Travel · Travel Tips · Travel with kids

Our Experience Obtaining Global Entry

Orange Passport Illustration Travel Invitation (1)I had heard about the GOES Trusted Traveler (Global Entry) card issued by the federal government and decided it was something we had to have. As you can tell from the blog, we are avid travelers. We loathe the whole standing in line at the airport process. And traveling with a baby makes the airport lines even more annoying. I thought I would explain the process that we went through so others can decide if this is something that they’d be interested in obtaining.   (This article was originally published on our other page in early 2014.)

We filled out our online application Sunday evening, December 1st and paid $100 per application. We were notified December 10th that we were ‘conditionally approved’. This notification came by an email that told us to check our GOES account. My husband was approved first, even though I submitted mine a couple hours before his. I have a feeling they did an alphabetical mass emailing situation and as such his arrived first… (We have different last names.) Upon learning of his approval I asked to check the dates available to interview. He was given a date 2 days later. I said let’s wait until I am approved so we can go together. A few hours later my email arrived. So we went online to schedule our interviews- the first place we checked was available sometime in January. Sigh. So we checked at the airport and they had a time for Christmas Eve at 5 pm and then nothing until New Years Eve. We went to our “interview” on NYE. On the notice it did remind you to bring your passport and the conditional approval letter (which has your GOES account number).  They also requested another photo id like a drivers license when we arrived for the interview.

The interview was really nothing. (My understanding is it could be lengthier if there is something in your history that interests them.)  They did our interview together. They asked if we had traveled to Mexico and Canada in the past 5 years. They also asked if we were ever charged with a crime. And if we had gotten finger prints taken before by a government entity.  They did not ask any questions to or about our 6 month old baby. We were advised that we had been approved that day and that the baby’s approval would come in a few days since they couldn’t do finger prints for him.  [His approval came later that day.]

Our cards arrived on January 6th. A mere 6 days after the interview, and those 6 days included a weekend and a holiday!!

Getting through the lines at the airport will be more convenient with our card as it also allows you to get through the TSA Pre✓™ line at the airport if you are you flying on a participating airline.

We have since used our Pre✓™ status flying Delta at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and at Miami International. Detroit had the LONGEST line, but then most people were going through the normal security process at the end of the line. Upon our reaching the first TSA individual, he noted the TSA Pre✓™ on our boarding passes, scanned them and we heard the 3 beeps sounding our approval to move to through the to the Pre✓™ screening. Wow, it was so nice! We were traveling with our infant, so I just carried him through. My shoes remained on, and they scanned our bags and stroller.  They did a quick test on the water that we had (because we were travelling with an infant) and we were through. I LOVE PRE-CHECK!  What an easy system.  Likewise in Miami we were able to proceed through the quicker security. They did tell us there that the baby’s water should all be in a separate container instead of some in my backpack and some in my husband’s. Miami’s Pre✓line was SHORT. Honestly it was a dream and the best spent $300 I spent this year. I don’t want to praise it too much as everyone will want it, but man was it nice.  Please respond if you have any questions!

Happy Travels!

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Disney · Travel · Travel Tips

How much to tip on vacation

Have you wondered who you are supposed to tip while traveling? Then once you have figured that out, how much are you supposed to tip.  If you are traveling within the United States, follow these guidelines:

• Housekeeping: $2-5 per day depending on the room (more for suites or rooms with a kitchen/ettes) left each day of the stay (in case different employees are working). Leave an envelope or note to make it clear the cash is in fact a tip. $1-2 for evening turndown service, left on the edge of the bed, preferably with a note. For you Disney fans, there is a whole subculture of people that decorate envelopes for “mousekeeping,“this is not required, but might be something that interests you.

• Bell staff, or airport porter: $2 for the first bag, $1 for each additional bag, $1 more if the bags are being delivered from storage. For the airport porter, we personally usually do a $5 minimum. (We really want those bags to get where they are intended!)

• Concierge: Are generally not tipped unless they have provided exemplary service (you wouldn’t tip for giving directions, suggestions, or basic hotel reservations; you would tip for reservations at difficult-to-book restaurants, theatres, events, or other extraordinary requests.) For more information about tipping the concierge, check out this article.

• Front Desk Clerks: Are generally not tipped in the tradition of not tipping proprietors or management; also because of their role as cashiers. However, they’ll be able to route tips meant for other employees you’ve missed (such as housekeeping or bell services when you’re not there to offer a tip in person), but always put these tips in an envelope with the intended recipient on the front for clarity.

• Door Staff: $1-2 for assistance with a lot of luggage or going to particular lengths to hail a cab (i.e. not using an electronic cab call.)

• Valet Staff: $1-2 for retrieving a vehicle, more if you are in a large city and they are leaving the vehicle up front for you.

I hope this helps clarify the tipping situation for you.

Happy travels!

Cruise · Cruise Tips · Disney Cruise Line · Gluten Free Travel · Travel · Travel Tips · Travel with kids

Fantasy becomes Reality- a trip report of our family cruise on the Disney Fantasy


This is my trip report/review of my family vacation aboard the Disney Fantasy. We traveled mid-July 2015 in cabin 5650. Traveling was myself, my husband and our two-year old son. Grandma also came with us and was in a handicapped accessible cabin (8184) by herself.

We booked this cruise less than 4 weeks before the departure date. As a result we were forced into second seating for dinner which just wouldn’t work with my toddler. [Dinner would have started a half hour after his bedtime.] We were placed on a wait list and I am very happy to report that our request was approved and we were moved into main/early dining before the start of the cruise. [I was able to confirm this by logging into my account and reviewing the cruise details. Under the cruise details it indicated we were in main dining.] I received this information about 3 days before the cruise. This took so much stress away for that first day. Had I not secured main dining before the cruise we would have had to go to the designated area the first day of the cruise to make the request one more time. The one time we experienced this in the past we were moved, but not until the second day of the cruise. [If you have any questions about how this works, feel free to ask me in the comments. I also have a full post on moving your dining time here.]

The ship:

We were on the Fantasy, the newest of the Disney ships. She is stunning. Her atrium is absolutely gorgeous. There is a whole peacock feathers theme going that is just beautiful.

Disney Fantasy Lobby
My son & Daisy off the atrium. See the chandelier and the carpet? They have the peacock theme throughout.

Our cabin:

5650 is an extended verandah cabin on the 5th floor on the Disney Fantasy. (Category 5E.) The Disney literature indicates this is a ‘family stateroom’ meaning the interior of the cabin is larger than the standard sized cabins. It was wrong! The cabin itself may be smaller than a standard verandah cabin but I cannot be sure. It was small and tight in the cabin. The balcony however is amazing! It is one of the largest I’ve seen. It has two chaise lounge chairs, 2 regular chairs with a small table, and 2 lounging type chairs with adjustable backs. Plus there was room for my little one to run around. (And the running track was beneath us and not another cabin so we weren’t disrupting anyone.)

Disney Fantasy - Cabin 5650
Disney Fantasy – Cabin 5650

As you can see, the cabin is tight. On our first Disney cruise on the Fantasy, we were in a family verandah cabin. Our umbrella stroller could fit open next to the closet- that would not have been the case in this cabin. There was also a coffee table in front of the couch, as well as our son’s pack and play that made moving around the cabin impossible. We eventually opted to have the chair under the desk removed, where the coffee table (which we doubled as a toy box because it had storage space) fit perfectly. We also removed the pack and play and our son slept on the couch with bed rails. That ended up working really well and gave us much-needed floor space.


This cabin is adjacent to a portion of the kids club. The hallway actually dead ends into the kids club, Disney’s Oceaneer Lab; however, it is not accessible from this end of the hallway.  Outside in the hallway you can hear ruckus from the kids club but rarely in the cabin. The biggest problem was at night when they would clean the Oceaneer Lab. We use a sleep machine at night in our house so we have an app that does something similar when we travel. [The app we use is Sleep Machine Lite, version 3.0] The sleep machine mostly quieted the noise, but there were a couple of nights where the late night cleaning woke me from sleeping in the middle of the night.

The best part of this cabin was the balcony size. The size of the interior of the cabin made it a little tough overall. (We definitely prefer a cabin with at least a little more square footage.) The location, except for the kids club noise, was good too!

Extended Balcony for Cabin 5650
Extended Balcony for Cabin 5650

Sailing in the summer vs Winter:

I’ve been on a LOT of cruises and this was my first in the summer. The biggest difference was how calm the seas were. There was no weather really to speak of. As of the 5th day of this cruise, it only really rained significantly once. And that was at about 6:30 p.m. It also rained really hard for 25 minutes or so when we were at Castaway Cay. One of the other main differences is the heat of course. It is much hotter and more humid in the summer than the winter. Finally there is the amount of daylight. It doesn’t get dark until later which is nice. It was often a surprise to walk back to the cabin after dinner and still be able to see outside. When you cruise in the winter it is always dark by 6 p.m.

Activities on Board and Random Bits of Information:

As soon as we booked the cruise I went online to to look for postings of the Navigators (Disney’s daily paper with times of activities, among other things) from a recent previous cruise with the same itinerary. I noted that they had a Disney Jr. character breakfast and I also noted the times of the shows, etc.The itineraries won’t be exactly the same, for example the same character won’t be in the same location on the cruise from week to week, but they remain similar.

As I indicated, upon boarding the first day, we would have had to change request to be changed to first seating, but the cruise line had us on a wait list and they had moved us before the cruise- that was a fun surprise.

That first day we also went to get our tickets from guest services. They did, in fact, offer a Disney Junior breakfast. They also offered tickets for the Princess meet and greets and for Anna and Elsa.

In our room was a schedule for toddler specific activities. We went to Wake Up with Disney Junior, The Disney Junior Pirate and Princess Party, and Jake and the Neverland Pirates. There was also ‘toddler time’ advertised that we never made it to. (At toddler times on past cruises they would have various toys or games out specific for toddler aged cruisers. The parents could participate with the kids or watch from afar.) Wake up with Disney Jr. was our favorite. There were a bunch of songs and dances that were enjoyed by the 4-5 and under crowd. My son loved watching the songs with movements, but didn’t participate much. Spoiler alert: during this cruise and the previous one, there was a character that would make an appearance at the end for the last couple of songs during Wake Up with Disney Jr.

My son, mostly with his grandma, did a few character meet and greets as well. There are decent sized lines for them, but he really enjoys them, and it is a good activity for he and grandma to do together.

We visited Nemo’s reef- the splash pad for diapered babies and toddlers. Officially from Disney it is for children under 8 (which is a bit old in my opinion) and is the only water area that can be used by those in diapers. We found it was the calmest and the least crowded before lunch. There would be older kids there that would run free and I personally wish Disney would do something to limit that. If your child doesn’t need to be supervised, they shouldn’t also be where the diapered children are. There is another splash pad for older children.

On the morning of the last sea day my son just wanted to take it easy and hang in our cabin. Grandma wanted to take him somewhere (I believe to see the princesses) but he wasn’t having it, so we just watched a couple Disney movies on their on demand system. There is no additional charge to watch the on demand movies. I believe this service is just available on the newer ships- the Dream and Fantasy.

We took a couple of opportunities for family pictures towards the end of the cruise. You don’t have to pay for these pictures either, but you can purchase them if you want. They were even able to crop one of the pictures to make it better suited for us.

The Ports of Call: Our cruise stopped at St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Castaway Cay (Disney’s private Island.)

St. Maarten:
We got off around 9 a.m. and went to the beach in the downtown area that is a water taxi away. It was $7 per adult and children 3 and under (I think) were free. Blake was for sure free, I am just not sure at what age you have to start paying for kids.

This particular beach is right off the ferry. A pushy lady immediately stalked us to buy a chair from her, which we ultimately did but on our terms. She wanted $25 for 2 chairs with an umbrella and pushed us towards the edge. We moved over more (where we wanted to be) and I told her we would pay $15- she tried for $20 but I stuck to $15 and that is what we paid. Honestly, they gave us great service because we wanted a larger umbrella and it would close or needing adjusting, and they were there for that. We also received wifi- it was not that great of a signal on the beach, and so that might be something that others would want to look into before committing to a restaurant/bar to buy the beach chairs from. I also went into their bathroom and it was not better than an outhouse. I was not impressed, but it was better than not having one I guess. We were only at the beach for a couple of hours (which is why we chose this particular beach location) because we wanted to be back on the ship for lunch and then to put my son down for a nap.

St. Thomas:
On this day we were also out early and went to a resort. I was able to set up a day pass ahead of time as a travel agent, but you could contact your travel agent to have them book you a day pass at a hotel/resort offering day passes in the area. We went to Dreams. Our son really enjoyed playing at the pool a little and on the beach. We had some issues with them not being able to handle food allergies, so we couldn’t stay long. My husband also wasn’t a fan of their food at all. Initially we were going to have my son just nap in the stroller but we ended up having to get back for me to have lunch and so we put my son down for a nap on the ship.


Other Misc. things:

We did take our car seat because we needed it for the plane and transportation to the ship. In a standard room – not a family sized room, there would have been no place out-of-the-way to store the car seat in the cabin… We were fortunate that we just put it in my mother’s room. We really were happy to have the car seat. We used it in St. Thomas and that made me more comfortable than the open air taxis which are the norm there. To get a standard taxi we just asked the person directing people where a standard taxi was located. It was about a block away.

This was also the first time that we had my son not sleep in a pack and play when we traveled. On Disney the couch folds down/flips over and there is a bed for kids to sleep. We put on bed rails and used pillows across the top and bottom and my son slept pretty well there. He was apprehensive at first but it worked out.

We did participate in some adult only activities during the cruise. They usually have a singer or duo that play and sing a variety of songs and this cruise was no different. The woman on our particular cruise played in various lounges around the ship.  We also participated in trivia one day.

Our favorite was dining at Palo for dinner and brunch. Palo is for guests 18 and up and is an extra charge restaurant. The food is terrific. Brunch is offered on sea days and has a buffet of breads, meats, cheeses, cold seafood, and desserts. Then they do made to order breakfast and lunch. The portions are such that you can order several different choices and they are all amazing. My favorites are the eggs benedict and chicken parmesan with risotto. SO GOOD!

Dinner at Palo is all sit down plated dining. Our favorite meal is the filet of beef. It is just amazing. We also always really look forward to the chocolate souffle. The best part is they are able to do a gluten-free option for me!

For most Disney cruises you are able to find a facebook group for your particular sailing. The group for this cruise organized a private mixology class for the adults. It was nice to do it with the group because it gives you instant friends. We learned about bar tending and drink making. During the class we made and drank 5 drinks (some are half servings…) The cast members doing the class were great and interactive. There is a surcharge for this of $20, and it is usually customary to add a small tip. One drink had to be modified to be gluten-free for me and they had no problem doing this.

Final thoughts.

Overall I think Disney ships carry noise a lot more than on other cruise lines. Or people let their kids go crazy more on Disney lines. One thing to remember is that kids can have fun without interfering with the enjoyment of others. So no loud behavior in the halls (is true for both adults and children), no allowing your kids to run through the halls, or play on the staircase, etc. Sadly people feel their children are on vacation and can just be kids. They forget that they are on a luxury cruise ship and it is not their entire playground.

All in all it was a great family vacation and we would not hesitate to cruise again in the summer. For more of my thoughts on cruising in the summer, check out this post.

For more information about cruising Disney, check out this post which goes in-depth about Disney and also compares it to Royal Caribbean.

Safe Travels!

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Cruise · Cruise Tips · Disney Cruise Line · Travel Tips · Travel with kids

My dining time is when?? My experience moving from 2nd seating to 1st on Disney Cruise Line

Dining in the Royal Court aboard the Disney Fantasy

The how to’s of moving your dining time on Disney Cruise Line. I also discuss your options if your move is delayed until after the cruise starts, or if it never occurs. This article specifically deals with going from late seating to first seating (main) but it could be used in reverse if there was ever a need.

I’ve been scheduled for late dining but needed early for 4 Disney Cruises within the past 2 and a half years. In all 4 cases I’ve eventually been successful in my request to move to early dining. For the first 2 cruises I booked REALLY last minute- the week before for one trip, and 3 or 4 weeks before for the other trip. I put my request in my reservation both times to be placed on the wait list. Both cruises were 7 nights on the Fantasy. For the second cruise, which was this past summer, we were moved before we set sail! I was actually able to log into my account and see that I was moved several days before we cruised. What a nice feeling!

On the first cruise, we weren’t moved to early dining before setting sail. I had booked this cruise one week before we sailed and I put a request in (wait list) for early seating, which was not granted. Upon boarding the ship I had to go to the designated area to request a seating change, in this case it was the Royal Court dining room just off the entrance. I was like 15th on the list as we didn’t board until around 2:45 pm. I was told I would be notified that night about getting moved – they really didn’t notify us. Since we weren’t notified, or moved, we just ordered room service and ate in the room. The whole thing was disappointing.

In the future if we aren’t moved before the cruise starts, we will just eat quick service outside on the pool deck. Disney offers sandwiches, pizza, salads, etc. They even have high chairs in the seating area outside the quick service stands for my little guy. That would have worked out much better, which is why I am no longer concerned if my dining time doesn’t get moved right away, or ever. On the cruise mentioned above, we were ultimately moved to first seating by the morning of the second day. They notified us around 10 am. The plan for the future if we aren’t moved is to eat at Cabanas (the buffet which turns into a table service restaurant at night) for the nights they are open. Cabanas isn’t available the first or last night of the cruise. On those nights, we would just eat quick service.

Our third Disney cruise was booked 4 weeks before departure and as a result we were once again forced into second seating for dinner which just wouldn’t work with my toddler. [Dinner would have started a half hour after his bedtime.] We were placed on a wait list and I am very happy to report that our request was approved and we were moved into main/early dining before the start of the cruise. [I was able to confirm this by logging into my account and reviewing the cruise details. Under the cruise details it indicated we were in main dining.] I received this information about 3 days before the cruise. This took so much stress away for that first day. Had I not secured main dining before the cruise we would have had to go to the designated area the first day of the cruise to make the request one more time. My kiddo is sleeping before the second service begins, so that seating is just not an option right now for my family. But like I said, with the other options. I am just not worried at all anymore about being moved.

Finally, for our fourth Disney cruise, which was during a busy winter week, we were once again forced into late dining. We booked that particular cruise about 6 months before the cruise. Luckily for us, we were moved into early seating before we were even able to do on board check-in. Once again I noticed this by logging into the system and seeing we were in main dining. Disney does not send any notification if you are moved before the start of the cruise.

Those were our experiences. If you have any questions about how this works, feel free to ask me in the comments.


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Disney Cruise Line · Travel Tips · Vacation

Using Uber at Disney World (or anywhere)

How oh how was my last trip to Disney the first time that I had used Uber?! IT IS THE BEST!  I will for sure be using Uber for future trips! It was just so easy to use.

My husband and I had a date night at Disney World during our last trip. Uber made us very efficient without much out of pocket expense. We started our date night taking a private car from our close but offsite hotel to the Grand Floridian for some drinks and appetizers to start out the night. That fee was either $20 or $25 plus tip. Then we used Uber to travel from the Grand Floridian to the Beach Club Resort (with our ultimate location being Epcot for some Food & Wine snacking.) That trip would have cost about $12. It was free for us because he used my referral code, and he received a free ride. (The travel tip section goes into how that works.) We then used Uber to go to from the Beach Club back to our local offsite hotel which was another $12 no cost to us trip.

Travel tip- This works for everyone- your first Uber ride will be free with a referral code. And you and your spouse/partner/friend can each have your own accounts. So the first person uses a referral code for a free ride, like this one. [] Then once you have an account, you refer the other of you to get an account as well. You will get another free ride each. (The free ride is up to $20, so you may not get a free ride, you may just get $20 off depending on the trip charge.) It is a beautiful thing!

What is Uber? Uber is like a taxi but with drivers driving their private cars. We found that our drivers were actually Disney World employees using Uber to earn a little extra money when they weren’t working. You know when you book the car what the cost will be and it is charged right to your credit card that you have stored with the company. We used the app to indicate where we needed to be picked up from and where we wanted to go and Uber tells you which drivers are available, how far away they are, and how much the fare will be. You then pick a driver and head out to your designated pick up at that time.

What the request a ride screen looks like. It is showing you all the available cars and how far away they are.
Uber App

Uber is safe. No money exchanges hands. You pay with your free rides, or with the credit card that you have saved in your account. You aren’t even supposed to add money for a tip, it is all taken care of. Could people lie? Yes. But so could your taxi driver, or your magical express driver, etc. Anyone can lie and be a thief. But Uber does have banking information on the driver and does some background checks, which makes it safer. There are also ratings on each driver. So you can see if someone didn’t like a particular driver.

Travel tip – the easiest and most efficient way to get to Epcot from a Disney hotel is taking Uber. So, yes you can take a bus or the monorail, and it will take you somewhere between 20-40 minutes to get to the front of the park. And that does not take into account waiting time for the bus. Or you can take Uber to the Beach Club, and take the 7 minute walk to the back of Epcot and enter at the International Gateway entrance. There are less people here and if you are going out for just a few hours in the evening, it is the perfect place to start your night. The International Gateway entrance is located between the France and Great Britain pavilions.

Updated again July 3, 2017: You currently can now use all forms of Uber to pick you up at the Orlando airport. Uber from a Disney resort will run you about $25! That is a steal. And the best part is you don’t have to sit on the magical express bus for an hour and a half and then trek through the airport to get to your airline. For a quick link with details on where to pick up your Uber at MCO, click here. If you get the Uber X or XL (which are the standard everyday cars, or the standard everyday SUV), then you get picked up in arrivals on level 2.  I will be using this service for my upcoming adults only trip in September 2017.

And now you can request a car with a car seat in Orlando. You do this by selecting Uber family on the app. It will cost an additional $10 for this service.

Will I always use Uber instead of Disney transportation? No. But it is great when you don’t want to spend what time you have on getting from one place to another, or if you have dining planned at a different resort than you staying.

Do you have any questions about Uber? Have you tried Uber? Do you love it as well?? If not- sign up, it’s great. You can likely use Uber in whatever city you reside. It is all over now. Friends of mine use Uber when they have had a night out locally but have had too much to drink. Uber is WAY cheaper than a DUI.

Happy Travels!