Category: Places You Should See

The Disney Dream – Five Magical Days Part 2

For background and the first day of our cruise, please read part one.

Ports Of Call: Castaway Key

Disney leases the island known as Castaway Key from the Bahamian Government. Disney is once again in complete control of the environment and it shows. A selfie with mask and snorkelSince we’d sunk so much into Atlantis, we did Castaway Key on the cheap, opting for a package deal where we could swim with the stingrays, rent tubes and rafts, and ride bikes for an hour (it was too damn hot so we stuck with water activities). We had an awesome day. The girls loved swimming with the stingrays. The boys, meh not so much. The rays are kind of like puppies, when you first get in the water. They are excited to see you because they know you are going to feed them. They swim around in between your legs and onto the special tables where you can pet and feed them. According to the marine biologist who briefed us, there were 61 sting rays and they were rescues. All of their barbs were trimmed for safety, but we were still encouraged to do shuffle our feet through the sand to alert them to our presence.

3 frames Fish feeding the stingrays, A sting ray underwater, a stingray buried in the sand.

We were divided into groups and everyone had chance to feed them (if desired). After they’ve had their fill, we took our snorkel and masks and were free to swim around their pen. Fish & I were floating having a staring contest with on of the rays when all of the sudden he (or she) rippled and disappeared except for her eyes. We both immediately stood and said “id ooo ee ah?” at the same time. We laughed and took the snorkels out of our mouths and said “Did you see that?” I’ve seen it on TV and in films, but it is really cool to experience in person.

3 frames a long view of Castaway Key, beach umbrellas and the clear blue sky, The Disney Dream as viewed from the beach on Castaway Key

We floated, we ate lunch, A-Man & Mim explored the water slide while Fish & I snorkeled some more, we had a day full of as much or as little activity as we wanted. The kids had an opportunity to participate in group activities on the island, but both were content to hang with their parents. Their parents thoroughly enjoyed it in anticipation of those years when they will want nothing to do with us.

A teak bench and three deck chairs with cumfy cushionsOur fourth day was an At Sea day. This is by far my favorite part of cruising. I make it a point to find at least a little time to grab a lounge chair on the deck closest to the water and just appreciate the sea. I stare, I read for a while and eventually I end up investigating the inside of my eyelids, but I find it tremendously rejuvenating.

One of the amenities on The Disney Dream is the Aqua Duck, a “water coaster”. It’s a clear tube filled with water, you ride around the perimeter of the ship on an inflatable raft.Towards the end of our At Sea day, the line was manageable enough to entice me to try it. Fish & Min on the Aqua Duck (on an inflatable raft in a clear tube filled with water)It was fun and definitely a novel approach to a water ride. The kids loved it. Husband and I pulled up a few beach chairs and relaxed watching the end of Tazan on the massive LCD screen mounted on the ship’s funnel (aptly named FunnelVision). It was enjoyable even if we did have to share the space with OPKs (other people’s kids 🙂 ).

Logistics

Disney manages things well. Boarding was a breeze. They pay attention to every detail. Even what folders guests leave in the cruise terminal. (NO! I didn’t leave the folder with the travel documents and passports at a counter by the Oceaneer’s club desk). *ahem*. We even had a full, hot breakfast on the morning of our departure.

Debarkation was a little crowded, but there is a smaller window of time in which 4,000 people pick up their bags, and pass through customs to get back to the U.S. Still we had no trouble finding our bags and the lines moved at a reasonable pace.

Would we do it again?

We will cruise again. Will we take a disney cruise again? Probably not. One of the big draws for us was the kid friendly atmosphere and by the time we have saved enough to cruise again, the kids will be old enough where that won’t be such an issue. We’ve cruised with Carnival and Royal Carribean in the past. They all provide excellent service (although not quite as good as Disney). We paid the extra to have an environment where we could be comfortable letting our kids go with minimal supervision. Was it worth it? Most definitely. Do I recommend it to other families? Without reservation. The Disney staff is just amazing. You will have a good time. Your child will have a good time. The memories are worth every penny.

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The Disney Dream – Five Magical Days Part 1

About a year ago, my husband announced that the time was right to take the kids on a Disney Cruise. Um, Ok, no arguments here. I did some research and the plans were made.

Me: “When should we tell them?”

Him: “The day we leave.”

Can I just tell you how hard it is to keep a secret of THAT magnitude? Amazingly, we pulled it off. Here’s where the kids found out they were going on a Disney Cruise.

Let me start by saying that the number one objection I hear to Disney vacations is that they cost too much. It’s true, that they aren’t cheap, and a year later our finances weren’t as robust as they had been, but we made the trip anyway and I’m really glad we did. Disney has incredible standards of service that make any vacation with them a wonderfully memorable experience.

Ship: Disney Dream

Departure Port: Port Canaveral Florida

Cruise Length: Four nights/Five Days.

Ports of Call: Nassau, Bahamas, Castaway Key, Bahamas (Disney’s private island).

Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Accommodations

My Daughter waking up (slowly) on the bottom bunk The thing about Disney is that they get the important stuff right. Our room was tight, but comfortable, we had opted for a room with a balcony, something I highly recommend. We had a queen sized bed and the kids had bunk beds. One dropped out of the ceiling and the other was the couch converted into a twin bed. Both kids said they were comfortable and our mattress was fantastic. The bathroom was in two separate rooms, a shower and sink and then a second space for a sink an the toilet. I’ve cruised before and one of my big complaints is the size of the shower. This one was down right spacious in comparison. It even had a little bench.

Disney Cruise Food

Food is a big factor for us when we travel. Fish is intolerant to gluten, eggs and dairy and allergic to red food dye. The combination means we rarely eat out at home, but Disney is amazing at handling food allergies. The staff went out of their way to accommodate her needs, even planning ahead to have an extra, sushi style appetizer on hand when they knew she’s love it. I may have been a little jealous that I didn’t think to order two myself. It was THAT good.

My one complaint was that outside of meals it was sometimes hard to track down snacks. On other cruises I’ve been on something has been open 24/7. But there were times when I just wanted a little nibble and couldn’t find even a strawberry. Truth is I probably saved myself a few pounds. I never starved, I was just looking to fill in a few cracks here & there.

Disney Cruise Activities

Fish is 13 and Mim is 9. Neither child participated in the planned activities as much as we thought they would, but in hindsight I attribute that more towards their personalities then a flaw in the programming. Her age group was automatically given the right to enter and leave the activities as they pleased. Their activities mostly started at 4pm. It’s a hard age to program for, but there was a variety of events, including cooking, movie making, movie viewing, video games and dance parties.

3 pictures horizontally, Mim & Mike from Monster's Inc. In the Oceaneers Lab, A snap of The Edge, teen hang out, The Sail Away party on the big screen on the ship's funnel.

Mim’s group, The Oceaneers, had a two spaces just chock full of fun all day long. There was a Toy Story themed toy room, a craft room a dance floor, a science lab and gobs of video game stations. There were plenty of staff available to organize games and trouble shoot where necessary. We opted to give Mim the same freedom to sign in and out of the activities as he desired, with the understanding that if he didn’t behave responsibly, he would be glued to our sides. Some people were aghast that we’d let our 9 year old run around the ship unattended, but we know our kid.Close up of my Son & Daughter in a porthole window. He was great about making sure we knew where he was at all times. It was actually nice to be able to feel comfortable enough with the environment to give him that taste of freedom, and even nicer that he lived up to our expectations.

Our schedule leading up to the cruise precluded a lot of family time, so the kids were keen to stay with us or do things as a family and that was fine with us. They even sought each other out to spend time GASP together! One highlight was a scavenger hunt that took them all around the ship. A-Man and I also managed to snag a few minutes to ourselves in the 18+ sections.

Ports of Call: Nassau. Bahamas

Here we opted for an excursion to the Atlantis Resort. Where we paid an exorbitant amount of money for access to Aqua Adventure (their water park), a lunch voucher and a tour of the aquarium. I should say we started off this trip by visiting Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. In comparison, Atlantis Aqua Adventure has fewer attractions and longer lines that Typhoon Lagoon and we were at TL a sunny Saturday in August. The only attraction Aqua Adventure had that was better than Typhoon Lagoon, was the river ride. TL’s is actually a relaxing lazy river. AA’s is a river rapids adventure. There are calm parts, but there are also narrow passages and with rapids and waves. There are several paths to follow, on one, you are transported via conveyor up into the tower of one of the water slides. Where you then go down a series of slides until you are eventually released back into the river. That was fun and it was the last ride we rode, so we left with a pleasant feeling. The aquarium is small and in my opinion, not worth the trip. Atlantis is like a mini Las Vegas in the Carribean complete with gambling and high end shops. Nice, but not really my scene. If we hadn’t visited Typhoon Lagoon we might have had a more favorable impression of Aqua Adventure, but having visited both in such a short space of time, Typhoon won hands down.

I also feel the need to say that overall, I wasn’t impressed with Nassau. There are a lot of empty storefronts down town and in hindsight, I wished we’d picked an activity that supported the local economy rather than a mega-corporation headquartered thousands of miles away.

3 Frames My son & husband floating in a calm section of the river ride, a wave headed right for my daughter, the conveyer to the tube ride

 Stay tuned for part two later this week!

 

Bouncing Off The Walls, Literally – Sky Zone

It’s February vacation around these parts.  A whole week off from school.  Oh, yay. I mean OH! YAY!

Mim mid-air at Sky ZoneWe had no grand travel plans for this week. So that meant a week of little trips here and there in an effort to stave off cabin fever. In my research of new, exciting and reasonably priced adventures, I found a place where they could literally bounce off the walls.

Sky Zone is an indoor trampoline park with independently owned locations around the country.  Our closest location is an hour and twenty minutes away.  The trip was originally scheduled to coincide with a visit with family, but when the plans fell apart, I had already let the cat out of the bag, so we went anyway.  I can honestly say it was totally worth the trip.

This location has 5 courts, a kids area for those under 40”, two dodgeball courts (during our visit one was for big kids and one was for little kids), Foam Zone, where you bounce from trampolines into a huge pit of 3-D foam shapes, and an Open Court where everyone bounces in their own trampoline rectangle . At 48” Mim was tall enough to bounce with the big kids, but they still divide jumpers by size, so while I could see him and jump next to him, he was on different side of the court. We were separated a open mesh curtain.  This didn’t phase him in the least, but some kids might not be so happy with this arrangement.  

Fish bouncing into the Foam ZoneSince we’d traveled a bit, we opted to bounce for 90 minutes at a cost of $16 per person. As much fun as we had, 90 minutes was a little too long. Mim loved dodge ball even though by his own admission he wasn’t very good at it.  Fish & I alternated between the Open Court and the Foam Zone.  She tried Dodge Ball a few times, but her teammates were bigger, faster and more competitive.

The facility was clean and well staffed.  Before bouncing, you must have a waiver signed by a parent or guardian and you must meet with a staff member to go over the rules.  There are court monitors at ever court and they kept things under control without harshing the groove.

You are not allowed to bring in any food from the outside, but they have water and healthy snacks available at relatively reasonable prices. We all had a blast and will definitely head back again.  For locations and details, visit the Sky Zone web site.

This review was not requested nor was I compensated in any way. The words and opinions are my own.

Funky Chickens and Other Fair Phenomena

Pictures of Fancy breeds of chickens. Sometimes it is hard to tell which end is which.

Fancy chickens in the poultry barn. Sometimes, sometimes it was hard to tell which end was which, if you know what I’m sayin’.

 

Required eating. pierogies & kelbasi, funnel cakes and chili in a bread bowl

Required eating at the fair, pierogies and kielbasi for me, and chili in a bread bowl for A-man.

A ride that spins like a pendulum in a complete circle.  My crazy kid road this thing.

My crazy kid road this thing!!! What’s worse is that I let her!!

My kids in front of a monster Jeep

I take this picture every year, and the jeep keeps getting smaller. How does that happen?

Charleston, September 2012

 

The fountain at Waterfront park. Not Battery Park, Waterfront park. “Mom what was your favorite thing about Charleston?” Mim asked. “The laughter.”

Four women, three nights, four days in Charleston, South Carolina and the surrounds. At one time, our only connection to one another was work related, but over time we grew to be friends which is good because eventually our work paths diverged. With one exception, we stay in touch via Facebook and Twitter. We know enough about each other to be concerned if one of us drops out of sight for too long (yes Scottie I’ve checked up on you), but there are great stories to share when we see each other.

The weather was warm, but not too hot. The food was fabulous and Karon took it upon herself to introduce the Yankees to some of the bounty the South had to offer. Bless her heart 😉. We experienced, she crab soup, real crab cakes, fried shrimp (that tasted like shrimp, not breading), fried green tomatoes, grits, muscadines, and boiled peanuts.

On the left a crab cake from Charleston Crab House on the right, the Waffle House Menu

I learned some of the local dialect too.

  • “Iced tea, half and half”, results in a beverage that tastes good, but won’t put you in a diabetic coma after the first sip.
  • “Nakin, nakin, nakin” means “Do you want a napkin for the blob of muscadine that is on your chin?”
  • “Boyld peanut?” roughly translates to soggy, cold bead that has the texture of an undercooked potato.

Sunrise on the beach, A sign from The Marketplace in downtown, a Sculpture from Mt. Pleasant, and a flower.

We went on a Segway tour, saw Patriot Point, visited The Marketplace in downtown Charleston and experienced a fantastic farmers’ market. We shopped at a Piggly Wiggly (a.k.a. The Pig), ate breakfast at the Waffle House and enjoyed afternoon refreshment at Kudu, a local coffee house that also served craft beers and had a lovely courtyard. We rode the trolleys, got completely confused about who was meeting who, and where, ate lots of food that went straight to our hips and even laid a myth or two to rest. But, most of all, we laughed and that was indeed, the best part of the time I spent in Charleston, South Carolina.

A pathway away from the beach, The four of us on Segways, Charleston Homes, Jill & Karon mugging for me, The Four of us post segway a pretty winding stair case

 

NYC

Fish exploring the enlisted berths on the Growler, Different sights on the Intrepid, enjoying a slice of Pizza and hugging and Angry pigDo you remember when your kids were babies and you wondered if you were going to be able to go anywhere of substance again? Would you ever be able to enjoy an activity that wasn’t brightly colored or littered with oversized characters? I’m here to tell you that yes, you can.

Fish and I took a day trip to New city York recently and had a blast! We were part of a larger group, that split up, so it was just the two of us loose in The Big Apple for nine hours. She originally wanted to go to Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Odditorium. I said fine but also made some suggestions including Madam Tussauds Wax Museum, A boat tour, 30 Rock, the Empire State Building, The Sony Wonder Technology Lab, and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Ultimately, it came down to a choice between the Intrepid and The Wonderlab. We didn’t jump on the WonderLab earlier enough to guarantee tickets. Fish was actually relieved because she’d had a hard time making up her mind.

I really wanted to use public transportation where possible. We live in an area with ZERO public transportation. It is possible my children will have enough vision to drive, but driving for the visually impaired varies by individual, by the state they live in and by road conditions. My kids might choose a field or land a job that requires them to live in a state where they won’t qualify for a license. I’d hate for them to turn down an amazing opportunity simply because they can’t drive. I want them to understand that especially in a major city, public transit is viable option.

Half the Adventure is in the getting there

The bus departed at 6am and arrived in New York at 11. I had a little trouble getting my bearings, but we were never more than a block or two off course. Turns out despite my heartfelt appreciate of public transportation, my skills are a bit rusty.

We missed the first bus because we were on the wrong side of the intersection. We missed the second bus because while I had the exact fare, they don’t accept paper money on busses, only Metro cards or coins. We acquired the necessary metro cards, but when we asked the driver of the third bus to announce the 12th Avenue stop, he smirked and said we were headed the wrong way. Ooops! Stupid ordinal directions! The fourth bus was the charm. We laughed our way through the entire adventure. “You’re never going to live this down, you know that right?” my daughter smiled an evil grin at me.

The Intrepid was fun. This kid LOVES museums. She is endlessly curious and museums provide a buffet for her brain. We prowled through the Growler a cold war submarine and then explored the aircraft carrier Intrepid from stem to stern. She got a kick out of the sleeping quarters for the enlisted men and loved looking at all the planes on the flight deck.

With only minimal confusion, we made our way back to Times Square and grabbed an early, quick dinner. After which she announced that she wanted to ride the subway and we should find a destination that would require a subway ride. We decided Rockefeller Center met the criteria. When we got there, the line to the Top of the Rock was too long for the allotted time we had left. She rolled with it. We stopped at Starbucks and headed back to the subway for a return trip to Times Square.

This was our first day trip to a new destination that was just she and I. I have no desire to be my daughter’s BFF, but this trip felt more like two friends exploring rather than Mom chaperoning a field trip. I don’t want to brag, but this is my blog, so I guess I can. I was so pleased that she shunned the shopping frenzy that gripped some of the girls. We had a few minutes before our final meeting, so we ducked into Toys R Us and she appreciated the display of Annoying Orange merchandise, and the ginormous Pig from Angry Birds, her only observation was to marvel at the bloated prices. “I bet that’s cheaper at home or even on Amazon.” Times Square was markedly more crowded in the early evening but Fish was a good sport about staying near me and my occasional need to hold her arm or steer her by the shoulders. It was a long day (almost 22 hours door to door), but she kept it together and we made some awesome memories.

There are so many places I’ve seen and want to share with my kids and new places I want to explore with them. I’m super excited that my daughter is growing up to be a delightful travel companion.

 

 

 

New Orleans, Louisiana

Balcony on Royal Street in New Orleans.  French doors blocked by shelves of booksGrammy & Grandpa wanted to take the kids to Disney World for School Vacation Week. Who am I to argue? A-man & I weren’t exactly invited. We could have gone if we wanted to, but we’ve been to Disney before and we’ll go again.  A-Man said I should find somewhere for the two of us.  I love to travel but A-Man has a lot of travel scheduled the first four months of the 2012, so I would have understood if he wanted to just stay home.  “If I stay home, I’ll just work, so let’s have some us time.”  Oh how I love this man.

Jackson Square and a view of Saint Louis CathedralHe wanted someplace warm.  I looked at Arizona and New Mexico, New Orleans, Hilton Head, North Carolina and even other cities in Florida, . Everything was dismissed for one reason or another except New Orleans.  We’d never been and it seemed like a city where we could do a short get away and cover most of the sights. We had a lovely trip. I had planned to research and loosely plan an itinerary prior to our departure, but life got in the way so it turned out to be a bit of a meandering vacation, but it was truly delightful and exactly what we needed.

We stayed just outside the French Quarter in a room with a decent view of the river. It was fun to just sit and watch the tankers and ferries go by. The weather was a bit damp at the beginning of our stay, but it dried out and was always warmer than home (60’s during the rain & fog and 80’s with the sun).

French Quarter Balconies with Saint Louise Cathedral in the backgroundI’ll have more detailed posts, but we ate (a lot), walked the French Quarter, took a tour focused on life post Katrina and even did a little geocaching. We returned to Bourbon Street at night and while active, you could tell it was not anywhere close to it’s normal level of boisterousness. Everyone seemed tired, no surprise given they celebrated Mardi Gras just the week before.

New Orleans is a great place to visit. It’s filled with art and history and food (some good, some not so good). The locals love their city and they want you to love it too. I know people who return every year, but we felt satisfied with just a four day visit. I was meant to be a yankee.