Monday, March 27, 2017

Client Review: Regal Princess Caribbean Cruise

I love getting emails from happy clients!

Here Lizzy comments on her Regal Princess Caribbean Cruise:

"Hi Angie,
The cruise was absolutely AMAZING!!! It was the most luxurious and relaxing trip I could have ever hoped for :) As you had anticipated, it was definitely a much older crowd (majority of passengers were 50-80), but we were there to relax more than socialize, however, we did meet a lot of wonderful people our parents' age! We also were inspired by the amount of elderly passengers as they didn't let their age phase them from continuing to travel or having a great time!  Aside from how relaxing the cruise was, we loved that every day was something different vs. falling into the same routine like you usually do at an all inclusive/resort. Some of my favorite things were the below:
**Pool- the entire pool area was much larger than I had thought it would be for a cruise. It never felt overcrowded or cramped! We stayed around the main pool everyday, however, it was nice they had quite a few pool options.
**Live music - The band on board was awesome! they would play for a few hours at the pool everyday and then in the piazza every night. they played a wide variety that everyone could relate to.
**Afternoon movie at the pool  - This was great! we would grab a drink and sit in the pool and watch a movie on the big screen!
**SPA  - Most luxurious spa I have ever been to. They had a great promo that was book 3 services and get 10%, 20% & 30% off. They took the highest percentage off your most expensive service.
**Crown Grille Steakhouse- This was a $29 surcharge per person, but well worth it as the quality was excellent and it was nice to do something different than the anytime dining.
**Fiera!  - This play was amazing. The performers were wonderful and the set was unbelievable. Although it was short, it was one of my favorite plays I have ever seen due to the music, set and awesome costumes!

**Amber Cove- least favorite as it was very artificial and it just doesn't compare to St. Thomas/St. Maarten, however, we still had a great time. We went to the Sky Bar at the very top, which had great views
**St. Thomas- Loved!!! Took the gondola to the top of St. Thomas where they had the most gorgeous views and a great restaurant. Then took a taxi to Coki Beach, which was a blast! Small, but lots of action and the water is beautiful.
**St. Maarten- Front Street shopping was wonderful. Lots of hecklers, but the cute shops make it all worth it. Also went to the Airport Beach and ate at the Sunset Café, which was a fun lively atmosphere. Overall, a very fun experience, but pretty far from the port. About a 30 min cab ride.

Those are the highlights, but thank you again for all of your help. This trip was exactly what we needed!!!!


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Spotlight on: Disney Wonder

The Disney Wonder offers fun for all ages. We recently took a 4 night Bahamas cruise. 

My favorite parts of the ship were: 

Tiana's Place 

 This space is new to the Disney Wonder. They did a terrific job. You feel like you are walking right into the movie. I love the music and Tiana's visit to all the tables. 

Andy's Play Room 

Toy Story is one of my favorite movies so it was very fun to see the play area themed after this great movie. 

The adult areas 

Disney Cruise has fantastic adult spaces. The pub hosts great trivia. A Cadillaic bar has delicious cocktails. We heard one of the best comedians we've ever heard in the night club. 

Deck Parties 

 Pirate night is amazing! Disney is the only cruise line with fireworks at sea. 

Character Meet and Greets 

I'm often asked about the difference between Disney cruises and trips to Disney World. Disney cruises are much more focused on character interactions. Disney World is more about rides and attractions. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spotlight on: Azamara Quest

In December 2016,  we took a cruise on the Azamara Quest. This is a small ship with only five 700 guests.

Cabin:  The cabins were small and the shower was tiny. I was grateful that our cruise was only eight nights because I couldn't have imagined going on a longer cruise with that small of a shower. To give some perspective,  the Azamara balcony cabins were about the size of a Carnival interior cabin. They did make good use of the space. We liked the patio furniture on the balcony because it allowed to have a comfortable meal outdoors. We love our room service breakfast.

Staff: We really got to know staff very well because each staff member usually has multiple roles,  especially the bar waiters. This made the service a lot more personalized. We enjoyed the special touches like chilled towels and ice water as we sat by the pool.

Dining - The food overall was good. It wasn’t the best cruise food we’ve ever had. Email me and I'll tell you who that honor goes to.  The menus were good and we liked the grill by the pool – especially the wings. We still the same problems with the buffet being crowded, but the service was better than we have experienced on any other ship. We had some struggle with the dining room service at dinner time. We did not have a consistent experience across the different tables where we were seated. It’s all open dining.  The means you cannot get dining time like you can on the large ships. In general, we prefer having a set time at the same table with the same staff for each dinner. We find this usually ends up with better service since the dining staff get to know us better.

Activities – We missed having a comedian onboard. The nightly shows were pretty good.  I really enjoyed the Broadway review. Trivia was taken very seriously and played in teams. We were surprised at the number of live musicians across the ship in the evening.

Itinerary -  Azamara tries to differentiate itself by having the more time in port.  In almost every port, we didn't leave until 10 or 11 o'clock at night. This made a huge difference in what we were able to do. It took so much pressure off of feeling like you had to rush back or you might miss the ship.

AzAmazing Evening – The other very special part of cruising Azamara is the AzAmazing evening. The team organizes a special event on land for the whole ship. Ours was a party at the governor's mansion in Antigua.  It was unbelievable. They had terrific local bands with the longest firework show I have ever seen. We had police escorts from the cruise ship to the event.  Coming back all of the staff from Azamara was outside with trays of drinks welcoming us back to the ship with the orchestra playing.

Overall Vibe -  We read more than we have any other cruising been on. We met some wonderful people. People seem to be more friendly and more open to getting to know you again because there were so much fewer of you. Overall,  we were surprised that the service didn't exceed our expectations. I think that's a sign that we have just been on a lot of fabulous large ship cruises. For those who don’t cruise as often as we do,  I think you'll have a more consistent experience on a small ship versus the varied experiences we've had on a large ships. Though, the small size of the cabin that would be a deal-breaker from many people.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Groups with Different Budgets

 Traveling with friends and family is a lot of fun, but one issue that comes up is when everyone does not have the same budget for the trip.

One of the ways I help my client is to look at different options that could accommodate different budgets. Two examples of this are all inclusive resorts and cruises because they have a variety of room/cabin options at different price points.

For example, the Iberostar Paraiso complex south of Cancun,  Mexico has five resorts along the same beach. You have access to  different levels of amenities depending on which of the resorts you stay in.

You can choose:

 Grand Hotel  - An adults only luxury all inclusive resort with unlimited a la carte restaurant options and exchange privileges  at all five resorts 

Maya or Lindo – A family all inclusive resort with unlimited all – inclusive a la carte restaurant options at your resort and the Del Mar or Beach. You also have exchange privileges at Del Mar and Beach.  If you stay at Maya, you can access Lindo restaurants. Maya guests cannot access Lindo restaurants. The Maya and Lindo share the pool and beach area. The Maya resort has all junior suite. The Lindo has standard rooms.

Del Mar or Beach – A family all inclusive resort. You have restrictions on the number of nights you can eat at an a la carte restaurant. No room service.   

Your group could still meet on the beach together, enjoy the pools together or get reservations at the a la carte restaurant at the lowest level resort.  The downside to this is that the people who paid for the Grand Hotel probably wouldn't use them as much if  the rest of their group was at the Del Mar  or Beach Resort.  This came up recently at a 40th birthday party at an adults only all inclusive resort that offers a privileged club. Some of the group paid for their preferred Club rooms, but the rest of the group opted for a regular room. Those who paid for the preferred Club said that they didn't really use the amenities because they were spending time with their friends.

Another option is to explore different lengths of trip. The lower budget crew stays 3 nights and those with a higher budget threshold stay longer and/or upgrade their room category for the second half of the trip.

In a similar way, cruises offer a good opportunity for people with different budgets. You have a range of cabins choices from cabins with no windows up to suites. When picking a cruise, it's important to make sure that you can all be together for dining. For instance, Celebrity, Cunard, and the Norwegian Haven have separate dining rooms depending on the cabin you book.  Princess, Carnival, Royal Caribbean or the general Norwegian room may be a better fit to ensure you share the same dining options.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Choosing a Fast Pass for Disney World

Fast Passes are reservations for rides, attractions, shows, or parades at Disney World. You can make up to 3 per day for one Park in advance.  This requires that you have a My Disney Experience account set up and linked to your reservation. 

If you'd like a copy of this in a PDF, email me.

If you are staying at a Walt Disney World resort, your Fast Pass reservations will open at 7:00 am 60 days prior to your date of arrival.  You will be able to make reservations for your entire stay.  

If you are not staying at a Walt Disney World resort, you can make a Fast Pass reservation thirty days in advance. 
You will not be able to make the reservation for your whole stay.

Once you have used your first three pre-scheduled Fast Pass reservations, you are able to reserve more Fast Passes one at a time.  After you scan your third Fast Pass, I recommend opening the App while you are waiting in line and securing an additional Fast Pass then. You can make a Fast Pass for a different Park if you have a Park Hopper ticket. After you use that Fast Pass, you will be able to reserve another Fast Pass. This works best at Magic Kingdom since so many attractions are available for Fast Pass.

Here's a step by step tutorial on how to make a Fast Pass reservation on My Disney Experience. 

Once you use your three Fast Pass reservations, you can go to a kiosk in the Park or use the My Disney Experience App and request additional Fast Passes one at a time. 

My general recommendations for the Fast Passes are: 

1. Not every ride needs a Fast Pass. Below I've listed the rides that tend to have long lines. Star Tours, Anna and Elsa Meet and Greet, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are three of the most popular rides in Disney World. 

2. If you are having trouble finding a Fast Pass for a Park, schedule a character meet and greet or a movie. These are air-conditioned areas that offer a break from the heat or the rain. 

For Magic Kingdom, you can pick three of the following attractions. I've listed the attractions that tend to have long lines and  I've sorted them by height restriction.  

Any Height
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin 
Jungle Cruise
Peter Pan’s Flight 
Pirates of the Caribbean 
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid

Rides with Height Restrictions
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train - 38 inches or taller 
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - 40 inches or taller 
Splash Mountain ® - 40 inches or taller 
Space Mountain®  - 44 inches or taller 

Character Meet and Greet
Cinderella and Eleana
Tiana and Rapunzel
Mickey Mouse
Tinker Bell 

For Epcot, the attractions are split into two groups.

First Group - You can pick one: 
Soarin’ - 40 inches or taller  - This is my favorite ride, but kids usually find Test Track more exciting because you race around a track at 60 miles an hour.
Test Track - 40 inches or taller 
Frozen - Any Height - Take a slow moving boat ride with some darkness and drops through the movie.
IllumiNations Reflections - This is a special viewing area.

Second Group - You can pick two  attractions: 
Character Meet and Greet: Meet Disney Pals at the Epcot Character Spot
Mission SPACE® - 44 inches or taller  - This is very intense and can be claustrophobic for folks. 
Spaceship Earth - Any Height
The Seas with Nemo and Friends - Any Height
Show: Turtle Talk with Crush - Any Height 
Living with the Land - Any Height

Journey into the Imagination and the Pixar Film Festival generally do not have long lines.

For Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the attractions are split into two groups: 

First Group - You can pick one of these attractions: 
My recommendation in this group is Toy Story Mania - Any Height. The other options are Fantasmic, Beauty and the Beast on Stage, The Great Movie Ride,  and Rock N Roller Coaster. 

Second Group - You can pick two of these attractions: 
Show: Disney Junior - Live on Stage - This show you sit on the floor so it is nice to get in first and be closer to the front. It's a puppet show. 
Star Tours ® - The Adventures Continue - 40 inches or taller - Great use of a Fast Pass.
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - 40 inches or taller - Large drop

For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Muppet Vision 3D, and Voyage of the Little Mermaid tend to have shorter lines because they are a all shows in a large theater.

For Animal Kingdom, you can pick three attractions: 
Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain ® - 44 inches or taller 
Show: Festival of the Lion King
Kilimanjaro Safaris ® - Any Height 
Dinosaur - 40 inches or taller
Rivers of Light Preferred Seating
Primeval Whirl - 48 inches or taller
Kali River Rapids - 38 inches or taller

Character Meet and Greet - Meet Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost , Finding Nemo, and  It's Tough to Be a Bug tend to have shorter lines.

**Updated March 2017**

Monday, March 6, 2017

Dining Recommendations for Disney World

**Update March 2017**

Dining reservations for Walt Disney World resort restaurants open 180 days in advance. 

If you are staying at a Walt Disney World resort, you can book your entire stay at that time. 

If you are not staying at a Walt Disney World, you'll need to check each day to make your reservations. 

You can start making a reservation via the My Disney Experience App or online at Disney Dining at 6:00 am or via phone (407-WDW-DINE) at 7:00 am. 

If you have food allergies, be sure to let them know at the time of booking. Disney World is fantastic with food allergies. They offer special menus that indicate which items can be made according to your needs. Plus a chef can come out and discuss and your options. 

For more tips on planning on your Disney vacation, click here to request my free Escape the Crowds at Disney World guide. 

The Hard to Get Reservations

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Three Things Not to Miss on the  Carnival Valor

We were really excited to learn that the Carnival Valor was sailing three or four night cruises from Port Canaveral. Usually, shorter cruises are on older ships. We took advantage of a 3 night sailing over Thanksgiving.   It was one of the best service teams we’ve ever had in the dining room. The service was great!  

Here’s three tips to make the most of your time on the Carnival Valor:

1.     Have a drink at the steakhouse bar. Eating at the steakhouse incurs an extra charge because it's a specialty restaurant. However, the bar is available to all guests. This is an especially good deal if you have the drinks package because the steakhouse bar has wines that are not available at any other bar. I especially enjoyed a delicious $19 glass of 19 rose champagne each night before dinner.

2.      Take advantage of the lounge chairs on the Deck 4 deck. The pool can get pretty crowded on Sea Day. So if you're looking for a quiet ocean view chaise lounger, head down the deck 4.  

3.      Blue Iguana Cantina for breakfast. This is my favorite breakfast on any cruise ship I've ever been on. The huevos rancheros or breakfast burritos are delicious. Be sure to try the watermelon and jicama salsa. Trust me.