Cruising Disney: buy the book

04/16/2015 - Leave a Response

cruise photo book 1

There’s no shortage of photo ops on a Disney cruise. Photographers are all over the place, characters meets are plentiful, and the scenery is amazing. I made a habit of stopping by Shutters (the onboard photo store) frequently. I’d look through our Disney cruise photos to mentally keep track of everything, all the while weighing my options on what to buy (if any). You see, they’re expensive. Prices vary, but I believe our options were: $20 per print, $150 for 10 digital downloads, or $150 for a photo book containing up to 34 pictures. Since the photo book was clearly the best value, and since I couldn’t bear to part with ALL the cruise pics (there were several that didn’t make the cut), and since purchasing digital downloads would mean waiting for my photographer husband to retouch them all before I could do anything with them, I bought the book. I’m so glad I did!

cruise photo book 2

If you’re going to order the Disney cruise photo book, do so on the last night of your cruise. That way, you’ll have all of your pictures to choose from. Shutters has odd hours, and they reopened at 9:30 pm on the final night of our cruise. I left dinner a tad early and got to Shutters at 9:25. This turned out to be a great decision, as a line quickly formed while I used one of the kiosks to put my photo book together.

Have you purchased any Disney cruise photos? What do you think is the best way to go?

Cruising Disney: Dress Up Night!

04/14/2015 - 2 Responses

My everyday outfit consists of yoga pants, a tunic T-shirt, and maybe a fleece. So boring! When I heard that Disney Cruise Line has a Dress Up Night, I was so excited! I even went out and bought myself a brand new fancy dress. :)

The evening was super fun! Before dinner, Mickey and Minnie were available in fancy attire for meeting and greeting and picture-taking.

dress up night 1

We even got to have our picture taken with Captain Fabian!

dress up night 2

(The above pictures are from our DCL photo book. More on that in my next post.)

Now, Dress Up Night is “optional,” but pretty much everyone participated to some degree. Do you enjoy dressing up for dinner?

A small fire and some Cubans

04/09/2015 - 4 Responses

Disney strives for perfection, which I fully appreciate. Some things are beyond their control, however. We saw this firsthand on our Disney cruise. The calm, professional, and compassionate way in which the crew handled a couple of very unusual situations further secured my love of Disney.

Day four was an “at sea” day. We took full advantage of all the great activities offered onboard. At one point, we decided to go up to Deck 9 for a character meet-and-greet. While standing in the short line, awaiting our turn, about a dozen crew members in full fire-fighting gear ran past us. It was a quiet, orderly run – almost a jog. There was no yelling or other commotion. They quickly assembled at Pinocchio’s Pizzeria and focused intently on, well, whatever it was they were doing. There was a total lack of drama, so we thought it was just a drill. Shortly after they dispersed, the captain came over the PA system to explain that there had been a “small fire” in the pizzeria and that everything was fine. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing Disney Cruise Line had such an awesome protocol in place for an event like that.

This is one of the pictures I took during the "small fire" emergency. The entire crew was so calm, we had no idea it was more than a drill.

This is one of the pictures I took during the “small fire” emergency. The entire crew was so calm, we had no idea it was more than a drill.

Later that day, my husband and I indulged in a couples massage. (Highly recommended!) Afterwards, as I passed an incoming guest in the changing room, she said to me, “I hope we get moving again soon.”

“Pardon?”

“I heard the Coast Guard is coming, so we should be moving again once they get here.”

I had no idea what she meant, so I explained that I’d just come from a 50-minute massage, and she explained that we’d come across a small boat full of Cuban refugees while I’d been off the grid. Our ship had come to a stop to wait with them until the Coast Guard arrived. I rushed out of the spa, leaving my poor husband behind, to check on our boys. I was concerned that the situation might scare them. Fortunately, they weren’t scared, but they were very concerned about the refugees. Our ship stayed with the small boat for about 1 1/2 hours until the Coast Guard arrived to lead them away. During that time, our ship’s crew members gave them food, water, and extra clothing. While they couldn’t allow them onto the Wonder, they did everything they could to help. And, just like with the pizza fire, it was done with calm professionalism and a complete lack of drama.

photo credit: Weston Brainerd

photo credit: Weston Brainerd

photo credit: Weston Brainerd

photo credit: Weston Brainerd

My highest regards go to Captain Fabian and his crew for the outstanding way in which they handled two emergencies in one day at sea.

Animation class: Pluto

04/06/2015 - 2 Responses

I’ve always wanted to go to the Animation Academy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The problem is, no one else in my family has any interest in this drawing class. When I realized that drawing classes would be held during our cruise, I made it a point to go to one. On day four, while everyone else was busy with their own activities, I slipped away to the Animator’s Palate to learn to draw Pluto.

To start, each person was given a paper like this:

I particularly like the Walt Disney quote. (click to enlarge)

I particularly like the Walt Disney quote (click to see it more clearly).

The instructor took us through the drawing step by step. She had a great sense of humor and made the class really fun! It was a big group, so I couldn’t see her all that well. I watched one of the screens instead:

pluto 2

I’m so not an artist, but was pleased with my final result:

pluto 3

Have you ever taken a Disney animation class? If not, I’d recommend it!

WDW recommendations for young families

04/02/2015 - Leave a Response

A few months back, a friend asked me for WDW recommendations for his upcoming family vacation. It will be the first Disney trip for his boys, who will be 8 and 6. Being the long-winded Disney geek that I am, I sent him a pretty comprehensive list. Since that time, others have asked me the same question. So I thought I’d publish my list here. The following was specifically for his family, but can be generalized to the 8-and-under set, though you might have to check the height requirements for some of the rides. That info can be found on the Disney World website. Enjoy!

Back when my boys were 8 and under!

Back when my boys were 8 and under!

WDW has changed a lot in the past year-and-a-half. Instead of paper FastPasses (which you would obtain on the day of your park visit and which would allow you a shorter wait time for certain rides), you now make FastPass+ ride reservations in advance. Those reservations are linked to your MagicBands, so there’s no more running around the park for paper FPs. I like the new system, though lots of people don’t. The main complaint is that you only get to make 3 FP+ reservations ahead of time. Once you use those 3, you simply go to a FP+ kiosk in the park and make another one. Once you use that FP+, you can repeat the process. So, here are my top recommendations for your fam:

Magic Kingdom

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: This is billed as a “family coaster.” The height requirement is 38”. It might be a bit much for mild riders, but you can check out a ride video and see what you think (just google “seven dwarfs mine train pov” and you’ll find a bunch of them). If you decide to do this one, book your FastPass+ on the first day you can, which would be 60 days pre-trip since you’re staying on Disney property. Actually, you should stay up late and book it at midnight on the 60-days-out point. This sounds like a joke, but it’s totally not. On our last trip, I tried to make a FP+ for this ride during the day (rather than staying up and doing it at midnight the night before) and it was booked up. Even if you’re not sure if your kids might want to do this one, but you think they might, book it. You can stand next to the ride and watch the outside portions of it and then let them decide (BTW, this tip came from my son). If they want to do it, you’ll be so glad you have the FP+ time reserved. If they don’t want to do it, you can change the FP+ to something else.
  • Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean: I’m lumping these together because a.) they’re my two favorite rides in the Magic Kingdom and b.) they’re both slightly scary. They’re not thrill rides at all, but some littler kids don’t like them. Again, google some videos if you’re not sure what your kids will think.
  • Jungle Cruise: this one is great for all ages!
  • Peter Pan’s Flight: if you want to do this ride, definitely book a FP+ in advance. The stand-by line is always super long.
  • it’s a small world: classic. If you can stand the song.
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: cute, though I liked it better when it was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
  • Under the Sea: we love this ride! (Disclaimer: it’s based on The Little Mermaid, and my son is in love with Ariel. So I might be a bit biased.)
  • Dumbo: another classic. And it now has an indoor, air-conditioned circus-themed play area/waiting area, so it’s a nice break from the heat while you wait for your turn to ride.
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin: awesome ride/game in one.
  • Peoplemover: some folks find this boring, but my boys have always loved it.
  • I also love Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain, but I’m thinking they’re all a bit much for your kids’ ages. But I could be wrong, so maybe check them out online.
  • Festival of Fantasy Parade (daily at 3PM): if your family likes parades, this one can’t be beat! Grab a spot along the parade route about 30 minutes before it starts. Plop yourself down, let the kids play apps on your phones, and enjoy sitting still for a little while.
  • Main Street Electrical Parade (usually at 9PM, but this sometimes varies): another very good parade.
  • Wishes: the MK nightly fireworks. Breathtaking. For the most complete view of the action, watch it from in front of Cinderella Castle. For a different (and less crowded) perspective, watch it from behind the castle.

Epcot: this park has a “tiering system” for FastPass+. You can only choose 1 ride from Tier 1 when making your ride reservations. Unfortunately, both of the really stunning rides are in Tier 1, so you have to make a choice:

  • Soarin’ or Test Track? Both are completely awesome. Soarin’ simulates a hang-glider type experience over California. This ride actually makes me tear up, it’s that beautiful. Test Track is like riding in a convertible going about 60 mph. It’s super fun, but I usually make my Tier 1 FP+ for Soarin’. If you guys are really into cars, go for Test Track. (Slight word of warning: my son was scared of Test Track when he was little. Might be another one to google.)
  • Spaceship Earth: this is inside the iconic Epcot “ball.” If you want to go on it early in the day, make a FP+ reservation. Later in the day, the lines aren’t so bad for this ride.
  • The Seas with Nemo and Friends: super cute.
  • Journey into the Imagination with Figment: Also cute, in a slightly acid-trippy kind of way.
  • Living with the Land: in the same building as Soarin’, so we usually go on it right before or after that ride. It’s relaxing and educational.
  • All of the above rides are in the “Future World” part of Epcot. If you venture over to the World Showcase side of the park, there’s a ride in the Mexico Pavilion. It’s a cute one. I would also highly recommend the food (and margaritas) at the Mexico Pavilion – if you like that sort of thing.
  • Illuminations is the nightly fireworks show here. It’s good, but not as good as Wishes.

Hollywood Studios: This park, too, has a tiering system. This stinks for me, but is fine for you because your kids won’t want to go on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (unless they’re at least 48″ tall and quite bold). So, your Tier 1 option will be:

  • Toy Story Midway Mania: similar to the Buzz Lightyear ride at MK, but WAY better. This is another one to make your FP+ for at midnight the night before your 60-day mark.
  • Star Tours: if you guys are Star Wars fans, this is a total must-do.
  • The Great Movie Ride: We like this one. It’s getting an overhaul sometime soon, so it should be even better.
  • This park also has lots of shows, some better than others. For you guys, I’d recommend Lights Motors Action Extreme Stunt Show and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. There’s also a Beauty and the Beast show and a Little Mermaid show, if your boys are into such things. (My son wants to marry the Little Mermaid, so who am I to judge?) Oh, and there’s a relatively new Frozen sing-along that I’ve yet to see. I hear it’s good, but have resisted it. I’m feeling Frozen over-saturation these days.
  • The nighttime show here is Fantasmic, which is quite good. It’s only on certain nights, though, so if you want to see it, check the schedule ahead of time and make sure you get to the venue plenty early. It fills up fast!

Animal Kingdom

  • Kilimanjaro Safari: do this as early in the morning as possible, before the heat of the day makes the animals sleepy.
  • Dinosaur: this is not a cute, cuddly dinosaur ride. This is a dark, loud, rather scary dinosaur ride. My boys have always liked it, but some kids get really freaked out by it. Another one to research online if you’re considering it.
  • Triceratops Spin: similar to Dumbo, but with dinosaurs. The cute kind.
  • Primeval Whirl: this is a maybe. It’s roller-coaster-ish, but might work for you guys.
  • Shows: Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo are the two most popular shows in this park. We’re more into rides than shows, but FoLK is good. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen the Nemo show. I keep trying, but my son (who has seen it), says it’s long and boring.

There are character greetings in all of the parks. If you’re interested in any of these, you may want to make a FP+ as lines tend to be quite long. For example, meeting Elsa and Anna in the Magic Kingdom is another experience that requires making a FP+ reservation 60-days-out at midnight. Rather than burning a FP+ on something like that, we prefer character dining. Our favorites are Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort (just a short walk from Magic Kingdom) and Tusker House in Animal Kingdom. There you have it! Any questions, just let me know :)

Disney Wonder: the theaters

03/30/2015 - Leave a Response

There are two lovely theaters onboard the Disney Wonder: the Walt Disney Theatre, which has Broadway-style live shows, and the Buena Vista Theatre, which plays movies.

Walt Disney Theatre

I really enjoyed the first show we saw in the Walt Disney Theatre, All Aboard: Let the Magic Begin! It was a combination of a stage show and information about what to expect from a Disney cruise. Partway through the show, I noticed some gentle motion in the theater. Since it is located near the front of the ship, this made sense. On the second night of our cruise, we skipped the live show (it was a hypnotist). By night three, the seas were getting kind of rough. I didn’t really notice the boat’s motion too much until I was seated in the Walt Disney Theatre. As I watched Toy Story the Musical, motion sickness took hold, and I bolted out of the theater. Going to the midship area, I looked out a window and sighted the horizon, which helped. After that night, I decided to watch the remaining nightly live stage shows (The Golden Mickeys and Disney Dreams) on the TV in our stateroom.

Buena Vista Theatre

The Buena Vista Theatre plays Disney movies, including some that are first-run. While we were onboard, they were showing Guardians of the Galaxy, Strange Magic, Frozen, Into the Woods, Big Hero 6, and The Hundred-Foot Journey. I had big plans to watch at least three of these movies over the course of our 5-night cruise, but never got around to seeing even one of them. There were just too many great activities onboard!

Have you enjoyed the onboard theaters? What’s your favorite live show?

Cruising Disney: ports of call

03/25/2015 - 2 Responses

We had two ports of call on our itinerary: Cozumel, Mexico, and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. In Cozumel, we spent a couple of hours strolling along the main drag, wandering in and out of shops, and then visited Museo de la Isla de Cozumel. This great little museum taught us about the history of the island. Our favorite part: the Mayan display in their courtyard.

Museo - Cozumel

After exploring the museum, we visited their little upstairs café. The view was great, the breeze refreshing.

Cozumel - view

Our second port of call was supposed to be Castaway Cay. Unfortunately, due to high winds and strong currents, we were unable to dock there. Plan B: Nassau.

Fort Fincastle, Nassau.

The view from Fort Fincastle, Nassau.

My soldier <3

My soldier <3

The Queen's Staircase, Nassau.

The Queen’s Staircase, Nassau.

Since Nassau was an unplanned stop, I hadn’t done my gluten-free research for that port, and thus felt better about going back aboard for lunch. Nassau was a fun stop, but I couldn’t help feeling cheated out of our day on Castaway Cay. Guess we’ll just have to take another cruise some day!

Summer 2015 WDW discounts!

03/23/2015 - Leave a Response

all star music towel mickey

The new discounts are here! Save up to 30% on Disney World hotel rooms. This is for most nights from June 16, 2015 through August 27, 2015. This special offer has to be booked by June 12, 2016. For details, see WDW’s website. If you need any help, Fairytale Journeys by Rebecca Kelly is great. Happy planning!

Pirates IN the Caribbean Deck Party!

03/19/2015 - Leave a Response

The second night of our cruise was Pirate Night. We had pirate costumes with us, so we got decked out, added the final touch of Mickey pirate bandanas that had been left in our room by our awesome stateroom host, and headed up on deck to enjoy the festivities.

pirate costumes

The party/show was great! Various scalawags taught us to dance, Mickey saved the day, and fun was had by all!

pirate party

There is absolutely nothing like fireworks at sea!

pirate fireworks

After the party, we headed to Parrot Cay for our pirate-themed dinner. All of the servers were dressed in pirate garb. Toward the end of the evening, they led the kids (and anyone else who wanted to join in) around the room in a piratey parade/conga line/limbo combination. It was crazy fun!

Cruising Disney: gluten-free dining with ease

03/16/2015 - Leave a Response

When it comes to eating gluten-free, Disney Cruise Line is just as amazing as Walt Disney World. As a general rule, we felt safest taking our celiac son to the onboard table service restaurants, but you can find a good, safe meal at any of the onboard eateries.

Triton’s was the only table service restaurant open for breakfast and lunch each day, and they were only open for 1 1/2 hours for each of those meals. This meant we had to be careful with our timing, but it wasn’t a big deal. Each time we ate there, our server was fantastic about helping our son choose a safe meal. They even brought him gluten-free donuts as a starter every morning.

Breakfast at Triton's.

GF breakfast at Triton’s

Lunch at Triton's

GF lunch at Triton’s

Gluten-free food could also be found at the buffets and counter service locations. At each of these, just ask the person behind the counter for help, and they’ll call a manager over. At a buffet, the manager (or the chef) will go through the buffet with you to find out what you’d like, then will retrieve it from the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination. At a counter service place, the manager will write down your order on a special pink order pad, and the chef will prepare it for you. I tried to hang around the counter and wait for these specially-prepared items, but was told that I could just have a seat and someone would bring it over. The best part: all of this was done with with a Disney smile. We never once felt like we were an inconvenience.

The delicious pizza from Pinocchio's Pizzeria

The delicious gluten-free pizza from Pinocchio’s Pizzeria

For more information on gluen-free dining both onboard and at Disney World, check out my guest appearance on The Disney Exchange podcast. Have you cruised gluten-free? I’d love to hear about your experience.

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