A working vacation? Definitely an oxymoron…

The hubs has an annual work conference that was celebrating a milestone this year, so the conference moved from the midwest to sunny Cancun. Seeing great potential for myself to be able to tour resorts while he was working, I packed my bags and accompanied him to the sunshine. We only had two full days plus our arrival and departure days, to enjoy the resort we were staying at plus attend the conference and do my site inspections. So, not much vacation time was had but a lot of work was done. Here’s the recap.

The accommodations: Nizuc Resort and Spa, south of the Hotel Zone in Cancun. This resort is uniquely positioned such that its beach is essentially private. The resort itself isn’t an all-inclusive but you can add on an ‘Endless Indulgence’ package to include meals during your stay. There’s no other way to describe Nizuc as anything other than pure luxury. The rooms were AMAZING. Our room was an oceanview junior suite that had a huge balcony with private pool, coming it at around 1200 square feet! We had a gorgeous view of the Caribbean and the mangrove forest that fronted the resort, where we watched a heron come in each afternoon and enjoy the forest goodies.

Sunset from our balcony at Nizuc

Pampered every minute, we had golf cart transportation around the resort, which is fairly spread out due to the layout of the land and how it meets the Caribbean. And the food, delicious. Possibly the best food I’ve ever had at a resort. So fresh and beautifully presented.

Quinotto

Nizuc is supposed to have a fantastic spa but, I’ll have to make a return trip for that, we didn’t have any time to enjoy that on this trip. Disappointing for sure but… working vacation. When this is the view from your resort’s lobby every morning, that puts any disappointment back in check.

Nizuc lobby

But alas, back to work. Two full days to get in as many site inspections as I could. That meant five resorts on the first day and three on the second day. Those last three are huge resorts so they warranted more time. The hotels I visited on day one were all in the Hotel Zone. Normally not my favorite place for families because the beaches aren’t private and the hotels are very close together, I wanted to get a feel for the on-site experience at a few properties. Seaweed, while not currently an issue in Mexico, has plagued the beaches there and around the Caribbean for the last couple years. I’m always on the lookout for resorts that have great pools and activities in case the beach turns out to be a no-go due to seaweed at a particular time. It seems too that many guests are focusing more on these types of amenities over the beach itself so I try to follow what I’m seeing on that end as well.

I hit the ground running on day one with my first stop, Now Emerald. This is a family resort and has a very nice beach, beautiful pools, and is continuing to be renovated after the property itself changed from an Oasis brand resort to Now Emerald earlier this year. I took this shot from a room that I toured on-site, such fantastic views and look how pretty the water was that day!

Now Emerald

Moving right along, Live Aqua Beach resort, an adult-only property in the Hotel Zone, right across from a luxury shopping mall. This place knocked my socks off. The rooms were beautiful, amenities stellar, multiple pools all at different temperatures even!, delicious food and drink, plus activities galore. I would definitely love to stay here in the future. It just finished up a multi-million dollar renovation earlier this year after hurricane damage. Any place with a room view like this has my vote. Did I mention that the room also had its own aromatherapy station, the curtains closed automatically when you left the room to save energy and reduce cooling costs, etc.? So nice. And the rubber ducks, super cute!

Welcome to Live Aqua Beach

Welcome to Live Aqua Beach

Hyatt Zilara was next on my list, also adult-only and in the hotel zone. The style here felt authentic Mexico with lots of wrought iron, stained glass, and open air spaces. I especially loved the room balconies, facing the Caribbean with a hammock. Can’t beat that! The fitness center had a lap pool outside that would make anyone want to become a swimmer! I especially loved the idea of their apothecary where you could be instructed on how to make your own oils and scrubs to be used during your spa treatments!

Hyatt Zilara

Zilara lap pool

Zilara apothecary

After that, Hyatt Ziva was my last stop away from my own resort for the day. Ziva is a kids friendly property that also has an adult only section. There is a Delphinus dolphin center on-site there for those interested in interacting with dolphins. There’s a new tween/teen club called Moods that had virtual reality machines that I would’ve loved to have checked out.

Ziva Moods

An interesting thing about Hyatt Ziva is its location. Much like Nizuc where I was staying, Hyatt Zila sits at the end of a point, basically on a peninsula. So their beach isn’t private but they’re pretty far down and not in the middle of a lot of other hotels. The break shown in the picture below also helps with seaweed blockage.

Hyatt Ziva beach

The last place on tap for me that day was back at my own resort. I enjoyed learning more about the resort itself and its history and the different rooms types available. I thought our room was stunning (and it was!) but the one-bedroom private villas… truly a ‘wow’ moment. Imagine having your own backyard with private infinity-edge pool!

Nizuc one-bedroom

Speaking of history there, their most famous and award-winning restaurant called ‘Ramona’ has these doors as its entrance. The story has it that these are the original doors of the Presidential Retreat building that used to be on the site of the Nizuc resort, where the President of Mexico came to relax. From standing in front of them, I would agree that they definitely seemed authentic and impressive. The picture doesn’t capture the jaw-dropping size of these!

Ramona doors

Phew. Lots of resorts, pictures of beds, bathrooms, and balconies. I had just enough time to enjoy the pool on my own balcony before dinner and bed. The next day, I headed out again, bright and early. First stop, Azul Beach Riviera Cancun. A family-friendly property that is often a little friendlier than some on the purse strings, I was pleased to see that even at a slightly lower price point, the quality wasn’t compromised. The beach here was definitely not as big or pretty as the Hotel Zone but the pools helped offset that.

Azul Beach RC

Azul Beach RC

I really loved a new room style that I toured, and I can’t wait until those become open for booking. They are family suites and the current style with double beds and sleeper sofas are being renovated into beautiful split rooms with a separate king bedroom area for parents and two twin beds for the kids. These are set to start renovations in 2020 and hopefully they are finished quickly!

 

Royalton Riviera Maya was next and is a client favorite. This resort has some beautiful swim-up rooms (I LOVE swim-ups!) and so many amenities. That was a huge plus because it started to rain cats and dogs when I arrived at Royalton. So much so that I didn’t get to tour much of the grounds. Disappointing but I can’t control the weather!

Royalton RC

I’m a sucker for pretty bathrooms. 🙂

Royalton RC

Last stop, Moon Palace Cancun. Moon Palace is a huge resort with three separate sections: Sunrise, Nizuc (not my resort), and the Grand. Sunrise and Nizuc are very similar with different decor and the Grand is the most upscale part of the property. I was impressed by the amount of things to do, how happy the guests looked (despite the buckets of rain coming down during their vacation), the decor, and the friendliness of the staff. Such a great place for families. Check out the stained glass ceilings in the Sunrise lobby!

Moon Palace Sunrise lobby

The rooms were pretty sweet too. Wouldn’t that jacuzzi be so great in the evening?Moon Palace

After Moon Palace, it was back to my resort for a little more pool time (thank goodness our balcony had a roof!) and a quick walk on the beach after the rain subsided. The next day, we were to fly home but our flight was cancelled due to a mechanical delay and then crew issue. The airline very smoothly setup accommodations for everyone on the flight for the night and shuttled us to the hotel and back. The only glitch? The hotel was a DUMP! I always talk about not selling resorts I either haven’t personally been to or ones that I don’t have a colleague who has been to confirm its quality. TripAdvisor reviews are often lies or one-sided (I know, shocker!), pictures can be staged and cropped, resorts change owners and aren’t renovated when needed, locations can be horrid, etc. Well, here’s a perfect case of that. Seadust Cancun. Oh my gosh, never have I ever. This place brings new meaning to budget. The entire resort was basically open-air, including the restaurants, which is so bad when we’re talking Cancun on the beach and in a high-rise. Even the rooms were hot and the air-conditioning in the rooms never got to the temperature it was set to. We had tile floors with wet spots on the floor that NEVER dried, from the humidity I guess, brown water pouring from the faucets, hair in the bathroom, two sets of outlets in the whole room, and a bed that felt like someone had poured water all over it from the humidity. The food in the buffet restaurant was out of temperature, it’s a true wonder we didn’t end up with food poisoning.

What are you looking at in the picture below, you ask? These things that looked like sports lockers were actually doors to closet space. Those aren’t reflections near the handles either, those are literally handprints and smudges. When opened, they were basically big holes to put stuff. A couple of captive hangers and one or two shelves. My main concern with these was that I needed to open them up to see if someone was hiding in there to kill me in the night!

Seadust

The funniest thing is that the reviews on this place are great, 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor. I was trying to rationalize that in my head when I realized what the resort reminded me of. A cheap Virginia Beach or Myrtle Beach high-rise hotel crossed with something cheap in Las Vegas. I think the guests that enjoy this resort must be using this property in a similar fashion, not realizing that by spending a little more money, they could stay at a resort that their health and well-being wouldn’t be in danger. I’m very grateful to have not woken up with an upper-respiratory issue after sleeping in that room for the night. This place is EXACTLY why I tour resorts, I want to see the place first hand before I send a guest to a place that “has great reviews and is budget-friendly”. I can guarantee if I sent someone to this resort, they would question my qualifications as a professional travel agent.

Long blog post short, Cancun was great! So much touring done but it was all worthwhile! Some great new resorts to dream about at night and think about for my family’s own vacations… always happy to help with yours too. https://www.GototheMouse.com/AndBeyond

Until next time!

Amber

 

 

 

 

Back to Batuu… East Coast style

After an epic trip to Disneyland in July, my family couldn’t wait to hop a plane to Orlando to enjoy the opening weekend of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the end of August.

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge Traveler's Guide

The guide with all the details you need for your visit to Batuu

The plan was to arrive on Wednesday night late, Galaxy’s Edge grand opening day on Thursday, Magic Kingdom for the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party on Friday, Epcot for the Food & Wine Festival on Saturday, Animal Kingdom on Sunday with some pool time at the resort, and fly home Monday. Busy weekend with the added Labor Day weekend crowds, Star Wars fans in town for the opening, and locals pouring in for the start of the Food & Wine Festival. We were prepared for all of that but not for what else wanted to come to town… Hurricane Dorian.

Stormtroopers and Kylo Ren

Kylo Ren and a stormtrooper, I can handle. A hurricane, not so much.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is very similar to the land in Disneyland Park in California. We were able to enjoy the land a little easier in the massive opening day crowds by using a VIP tour guide. Those are the best! Pricey as all get out but worth it if you want to get a ton done in a day and have a larger party (up to 10 guests) that you can split the cost between. I can add these to a GototheMouse.com booked vacation package too, so keep that in mind if you’re looking for an ultimate splurge. My daughter was finally able to get more Kyber crystals for her lightsaber built in California (still no white ones though, darn Ebayers!) and I built a droid at Droid Depot. Super fun to build and customize, can’t wait to take him back in December and play with him more in Batuu. Welcome R3-A6!

R3-A6

My new droid, R3-A6, working for the Resistance!

Our VIP Tour took us through Batuu and then back to Earth to enjoy Toy Story Land, some opening day merch shopping, over to Animal Kingdom for Pandora fun and lunch at Satu’li Canteen, zipping to Epcot to ride Soarin’, and then back to Hollywood Studios to finish the day with a ride on the Millennium Falcon in Batuu. The seven hours goes so fast but it’s a blast while we’re being spoiled with the guide!

The Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in Magic Kingdom was such a great experience this year. Disney has enhanced the ‘Boo to You’ parade with new floats and characters plus a change in the existing float order. The fireworks though were the showstopper, a complete redo on those to now feature Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas and projections on Cinderella Castle! The show is now up to par with the nightly ‘Happily Ever After’ fireworks in the park. I would love to see those again! Lots of candy was collected, attractions enjoyed, and entertainment adored.

Not-So-Scary fireworks

These fireworks were a blast, literally!

The Food & Wine Festival in Epcot was delish as usual. New booths and foods to try (for a fee) throughout the park. One continued complaint I have as a vegetarian is that there aren’t nearly enough vegetarian options available. Disney is starting to offer the trendy ‘plant-based’ meat products as a vegetarian option but this vegetarian doesn’t want that overly processed fake meat. Hopefully the trend is short-lived. There’s lots of construction starting in Epcot for the attractions being added and moved in the next couple of years. The park still has more than plenty to keep a family occupied though so I’m not recommending putting Epcot on the back burner for now. We enjoyed seeing the Plain White T’s in concert as a part of the Eat to the Beat concert series, LOVED it!

Disney has also enhanced the Epcot experience for kids (and the young at heart) by adding a puzzle game in the MyDisneyExperience app to dovetail with the Kidcot fun stops throughout World Showcase. Hunt for the puzzle piece, snap a pic, and then solve some puzzles to see how much you can complete toward the goal of solving them all!

Epcot Puzzle Hunt

The Epcot Puzzle Hunt is great for kids of all ages to use for a deeper dive into Epcot’s World Showcase countries!

We went back to Batuu a few times (had to play with my Datapad on the MyDisneyExperience app!) and into Epcot several more times. It was a breeze to get to both parks since we were staying at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn resort. Super convenient. We popped back in to Epcot early on Sunday morning for a tea tasting experience at the Rose & Crown restaurant in the United Kingdom and that was a real delight. We learned so much about the history of tea, types of tea, brewing tips, and enjoyed sandwiches and the best scones I’ve ever eaten. This was $35/guest but definitely worth every penny.

So what haven’t I mentioned… oh yeah, Dorian. That hurricane completely destroyed parts of the Northern Bahamas and everyone should consider a donation to the Red Cross to help those affected by the monstrous storm. Central Florida ultimately had basically no impact from the storm, despite days (and days) of forecasting that it could, (might, would, might not, wouldn’t) affect Orlando. We were to fly home on Monday, the forecasted day for the most impact to Orlando. The airport announced they would be closed and the fun really began. I cancelled my flight and decided we would rent a car and drive home on Sunday. The drive takes about 12 hours total but we always overnight so leaving Sunday would’ve been required. That meant cutting my trip a night short, definitely not ideal, but you do what you have to do. Then there was panic that the car rental companies were out of vehicles to rent. How crowded would the roads be? Could we get out if we tried? What about gas? When should we leave? How do we get our car parked at the airport in Virginia? And on, and on. At least I had a great travel agent on the job (that’s me!) who kept an eye on the situation, saw the forecast changing to slow the impact days to Tuesday/Wednesday, noticed that the airport had changed its mind on closing, and rebooked the flight home for our regular time on Monday. So our plans for Sunday and Monday were upended but we made the most of our newly found ‘bonus’ time and checked out as scheduled on Monday. The airport was a ghost town, so many cancelled flights and travelers that had been forced to change their plans, pure craziness. I’m all in favor of being cautious and flexible but man, Hurricane Dorian really threw everyone for a loop. Gotta love hurricane season.

We’re back home in Virginia and enjoying a couple of days of 90+ degree weather, more afternoon pool time this week. I’m not looking forward to fall, this travel mom is a summertime fan. Next month, I’ll visit Cancun for a few days so the warm weather won’t leave me for too long.

Until next time…

Amber

 

Waterfalls, whales, and wilderness

About a month ago, I was sailing aboard the Disney Wonder through Alaska’s Inside Passage. It was an amazing adventure, filled with so many unexpected sights and sounds. From the moment the kid and I landed in Vancouver to begin our journey, until we boarded our flight back home, both of us were filled with excitement and wonder. I’ll hit the highlights on our trip and maybe that will inspire you to want to visit the “Last Frontier” too.

The trip began with a 1am arrival into Vancouver, British Columbia. Night flights, yuck. The kid got the benefit of a first class flight though, so that always helps make the late night easier to deal with. We overnighted in Richmond BC, near the airport and then made our way to the Port of Vancouver the next morning. Vancouver is such an interesting city. Big city but with a friendly feel and focus on the environment and outdoor activity. We spent almost two days there after the cruise so I’ll come back to Vancouver later on.

Aboard the Wonder, our stateroom was in the best spot. We were deck 5, aft, on the starboard side in a deluxe oceanview stateroom with Navigator’s verandah. That is a fancy way of saying that the verandah was partially enclosed. On an Alaskan cruise, that was spectacular! It helped keep the chill out somewhat and I loved the cozy cushioned bench.

Our navigator's verandah view

The view from our Navigator’s verandah room

Deck 5 aft is pretty convenient, not far from the Buena Vista Theatre, the kids clubs, and right near the aft elevators to go up/down to food. Anyway, we settled in and set sail for Alaska! Our cruise was a unique, 5-night itinerary with a stop in Ketchikan, Alaska, cruising through the Inside Passage, and a day (aboard the ship) viewing the Dawes Glacier, plus two days at sea. Normally, Alaskan sailings are at least 7-nights, which I’d definitely love to try next time. Alaskan sailings with Disney are so different from the Bahamian and Caribbean sailings I’m used to. No ‘Pirates in the Caribbean’ nights with fireworks, instead there are ‘Freezing the Night Away’ themed parties with Frozen characters and a Pixar Pals dance party inside the Lobby Atrium. Mickey, Minnie, and the gang are dressed up in their cold weather gear, and pool towels are replaced with blankets on the pool deck. Hot cocoa flows freely and gloves, scarves, and hats are available for purchase onboard.

One thing I really loved was the naturalist presentations we were able to attend. These are free sessions onboard during the cruise where you learn more about things related to Alaska and its wildlife. Doug Jones was our cruise’s naturalist and I gather that he’s been with the Wonder since it began the Alaska sailings some years back. He has lived in Alaska for almost his entire life and worked most recently at the Mendenhall Glacier. Super knowledgeable and friendly, he was such a great addition to the cruise. We learned about bears, whales, glaciers, and Alaska in general. He even posted his stateroom number so guests could drop by to talk if they had questions for him!

Dawes Glacier was definitely a sight. It took a long time to sail down the fjord to the glacier itself. Once we were in the right position, the captain stopped the ship, slowly rotating from Port to Starboard from time to time, so everyone would have a great view.  It was so cold once we got back to the glacier, as expected, so coats plus hats and gloves were definitely needed. We spent some time up on the top deck, some down on deck 4 (which is an outer deck area on the Disney ships), and then the rest of the time watching from our balcony. Being down closer to the water on deck 4 and from our stateroom on deck 5 was the best! You could see the icebergs floating so slowly through the water, bobbing and cracking as they drifted along. The sound of the ice and the stillness of the area was breathtaking. It was so quiet, even being on a cruise ship with a couple of thousand other people, that I was astounded. So quiet that you can hear ice cracking… amazing.  The blueness of the ice, the fog, the little trickling waterfalls down the mountains… such memories.

Dawes Glacier

The Dawes Glacier

Glacier day was followed by our day in Ketchikan and what a long port day that was! We had time to enjoy the port until close to 8pm, which was perfect for being able to go out on an excursion and still be able to enjoy the town before returning to the Wonder. Our excursion took us on an enclosed catamaran to the Misty Fjords National Monument Wilderness, a several hour roundtrip adventure. We saw New Eddystock Rock, a volcanic plug that still stands upright and exposed, apparently a rare thing to see standing. Seals, salmon, bald eagles, waterfalls, and rock walls carved by glaciers filled our day. A delightful way to spend a chunk of our port time.

Misty Fjords

Glacier carved rock, the photo doesn’t do this justice. So magnificent!

After the excursion, we explored Ketchikan’s shops at the port (very touristy) and then made our way to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. This was a highlight of the trip too. Those guys had skills! It was remarkable how fast they performed their skill tests and they kept the audience entertained throughout. It was a crazy hot and sunny day in Ketchikan, a city that gets over 160 inches of rain per year and is normally much cooler. Everyone was remarking how hot it was and how we lucked out with the weather. I think Mickey might have had a hand in that — or maybe Pudge? Did someone feed Pudge a peanut butter sandwich that day? LOL.

The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show

Chop that wood!

So the cruise was incredible but came to an end so quickly. Back on dry land in Vancouver, we checked into our hotel and headed out to explore. Stanley Park was high on my list of to-dos because of the variety of things to enjoy there. It’s no wonder there’s so much to do, with about a thousand acres in the park! We enjoyed the Vancouver Aquarium (sea otters!), dinner at Stanley’s Bar & Grill, and a showing of Disney’s Newsies at the Malkin Bowl during the Theatre Under the Stars series (front row seats, baby!)

Sea Otter

One of the cute sea otters at the Vancouver Aquarium

The next day had more city exploration, a full route ride on the Hop On, Hop Off bus, a ride on Flyover Canada! (so much fun, like Soarin’ in Epcot but I liked it better!), and a tour with Fans of Vancouver of Hollywood North (so much fun, a must do for TV and movie fans!) So many films and TV shows are filmed in and around Vancouver that surely one of your faves had some Vancouver footage. The Marine Building in particular was visually stunning. I’d love to go back and look closer at the intricate detail inside and outside of the building.

The Marine building

The inside of the Marine Building in Vancouver. Many tv shows and movies have filmed inside here but the architectural features are stunning in person.

Alas, our time in Vancouver drew to a close as well. We grabbed our luggage from storage at the hotel and hopped on the Skytrain back to the airport to fly home. Another yucky night flight, but we made it back home, filled with so many memories of our time in Alaska and Canada.

Until next time!

-Amber

 

 

Off to a galaxy far, far away…

The kid is taking over my blog again to report in on our 4th of July trip to Disneyland. She’s full of info so this is a long one. Enjoy!

Hello once again, it is Hailey here and I am going to tell you about our trip to Disneyland earlier this month, so let’s get started!

We flew out to Disneyland on June 29 and arrived around lunchtime after a five hour long flight. Then we had to get to Anaheim from the Los Angeles airport, and as we drove around Disneyland we could see a little bit of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which made me even more excited! We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, which was a first for me, I had only stayed at the Grand Californian Hotel before. We stayed in the Adventureland Tower and we were on the 10th floor which was close to the E-Ticket lounge on the 11th floor. We had a good view of the pool, but while we were there the Monorail slides were closed for refurbishment so we couldn’t use those, which was fine anyway, because it would’ve been a little chilly to be in and out of the pools.

During our trip, we could not pull ourselves out of the immersive Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, we loved it so much and it by far surpassed any expectations I could’ve had for it. The first time we walked in, we used the Frontierland entrance, so the first things we could see were Savi’s Workshop, the Droid Depot, and a little beyond. Mind you that none of these things were clearly marked in English, they were marked in Aurebesh, the language of the locals of Batuu and beyond. You can use the Disney Parks Play app to translate the Aurebesh into English, to scan crates around the land and find out what is inside of them, tune into different transmissions, and you can hack into door panels and even the Millennium Falcon.

The Millennium Falcon was truly life sized and BEAUTIFUL!! I was amazed at all of the detail in the ships around the land and the overall detail and them; it was amazing. All of the cast members dressed up as the Batuuans had their own outfits and they had created their own backstory. If you asked them a question, they usually wouldn’t give you a straightforward answer, because they aren’t supposed to be from Earth, so they might not know what you are talking about.

Riding Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run was AMAZING!! How your mission turned out really depended on how well you did throughout the mission. So, if you had bad pilots, like we did the first time, you wouldn’t do so good. Six people rode it at one time, there were two pilots, two gunners, and two engineers, you didn’t get to pick which role you got, the Batuuans just handed the position cards to you at random. Your cards are color coated; they call you up by your group’s color so you know when it is your turn to start the mission. My dad and I wanted to be pilots, but we both got the engineer card, and my mom got one of the gunner cards. The engineer is the role that’s has the least things to do, so it is my least favorite. For the pilot, there is a left and a right pilot. Hondo Ohnaka, who is a well-known smuggler from the Star Wars: Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels series, is sending you on the mission. He instructs you throughout the mission, telling the different roles what to do, and the buttons, switches, or levers will have a BRIGHT blinking green light around it to indicate when you need to push, pull, or switch one of the things so you need to pay attention. It is an interactive ride and some people would like to earn more credits. Hondo will refer to the pilots as “left pilot” or “right pilot,” because they both have control over different actions that the ship will need to do in order to do semi-well, like the jump to light speed, the right pilot’s dream come true, like mine did. The gunner’s job is to mash down the button to basically continuously fire at other ships, when the green light is blinking around the button and also fire a missile when Hondo tells you to. The engineer has to fire a harpoon and repair the ship (don’t worry, it is just with the press of a button), so the engineer’s role isn’t that exciting in my opinion. After you have completed the mission, if you have been using the Play app you should be able to collect the same amount of credits, which is the currency there, as Hondo said you had earned, which can be a lot depending on how well you did. Also, the whole ride queue was really cool to look at so many different little details, and we even spotted a Porg nest! Once you get farther along into the queue you get into another room where you finally meet Hondo Ohnaka and he welcomes you to his smuggling business, Ohnaka Transport Solutions. This was a REALLY cool part of the whole ride experience.

Millennium Falcon Gunner card

This is the ‘gunner’ card for the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run ride

The food at Galaxy’s Edge was not as vegetarian friendly as my mom and I would have liked it to be, but it sure did fulfill a carnivore’s dream, to eat SPACE meat! Ronto Roasters didn’t have anything that would appeal to my mom and I, and the décor was able to easily gross us out, alien creatures being roasted on a spit wasn’t the most appetizing thing to see, even if you know that isn’t what you are really eating! So, instead of Ronto Roasters we went over to Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo to find something to eat. My mom and I both got Felucian Garden Spread, which was hummus, pita, and “plant-based” kefta, which my dad tried and said it was “very meatball like,” which was NOT appealing to my mom and I. My dad got Fried Endorian Tip-Yip, which was fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and an herb gravy, he said he liked his Tip-Yip. Some of the things we did like from Ronto Roasters was the Meiloorun Juice and the Tatooine Sunset drinks, we had many of these refreshments.

We really enjoyed our overall experience in Oga’s Cantina, it was a really cool atmosphere! The music was provided by DJ-R3X and was fun to listen to! The decorations around the bar, in the booths, and near DJ-R3X were amazing and really reminded me of the cantina on Tatooine! We were at the bar the first time we were in the cantina, and it really is the BEST spot to be! You can see all of the different tap handles for the beer and the different ingredients for the drinks, it was such a great experience, you cannot miss it on your trip to Galaxy’s Edge, definite must do! The actual seating in the booths is very limited, when you are at a booth or a standing table, you will most likely be with at least one other family depending on the size of your party, and of course the bar is shared also, you can’t have it all to yourself! They have some really weird drinks at Oga’s Cantina, like the alcoholic Fuzzy Tauntaun, or the non-alcoholic Carbon Freeze, my favorite! And they also have some snacks, but this is not a place that you are going to eat a full meal, there is only two snack options on the menu. One of them is the Batuu Bits, a mixture of different things, like wasabi peas, assorted dried vegetables, chips, and even chocolate meringue! The other is Oga’s Obsession, which is a Jell-O type thing with bobas, or popping pearls, in it, with dried strawberry pieces and basically Pop Rocks on top. Both of these were good, but they were both pretty weird.

We also loved Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities; it was super cool inside!! It had taxidermy mounts of different alien creatures, which were sort of cool but also were sort of gross because they were so realistic, even though they were not real. There was a whole wall dedicated to the Holocrons and Kyber Crystals, even though the Kyber Crystals were out of stock the entire time we were there. This was due to the Ebay sellers coming in to buy tons of Kyber Crystals and other merchandise to turn around and sell a single $12.99 crystal for $37.99+, which could sometimes be lower, but was usually at that price and up. Dok Ondar’s had what are called Legacy Lightsabers, which are the lightsabers of some of the characters from the TV shows and movies, these lightsabers do not come with the detachable blade, the blade is sold separately. Dok Ondar’s also had other Star Wars themed merchandise throughout the store, including lightsaber belt clips, which work with some of the Legacy Lightsabers and all of the Savi’s Workshop Handbuilt Lightsabers. In the store you can also see Dok Ondar himself standing up near some of the hanging decorations.

Dok Ondars mounted creatures

Mounted creatures in Dok Ondars

There also is a marketplace sort of area, where the Creature Stall, Toydarian Toymaker, and other stores are located. The Creature Stall has many different little creatures that you can purchase that make different little sounds if you pet them a certain way, and my favorite is the Loth Cat, from Star Wars Rebels. They are so cute! There is also one sleeping in a cage in the center of the store, which is super cute!

We had to visit the Milk Stand, where you could get blue or green milk, which were frozen beverages. We got one of each, and they both taste different, but they are both based on rice and coconut milks, with fruit flavors. I liked the blue milk better, but my dad said he liked the green milk better, I just didn’t like the consistency of the green milk very much. There were containers hanging up made to look like they were holding either blue or green milk, which didn’t make the milks seem very appetizing, because they looked sort of dirty. The Milk Stand is in the First Order section of Batuu, so you could see Kylo Ren or an officer on patrol with storm troopers. In the Resistance encampment, you could see Chewbacca and/or Rey walking around or repairing the spacecraft parked over there, there was an A-Wing and an X-Wing. In the Resistance area you can see also the entrance and queue area where Rise of the Resistance will be located when it opens next year.

The Milk Stand

Not sure the blue and green milk looked super appetizing…

My dad and I also went to Savi’s Workshop to make our own custom lightsabers, but in order to do so, you need to be up at 7:00am PST to make your reservations the day of, no earlier, to reserve spots at both Savi’s Workshop and Oga’s Cantina, and reservations go quickly, so plan for which day you might want to do either of these things! We went to Savi’s to check in for the reservation and purchase the lightsabers 15 minutes ahead, when we though we were supposed to do so, but they said to come back at the exact time of our reservation. The Gatherers want to keep this operation a secret from the First Order, so they are careful to hide behind the illusion that they sell scrap metal, not lightsabers. So we came back at the time of our reservation, and chose the set of lightsaber parts we would like, I chose Elemental Nature and my dad chose Peace and Justice, and we had to go ahead and pay then, we received our pin which would tell the Gatherers inside the room what style we had chosen and the card that told them what group we were in. We had to put our pins “above our heart,” as the Gatherers said it. And after a little bit of anticipation we were brought into an oval shaped room with 14 different work stations, where we would build our lightsabers. I don’t want to say too much about this, so I don’t spoil anything for anyone who might build their own lightsaber, so I will just say that the main Gatherer talked about the different parts and explained how to put them together while we built them, but before that about the Kyber Crystals. And then finished it all off with seeing your completed custom lightsaber, and as you walked our they gave you a carrying case for it. Even though I didn’t go over the full experience, just know that it was truly AMAZING, and very worth it!! If you are going to Galaxy’s Edge and deciding between a droid and a lightsaber, the lightsaber really has more of an experience and a story to go along with it, and I forgot to mention that the hilt is metal and is VERY heavy by itself, and the blade is “Battle-ready,” but I was unwilling to test this out. The Droid Depot never really had a wait to build a droid and it wasn’t really as memorable looking as the experience of building your very own lightsaber. I waited SOOO LONG to build my own lightsaber, and it was a Star Wars fan’s dream come true.

Going to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was NOT the only thing we did on this past trip, even though it may sound like it, and it was hard to pull ourselves out of the immersive land, we did spend time in California Adventure and the rest of Disneyland too. Oh, and one more thing about Galaxy’s Edge, it did NOT seem like a part of Disneyland at all! It seemed like its own park, like you hadn’t been in Disneyland all day, it was really weird! We rode Autopia, one of my favs, I like it so much better than Tomorrowland Speedway at Disney World; it is much longer and much cooler! We rode Haunted Mansion, which is super different, Hyperspace Mountain, which sort of made us motion sick, Star Tours, which is no different, we got the same movie we always get at Disney World, Buzz Lightyear: Space Ranger Spin, which we like better because of the different laser guns, Matterhorn, which we were unable to ride the first time because an earthquake happened as we were boarding the bobsleds, it’s a small world, which is longer and cuter than the Disney World one, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, which we hadn’t ridden before, and many more!

it's a small world

Disneyland’s it’s a small world ride rocks! You load and exit the ride outside!

In California Adventure we rode the Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission – Breakout! Ride for the first time, and we liked it more than Tower of Terror, it had more drops and was really fun! We also met some Marvel characters, like Captain Marvel, Loki, and Black Panther. We also went to Pixar Pier for the first time, it was really cute! Everything was re-themed to fit in with the Pixar theme. The little carnival games were no exception and there was one themed for the short film called “La Luna” and was SOOO cute! You dipped out a star from the water, and depending on which color dot was on the back you got a certain level of prize, and the lowest level were different little stars and moons making different faces, and the said Pixar Pier on the back, so cute and a cheap souvenir! The next level up were shooting stars, and the highest level was the boy from the short holding one of the stars! They were adorable!

Stars from Pixar Pier "La Luna" game

Here are our prizes from the “La Luna” game. Super cute!

On one of the days we went on a LA city tour, which was really cool! We got to see a lot of different things like Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, the Santa Monica Pier, the Hollywood Walk of Fame (we even saw Minnie Mouse’s star), the Chinese Theater, the Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood sign, and so many other cool things!

Footprints of Star Wars

We couldn’t miss the ‘footprints’ of Star Wars main actors from 1977 while at the Chinese Theater!

This trip to Disneyland was the longest one we have had yet, and it was a great one! My mom will be back soon to tell you about the trip that she and I just got back from, Canada and a Disney Alaskan Cruise, a fun blog you won’t want to miss!

Loth Cat

Even our new Loth Cat was sad to be on the plane heading home…

This is Hailey, signing out!

A blazing hot June at Disney

Hi, it’s Hailey here and I’m going to tell you about our most recent trip to Walt Disney World! I’ll recap the highlights of our trip, and what I enjoyed the most! Let’s get started!

On the day we arrived we went to Animal Kingdom, and the first ride we rode was Expedition Everest, and I loved it, as usual! We also rode Kilimanjaro Safaris and Na’vi River Journey, which I also enjoyed. We had Tusker House for dinner, which was delicious! At dinner we also met Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Donald, and Goofy. During our stay we also visited Disney Springs, and we ate at The Edison for the first time, which was amazing! There was delicious food, and drinks there, I had a Non-Alcoholic Pina Colada type of drink; and the factory design in the building was very cool!

The Electri-fries at The Edison

These fries at The Edison were ah-mazing!

We also stopped by Amorette’s Patisserie for dessert and we enjoyed a Mickey Dome Cake and an Aladdin themed cake, both were delicious!

Mickey dome cake & Aladdin layer cake

Amorette’s never disappoints!

We were also in Epcot for the last day of the Flower and Garden Festival, and we enjoyed some delicious snacks! I had some delicious Citrus Salmon, Spicy Fried Cauliflower, a Key Lime Tart, and many other yummy goodies! We also stopped by Karamell-Kuche in Germany to pick up some caramel popcorn and marshmallow and caramel swirls, yum! While we were in Epcot, we had Via Napoli in Italy for dinner, and while I was not very hungry from all the snacking I had done earlier, I still enjoyed my favorite pizza from there! (Note from Amber- we do other things besides eat while on vacation, though it might not seem that way!)

Typhoon Lagoon was a great way to break up the trip, was nice and relaxing! We enjoyed many waterslides, like Miss Adventure Falls and the Crush ‘n’ Gusher waterslides, the Lazy River, and of course the Wave Pool!

Typhoon Lagoon Wave Pool

Every day is a good day when you spend it at Typhoon Lagoon!

We also had Be Our Guest for breakfast one day, which was better than I expected, I really liked the Croissant Doughnut that I ate! While we were in Magic Kingdom, we rode many rides like Haunted Mansion (one of my favorites, foolish mortal!), Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, it’s a small world, Tomorrowland Speedway, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and many more!

The Carrousel in Magic Kingdom

We even had time to hop on this beauty!

For the last night of our stay we switched over from Old Key West to the Polynesian, and we swam in the pool closest to our room, which we later discovered was a saltwater pool! We really liked swimming in the pool, it was very relaxing! After swimming, we went to ‘Ohana and had a wonderful dinner, I really like the noodles they have there!

The Great Ceremonial House

The beautiful view inside the Great Ceremonial House at the Polynesian resort

After our last day, we flew home to the not so warm weather, after we had been in the around 100 degree weather of Florida, and it took a little bit of adjusting to the cooler temps! I can’t wait to go on our next adventure, on which we will go to Disneyland to see Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge! I will be back to blog again!

See you next time!

-Hailey

Easter, Earth Day, and Joe Rohde…

I’m only about a month late working on this blog post. Springtime definitely kicks life up into high gear around my house! In late April, the fam and I flew the friendly sky to Florida, looking some Mickey fun for Easter break. Our home base was Disney’s Coronado Springs resort, a great choice for adults or families with older kids. The resort is pretty large and spread out, so getting a preferred location room to keep you near the food court and lobby is a must to keep the walking time at a minimum. The new Gran Destino Tower at the resort will be open in July and we’re not quite sure how that will impact bus traffic from the resort to the parks or usage of the amenities. I’m hopeful that its impact will be minimum on the existing resort but, with almost 550 new rooms, I’ve got some concerns. Time will tell on that front.

Our flight into Orlando was supposed to land around 1pm but the spring thunderstorm season had other plans for us. Ultimately, we got to the resort around 5pm which put a damper on my arrival day plans at Hollywood Studios. By the time we got to the park, we had to rush to dinner, and only had time for a couple of rides before the park closed. We lucked out though and jumped in the line at Slinky Dog Dash right before closing. That kept our wait under 20 minutes and we got to ride Slinky in the dark, my fave time to ride so you can get the full effects of the lights/sounds on the attraction.

Slinky Dog Dash

Slinky Dog Dash ride queue decor

We spent the next morning at Magic Kingdom, enjoying the Marceline to Magic Kingdom tour. What a blast! This tour is great for older children and adults, preferably those who have been to Magic Kingdom at least a few times in the past and have a desire to learn more about the man behind the mouse, Walt Disney. I’m not going to spoil it for others but the backstage access you get on one part of this tour is to die for! With the age requirement at 12 years old, any backstage access is surprising as that is usually reserved for the tours that require guests to be 16 and up.

After the tour, we enjoyed the park for awhile and then hopped on the Grand Floridian resort boat to check out their annual Easter Egg display. Amazing, as always.

Grand Floridian Easter Eggs

Just a small section of the many hand-decorated eggs on display at the Grand Floridian resort

After the Grand, we hit the monorail to loop over to the Contemporary resort to check out their egg display. A smaller display than the Grand Floridian’s, but still quite the sight.

"Disney Parks snacks" egg

“Disney Parks snacks” egg

From the Contemporary, we monorail’d around to the Polynesian resort for dinner at ‘Ohana (FANTASTIC and oh, so much food!) and back over to the Magic Kingdom for more fun before closing. A fun nighttime ride is a jaunt on the Jungle Cruise. Just watch out for Trader Sam at the end, you know… the Head Salesman.

Trader Sam

Trader Sam bidding you farewell on the Jungle Cruise

Not slowing down, Epcot was the park of the day on Sunday. The Flower and Garden Festival was in full swing, one of my favorite times of the year. We always enjoy the Egg Hunt and Spike’s Pollen Nation Exploration games (small fee to play with a small prize at the end).

Spike and Eggs

Collection maps for the Eggstravaganza and Spike’s Pollen Nation Exploration in Epcot

These games get harder every year. So many places to hide the eggs and the little Spike figure. It takes some skill to find them all!

Spike

We found a Spike!

We finally made it into the Stave Church’s “Gods of the Vikings” display in Epcot too, that has been on my list since it opened last year. A super interesting display for those looking to learn more about Viking Gods like Thor, Odin, Loki, and Freya.

Epcot Thor display

Thor, God of thunder

As our trip was coming to an end, we squeezed in a morning at Animal Kingdom to celebrate the park’s 21st birthday, which is also Earth Day. We couldn’t miss the celebration! The highlight of the day, and the trip in general, was meeting Joe Rohde, one of the brilliant Disney Imagineers. Joe was the lead designer on the creation of Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, Disney’s Aulani resort in Hawaii, several of the country pavilions in Epcot’s World Showcase, and so much more. A true creative genius and it was an honor to meet him.

Meeting Joe Rohde

The perfect way to end our trip, meeting Joe Rohde!

After meeting Joe, we hopped on Na’vi River Journey for a quick spin and then made for the park exit. We were pleasantly surprised to run into Kevin from ‘Up!’ on the way out!

Kevin from Up!

Kevin from Up!

We thought we had really hit the jackpot by that point and then…

DiVine

DiVine! What a talented performer!

DiVine! We haven’t seen her for years! She’s truly a talent and amazing to watch.

Stopping to meet Kevin and DiVine though really threw a kink into my already tight schedule. Then our bus back to Coronado Springs had just left before we got to the stop…  yikes! By the time we got to the resort and grabbed our luggage from Bell Services, the Magical Express bus was pulling up to take us back to the airport! We literally had a couple of minutes to spare. A LOT too tight for my liking, but the morning was worth the rush (and panic!)

I’d recap the ride back to the airport but, since I fell asleep as soon as I got into the seat, nothing for me to share on that part! We flew home on Spirit Airlines for the first (and last) time. They had the flight time we needed and at a nice price since the trip was a last minute idea, plus I had been thinking of trying them out since they are flying from some of the markets that my clients live in. Blech. Don’t need to do that again. Spirit can’t use the Resort Airline Check-in to get boarding passes and drop your check bags, so that stunk for sure. Then the check-in at the airport was a cluster, to say the least. Nobody knew what they were doing, how to line up, what needed to be done before getting to the counter, etc. Add that insanity to the holiday weekend crowds and I quickly remembered why I always say that you get what you pay for. No one was happy. Then the flight left about 30 minutes late, puny in the grand scheme of things, but you wouldn’t know it from the other passengers on the flight. You would have thought we were getting home three days late. The complaining, which wasn’t helped by the fact that there was only one agent working the gate and who wasn’t giving us any updates at all. Our gate screen said we were boarding, then boarding was closed, before the agent ever made any announcements to us. Craziness. Not the way to end an otherwise perfect vacay, that’s for sure.

So, where to next? One guess on this one is all you’ll need… Stay tuned!

xoxo,

Amber

 

 

 

 

Sailing the Disney Magic to the Bahamas

My suitcases have been sitting idle since my last visit to Walt Disney World in December. Three months was way too long for this travel fanatic! Spring Break arrived for my family at the end of March so we packed up and hopped on a plane to Florida. A sailing on the Disney Magic from Miami to the Bahamas was a perfect way to kick off the warmer weather season!

A party of seven, sailing the Magic, what a motley crew! The hubs, the kid, my mom and the old man, and two nieces rounded out the gang. We flew into Fort Lauderdale for an overnight, enjoyed the town for the day and then shuttled down to Miami to board the beautiful Disney Magic. While in Fort Lauderdale, we visited the Wiener Museum of Decorative Arts to see the Chihuly exhibit. It was amazing! So many beautiful glass pieces to view!

Chihuly art glass

Chihuly art glass sculpture at the WMODA

One of the original two Disney Cruise ships, the Magic is a smaller ship with a more compact layout, making navigating the decks super easy. Characters and Disney magic were found throughout the ship at scheduled times and impromptu meetings…

Pluto

Pluto stopped by for a pic while we were hanging out on the pool deck

The Cove Cafe provided us with some delicious beverages onboard and the staff goes out of their way to make the experience extra special. Check out the latte art and complimentary Madeline cookie!

Mickey Latte

Mickey makes this latte even more fancy!

Key West was our first and most anticipated port. We are huge cat fans and the Hemingway Home in Key West is home to over 50 cats, many polydactyls. At home, we have a polydactyl kitty and couldn’t wait to see more of those funky felines. It didn’t disappoint! The tour of the home and grounds was also super informative and definitely worth a listen.

Hemingway Cat

Look at those extra toes!

The required ‘Mile Marker 0’ and ‘Southernmost Point’ stops were also checked off the to-do list. It was such a beautiful day, hot but not oppressive, and so sunny.

Mile Marker 0

Mile Marker 0! I should’ve taken a picture of the lonely flip flop on the road right beside the sign. Trying to figure out if that was a Jimmy Buffett fan’s memento left behind…

 

Southernmost Point

90 miles to Cuba! Let’s go!

The next stop was Nassau in the Bahamas. That’s always a ‘day at sea’ for us and we stay onboard to enjoy the ship instead of exploring the port. Once was good for this bunch. Brunch at the adult-only restaurant, Palo, was a delicious way to start the day for me and the hubs. So much great food but only one stomach, LOL.

Champagne Jello

Champagne Jell-O and fresh berries at Palo capped a delicious brunch experience

After we left Nassau, we sailed to Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. Truly a tropical paradise, we could’ve handled the water being a bit warmer but, by midday, we had adjusted quite nicely. Floating around the family beach, followed by lunch on the island, and then snorkeling in the (huge) snorkeling lagoon filled much of the day. Our first time snorkeling on the island, we were super happy to find many of the underwater treasures that Disney has placed for the enjoyment of its guests. So many colorful fish and fun things to explore but man, a lot of work for all those goodies!

Disney Magic docked at Castaway Cay

The Magic looking magical while docked at Castaway Cay

Castaway Cay was our last day of the cruise and we had our final dinner at Animator’s Palate that evening. One of the best things about the Disney Cruise Line is that you have a dedicated waitstaff in the three main dining rooms. Their system is called ‘rotational dining’ and you rotate each night between the three dining rooms. For the Magic, the dining rooms are Animator’s Palate, Lumiere’s, and Rapunzel’s Royal Table. When you board the ship, you are assigned the order in which you rotate between the restaurants and a table number. That table number remains the same in each restaurant and is associated with a specific main and assistant server. Our main server was Yhokey from the Philippines and his assistant, Harish from India. The kids (and adults) loved them and truly regretted having to say goodbye on the last evening. (So much so that they went back the next morning just to tell them goodbye one last time.)

Yhokey and Harish

The girls with Yhokey and Harish in Animator’s Palate

As always, leaving a Disney Cruise is such a sad moment. It definitely helps when you’ve booked a placeholder for a future cruise — basically a small deposit that can then be put toward a sailing within the next two years, comes with a 10% cruise discount and onboard credit — so you know you’ll likely be back soon. I’m sure it won’t be two years before I’m back on a cruise though. Mickey knows how to sink his hooks into me every time.

Sailing off into the sunset

The sunset on our last evening was so beautiful. Watching the sun go down from our verandah was breathtaking.

Until next time!

Amber