Why yes, a cruise for Thanksgiving would be divine!

Being a vegetarian, Thanksgiving is not one of my favorite holidays.  For my family, it represents a long weekend that is perfect for hitting the road and enjoying some time together.  This year, that meant packing up and heading to Florida!

First stop, Disney World, for a quick one-night stay at Saratoga Springs.  We are Disney Vacation Club members and own at the Saratoga Springs resort but this was our first stay there in several years.  We chose Saratoga since it sits right beside Disney Springs and visiting there was our plan for this abbreviated stopover.  Thanksgiving dinner was accomplished at ‘Ohana at the Polynesian resort (to die for, as always!) and then a few hours at Disney Springs was a delightful treat.  I’m amazed with each trip how much Disney Spring evolves.  So much of the area is brand-new and super fancy!  I love the changes and can’t wait to see everything fully complete.

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Disney Springs – Town Center

Black Friday morning for me meant breakfast at Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge, no shopping!  We stuffed ourselves and then hopped in the van to head over to Port Canaveral.  Emptying the van and skipping into the terminal at the Port, we got checked-in and waited with the masses.  With boarding group #2, we were some of the first folks onboard the beautiful Disney Dream.  Cabanas for the lunch buffet then a little ship exploration kept us occupied until the lifeboat drill and Sail Away party.

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Pool deck on the Dream after boarding

Sail Away party

Sail Away party (before the crowds hit)

Our stateroom was fantastic!  When I toured the Dream in January 2015, I saw a room type that I had never been inside of before.  I knew when I saw it that I had to book one for myself!  The split layout of these rooms and the two large portholes are amazing.  So much room in the stateroom to spread out and really get settled in.

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Our stateroom on the Dream

During our cruise, which was a super short 3-night Bahamian, the ship docked at Nassau in the Bahamas and Castaway Cay.  As I’ve mentioned before, Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas and it was all decked out for the holidays.

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Island paradise

The ship was also adorned with holiday goodness around every turn.  The lobby featured a beautiful gingerbread house which also filled the air with its lovely scent.

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Dream’s gingerbread house

Pirate night onboard the Dream was a blast (literally!) too with fireworks at sea and the ever-popular Pirate Buffet.  They do such a great job putting out these late-night treats for the hungry pirates!

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Pirate night food decor

Disney Cruise never disappoints and this trip was another memorable one for the fam!

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Punta Cana – a tropical island paradise

I love going to the beach!  Relaxing with my toes in the sand, collecting seashells, and snorkeling are some of my favorite things.  When I was invited on an agent retreat to Punta Cana, I jumped at the chance to explore a new island getaway!

Punta Cana is in the Dominican Republic, a country that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.  The island is south of Cuba and west of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic side of the island has been under rapid development in the last few years.  I was amazed to see how many spectacular resort options there were in the greater Punta Cana area as well as how friendly the locals were.  Spanish is the language spoken in the DR and I definitely wouldn’t attempt renting a car and driving around without a decent command of the language.  There’s really no need to worry with your own transport as there are many transfer options available for your use.

The hubs came along, which is rare on an agent trip because these visits are typically restricted to agents only.  I was delighted to have the companionship and be able to share this new experience with him!  We arrived at Dreams Punta Cana, our resort for the trip, and were blown away by the beauty of the property.  A main feature there is the pool, which runs basically the entire length of the property from the lobby to the beach.  It was a great place to sit and enjoy the drink of the day!

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Dreams Punta Cana pool

Drink of the day

Drink of the day

The beach itself was equally beautiful with the most wonderful sunsets!

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Dreams Punta Cana beach view

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Dreams Punta Cana sunset

Our accommodations for the stay blew me away.  We had a room that was over 600 square feet with a gigantic king size bed, a huge balcony with a private hot tub, a living room, walk-in closet, large bathroom area with walk-in shower and double sinks plus a well-stocked mini-bar filled with Cokes and El Presidente (the DR beer.)

The bedroom

The bedroom with a window that opened up to the hot tub on the balcony

Agent trips are always filled with destination and supplier training plus site inspections.  Those are exhausting but very worthwhile as we go from resort to resort to look at room types, locations, restaurant and entertainment options, property layout, meeting the staff, etc.  On this trip, I was fortunate to be able to go to Zoetry Punta Cana, Breathless Punta Cana, and Royalton Punta Cana.  Each resort has its own vibe and appeals to a different type of client, so it is very helpful to see them in person to be able to match up the right client to the corresponding resort.

Zoetry Punta Cana

Zoetry Punta Cana, a spa and wellness resort

 

Breathless Punta Cana

Breathless Punta Cana, a resort for guests that enjoy the social scene and a fun and classy party atmosphere

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Royalton Punta Cana, a resort for families but also features an adult only section

The hubs and I decided to spend a day away from our resort on Saona Island, only accessible via boat.  We traveled down from Punta Cana to La Romana and took our speedboat ride out to the island.  Along the way, the boat stopped at an area of natural swimming pools in the ocean where the water was around three-feet-deep and starfish were aplenty.

Starfish

Huge starfish off of Saona Island

The island itself is one of those places that you visit for a few hours but never want to leave.  I am a seashell collecting fanatic and could have spent days looking at everything that was washing ashore there from purple fan coral to red rock coral, scotch bonnets, cowry shells, sea urchins, sea biscuits, etc.  A shell hunter’s paradise!

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Saona Island

The ride through the towns in the area was a delightful experience.  The landscape is lush and mountainous with areas of development sprinkled throughout.  We saw several stands setup by the locals selling the products of the land like coconuts, sugarcane, bananas (or plantains, I can never tell the difference from afar), etc.

Roadside stand

Goods for sale at a roadside stand including coconuts and sugarcane

Overall, our trip was fantastic!  I found another fabulous vacation destination that I can’t wait to return to and share with my clients.  It was bittersweet to be heading home even though I was exhausted from the trip. I still miss sitting on a bench and watching these guys, right near our room.  Dreams Punta Cana is a wonderful place to enjoy for couples and couples with children and I can’t wait to go back!

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Flamingos and koi at Dreams Punta Cana

Until next time!

Amber

The Homestead Resort

On the road again… literally.  Earlier this month, the fam and I were off on a quick trip to the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, VA for a work event for the hubs.  Hot Springs isn’t terribly far from home but the drive is forest-lined and deer-filled.  When we finally arrived at the resort, the building was impressive to say the least.  The resort is celebrating its 250th birthday this year and that alone is quite the feat.  Many famous guests including over twenty presidents have visited the resort over the years and I always enjoy visiting places the kid would refer to as “swanky.”  The Homestead fit the bill.

So let’s see, some tidbits.  The original resort burnt down in the early 1900s after a fire in the bakery.  The main lobby was rebuilt in 1903 and the resort has been expanded over the course of time.  The sprawling nature of the resort isn’t really evident until you arrive on-site and begin to trek to the different amenities such as the indoor pool, spa, on-site waterpark, even the famous Jefferson Pools.  Funny thing about the Jefferson Pools, these are the bathhouses that feature the natural mineral springs that flow through the area. Definitely wanting to see what that was all about, it was super odd to me to find out that they are actually in Warm Springs, a nearby city, not on the resort grounds even though they are a part of the Homestead Resort officially.  Weird.  Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling like an adventure and since they turn into clothing optional locations in the early afternoon, I’m not too sure the kid (or I) would’ve enjoyed the entertainment.

Moving right along, the weather was fantastic on our arrival day.  Of course, waking up the next morning meant 60 degrees and rain.  Not a day for the waterpark activities which was a big bummer.  The indoor pool, which is spring fed, provided a nice place to spend the morning though so all was not lost.  We also discovered that the resort has great room service, which is always a plus.  Day two meant 50 degrees (in August?!?) and while there was no rain, that was way too nippy for my taste.  The kid and I spent some time enjoying the Great Hall (the main lobby) and all of its architectural features.  It is amazing to see the details in these old buildings and to think about the craftsmanship and time that must have gone into creating these masterpieces.

In the winter, the resort offers ice-skating and skiing although I can’t imagine braving those mountain roads to get to the resort in bad weather.  No thanks.  I wouldn’t mind visiting again in the spring when I’m sure everything is in fresh bloom or the summer when we can enjoy the outdoor recreation more.  All-in-all, a great getaway that felt like stepping back in time… and with no free wi-fi, that did feel like plunging into the past.

‘Til next time!

The rear of the resort toward the indoor pool and spa facility.

The rear of the resort toward the indoor pool and spa facility.

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Ceiling of the Great Hall

Going solo to Turks and Caicos

Last October, I ventured to the Caribbean to tour some of the Sandals and Beaches brand resorts in Jamaica.  In early July, I jumped on a plane to Providenciales, the hub of the Turks and Caicos islands in the British West Indies to tour the Beaches brand resort located there.  Talk about an absolutely amazing experience!  The resort was gigantic but not in a bad way!  So much to do for the whole family,  a killer beach, plenty of restaurants, fantastic service, and luxurious accommodations!

So let’s see, other than touring the resort and the various room types — it was a working trip — I spent hours on the beach, floating and swimming around.  The water is crystal clear like a pool and the pure white sand is fluffy soft.  Of course, I came home a little on the sunburned side but it was so worth it.  I spent some time in two of the many pools as well and enjoyed those and their swim-up bars.  The nights were filled with delicious food including yummy sushi and a to-die-for French restaurant that I could’ve eaten at every night.

French Village pool

French Village pool near my room

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Grotto at the Iguana pool in the Caribbean Village section of the resort

Le Petit Chateau restaurant

Scrumptious French food, steps from my room!

One morning had an early wake-up call to board the Kitty Katt catamaran tour to snorkel in those beautiful blue waters, visit our own deserted island, and then fly off the back of the boat into the open water on their super fun waterslide.  This was my first experience snorkeling and I had a fantastic time, will definitely do it again!

Kitty Katt catamaran

Kitty Katt catamaran tour, at the deserted island

The resort even has its own waterpark area with five slides, a lazy river, and splash pad!  This area bumps up to the tween/teen fun spot with a diner, kids swim-up pool bar, Xbox lounge, DJ Scratch Academy and kids lounge, and hangout spot with family games.

Pirates Island

Pirates Island waterpark slides and lazy river

The grounds are well-kept throughout the resort and you can always find fountains, sitting areas, hammocks, flowers, small geckos, and friendly faces wherever you turn.

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Fountain in the French Village area

This was my view on the way into the islands and as I was taking off to head back to the States.  I hope that I am seeing this view again, sooner rather than later!

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View from the plane flying over Turks and Caicos

Ocean Isle Beach with the fam

After a recent weeklong stay at Ocean Isle Beach in North Carolina, I can confirm that there is such a thing as salt therapy.  It does a body good to plop on the sand, splash in the ocean, and soak in the sun.  Doing so with your family is even better.

Ocean Isle is such a relaxing place with a slower pace that I enjoy so much while recharging from my daily life.  I do work while at the beach but there’s something about doing work on a beach chair in the sand, or from a wicker sofa on a deck in the sun, that really makes the time spent working not so rough.

Normally, Ocean Isle is the place for collecting seashells but this year was pretty much a bust.  We did find a few good specimens but for the most part, the shells were hard to find.  That’s super weird but I chalk it up to high tides all week and the lack of storms in the area that stir up the good stuff.

Speaking of weather, it was perfection!  Warm days, cool nights, no rain… loved it!  I was expecting it to be much more hot and humid than it was but was certainly grateful for the pleasant temps.

The food was good, we hit up all the usual spots that we visit while in the area.  A couple of days at Myrtle Beach for dinner and some time at the outlets rounded out the non-beach time.  This trip was mostly about hanging out at our rental house and spending time together and I think we accomplished that quite well.

Til’ next time!

 

 

Disneyland’s 60th celebration!

It was back to the West Coast over Memorial Day weekend to celebrate Disneyland’s 60th birthday!  The Diamond celebration began last year and I knew that I had to get to Cali to enjoy the festivities in person.

I really thought that I was in for it to be traveling to a place like Disneyland over a holiday weekend.  I was expecting high crowds and balmy temperatures based on my experience with Walt Disney World.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The weather was lovely, upper 70s each day and somewhat overcast (my first trip with no sunburn!!)  It was only crowded on our last day in the parks but we had overlapped Grad Night celebrations for local schools.  Even still, the crowds didn’t touch what we have experienced on our prior Florida trips.  We basically walked on most rides with the longest waits being maybe 20 minutes.  We did use FastPasses (paper FastPasses!) so that helped with Hyperspace Mountain, Star Tours, and Radiator Springs Racers but other than that, you didn’t need them.

Our first memorable experience for the trip was getting stuck on top of the biggest hill on California Screamin’, a coaster in Disney’s California Adventure park.  We were climbing the big hill and all of the sudden, the train stopped.  I knew that was not good.  After a bit of a delay, Cast Members came running up the stairs (panting all the way up the 120 feet) to tell us what was going on and to help us out.  Out, as in out of the train!  We had to be released from our harnesses and then walk down the steps back to the park.  At first, there was a bit of freaking out but we did get some great pictures though.  Turns out some younger park-goers somehow missed all of the signs that selfie sticks weren’t allowed in the parks.  While climbing said hill, they felt the need to extend the stick to take that all important selfie and Disney shut the ride down.  At least the stick was confiscated but I think they should’ve taken them out back and…

California Screamin'

California Screamin’

So let’s see, what else.  We went on the ‘Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps’ Tour in Disneyland park and all I can say is ‘WOW.’  It was amazing.  In each land, the guide played clips for us of Walt’s dedication speech for that particular section of the park.  You could really feel Walt’s vision throughout park and this was an excellent experience for all of us.  I would consider this a must-do tour for any Disneyphile.  The tour ended with a visit to the Disneyland Dream Suite — the suite you could win a night in during the ‘Year of a Million Dreams’ promotion a few years back.  Talk about swanky.  No pictures were allowed but it was amazing.  They really went all out for this suite with two bedrooms, a parlor, a secluded outdoor patio, a to-die-for bathroom, and a second outdoor patio overlooking New Orleans Square.  I could have spent all day on that patio just watching the guests go by.

Disneyland Dream Suite

Disneyland Dream Suite

We watched the stunning ‘Paint the Night’ parade in Disneyland followed by the ‘Disneyland Forever’ fireworks.  That parade is the best parade I’ve seen on both coasts.  Very energetic and keeps you in the spirit from beginning to end.

Lumiere during Paint the Night

Lumiere during Paint the Night

On our last trip, we saw some of the ‘World of Color’ nighttime show in California Adventure but didn’t see it up close.  This time around, I decided to purchase tickets to a brand new dessert party offering (I love my desserts) that included seating right at the water for the show.  Our table was perfect and the view, ah-mazing!

World of Color

World of Color

Another super trip and I honestly cannot wait to step foot back into Walt’s magical place.  Once there, I’ll be taking another ‘spin’ on these babies…

Mad Tea Party

Mad Tea Party

Where to next?  Wait and see!

Spring break at Disney = insanity!

Easter week at Disney World — sometimes I have the strangest idea of a good time…

Seriously though, Easter week is not for the faint of heart when talking about a visit to the Mouse.  This is the second busiest time of the year, only falling behind the period between Christmas and New Year’s.  If you’re not into two hour plus waits on the popular rides and nightmarish crowds when leaving the parks in the evening, pick another travel time.  Me though, I laugh at the challenge!  (Not really, I just wanted to keep the peanut from missing any more school this year.)

The first part of the trip featured a stay at the Grand Floridian resort with the bonus of being in a ‘dormer’ room.  These are the rooms on the top floors of the buildings off of the main lobby building.  They are the windows that you see peeking out from under the eaves of the roof, thus being called ‘dormers’, imagine that!  They are like the regular rooms inside except they have tall ceilings and a private balcony.

Grand room view

A room view from our dormer room at the Grand Floridian resort

 

The first order of business was getting ourselves to Hollywood Studios to check out the Star Wars Launch Bay.  We just missed the opening of this new area on our last trip and couldn’t wait to see what all the buzz was about.  Was it great?  Yep!  Meeting Chewbacca and Kylo Ren (super into his character!), seeing all the movie props (lightsabers, Rey’s speeder, costumes), trading with Jawas…  Excitement all around!  That evening, we enjoyed the Symphony in the Stars dessert party, a separate event that featured Star Wars themed food and drink with a reserved viewing area for that night’s Symphony in the Stars fireworks show.  That show was hands down the best fireworks experience (and dessert party too for that matter) that we’ve seen at Disney so far.

Symphony in the Stars fireworks

Symphony in the Stars fireworks

 

The next order of business was Typhoon Lagoon.  If the weather suits, on go the suits!  Typhoon Lagoon never disappoints.  Shoot, on this trip, we even got hailed on during a storm while we huddled under our umbrella!  Free ice falling from the sky, thanks Disney! The storm did clear out the wave pool, a rare sight.  We tried out Blizzard Beach later in the week for the first time.  Favorite?  Typhoon Lagoon, hands down.  The wave pool at Blizzard Beach doesn’t even compare and that’s our favorite part of the day.

Empty TL wave pool

Empty wave pool at Typhoon Lagoon

 

Let’s see, what next?  Ah, Disney Springs.  So Downtown Disney is officially Disney Springs and the construction is really coming along.  We stopped by for some Starbucks, another run through DisneyQuest since it hasn’t closed yet (score!), and to take a few pictures of the construction.  The new bus area and second parking garage are taking shape.  It will be so much easier when the new bus area is up and running and we’re back to two bus stops there instead of just one.  Disney Springs is a sprawling area and that second stop will be so much more convenient.

Disney Springs construction

Construction on new bus stops and second parking garage at Disney Springs

 

The Grand Floridian stay ended and we moved over to the Polynesian Villas for the rest of the trip.  I love the Poly.  I would say it is my favorite resort now that the construction on the villas is complete and both pools are fully open again.  You can’t beat the location and the vibe of this resort.  It reminds me so much of Aulani.

Poly room with a view

Now this is a room with a view! Straight ahead is Space Mountain, to the right of that is the Contemporary resort, to the left is Cinderella Castle.

 

Epcot in the spring means the return of my favorite festival, Flower and Garden.  I love flowers and trees so I love to visit during the festival period.  Disney’s parks and resorts are always impeccable but the work that the horticulture team does at Epcot for this festival is truly breathtaking year after year.  The only negative — ahchoo!  Darn allergies!

Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival

Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival

 

On our last day, we zipped back over to Magic Kingdom for more fun before we hit the road and stopped by the new Jungle Navigation Co Skipper Canteen restaurant for lunch.  This restaurant has funky decor and the great comedy routine that everyone loves from the Jungle Cruise ride.  I think a shorter name would’ve been a smarter move as would taking reservations more than a day in advance but the food was good and the specialty drinks were delish.  The one with the green apple boba balls on top was mine and that straw was gigantic!  I’m happy to report that I did not choke on any of the bobas, despite apparently trying my best.

Jungle Skipper drinks

Drinks (no alcohol for lunch!) at Jungle Skipper Canteen

Last stop, because you know we can’t ever come straight home, was Disney’s Hilton Head Island resort in South Carolina.  This place truly rocks.  It has the Disney feel but at the beach so you really can relax.  Relax at Disney?  I know, no way!  The resort’s ‘mascot’ is Shadow, a beautiful dog who comes by the resort from time to time to visit with the guests and pose for photos.  She loves belly rubs and pats on the head.  Definitely worth stopping for some snoodling.  Her human even gives autographed pictures out!  Woof!

Shadow

Shadow at Hilton Head

 

It’s a wrap!  Was it super crowded?  For sure.  Would we do it again?  You bet.