Category Archives: Disney

Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream- Top 20 Tips for First-Timers

*Read my entire cruise review at cruisecritic.com, and read detailed reviews on rooms, food, excursions and so, so much more

20150320_112821It’s official!  Our family cruised for the first time and now we are officially Castaway Club (silver) members.  I don’t count that first cruise I did over 16 years ago in the Mediterranean on a small Greek cruise liner, but I was the only one in the family who had ever cruised before.  And if you know Disney, you know that no matter what you did before with any other company, they will completely give you a different experience and generally, they hold nothing back.
20150320_165417Whether you cruise for 3 nights or 7, or anything in between or longer, Disney is fantastic – it’s like a 5-star hotel/restaurant on the ocean.  You pay a premium up front, and you will wonder why, but once you get on board, you totally get it.  I have not cruised Norwegian yet, or Princess, or Royal Caribbean.  I probably will NOT sail Carnival now that I have young kids, but I can only tell you what we experienced on our cruise, Disney Dream, from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas (Nassau) and Castaway Cay (pronounced “key”), for 3-nights.  In our party, we were celebrating the birthday of two 70 year-olds, we had a couple in their 60s, a 6-month old cutie pie baby, two girls, ages 6 and 7, 30- something couple, a 20 something male, and a 40 something couple. Almost every generation was represented and each person, except the 6-month old who couldn’t really give his opinion but he smiled and laughed alot, had an absolute phenomenal experience!  Here are our top tips from first time family cruisers:


Pre-Embarkation & Embarkation

1.  Check out the Disney Cruise Line Website and Cruise Critic BEFORE you sail.  After you book your cruise, get on the Disney website here and register and under planning center, find your cruise by your confirmation number.  Then you can do everything on-line from checking in to seeing what you need to pack. The website is awesome, and you can pick your excursions and add-ons too. You can add a credit card for your file, and register the kids for the oceaneer club too.  I highly recommend doing this right away after you book.  We picked first seating for dinner, but you can change it later if you want.  Seems like first seating (main seating) is always packed more than second seating.  I even used the website check-in process to register the kids to get a call from Mickey and Minnie the night before we flew out.  They loved it!

But, before you even book a cruise, you may want to check out my favorite website on all things cruise and excursions – cruisecritic.com.  I learned about this site courtesy of my friends who cruise a lot!  I wrote a very extensive review on our 3-night Disney Dream Bahama cruise and you can read all about it here

20150320_1216482.  Do Board as soon as you can!  You can pick your boarding time on the website above.  I recommend to board as soon as you can – the port opens at 11 am for parking.  Parking in the garage is $60 for your entire cruise time and parking in an uncovered lot within walking distance of the port is $80.  Either one is fine.  When you leave, enough people take shuttles or leave staggered, so there is not much traffic in either lot. Right before you board, keep in mind that the ship probably just dropped off 4000 passengers, so be ready for a little wait, but get on as soon as you can with your swimsuit and personal items that you will need (one bag only).  I recommend boarding in your swim suits but with proper clothing on to board.  You cannot go to your state-room until 1:30 pm so take your small carry on and eat one of the on-board restaurants- Enchanted Garden or Cabanas, and then, hit the pool.  They are not super crowded when you first board, so get to the Aqua Duck (Water slide) and kids’ pools or do the pool first, and then go eat.   You will each be given a room key and it is your ID card, and serves as your photo pass.  Do not lose them, but if you do, they will issue you a new one.  And remember, unlike photo pass available to you after you leave Disney Parks, the pictures taken on board are sold on board and no longer available to you after you leave.

20150321_093405Passes to see the Characters

3.  Do get your passes right away.  Make sure to grab a couple of paper navigators when you check in and make sure you get the passes you need right away too!  While you are waiting to get to your room, head to deck 5 where you can get your passes to see the characters next to the excursions area.  Get those as soon as you get on board, or get in line.  They don’t distribute these until around Noon. You can get two passes per family.  You can pick Sophia/Jake or a Princess Meet ‘n Greet where your little princesses can see Belle, Cinderella, and Snow White all at once (characters subject to change).  IMG_0255You can also get passes to see the Frozen princesses, which will probably run out first. So, go immediately when the pass office opens.  We had guaranteed “fast pass” equivalents with a time to show up and where for frozen and the princesses.  It was quite a treat for the girls, and unlike the theme parks, no long waits at all.

Dining, Room Service, and Beverages

4. IMG_0251 Ask for special requests for food in your party, and DO eat everything you can – you can literally order anything!  We had a large party and special dietary requests galore, so once on board make sure you go meet with the dietary experts.  They are generally in a dining room, and you can meet with them and give them your requests.  Bring your  ID card with you.  The Card has your dining rooms for each night.  You generally eat breakfast at the same place you eat dinner at, but first seating is at 7 am which is too early for us Mountain Timers, so you can eat at Cabanas restaurant, and it is a gigantic buffet.  I absolutely loved Cabanas – for lunch and dinner.  I highly recommend eating lunch there when you board, as you hit the pool.  Dining is amazing with Disney, and there are two beverage stations near the pools on Deck 11.  Our every dietary need was met from IMG_0291 IMG_0296baby food for the 6 month old, to Indian Vegetarian for my parents and uncle/aunt.  The food was amazing, delicious, and fresh.  Your servers each night for dinner will remain constant, and the service is spectacular!  Whether they whip up a three course curry Indian vegetarian meal, or gourmet appetizers, and soup/salad, Disney does a great job.  We loved their desserts too and there is a sugar free option each night too!  If you do main seating, it is the first dinner, and then the show.  If you do second seating, you eat around 8pm and do the show at 545pm.  Dinner does take 2 hours for large parties, so main seating may be best with kids.  I learned that they serve the kids first so you can take them to Oceaneer Club and have a nice dinner and relax a bit.  So, keep that option in mind (see below for information on Oceaneer Club).

IMG_0250On your last morning of the cruise, you can eat breakfast at your designated dining room or go to Cabana’s where you can enjoy a final buffet meal before it’s time to get back to reality, dishes, and cooking your own meals.  Enjoy and savor every minute because Disney doesn’t hold anything back with food, unlimited soda, tea and coffee, and desserts.  There is a soft serve/cone machine on the pool deck, Deck 11, and a small snack shop near the pool too.  Their food is okay but fits the bill for poolside snacks, and greasy burgers and pizzas.  Perfect for kids and adults!

5.  Do order room service- it’s all included.  Okay, on to room service!  We had no idea so we thank the family who flew to Orlando with us for the tips on ordering room service.  It’s all included!  I kid you not, so if you are in a rush one morning or just want a quick snack at night or early in the morning, call up room service with your order, and they are there within minutes- it’s super fast!  It certainly can help you control the calories if you are eating too much all over the ship or don’t like the limitless buffets.  We loved the chocolate chip cookies and milk at night too!

IMG_47986.  Do bring water bottles for all and drink a lot of water and all non-alcoholic beverages are free! Some tips on food and water.  Leave food at home -you will not go hungry on this cruise.  Bring a water bottle with you for each person so you can fill up on water or carry on water bottles.  Also, bring a larger 7-11 type container if you want to take sodas to your room and keep them there.  You will have a mini fridge in your room and you can store snacks and milks in there.  It is so handy.  You can (in your carry on only please) bring alcohol and no one really checks anything as you board, so bring whatever you want- I brought some plastic bottles and cans to prevent breaking, and we didn’t drink them all.  Anyway, you cannot bring them with you to dinner but you can drink on your balcony or room.  IMG_4797Or, bring it discreetly to the pool and enjoy it poolside.   Disney sells reasonably priced drins – their drink of the day is the best deal around and you can charge it to your room.  They sell cool disne cooler packs and it has alcohol in it for you. You can bring this to Castaway Cay too!

Rooms and phones

IMG_03027.  Do get the right size room and the right location but bring dramamine and ear plugs.  The rooms are category-based.  Depending on the category of the room, you will have more square feet or less, and you pay more for a larger room.  Check out what category you are in.  Keep in mind, you will not spend that much time in your rooms, except sleeping and the rest of the decks are open for you to roam.  If you do get sick, get a room with a window or balcony, and that will help you.  Fresh air really helped me the first night when the ship was really rocking and I was feeling particularly sick.  Bring your dramamine with you- it really helps the first night and helps you sleep too! IMG_4920Our room slept 3 to 4 and the guy came twice a day to make up our room.  He left cute little towel animals for the kiddos, and chocolates.  What fun!  He will come back while you are at dinner/show and create bunk beds out of the sofa area.  The balcony makes the room feel bigger than it is.  It is tight, so be ready for that but you can store your suit case under the bed, and there is plenty of room for everything.  It can get tricky in the bathroom area, with the entrance and closets all there too!  Very tight, so if you want room pay more and get a bigger room.   The rooms are also very loud – be prepared for a lot of sounds of kids running up and down the hallways, doors closing and people banging their wardrobe doors.  I found it very loud and am very noise sensitive, so it is tough to get a good night’s rest.  I would recommend port-side room for sure- the view at Castaway Cay is amazing, but I recommend a room away from the elevator/stairwell to avoid all that traffic.  Look at a deck/ship map and get away from the exits as much as possible.  Either way, it is loud so bring the ear plugs and ambien.

8.  Do use the “wave” phones in the rooms but they don’t work at Castaway Cay for us.  The phones they provide really do work great, and if something doesn’t work, they replace them for you on Deck 3 at customer service.  We had to get one replaced.  I think it is good to have walkie talkies for the first day before you get to your room, and set it to a frequency no one else has…everyone is using them right away, but then they stop after day 1.  You will need walkie-talkies on Castaway Cay because the room phones do not work there.  You can also connect to the App and chat that way but there are no notifications.  On day 1, you can connect to free wi-fi (trial) and text/chat that way too, but that does not last, and you do not want to be connected in international waters anyway.  You have to get the Navigator App – all activities and ship activities, etc., are on here and it is helpful to have if you do not like paper to guide you.

Ship Activities, Oceaneer Club and Pools

IMG_48019.  Do the musicals, skip the little parties, and enjoy all you can.  The ship and deck parties are okay, so don’t rush to get there.  The bon voyage party is okay – it’s basically Disney World parades/shows on water with all the characters running out and performing.  It is fun once or twice, but do not miss the shows.  If you do main seating, then you eat first and then do the show afterward.  The shows were spectacular and they show all movies that are out in theaters but we did not have time to see movies because there was so much to do!  So, between a movie and a show, I choose shows. These are Broadway-like productions with amazing talIMG_4800ent, and song and dance.  The kids love them and adult humor is included too!

10.  Do enjoy the pools and water slides when it is quieter on the boat.  The pools are crowded.  Disney, you need more kids’ pools.  The reviews are right.  The first day there was no room to swim – but standing room only.  It thins out as people get off the ship at Nassau and Castaway Cay, and the Aqua Duck lines are insane!  So, when people are disembarking for Nassau and Castaway Cay, get your Aqua Duck on! I was so scared of the water slide for some odd reason but it was awesome! Loved it!  Definitely do this at less peak hours, and you can even do it at night – I bet the Aqua Duck is super cool at night on the ocean.  Oh, and the big screen TV over the kids’ pools is obnoxiously loud- I mean obnoxious.  It’s fine if you do not expect to think, talk or want to hear the kids screaming, but honestly it’s a bit over the top because nothing stops the kids from screaming so it is the movie plus screaming plus talking super loud.  Come on, Disney -turn the volume down or keep it muted.  By the way, I hear the adult pool like the adult beach on Castaway Cay is not crowded, so parents drop off your kids (ages 4-14) at the Oceaneer Club and head up to Deck 12 for adults only pool and hot tub area.  Lost and Found post-script:  We could not find our daughter’s swim goggles when we returned.  She thinks she left them at one of the pools or took them off at the pools.  They are a decent pair, so we called up lost and found and emailed them a description.  Within hours she responded she found them and asked them for our address and a few days they arrived at the house- Disney really is amazing.  I can’t believe it! 

IMG_024111.  For kids ages 4 and up do the Oceaneer Club.  What is the Oceaneer Club?  On day 1, enroll the kids there, so they can go and it is basically souped up babysitting for older kids with so much fun stuff going on and computers, and labs and cooking experiments, etc.  Our 7-year old loved it and our 6-year-old was leery but enjoyed herself too! It is also nice on the last day when you need to pack that tiny room up into 2 suitcases to drop them off and get some work done. Plus, they have fun while you do too!   I noticed at check-in that they have an Adventure Club for teens too – older kids, so you can enroll them in that too.

IMG_027612.  Take a nap but do NOT miss the firework show after Nassau.  Amazing!  The firework show is spectacular and quite cool.  Port side is where they show the fireworks, so get on the top Deck – Deck 12 and Port side is best for the view.  There is nothing like this, so definitely stay awake for it.  There is a dance party afterwards but my kids passed out on our shoulders.  Also, the Pirate Show is okay… reminded me of the show at Treasure Island in Vegas, but nothing specta20150321_132719cular.

13.  Do some character meet and greets- the lines are short.  Character meet and greets are going on all over the ship or at Castaway Cay – you can either pop in line when you see one, or get the passes as I discussed above, but definitely less waiting than at the parks, and if you have the app on your phone or the navigator hard copy, you can see the list, and take your kids to see characters and get autographs.

Port Excursions

14. Do go shop at the port in Nassau or do Atlantis, but better to enjoy the ship and the pools.   First stop on this two-day cruise is Nassau, Bahamas.  We went ahead and did an excursion through Costco to get a quick tour.  Since we had varying capabilities in our group of IMG_4863walking/hiking, etc., we just did a bus tour, and walked around Atlantis, but didn’t get to do much there because everything required payment.  If you are going back to Bahamas for a second time, I recommend just walking off the boat, buying some souvenirs at the port and then go enjoy the ship.  The cruise time is too short as it is, so enjoy the pools and shows during this time.  Watch a movie, and take in some fun things for the kids.  Other than Atlantis, I am not sure there is much to do here, and I think the water slides on the boat are fun enough.  A lot of cruise ships were docked here so you can also check out the other ships.  When we got back, we had passes to meet the Frozen princesses. IMG_4872 It was a fun afternoon and we had enough time to get back and enjoy the ship.  My husband did an excursion through Disney of scuba diving and they almost didn’t make it back in time. Thankfully they are connected with Disney and Disney is amazing about calling and making sure all passengers are on board before leaving.  They are really good about accountability and some of their crew members were diving with my husband too!

20150322_15542315.  The night of Nassau was the pirates party on board and the fireworks and it was super cool but everyone was exhausted and passed out before the dance party.  We were off to Castaway Cay (pronounced “key”) next, and we were excited for some beach.  If you can, come back from the excursions and take a nap.   Oh and do not forget your room key  and your passport.  You do go through control exiting and entering the port at Nassau. They make you remove your sunglasses and are pretty serious about this.  Makes you wonder about stowaways. ūüôā

16.  Don’t miss Disney’s Private Island but enjoy lunch on the ship, bring water shoes, and leave your gear at home!  The second port is Castaway Cay (Key), an20150322_114259d this is a Disney-owned island.  Why couldn’t Disney own an Island with all your money?  It’s simply amazing, and one of the most unique things about a Disney cruise in the Carribbean – no one cruiseline can stop there.  The beach is a private beach with umbrellas, chairs, palm trees, a private adult beach, food stalls, a water park for 20150322_155641kids, tubes, boats, and the works.  We enjoyed our time there but got a lot of sun… I mean, a lot of sun.  I still have the tan lines 7 weeks later. Our time here and on the cruise was second only to our time on Hawaii.

20150322_15301517.  Bring your water shoes, the rocks hurt in some areas.  You need water shoes for you and the kids.  You can rent tubes but don’t – people usually abandon them by 1pm and then you can use them.  Honestly, the best thing to do is to enjoy the boat until about lunch time.  Eat lunch on the boat.  The BBQ and eats on the island, in my humble opinion, suck and the food on board is so darn good.  Why waste a good meal?  Plus, the pools are totally not crowded because everyone rushed to get off the boat to do yoga, the 5K run on the island, etc., so you have the boat to enjoy.  But do get off after lunch and enjoy 4 hours on the island.  Everyone pretty much re-boards by 2pm and the island is completely empty for you to enjoy, but for some reason they wrap up the soda machines and ice cream by then too so bring your own cooler of drink, etc., and enjoy the beaches in peace.

20150322_08451618.  You do not need to bring snorkeling gear and can rent it here if you want but the water is so clear you can see fish and coral and such.  We rented the kayak but the waves were too much so we had a tough time maneuvering.  My husband ended up taking the girls out and back and then repeating. We went and checked out the water park and slide but it was scary for the girls.  You can leave all your gear at home, because the pools on board plus the beach areas have preservers for the kids.  In fact, you cannot have your own.  You have to use theirs for safety reasons.  Just come here with a beach bag (they give you towels as you get off), and your water shoes, sunblock and hat.  Everything else is available on the island.  Oh, bring your walkie talkies because the phone rooms will not work here.  No cash required, everything is all-inclusive.  That is one thing that completely rocks about Disney.  You don’t need cash and you need your room key to charge things.  We had a blast and whoever said you cannot bring sea shells and sand with you made it up.  You can collect some sea shells and sand and bring it back on board.  They don’t check a thing when you return on board, so just pack it in your beach bag.

20150322_19261819.  Do make memories that will last a lifetime and enjoy your family! The final night of the cruise is crazy and super busy with packing, and getting ready to leave your suitcases for pick up.  Make sure you plan ahead and keep out what you need for disembarkation and don’t forget to settle up tips and your tab – the most depressing part of the cruise is not settling your tips and tab but actually getting off the boat.  The happiest part was handing the envelopes with gratuity and extras to your crew and staff that waited hand and foot on you, cleaned your room and made it up twice a day, served you drinks and dinner, and treated you like royalty.  20150321_230236Disney staff really make this cruise special.  And for this, a special occasion for us as we celebrated our parents’ 70th anniversary, we really got the royal treatment.  They came out and sang happy birthday to them on the final night.  Disney is truly magical, but we still had a few hours to enjoy the boat.  The morning of disembarkation the pools are closed and everything is shut down except for the breakfast dining, so be prepared to enjoy that, some family time, and head off… til we meet again.

Disembarkation

20.  Do buy photos before you disembark, and enjoy your final morning on the most magical cruise llne ever! On the last morning of your cruise, the best place to eat is Cabana’s especially if 7 am is too early to eat for you, but you have to get off the cruise pretty early in the morning, and your bags have to be packed and sent off the night before.  Keep a small bag with what you need for the next morning- toiletries, and such and change of clothes to disembark.  The tags you get have a character on them.  That is the area you will go to retrieve the bags the next day, and go through customs.  You cannot bring fruit from the cruise ship with you or food so be ready to surrender all bananas and apples. ūüôā   Oh and one final tip – go visit Shutters to see your pictures before the final night.  It was a mad house.  Get your pictures as soon as you can and unlike PHOTOPASS at the parks, cruise pics are not available once you get off the ship (sad face), so you have one chance to buy them and drop off even more money to Disney, but the memories are so worth it!  We went and bought them the morning of disembarkation after breakfast when the mad rush was over and it was more relaxing to do that.

20150323_120659
We bought this picture on Deck 5 at Shutters- GET YOUR PICS HERE

What a great trip!  We cherished every moment, and looking back, I wish we had more time.  The treatment we received from the staff, crew, and really everyone makes us want to sail Disney again, and not only sail them, but buy Disney Vacation Club too.  I know the girls felt like princesses and we loved it.  We would sail Disney again in a heartbeat.   Why can’t Disney own and operate an airline?  Sadly we had to return home on Frontier.  After getting the royal treatment, we really felt like we took a step back in time and class.  Disney Cruise Lines, you rock!

P.S. I was not paid for this post …. not kidding.  No disclaimer needed.  Disney speaks for itself.

 

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Legoland Florida and Epcot – Our First Time

Epcot at nightWe go to Florida, a lot.  And each time, since we are there for a long time, we go to the Disney parks, or visit the different attractions there.  With so many activities in Central Florida, one can get overwhelmed.  This visit was no different.  We finally went to Legoland and for the first time, we visited Epcot at Disney World.

We were lucky that our friends were going to Legoland and invited us to tag along. ¬†I was not sure about Legoland as I had heard it is a lot of rides for older kids, but frankly, Legos are fun for any age, even us older kids. ¬†There is a Duplo young kids section too with younger kid rides. ¬†I liked Legoland more than I thought I would. ¬†I20150102_133012n fact, compared to SeaWorld, and Busch Gardens, I think I liked it better. ¬†Parking was easy, and you walk in, and there is plenty to do and lots of play and build areas for little and big kids, and the rides are either family oriented or for thrill seekers. ¬†There is something for everyone! ¬† I highly recommend and loved the apple fries at this location – oh my god! So yummy. ¬†Everything is pricey here, food-wise, so pack your own snac20150102_163419ks. ¬†They allow you to bring your own food. ¬†For lunch and dinner places near Legoland, there are plenty of places for family dining in Winter Haven, and surrounding areas. ¬†The historic Cypress Gardens are also open for touring, and on a beautiful sunny day in Central Florida, Legoland, walking around the miniature lego towns was so much fun. ¬†The space shuttle (made of legos) takes off! ¬†Santa and his sleigh, complete with Rudolph and gang, made entirely 20150102_141633with legos is a great place for a photo. ¬†We absolutely loved Legoland and high recommend it. ¬†Legoland opens at 10am and¬†closes at 7 pm. ¬†Those are short hours for some to pay so much. ¬†For me, this was a good thing. ¬†It forced me to leave instead of wearing myself down and killing the family by squeezing in “just one more ride.” ¬†Oh and be ready to hear the song, “everything is awesome,” over and over, but Legoland really is awesome, so no one minds.

20150102_154229
cities and landmarks built with legos

 

 

For the first time, we went to Epcot. We visited Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom in the past, and of course, everyone with young children visit Magic Kingdom. ¬†We didn’t think the kids would enjoy Epcot when they were younger, but we actually liked it now that they are a little older. ¬†20150105_145020Epcot is one of the largest Disney theme parks and requires a lot of¬†walking, and the popular attractions and rides have¬†a 40-inch height requirement¬†so we are glad we waited until the kids were older and taller. ¬†I am¬†impressed with how many characters are available for autographs and pictures, but the lines are generally insane, so get there about 10 to 15 minutes before character arrival. ¬†We kept missing all the times, and since Epcot is so spread out, we got to the characters too late. So, plan your walking/running accordingly.¬† I recommend getting your fast passes early and picking Test Ride Pluto4and/or Soaring. ¬†You can only get a fast pass to one of these, but you can always pick an early time for one and then try to get a fast pass for the other one right after the right ends.¬† You will not need a fast pass for much else, but since we picked them out a few days beforehand, we went ahead and got a fast pass to the main entrance ride. This is¬†the one that takes you inside the giant “golf ball” called Spaceship Earth. ¬†We got one to the Nemo ride but you will not need it. ¬†We also rode the fun, educational rides in and around the Soaring area, but you do not a fast pass to those rides/exhibits other than Soaring. ¬†20150105_150605There are so many indoor places/displays for the kids to play on computers, displays, and create things. ¬†It was really a fun place, and since we worried about¬†rain, Epcot was the best park in case it did. ¬†Sure, the world pavilions area is all outdoor walking, but there are plenty of indoor activities here, more so, I thought than any of the other parks.

20150105_152458For the food, it is pricey like Disney food would be, but there is a variety at this park compared to any other because of the world pavilions – Italian, German, and Mexican. ¬†the kids loved our little boat ride in Mexico. ¬†It was like “It’s a small world” without the annoying song playing over and over again. ¬†Finally, we got to see Mulan and we really could not see Mulan anywhere else – she is in theMulan2¬†China pavillion every few hours. ¬†The girls walked with Sleeping Beauty, and the only character we missed was Minnie. ¬†Maybe we will catch her on our Disney Cruise for Spring Break. Stay tuned….

 

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Frozen at Hollywood Studios- “All good things” on a 110-degree day

20140728_135909 20140728_132255 20140728_132355We traveled a lot this Summer, and the highlight for the kiddos was probably the limited engagement Frozen Summer Fun LIVE! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida.¬† This limited engagement is going on until September 28, 2014, and it’s super¬† cool to visit on a typical Florida Summer day.

We had one day left on our MILITARY SALUTE 4-day hopper, so we chose to go see this extravaganza since the kids can’t get enough of Elsa, Anna, Olaf, and the gang. It was different, and I think since we just visited Hollywood Studios in January, this was a real treat to see some different things, and experience Disney in a different way.¬† The park was not very crowded when we went, probably because the heat index was 110, and the rides were not crowded either.¬† Parking is the same at Disney no matter what you do – √ľber 20140728_122408pricey.¬† Take the tram to the front, and the kick off parade at Hollywood Studios for Anna, and Elsa, and their whole crew is 1045 am.¬† You do not want to miss this.¬† It ends at the Sorcerer’s Hat for a dance spectacular.¬† After this, you can go visit a few special exhibits, but before you do so, get your Fast Passes for the rides/shows you want, and then go get tickets at Stage One for the FROZEN Sing-A-Long – this is fun for younger audiences, and it is a sing a long with Anna, and Elsa, and Kristoff.¬†¬† Here is a list of all the special things as part of FROZEN Summer Fun LIVE!

The kids favorite part was the Sing-A-Long but they loved playing in the snow in Florida in the blazing heat of Summer- granted, we live in Colorado, and get the real stuff, but there was something magical about it.¬† All the cast memb20140728_122011ers had the Oaken’s outpost accent too which transformed us to Norway for a bit.¬† There is an ice rink inside this exhibit and you can rent ice skates too!¬† But since we live in Colorado and can skate at Keystone or Vail, we skipped it.¬† The parade was magical in the morning, and kicked off the day nicely, 20140728_111034and we did not stay for the fireworks they are only for certain days, so check the website or listings before planning for this.¬† All in all, it was nice to cool 20140728_122737off indoors and with Anna, Elsa, and the gang on an extremely hot day in Central Florida.

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Magical fun showing our #DisneySide @Home Celebration

20140302-113553.jpgWe had such a blast showing our #DisneySide @Home Celebration.*¬† The kiddos made T-shirts, decorated Mickey cupcakes, and took home some neat little trinkets, like bracelets, Muppet calendars and Donald Duck tattoos and Mickey Mouse stickers.¬† To see all my #Disney posts, check out the category or tag “Disney.”

We asked everyone to dress-up in their favorite Disney character 20140302-113614.jpgcostume and show up for some fun.¬† We didn’t print photos on-site, but each mom who came went home with a HP Photo card pack to create their own photos from the event.¬† The photos can be customized at http://www.disneysidecelebrations.com.

Here are the some more pictures, and look at all the characters that showed up:  Sleeping Beauty, Anna from FROZEN, Snow White, Rapunzel, Mickey Mouse, and we even got to host Luke Skywalker!

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20140302-113745.jpgWe had great timing this year because it is also Mardi Gras, and we were able to combine two parties in one- Mardi Gras King Cake, yummy Community coffee from New Orleans and assorted snacks.

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*Disclaimer: I received free products in order to host the Disney Side @Home Celebration.¬† The opinions expressed here are my own.¬† Also see Get Clued In’s general disclaimer.

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Florida-ahh

Can’t believe it’s been almost a month since we returned from Florida, and this is the first I get a chance to post about it?¬† Yes, life is busy.¬† We had a blast in Florida, but the weather couldn’t have been more bipolar than it was this trip.¬† Tired of hearing and talking about the weather, eh?¬† I’ll try not to harp on it.¬† Did I mention how much I miss Hawaii?¬† Oh, but they had 55-65 F temps too this year.¬† Here are some highlights of our New Year’s trip.

IMG_4129Cocoa Beach & Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center

NASA was fun; expensive, but fun, and unlike the Disney parks, very focused on one theme- Space!  The best part of visiting the Kennedy Space Center was seeing the Atlantis exhibit, and the actual Atlantis shuttle.  What a great new center and so many hands-on activities and modules for the kids and the adult kids too!  The other great part of the Center is the IMAX IMG_89463-D movie.  The one that was playing when we were there was Hubble, and it was very well done, and engaging.  The stars and planets fly out at you, and it is a great experience for all.  You can meet astronauts, and characters, and just have a great time around the Center.  If the weather is nice, bonus!

Cocoa Beach
Cocoa Beach- Writing reads, “I miss Hawaii”

 

 

 

We had cold and windy weather for Cocoa Beach, and wish it were warmer, but it’s beach, so how can we complain at all?¬† I do believe Cocoa Beach would be a great place to stay overnight, and with better weather, it is a very nice beach with lots of great restaurants and things to do in the area.¬† I think Melbourne would be another fun place to visit if there is time.¬† We did a day trip, but if you get more time, I would definitely recommend this entire area, and if you take a cruise, Port Canaveral looked awesome!

IMG_8981“Orange” you glad you picked your own oranges?

If you love Florida oranges, or citrus in general, and are in the Orlando or any other Florida area, look up local commercial groves where you can pick your own fruit.¬† The one closest to where my folks live is my favorite, albeit the only one I am aware of.¬† If the giant confederate flag doesn’t turn you off, then give this place a try.¬† Otherwise, do a Google(c) search with zip code on commercial orange groves, and you may find the right one for you!¬† IMG_8984The one we go to is called “Showcase of Citrus” off of Highway 27, in Clermont, Florida.¬† It is a fun place for kids and adults alike.¬† Wear your walking shoes, and you can bring your own wagon because when this place gets busy, they may run out.¬† For $12, you can fill (to your heart’s content) a 5 lb. bag they supply.¬† You can fill a 10 lb. bag too for more.¬† There are coupons on-line for their famous slushy and swamp tours.¬† The swamp tour is about 60 minutes, and resembles the Kilimanjaro ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom without all the wildlife.¬† It is a great place to walk around the groves and pick various citrus; all types of oranges,grapefruit, and tangerine varieties.¬† Or, for $13, you can fill a bag inside the market area (they have picked the best ones for you), and you can be on your way!¬† The IMG_8989bag itself is a souvenir too!¬† The citrus here is so delicious, and we had fresh juice for a week, and citrus for breakfast.¬† Sickness, be damned!¬† Oh another place while in Clermont is a local donut shop called “Donut King.”¬†¬† They serve all sorts of cajun food too, but my God, their donuts– amazingly delicious!¬† When in Clermont, definitely give Donut King a try.

The CSI ExperienceIMG_9028– we had an amazing date afternoon on International Drive.¬† It was a unique date.¬† My husband loves the show CSI.¬† The CSI Experience is a fun place to act out the forensics doctor or investigator in you without really getting too “dirty” or close to the real body.¬† There are three separate scenarios and “crimes,” and you go through several different rooms to narrow the suspect pool, and find the truth.¬† It’s fun, and each scene takes about 30-45 minutes.¬†¬† If you are military, be sure to bring your IDs and you get a great discount.¬† There are coupons in all the local magazines and on-line for about $2.00 per person which is good too.¬† If you’re into solving crimes and the show, CSI, you will have a good time.

HollywoodStudios2
Hollywood Studios

I’ve said it once, I have said it a few dozen times, Disney stresses me out.¬† Disneyworld stresses me out way more than LAND.¬† I found LAND laid back, and since it doesn’t attract a lot of foreign tourists, I found it less crowded and more manageable.¬† Of course, Disney is Disney- high prices, crazy lines for absolutely nothing all that exciting at the end, and a lot of walking.¬† Yes, parents can sit in strollers and it’s socially acceptable at Disney.¬† For a Type-A parent like myself, Disney is very stressful.¬† For me, Magic Kingdom is the most stressful.¬† If waiting in line to see Tinkerbell for an hour wasn’t bad enough, I can’t get a fast pass to the Enchanted Belle ride (new in Fantasyland) because I didn’t stay in a Disneyworld resort.¬† Really?¬† How has Disney ever survived an FTC investigation or an anti-trust/price-rigging suit? I do not get it all.¬† I have to stay at your bloody resort so I can save 120 minutes?¬† #Sigh Ah well, all that aside, this time we visited Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom-Asia; not sure why I look preggers in this one
Animal Kingdom-Asia; not sure why I look preggers in this one

The weather really did not cooperate at all with us this time in Florida, and it rained for most of our time at Animal Kingdom.  But, we enjoyed a few things at the Park.  Animal Kingdom is beta-testing the Fast Pass PLUS program for all people (not just those at Disney resorts) and we were able to get tickets for The Lion King and Finding Nemo and the kids enjoyed these shows.  Our favorite ride was Killamanjaro and the girls loved the animals.

Lion King Show
Lion King Show

They are all right there.  I had no idea how long this ride was, but it was very cool.  I felt transported to Africa.  I love the Asia area, and while we did not ride the fast-paced rides, the girls enjoyed getting their books stamped at each different region.  The rain dampened us physically, but not our spirits.

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Nemo Show at Animal Kingdom
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Honey I shrunk the Kids play area

Hollywood Studios was fun to visit, but it was a cool day.¬† We enjoyed our time watching the shows, Disney Junior, and the movies.¬† Hollywood Studios reminded me of California Adventure Park – same look and feel.¬† The Hollywood ride was a lot of fun, and walking aIMG_4203round the different sets was a good time as well.¬† The kids’ favorite part was hanging out in the play area of “Honey I shrunk the kids.”¬† They could have taken or left the rest of the day. ¬†Fantasmic here is the same as the beautiful Fantasmic show at Disneyland.¬† So, feel free to skip it on a cold or rainy night, and catch it in a more relaxed setting at Disneyland.¬† The Beauty and the Beast show is nice, but in an outdoor theater.¬† I think The Lion King is the best we saw among both parks.¬† The rest is okay after that.¬† The show Bug’s Life in 3D is awesome but it is scary for kids under 8.¬† My girls were screaming and we had to run out at California Adventure Park, so we did not attempt it here, but I thought it was fun.¬† Character meetings are fun for the kids and make sure you get a photo pass too so you can see all your pics later.¬† Disney charges an arm and a leg to buy them later, but you can have the photo pass photographer take a picture of you and your family with your own camera too!¬† They take great photos by the way.

Magic Kingdom was our last stop to see the princesses.¬† As I said, this is the least favorite park for me – too big, and too much to do, and the one that won’t readily give you a fast pass plus unless you stay on site.¬† Might be worth getting a single room for one night at Cinderella2the cheapest resort you can find just for the speed, but totally your call.¬† If you get one night, remember, you can use that for 2 days at the parks.¬† We saw a lot of princesses at the Magic Kingdom, and the girls had a great time on their usual rides: Aladdin’s magic carpet, Little Mermaid (so not worth the line- this is the same ride that had a 2 min wait at California Adventure park).¬† I recommend getting there and standing in line for Belle’s Enchanted Ride, and leaving Fantasyland.¬† The kiddos loved the show in front of the Castle.¬† Best view in January was the 520pm show, when the castle IMG_9210literally went from daylight to night, with spectacular lighting and all.¬† The characters sing, dance, and my daughters loved seeing their favorites all in one place.¬† The parades are good for this too!

All in all, it was a good trip to Florida, but I think I definitely could have used more R&R time and if you want more R&R, skip Disney, and just do local fun things.

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Holmes Beach- Bradenton

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Beaches South of Tampa, on the Gulf Coast- We visited both coasts for beach, but the weather never seemed to cooperate with us.

I think when we return to Florida, we should try to get a beach house, and soak up sun, and play in the sand.  The beaches South of Tampa, near Bradenton, north of Sarasota look beautiful.  We were at Holmes Beach and these pictures were taken there.  The sand was whiter, and sea shells for all to find and adore.  I think I liked this beach even more than Cocoa Beach, but surprisingly the Gulf Water was not as warmer than the Atlantic on the Cocoa Beach side.

Ah, Floridahh, what a great family vacation – seeing family, doing fun things, and escaping the cold- well, a little.

 

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