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!

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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?

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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