Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How to make EVERYONE happy at WDW

We just returned from our latest trip to Walt Disney World in August. Our family is unique in that our children are fairly spread out in age. Thus, their interests at WDW are also varied. We have a daughter who is a sophomore (almost 16), a 12 year old son in 7th grade, and a 5 year old son. As you can probably guess, they are not all interested in the same things that Disney has to offer. So, my advice to you is to be flexible...realize this is EVERYONE's vacation. So let everyone have a say in what to do. How did we make it work on this trip? Let me tell you.First of all, we allowed our 15 year old to take a friend with her this time.Why? Because together they are old enough to navigate the parks and the transportation systems on their own. If you are doing Playhouse Disney with your preschooler, your teenager can be riding Tower of Terror. It makes everyone happy and maximizes your time in the parks. Teens also seem to be at their peak after 9pm and totally unresponsive before 11am. Let them use some late night Extra Magic Hours and sleep in the next day. The rest of the family can hit the parks early in the morning. Meet up for lunch, some time in the pool, and spend the rest of the day together.With three kids there is always the "middle kid". Not old enough to hang with the older sibling, but too old to want to ride Dumbo five times in a row. What do you do? We split up at times during the day. Again, it allows everyone to do what they want to do and you get special one-on-one time with each child. We are also fortunate enough that most times my parents travel with us. Never underestimate how special time at Disney is for grandparents and their grandchildren.You are probably wondering "What kind of a family vacation is it if everyone is going their own way?". This is not an "all day, every day" plan. We spend the majority of our time all together in the same place at the same time. But this little bit of flexibility makes everyone happy and creates magical memories. (Remember, this is Disney World..."the happiest place on Earth"). Besides, isn't that what a family vacation is supposed to do?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Not just for families, Disney is for Adults too!

We all know that Disney is a great destination for families. Every Disney commercial shows us how magical it can be for the kids. What everyone does not know is that it is a magical place for adults as well. There are all of the attractions we enjoy like the Tower of Terror or the Kilimanjaro Safari, but what really makes Disney stand out for me is the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.
On weekends during the fall Epcot’s world showcase is transformed into a culinary journey. Food items and specialty drinks from around the world are available for those adventurous enough to try. In the mood for some sushi or sake from Japan? How about pierogi and sausage from Poland? With 27 different booths of different world cuisines, there is definitely something in this wonderland for everyone.

For those of you who wish to learn more about your food before you eat it Epcot offers several culinary demonstrations and taste seminars. There are also wine and beverage seminars for those with a more refined palate. Those of us with an appreciation for history will enjoy the History of Beer in America seminar (with samples!). The Wine Walk is also a great experience which allows you to try several different wines while walking around Epcot. Don’t forget about the Eat to the Beat live concerts that are performed several times a night.

There is something for everyone to enjoy in this special event. So if you and your adult friends are looking for a great getaway, don’t forget to try Disney. After all that’s why it’s the Happiest Place On Earth (even without the kids)!!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nassau, Bahamas & Disney Cruise Line

The first Port of Call on our 3 night Disney Cruise was in Nassau, Bahamas. Cruise line ships dock at Prince George’s Wharf which can accommodate up to 7 cruise ships at one time. As you exit the ship you will be diverted through the building that houses the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Here you can get information, transportation and maps.

On a previous trip to Nassau, my husband and I did some of the local tourist attractions. After leaving the Ministry building we took a horse drawn Surrey ride around the main part of the city. The colors and architecture are really beautiful. The driver gave us a little history lesson as he pointed out some of the main attractions of the city. After our ride we went to the Pirates of Nassau Museum. It was really amazing. There were full sized ships inside as well as the history of some of the most famous pirates of Nassau. There were rooms with pirate flags, replicas of famous battles all along with information on the history of pirating. There was a courtyard area as well with weapons and what museum doesn’t have a gift shop? The gentleman who was working the gift shop was dressed as a pirate and spoke in character as well.

After the museum we walked a few blocks over to the Queen’s Staircase. Built in early 1900’s the stair case made of coral sandstone boasts 66 stairs built by slaves to honor Queen Victoria’s help in the abolition of slavery in the Bahamas. Next to the staircase is a large waterfall. The whole area is almost hidden by stone walls that frame out the two sides of the staircase and waterfall. After climbing to the top, we were steps away from Fort Fincastle which was built in 1793. The Fort is shaped like the bow of a ship and is sometimes referred to as a “battle embankment” rather then a Fort. While not large, the Fort does have some wonderful water views and some of the original stones from when the Fort was built still remain.

Next to the Fort is a 126 foot water tower built in 1928. You can either walk to the top or take an elevator. The views are breathtaking.

After our little tours we went back down to Bay Street to do some shopping. Bay Street has a mix of high end stores such as Gucci and Fendi and little tourist shops with T shirts and Magnets. Do not over look some of the side streets that head back towards to wharf. Some of the best finds in Nassau are in these little shops and eateries. My favorite discovery was the Tortuga Rum Cake shop. Laced with aged Tortuga rum, these cakes are moist, flavorful and memorable.
No visit to Nassau would be complete without a stop at the famous straw market. The original market burned down a few years ago and has yet to be rebuilt. The current straw market is housed in a very large tent like structure. It is filled with local vendors peddling everything from designer bags to cigars, jewelry and of course, straw goods. The aisles are extremely narrow and the interior can be very hot. As you browse the aisles, the vendors will be asking you if you want to “make a deal”. Deals can be found and most will negotiate the price with you. Many of the vendors will have that same Coach bag you saw a few aisles back and love so don’t buy the first you see. Your best bet for a really good deal is to negotiate for more then one item. If a vendor has 2 bags you like, you will have a better chance of getting a great price on the 2. Barter a little, if you still don’t like the price, move on. Whether you buy that designer bag or not, be sure to get yourself a souvenir made by the locals.

It was interesting to see the attractions we did and we enjoyed the shops, the food and the overall experience. When the Disney Wonder docked in Nassau on my cruise in July 2009, I went back to the straw market and had to stop at Tortuga Rum to get my rum cake.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A May Disney Adventure with Grandparents

Traveling with the family “A May Disney Adventure"
I am usually the type of person who is somewhat selfish with my time at Disneyworld. I like it to be myself, husband and kids. This time was going to be different; grandma and grandpa were coming with us. 2008 was a rough year for all of us, due to Hurricane Gustav flooding my in-laws house. My husband, I and the kids were at Disneyworld when Hurricane Gustav made his appearance. My husband’s parents had to live with us for three and a half months after Gustav, so that their house could be repaired. It was a very stressful time for all of us but we survived. And how does one celebrate surviving the storms of life, a trip to Disneyworld of course.

When we returned from Disney in Sept of 2008 I was already dreaming of my next trip to the world. Not thinking I would return less than a year later. Well Mickey had some tricks up his sleeve for us. In early November I received one of the sought after “pin code” promotion emails. I read it and it was a really good offer. I did not even tell my husband but I booked a package with the “pin code” and put down a deposit. I kept the secret to myself for a while, and then finally spilled the beans to him. He thought I was crazy but he was right. Our trip in 2008 was somewhat overshadowed by all that was going on back home so I vowed a do-over trip.

Jump ahead to Jan 2009, my in-laws mentioned that they would like to go with the grandkids at least once, so I said come on and we will see what it will cost for the two of you. You see Mickey was good to the public this year; he has made some great deals on packages like the “Buy 4 and get 3 free deal.” So I went online and made them a reservation at Caribbean Beach Resort, Pirate room. We were staying there in the newly remodeled rooms and I was excited to get it for them to.

May 20, 2009 we hit the road bound for Disneyworld. We live in Louisiana so it is a little over 800 miles to drive. The four of us would have driven all the way there but being that the in-laws were with us we decided to drive to Tallahassee and spend the night. The ride to Tallahassee was uneventful and we woke up the next morning and drove on into Disney.
May 21, 2009 check in day at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, I am so excited. Check in was smooth and it was early so our room was not ready. No worries though we decided to grab lunch at the resort before heading out to the parks. This was my first time staying at Caribbean Beach and I thought the resort was beautiful. I think CBR gets a bad rap because it is a very large resort but I really enjoyed it. We stayed in Trinidad South which is the location of the Pirate rooms. I think we got the best location on the property in my humble opinion, first floor room of building 37 facing the bus stop. I mean we were literally 50 yards from the bus, maybe closer. We were also right next to the laundry facility and quiet pool. Each set of buildings has its own quiet pool, if you don’t want to go down to the main pool for a swim.
The day we arrived we had arranged to have scooters for my in-laws because as many of you know you probably walk 100 miles while on a Disney vacation. They would not be able to walk all that way so we rented scooters from an outside company and they were waiting for us at bell services when we arrived. I highly recommend this for anyone who is mobility challenged. My kids enjoyed the scooters maw- maw and paw-paw had, when the kids got tired of walking they would hop on with them. It made it easier to keep up with them that way.
After lunch we headed out to Magic Kingdom for some fun. I thought it would be rough loading and unloading the scooters on the Disney bus system but that was not to be. All of the bus drivers were great at getting us loaded and unloaded from the busses.

This was the year of “What will you Celebrate”: well the day we arrived it was my mother-in laws birthday and she went to the ticket window at Epcot and got her birthday fun card to spend. This year each person can receive a free one day park admission on their birthday, but if you already have tickets you can exchange it for the birthday fun card or a special birthday fastpass. My mother-in law chose the fun card; it was worth $75 dollars. That was a really cool thing for her. We also had made and Advance dining reservation that night at Chef Mickey’s and we had a birthday cake for her while we were there. You don’t have to be a kid to have a birthday with Mickey it is a great thing to do at any age.

We spent the next day’s exploring the parks sometimes with the in-laws and sometimes without. I think it is good if you travel with family especially large groups to be willing to split up and have some time apart. Disneyworld is 47 square miles of fun and there is so much to explore. I think the key to a good trip with family is to spend time together such as dinners at Table service restaurants and time apart in the parks. Grandma and grandpa don’t necessarily want to ride the Teacups in Fantasyland 10 times. This is exactly what we did, we would generally start out the day together and then they would go back to the resort for a rest and we would meet back up for dinner at night. Let me tell you dinners at Disney are delicious. Some of the ones we attended were Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort, Whispering Canyon CafĂ© at the Wilderness Lodge, Ohana at the Polynesian; one of my favorites. Cinderella’s Royal Table for breakfast and Le Cellier in the Canadian Pavilion at Epcot. Being from Louisiana we love to eat and we were not disappointed in any of our choices. I highly suggest making advance dining reservations as soon as you are able so that you can get in to the great places to eat in Disney.

So as you can see traveling with family can be great at Disneyworld, because there is so much to see and do there. Whether you are 5 or 95 you can’t possibly have a bad time. I always say a bad day at Disney is better than a good day anywhere else. It is my happy place and luckily my family loves it as much as I do. I can’t wait until our next trip to the World. We are shooting for Oct of 2010, maybe a Land and Sea package. Who knows if we will make it that long; I hope not.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009