Just FYI, this is Aston’s story as written by me, Sam. Some of this was written ‘live’ but most of it was written after the fact as I felt I had the strength to do so.
It’s 6 AM on Friday January 10, 2020. I went into labour on this day a year ago and I will go into labour today. A year ago we delivered a healthy 41 week baby boy, Zaden, who will turn one tomorrow. Today, I will deliver our baby who went home to meet Jesus before we had a chance to meet him. 18.5 weeks along, 21.5 weeks too early, but Baby E likely has been home for sometime as the doctors tell us.
As I sit and write by candle light, snow is falling outside. Thank you Jesus. I have always found the sight of falling snow to be the most peaceful and God knows how much my soul needs peace.
The story of Baby E, as we know it, began in Japan. A kid-free vacation to celebrate five wonderful years of marriage. We found out officially on September 27, 2019 when the pregnancy test came back immediately positive. We were all so excited. Excited to be completing our family, excited to see who baby would become, excited to tell baby’s brothers.
Everything was normal, just as it has been for three other pregnancies besides being super nauseous. On January 8, 2020 we had our 18.5 week appointment with the midwife, and she couldn’t find a heartbeat. I tried not to panic as she searched and searched but the look on her face became more concerning. I prayed for life, I begged God for there to still be heartbeat. ‘Baby must have just been hiding’ I thought to myself. But then I remembered how I wasn’t growing as quickly as I have before, there was no kicks yet & in general things felt off. I told myself to hope until we had definitive news. I texted Kyle and told him to start praying, we needed to pray life into this baby.
Kyle and I tried to stay as positive as we could through the night which was filled with tears and moments of silence. I felt like I needed to be doing something to help this baby, that I could somehow force a sign of life. That the fact I was sitting and waiting for a call for an emergency ultrasound was ridiculous, but yet sitting, waiting and praying was all we had.
The midwife clinic finally called, they wanted me to come in at 12:30 for another check and bedside scan since there were no appointments available at Jim Pattison. At the office, the midwife attempted to find the heartbeat with the doppler. At first try, it sounded like she got a heartbeat and there were tears of relief and I imagined texting Kyle ‘HEARTBEAT BABY!’ but the midwife wanted to be sure since she only heard it for a few seconds and then lost it. She couldn’t find it again and my mind began to worry. She used a bedside ultrasound scanner, and couldn’t find it, either. Another midwife came in as well and she had no luck. She said they could see the baby “wiggling” but there was no heartbeat so they sent me to the hospital. Once they said that I needed to go to the hospita,l it started to sink in how serious this was and that the reality of life or death would be found out in mere hours and I didn’t feel prepared for that. I made arrangements for the kids to be taken care of, and Kyle cancelled the rest of his day to come to the hospital with me.
We briefly saw the kids at home and they were excited and unphased by any of this since we hadn’t told them anything. Kyle and I scrambled around thinking of things we might need, but I had no idea how to prepare for this. A wallet, phone, and water bottle would be all we had.
The drive to the hospital was quiet for the most part. The odd conversation about how we did this drive a year ago and me rambling about party stuff – trying to distract myself about the news we could possibly be facing. When I wasn’t talking to Kyle I was praying, praying in tears, praying in faith knowing that God was ahead of us in this situation and was with us in every moment. I remember as we arrived there, declaring the truth – no matter what we found out, no matter what we felt in the moment or moments to come, God is good and God is love. No matter what. It was a proclamation that felt counterintuitive in the moment but the truth is truth no matter my feelings.
We arrived at the hospital at 1:45pm, checked in at the Family Birthing Unit, and it felt like we sat there forever. More waiting. I hated waiting. We finally got called down for the ultrasound. Kyle couldn’t come in, which was terrifying but the tech quickly told me that he couldn’t give me any news good or bad and that they would give me the results once we were back upstairs.
I laid down on the table like I have so many times before, begging for a miracle, begging for movement. It was a very quick ultrasound and then we were brought back upstairs where we waited in a tiny exam room that looked just like a doctors office. My first thoughts were that this could not be good. I wasn’t allowed to wait in triage, I was put into an isolated room that felt cold and sad.
Alison, the midwife, who had delivered Zaden nearly a year ago, came in and apologized that we were going through this, gave me a hug and said results would take a bit but she would come back when she had something.
More waiting. This time it was a very nervous wait. I couldn’t sit still, I didn’t know where to look, what to do with my hands, what to say. It was only minutes until we were going to find out if our baby had a heartbeat. How was this real? How were we sitting here? This was the one time I didn’t want the midwife to come back. I didn’t want the door to open. But at the same time I knew we didn’t have a choice and the only way to end this limbo was for Alison to come back and give us news.
At 3:40pm Alison came back in and with barely enough time for me to look up from the floor and the door to close behind her, the words fell like boulders on the floor, “there is no fetal heartbeat. I’m so sorry.”
Both Kyle and I burst into tears, she came and gave us a hug and said she would come back in a bit to talk some more.
A million thoughts ran through my head. How? How is there no heartbeat? How am I carrying a dead baby in my belly? How has my body failed me? How has it failed my family? When did this happen? Is it a boy or a girl? How am I so sad over someone I never met? How do I tell people? How do we tell our boys who were so excited to the baby in mummy’s tummy? Why this time? Why now? At a time that is messing everything up with Zaden’s birthday. A birthday that I wanted to be able to celebrate, to celebrate Zaden, not mourn the loss of my baby. I had party preparations to get done, not sit in a hospital room.
I never pictured this as part of our story. I never wanted to be apart of this ‘infant loss/miscarriage’ club, why us? And yet I still knew that God is sovereign and was over this whole situation but it didn’t take my pain away. I had so many questions and yet nothing but loud sobs would come out. I had no way to digest the words of ‘no fetal heartbeat’.
That fetal heartbeat was my baby, my baby that we wished for, that we prayed over, that we wanted and loved so badly. I couldn’t stop crying. Kyle held me, we held each other. I tried to form some thoughts, the first thought was that I was so thankful for Jesus, for heaven and for a God that is love because that gave me the assurance of where our baby was. How much more beautiful Jesus & heaven became at that moment. The tears stopped coming so aggressively and we just sat together, in shock, holding one another. I was trying to form all the questions I knew I would have because I felt like this was all happening so fast and I wanted to make sure I did it ‘right’, that I got all the information that I wanted and all the ways to keep memories of this precious life.
Kyle and I sat embraced, crying for what felt like forever, trying to let this reality sink in but also trying to process what is next. Alison came back and was as sweet as she could be considering the situation. She began laying out our two options: a D&C (surgery) or to be induced and deliver. Alison gave the pros and cons of each; Kyle was on board with whatever I could handle. The surgery is quicker and ‘easier’ since I would be under general anaesthesia but less humane for our baby. Delivering seemed to be the right choice but could I labour for a baby that I don’t get to take home? Could I go through all that immense physical pain on top of the emotional pain?
I just wanted someone to tell me what to do. I didn’t feel qualified to make this choice, it wasn’t one I was prepared to make. No one should be making this choice. We should have been making choices about finding out the gender, coming home outfits, and names. I was angry. Angry at the whole situation, angry that I would have to labour for a dead baby. It all seemed terribly unfair. As we sat in silence both processing this bomb we had just been hit with, I knew this choice was ultimately mine and yet in the midst of my anger God spoke so clearly and I knew I would deliver this baby. I would do anything for this baby, I would endure it all, just as I had for the babies I had at home. Just because his life was cut short in my eyes, God has ordained the exact days of its life from the beginning and I will love him all the same.
A while later, the OB and Alison came back in. The OB said that based on the measurements at the ultrasound baby was measuring about 13.5 weeks. But that was odd to me because I had been to the midwife at 14.5 weeks and we heard a heartbeat so we figure that baby was just measuring small and it likely happened shortly after that appointment. That meant that I had likely been carrying this lifeless baby for close to 3 weeks.
I didn’t like that, I felt weird, but I also felt proud that my body still provided it comfort and a home. The OB then explained how the delivery would go and how I would have the full support of the midwife, staff, and access to all the pain medication – at that time I didn’t understand just how much pain medication but because the baby no longer had a heartbeat there was no concern about the amount of pain medication I took, a small silver lining.
I don’t remember much else of when they came and went or what was said, but I do remember Kyle asking Alison if they had any pictures from the ultrasound today that we could have. She said she could get a couple photos with her phone and send them to us. We will treasure those last photos of our baby forever.
We were then informed that we couldn’t deliver today. We had to go home and wait until tomorrow. We were now on the induction list just like any other pregnant woman and had to wait our turn. It was the saddest walk we have ever made out of that hospital to date and I’m sure once we deliver it will be even worse. Kyle held my hand the whole way out, confidently communicating to me that we are in this together and we will see it through.
Once at the car, we both called our mums and it was excruciating painful to have to utter the words that we’ve lost our baby. Our parents cried with us and have been nothing but supportive asking what they can do to help & taking the kids. The drive home felt empty, sad but peaceful as we clung to our favourite worship songs. My first pick was Highlands by Hillsong United:
“So I will praise You on the mountain
And I will praise you when the mountain’s in my way
You’re the summit where my feet are
So I will praise You in the valleys all the same
No less God within the shadows
No less faithful when the night leads me astray
You’re the Heaven where my heart is
In the highlands and the heartache all the same
Whatever I walk through
Wherever I am
Your Name can move mountains
Wherever I stand
And if ever I walk through
The valley of death
I’ll sing through the shadows
My song of ascent
These are truths of who God is and will always be and I clung to that on the cold, dark drive home and have continued to cling to every day since. He is no less God in this shadow.
Upon getting home we were greeted with smiles and excitement from our three boys and it was a much welcomed break after all the sadness. Walking through this makes me extra grateful for their lives and how much of a miracle each one of them is. Only Nixon asked if I was sad and I said yes and his response was ‘but God is good mum’ and I replied ‘yes Nixon, yes, He always is’. I’m not sure who I was talking to more, Nixon or myself.
I am so grateful for grandparents who took them for the next couple night and allowed them to enjoy being kids.
Kyle and I silently started to tidy up the house, not really knowing what to do with ourselves. We aren’t used to a quiet house, we aren’t used to this pain, we aren’t used to this being our reality. I was tidying up the kids room when I was stopped and overcome by emotion. I found the pajama set I had bought for my baby. When I was out to buy it, Nixon saw it and one of the pieces had llamas on it – every Sunday at church he eagerly looks for the llamas to say ‘hi’ and tell us what they’ve had for breakfast, hence his love for llamas – I told Nixon that ‘we weren’t going to buy it because we don’t need it, baby has enough pajamas’ (fourth baby problems). His insistent response was ‘no mum I’ll buy it because I love llamas and so does baby’. Well at that I couldn’t say no. But now this baby won’t wear those llama pajamas and I have to tell Nixon that. Now I have another reminder that this baby will never come home with us. There were going to be so many of those reminders over the coming days and weeks.
We finished cleaning up, still wondering what we’re going to do with all these reminders that we were supposed to have a baby with us in June. I don’t want them here anymore but I don’t want to just toss them away as if it all meant nothing. What if we have another? Is it okay for that baby to wear those things or use that baby book? Or will it all be too painful? So many questions that no one can answer but us, in time. Except I hated waiting, I wanted it all sorted out now but God wasn’t working that way, it was going to be a process that we walk through, that He walks us through.
I left the kids’ room and I saw the letterboard that still read ‘& one more makes four; June 2020’ with our ultrasound picture on it. An ultrasound where our baby still had a heartbeat. I sobbed as I began to take off each letter, there would no longer be four come June; this sign was no longer needed. I didn’t have a plan for what to put up next, but my heart settled on HOPE. We would hold onto hope, the hope of Jesus that would see us through.
We finally both sat down on the couch, found some crappy snacks to eat and shared a beer. I called Ashlee and told her the news. I knew she had been hoping for the best and so it was devastating to tell her the worst outcome. She came over with more snacks and drinks to help us through tomorrow. We stayed and chatted with her for a while which was nice because it gave us a mental break. I also called my mentor, and I couldn’t even speak, the emotions were so strong, I felt like I was going to be sick, all I could hear was her praying for us. Praying for things which I felt but couldn’t voice, praying for emotions that I hadn’t even named yet – such a gift from God.
Prayer is something I struggle with but I have seen the power of it and this was God reminding me of how important and how powerful it is. It was all we had and it truly is enough to handle this, not take away the pain and sadness but to bring true comfort.
I felt bad that I was so tired, I wanted to be able to do something to prevent this or prepare for it. However, I fell asleep shortly and had an on and off sleep until 4:30 AM. And now we wait; we wait for the hospital to call to tell us to come in and be induced. Neither of us are sure what to say to each other, there were no words for this period of waiting in such sadness.
Since no call was coming in and waiting was nauseating, I got up, got myself put together and began to work on party prep. Kyle joined me when he was ready; I don’t think he was overly surprised to see me keeping so busy and forging on with the party, I think we both welcomed the distraction.
The house was quiet, too quiet. I missed the constant chatter of our boys, their asking for snacks, or asking what we were doing. I missed the laughter. I missed them. But it also made me realize that God had designed me for motherhood, even when it feels like I can’t face it or do it right. That being parents to these three amazing, healthy boys, is God’s design and plan for my life and that is a moment I will treasure forever.
We ran a couple errands and as we were leaving Staples, at 1:30pm my phone rang. ‘Can you come for your induction at 2:30pm?’ ‘Yes’ ‘Bring your stuff, you’ll likely be here overnight’ the nurse from the hospital says. The nurse that called seemed so nonchalant about asking me to come in for my induction, I’m guessing she had no idea why I was on the list, after all, I was likely just a name. And yet this was the call that would be the beginning to the end and it was anything but nonchalant, it was everything. It was a punch in the gut and a blow to the knees.
We checked into the Family Birthing Unit triage at 2:30pm and were told to sit and wait, waiting was the worst at this point. I didn’t want to explain why I was there, why I was there with barely a belly, 5.5 months before I was supposed to be there. We waited some more and finally at 3pm the charge nurse came and got us to take us to our room. Room 222. She quickly became my least favourite person in the hospital. As she led us to our room she was explaining the medication process and said ‘you’ll be given two pills every 4 hours until you pass the product’…this is a BABY. My baby. Not some product. Thankfully we never saw her again.
We got settled into our room and shortly after our nurse for the next 4.5 hours came in. Grace. How fitting a name and what an answer to prayer she was. I will never forget her, her kindness and gentleness.
The OB came in to explain the procedure in further detail and asked if we were ready to start. I wanted to scream “NO!”. No one should ever be ready for this, no one is ever ready for this. I wanted to ask ‘are you ever ready to deliver a baby that you don’t get to keep? Are you ever ready for this? How am I supposed to be ready?!’ But I knew deep down the only way to the other side of this was through so we had to start at some point. So, instead of screaming at her I simply nodded my head yes, took a quick look at Kyle to make sure he was on the same page, he was.
Next in our room was a lab tech to draw a large panel of blood, he asked if I was pregnant…I legitimately didn’t know how to answer him. I fumbled over my words, confused, annoyed that he had even asked. I ended up mumbling that I had miscarried and that’s why I was here. He responded by saying that he didn’t know how to enter that on his machine. I was so annoyed. I’m sorry my situation doesn’t fit into your machine, it doesn’t fit into my life either but that didn’t change the fact that I am here. Finally Kyle spoke up and said “yes, she’s pregnant.” I was thankful that he had a clear mind and spoke for me.
Grace came in often to check to see if we needed anything, seriously anything at all, we always said no because really what could she bring us? She couldn’t make it go away and that’s all I wanted. On her own, she did bring us cookies, lip balm, body wash, popsicles and heaps of warm blankets. Like I said, she was an absolute gem.
When her shift came to an end I was genuinely sad. She said she didn’t want to go home, she wanted to stay with us and that the love that Kyle and I have for eachother is a love she aspires to have one day. What an encouragement at such a time as this.
As shift change was happening, I noticed the cramps were starting to pick up and I had to go to the bathroom and then I had to push… I had so many thoughts. I was not going to deliver my baby into the toilet, we needed a nurse – Kyle hit the call button, I needed something to catch this in ASAP. Kyle finally brought me the water jug. Nurses came running in and helped me to the bed. One of those nurses was replacing Grace. The rest is a blur of tears, questions and so many emotions. All of a sudden I felt more pain and a gush of water. My membranes. My water had broken. This is really going to happen, all of it, just like the other three except there would be no newborn cry.
They kept asking me to push. I had zero urge to push but I tried because how amazing it would be to have this over with so quickly and with minimal pain. The OB then asked to check me, lets just say she wasn’t ‘gentle’, it was very uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure if the tears I had were from her or from the situation, probably both. This all felt very invasive and chaotic since shift change had just happened and I hadn’t met a single one of these people. I missed my old familiar nurses and OB. I missed the calm, I missed peace. The new OB was kind but lacked compassion.
I tried to just focus on the music and ignore everyone else. Finally, I heard her say we needed to wait longer. Back to waiting. Everyone cleaned up and left; finally a little bit of peace after the chaos.
Shortly after, our new nurse introduced herself and let us know what the plan was now that things had settled down. Courtney was her name and as it turns out she went to school with my sister and they were good friends. Courtney had never had to deliver a miscarriage before and apologized for saying or doing the wrong thing. I said not to worry, I don’t think there was much she could say wrong and that it was my first time too.
The plan now was to simply wait and give me another dose of medication at 9pm. Time passed, 9pm came, and I got another dose. Kyle and I were desperately praying that our baby would be born before midnight. The last thing either of us wanted was for Zaden and the baby to share a birthday. It was bad enough the dates were going to be so close for such opposite emotions but if nothing else, please God, don’t let it be on the same day.
By 9:30 I had started bleeding. This was so difficult, it wasn’t overly painful but I was realising that soon our baby would be born and wouldn’t be with me anymore, heartbeat or no heartbeat I wanted to keep my baby with me, safe in the home it was supposed to be in.
I finally had the urge to push, the OB checked again and I was focused on all the bleeding but trying to drown it out with the music that Kyle had put on – Highlands by Hillsong on repeat again, and loud. Then out of nowhere, I heard a nurse I had never met or seen, say to Kyle “sorry” and Kyle’s response was “It’s okay, I want to see”.I knew at that moment our baby had been born. This precious tiny baby that was supposed to be safe in my womb for months more was now outside of my body, outside of my care and that hurt. It sent me into tears, uncontrollable tears that shook my whole body.
I didn’t care what the nurses or OB were asking me to do. I didn’t care what they were doing to me. My baby was laying on the bed instead of with me. There was no newborn cry, there were no tears of joy, there was no telling of the gender. It was a deathly silence that cut to my core.
My whole body hurt as I sobbed. This was wrong. I was angry and sad and even those words seem so small and don’t begin to describe the level of devastation I was feeling. I buried my face into Kyle’s hand, away from all the nurses. I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want the lights, I just wanted to lay in the darkness that my soul felt at that moment. I was mad to see Kyle comforting me but not upset. How was it he was already at peace with our baby being in heaven? How do you not cry when all I can do is sob uncontrollably?
I decided to ignore his feelings and just pull his body closer to mine so I could hide in it and cry. Cry with no end in sight. Cry because it was the only way to let the pain out of my body. I remember laying there, wanting so badly to curl up and rock myself as I cried out ‘that’s my baby, I want my baby back’ and yet there was no answer. No nurse telling me it would be okay, no nurse giving me instructions on how to care for this baby, just silence and some muttering between the OB and nurses.
All I wanted was to curl up in Kyle’s arms, somewhere that felt safe because I felt so exposed, so raw; the tears continued to flow. Kyle all of sudden sat down in his chair and began sobbing, the reality hit, I couldn’t reach him and was too busy sobbing on my own but I remember seeing some random nurse rubbing his back. I was glad because I know physical touch was what he needed.
The OB was still busy, trying to get the placenta to come out, but it wouldn’t so she said we would wait at least 2 more hours and see what happens. Waiting, more waiting.
Courtney started oxytocin through my IV in hopes of helping the placenta, that’s when the pain got real. I was proud to have birthed our baby without medication but this was ridiculous so I finally asked for morphine. The silver lining of this whole thing was there was no limit on the amount of painkillers I could have so I took advantage of that when asking for morphine. They got that started, followed by gravol to help with the onset of horrible nausea. If you read Kyle’s story apparently I said some pretty comical things, I’m glad to know that further down the road I will have provided us comical relief in such a tragic time.
Eventually, just past midnight the placenta came and it was all over. I remember crying again. More from a sense of relief. I knew that from a grieving standpoint this was not over, it had only just begun but the labour and delivery were over and that was a weight lifted off both of our shoulders.
The OB, who I had barely spoken a couple of words to me, let alone talked face to face, came up to my bedside and simply stated ‘the miscarriage is complete’ and walked out of my room. That was the last time I saw her and frankly I was okay with that. Her words stung. That word – miscarriage, I still seemed foreign to me, my story and my baby. The tears came back as I replayed her words over and over. It’s done, my baby is no longer a part of me, my body no longer supports life like it was supposed to. How was it over? And what were we supposed to do now?
The nurses did a great job cleaning up and being super respectful and quiet, allowing both Kyle and I to talk if we wanted or to sit in silence and we did both. Once they were finished, Courtney asked if I wanted to see my baby. I was ready. I wanted to hold my baby, I wanted to see him, my heart needed to see. Our baby was respectfully laid on a pad inside a small white tub. I won’t go into detail about what he looked like but it was love at first sight. It was familiar as if my eyes knew what my heart already knew, he was mine and I will forever love him.
The sobbing started as I began to grieve his life, his body, and realizing this was as close as I would ever get to having him with me ever again. We smiled and tears of joy rolled down our faces as we just sat with Aston. This moment in time is one we will have forever. Just us and our little baby boy. We knew right away, his name would be Aston Gabriel Enns. Gabriel meaning ‘God is my strength’ and that was exactly what we had at that moment. Kyle took Aston for a little bit longer, I was feeling sick again just from all the medication and needed to lay down. The tears came back, and they would continue to come and go throughout the night as my heart continued to grieve the loss of my little baby boy.
Once all the medication had stopped, and we were done holding Aston for now, Courtney had wanted to get me up to go to the bathroom/walk. I knew this was coming, it happened after each delivery before and I just wanted to get it done so I could go back to bed and try and get some sleep. I knew I should have said I didn’t feel well enough to do it but I was stubborn and tried anyway. About halfway to the door I got really dizzy and hot.
The next thing I remember was a nurse I had never met, staring me in the face calling my full name. I quickly realized I was laying on the floor, and there were way more nurses in the room than when I tried to get to the bathroom. They asked me if I knew my name and where I was…I felt annoyed with the questions, of course I knew where I was and what my name was but I also realized that I had probably fainted and they were just doing their job. They lifted me back into bed and I felt so dizzy, lightheaded, tired and hot. Kyle leaned over looked me right in the eyes and said in a very serious tone ‘don’t you ever do that to me again’.
Whatever ‘that’ was, he wasn’t too happy about it. It wasn’t until much later that I was informed of how scary it had been for him – sorry babe. It was taking all I had to try and stay coherent while everyone talked to me, I needed a rest and I needed it badly. I finally slept for about 4 hours before I remember Courtney coming back in to check my vitals and ask if I could try the bathroom again. I felt like a new person so I was up for trying the bathroom again. I did however wake Kyle incase anything went wrong again, I wanted him to be there to help Courtney. The bathroom was a success which meant I could shower – if you’ve delivered a baby you know what a treat this is.
The rest of the morning went by uneventfully. I was sad to see shift change happen, I really liked having Courtney there, she had been there through it all and had been so kind and gentle with us. I felt bad that she had to go through all that but I pray that we were gentle with her.
The next nurse came in, she was kind but I quickly became annoyed when she said that we may not be out of here until dinner time. I had already missed putting Zaden to bed for the last time before he turned one. I wasn’t there to wake him up and wish him a happy birthday or do birthday breakfast. I knew all of these things didn’t really matter and Zaden didn’t know the difference but it bothered me a lot and brought on more tears. It was just another ache that I was facing that I couldn’t do anything about.
I was getting annoyed with all the blood tests, I just wanted people to stop poking me and let me go home. Finally, at noon we got the all clear. I felt empty leaving. I had never left this hospital without a carseat with a cute bundled baby. This time all I was left with were two buckets, one with ice and another placed on top that held my baby boy.
Both Kyle and I were shocked, and annoyed that Surrey Hospital was not better prepared for situations like this. Regardless, we were thankful that we were able to leave and take our baby with us. We stopped by a store and picked up a tiny box to bury Aston in, yet another thing I had never done and truthfully wasn’t prepared to do.
The drive was silent for the most part, a lot of music, both of us just in our own thoughts. It was sunny, windy and very cold but sunny. We pulled up beside the river and waited. This spot on the river was special to us; Kyle brought me here on our first dates to take pictures of sunsets, he later proposed there and our wedding photos were taken there. There was no other place that we could think of that we would want to bury our son.
Neither of us were sure how to do this. I filled in the birth card with all the information we had. We didn’t have a height or a weight, we had his name and his birthdate. I found it crippling to try and write his name down knowing that this card wasn’t coming home to go in his baby book, it would stay here with him, another loss.
I had packed one of the onesies that Nixon had picked out, to put in the tiny box to hold his tiny body. I took as many pictures as I could of the onesie, the birth card, all of it. Desperately wanting to document that moment, wanting to document Aston because these will be the only photos we have of him.
Kyle held him, sobbed, and said his hellos and goodbyes, declared his love and promised to never forget him. I took him next. My baby. There are no words that will ever describe a mother’s love. My love for that little baby boy. I rubbed his head, his tiny toes, and fingers. He was perfect to me.
I cuddled him for what felt like forever but yet there was never a moment I felt ready to let him go. I prayed over him, prayed that God would care for us both and that he would know that I never wanted it to be this way. I never want to be without him. I must have said ‘I love you” a million times, desperately praying that he would somehow know that, that even in this tragedy, he would know how deep my love for him is. I laid him in the onesie, his whole body wasn’t big enough to even fill out the neck hole but it was his and I wanted him to be wrapped in something.
I took more photos. We closed the box and prayed and thanked God for his love and protection. We headed outside, the wind was insanely strong, and bitterly cold but I didn’t care. Kyle laid the box in the ground, I sat on the log and sobbed. How was it okay to leave my baby here? How am I supposed to leave without my baby? I already wanted to take him out of the box and cuddle him and tell him it’s okay. But I knew that God was already telling me those exact things. Aston was with God, in a perfect place, far better than I was. He was loved beyond my ability. My mind knew all these things, it was just going to take time before my heart caught up. Kyle covered up the box, and we just sat, holding each other the way we had two days ago. The wind was whipping the river up against our jackets but we couldn’t leave. I wasn’t ready to leave. As I sat drenched in tears, there was a peace that surpasses understanding that came upon me.
My body and heart hurt in ways I had never felt before, but I knew we would be okay and there was peace in letting go. Back at the car the tears came again, full body sobs from both of us. We held each other and let the tears and the hurt just come. It was over. This part was over and that was hard for me. I wasn’t ready to let go but I had no reason to hold on, Aston was already home. I needed to let go of this and cling to God, and that’s what the next days, weeks, months will look like.
Thank you to everyone who has done anything and everything to help us as we walk this journey. I may not reach out to say thank you personally but I couldn’t have done this without you. I’ve never been more thankful for our village.
Kyle, thank you for being my partner in all of this. We will see it through, God will make sure of it.
Aston, I don’t know how to say goodbye. I am so sorry our story has gone this way, I never wanted it to end like this and I eagerly await the day I get to see you in perfect peace and whole; the way God intended life to be for all of us. You will always be my baby and not a day will go by where you are not in my heart. A mumma’s love is forever. I love you.
Our going local journey of buying more local clothing started very slowly after Nixon was born. We had been following a few local kids clothing companies on Instagram and we had bought a few things shortly after he was born, but we also had a ton of clothing from the big corporate brands in his closet like Old Navy, Carter’s, Osh Kosh, etc. And we had a ton. You know how it is, you have a baby and all of a sudden you have kids clothes coming out of every drawer and your closet is full after one week because all of your family and friends decided to buy your kid clothes. That’s what happened to us. After the first several months of Nixon’s life we had so much clothing for him that he hadn’t even worn all of it!
We slowly decided we would start to accumulate more local kids clothing and hopefully get to the point where that’s all we owned for him. So, we slowly started to buy stuff; we knew it had to go slowly because going local is expensive, naturally. The local businesses are hiring local people to work for them and we live in a country with minimum wages, labour laws, and a high cost of living so right off the bat the local companies have a higher cost. Not only that, but they are buying higher quality materials which comes at a higher cost as well. And then on top of all that they have to make a profit. So while the local clothing is much more expensive we justify it in a few ways that we will share in the next post. This post is about how we got to where we are.
Once we got our first few pieces of local clothing for Nixon, we soon realized how good the quality was and that it wasn’t going to wear out anytime soon. This was encouraging to us because it meant if we had another boy, which we did, he would be able to wear a lot of it as well. Local clothing soon became the only thing we asked for at birthdays and Christmas because we don’t need more stuff. Our kids have enough toys and they don’t need anymore, but they will need clothes that fit as they grow. One thing we stress to family and friends and anyone else who buys our kids gifts is that we don’t expect you to buy the local stuff that we are okay buying. It’s expensive and for some people it is hard to justify and we would never put that on someone else to spend the way we spend. We just ask that they don’t buy clothes at all but rather buy experiences for our boys. For example, Sam’s sister bought the boys a day at Science World during the PIXAR Experience. We thought that the boys would be too young for it but they had a blast. That’s what we mean by buying experiences over stuff. We don’t want to sound ungrateful for the things our boys have been given, but we find that both the kids & us can easily get overwhelmed by stuff resulting in less playtime and more time spent cleaning up.
Our Going Local Journey And Staying Organized
Most of the time we know exactly what the kids have and don’t have, but as we get more and more and the kids get bigger it becomes harder to keep track of everything. In order to keep track of everything, we have a spreadsheet we use to monitor exactly what the boys have so it’s easy to know exactly what the boys need. Here is a page of our spreadsheet so you know what we’re talking about:
As you can see, this is a pretty organized spreadsheet that has all the information we need to know about when going shopping for new stuff or asking for other stuff from family and friends.
These are our totals which we have calculated by putting in custom spreadsheet formulas so that as you update the formula with what you have, the totals will also update itself automatically.
As the photo shows, we always do our best to never pay full price and from the above photos you can see that we’ve never once paid full price for an item.
Sign Up To Get Our Kids Clothing Spreadsheet For Free
If you leave us your email address above, we will send you our entire spreadsheet blank so you can fill it in on your own and keep track of your kids’ clothes as well. The hardest part is making sure that you keep it updated, otherwise you can easily find yourself buying things you already have. Staying organized is also super important so that when there is a big sale or you’re going shopping, you know what you have. If you’re like us and only shop a few times per year, it can be even more important to make sure you get exactly what you need.
Our Going Local Journey And Saving Money
A few things you should know about us, we’re frugal, we love a good deal, and we’re not even close to rich. That is not a good combination for a family of soon to be 5, that wants to shop local where things are more expensive and often the sales don’t even bring the cost down that much. That being said, there are a few times per year when we shop and we shop hard.
Warehouse sales are our best friend. They happen anywhere from 1-4 times per year and are almost always at the end of a season. Companies need to move product at the end of a season to make space for the next season’s product. This means we get the previous 1 or 2 season’s product at a minimum of 30% discount but usually 50% or more. This is the time we when spend. A lot. Since we purposely don’t shop much during the year a lot our hauls at warehouse sales are usually in the hundreds of dollars. Planning is involved before you go to these sales though and that is where the spreadsheet above is so handy. A quick look at the spreadsheet before we go tells us exactly what we need. We then put a quick note in our phone (or on paper if you’re old school like that) and now we go to the sale knowing exactly what we need. We don’t worry too much about what season it is because a lot of stuff, like sweaters and t-shirts, can we worn year round. Keep in mind this also means that our kids are not usually in the newest colours or even newest styles these companies have released because we are waiting until the end of season to by items our kids need, it’s a sacrifice we’re willing & need to make.
As a general rule of thumb, we don’t buy something unless we’re getting it at at least a 30% discount. There are times when we make an exception but that is rare. Our favourite times shop, and when there is usually a sale worth spending at, are:
- Summer warehouse sale
- Winter warehouse sale
- Boxing Week
- Black Friday
If you look at those sales, most of them are in the last half of the year which is why being organized is so important because for the first half of the year, if you want to get winter clothing for your kids, you have one shot to do so, at the winter warehouse sale.
The other way we buy at a discount is by buying second hand. Almost every local brand we know of has a B/S/T Facebook page or group. What does B/S/T mean? It stands for “Buy/Sell/Trade” and it is where customers can, well, buy, sell, or trade that brand’s items to someone else. It usually works by posting the item you have with a few pictures and the price you want. Then the first person to comment on the post that they want it, gets it assuming the transaction goes as planned. Often times people will comment after the first comment something like “next if not picked up” so that if the original commenter doesn’t end up buying it, that second commenter is next in line if something happens. These groups are highly competitive because everyone wants to get product at a discount and often times these discounts are over 50% but we’ve gotten stuff at 90% discount before. The downside, obviously, is that it had been worn before, but for us that is minor because kids rarely wear through their clothes. If you want to know if your favourite brand has a group like that just hop on Facebook and search “YOUR FAVOURITE BRAND B/S/T”.
Lastly, if you have friends with kids, one thing you can do is share clothing. For example, another couple we’re close with has a son moving into size 6-12 Months. When our new baby comes in January, he will be in 0-6 Months size. Since we won’t be using our 6-12 Months sized clothing anytime soon and they won’t be using their 0-6 Months sized clothing, we just swapped and they can use our 6-12 Month clothing and we use their 0-6 Month clothing when we need it. This is the best way to cut costs because it costs you nothing. It only costs you the risk of someone else potentially ruining your clothing so use caution in deciding who you share with, but if you find someone with the same mentality as you then this is the cheapest way to cut your costs and avoid having to buy new clothing.
Our Going Local Journey Details
So, how much have we actually spent and what do our kids actually have? We are going to share exactly what we’ve spent and compare that to what we would have spent if we bought at full retail price.
Here it is:
Total Retail Price: $3,487
Total Price We Paid: $1,967.50
Total Savings: $1,519.50
Percentage Savings: 45%
As you can see, we have made a significant amount of savings by applying the methods mentioned above, buying used and only buying items on sale/at warehouse sales. Everything we got was in very good or brand new condition to ensure that quality would not be an issue. So we’ve spent almost $2,000 on our kids’ clothes, what did we actually get them?
8 Long Sleeve Shirts
9 Tank Tops
4 Pairs of Shorts
23 Pairs of Pants
2 Long Sleeve Rompers
3 Short Sleeve Rompers
1 Short Romper
2 Pairs of Pajamas
3 Pairs of Underwear
Those are all across the following sizes
- 0-6 Months
- 6-12 Months
- 12-18 Months
- 18-24 Months
The biggest size Nixon is wearing is 2T but when something comes along that is used, in good condition and significantly discounted, we buy it for the future.
Keep in mind this is just our local clothing and it is a slow journey. As a result of that our boys still have some non-local clothing as we continue to transition their wardrobes. We are always looking for new companies to help fill in the gaps of items that we cannot find locally and as we do so, we will phase out the other items. And as always, we will look for the best savings possible!
Like most people, whenever we travel, our smartphones always come with. It’s like a personal travel agent in your pocket. With all the millions of apps in the App Store you can have everything you need to make your travels go smoothly all on one device. We are going to share with you some of the apps that we use all the time when we travel and maybe help you make your travels go a little easier.
We looked long and hard for a good map app and honestly there just isn’t anything that can beat Google Maps. Google Maps can even be used offline if you plan ahead and download the area you are concerned with ahead of time. To download maps offline here are the steps:
Open Google Maps > click the three horizontal lines in the top left > click offline maps > click custom map > move screen to the area you want to download > click download
When traveling in a new city this is especially helpful when wanting to find landmarks, facilities, or just get directions. If you have something that beats Google Maps let us know, we’re always open to trying new things.
Being the points family that we are, we are often in airports with lounges that we have access to. Lounges are great because they provide you with a space to relax and get away from the chaos of the airport prior to your flight. They also usually provide complimentary food and drinks (sometimes alcohol is included) which is always appreciated rather than buying the overpriced, poor quality food on the flight.
LoungeBuddy is great because it will tell you exactly what lounge you have access to whether it’s before you take off or after you land. After you create an account you will have to provide some basic personal information like your name, home airport and email address. The best thing about LoungeBuddy is that you can also input your airline elite statuses, lounge memberships, credit cards you have, and whether or not you’re an active US Military member. This is where LoungeBuddy really shines because after you put that information in it will always tell you exactly which lounge in which airport you have access to and whether the access is free or paid and whether you will be able to bring in guests or not and if they are free or paid.
Basically, any time we are traveling, I always look up the airports we will be in to see which lounges we have access to because, especially traveling with kids, they can be a life saver pre-flight.
If you are interested in knowing more about getting lounge access, it’s very easy and comes as a perk with some credits cards. Check out the Business Platinum and Platinumcards from American Express for unlimited lounge access as long as the card is active.
Okay, in all honesty, we just got this app today and it’s already a favourite. For being a LoungeBuddy member we both got codes to download up to $9.99 worth of TripScout cities and we love it.
How it works is you download the app for free then just pay per city map that you want. In each city map you will have all the popular shops, parks, restaurants, monuments, even Instagrammable locations mapped out for you already. Plus, you can download everything so it is available offline including directions from your location to whatever destination you choose (has to be one on their map). Sam got two codes so for our trip we downloaded Paris, Athens, and Santorini. There are some things on here that we didn’t even know about from our Google searches so it seems to really be worth it.
Sam’s favourite feature is that you can sort what you want to see on the map through their filters. If you only want the map to shore restaurants you can do that. If you only want to see the monuments you can choose that. This way it doesn’t get overwhelming. This app is quickly making our trip planning a lot easier.
We don’t always stay in luxury hotels when we travel so it’s really nice to have the AirBnB app on hand. Often times, depending on the city you’re in, you can get some really awesome deals staying in other people’s places and AirBnB is the best way to do so. When we traveled to New York City last year, we stayed in a basement suite in Brooklyn for only $108/night when everything else was easily over $150/night and hotels were well into the $200+ range. Plus, it’s really cool to use AirBnB for your accommodations sometimes because you can get some really unique places to stay in that a hotel would never offer.
WD My Cloud is how we store all of our photos. Taking photos is one of the things we love to do, as you can tell from our Instagram account, so rather than taking up all the space on our phone or our laptop, we needed somewhere to store all of them. Enter, WD My Cloud. This device plugs into your WiFi router and acts as a cloud storage device. Since it’s connected to WiFi (by being connected to your router) it can be accessed from anywhere that you have an internet connection. Even in our day to day living we upload to the device often to minimize the space our photos take up on our devices. Since the WD My Cloud is 2 Terabytes of storage, we are not worried about running out of space anytime soon.
This device is great because all we need is internet to move photos. So, even when we’re abroad, once we get a WiFi connection, we upload the days worth of photos. The device doesn’t just store photos, it can store anything you upload to it whether that’s videos, documents or other information.
Before we post to Instagram, most of our photos get an edit. Lightroom CC is our favourite app to do that with. In our opinion, it gives the widest variety of things to do with your photo. For those with a little bit of experience in photo editing, the one thing we love most about Lightroom CC is the ability to edit hue, saturation, and luminance of colours. We have found that this is not available as a free option on any of the other photo editing apps. Adobe is by far the leader in photo editing, so why not use their app for that as well?
If you want to do things like edit RAW photos or sync with your desktop version of Lightroom, you’ll need to have an Adobe Creative Cloud CC membership. That is not free, but for what we use it for, it is a great app and it does everything we need and it does it the best.
If you aren’t already aware, we love deals. Any chance we get to save money we take. Groupon is a company that allows businesses to promote their company by offering their services at a discount on Groupon. As a consumer, this is great because you often get activities, restaurants, and services at a great rate and the quality is often still very high. Whenever we travel to a new city we always check out what that city has on Groupon. More often than not, we find a great deal on something, usually a restaurant or a local activity.
We love Spotify. We use it all the time. We use it in our house. We use it in our car. We use it whenever we need a musical fix. We have the paid version because we like to be able to download playlists and have them available to us offline. This is great when you’re on a plane or in a city where you don’t have WiFi/data to use. There are many apps out there that allow you to play music, Spotify is our favourite.
Then there are the apps we only use sometimes:
It seems like Google has their hand in everything these days and whenever they have their technology in a sector they seem to do it really well. This is the case with Google Translate as well. We will soon be in Europe where not everyone will always speak English, though most tourist cities you can usually find someone who does, and this app will likely come in handy.
Lyft and Uber are the two most well known ride share companies. Since we don’t have Lyft or Uber in Vancouver, we don’t keep these apps on our phone. But when we travel, we’re usually in a city that does have them so we will download them. Whenever we need to get somewhere, these are our go to. We seem to use Lyft more only because they usually have more coupon codes that we can use but we have used both and they both get the job done well.
This is a program that we mostly use on desktop but they do have an app that works just as well. SeatGuru is great because it tells you where the best spot to sit on your plane is. Are you going to be too close to the lavatory and have lots of foot traffic go by? Is your seat missing a window? Is your seat cramped because of the curvature of the airplane? All of these questions are answered on SeatGuru. When booking a flight, it is our go to before we decide which seats to reserve.
HotelTonight is an app that allows you to book a hotel room last minute at a discount. You can book anytime between that day and 7 days out. The hotels they offer are usually very quality hotels and almost always are at a discount compared to rate directly through the hotel, sometimes as high as 50% off. This is a great app if you’re in a city and need a hotel room last minute. The only downside of the app is that it does not offer any hotels in Asia, but other than that we can’t find anything negative about the app.
Lastly, there are the apps that we are yet to try but sound really helpful:
PackPoint is a packing list app. You input your destination and dates of travel and based on your information it will provide a packing list specific to your destination and time of year that you are in that destination. You can also add information like why you’re going there or what you plan to do there and it will make suggestions to add to your packing list based on what you’ve said. We haven’t tried it yet but this could be a great app to try on our upcoming Europe trip.
While Google Maps is usually pretty good at finding the best route on transit sometimes it’s better to use an app that strictly does one thing and hopefully they do it well. Citymapper is a transit app that gets you from A to B only using transit. This can be especially helpful when in another city and are looking to use transit. Think of cities like New York City, Boston, Paris, Tokyo, cities with large and expansive transit systems that can seem overwhelming. We will be putting it to the test for the first time when we head over to Europe, Paris specifically, and hopefully it does the job well. Citymapper is also available offline which is extremely useful when you don’t have WiFi or don’t want to eat your data.
Have you ever really had to go but didn’t know where the closest free washroom was? Or better yet have you ever had a kid who really had to go but didn’t know where to take them? On our recent trip to Bali, we first encountered having to pay to use the washroom. While it was usually only cents to go, it was still a paid service which we weren’t used to. SitorSquat shows you where the public washrooms are around you and whether they’re “sit” which means they’re clean or “squat” which means you might just wanna squat.
WiFi Map is a lot like SitorSquat except for WiFi. Sometimes you just need access to WiFi whether it’s to lookup where you’re going, find a place to eat or just catch up on your Instagram. WiFi Map shows you all the networks around you that you can access. They are either free or if a password is required, the app will tell you what the password is. This is very very useful when you’re in a foreign city and the only WiFi you have access to is the one at the hotel. Now, you can access everything you need from wherever you are. You can also download the WiFi maps of the cities you will be in ahead of time if you don’t have internet access to check where the free WiFi is.
Those are the apps we use and the ones we are looking forward to using.
What are your favourite apps to use when traveling?
Never stop adventuring!
Since we’ve been married we’ve been fortunate enough to go to Disneyland 3 times. Each time we’ve been we’ve never had more than one day in Disneyland. Needless to say, we’ve become really good at getting all of Disneyland done in one day.
This one day plan will give you a detailed guide on how to do all the main rides and attractions of Disneyland in one day. We won’t cover food because realistically you can eat wherever you want whenever you want. Plus, Disneyland let’s you bring in your own food so pack lots of snacks and water.
There are also a few optional things you can do to make your day in Disneyland longer, if something is considered optional, we will make that very obvious as it usually comes at an additional cost or involves cutting something else out of your day.
Last thing before we get started, during our times at Disneyland we’ve learned some fun facts and throughout this post we will share some of them with you.
Fun Fact: Disney Cast Members are not allowed to point with one finger (considered rude in some cultures so they always use two fingers) or say “I don’t know”.
Here is everything we want to accomplish when we go to Disneyland:
Ride (for sure):
- Space Mountain
- Astro Blasters
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Indiana Jones
- Splash Mountain
- Haunted Mansion
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
- Peter Pan’s Flight
Ride (if time allows):
- Mad Tea Party
- It’s A Small World
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
- Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
- Jungle Cruise
- Mark Twain Riverboat
- Mickey Mouse
- Disney Parade
- Disney Fireworks
- Dole Whip
- Mickey Beignet
Now, in order to get everything done in one day you’ll need to start your morning early.
Optional Choice: If you stay at the Disneyland Hotel, the Grand Californian, or Paradise Pier you get a free Magic Morning. Magic Morning allows you into the park one hour earlier than regular park guests. These hotels start at about $300 per night so this is definitely optional. If you choose to do this, we suggest riding Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean then getting an Indiana Jones FASTPASS as soon as the park officially opens to everyone. These mornings alternate between Disneyland and California Adventure, Disneyland’s days are Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday which means you should stay either Monday, Wednesday, or Friday night at the hotel.
We have never actually been there right at opening and have still been able to get everything done that we wanted to. If you want to get everything done then we suggest getting there at least a half hour before open. This means getting there at 7:30am or 8:30am depending on the morning you go.
The first thing you need to do is get a Space Mountain FASTPASS. Space Mountain is almost always the ride with the longest line. We’ve seen it as long as 3 hours!! We will assume this FASTPASS has a return time of 1:10pm – 2:10pm. This means we can not hold another FASTPASS until 1:10 pm. Since we’ve never actually been at the park right at open, the line is usually already over an hour by the time we get in and that is going to really cut into our day.
Optional Choice: do the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. It is usually a short line so you won’t wait long but you can definitely skip it as it is more geared towards the kids. It is very close to Space Mountain so it won’t take much to tack it on.
One of our favourite rides, since we’re a competitive family, is Astro Blasters. Astro Blasters is a Toy Story themed ride where you need to shoot lasers at targets to receive points. The nice thing is it’s really close to Space Mountain so you don’t have to go far. By now the line should be around 30 minutes which we can wait in.
Fun Fact: The high score on Astro Blasters is over 2,000,000. Out of our family the best we’ve ever got was 248,000.
After getting the new high score (send us a screen shot if you did because that’s amazing), we might want to take a quick break and grab a snack. We always bring our own food but there are two things in Disneyland that are must-buys. Unfortunately, we only just learnt about one of them so we have never actually tried it, the Mickey Beignet. These usually are sold out by noon and are only available at the Mint Julep Bar and Cafe Orleans. Now would be a good time to go and grab one of them.
After eating our delicious treat, we want to go to one of the rides which usually has the longest rides. Since it will still be morning, we want to get in line for a ride that has a short line but usually has a really long line. For us, it’s always a decision between Indiana Jones and Splash Mountain. Whichever of those two rides has the shorter line, we get in that line. We will use our next FASTPASS that we can get at 1:10pm on the other ride. So, if Splash Mountain only has a 40 minute wait and Indiana Jones has a 60 minute wait, get in line for Splash Mountain and then at 1:10pm we will get an Indiana Jones FASTPASS.
Fun Fact: Mad Tea Party has tea cups with varying speeds. The orange teacup with diamonds and the purple one are the fastest spinners. The two teacups with hearts are the slowest.
After Splash Mountain we will head to Pirates of the Caribbean. This ride has no FASTPASS and it is nice and close to both Indiana Jones and Splash Mountain. It also does not have FASTPASS so if we want to do this ride, which we do, we will have to wait for it no matter what. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Haunted Mansion both have FASTPASS so we will use our last FASTPASS of the day on whichever of those has the longest wait time. Remember, though, we can not get another FASTPASS until the start time of our Indiana Jones/Splash Mountain FASTPASS time has started. This means whichever of those two we don’t want to FASTPASS, we will wait in line for right after Pirates of the Caribbean.
Let’s take a break and recap where we’re at so far:
- Got a Space Mountain FASTPASS for return between 1:10pm – 2:10pm
- Rode Astro Blasters
- Ate a Mickey Beignet
- Rode Indiana Jones/Splash Mountain (whichever line was shorter)
- Rode Pirates of the Caribbean
- Rode Haunted Mansion/Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (whichever line was shorter)
Now let’s look at things we still want to do:
- Ride Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad/Haunted Mansion
- Ride Space Mountain
- Eat Dole Whip
- Get Indiana Jones/Splash Mountain FASTPASS
- Ride Indiana Jones/Splash Mountain
- Ride Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
- Ride Peter Pan’s Flight
- Meet Mickey Mouse
- Watch the parade
- Watch the fireworks
Let’s assume now it is 1:10pm, which means we should go to Indiana Jones/Splash Mountain, whichever we haven’t rode yet, and get a FASTPASS for that ride. Let’s assume our return time is between 5:10pm – 6:10 pm which means at 5:10pm we can get our next FASTPASS.
To get to the ride we should do next we have to go right by the Tiki Juice Bar, which means it’s time for Dole Whip. This is a must for us because it is the most delicious thing to eat in all of Disneyland and you can’t even argue with us! 🙂
Fun Fact: Club 33 is a private club in New Orleans Square. Club 33 is also the only place in Disneyland that sells alcohol. Club members pay $10,000 a year plus a $25,000 non-refundable initiation fee and there’s a 14-year waiting list to join.
After eating our Dole Whip, we need to make sure we use our FASTPASS so we will go to Space Mountain and ride it. The FASTPASS line is usually still long and in our experience we still wait about 10-20 minutes which is significantly shorter than what the normal line will be.
After Space Mountain, we will head over to the Matterhorn Bobsleds which is in Fantasyland. This ride is another one that is notoriously long to wait for but we have always had really good success going in the single rider line. The reason this works so well is that the bobsleds for this ride seat 5, that means when a family of 4 or 2 pairs get in there is always a leftover seat for you. Sometimes you even get lucky like my family did this past trip, my dad, mom, and brother all got on the same bobsled. If you really want to ride together then you’ll have to wait in line and who knows how long that will be. Taking the single rider line is one of the best ways to cut down on waiting in line and we’ve always had the best success at this ride.
Fun Fact: Walt Disney had an apartment above the Disneyland Fire Station. When he was at the park he would always have the light on in the window. Since his passing, the light has been permanently on.
We will skip all the rides in Toontown because they’re very “kiddie” rides and aren’t something that will give us a ton of enjoyment. We still go there and walk around because it’s such a cool place to be and the best place to see Mickey Mouse, at Mickey Mouse’s house, which we’ve done the past couple times. This wait is usually 30-60 minutes and since you’re in Disneyland, you gotta see Mickey. After that we should head to finish the rest of Fantasyland.
In Fantasyland, the rides we like to ride are Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Peter Pan’s Flight. These rides do not have FASTPASS available so we will have to wait in line. We’ve never waited much longer than 30 minutes for either of these rides so after an hour or so these rides will both be done.
Optional Choice: You can add It’s A Small World to your day but the wait is usually much longer there, although FASTPASS is available there, but remember the FASTPASS rules, which mean you’ll have to wait in line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or skip it and do It’s A Small World instead.
Now, the Disney Parade times vary by the day so you will need to check that before you go. Usually the parade is either 3:30pm or 6pm and on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday it’s usually both. We’ve always been there over a weekend when both times are available so what we do is we watch the parade at the 6pm and make sure we get good seats that have both a good view of the parade but also a good view of the castle so we can stay in the same spot for the Disney Fireworks. By now it’s probably close to 5pm. This means we should start looking at getting seats for the parade. The parade route can be found on the Disneyland Map but it basically runs from It’s A Small World to the end of Main Street so anywhere along there is a good seat for the parade, but we want to have the same seat for the fireworks which have projections on the castle so we want to be on the north side of the Walt Disney statue between that and the castle along the right hand side to see the parade best. An hour should be enough time to get the seats you want.
Fun Fact: Disneyland has about 200 feral cats that they release at night to catch mice within the park.
Now that we have the seats we want, we need to use our Indiana Jones/Splash Mountain FASTPASS, but we don’t want to lose our seats either. Since we’re saving seats for the parade and fireworks we will have to take turns riding Indiana Jones/Splash Mountain in groups. Not a big deal because good seats for the parade and fireworks are definitely worth it. Also, we can now get another FASTPASS for another ride. So, on our way to Indiana Jones/Splash Mountain, we will stop by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad/Haunted Mansion and get a FASTPASS for whichever one we haven’t done yet. Hopefully they are still distributing FASTPASS tickets for whichever ride we are yet to do because if the day is really busy they might have run out. Make sure you take everyone’s park tickets (including those saving seats for the parade and fireworks) to get the FASTPASS so everyone can return as early as possible. Once the first group has ridden Indiana Jones/Splash Mountain the other group can now go and be back just in time for the parade to start.
As of now, the Pixar Fest parade is fantastic. This last time we went was the second day of Pixar Fest, both the parade and the fireworks, and as always, Disney did a fantastic job with them and it was spectacular.
Time for another recap of what we’ve done:
- Got a Space Mountain FASTPASS for return between 1:10pm – 2:10pm
- Rode Astro Blasters
- Ate a Mickey Beignet
- Rode Indiana Jones/Splash Mountain (whichever line was shorter)
- Rode Pirates of the Caribbean
- Rode Haunted Mansion/Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (whichever line was shorter)
- Ride Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Ride Space Mountain
- Eat Dole Whip
- Get Indiana Jones/Splash Mountain FASTPASS
- Ride Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
- Ride Peter Pan’s Flight
- Meet Mickey Mouse
- See the parade
We still have to:
- Ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad/Haunted Mansion
- Watch the fireworks
We are making good time so far because as soon as the parade finishes we can go ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad/Haunted Mansion while waiting for the fireworks to start. Again, since we want to save our seats for the parade, we will have to go ride in groups. If our FASTPASS return time is good for anytime between 8pm – 9pm, then we can use those. Otherwise, we will have to wait in line. The line shouldn’t be too long and both groups should be able to wait in line, ride the ride, and get back to our seats in time for the fireworks.
Fun Fact: The Dream Suite is a luxury apartment above Pirates of the Caribbean. It is meant to entertain VIP guests but Disney selects random park guests to stay there, too!
The Disney Pixar Fest fireworks we saw while we were there this past time were amazing. We won’t give a lot away but there was a flying object in the sky that was very Pixar. It may or may not have involved balloons, sorry if that gave it away.
After the fireworks it is time to get some sleep after a very long and exhausting, but hopefully fun, day.
One last recap of everything we did:
- Space Mountain
- Astro Blasters
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Indiana Jones
- Splash Mountain
- Haunted Mansion
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Mickey Mouse
- Disney Parade
- Disney Fireworks
- Dole Whip
- Mickey Beignet
Hopefully the next time you are in Disneyland you have more than one day to enjoy it, but if you’re crazy like us and have to get it all done in one day then this plan might just be a lifesaver for you as it was for us.
Fun Fact: The Matterhorn has a basketball court inside it for cast members to play on their break.
Next week we will go over how to do all of Disneyland in one day with kids so look out for that post.
Never stop adventuring!
In the interest of full disclosure, we are part of the Amazon Associates program. This means that some of the below items may earn us a small commission if purchased through the below links. There is no pressure for any of you to purchase these items through our links; however, should you choose to do so we thank you very much for your support!
So before we left for our Arizona trip, if you want to see pictures of the trip check out our Instagram, we posted about the things we were bringing with us to make travelling with kids easier. If you haven’t read that post, you can find it here.
We promised we would do a follow up post on how useful these items were and how much simpler they made traveling with kids, if at all. Here are our thoughts:
Was this diaper backpack as helpful as I was hoping? Yes. Because we did this trip with primarily carry-ons having a backpack was extremely helpful through the airports. All the pockets are ideal because it kept everything we needed for the boys organized and easily findable – especially if I was just telling Kyle where something is. Besides the airports & travel days, the backpack was still awesome. It allowed us more freedom when either one of the boys wanted to be carried or when we needed to hold Nixon’s hand while crossing busy streets, walking through Disneyland etc. Even though the bag is smaller than my old gym style diaper bag I never felt like I was compromised in what I could pack. In fact I found I only packed the essentials rather than filling the bag with all sorts of unnecessary items and never once did I think I was missing something.
Again, this item proved to be as essential as we thought. There were a couple nights where all 7 of us crammed into a hotel room, and not having to worry about fitting 2 extra cribs in the room or making a bed on the floor was a bonus. They aren’t the smallest but they fit beside our bed no problem. It is nice that the boys are both contained but also helpful that there is fabric shades that roll down so it provides a dark & quiet space for them to sleep. A downside is the nylon material it is made out of. It makes a decent amount of noise when the kids move in their sleep but it really was a minor deal. Our youngest had issues in his tent but we found out pretty quickly that he prefers a plush mattress so we simply ordered an extra blanket from the hotel and put it under the entire bed (not inside where he sleeps to reduce risk of suffocation) and it worked surprisingly well. There are a couple modifications I’m looking into to help with the nylon bedding pad but I’ll update you on that once I find a solution.
This too was a purchase I would highly recommend. After getting through airport security I was very thankful to have a stroller that folded up with one hand, into one piece. If we had brought our City Select that is easily an extra 3 pieces I would be carrying around when it was not assembled. Both the kids did awesome in the stroller, it folded up nice and compact – which was essential because our rental minivan was packed to the brim! A plus I hadn’t really considered was how nice it was to have it tandem style, getting through doorways, and even the crowds at Disneyland was much easier because we were nice and skinny rather than taking up the extra space. Now, I was warned when I bought the stroller that the seats did not recline very far and that is true. That made it a little difficult for the kids to fall asleep in a comfortable position, however, when they were tired enough it didn’t matter and they slept just fine. The storage bin underneath wasn’t huge but it held our UV shade and a couple water bottles which was awesome. The only thing I would recommend (& totally forgot to do) was bring our stroller caddy from our City Select. That would have just given us the storage for things like phones and sunglasses accessible at the handles – it’s on my list to grab when we go to Europe!
Truthfully we didn’t use this a lot but when we did it came in very handy. I only say that because we weren’t out with the stroller much in Arizona so it was primarily just used during our day in Disneyland. It was a little awkward for the kid sitting in the front seat of the stroller but often times they just got used to it. It kept the inside of the stroller decently cool and allowed us the extra protection from the sun, especially when standing in lines around Disneyland. A bonus, it helped the kids stay asleep because it was a little darker and harder to see what was going on.
This was something we didn’t really use a ton except getting on and off the plane. Since the kids got to bring one small item on the plane we used this as Nixon’s carry on and it was perfect for what we needed it to do which was carry his toys and stuff. It perfectly fit a few books, toys and his stuffed bunny. Plus, it was light enough that he could carry it himself and as I mentioned last time it’s a way for us to show him that he can carry his own things.
Yes. Yes. Yes. This was all Nixon wore during our entire trip. Easy to put on, easy to clean & comfortable to walk in. He wore them all day in Arizona because our patio & grass were often very hot and he wanted to walk over the rocks or stand on the steps in the pool. I never had to worry about changing shoes which, one less thing to worry about is a win in my books! And when we got photos done in the dessert and they got all dusty, a simple dunk in the pool and they were as good as new! In fact, we’ve had awesome weather since we’ve got back home and so we’ve just continued wearing them. I can see these being a staple for both our boys for many years to come. I’m even wanting a pair myself!
This was Kyle’s baby so he will take over here.
Hey everyone, I didn’t think I would have as much fun with this little thing as I did. I only opened it the day before we left and while I did use it a decent amount on the trip it was one of those things where I felt like I wasn’t using it to it’s full potential. It was super simple to use out of the box but it has many modes and other functions that I haven’t played with enough yet. I didn’t like that sometimes the Bluetooth connection took a few tries to connect but other than that I have no complaints. Stay tuned for a video of our Arizona trip!
What is the one thing you never travel without?
Never stop adventuring!
We have some very exciting news to share with everyone! We will be co-hosting a second Vancouver Travel Hacking Meetup for all of you. We say co-hosting because we have decided to host with our favourite local travel hacking bloggers, PointsWise!
We want to take a minute and talk about them because if you don’t want to come to the meetup for us, you sure want to come for them. There is no Canadian Travel Hacking blog that we love more than theirs. Their blog is so full of information which comes in great detail. I (Kyle), frequent all the big blogs that talk about award travel and travel hacking and PointsWise is by far my favourite. Tyler and Brad have traveled extensively on many airlines, have stayed in many hotels and have relaxed in many lounges that whenever I need a review, they’re my first stop. Let’s just say it’s an honour to be hosting this meetup with them.
The travel hacking meet-up will take place at The St Regis Hotel in Vancouver BC on April 29th from 4-6pm and will cover a variety of topics. Rather than having a traditional ‘speaker/audience’ format, we hope to keep most of the evening informal with plenty of opportunity to network and share ideas! At the meetup we will be talking about a range of topics including the following:
- Marriott/SPG program changes
- Manufactured spending
- Credit card churning
- Leveraging referral programs
- Identifying goals and creating a plan
- Program sweet spots and high-value redemptions
- Tips to stay organized
- & more!
There will be prizes at the Meetup, PointsWise will generously be giving away a one night stay at the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver for 2. Also, those who attend the event will receive a special invite to a private group chat (hosted on Slack) as a way to keep the conversation going.
If you are interested, the event is FREE but you will require a ticket as space is limited. You can get your ticket here. Those who attend the event are asked to support the venue by ordering food and/or drinks as there is no cost for attending.
If there is something specific you would like us to talk about, please leave a comment in the comment section below and we will cover it at the meet-up. We hope to see you there!
Never stop adventuring!
This is Part 3 of a 3 Part Series about booking a European Family Vacation on points. In this part we will go over the details of booking hotels with points.
Most of us know how to book a hotel. You go to whatever your favourite search site is, lookup the city you want, input your dates and select the hotel you want to stay at. It’s a very simple process for those that have done it at least once before. The unfortunate part about points is that the process is not necessarily that easy.
The obstacle we come across when booking on points is mostly the same as booking flights on points, availability. For couples travelling as 2 people, this is a relatively easy process and availability is usually easy to find. When travelling as a family of 4 or more, things get more complicated as we learned when going through this process ourselves.
Europe is very strict with their room occupancy limits and rarely will you find a room with 2 queens as you would in almost any city in North America. In Europe, most room occupancy limits listed are adhered to to the tee. The worst part is that most hotels include any person regardless of age as a person towards the room occupancy limit, including kids, even infants. Most of this is due to their strict fire codes and enforcement.
While you would be hard pressed to try and get away with 3 adults in a 2 person occupancy room, we’ve found some hotels are a little bit more lenient when it comes to kids and the smaller they are the better in your favour. As you read this please keep in mind if your kids are older, you will have a harder time getting hotels to bend the rules for you and you will have a much better time booking adjoining rooms for you and the kids. Yes, that means you’ll have to pay for two rooms with your points but the stress of the situation is gone then.
Here’s how we searched hotels to fit our family’s needs and how to talked to the hotels to allow 4 of us in a 3 occupancy limit rooms.
First off, we are big Marriott fans. We explained why is this post. Basically, their points are easy to get and the value you can extract from them for high end luxury hotels is incredible. And the best part? You don’t have to have the points in your account until 2 weeks before check in so you can plan way ahead and have time to earn the points. That being said, we always search for a Marriott hotel first before we go to any other hotel chain. Before we search Marriott’s site for hotels, we always check if they have any PointSaver hotels available where we are going. PointSavers are hotels that Marriott is offering for less points than usual, a discount if you will. If we go to the PointSavers page, we see that there are hotels on sale. If you scroll down you will come to this screen:
Here we see all the available places that have PointSavers. It is broken down into USA and Worldwide, since we’re going to Europe we will focus on the Worldwide side. Lucky for us, the there are 2 Greece hotels on PointSaver the time that we want to be there.
Remember, we are in Greece from October 26th to November 5th. Now, based on the time of year we are flying, certain hotels in Greece are not open. Greece is a very popular place to go in the summer but not so much the rest of the year, hence why hotels close during the winter. The hotel that we are most excited about on our trip is Domes of Elounda. Domes of Elounda, which as far as we can tell, closes on October 31. Lucky for us we are there in time to make it to the hotel for 5 nights. Whenever possible, to get the most value for your points, try to book 5 nights at a time. Why you ask? Because both Marriott and SPG offer the 5th night free when booking with points. That means we save one whole night’s worth of points when you book that 5th night; sometimes that can be up to 45,000 points which is a big deal.
The thing about Marriott that we don’t like is their website hotel search function. Their website itself is fine but the hotel search function is awful sometimes. For certain hotels, just searching the city they are in and putting in your dates doesn’t work. That is the case with this hotel. Instead, you need to go directly to the hotel’s Marriott page and search there. We’re not sure why this is but obviously this is some sort of glitch in the system. For this example, we went to www.domesofelounda.com and searched through there. Not all hotels have their own site so sometimes it’s best to just Google “_____ Hotel Marriott” and click on their page that way. After we put in out details, even searching 2 adults and 2 children, we see this room as an option:
This is perfect for a family of 4. This is a “Family” room as they call it but which can sleep 3 adults and 1 child. We are 2 adults and 2 children so we assume swapping an adult for a child is okay. Here we also see the PointSaver discount applied. Originally, 5 nights here would cost us 180,000 points, but instead will only cost us 160,000 points. This room has a sea view, a whirlpool and a balcony. More specifically, that whirlpool is on your balcony. This sounds like a mighty fine choice for us.
Now we have 5 days left to see some more of Greece. Our suggestion would be 3 nights on Santorini and the final 2 in Athens. With the options in Athens we will have a fantastic location and only need one day to see the main attractions. For Santorini, getting there from Crete, more specifically Heraklion, has to be done by ferry. In Santorini, there are only 3 options for points bookings, all SPG hotels and they’re very hard to find availability at and very expensive in points as well.
Whenever you see “Please contact us to redeem your Free Nights” you know that it is either because the amount of points is above normal or that the availability is only for rooms higher than the standard option (suites, etc). Regardless, this is an instance when paying with cash is the best option.
Santorini has many good options for families looking to stay on the island. We like to use Trivago as it searches all the other online travel agencies and finds the best price. Here is what comes up when we search on Trivago for our dates:
They all look very nice. We suggest reading a little bit about the island and what areas are the best to stay in. Here are what prices are like across the island for our dates:
There are many reasonable options for us to choose from, it’s just our choice as to which we want and where we want to stay.
Lastly, we need to find us a hotel in Athens for our last two nights. We suggest flying to Athens; it’s cheap, usually under $100 per person, and quickest considering we want to maximize our last two nights in Athens. There is a ferry option but it is hours long vs the flight which is under an hour.
SPG has two very good options in Athens and a handful of other options. As we see for our dates there is availability at the Hotel Grande Bretagne, a very nice hotel with great reviews. When we go, we will be staying at the King George, which as you can see in the photo says “Please contact us to redeem your Free Nights.” From experience, we know that this hotel is usually cheaper in points than the Grande Bretagne so it may actually be worth calling. Regardless, these hotels have reciprocal rights, which means you can use services at either except King George guests can not use the outdoor pool at Grande Bretagne, but can use the indoor pool, and either choice will be excellent.
We now have to find hotels in Italy. We fly into Rome and have enough time to do 3 days in 3 cities if we want. We would suggest Rome, Naples, and Florence as they are all close to one another and will cut down on transportation time. We will start in Rome. As we always do, let’s see what Marriott has available. If we search for 2 adults and 2 kids we see there is an option for us:
Great! A hotel that allowed the 4 of us to stay in one room together. Wait, let’s look a little bit closer…
Upon further inspection the room is available on points but it’s a Points + Cash redemption where you can use points but you have to pay a cash addition to redeem the room for points. That 250 EUR works out to about $400 CAD. If you’re down with that then you won’t find a better luxury in a more ideal location. If, however, you’re more frugal like us we will keep looking. Let’s try changing the search from 2 kids to 1:
This time we see that we can have a room for the same amount of points but that cash portion has come down to 170 EUR ($272 CAD). This is better, but for our frugal selves it is still too much. Just for fun let’s see if we remove kids what we can find:
Now, we have options that don’t include a cash price but we will have to do some real sweet-talking to get a hotel manager to let us stay in the room with kids when only redeeming for 2 adults. One hotel we booked for our trip let us stay in the room with our kids after only booking for 2 adults because we are bringing our own travel beds for the kids. We use the KidCo PeaPod Plus Infant Travel Bed and since the hotel didn’t have to provide any extra beds for us they were okay with us using the room and our own beds for the kids. This is also something you could risk by booking the room for 2 adults and just bringing the kids without saying anything. The risk you run doing that is that you’ll have to pay a cash upgrade at check in if the hotel finds out. That or they ask you to leave.We aren’t willing to take that risk so we will always contact the hotel ahead of time. In this instance, if the hotel did not allow us to stay there, we would just get an AirBnB instead. Let’s check our what SPG had to offer in Rome:
Again, we see here there may be something but it will likely cost a lot more points than normal. It is worth calling to see what the cost will be but our expectations wouldn’t be strong in our favour. Let’s search just 1 kid:
Now this is something we can work with. The Westin is supposed to be phenomenal when it comes to kids so they are more than likely to allow the kids to stay there. It is up to you whether you mention to the hotel ahead of time that you are bringing two kids and not 1. Now that we have Rome figured out we need to check out our other two Italian cities. Let’s go to Naples first:
SPG has no hotels in Naples. Let’s check Marriott:
Whenever Marriott and SPG are not able to meet our needs the next place we go is Best Western. If we search Best Western we see that they have nothing for 2 adults and 2 kids but if we change it to 2 adults and 1 kid we see there is something:
This hotel looks like a great location and can hopefully meet our needs if they allow the 4 of us in a room for 3. Again, we would contact the hotel to confirm this is okay. Lastly, we need to find accommodations in Florence. Let’s start with Marriott:
Okay there is a room available but look at the cash addition, no thanks! Let’s drop it down to 1 kid:
50 EUR, that’s much better and we would book this as that works out to about $80 CAD per night. At this point we wouldn’t even bother searching SPG because we’ve found what we’re looking for. We even get two options for the same cost. Since we travel with those kid’s travel beds we would choose the King option.
Now that only gets us to the 14th and we don’t fly out until the 15th, so this allows you an extra day somewhere, don’t forget you will be travelling between cities, likely by train so you could add a day in your travels that way. For us, we would just go back to Rome for the last day and get an AirBnB or hotel near the airport for that last night.
If you don’t want to do 3 cities you could absolutely choose 2 cities at 5 nights each to maximize value with 5th night free.
Now, we have our last country, France. We fly into Paris and we only have 8 days in this country so we suggest at least 5 in Paris to maximize value with 5th night free then the last 3 nights in another city. If you want to split it up 4 and 4 that is an options it just isn’t the greatest value.
If we search for 2 kids and 2 adults we see this on SPG:
Searching 2 adults and 1 kid shows us that there is availability at the Le Meridien Etoile and the Sheraton Paris Airport Hotel & Conference Centre. These are good options but always look at location. If we pull up the map we see 10 isn’t even on it and 9 is way out of the downtown core.
Searching for 2 adults and 2 kids on Marriott shows this:
If you bring up the map you see this is way out of the downtown core. That’s because this hotel is at Disneyland Paris. We are staying there 2 nights on our trip and if you want to add this to your trip you can stay here for a couple nights. We want to spend at least a few nights in the downtown core so let’s see what happens if we search 2 adults and 1 kid:
Those are better options. In Paris, we definitely suggest contacting the hotel ahead of time as we found they are the most strict in following room occupancy limits. If that doesn’t work then try Best Western or as a last resort AirBnB. Best Western will always show no availability for 2 adults and 2 kids but we found they are more lenient when allowing infants into the rooms.
For our last couple nights, remember we have a late morning flight on the 23rd so we will want to spend the night of the 22nd in Paris, we suggest the Best Western near the airport as it is cheap and offers a free shuttle.
For the last couple days let’s say you wanted to spend them in Nice, France on the south coast. It’s beautiful there and we wouldn’t blame you. Here is what SPG offers there (nothing for 2 kids):
Both hotels are beautiful and we would likely stay at the cheaper one but check the map to see which location you like better.
Marriott has this showing available (nothing for 2 kids):
Cannes is further west and south and Monaco is further north and east but all 3 locations are on the coast. It’s up to you to decide where you want to stay. Don’t forget to look at the cash additions.
Our last night we will be staying at that Best Western near the airport so that means we now have all the hotels booked that we need.
As you can see things are much more difficult when booking with kids in tow, but it is not impossible and if you’re a good sweet talker you can make it work in your favour, and by doing things like bringing your own beds for the kids, you can increase your chances of getting hotels to help you out. Of course, there is always the option of booking a room for 2 adults and just sneaking the kids in but we do not recommend that option as the consequences of getting caught don’t make it worth the risk.
Hopefully this 3 Part series on booking a family vacation to Europe for a whole month was helpful to you and will make you planning and booking experience easier. If you have any questions or comments or need any help please let us know in the comment section.
Never stop adventuring!
Disclaimer: Some links in the following post are referral links. We will get a bonus if you use the links. If you have found these posts helpful so far we would be very appreciative if you used our referral links. If you have not found them helpful you can sign up through American Express directly. Some of these referral links will provide you with a bonus that is greater than what we are receiving and greater than applying directly through American Express. We will never post anything that does not benefit you in any way or any product that we ourselves would not use or do not already have.
As mentioned in the past on the blog, we will be going over a one year plan to get enough points to go around the world in first class. We will provide a yearly timeline at the end of the post.
We will be sticking to the AMEX family only right now. If you want the blog post on the other AMEX cards you can click here and if you want the blog post on the non-AMEX cards you can click here. From now on we will refer to Membership Rewards as MR. Let’s begin:
We will start by applying for the American Express Personal Platinum Card:
- 60,000 MR after minimum spend is met (only 50,000 MR without referral link)
- $3,000 minimum spend in the first 90 days
- $699 annual fee
- $200 annual travel credit
- 1.25 MR per $1 spent
- Free lounge access to over 850 lounges worldwide
- SPG Gold Status
A $699 annual fee? Whoa! Let me put you at ease a little bit. Yes, it is a lot, but read the next line, $200 annual travel credit. Note the word ‘annual’, that means you get it once in the year you apply and then once again on January 1 the following year. That’s $400 in travel credit essentially making the annual fee only $299.
To use the travel credit you can book travel through American Express directly, which is a good thing because they have amazing customer service and usually are very generous with hotel upgrades especially. Some people have had success in doing a little trick: You need to draw your ethical line accordingly, but you can book a refundable hotel room for months in the future, wait a few days, then cancel it and the refund will post as a statement credit. We suggest using the credit properly but you do whatever you want.
The reason we changed to starting with the Personal Platinum from the Business Platinum is because is has a much lower minimum spend. If you decide to cancel the Personal Platinum before the second travel credit comes on January 1st, the annual fee is still effectively $499, the same as the Business Platinum with a lower spend and the same welcome bonus and referral bonus.
After our minimum spend is met, we will have 3,750 MR from meeting the minimum spend and 60,000 MR from the welcome bonus giving us a total of 63,750 MR to start.
Next, we will apply for the American Express Business Gold Card:
- 40,000 MR after minimum spend is met (only 30,000 MR without referral link)
- $5,000 minimum spend in the first 90 days
- NO annual fee for the first year
- 2 MR per $1 spent at 3 retailers of your choice (Click here to see which retailers you can choose from)
- 1 MR per $1 spent everywhere else
This is the only card with a $5,000 minimum spend and the only one that has no annual fee for the first year which is very nice.
We will assume you don’t spend any money at your 3 retailers for this card as some of the retailers are obscure and not everybody shops at them.
Once we hit our $5,000 minimum spend we get our 40,000 MR welcome bonus. We have spent $5,000 on the card giving us another 5,000 MR. This card earned us 45,000 MR plus if we refer ourself from the Personal Platinum that gives us another 15,000 MR. So far, we have 123,750 MR from just two cards.
Our next card to apply for is the American Express Personal Gold.
- 25,000 MR after minimum spend is met
- $1,500 minimum spend in the first 90 days
- $150 annual fee
- 5,000 MR per referral
- 2 MR per $1 spent on gas, groceries, drugstores, travel (flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises, etc)
- 1 MR on all other purchases
There is a new Personal Gold offer through Perkopolis rather than directly through American Express. Perkopolis is a discount website from which employers can purchase membership and offer the program to its employees. Many employers and unions offer the membership. This Personal Gold offer is through them. If you’re a member you can apply through Perkopolis with your code here.
If you’re not a member you’ll have to apply the regular way through American Express. The offer is the same except you don’t get the annual fee back as a statement credit.
This card is a good card to keep around for an everyday spend card when you are not working on the minimum spend of other cards as it earns 2 MR per $1 in a lot of different categories (as seen above).
Let’s assume you only use this card at 2x retailers to hit your minimum spend since many of us have to make those everyday purchases. So, you spend $1,500 all at 2x retailers. That gives us 3,000 MR. We now get our 25,000 welcome MR. From this card alone we get 28,000 MR and there was no out of pocket cost after the statement credit.
After 3 cards, we have ourselves 151,750 MR. We are well on our way to flying around the world in premium seats and we still have one card left.
This next part of the plan is optional. Due to the high minimum spend, we suspect many of you will want to avoid this card. It is a lot to spend on one card for the same amount of points as the Personal Platinum. That being said, there are ways to help you meet the minimum spend which we will share below. We still find value in this card as you can get points from it while you are waiting to reapply for the other cards. If you do not want to do this card, then stop here and you will cycle through the above 3 cards for your plan.
Lastly, will applying for American Express Business Platinum Card:
- 60,000 Membership Rewards after minimum spend is met (only 40,000 MR without referral link)
- $7,000 minimum spend in the first 90 days
- $499 annual fee
- 15,000 Membership Rewards per referral
- 1.25 Membership Rewards per $1 spent
- Lounge access to over 850 lounges worldwide
- SPG Gold Status
This card has had some changes to it in the past month:
- an increased minimum spend from $5,000 to $7,000
- an increased annual fee to $499
- a decrease in referral points from 25,000 to 15,000
- a decreased welcome bonus from 75,000 to 60,000
This card can seem daunting but here are some ways to help you meet the minimum spend:
- use Plastiq to pay bills that you can not pay with credit cards. Plastiq is a service that allows you to send money to vendors who do not accept credit card payments. You pay Plastiq online and through the process you will tell them who to send the money to and when and they will send the money via cheque. As long as your vendor accepts cheque, Plastiq can be used to pay them. Through Plastiq you can pay bills like tuition, rent, taxes, car payments, insurance, etc. Plastiq does take a 2.5% fee for using their service but in our opinion the points you gain are worth the fee. The best part is that Plastiq is one of the vendors you can choose on your Business Gold card and earn 2x points on payments. We have used Plastiq for tax payments and to pay our rent to our landlord each month. If you use our referral code when signing up we both earn fee free dollars which means the next $500 in payments you make will incur no fees. The referral code is 588152.
- buy gift cards from Ebates gift card shop for places you frequent that do not accept American Express. For example, Loblaw’s stores doesn’t accept American Express, so the next time you want to shop at Superstore, you use a gift card. To buy the gift card, you go here. The bonus is that you get cash back on the purchase. For those interested, we wrote a blog post about cash back that you can read here.
- pay some of your bills ahead of time. Prepay your internet, phone or cable bills a few months at a time. If you always buy gas from the same place, buy a few months worth of gift cards to that gas station regardless of if they take AMEX or not.
- extend the period of your minimum spend by purchasing a large hotel stay at a refundable rate. For example, if you know you are going to be $1,000 short on the minimum spend, book a refundable hotel stay for at least $1,000. You are now guaranteed to hit the minimum spend then as soon as you hit the minimum spend organically, cancel the refundable hotel stay.
- manufactured spending. manufactured spending is where you spend money on your credit card but find a way to get that money back to pay off your credit card. This way you still earn the points from spending on the credit card but also get the money back that you spent. These methods are usually very hard to find and people are tight-lipped about them because the more people use them the more likely it is to be shut down. If you want some help with these methods shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
After $7,000 minimum spend we will have 68,750 MR because our $7,000 spend turns into 8,750 MR. Once the minimum spend is reached we get our 60,000 MR Welcome Bonus giving us the 68,750 MR. If we include the 15,000 MR from self referring to this card we get a grand total of 235,500 MR. That is enough for two people to fly in Business Class to anywhere in Europe. After one year and doing each card twice, we will have 471,000 MR!
Here is the timeline, you don’t have to use the exact dates but you get the idea:
May 2, 2018 – cancel Personal Platinum
May 16, 2018 – cancel Business Gold
July 2, 2018 – cancel Personal Gold
July 16, 2018 – cancel Business Platinum
This is just a rough guideline. For example, if you cancel the Personal Platinum you’ll lose the ability to get the next $200 travel credit. That is why it is good to start applying for that card in the fall, get your $200 credit, then get the next $200 credit on January 1, use it, then cancel the card. You will have to adjust the above dates to work for you.
You can also be more aggressive than the above and reapply after 3 months, or less aggressive and reapply after 6 months. We usually like to wait at least 4 months as to not raise any suspicion.
To recap, we will have 471,000 MR after one year and will have only paid $1,796 out of pocket for these cards (assuming you got both $200 travel credits once and only one $200 travel credit the first time). That works out to 0.4 cents per point (cpp). For reference, most redemptions you will make will be around 2 cpp so paying only 0.3cpp is incredible! This is why welcome bonuses are the best way to get points.
Hopefully, this post has been helpful and you are well on your way to understanding how valuable this can be for your travel dreams.
Never stop adventuring!
This is Part 2 of a 3 Part Series about booking a European Family Vacation on points. In this part we will go over the details of booking flights via Aeroplan.
Now that you know what you want and the basics are covered, let’s look at how to actually get flights booked.
For this example, we will book an itinerary that includes approximately 10 days in 3 European cities: Paris, Rome, and Athens. There is no way you need to spend all 10 days in those cities, but transportation to other cities will need to be organized outside of this itinerary whether it’s train or a cash flight. Let’s get started.
First, we go to Aeroplan’s website and start searching dates. By this point you should know generally when you want to go and when you need to be back by so you know what dates you’re searching for. Remember, the more flexible you are the better so if you come into it thinking “sometime next summer works” vs “we have to leave around June 4 and be back by July 4” the former will likely be more successful.
Always search your itinerary in one way flights because that way you know you’ll never miss a step or miss a stop. For example, on our trip knew we had to get to Paris and that it had to be through Zurich, Brussels, Warsaw, Cairo or Istanbul. We mentioned last time that going through Istanbul with Turkish and Zurich with Swiss are the best in terms of availability. So, instead of searching Toronto to Paris we search Toronto to Istanbul and Istanbul to Paris separately. As we mentioned last post, we always search the longest flight first, in this case Toronto to Istanbul.
If you’re searching for economy the availability is usually very good whereas if you’re searching for business it’s usually more difficult. Most airlines only release 2 seats for business to be booked at a time so if you want more than that you’ll have to eagle eye that flight and make sure you get the next flight that comes available.
We like to start with our ideal date and then search two weeks before and two weeks after when booking. This means you’re looking at a month’s worth of dates that could be available. For this example we used an October 20th departure and November 20th return dates.
Let’s start with searching availability to Europe from Toronto and Montreal.
We started searching for Montreal to Zurich (YUL – ZRH):
A lot of dates will have either mixed cabins (BUSINESS/ECONOMY), which we don’t want, or availability on itineraries that include an airline that charges a fuel surcharge. Remember, we want to avoid Air Canada, Lufthansa, and Austrian for that reason.
Finally, we get to October 25 which has exactly what we’re looking for, a direct flight from Montreal to Zurich.
If we click DETAILS we see that the plane is an A330-300 which is an acceptable plane to fly on as it is one of the 5 planes that are usually the most updated like we mentioned last time.
Great, now we have a flight there, let’s search for a flight back. We like to search for a different airline on the way home so we can try out the different airlines. We searched the whole month two weeks before and after our date but there was nothing available. Next, we decided to search LOT Airlines availability from Warsaw, Poland to Toronto because LOT doesn’t fly to Montreal.
We found availability on November 23:
If we open the DETAILS, we see that the plane is a 788, a Dreamliner, and one of the ideal planes to fly on.
Below is an example of a flight that we do not want because it involves Air Canada. SAS is fine, but we want to avoid Air Canada and since they have a part in this itinerary, especially the long part of this itinerary, the fuel surcharges will be higher than we wish.
Most of the time if you don’t see a direct flight with the airline that you want, you will often find that the other Business itineraries involve an airline that you do not want.
Now that we have our long flight figured out, we need to find our positioning flights. Now, we know we said that we want to avoid Air Canada but we really don’t have another reasonable option to get to Montreal and home from Toronto. Plus, the charges and fees aren’t as high on domestic flights.
Keeping the 24hr rule in mind, our flight from Vancouver has to arrive in Montreal after 16:50 on October 24. So, we will search both October 24 flights and October 25 flights. If you don’t want to spend a night in Montreal then you will choose October 25 and hope you get into Montreal around noon or at least with enough time to get to your 16:50 flight. Usually an hour minimum since this is a domestic flight and we won’t need to clear customs. We usually shoot for 2-4 hours depending on how much time we want to spend in the lounge.
If you wanted to do a stopover (greater than 24hr layover) in Montreal then you would search for a departing date however many days before you wanted to depart Montreal. For example, the Montreal to Zurich flight leaves on October 25. If we wanted 5 nights in Montreal we would search for a departing flight on October 20. This would mean you would have to drop one of your Europe stops. For this example, we will just focus on Europe.
The only direct flight we find on October 24 is this flight departing Vancouver at 11:30 and arriving in Montreal at 19:11. Montreal has many good hotel options at or near the airport so this wouldn’t be the worst. And this flight is on an A330, a good plane for us. Still, let’s see if we can avoid the overnight. A search for October 25 comes up with this:
This flight gets in at 19:11. This won’t work as our flight for Zurich leaves at 16:50. There are other options on this day but those options have connections in other Canadian cities and they are on worse planes. For us, we would spend the night at the airport in a hotel and be on a nicer plane for the almost 5 hour flight.
Now, let’s make sure we can get home from Toronto. We start the search for anything late on November 23rd for those that want to get home right away and not have to spend another night at or near an airport.
If you’re one of those people, you do have an option. There is a 22:55 departing flight arriving in Vancouver at 1:14 in the morning. This is on an A320, not a great plane, but if you want to get home ASAP and want to avoid spending money on a hotel for the night, this is a very viable option as it leaves you 2 and a half hours to connect. That is easily enough time for dinner and a drink in the lounge beforehand.
For those of you like us who would take the nicer plane option and spend the night in the hotel, we have some fantastic options the next day. First off, if you just wanted to sleep then get on a plane home and be in Vancouver by morning you have a great option of flying on the 07:00 flight on a 787-900, Air Canada’s newest plane with the most updated business class seats. Since I’m kind of a aviation geek about planes and products now, this would be my choice. However, if you wanted to spend the day in Toronto or sleep in, you have 2 great options departing at either 17:00 or 20:15 depending on how much time you need. The 777-300 will likely have a nicer product than the 777-200 but they should be very similar.
One interesting note about the 20:15 flight to Vancouver is that it gives you the maximum amount of possible time in Toronto without breaking the 24hr rule. Our flight from Warsaw arrives in Toronto at 20:20 which means if we take the 20:15 flight home we would have a 23 hour and 55 minute layover, the longest possible layover (airlines always book flights on the 5 or 0 so 23 hours and 59 minutes isn’t possible).
Great. We’ve now got our flights to Europe and our positioning flights to and from the east coast. Now, we need to get to our European destinations. Remember, Aeroplan has very generous rules that allow us long stays in 3 cities.
Since Paris and Zurich are close together we will choose Paris next as it likely has lots of flight availability.
An Aeroplan search reveals there is a flight available, but it isn’t the best option. Montreal to Zurich will be an international flight where we will likely have to clear customs. The flight from Zurich to Paris departs at 07:35; our flight into Zurich doesn’t land until 06:15 which only gives us 1 hour and 20 minutes to connect to that next flight. If you’re willing to risk that, you have some other options that Aeroplan can put you on if you miss the flight but they have a connection. If you don’t want to risk it then we may need to rearrange the order of where we fly first. We would rather not risk it and just change the order. Instead, let’s fly to Athens first.
Remember our flight arrives at 06:15, that means the two Swiss flights are most ideal because they have the shortest layovers. Aegean Airlines does charge a fuel surcharge, though intra-Europe flights don’t have very high fuel surcharges because they aren’t very long flights. Regardless, we know Swiss has no fuel surcharges so let’s choose one of their flights. If you want to get to your destination ASAP then choose the 09:05 flight. Swiss Airlines has their flagship Business Class Lounge in the Zurich Airport and it’s world class so you could spend the afternoon there plane watching, eating and drinking. This would be our choice but regardless you have good options either way.
With 10 days in Athens, there is a decent amount that you can get done. We’ve heard a lot of people say you only need two days there. That means you have 8 other days to go wherever you wish. Santorini, Mykonos, and Crete are the popular choices though you can choose any island you desire. Aegean Airlines and their sister airlines Olympic Air fly within Greece for usually under $100 per flight.
Getting from Greece to Rome we will have to fly on Aegean Airlines if we don’t want to have to connect through another country. It’s a short flight so the fuel surcharges will be low and a direct flight is ideal so this is worth it.
With 10 days in Italy you can do 3 days in 3 cities with half days to travel and get back to Rome to fly out. The train system in Italy is supposed to be very efficient so you could do Rome, Florence and Venice with enough time to get back to Rome for the flight out. That might be a little tight on time so we would suggest sticking to Rome and one other city.
Lastly, we will finish in Paris. Flying from Italy to Paris we will have to for sure connect through another country because no Star Alliance airline has France or Italy as their home country.
We have two Swiss options to fly on from Rome to Paris. The only difference is in the layover time in Zurich. If you really enjoyed the Zurich Business Class Lounge then maybe you would pick the longer layover, otherwise you can pick the short one and get to Paris quicker.
With 10 days in France you could easily do 5 in Paris and 5 in Nice. If you want to see more cities and spend less time in each you could even add the countryside.
Lastly, we have to position ourselves for the flight from Warsaw to Toronto which means we need to get to Warsaw on November 23rd.
We have two options, one early flight and one late morning flight. We would choose the late morning flight and get us some extra hours of sleep.
Well, there you have it. All of our flights are scheduled and ready to go. This kind of complicated itinerary can not be booked online, we will have to phone Aeroplan and get them to book it on their end. The best thing we can do to expedite this process is to write down all the flights in order so that when the Aeroplan representative is ready we can just feed him or her flight numbers and they can book it quickly. You will have to pay taxes and fees right away on the phone as well as a $30 phone booking fee. Once that is done Aeroplan will send you your itinerary and etickets.
The last thing you need to do is choose seats, Aeroplan’s system will automatically assign you seats and they aren’t always ideal. Depending on the airline, you may be able to use the Booking Reference and login to that airline’s website and do it yourself or you may have to contact the airline directly and get them to do it for you. We’ve found that contacting them through Facebook or Twitter is the fastest way to contact them directly when you can’t do it online on your own.
When booking seats, we suggest using SeatGuru to find the best seats. We also like to read reviews that other’s have written about the airline and see what seat they had and what flight they chose. Our favourite Canadian reviewer is PointsWise. Tyler is a great guy and writes really good reviews as does his partner Brad. They have flown many different airlines and routes and I trust their judgement. If they don’t have your airline or flight route just Google “Montreal to Zurich Swiss Business Class Review” and read whatever comes up.
Next week we will go over how to book the hotels and we promise it isn’t as complicated as the flights.
Never stop adventuring!
This is Part 1 of a 3 Part Series about booking a European Vacation on points. In this part we will go over the basics you need to know before you start searching for flight or hotels.
In our last post, we told you all about our European luxury vacation we have coming up this summer. This post we are going to break down the basics you need to know before attempting to book one of these yourself.
The first thing you need to do is understand what your goals are. What kind of vacation do you want? Do you want business class flights and 5-star hotels? Do you want economy flights and AirBnB? Do you want a combination? Once you know what you want then you’ll know what to look for.
The other important thing to remember is that you have to be flexible. Booking on points isn’t for everyone because there are often multiple layovers when flying to your destination and often times the itinerary you want isn’t available in the perfect order that would be your ideal. Be flexible and open and you won’t have any problems. Some people hate layovers and only want direct flights, if that is you then booking on points may not be the best for you, but if you’re flexible and open to different routes then hop on board with us and let’s book some flights!
Some parts of the vacation are harder to find availability for than others. We like to book our flights in Business Class so for us we always search for flights first. If you want a very specific hotel then maybe you want to look at what dates that hotel is available and then plan around that. For us, we’re very flexible about where we stay and we want the best flight first.
Here is the order we like to book things in:
- Longest flights (usually the ones that cross an ocean)
- Positioning flight (if necessary, for us we had to get to Toronto first)
- Connecting flight (getting you to the other cities you want)
- Longer stay accommodations (longer than one night)
- Airport accommodations (if necessary)
This is the order we booked our Europe vacation in.
First, we looked for our long flight. For us Canadians to get to Europe you pretty much have to get to the east coast. Toronto (YYZ) and Montreal (YUL) are the only options for getting direct flights to Europe from Canada. The best options for airlines are the ones that don’t have fuel surcharges; in our case, for getting to Europe, that is Swiss Airlines (LX), Turkish Airlines (TK), LOT Airlines (LO), EgyptAir (MS), and Brussels Airlines (SN).
The airlines to avoid (because they impose high fuel surcharges) when looking at flying to Europe are:
- Air Canada
That being said, here are your options when flying from Canada to Europe:
- Swiss Airlines flies from Montreal to Zurich
- Brussels Airlines flies from Toronto to Brussels
- Turkish Airlines flies from Toronto OR Montreal to Istanbul
- LOT Airlines flies from Toronto to Warsaw
- EgyptAir flies from Toronto to Cairo*
* EgyptAir is a dry airline which means they do not serve alcohol on their flights
Note: LOT does impose fuel surcharges but they are low enough that they are still worth considering
It’s best to go through your available dates and see if you can find one of those options with availability. If not, you’ll have to reposition to the East Coast USA. New York (JFK, EWR), Boston (BOS), and Washington (IAD) have good availability and if that doesn’t work then you can try Chicago (ORD) which we had to do on the way home.
When flying Business Class you want to make sure you’re on the best plane with the newest and best seat options. Not all planes have the same Business Class seating arrangement and not all Business Classes have the same seats. When looking for flights we like to make sure we’re on one of the following planes as that usually ensures we will be on a plane with seats that are the newest and in the best configuration. In order of our favourite to least favourite:
- 787-900 (789)
- 787-800 (788)
- 777-300 (77W)
- A330-300 (333)
- 767-300 (76W)
For the shorter flights you can’t always get on one of those planes because airlines usually reserve those planes for their longer flights. Sometimes you get lucky, though. I wouldn’t worry about the plane type on your short flights because it isn’t worth rearranging your itinerary for a certain plane on a short flight, worry more about the long flights.
The 787-900 and 787-800 Dreamliners are the newest planes the Boeing is making and they look slick. I’ve become quite the aircraft geek since this hobby started and I dream to fly on one of those planes one day. Unfortunately, this trip won’t be the trip I get to do that as the dates and availability didn’t work out.
Aeroplan is the best program to book a trip like this through because they have very generous routing rules. There are tons of blog posts out there that go into detail so we will only go over the basics:
- You can have 2 stopovers longer than 24 hours in addition to your destination
- You can add one open jaw flight (fly into one city and out of another city in the same region) in lieu of your stopovers
- You can have unlimited less than 24 hour layovers
- The stops in all 3 destinations can be as long as you wish but you must return to your origin within 365 days of initial departure
- You can only stop in the same city once per direction between your origin and destination then again between your destination and origin
That is breaking it down very simply but the first point is the point that makes this itinerary so valuable because you get 3 stops as long as you want (less than a year) in each of them. Obviously not everyone can afford the vacation time to do that but the point is that you get tons of flexibility with your routing.
In the last post you saw our routing and our layovers. We get to see 10 cities if you include the cash flights we paid for. Even just on points, we still get to see 8 cities.
In summary, there are 3 keys to booking a vacation like this:
- Know what you want
- Be flexible when booking
- Avoid fuel surcharge airlines
Next post we will show you how to search for and book your flights.
Never stop adventuring!