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?

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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.

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

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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.

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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 Disneycruiselineblog.com 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 Tips · Disney Cruise Line · Travel

Upgrading your Disney Cruise Line Cabin at the Pier

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Concierge Cabin 12000 on the Disney Fantasy

Want to change your cabin before the start of your cruise? You can try upgrading at the pier for a significant savings.

Other cruise lines open up upgrades for people before the cruise sailing for a savings, Disney however keeps the posted price until the cruise, and then will drop it to let people move up categories once they have arrived at port.

This is the story of our quest to upgrade at the port prior to a 7 night cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy at the end of January.

Our plan was to get on the 8:15 a.m. bus from the Orlando Airport Marriott Lakeside but we had just missed it and ended up on the 8:30 bus back to the airport.  By the time we arrived at the airport, there was already a decent line forming for Magical Express check in to the port. I took my son and got in line to check in while my husband waited for the items to off load from the Marriott bus and then get them on the Disney luggage truck. (The luggage was placed on a truck right next to where we were dropped off by the Marriott bus and would next be seen delivered to the outside of our cabin on the ship.) I’d say Disney started checking us in shortly after we arrived which was around 8:45 a.m.  We made it on the second bus to leave the airport that morning and sat about 6-10 rows back. We were probably on our way to the port around 9:15 a.m.

Upon arriving at the port around 10 and them doing their schpeal before we could exit the bus, we were somehow first to the security line. (My husband even caught up after getting our car seat and stroller from the bottom of the bus items.) We went straight to check in at the Castaway Club line and were a handful of desks away from the port upgrades line at the end of the row. They speedily checked us in and got us to the upgrade line by 10:23 a.m. There were family verandah concierge rooms available as well as one 1 bedroom- cabin 12000. But the price had just doubled from earlier reports. The family verandah (category v) went for $1,500 and the 1 bedroom for $3,000 based on our booked category of a deck 6 family verandah. [Disney bases the price of the upgraded cabin from the category that you were booked into, to the category that you wanted to go to.] That $3,000 made me sooo bummed but ultimately we pulled the trigger and we LOVED everything about cabin 12000. [Check out our pictorial review.]

The next item of business for us was securing a cabana at Castaway Cay. We positioned ourselves to not be pushy but to be the first in the concierge area to get aboard the ship once it was time. Once on board we went straight to the lounge (we didn’t stop for pictures or to look around).  Our strategy paid off as we were first to talk to a concierge host. We explained that we just upgraded and were wondering if there were any cabanas available and if not we’d like to be wait listed. We were first on the wait list and Tuesday morning we were told that they were able to secure us a cabana on the family beach. (Apparently the wait list was pages and pages long.) Sadly this cabana never made it into fruition as our ship wasn’t able to stop at Castaway Cay because there was some engine trouble during our cruise…

That is how you upgrade at the port to a concierge cabin. We did learn that ultimately, at least for now while we spend a lot of time in the room, we will just book into this category from the start.

Have you upgraded at the pier? What was your experience?

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Cruise · Disney Cruise Line · Travel

Concierge Cabin 12000 on the Disney Fantasy

We had the luxury of staying in cabin 12000 on the Disney Fantasy. It has converted us to always wanting to be in a one-bedroom on the Dream class ships (the Disney’s ships named the Fantasy and the Dream.) Honestly, who wouldn’t want that! This room was stunning.

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The entry way. There is a full bathroom (not pictured) and 2 closets on the right and one on the left.
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Walk in closet with a full length mirror. (This is in the furthest forward closet door to the right in the entry hallway.)
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Seating area with a small desk to the far right. (Adjacent to the desk is where the Murphy Bed is located)
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The HUGE bathroom. There is a stand alone shower to the left in the picture. (That mirror also has a tv, because you might just need to watch that Disney movie while taking a bath.)
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The bedroom. That vanity had more storage. There was a ton of storage in this room.
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The verandah/Balcony of cabin 12000 on the Disney Fantasy. It was HUGE, it continued on to the left of the picture.
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This is the view forward (down) from the cabin. You see the teen outdoor space. I don’t recall ever hearing them down there.

As far as a mini-review of the cabin. It was a great cabin, and I would stay here again, but I would probably pick one of the bump out cabins on the sides of the ship instead as I prefer a better view of the ocean (I like to look down and have a more immediate view.)

I am super sensitive to noise and from the interior of the cabin I didn’t hear any from above. On the outside people walking around the front of deck 13 would often stop and look down at the balcony and hypothesize as to what they were seeing, quite loudly! (Some things that we heard was the deck space was a part of the gym, and our favorite was that it was the “helm,” as excitedly exclaimed by one passerby-er.)  But otherwise the only real downside is that it is all the way forward, meaning long walks to the cabin, and the view is altered by the teen club below, etc.

This cabin was a wonderful place to spend the week.

Happy Travels! ♥

(Feel free to ask any questions you have about this cabin below in the comments.)

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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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Gluten Free Travel · Travel

Gluten Free in Vegas – the McCarran International Airport

  
I recently traveled to Las Vegas for a trade show. A city that has 41,126,512 visitors (according to the visitor’s bureau) each year, had VERY limited gluten free options.
It took 40 minutes of running from one restaurant to another to find somewhere to eat that would accommodate a gluten free meal. A whole entire meal, not a snack. Thank you random airport employee for telling me to go check out Sammy’s Pizza & Grill.

  
Thank god for this restaurant. There was really no other gluten free option in terminal D that I could find. I expected food to just be mediocre and it was phenomenal. The service is great. The atmosphere was great and my salad was awesome! Please Sammy’s continue to provide gluten free options for those traveling with a true medical need! My caesar salad had fresh shaved/sliced Parmesan and excellent made to order fresh chicken. I know I’m gushing but the food was excellent!

Some obnoxious employee at California Pizza Kitchen was convinced that there was cross contamination. (Which all started because at first I went there knowing they have a gluten free menu at the location by my house. And she informed me that there would not be anywhere gluten to eat in the entire airport.) I was concerned that maybe there was cross contamination (because my meal was soooo good) until she gave me the reason- that eggs and beef were cooked in the same spot as the chicken. I’m not looking for a kosher meal, I needed a meal without wheat, and other forms of gluten. I really dislike when people confuse dairy with an inability to eat gluten. They aren’t the same people! Okay, my rant is over. But either way, I had zero reaction to my meal at Sammy’s, and I am very sensitive. Thank God! Getting on a plane after being glutened would be one of the worst things that could happen while flying!

There were some alternatives to a meal of you are looking for something in addition to a tummy salad. Hudson News had cheese sticks and packaged gluten free snacks.

 What has been your experience traveling gluten free at the airport in Vegas? 

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. [https://www.uber.com/invite/christyp325ue] 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!