Vacationing Like an Adult: Financial Transparency in a World Full of Influencers

Vacations are dreamy.

You get to leave behind waking up early, commuting, crowded communal fridges with questionable smells, and the exhaustion of irritated clients who seem to get more nasty in their behavior and word choices every day.

Vacations are the kind of magic grown ups get. We traded in beliefs that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy exist for a world of rooms that seemingly clean themselves (thank you to all the tireless janitorial and maid staff). Our child selves who once craved to be a new profession every day revel in our adult escape from our true professions. Maybe we are underpaid, under appreciated, or overworked. Or all three. Any way, we get to abandon that worker identity for a set period of time. After all, how many people ask you on vacation What do you do? None, right?! It’s a bit magical to move about in your private albeit borrowed space enjoying your extra sleep, the views and food, and literally being waited on. The pampering is worth the cost.

So why do so many influencers stay quiet about the funds it takes to get to some of the places they visit? Maybe it’s their way to avoid dimming the magic of the trips they go on but shedding some of that mystery has a real purpose. You can inspire people to save up for their dreams by showing them some of these amazing venues are less out of reach than they might imagine.

Today I will provide the behind-the-scenes look at our recent California vacation. We stayed at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, a place we’ve never visited before. Although we were in California to participate in the WB Studio Tour and check out Wizarding World at Universal Studios, we choose to stay here for the ocean views and the food choices. An added bonus is the entire resort campus is non-smoking. People could not smoke tobacco products or vape either. My personal belief is a lot of public accommodations need to adopt an entirely smoke free environment.

My only struggle with the resort was the amount of staff members eager to greet my husband’s service dog. The resort is exceptionally dog-friendly and staff often missed the fact Gregor should be left alone even though he was wearing his gear identifying him as a service animal (not a requirement, by the way). Here is a peek at their resort policies on dogs and the resort fees I’ll share about later.

As the costs of many things rise in Arizona, we also realized planning for this trip meant planning for California prices. The allure of AirBnB’s has dimmed in our eyes based on the amount of extra cleaning fees being tacked on for stays even though you clean up before you leave, so staying in California meant planning for the aforementioned resort fees, parking costs we might incur, and pre-made meals that add up for a family of three. Of the on-site restaurant options, we grabbed drinks and a light breakfast at Sea Beans; our casual dinner was at Catalina Kitchen followed by a breakfast buffet there; but Bashi was the all-around favorite for us. We went here for New Year’s Eve and now I kind of wish we had done our second dinner there, too.

Bashi won out both for the amount of dairy free dishes (more on that in a minute) and the portion size. The wok fried garlic noodles ($18) I enjoyed was substantial enough to be my dinner, a small side for my husband, and our breakfast the next morning paired with the bit of leftover Peking duck from his dinner ($75). In all fairness, I forgot what our daughter ordered for dinner, but we all left satisfied with our meals, the two Americanos and one Ramune strawberry soda, plus the leftovers and the to go orders of mochi and a slice of vegan meyer lemon cheesecake. This one meal, $210 with tip, represents the bulk of what we spent on dining at the resort. Our resort savings on food is all courtesy of being Amex members; travel is something we want to enjoy more so it made sense for us to explore rewards options, but this blog post is not sponsored by any of the businesses mentioned today. We set aside our own funds over a few months to make this New Year’s Eve trip possible. For others looking to replicate the experience, their timeframe to save may be shorter or longer.

My personal failing over choosing Catalina Kitchen is centered on not looking at the menu earlier. Nearly everything had butter or some sort of cheese. I do bring lactase enzyme tablets with me in case there are dishes that might have accidentally been prepared wrong when I ask for a dairy alternative. The medication is not always helpful so the safer thing to do is hunt for other menu items. At Catalina Kitchen, I requested the sautéed spinach be prepared with olive oil over butter and I paired my $9 side dish with $22 tuna tartare. I also requested the avocado be removed because that fruit started to make me sick back in 2014. If you want to look at how poorly I prepared for the weekend, check out their menu. It’s a dairy heaven for some and nightmare for someone like me trying to avoid it.

I will take a moment to mention we’ve cut back on ordering alcohol when we dine out. Looking over the lobby bar’s menu, if I had decided to buy something, I probably would have picked the Holiday Fashion ($16), made with Bulleit rye, the Fireside ($20) made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, or the Shunka Shuto ‘Four Seasons’ whiskey flight ($40). Notice a theme? Or two. Or three. I love trying out holiday and season inspired drinks. Even more, I love trying out bourbon and whiskey drinks. Better yet, is saving money for something that matters more. As drink prices creep up to the same as entree prices, we choose to pair back on social drinks. The small bottle of wine in our room was enough to celebrate our NYE holiday weekend. The bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Valley 2019 pinot noir paired well with our evening of partially watching Robert Pattinson in “The Batman”. We fell asleep before ten and I was awakened by revelers outside screaming Happy New Year’s at midnight.

Now that I’ve gushed a bit about food and drink options, here’s what really brings people to this resort.

The pandemic made us hold off on travel for so long, it is only natural to want to make up for the lost time. Doing so with an eye on the budget did not dampen the experience at all. Granted, California was more rainy than what we hoped for when we planned the trip. We watched the wind take over the area, witnessed streets littered with palm fronds, and waited out pockets of rain to enjoy what I share with you today.


WB STUDIO TOUR

My love for the show “Gilmore Girls” is why I wanted to do the WB Studio Tour over the holidays. This show was my go-to entertainment during my separation from the Marine Corps and has remained one of my favorite shows to this day. Walking through the set was more fun than popping into the Friends Central Perk set up; I loved “Friends” growing up (still do), but the show does not have the same energy the way “Gilmore Girls” steals my heart. Sookie is my favorite main character; I love how she always creates something fabulous (with the exception of when she was pregnant and did not know it yet!). Her love for other people really shines in her cooking; I love seeing how what she makes for individuals in her life represents them so well. If there was someone who taught me that cooking is a craft, it is her.

There wasn’t a way to pop into Luke’s Diner, so we got 3 orders of tator tots ($19.84) from Al’s Pancake World and sought refuge in the church from the wind and possibility of more rain.

(These photos are a small collection of my overall experience. Ones like my family photo in front of Luke’s Diner will remain private to respect my husband’s and daughter’s privacy.)

And yes, I have a favorite boyfriend. Rory’s boyfriend, Logan, will remain my favorite. For all his flaws, I think if the show had gone on to show how he matured after some early adult personal failures, others would love him as much as I do. I am still hoping he’s Rory’s baby daddy.


UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

Our trip to Universal Studios was more expensive than the WB Studio Tour and being a person terrified of roller coasters, it was not the best use of my money. Seeing Wizarding World was neat though and my lunch at the Jurassic Cafe was as great second choice (my first choice was the harvest stew in a bread bowl). The citrus glazed chicken ($17.99) was served with a cranberry chimichurri, papaya slaw (clearly mine was missing!), and rice and beans. I do wish more places were required to list ingredients in full, so it’s easier to find out what has allergens. I took a lactase enzyme in case there was dairy in my meal; you can never be too careful!

To walk around this area, it is best to explain you are wandering around one of the prettiest shopping centers. I would have loved for it to have more of the feel we experienced at WB so the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London The Making of Harry Potter is something I think we should save up to do one of these years.

NOTE: I ordered the frozen butter beer non-dairy. With the cold California weather, I should have looked into heading into the Three Broomsticks to order the hot version. Whether you order it frozen, hot, or original, the drink is $8 before tax.


Below is the rundown of our categories. I will say I tried to over budget ahead of the trip. I assumed gas would be $5 a gallon, but it varied from about $3.39 or so up to around $4.29. We saved a little on resort fees, but I cannot recall if the credits we had for that are also part of our travel rewards. I should get better about budgeting for parking; I said this last year, too, after our 2021 trip to San Francisco. There was a $15 charge for parking at WB Studio and I feel that should be rolled into the ticket. Our decision to valet the car at Universal Studios costs $50 plus the $5 tip. We still stayed under budget for the whole trip which is what really matters.


BUDGETEDACTUAL
ROOM$1868.64$1868.64
RESORT FEES$150.00$135.00
NYE DINNER, RESORT DINNER,
BUFFET BREAKFAST
$565.00 ***$314.00
ROAD FOOD/PARK SELECTIONScombined with previous$155.69
WB STUDIO TOUR$207.00$207.00
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS TOUR$402.00$402.00
TRANSPORTATION$175.00$163.68
PARKING (ended up with 1 reg, 1 valet)$0.00$70.00
TIPS (out of personal cash; room/luggage)$0.00$9.00
SOUVENIR BUDGET *Our daughter bought other souvenirs with her money.$95.00$91.40
TOTALS$3,462.64$3,416.41

I bundled up for New Year’s, but the jacket was a perfect outfit addition.

Wishing you all a great start to 2023.

~Cheryl

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