Vacation Planning Tips from Debbie Hudson

travel planning tipsNow that summer is over and fall is on the horizon, a lot of us have put our vacation planning skills to bed.  Our kids are back in school, fall decorations are starting to show up in the stores, and all of us seem to be busy and on a schedule.

But time passes by quickly, and before you know it, the holidays and school breaks will be upon us once again.  Time off will sneak up on us, and if we aren’t careful, we will have lost valuable vacation planning time!  …and losing valuable vacation time equates to losing money and maybe even opportunities!

Yes, it’s true.  Did you know that planning your vacation in advance, by months and sometimes even years, can help you save money and frustrations down the line?

Let’s look at a few advantages you can gain by planning out your family’s vacation ahead of time:

  1. First of all, get in touch with an authorized travel agent or vacation planner. One thing I have learned over the years is that using a travel agent makes my life a whole lot easier!Travel agents offer their services for free and often possess a vast knowledge of travel destinations, accommodations, and travel specials!  They help you plan out your itinerary, make hotel reservations, dining reservations, and can even arrange special celebrations.

    (As a side note, the media has recently brought to our attention several unscrupulous travel agents.  MMP Travel has addressed this issue and can help you avoid travel scams by following five simple tips.)

  2. Plan your vacation as far into the future as reasonably possible.Did you know that by planning your vacation in advance you can actually save money as well as snag coveted hotel accommodations, dining reservations, and experiences that often sell out?It’s true!  For example, airlines and sometimes cruise ships often charge less for flights and sailings purchased well in advance.  By purchasing your tickets sooner, you secure a cheaper airfare or cruise price.

    Another example is a Disney vacation.  Did you know that Disney has its own Visa card?  If you purchase a vacation package and pay for it using your Disney Visa, Chase and Disney will give you 0% financing for six months!  This makes planning a vacation to the most Magical Place on Earth easy and affordable for almost anyone.

    …and planning a vacation in advance not only amounts to cheaper travel fares and budgeting concerns, it also helps to secure the hotel accommodations your family may need, great food and dining reservations, and limited-space entertainment options!

    Again, let’s look at Disney as an example.  Disney often releases seasonal specials several months in advance of travel dates.  Promotions may include a free dining deal or a room discount offer.  If your family vacation is not planned ahead of time, you may miss out on discounts, promotions, or reservations at a resort you really wanted to experience.

    Did you also know that Disney opens up dining reservations to its coveted restaurants 180 days in advance?  By knowing when you are going to travel and planning out where you’d like to eat, you can secure a reservation to some of the most popular restaurants on Disney property.  Venues like Be Our Guest, Disney’s newest and most popular restaurant, normally sell out months ahead of time and can be very hard to get into on short notice.

    Entertainment options for your vacations also benefit from planning.  For example, if going on a cruise, shore excursions can normally be booked in advance.  This, in the same way as dining reservations, secures your family unique experiences that might ordinarily sell out or not be available to you closer to your travel dates.

  3. Use a Dream Vacation Registry!MMP Travel is the first travel agency in the industry to offer travelers a vacation “registry.”  What this means is that you can now REGISTER for your family’s vacation!

This new registry acts much like a traditional wedding registry.  However, instead of registering for specific, individual gifts, you now register for your dream vacation!

The great thing about using this new and innovative service is that it allows you to plan, budget, and travel to the destination of your dreams.

Here’s how it works — plan your family’s dream vacation destination.  Then visit MMP Travel’s website (see the link above) and register your dream vacation on their website and registry.  Once planned and registered, share with family and friends.  That’s it!  MMP Travel will handle the rest for you.

Not only can this registry help you budget for your trip, but it also allows family and friends to donate to your dream.

MMP Travel’s Dream Vacation Registry is great for honeymoon trips, college graduations, special occasions, and even annual family vacations.  Planning in advance gives your family and friends the option of helping you travel to a destination once thought unaffordable!

So there you have it.  Planning out a vacation is as easy as 1-2-3, and when you plan in advance, you are saving your family time, money, and last-minute vacationing frustrations.  Vacation PLANNING sets up your family’s adventures and lets the memory making begin!

Debbie Hudson is a Travel Agent with MMP Travel.  She keeps busy in North Forsyth raising two teenage boys along with a host of animals; working part-time as a Disney Store Cast Member at the North Georgia Premium Outlets; and serving as a Haw Creek Elementary school employee.  She and her boys volunteer for the Forsyth County Humane Society, where they serve as a Foster Home.  Debbie also owns and runs three websites – Day Late Dollar Short, The Coffee Blog, and Teen Disney.

Floating River Parade and Fireworks Show for City of Helen, GA Centennial

city of helen, ga fireworksCelebrate the City of Helen, GA’s 100th anniversary by watching the floating river parade this Saturday August 31, 2013.
Stay for festivities and a fireworks show at 9:00 pm. It is one of our favorite towns to visit.
The tasty food, drinks and festivities are fun for all ages! College football games will be shown at area restaurants as well.
Make it a day trip, go camping or stay for a weekend adventure. There are plenty of places to stay and lots of things to do in the area.
Saturday, August 31, 2013 – 1:00pm – 2:00pm – Floating River Parade

The City of Helen, GA is celebrating it’s 100th Anniversary this year!  As part of the Centennial Celebration Events, an old fashioned “Floating River Parade” will take place at the Riverbend Motel and continue to the Festhalle. Come decorate your float or tube and celebrate in an old timey tradition from years gone by! Visit their Alpine Helen FB page for more information.

Stay for a fireworks show at 9:00 pm (to make up for July 4th fireworks!) Helen GA Centennial Fire Works Celebration.

August 31st at 9:15 pm – Fireworks
Behind Alpine Village Shops 8016 S. Main Street
Come out and enjoy the fun. Bring the Whole family!

For further information call or an application for the parade call: Alpine Helen/White County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-800-858-8027

43rd Annual Oktoberfest in Helen, GA – Looking for this year’s Octoberfest in Helen, GA for 2013?

Thursday, September 12, 2013 – 6:00pm – Sunday, September 15, 2013 – 7:00pm

Helen Festhalle, 1074 Edelweiss Strasse, Helen, GA  30571  706-878-1908

Join us for the 43rd Annual Oktoberfest in Helen, GA!  Helen’s biggest celebration!  German music, dancing, food & drinks!  Enjoy Waltzes, Polkas and the Chicken Dance!  Oktoberfest will run from September 12 – 15, then September 19-22, and then reopen daily beginning September 26 and continue through October 27, 2013. 


Mondays – Thursdays  6PM – 10:30PM

Fridays         6PM – Midnight

Saturdays    1PM – Midnight

Sundays      1PM – 7PM

For schedule of bands visit

Camping at Sugar Mill Creek RV Resort and Campground in North Georgia.

Our family recently took our first camping trip to Sugar Mill Creek RV Resort and Campground in Clarkesville, Georgia. We are not familiar with camping, but friends invited us to join them to try it out.

The neat thing was that this campground offers two campers for rent which made it easier for us to try it out. The camper was clean, sleeps two adults (in bedroom) and two kids (in one full size fold down sofa). It was furnished with bedding and dishes and was already hooked up to power and water. The rental camper comes with a picnic table, firepit and grill and costs $65.00 per night for 2 adults and kids under 16 stay free.

The other camper has two beds that fold down in addition to the bedroom. Our girls are active sleepers, so next time we will stay in the rental camper in the front of the campground.

When we arrived, we unpacked and were ready to go. The campground has a playground and a paved driveway that circles around the campground. There is also a creek that runs through it that provided the kids with hours of fun. We brought our bikes, softball gloves, sidewalk chalk, basketball (there is a hoop), kickball and swim suits. Pets are allowed and our friends brought their dogs.

We grilled out dinner and breakfast and had a fire in the firepit and watched the stars in the night sky. It was a very fun and relaxing trip.

There are lots of attractions nearby like Lake Burton and Helen. We stopped in Helen on the way for lunch and ate at The Troll Restaurant on the river. Our friends were going to the trout fishery when we left and it seems there are many things to do if you visit for a few days. We will definitely be back now that we know we can rent a camper for a night there!

Sugar Mill Creek Campground
4960 Laurel Lodge Road, Clarkesville, GA 30523
(706) 947-0162

Come, relax, and enjoy the beauty and seclusion of North Georgia. Surround yourself in the peace of North Georgia’s forest, hills and beautiful Lake Burton. Located 4 1/2 miles from Lake Burton in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

48 paved RV sites, in the seclusion of Chattahoochee National Forest … each with the sound of our running creek. Pets welcome,  kid friendly, a laid back RV Resort, close to Anna Ruby Falls, Unicoi State Park, Sautee-Nacoochee Valley, Brasstown Bald, Lake Burton, Alpine Helen, and Tallulah Gorge. We offer affordable rates.

Tips for Visiting Disney World on a Budget.

Disney World on a BudgetSpring break is here! Many local families will be traveling to Orlando next week and I wanted to share what I have learned from visiting Disney World through the years with our family.

I married into a Disney family. My father in law is a member of the Disney Vacation Club and we have been fortunate to be able to stay at the Old Key West resort for many years.

Here are a few Disney World on a Budget tips:

1) Pick up Disney toys/stuffed animals/clothes at Wal-Mart/Disney Store before the trip and hide them/bring them out during the trip.

2) Bring snacks and water into the parks – we brought cereal bars, raisins, etc. They check your bag, but it’s allowed. Also, pick up some rain ponchos at a dollar store and bring them in case of rain.

3) Take the monorail around to the Grand Floridian, Polynesian and Contemporary resorts and walk around each resort to see each theme, eat at the restaurants.

4) If you stay at a Disney World resort, each day one park is usually open an hour early and closes late for Disney resort guests only. These hours are called extra magic hours and are available to resort guests only, not the general public. Each guest will have to have a resort pass and their park ticket. Visit, click parks, then park hours for more information and specific days for which park remains open late.

5) Eat at Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney – great sandwich, low cost – they even have breakfast. While you are at Downtown Disney, visit the Lego store and let the kids play with hundreds of legos for free. You can also take a boat ride and see some of the resorts.

6) Walk on Disney’s Boardwalk – it’s just like a boardwalk in New Jersey and there are carnival games up and down the boardwalk. There are restaurants, a bakery, ESPN zone with arcade, boat rides, a large family bike rental, you name it! You can see the IllumiNations fireworks at Epcot here too on the bridge.

7) Make a reservation for character dining and make it the end of the brunch time around 11 – 11:30 before it ends. You have more time for characters and less people by then. (our favorite place is at the Contemporary – Chef Mickey’s)

8) You can get a mini-fridge and stay at the Pop Century or All-Star resort and take the bus to the parks. Also buy the refillable mugs and get free drink refills at your resort during your stay. Check out your resort’s activity calendar for outdoor movies, crafts and more at the pool and recreation center.

9) See the characters at the Epcot Character Spot – they are all lined up inside the building and if you go early, there is little wait time.

10) Go “Around the world” at Epcot:
– We like to eat at the Rose & Crown in England – make advance reservations – good kids menu, great food.
– Pick out an oyster in Japan and get a pearl – under $20 – our girls LOVE this.
– Sample foods and drinks from different countries, watch shows.
– Log flume ride in Norway (a little dark/scary for younger kids – Vikings)
– Log flume ride in Mexico (Donald Duck short movie during ride)
– Take a boat ride from the world showcase back to the other side of Epcot.
– Visit each country’s KidCot fun stop for a free craft. Look for the sign in each country.

For more tips, Sue Rodman from Field Trips with Sue recently wrote Free Things to Do at Disney World – I especially like the free hula lessons at the Polynesian resort.

The key is to get creative and mix the higher cost events with lower cost activities to stay within budget.

What else can you share that helps your family on a Disney trip?

Lake Lanier Islands – A Family Staycation

We usually go to the beach in the summer, but this year we opted to go to Lake Lanier Islands for a closer and cheaper alternative. There is a family fun package at the Legacy Lodge and Conference Center that includes a night at the hotel, buffet breakfast and two days at the waterpark. We went on a Sunday night and it was $199.00. A typical night is priced at $189.00 – that was a great deal! The price varies during the week and is listed now starting at $219.00 a night, but it is still a great deal.

We went over by boat and stayed overnight on Father’s Day. There had been a storm the night before and the docks by Sunset Cove were broken. We ended up parking at another dock on the other side and walked up to the entrance of the water park. We called the hotel and the hotel shuttle picked us up and took us to the hotel.

Check in wasn’t until 3:00 pm, so we checked our bags and went to the pool. They have a nice sized pool and Bullfrogs restaurant with a porch so you can sit poolside. The menu outside is limited. Inside the restaurant there was live music, game tables like checkers and a full menu.

The kids played in the pool and we had sandwiches for lunch. My husband and I split a club sandwich and that was filling. Then we went exploring. In the hotel, there are a few games in the hallways like a pool table and foozball. We played games for a bit and then were able to check in. The rooms have been renovated and although the building is older, our room was clean and the bathroom had the latest amenities.

We decided to go to Sunset Cove for dinner and walk around the water park. We were going to go to the water park on Monday when it wasn’t as crowded. The beach was crowded and there were many boats in the cove. Sunset Cove is open to boaters as well as water park visitors, so it was a mixed crowd of families and boaters. Dinner was average and the view and outdoor dining was pleasant.

We headed back to the hotel via shuttle – you just give them a call and they will pick you up at the entrance of the park. We went to the hotel to settle for the night. I put our youngest daughter to bed and my husband took our oldest daughter swimming. We always have fond memories of night swimming on summer vacation and it was fun to see her excitement as they got to swim at night.

The next morning we had a wonderful buffet breakfast at the Windows Restaurant at Legacy Lodge. It had everything from omelets to egg benedict, oatmeal and yogurt to biscuits and grits. It wasn’t crowded since it was a Monday morning. We heard it was packed for Father’s Day brunch the day before!

We packed up and headed out to the water park. It was exciting this year as our youngest daughter was finally tall enough to ride on all the water slides! We spent a few hours on the water slides and in the wave pool and then packed up our boat and drove home. It was a fun way to celebrate Father’s Day while being on a budget!

Here are some other deals to save some cash at Lake Lanier Islands. Like them on Facebook and get discounts on Lanier World (new web site) online ticket purchases. Find a friend with a season pass and go along with them on half price days – friends can get 50% off on certain days. Look for coupons at Chick-fil-A and other places for LanierWorld and get $5.00 of per pass.



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