Sunday, June 1, 2014

helpful hints for travel (South Africa to Florida & New York)

I found this today, I had compiled this list a few years ago for a friend who asked for some hints and tips on travel from South Africa to Florida & New York
I thought it might be a useful list to put up - for any of you who might  be travelling to these places for the first time.
* Please note that this was 3 years ago so prices might have changed, and my children were 6,8,10 at the time of travel.


·        Take something for the children to do inside the airport while they are waiting for the plane (about 2 hours) once on the plane there are lots of movies to watch.
·        If you have regular plane tickets and you don’t want to wait till last to receive your food, order a “special” meal ahead of time, we ordered “low fat” meals, lots of options – need to order 24/48 hours ahead of flight, details are found wherever you got your plane tickets (online/ from agent) You will get your meal BEFORE everyone else. Make sure you order children's meals as well because if you don't preorder they will not have enough for your child/ren.
·        If you are flying with “American Airlines” you will have to pay for your own earphones in the plane, so take your own. The other airlines we have flown with give you a pair to use for free. You can use those tiny ones that come with computers, Ipods etc.
·        Keep your passports, info & a pen accessible as they will bring you forms to fill in during your flight and you need to fill in everyone’s passport numbers, where you are staying (first address) etc. Fill these cards in during the flight as once you arrive at the airport you want to get through the queues as soon as possible and they don’t let you fill in the forms at the front of the queue.
·        PS they have NO sense of humour at the front of the immigration queue, so don’t try be funny and if the children are grumpy and jetlagged from the flight just look the other way, they prefer grumpy kids to moaning parents J
·        Keep your clothes that you are wearing as simple as possible, you will have to remove shoes/belts/jackets at the security checkpoints leaving SA and again leaving USA
·        You can take 1 item of hand luggage ... but they don’t tell you, you can also take a handbag/computer bag. Once you are past bag check-in and you see stuff to buy in the airport (at duty free) it will not get weighed.
·        If you bring home an extra bag/s pay for them ahead of time online, its cheaper than paying at the airport

·        We have a scale that is used for fishing to weigh each bag before we fly. Great if your hotel does not have a scale.
·        We use “vacuum bags” to pack clothes, then vacuum out the air – get more packing space. You can buy them at Walmart. They are called “SPACE BAGS”
·        In the past we have separated the pairs of shoes that we bought between bags, so that if the bag gets tampered with, they can’t steal a complete pair of shoes.
·        Take older clothes/takkies with you that you can leave behind if you buy too much stuff J We replaced all the children’s coats this time & left their old coats behind.

·        New York expects a 20% tip on food, Florida 15% - only at restaurants not takeaways.
·        Most takeaway places offer free refills on cooldrinks, ask as you are ordering at the restaurants – we found a lot offered free refills too.
·        Inside the theme parks you can buy almost everything, buts its more expensive than outside. No free refills on cooldrinks either.
·        You are allowed to take food into Disney, but it gets heavy to carry that bag of food around all day. So make everyone carry their own snacks (chocolate, peanuts, etc) and something to drink.
·        At Epcot (DISNEY) you get unlimited free drinks at “Club Cool” it’s a soda shop sponsored by coke
·        It’s hard to find 100% pure fruit juice, everything is mixed with something else and it tastes weird.
·        Lots of restaurants offer “lemonade” its not sprite, its homemade lemonade, raspberry lemonade is a nice taste for the children. Its not carbonated.
·        Look up some restaurants and join their mailing lists you get coupons via email.
We Loved:

Olive Garden (unlimited salad & breadsticks, some drinks get free refills)
IHOP -International house of pancakes (steak tips meal, some drinks get free refills, pancakes)

Burger King  (side salads are $1 or just over, whopper burger, nice breakfasts)
Dunkin Donuts (donuts – all!!)

McDonalds (some different items to home but still familiar)
Cheesecake Factory (burgers, cheesecake)

·        Sightseeing/Theme parks: Take headache pills, cream for mozzie bits, plasters, (whatever you usually use) etc in your bag. Not a whole lot, just a handful. I used it a lot more this trip.
·        Read up about the theme parks before you go, if there are wet rides take extra clothes with you. We have been caught out 2 times, having to buy clothes for the children at theme park prices!
·        Investigate “PHOTOPASS” if you are going to get it look at the options on the website. We get the photos on CD but order the “pre ordered photo pass” you buy it online BEFORE you go into Disney at $99, unlimited amount of pictures.

·        On the photopass website you can edit your photos, and when you get pictures with characters you get the option of adding their autographs. We did not even order the CD this time, just downloaded the pictures (no postage costs)
·        We have not tried the same photo options at Universal Studios.
·        When you arrive at Universal, ask about the wrestling (if its something you would enjoy) if its on that night its from 6-9pm, its free and it gets on tv. You have to put your name on a list when you arrive.
·        Fast passes are available at Disney for free, read up about them, if there are big queues they help a LOT. Similar fast passes are available at Universal but you buy them when you upgrade your ticket.
·        If you go to Nasa check how many days are included in your ticket, usually its 2 days entrance.
·        Take a photo of everyone as you arrive, if you lose someone during the day you have a record of what they look like and what they are wearing. You can show the picture to a staff member.
·        Take a photo of where you parked (number/letter/character) you will be able to remember at the end of the day – or show security who can help you find your car


·        Go to the info desk and ask if there is a discount/coupon book available. You will either get discounts or free stuff with your purchases
·        In Florida look for “outlet malls” brand name shops etc with cheap prices. Nike, Nine West, fossil, etc.
·        BURLINGTON COAT FACTORY  has brand name clothes, bags, shoes at very LOW prices (lots in New York and in Florida – google the addresses or look on the gps)
·        At most shops when you swipe you credit card for over $50 / $100 you have to show your SA drivers licence (photo id)
·        If you find any “dollar stores” go in and look, we picked up Washington Tshirts for $3.33 each in Washington (all sizes) You can find nice souvenirs in these shops.
·        Disney Store in Florida Mall has very good prices on Disney items.
·        Downtown Disney has a MASSIVE Disney store with everything you can ever imagine in it, you used to get a discount coupon for this shop printed on the back of your receipts if you bought anything in the theme parks – but I didn’t find any this time.
·        Downtown Disney also has an amazing LEGO store. Don’t buy Lego there – it’s cheaper at Walmart/Target – but go look at all the displays etc.
·        Disney Quest is at Downtown Disney; unlimited games. We really enjoyed it. There is a restaurant but plenty outside as well.
·        Turn over all your receipts and check if there is a coupon on the back, Dunkin Donuts & McDonalds offered discounts on future purchases.
·        Also lots of restaurants offer a discount/free item if you fill in an online survey – if you have the time it’s worth it. We got a free burger at Burger King.
·        You are allowed to order kid sized meals at takeaway places, some are big enough for adults (especially if you are not too hungry) they are cheaper plus you get the free toy.
·        In Florida there are lots of toll roads, if your GPS offers you a route without toll roads, take it. If not keep lots of change in the car for tolls (between 25c - $1) and on some roads it feels like every few meters!!
·        You can use you SA drivers licence to drive in USA, you don’t need an “international drivers licence”

·        Every one gives you free soap & shampoo (daily), it doesn’t usually last long (shampoo) but it will get you through the first couple of days till you can get to a shop
·        Every one has a hairdryer so you can leave yours at home
·        They usually have a coffee machine with filter coffee in the room (refilled daily) but they don’t give you milk, just powdered creamer.
·        Check, most places offer free coffee/tea/hot chocolate in the lobby. And you get milk there!
·        Overseas calls are expensive from the hotels, and some even charge for calls made to free numbers – so check first.
·        Also if you cell phone has roaming, check how much you are going to pay if you answer the phone. It used to be that if I call you from SA I pay local rates and YOU pay the difference. So we did not answer the phone if it rang, but replied by sms (sms rates are low)


·        It included a night time bus tour that everyone else fell asleep on but I enjoyed it!!
·        Boat trip around the Statue of Liberty, saw the twin towers sight etc.
·        Hop on hop off trip around NY (we didn’t use it as much as we could have)
·        Entrance to a museum – that we did not use – ran out of time
There is another similar tour with a company called Greyline.
We used a taxi from the airport to our hotel and he tried to charge us extra because we were a family of 5, but there are signs inside the taxi that say it’s a set fee per trip not per person, so we only paid the set fee. HOWEVER the fee is per minute, and the driver then took the slowest lane/route to get us to our hotel. So we did not use taxis (as a family) again.
At the hotel you should see a display of adverts/coupons/magazines look in there for a visitor’s guide, it will have a map of NY in the back. Or find the visitors center and get a map there.
Wear comfortable shoes for walking.
·        Ask staff (anywhere) where the nearest bathroom is (restroom) it is usually located inside a store. Only malls have public toilets like we know them.
·        Most restaurants have bathrooms but only let you use them if you are eating there.
·        Block you daughters eyes at the vending machines in the bathrooms, some sell male contraceptives

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