Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Disney Cruise News


   Disney has announced it summer 2015 sailings. Europe and beyond. These will get booked incredibly fast so....if you are even thinking about doing one, the next few days are critical. Planning this far in advance gives you lots of time to pay! I have found, as many others have, the best Disney cruise blog. It's a great place to start. Look through the drop down menus and check everything out but the article on the 2015 summer sailings (even has some price details) and then use a travel agent or book with Disney directly. You can always make changes later. You pay deposit first, then in full usually 90 days before sailing. Look for the best deals from on board spending account money! Click below:

Great place to book. I use Tammy Omar. She is wonderful. Click below:

My favorite site to just browse deals (resorts and all cruise lines-put in your criteria to browse whatever you want) and I have booked through this agency as well. Click below:


Trip Report: 2 Days at Disney World and Disney Dream Cruise (Disney World: Epcot and Magic Kingdom)

     Ah the Magic Kingdom (that crane spoiled my picture!! They are doing some work there)....I think there is alot of magic at the Magic Kingdom. It goes on behind the scenes to be sure. My overview comment of going to Disney some research before you go but don't plan down to the nitty gritty-you need to be flexible. I can honestly say that I think you have to go there at least once to really know what you are doing (maybe several times).
    I have been to Disneyland at least 5 times over my lifetime-with my kids and without. However, that does not prepare you for the amount of choices you need to make at Disney World!! Sit down with your main travelers and have a conversation. Planning can be part of the fun and anticipation! Here is a list of some of the choices:

1. Who are you taking to DW and what to do they want to do? (ages, walking ability)
2. What kinds of shows, rides do you want to do?
3. Do you want to meet characters? when and where
4. Order of going to parks or whether you have time to go to all of the parks and downtown Disney (etc.)
5. transport? Discussed that a bit in my last post
6. Money....You can actually go pretty frugally (by lugging your own stuff) or eat in the parks. 
7. Souvenirs...What's important and what gift perhaps do you bring back?

     Let me say this...going to these parks involve ALOT of walking. There are also tons of folks in strollers, wheel chairs, scooters, etc. It stands out. I wondered when I was there, whether perhaps a very small percentage of those in scooters/wheel chairs just did it for the easier entrance into rides, shows? I believe I came across a news piece where a tour company was busted for hiring out "handicapped" tour guides just so those who could afford to pay for these tour guides had less wait times at the parks. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the wheel chairs and scooters are bothersome, it's just that I find it ironic these parks have numerous visitors that are physically challenged and they are in a place where you could literally walk 10-even 20 miles in one day.  I think it all goes to the level of access, detail, cleanliness and "magic" that Disney World affords its guests. People love this place and it shows. Marketing genius.
   That all being said, our group of three did 2 days starting at Epcot. As I mentioned above, we planned loosely beforehand for some of the attractions but mainly planned on the go. The best and most helpful tool ever....the Disney World app (available on Iphone and Android). Absolutely fantastic and don't go without it. This app allows you to fast pass, check wait times, maps, all at your convenience and discretion. My sister and I were linked on the reservation and we could look at what each other was imputing into the app. So that's the can now integrate your web access on Disney, your reservation, magic bands, all to your app on your phone. Your phone now at Disney World operates as a concierge, communicator and photographer. This is a big change from my Disneyland days. The down side-battery life. My recommendation and what my sister had..the case that also is a second charged device all in one. You don't really see folks charging at DW like you do the airport where literally everyone is plugged in or looking for plugs. Look at MOPHIE Juice Pack or OH cases per Google-and probably other brands. I don't have one of those cases but believe me, having power on the phone is critical-DEFCON 1 (not sure how the DEFCON levels work but 1 sounds the worst???).
     So our group set off to Epcot first This was based on the hours posted for the parks during out stay. Some parks have extended hours for folks that are guests at the Disney resort hotels-very cool. Epcot is simply wonderful. If you buy into Disney and how they do things you are going to love it. I know there are those out there that just cannot get in the spirit. That's okay. How can you force it?  Just being with family or friends in a fun place is enough for me but not for everyone! We did rides around the main part of the park first. I think for our group, I would not go that route on another trip. I would start with the countries and the big walk around the water. Disney does an excellent job of recreating (in a sterilized way of course) a little slice of selected countries, including food and shopping. Unique foods and gifts at each place. There are also movies in each country and little nooks to sit and people watch with a beverage or listen to music. Explore this place-it's very cool. At the end of the day-late is the light show/fireworks called Illuminations. Truly a highlight and extremely well executed. Google "best seats for Illuminations" and you will get all kinds of good advice. Hopefully you still have some power in that battery- or maybe take your parent's phone if they are with you (they usually have alot of battery-my mom's did!!!!) We sat in "France" at a little "cafe" right on the water. Perfect.
     We did Magic Kingdom next. A note here, we were at Disney during the Princess Marathon. It was a busy weekend. The Magic Kingdom is like going back in time to all those childhood movies or a little less farther back for folks in midlife-like all the movies you bought for your now adult kids. We rode all the classics and walked like no tomorrow. There seems to always be a new something going up and of course crowds at the big attractions. We just steered clear of the crowds as much as we could and definitely used the DW app to check wait times and fast pass to the limit. We had a small down pour but that wasn't so bad. Made for a very crowed lunch crowd at the Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe but we got food and a table in a decent amount of time. I hear that Be Our Guest in Fantasyland is a fun place to go. On our visit it was too crowded and we had not reserved ahead. . Note can make reservations for restaurants on the App. Also, rain ponchos are for sale at the gift stores-I believe $8 and they are sturdy enough to use many times. You could purchase some cheap ponchos at the Dollar Store and just have them in your tote bag. We really liked our DW ponchos and will hold onto them. My sister, clever one that she is, decided to do a "selfie" album during her day at the Magic Kingdom. A cool idea really. She got shots of herself of course but lots of scenery behind and didn't bother asking everyone to stop and do a pic. I on the other hand, took normal bothersome pictures of as much as I could.
     All in all, Disney World is what you make of it-like anything. Have some patience, chill out. That's what you really need. Don't sweat the crowds. You can't control it anyway. Disney does a pretty good job of working on that issue. Try to do things a little off the normal times. Lunch earlier or later. Stay late if you can! The Magic Hours allow you to have more time in the park and fewer people. They will know by swiping your magic band (probably should be capitalizing that...Magic Band). The Magic Band has all the info! Tickets for adults....$184 for two days when you buy at the park in a two day deal. No park hopping on that. They always have photographers for the special places-again you swipe the Magic Band and it goes to your account for ordering later.
     A final funny note on Epcot (and believe me, I think I could go on the on about these parks....but I won't), we were leaving and noticed the ride in the Epcot Ball, Spaceship Earth. We actually had walked right by it upon entrance but duhhh... just kept going. Well we did that ride, without Mom who was sooo tired, during Magic Hours so no wait. I kept thinking, "ok!! this is going to be the biggest thrill has to be. It's in the iconic ball, lots of walking up to it"...NO. The sign upon entering the final steps to board says something like "A slow journey through time". That really made me laugh. Point being, there really are not that many thrill rides at Epcot or the Magic Kingdom. It's more about Disney at those parks, the characters, the countries. I hear the thrill rides are at Hollywood Studios (research that and know your travelers!) However, we were pleasantly surprised at what a great ride that was. Don't miss it and the fun stuff at the end. Always look for the fun stuff at the end of the rides. There really is alot of thought put into your exit from the rides-gift shop but usually some cool activities including things like send an email "postcard" where you get to put yourself and family into it.
     So that's my trip report on Disney parks. We agonized a bit over which parks to attend. There are pluses on all of them!!! If you can, spend 10 days at this place to absorb it all. For us three, 2 days was pretty good. I must admit I was tired. I first thought when I was there that "this is it, I am Disneyed out". But as I look back I think-maybe another trip to see the attractions I really liked and then some more I didn't get to see. The beauty of Disney marketing.....there is always more to see! Oh and they will send you emails afterward luring you back.......

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Trip Report: 2 Days at Disney World and Disney Dream Cruise (Disney World, Part 1, Pop Century :-))

     As you can read from my first entry, I spent some time at Disney at the end of February, 2014. Specifically I spent 7 total days with 3 nights at Disney World and 4 nights on a Disney Cruise. The recommendation is that if you go to both, do the park first so that you can relax on the cruise. That is good advice!!

     The room on the left of the bottom floor is where we stayed. This is the Pop Century Resort. It is a budget resort-basically a clean Motel 6 -"Disneyfied". The room was spartan, somewhat small with two full/queen beds, nice split bath with a separate tub/toilet combo. There is a table and chairs, t.v., small refrigerator and nice area for storage/closet for clothes. It's very clean and our room, in the 60's building, was directly in front of the Hippy Dippy Pool. This is great location near the main building which houses the restaurant, gift shop, bus stop and the reception for the hotel. My mom who walks just a bit slower with some feet issues, did fine in this location. There are several other buildings-much farther away that I cannot imagine even doing all that walking back and forth to the restaurant. The best part was the closeness to the main building, second the pool. There are alot of people at this place-groups, families, etc. But it seems that you can get food, swim, do all you need without much wait. It's a Disney budget stay at our average cost of $185 per night. I believe we were just right in a busy time on the cusp of a slow time at Disney. The time you select to go definitely affects your cost. I had advice of a 20% discount on this particular stay (offered directly by Disney) and we took advantage of that sale. After I researched the possible hotels at Disney, I used a travel agent "Fairytale Journeys by Sara" to actually narrow in my room selection. Sara is awesome. She is experienced at the nitty gritty. I found Sara just by looking at blogs, etc. 

      This picture of the pool was the view from our front door. Where you see "POP" is the main building. The restaurant in the main building consists of several stations of food as well as self serve areas for food and drink. Just like the park, there are several cashiers to check folks out. When you book a Disney resort hotel and have park tickets, you should receive information ahead of time about "Magic Bands". Magic Bands can be customized and sent ahead to your residence or you get them when you check in. I learned that ordering them ahead of time allows you to customize the colors of the bands. If you get them at the hotel, they are gray. Magic bands open your door and can be attached to your park tickets for entry, fast passing, etc. You can also attach a credit card and just touch a special unit at all retail outlets to pay for your gifts or food. Seems like a great idea and we really liked it. No cards hanging from your neck.
     The bus stops heading to all the different parks are out front of the main building. I do believe there are other bus stops at other buildings. Research that before you go! Our experience with the buses was really positive. Not a long wait either coming or going, clean and very easy to use. I debated on getting a rental car. Because we chose to use the buses, I can't really comment on the usefulness of a rental car but I hear that is a very convenient option, especially if you are going to different parks in one day or just in general needing to get places quicker. We did 2 parks, one each day. We also did not have any kids, just 3 adults. So different needs may call for different modes of transport. Also with regard to transport, Sara sent me our magic bus access passes to get from the airport to the resort. This is included in your price. It's very easy and at Orlando Airport, everyone knows where the Disney transportation hub is and there are lots of signs. It's a no brainer. Of course, even with my big folder of paperwork, I forgot those passes. I simply gave them my hotel registration info and received our tickets to ride. My experience at Disney is that there are always staff to help with any questions, getting extra copies of stuff and they are very nice. I think that is the basic reason people like Disney so much and keep coming back. Good service. 
     Final thoughts on Pop Century and staying at Disney: I am in no way an expert at the different Disney resort hotels (call or email Sara on that) however, in my research and talks with friends who truly are experts (having gone to the parks probably 20 times each) where you stay is very important. If you want to be on the Monorail in a more upscale resort-there is a plan for that. If you want to stay budget (is $185 a night budget?? I am still thinking on that) there are at least 4 different budget resorts. Book early, look for discounts on the budget places. They fill up!!! Personally, and I make a decent living working for the government but really don't have tons of extra cash, I might pick a more upscale place to stay next time. I guess if it's vacation, you really want to stay at a level that feels like a vacation. There is so much information on the different places that you can really get a good idea before you select. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

     Above is one of my favorite pictures this year. It represents an awakening in me over the past year to my love of travel.  I am lucky that I have been to a "few" fantastic destinations in my life but I realize that WOW, there is so much more I want to do. 
     The picture above is the Disney Dream. We are leaving Port Canaveral and just looking back to that awe inspiring sky. The trip was a "girls' trip" just a couple weeks ago that has really propelled me to do this blog. I have learned so much about cruising in the past year, but again, there is so much more out there that in reality, I have only scratched the surface. I have reviewed SOOOOO many blogs and discussion boards in preparation for the 3 cruises I took this past year. I have been wowed by those blogs and discussions that provide so much information for today's traveler. However, I want to try to put my own stamp on traveling.       This blog is a way to document things I am doing and that I want to do. I love to share what I have learned. I have had so many people ask me about trips lately and I just encourage them to go! Pay a deposit, make a plan. It's easier than you think. Use your vacation time! 
     So thus, I begin my own travel blog. I am also going to document and hopefully provide pictures of other fun things happening in my area or close to. Again, as a way to motivate myself, and maybe some of my friends to join me...LIFE IS TOO SHORT!!!!