Well, it’s been a whole year since I started the ole travel blog and I decided to reflect on the last year of travel. I am going to talk about the best place(s) we ate (sometimes it is too hard to choose one), the best place(s) we visited, the best place(s) we hoteled, and the best thing(s) we did. Of course, I will give you an overall snapshot of our travels at the end of the post, so you can get some travel inspiration. Sit back, relax, and make 2017 the year you get out there and travel in those vacation pants!!! Hope you start planning that next vacay, stat! Continue reading →
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.