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

Sailing on the World’s Largest Cruise Ship

In mid-November, I was able to enjoy the inaugural cruise of Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas to the Bahamas as a part of a media and travel industry sailing. The Symphony is billed as the the “World’s Largest Cruise Ship” and, after touring it over my two-night cruise, I agree that title is accurate. With 18 decks filled with entertainment, dining, shopping, and staterooms to sleep 6,680 passengers and 2,200 crew, this ship brings new meaning to “floating city”.

Welcome aboard

Welcome to the Symphony of the Seas!

My stateroom was on deck 6 forward, near the spa and with easy access to the Royal Promenade and theater. This was a perfect spot for me and I enjoyed being so close to the theater each evening when returning from the nightly show. The room was comfortable with the bedding in the ‘royal king’ format — two twin beds connected — and a nice balcony with comfy chairs and foot stools. Always important for me is the wi-fi service and Royal excelled in this area. Amazing connectivity and fast speed plus unlimited package availability, a huge difference from Disney Cruise Line’s per MB package cost.

Deck 6 balcony stateroom

My balcony stateroom on deck 6

The activities on the ship were mind-blowing. Mini-golf, ziplining, Flowrider surfing or boogie boarding, an escape room, several pools, ice skating, laser tag, a carousel, waterslides, and a slide that plunges you down a 10-story drop in the dark.

Mini-golf on Symphony of the Seas

Get ready for some mini-golf at sea!

The entertainment onboard was spectacular and I actually preferred the shows on the Symphony to Disney Cruise Line’s offerings. A musical ice dancing show, a musical show recapping the history of flight from the future back to the Wright Brothers, a high-energy aqua show with amazing diving and choreography, and the musical “Hairspray” didn’t disappoint. I was glad that I made time during my short sailing to get these shows in as I really enjoyed each one.

Hairspray

Hairspray the Musical had the theater rocking to the music

The food aboard the Symphony was delish and the culinary staff worked to ensure that the presentation of the options was pleasing to the eye.

Buffet options

Beautiful food for the guests aboard

I was blown away by the variety of environments found on the ship too. It was easy to forget you were at sea while enjoying the onboard experience. The Boardwalk area at the rear of the ship featured the aqua theater, a sports bar, candy shop, rock climbing wall, hot dog stand, and a carousel. There are staterooms onboard that have balconies that overlook this Boardwalk area, for those who would like a balcony but might be nervous about looking out at sea.

Looking toward the Boardwalk

The Boardwalk area from above

Central Park is another open-air area of the ship with trees, a coffee shop, and meandering paths that wind their way around to various high-end restaurants. On the Royal Promenade, the Bionic Bar was a place I had to stop at after seeing pictures online before the sailing. The bartenders here are “Rock ‘Em” and “Sock ‘Em” and they make custom drink creations while you watch.

Bionic Bar

Rock ‘Em and Sock ‘Em mixing it up at the Bionic Bar

Alas, a two-night cruise is a short one and, before I knew it, we were docking in Miami and hopping on buses back to the airport.

Until next time…

Amber

Sailing off into the sunset

Sailing off into the sunset

 

The “Finest” resort of all…

As I write this blog post, I am on my way to board the world’s largest cruise ship, the Symphony of the Seas, from Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. You will have to wait to hear all about that though, this post is about my trip to Mexico at the end of October. Happy reading!

The fam and I boarded an early morning flight to Cancun, ready to venture back into the sunshine as fall enveloped Virginia. The destination was Playa Mujeres, a gated resort community about thirty minutes north of Cancun. We enjoyed another resort in the same area last June, Dreams Playa Mujeres, so we were excited to get back and try out something new. I chose Finest Playa Mujeres, a family- friendly, all-inclusive resort that belongs to the Excellence Hotel Group. Excellence resorts are beautiful and modern but adult-only; luckily Finest offers that same great service and amenities but allows children. Finest Playa Mujeres is their only Finest resort and they definitely should build more!

Upon arrival at the resort, we were promptly greeted and taken to the Finest Club lounge to check-in. During our stay, we were booked in a Finest Club Junior swim-up suite so that offered a special check-in, fresh flowers in the room, a bottle of sparkling wine, a bowl of fresh fruit, daily dessert delivered to the room, a club-only section of the beach, a restaurant only for club guests, etc. It was divine! Our room was huge, with a walk-in closet and a shower that was big enough for two. The highlight was the outdoor area. We had a Jacuzzi tub directly off the room, enclosed with a glass front so you could relax in the tub but see the porch area. The porch was amazing! A table and chairs, two lounge chairs, a cushioned double bed, a second cushioned bed built into a wall nook, an overwater hammock, and then the pool itself! There were steps going down into the pool from the porch and another set of stairs across the water so you hop out on the other side to access two other cushioned lounge chairs and an umbrella. The only negative was that the pool was COLD because the sun just didn’t hit the water for enough hours to get it warm (or make us hot enough that the water felt good). That was a bummer but we know to request the opposite side of the building we were in to get full sun. I’m sure the time of year and angle of the sun didn’t help either.

Finest Playa Mujeres Junior Swim-up Suite

The best room ever! Finest Club Junior swim-up suite

We did end up spending a lot of time in the main pool, which was the perfect temperature. The pool bar kept the drinks flowing and had a full kids bar menu with plenty of options for the kid to enjoy some non-alcoholic deliciousness. There were rafts for guest use but I brought my own (pro tip!) and we all enjoyed spending some time on that. We did venture down to the beach and swam one afternoon but we are definitely more into the pools (and pool bars) so that’s mainly where we stayed. There was some seaweed the day we swam but nothing too terrible. It was much worse another afternoon that I walked the beach and I would not have swam that day. The seaweed is a cyclical nature issue that comes and goes every few years but 2018 has been particularly bad. Each day is different and all of the resorts do what they can to keep it under control on the shore.

Finest Playa Mujeres beach

My view at the beach

The food was so good, even for my vegetarian self. I am the one that has the hardest time with resorts because sometimes vegetarianism gets lost in translation. Finest rocks the food options though! They had completely separate vegetarian menus and, not only that, the servers were knowledgeable about the options and even commented that something on the vegetarian menu at one of the restaurants actually was prepared in bacon fat and to avoid that. I was impressed. Everywhere we ate was delish and had so many options we could all enjoy. Zero food complaints! There was 24-hour room service available as well and that menu even had baby food on it!  Ever had cantaloupe juice? Yeah, me either but it was so good! There was a little café that served dessert, hand-scooped ice cream, and a variety of coffee beverages; we stopped there each evening on the way to the room.

Nightly treats at the Sweet Corner

Macarons, meringues, cupcakes, brownies… oh my!

The spa was perfection too… I had a delightful deep-tissue massage and came away relaxed and refreshed. The massage therapist was kind, attentive to my specific needs (work those knots out!), and respectful. The treatment room was huge and so comfortable, as was the relaxation area to enjoy before, and the second relaxation room to enjoy after, the treatment. Great experience overall!

We largely stayed on the resort but did venture out crazy early one morning to go to the Mayan ruins in Tulum. We had to catch the van at 6am, which is just ridiculous on vacation, but necessary to get to Tulum early and beat the crowds and heat. The ride there took probably three hours after stopping to pick up a few other guests from other resorts. It is a long ride whether you stop or not, that’s for sure. If was definitely worth the early wake-up and long ride to be able to see the magnificent ruins that remain from so long ago. We had a guided tour and then some free time to explore on our own. There was time for a quick dip in the Caribbean but that involved a huge set of steps down to the water, then some seaweed, then having to climb back up, so all of that was a no-go. It was pretty to look down there but “no gracias” when it comes to all those stairs and seaweed.

Ruins at Tulum

Some of the ruins at Tulum. The detailed carvings that still remain on these buildings after hundreds of years is amazing!

Sooner than we wanted, as always, it was time to pack up and fly home. That was another early wake-up call, 3:55am pick up to go back to the airport. Talk about way too early! It is nice though to see Cancun at sleep, such an interesting place. That brings me to the last thing about my trip, traveling to Mexico in general. Mexico is a beautiful country and begs to be visited and explored. While there are unsafe areas, like any country in the world, the people are some of the friendliest I’ve ever met and the resort areas that I stay at and recommend don’t give me any pause. I’m not a fan of the hotel zone in Cancun for my family, it feels too much like a cross between Myrtle Beach and Las Vegas, but some guests love it there. Wherever you decide to stay, you are in for a great visit.

Until next time!

Amber

 

 

Jamaican retreat? Ya mon!

It was that time of the year ago, hopping on a plane to fly somewhere sunny for the annual Top Agent retreat. This year, we were hosted by the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall resort in beautiful Jamaica, only about 15 minutes from the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. It was my first time at the Hyatt Zilara, an adult only, all-inclusive resort belonging to the Playa resorts family. I certainly hope that it isn’t my last! This resort was perfection and I had no complaints other than an odd shortage of certain towels on our last night, quickly rectified by the housekeeping staff.

A huge benefit of this resort is that it is connected to the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall, a family-friendly all-inclusive property. So, we had access to more restaurants, another pool, more shops, etc. I have to say, traveling without the kid meant that we largely stayed on the Zilara side and enjoyed our adult time. The infinity pool was super relaxing, except for the foam party… Let’s just say the bubbles were flying and the whole event was quite the spectacle from afar (of course.) Much more tame than I was expecting but truly a blast to watch.

Our room was on the third floor and huge with a spacious bathroom and super comfortable king bed. The balcony overlooked the Ziva pool and some swimout rooms… those always look so divine.

Some swimout rooms at the Hyatt Zilara

Alas, a travel agent’s vacation is never truly a vacation and site inspections filled the good part of our first full day. These are always super useful for me because I truly believe that you need to see a brand and property to really be able to match it to the ideal client. There are things about resorts and room types that you just can’t possibly know about or realize unless you see them in person. Even if that means baking in the sun all day and touring multiple resorts in a long weekend.

We visited the Jewel Paradise Cove, adult only resort and I was impressed by the low-key atmosphere and the unbelievable kind and attentive spa staff. I’m a fan of a good spa treatment so I always like to see how the resorts vary (and oh my, do they ever!) when it comes to offerings, the therapists, and overall comfort. This particular treatment works with water in conjunction (or in place of) the therapist’s traditional hand massage, for guests that either don’t like or can’t have a hand massage for whatever reason.

Jewel Paradise Cove's water massage table

We also stopped by Jewel Runaway Bay while we were in the area, a family-friendly resort that also doubles as an excursion for Disney Cruise Line (and others) guests when in port in Falmouth. This resort is best known for its waterpark and snowcones (with or without the alcohol!) The kids club here looked amazing too – I’ve never seen one with as many activities and options for the little ones to enjoy. They had seemingly everything a child could want to keep them entertained while their adults played.

Slides and the lazy river zigzag the waterpark area at Jewel Runaway Bay

After lunch at Jewel Runaway Bay, we headed to the Hilton Rose Hall resort and then to the Jewel Grande resort. Both are family friendly all-inclusive properties as well but very different. The Hilton Rose Hall has a typical Hilton hotel feel while the Jewel Grande very much has the vibe of high-rise condos. I was shocked to see that washer/dryer combos come standard in many of the rooms at Jewel Grande, that’s virtually unheard of at an all-inclusive resort.

The entrance to the Hilton Rose Hall resort. How comfy!

The Jewel Grande’s spa blew my mind, such a tranquil place and really in tune with the current techniques and treatments. They had a full Himalayan salt room with heated loungers and heated steps to relax while soaking in the good vibes from the salt. Whether the salt treatment is proven science or not, the feeling was quite nice and I’d love to spend an hour or two in there. There were several other agents who booked treatments to return the next day!

The Jewel Grande's Himalayan salt room

Before we knew it, it was time to board the plane and head back to Virginia. Boo.  It’s always a bummer to head home but nice to know that my bags don’t have to stay unpacked for long…

Amber

Surprise! We’re celebrating your birthday at Disney!

About a month ago, I was still holding in a big secret… we were taking the kid to Disney World for her birthday! It is so hard to surprise her and I almost slipped up a few different times. Luckily, I was able to keep it in until I picked her up from school early, fed her lunch, and told her to pack her bags! My perfect little plans were thwarted by Hurricane Florence, causing me to have to rearrange flights at the last minute and decide to fly out a day earlier than scheduled. It all worked out ok though and I definitely wasn’t going to complain about more time at the World!

A flight delay and super late arrival meant we rolled into Disney’s Saratoga Springs resort right at midnight. We were just there for the night so we crashed pretty quickly. The next morning, a Lyft took us to our home for the rest of the stay, Disney’s Yacht Club resort and we got settled in. Yacht Club is a beautiful resort and in such a convenient spot to travel to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. The walk over to Epcot only takes a few minutes and is such a nice little stroll. Currently, with the construction at the bus stops and gondola station at Hollywood Studios, walking there is a really, really bad option but taking the boat is a breeze. I had some delicious dark chocolate waffles for a late breakfast at Ale & Compass (formerly the Captain’s Grille restaurant) at the resort and then wandered to our room to unpack.

Waffles from Ale & Compass

Why yes, it was dessert for breakfast!

The resort was recently remodeled and features the standard white linens on the bed but the room didn’t lose all of those signature Disney touches. The curtains were so cute, it truly is a wonder I didn’t try to snatch one.

Yacht Club room curtains

Disney constellations!

First up was Magic Kingdom. We had a few hours to play in the park before the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party started up so we made the most of it. We practically walked on to so many rides! We had our standard three FastPasses but we rode something like ten other rides in just a couple of hours! Dinner at Tony’s Town Square, a new favorite of the kid, and then it was party time. The party sold out, again a Hurricane Florence impact as so many people evacuated to Disney, so it was pretty crowded. We had our highlights to hit — Space Mountain with the lights off, Mad Tea Party with disco lighting and pop music, and Pirates of the Caribbean with live actors plus a little trick-or-treating, Magic Shots, and the Boo to You parade. We crammed as much as we could in the 7pm-midnight time and then hit the hay.

The next morning was an early one. I had registered for an Annual Passholder event at Hollywood Studios for an early opening of Toy Story Land. This event sold out lightning fast back when it opened up so I was super stoked to have been able to participate. This was the first visit to Toy Story Land for the hubs so that made it even more exciting. We had to be at the park at 7am and we rolled in just after that. I would’ve been there before that but the universe was against us that morning and what I thought would be a quick walk from the resort to the park turned out to be a super awful winding adventure through the Hollywood Studios parking lot. Definitely not how I wanted to spend my pre-7am time and before breakfast no less. We made it though and rode Alien Swirling Saucers twice, Toy Story Mania three times, and Slinky Dog Dash FIVE times! The hubs rode with us on Slinky the first two times but then the kid and I just kept getting back in the line and riding by ourselves until the droves of guests came in at 9am. Again, again, again!!

Slinky Dog Dash

That wait time does indeed say 10 minutes!

That night, the kid and I went to Epcot while the hubs ventured off to Universal Orlando to go to Halloween Horror Nights. You wouldn’t catch me anywhere near that but he had a blast on his own, especially in the Stranger Things house. Express Pass for the houses was a must that night as the lines were huge since it was the opening weekend of the event for 2018.

Epcot was filled with guests enjoying the Food & Wine Festival, some enjoying a little (lot) too much in the alcohol department. I’m not sure I’d choose Epcot as the place to get drunk since the alcohol is pretty expensive, the park crowded, and the temperature pretty hot. Not the best recipe for fun. Great teaching moment for the kid though.

Before we knew it, we were packing our bags and the long weekend was coming to an end. These trips are often way too short but so very much fun. Reconnecting with the fam and making new memories is worth every dollar and minute.

Until next time…

Amber

Magical Express time

Time to get back on the bus…

Disney – summer 2018 – round 3!

It was back to the Walt Disney World resort for me and the kid in late July! We spent several days in the Florida sun trying out even more new things on this last trip. How is that possible, you ask? Disney is ever-changing and no matter how many times you go (even in a row), there’s always something new to do. So let’s talk about what was new this time!

  • Disney’s Coronado Springs resort
    • LOVED it! I haven’t stayed here for about three years and have to say, I hated it last time. The rooms were old, resort too spread out, had too much of a business traveler feel, etc. This time… such an improvement!
    • First, the rooms are all being renovated to a modern, crisp new style with laminate flooring, new walk-in showers, a beautiful new vanity area with tons of storage, and a huge countertop surface that is perfect for working or managing all of your vacation goodies in the room.
    • The resort will never lose the business travel vibe because it is a main convention resort for Disney. It also has a new 15-story tower being built at its entrance to support more convention traffic. That being said, this resort is great for families with older children or adults traveling alone because the vibe is so relaxed. The buses are rarely crowded, we had one all to ourselves and several with just a handful of other guests onboard. There are four bus stops at the resort but they go very quickly. The food court was never even remotely full, even at peak breakfast time. I could see families with small children there too, although there are other resorts that fit that demographic a little bit better.
    • The construction for the new tower didn’t impact our stay at all. It is HUGE but actually looks like it will be pretty nice in the end. I’m not sure how the extra traffic from that tower will affect the resort overall, so I’m holding my final thoughts until I can stay there after that is fully operational. I think, between now and whenever that is done though, Coronado Springs is fair game in the moderate category! They’re also building an over-the-water restaurant which I’m sure will be a hit with guests.

      Coronado Springs room

      Check out all of that counter space and drawers! Loved these renovated rooms at Coronado Springs!

  • Pirates and Pals fireworks voyage
    • First and foremost, if you’re seeing the Magic Kingdom fireworks (“Happily Ever After”) for the first time, see them IN THE PARK. If you want a special viewing area, do the Fireworks Dessert Party with Plaza Garden viewing in the park. Definitely do not watch those fireworks from outside the park for the first (or even second) time. You need to be in full view of the front of Cinderella Castle to enjoy the projections shown on the Castle. This is an important part of the new show and just is not the same if you miss them.
    • This is a separate event with an additional fee that is prepaid at the time of booking.
    • The fun starts with a pirate party at the Contemporary resort that includes snacks, drinks, and frozen treats plus a meet-and-greet with Captain Hook and Smee. From there, you move on to board a boat to sail to the Seven Seas Lagoon, where you’ll drop anchor for the fireworks viewing. You’ll wrap back at the Contemporary, meeting another special guest before continuing on your way to finish out the evening.
    • We had a great time on the lake and watching the fireworks from afar, but we’ve also seen Happily Ever After many times from inside the park. Meeting Hook and Smee plus the special guest was a nice treat as were the frozen goodies (Mickey ice cream sandwiches, strawberry popsicles, lemonade popsicles, to name a few.) You’re hosted by two pirates during the party and one of the pirates was hovering on the inappropriate side from time to time as far as jokes made (which was really surprising to me, being Disney, but there were very few small children in the group so maybe that changed the vibe?) so I’m not sure how that left me feeling overall.
    • Would I do this event again? Probably not. I much more prefer the dessert party from inside the park with the better fireworks viewing, way more dessert/treat options, and ease of going back to the rides (or shops!) after the fireworks end.

      Pirates & Pals

      Welcome to the voyage!

  • Toy Story Land (at night)
    • We had already done Toy Story Land during the day but didn’t have time to experience it at night on our last trip. So this time, we made a point to go back in the late evening. It was so worth it! The land takes on a whole new look in the nighttime with everything aglow! Alien Swirling Saucers is a much better ride at night with the lights and music – you can enjoy them a lot more after the sun has gone down. Not to mention, nowhere near as hot when the blazing sun isn’t cooking you from lack of shade.
      Andy's Footprint

      One of Andy’s footprints in Toy Story Land. Much easier to see when the land isn’t packed!

       

  • Painting with a View
    • I have been a Disney Vacation Club member (Disney’s timeshare program) since 2006 and wanted to enjoy one of the new offerings for members called ‘Painting with a View’. This is a private event for members only and runs around $55/person for the two-hour painting session that takes place at the top of Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The 16th floor lounge hosts a small group of painters to recreate a Disney themed painting with a local artist.
    • Our session included light snacks and drinks as well as a killer view (see the blog cover photo) of the Seven Seas Lagoon area. The painting we worked on was from Moana and featured Moana in her sailboat, sailing into the sunset with her Grandmother ray sailing alongside.
    • I loved this experience and would definitely do it again!

      Painting with a view

      The Kid, creating her Moana masterpiece

  • Rivers of Light
    • We’ve seen Rivers of Light, the nighttime show at Animal Kingdom, a few times now. I wanted to swing by the show area though to see how the crowds were looking and wow… the outdoor theater was already really full well before the show was to start. The ‘standby’ section for those without a FastPass or tickets from a dining package (what I recommend for my clients) was at standing room only at least 30 minutes prior to the show starting.

      Everest looming over Rivers of Light

      A full moon glows over the mountain that is guarded by the fierce Yeti!

  • Epcot fun!
    • Lots of fun in Epcot this time too! We enjoyed the new Kidcot activity sponsored by Ziploc that recently replaced the ‘Duffy on a stick’ coloring activity that had been at Epcot for the last several years. I have to say, the new activity is so much better! You go from country to country to collect a little info card about that country. The Cast Member at the Kidcot station writes a phrase or a drawing on the card related to their country and you collect those cards and a sticker at each location. You’re given a cute little Ziploc slider bag that looks like a suitcase at the start of your journey to collect the cards in. For those who liked the coloring downtime, don’t worry! The back of each card features a scene with Disney characters related to that country.

It’s amazing to watch how the construction is progressing at Disney on a variety of projects like the Riviera Beach resort being built near Caribbean Beach, the tower at the Coronado Springs resort, the entire Skyliner (gondola) system, and even the new attractions in Epcot. The Guardians of the Galaxy ride in Epcot is really starting to take shape. It looks to be HUGE! You can see its frame going up in the photo below, look for Spaceship Earth (the big ball), then the tree to the right. On the right side of the tree, you’ll see the Guardians ride building. Crazy how big that is compared to Spaceship Earth! Can’t wait for that one!

Guardians of the Galaxy ride building

To the right of the tree, you’ll see the frame of the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction building!

 

That’s it for now! Catch me next time…

Amber