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

 

 

Advertisements

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

Disney at Christmas?

Two words that don’t typically go together – Disney and Christmas. Why is that? The period between Christmas and New Year’s is the most crowded and expensive time to visit Disney. We’re talking long lines for everything, even the bathrooms (YIKES!) Normally, about as close as I get to Christmas at Disney is the first week or so of December. I was feeling brave and lacking in holiday spirit, so I took the kid and hopped on a plane to the House of Mouse. Other than an unbelievably rainy day with a tornado warning (wait, what?!?), we had a great time strolling around, wearing our jingle bells.

Home base for this trip was Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter resort. This is my favorite moderate/mid-range resort at Disney, out of the four options because of its small size and easy to navigate layout. Years ago, the hubs and I had our first anniversary trip here. My, how time flies! The resort was beautifully decorated for the holidays and I always love how they incorporate the Mardi Gras colors of purple and gold into the decor there, even at the holidays.

Lobby tree at Port Orleans French Quarter

One of the many beautiful trees decorated for the holidays at Port Orleans French Quarter resort

I get asked a lot about weather in Florida, with many guests making the assumption that Florida has a tropical climate. That’s not the case by any means, as was evident during my trip. It poured rain like I’ve never seen one full day and there was a tornado in the immediate area, thus prompting the tornado warning, followed by two days of needing a winter coat. It seems like the Disney weather is taking a page from the Virginia weather playbook, freezing one day and 60 the next.

Despite the weather, we still had a blast, or maybe I should say ‘a splash’. There’s a reason why I recommend that you pack two pairs of shoes. Wearing a pair soaked completely through before they’ve had a chance to dry is the pits. The only water I had intended to visit was the Jungle Cruise in Magic Kingdom, to enjoy the ‘Jingle Cruise’ that it turns into during the holidays. The usual ‘punny’ jokes get a holiday twist and the ride scenes get some new decor. Super fun, well worth the FastPass with the long wait.

Santa Mickey topiaries

Santa Mickey topiaries in Epcot

As usual, Epcot didn’t disappoint with the holiday decor and seasonal entertainment. The ever-popular Candlelight Processional was in full force with Pat Sajak narrating one evening while we were in the park. The new-ish International Festival of the Holidays featured some fun food stands throughout World Showcase, where you could purchase sample-size foods from the various countries participating. We had every intention of doing some snacking but the pouring rain put a damper on that plan.

Chip and Dale holiday topiaries

Chip and Dale holiday topiaries in Epcot

After Chip and Dale kicked us out of Epcot, we headed to the Wilderness Lodge resort to try the new Storybook Dining at Artist Point with Snow White meal. Character interaction was great and I loved The Queen there. It’s not often you get to meet a villain so I’m glad Disney added her into this meal’s story. The food however, was less than desirable for the two of us. I’m a vegetarian and the kid is mainly vegetarian so the meal options were blah compared to what carnivores would’ve enjoyed. That busted my bubble on the meal so I probably won’t go back without a menu change but I think others will enjoy it.

Banished by The Queen from Wilderness Lodge, we made our way to Magic Kingdom for the Very Merry Christmas Party. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m much more into Halloween than Christmas so I don’t normally do the Very Merry party. Feeling like a change, we decided to do the party and were pleasantly surprised with how much we enjoyed ourselves. I think that has a few different reasons this time: this was the really bad weather day so the crowds at the party were slim, despite being so close to Christmas; there were tons of free snacks; and the wait lines were very short. I’ve never even been in the regular queue for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train because the lines are always so long, but we only had about a 30 minute wait for the ride during the party. The queue was fun and our fellow riders got into the spirit by singing lots of holiday tunes as we waited. That pepped everyone up! The park had free wrapped cookies and drinks at a variety of locations and I’m still working on those here at home a couple of weeks later. Good cookies and so easy to bring back! Small snow cones and warm soft pretzels really capped off the night. The parade was outstanding and I remembered how much I missed seeing the toy soldiers and reindeers, plus my old pal, Wreck-it-Ralph.

Toy Soldiers

Toy Soldiers march along in the Very Merry Christmas Party parade in Magic Kingdom

Reindeers in the parade

Reindeers pranced behind the Toy Soldiers, so cute!

Wreck-it-Ralph

And I’m happy to say, Ralph did not wreck the parade!

We closed the park that night, dragging our bodies to the dead center of our room at French Quarter and falling asleep for the night. Oh, if only Disney World followed Disneyland’s lead in overlaying the Haunted Mansion ride with Nightmare before Christmas…

Another stop we had to make was at Disney Springs to see the Christmas Tree Trail. Disney set this up a couple of years back and continues to improve each year. I could not wait to see the Haunted Mansion and Star Wars themed trees this year and, wow, they hit those out of the park. I didn’t think the Bride could get any creepier but, seeing her in the tree, hot and cold running chills!

Haunted Mansion tree

The Haunted Mansion tree on the Christmas Tree Trail. See the bride?

Star Wars Tree

Here’s the Star Wars Tree on the Tree Trail. I loved those little Jawas!

Not to be missed was Hollywood Studios, even though they stopped presenting the Osborne Lights a couple of years ago. I had to see the ‘Hollywood Toy Hotel’ for myself and checkout the Toy Story Land Christmas add-ins. Definitely worth swinging by the park for a few hours.

Hollywood Toy Hotel

The Hollywood Toy Hotel with a ‘you’ve got a friend in me’ twist

All-in-all, great trip. Leaving Orlando right before Christmas gave us a good buffer from the major crowds and we enjoyed soaking up the Christmas offerings, not so much the rain though. If only I controlled the weather… I think there’s a fish for that, if we just feed him peanut butter sandwiches…

Until next time!

Amber

 

Skipping the turkey and heading for the ocean!

Thanksgiving rolled around a few weeks ago, so that meant it was time to pack up the van and hit the road! The cast of characters on this long weekend getaway was the fam plus my nieces, mom, and stepdad. Seven people smooshed into a Toyota mini-van for an eight-hour drive. When two of the seven are teenagers, that meant some snoring from the back and a little peace and quiet for the rest of us, lol. We chose to drive out before the Thanksgiving traffic rush hit, which made a huge difference.

Our destination this year was Hilton Head Island in South Carolina again, as it has come to be a favorite place to spend the holiday kick-off weekend. We stayed at Disney’s Hilton Head Island resort as we’ve done in the past and loved it, despite not being able to get a room for the first night of the trip. The Best Western Ocean Breeze Inn was our home for the first night and likely won’t be our resting point in the future. Nothing major was wrong with it, other than it had a motel layout and definitely wasn’t Disney. A benefit of that property was that it was reasonably close to Coligny Beach Park, a great place to go out to the beach itself through a public beach access. It had nice swings and a welcoming vibe, even though it was freezing cold that day.

Spanish Moss and Oak Trees

Beautiful old oak trees with Spanish moss shining in the sun

I love the old Oak trees that cover Hilton Head Island, with Spanish moss dangling from the branches. One of my favorite things to photograph while visiting. I think that’s part of what makes Hilton Head so unique… you have the beach but you also have the Southern woodsy comfort just steps from the sand. Love it!

After we moved over to Disney’s Hilton Head Island resort, we checked in to our lovely two-bedroom villa. The touches that Disney adds to its rooms in all of its resorts is truly amazing. There was a bench in the entryway of the villa and, upon further examination, we saw two sets of carvings. The first was a ‘W.D’ for Walt Disney, of course, and the second was a Minnie and Mickey heart. How cute!

Minnie and Mickey heart

Mickey and Minnie were here!

It’s the little things that make the difference. We enjoyed some storytelling, making tie-dye shirts, hanging out at the Beach House, collecting shells, watching a mermaid on the beach (um…yeah. Even I can’t fully explain that one), and meeting Shadow!

Shadow at Disney's Hilton Head Island resort

Meeting Shadow is always a treat!

Dinner at the Salty Dog Cafe for Thanksgiving, The Black Marlin on our last night, and Italian delivery from Giuseppi’s all hit the spot. Of course, breakfast each day was filled with the classic Mickey waffles!

Whether you pack up the fam for a getaway over the holidays or hang close to home, remember to enjoy your time together!

Until next time!

Amber