Disney Sea-and-Land Vacation 2017 Highlights

We got home late Monday night from a whirlwind 10 nights away from home!  Was it everything we’d hoped for?  Absolutely! It was vacation perfection!  Everything went exactly as planned and we soaked up every bit of Disney magic that came our way.  I have heaps of restaurant, resort, and stateroom reviews to write, but today I wanted to share with you our…

Disney Sea-and-Land Vacation 2017 Highlights

The Disney Dream and Stateroom #6086 – There was something extra special about this room.  It was cozy, in a great mid-ship location and, most importantly, quiet.  We could detect no vibrations or engine/mechanical sounds at all.  The room could sleep up to five and we enjoyed having all that space to ourselves with lots of storage for all of our stuff.  The very subtle creaking of the ship at night was soothing and our veranda allowed us to enjoy the picture perfect tropical sunshine.

Incredible November Weather – Calm seas, no wind, clear skies, water and air temperatures in the low 80’s.  We couldn’t have asked for more.  Castaway Cay especially was absolute paradise.

Nassau Scuba Excursion – After all that work on our PADI Advanced Open Water certifications, we finally got to see absolutely amazing sights!  We swam with sharks, we explored a gorgeous reef, two shipwrecks and, like Nemo, made it to the drop-off.  I’ll give this one an entire post of its own because we were blown away by the experience.

Bonnie, Santosa, Gede, Nanad, and Baruk, and Kirk – Bonnie and Santosa were are main dining room servers and went above and beyond when we were tired and hangry.Gede was our amazing stateroom host and called us by name from the moment we met and each and every time he saw us.  Master of the towel animal, Gede made his first ever shark just for us after our scuba excursion.  Nanad was our lunch server and soon became our friend – he was so interesting and we loved talking to him about his home country of Croatia.

Baruk was the man in charge of changing dining assignments.  He took pity upon us after we had to take a nap in order to go to dinner (late seating) on the first night and found us a table for early/main dining.  We would not have had nearly as good a time if we’d kept late seating.  Finally, Kirk in the Cove Café knew exactly what coffee we wanted after the very first morning and greeted us cheerfully every day with caffeine and a smile.

Snorkeling at Castaway Cay – We did this once before back in 2010 and it was very similar.  This time we opted for the adults-only version of this excursion.  We had plenty of time to leisurely explore a beautiful reef in shallow water before zipping off through the waves for a party on a sand bar.

The New Beauty and the Beast Show – Words cannot describe how fantastic this new stage show is on the Dream.  Wow!  It’s unlike anything else we’ve seen on a Disney Cruise Ship and will be the measurement everyone uses for all other shows.  Outstanding!!!

Dinner at Palo – Igor from Croatia took great care of us as we stuffed ourselves on all those delicious Palo dishes.  We didn’t know the famous Chocolate Soufflé came in an Amaretto version…and it is positively scrumptious!

Coming Home to Bay Lake Tower – We caught the first bus out of Port Canaveral to get a jump on the “Land” portion of the trip.  We arrived at Bay Lake Tower ready to store our luggage until our room was ready, but no need!  Victor at the front desk had a room waiting for us on the 11th floor.  We dropped off our suitcases, fixed up a small park bag and were off!  FYI:  That lobby scent gets a little extra cinnamon boost for the holidays and it is amazing!

Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming in Disney Springs – We’d heard so many great things about this new-ish eatery and we were not disappointed!  Full review coming in the next few days.  (Spoiler: We cannot wait to go back!!!)

Pass-Holder Seating for Eat to the Beat – We heard there was special seating available for pass-holders for the Eat to the Beat concerts, so we headed on over to the Festival Center to see if any seats were left.  There were!  We ended up center-stage about midway down in the reserved section for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and it was GREAT!  All we had to do was show up about 15 minutes before the 6:45 show time wearing the stickers provided.  Wonderful perk!

Unusual Happenings on the Boardwalk – We were going to visit the AbracadaBar before dinner Saturday night at the Swan’s Il Mulino.  Raymond and I, having detoured through World Showcase for a couple of orders of Brazil’s Crispy Bork Belly, arrived to find the entire ESPN-side of the Boardwalk had been evacuated!  It took us a few minutes to find out there was a suspected (or actual, maybe) fire in the ESPN Club.Thankfully, we found the Belle Vue Lounge nearly deserted and grabbed a table there.  After a few minutes, a couple of firemen walked through and it appeared the hullaballoo was over.  The ordeal was handled very professionally and wasn’t chaotic at all.

Dinner With Friends – We were lucky enough to be at Disney World at the same time as our friends Linda and Phillip.  Our night out was tons of fun and we found out that Linda will be back at Disney World again in February when we will also be there!  Disney friends are the BEST!!! (Thanks again for the coffee mug, Linda!  You know me too well!)

Finally Meeting @DadForDisney for Citrus Swirls – I’ve mentioned Tim Brooks here and on social media many times before.  Tim has been my friend via blogging, Facebook and Twitter for about four years and this is the first time we’ve ever met face-to-face.  We’re both big Orange Bird fans, so it was only right for us to meet up at Sunshine Tree Terrace for some Citrus Swirls.  Again, Disney friends!

The Unexpected FastPass – After spending most of Sunday in Magic Kingdom, we found we had some time on our hands before our reservation at Yachtsman Steakhouse.  Out of curiosity, I decided to see what FastPasses might be available at the Studios since we didn’t keep our original plan of being there that morning for rope-drop.  Imagine my surprise when Tower of Terror popped up at precisely the right time for us.  It was like a little last-day pixie dust.

Feeling Young(er) – There’s something about it being just the two of us.  We did miss our kids!  Absolutely!  There were many moments when we lamented their absence because of how much they would have loved certain moments and experiences.  That being said, Raymond and I were footloose and fancy free.  We laughed a lot, we were excited about our adventures.  We were able to take in each day of this vacation at our own pace and as a couple.  Something about being alone on vacation allowed us to remain more in the moment while recapturing that long ago time when we were all there was.  I wouldn’t change a single thing.

Thanks for reading!  Have you taken a Disney vacation without your children?  How did it go?






Walt Disney World – Great Places to Explore Outside the Parks

There are lots of magical little corners of the World to be found outside the hustle and bustle of the parks.  Today I want to talk about a few of our favorites.

Walt Disney World – Great Places to Explore Outside the Parks

The walkway between the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian Village Resorts – For us, this is a must-do anytime we’ve dined at Citricos or Narcoossee’s.  We’ll walk off our dinner with a stroll from the Grand Floridian to the Poly.  It’s a beautiful, peaceful way to end the evening.  If we time it right, we can stop on the boat dock at the Polynesian and watch the Electrical Water Pageant go by.  Disney World's Electrical Water PageantOnce we arrive at the Polynesian, we’ll catch the monorail back to Magic Kingdom for a resort bus if we’re not staying in that area.  If we’re staying at Bay Lake Tower (more likely than not), we’ll take the monorail home.  

Fort Wilderness – This is one of my favorite places in the World and we’ve never stayed there!  Sure, the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review is a draw for many, but the entire resort is incredibly interesting.  Feels like no place else at Walt Disney World and has the added bonus of being the home of the Tri-Circle-D Ranch!  We got to explore the ranch’s horse barn during our Wilderness Back Trail Adventure Segway Tour (highly recommend!).  While we were there, we also took the time to visit the gift shop (very cool!) and explore the resort.  If you’re looking for something different, consider either the Segway Tour or a carriage ride or horseback riding at the ranch.    The Boardwalk at Walt Disney World

Disney’s Boardwalk – A great place to explore anytime of the day, but evening is when the Boardwalk really comes alive.  Live performers like mimes and magicians, lounges for a pre-dinner cocktail, ice cream, snacks, and more.  It took us years (and years!) to visit the Boardwalk for the first time and now that we know what’s there, we visit an almost every trip to the World.  We especially love the Flying Fish Café for a nice dinner and the AbracadaBar for a well-themed libation stop.  

Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Savannah Overlook – If you’ve never taken the time to visit Animal Kingdom Lodge, you need to squeeze it in on your next visit.  The place is spectacular and, you know, ANIMALS!  It’s very cool to step out of the lobby and check out the wildlife.  Whether you’re at Jambo House or the Kidani Village area of Animal Kingdom, there’s a lot to see.  We try to go over in the late afternoon straight from Disney’s Animal Kingdom (park) to see the sights and maybe enjoy an adult beverage at the Victoria Falls Lounge.  If we can add dinner at Boma, Sanaa, or Jiko…all the better!  Tip:  If you only have time for a snack, visit Sanaa after you check out the savannah at Kidani Village and order their famous Indian-Style Bread Service!  You won’t be sorry.

When you’re at Disney World, where are your favorite places to visit outside the parks?

Walt Disney World Christmas Day Planning Tips

If you, against all advice to the contrary, have bravely chosen to spend Christmas at Walt Disney World – Good for you!  Will it be crowded?  Absolutely.  It’ll be CRAZY crowded.  Careful planning with the ability to remain flexible is my best advice.  Based on our own experience last Christmas, I’ve got a few…

Walt Disney World Christmas Day Planning Tips

Incorporate some traditions from home – While you can’t (and shouldn’t, in my opinion) try to replicate all your Christmas traditions, chose a couple of things to add to the day so it would still feel like Christmas to you.  We brought a mini-Christmas tree, tiny lights, and some dollar store Disney figurines to use as ornaments.  We all agreed to bring each other a tiny gift to open.  We also, as per long-standing family tradition, toasted the day with Mimosas before heading to Magic Kingdom for breakfast at Be Our Guest.  We were able to purchase champagne and orange juice at our resort the day before.

Get up and get going – The parks will only get busier as the day goes on.  We felt Magic Kingdom would be amazing on Christmas morning and we were right.  The sun was coming up as we walked down Main Street USA and it was every bit as magical as I’d hoped it would be.  Before breakfast at we rode Peter Pan, Little Mermaid, and Big Thunder.  Later we rode the PeopleMover and Splash Mountain.  We were in no hurry and made a point of simply enjoying every moment.  Once the crowds started to make it difficult to move around, we made our way to the monorail and hit each resort stop to take in the Christmas decorations and see what seasonal items were in the shops.  We even stopped in a nearly-empty Mizner’s Lounge for an adult refreshment.  Everything felt Christmas-ish and special.

Plan a nice Christmas Dinner – It doesn’t have to be fancy.  Make a reservation 180 days out for a place you know your family will enjoy.  We chose California Grill because we were staying at Bay Lake Tower and wanted something special without having to fight crowded Disney transportation.  We dressed up a bit and arrived early to sit at the bar for a few minutes and relax.  We could just have easily taken a boat over to Wilderness Lodge for a casual dinner at Whispering Canyon and would have enjoyed that just as much, I’m sure.  The important thing is that you do what’s going to make your family happiest (with the least amount of stress).

Spread a little Christmas Joy – I tried to remember to thank each Cast Member we came in contact with for being there to make our Christmas Day so special.  Most were surprised and grateful for the gesture – some even gave me hugs.  Our lounge and restaurant servers got a little something extra for Christmas as well.  We tried to be extra nice and appreciative of all that goes into making Christmas at Walt Disney World the unbelievably magical experience it is.

Embrace the experience – It’s not for everyone.  The crowds are insane, lots of folks are cranky and Scrooge-like.  We knew what we were in for and made a conscious effort NOT to let it bother us.  My best advice is to focus on your family and the fun of being together on vacation.  Take in the holiday-specific Disney details – they’re fantastic!  Flexibility, patience, realistic expectations and a sense of humor are invaluable for a successful Christmas at Disney World.

Have you braved a Disney World Christmas vacation?  Would you do it again?  What advice would you give?

Considering a Disney Cruise? Why a Four-Night is Just Right!

Lots of Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans I know have considered adding Disney Cruise Line vacations to their Disney travel lineup.  I wholeheartedly encourage this idea!  While I’ve been a Disney World fan for almost 30 years, it took me a while to see the light and embrace Disney Cruise Line in the same way I do Disney World.  Yes, they’re vastly different experiences, but equally magical in their own way.  A while back I compared the two.  Today I’m offering advice on choosing the right first-Disney-cruise experience.

Considering a Disney Cruise? Why a Four-Night is Just Right!

If you’ve never taken your family on a cruise before, choosing the right one may make or break any future cruise potential.  Think about it.  Will anyone get seasick?  Will there be enough activities to make everyone happy?  Will the accommodations be sufficient for your family size?  All legitimate first-time cruiser questions.  I really worked hard to talk Raymond into that very first Disney cruise and it was only for 3-nights!  He was worried about all of the above plus thought a day-at-sea sounded like a hostage crisis.  Choosing an itinerary that offers the best chance of a successful first Disney cruise experience is crucial to success!

Four-Night Itineraries are like the Momma Bear’s stuff in Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  A three night cruise is too short.  Just when you get your bags unpacked and figure out where everything on the ship is located, it’s time to go.  A seven night cruise is too long for the first one.  It’s a pretty big commitment of both time and finances for trying something new.  For extreme seasickness sufferers, I imagine seven nights would feel like a month.  Four nights?  Just right!

The best things about Disney cruises – the service, the food, the characters, the shows, the gorgeous ships – it all takes time to explore.  Getting used to using the Disney Cruise Line app and the Personal Navigators to plan activities takes a day or so.  Your dining room servers stay with you in every dining room for every dinner service and they want to make you happy!  They try to anticipate your every need.  After a day or two, they know what your kids want to drink, they know what kind of wine you like, and they adapt to any food preferences/restrictions you have.  Four nights gives all this a chance to come together.Mickey and Minnie Mouse, DCL

Finally, the four night itineraries out of Port Canaveral are perfect for combining land and sea vacations!  Spend some time at Walt Disney World either before or after your first cruise.  Best of both worlds!  We’ve done this several times and have enjoyed every minute!

Have you taken your family on a Disney Cruise?  What itinerary to you like best?