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?

 

 

 

 

 

The Right Way to Tour Epcot’s World Showcase

Hang around with enough fellow Disney fans and you’re bound to notice one hotly debated topic:  Which way is the right way to circle World Showcase?  One camp swears by the Mexico Pavilion route as the only acceptable way to go (Looking at YOU, Nick Maglio).  The other camp adamantly believes the only way to kick off a World Showcase visit is to begin in Canada (Hello, Dave Hodges!).  Of course, I have my own opinion (no big surprise, right?) and I’m certain my way is best.  (Want in-depth arguing on this topic?  Listen to The Disney Exchange!)

The Right Way to Tour Epcot’s World Showcase

The answer is simple.  Enter World Showcase wherever you like!  Our plan is always to go towards whatever is first on our agenda if we have one.  If we’re there simply to wander (a favorite family activity), we go to the side that appears to be less crowded at that particular moment.Gran Fiesta Tour / Mexico Pavilion / Epcot's World Showcase

If there for the rides, we enter on the Mexico side and hit the Gran Fiesta Tour on our way to Frozen Ever After in Norway.  When looking for a bite to eat, the direction we take is solely based on whatever we’re craving at the moment.  In search of a cold beverage, we’re headed to the Canada side to make our way to the UK Pavilion for an Innes & Gunn (Scotland’s finest beer, IMHO).  See how this works?

On of the very best and most charming aspects of World Showcase is that it can be completely different from one visit to the next.  Seasonal festivals, holiday decorations and special events, and slower times of the year – all game changers.

For example:  During Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival, the World Showcase can be packed!  Between guests and the extra food booths and kiosks, it has a certain party atmosphere unlike other time of the year.  If we’re there for attractions or visiting particular pavilions to shop, we go at park opening.  If we’re there for the food, we prefer to be in and out by late afternoon.

When there are no special events, World Showcase begs to be explored at a leisurely pace.  This is when we love to visit every pavilion and stop here and there to speak to Cast Members or watch a performance unique to a particular country.  Drummers in Japan, acrobats in China, Mariachi band in Mexico, performers in Italy and France – we’ll take in whatever happens to be going on at the moment.  Of course, there are always snacks and drinks to try!

Don’t fall for the arguments!  There is no one correct way to tour World Showcase – no matter where you start, there are amazing sights, sounds, and flavors to explore.

What’s your World Showcase touring strategy? 

 

 

Disney’s Pandora – World of Avatar – First Impressions

When I was growing up as a city girl, 12 acres was a lot of space.  Having spent the last (almost) 30 years surrounded by Louisiana farmland, 12 acres now seems pretty small.  It’s about the size of 9 football fields and also the size of Animal Kingdom’s new land.Disney's Pandora - World of Avatar - First Impressions

Disney’s Pandora – World of Avatar – First Impressions

Exploring Pandora was the basis for our Mother/Daughter Disney Summer Road Trip and we made sure we’d have plenty of time to see and do everything this new area has to offer.  Okay, except the face painting.  We’re not exactly into face-painting (unless you count Snapchat filters).  Add the June Florida heat and face painting was definitely off the table.  Aside from that, we managed to at least sample all Pandora had to offer.Disney's Pandora - World of Avatar - First Impressions

What we noticed immediately was that in Pandora, there’s a lot going on.  The land is wild and overgrown around a collection of worn down buildings and abandoned equipment.  Lush and colorful landscaping, water features, and pathways surround Pandora’s attractions, gift shop, restaurant and beverage counter.  Nothing feels mass-produced.  In fact, the accessories and decorations are decidedly handmade.   There are a variety of interesting lanterns and light fixtures that add to the natural feel of the area.  Plants unique to Pandora are interspersed with more recognizable foliage.  In the Disney way, large and small details work in harmony to create a stunning effect.Snail in Pandora

Aside from the amazing visual impact, Pandora offers guests a symphony of sound.  The abundant waterfalls create a constant background for the unfamiliar sounds of what I’m guessing are the (unseen) insects, birds, small and large animals of Pandora.  This particular detail, the unusual sounds, enhances the impression of being on a foreign planet.  It’s pretty darn cool!  There’s also a drum circle with several different drums and other percussion instruments for guests to play and those sounds add even more depth to what guests hear in Pandora.Drum in Pandora

Enjoying the luxury of having lots of time, Megan and I took a leisurely approach on our explorations.  We were able to meander along the different walkways and bridges.  Looking up and down as we walked along, we thought the floating mountains looked most impressive from the area directly beneath them and managed to locate at least one Hidden Mickey.  We rode both the Na’vi River Journey and the Flight of Passage, we had breakfast in the Satu’li Canteen, tried the green beer from Pongu Pongu, and gave the Windtraders gift shop a good bit of our attention (and money).Pandora Magic Shot

Pictures don’t do it justice!  Pandora is a feast for the senses and did not disappoint.  Fans of Avatar, the movie, are sure to be pleased by the overall experience and fans of Animal Kingdom should be satisfied by the new land’s conservation and preservation messages.  If you haven’t seen Avatar, I recommend you watch the movie before you go to Pandora if for no other reason than to appreciate how the Na’vi people, plants and animals from the movie are duplicated in the land.

Have you been to Pandora yet?  What did you think about the area’s details and attractions?  What do you want to hear about next?  Na’vi River Journey?  Flight of Passage?  Let me know and I’ll get right on it.

 

 

 

Disney Summer Road Trip Recap

The Epic Mother/Daughter Disney Summer Road Trip has come and gone.  800 miles to Walt Disney World for four park days and home again.  Did we have a good time?  Oh, you bet we did!  After all the planning and anticipation, we couldn’t have asked for more.

Disney Summer Road Trip Recap

We shared our plans in this post a few weeks ago.  When we hit the road at 8:00 am sharp on June 24th we were excited about our girls-only adventure.  We had our favorite Newk’s chicken salad sandwiches and plenty of drinks in the cooler.  Those snacks I’d bought at the Japan Pavilion back in April were within easy reach in the car.  We had a new podcast recommended by my friend Kelly about Unsolved Murders queued up in iTunes.  Suitcases, rain gear, GPS directions…we were ready!

The weather was great for the drive down.  In Mississippi we saw Lightening McQueen and Mater by the side of the road!  We thought this was both hilarious and appropriate so we stopped for a picture.  After that, it felt like we were on The Autobahn!  Nobody in Mississippi or Alabama seemed to care about the speed limit at all and we had to go kinda fast to keep up with the crowd.  We never once saw any troopers or other law enforcement watching for speeders…vastly different than in Louisiana.

I figured 9-10 hours of shared driving would be the maximum we could handle on day one.  I’d booked a room at the Hampton Inn in Lake City, Florida for Saturday night.  We could get a good night’s rest and tackle the last 2 1/2 hours of the drive on Sunday morning.  Everything went exactly according to plan.  I’d had a recommendation from someone on a Facebook forum to stop in Tallahassee for ice cream at Lofty Pursuits.  We cheered ourselves on by looking forward to stopping there for an afternoon snack and were delighted with the restaurant’s huge menu and quirky décor.  Guinness ice cream is a thing and it is spectacular.  I had warm chocolate ganache on mine, Megan had hers in a cone.

Our room at the Hampton Inn was perfect with super comfortable beds.  After polishing off the last of our sandwiches, we sipped wine and watched a couple of episodes of Outlander before turning in.  Hey, girl trip means we get to do girly stuff.  The next morning’s drive was a breeze and before long we’d arrived at Saratoga Springs.  Our studio was great and very close to a bus stop.  Full review coming soon.

As per our plans, we spent Sunday afternoon and evening in Magic Kingdom with a quick dinner break at the Wilderness Lodge’s new Geyser Point Bar and Grill.  We capped off the day with Happily Ever After and loved it!

Monday was my favorite day of the trip.  We left Saratoga Springs at 6:30 am and didn’t get back until 11:00 pm.  We spent all that time in Animal Kingdom and had a blast!  I’ll write individual posts with more details about Pandora and the Caring for Giants tour, but those were both amazing.  We had FastPasses only for the Na’vi River Journey in Pandora that day with a FastPass to experience Flight of Passage booked for the next morning.  You cannot get FastPasses for both on the same day.

We watched the wait time for Flight of Passage throughout the day and it quickly became 250 minutes before declining during the afternoon hours.  After Caring for Giants, we decided that if the wait time got below 100 minutes between then and our Rivers of Light FastPass, we’d wait in the standby line so we could ride Flight of Passage twice on this trip.  Normally, we will not wait longer than 30-40 minutes for anything except our most favorite attractions and only then if absolutely necessary.  While we were enjoying our Flame Tree Barbeque dinner, Flight of Passage’s wait got to 90 minutes and we had just enough time to do it.  I’ll tell you all about in another post soon, but we were so happy we got in that long line!!!

Tuesday we split between Animal Kingdom and Epcot.  We got to eat lunch at La Cantina de San Angel in the Mexico Pavilion which we hardly ever get to do because we’re the only ones in our family who love Mexican food.  It rained quite a bit that afternoon, but we were prepared.  We rode out the worst of the storm listening to Voices of Liberty in The American Adventure rotunda.  They are so talented and put on a wonderful show!  Once the rain let up a little, we made our way back to Saratoga Springs and then on to our dinner at Paddlefish in Disney Springs that night.

Wednesday we split the day between Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot.  The weather was gorgeous and the Studios didn’t feel as crowded as usual.  We did all our favorite attractions, saw all the characters in the Star Wars Launch Bay, and had time to enjoy a cold beer before we headed to Epcot.  By 4:30, it was time to get back to our already-packed car at Saratoga Springs and head back to the Hampton Inn in Lake City for the night.

The drive home on Thursday was a lot more challenging than on the way down.  We left extra early since we’d seen a sign outside of Lofty Pursuits that they were now serving breakfast.  Strawberry pancakes and coffee…delicious and just the fortification we needed.  We’d been averaging 5 hours of sleep a night since Sunday and were exhausted.  We drove through what felt like a monsoon for hours along the Florida panhandle.  After we got through Mobile, things got better and we made it home safe and sound with lots of souvenirs for Raymond, Joseph, Grant, and Lyndsey.

Success!  We had an excellent trip and accomplished all we’d set out to do.  Plus, we now know about literally dozens of unsolved murders around the world.  Megan and I took on the challenge of a 1600 mile drive to have a mother/daughter adventure.  We rarely get much alone time these days, so having each other’s complete and undivided attention while enjoying our favorite vacation destination was like a dream come true.  And we’d do it again!