Cruise · Disney Cruise Line · Travel · Travel with kids

A Comparison of Disney Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean

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(This post was previously published by Christy in May 2015 on another page that we are moving away from.)

This past winter (2015) I was able to cruise Disney Cruise Line (DCL) and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line/Royal Caribbean International (RCI) within 6 weeks of each other. Cruising so recently makes a comparison that much easier. This comparison of Disney vs. Royal Caribbean will go through many of the main components of each cruise.

Cruising were myself, my husband, our 21/22 month old and his grandmother (my mother). The first cruise was on the Disney Magic and the second was on the Freedom of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean International ship. We all really enjoyed ourselves on both cruises but there were some standouts to each. [My family cruised the Disney Fantasy a year ago so that experience comes into the review as well.]

Let’s start with a comparison of the most important aspect of a cruise- the food!  All joking aside, food likes are very subjective. For the most part we enjoyed our meals on both cruises.

Meals in the dining room. The food quality was slightly better on DCL, but we still very much enjoyed our RCI meals. My mom thought the lobster she was served on RCI was some of the best she had ever had, and she had several pieces. The service in the dining room for dinner was better on RCI. I have celiac and thus have to eat gluten free (GF). I had less problems for the most part with delays with my meal on RCI. One dinner, I waited over 45 minutes to receive my first course on Disney. There was one lunch at RCI that I had some gluten contamination in the dining room no less. [What makes this interesting is RCI told me to eat in the dining room in order to avoid cross contamination with gluten.]

Meals in the buffets. The service on Disney was better. They were really happy to walk me through to look for GF options. RCI tended to want to push me to the GF section that had one bland looking entrée and an even worse side dish (think plain white rice.) [I’m not sure why people confuse gluten free with no taste or seasonings.] My picky eater husband felt that he had more choices on DCL. The drink service at the buffet was better on RCI. They were terrific at getting you drinks while you were you dining in the buffet.

Other dining venues. RCI wins for the average eating with options for food throughout the day. One of my biggest complaints about DCL is the limited hours of operation of the buffet and the dining choices when the buffet is not open. The “quick service” on DCL is usually mediocre at best. RCI has several dining choices on the promenade as well as longer hours with offerings at the buffet. Disney wins however for gluten free pizza. It was fresh and amazing. Sbarros on RCI served me a “soggy mass”, as my husband described it.

As for the specialty restaurants – our experience was definitely effected by my need to eat gluten free. Disney was amazing. It was almost as if the chef at Palo made it his personal mission for the week to find me amazing food to eat. On RCI we dined at Giovanni’s Table for our specialty meal. I had to ask 3 times if something was GF only to find out that what they served me was not. We were also very unimpressed with the service at Giovanni’s which tainted the whole experience.

Room service. Neither line is great, but both were okay. You can get Mickey bars on Disney, and at one time, rice crispy treats (I don’t know if they are still offered though.) Both offer cheese plates. Neither offer gluten free crackers. Royal Caribbean is starting to charge for some items, but Disney offers less in the first place.

The cabins. People LOOOVE the split bathrooms on Disney. There is a shower (with a little tub in most categories) and sink in one room, and a toilet and sink in another. My family is not big enough, nor is my son old enough, for the split bathroom to matter. But I can see why people get excited about that. The little tub provided by Disney is awesome for those with little ones. To get a tub on RCI you need a suite. And those tubs are the large soaking tubs which does tend to make it more difficult to bathe a little one. The cabins are larger on Disney. In fact, the cabins on Royal Caribbean’s newest ships keep getting smaller and smaller. Disney also has a curtain to separate the kid’s sleeping area from the parents.

As far as amenities provided- in my opinion, Disney has the best body lotion of any line. They also provide every cabin with bar soap and a separate shampoo and conditioner. RCI does the combined bulk shampoo/conditioner attached to the wall in the shower. For the price point, I think this is a little cheap of them. [Suite guests are provided with a separate shampoo and conditioner.] I would say the cabins are close on both lines, but ultimately Disney slightly edges out RCI.

On to entertainment and activities. Both lines offered evening shows each night. The shows were past my son’s bedtime so we didn’t watch any in the theatres. We did watch the Disney productions on the TV in our cabin. For child orientated entertainment, Disney obviously wins by a landslide. Each evening there are shows that would be entertaining to both children and adults. RCI’s entertainment is not created with children in mind. I am sure older children will find the shows enjoyable but your typical toddler would not likely sit through it. Royal Caribbean does have an ice show on its ships with a rink. My son was mesmerized by the show. He sat through the entire 45 minutes. Both lines offered a Love and Marriage (Newlywed) show for adults that were equally entertaining.

Toddler organized activities. RCI has a great toy lending program where you can sign out a bag of toys. Disney didn’t have anything like that. Royal Caribbean also offered an open play with toys and books. It was in located in the teen night club. Disney takes the win though for organized toddler activities. They have staff there to play with the kids. They offer different activities at various times of the day. It is a scheduled event so some people may not prefer that, but we preferred it over just open play for the whole day. Disney also offered dance parties with the characters which were SO MUCH FUN. My son LOVED it. The characters would come out and dance to about 3 songs. Disney definitely wins on this area for us.

Toys from the Toy Lending Program
Toys from the Toy Lending Program on Royal Caribbean Cruise (Plus one cute toddler!)

Kids Clubs. To get to the kids club or the toddler play areas on RCI you had to walk through the arcade. This is VERY irritating to me. Of course your child will want to play with the brightly colored arcade games while walking through. And then even if you limit charging privileges for your kids in other areas of the ship, those limits apparently do not apply in the arcade, per the sign on the machines.

Toddler outdoor water areas. The smoking section is very close to the toddler/infant wading pool on RCI. And the brightly colored splash pad for non-diapered kids is right next to and in full sight of the toddler section. This is a problem with older toddlers that can clearly see the fun brightly colored splash pad for bigger kids. DCL has a dedicated splash pad for toddlers. On the newer ships there is even a little slide in the Nemo’s reef area. On the Magic Donald’s nephews have a little splash pad that is adorable. The splash pads on Disney are definitely designed for toddlers and infants in mind. The theming is terrific. The win goes to DCL for sure, even on the smaller older ships.

Shore excursions: Cabanas. The only ‘shore excursion’ that we did on both cruises were renting cabanas for the day on the private islands. Disney’s cabana is 3 times the price of RCI, but there are so many extras and that was worth it to us. The main difference was that the beach was just for people in the cabana. Royal Caribbean allows the beach to be used by those in the cabana and everyone else. There was a lot of smoking on RCI’s beach (we were at Labadee). It was just crowded and people put their chairs everywhere! Just below the stairs of the cabana were people’s chairs we would have to walk around to get out of the cabana. This was not ideal. The definite nod goes to DCL.

Shopping. The shopping was all around better on RCI. We loved the promenade. There were many choices of things to purchase. Disney basically just had their own items for sale. The ship’s salespeople on the Freedom (RCI) in the jewelry shop were very PUSHY. That was the only real disadvantage of RCI. Overall though RCI definitely wins for shops.

Character Experience. RCI has the DreamWorks characters on board. Disney, hands down, is just better with the whole character experience. RCI offers a DreamWorks parade, which in concept is a great idea, it is just not executed very well. Disney wins with characters.

Taking our toddler out of the mix for entertainment, then RCI would be more competitive. The rock climbing wall is awesome and the ice skating rink is unique. They also offer a surfing experience. All of those neat extras are included in your cruise fare.

Extra miscellaneous comparisons. Royal Caribbean offers a drink package where you can prepay for your alcohol or coffee drinks. Disney allows you to carry on as much alcohol as you’d like to consume for the week (see the end of this paragraph for an update on this information), but it isn’t comparable. People don’t want to run to their room to get a drink; they want to drink by the pool, and drink at dinner, etc. The prices though to pay out of pocket for a drink on RCI seemed a little high this last cruise – it was $9 for a gin (Tanqueray) and tonic. On RCI, you can bring on 2 bottles of wine, but no liquor. [Edited in September 2015 to note that Disney has changed their alcohol policy for sailings after approximately Sept. 27, 2015 that liquor is no longer allowed to be brought onboard, beer in limited amounts is okay, and 2 bottles of wine per cabin is allowable. This does even the playing field as far liquor is concerned.]

The thing I disliked the most on Royal Caribbean – smoking in the casino. The smell would waft up from the casino on the 4th floor to the promenade on the 5th floor. According to my mom, the slot machines they offer in the smoke free section of the casino were “dumb.” Such a wordsmith my mother. Either way, she and my husband would have gambled more but for the smoky casino.

We really enjoyed both cruises. In fact we have future cruises booked on both lines. Disney is without a doubt more expensive. But they truly do cater to children, toddlers specifically. Please feel free to ask me any questions about the lines in the comments below or share your thoughts comparing both lines.

Happy travels!

To see pictures of both cruise lines, check out my photos on Instragram

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Disney Cruise Line · Travel · Travel with kids

Summer Vacation! My thoughts on cruising in the summer…

A gorgeous backdrop for lunch

I used to think that cruises were only to be taken in the late fall/winter when Michigan was too cold to be outside. I live in Michigan and it is beautiful in the summer here. I thought we should just be doing ‘up north’ vacations or staycations. The other thought I had was that summer cruises were just for those people with school aged children that didn’t want to take their kids out of school, or finally it was for teachers that couldn’t get away for a reasonable rate any other time. I WAS WRONG on all of my assumptions.

This June I became OBSESSED with taking a summer vacation. My son had just turned 2 and except for meltdowns when he didn’t get his way, he was at a really fun age.  I started thinking of all of the different options for taking a summer vacation- going to see family out of state, going up north, going to Florida. I determined that those options seemed either entirely too hot, or like too much work. I wanted to relax with my family and I wanted it to be the easiest possible vacation.

Ahhh, so was born the thought of taking a cruise as our summer vacation. On a cruise I don’t have to make my bed (as if I do anyway), I don’t have to cook, or do dishes, or pretty much anything.  As a travel agent I am enabled the opportunity to take a last minute cruise at a discounted rate. I searched all the lines. We needed something which had a splash pad/pool where diapered babies/toddlers could play. [There is an regulation that requires children to be potty trained before using a pool, or any shared water. Swim diapers are not allowed.] We also wanted something before it was too late into the hurricane season. [Hurricane season technically runs June 1st – November 30th in the Atlantic. But the reality is there are rarely hurricanes that affect travel before mid-August. I find mid-late October to be safe, or less risky, but I am not a weather professional.] There were some options for us to cruise in early July but unfortunately those didn’t work with my husband’s work schedule or our previous family obligations.

We ended up choosing a week long cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy in mid July. It was a great week! We relaxed, we played, it was just all around fun.

The Caribbean Sea at Dusk
The Caribbean Sea at Dusk

The seas were the absolute calmest I have ever experienced in 30 years of cruising. (It saddens me that I can say that my first cruise was 30 years ago! I shouldn’t be old enough to have that long of a frame of reference. But I digress…) It was calm. I barely needed motion sickness medicine, I never had that feeling once we were back on land of still being on a moving ship. It was SO CALM!

It was also quite warm, as would be expected. But the Caribbean breeze did make things reasonable.

So that is how I came to take my first summer cruise. I would definitely do it again, and I would definitely recommend it to others.

Have you ever cruised in the summer? What were your thoughts?

Check our some of our cruise photos on Instagram!

(This post was originally published on August 13, 2015 on another site.)

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Cruise · Disney Cruise Line · Gluten Free Travel · Travel

Our 2017 Travel Preview

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I’m pretty excited about the adventures that we have planned for 2017. We have some cruises, some Disney World (well let’s be honest, a lot of Disney World) and hopefully some other fun mixed in. I would definitely say this is the year of Disney vacations for us.

January
Disney World – Art of Animation. Our first trip is actually behind us. My son, mother and I spent 3 nights at the Art of Animation in Walt Disney World. This hotel is impeccably themed.  This trip was the result of my being cold with below average temperatures in southeast Michigan and my husband needing to be in Europe for almost a week for work. I decided that I didn’t want to parent alone for the week here in the cold so we asked my son if he’d rather be in Disney without Daddy, or home without Daddy. Fortunately he chose the right answer. We were off to Disney World 3 weeks after I started thinking about it.  Disney was kind enough to offer an annual pass deal that allowed for 13 months out of the annual pass for the price of 12. This worked out perfectly for us as our Disney trip started January 11th, and we intended to take another Disney vacation in early February 2018. Both of those outlying trips, plus as many as we put in the middle, will be covered under that AP.  As for the trip, I was really excited for my son to experience the Art of Animation. He is really into the movie Cars, and all things Lightening McQueen.  We stayed in a Cars Suite and it was a big hit for my kiddo.

End of January/early February
Carnival Vista cruise to the Southern Caribbean. From the moment Carnival Cruise line released information on the Vista I was intrigued and knew that I needed to find a place for it in my vacation schedule. It has so much to offer.  This is a ship for families or those without kids. There’s just so much to do. It’s a ship that has something for everyone. I’m really excited to visit new ports of call (Grand Turk and Aruba), and I just can’t wait to see what this ship has to offer. During this cruise we plan to take our son to the water park area and swim in the pools (this is the first cruise we will go on post potty training), we are planning on going to the aquarium in Curacao, checking out a beach in Aruba, and will probably stay on the ship in the Dominican Republic. We are all looking forward to this cruise and hopeful that we will enjoy ourselves during these 8 nights.

March
Disney Fantasy to the Western Caribbean with a Star Wars day at Sea; and Saratoga Springs Resort at Walt Disney World. My husband is a HUGE Star Wars fan, and we as a family are huge Disney Cruise Line fans. We picked this cruise based purely on price. I looked for the least expensive 7 night cruise from February through April, and this one came back the winner.  I can’t wait to cruise concierge once again on DCL. We plan to have a beach day in the Cayman Islands, visit a resort for a day at the pool and beach in Cozumel, and we may do a beach day in Jamaica or just stay on the ship. We will also spend the day at the beach on Castaway Cay.

Prior to the cruise we are spending 3 nights in a 2 bedroom villa at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort. I’m excited that we can walk, boat or quickly bus to Disney Springs. There are so many dining opportunities there and I’m looking forward to checking them out. We will for sure eat at my favorite, Raglan Road at least once during our stay as well. They have the most amazing gluten free options. Besides eating in Disney Springs we plan to visit the Magic Kingdom one day (those annual passes will come in handy) and we plan to swim with our son as much as possible.

June
Disney Dream, Castaway Cay Double Dip; and the Polynesian Resort in a DVC studio. Disney’s Castaway Cay is my absolute favorite Caribbean location. They did such an amazing job with that island, it is always my favorite part of a Disney cruise.  During the summer I turn 40 (in August to be exact) and when Disney was releasing their schedule for the summer I was hoping that it would include some double dip cruises! I was geeked that they offered several choices of cruises 5 nights long and several 4 night cruises. I knew I wanted to do a 5 night, and since one of the cruises overlapped my son’s 4th birthday, I was hoping that would end up being the least expensive week, and it was! That cruise is all about the island. We will try and secure cabanas for our days on the island. I haven’t decided if we will do a day pass at a resort in Nassau or just stay on the ship; my son will be staying on the ship with his grandma either way.

We are then spending 3 nights at the Poly. I have always wanted to stay here, especially during a time where we would for sure be able to have pool time. Well early June is sure to fit that bill. I decided that since we have AP’s and since our cruise is over on a Wednesday that it would only cost us 2 more vacation days and we could get another half week at Disney in during the year. It seemed like a no brainer. I’m really excited about this whole trip!!!

November
Disney World- Beach Club Resort. Back in the fall this was our only planned trip for the year at Disney World, the rest of the trips just sort of happened. We are looking forward to enjoying mild weather (hopefully) and the Food & Wine Festival. We picked this resort so we could easily walk to Epcot via the International Gateway to enjoy food booths and yummy restaurants. It’s awesome that Epcot is just a quick 5 minute walk from this resort. This will be our longest trip to the World for the year. We plan to spend 6 or 7 nights here.

That’s what’s scheduled for the year. My husband will have to travel for work more and if he goes somewhere cool then I can tag along, or I suspect that we will sneak in an official adults only 40th birthday trip for me sometime this year. But first we have save money to pay for everything we have planned already.

Any questions about any of my travels? What do you have planned for the year??? Feel free to comment below.

Happy Travels!

Gluten Free Travel · Travel · Travel with kids · Vacation

2016 Travel Year in Review 

A recap of where I went and what we thought of it in 2016.

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January

Paris, France. My husband had to be in Europe for work and it saved his employer significant money for us to be in Paris for a few days before his work meeting. It was a remarkable adults only trip. While it was only 3 days, we hit all the major landmarks and really had a terrific time.

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Disney Cruise aboard the Fantasy to the Eastern Caribbean. We had a great week. Traveling was my husband, son, and mom. We all really enjoyed ourselves. We upgraded our cabin to a concierge 1 -bedroom suite at the pier and really enjoyed the concierge benefits and service. If you’re interested in upgrading at pier, here’s the information on how to do that. This cruise was originally booked as a Royal Caribbean Cruise with some extended family. But the family members had to cancel and we moved our cruise to Disney. I just picked the week with the least expensive 7 night cruise on the Fantasy. We had a terrific time and were glad we made the switch. Disney offers so many activities for kids under 3.

February/March

Cozumel, Mexico. Secrets Aura.  I have friends that married on Leap Year. Each Leap Year they celebrate their anniversary with a bunch of their friends at a new destination. Most of the group stayed a week, while we were there 3 nights. It was a terrific short getaway for my husband and I that included a lot of book reading at the pool.

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May

He’s free before he’s 3 Walt Disney World Vacation. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. The premise of this trip was that it was the last time my son could enter the parks for no charge (free) and could eat buffet meals for no charge. It was an amazing trip. However, it was our most challenging at Disney World with our son. He was one month shy of 3 and was very opinionated, plus a bit all over the place. I.e. one day he wanted to ride the train over everything else, until the train arrived, then he wanted nothing to do with it… But the trip overall was great. At some point you have to make a deluxe king room at the Grand Floridian work, even if it’s just a couple days. If you get one of the corner rooms you can hear the band and piano player play while you are in bed. It’s one of my favorite vacation memories of the year.

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Disney Cruise aboard the Fantasy to the Eastern Caribbean. (Yes, we did this itinerary twice in 1 year.) This cruise was immediately following the DW vacation. That was the first time we combined both a land and cruise trip together and we really liked it. My mom joined us for the cruise and we all had a great time. We booked this cruise as a 5 year anniversary vacation for us and we were booked in a 1 bedroom concierge cabin. The concierge hosts really make it a remarkable cruise.

June

Fort Lauderdale. The Westin Beach Resort. I attended the Signature Travel Network regional meeting and spent 2 nights here. I had a whole 3 hours to myself before the start of programming and I did my best to enjoy my time. I was not overly impressed by the size of the pool for this “resort”, but I was very impressed with their gluten free offerings. I ate a convention meal, as well as 2 meals at the pool and a breakfast from room service. They even offer gluten free bread here. Anyone who eats gluten free knows this is a fun find.

July

Jupiter Beach, Florida. Jupiter Beach Resort. We were invited to a wedding for one of my husband’s friends. We honestly had such a good 24 hours at this hotel.  The food was great- very gluten free friendly. The beach was awesome, as was the pool and bar service. We really packed in a lot during this quick night away. I would definitely return here for a family vacation in the future.

August

Disney World. The Swan & Dolphin, and Disney’s Grand Floridian. I was thrilled to be selected to attend Disney’s Agent Education Program which is a 3 day training program held at their resorts. My husband and I added on an adult only quickie trip the 24 hours before my programming began. We really crammed in the fun. Our day included fun at Epcot where I was able to ride the new Soarin’ Around the World, as well as Frozen Ever After, plus we enjoyed the Dessert Party for the Star Wars Fireworks at Hollywood Studios. We never spent so little time in a hotel (the Swan.)  The next day we hit Downtown Disney – Disney Springs, which was all revamped before I began my training that afternoon. It was such a great trip. Part of our programming included dinner at Tiffins, in Animal Kingdom. It was a remarkable and memorable meal- I want to return here for sure.

October

Disney World. Four Seasons Orlando. I thought that I needed one more flight in order to secure gold medallion status with Delta Airlines for the year, so we booked this trip about 3 weeks prior to departure. Hurricane Matthew ended up pushing us back a day, but it still turned out to be an incredible 2.5 days away. We managed to enjoy some pool time at the adults only pool at the resort, spend the day at Epcot, have an amazing birthday dinner for my husband at Yachtsman Steakhouse, and catch Wishes (the Magic Kingdom fireworks) from the rooftop balcony at the Four Seasons. This truly is a luxury property. Their attention to detail puts them at the top of the list of Orlando hotels. No one compares.

November

Beaches Turks and Caicos. Sometime during the summer I decided that I needed one more family vacation for us. I booked us at this family resort and didn’t regret it. It is a large property, and they move a bit like they are on an island with no where to be, but we really enjoyed our 5 nights here. The resort offered many activities but we didn’t participate in many really. It was my goal to scuba dive here as it is included, but I had a nasty chest cold that wouldn’t go away. I did register though in case I was better, but it didn’t work out. We swam. For 5 days and nights, we swam. We loved the many pools and swam in 4 of them.  When we weren’t swimming, we were eating or napping. We really enjoyed this trip with just the 3 of us.

Wow, what a year. It looks like the only months we didn’t have a trip was April, September, and December. (And I’m guessing my husband may have traveled some of those months for work- I don’t track his trips, just my own.) This was a record year of travel for us. Check out more of our vacation photos on Instagram and on Facebook.  How did your year pan out??  What was your most memorable vacation memory or trip?

Disney · Travel · Travel with kids · Vacation

Disney Pre-Trip Report – A Last Minute Trip

 

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The Happiest Place on Earth!!

On a cold cold miserable day in Michigan in mid-December I decided that I needed to get out of town. (And prior to my next family vacation at the end of January.) It so happened that my husband had to travel out of the country for work in early January. That’s when the idea was formed to escape to Disney World for a few nights. I decided that if I had to solo parent what better place to do it than the happiest place on earth! I am cheating a little on ‘solo parenting’ though because my mom decided to join me.

Disney was so kind as to help me with my plan by having a 13 months for the price of 12 months annual pass offer for all passes purchased through January 3rd, 2017. This really helps because my family has a plan to travel to the World for short trips around cruises in May & June, plus a week long trip in November. The plan is to then return at the end of January 2018 to get another week of use out of our AP. Since I could get 13 months for the price of 12, all of these trips, including my late January/early February 2018 trip, would be covered under the same pass. Disney math makes things feel like a deal!

Since we were planning to purchase AP’s we then searched for Annual Pass Room discounts offered in January 2017. Fortunately there were plenty of options to choose from.

Money saving tip: Do some math to see if it makes sense for at least one person in your party to be a Disney Annual Pass Holder before a trip. We were able to save $100 on the price of the hotel for the 3 nights we have planned to be at Disney World. We also will save 10% on several dining locations where we plan to dine during our trip, and finally they are currently offering 20% off merchandise purchased at Disney World with your annual pass. Those savings can really add up, especially over a course of a week and with a larger family.

So we had the park ticket secured, I had purchased plane tickets, and now it was on to planning the rest of the trip. I needed to decide where to stay, followed by which parks to visit on which days, followed by where to eat, and what fast passes to select.

Deciding where to stay. I was looking to do this trip a little more affordable, and I also wanted to check out the Cars section of the Art of Animation Resort. My son is truly addicted to the movie Cars right now. I also liked that it had a dedicated bus for the property, a coffee maker, and kitchenette in room, plus 2 separate sleeping areas. I’m curious to see our thoughts.

Our plan. The next step in our planning is to decide what to do each day and where to eat. We figured we’d go to 2 parks during our stay. All 3 of us love the Festival of the Lion King at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I also love the safari. So we decided we’d do the Animal Kingdom one day and Magic Kingdom the other. I used the Touring Plans crowd calendar to decide which park to go to on which of our available days. The calendar advised us to hit the Magic Kingdom first and then Animal Kingdom.

After deciding which park to spend what day, it was time to pick our dining and fast pass + selections. Fast Pass + would be selected within 60 days of your trip, and since mine was in 3 weeks- it was time to select. Fortunately the only option that we weren’t able to choose is Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the MK, but my son wouldn’t ride that right now anyway. (He was a little scared on Barnstormers on our last trip.)

For dining we went with our favorites. Since I’m celiac (medically need to eat gluten free) there are certain places that I love and that aren’t my favorite. I’m really into anything with gluten free gravy at the moment. So I have a reservation at Liberty Tree Tavern for our Magic Kingdom day. Their gravy is amazing!  We have also reserved lunch at Tusker House on our Animal Kingdom day. I made a late breakfast reservation here with the plan that we will start with breakfast, and then if someone wants lunch, that will be out eventually too! Plus it is a little less expensive to dine here for breakfast. We are usually back at our hotel at dinner time so we will likely eat a couple of meals at Landscape of Flavors at the Art of Animation. We will also probably head over to Disney Springs for dinner one night as well.

Overall I’m pretty happy and excited about the trip that I threw together in late December over the course of 2 hours on an, “I’m cold,” whim.

Gluten Free Travel · Travel

Gluten Free at Beaches Turks and Caicos

We recently returned from a 5 night stay at Beaches Turks and Caicos. The resort is absolutely beautiful. The color of the ocean is really as turquoise as it appears in the pictures. Traveling was myself, my husband and our 3 year old. I’m celiac so I medically have to eat gluten free. Beaches did a great job with my “allergy”. Yes, it’s not technically an allergy, but it is easier to call it that. People understand allergy. I would not hesitate to recommend this property to someone with a food allergy and definitely to someone with celiac. This article will describe my experience eating gluten free at the resort, plus our overall thoughts regarding each venue.

Prior to my trip I emailed the resort to alert them of my allergy and to figure out the process. I was advised to contact btcfoodconcierge@grp.sandals.com. I sent them my reservation number, arrival date, and my allergy. I received this detailed response in return.

btc-allergy-emailMy flight happened to be arriving to the island at 4:50- means we wouldn’t get to the property and checked in until 5:30. During my pre-trip research I learned that the culinary concierge is open until 5:30 pm each day. I knew my son would be starving from his long day of travel so I emailed back requesting to have my first dinner and breakfast lined up in advance so that I wouldn’t have to worry about jetting across the property upon my late arrival to secure a dinner. I also requested to eat at Mario’s. It is located in Italian Village and is centrally located on the property. Andrea, the head culinary concierge, responded that they will have everything set up for me to dine that first night at Mario’s and the first morning at Barefoot by the Sea. I was then advised to meet with Andrea in the Culinary Concierge office before 10:30 a.m. to set up my next set of meals.

I will admit that the first meals were slightly disappointing to all of us. (My husband and son included. They are not gluten free.) The ease of Mario’s didn’t outweigh the incredibly disappointing meal. And Barefoot by the sea, with its picnic tables and sandy floor (it is literally just sand) made for a bit of a messy meal, especially with a 3 year old. Although the location of Barefoot by the Sea was gorgeous, the meal was just so-so.

Fortunately, the remainder of our meals were great. I’ll be honest, we were concerned after those first couple of meals, but the meals after were mostly quite good to excellent. But back to the process. After breakfast, I went over to the Caribbean Beach lobby, which is where the Culinary office is located. I met with Andrea. She was terrific.  They print off sheets for each meal of the day during your stay, plus one for a snack. The sheets have your name, allergy, and room number. You then pick where you want to dine for the next 24 hours. (Due to my lack of desire to do this every day, I did 2.5 days at a time.) You fill out when you think you will arrive and what you would like for that meal. They have the menus of all of the restaurants to look at. They can basically make whatever you request with the proper advanced warning. The only item that I couldn’t get was onion rings at Bobby Dee’s, the old time soda shop restaurant.

I will list out my dining choices, and my thoughts about each place below:

Sunday Lunch – Dino’s, Italian Village. I ordered the nachos. This would have probably been better as a snack. None of us loved this restaurant choice. My son’s gluten containing pizza was good according to my husband but it literally took a half hour to come out. (To their credit, we were warned that that would be the case.) The service in this restaurant was incredibly slow. It took them over 10 minutes to seat us and we were the only ones waiting. This was not because the place was full, they just didn’t have enough staff. My nachos were good, but again, it would have been better enjoyed pool side. A point regarding snacks- you can pick up a snack of really good cupcakes and 2 cookies at the Culinary office off the Caribbean Beach lobby, or you can pick a place that is open to receive a snack each day if you want one. You just need to fill out the form to indicate your choice.

Sunday Dinner- Neptunes, located in Key West, right on the water. This was one of our favorite meals of the trip. I highly recommend this restaurant. The service was excellent as was the food. I had an amazing lamb shank with mashed potatoes and vegetables. The lamb included a delicious gravy. Mmmm… my mouth is watering over the memory!

Monday Breakfast- I had prearranged our family to eat at the Sesame Street Character Breakfast, at Le Petit Chateau in French Village. There is an additional charge for this experience. For my family of 3, the charge was $40. My husband and I both felt it was reasonable for the experience. They had Sesame Street plates, and a fun cup for the kids to take away which included a sticker and a whistle (maybe not the best gift for little kids, well at least from their parents’ perspective). Each character in attendance came to our table, and they had a dance party at the end. I would recommend arriving early because they have characters in the courtyard before the breakfast begins. The breakfast meal itself was nothing to write home about, but it was fine.

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Sesame Street Character Breakfast
Monday Lunch – we were supposed to go to Bella Napoli which I believe is the place that only has pizza, nothing else, not a salad to go with it, just pizza. We were swimming though in a pool in Key West and didn’t want to go all the way over to Caribbean Village for lunch so I asked to speak to the chef at Bayside to see if I could eat there. This was a buffet and the selection was great, most of the food was naturally gluten free and the view was outstanding! This ended up being where we would dine for most of our remaining lunches and breakfasts.

Monday Snack- I choose to have a snack of a milk shake at Bobby Dee’s as my snack. They scooped my ice cream from a fresh container, with a new spoon, and made my shake in a cleaned out and sanitized blender. It was a fun treat that we don’t always get to enjoy gluten free.

Monday Dinner- Kimonos, (a traditional hibachi grill Japanese Steak house) in French Village. This is the only place that you can actually make a reservation for dining. They handled my allergy really well here. They just used gluten free soy sauce for the whole table’s meal. Once he served my meal, he added additional sauces to the food on the grill for the others. I thought my meal was excellent, but my husband did comment that theirs had more flavor than my meal. My 3 year old loved his meal as well which made us all really happy.

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Kimonos
Tuesday Breakfast – Sky, Key West. Sky, on the roof of Bayside, is adults only in the evening but is open to all for breakfast. The view was stunning, and the food was really good here. They had a seafood eggs benedict that is probably a big crowd pleaser for many. I choose not to eat seafood because I don’t like the taste so I ordered traditional eggs benedict. It was really tasty. My husband had a gluten filled stuffed French toast that looked amazing. The day we ate here was completely blue skies and warm.  It would not be my first choice again on a sunny day, we all were cooking a little up there even with the umbrellas over the tables.

Tuesday Lunch- Bayside, Key West. This was covered above. Although I did not mention that they serve sushi here at lunch and it was really good! They had gluten free soy sauce as well which is always nice.

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Amazing views!
Tuesday Dinner- Arizonas, Caribbean Village. This is a tex-mex restaurant. The food was really good, but the service started out incredibly slow. I am not sure it is possible to walk slower than these servers were moving. It is a huge departure from what I am used to – cruising where the crew practically runs wherever they are headed. The meal starts with chips, salsa and guacamole. I also ordered the queso appetizer and a small serving of it was included with our chips and salsa. My husband and I both ordered steaks that were served with mashed potatoes. It was a very good meal that we were all pleased with.

Wednesday and Thursday Breakfast- Bayside, Key West. We just loved the location and the offerings. The view is incredible as well.

Wednesday Lunch- Bobby Dee’s, French Village. This was your typical burger, fries, ice cream type meal. We all enjoyed it. My son LOVES the popcorn machine and would get a small bag whenever we were here.

Wednesday Dinner- Schooners, Caribbean Village. This was another favorite meal by the 3 of us. Although my steak was slightly overcooked, it was flavorful and the service was excellent. The ambiance made for a really lovely last dinner on property.

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Schooners
Thursday lunch- Bobby Dee’s and Bayside. We had to be in the lobby to head to the airport at 12:30 so we needed an early and quick lunch. Our plan was to get carryout from Bobby Dee’s to eat in the room, and then I would get a to go order of sushi to have as a supplement to my lunch to eat on the way to the airport. Bayside was kind enough to accommodate my gluten free carry out sushi just a few minutes before they opened, and my chicken sandwich from Bobby Dee’s was a good start to my farewell lunch.

I would absolutely feel comfortable returning here and I was incredibly happy that I was not glutened during the trip! Have you already traveled to Beaches gluten free? What were your favorite places to dine? Or are you getting ready to travel to Beaches gluten free or a with a different food allergy?  I hope this article takes away some of your concerns about traveling to Beaches Turks and Caicos gluten free or with a food allergy.

Safe Travels.