Saturday, October 31, 2009

Disney Trip Planning

Ok, so you've decided to take a family vacation to Disney World. Congratulations – you couldn't have made a better decision! You've picked your dates, chosen a resort, and booked your tickets. So now you're totally finished and all that's left to do is pack the sunscreen, right?

Unfortunately, far too many Disney guests believe that this is true. These are the families you see walking aimlessly around the theme parks, not knowing which attractions to see, waiting in never-ending lines, being turned away by the best restaurants, and missing the entertaining shows. These will also be the people emerging from the theme parks exhausted, frustrated, and vowing never to return again. Whenever I see these people – and there are so many of them on every one of my trips – it depresses me because these poor people have missed out on all the wonderful experiences that make Disney World so magical!

On the other hand, there are Disney guests who attempt to over plan their trips. These are the people that buy and read all the Disney books, spend hours browsing Disney's website, and try to micromanage every minute of the trip. Regrettably, there are countless people also doing this, so any tips and advice given through those sources will be used by hundreds of people a day! While some of it is valuable and I do, at times, recommend similar ideas, most of that information will only cause people to have the same end result – frustration.

So, what's the answer? How can you have magical experiences on a Disney trip without all the stress of under or over planning for it?

The answer comes from booking or transferring your vacation to our highly experienced travel agents here at WDWTravels. We have been planning Disney vacations for years and deeply enjoy designing a custom plan for each of our clients. We all visit Disney multiple times a year and have learned the tricks for avoiding crowds, experienced the premier attractions, and dined at the most scrumptious restaurants. All in all, we have experienced the greatest magical sides of Disney and enjoy sharing that with our clients. Each itinerary that I customize is meticulously designed especially for the group visiting Disney World; no two itineraries are ever the same because no two families have the same priorities. I started building itineraries because I enjoyed doing it so much for my own family and friends. Creating an individual itinerary and then hearing about the family’s trip when they return, increases my own fondness for Disney World and my longing to return again as soon as possible. I am spreading the magic of Disney to the family and they, in turn, return the sentiment to me. Best of all, our itineraries are just one of the many FREE services that WDWTravels offers when booking or transferring your reservation to us!

When beginning an itinerary, there are a lot of factors to consider. How many days should you devote to each theme park? Which days should you go to which theme park – believe me, this will make a MAJOR difference in crowd levels! Which attractions should you start with each day – again, your choices make a big difference! My family and I use all the information included in my itinerary and we never wait longer than 30 minutes for any attraction, at any time of the year. Overall, what's the best way to maximize the Disney fun, while minimizing the wait times – we will show you how and for FREE!

There is no one unanimous answer that works for all families – a lot of tour books claim that there's one solution that everyone can use. As a result, WDWTravel agents create PERSONALIZED guides for each of their clients. This is based on the families' individual needs. Is this their first trip or their hundredth? Do they prefer thrill rides or live stage shows? Are seeing the princesses a #1 priority, or is a meeting with Mickey Mouse a requirement? Is a sit-down meal the best way to take a break each day, or is a swim back at their Disney resort the most relaxing choice? These are just some of the questions that we ask in order to provide the most detailed itineraries possible. Once again, no two family's finished guide is ever identical because no two families are the same! As a result, our clients tend to have a much more magical experience at Disney World because they are not as frustrated as other tourists. Additionally, they are more likely to become regular Disney visitors because they will have embraced the magic of the destination just like us!

Overall, you are spending a lot of time and money to visit a place that has been called “The Happiest Place on Earth.” So, why wouldn't you want to experience exactly that? Each family has their own expectations when traveling to Disney and every family member has his or her own priorities. Merging all of those dreams together could be a nightmare for a family to plan. By using our free planning services, your Disney dreams have an enhanced chance of coming true. With a touch of pixie dust from our free travel planning services, no Disney dream is EVER too big!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Disneyland Halloween Time

Let me start of by saying Halloween has never been my holiday. I have no idea why, because I enjoy getting dressed up and I love candy, but nevertheless, I have never really liked Halloween. It’s not like I hate the holiday or have some sort of objection to it, I’m just not a big Halloween person. If I had to eliminate a holiday, Halloween would be the one I cut. Well, I guess I should say that until last year Halloween would have been the holiday I could have lived without. But last year everything changed. Last year I went to Halloween Time at Disneyland and my feelings about the holiday did a 180. I actually liked Halloween Time so much that this year, I made a return trip to Disneyland at Halloween.

So what’s so great about Halloween at Disneyland? Well for starters Disneyland is decorated for the holiday. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald greet guests at the front entrance as pumpkins, and the pumpkin theme continues throughout the park with Jack-O-Lanterns everywhere, even on the lampposts. You can even visit Big Thunder Ranch Halloween Roundup to see pumpkins transformed into Jack-O-Lanterns. And just in case you haven’t gotten your fill of pumpkins, a giant Mickey Jack-O-Lantern sits at the beginning of Main Street, waiting for you to pose with him.

When guests Park Hop over to Disney’s California Adventure, the pumpkins and Jack-O-Lanterns stay but the main theme switches over to something much sweeter, Candy Corn. Candy corn has invaded every square inch of California Adventure, even the iconic CALIFORNIA letters have been turned into candy corn. There’s Candy Corn Acres, where guests can see the candy corn being grown and harvested. Who knows, you might even spot a character or two helping harvest all that candy corn.

Of course, a Disneyland Halloween is more than amazing decorations. Disneyland has also redone two rides for Halloween. Jack Skellington has transformed the Haunted Mansion into a Nightmare Before Christmas themed ride. New this year, Space Mountain has also been transformed into Ghost Galaxy. I don’t want to give away too much, but both attractions Halloween makeovers make them into completely different rides. I’m not a big Haunted Mansion fan, but I absolutely love what Jack Skellington has done with the place. My brother has never seen The Nightmare Before Christmas, but he still enjoyed the ride. And unbelievably, Ghost Galaxy is much scarier than Space Mountain, keep an eye out for ghosts, you never know when one might surprise you.

Also new to Halloween Time this year is a Halloween themed fireworks show called Halloween Screams. Halloween Screams differs from other Disneyland firework shows because Tinkerbell does not start it; instead Zero flies above Sleeping Beauty’s castle to start the show. Halloween Screams mixes fireworks, pyrotechnics, a large video screen, lighting, Disney villains and even ghost fireworks into one incredible show. The soundtrack is a combination of Disney songs like “Heffalumps and Woozles”, with new songs like “Happy, Happy, Happy Halloween” which is still stuck in my head, weeks later. This show is not to be missed. Although, parents with small or easily startled children should be aware that a very loud group scream a long concludes the Halloween Screams fireworks show.

A returning favorite to Disneyland’s Halloween Time is Mickey’s Trick or Treat Party. A separate ticketed event that takes place on select nights in California Adventure Park. Mickey’s Trick or Treat Party is my favorite Disney event, at either park regardless of the season. Everyone is allowed to dress up for the party, and seeing everyone in their costumes, including the Disney characters is awesome. Once inside, guests can go trick or treating at Treat Stops where candy is given out in very large quantities. My 5 year old cousin received more candy trick or treating here then she did trick or treating at home. Characters are out and ready to pose for pictures. In my experience villains, princesses, Pixar characters and the Fab Five are out for you to visit with. The Pacific Wharf area is transformed in Pirate’s Wharf, an entertainment area with games, crafts and characters. Hollywood Pictures Backlot has also been transformed into Hollywood Bat-lot and if you visit the Bat-lot be ready to join in the dance party! Another kid favorite is Mickey’s Hide and Go Treat Trails, in the Redwood Creek area; treat stations are also back here. The twice-nightly parade, Mickey’s Trick or Treat On the Street, features Disney characters dressed up for Halloween, and is part parade/part dance party. We all got up and danced and we were rewarded with yet more candy and even special pins for our efforts. Of course you can also ride the rides during Mickey’s Trick or treat party, we rode Tower of Terror multiple times and with the whole Halloween thing going on, it was definitely spookier.
There’s more than enough Halloween to keep even the most spirited little kid amused and just in case special treats and merchandise is available also. I came home with a Mickey Jack-O-Lantern coffee cup and two Mickey Jack-O-Lantern trick or treating buckets. And trust me, leaving there with just those were difficult. So from a reformed Halloween critic, come visit Disneyland during Halloween Time for some new rides and shows, great food, a chance to catch Minnie as a witch and even see some villains. Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Grand Gathering Tip of the Day

Disney Tip of the Day:
If you’re traveling with a large group to Disney World, don’t try to spend every minute together. Instead, plan to meet up for an evening meal to discuss your day at the parks.

In my family, a Disney vacation was a part of growing up. Being the oldest of five siblings, I adopted some of my mom’s vacation practices with my own four children and our vacations to Disney. Because of the size our family, any trip to Disney means we’re traveling with a large group. Every Disney vacation is a Grand Gathering!

When my siblings and I were younger, all six members of our family did everything at Disney together. We all dressed in outfits from the Sears catalog, and they were all the same color. (I’m afraid that I’m dating myself…!) We were horrified for awhile, but our mother was firm. Truthfully, we were at Disney, and we didn’t care what we looked like! But, every ride we rode, and every meal we ate, we were noticed by every cast member we saw. We were the “Red Family,” or the “Green Family.” It very quickly became a fun game to see how many would call us by those names.

As my siblings and I grew up and had families of our own, it became glaringly apparent that we needed a new strategy. The Sears outfits of old turned into same-color shirts for my children, my husband, and me. It still has the same impact…especially when we wear tie-dyed shirts!

Because we vacationed with large groups, and still do today, it taught me how traveling with that many people can be stressful. It can be so difficult for everyone to be able to do what they want to do, and for everyone to have a great time together. That is, after all, the point of traveling together!

Since our family now consists of eleven adults and nine children under the age of ten, we have had to adopt a new plan that could work for your large group also. Now, our goal for each day at Disney is to meet for a meal together at night. During the day, we sometimes stay together, and we sometimes separate. Some of us still need a nap in the afternoon; some of us want a swim in the afternoon, and some of us are Park-Troopers. Since we decided to stop forcing the issue of everyone spending every minute of the vacation together, it is much less stressful. We enjoy each other, our children, and our vacation much more. Try this tip for your next Grand Gathering…it may bring even more Magic to your vacation!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Try Visiting Atlantis Resort when in Nassau!

If you are lucky enough to be on a Disney Cruise with a 3 or 4-night itinerary then Nassau, Bahamas will be your first port of call. This is the capital city of Bahamian New Providence Island, and as such there is no shortage of activities to fill your time ashore with. Some of the many choices of shore excursions that can be booked through Disney Cruise Line include the Nassau Harbor Cruise, the Caribbean Queen Snorkel Tour, the Blue Lagoon Island Dolphin Encounter, the Ardastra Gardens and City Tour, Blackbeard’s Stingray Adventure and Scuba Diving at Stuart Cove. We decided to forgo all of those on our recent sailing aboard the Disney Wonder and spend the day at the iconic Atlantis Resort. With a wealth of activities to choose from, including many upscale shops, restaurants and a full casino, Atlantis promises a day to remember!

If you decide to book your Atlantis shore excursion through DCL, then there are four options for you to choose from. First there is the “Atlantis Aquaventure”. Included with the price of the excursion is transportation to and from the Port and full use of the 140-acre water park that Atlantis is famous for. There are nine thrilling water slides and a mile-long lazy river with underground tunnels, rapids and waterfalls. The minimum height requirement for all of the slides is 48”. Also included with this package is a lunch and towel use. The cost is $160 per adult and $110 for children between the ages of 3 and 9.

The next excursion offered through DCL is the “Atlantis Beach day”. This includes transportation to and from the resort, a reserved spot on the pristine beach just for you, a light lunch, and use of the casino but does not permit use of the water park, pools or aquarium. The cost is $82 per adult and $55 per child.

One of the most popular excursions you can choose is “Dolphin Cay and Aquaventure” combination. In addition to full use of the water park and pools, you will also experience an interactive 2-hour Dolphin encounter where you will play with the Dolphins that call Atlantis home. It is for ages 3 and up and the cost is $295 per adult and $245 per child.

For those who aren’t interested in the sun and surf, the best choice would be the “Discover Atlantis” excursion. It includes round-trip transportation to Atlantis, where guests will receive a guided tour of resort and aquarium. You are then welcome to explore the grounds on your own and return whenever you like, as there are shuttles back to port every half hour. This excursion costs $52 per adult and $35 per child.

If you opt to “go it alone”, as we did, you will be responsible for your own transportation to and from the port. Taxis are readily available and cost $4 per person each way. If you want to do a tour of the aquariums and sea life exhibits you can do so for $25 per day for adults and $19 for children. This gives you all-day access but doesn’t include use of the water park. To secure use of Aquaventure, you must book a room at either the Atlantis resort or nearby Comfort Inn, which supplies bracelets used to gain entry into the water facilities. Atlantis resort is a large compound, with accommodations available in six separate buildings. There are the Royal Towers, Coral Towers, Beach Towers, the Cove, The Reef and Harborside Resort. Because the water park is centrally located in the middle of them all, any one of these accommodations will afford you the opportunity for easy pool and water park access.

We chose to book an ocean suite in Atlantis’s newest addition, the Cove, on our recent visit. It was a beautifully appointed room with an open floor plan and step-down living area. The spacious bathroom, with it’s marble floors and granite vanities was fit for a king. Although we didn’t spend much time in the room, it was nice to come back to for a hot shower and quick bite before heading back to port. Standard rooms at Atlantis start at $269 per night, so booking a room can yield significant savings over booking the excursion if there is more than one person in your travel party. The suites, like the one we booked, start at $399- but at 700 square feet with a kitchen, they are a great value.

There are so many recreational activities available at Atlantis. We tried the snorkeling and fed the sea life. The pools were awesome. The main pool has a great multi-level kids area with lots of bridges and slides for those who don’t meet the height requirement for the larger slides. My daughter wanted to stay there all day! We wanted to try the rock climbing wall, but were so busy with everything else that we didn’t get the chance. They also offer something called “Snuba” which is a hybrid between Scuba and snorkeling that doesn’t require certification. It combines the simplicity of snorkeling with the wonders of breathing underwater. Guests must be eight years old to take part in the Snuba adventure. Since our daughter was trying snorkeling for the first time, we decided to stick to that for the day. But the Snuba sounded like a lot of fun, and we hope to try it on our next trip!
Snacks and drinks at Atlantis can add up quickly, and many people choose to bring some things ashore with them to enjoy throughout the day, which is what we did. It was worth the trouble to bring our lunch off the ship since we didn’t plan to sit down in one of Atlantis’s restaurants. We did splurge on some Starbuck’s though before heading back to port aboard the shuttle. Nothing like a little caffeine to perk you up after a long day of sun and surf!

You can book a room at Atlantis, or one of the many shore excursions offered by DCL through your travel agent or directly through the Atlantis website. It is a great way to spend a day in Nassau and will surely leave you hoping to visit again in the future. With so much to do there, I highly recommend you disembark the ship as soon as you can to allow as much time as possible to enjoy the resort and it’s wonderful amenities.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Disney Cruise Line 7 nights of Magic!

by Angel

September 5-12, 2009 Disney Magic Western Caribbean

In September, my mom, my two daughters, and I set out for our magical adventure. The trip was a birthday celebration for my oldest daughter, who turned 12 on the 12th and my 18th anniversary celebration on the 7th (my husband didn’t want to go on a 7night cruise, so we did a 3 night Wonder in July as a family. Our trip began when we arrived at The Radisson Resort at the Port at about 10:00pm. I had read so many bad reviews of this place, and told how bad it was by my previous travel agent, that I had everyone scared to death that it would be horrible. The hotel’s rate was $110 or so, including taxes, and they offered a free shuttle and cruise parking. To park at the terminal of Port Canaveral, the cost is $15 per day, so this would have been $105. So, basically our hotel stay the night before only cost us $5. The room we were in had been updated recently and had sleep number beds…I never found my number and had a bad nights sleep, but the room was overall very nice.

The shuttle process was very annoying, and at the time NOT worth the savings. We did not arrive at port until about 10:30!! The doors open at 10:00, and that is when I wanted to arrive. We received a boarding pass #6, and so we would have to wait until almost 12:00 until we could board. We used the time in the terminal to pass out the glow in the dark wristbands that I had custom ordered for my Dis-group. I ordered 100 wristbands (a mix of adult and child size) with the following inscriptions on either side: ‘LABORless Magical Meanderers’ ‘September 5-12, 2009’. This added a bit of excitement to our cruise because we could identify our ‘friends’ by the wristbands…and a nice easily storable souvenier. We watched and waited until they finally called our magic number…Time to jump on the ship!

We proceeded to Parrot Cay for an amazing buffet and then off to see the stateroom….You are not allowed to enter your stateroom until 1:30, but ours was right by the elevators, so we snuck a peak. We took mom to the upper decks to give her a tour. When we finally got to our stateroom, it was unbelievable! This was our first time to experience a Category 6 (Verandah Deluxe). Having the extra room, which is basically what the balcony gives you, was ideal since I always wake up early. I was able to wake up and see the sunrise, feel the breeze every morning, and watch us pull into Castaway Cay!!! At 3pm we went with our Dis-group up in the Promenade Lounge for a group picture and I distributed the rest of the wristbands. The wristbands cost each person $1.50 each and were a great souvenir.

Saturday night we were able to meet our dining staff, Mladen, Francois, and Anna. This group of servers was indescribably amazing! Mladen was such a dream. He made every night great. On the front of our Key to the World card (which is your room key and unlocks unlimited spending ability) was our dining rotation, LAPPLAP. This meant the first night we would dine in Lumeire’s, then Animator’s Palate, Parrot Cay, Parrot Cay…and so on. We were on the early dining rotation which was good for us because we are always ready to eat! Let me just say that the food was so good and plentiful that by the time we got off the ship I was seriously tired of eating. I have discovered that I eat more fresh fruit on this boat than anywhere else. It is so easy to get and already peeled and sliced. I had Mickey waffles and chocolate croissants almost every morning.

On Sunday morning, I headed straight to the Vista Spa Fitness Center and hopped on a treadmill.What a view!
I plugged in my headphones and watched a movie. Later, I attended the interdenominational church service, which was led by a Jamaican Christian, can’t remember his name, but it was very enjoyable to hear a preachin’ from such a beautiful accent! I asked GOD for a blessed trip, and please let us make it home safely especially since me and the DD’s were only travelling with birth certificates and not passports!

I met up with mom and the DD’s after the church service and we got ready to head off to Key West. We had called ahead to book a ‘funny’ car. We basically cruised the strip most of the time, and also headed down to the ‘Southernmost Point’. The line to take a picture there was ridiculous, so we just snapped some happy couple so that we got the picture. We then toured the Butterfly Museum. It was so beautiful. It was incredibly hot that day, but it was nice to sit and enjoy the butterflies, birds, and tropical forest. We stopped for frozen key lime pie on a stick dipped in chocolate….OMGoodness…those are so yummy…a bit rich…but oh so yummy! We returned our funky car and headed back to the ship.

Monday was an ‘at sea’ day and our scheduled character breakfast.
It was a nice ‘sit-down’ breakfast with all of our favorites (food and characters). We were able to get some pics with Mickey, Goofy, and the gang. Mom and I tried to eat light, because our Palo brunch was at 10:30. We were celebrating my anniversary that day, after all! Mladen didn’t let me leave breakfast without taking a cake with me that had a chocolate banner of the ship that read ‘Happy Anniversary’. Palo brunch is a must-do. Other than just because the restaurant being so unbelievable, the service is impeccable, and the food is scrumptious! Xena was our server, a true Palo princess! Palo has a spread for brunch that could keep me happy for days. My mother was most impressed with the split crab legs—no cracking required.
Monday was also Formal night, so we all got dressed up for dinner, which was nice. Oh, and in between the morning meals we delivered our Fish Extender (FE) gifts. The gifts are small but really make the cruise fun. We had gifts waiting outside our stateroom door in our FE more than once a day. I made a CD titled ‘Caribbean Beats’ that included some of our favorite music from Castaway Cay, Bob Marley, and Jimmy Buffet. This was the ‘adult’ gift, and I ordered candy tins from Oriental Trading that had a cute girly pirate picture with our cruise dates on it for the kids. Small gifts add up while packing, and most people had an extra suitcase just to lug around the loot! I highly recommend this for the cruise. Not only was it fun for the kids to share the gifts, and receive them, but our door was so cute. I got comments from fellow cruisers passing by thanking me for having such a great door. It is easy to get turned around on the ship, but my door was a landmark! Our beautiful fish extender that I pressed by hand (all no sew) could easily be seen from the stairwell.

This afternoon the girls and I (and each girl’s friend) went to Tea with Alice and The Mad Hatter, which was really cute. We all celebrated our ‘un’birthdays, and had ‘tea’ and cookies. This is an especially cute event for the little girls, and is free, but very limited, so go to Guest Services early to get your tickets.
Since today was my anniversary, I pampered myself with a trip to Treasure Ketch, DCL’s shop for fine jewelry, among many other goodies. I got a ‘bling’ Mickey watch and an afghan with a beautiful picture of the Magic on it.

On Tuesday we visited Grand Cayman. We took a cab to Seven Mile Beach. The piece of beach where we were dropped off was very congested and small. We tried to sign up for the banana boats, as we watched it throw others off as it flipped. About that time, the message got back that a ‘rope’ on the banana boat had broken and the boat was now inoperable. So, we signed up for a triple parasail! The boat taxi took us out to the parasail boat and I parasailed over GC with my daughters on either side of me, with mom taking pictures from the boat.

When we got back to the ship, my mom and I joined Shawna and her husband, Walter, for dinner at Palo, which is another must-do, incredible dinner. We were lucky enough to have Xena again for our server. She is so wonderful.

Wednesday was Cozumel and I had booked earlier in the year with Dolphin Discovery for half price on their website. I had the Royal Swim with the dolphins for $75 per person! Me, mom, the girls, and Austin (Shawna’s DD) took off on our adventure. We met up at Dolphin Discovery with other Dis-friends and had our swim. My mom still can’t believe that I made her do the foot push. It was priceless for all of us. The dolphins are so cute. Be ready to spend a little when you get here, though. The video is so awesome that you just have to buy it. DD12 bargained with them and got them to give us the DVD and 5-4x6 pics for $110. She is very savvy with money. There published prices are much higher, so it never hurts to ask. After the dolphin swim, we met up with a man that worked at Chakkanaab Park who promised us a tour of the ruins after our swim. There was no charge for this very educational and interesting tour (but we tipped). He shared about the history and culture of Cozumel, while stopping along the way to take pictures of us at the best spots. At the end of the tour, we had lunch at the restaurant at the park. The lunch was not so great, and way overpriced, so I will do some research before eating on the island again. Pirate night followed on the ship and we dressed for the part! The party was great and included dancing on deck with characters, fireworks, a dessert buffet, and a showing of Pirates of the Caribbean on the AerialView under the stars. I couldn’t ask for a better night.

On Thursday, we enjoyed another ‘at sea’ day. I took this day to enjoy Disney’s Behind the Scenes: Stageworks in the Walt Disney Theatre. This was an adults only event where it was possible to try on the princess dresses (or Cruella’s cape), whichever you prefer This provided an opportunity to see the inner workings of the Walt Disney Theatre. Then, I went to see Disney Innovations: Animation, which was another adult only event that showed the ‘Top 10’ greatest innoventions that the Walt Disney Company has introduced in the field of animation. I spent a lot of time this afternoon enjoying the Quiet Cove Pool, which was packed! I was so amazed to see so many young singles on the cruise. In the early evening, I took the ‘Art of the Theme Ship Tour’ another adult only tour. Have I mentioned that I didn’t see much of my children today? Or for a lot of the week for that matter! I felt a little guilty at first, but then saw how many friends they had made, the fun they had, and the experiences they enjoyed, and got over that quickly! DD9 had a new BFF for the week, and DD12 enjoyed some new freedom. DD12 was in OceanQuest, which has no check-in/out procedure and they come and go as they please. So parents must provide their own rules for their child. The counselors are great and the kids are always chaperoned, but are allowed to come and go at will. DD9 was in the Oceaneer’s Lab where self check-in/out is a special privilege that has to be given by a parent. Overall, I think 9 yrs old is old enough for this privilege, but the ground rules must be laid down early. There were several times that I had no idea where DD9 was on the ship. This was very unsettling, but she was always safe.
The ship is a very safe place, but I still wanted to know her location at all times. So after a few days of confusion, she finally learned how to use the dry erase board on the inside of our stateroom door, and all was well. Later that night I went to see the 10:30 showing of ‘The Proposal’. DCL’s Buena Vista Theatre provides first run Disney movies throughout the cruise. If it is in your local theatre, more than likely it is showing on DCL. You can call one week prior to your sailing day to get a list of movies showing during your cruise.

Waking up Friday morning to see Castaway Cay from our verandah was worth that extra expense. The island is so beautiful, and there is so much to do…and eat. We started off with a nice breakfast at Topsider’s buffet and then walked off the ship into paradise. We took the tram to save some energy. Be aware, that if you take the tram to the beach instead of walk the short distance, you will miss several must-do photo opportunities with characters, including the one and only Jack Sparrow. Shawna had packed snorkel gear, so they let us share with them. I enjoyed sitting in a beach chair at water’s edge and just basking in the glory of the sun. Mom and I took the tram over to the adult beach, and came right back. I really enjoy the family beach more, because half of the fun on a beach to me is watching the kids play. DD12 decided she would get her hair ‘corn-rowed’, so she took a friend with her to say ‘braid mine just like this’. The lady explained to her that she didn’t have the same rubber bands as the ship and that her braids would be smaller. This didn’t sound like much of a big deal, until she got 18 braids and was only half-way finished. The other girl had 11. At $2 per braid, to complete the job would have been over $60! DD12 is pretty savvy remember, and stopped the process. We later spoke with guest services about this on the ship, and showed them the same rubber bands that are used by the ship braiders. They agreed to rebraid her hair at no cost. I highly recommend having the braids done by the ladies on the ship.

Mom and I booked a 4pm appointment for a ‘Spa Taster’ at the Vista Spa. We waited throughout the week until we had the best deal for the salon. For $89 each, we could choose 5 from the following; foot and ankle massage (which I gladly took after running barefoot on CC to get my camera for a photo-op with Goofy!), neck and shoulder massage (also couldn’t pass up), a mini-European facial (my very first facial), a collagen eye treatment (got this), and a scalp massage (as the horn went off while we were leaving CC). We were very happy with the choices we made We passed up on the hand treatment and the Sunglow makeover.
Another thing that is a must-do for the ladies early in the trip is to have a shower in the Vista Spa, just outside of the gym. If you ask the ladies, they will lead the way. The showers here are wonderful and I HIGHLY recommend doing them early in the trip because you will surely do it more than once!
Somehow throughout this review, I have neglected to mention that the kids stayed out until 12am-1am almost every night, so mom and I had to find something to do.
We spent a lot of time alone together (which is also a great bonus for couples) in the Rockin’ Bar D watching various entertainers, and even fellow cruisers during karaoke night! DCL really knows how to entertain every age. The entertainers were top notch. There was a juggler, a ventriloquist, a singer/songwriter, and a hypnotist. Each entertainer did a family show and an adult show. It was amazing to me to see how they tailored each show for their audience while completely entertaining each time. I am still laughing about some of things I saw in that club! The cruise staff did a skit on the last night that was so great that it was etched in my mind for days! The people on the ship love what they do and they show it.

We got off the ship at about 8am with little trouble on Saturday, which was DD12’s birthday and went straight to the Magic Kingdom. Our cruise was ‘Magical’ in every way and we all can’t wait to go again!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Grand Gatherings

So you have decided to take a vacation to Disney; you, your whole family and some close friends are all getting in on the action. Now what? How will you all get rooms together, do you need to stay at the same resorts, how will you manage to keep everything in order. Disney has an antidote to that. Created for groups traveling with 8 or more guests over the age of 3 staying at one of the many WDW resorts, Grand Gatherings makes planning for larger groups, pain wait, Disney makes it enjoyable.
It begins with your own Grand Gatherings group name. I have been fortunate enough to have a name that works quite well with a play on Tink and her pixie dust. Most recently my group was named "A Sprenkle of Pixie Dust". A major concern when traveling in such a Grand Group is keeping everyone happy. Remember you are in Disney World..the happiest place on earth, however that certainly does not mean that 'Grandpa Joe' has to ride Rockin' Roller Coaster ten times to keep up with everyone! A Grand Gathering should be exactly what you want to make it, some groups enjoy spending all of there time together, parks, meals, resorts, and some families like spending time together and having time to themselves. You provide the Gathering, Disney provides the Grand!

Beyond the ease of planning, Disney provides many one of a kind experiences that can only be booked with Grand Gathering groups. My personal favorite experience for a gathering is Animal Kingdom's Safari Celebration Dinner. If your group enjoys being entertained, eating great food and taking in the Wildlife at Disney's Animal Kingdom Park, then this is the excursion for you! It begins with an exclusive tour of Kilimanjaro Safaris(don't forget your camera for this!!!), your group will then dine at Tusker House, an all you can eat African inspired family style dinner...YUM! Of course you will also be greeted by various Disney character's in their safari gear, and your group won't want to miss the exotic wildlife that is brought to the courtyard for your personal viewing!

Not to be outdone Epcot has their own Grand Gathering experience waiting for you. Epcot's International Dinner and Illuminations Dessert Reception is a one of a kind experience that get's the entire family involved in a night of dancing and fun, hosted by Disney's own Autie Roz at Epcot's Odessey location between Test Track and World Showcase. She will entertain guests while you dine buffet style on cuisine from various countries throughout Epcot's World Showcase. During our last gathering Auntie Roz had all of the kids involved in a great song and show, followed by music and dancing for the whole family. After dinner don't forget to get your photos with the characters before heading out to my favorite part of the evening. The dessert reception! Truly, I don't think it get's any better than this. Tables full of various Disney Desserts that you can eat while viewing Illuminations Reflections of Earth. I am a huge fan of both, wow, my heart just skipped a beat thinking of it....that is the magic of Disney...Oh did I mention DESSERT BUFFET!!!
If your group wants a one of a kind breakfast, hop on over to Magic Kingdom where you can book the Grand Gathering's exclusive character breakfast at Tony's Town Square Restaurant. This is a fantastic restaurant right on Main Street and I can't think of a better way to start of a day, Main Street Magic, Disney characters and a great buffet!
Disney also offers some really great options outside of their exclusive gatherings that would be excellent choices for guests traveling in larger groups.
Mr Smee will take guests on a wonderful voyage around Bay Lake, departing from Disney's Contemporary Resort where you will receive various snacks to energize yourself for this pirate inspired voyage. You will be treated to the Electrical Water Pageant and exclusive viewing of Magic Kingdoms Wishes Fireworks. Ahhh relaxing on Bay Lake, listening to Jimminy Cricket narrate the Wishes...don't blink or you will miss Tink flying over the castle. Peter Pan won't miss it, he'll be waiting to greet you at the end of your is a swashbuckling good time for all ages!
Want something more private for your party. Disney offers private cruise options departing from many of their marinas. I was lucky enough to celebrate my daughters birthday on a private pontoon boat.
The look on my daughters face when she saw the boat sitting by the dock at Wilderness Lodge full of balloons and decorations was priceless, the look on our cruise directors face when our three year old tried to drive the boat right off the dock..well, let's just say that was not part of the package and I was lucky enough to not have to pay for any dock repairs!! 'Till this day my daughter still believes that the fireworks that night were specifically for her birthday...I will never tell her any different. You can also book spa packages, fishing excursions, and much much more..really just ask us!!

Have a group of 20 or more, you can even book custom events that might include private dining locations where you can celebrate any type of personal event. Your options are endless.
I have personally traveled to "The World" with several Grand Gatherings including groups with family, friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, infants, teenagers and everyone in between. I love it, happiness is contagious and the smiles and memories that my own wonderful trips have provided my family and friends is truly immeasurable. Before my first trip with a large group I must confess I was a bit nervous. Honestly, these gatherings provide something for everyone, and I actually love traveling with large groups now...hey the more the merrier right, and since it does not get any merrier than the "Happiest Place on Earth" how can you go wrong? So being armed with all this new info, don't forget to order your custom gathering shirts available through Disney..yes you know you want to, and enjoy the anticipation of embarking on a magical vacation with family and friends. Your friends at WDWtravels will be there to help you every step of the way!

* Excursions require advanced reservations and are not included in your Disney package. Disney Dining Plan can be used to pay for Epcot's International Dinner and Dessert Reception(2 table credits pp), Animal Kingdoms Safari Celebration Dinner(2 table credits pp), and Character breakfast at Tony's Town Square(1 table credit pp)


Military Travels to Walt Disney World

Let me start by saying thank you to all of those that have served, or are currently serving. Your selflessness is what continues to keep this country free. Also, I would like to thank all the families of military members. We are often overlooked, but our job is just as stressful and important as those who serve!
My family had the splendid opportunity to travel to the World this past May, taking advantage of the special Military Deal that Disney is currently offering. It was absolutely wonderful! The military offer includes a free five day ticket for the military members. This ticket includes both the park hopper option and the water parks and more option. The member also has the opportunity to purchase up to five additional companion tickets for $99.00 each. These tickets are for park entrance only, but can be upgraded to park hopper and/or water parks and more for $24.00 per upgrade.

This spectacular deal allowed not only my husband, children (1 and 3) and I to experience the MAGIC, but also gave us the privilege of bringing my parents along as well. This, in turn, made mine and hubby’s part of the trip even more special. We were able to leave the kids with my parents and stay out later and do a bit more than if we did not have that option.

Making this trip even more meaningful, is the news that my husband will again be deploying overseas in just two short weeks. Now I know that my children can carry the special memories that were made while in Disney through the tough times of Daddy being away.

Thank you Disney for your Military Appreciation!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Celebration to Remember!

On our most recent trip to Disney World, we celebrated my twin daughters 6th birthday. We have celebrated many things at Disney this year…Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, My Brother’s Wedding, which was awesome, but this was by far my favorite! After all, this was for our two little girls. It was a chance to make a magical memory they would never forget!

We moved to Florida less than a year ago from New Jersey. This would be their first year since they were born without a big “Family Party”, so my husband and I wanted to make it special. What better way to do that then celebrating in Disney. So, with everything set we hopped in the car and headed for the most magical place on earth. It’s only a short 2 hour drive for us, so we were there in no time. Of course, to my girls it felt like forever, because they were so excited about the days ahead.

We arrived at the Boardwalk Villas (We are DVC members, but anyone can stay at the Boardwalk Inn) and checked in with no problem. When we opened the door to our room my daughters were pleasantly surprised to find that Mickey decorated the room for them with balloons, banners and a stuffed Mickey and Minnie. WOW! They felt special! . Disney has a lot of extra touches you can add to any vacation package to make any occasion extra special. I also requested a garden view room and that is what we received. It was actually a view of the gardens in the courtyard and a semi-view of the actual boardwalk…very nice! The Boardwalk has great restaurants such as the new Kouzzina by Cat Cora, ESPN Club and the Flying Fish Cafe’. For a sweet treat they have Boardwalk Bakery and Seashore Sweets. They also have nightclubs and shopping, too! There is a fun clown pool with a waterslide and daily activities to enjoy as well. My favorite part, you can take a short walk or boat ride to Epcot, this was great, especially with the magic hours.

The “Big Day” was finally here! Our daughters were so excited…Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom and then Chef Mickey’s for Dinner….What a Birthday!
With Disney’s birthday promotion this year my daughters were able to each get $68 dollar fun cards to spend as they wanted to, we have annual passes, so instead of the free day in the park they chose the fun cards. Which was great….they love to shop!

First, we arrived at BBB where the girls were transformed into princesses. They picked out which princess they wanted to be, Kathy wanted to be Princess Ariel and Alyssa wanted to Princess Jasmine. 
So off they went to get their attire on and their fairy godmothers in training styled their hair, put makeup on them and did their nails, with great detail! They ended by adding some glitter, can’t have enough of that! They had the girls close their eyes and make a wish. With a magic wand in hand they sprinkled glitter and said; “May all your dreams come true”. Then they turned them each around to see how they looked in the mirror. They ended with a photo shoot with some awesome keepsake photos. I literally had tears in my eyes seeing how excited they were. I have to say they loved every minute of the attention they received throughout the day. It was a great experience and well worth it!

After spending the day in Magic Kingdom we headed over to the Contemporary Resort for their birthday dinner at Chef Mickey’s. This is one of our favorite Character dining’s. We usually go to the buffet breakfast, which in my opinion is the best, but let me tell you the dinner was just as good! We ended their birthday with a special cake and a visit from Mickey! It was a magical day never to be forgotten. We spent the rest of our vacation enjoying all the parks and of course we talked about our next trip on the car ride home. 
There are so many great reasons to celebrate! Pick one and make it a Disney Vacation to remember!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Where Did My Love of Walt Disney World Begin?

Where did my love of Disney World begin? I’d love to tell you that my parents took me to Walt Disney World every year but that wouldn’t be true. My parents did not like theme parks so we never went as a family. In fact, our family vacations consisted of long drives which generally ended with us visiting relatives. I might add that these long drives did not include DVD entertainment centers, Ipods, or even Gameboys! In fact, I don’t even recall wearing a seat belt! My kids think I grew up in the dark ages because we actually looked out the windows!
So where did my love of Disney World begin? I know exactly when… In 1985, I was fortunate enough to go to Walt Disney World with the high school band! Thus began my love for all things Disney! The band had the privilege of marching through the streets of the Magic Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom and Epcot were so far away from my life in Paris, Texas. I was amazed by the wonder and magic of the greatest place on Earth!
Now I’m fortunate to arrange trips for groups of students who get to discover the wonder of Disney on trips just like mine! In fact, a local high school band will be going to Walt Disney World in April. For many of these students it will be their first time to discover the magic!
Disney has so much more to offer youth groups today! There are opportunities to Perform, Play, Celebrate and Learn. Given the right environment and the right opportunity, young people can reach some pretty amazing heights. Disney believes accomplishment should be encouraged and rewarded. And that's exactly what Disney Youth Group Programs are all about — offering youth groups unique opportunities to come together at the Walt Disney World® Resort. Below are some of the opportunities available:
Disney Magic Music Days
Take center stage in the middle of the magic! Disney offers school bands, choirs, orchestras, dance ensembles, drill teams as well as community performance groups year-round performance opportunities throughout the Walt Disney World Resort. .

Festival Disney
This high-energy music festival offers your students an outstanding competitive and educational experience, right in the middle of the magic.

Disney Performing Arts Workshops
When you practice and learn with Disney, almost anything is possible. Enrich the value of your performing group's visit with a hands-on experience run by a professional Disney clinician.

Disney STEP Classic
Disney STEP Classic hosts collegiate fraternities and sororities, as well as high school step teams for bragging rights and awards.

Disney Jazz Celebration
Walt Disney World® is proud to announce the premier of Disney Jazz Celebration, where vocal and instrumental jazz ensembles are immersed in a rich learning environment.

Disney Theme Park Adventures
Discover the ultimate student destination where your groups' dreams come true! The Walt Disney World® Resort provides a magical experience for students of all ages.

Disney Grad Nite
This exclusive Disney's Hollywood Studios™ event features top-name musical performers, celebrities, a special fireworks tribute, dancing and more!

Night Of Joy
With performances by the biggest names in Christian music, exclusive use of Theme Park attractions, and special times with friends, this is the can't miss event of fellowship and fun

Disney Youth Education Series
Transport your students to Disney Theme Parks where they will learn how principles they're learning in the classroom make exciting things happen every day at the Walt Disney World® Resort.

Disney Homeschool Days
Exciting programs that are sure to enhance your homeschool curriculum await you at the Walt Disney World® Resort.Your students get to experience travel with their friends