March Madness — both coasts! (Part 2)

Late March and spring break meant packing up our van and heading south.  For each trip to Walt Disney World, I try to do several new things that I’ve never experienced before.  For this trip, that meant:

  • Going to Cirque du Soleil’s “La Nouba” show
  • Staying in a royal guest room at Port Orleans Riverside resort
  • Trying new restaurants:  Raglan Road, Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming, The Wave, and Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar
  • Watching a “Perfectly Prepared Princess Makeover” at the Grand Floridian’s Ivy Trellis Salon come to life
  • Enjoying the new family raft slide at Typhoon Lagoon “Miss Adventure Falls”

None of my new experiences disappointed!  The food, as always, was fantastic.  We really enjoyed the new restaurants that we tried and I have to say, Jock Lindsay’s has some SPECTACULAR drink offerings and a fantastic theme.  I’d visit all four of the new locations we tried again and again.

My daughter, who is almost a teenager, has gotten out of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeover age but I wanted her to experience a ‘real’ makeover at the Grand during our visit.  Ivy Trellis is an actual salon and spa so we both felt that this particular offering was super for pre-teens and teens to add a little more magic to their vacations.  The makeup and hairstyles were more grown up and the service was impeccable.  Since Ivy Trellis is a full-service salon, the guest is able to choose how they would like their hair styled; there are no preset styles to choose from.  This flexibility is great for older girls and is the first step to see them as they start to blossom into their prom years. **tissues**

We’ve seen numerous Cirque shows closer to home but had never taken the time to watch the “La Nouba” performance while in Florida.  The show ends 12/31 after about twenty years in Orlando, which is an incredible feat.  We quite enjoyed this show and definitely hope that a new show takes its place so we can go back again next year.

How was the lodging?  Well, we stayed for the first part of the trip at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa and then moved to Port Orleans Riverside to try out a royal guest room.  Both resorts were super and I wouldn’t hesitate to return to either.

2017-03-26 12.40.21

Room with a view at the Grand Floridian.  Across Seven Seas Lagoon, you can see the Wedding Pavilion and the Polynesian Resort.

2017-03-29 15.49.37

A room fit for royalty!  The headboards light up with fireworks!

The parks were full of spring cheer with the Flower and Garden Festival in full bloom at Epcot.  I love visiting during the festival and enjoying all of the beautiful topiaries and food stands throughout World Showcase.

2017-03-29 11.56.28

Beautiful gardens at Epcot between Future World and World Showcase

Ah!  Another new thing — we visited the Disney Vacation Club Member Lounge inside of the Imagination Pavilion in Epcot.  What a great place to hang out!  Comfy chairs, free drinks and snacks, outlets galore to charge up your electronics, and a great view!

2017-03-29 11.32.02

View from the DVC lounge in Epcot

Typhoon Lagoon is always a great day (or two) of fun for my family and this trip meant hopping in line to ride the new family raft ride called “Miss Adventure Falls.”  The ride just opened in mid-March after Typhoon Lagoon’s annual refurbishment.  Talk about a ride you just can’t get enough of!  The entire experience from loading to unloading is a blast (of water!)  Speed, curves, and thrills were found throughout and I can’t wait to ride again!

Each time we visit, I’m astonished at how much Disney Springs continues to change.  We enjoyed new stores and restaurants there this time around including the ones on my to-do list plus Amorette’s Patisserie.  You want to know where to get the best dessert?  That’s it, Amorette’s beside the World of Disney store.  They’re not cheap but they are scrumptious.  Worth every last penny.  This place will be on my to-do list from now on.

2017-03-30 19.02.01

Goodies from Amorette’s Patisserie

While at Disney Springs, we had to take time out to see the newly released live-action version of Beauty and the Beast at the AMC Theater.  It had been awhile since we had visited this theater but it too never disappoints.  There’s no place better than seeing a new Disney movie than at Disney (or on a Disney Cruise!)

Of course, all good things must come to an end.  For this trip, it meant a brief stopover at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort in South Carolina to enjoy a little sand and surf.  While the ocean was way too cold to take a dive, my feet took a dip, and I found a few shells to bring home to remember the visit.

I’ll leave you with this parting thought…

2017-04-01 11.34.26

Advertisements

March Madness — both coasts! (Part 1)

It’s been awhile since my last post… you certainly didn’t think I have been sitting at home on the sofa, did you?  No way!  It’s the end of April and I’m seriously slacking on posting updates to my blog this year.  Such is the life of a busy travel planner though!  I was on both coasts last month with a business trip to Disneyland in early March followed by a family trip to Disney World at the end of the month.  Let’s recap, shall we?

Disneyland in California, Walt’s original.  Love it there.  Can never say that enough.  If it wasn’t such a long flight and a three-hour time difference, I’d be there much more often.  This was my third trip out, first alone, and it did not disappoint.  I stayed at the Disneyland Hotel during my visit for the first time, previous trips were at the Grand Californian resort.  I’ll tell you, I really enjoyed the Disneyland Hotel and will definitely stay there again.  The authentic Disney feel there was unmistakable.  Zero complaints.  Perfect weather, gorgeous resort, impeccable theme parks, and I even got to experience the California Adventure Food & Wine Festival before it officially opened.

2017-03-07 01.55.25

My room at the Disneyland Hotel.  That headboard lights up with fireworks and plays music!

While this was a business trip and I spent a good bit of time touring resorts and learning more about the West Coast House of Mouse, I had a phenomenal stay and am so glad I was able to participate.  Touring two of the five signature suites at the Disneyland Resort, The Big Thunder Suite and the Adventureland Suite, was amazing.  If I had the cash, I’d be in those for the night in a heartbeat.  Unfortunately, I think one night would be pushing the fiscal limits of a typical week-long visit.

2017-03-07 16.10.42

The living room area in the Big Thunder Suite.

The parks?  Yes, they were as delightful as always.  My only regret was that Pirates of the Caribbean was down for refurbishment during my visit.  That is my fave!  And sorry Disney World, Disneyland’s Pirates ride is SO much better!

2017-03-07 20.59.12

The Main Street Electrical Parade returned to Disneyland earlier this year after being at WDW for over 20 years.

After a few days of hard work (and some time change confusion), I was back on a plane to the East Coast.  Two weeks later, I was packing the van for a trip to Walt Disney World…

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.

disney-springs-11-2016

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.

pool-deck-disney-dream-11-2016

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.

08a-stateroom-dream-11-2016

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.

castaway-cay-11-2016

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.

dream-gingerbread-house-11-2016

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!

pirate-night-buffet-11-2016

Pirate night food decor

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

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!

2016-10-06-14-33-04

Dreams Punta Cana pool

Drink of the day

Drink of the day

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

2016-10-06-18-29-27

Dreams Punta Cana beach view

2016-10-07-18-32-55

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

2016-10-07-16-42-15

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!

2016-10-08-13-06-43

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!

2016-10-06-14-35-51

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.

2016-08-07 16.37.17

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

2016-07-10 13.10.16

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.

2016-07-10 19.25.41

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!

2016-07-09 13.02.12

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!