Sunday, January 21, 2018

I can book my vacation myself, why book with a Vacation Planner???

We often get told, "I don't need a travel agent. I will just book it myself."  You are right, you can book a  vacation yourself. However, we feel we have a lot to offer and for the outrageous FEE of ...NOTHING! You will pay absolutely nothing for my services.  We are paid by the locations we book not by you. If you book directly with travel companies or with us, your trip will cost the same amount. If you book with a third party online vendor (travelocity, expedia and so on) you will be required to contact them for any changes. If you arrive and don't like your hotel, you cannot make changes or cancellations without talking with travelocity. This is no easy task while frustrated and trying to enjoy your trip. We are always a text or call away to speak to a PERSON, not a company.

You will pay nothing but you will receive the following benefits:

  • Experience: We have been to Walt Disney World twenty five times. We have been on two Disney Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruiseline, Disneyland California twice, San Diego, New York, D.C. Scotland, Wales, London, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Bahamas, Costa Maya, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Grenada, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Turks and Caicos.  Each of these trips has broadened our knowledge. We intentionally stay at different resorts and eat at different restaurants on each stay to gather more information to book vacations that fit each guests needs.
  • Booking: We will handle the booking of your stay as well as your guide you through area information.  For Walt Disney World we will handle your dining that can be booked 6 months in advance. 
  • Peace of Mind: While traveling if anything goes 'wrong', you make one call to us and we will jump in to handle anything that isn't quite to your liking.  We have numbers and contacts to call directly to management at the resorts so we can help resolve anything that isn't right. Honestly, this is a rarity. The locations we send you to are hand picked and often they do a wonderful job and takes great care of their guests. There have been a few instances that we have needed to contact them for a guest on property and they immediately took steps to help our  clients. 
  • Organizing Groups: We are especially helpful when larger groups are traveling together. We are able to help organize everyone and make plans for dining and itinerary. We are also experienced at helping everyone come together to make one plan everyone can enjoy.
  • Advice: Going to on vacation is an amazing experience but it is also an expensive one. Having us available to ask questions can really put your mind at ease. We can answer your questions along your planning journey and are available by text, email or phone while you are traveling.
  • Discount Monitoring: If a discount comes out we immediately call and get the offer applied to your package. Then let you know about your savings. This is something Disney and other travel companies won't do for you when you book directly with them! They aren't interested in saving you money, we are
  • Contact us today at 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fastpass Strategy update

My strategy for planning fastpasses is constantly changing. A few things remain consistent. do not make them first thing in the morning and pick things with long wait times. I will take a couple of paragraphs to try to give a clearer explanation of those two situations.

First, timing is important. You will plan your dining in advance. Sometimes your dining will dictate which park you need fastpasses for each day. If you are eating in Hollywood Studios it would make sense to get your fastpasses there as well.  Sometimes your meals are not in theme parks so you have flexibility on which park to go to that day and then which fastpasses to get.

Once you know the park you plan to be in for the majority of the day you will choose three rides, shows or character meet n greets are worth using your passes on. This is not something we do for clients for a couple of reasons. Your family is unique.  As your family grows and changes the fastpasses that make sense change. It is important to my family to get Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios for instance. For some families there isn't anyone willing to ride that!  There is also the component of characters. Some people have a lot of character meals so they don't need to plan specific character times to get photos. Others have kids that don't want to be around the characters or just value rides over characters.  Most shows will allow you in regardless of having a fastpass but you will have to get there much earlier and wait in a line to secure your seat. This is true of Fantasmic, Animal Kingdom's light show, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King and Indiana Jones.  If you have a fastpass you come when it tells you to and you are guaranteed that spot. I would also highly suggest going later in the day to any of these. Oftentimes there are second showings at the end of night events. When the fireworks are done a second time there are fewer people in the park and getting a prime spot is much easier.

I have a previous blog on picking your parks based on early entry.Park Planning I suggest really being practical about what your vacation will look like based on the reality of your family. If you have to argue and douse your children with buckets of ice to get them out of bed at home to do an activity they like, don't expect to have a pleasant vacation waking them up at 6am to make park opening! If your children are teens you might decide a divide and conquer approach is best. Leave them and go do what you want and they can join you later.  Obviously, this takes mature, responsible kids with some experience on Disney property using buses and understanding the process.  I cannot sleep in a hotel much past 7:30 am. I will be very grumpy sitting there awake waiting hours to go knowing the park is filling up. So, our family gets up and anyone ready goes to the park. Anyone else is required to be there by the first fastpass and we generally stay together for the fastpasses and meal then let everyone do their own thing.

However, you might still be in the throws of little princes and princesses that really like to see the sun come up whether they have slept 2 hours or 12. If this is the case you might as well tackle the parks at dawn, do your sit down meal for lunch and fastpasses early so that you can return to swim and relax at the resort without worrying about meltdowns at a late dinner.

Magic Kingdom:

  • IF you can get there near park opening:
    • People tend to merge right in our society...and wander forward as if the castle has a magnetic pull. DON'T herd forward and right. Instead, move through the connected stores on the left side of the store and you will be spit out to the left of the castle where there are bathrooms immediately behind you then continue on to the left to go to Adventureland. Ride Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain and Haunted Manson. Get fastpasses starting around noon for Peter Pan, Space Mountain and one other fantasyland ride.
  • IF people will not get out of bed!
    • Plan to be there later. Do fastpasses for Option 1 thrill riders: Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Jungle cruise and then wait in standby for Pirates (air conditioned standby) and Haunted Mansion  Option 2 non thrill riders/little ones: Peter Pan, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion
Hollywood Studios:

  • This park divides rides into Tier 1 and Tier 2. You can choose one Tier one ride (awesome rides) and two Tier Two rides (lesser rides)
    • Tier One: Toy Story One and Rockin' Roller Coaster: EVERYONE should pick Toy Story
    • Tier Two: Tower of Terror, Star Wars are the top two for thrill riders. Frozen Sing a long, Disney Junior or Indiana Jones if you have little ones

  • This park also has Tier 1 and Tier 2:
    • Tier One: I highly suggest Soarin....more than that I won't even contemplate anything else! Okay, fine, if you have a princess and HAVE to do Frozen do it, I will just be really sad for you.
    • Tier Two: Spaceship Earth and Mission Space...if you have little people you can still do Spaceship Earth (the big globe), and maybe a character meet
Animal Kingdom
  • Tier One: Crazily important **Nearly impossible to get** Avatar Flight of Passage...basically for now you will not ride this if you don't fastpass it. The wait was nearly 3 hours. 
    • When you don't get this you go ahead and take the other Avatar ride: Navi River Journey if you just like to do everything new...but the Safari is better if you haven't done either.
  • Tier Two: Dinosaur and Kali River Rapid (you will get wet).

In summary:

  1. Read my blog on which park to visit each day: Picking the day for each park
  2. Choose your dining based on where you will be and let us now 190 days in advance so we have time to review it then make your reservations 180 days in advance: Dining Plan blogs
  3. 70 days prior to travel decide which three rides/shows/experiences you will fastpass each day and make a written plan, send that to us if you want our opinion then login so that you make sure you can get in your account!
  4. 60 days in advance at 7 am get your fastpasses done on an actual computer not on a phone app!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Planning your park days at Disney World to avoid crowds

Right when I have it all figured out...things change. My last couple of fall break/Christmas trips I have noticed that the Magic Kingdom park closing really messes with park crowds.  Disney does two things that really unbalance the parks. First, during Halloween and Christmas seasons they offer special park tickets that you buy in addition to your general park tickets that get you a special event night at the Magic Kingdom. Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party November and December both require the Magic Kingdom to close at 7pm and all guests will be ushered out to allow for the special limited guests time to start. These events are usually 3-4 nights of the week. The other nights Magic Kingdom is a madhouse as those not attending the event are trying to go on a full day to get their money's worth and see the end of night fireworks show. Those with passes to the special events will walk on many rides with little to no waits especially on weeknights because the number of tickets is limited. The even is sold for 7-midnight but they will actually allow those with tickets in around 4pm.

This means that the majority of guests at Walt Disney World are flushed out into the other three parks that day. The second mess with crowds are extra magic hours. Any park with extra magic hours will be the busiest because inexperienced travellers will go to that park for the day. There are strategies you can use but shhhhh, don’t tell anyone that will be there when I am, let’s just keep it between you and me!

Park Hopper Strategy for a day with a special event. If you purchase park hopper tickets then event days are the BEST days to go to Magic Kingdom first thing in the morning. Go LEFT at park entry and have your fastpasses starting afternoon. In the morning you will walk on rides with very little waiting. Use this time to ride things on the left side of the park(Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain). Get your fastpasses beginning around noon. You need fastpasses for Peter Pan, Seven Dwarfs and Space Mountain (substitute Buzz Lightyear space ranger spin or Splash Mountain if your family will allow you to skip Peter Pan).

Then around 4pm everyone else is allowed to enter the parks for their evening event so you need to leave. Either grab dinner then go back to the resort to swim and relax OR park hop over to another park. Again, if a park has late hours it will be the busiest but everyone leaves after the evening show. (Fireworks or performance). Then wait time will be reduced.

NON Park Hopper Strategy The struggle is real. Since you don't have park hoppers you are going to have to be really smart. Morning magic hours probably are a bad choice unless you have kids that are dragging you out of bed at 6 am no matter what. Once our kids were older we would let them sleep in and go late to a park that had late hours. This allowed them to be much better rested, less rushed and stay out into the night when the sun has gone down it is so much cooler in Florida and kids will think they are doing something really neat being out in the dark. The biggest thing is to plan WITH your childs sleep behaviors not against them.

Here are a couple of scenarios:
  • When our kids were young they would not sleep past 7:30 am. Well, we might as well go to the park. If we came back midday they would not nap. However, we could swim and cool off and put on clean clothes before going back out. This is really only realistic if you are staying in a deluxe resort so you don't waste much time traveling back and forth. Going back to a value or moderate resort (or Animal Kingdom Lodge) will be a 15 minute wait on a bus, a 20 minute ride then a walk to the room. Then you repeat that to return later. Now, that midday trip back is taking well over an hour in your day. IF your kids nap this is probably well worth it. Some are blessed with kids that will nap in a stroller and be perfectly pleasant. We were not blessed with one of those.
  • When our kids became teens getting them out in the morning just wasn't worth it on our longer trips. We had time to get it all done so we would just let them sleep and meet us later in the day. We would get out with our younger one always eager to go and easy temperament to stay for the long haul and we would go in the morning. Our older ones would set an alarm get up around noon shower and meet us for lunch then fastpasses. Sometimes they would outlast us at night and they were fine to get back and forth on their own using Disney buses, boats or monorails.
  • Parks are dead on days that Magic Kingdom is late night. Go anywhere else!!!
  • Absolutely do NOT go to an extra morning magic hours park after the morning magic hours are done. For instance, extra magic hours are at 8-9 am. You go there are 10...DUMB. This means you are now in the busiest park for the day and did not take advantage of the extra hours at all.
  • If you have park hoppers start your day anywhere that does not have magic hours. Go to the park with late magic hours around 8pm. It will be slowing down and short waits.
  • No matter how well you plan...allow for your kids to show their ugliest side (maybe your spouse too!). When they are starting to unravel decide to go back, feed them, or go into a calm and air conditioned stupid ride to wait it out. For instance, Hall of Presidents or Small World.

Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort

Animal Kingdom Lodge is a deluxe resort at Walt Disney World, Florida. We try to stay at different resorts each time to experience them and later blog about them since we book a lot of Disney travel. I have to admit I have never been a big fan of Animal Kingdom and Animal KIngdom lodge has not been high on my list of resorts I was interested in visiting.

Bunk Beds in pool view room

Queen bed

View from Pool View room

Some of my feelings were upheld on this trip and others changed. First, Disney has three levels of resorts: value, moderate and deluxe. However, price wise there is really a clear distinction within the deluxe set of resorts. There are deluxe resorts then there are deluxe resorts on the monorail (Polynesian, Grand Floridian and Contemporary). Those on the monorail are a clear and evident step above the rest in convenience, quality and price.  If you can budget to stay in a monorail resort you will not be disappointed. BUT for the first 15 years of our adventures in parenthood that was simply ridiculous. The deluxe resorts not on the monorail offer all of the deluxe amenities including nice table service restaurants, superior pools with hot tubs with slides, food courts with tastier food options and quality bedding. These resorts include Beach/Yacht Club, Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge and Boardwalk.  Wilderness has a boat to Magic Kingdom and is only a five-minute bus ride away. Beach, Yacht and Boardwalk are a walkway to EPCOT (perfect for the food/wine festival in the fall) and a quick boat ride to Hollywood Studios (or a 8/10 mile walk).  Animal Kingdom fails big time in this arena. You are a 20-minute bus ride from Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. This really loses some value in convenience when it prices very similarly to Wilderness Lodge.

Why stay at the Animal Kingdom then?  SAVANNA VIEW!!!! This expensive room view offers you a direct view of the savanna with live animals. If you are an animal lover and spend a lot of time at the resort this could be a good choice. The pool is very nice and never busy. We have teens and we are out at the parks morning until night. We were there on a short 5-night visit so we did not spend much time at the resort.  There were some neat moments when we went and sat out on rockers on the savanna public balconies, watched employees from Africa showing children how to carve wood into animals and showing animal footprints and skulls from their countries. The design of the lobby is beautiful and similar to what you see throughout Animal Kingdom park.

Final thoughts: reasons to choose this resort…
  • You are a laid back family planning to spend a lot of time at the resort
  • You are staying an extended period of time so you will have more downtime
  • Young children in your party are enamoured with animals
  • Honeymooners
  • No interest in returning midday to the resort
  • You are willing to spend the money to upgrade to a savanna view room to take full advantage of the resort
Reasons to choose other resorts
  • You have young kids needing midday naps or teens that like to go back and forth (more experienced families that tend to divide and conquer and let the kids do their own thing)
  • You don’t like long bus rides
  • Don’t care about animals or are not willing to pay for Savanna View

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sandals Saint Lucia-Stay at One Play at Three

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We are currently loving our stay at Sandals Grande Saint Lucia. It is a beautiful resort in the Carribean. Of course since it is a Sandals resort it is ultra all inclusive so the Hobie Cat, Kayaking, snorkeling are all FREE! We have taken advantage of all of these and enjoy them. We never have reservations but instead just walk up and get our life vests and take off. Your first trip out on a Hobie Cat you will get lessons on how to sail but after you master things you are able to come back anytime.

There are three resorts here and all are distinctive.  We chose Grande because it has the most restaurants. It is also the most expensive, you pay for convenience. The Grande boasts a large outstretched public beach. Locals are allowed to approach on the beach but they are friendly and once you let them know you don't plan to make any purchases they move along.  We are in a standard room with a completely remodeled bathroom and  garden view off the back porch.

There are always way too many room categories at a Sandals resort but it can be broken into a few areas. VIEW and butler or club levels.

  • Standard rooms: Least expensive category with a refrigerator stocked with water, soda and fruit juice. These rooms are clean and remodeled.
  • Club rooms: these rooms have a bar stocked with liquor and beer in the refrigerator. Another advantage is view and location. You can get a walk out into a quiet pool or a room with balcony overlooking the ocean. You also get ROOM service in this category...FREE
  • Butler rooms: these rooms have an employee assigned to you for your stay. You tip them once at the end of stay (normally there is not any tipping on sandals properties). You have different locations within this category. There are Roundevilles and Over the Water  bungalows. Both offer privacy beyond standard rooms and amazingly up to date rooms and services. These are so impressive that it is well worth it if this is a financially "doable" option.
Three resorts here have their own personalities.

  • Grande-the longest beach and the most expensive with the newest Sandals room category of Over the Water bungalows. Lots of restaurants including Barefoot on the Beach (one of or favorite seafood options), Gordon's on the Pier, Bombay Indian cuisine, Kimonos and Soy japanese hibachi and sushi.  As well as italian, buffet and jerk shops.

This resort is beside a really neat old hill/mountain as part of a public part. You can walk out of the resort and go over for a one hour hike/walk to the top to see old remains of forts and a pretty remarkable view. You pay American cash to get in it was about $15-20 for a couple.
  • La Toc-This resort is less expensive and still an excellent option. It includes a millionaire suite (only four on property so book early) These are up in the mountains with stunning views and a walk out pool on the balcony.You need to be able to climb and walk up steep inclines. If you have mobility issues I would not choose this one.  There are also standard, club and butler options. A favorite room of ours when touring this resort was a club level room with a soak tub and balcony overlooking the ocean. This resort has several restaurant and bar options as well. There is a golf course on property. Golfing is free, you can rent clubs or golf course if you don't bring your own. You are required to hire a caddy for $11 on 9 hole course. 

  • Halcyon-this resort is definitely a different one of the three. It is much smaller and goes at a slower pace. The employees are very friendly with less stress to handle the masses. There are only a few restaurants so you would want to take advantage of the free exchanges to the other resorts for nightlife and dining. This would be the choice for a couple that truly wants to be left alone and not interact with many people the whole week. The area seemed dated but there were major renovations going on while we were there. We got into a room under renovations and it was very nice.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Royal Caribbean: Allure of the Seas

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Prior to this cruise we had cruised on the Disney Fantasy and its sister ship the Disney Dream. We loved them both and we were pretty nervous about going with another cruiseline because Disney customer service and cleanliness are second to none.

We had 7 people to pay for on this trip and additional family and friends that joined in the fun so we decided to try to be more careful with cost. For this spring break trip we spent almost half the amount on a Royal Caribbean cruise as we would have on a Disney cruise.

I have been pleasantly surprised. First, it is clean and the employees are friendly. The food has been good and even great in spots. (I would still easily rate Disney food higher). This is an enormous ship but it rarely feels crowded. I have always found empty seats and really enjoy the adult only "Solarium". There's a pool, hot tubs, bar and plenty of chairs to relax in. The sign says 16+ for the age but my mature 15 year olds walked in unquestioned. I assume had they been loud or obnoxious they would have asked to see their ID.

Who is this ship for?  I would suggest it to any group of adults, people with children can take kids to a kids club on board. We don't have anyone that age so we don't have first hand knowledge.  As far as teens go, I think mine have had a blast but it is definitely because we have such a large group. They are constantly grabbing each other for a soccer game, ziplining, rock climbing, putt putting and laying by the pools. They have gone to shows and comedy shows together. I cannot imagine this trip as an individual family with older teens. Kids 13 and younger would probably go to the kids club and make friends pretty easily. If you are planning to go with older kids I would take a friend or invite another family to join in the fun so your kids can hang out.  Unlike our European trip there is a ton of down time. In Europe my kids enjoyed each other and we were going on one tour or excursion after another with plenty to do. Here you make up your plans as you go and I am convinced my kids would have whined or been bored if they didn't have friends and grandparents along to spend time with them. Keep in mind they are without their precious electronics so boys, especially, would struggle with being still. Girls will go sunbathe and are more likely to hang with mom. You know your family best so you will know how they will do without constant activities. Again, it has been a blast but I am thrilled they have a lot of people in our group of 13 to hang out with!

There are sports (soccer, mini golf, ice skating, basketball, wave surfing, ziplining, rock climbing and more) all included with no cost. There are plenty of places to eat including 24 hour room service that is complimentary but you should have some $1's to tip and there's a 24 hour restaurant.   I have heard some complaints of people that generally do Carnival that they prefer the 24 hour buffet offered there. Disney and Royal Caribbean do not have that option.

I have talked to others onboard to ask comparisons between Royal and Carnival. An employee that works for the stores so she has been on other cruiselines told me that she would rank Carnival at the bottom on amenities and food, then Royal then Holland. Of course that is also the order of pricing! She feels there is A LOT more drinking on Carnival (maybe it's cheaper??) so people don't care what they are eating. I have also talked to a family that prefers Carnival but they love the sun and the pools. So, they don't have an interest in the rest of the activities on board and prefer the Carnival set up with buffets 24 hours a day right by the pool. With a young child they find that a lot easier to negotiate to keep everyone happy.

My teens love it, they have eaten a ridiculous amount of food including lots of desserts, ice cream and cheeseburgers. They have played almost every sport and taken breaks to see the beauty surrounding them and relax for an afternoon nap.

My mom is temporarily in a wheelchair and she has had to use the elevators the entire trip. Thank goodness Royal Caribbean outshines Disney on this one! Disney elevators were painfully slow and we would just walk the stairs. We have not had much trouble at all getting around even with a large group.

Disney has free movies in the room and free brand new movies showing every day in their theater onboard. Royal Caribbean charges $12/movie to watch rentals in your room. There is a broadway style show currently "Momma Mia" and Comedy shows as well as a casino (won't find that on Disney).  There are also dance clubs and aquashows.

Ports we visited on this trip:
  • Nassau, thanks?  Well, for any avid cruisers you know that a stop in Nassau seems to be the norm. I would not even get off the ship at this stop unless you plan an excursion to go to a beach or have never been to the Caribbean.  There is a straw market and a street of stores but it is all very touristy and the shop owners are very pushy which I don't like at all. They yell at you and talk to you even when you are trying to move on. My kids that have traveled a lot would rather stay onboard the empty ship. It is quick to get on and off so if you have never been it might be worth the experience to see it but you will never want to get off there again :-)
  • St Thomas: This is an American Territory so you can often use cell phones free. We decided to spend a day at the beach here and after some research decided on Magen's Bay. It was an $8/person open air trolley ride each way to and from the ship and an additional $5/person entry fee. It ended up being about $21/person for this trip and we were at the beach 11-4:30  We had people from 4-66 years old and had a great day. The further you walk down the beach you can find much less busy areas.The water is clear and the kids floated, laid out, went on some walking adventures and snorkeled with gear their grandpa brought.  A hamburger was $10/person and renting chairs was $8 each.  We brought towels from the ship and ate a huge breakfast before we left. We had our smuggled waters we brought and my mom had taken a big beach bag to breakfast to bring muffins and fruit and goldfish crackers. We were famished and burnt upon our return, it was a great day!
If we booked this as an excursion it was $49/person, we spent $21/person  Since we are a family of 7 that was nearly a $200 savings to do it ourselves. If you book your excursion with the cruiseline you are guaranteed a return to the ship and you can make plans in advance. We decided it wasn't far away and we returned earlier than necessary.
Items to bring:
    • beach bag to bring smuggled breakfast snacks including fruit, muffins (so bring ziplock bags on board) and boxes of cereal, bottled water
    • liquid sunscreen, reapply throughout the day and pay special attention to tops of feet.
    • a hat will save the top of your head, bring one that can be washed
    • snorkel equipment
    • towels from ship
    • charged phone for pictures
    • cash for driver and $5 entry fee ($21/person)

  •  St. Maarten: We decided to look through the local shops and wander the port since we had been in the sun the previous day. There is a $7/person roundtrip water taxi to take you directly to the market area. We opted to walk the mile instead. This is where the kids were able to pick up $1 sodas which made sense compared to the $60 drink cards on ship! The shops ranged from island shops with tshirts, sundresses, hats and bags at cheap prices for cheaply made products to much nicer and more expensive duty free shopping.  The walk was fine even with a stroller and wheelchair however it did get very hot. My husband enjoyed the walk as the local vendors were all selling bottles of beer for $2 each with local beers. Upon arriving at the other side we realized the water taxi was taking people not only to the shops but a large beach area. This is very easily accessible without paying for an excursion and you can see the ship the whole time.

Allure of the Seas is divided into different areas which we really enjoyed exploring. There is Central Park where live plants grow and sounds of crickets and birds are piped in at night. This was a really nice place to stop after dinner and listen to live music or stroll through. Park Cafe is the complimentary restaurant on this floor with excellent made to order salads and carved roast beef sandwiches.

There is also a Boardwalk with a delicious complimentary hot dog/sausage dog restaurant with Johnny Rockets for an additional fee.

Finally, there is the Promenade that has a pizza restaurant called Sorrento's that is complimentary and you can choose from the pizzas premade and available or make one to order.

Cruising is a neat experience for kids because they meet people from all over the world working on the ship and traveling. Our room attendant, Jose, is from Guatemala so we immediately loved him since two of our boys are also from Guatemala!

Disney has tea, lemonade, coffee and soda included. Royal charges for a weekly soda cup and it is $60-70/person. We didn't buy the soda cups because we can get by on tea and water. I noticed two things. First, there aren't that many soda fountains, I would be annoyed if I spent that much then was not able to get enough refills. Next, they say you cannot bring on bottled water or soda. We brought on a case of water in a suitcase with no problem. I figure if they take it we would be out $4.  It was worth the risk. Next, we saw people walking on to the ship carrying cases of soda unquestioned! Completely visible red cream if I was a soda addict I would definitely give that a shot!  One of the teens with us bought soda for $1/can in Saint Maarten right off the ship and carried it back in inside of a backpack and it was not taken.

Alcohol cannot be brought on board.  They will take it! Alcohol onboard ranges from $8-12/glass or bottle of beer.

  • Make or buy door magnets to make your door more recognizable.
  • Internet is about $90 in advance for one device. We did that for our business. I was pleased to realize you can login to your computer and later your phone using only one code. You can only be logged into one device at a time.
  • Call your cell carrier to see what the international plan covers. My Sprint plans allows international calling in some countries at a discount and free texting and data.
  • Bring clip magnets to hang your itineraries and room documents on any surface, you are inside a ship so every wall is magnetic.
  • Keeping track of where everyone is can be a hassle. We have $2 dry erase boards on every door to communicate throughout the day. 
  • Storage is limited because the rooms truly are small don't be excessive in packing
  • bring books and magazines if you enjoy reading
  • obviously you will need more sunscreen than normal as you will be in and out of water and it is very tropical, we don't feel the spray sunscreens can compete with the Caribbean sun so I would suggest higher than normal SPF levels and liquid sunscreen.
  • In all dining rooms remember you can truly order anything you want. My teen boys have ordered two appetizers and two entrees most nights.  
  • When booking your vacation you choose Main (around 6 pm) Late (8pm) or Any Time dining. There are two dining rooms if you are placed in Main or Late but the Any Time diners go to American Icon for dinner any time you want. You can make reservations in advance if you have a specific time between 5:30-9:30 you would like to dine but we have really enjoyed the flexibility to just show up and be seated in a standby line whenever we would like each day. I am a planner so this surprises me but it has been very nice to be plan free.
  • Food at dinner is the same in the three dining rooms. Women mostly wear sundresses and the men wear khaki pants or nice khaki shorts with polos.  Two nights of the week are formal nights, many men wear jackets or long sleeve button up shirts with ties. My crew is pretty informal and no one seems disturbed at our dark pants and polo shirts with nicer dresses but certainly not cocktail dresses for us girls.
  • The fourth option at dinner is Windjammers Buffet, My boys love it because they can stuff themselves silly. But I don't think the food is nearly as good as in the restaurants.
  • For breakfast there are options all over the ship and the fresh fruit is great. 
  • Lunch is also spread out with the daily buffets in Windjammers and a smaller buffet in the solarium for guests 16+, bagels and sandwiches in Park Cafe are very good and donuts on the boardwalk. 
  • There are quite a few places to pay an upcharge for finer dining or Ben and Jerry's ice cream or candy by the ounce. We didn't bother with any of that. Our teens certainly value quantity over quality!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Value Resort: All Star Sports

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Disney World has 4 Value resorts: Pop Century, All Star Movies, All Star Music and All Star Sports. Technically Art of Animation is a fifth value resort....BUT most of it is suites that cost more than two value rooms so it's hard to classify it as a value resort.  As part of a group Cheer Competition, I recently stayed at All Star Sports Resort. All Star Sports has six themed areas after five sports: Baseball, Football, Surfing, Tennis, Basketball.  As always you can request an area but it will not be guaranteed. Preferred area closest to food court and main pool would be a slightly higher cost and that area is the Surfing area.

The rooms are identical to all value level resorts. There are two double beds, a shower with toilet and a side area with a single sink. It is a very small room and definitely one where you get what you pay for as far as amenities and space. It is clean and on the Disney Busing system but there are no "extras" as far as proximity to parks or dining options.


The Football themed area has a large open area that kids tend to like and play on.


 The food court is similar to all Disney Value resorts. There are breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options throughout the day. There are $16 large single topping pizzas made to order which is the least expensive option. Breakfast was disappointing but that has been in the case at all value resorts for me.

I was surprised at the size of the food court and even though it was crowded with cheer girls we had no trouble finding a pretty quiet space close to the back. The photo above was at breakfast time when it was pretty busy.

 There is a refrigerated area of different options like fresh fruit, sandwiches and alcohol. There are drink self service areas. The refillable mugs are currently $17.99 or free with dining plan.

Apparently, some parents need alcohol to survive Disney :-)

The food court has toasters, microwaves and an assortment of jellies, honey and butter. So, bring food along if you have a car or use an "Uber" to go to a local store especially for breakfast.

Common areas are clean, nice and sports themed.

Check in is quick and simple but I still suggest online check in. The lines here moved quickly and we spoke with concierge for some help with fastpasses and we had a very friendly cast member.

Playground is nearly always empty and tucked away within the All Stars Resort.