Four weeks from today, we head out for our second trip to HHI. This time, we are bringing my parents along for their first visit. THE CAST DH (Kevin)...Loves to vacation, hates to plan...basically just goes along for the ride and enjoys spending time with the family. Me: (Kristen)...Disney-lover and obsessive planner...always planning the next trip, even while we're on vacation DD9: (Kamryn)...creative, nature-lover and athlete...she just ran her first 5K and she's looking forward to trying to run from the resort to the beach house and back. DD7: (Kaedyn)...moody, spontaneous and fun-loving...she is back and forth as to whether she is excited about the trip or not...it depends what day it is! She is ready to learn to (finally!) ride her 2-wheeler on the beach. Grandpa (Papa)...65 years old...acts like he's 40! Avid golfer who is REALLY looking forward to this trip...also a HUGE Disney fan Grandma (Granny)...61 years old...lymphoma survivor...she's trying to plan, but since she's never been to HHI, she is just packing like she's going camping. A Little Family Background... Grandpa and Grandma live about 5 miles from us. Since DH and I both work full-time (he is a police officer and I am a paramedic), the kids go to their house when we need childcare. Once a week, the girls have a sleepover with Granny and Papa. We have taken several trips with my parents. We've gone to WDW with them three times and we camp with them once a year as well. In fact, we're already planning our trip to WDW next October. Due to our jobs, DH and I rarely get to spend time together. We work opposite days (for the most part) and so we have one day per week that we are both off. This means that we also only have one day per week that we both work so the girls are always with family. Unfortunately, this means that we don't get a lot of "quality time" together. That was a key factor when we decided to buy DVC. We want to make sure that we can have one, nice vacation every year. I find as many discounts and deals as I can, but we try not to cut too many corners. We like to invite my parents because they enjoy spending time with the girls and it allows DH and I to have some alone time on vacation. The Plan...or Lack Thereof! The kids start spring break on March 29 so that's when we are leaving. We are driving down from Michigan in 2 vehicles (our Trailblazer and mom's Tahoe) and stopping over in Gatlinburg, TN. We're planning to leave the house at 7:30am and drop off the puppy by 8am. This will put us on the road by 8:30am. We plan to stop once every 3 hours for snacks, drinks, gas and potty breaks. Ideally, we'd like to combine everything into one stop, but when we stop for drinks, inevitably we will need to stop for potty breaks within an hour. We try to stop at McDonalds so the girls can play in the playland while the adults eat. Then, we grab food to go for the girls and they eat in the car once we get back on the road. That way, they can burn off some energy without wasting any time. We are staying at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Gatlinburg. We stayed there in 2011 on our last visit to HHI and it suited us perfectly. I booked our rooms way back in April 2012 and our cost is $89.98 per room. That price has since gone WAY up and is now $138.68. I hope to arrive no later than 10pm because we'd really like to get up early on Saturday morning. We toured Cades Cove in 2011 when we spent an extra day in Gatlinburg so this time, we would just like to drive through the 13-mile loop. Hopefully, we can get a glimpse of some bear. After that, it is off to HHI. Initially, we were going to do 2 nights in Gatlinburg since we don't have points to cover 6 nights at HHI. When I booked our HHI reservation (at 9am when the 11-month window opened!) I booked Sunday night on cash and planned to switch it to points at 7-months. I was stunned when I was quoted a rate of $225 + tax for the 2BR. I made a quick call to dad and pointed out that the cost of the 2BR at HHI was only $45 more than 2 rooms in Gatlinburg. So, we decided to book Saturday AND Sunday on cash at HHI, giving us 6 nights instead of 5. This will also allow us to spend Easter morning at the resort instead of on the road. When I made the reservation, the CM said that the quoted rate was the 2012 rate and I would receive an invoice for the difference when the 2013 rates were released. To my surprise, the 2013 rates were over $400. I waited...and waited...and waited for that invoice to show up, but it never did. At 7 months, I called (too late!) to book Sunday on points and it was FULL!!! UGH! I called at noon because I forgot to set my alarm, so I ended up waitlisting. I had almost no confidence that it would come through...but it did! They took the wrong points to fill it (used current AKV before borrowing my remaining HHI) so I called to have it fixed. While on the phone, I inquired again about the cash night rate. I mentioned the "invoice" and asked how much I owe since it is now a 1-night reservation which requires a 1-night deposit. The CM said that my reservation is paid in full and the price I was given is correct. She also said I got a great deal. I was skeptical, but about 2 weeks ago, I finally got the "invoice". It shows our rate of $248.32 and that our confirmed reservation is paid in full. So now I have a hard copy and I'm not expecting any issue at check in. What are we going to do on our vacation??? Hmmm....nothing! Well, not exactly...we have some must-do's and some might-do's. We are definitely doing a dolphin tour and kid's night in. We're probably doing a kayak trip and a day trip to Savanna. Mom and Dad have friends that live on Fripp Island so they are taking a day to spend with them, golfing. We'll do at least one campfire (you HAVE to do a HHI campfire) and Goofy Bingo. Other than that, our plans are entirely weather-dependent. I requested a room near the pool because I know that the girls want to do a lot of swimming, plus they LOVE the resort activities. We're bringing our bikes and mom and dad are renting them once we get there. We're planning on riding along the beach, flying the kites and checking the tide pools for critters. Dining....well, it's not WDW so I have NO ADR's! We are really only planning on eating out once or twice. Since we don't get to eat together at home very often, we really enjoy cooking our meals in the villa. I'm planning on stopping at Sam's Club for some chicken breasts, burgers, and maybe a rotisserie chicken too. I'm bringing a box of non-perishables from home and a cooler for some refrigerated items. We didn't grill the last time we visited so we're hoping to try it this time. I know, there are so many great places to eat on the island, but we eat out A LOT at home (like 2-3 times per week!) so it is more of a novelty for us to eat IN on vacation. This is all I have for the first installment...I will be posting more random thoughts as the trip draws closer. I think it is now finally time to pull out the luggage and get my first "practice pack" under my belt.