If you only have a short time to spend in Copenhagen and you want to get a beautiful but affordable overview of the city, you have to take a canal tour with Strömma. We aren’t really city folk. We usually like to explore the countryside when we visit new places, but Copenhagen really charmed our socks off. It was such a dazzling city. Read on to find out about our canal tour through this wonderfully diverse city that we just couldn’t get enough of. Continue reading →
We are huge Disney fans, and every good Disney fan has heard the legend of Tivoli, the amusement park that Walt visited that, at least partially, inspired the creation of Disneyland. When we began planning our trip to Denmark, Tivoli was at the top of our list of must-sees. Read on to get tips on getting there, learn some fun facts, and find out just how much Disney was inspired by the Tivoli.
From a recent road trip around the Sabine Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana – 2016
In honor of my little sister moving to Louisiana, I am writing this post about taking an amazing Louisiana road trip for, as always, DIRT CHEAP. We found some unbelievably reasonable airfare from California on Google Flights, and just had to plan a little road trip loop around mostly Louisiana and Mississippi. We went in March, but we came back in August and checked out Northern Louisiana as well. Get ready for some amazing Louisiana (with some Mississippi on the side) style adventures. Here we go.
Airplane Life. Taking Jet Blue to somewhere fabulous. -2014
I know it can be scary to go for that cheap deal and take a discount airline instead of a name you know and love. The price often seems to good to be true. Many times, if you don’t know what to pay for, and what not to pay for, the prices are too good to be true. As someone who has taken my fair share of discount airlines over the years, I will share with you my tips and tricks if you decide to go on one of these airlines. I also rank them in order of preference, so you know if it is worth the discount.
At the official Hot Springs National Park entrance in Hot Springs, Arkansas. August -2016
In August we flew to Northern Texas because my baby brother got married. My husband reminded me that I had never been to Arkansas, so we had to plan a little road trip out of Texas while we were out there. We wound up in Hot Springs, Arkansas for a four night trip, and let’s just say, this place was made to be blogged about. Hot Springs, Arkansas is the home of Hot Springs National Park and it is exactly what it sounds like. People at the turn of the century flocked to Hot Springs to take advantage of all the bath houses that sprouted up in the town due to the natural hot springs in the area. Well, eight of the original buildings remain standing today, and two of them are still working bath houses. Read on to find out how you can plan an amazing adventure to this fantastic place. Continue reading →
I remember when I discovered tripadvisor.com. It was early 2011 and I was planning a trip down route 66. I was visiting family in Colorado and after that we decided to drive out to Chicago, Illinois, the place where the famous route 66 begins. I was so excited to plan our hotel stays along the way and I came across this fantastic travel website. I looked up all the cities we were planning on staying in along the route. The site gave me the top hotels, restaurants, and things to do in every place. I was so excited that most of the # 1 rated hotels were dirt cheap compared to California hotels, and we got to stay in highly rated hotels along our entire trip. Tripadvisor did not disappoint. This post will give you some tips on using this amazing website and app. You won’t want to plan another trip without consulting Tripadvisor first. Then, after your trip, you’ll want to come back and do some reviews of your own, so you can advise future travelers.
In Part 3 of my Walt Disney World – Family Edition post, I will talk about the Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow, or what everyone knows as EPCOT. This park is so educational and fun and full of Disney amazingness. Read on to find out more about this fantastic park. If you missed part 1 or 2 of my post, click below.
EPCOT, or the Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow, was originally designed by Walt Disney to be a functioning city with people living and working there. Although that dream never came to fruition, it does resemble a futuristic community. There is so much to see and do there. Our family enjoys how educational it is as well. The park is split into two very distinct and different areas. Future World, at the front of the park, is definitely the future city that Walt envisioned. It focuses on technology, farming, communication, biology, oceanography, engineering, space travel, and even imagination and innovation. The World Showcase is at the back of the park and showcases some countries from around the world (mostly Europe and North America) in a Disney way, of course. It is very fun to take a quick tour around the world, and it makes you want to plan that future vacation. Keep reading to find out my tips to explore this wonderful park. You won’t want to miss it.
EPCOT -Tips and Tricks
Fast Pass + – Make sure you have reserved your fastpasses for the day on your Walt Disney World account. See my tips on Fast Pass + in part 1 of this series. Attractions worth getting fast passes for, if possible:
Frozen Ride (schedule to open in May 2016)
Remember: If you get three attractions reserved early in the day, you can go back and order more fastpasses on the My Disney Experience App once you have used them all. That is the only way to get more than three fastpasses in a day. Also, don’t forget to take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours at this park.
MVP (My Vacation Pants) Tip: EPCOT has two entrances. The main entrance is quite busy in the morning. The security check point creates a lot of traffic and the monorail, parking lot, and hotel guests all arrive and walk into the same crazy line. If you plan on going in the morning, try taking the back entrance. It’s called the International Gateway and it is an often overlooked entry point that brings you right in to the World Showcase. It leaves from some of the hotels, but it also leaves from Disney Studios, so don’t forget to use it. You’ll get into the park way fast.
Educational Guide – As I have said before, I’m a teacher, so the educator part of me wishes she could whisk her students off to this most educational park. The problem is I live and teach 3,000 miles away, so I have to make the most of educating my own children while we visit. First of all, Future World has so much to learn about. Make sure you check out the Innoventions areas in the park. Think of a science type museum rolled up in your theme park visit. Also, check out the different pavilions of Future World, each one has a lot to learn about subjects such as oceanography, agriculture, etc. We especially love the Universe of Energy. First, marvel at the amazing structure that it sits in. It has these amazing solar panels that are used to run the massive attraction. Then go inside and have fun taking this combo film and ride in one. Plus, it stars Ellen and Bill Nye the Science Guy. Hilarious! The Test Track goes into the science of car design. You have to calculate correctly for your car design to win the competition.
Designing our winning car before we boarded the attraction.
Of course there is also a very realistic space themed adventure as well. Mission Space is modeled after space simulators that real astronauts use to train for space. The ride is pretty intense for littles, but there is a less intense version you can do with your kids. I always have to do the intense version at least once while I am there because I am that HUGE of a Disney nerd. I always feel a little nauseated afterward, but it eventually passes. You can talk about the physics of that attraction because they show you how it works in the line. As for the World Showcase, be sure to visit each country and talk about the geography, culture, language, etc.
Plus, all the cast members there are from the the countries they work in. Oh, and a bonus educational treat: each pavilion features food from its respective country, so you can learn as you eat some yummy authentic cuisine!
Vintage Cool Attractions – I guess it depends on what you consider vintage. I grew up in the 1980s and this park is like stepping back into that era. Probably because it opened in 1982. From the architecture to the exhibits to the background music, it feels 80s, and I love that. Make sure you check out the Journey through Imagination with Figment. There is a super cool backstory to this attraction that you can read from Theme Park Tourist here. I guess the attraction has undergone some major changes through the years. I have only seen it in today’s form, but it still feels very vintage to me. It also stars Eric Idle of Monty Python fame, and who doesn’t love that? The World Showcase area has two Circle Vision shows you have to see. Circle Vision is a 360 degree theater experience where you stand in the center of the theater and can spin around and see a different angle of the scene the entire movie. These types of shows used to be quite prevalent at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but these two are the last of their kind, so make sure you check it out. There is a show in the China Pavilion and the Canada Pavilion. There are other film type shows in the World Showcase, but these are the only two Circle Visions. Enjoy your 1980s visit to EPCOT! It will be totally awesome.
Pacing – This park is HUGE. It is a 1.2 mile walk just around the World Showcase, so make sure you give yourself enough time to explore this park. You won’t spend a lot of time waiting in lines at EPCOT because the park has many high capacity rides and shows. Make sure you get fastpasses for the attractions listed above, and you should be able to get on everything. The only thing that will slow you down is your ability to cover the entire park. Everything is spread very far apart and it would be best to spend one day in Future World and the other in the World Showcase. If you only have one day, then make sure you ride the attractions above and walk the World Showcase at some point during the day. We like to eat there. Such good food! More on that later. One more pacing note: Some rides, attractions, and pavilions are not open for the entire day, so make sure to check for operating times as you plan your visit.
A Photo Tour of the World Showcase (Traveling Clockwise)
United Kingdom Pavilion
My Vacation Pants Recommendations- There are a lot of fun things to do as an entire family at this park. You have to go to the Sodas From Around the World exhibit in Future World. It is called Club Cool, and they have FREE samples of soda. You stand at the fountain and try all the different flavors. Some are just plain gross, some are quite refreshing.
Get your beverage on for FREE at Club Cool
You know that big golf ball looking thing at the center of the park? Well, it’s actually a ride. It is a slow moving dark ride vehicle that walks you through Communication through the ages. My recommendation is to skip it at the beginning of the day when everyone is coming in, and go on it after the morning rush. Then you’ll be able to walk right onto the ride.
Inside the EPCOT ball
If you have never been on Soarin’, check that out. It simulates the feeling of hang gliding over, well, California. It’s called Soarin’ Over California at California Adventure, and it’s the exact same as the one in Florida, but spectacular just the same. Don’t miss the Chinese acrobats in the China Pavilion. This has been the same acrobat troop we have been watching over the years. They started as child performers and now they are adults. They are such a talented group.
Don’t miss the Chinese Acrobats. Amazing show.
My kids (and husband) loved Agent P’s Phineas and Ferb Scavenger Hunt. They will check you out a cellular device in several different spots around the World Showcase, and you follow a series of interactive clues to make fun things happen while you walk around the World Showcase. You even go and talk to cast members who give you secret items and clues. Check it out while you are there. Also, make sure you check out my food recommendations below. This is the park you want to come hungry to.
Getting their Agent P Scavenger Hunt on
What To Eat
Teppan Edo– This restaurant is located in the Japan pavilion at the World Showcase and it is hands down our favorite restaurant that we have tried in all of WDW. It is a Teppanyaki style restaurant, meaning they sizzle your food right at the table. It’s part show, part delicious dinner. The food is amazing. I love the dipping sauces. I love the show. I love everything. I have been to a couple different places that make food this way, but this one is top notch.
Onion Volcano Time at Teppan Edo
San Angel Inn – This Mexican restaurant is located inside the pyramid in the Mexico pavilion. Once you walk inside, you see a night sky and hear festive music, even if it’s daytime. There is a boat ride that you can take while you wait for your table to be ready that glides right by the restaurant. If you have ever been to the Blue Bayou at Disneyland, it is a similar experience, except Mexican themed. The food was fantastic and seemed authentic. Apparently all the restaurants in each country are supposed to be very authentic, and staffed from people who are originally from those countries. Check it out while you are there.
Blurry, but artsy shot of the San Angel Inn
Flavored Popcorn – We had just come out of The Land Pavilion in Future World and smelled some amazing popcorn. As we approached the cart, we saw they had interesting flavors like buffalo ranch, and sour cream and onion, so we had to try some. With a wave of my Magic Band we started to enjoy this magnificent treat. I am telling you that snack hit the spot. My favorite was the Sour Cream and Onion one while my hubby preferred the Buffalo Ranch. It was much spicier, if you are into that sort of thing. Enjoy some while you are there. Vanilla Ice Cream Funnel Cakes – Okay, this is a treat that has us coming back multiple times per trip. Head on back to the America Pavilion in the World Showcase. Right out front they have this tiny little funnel cake shack. Order the funnel cake with vanilla ice cream. They take a rectangular slab of vanilla ice cream and put it on a piping hot funnel cake and voila… you have a decadent treat that will leave you dreaming about coming back and having more. So amazing! Salted Caramels and German Pretzels- Make sure you go to the Germany Pavilion and go to the Werther’s Original candy shop. I am in love with salted caramels and I get them everywhere I go. Well, the ones I got here were like the BEST salted caramels I have ever had. They have all sorts of other amazing chocolates to try too, but this is my number one pick. Once you have had your fill of caramels, walk across to the beer stand and get one of those HUGE German pretzels with mustard. They are warm, soft, salty and perfect. They are big enough to share with the whole family, but I’m pretty sure I ate it all by myself. Teehee! There you have it, my EPCOT whirlwind tour. Have fun and enjoy your trip to this unique place. Don’t forget to check out the other parts of my series about Walt Disney World, and please write in with any questions you have about this park. I can definitely help you plan a great trip.
Family selfie at Cinderella’s Castle, the focal point of the Magic Kingdom. – 2015
In Part 2 of my Walt Disney World – Family Edition post, I will talk about the magical Magic Kingdom. Read on to find out how to take a budget friendly trip to this fantastic theme park. If you haven’t seen part ,1 click below.
Let’s start with the most popular of the BIG 4 parks, Magic Kingdom. Magic Kingdom is full of fantasy, wonder, and excitement. If you grew up going to Disneyland in the 1980s, like I did, you will LOVE this park even more. It will bring back so much nostalgia. It really is a fantastic place for everyone. Check out the tips below to get the most out of your day here.
Magic Kingdom -Tips and Tricks
Fast Pass + – Make sure you have reserved your fastpasses for the day on your Walt Disney World account. See my tips on Fast Pass + in part 1 of this series. Attractions worth getting fast passes for, if possible:
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Peter Pan’s Flight
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Remember: If you get three attractions reserved early in the day, you can go back and order more fastpasses on the My Disney Experience App once you have used them all. That is the only way to get more than three fastpasses in a day. Also, don’t forget to take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours at this park. If you go to the park during the nighttime extended hours for WDW Resort guests, the park is open until 2:00 AM , and you will pretty much have the park to yourself. Hard for young kiddos, but we just toted the stroller around while they slept, and the hubbs and I took turns walking on rides. It was fantastic.
My daughter and I got to walk on all the Fantasyland rides during the nighttime Extra Magic Hours at the Magic Kingdom.
Here is our gang at the Extra Magic Hours at night. Taken at 1:50 A.M.
Vintage Cool Attractions – As I mentioned above, the Magic Kingdom has tons of vintage cool attractions that will take you back in time. Don’t miss these attractions that used to be at Disneyland in California, but are no longer there: Country Bear Jamboree, Carousel of Progress, Swiss Family Tree House, Tom Sawyer’s Island (with the fort and Injun Joe’s Cave open still), Tomorrowland Transit Authority (Walt Disney World’s version of the Peoplemover), and the Rockets on top of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (like it should be). Also, they still have The Main Street Electrical Parade. This used to be at Disneyland, but has been gone for several years. It was so fun seeing it again.
This way to the People Mover. Nice!
Pacing – Magic Kingdom is a larger park, not as large as EPCOT, but it has a lot to do. If possible, make sure you spend a couple days here. If you are only spending one day here, be sure you make use of those fastpasses, so you get the most bang for your buck.
MVP Tip: A lot of people who have been to Walt Disney’s original Disneyland Park in California decide to skip this park. They think it is just a replica placed in Florida. Nope, not the case. Even the attractions they have at both are way different. For example, on Splash Mountain you are seated side by side in the log rather than in a row. It also goes through different scenes from Song of the South as well. The whole park is like that, but it also has completely different attractions too, like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Bottom line: don’t skip it while your there.
Educational Guide – I’m a teacher, so I try to find teachable moments everywhere we go, and believe it or not Disney World is no exception. Make sure you check out the Hall of Presidents. Talk to your kids about presidency and how important our founding fathers were. Liberty Tree Square is a great way to show your kids what Colonial Times were like. They even have stocks to take your picture in. Talk about that kind of history with them. It’s important for kids to know how the world has changed. The Carousel of Progress at the Magic Kingdom is great show that demonstrates how technology has changed through the years. You also get to ride around in a circle theater, so that’s fantastic as well. Tom Sawyer’s Island has a lot of history about the Southern United States and how things were back then. Also, my husband taught my kids how to play checkers while we were there. Make history come alive and teach your kids something while you are having all sorts of fun. Never miss an opportunity to help their brains grow.
Checker time on Tom Sawyer’s Island.
My Vacation Pants Recommendations- We loved the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. It has very cool technology and is a thrilling ride, but still tame enough for younger children. If you have never been to a Disney Park, you have to go on the classics like Pirates of the Carribean, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Enchanted Tiki Room, Small World, etc. We also loved The Hall of Presidents, maybe because of the The Bill and Ted reference, but it’s educational none the less. One more thing that is exclusive to the Magic Kingdom, you have to check out the Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor at the Magic Kingdom. It was an interactive show and it was so hilarious we went back twice.
It was spooktacular at the Haunted Mansion.
Jungle Cruise is classic.
Space Mountain mimics the Matterhorn track from Disneyland in California. No side by side seating here.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as seen from TomSawyer’s Island.
What To Eat
Cinderella’s Royal Table – Yep, it’s just like it sounds, you get to eat inside Cinderella’s Castle. How cool is that? On this particular trip Cinderella was doing some remodeling, so we weren’t able to eat here, but we have eaten there on past visits. Make sure you make your reservations early because they do fill up fast. It’s a small intimate venue and you will feel like you’re royalty eating there. This is also one of those splurge places. Maybe bring some sandwiches for the rest of the day because this place is quite spendy. Our favorite thing is the pretzel bread. Not sure if they still serve it, but if they do, you’re in for a treat.
Liberty Tree Tavern – Take a step back in colonial times and enjoy a meal. This restaurant is located in the Liberty Square section of the park. We had some good ole comfort food while we were there. I liked that when you checked in to the restaurant they asked where you were from, and then when they called your family name to seat you they would yell where you hailed from. It went something like this, “The Vecchio Family from the California Territory, your table is ready.” It was cute, real cute, and fun to explain to the kids about colonies verses territories and stuff.
Out front of the yummy Liberty Tree Tavern.
It looks like a cute little colonial tavern inside.
Dole Whips at the Sunshine Plaza – If you have never had a Dole Whip, you must try this tasty treat during your visit. It’s basically pineapple ice cream, and it’s so magical. They have a whole plaza dedicated to this treat at the Magic Kingdom. You can get it at a couple different places (by the Enchanted Tiki Room and across from the Swiss Family Tree House). They had an orange pineapple one that we tried that was okay, but for the real deal get the pineapple flavored one, or splurge for the pineapple float. Yum.
Yes, it tastes as good as it looks.
So there you have it. My Vacation Pants guide to the Magic Kingdom. Please comment or e-mail me with any questions you have about this place. I do know my way around a Disney Park. Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to check the links below to help you plan, and follow me on social media for updates about posts and to get even more travel tips.
My Vacation Pants will teach you how to take the most budget efficient trip to Walt Disney World with your family. Continue reading to find out how you too can plan the vacation of a lifetime without breaking the bank. This is part 1 in a series of 6. This first post will give you the tips you need to book a Walt Disney World vacation. Trip Overview Imagine this: My hubbs and I secretly booked a Disney World vacation for our kiddos. We didn’t tell them anything. They knew all about this fantastic place because we told them all about it. (Being a past Disneyland Resort cast member, I had gone a few times before. In my younger adulthood the only way I could afford to go was to take people on my Main Gate Pass, which worked for both the California Resorts and the Florida Resorts. I will cover taking a cast member trip in another post.) Back to the story: our flight to Florida left super early one morning. The kids were asleep as we loaded them into the car. We woke them up at the airport parking lot and told them the news. They were so excited! We felt like the BEST PARENTS EVER! It was hard to keep the trip a secret from them, but the reaction was so worth it. It’s been one year since the day we took off on this fantastic trip, and I am ready to blog the pants off of this thing. I can’t wait to give you all the tips I learned on my 7th time visiting this wonderful place. This is part 1 of a series of 6 posts about Disney World. This first post will prepare you on how to plan for a trip for Walt Disney World. Check out the video below to see our kids reactions to the BIG news.
Trip Itinerary Overall this was an 8 night, 9 day trip. I know you may be thinking, “Do I really want to spend 9 days at a theme park?” Yes, yes you do. If you want to immerse yourself in the full Disney World experience, you have to realize that you could stay a whole year here and NOT see all it has to offer. The longer you stay, the more you will get to see and do. Also, this ain’t a trip for the faint of heart. You will NOT be relaxing much on this vacation if you want to get your money’s worth, so maybe plan a little down time after your trip to recover. This was the longest Disney World trip we had ever taken, and it still went by in the flash of an eye. Day 1: Flew from Los Angeles, CA to Orlando, FL. We took the complimentary airport shuttle, (Disney’s Magical Express) which is free if you stay in a Disney Property Hotel, straight to the resort. Plus we went into Disney Studios and the Magic Kingdom once we arrived. Day 2: Animal Kingdom Day 3: Disney Studios Day 4: EPCOT Day 5: Typhoon Lagoon Water Park and Downtown Disney (now called Disney Springs) Day 6: Magic Kingdom Day 7: Changed hotels: We went from All-Star Music Resort to the Contemporary Resort and went to EPCOT Day 8: Disney Studios and Magic Kingdom Day 9: Magic Kingdom and then we flew back from Orlando, FL to Los Angeles, CA MVP (My Vacations Pants) Trip Tip: Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Virgin America, and Jet Blue are some budget airlines that fly from major airports to Orlando for dirt cheap. Check out those airlines. Sometimes it is worth driving a couple hours to an airport if you are going to save hundreds of dollars on airfare. Trip Budget My mother in-law was actually graduating from an online university during the time we took this trip. Lo and behold, her school decided to hold the graduation at Walt Disney World Resort Hotel. A cool part about Disney World is that many athletic competitions and conferences take place there. This may be a time to combine work and pleasure to get a discount. Discounts on tickets and hotel rooms extend to friends and family, so make sure you take advantage of this opportunity if it ever comes up. We certainly did.
Roundtrip Airfare to Orlando, FL from Los Angeles, CA- $456 a person- Eek! You can definitely get the price of this down by using Google Flights. Our problem was that we all had a very specific range of time we could go to Disney World, so we had to fly back on a very expensive day. In the past I have flown to Orlando for under $200 a person. You just have to have flexible dates. The cool part of this was my mother and father in-law paid for our whole family to come out and see her graduate, so we didn’t have this cost out of our own pockets when we went, which was another reason we really wanted to go when we did.
Airport Transfers – FREE Mickey’s Magical Express is a free shuttle service from the Orlando Airport to the Walt Disney World Resort if you stay at any of the on resort properties, so take advantage of that.
Tickets to the Parks – We bought 8 day park hoppers at the convention discount. The ticket also included an extra ticket to Typhoon Lagoon, so that’s 9 days of fun for only $377 a person. That works out to only $41 a day. That’s some 1990s prices. So find a conference at Disney World and get those discount tickets. You know there has to be some kind of conference you want to go to.
Hotels – We paid $81 a night for the All-Star Music Resort which is a Disney Value Resort. You don’t spend much time in your room, so you might as well go cheap. The resort was also offering discounted rooms at the Contemporary Resort for $169 a night for people who attended the graduation, so we changed hotel rooms at the end of our trip to take advantage of a deluxe resort deal for a HUGE discount (they are usually $400 a night). Our grand total for lodging was $824 for 8 nights of on property lodging.
MVP Trip Tip: I upgraded my Disneyland Premium Annual Pass to a Premier Pass. The Premier Pass gives you admission to both the California and Florida resort properties (including the water parks). It also included free parking. If you plan on going for as long as we did or if you are taking two trips in a year, this is a fantastic deal. You also get some discounts on merchandise and some restaurants in the park. Just upgrade one person in your party and get discounts for the whole group.
Trip Grand Total – $4156 for a 9 day/8 night Walt Disney World Vacation!!! This total is based on a family of four. Two adults and two children (age 6 and 4 at time of our travels).
MVP Trip Tip: We packed a suitcase of food for our trip. There is no grocery store on site, and the food at the park and the hotels are expensive. To cut down our food costs we pre-bought a bunch of snacks that would have cost us a fortune at the resort. Don’t worry, we still got our eat on!!! I will explain that more in a later post. Trip Lodging
All-Star Music Resort – located on the WDW property. This hotel is considered a value resort. But come on, do you think Disney does anything half way? This hotel is great! It is basically Disney’s rendition of a Best Western or Holiday Inn Express, complete with Mickey shaped toiletries and day and night Disney programming. What makes it special: The fact that you are just a short shuttle from all the parks is so convenient and fun. We loved the pools and the outside decor.
Towel animals every night.
Exterior jazz section of the All-Star Music
The front of the hotel by the shuttle stops.
Contemporary Resort – located on the WDW property in walking distance to the Magic Kingdom Park. This place is considered a deluxe resort. Weirdly, after all is said and done, we preferred the value resort to the deluxe resort. Don’t get me wrong, the murals and architecture were fantastic, but the shuttle system to the parks here was so disorganized and slow, and it was much more convenient and efficient at the All-Star resort. At the budget resorts, there is a shuttle for each park and the shuttles come consistently, at the Contemporary resort, there was just one pick up location and no queue, so everyone just cut in front of everyone else. The shuttles were far and few between. The monorail was broken down every time we tried to use it and it almost made my mom in-law miss her graduation, so that was stressful. Also, the monorail didn’t even run as late as the park was open, so we had to walk back late at night from the Magic Kingdom with two sleeping kiddos. What makes it special: It’s the closest park to the Magic Kingdom, so that was fun. The monorail runs right through the hotel lobby. That was cool when it was working. They had a very fancy pool with pool activities and a water slide. It definitely was a nice room as well. Think of a Hilton or Sheraton, Disney style.
Bigger towel animals at the contemporary.
The beds were more comfy.
It had a nice little sitting area.
Our view from the Monorail.
The Mary Blair murals were top notch.
So I may have been insanely excited that the monorail was finally working to take us back to our hotel.
MVP Trip Tip: Think about how much time you are actually going to be staying in a hotel room. Do you really need somewhere fancy, or do you just need somewhere to rest your head? I would opt for the value resorts if you want to save some moola.
BEFORE YOU GO – TIPS AND TRICKS If you want to get the most out of your Walt Disney World trip, you don’t want to wait until you get there to make decisions. You need to plan, plan, plan to get the most bang for your buck. This particular trip was relatively last minute. We had less them a month to plan, and it did cost us some experiences. Overall, we came out pretty good, but make sure you use the tips outlined below to really make things go smoother.
My Magic + – As soon as you buy your tickets, sign up for a Walt Disney World account and start planning your experiences. You can book your fastpasses and plan your dining reservations up to 30 days in advance if you are just going to the parks, or 60 days in advance if you are also staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel.
Fastpass + – Once you make a Disney World account, go ahead and enter your ticket reservation code under the My Disney Experience tab and start booking those fastpasses. These are FREE, so make sure you take advantage of them. You can pre-book three fastpasses per person, per day at a park. Choose the date and the park you are going to for that date, and it will list three tiers of rides. One tier includes the big attractions (Space Mountain), the second tier is the medium attractions (Pirates of the Carribean), and the third tier is the attractions that usually have a very small wait time (Philharmagic Show). Pick one in each of the categories and the hour window you want to go. My tip would be to book the fastpasses earlier in the day because once you have used them all, you can download the Walt Disney World app and book more fastpasses for the same day, but you have to have used or let your first three reservations expire before you can do this. These fastpass reservations will then be connected to your park ticket or Magic Band, and you will be on your way. Again, the Fastpass + is included with your theme park tickets or annual passes and is no extra cost to you, so make sure you take advantage.
Disney Dining – I will go into detail about where you need to eat later in this blog, but I beg you to make your dining reservations as soon as you possibly can. The table service restaurants are so popular, and they fill up fast. I did the math, and buying a dining plan is NOT worth it. Do your own planning and you will save money and have the flexibility of eating where you want and when you want. We did 1-2 table service restaurants a day. The food is amazing and worth it, and the counter service restaurants cost almost as much as the counter service restaurants anyway.
Magic Bands – It is worth ordering the Magic Bands rather then standard ticket cards. The Magic Bands are waterproof electronic bracelets that work as your park ticket, hotel room key, fastpass reservation, and payment (if you choose to connect a credit card). No more trying to dig around and find those park tickets or room keys, they are on your arm. This option is free with your park ticket purchase.
It was fun having the annual passholder Magic Band.
Team Magic Band ready to get our WDW on!
Make sure you pack:
Comfortable walking shoes – break them in before you come
Mole skin – to cover blisters
Ziploc bags to put phones and electronic devices in on water rides, or when it rains
Ponchos – it rains a lot in Florida, and out of absolutely nowhere. (You know those old movies where it’s all sunny, and then suddenly there is a total down pour? Well, that’s what it’s like in Florida.)
A double stroller if you have young children – my kids were old enough to be out of a stroller when we went, but you walk A LOT for multiple days in a row, and I was sooooooooooooooo thankful my hubby made us bring the double
Dry snacks – there is no grocery store on resort property, and the snacks at the hotel are outrageously priced, so we bought a suitcase full of chips, granola bars, fruit snacks etc. and we were so thankful we did
A portable charger – I recommend the lipstick sized one that Anker makes, it fully charged my phone from 0% each day, so I could keep snapping those pics, checking wait times, and making new fastpass reservations on the Walt Disney World App. Also, the resort has free wifi, so make sure you connect to that when you get to the resort property.
Mickey’s Magical Express – This is the name of the hotel shuttle that you take to the Walt Disney Resort property. It is free to resort property hotel guests, but if fills up fast, so make sure you make your reservations a couple weeks in advance. If you do, you get to take the shuttle fastpass line like we did. We just waved our magic bands and presto, we were on the shuttle. See how easy it was to use in the video below.
Download the Walt Disney World App – It’s a great way to check wait times, show times, maps of the parks, and of course to make/change/modify your fastpass + reservations. Download it from home before you go, so you don’t have to use your cell phone data to do it. The parks do have FREE wifi, but it does get spotty to use, and has a hard time downloading apps.
So that about does it for Part 1 of my Walt Disney World, Family Edition blog posts. Check back later for more posts about this uh-mazing trip!!!
Meeting Captain Mickey on our recent Disney Cruise -2016
The My Vacation Pants family just got back from a Disney Cruise around the Caribbean. Read on to find out how you can book a Disney Cruise for about $600 a person and join in on the Disney themed vacation fun.
Trip Overview A couple of months ago I woke up and checked my e-mail like I do every morning. I subscribe to tons of internet travel websites. Travelocity was having a 24 hour cruise sale. I clicked on the link not thinking much about it, but lo and behold they had a killer deal listed on a Disney Cruise. I have not been able to afford a Disney Cruise since I worked at Disneyland 10 years ago. The cruise prices listed were as low as when I worked for the Disney Company and got a HUGE Cast Member discount, plus they were offering a $200 on board credit per state room if you booked through Travelocity. I felt a flutter in my heart knowing that if I booked this cruise, I could finally take my kids on a Disney Cruise. The cruise was a re-positioning cruise. Re-positioning cruises are great because the boat is moving to a new port for a season of sailings, but they want to make money while they are moving the ship, so they give some amazing deals to fill an otherwise empty boat. Disney Cruise Line does many re-positioning cruises throughout the year, but never while I am off of work on a break from teaching, so I had to snatch that deal up. Trip Itinerary Overall this was a 10 day, 9 night trip. We had to fly to get to our embarkation port in Galveston, TX. We spent a couple of days in Texas, then we were on the cruise for 6 nights. We disembarked in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I would have loved to spend a couple more days in Puerto Rico, but I had to get back to work, so we only spent one night there. Day 1: Flew from Long Beach, CA to Austin, TX. We stayed at a hotel by the airport since we got in late. Day 2: Traveled to Galveston, TX by rental car Day 3: Departed from Galveston, TX on our cruise Day 4/5/6: At Sea aboard the Disney Wonder Day 7: St. Thomas – U.S. Virgin Island Day 8: Tortola – British Virgin Island Day 9: Disembarked ship in San Juan, Puerto Rico Day 10: Traveled Home MVP (My Vacations Pants) Trip Tip: Don’t always think you HAVE to fly out the day of the cruise and fly right back the day your cruise ends. We extended our vacation by three days and saw some amazing things by extending our trip. We also saved money on airfare because we didn’t fly in/out when everyone else did from the cruise ship. Trip Budget We booked at the right time. Disney Cruises are known for being extremely expensive. Because this one was a re-positioning cruise leaving right after New Years, it was a great deal. This was definitely an expensive vacation for us, but still worth the extra expense.
Rental Car – We rented a one way car rental from Austin, TX to Galveston, TX on rentalcars.com for $193. It costs a lot of money to rent a one way rental sometimes, but it is much cheaper then shuttling your whole family to the cruise terminal, plus it gives you freedom to explore along the way. Compare the differences and make the best choice for your family.
Gas for the rental car – You can estimate how much gas you are going to use on a trip by using https://www.fueleconomy.gov/. Gas was pretty cheap in Texas. We are talking $1.72 a gallon. Amazing to a Californian like myself. We paid about $20 for gas on our trip.
Cruise – We paid $2592 for our stateroom of 4 people. We stayed in an oceanview room. We also booked through a cruise sale on Travelocity that gave us a $200 shipboard credit to spend on whatever we wanted on board, so that works out to $598 a person. That’s right folks. Unless you work for the Disney Company, that is unheard of for a 6 night Disney Cruise ocean view room.
MVP Trip Tip: Shop around for your cruises. We booked through Disney Cruise Line first, and then I found the cruise cheaper on Travelocity. Disney let me cancel my reservation and book with Travelocity, but I got all the same perks as booking with Disney.
Cruise Gratuities- On all cruises you pay gratuities at the end of your cruise stay instead of tipping each day. Disney Cruise Lines automatically adds your gratuities to your credit card on file the last night of the cruise. They work out to about $11 a night per person. Not a bad deal in my opinion. You are tipping your servers, your stateroom host/ess (they clean your stateroom twice a day), and your head server (he is like the manager at a restaurant). I know I tip more than that for one meal sometimes. For our whole family of four we paid $264 in gratuities for the entire length of the cruise.
Taxis- We choose to do our own shore excursions rather than pay for an overpriced one through the cruise line, so we do research ahead of a time and take taxis from the cruise terminal to where we want to go. We spent about $132 dollars to tote our family around the islands we visited. Pretty good considering those shore excursions start at $80 a person. We also took a taxi in San Juan to our hotel. That was $20 for all four of us. Then we took an early morning taxi from the hotel to the airport the next day. That was $25 dollars for all four of us. My hubby also had to drop off our rental car in Galveston, Texas and found out that Enterprise Rental Car did not shuttle to the terminal. He ended up getting an Uber which he paid for on his phone, but a couple other Disney Cruise Dads who were dropping off their rental cars shared a car with him and he ended up getting a free ride. The grand total on taxis for the trip was $177 for a family of four.
MVP Trip Tip: Sometimes renting a one way rental car is way cheaper than booking an airport shuttle or taking a taxi. Make sure you do your research beforehand.
Hotel – We stayed in a three different hotels on this trip before and after our cruise. I will go in to detail in the section below. The total was $371.
San Juan Castillos – Children 15 and under are FREEEEEE! It was only $5 bucks for adults for both the historic castillo sites in Old San Juan. So $10 for the fam bam (family, you’ll start to get my secret language the more you read) to get inside.
Saint Thomas – We tipped a guy $5 to watch our stuff on the beach while we snorkeled (we always bring our own equipment to save money). We didn’t really bring any valuables, but it didn’t hurt to help the locals out. He also let us use their restaurants restrooms and showers, so that was cool too.
Tortola – We went to a beach for FREE.
Cruise Activities (movies, theater shows, swimming, shows, trivia contests, dancing, parties, dinners, comedians, magicians, jugglers, character breakfasts etc. – INCLUDED IN CRUISE COST
Trip Grand Total – $4912 This total is based on a family of four. Two adults and two children (age 7 and 5 at time of our travels).
MVP Trip Tip: We have several ways of financing our vacations. We tend to go without during our day-to-day lives. No new furniture. We don’t really care about remodeling our house as long as it is safe and comfortable to live in. We love hand me downs, thrift stores, and yard sales. That’s just how we choose to live our life. We know it’s not for everyone, but it is definitely how we afford to travel as much as we do. See what you can live without and plan the trip of a lifetime. Trip Lodging
Staybridge Suites Austin Airport – located in Austin, TX. This was your typical airport hotel. It was clean, close to the airport, and affordable. I was bummed they didn’t run their hotel shuttle past 10 P.M. This made us have to rent our rental car a day early and drove that trip cost up a bunch. But once we were there it was quite nice. We booked it on Hotwire. Check out my other blog post to get tips on how to book with them. What makes it special: It is an all suite hotel. It had a kitchenette, great water pressure, a seating area, and TEXAS SHAPED WAFFLES! Hello?!!!
Texas shaped waffles at the Staybridge Suites in Austin, TX -2016
Holiday Inn Resort – located in Galveston, TX – This place was quite beautiful and right across the street from the ocean. The room had a fridge and a microwave. A beautiful pool area that we didn’t get to use because we got there late and left early. They had a free shuttle to the cruise terminal. Make sure you make a reservation the night before. What makes it special: The staff was very friendly. The balcony in our ocean view room was quite spectacular. It was very clean and comfortable.
The fantastic balcony at Holiday in Resort in Galveston, TX – 2016
Ocean View Disney Cruise Stateroom – Our home for 6 glorious nights. Disney Cruise Line knows how to make a stateroom. Adorable decorations, large for a stateroom, the toilet room is separate from the shower room, bunk beds for the kids, fridge, a queen sized bed that seemed a little bigger then a queen to me, comfortable mattress, Mickey themed toiletries, towel animals, and the list goes on and on. We just loved it. What makes it special: Well, for starters you’re on a Disney Cruise, so everything is special. We have been on many cruise lines, but Disney just knows how to make it magical. You get to know your stateroom host/ess and your kids can watch Disney shows all day and night if you want. They even have Wave Phones (portable phones) you can use throughout the ship, so you don’t rack up hefty roaming charges on your cell phone.
Special gift because we have taken more than one Disney Cruise. This was our 4th one. -2016
The shower room. – 2016
The toilet room. – 2016
Shot from the stateroom door.
One of our two portholes. -2016
Privacy curtains. The kids loved using this at night. Wink, wink. – 2016
Elephant towel animal. – 2016
Monkey Towel Animal. – 2016
MVP Trip Tip: Think about staying on the first level on your next cruise. We did on this trip and absolutely loved it. There was never a long wait for the elevator because the only thing on our floor was the infirmary. We got see the water slap against our stateroom window. It was less crowded. When you stay in staterooms on floors with the kids clubs and movie theaters you get a lot more traffic down your hallway. We had a pretty quiet stay down there. An added bonus is that these staterooms are usually cheaper than higher levels. You can view a map of your ship when you book your cruise online, so you can pick accordingly. Also ,try to stay in a stateroom that is mid-ship. You can get to everything quicker, and you feel the motion of the ocean less.
Chateau Cervantes – located in Old San Juan Puerto Rico. This quaint little hotel was spectacular. I haven’t been to Europe since I was a small child, but it had the look and feel of a quaint little European hotel. We booked through booking.com.What makes it special: It is right in the middle of the Old San Juan area. We walked to the Castillos and dinner with the kids and grandparents and it wasn’t bad at all. It is an old building with lots of charm. The rooms were huge. The service was fantastic. It was a great stay for sure.
This was a shot of hotel we got from the streets below.
The cute little balcony.
A shot of the room. They had a king sized bed for us and pull out sofa for the kids.
My son helped me get a shot of the other side of balcony view.
Cruise Activities – So Disney Cruise Line has no shortage of activities for families to enjoy together. There is so much to do you have to plan what you want to do ahead of time and pick what you want to do the most. I downloaded the Disney Cruise Line App ahead of time. Once you are on board, you turn your phone on airplane mode and connect to the ship’s wi-fi and it will only let you connect to their app. The app was great because you can set up your schedule of events you want to do and it will send you reminders before they start. You can also text other people that are on the ship with you through the app as well. For people who like to plan the old fashioned way with paper and pencil, they have something called the Personal Navigator that you can carry around with you and go to all the different activities the ship has to offer. Here is a list and photos of some of the stuff we chose to do:
Movie Theater – I think a personal touch that the Disney Cruise Line has to offer is they have a separate movie theater from the show theater. All day long it plays first run movies. On our particular cruise we got to see: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: The Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, Ant Man, and Bridge of Spies. It was so fun getting to see these movies at sea.
Trivia and Game Shows – The Disney Wonder (the name of our ship) had a wonderful cruise activity director who led several trivia and game show type activities. We had a blast going around to the different pubs, bars, and taverns participating in the games. I think I enjoyed the TV Show Tunes Trivia the best. We always came in 2nd place though. They should come up with a way to make sure people don’t cheat because I am pretty sure other teams cheated, but what are you gonna do? We had fun anyway. I am too honest to stretch the truth. I know that we won in my heart.
Theater Shows – They have a spectacular Broadway style theater on board. We got to see Disney style theater productions. They perform a different show every night. They also played Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the large theater in 3D. That was a fun treat. With the boat swaying it felt like we were actually on the Millennium Falcon. They also had a ventriloquist act, a magician, and our personal favorite, a professional juggler.
Charles Peachock – World Class Juggling Super Star – 2016
Swimming – Our ship had a kid pool area, a family pool area, and an adult only area. We found that if we went swimming in the evening before dinner we often got the pool to ourselves. They have a waterslide and pool side treats. All included in the cost of the cruise.
The Kid Pool on the Disney Wonder. – 2016
The adults only section of the pool. Downside. It was always crowded. – 2016
They have a 24 hour beverage bar by the pool stocked with soda, hot chocolate, and teas. -2016
Waterslide Time. -2016
My kids called this the Kid Hot Tub. -2016
See that! That’s my kids in the kid pool all by themselves. – 2016
Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab Kid Programs – For ages 3-17 they have youth programming on the ship. We have a five year old and a seven year old, so they were able to participate in both the Oceaneer’s Club and the Oceaneer’s Lab. You register your child and they give them a bracelet to wear for the length of the cruise. You can give them check in and check out privileges if they are older. We told our seven year old daughter that they could have the staff message us on our wave phones when they wanted to be picked up. The kids definitely had a great time in their programming. They have several different events listed in the Personal Navigator or on the app to help you plan your kiddos’ days. While they are off enjoying the program’s activities, you can enjoy some adult programming as well.
In the club they have a huge pirate themed play structure. -2016
They have an open house for the parents, so we could check out the area. -2016
The lab has video games, science experiments, and cooking classes. -2016
My daughter at the lab. -2016
And much, much more!!! Check out the other activities you can do on the ship through pictures.
They have an arcade. Not free, but fun. -2016
Character Meet and Greets for much shorter waits than at the Disney Parks. -2016
Opportunities to mimic you favorite Disney Characters. -2016
They have tons of board games around the bars and lounges. We snuck in a heated game of Scrabble. -2016
Pirates IN the Caribbean deck parties with stunt and fireworks shows. -2016
Character Breakfasts. -2016
Playing shuffleboard is a must on any cruise you go on.-2016
Plenty of hidden Mickeys to find around the ship.-2016
Snorkeling- We are a huge fan of snorkeling. It is such a cool way to see wildlife and it is so relaxing as well. My husband and I would love to get our diving certificates too, but we aren’t quite there yet. Meanwhile, snorkeling keeps us happy. Here is where we snorkeled on this particular trip.
St. Thomas, Coki Point Beach – We have actually been here before and had a fantastic experience, so we wanted to go back. Especially since we were teaching our 5 year old and our 7 year old how to snorkel for the first time. We love how protected the cove is. There are very small waves. The reefs are in shallow water and they are easy to get to. It is busy when cruise ships are in port, but it wasn’t too bad. It was about a 20 minute taxi drive to Coki Point and we got a spectacular view of the island while driving there. One more thing to note: The taxi is basically some benches welded to the back of a truck bed. It was a little scary, but still a fun adventure. We noticed that the expensive shore excursions from the boat were taking the same type of taxi, so it was still worth doing it on our own.
We got a clear view snorkel boat for the kids on Amazon. -2016
Success, our kids loved snorkeling. -2016
We got kid sized snorkel kits at Target before we left. -2016
Checking out the fish. -2016
Cool coral formations. -2016
Parrot Fish. Up close and personal. -2016
Look at all the fish. Woohoo! -2016
Tortola, Brewer’s Bay – Again, we took about a 20 minute taxi to the secluded bay. This time we were in an enclosed taxi van with seat belts, but it was filled to the brim with passengers and he said the kids had to sit on a lap to a get a discount. The drive down to the bay was a single road and it was an amazing sight to see, but again a little scary. We could see the blue, clear water from the bay below and it looked fantastic. When we got there, we noticed the waves were a little rougher than Coki Point. Still small compared to non protected bays, but it definitely affected our ability to see as much while snorkeling. This was more of a play in the sand, swim, and sun type beach. We had a blast though.
Jungle Beach – 2016
Had to make this one extra big, so you could see how secluded and beautiful Brewer’s Bay was. -2016
Getting ready to snorkel.
San Juan Castillos – We had one day to explore Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. We dropped off our luggage to the hotel, got some info from the front desk person, and were on our way. We had no idea how close the hotel was to San Juan Castillos. The Castillos are old fortresses that were built in the 1600s to keep out armies from trying to attack the port of San Juan. The fortress was even used in World War II to spy on enemy submarines. It is pretty much the oldest architecture I have ever seen and it was so beautiful and cool. It is a must see if you ever visit Puerto Rico. We took a free shuttle to the other castillo and when we were done took the shuttle back to our hotel.
The tunnels of the Castillo San Cristobal. -2016
The front of Castillo San Felipe del Morro -2016
Pretty warm for a January day, but well worth the trip. – 2016
The lighthouse was added later. -2016
A lookout with a view. -2016
In the courtyard. One of our kiddos was a little tuckered out. -2016
Waffle House- Austin, TX – I don’t know if you have ever been to a Waffle House, but this was quite a step up from a normal 24 hour diner. The strawberry waffles with buttery hashbrowns satiated our late night cravings.
Disney Cruise Dining – So we did most of our dining on the Disney Cruise. You can basically eat all you want, all day long, all night long, and it is all included in the cost of your cruise fare. Here are some of the highlights that the Disney Wonder has to offer.
Parrot’s Cay – When you enter your stateroom the first day, there are tickets telling you what dining rotation you are on for the evening dinners. Don’t miss these dinners. These are five course meals with the creme de la creme of food. You get to pick from a special themed menu each night. Your servers are happy to give recommendations. Vicki and Jimmy were our servers for the week and they treated us like royalty. We couldn’t get enough of them. Our first evening we ate in one of the three dining establishments called Parrot’s Cay. It is a tropical themed dining experience. Also, every night they have a special kid’s menu for the kids, so they enjoy the dinner as much as you do. The first night was a Caribbean themed menu. Yum.
The lobby of Parrot’s Cay on the Disney Wonder -2016
Triton’s – The next night we ate in Triton’s. The restaurant has beautiful architecture and has a fancier feel then the other two restaurants. The 2nd night was a French themed cuisine. And yes our fantastic server Vicki brought out plenty of Escargot for the table to try. The Creme Brulee was my favorite dish of the night. We also ate a couple of sit down lunches in this restaurant as well.
The holy grail of menus. With my inlaws happily ready to order. – 2016
They do have one formal night on the cruise. This is as formal as we get. -2016
My favorite dessert ever. Creme Brulee. -2016
Our beloved servers for the week…Jimmy and Vicki. Request them if you are ever on the Disney Wonder. You won’t be disappointed. -2016
The ceiling at Triton’s had 2 giant hidden Mickeys. – 2016
Animator’s Palette – This restaurant is our favorite because it is a built-in show and restaurant. At the beginning of the meal, everything is decorated in black and white, but by dessert the restaurant is full of color. Even the servers change their clothes mid-dinner to add to the splendor.
Our kidlets at Animator’s Palette. – 2016
The restaurant changing form black and white to color. – 2016
The servers always do a fun little show every night. As you can tell from this pic we were the loudest, most excited table. – 2016
Other Eats Around the Ship – The Beach Blanket Buffet is always a good option. They have a fantastic selection, and I’m not much of buffet person. They had sandwich bars, taco bars, and soup bars. It was fun. Pinocchio’s Pizzeria is open until midnight. They pretty much serve really great tasting pizza all day and all night long. An added bonus here is they serve cheese stuffed pretzels and soft salted pretzels that taste just like the ones in the park. We may have had MANY helpings of that. Goofy’s Galley offers some healthier options like salads, wraps, and fruit. They have a soft serve ice cream machine. There is also a fast food place where you can get burgers, chicken fingers, fries, and more. I am addicted to Disney chicken fingers. How do they make it taste so good?
These are the best chicken fingers you will ever lay your taste buds on. -2016
Ice Cream Party – 2016
Cobb Salad for a sit down lunch at Triton’s.
Cheese stuffed pretzels poolside.
Cafe Puerto Rico – The hotel recommended we try this little gem when we were in Old San Juan. It was a great choice. They sat our party of 8 immediately and took really good care of us. I had a skirt steak Mofongo, a Puerto Rican specialty with rice and salad. It was right in the middle of the downtown area and exits out to the cobblestone streets.