Category Archives: Disney World

Travel Agent Trial by Fire

DSCN0668I have always loved traveling and putting together trips. Disney is my happy place. I grew up near Disneyland and as a teen moved to Indiana, where Disney World became our go to theme park. It doesn’t matter the size of the crowd or the heat of the day, I LOVE being at Disney. I also adore Universal Studios (on both coasts), and cruising. I’ve also led about a dozen student trips both in the U.S. and in Europe, in hopes of one day seeing most of the world.

So when I saw an opportunity to become a Magical Vacation Planner back in August of 2019, I applied. I was thrilled when I was chosen and excited to start training. And boy was there a lot of training! Not that I minded as it was fascinating learning the ins and outs of vacation planning for some of my favorite destinations. I truly feel the knowledge I’ve acquired, my love of travel, and my attention to detail make me pretty good at this job.

After only a few months of getting the word out about my new business, I was even one of the top 10 agents on my team in January. It was so amazingly exciting!

And then the coronavirus hit. Talk about a trial by fire.

On the plus side, most of my trips are scheduled for later this year, but I had two clients scheduled for trips in March, and I was supposed to be leaving with my family on a Disney vacation for the first week of our spring break. In fact, I was scheduled to leave for Disney World the day after Disney announced they’d be closing Disney World. The park actually shut down on what would have been the third day of my trip.

20191230_110814It was a mad scramble to get trips canceled and rebooked. I spent several hours on the phone with Carnival Cruise Line and Disney World trying to get everything sorted out. I definitely had my share of frustration over some dropped calls. I’d been on hold with Disney for an hour when it seemed like someone picked up, but no voice could be heard, and I was transferred to the end of call agent customer service survey. There may have been tears. But I persevered, dialed again, and waited one more time until I got through.

At one point I was actually chatting with my client on Facebook Messenger while talking to a Disney agent in order to replan her trip. Although it started out stressful, the agent I talked to was simply amazing and I ended up getting my client an even better deal which included a small refund and an upgrade to her dining plan, which will end up saving her even more money once she’s at Disney.

It’s been a crazy few weeks, but I’ve been very impressed with how Disney, Universal, and the cruise lines have handled everything. I’m also so thankful I’ve been able to get things worked out for my clients and that I still have people talking to me about wanting to travel later on in the year.

Considering how easy it can be to book your own vacations online, I’ve had several people ask why bother using a travel agent. The last few weeks have been a clear testament to why travel agents matter. My clients didn’t have to do anything to get their trips canceled and rescheduled. They didn’t wait on the phone for hours, I did. They didn’t have to sort through all the emails and online information about the latest cancelation/rebooking policies, I did. They didn’t have to try to negotiate the best refunds/deals for rebooking, I did. All they had to do was tell me what they wanted done, and I got it done for them.

One of my funniest moments was actually when my cruise client emailed me about an email she’d gotten from Carnival with an updated cancelation policy the day after we’d canceled her trip. I’d already been on hold with Carnival for 45 minutes trying to make sure she got the better deal when her email came through. I gave her an immediate update via email, and when I got her a full refund, I called her to let her know.

It’s been a crazy few weeks and since I have another client scheduled to travel in mid-April, I expect I’ll have a few more crazy weeks, but I love helping people plan the best vacations I can, so I’m happy to do it. The world may be a bit up in the air right now, but remember that once things settle, I’ll be here to help you plan the perfect Disney, Universal, or cruise vacation. And you’ll get the same dedication, organization, and communication as all of my clients. I want to help people make amazing memories and see the world.

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Filed under bad days, cool places, cruising, Disney World, entertainment, Magical Vacation Planner by Shannon Schiller, ramblings, travel, what makes me me

Travel Tuesday: Disney’s Magical Express

20191007_085553I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been to Disney World, but until my latest trip in October, I have always driven there. Yes, despite living about 14 hours from Disney World, we drive there. And, until we had children, we did it in one day.

That’s right, we’d get in the car around 6 am and arrive sometime before midnight (because we had to make stops along the way). This is not the ideal situation because we arrived already exhausted, but with every intention of hitting a theme park the next day.

And why did we do this to ourselves? Because for all the wonder and magic of a Disney vacation, it is not a cheap vacation. There are definitely ways to make it more economical (and I know just about every single one if you need tips), but hotel, tickets, and food were the only things in the budget for most of my life. Even at today’s gas prices, a few tanks of gas (and even one night in a roadside hotel) are cheaper than four airline tickets to Florida.

My latest trip was a bit different. It was a girl’s trip, so there was only one ticket to buy. And even better, my mom was buying, so my 16 hour trip was instantly reduced to about two hours. Sure, my direct flight left at 6:30 am, but it also meant that I arrived at 8:30 am and I got to spend the day relaxing and got a good night’s sleep before we hit the parks.

It also meant that I got to try out the Magical Express for the first time.

The Magical Express is Disney’s bus system which picks up passengers from the Orlando airport and takes them directly to their resort. My mom was nervous about this as she gets overwhelmed in airports. I think she feared it was going to be tucked away in some corner of the airport and she’d have trouble finding the departure center. Even though Disney sent us each a letter explaining how to use the service, special tags to put on our luggage, and a map that showed where the Magical Express terminal is in the airport, she was still anxious.

20190929_084019Luckily, I has another trip to Orlando just over a week before our trip to Disney, so when I landed and saw the first sign for the Magical Express, which was almost as soon as I stepped into the airport terminal, I took a picture and sent it to her. On every single directional sign in the airport, the Magical Express is listed. It has a small bus icon and arrows pointing which way to go.

It is on the first floor of the airport, so I told my mom and sister to take the elevator down (my sister has some mobility issues). I took the stairs. Granted, it was a bit of the walk from the Delta terminal I flew in to, but there was no way I could miss it. Once I was downstairs, the signage became even clearer.

20191007_085614Once I arrived at the “gate,” I was greeted by a very cheerful cast member who had me tap my Magic Band on the pad, confirmed my resort, pointed me to the correct line and told me to have a magical day. Since I had my mom and sister’s bands, when they arrived several hours later, they used the letter we’d been sent, which had a barcode the cast member could scan.

20191007_085626Since I carried on my luggage, when my bus arrived, I handed it to our bus driver and he loaded it for me. My mom and sister had checked their baggage. But since their bags had the special Magical Express tags on them, someone loaded them onto a bus for them and someone else delivered them to our hotel room around 5 pm.

Magical Express letter 1I was so excited about the trip that I missed our driver’s announcement that if we carried on our own bags, we needed to pick them up after the bus was unloaded. So I pranced into the hotel bagless. When my mom and sister’s luggage arrived, I asked about mine. The kind cast member told me he’d looked for it, but that I needed to see the concierge because I was supposed to pick it up myself. I felt like such an idiot. And I was trying not to panic that all of my clothes and supplies might be missing.

Thankfully as I was explaining my situation to the concierge, the lovely man who’d delivered my family’s luggage came back, rolling my suitcase behind him. Our amazing bus driver, who I clearly should have paid more attention to, had taken it off and stored it at the Polynesian for me.

The bus ride itself was nice. There was plenty of space on the bus, so I got a seat to myself. There were TV’s on the bus which alternated between Disney trivia, Disney shorts and fun facts about Disney. Our driver was also quite entertaining. Before we left he asked if anyone was celebrating a birthday and since someone was, he led us all in a round of “Happy Birthday.” He also told us some jokes, information about himself, and some Disney trivia of his own. He asked if anyone had any questions for him, but since no one did, we were off.

On the last night of our trip, we got letters in our rooms that had our Magical Express return times. My mom and sister had an earlier flight out, so they left around 1. I actually spent my last few hours checking out a presentation about the Disney Vacation Club (but that’s another story). My bus arrived at 4:30 and my luggage was loaded and I was once again whisked away, this time to the airport. And this time I remembered to stick around for my luggage!

The Magical Express is fantastic. I love that Disney offers it and that it is included in the cost of every Disney resort vacation. While I am not sure we will always fly to Disney, after this experience, I am going to try to save up so that we can.

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Travel Tuesday: The Extras at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

20191007_114824-1Today is the last in my series of posts about Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. It’s been fun writing these posts because I’ve gotten to relive a really amazing trip. I’ve stayed at four different Disney resorts and so far the Polynesian is definitely my favorite. That doesn’t mean I’m not up for staying at every single other resort on Disney property. In fact, that is one of my goals. But for now, I love the atmosphere, luxury, and proximity of the Polynesian.

And all the extras are pretty cool. Since I’ve already talked about the pool cabanas, rooms, food, and first impressions, I figured I should spend some time on the little extras I noticed at the Polynesian that make it so special.

20191007_105806First off for families is Lilo’s Playhouse. Mom and Dad need a little alone time? Much like on Disney cruises, Lilo’s Playhouse is a clubhouse of sorts where children are supervised and have a plethora of activities to choose from. Unlike the cruises, there is a fee involved with taking kids to Lilo’s Playhouse, but it’s a great way for kids to be social and have fun while Mom and Dad get a little time to themselves on vacation. Although any resort guest can use Lilo’s Playhouse, since it’s on the grounds of the Polynesian, guests staying there don’t have the extra hassle of transportation to get there.

20191007_105525Want to host your own family luau? Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort has you covered. Or at least has a great grilling area for families who might want to stay in and cook out. The substantial grills and covered picnic table area make this a fun way for families who want to spend a day hanging out at the resort to have a meal together. And since there are several grocery delivery options available to Disney guests, all food items can even be delivered for the cook out!

20191007_110353And speaking of food, in addition to a fantastic character buffet, ‘Ohana, fantastic small plates at Trader Sam’s Grotto Grog, yummy breakfast at Kona Cafe, and Disney’s Spirit of Aloha dinner show, the Polynesian also has Pineapple Lanai, a place to get Dole Whip with and without booze right at the resort. We didn’t visit the Magic Kingdom on this trip, but I still got my Dole Whip! Actually, I got a lime Dole Whip and then a Lime Dole Whip margarita. Both were amazing, but I might have liked the margarita version just a bit more!

20191007_104956Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is also one of the only resorts with an actual beach on the property. There are lounge chairs set out and a really comfy swing which seats two adults and is a great place to watch the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom AND the Electric Water Pageant at the Seven Seas Lagoon (watch the video on Youtube). We didn’t get to the beach quite early enough to get chairs, but we were able to snag a seat on the swing and watch the fireworks right over the bungalows which sit out on the water. From the Seven Seas Lagoon, guests can also go on fishing excursions and boat rides around the lagoon.

Like all Disney resorts, it hosts movies under the stars. And like all Moderate and Deluxe resorts, it offers campfires with stories and marshmallows for roasting. Oh, and there are bungalows guests can rent, which can accommodate families of up to 8 people and have full kitchens, separate bedrooms, and a plunge pool.

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is definitely my recommendation for a Deluxe resort at Disney World. I loved every minute of our stay there and look forward to going back to visit.

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Disney’s Polynesian Resort: Pool cabanas

20191009_162339When I suggested to my mom and sister that we take a girl’s trip to Disney World, I knew I was going to be doing the planning. Of course, I don’t mind this at all as I LOVE planning Disney trips. I also knew where I wanted to stay: Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Now, it didn’t take much to convince my mom that this would be a great choice for us. When I mentioned that we’d be able to ride the Monorail straight from our hotel to the Ticket and Transportation Center and then quickly switch to the Epcot Monorail, she was pretty much sold.

But, when I mentioned that we could rent a pool cabana at the resort and just hang by the pool while a cabana attendant brought us all the food and drinks we wanted, she was sold.

All of the Deluxe Resorts at Disney have cabanas for rent. While the cabanas at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Disney’s Beach Club Resort and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa are a bit swankier-they include TV’s, Bluetooth speakers, mini fridges with water and soda, and fruit/snack baskets–they are also quite a bit more expensive–ranging from $99-$249 depending on season and rental length.

20191009_160709Regardless of which Deluxe resort you pick, cabanas are available from 10 am-7pm or you can do half day rentals from 10am-2pm or 3pm-7pm. We decided we wanted a leisurely morning, so we opted for a half day rental from 3-7. During the first week of October, it only cost us $35. Sure, we had no TV, fruit basket or fridge, but we got to lounge by the pool in VERY comfy chairs and have a dedicated cabana attendant bring us whatever we wanted from the menu (which we paid for).

20191009_160752ThePolynesian has three cabanas located at the much quieter Oasis Pool, which I have to say was super relaxing. During the four hours we spent in our cabana, one of the other cabanas was in use (although they left about an hour before the rental was up), and maybe a dozen other people were in and out of the pool at various times. There were four kids there in those four hours and they were younger kids who were pretty quiet. Not that I have anything against kids being loud at a pool. It’s a pool. I expected crazy hijinx and kids laughing and splashing, but it really didn’t happen. People with kids were enjoying the Lava pool with its cool volcano water slide and super spiffy kids water treehouse-type area.

The weather was a bit cooler on our pool day, highs only reached about 76, so we didn’t really venture into the water. That didn’t stop us from having fun though. We spent our time trying various drinks, snacking on wonton chips, and just talking. As much as I love all that the Disney parks have to offer, I think it is essential to have some down time outside the parks. Every good Disney trip needs a day right smack in the middle where everyone can leisurely move through their day and just enjoy time being together without any lines or rushing to meet a Fast Pass deadline.

20191009_162921The drinks we had were AMAZING! I cannot rave enough about my frozen margarita with Dole Whip lime. The drink alone would have been worth it, but I flipped over the chili lime salt on the rim. I loved it so much that I searched it out at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. I found a packet of it, scooped it up, and brought it home for drinks at home. Incidentally, I also used it to season my pumpkin seeds this year and it was life changing! My sister’s blueberry lemonade (with vodka) was a close second. Of course, my mom’s Frosty Pineapple, which was Dole Whip and rum was tasty too. I was not as enamored of my second drink, a cucumber and mint vojito (a fun spin on a mojito with vodka instead), but honestly, anything after that Dole Whip lime margarita was gonna be a let down.

20191009_171308My mom has decided that we are now cabana people and any time I suggest going somewhere beachy–we are always planning our next trip–she immediately asks if there are cabanas available. She just doesn’t think that she can go back to a life where she doesn’t lounge while people bring her frosty tropical drinks. I can’t disagree.

Even if I was staying at one of the other Deluxe resorts, I would pay the $99 for a half day rental. The cabana was a lovely way to relax and recoup after a long day of traveling followed by an even longer day at Epcot. Plus, it helped us reset and prepare for the longest day of our trip: Epcot with the Frozen Ever After Dessert Party.

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Disney’s Polynesian Resort: Rooms with a view

Poly room #.jpgRecently my mom, sister and I took a girl’s trip to Disneyworld. I know, there might be wilder places to hang out on a girl’s trip, but I’m a Disney girl through and through, in large part due to the fact that growing up we lived next to Disneyland and my mom took my sister and I all the time (we were annual passholders). But since we lived on the West Coast, my mom hadn’t been to Disneyworld in nearly 40 years and my sister had never been. I knew I had to remedy that.

Since Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival is pretty much my favorite Disney event and I know both my mom and sister love to eat and drink just as much as I do, I knew it was perfect for us. And, since my mom also likes to travel in style, I figured a stay at the Polynesian was in order.

Although I’d admired it from afar for decades, my only glimpses of it had been from the monorail, until this trip!

First off, I LOVE that the rooms are all interior. Due to my mom and sister having some mobility issues, I asked that our room be first floor and near the transportation. We walked to the back entrance of the main building, took a right just before we reached the doors, walked outside for about two minutes and right into our building. So, on the one day it was raining, we barely got wet.

20191007_160300Our room was ready just a little after 3 pm and it was LOVELY! I’ve stayed at a couple different Value Resorts (All-Star Music and All-Star Sports), and a Moderate Resort (Port Orleans French Quarter), but this was my first taste of a Deluxe Resort. And boy could I get used to it! After my last trip to All-Star Music, this room seemed positively palatial! There were two comfy queen-sized beds with cute pillows that had greetings in English and Hawaiian. Everything was in earth colors, which really kept with the island theming.

20191007_160308In addition to our two beds, we also had a lounge chair in our room for relaxing and a day bed which was made up as a couch during the day and then served as a bed at night. Although there were only three of us and we could have easily fit in the two queens, I liked having the third bed so that we each got our own bed. I took the day bed the first night and found it surprisingly comfy. I was worried it might be like sleeping on the old fold out couch at my dad’s house, with a bar in the middle of my back, but it was great. My sister traded with me for the remaining nights because she thought the queen beds were too hard. She has a really sensitive back though. I had no problem with the beds. The only thing that kept me up a bit was some snoring in the room.

20191008_090452I loved that our room also had a little private patio. Well, as private as a patio in a hotel with over 850 rooms can have. I say private because there were little partitions separating our patio from the one next to us. Our patio had two comfy chairs and a little round table so that we could sit and enjoy the view. Although it was a bit hot to sit out there during the day, I did make sure to sip some tea (which I made in our in-room coffee maker) before we headed out for a day of fun at Epcot. Our room also had a view of the monorail, which was fun, but didn’t add any noise at all. There were also walking paths, but again, we couldn’t hear anyone out on them.

Did I mention our room had a coffee pot with selections of both tea and coffee? Since I coffee machineusually have at least two travel mugs of tea every day back home, this was perfect for me. I could drink one in the room and then head to Capt. Cook’s food court to fill my souvenir mug with tea before we left our resort. Yeah, I know hot tea in 88 degree weather doesn’t make much sense, but I am a creature of habit. our room also had a fridge underneath the coffee pot area, which was next to a rather nice closet (with actual doors). My one wish was that Disney resort rooms had microwaves.

20191007_160551One of my favorite aspects of the hotel was the bathroom. It was lovely! My last Disney stay was at All-Star Music and while I do understand that Value resort means budget, this luxury was such a change! First off, there were two sinks and so much counter space! We could all fit all of our assorted toiletries on the counter and they could stay there for our entire trip! We also got a better class of “free” shampoos and soaps. No shampoo/conditioner combos for us. We had shampoo, conditioner, lotion and shower gel. We also had mouthwash, soap, a shower cap and a little kit with cotton swabs. And there were so many towels for us!

20191007_160602Although the shower/bathtub itself wasn’t any bigger (at least I don’t think it was), there was so much space to move around in the bathroom that it seemed bigger. In the Value resorts, the bathroom is divided. The shower/tub and toilet are in one room, which is positively tiny, and the sink is just outside it in an area that is also the closet. This area does not have a separate door, just a curtain you can draw across it. Considering how small the actual bathroom is, it’s hard to get dressed in it, so all this space let me spread out and feel like I could take my time.

20191007_160608Plus, the bathroom had this totally fun design to it. And did I mention all of the towels?

20191007_160343The room also has a very nice desk (with a pull out table) and a dresser with plenty of counter space. And of course, like all hotel rooms, there was a TV. Not that we watched it. There were also a TON of USB ports for plugging in our various electronic devices. It may be a bit hard to see, but on the back of the dresser, those are standard plug ins (four) as well as USB ports (also four). Plus there were outlets next to the two queen beds. We were charging phones and back up batteries for phones, so it was important we were all charged up and ready to go!

20191007_110933I also love that this hotel is on the monorail line, which meant it was very easy for us to get to Epcot. While I am glad Disney offers buses to all of their resorts, parks and other attractions, the wait for those buses and the lack of space on them is an issue. But in all the times we got on the monorail, we always got seats (I would have given mine up, but my mom and sister needed them). Granted, if you want to go to Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom or Disney Springs, the buses are the only hotel provided transportation.

Although I have honestly enjoyed all of the Disney resorts I have stayed at, as far as the rooms go, this one is 100% my favorite.

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Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort:First impressions

20191007_100415As often as I’ve been to Disney World and Disneyland, it wasn’t until I was in my 30’s and had kids of my own that we actually started staying on property. In all fairness, when I was a kid we were annual passholders for Disneyland and lived like 15 minutes away, so it would have been silly to stay at the Disneyland Hotel. Although, when we used to ride the monorail over there to shop, I desperately wanted to.

When we visited Disney World in my late childhood, teens and even as a fairly young adult, I had a great aunt who lived in St. Augustine, about an hour and a half away, so we always stayed for free with her rather than shell out money for a hotel. Once my aunt and I drove to Florida for a girl’s trip and decided to stay in Kissimmee, but it was a super budget trip, so we stayed way down the end of the adventure strip at just about the cheapest motel we could find so that we could focus our funds on park tickets and souvenirs.

So far I’ve stayed in a few of the Value resorts and even a Moderate, but until my latest trip with my mom and sister, I’d only ever seen the Deluxe resorts as we passed by/through them on the monorail. My family was actually supposed to stay at the Polynesian Village Resort on our very first trip, but my mother-in-law, who was booking the trip for us had waited too long and all the standard rooms were sold out. We stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter and while we loved it, I was always so sad that I hadn’t gotten to stay at the Polynesian, since it was a dream from my childhood. Luckily, my mom is all about deluxe accommodations and since it was just going to be the three of us girls, when I mentioned my desire to stay at the Polynesian, she said, “book it!”

20191007_114824From the moment I walked in, I was in love! Like everything at Disney, the theming is spot on. If you want a tropical island getaway without actually having to leave the United States, this is the place. From the tiki torches, lush vegetation, and waterfall that greet you as you get off the Magical Express (or come from the parking lot), to the statue who welcomes you as you enter the lobby (see the picture at the top of the post), to the leis the cast members give you at check in (I picked a pink one, but my mom and sister wanted purple), everything screams tropical island. Ok, maybe not screams it. There is such a relaxed vibe, which is apparent from the moment you step off the bus, that it’s more like it sighs and says, “hey, welcome to vacation, you’re gonna like it here.”

20191007_100439-1The lobby is comfy and believe me, I tested pretty much every chair in it. My flight got in about 3.5 hours before my mom and sister’s did and since our room wasn’t ready yet, I had some time to chill in the lobby. Sure, I could have gone shopping at one of the two stores (one in the lobby and one on the second floor), relaxed by one of the two amazing pools, sunned myself on the chairs on the beach facing the lagoon, played games in the arcade or even hopped on the monorail to check out the other two hotels on the Magic Kingdom monorail circuit, but I also had three sets of essays to grade, so I hunkered down in the lobby and started grading. Luckily several of the lamps in the lobby have USB ports in them and I was able to charge my phone while I waited.

Ok, so I didn’t just sit and grade. That would be a dedication I don’t have on vacation, no matter how comfy the lobby is. I graded for about 30 minutes, then wandered around the hotel for 15-20 minutes, then hunkered down for another grading session. Before doing it all again. So yeah, before my mom and sister arrived I did check out the two stores. I was on a mission to find body wash that my cousin wanted from our last trip to Disney, so I figured I might as well look while I was there. Plus, I knew I’d have to bring some kind of souvenir home for my kids, so what better time to look? I loved the name of the store on the main floor: Boutiki!

20191007_100431It was also during one of these little breaks in grading that I discovered the monorail station on the second floor. And yeah, I did take a break and ride the full circle of it. I hadn’t ridden the resort monorail since I was in my teens and although I knew it stopped at the Polynesian, Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, the Magic Kingdom, the Transportation and Ticket Center, and the Contemporary, I didn’t know the order of things nor did I really remember what the other hotels looked like. Since we were going to be using the monorail to get to The International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot twice during our trip (it was the only park we visited), I figured I should figure out the monorail before my mom arrived so she wouldn’t have to worry about it. If you want to check out the ride, you can watch it on my YouTube channel here. The video starts and ends at the Polynesain with the 3-6 minute stops cut out. The entire ride is about 25 minutes.

20191007_110936After I got back from my ride and did one more round of grading, I decided to explore the grounds just a bit more. My mom and sister had texted that their plane had landed and after I guided them through the airport to the Magical Express (it is easy to find, but my mom is an anxious traveler and she was tired from having been up at 4 am), I set off again. This time I just wanted to explore the beauty of the hotel. Because it is simply a beautiful hotel.

20191007_114753Thanks to Florida’s warm climate, they are able to grow tropical flowers, which are all over the grounds. Everywhere I turned, things were lush and green, which was such a departure from my home in Indiana where we were in the final throes of fall and everything was turning that red it does just before it goes brown and dead.

20191007_105444Plus there were all sorts of fun, decorative surprises as I walked the paths around the hotel. Personally, I love all the cut wood signs that helped make me believe that I was in my own little corner of a Polynesisan island. I may not have actually visited Hawaii yet (it’s my goal for 2021), but just looking around me, I felt like I was there. Everything was straight out of the movies and books I’ve read about the islands. And, it was surprisingly quiet. I realize it was about 1:30 in the afternoon and a lot of people were off exploring the theme parks, but as I wandered the paths which run the rather expansive property, I encountered few people and heard no noises that reminded me of the hectic, citified life I’d left behind. I heard the soft beating of drums and island songs pumped in by the speaker systems threaded throughout the property, but that was about it.

20191007_114812Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort really does offer the tranquility of a peaceful island vacation. Unlike the constant bustle and hum of the Value resorts, from the moment I stepped off the Magical Express, I knew I was on vacation. I felt the tension fly from my shoulders and even grading didn’t seem so ominous or overwhelming. I might not get all those essays graded, but that was ok. I was in paradise.

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Gluten-free Disney Day 5

20191011_120718By our final day at Disney, we had things down. As per our usual, my mom and I skipped breakfast, but my sister decided to eat the gluten-free brownie she’d gotten at Epcot the day before.

We actually only had one final meal together on our last day, but it was a great one. Since we’d already eaten at the majority of places at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort where we were staying and we’d tried a couple of eateries at the Grand Floridian during our third day of the trip, we had to go for the hat trick and explore the final monorail hotel: Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

Aside from passing through the middle of the hotel several times during our stay to get to the Transportation and Ticket Center or back to the Polynesian, we’d never actually stepped foot in the hotel. In fact, I hadn’t even ridden the hotel monorail since I was a child. For some reason I had it in my head that the Polynesian was the resort that the monorail actually drove right into.

When we exited the monorail, we decided to do a little shopping first. I’d already purchased my souvenirs (adorable Alice in Wonderland inspired leggings and a long sleeved t-shirt), but I was looking for the latest iPhone case for my aunt. Alas they did ntot have what she wanted, but if you are looking for great Disney merchandise, the Contemporary does have the best shops of any Disney hotel I’ve been to.

After exhausting our search for fun take home items, lunch was our next priority. We had about two hours before my mom and sister had to catch the Magical Express back at our hotel, so we were hoping for a good sit down restaurant. I had no desire to eat at Chef Mickey’s, so we found a directory and realized that at the Contemporary, you actually have to go down rather than up to find everything. Yes, that’s right, the monorail lets travelers off upstairs and the check-in desk is several floors down.

20191011_113529-1So is a lovely eatery called The Wave of American Flavors. I’ll admit walking it I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Obviously they are going for an ocean sort of feel here. The steel “waves” that cascade over visitors as they enter are definitely unique. So is the blue waiting area near the hostess stand. They are definitely going for an underwater vibe.

20191011_113601We arrived a little after noon on a Friday and there was no wait at all. In fact, it was fairly empty. I think we were one of maybe a dozen parties in the entire establishment, something that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anywhere at Disney, even our first day when we ate lunch at 3 pm.

When my sister mentioned her gluten issue to our server, she brought us a separate, allergy friendly menu, which I thought was really cool. It was the first time we’d seen one, but it was awesome. There was actually a lot to pick from. Almost all of the dishes could be adapted to be allergy-free and they even had a few special items on there. My sister really wanted a burger, so she ordered the Signature Burger. My mom was beside herself when she saw there was a Reuben on the menu. I went for the French dip (pictured below), in large part because I was intrigued by the lemon caper aioli it had on it.

20191011_120731Once again my sister’s meal arrived at the table with the little “allergy” stick poked in to it, ensuring that no one could mistake her meal. She cut off a little piece of her burger for me and my mom to try because she thought it was delicious. And it was! The meat was perfectly seasoned and I even thought the gluten-free bun it came on was good. Mom’s Reuben (below) lived up to her expectations. She couldn’t quite finish it, but enjoyed every minute of it. I did not have the same problem. My French dip was delicious and I devoured it. The aioli was a neat twist and I really liked it. The fries were also really tasty. They were super crispy, which I’m not always a fan of, but these I liked. I also loved the way it was plated. It just looked so appetizing.

20191011_120802Sadly, after we finished, we had to head back to the monorail and back to reality.

My mom and sister had never been to Disney World before, but thanks to this trip are super excited for our return in March, this time with all of our children. Neither of them were expecting quite the quality of food offered at Disney. I tried to tell them Disney World is a Foodie’s paradise, but I think they were stuck in 30 year old memories of Disneyland from our childhood. I don’t actually remember much of that time, but I do remember we would sometimes bring our own food and eat at the picnic tables outside the park. If we did eat inside the park, it was always something simple and quick service. It was definitely not the delicious meals we found on this trip.

We have the dining plan on our next trip and I already have all of our table service meals reserved. I cannot wait to share some of my favorite places with them and hopefully discover a few new gems. I know my son can’t wait because this time he’ll get to eat from the adult menu. I also know my sister is much more confident about our next trip after the wonderful food she was able to find on this one.

 

 

 

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Gluten-Free Disney Day 4

20191010_140356Day four of our trip found us back at Epcot, ready to enjoy round 2 of the International Food and Wine Festival. If you have never been, it is an absolute must! While I’ve gone with my husband and children in the past, I am now convinced that the best way to experience this amazing event is sans children.

My sister started her day with a gluten-free donut at Kona Island at the Polynesian Village and Resort where we were staying. My mom and I decided on a little extra sleep instead of striking out in search of something to nosh on. Honestly, I’m not generally a breakfast person. I’d much rather save my calories for lunch and dinner…and dessert!

20191010_135411We took a slightly different turn at Epcot and headed over to the Flavors from Fire booth. A friend who lives in Orlando told me that the Smoked Corned Beef was the best thing thing at the entire festival, so we had to try it. I was also super keen on trying the Steakhouse Blended Burger. Neither were gluten free, but since my sister’s sensitivity is one that allows her to eat items that have touched gluten (ie just remove the bun), she was still able to sample part of the burger and loved it. We offered to get it sans bun, but she insisted and I’m glad she did because it was amazing.

 

Having been kind enough to humor us with our quest for grilled foods, my sister wanted to try a gluten-free item she saw in our passport book. The Active Eats kiosk had a Fruit and Nut Energy Snack (pictured at the top of this page) that she wanted to sample. Since our goal was to share as much as we possibly could, I get to sneak a little bite too–but I only took a little one since this one was completely gluten-free. It was tasty and completely healthy. She paired it with an M.I.A. Key Lime Hard Sparkling Water, which may have diminished the healthy aspect a bit, but none of us minded!

20191010_151218We made our way through the center of the festival, heading toward Mexico this time. As soon as we saw mimosas at Shimmering Sips we had to stop. There were four mimosa flavors and three of us, so we tried almost all of them. My sister got the key lime, my mom got the frozen strawberry one, and I opted for the blood orange variety. As much as I liked mine, my sister definitely had the best one. Then again, key lime is one of my favorite flavors of all time. My sister also snagged a Banana Almond Soft-serve Sundae. While it wasn’t technically gluten-free since it came with a chocolate almond streusel, she told them about her allergy and they left it off for her. It was pretty tasty. To be honest, since soft-serve often has a slightly grainier texture, with the fresh berries I hardly noticed it wasn’t real ice cream. The banana flavor was a bit off-putting to me, but that’s only because I’m not a huge banana fan in general. My sister was double happy because it was also vegan. While she’s not a vegan, she also has to limit her dairy, so it was an ice cream-like treat she had no worries about eating.

On our quest for tasty treats we could all enjoy, my sister zeroed in on the Islands of the Caribbean stand. She wanted to try the Jerk-spiced chicken, which had the GF stamp of approval next to it. My mom wanted the Ropa Vieja Empanada which did not, so we got both. Sadly I forgot to get pictures of these two dishes. They were both beyond delicious. My mom and I were hard pressed to decide which one we liked better, although we let my sister have most of the chicken.

20191010_165744Ever since my mom first saw the passport book she’d been dying to hit the India kiosk. She is a HUGE fan of Indian food, but cannot get it in her hometown. Every time she visits me, we take her out for Indian food. She wanted it all! Since the Korma Chicken came with Naan bread, we skipped getting a second order of Naan, but happily indulged in the rest. The Madras Red Curry was gluten-free and so was the Korma Chicken itself. As long as she steered clear of the Naan, she was fine. Honestly, although they were both good, the GF curry was my favorite. We all fought for the last bites of these tasty dishes.

20191010_174148At this point we were pretty full, but my sister wanted to try one more morsel. It was from the Africa section. It was a Kenyan Coffee Barbecue Beef Tenderloin. It came with a sweet potato and corn mealie pap and Kachumbari slaw. It was not, however, gluten-free. She talked to the chefs and found out there was a tiny bit of soy sauce in the marinade. She decided to risk it and it was spectacular! Someone with a severe gluten allergy obviously would not want to take this risk, but I think all the delicious drinks we’d had in the interim might have added to her decision to throw caution to the wind. She’d also had a Year of the Piggy drink in China, an Italian margarita, some of my mango Lassi with chai liqueur, and a Whiskey Adventure (which was fantastic) that day. Thankfully she did not get sick that night.

This was also the night that we went to the Frozen Ever After Dessert Firework Party, so we sort of skipped any sort of formal dinner. We’d grazed our way around the park from about noon until 6 and we purposely left off eating for awhile so we’d have plenty of room for our delicious desserts. But that’s another blog post entirely!

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Munchie Monday: Disney World Chocolate Truffles

Disney truffles boxOn my most recent trip to Disney World I was looking for body wash for my cousin. I know that seems like a very odd and random item, but last October we went on a family trip to Disney World together and she fell in love with a body wash she’d found in the hotel gift shop at the All-Star Music Resort we stayed at. While it was not the scent provided for us in our actual hotel rooms on that trip, as luck would have it, it WAS the scent of the products in my hotel room at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. I rushed right down to the gift shop to buy it for her, but they didn’t have it.

I kept my eye out and while we were at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, I was pleased to find that they did have it both as a single bottle and in gift sets. Since she just wanted the body wash, I bought her two bottles to take home. It wasn’t until after I bought them that I realized this would mean checking my bag on the flight home, not something Delta lets passengers do for free. With my checked baggage fee, those bottles of body wash cost me almost double!

Since I’ve been to Disney so many times, it’s rare I buy myself any sort of souvenir to bring home. But as I was shopping for my cousin’s body wash, I saw this adorable little truffle gift and had to grab it. When my mom saw it, she gushed over it too. She’d already bought my sister something and figured it was only fair to get these for me. I felt bad since she was paying for the entire trip, but my love for chocolate took back over and I gladly accepted the gift.

all three chocolates from disney.jpgConsidering we’d gone on the trip to gorge at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, there was no time to try my chocolates on the trip. We had far too many other delicious treats to try. So it wasn’t until I got home that I had a chance to actually try them.

The reason they caught my eye in the first place was the adorable designs on them. I loved the playful Mickey ears and Mickey and Minnie romance theme around them. There are only three flavors in the box, plus a solid chocolate “card” with Mickey and Minnie on the telephone.

Disney dark chocolate truffleSince I’m a save the best for last kinda gal, I started by trying the truffle I figured I’d like the least: dark chocolate with chocolate ganache. I know many people LOVE dark chocolate and I am getting better about it, but it is rarely my go to chocolate. This piece has that unique dark chocolate smell to it…that hint of something bitter and rich that has a slight fruity undertone to it. Although there is nothing actually fruity about the taste itself, I get the same scent from it that I do when I drink red wine. That’s probably why so many people talk of the chocolatey hints in wine that I never quite taste. This piece is surprisingly not that bitter. I think the ganache in the center tames it a bit. It is creamy and smooth, but I definitely needed a drink of water after I’d eaten it to rinse the slightly bitter aftertaste away.

white chocolate disney truffleNext up was the white chocolate with red velvet ganache. Like all white chocolate, it has that buttery, artificial feel to it. As a kid I LOVED white chocolate. As an adult, I think I like dark chocolate more. This piece reminded me a bit of vanilla birthday cake frosting, which is odd since red velvet is really just a clever way of saying red chocolate. It definitely reminded me of eating cake though, which was fun. But, I felt like it left a slight film on my teeth. Then again, I find this is almost always true of white chocolate…and cake frosting.

disney milk truffleFinally I was down to the milk chocolate with strawberry ganache. This is the one I was most excited about because it is in my coveted chocolate wheelhouse. I have to admit I was most disappointed in this one. The chocolate wasn’t super creamy the way I like my milk chocolate to be and despite claiming to have a strawberry ganache, I tasted no fruity hints at all. I even tried just eating the ganache to see if I could catch a hint of it. I could not.

Honestly, I’m glad my mom bought this collection for me. I think I’d feel very guilty spending my own money on it as I have no intention of finishing it. I will no doubt end up taking it to school and letting my students sample them. It’s not entirely surprising, but teenagers are not at all picky about the chocolate put in front of them.

Overall:

Taste: 3/10
Appearance: 10/10
Value: I don’t remember the cost and they were a present, so this one is hard to judge

 

 

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Gluten-free Disney: Day 3

Mickey breakfastWhile my mom and I slept, enjoying the quiet that came from not sharing a hotel room with my daughter who wakes up at the crack of dawn demanding breakfast and a show, my sister snuck out of our room in search of breakfast.

Since we were staying at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, initially when she went down to Capt. Cook’s to get a quick service breakfast she asked for the Bounty Breakfast without the French toast. Although the cast member who took her order was happy to comply, she did ask if there was a reason my sister didn’t want the French toast. When my sister told her about her gluten issue, the cast member told her not to worry, that they’d get her something tasty and allergy free. My sister was thrilled because she’d really wanted to have some Mickey waffles. She knew they were just going to be waffles, but the idea of getting them in the shape of Mickey delighted her.

She was so excited by her breakfast that she took a picture of it (notice the green allergy marking in the upper left corner) and texted it to me. I ignored the vibrating, but when she came back to the room and we woke up, she raved about her breakfast adventure. Even though I was not in the mood for breakfast (I never am when I first wake up), I was thrilled to see her so happy.

Unfortunately, her happiness was to be rather short-lived.

enchanted barWednesday was our planned park-free day. We had a cabana reserved at the hotel, but not until 3 pm. While I was scrolling through some Disney news, I realized that The Enchanted Rose, Disney’s newest lounge had just opened up at the Grand Floridian the day before, so I insisted we go and check it out. I was pretty excited to be one of the first guests to experience it.

The Enchanted Rose is amazing! I have another blog about it if you want a closer look at it here. Sadly, while they do have a unique snack menu available, which a foodie like me was excited about, the kitchen doesn’t open until 5pm, so we were not able to try anything. We were, however, VERY hungry, and more than a little tipsy at that point, so food was a must!

We decided to grab some lunch at Gasparilla Island Grill. Our plan for the day was to be so casual, so no reservations had been made anywhere. We liked the fly by the seat of our pants aspect of it, so lunch at a quick service place was great for us. My mom and I both got very tasty sandwiches. I had a chicken and brie and my mom had the hot Italian. My sister decided on a Caesar salad. Since she’s still new to eating gluten-free (and I suspect her decision making abilities were not 100%), she didn’t even think about the fact that many salad dressings have gluten in them (something I had no idea about), so she forgot to ask about potential allergens.

20191009_162921At first, she was fine. We made our way back over to the Polynesian where we hung out in our cabana, drinking delicious tropical drinks like these. Mine was the best…it was the frozen margarita with lime Dole Whip. That sprinkling of orange around the rim is a chili lime salt and it was so good that I licked the rim of that cup absolutely clean of it (and bought some at Epcot). My sister got a blueberry lemonade and my mom got the Frosty Pineapple. As with every other drink we got, we passed them around so everyone could try them. We did the same thing with our second round of drinks. My cucumber and mint vojito was ok, but just did not live up to this amazing margarita. I still dream of having it again.

Not long before our cabana time ended, my sister started to look green. It wasn’t the alcohol though. She traced it back to the salad, which had been delicious, but which had gluten in the dressing. She spent the next several hours in our hotel room, piled under several blankets and still shivering.

We were supposed to do the Monorail Pub Crawl that night, but with my sister so sick, that was obviously out. While she rested in our room, my mom and I went out to see the Electrical Water Pageant. If you’ve never seen it, it’s cute and a fun little show to watch from the beach area at the Polynesian. You can check out a video I shot of it on my YouTube channel here. Since we knew we’d be able to see the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom as well, we decided to relax and enjoy our hotel bound evening.

After they were both done, we were hungry. Obviously we weren’t going to leave the hotel with my sister still not feeling well, so we opted to head over to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. I texted my sister to let her know where we were. It had been about three hours since she’d been doubled over in pain and she was actually feeling better, so she decided to come join us.

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She wasn’t super hungry, but figured she probably needed to eat. This time she was careful about her menu choice. The chicken lettuce cups were exactly what she needed. Not only were they delicious (I took a tiny bit just of the chicken), but still small enough that her stomach didn’t feel overwhelmed. They were light and tasty. Not as good as my Thai chicken and veggie flatbread, but she wasn’t even ready to glance at anything with gluten in it again (and secretly I’ll admit I was glad as I didn’t want to share it).

Not only did Trader Sam’s have great appetizers, but they also had some really tasty drinks. And the best part is that many of them come in really cool souvenir mugs. After being so horribly sick, my sister definitely deserved her Shrunken Zombie Head drink.

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The best part was that instead of giving her the dirty glass, they gave her a completely new glass all boxed up and ready to take home with her. We also learned that if you want one of the fancy drinks but don’t want the fancy cup, you can still order the drink at a reduced rate. Both my mom and I took advantage of this fact. She got a mai tai and I got…well, now I don’t remember what I got, but it had pineapple in it! You can see all of the cool souvenir glasses they offer below.

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So while it definitely was NOT our best day of gluten-free eating, we did learn some important lessons. And my sister was very meticulous about asking for allergy free foods for the rest of the trip.

 

 

 

 

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