Must Sees & Eats in Sorrento

It’s been about a month since we returned from our incredible Italian adventure, and we wanted to share some of our favorite things to do and places to eat from our travels. Our first stop of the trip was to Sorrento, a small, cliff-side town on the Amalfi coast. Located about an hour south of Naples, we ended up taking a shared van shuttle to the city. Another alternative is taking the bus or the train, but we agreed that the simplicity of having a shuttle and time it saved was worth the additional cost. TLB Tip: Check out Viator or Get Your Guide for some shared transfer options that are affordable and easy to book! Before we started our trip, we knew we wanted to see authentic Italy, so we decided to book all of our accommodations at Airbnbs to live in more local areas and get tips from our hosts (New to Airbnb? Sign up with our link to get a discount on your first stay here!). Our Airbnb in Sorrento was nothing short of spectacular with views of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius from the porch, a block from the train station, and easy walking distance to everywhere in Sorrento.

To see more views of our Airbnb, check out Rossella’s listing here

Sorrento is home of limoncello, has incredible Neopolitan pizza, and is convenient to other cities along the Amalfi coast like Positano, Amalfi, and Capri. With only 3 nights in Sorrento, we wanted to make sure we did as much as possible to immerse ourselves into the culture of Sorrento. See some of our favorites and tips below for what to do and what to eat while you are in Sorrento!

Must Sees

  • Lemons – Sorrento is home of limoncello, so there is no shortage of lemons around the city! Be sure to stop by the public lemon gardens to see the hundreds of lemons the size of grapefruits or take a stroll down Corsa Italia to visit the many different limoncello shops. Our favorite by far was Limonoro. They had such a wide variety of limoncello, ranging from classic lemon and creamy lemon to melon or even pistachio flavored limoncello and other local treats. And the best part? They offered multiple samples right in the store, so we knew we would love what we bought! If you are planning to visit, let us know – we would like to place an order for some limoncello and they only take orders in-person from the store!
  • Marinas – Sorrento has two marinas – Marina Piccola and Marina Grande. Marina Piccola is the port of Sorrento, where ferries and cruise ships come into the city. It also has has a small beach and suntanning areas. The path down to Marina Piccola is not for those afraid of heights with its winding staircase down! But for about 2 Euro, you can take a short elevator ride down to the shoreline and back up again. The other marine, Marina Grande, is the fisherman village and home of some great seafood! About a 10-15 minute walk from Piazza Tasso, you find yourself strolling down a cobblestone pathway before emerging and overlooking one of the most beautiful views in Sorrento. And if you time your visit right, you’ll see the most amazing sunset with Vesuvius in the background. We spent two evenings in Marina Grande, so needless to say, it’s a must visit!
  • Amalfi Coast Boat Tour – With Sorrento’s proximity to so many incredible cities along the Amalfi coast, we knew we wanted to take a day trip to explore more. We did our research and decided that a boat tour sounded more fun than a bus tour (especially with those twisty, windy roads!). Most boat tours only take 10-15 guests per tour, so we took a gamble and booked our tour in advance of getting to Sorrento and kept our fingers crossed for good weather. Fortunately, we had a perfect day – a beautiful, sunny day and smooth water! Typically, boat tours offer two options – Capri or Positano and Amalfi. We both were looking forward to seeing as much as we could during our tour and enjoying our time on the boat, so we chose to visit Positano and Amalif (1.5 hours in each city) as opposed to the entire time at Capri (4 hours). We had a great experience with Capitano Ago’s tour! We were picked up in Piazza Tasso and on the boat by 9 AM. Once we “set sail”, our captain and skipper gave us some of the history of the coast and sites as we made our way around the coastline. We enjoyed some Peroni and a delicious Caprese sandwich before exploring our first city – Amalfi. The white houses create a stunning contrast with the rich blue Mediterranean, and we had a great time exploring some of the beautiful streets of Amalfi.
  • Our next stop was Positano, which was our favorite part of the day! The city of Positano is a true beach town, with the colorful buildings emerging out of the mist of the low clouds as we came into the harbor. We wandered along the beach with the quintessential Amalfi coast beverage – Aperol spritz! We loved climbing the {many} steps up to view the town from higher up and soaking in the Italian sunshine before our journey back to Sorrento. 10/10 recommend a boat tour of the Amalfi coast and next time, maybe we will get a chance to go to Capri as well!
  • Pizza Making Class – With Sorrento so close to Naples, the home of Neapolitan pizza, it was a requirement that we enjoyed pizza while we were here, and what better way to enjoy pizza than taking a pizza making class from Italian experts? We had a great time at Il Tirabuscio for our pizza making class! We learned how to make dough from scratch and that dough should rest for 24 hours before baking it (or else the yeast will continue to rise in your stomach and make you more full), and got to assemble our own pies before putting them into the oven. By far the best pizza we had in Italy (not to toot our own horns!), and we got to finish our meal by making homemade tiramisu and enjoying a refreshing limoncello.

Must Eats

  • Porta Marina Seafood – By far the best seafood we had our entire 12 day trip was here! Porta Marina Seafood is located in Marina Grande which overlooks the fishing village. We had heard about this restaurant and knew we had to check it out not only for the food, but also for the incredible sunset views. We arrived around 7:30 and were able to get a table outside overlooking the harbor where we could watch the fishermen bringing in their catch of the day and wait for the sunset. Despite Sorrento being a tourist town, Porta Marina had great prices – about 50 euros for a liter of wine, mussels and clams, and two grilled seafood entrees. If we could go back to Italy for one meal, this would be where we went!
  • Pizzeria da Franco – Our first meal in Italy was at Franco’s Pizza! Our Airbnb host recommended this local restaurant to us and luckily it was right down the street. While not a fancy place per se (think plastic silverware and pizzas served on metal trays), the food was delicious! There was a good mix of locals and tourists and plenty of different pizza options on the menu.
  • Torna a Sorriento Trattoria – This was one of the locations we had on our list to try while in Sorrento based on reviews that it offered a truly authentic Italian dinner experience and we were not disappointed! After walking {running} through a torrential downpour our first night, we arrived at Torna a Sorriento around 7:30. When we walked in, we saw that there was only 6 or so tables in the entire restaurant! The owner greeted us and asked if we had a reservation. We didn’t but he was able to make a table for us as long as we were able to be done by 9 PM. This was the perfect first dinner in Sorrento and some of the most reasonable prices – liter of house wine, prosciutto and mozzarella, bruschetta, lasagna, and two frutti di mare pasta for under 50 euros! The owner and his mother were so kind and inviting, making our first night in Sorrento a great start to our trip.

There is so much more to see, do, and eat while in Sorrento, and we wish we had more time to explore all this magical city has to offer! Are there any places we should add to our list for next time? Let us know in the comments below.

Stay tuned for more posts about our Italian adventure and follow us on Instagram at www.instagram.com/TheLocalBells

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Our Spontaneous Trip to Clayton, GA

2019 has been flying by in a whirlwind, and we decided we needed a quick break to decompress at the end of March. We wanted to go just for a night and be somewhere that was fairly close yet felt far away. We narrowed it down to a few options and finally decided on the Beechwood Inn in Clayton, GA. About 2 hours outside of Atlanta right near the Tennessee line, the bed and breakfast is home to some of the best food we’ve ever had and one of our favorite vineyards nearby. So we packed our bags Thursday night, and hit the road after work on Friday.

With just 10 rooms, the inn is small enough that you get personal attention but relaxed enough to enjoy your time the way you want to. The innkeepers, David and Gayle, host daily “Wine Thirty” happy hours with guests and are quick to offer suggestions for activities and restaurants. Downtown Clayton is just a short walk away with some great little restaurants like Fortify and Fortify Pi. We learned that Clayton is best known for their “farm to table” food options, so you’ll find local produce, meat, and cheeses at almost every place you visit. The Beechwood Inn is no exception, hosting several farm to table dinner events on Saturdays each month.

While we didn’t get to enjoy one of their wonderful dinners this time, our breakfast Saturday morning was incredible! A full two course breakfast is included with your room rate, and the inn chef prepares your meal fresh that morning when you wake up and come down to the dining room. Grant has a tree nut allergy and they were very helpful to accommodate that as well. We started off with coffee and fresh squeezed peach juice before beginning our first course of baked apples and a chocolate chip cherry scone. The second course was french toast, thick cut bacon, and fresh food. I think it’s safe to say we didn’t leave the table hungry!

Not only is Clayton known for their farm to table food, but they also have a small but growing population of vineyards and wineries nearby. Grant and I’s personal favorite is Tiger Mountain Vineyards. The vineyard was started by the Ezzard and McMullen families in 1995, with an emphasis on European varietals and 100% of grapes grown on property. Most other Georgia vineyards import certain grape varietals in from other local vineyards or even from California, so it’s unique to find a winery that grows and uses only their own grapes. And even more than that, Tiger Mountain wines are by far our favorite Georgia based wine! And even the critics agree with us, with the vineyard accumulating over 195 awards for their wines over the years.

They have a wine tasting option offered daily ($10), which is a great way to sample many of their different varietals. Our favorites are the Mountain Cyn and the Rabun Red, made with the Norton grape that is the only grape indigenous to North America. The vineyard often has live music on the weekends with light bites of local cheese and crackers to enjoy with your wine. If you are looking for more of a meal, their Red Barn Cafe has lunch options that include your wine tasting for free! While I wasn’t able to convince Grant to sign up for the Tigerwine Tasters wine club (this time), they have a great wine club option if you want to get some great wine at an great discount. Most of their bottles are under the $30 price point to begin with, but wine club members get free tastings and an additional 20% off all wine purchases. You do have to commit to purchasing 2 cases of wine in a 2 year period, but purchases can be made in increments instead of all at once. It’s probably a good thing the vineyard is a 2 hour drive for us or we might be in trouble!

So there you go! If you are looking for a quiet getaway outside of Atlanta with some of the most authentic food and wine options, consider Clayton for your next mini trip. And if you can’t get to Clayton and still want to try the Tiger Mountain wines, the Atlanta area Whole Foods stores carry an assortment of some of their top varietals. Have any other great weekend trips from Atlanta that we should consider for the summer? Let us know below in the comments!

Follow along with us on our Instagram at www.instagram.com/TheLocalBells.

Top 5 Tips for Planning the Best Disney World Vacation

Late last year, Grant and I took our third trip together to Disney World, and it may have been our best visit yet! In a previous post, we talked about our tips for saving big money on your trip (read how we saved over $1,000 here!), and now we’re going to share some of our best Disney planning tips. It may be a bit cheesy, but the planning of a Disney trip and the anticipation is one of my favorite parts besides the vacation itself! My Monday-Friday job is in market research/consumer insights, so researching and organizing are some of my strongest skills – and ones that are put to good use when planning our Disney vacations! Here are some of the tips and tricks I use when we start our planning process:

  1. Decide when you want to go: Everyone has their own opinion on when to visit Disney World, and now with their variable ticket pricing, it’s more important than ever to decide what works best for your vacation and budget. The past two visits, we’ve decided to go right after Thanksgiving to take advantage of a free dining promotion and experience Disney World during the early part of the Christmas season. The weather is typically great and crowds are definitely thinner than the peak times of year, so it’s been one of our favorite times to visit. If you are undecided or just overwhelmed with when to visit, I have a few great resources that I use (especially in other aspects of planning). Mousesavers has a great collection of the different Disney room rates and tracks promotional offers if you are searching for the best deal. If you are more concerned with visiting when it’s not as busy, I love the crowd calendars at WDW Prep School – they are especially helpful when you get to the point of planning your FastPass+ selections. One of the best parts of booking a Disney vacation is being able to spread out the payments. They only require a $200 deposit upon booking, and trips must be paid in full 30 days prior to your trip. If you plan a year in advance for a $3000 trip, you spend only about $250 a month to pay for your trip. TLB tip: If at all possible, try to plan your Disney World trip at least 180 days out to take full advantage of all of the planning resources. If you are making a room only reservation, you can do that up to 499 days in advance!
  2. Research dining options and be ready to make reservations: Coming from the wife and husband that can barely decide where to eat dinner on the weekend, it seems crazy that we pick where to eat at Disney 6 months in advance! There are over 130 restaurants around Disney World, Disney Springs, and the resorts, and many don’t take walk-ups during the busy season. If you have your heart set on popular favorites like Cinderella’s Royal Table, O’hana, or Be Our Guest, you better be ready at that 180 day mark! TLB Tip: When you book a vacation package with Disney, you are able to make your dining reservations for your entire stay (up to 10 days) on the 180 mark. Basically, this gives you the flexibility to book all of your reservations at one time, rather than having to book each day of your vacation separately on the 180 day mark. TLB Tip: Reservations open online at 6 AM EST, so be ready with your list ahead of time! If you can’t get the times or restaurants you want right away, don’t give up hope! MouseDining’s dining reservation tracker will alert you when a reservation frees up for your specified time.
  3. Plan for FastPass+: This can make or break a Disney vacation, especially during peak crowd times! Each day that you have a park ticket, you are allotted 3 FastPass selections at one park. Guests staying on property can select rides or attractions that they’d like to visit 60 days in advance (those off property have 30 days advance) starting at 7 AM EST. FastPass+ will give you a designated time to visit and bypass the main line – almost like a reservation! For popular rides like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Avatar Flight of Passage, this is a huge time-saver! Be forewarned, all parks except for Magic Kingdom have a tiered FastPass selection process, so you won’t be able to select FastPasses for all the big ticket attractions (for example, Soarin’ and Test Track are both Tier 1, so you’d have to choose between those two). Disney’s website has additional details about FastPass+ here. TLB Tip: Once you have used your first 3 Fastpasses, you are able to add another Fastpass one at a time for the remainder of the day! As soon as you scan into your third attraction, go ahead and open up your My Disney Experience app to see what is available – you never know, you may find an ellusive Slinky Dog Coaster Fastpass!
  4. Consider special ticketed events: There are two big special, ticketed events that happen at Disney each year – Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (August – October) and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (November – December). While we’ve only been to the Christmas party, we’ve heard great things about the Halloween celebration too! The parties can be a little pricey, but you have access to Magic Kingdom beginning at 4 PM on the day of the party (no other park ticket required). By 7 PM when the party officially begins, crowds will start to clear out and you get to enjoy significantly shorter wait times for all of your favorite rides! Plus, there are some great snacks and character meet and greets included with the party, and it’s a great way to get excited about the holiday season.
  5. Double check park hours and confirmations: Once you get about 2 weeks out from your trip, it’s time to double check all of your information! I like to keep an Excel spreadsheet with everything we need (FastPass selections, park hours, dining reservations). A few weeks before your vacation, Disney will finalize park hours on the app and website. I like to check these especially when we have early breakfast reservations to see when parks officially open. I also typically call the dining reservation line to make sure that any allergies or celebrations have been noted on our reservations before we get there. TLB Tip: If you have a dietary restriction or allergy, Disney is incredible at accommodating and providing options! Just let your waiter know when you sit down, and most restaurants have an allergy friendly menu guide which makes it so simple, even for buffets!
Planning spreadsheet example with our dining plan allotments, reservations, and FastPass+

So there you go – our top 5 tips to planning the best Disney World vacation! We are already counting down to our next visit, which is TBD! Any other tips that you recommend for our next trip? Keep up with us on Instagram at www.Instagram.com/TheLocalBells

2019 Goals – Better Late Than Never!

So I mentioned in our previous blog post that 2019 has been off to a very busy start – hence, why we are just now getting around to talking about our 2019 goals! Grant and I sat down at the beginning of January reflecting on what all we accomplished in 2018 and how we wanted to build off of that in 2019. One of the big realizations I had wrapping up 2018 was that it can be so easy to focus on the goals you fall short on and don’t accomplish, rather than celebrating everything you were able to do. For 2019, our focuses will be about celebrating life’s little wins and having gratitude every day, even if it may seem like we’re not making as big of a dent in our long-term goals.

Without further ado, here are our goals for 2019:

  1. Eliminate all debt – With the exception of our mortgage, our goal is to be completely debt free by the end of 2019. That means no more car payments and no more student loan debt. We have just over $10,000 left, which feels a little daunting to tackle in less than 10 months. But with only 4 more car payments left and continuing to automate our payments each month, we are so close to marking this one off the list! One thing that has really helped has been making weekly additional payments on my student loans – you don’t miss an extra $50 when it lines up with payday, but it contributes a lot to decreasing that balance by the end of the month.
  2. Less mindless snacking – We are both guilty of “treating yourself” a little too often. We did a great job in 2018 with exercising and eating at home, but we also grew accustomed to having an evening snack after dinner while watching TV. I don’t even think I was hungry most of the time! It was just mindless while we watched TV or talked. In 2019, we’re trying to be more mindful of what we choose to eat. That’s not to say that we are cutting out snacks forever, just that we are trying to be smarter about weekday snacking.
  3. Be more intentional and present with our time – Technology is such a gift but it can also be the biggest distraction. It’s amazing that we’ve conditioned ourselves to treat moments of silence or boredom with the opportunity to just scroll mindlessly through social media. With our work schedules, we only get maybe 2-3 hours to spend together each week day before it’s time for bed and that decreases even more when Grant travels for work. While quantity of time isn’t the most important, quality is. For us, that means putting down the phones when we are together and trying to be more in the moment. We’re looking forward especially to the opportunity to disconnect even more when we go on our Italy trip!
  4. Read more – For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved to read. But as your day gets filled with more and more responsibilities, things like reading fall by the wayside. It’s always after a vacation full of reading that I realize how much I miss this, but it shouldn’t have to be reserved for that vacation time. It’s a great way to keep you thinking and to unwind after a long day, so it’s on my personal list to pick up a book at least a few times a week for 30 minutes or more.
  5. Anniversary trip – Although we have a big trip planned to Italy, we still want to continue the tradition of celebrating our marriage around the time of our anniversary. Quality time is both of our love languages so having that opportunity to just be together is so important. With quite a few other financial goals that we are trying to tackle this year, TBD on what this trip could turn into! In the meantime, we are hoping that Grant’s extensive traveling will result in some extra Delta Sky Miles (fingers crossed!).
  6. New living room couch – So maybe this one is more of a nice to have/want to have than an actual goal for 2019. Over the past few months, we’ve felt our house turn into a home as we’ve made it our own. The addition (finally!) of the dining room table really helped us feel the place come together, and the final big thing on our list for the downstairs entertaining area is a new couch. Hopefully in time for football season, but we will see!
  7. Be more spontaneous and spend time with friends – Once you leave college and everyone has different jobs and schedules and lives in different areas, it gets harder and harder to spend time with friends like you used to. After college, there is no set timeline either, so everyone is at a different stage in their lives. But you realize the importance of and how much you appreciate the people that are always there for you. So in 2019, we want to continue to try new things, visit new places, and spend time with the ones we love.
  8. 1 big date night per month – Perhaps “big” date night isn’t the right wording for this one. Basically, this is to force us out of the Friday night Mexican restaurant routine at least once a month to try something new. So far, we’ve been to the High Museum for Infinity Mirrors and to see Les Miserables. Our next date night that I’m super excited about is going to see Cinderella at the Fox! If you have any other suggestions for unique date night ideas, definitely let us know. So there you go! 2019 is already in full swing, and we are excited to see what all this year holds. Follow us on Instagram at www.Instagram.com/TheLocalBells for more.

Planning for Italy – Tips, Tricks, & Recommendations

If you can’t tell from the lack of blog posts so far this year, 2019 has been off to an incredibly busy start for both of us. Work has been crazy and somehow we are already at the end of February! Some days it’s hard to make time for the things we want to do opposed to the things we need to do, so having a vacation on the not-so-distant horizon is keeping us excited for the days ahead. I’d mentioned previously that we are planning a trip to Italy in May, so I wanted to share some of our tips and tricks that we’ve used in planning so far.

  1. Be flexible on the time of year: Italy has been on Grant and I’s travel bucket list for some time. 11 years ago, we met on our first Europe trip through a high school study abroad program to Italy and Greece in April and the weather was great – not too hot or cold and right before the peak of tourist season. We credit that trip with the start of our friendship, relationship, and now marriage, so we knew we had to go back someday! When starting to plan for our trip together this year, we researched and found that we needed to book flights at least 3 months out, so the earliest we could go was March. With our work vacation day schedule, I knew I needed to use days before the end of May so that gave us about a 3 month window of when we would want to go. After researching several blogs on the cheapest time to visit Italy, looking at historical weather information, and comparing flight prices across multiple time periods, we decided that May checked all the boxes for us. TLB Tip: Google flights is a great tool to track flight prices across multiple airlines and Skyscanner is a fantastic tool if you are flexible on where to go or what time of year.
  2. Consider all forms of transportation: It goes without saying that the only way to get from Atlanta to Italy is to fly (or take a very long boat ride). Our trip is unique in that we will start our vacation in one city and end in another – which can make it a little complicated when booking flights. When we started looking at flights, some one way trips can cost more than a round trip, so try to book round trip or a multi-city flight all at once whenever you can! We knew we wanted to try and maximize the Delta SkyMile points we had, so it took some careful planning and being flexible with our travel plans, but in the end we spent just over $1,000 on our airfare. If we had paid out of pocket for our flights we used miles for, the one way legs would have been upwards of $3,000 each! To get to each of the cities we’ll be visiting, we will be taking trains as opposed to driving or flying. Total cost for trains was under $200 and will be significantly easier and take less time than if we were to fly to each location. TLB Tip: Buying your train tickets online was very easy and much less stressful than purchasing in person at the train station. Plus, you can get a better discount the further in advance you book!
  3. Look beyond hotels: Traveling to a foreign country can be intimidating when you don’t speak the local language, so it’s easy to default to hotels when looking for accommodations. Before we started our search, Grant and I agreed on a maximum price per night that we felt comfortable spending for a hotel and realized we could get so much more and a more authentic experience by staying at Airbnbs. Not only will we stay off the beaten path, but we’ll enjoy some additional benefits of being able to have a kitchen to cook some meals and a place to do laundry. Plus, these places have some INCREDIBLE views! Stay tuned for our full reviews of each location after our trip! TLB Tip: If you are new to Airbnb, use our link to sign up and receive a discount on your first stay!
  4. Try something new: While this isn’t our first time to Italy, it will be our first time to some of these cities and our first visit as a married couple. We are excited to visit some of the tourist attractions in each city like the art mueseums, but we are also looking forward to experiences that immerse ourselves into the Italian culture. We’re talking hole-in-the-wall restaurants and places that only the locals know about. We also plan to do at least one type of local activity in each city – our first one planned is pizza making in Sorrento and then a wine tasting in Tuscany! Any other suggestions for Florence and Venice?
  5. Plan early for savings: It is never too early to start saving for a big trip, whether it’s vacation days or money. By giving ourselves over 5 months to plan, we have the ability to split up our payments and not have everything due at the same time. Most Airbnb listings allow you to pay half or the full amount at booking too, which was a great way for us to book the places we wanted and spread out our costs. And along the way with our usual day to day spending, we’re earning cash back that we can put towards food and activities while we are in Italy. TLB Tip: Be sure to check the terms of your credit and debit cards to see what their international usage policies are and be sure to updates your banks before you go so your card isn’t frozen!

Do you have any tips or suggestions for us to consider before our trip in May? Any must-do activities in Sorrento, Florence, or Venice? Share with us below in the comments!

Follow along with us on Instagram at www.instagram.com/TheLocalBells

We Saved Over $1,000 on Our Disney World Vacation – And So Can You!

Back in November, Grant and I celebrated our first anniversary at the happiest place on Earth – Disney World! We’ve had the opportunity to go three times together (2015, 2016, and 2018), and each time it gets even better! This was our second time with the “Free Dining” promotion, and this time, we tracked all of our spending to see if it actually saved us money. And after tallying every dollar spent on our resort, tickets, and food, the grand total was over $1,000 in savings compared to if we had paid for every thing at full cost! And if you include our flights that we paid for with points and a gift card, that total goes up to nearly $1,400 that we saved!

So, how did we do it? Unlike grocery shopping or online shopping where you can use a myriad of coupons or promo codes to get some great deals, Disney itself really only has a few ways for you to save on a vacation: a room discount, package discount/special offer, or by using your Disney Visa card rewards. But there are a few other tips and tricks to save and stretch every dollar for your next Disney vacation!

Here are the steps we took to build up these amazing savings:

  • Free Dining” Promotion – The first time we took advantage of the “Free Dining” promotion was in 2016, and we stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort. We stumbled upon the promotion when were were planning our trip and were lucky enough to snag a reservation with the offer. This time, we knew to be on the lookout for it, especially since it’s historically been offered for the same time of year (promo becomes available in late April for bookings in the fall/early winter; I like to keep track of historical promos here). We managed to book at Coronado Springs this time for a few days after Thanksgiving, the best time in my opinion to get in the Christmas spirit and go during a cooler time of year. TLB Tip – there are rumors that “Free Dining” will be going away after Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge opens. BUT if you are looking to plan a Disney vacation this summer, they have “Free Dining” available July-September, so book while you can! The promotion nearly always sells out, but make sure it’s the right choice for you and your family:
    • Ticket Requirements – There are ticket requirements (Park Hopper and typically at least 4 days) and you aren’t able to bundle with other offers, so sometimes a room only discount can be better (deluxe resorts sometimes have discounts up to 35%!). For us, we knew we wanted the Park Hopper option and planned to be there 5 days and 4 nights, so the promotion fit perfectly for our vacation. When looking at the room only discount for the same time period, a 20% discount at Coronado Springs would only save us about $200, so we opted for the free dining package instead.
    • Different Meal Plans Included – Only the Deluxe resorts get the full Disney Dining Plan (1 quick service, 1 table service, 2 snacks per person per night); Values and Moderates get the Quick Service Plan (2 quick service, 2 snacks per person per night). With this trip being an anniversary trip, we definitely wanted to make sure we had some table service options. Although we were staying at a Moderate resort, Disney allows you to upgrade your meal plan for the difference in cost, which was well worth it to us! This way, it basically feels like an all-inclusive vacation (aside from tips). If we hadn’t had free dining this trip, it still would have been worth it for us – we would have saved a couple hundred dollars by purchasing the meal plan this trip.
    • Make Dining Reservations Early! I cannot emphasize this one enough, especially for the Disney Dining Plan with table service restaurants. Disney opens the booking window 180 days out for dining reservations, and if you are staying on property, you can make reservations for all days of your vacation at that 180 day mark. And if you want to eat at some of the most popular restaurants like Be Our Guest, you’ll want to be on the computer right at 6 AM EST to book those! Keep in mind that the cost of the Disney Dining Plan is $75.49 per person per night, so if you really want to maximize the benefits of “free dining,” you’ll want to look at menus and plan to try to spend over $5 per snack, $18 per quick service meal, and $41 per table service meal (the break even amounts if you paid for the plan out of pocket). We highly recommend Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club (all you can eat crab legs!) and Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge for some of our favorite table service meals. And Be Our Guest is the only quick service location that requires reservations for breakfast and lunch, so we love being able to plan for a great meal for less time than a typical table service meal.
    • So. Much. Food. So would we really eat this much food if we weren’t on the dining plan? Probably not. The two snacks per person each day was a bit aggressive, and we ended up using quite a few on our last day with the Goofy candy to take home. But it was great to be able to try some new restaurants and food that we wouldn’t normally order. TLB Tip – Starbucks drinks count as a snack credit, so go ahead and order that $7 Venti Frappuccino that you know you can’t resist! And new to the 2018 (and still for 2019) dining plan was the addition of a specialty beverage with each meal. It made every meal feel like a special treat, and definitely not what we would have done if we were paying a la carte!
  • Sam’s Club Gift Cards – One of our top travel hacks for planning and paying for this trip was purchasing discounted Disney gift cards from Sam’s Club. When you make your initial reservation, Disney only requires a $200 deposit that is refundable up until 30 days from your check-in date, which gives you a ton of time to save along the way and pay as you go. Sam’s Club currently offers discounted gift cards that save you about $7 every $150 in gift cards you purchase. When we paid with our Discover card, there was a 5% cash back bonus for purchases at club stores, so we were able to save even more! We booked our trip in April, so we had about 7 months to save and purchase gift cards along the way. Disney’s website makes it very easy to use gift cards and make payments along the way, with only a $20 minimum on payments.
  • Disney Chase Visa Card – While definitely not the best card in terms of the cash back (1% on all purchases), cardholders sometimes get access to longer promotion windows or other perks. We put some of our work and personal expenses on this card and pay it off every month, so over the past few years it accumulated to a nice amount for our souvenir and extra expense bucket. Cardholders also enjoy 0% APR on Disney vacations booked with your Disney Visa for 6 months.
  • Airline Points – Orlando is a fairly easy drive from Atlanta, but still would take up a good bit of our vacation just in traveling back and forth. With some of our work travel over the past year, we were able to accumulate enough points to book Southwest flights for our trip – about $400 if we had paid out of pocket. With just an hour flight between the cities and having access to Disney’s Magical Express, transportation was a breeze and at no additional cost to us!

Interested in seeing our cost breakdown? We would have spent a whopping $3,400 if we paid out of pocket for everything included in our last trip (resort, tickets, food costs)! Here’s how things broke out if we were to pay completely out of pocket with a meal plan and no discounts versus a room only discount versus what we actually paid:

Cost completely out of pocket$3,433
Cost with no discounts & Disney Dining Plan$2,969
Cost with 25% room only discount & Disney Dining Plan$2,708
Actual costs (with “free dining” & all savings)$2,263

So what are your favorite ways to save for your Disney vacation? Comment below for any other ones we should consider for our next trip!  

Thanks for reading more tips and tricks from our Disney trip to come! Be sure to check out our Instagram for more: www.Instagram.com/TheLocalBells.

Reflecting on 2018 Goals

Wow, it’s hard to believe that we have closed out another year and it’s on to 2019! In some ways, it’s felt like it went by so quickly, but on the other hand it feels like there was so much crammed into 2018 that it couldn’t possibly have been just one year. In one of our very first blog posts, we wrote about our goals for 2018 (take a look at the full post here). To be completely honest, it wasn’t something that we talked much about on a regular basis throughout the year, but we kept the list posted on our fridge as a constant reminder of what we were working towards.

So how did we do? I was a little nervous pulling that sheet of paper off the fridge to evaluate whether we had achieved our goals or had fallen short. Here’s a quick snapshot of how we did:

  1. Exercising 30 minutes at least 3 times per week Yes! Overall, I’d say we did a pretty good job on this one during a typical work week. I workout with my mom and sister twice a week, which holds me accountable, and the gym is on my way home for at least one more workout each week. Grant stops by the gym most days after work when he’s not traveling and we try to have at least one weekend workout together as well. I’m hoping we can keep this positive momentum rolling in 2019!
  2. Cook dinner at home at least 4 nights per week – Yes! Another one I am really proud of us for achieving! Not only do we save a significant amount of money eating in, but it gives us healthier options and more time to spend together. Another habit from 2018 that we are hoping to continue. And if you have any great recipes, send them my way – we are constantly looking for new easy meals to try.
  3. Save enough money for a house down payment by October – YES! By far my proudest accomplishment from 2018. We began our home search in May, a bit earlier than we had originally planned. By early June, we were under contract for a house and set to close in August. It took a lot of discipline to save and watch our spending those first 7-9 months of marriage, (and a lot of meals at home with chicken) but it paid off! We are incredibly blessed to have found a home that we can grow into in an area that we love.
  4. Max out 401K – Kinda. Grant and I both have employer sponsored 401K accounts and each have a separate Roth IRA account. We both continued to contribute to our employer accounts in order to get the full employer match, but are still working up to maxing out our Roth contributions for the year. Automating these contributions and our savings in general will help us to hopefully get closer with this in 2019.
  5. Less than $10,000 student loan debt and car loan – No. This is one where it would have been beneficial to track this progress more closely throughout the year because we were really close. We ended the year at about $12,500 left on student loans and car payments, so we were just shy of meeting our goal. When I checked the accounts and saw we were so close yet didn’t meet that goal, I felt disappointed and a little dejected. And sometimes that’s how you feel when you don’t meet a goal – you focus on what you didn’t accomplish rather than what you did. So I looked at what we were able to do in 2018 and I found that we paid off nearly $15,000 in student loans and car payments! That is incredible!! Yes, we fell short of our goal, but we should be proud of what we accomplished in 2018 and keep pushing forward in 2019 to officially be debt free (minus our mortgage).
  6. Use every vacation day – In progressWe are still working on this one, but we each took some time off around Thanksgiving and between Christmas and New Years to spend time with family and friends and relax and recharge before heading back to work. Both Grant and I value quality time together more than anything else, so we’re working to make it a priority to use our vacation/PTO time. And more to come, but we have officially booked a 12 day trip to Italy in May! 
  7. Plan a first anniversary trip in November – Yes! We actually were overachievers when it came to this goal – we had a mini stay-cation for one night at Chateau Elan the weekend of our actual anniversary and then planned our big anniversary trip to Disney World after Thanksgiving. We had an incredible time there and will be sharing some tips and tricks soon on ways we made the most of our time and saved money (TLB tip – we booked a free dining offer and Disney is currently offering it again for July-September here! If you want recommendations or have questions, we are happy to share our experience.) 

So there you go. We didn’t achieve all of our goals, but rather than feeling disappointed by what we didn’t do, we are celebrating all we were able to accomplish this year and know that 2019 holds even more exciting times!

Thanks for following along and happy new year to everyone! We are excited for all that is to come in 2019, so be sure to check out our Instagram

So We Didn’t Win the Lottery…But Here’s Why We Still Feel Luckier Than Ever

Last night’s historic Mega Millions $1.6 billion prize had the country in a lottery frenzy! And while the odds were most definitely not in our favor with a nearly impossible chance of picking the right numbers, we couldn’t help but join in with all of the other dreamers by purchasing a ticket. For just $2, we slipped into the “what ifs” and daydreaming of what we would do with that type of money. And you know what? So many of the things on our list were things we were already working towards or things that were totally attainable with hard work and discipline. Here are a few of the items we had on our list:

  • Pay off student loans
  • Pay off car loan/get cars fixed
  • Pay off mortgage
  • Buy dining room furniture and a new living room couch
  • Fund our future kids’ college education
  • Travel more extensively
  • Donate both money and time to our favorite causes
  • Focus on our passions
  • Set up trusts for our families to be financially free

We had a few other selfishly fun and more extravagant things too (some crazy expensive Traeger grill for Grant, Disney Vacation Club for me), but what we realized was that at the end of the day, we love the life we share together with each other and our friends and family. Sure, an unexpected windfall could alleviate some financial pressure, but when we think back to what we’ve already accomplished, I know we have been so blessed and should take time to celebrate what we have rather than focusing on what we are missing out on.

One of my favorite quotes is, “You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything.” I think it’s so powerful that anything is within your reach with hard work and a plan, but you have to prioritize and figure out what is most important to you first. If you told me at college graduation that in less than 5 years I would buy a car and almost have it paid off, get engaged, plan and pay for a wedding to the love of my life, pay off 85% of my student loans, and save 20% for our first home down payment, I would tell you that you were crazy and it couldn’t be done! But when I think about all that we’ve been able to accomplish, there is no reason we shouldn’t continue to dream big and work towards our goals, even if they may seem unattainable now. Breaking things down into smaller steps day by day may not seem like you make fast progress, but it adds up over time.

So while we aren’t newfound billionaires or millionaires, we have so much to be thankful for. Loving families, a beautiful home, food on our table, our health, and the ability to continue to chase our dreams. And if you are still feeling bummed about not having the winning ticket, hopefully you get a little laugh from the picture below!

lotto

Follow along with us on Instagram at www.Instagram.com/TheLocalBells

Behind the Scenes at Porsche – CHOA’s Rolling for a Reason

A few weeks ago, we had a chance to go behind the scenes at the Porsche Driving Experience for a charity event benefiting the Aflac Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. We’ve said this before, but Children’s holds a place near and dear to our hearts, so we are always grateful for the opportunity to volunteer at these events and bring awareness to such an amazing cause. This night was nothing short of spectacular, and we’re sharing some behind the scenes photos from this incredible event!

The new facility was opened in 2015 and is located just south of Atlanta right next to Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. The best way to describe the Porsche Driving Experience is a real life “Test Track” for car enthusiasts. From the history of Porsche, to their wall of paint colors, to the driver development track, this place is a car lover’s dream!

If you are looking to go on a drive, we heard rumors that the blue car was the fastest!

Our evening started with a cocktail reception on their patio, which overlooks their test course and has views of the planes taking off and landing next door at the airport. Combine that with a gorgeous sunset, and it’s hard to find a view that will beat this one! The CHOA VIP attendees had the opportunity to go for a ride around the test course in one of the many Porsche models. While we didn’t get to fulfill our need for speed this time, the Porsche Experience Center offers a variety of different driving experiences here. Prices vary depending on which experience you choose, but still are a bit out of the Local Bells’ budget – guess we’ll have to make do with getting our fast car fix at Test Track this November! (Stay tuned for our tips and tricks on how we saved hundreds on our Disney vacation!)

When the sun went down, the games began and the stakes were high! You had your pick from whatever your game was – whether that was roulette or blackjack, craps or Texas hold’em. Everyone started out with $1,000 worth of chips to gamble as you pleased. For some, they went big but didn’t have to go home early thanks to a donation buy-in that let them stay in the game. Midway through the evening, we heard a moving speech from the Blythes, the honored patient family this evening, about their son’s battle against cancer and the love and support they’ve received from the Aflac Cancer Center and CHOA. Hearing those stories and knowing that the proceeds from this evening go to real people like the Blythe family truly puts everything into perspective.

Shout-out to ONEHOPE Wine for the amazing wine this evening! They donate to a different cause with the purchase of every bottle of wine – a winning combination in our book!

At the end of the evening, we traded in our chips for raffle tickets for some amazing prizes – if you’ve ever been to a CHOA event, you know the silent auctions and raffles are outstanding! Let’s just say Grant and I shouldn’t quit our day jobs to play blackjack professionally…

If you are interested in ways to support Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, we invite you to check out their website, www.choa.org. There are so many ways to give back, whether through amazing events like this or volunteering in their hospitals. For one of their exciting events coming this October, be sure to check out Polo in the Pines at the Atlanta Regional Polo Center! Two days of polo, delicious food, fantastic silent auction prizes, and supporting a great cause. We hope to see you there!

Follow us on Instagram for more of our fall fun to come – www.instagram.com/thelocalbells!

Why We Love Horseback Riding at Barnsley Gardens

By now, you’ve seen some of our posts about our love for trying new things and exploring new places. Barnsley Gardens continues to top our list for one of our favorite closeby places to visit. In case you missed our first post about Barnsley and how much we love it here, check out our post from earlier in the spring here. Last Christmas, my parents gave a horseback riding trail ride to Grant and I along with my sister and brother-in-law. After a crazy first half of the year and a hot summer, we finally booked our trail ride at Barnsley Gardens this past weekend.

My sister, Morgan, and I grew up riding English and have been comfortable around horses for most of our lives, with our horses even living at home for part of our time growing up. Grant has always helped out with the horses, whether it was hauling hay from Mr. Gantt’s feed store down the street or going to visit Dakota with me and bring his favorite treats. We went on our first ride together last fall at Brasstown Valley Resort, so he was excited for this ride at Barnsley. Morgan’s husband, Stephen, had never ridden a horse, so we had quite a range of experience and comfort levels with horses going into the day’s trail ride.

Here are our top 5 things we loved about our experience at Barnsley:

  1. Amazing horses – Barnsley truly has the most incredible horses! Such sweet dispositions and manners make the trail ride enjoyable for any rider – regardless of past experience. They also have some great names. Grant’s personal favorite was his horse, Mr. Deeds. I think he might have tried to take him home with us if we lived closer (and actually had grass in the backyard)!
  2. Fantastic staff – Growing up riding, I was always taught that for every hour you spent riding, you spent two taking care of your horse. It was a special treat to have the amazing Barnsley trail guides that saddled our horses and had everything ready to go for us. The trail guides were so personable and informative during our ride, and they had a story about each of the horses. It made it feel like it truly was a little family and community, rather than just a job and a paycheck.
  3. Trail route – Barnsley offers several different trail ride options that include a one hour ride, a 90 minute ride, and a history ride. Their trail rides are an awesome way to see the property before exploring on your own. With the trail heavily wooded, it was a nice reprieve from the hot sun even this early in the morning! About halfway through the ride, we also rode past some of the immaculate holes of their Jim Fazio golf course. The end of the ride concluded with a ride down the lawn, starting at the Woodlands Grill back past the ruins.
  4. Other animals by the stables – So if you didn’t know already, we are huge animal lovers. And one of us in particular (Grant) absolutely loves pigs! On our last visit to Barnsley, we discovered their new porky buddies, so we were excited to visit them again. We also saw goats, llamas, miniature horses, and chickens. They are all super friendly and makes us want our own little herd of farm animals!
  5. Getting to make a day trip – With Barnsley less than 60 miles away, it’s the perfect day trip that makes you feel like you’ve left the real world behind. We only wish we had more time to explore and enjoy! We had a great lunch at the Woodlands Grill, but still have yet to spend the night at the new Inn. With cooler weather ahead, we just might have to plan a weekend trip back to take advantage of their cabins and fireplaces and s’mores in the evening!

Looking for a fall escape? We highly recommend Barnsley Gardens and be sure to stop by the stables to visit some of our favorite friends! Be sure to follow along for more fall adventures on our Instagram www.instagram.com/thelocalbells