Tara’s 30th…surprise 3 of 3

Towards the end of the last post, I alluded to the rough week that Tara was having.  Let me elaborate a little more on it.  About 2 weeks before Tara was supposed to be in Florida, we received word that our Florida place was in the midst of escrow and we needed to be out by August 1st.  We had 90% of our stuff STILL in that Florida house.

When we got that call, we hadn’t bought Tara’s plane ticket yet.  We booked her to come out a little earlier in the week so she could pack up the house.  My “surprise” plane ticket had already been purchased and I had a full week of work/meetings in NY that would’ve been tough to rearrange so we recruited her parents and grandparents just in case we needed the help.  At the time, we both thought packing up the house wouldn’t be a big deal.  That is, until Tara got there and saw how much stuff we had.

She worked her fingers to the bone packing it up (as did her family).  I am not exaggerating at all when I tell you there were a bunch of 12-15 hour days.  After the party Friday, I had to jump in and help as well until our flight Sunday night. Believe it or not, we somehow managed to get it all done before we flew out.

We got back to our place in NYC around 1AM Monday morning, the day of Tara’s birthday.  We obviously slept in that day (well deserved…did I mention that we also had a wedding to work on Saturday night?).  When we got up, I informed her that she had to be done with her work by 2PM.  We were going away for a couple of days.

Surprise #3 was actually the first thing I booked.  At the end of this post, I’ll explain the secrets to booking all these gifts because it may appear that I’m a mini mogul to be able to make all of this happen and that most certainly is NOT the case.  The Florida surprises came to fruition months after this one was already finalized.  We hadn’t been on any sort of vacation or mini-break since last July and this couldn’t have come at any better of a time (especially now, considering the hellish move we — or should I say mainly SHE — just endured).  We rented a car and started driving. I didn’t tell her where we were headed.  She figured it out when she saw the sign.

Atlantic City, NJ is about a 2 hour drive from NYC and since we were headed there again a few weeks later for the DJ Expo, this gave me an opportunity to try the commute once via car before heading there again when I would be under a time crunch.  If you’ve never been, Atlantic City is like the little step brother to Las Vegas.  Currently, they’ve launched a new branding initiative called “DO AC” to market the place as a way to get out of the City for a break.  A “break” is exactly what we needed.

I booked us at the Borgata, a posh casino hotel that is one of the nicer ones in the area, even though it is almost 9 years old.

They recently finished a $50 million remodel to the rooms.  Inside the room, gray dominates the color palette with pink touches. Each one has a 46-inch, LED, high-definition TV, a shower big enough for two and ours had an incredible view.


I had called in earlier that morning to make sure that birthday champagne and chocolate covered strawberries were awaiting our arrival in the room upon check-in. Way to come through Borgata.


When I booked the hotel package originally, it included dinner at Bobby Flay’s steakhouse.  The ambience and food were amazing as you might imagine.

We slept in again the next day and then went down to the hotel’s Spa where I had a stone massage scheduled for both of us right before lunch.  It was pretty incredible.

After the massage, we hung out at the Spa for a while longer.  They had a jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, showers, and snack food.  R&R was in high gear.

That evening, I decided to give her the rest of her “New York” gifts.  Nothing too crazy as far as those go. Just 2 small things.

#1: Over the last few months, we have begun watching (and now truly look forward to) Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. His sketches are hilarious and he’s really grown into his role as a late night host.  I called and got us 2 tickets to go see a taping in late August.

#2: Then I gave her 4 New York Mets tickets (NY Yankees tickets were outrageously priced) to go see a game with some of our new friends in the City, Cameron and Leslee, sometime in mid-September which should be a blast.   I love the fact that there is no social outing that Tara isn’t willing to try.  Even baseball.

Wednesday we checked out around noon and headed home.  It was a short trip but boy was it perfect timing.

Earlier in the post, I mentioned I’d reveal some secrets to my gift giving.  This may knock me down a few notches for showing you my tricks but I think authenticity is important.  If you see the way we live, we’re on a tight budget.  That means creativity is essential in finding gifts.  On the surface, it may appear that I spent about $3-4K on this birthday but the truth is, it was under $1500 with the shoes taken up $800 of it.  Even that is a little misleading as the shoes were bought with tip money so really the birthday cost was $700.  The $700 is STILL a bit deceiving as only $300 of it was out of our normal budget.

The shoes: Unfortunately, no tricks or hook-up for that one. I knew I was going to have to pay hard, cold cash for them.  But like I said above, it came out of tip money that we don’t count in our normal budget. So that really was a cost of $0 as far as I look at it.

The restaurant/surprise night: My plane ticket was bought with mileage points so no cost there.  The restaurant initially told me I’d have to pay $1200 for a private room.  I, of course, took my chances showing up the “day of” and putting in a reservation for 30 in peak tourist season.  The trick is making the reservation just early enough so you don’t hit the dinner rush.  By making it at 6:30PM, we avoided the normal dinner peak hours (between 7-8PM) so the cost was free and there was no wait to be seated.  No plating fee for the cake and a small $20 total overall corkage fee for unlimited wine bottles were huge!  I had to call in a favor for the wine…getting it through a distributor.  The cost was almost half of what it would normally be.  The fact that the food prices were so affordable really made it work for all the people who came so no one really had to come out-of-pocket too much for the food.  We have a “going out to dinner” budget and I purposefully skimped throughout the 2 weeks prior to make this one work.  So while we did spend money to eat, it was already budgeted for.  My “outside the norm” costs for the night were the wine and cake.

Atlantic City Getaway: Casino type towns make their money on the weekends.  To get business during the week is gravy for them.  The great thing about my line of work is while my weekends are typically busy and hard to take off, my weekdays are way more flexible.  I subscribe to a few travel sites that send me “daily deals” and to be honest I can’t remember which one was used to book this trip.  But they had a “romance” package for 2 days at $300.  It included the dinner at the restaurant ($100 dinner tab), the massages, and the 2 night stay (which came with the champagne and chocolate covered strawberries).  Normally, that would be in the $800-1000 range.  But because it was the weekday, they have crazy low deals!  Places like Vegas and Biloxi have similar specials.  We also have a “vacation” budget so this fit no problem.  Again, no out of the ordinary budget costs except the rental car.  Thanks to being a USAA member, we saved 25% off that as well.

New York Gifts: Jimmy Fallon show tickets are free…score there!  The NY Mets suck  (and have since 1987) so their tickets are ridiculously cheap…about the same as a movie ticket.  For both of us, it’s about the experience of those 2 things.  I could care less about where I sit in the stands…I mean it’s not like we’re talking about Dodgers or Lakers tickets 🙂

So there you have it.  Her birthday was a success and I’ve got some time before I need to figure out #31.

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