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!

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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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Two summer trips to Disney are done… almost time for a third!

Hi! Amber here! This post is coming to you direct from the kid. She’s going to give her perspective on our two Disney summer trips so far including a teenager’s point of view of Toy Story Land. Enjoy!

Hello, once again! This is Hailey, and I’m going to be sharing with you my thoughts on the new Toy Story Land! Plus some details on our party of seven, family trip! Here we go!

So for our first trip of the summer we left on the 9th of June, driving in the van, with seven people, three rather large suitcases, backpacks, and a couple snack bags for the twelve and a half hour drive to Orlando. What a ride! Lots of naps, taking videos of my cousin and I doing funny things, dancing, and LOTS & LOTS of singing! (We love to sing “Love is an Open Door”! That’s a favorite!) When we finally got there, we went to SeaWorld. The Dolphin Show was pretty cool, and so was feeding the fish, sea lions, and seals; but the rest of the park was very crowded and just overall meh… We didn’t ride any of the rides, plus I didn’t really desire to lose my lunch… I just prefer Disney World, and all of it’s rides!

When we went to Disney World, we rode lots of fun rides, including Expedition Everest for my second time!! I LOVE that ride!!! Definitely a favorite of mine, now that I have ridden it!!! We also went to the Happily Ever After Dessert Party, which is ALWAYS a fave! So many delicious desserts to try, and the sparkling cider is delicious! (I may have had more than I was supposed to!) And, as always, the fireworks were amazing! During that trip, we stayed at Disney’s Old Key West Resort, which was very nice! There were a lot of bus stops though, and we had to go to the third stop, which took awhile to get around to some nights… but I still REALLY, REALLY enjoyed that trip!!!! I was counting down the days, and so were my cousins! And we can’t wait to go on the next vacation together! Oh! And, on the way home, we stopped at the Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville, Florida, Which was SOOO COOL!! I loved all of the cats and we even adopted a resident there! While he will still remain in the care of Catty Shack Ranch, we sponsor him and can providing funding to give him the best vet care possible! I definitely recommend stopping there for a night feeding, so check their calendar, and make sure to stop by when once is offered! Ok, now let’s go into the more recent trip, the opening of Toy Story Land!

My mom and I had a normal flight, not delayed, not canceled, which was really nice! Then, we were the FIRST people to get on the Magical Express bus and we had to WAIT and WAIT for the rest of the people to come. And then we were the LAST stop! The first was Pop Century, THEN Art of Animation, THEN Boardwalk, THEN FINALLY Caribbean Beach, which was the resort we stayed at. We had ordered Giordano’s pizza delivery, while we were on the bus, and it had said that it would come to the room in 60-70 minutes, which we thought to be plenty of time. Let’s just say Ubers and Lyfts were considered, but not taken, then we got to the resort, AND HAD TO TAKE THE INTERNAL SHUTTLE!!! Like SERIOUSLY?!?!? MY DEEP-DISH PIZZA IS SUPPOSED TO ARRIVE SOON AND WE ARE GOING TO MISS IT!!! But we finally got to our stop then went to the room, the luggage was delivered, and LUCKILY the pizza guy was running late, so it was PERFECT timing!! Mmm… that pizza was DELICIOUS!!! But we only ate half and had to stick the box in the mini fridge… difficult tetris…

The next day we went to check out the situation at Hollywood Studios. We went back to the to-be Toy Story Land entrance, and there were a lot of people bunched around there. We went from there to ride Toy Story Mania, which said the wait was around 70 minutes, but my mom and I think we only waited 20-30 minutes. And she BEAT me!! HOW?!?!??! She, I am pretty sure, got a cat, and I got a beaver. 😦  But the next time we played/rode it I beat her by a little 🙂 , but we both got beavers. After we were done there, we went and rode some other rides and shopped, and we just so happened to sit down on a bench, under an umbrella, when it started to downpour. Perfect timing!! It started to rain harder and harder, so we had to get out our umbrellas and hold them in front of us or beside us to keep from getting completely soaked! Just before we were about to get up I saw someone step in a LARGE puddle of water in the direction we were headed, to get to our Hollywood & Vine lunch reservation, and made sure not to step in it but I assumed that my mom had seen it also, but she had not, haha!

Our lunch was delicious! I really like the food and desserts there! It continued to downpour buckets and buckets of water, and it never completely stopped for the rest of the day. We pretty much just shopped and such after that, and then left, and went back to Caribbean Beach. We went to the “buffet” which was a DISASTER. It was in a pop-up tent sort of thing, since that building and the bulk of the resort was under construction. But they didn’t really have a kitchen, it seemed like, because my mom asked when they were going to get more salmon, because it is one of my favorite foods, and the lady behind the counter said “I don’t know,” and sort of looked back to the door behind which the food was coming from, and we sort of looked confused. The buffet was ok, but I don’t think I would get it again. The breakfast one was better food-wise, but the line was longer. And they had Mickey waffles, which was a plus! And they had real plates! Not paper ones like they had for dinner. We also ate at the Spyglass Grill in the Trinidad South section of the resort, we were in Trinidad North, so we had to walk over farther to get to it. But the pineapple and banana pancakes were delicious!!! I loved them!! Mmm… so good!

We booked a VIP tour to explore Toy Story Land and the top attractions at the other parks. The morning of the tour, we went to eat at The Wave, located in the Contemporary Resort, which was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! I LOVE the sweet potato pancakes, Tillamook cheddar and bacon grits, and the smoked salmon!! And don’t forget the Mickey waffles! The breakfast was delicious, as always! Then, after the breakfast, we split off into three groups and went to vans with the VIP Tour Guide that was assigned to our group, Leslie, and went to Toy Story Land! After getting our bags checked backstage, we walked from the Backstage area near Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster over to the Toy Story Land entrance. By that time, we had heard that Toy Story Land had been closed off, and was only allowing those with FastPasses or with VIP tours into the land. Luckily, we had a VIP tour, so we didn’t have a problem getting in!

The only major problem we had was the low level of shade. There were umbrellas set up throughout the land, but it still was SOOOO hot! My mom had an umbrella, and so did I, so she put hers up for more shade, and all of the people in the group were trying to get in her shade! Anyway, the first ride we rode was Alien Swirling Saucers. I LOVED it! It reminded me so much of Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, which is in Disneyland, and one of my favorite rides! And then after that we rode Slinky Dog Dash, which was also REALLY fun! My mom didn’t expect to like it that much, but after riding it, she liked it a lot! I also really liked it! The lap-bars were really nice too, they had hand-grips on either side of the bar, which was nice! (Even though my hands were always in the air!) After riding the new rides, we rode Toy Story Midway Mania! After finishing in Hollywood Studios, we rode over to Animal Kingdom. In Animal Kingdom, we rode Na’vi River Journey and then we had lunch at Satu’li Canteen. Lunch was delicious, but we had to wait FOREVER to even get our order placed! And as always, I recommend the blueberry cream cheese mousse! Mmmm! After lunch, we rode Flight of Passage, which, as always, was really REALLY fun!

After Animal Kingdom, we went to Epcot! First, in Epcot, we rode Soarin’ Around the World, which was fun! And then we got back in the van and drove around to Norway, to ride Frozen Ever After! Frozen Ever After was as fun as ever, and we got wet, which felt delightful in the hot weather! And after riding Frozen Ever After, the group hopped back in the van. We decided to go back to Hollywood Studios to ride Slinky Dog Dash once more! After getting off of Slinky Dog Dash, we broke off from the rest of the group, who decided to go ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, before five o’clock, when the tour was over, so we said our goodbyes, and went to look at some Toy Story Land merch! After getting some opening day pins and such, we headed over to Magic Kingdom for our reservation at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, which was delicious! We got caprese salad, which was AMAZING, and we each got a different kind of pasta. My mom got gnocchi in pesto with veggies, which was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G; and I got a sort of Alfredo sauce covered ravioli, which wasn’t nearly as good as her gnocchi… so after she was done eating hers, I sort of ate a lot of the leftover veggies in the pesto that she didn’t want. Mmmm!!!! Good!

After eating dinner, we went and rode some rides. And OMG!!! I got my mom to ride Tomorrowland Speedway!!! She NEVER rides it!! But it is one of my favorite rides!! She always think that it makes her smell funny, and doesn’t normally ride it because of that, but she DID ride it!!! Haha! Well anyway, we also rode The Little Mermaid ride, it’s a small world, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. This past trip was a quick one, but we have one more trip to the Mouse House coming up!

–Hailey

 

Toy Story Land grand opening!

I’m back from another trip to the Walt Disney World resort in Florida! I visited at the end of June to celebrate and enjoy the grand opening of Toy Story Land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. What a fun new land and great addition to the park… if Disney would just add a little shade there though…

First up, lodging. I stayed at Disney’s Caribbean Beach resort to see how the construction there was coming along. In a word… slowly. I haven’t been recommending this moderate level resort to my clients for some time and it looks like that’s not going to be changing. With the construction of the new Riviera Beach resort adjacent to Caribbean Beach, the Skyliner station, the complete renovation of the Old Port Royale section of the resort, and the always clunky Custom House check-in area, this one just can’t be on my list right now. Once the Custom House/check-in moves over to the centrally located (and eventually re-opened) Old Port Royale and the Skyliner system is up and running, this resort will be hugely improved. Until then, no-go.

Caribbean Beach food court in a tent

Current food court option at Caribbean Beach resort

No exaggeration, the ‘food court’ is currently a buffet breakfast and dinner, some type of grab and go for lunch. Granted, the buffet is pretty cheap as far as Disney pricing goes, but eating in a tent on paper plates with tiny little plastic cups is just weird.

On to the good stuff. Toy Story Land! First, grand opening days/weekends are NOT for the faint of heart. It was a mob scene on 6/30 when the land opened. We’re talking hours and hours in line just to be allowed into the land itself because it hit capacity very early on. Not to mention the hours in line for the two new rides: Alien Swirling Saucers and Slinky Dog Dash Coaster. Swirling Saucers is very similar to Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree at Cars Land in California Adventure, with different ride vehicles, a ceiling, and fun ride music. Great for families and little ones, which is what Hollywood Studios really needed. Toy Story Mania’s entrance moved from the Pixar Place side into Toy Story Land itself but the ride remains the same (always fun for everyone!)

The highlight attraction is the Slinky Dog Dash coaster. This ride is a family-oriented coaster with a 38″ height requirement, just like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom. I like Slinky a lot better though, for several reasons. First, the ride is so much smoother. This is one of the smoothest coasters I’ve ever ridden. The theme too is just so cute and the way you come down the first big hill into Andy’s backyard really makes you feel like you’re about to re-enter the crowd! The ride stops midway to rev up and take off again across Slinky’s mini-hills, making you really get the ‘walks down stairs’ effect of a slinky toy. Big bonus! You can see into what will be Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge while on Slinky Dog so take a glance to your right!

I also love the ride vehicle! Slinky is so cute and the ride cars are so much more comfortable than Mine Train’s. They are more spacious inside and they have a split pull-down lap bar. That means each guest can pull the lap bar down to the desired height on their waist and there is no bar system that your legs must fit into. For those who are familiar with Mine Train, the lap bars are individual there as well but they are in sort of a frame where your legs/knees must squish between them. Since I’m Pooh-sized and not short, riding Mine Train can be extremely uncomfortable. Not so with Slinky Dog! I actually wish they’d close Mine Train for awhile and replace those ride vehicles with some like they’re using for Slinky. Gigantic improvement!

Slinky getting ready to 'go, go, go!'

Slinky getting ready to ‘go, go, go!’

Alien Swirling Saucers

Slipping and sliding in your saucer!

I can’t wait to go back later this month and visit the land at night. All the lights and effects look amazing! One huge negative is the shade. This new space has virtually no shade, no indoor stores/spaces, very small bathroom area, and no indoor restaurants. There is a quick service food option called ‘Woody’s Lunch Box’ that I’ll be trying on my next visit — this visit was just too hot and packed to even consider a stop. One good piece of advice is regarding merchandise. You can get merch for the land where Sweet Spells used to be, on Sunset around the corner from the Hollywood Brown Derby. This is a new merch location and much easier to navigate than trying to get to the carts in the land itself. Another tip, head to the land early in the morning or late at night (or both.) Trying to do Toy Story Land midday (unless you have a FastPass) is going to be a hot mess for awhile.

How did I get so lucky to be in Toy Story Land on grand opening day? Not to mention that I didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes (except for a backup on Alien Swirling Saucers that kept us in line for probably 15 minutes)? VIP Tour, that’s how. Was it free? Heck no! I get a lot of comments about how it must be nice to be a travel agent and travel for free but I can assure you, that’s not the case. We pay for everything, just like a regular consumer and VIP tours are an expensive experience. A small group of agents and their families got together and booked our own VIP guide to experience Toy Story Land on opening day as well as hit the most popular rides in the other parks in the seven hours we had the guide. The result?

  1. Hollywood Studios for Alien Swirling Saucers then Slinky Dog Dash
  2. Animal Kingdom for Na’vi River Journey, lunch at Satu’li Canteen, Avatar: Flight of Passage
  3. Epcot for Soarin’ and Frozen Ever After
  4. Back to Hollywood Studios for another go on Slinky Dog Dash and then some of the group wrapped on Rock n’ Roller Coaster. The plan was to go to Magic Kingdom but Slinky Dog was calling for a repeat!

The benefits, other than having a guide to take you into the FastPass lines of these insanely popular rides without having a FastPass? Private transportation backstage to each park, no bag check every time you needed to go into a new park, no turnstiles, drop off right at or very close to the ride entrance backstage, snacks/water/ponchos, etc. It was amazing! These tours are for up to 10 guests, minimum of 7 hours, theme park admission is required (including hoppers if you’re doing more than one park) and the per hour rate varies from $425 to $625/hour. You also tip the guide after the tour is complete. So yes, that’s about $3k-$4,500 for the tour. (I can set these up for my clients as well, just ask if you’re interested and we’ll come up with a fantastic tour plan for you!) These are completely custom and the guide will take you to do literally whatever attractions you want, based on their availability. We were going to ride Test Track in Epcot as well but a thunderstorm shut the ride down. You’ll want to allot very little time to eating and shopping during your tour because, let’s face it, you’re paying a premium to have the guide act as your personal FastPass and who wants to waste that shopping?!?

After the tour was over, we went to Magic Kingdom for dinner and were able to get in a few more attractions before the park closed. Four parks in one day! 14 attractions! Super exciting!

Whew, what a busy few days! We’re headed back later this month to do “Toy Story Land — the sequel” where we’ll play a little more in the evening, see what has changed since it first opened (hopefully there’s some shade!), and then check out a few new offerings. We’ll be at a different resort for that trip so stay tuned to see what resort I visited and thoughts on that one.

Happy July!

One birthday, seven guests, some tigers, and 100 degrees! Back to Disney!

We hopped in the van and hit the road to the Sunshine State… me, the hubs, the kid, my mom, stepdad, and two nieces. You would think that seven people in a mini-van (love our Toyota Sienna!) for 12.5 hours would be a rough start to a trip but I think all the conversation made the ride seem quicker. The feet in the face, not so much (Skylar!) but otherwise the ride was smooth and our quick overnight in Georgia helped break up the drive.

Arriving in Orlando, we went first to SeaWorld, a first trip for the kids and the hubs. I hadn’t visited since I was a teenager years ago. The best part was the dolphin show, which I think most guests remember from trips as a child, but otherwise the park felt lacking. Too hot, too crowded, lacking enough signage, etc. I still have a hard time with some of their animal practices so that didn’t help my overall impression but I went in with an open mind on that front. There were way more rides than the last time I visited and those seemed to be the draw — in this seemingly animal-focused park. Weird.

Dolphin show at SeaWorld

Dolphin show at SeaWorld… such brilliant mammals!

At Disney, in all fairness, it was hot too but their parks seem to have more airflow and shady spots to take a break, sorely needed in the summer. We spent the next few days zipping from park to park, cramming in as much as possible so the nieces could hit the highlights in all four parks. Mine Train, Expedition Everest, Big Thunder Mountain, Soarin’, Frozen Ever After, Rock n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Star Tours, Avatar: Flight of Passage… even time for a spin on the Carousel of Progress. So much accomplished in a short three park days.

Eeyore

We even made time for this guy!

Everyone enjoyed the Happily Ever After fireworks dessert party in Magic Kingdom, despite Mother Nature’s attempt to rain us out. Big negative this time around was the dessert party crowd in the viewing area. Disney recently started offering a post-fireworks dessert party in addition to the pre-fireworks party. Those post-fireworks guests share the same viewing area with the pre-fireworks guests and that stinks. It was much more crowded than we experienced in March – during spring break. Hopefully this changes.

A super fun time was had by all at Typhoon Lagoon, with a Beachcomber Shack (private cabana) rental to enjoy all day long. We also visited Typhoon Lagoon one evening during a private Disney Vacation Club event but that was PACKED! Hard to find an empty chair anywhere and the lines were long throughout. So much for a limited admission event…

 

Typhoon Lagoon

An empty wave pool awaits at Typhoon Lagoon!

When we drive to Florida, I like to try to find fun things to do on the way home, if we have time. This trip had a planned activity on the way home that was thwarted by crazy hot/humid temperatures and rainstorms. I changed my plans on the fly to include a visit to the Catty Shack Ranch in Jacksonville, Florida. This is a non-profit, forever home for wild cats that have been abandoned, neglected, or given up for various reasons by private owners and zoos. If you’re ever in Jacksonville, I highly recommend checking their calendar to see if they’re open to the public for a night feeding that day. Super fun time for everyone, reasonably priced, and a great cause. You can even adopt one of the cats and help support their mission to build new enclosures. For local folks, this reminded me a lot of the Wildlife Center of Virginia’s origins with wild cats instead of native Virginia wildlife. Seeing tigers and lions frolicking with the Executive Director and volunteer staff was truly a memorable experience!

Catty Shack Ranch

Just chilling after a huge rainstorm, waiting on my dinner to be delivered!

Until next time… which happens to be very soon! Toy Story Land grand opening, here I come!