hampton Inn is not going to happen when I have points!

The next option is to look a town over.  I am willing to drive 30 minutes to save some money!  I was able to use my points in Chambersburg a town slightly west of Gettysburg. In Chambersburg the hotels run from $100-130 a night, much more reasonable! I had many points choices here between 2 Holiday Inns,  Country Inn and Suites, Hampton Inn, etc.

I booked the Fairfield Inn Chambersburg at 10,000 points for a two queen room. We were given a room on the third floor facing the Cracker Barrel next door. Normal price for this hotel is around $123 a night for this category 2 hotel.

It was nice to be done driving around 5pm and at our hotel for the evening.  Coming from the Midwest we had been on the road over 9 hours Saturday.  We tried to get daughter to agree to eating at the Cracker Barrel next door but she would not hear of it!  It became a trip joke and we pointed them out each time we passed one figuring she might like to stop.

Check in was quick and we were told the breakfast hours for the in the morning.  I had not found them on the website so I was happy to hear breakfast would start early so we could get out the door to Gettysburg!

Our room had a fridge and microwave next to the desk area. Having a microwave in our room was very useful the next morning.

Fairfield inn Chambersburg PA

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Off to Pennsylvania!

We spent spring break this year checking out three potential colleges for my daughter.  We hit a couple last year and I am sure we will hit a couple next year.  Just trying to give her an idea of what might work for her.  This year my Dad volunteered to come along and help split up the driving as the furthest school was ten hours from home.  I wanted daughter to know just how far 10 hours away from home feels before she makes her decision. And I had just a month earlier earned almost 50,000 IHG points so we had lots of options for Holiday Inn type hotels for free.

I had three days off from work and we had schools scheduled for Monday through Wednesday for visits.  This gave us Saturday to drive and Sunday to do something interesting.  My Dad had the great idea to visit Gettysburg and we made our route to swing down that way before heading back up toward Philly.

Here is a quick recap of the Penn trip and I will post more in depth later on the good stuff!

Saturday rental  was car pickup in the morning.  I had a good price for the car which was a challenge over spring break by using a coupon I found on Mousesavers.  By the time you add a second driver the deal is less enticing but still less than what I would have paid with Costco’s free second driver bookings.  Also booking with the Southwest Airlines code will earn me 1,800 airline miles with a promotion they offered.

Saturday night in Chambersburg was 10,000 Marriott points at the Fairfield Inn and dinner was with a $25 TGI Fridays gift card. Breakfast was supposed to be at the hotel but ended up being fruit and a muffin.

Sunday spent the morning in Gettysburg where the national park is free.  Went from there to Valley Forge which is also free.  Spent the night in the Holiday Inn Express King of Prussia for 15,000 IHG points.  Dinner was Red Lobster with a $25 gift card to offset the pain of the bill.  A good hotel breakfast was free Monday morning for us.

Monday was a college visit and driving to Lancaster to set up for our next visit.  We spent the night in a Holiday Inn Express in the Rockvale Outlets for 25,000 points.  Dinner was at a smorgasbord board restaurant in Bird In Hand.  Dad had found a coupon in the Lancaster visitors magazine.  We hit a few antique shops and an Amish bakery.  Another decent free Holiday Inn breakfast Tuesday morning before we headed out for our visit.

Tuesday we drove to Grove City and spent the night in a B & B the night before our last visit.  Having to only pay for one nights lodging I wanted to spurge a little and give us some space after a few nights of family togetherness in one hotel room.  Dinner was at a local Italian place we walked to in town.  Great breakfast was included with our B&B stay so we skipped lunch on Wednesday on our drive back home.

My Mom is amazing at packing snacks and even lunch for Saturday so we never had to stop or purchase lunches on our trip.  That is a big cost savings since we really only purchased dinner each night with breakfast for free at the hotels.  Even driving back later Wednesday we chose not to stop for dinner and just ate some snacks she had packed.

It was a very fruitful spring break trip!  Daughter really liked two of the three schools.  She also realizes how far away a ten hour drive is.  We hopefully did not drive my Dad too crazy! Having hotel points lets us travel cheaper  and we even sampled shoofly pie for free in Lancaster at Dutch Haven!

Grove City

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