Tag 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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Spring Break Quarantine: Week 1

20200318_171023Although I have not traveled outside of the country, my famiy’s spring break trips have been canceled due to threat of the coronavirus. Since we’ve been stuck inside, I took to Facebook and started posted daily quarantine updates in a style I like to think mirrors a Jane Austen heroine.

What follows below are my famiy’s exploits from our first week in quarantine.

Day 1 of Spring Break under quarantine: The day dawned as usual, although it was with a heavy sigh that I lifted myself out of bed. Today I was supposed to embark on an adventure to a Magical Kingdom, but alas, I am relegated to spend the next month at home.

After a morning and afternoon spent trying to sort out various travel issues for my clientele, I was finally able to take a short repose in my favorite chair. I sent the children outdoors for a constitutional, hoping they would stave off cabin fever with a frolic in the snow. My youngest was delighted. My eldest is displaying his dissatisfaction by tossing snowballs at my window and glowering at me. I fear this will be the first of many withering looks in the weeks to come.

As food shortages have already begun at the local markets, I am baking bread.

I have finished reading the first of the novels I plan to read during this long spring. I have high hopes that all will be well.

 

20200315_144241Day 2 of Spring Break Quarantine: Everyone was beyond thrilled when I served bacon for breakfast, since breakfast is usually a rushed affair so that we can be on our way to school and to work.

As a family we took our first daily constitutional around the neighborhood. The wind was bracing and made me long for the tropical climate we were supposed to be experiencing as we toured the world in only a few hours thanks to the magic of Florida. But there is no use bemoaning what should have been. Jumping over mud puddles on our walks will have to suffice as our daily thrill rides.

Later I finished the second of the novels I brought home to read. I also made progress on two other heavier works of non-fiction.

In addition to our twice daily walks, I am also instituting a family game hour. My daughter chose Munchkin Shakespeare and although I should not take quite as much pleasure in this as I do, I trounced both of my children and more than my fair share of Elizabethean monsters.

Dinner was a hearty soup with some of the homemade bread from day before.

The children were enconsed in their beds with little fuss and I settled in to my favorite chair, blanket on my lap to play some virtual cards with dear friends.

 

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Day 3 of Spring Break Quarantine: Books are sustaining us through this long, cold, distance with others. I have finished the three of the books I brought home with me. My son has read twice that number. I fear he will soon run out. And with no libraries to sustain him, madness may set in soon….

I began cleaning our homestead. Although much was accomplished, my work was brought to an abrupt end when I found some mementos of my dear departed father and decided to seek solace under a warm blanket and Netflix.

Our morning constitutional was a success, but sadly as we headed out for our evening waltz around the neighborhood, a light drizzle began to fall and my children stubbornly refused to remain out of doors.

Despite the slight rain, spirits did improve with a delivery from Amazon which brought Nerf guns for my son. He is planning a full scale attack on his friends once this quarantine has been lifted. For now, he seems to be plotting against his sister. At the moment a peace holds, but I can’t help but wonder how long it will last.

 

20200318_103523Day 4 of Spring Break Quarantine: Cabin fever has suddenly set in. The day began with sibling squabbles which culminated in sibling shouting. It was truly much ado about nothing, but it is hard to reason with children in the throws of unreasonable anger.

Tempers cooled and clearer heads prevailed when a Lego challenge was issued. My son took up the gauntlet and created a new roller coaster for a theme park. My daughter created passengers for his ride. A small dose of teamwork brought them together.

Thankfully we were able to take more than just a turn around the room and actually escaped outside for our daily constitutionals. We desperately needed the fresh air and escape from the confines of our humble abode.

I was also able to finish my fourth novel of this quarantine and make impressive progress on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Sadly, I did not make as much progress on my Fast and Furious quest. This was due in part to the hour I spent in a Zoom meeting with the dearest companions of my heart. They lifted my weary spirits and made this time apart a bit more bearable.

20200318_171030Day 5 of Spring Break Quarantine: The weather foiled our attempts to get some fresh air. The rain came tumbling down upon us and drove us back indoors. Since it did not cease until after dinner, we were a bit more desolate than usual. The dreary day made our spirits even drearier.

Thankfully a delivery of food arrived from the local market, so I had some beautiful carrots and potatoes to accompany my roast. I also made some biscuits to round out the evening meal.

My daughter decided we needed a special project to busy ourselves, idle hands and all…so she suggested baking cookies. Sugar cookies were her choice so that we could make a thorough mess of the kitchen. They have special unicorn chips in them and are quite tasty. But now we have three dozen cookies and only four of us. Normally I would take these extra goodies into school to share with my students, but alas, since school is not in session and we are quarantined, we will have to put our best effort forward and make sure none of these precious morsels are wasted. In hindsight, I should have frozen half of the dough. Clearly I have not adjusted to this new world we find ourselves in.

My son found solace in his drawing lessons and my daughter in her music. I retreated into books again, and have finished my fifth book during this isolation.

20200319_164603Day 6 of Spring Break Quarantine: Today we actually left our home! What was originally supposed to be our day of rest in between two whirlwhind visits, first with family in the bustling city of Orlando, and then with friends in the quiet countryside of Athens, was instead the first day we’d left our neighborhood in nearly a week.

Fear not dear friends, our sojourn into the world did not put us at risk. We had to pick up some medicine from our local apothocary and also had to stop by the local market to acquire some additional ingredients for our meals. We did not actually venture in to either of these establishments, but waited for our items to be passed to us outside. We were back home in less than half an hour.

We were home in time to take our morning constitutional, which was much needed, especially when the rain picked up again and our evening one had to be forgotten.

After luncheon, we moved to the parlor where we wiled away the afternoon playing games the children invented, which were surprisingly amusing. Later, while the children played more games remotely with their cousins, I found even further entertainment from one of my favorite musical groups, The Indigo Girls. They had a concert in their parlor and invited the world to watch. I was so excited at how so many people who were so very far apart were brought together through the wonders of this modern age. My heart delighted in it and I may have danced in my kitchen.

20200320_105341Day 7 of Spring Break Quarantine: It’s been a week and the days are beginning to blend into one another.

One noticeable difference was that my husband was not needed in town until later in the day, so he spent the morning with us. The children were happy to have some time with their father, and disappointed he had to leave before our morning constitutional around the neighborhood. It was windy and the sky was overcast, but it was suprisingly warm. Although we wore our coats, we almost didn’t need them. It gave me hope that maybe we’d see the sun again soon. My spirits were further lifted when my daughter reached for my son’s hand and he actually let her take it for a few minutes as they walked.

Once home, we sat and wrote letters to some of our nearest and dearest. My daughter was excited to post hers, but was filled with grief when I informed her that her cousins would not get her letter or the game she sent them for several days.

Upon my husband’s arrival back home, we decided to play parlor games. My daugther chose Apples to Apples and we had a delightful time playing with words and clever turns of phrase. Once again, I won, much to my husband’s chagrin.

I was downtrodden when one of the avocados was completely spoiled, but still managed to produce a passable guacamole that my family loved with the remaining fruits. It complemented the tacos perfectly. Even during a pandemic, it is hard to complain when there are tacos.

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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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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 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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Frozen Ever After is delicious

blue treatsWhen my mom, sister and I decided to have this year’s girls’ trip at Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival, I was super excited. Sure, this was my fourth time attending, but neither my sister or my mom had ever even been to Epcot, so I was thrilled I’d get to show it to them. I was also more than a little stoked to get to once again try tasty treats from around the globe, which is the real star of Epcot in October.

My sister loves fireworks and was very excited we’d get to see them multiple nights. However, she and my mom also have some mobility issues, so I was worried about their ability to stand through the viewing. I knew there was no way in the world they’d be able to sit down on a curb and watch the show. Heck, I may still be able to do it, but I won’t lie and say I like the idea of sitting on the ground or standing through a show either.

I remembered seeing the Tomorrowland Terrace being used as a special fireworks viewing area on previous trips and I knew Disney did special fireworks and meal packages, so I decided I should look into it. When I did, I found that each of the four parks has some sort of fireworks and dessert party.

Wait, I can not only snag a place to sit during the fireworks, but I also get all I care to eat drinks and desserts? SIGN ME UP!

Epcot’s version happens to be the Frozen Ever After Dessert Party. It includes a buffet of desserts, a few savory treats, drinks, special fireworks seating, and an after hours ride on Frozen Ever After. So not only do you get tons of fun desserts, but it comes with something even better than a Fast Pass to ride one of the most popular attractions at Epcot. Again, SIGN ME UP!

fondue

We arrived at our designated party space, which is close to the Mexico pavilion only to find out that due to inclement weather, our party was moved inside. So, instead of sipping drinks and snacking on treats near the lovely World Showcase lagoon, we had to walk back over to Norway to find our indoor location. This was my only real complaint about the event. My guess is that by inclement weather, they were referrin to the wind, which had picked up a bit. My mom and sister were pretty tired at that point (it was 8 pm) and walking back to Norway, even though it wasn’t far, did annoy them a bit. The cast members who were supposed to lead us to the special room they had set up, were far back by the actual Frozen Ever After ride, so we nearly missed them. It was dark and we couldn’t see their signs. Luckily we found them and were ushered upstairs into a series of secret rooms inside the Norway pavilion.

room for frozenWell, after we checked in and were given special glittery writsbands to indentify us as members of the party, we were ushered in. I wish they’d made it clear there was an elevator available. I didn’t need it, but my mom and sister could have used it. Thankfully the line was moving slowly so we were able to rest on every stair. For anyone who has trouble with stairs though, there is an elevator available, so ask for it.

The room was decorated in full glitz and was cozy without being too crowded. There were snowflakes everywhere and they at least tried to capture the feel of Frozen.

Olaf lightEveryone is assigned a table, so we ended up sitting with a family, a couple and a woman who was on her own (10 of us at each table). Our table had an adorable Olaf lantern on it as well as very pretty, sparkly linens. Once we found our table, we had about an hour to eat and drink as much as we wanted. And there were LOTS of choices! 

One benefit of the Frozen dessert party is that unlike the dessert parties at some other mom's plateparks, this one does have adult beverages available. Anyone over 21 can have as many beers, glasses of wines or signature cocktails as they like. Someone suggested to us that if we wanted more than one alcoholic beverage that we should order two at a time because lines can get long, but honestly there weren’t that many people at the party and we had no trouble getting drinks. I only had one margarita, but my mom and sister each got two with no wait at all. They got the Olaf-inspired pina colada, and it had little candy bits in it to replicate a melted snowman. That’s supposed to be cute, right?

Olaf cupcakesFor any kids or those who don’t want alcohol, there are canned Coke products, coffee, an assortment of teas, water, and special juices with cute Frozen themed names like “Frozen Heart.” I actually had a big ol’ cup of water because even in the evening after drinking a lot of water, I still felt dehydrated from being in the Florida heat (it was about 86 degrees that day). I also had a Coke Zero because I am very addicted.

After we got our drinks, we headed to the tables to get some food. There was a great spread to choose from. The decor was adorable. I loved the snowman cake decoration that was used to hold all of the blue velvet Amy's platecupcakes. I also thought the blue light blocks all of the treats were situated on were very cute. There really was something for everyone at this buffet. There was a delicious no sugar added lemon curd with blueberries (also gluten free) that my sister worshipped. There were coconut macaroons, a key lime tart with an orange glitter glaze, eclairs, almond cookies, ice cream, fresh fruit, a salted caramel bread pudding, cheese fondue with both bread and veggies to dip in it, and some sort of savory snack mix that I did not try. There was even a special celebration of Olaf. They had a slice of Olaf’s birthday cake and nitro frozen custard with chocolate sauce.Olaf's cake

smoresMy absolute favorite though was Olaf’s warm double chocolate s’mores pudding. I didn’t initially want the scoop of ice cream the cast member scooped on top of it, but in hindsight, it was perfect. The pudding was simply amazing. It was rich and creamy and everything I want in a dessert. The chocolate was melty and smooth. The marshmallows did not overpower. And the soft, graham cracker inspired bread pudding sort of base was like a cloud on my tongue. I actually ended up eating not only mine, but also stealing my sister’s!

About 45 minutes after we started nibbling, cast members came around and handed out special 3D snowflake glasses to help us watch the fireworks. These seemed a bit silly at first, but when they were on, they made any light look like snowflakes. After using them to view the fireworks, I don’t think I ever want to watch fireworks any other way. It’s difficult to describe, but it made them even more beautiful. Plus, looking out across the lagoon to Future World, there were tons of other lights (including the torches) that took on a cool, special snowflake effect.

Since our party had been moved inside, the one real negative is that our special firework viewing area did not have tables set up. Since we were toward the front of the party leaving the dessert pavilion, we were also some of the first people to arrive at the viewing area, so my mom and sister could at least lean on the railings in order to watch the fireworks. Many people, especially the ones with children, did end up sitting on the ground. There was plenty of room and no one was squished in our area, which makes sense since we should have had a bunch of tables and seats. We saw the brand new Epcot Forever show and I was blown away  by it. I was not sure what to expect, but Disney did not disappoint. I especially loved the illuminated kites. It was also pretty cool to hear Walt Disney’s voice during the show as well as music from the nearly 40 years of Epcot’s history.

DSCN0708As the rather lengthy fireworks show came to an end, we had to wait a few minutes for the crowds to disapate a bit. Then, we were led back to Norway for our faster than Fast Pass ride on Frozen Ever After. I’d really wanted my mom and sister to be able to ride it since I think it is an adorable ride AND it moves at a ride pace they can appreciate. Thanks to this party, I didn’t have to use a Fast Pass for it. And since the park was closed, there was no one in line for the ride. We still got to go through much of the queue, so they could see the sights, but we waited less than two minutes in the line, hoped in our boat and took our ride. They both loved it.

We left Epcot, full of yummy treats, dazzled by fireworks and content with a great last ride. Even with our dessert party being held in doors, I still think it was 100% worth the money we paid for it. I would absolutely do it again with my husband and kids. Although next time we might look at the Star Wars inspired party at Hollywood Studios.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We’re all “Disney mad” here

family with characters 2Recently a friend of mine texted me and told me I was, “Disney mad.” She said it in good humor to tease me a bit for all of my Disney posts. And I get it, I really do. Of course, she knows I’ve always been “Disney mad,” it’s just coming out more since I started working as a Magical Vacation Planner.

Of course, since I’ve just returned from four days at Universal Orlando where I had an amazing time and then four more days at Disney World, where I also had an amazing time, my posts about theme parks have quadrupled.

I also know that if you’ve liked my MVP FB page, you see not only my regular posts, but my business posts too. And I appreciate that.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a “salesperson.” I HATE the idea of trying to get someone to buy something. I’d constantly worry they may not really want it. Or that I was being pushy. Or that I was bothering them. I’m not aggressive like some salespeople and I don’t have the natural ability to just chit chat with people like others.

My husband has been in sales for decades now and I don’t know how he does it. It’s funny, because of the two of us, most people would pick me as the outgoing, social one, but that’s only if I know people, and fairly well. I’d much rather be at home, curled up on the couch with a good book or Netflix. My husband has been known to reach his social threshold at parties in our own home and just walk into the den and get on the computer to avoid talking to anyone else. And yet, give him a phone, products he knows about, and strangers, and he thrives. 

Of course, anyone who knows me, also knows that if I truly believe in something, I cannot stop raving about it. I was once shopping at Godiva when a fellow customer was trying to figure out what to get his wife for some holiday. The clerk was new (and I know this b/c I used to spend a LOT of time at Godiva) and was struggling a bit with suggestions. I jumped right in, talked to him about what his wife likes, gave him some great suggestions and ended up helping him create a box for her. The manager had come out at this point and offered me a job on the spot. I declined, because I had a great teaching job, small children at home, and frankly, I’d already done my time in retail. But I’ve done similar things in Lush, DeBrand’s, and yes, Disney.

Whatever it is that made me jump in at Godiva has always been a part of me. I think it’s probably why I became a teacher. I like sharing what I know. I like helping people. I like connecting with people over something we have in common. Which is why becoming a Magical Vacation Planner makes total sense to me.

I grew up with Disney. We had annual passes to Disneyland when I was a kid. I consumed a heavy diet of the movies, books, TV shows, and the parks. I have been to Disney World about a dozen times and shared those incredible experiences with the people I love most in this world (except for my BFF who gets horrible motion sickness and won’t go with me). A few of those trips were shared with my dad and step-mom, who both passed away a few years ago, so those memories and pictures are even more precious to me. Six years ago, I took my own children for the first time and knew I was passing on something precious to them.

My husband and I were annual passholders for Universal Orlando. We lived in Florida for about six months (we thought we’d be there longer), early on in our relationship and it was an absolute blast. We had great little dates where we’d go ride a few rides, get some dinner and see an IMAX movie. It was so much fun.

For me, being a Magical Vacation Planner isn’t about selling anything. It’s about helping people explore the world (because I can book way more than just Disney World and Universal) and create their own memories. My favorite part is talking to people to find out what they want to do and helping them figure out how to make it happen. I actually haven’t made a penny on this endeavour yet and have no illusions that, or desire for it to replace my first career love: teaching. I’m doing this because it is fun, and I love the idea of helping people create those life-long memories that are so much more precious than a new video game system or fancy phone or whatever people are thinking about buying right now. I’d take a trip somewhere with people I love any day over some material possession.

So, yeah, I’m going to keep reaching out and being “Disney mad” and “Universal kooky,” “cruising crazy,” and “internationally wacky,” because I love it. It makes me happy and yes, I want to help make you happy too.

And yes, even if you’ve been on a dozen (or more) trips yourself, I can still help plan your next one. It’s not that people can’t plan travel on their own. It’s the digital age. There are tons of options out there (although that alone is crazy confusing at times). What I am offering is someone to listen to what you really want, do all the research, make all the phone calls and get all the payments made. You won’t have to worry about remembering reservation dates, Fast Pass dates or payment due dates, because I’ll send you those reminders. You won’t have to slog through the menus of the over 200 eateries at Disney World to figure out the best one for your family, I’ll help do that for you. And when you have questions, you won’t have to go and try to track down the answers. I’ll get them for you.

And none of this concierge service (because really, working with me is like having a personal concierge just an email, phone call or text away) will cost you even one extra penny. Most people don’t know this, but I’m not paid by you. You’ll pay the same price whether you book with me or on your own. Although, if you book with me and some new promotion comes out, I can help get those promotions applied to your account. The difference is, that if you do book with me, I do all the leg work for you, while you sit back, relax, and well, enjoy your vacation.

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