Showing posts with label DCL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DCL. Show all posts

Why I runDisney

I'll be running my first runDisney races this year as part of the Wine and Dine Half Marathon weekend in November.  Follow my journey from registration into training and onto the big day!

Running is something I do for fun.  I ran indoor and outdoor track during high school, ran in a local running club during college, and coached track during the beginning of my teaching career.  Let's be honest. . .I was never very good.  No state champion plaques or medals adorn my walls and my PRs (personal records) were considered a bad day for elite runners.  But running was always fun.  It was a time when I could push myself to the limit while also getting some time to be alone with my thoughts.

And then something happened.  I hit my mid-20s, fell in love, got married, started grad school, and stopped putting my health and alone time first.  I stopped running.  While I was very happy with my husband, my son, and my career, I felt like I was missing something.  I found it again last year when I made a commitment to start running again.  That alone time, that me time, is something important for everyone.  Some find it on a bike, others find it in yoga.  For me, it's on the road as I pound pavement.  Disney was part of my inspiration to get back to running and the Castaway Cay 5K on my April 2014 Disney Cruise was a training goal I was happy to achieve.  I wasn't the fastest.  I wasn't the slowest.  But none of that matters.  I was running again and it felt good.

I did it!  And I've got a Mickey medal to prove it!
Just as I was starting to hit my stride (both literally and figuratively), I found out that I was expecting baby #2.  I happily put aside my Garmin watch and my running shoes for nine months while we waited excitedly for our new little man.  In February, our family was blessed with the arrival of Caleb!  All I can say, is he's pretty awesome.  Now that I'm healed from the c-section, I'm ready to again lace up the sneakers.  And Disney is once again there to help me along the way.

Isn't he cute?  Well worth the break from running for this guy! 

Getting my runDisney shoes back out to start training!
I've been anxious to try a runDisney race and have also wanted to run a Half Marathon.  This November, I'll be doing both.  Today was registration day and I successfully registered for the Jingle Jungle 5K and the Wine and Dine Half Marathon before both races sold out in less than 44 minutes.  Running and Disney - two of my great passions joined together. . .and I can't wait to experience the journey!

Romance on the High Seas

When you think of a Disney Cruise Line vacation, a lot of people don't often think of romance.  However, while I love spending quality family time on the cruise, one of my favorite parts of a DCL vacation is having some "adult time" for my husband and I.  In honor of Valentine's Day, here are three quick tips to make your next DCL vacation a bit more romantic.

Tip #1 - Take advantage of the nursery and kids clubs - Kids will LOVE spending time in these bright and colorful areas of the ships where they can play and interact with the amazing Youth Team and some of their favorite characters.  You can enjoy a few guilt-free, child-free hours on board while you know your children are well cared for and having as much fun as you are.  There is a per hour charge for the nursery which is available for children under 3, but the other youth spaces are included in your cruise fare for all children over the age of 3.  The ship has plenty of adult only spaces to explore including pools and nightclubs that are often a lot less crowded then you would expect.

Playing in Andy's Room in the Oceaneer's Club on the Disney Fantasy

Tip #2 - Try out one of the adult only restaurants - Whether it's a brunch or a dinner, be sure to spend at least one meal (or more if you're like us!) at either Remy or Palo.  Palo features delicious Italian cuisine and is available on all four Disney ships while Remy serves French delights and is available on both the Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream.  We have had the pleasure of eating at both Remy and Palo on our previous cruises and the food, service, and atmosphere did not disappoint.  Brunches are typically seres on at sea days only while dinner is available each night.  While, these restaurants do require an additional fee, they are a wonderful way to spend some alone time with your significant other.

Enjoying our date night on the Disney Fantasy waiting for dinner at Palo
Tip #3 - Don't forget about Serenity Bay - While on Castaway Cay, Serenity Bay is located on the backside of the island and is the adult only beach.  When we traveled on our last cruise, we spent time on Serenity Bay and were surprised about this hidden gem.  There were hardly any people on this side of island and we enjoyed some quiet time on the beach - along with a few cocktails!  And once again, you don't have to worry about the kids.  Scuttle's Cove is available on Castaway Cay for kids 3 and over to have fun with attractions and games just for them while you sneak in a little romantic time!

A view down the beach of Serenity Bay!
What's you favorite way to get romantic on a Disney Cruise??

Remy Champagne Brunch Review

When Dan and I traveled on the Disney Dream last April for our adult getaway to celebrate my 30th birthday, one of the "splurges" I was pretty insistent in experiencing was the Champagne Brunch at Remy.  Remy is one of two adult-only restaurants on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.  While Palo is known for Northern Italian cuisine, Remy is inspired by the Disney movie Ratatouille and serves primarily French dishes.  The Champagne Brunch was a $50 up charge per person and only included your initial taste of champagne.  For a full champagne pairing, there was an additional $25 charge per person.  I opted for the full experience, while Dan (not being a big champagne fan), worked with the sommelier to create a wine pairing for his brunch menu.

The champagne brunch is only offered on "at sea" days on the cruise ships which means that on our four day cruise there was only one serving of this unique experience.  Upon entering Remy, guests are escorted as a group to the wine room where you are surrounded by beautiful bottles of wine with Disney / Pixar labels - many of which signed by John Lasseter.  In this room, guests are given their first taste of champagne and meet with the chef who explains the menu for the brunch and then the sommelier reviews the champagne pairings for the morning.

Menu from April 2014
Guests then make their way to their tables and the dining extravaganza begins.  I always think that I should take pictures of each course AFTER I have finished my meal.  That is certainly true at a restaurant like Remy.  You are truly dining on a work of art - both from a taste and visual point of view.  I did however, remember to take a picture of the menu.  All I can say about each course is WOW!  I'm not shy when it comes to food, so the unfamiliar menu didn't scare me off at all.  Dan, however, is another story,  He was worried about so many "fancy" and "unusual" dishes on the menu, but he gave them a go and enjoyed them as well.

If you are sailing on the Dream or Fantasy, I would recommend trying Remy at least once.  I think Palo is more universally appealing to all taste palates (and is definitely cheaper), but Remy is something to experience.  Recently, the Disney Parks Blog released information about new dining experiences at Remy that may also interest you on your next Disney Cruise Line vacation!  Bon Appetite!

2014 - The Year in Review

2014 was another whirlwind year for our family with much excitement and many blessings!  As we say goodbye to the past year, here are some of our highlights:

  • Started blogging and (somewhat) successfully maintained it - minus the summer hiatus.
  • Got back into running "for the first time in forever."
    What better than #runDisney to motivate me back into running for the first time in 8 years??
  • Celebrated Brody's 2nd Birthday.
  • I turned 30 and was lucky enough to celebrate on a Disney Cruise with Dan for a little "mommy / daddy time" at sea.
    With Captain Mickey on the Disney Dream!
  • Dan got a new job doing what he loves and does best.
  • We found out that we were expecting baby #2 - another boy. . .due to arrive February 2015!
    Waiting on Baby Caleb!
  • I got promoted to an Assistant Principal position in July.
  • The Orioles won the AL East for the first time since 1997 :)
    Enjoying a day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards!
  • I made it R2 of the Disney Parks Moms Panel application process, but alas, no R3 this year.
    Such a magical email to receive!  Hoping for more #DisneyMP fun next year :)
  • We put a contract on a new house and are planning to move in January.
  • Brody got to go on his 2nd vacation to Disney World - this time a 5 day trip in November.
    Brody was so excited to meet all of his favorites - and a perfect gentleman!

Nassau Port Adventure Review

When we visited Nassau on our 4-Night Bahamian cruise this past April, a beach day was not our original first choice.  However, when we found out that a lot of the food at the Graycliff Wine Luncheon was cheese and dairy based (not friendly to my husband and his food aversions), we decided to take it easy instead for the day and find a beach to chill on.  We ended up booking the Blue Lagoon Beach Day through Disney's Port Adventures page in the weeks leading up to our cruise. I was expecting Blue Lagoon to be "just another day at the beach," but Dan and I found ourselves having what can only be described as a fantastic experience that day.

We ended up leaving Nassau by boat to head to Blue Lagoon Island.  As you might expect from the title, Blue Lagoon Island is a private island that can only be accessed by about a 25 minute boat ride.  The boat ride was enjoyable and we even got to catch a glimpse of Atlantis as we zipped by on our catamaran.  When we arrived at the dock at Blue Lagoon Island, there were two options of where to go.  Some guests booked Dolphin, Sea Lion, etc. excursions and were directed to head to the aquarium side of the island to begin those activities.  We went to the beach area where there was ample seating spread out along the waterfront.  For an extra cost, you could purchase time in an inflatable water play area.  They also offered bars and stores to purchase drinks and goodies while at the beach.  Dan and I headed to the last beach chairs we could find at the end of the lagoon and enjoyed some peace and quiet away from all the hustle and bustle.

Lunch was included in the price of the excursion and the food was VERY good.  They had the typical burger / hot dog and fries as an option but also included a yummy teriyaki chicken with rice that I found wonderful.  While we were eating in the lunch pavilion, Dan noticed a trail on the other side that we decided to go explore after we were done.  When we followed the trail over the sand dune, we were treated to a fabulous surprise - a little private beach with absolutely NO PEOPLE!  This is like a hidden gem on the backside of the island.  We spent the next 4 hours on this beach and in that time only about 5 other people ever ventured over here and most of them quickly left.  For a couple looking to enjoy some private adult time - this was our own version of Heaven on Earth.

The view from our "private" beach.  Doesn't it look like a screensaver??

Overall Grade - A+:  We stayed in our own island oasis until the last boat back to Nassau.  This was an awesome day and far exceeded all of our expectations.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking to enjoy a day at the beach on your next Bahamian cruise with Disney.  

I heart exciting Mickey mail!

Today I had two pieces of exciting Mickey mail waiting for me!  The first I knew was on the way, but the second came as a complete surprise to me :)

As you know, our trip in November is the first one I'll be taking with FP+ and MagicBands.  Today in the mail, our MagicBands arrived!!  These are so fun.  You get to customize your band online before your trip by picking the color and name associated with it.  Then they arrive by mail a few weeks before your trip.  I love that Disney even lets little ones who don't really need them to have one so they aren't left out of the fun.  I've started wearing mine around the house. . .further adding to Dan's concerns about my Disney sanity.

The second piece of exciting mail was actually an e-mail from the Disney Parks Mom Panel.  I had applied back in the beginning of September for a coveted spot on this elite panel of Disney enthusiasts who answer questions online to help people planning their trips.  Each year they receive thousands of applicants.  Last year, I didn't make it to Round 2 but this year I did!  I was so excited to find out that I made the next cut along the way.  For Round 2, applicants have to answer 8 questions and then film a 71 second video.  I applied for the Disney Cruise Line part of the panel so all of my questions relate to DCL.  Wish me luck!

Eastern Caribbean Port Adventure Reviews

Our first DCL vacation was a 7 day Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Disney Fantasy in June / July 2013.  Choosing Port Adventures was an exciting and semi-stressful time for me.  I had never cruised before so was new to who world of shore excursions and we were also traveling with a 17 month old. Trying to find Port Adventures that would entertain Dan, Brody, and me equally was going to be a challenge.  We ended up booking a shore excursion on each of our ports of call (except Castaway Cay).  Here is what we did and our grade for the experience.

St. Maarten - French Riviera Beach Rendezvous
We decided to spend our time in St. Maarten playing on the beach at Orient Bay.  This was roughly a 30 minute ride from the port to the beach.  The beach was crowded with tour groups and chairs as well as pushy locals selling handmade items.  The beach itself was clean and the water featured big waves that are perfect for older children and adults.  Included in the package was lunch.  Lunch was actually better than I expected with several different choices.  Overall, I would give this excursion a B.  There was nothing to complain about or wrong with the excursion, just nothing exciting either.

St. Thomas / St. John - Coral World and Butterfly Garden
Since we planned a beach day in St. Maarten and on Castaway Cay, we wanted to do something a little different in the USVI.  There weren't many excursions to choose from that we thought would please a 17 month old, but an aquarium and butterfly garden seemed like good choices to us.  The trip to Coral World was first.  If you've ever been to a high quality aquarium (like we are fortunate to have in the National Aquarium in Baltimore), you will be sorely disappointed here.  Coral World was small, didn't feature the array of marine life we were used to, and not very interactive.  We had about 2 hours to explore there and wish we could have left after about 30 minutes.  After we finished at Coral World, a bus took us back to the port where the Butterfly Garden is located.  This was better than Coral World in my opinion, but still not great.  Brody fell asleep on the bus ride back to port so we didn't get to see his reaction.  This is really just a big enclosed garden with butterflies flying all around.  They were beautiful and we got some really great pictures, but it was another excursion that we were done exploring in less than 30 minutes.  Overall, I would give this excision a C-.  There are some positive reviews I've read out there about these, but I just didn't see anything special or worth the money in this excursion.

Senses Spa on DCL

During our most recent cruise on the Disney Dream, Dan and I took the time (and the money!) to pamper ourselves with a visit to Senses Spa.  My mom purchased a massage as my 30th birthday present and we decided to upgrade it to a couples massage for Dan and I to enjoy together.  We booked the massage for 4PM on the embarkation day.  Like other activities and experiences, these can be booked in advance of your cruise or you can take your chances to see what is available once you get on board.  In our minds, this was going to be the perfect way to start a dream vacation.

The spa is beautiful and well-maintained.  When we entered, we were checked in and escorted back to the locker rooms.  Once we were changed into our spa robes, we waited in a comfy room with water and were given a clipboard to fill out medical information that would be relevant for a massage therapist to know.  Our massage began right on time with two great therapists.

The hour was wonderfully relaxing!  We happened to be in the massage rooms as we sailed away from Florida so the view at first was just of the port but opened up to the waterways as we moved away from the coast.  This is hard to enjoy though honestly because your head is usually down and / or eyes closed throughout the massage.  The best part of the massage came at the end when they offered us a deal to come back for another massage.  They reduced the normal rate to $99 per person to return over our 4 days on the ship.  We took advantage of this offer and booked a Cabana Massage on Castaway Cay.  That was an even more amazing experience.  The cabanas are located on the adult-only part of Castaway Cay known as Serenity Bay.  This is a very quiet and serene part of the island.  Once you are situated on the table, they open up the large windows and you can hear all the wonderful sounds of island life surrounding you and feel the gentle, warm breeze.

In addition, we were also celebrating Dan's birthday while on the cruise so I bought him a men's shave package in the spa.  He enjoyed the experience and the price didn't seem as outrageous as some of the other spa services.  The one thing to be warned about with any spa service is that they will try to sell you very expensive spa products at the end of your appointment.  Each of our therapists though were very gracious and offered no pressure when we refused early on and made it clear we didn't want to hear anymore.

Overall, the spa experience on a Disney Cruise is worth it if you have the money to spare.  It's much more expensive then back on dry land, but is a fun way to indulge in relaxation while on vacation.  The spa also offers a Rainforest Room Pass which is a cheap way to check out the spa if you're just curious to see what the experience is like.  For more information on any of the spa services available, check out the Disney Cruise Line website and you can get prices and services offered on each ship.

Broadway in the Caribbean

One of the highlights of our past two Disney cruises has been the high quality entertainment we had the chance to experience.  Like other cruise ships, Disney offers a nightly show in the theatre.  Unlike other cruise ships - it's DISNEY!  When you think of Disney entertainment, many of you will probably think of the high quality first and foremost.  A Disney Cruise vacation will not disappoint.  Below you will find just a quick summary of some of our favorites from the Disney Fantasy (2013) and Disney Dream (2014).

Believe (Fantasy and Dream) - Let's start with my absolute favorite!  I was so excited to see this show a second time when we sailed on the Dream after falling in love with the story on the Fantasy.  This is an original production that includes songs from some of the best Disney musicals of all time while telling a heartwarming story of the love between a father and daughter.  I found myself crying during parts of this touching performance - perfect for the whole family!

Aladdin (Fantasy) - A condensed version of the Disney classic.  It includes all of your favorite songs and the Genie cannot be beat.  Unfortunately, I had to leave this show early with a fussy baby but my husband has nothing but high praises to sing for this performance.  

Wishes (Fantasy) - This was another cute original Disney performance.  The story follows siblings as they get ready to graduate high school, but learn what it still means to be a kid.  There's a lot of great Disney music throughout the show that will keep your toes tapping along the way!

Villains Tonight (Dream) - I really wanted to love this show.  In fact, when we were leaving for the cruise, this was the show I was most excited to see.  While the show was cute and family friendly, I was disappointed in some of the villains that they chose to highlight.  I felt that a good number of the villains were from more "obscure" Disney movies and I just didn't connect with the characters and the music the way I did in some other shows.  Don't worry about it being scary for young kids - there's lots of humor throughout that keeps the show light.

The Golden Mickeys (Dream) - This production screams classic Disney.  The setting is an awards show where tribute is paid to some of the best of the best in the history of Disney.  Great songs and characters throughout from across the generations will keep everyone in the family entertained.  A really cool feature of this show is that you get to "walk the red carpet" into the theatre with the "paparazzi" taking pictures and maybe even interviewing you.  This is all being shown in the theatre on a live video feed which adds an element of real Hollywood to the evening.

In addition to these, your cruise will have other shows depending on the length that you are on the ship which may include magicians, on board entertainers, and your cruise director sharing highlights at the end of the week.  Shows are nightly in the theatre at 6:15 and 8:30.  On days at sea, they also typically offer a matinee performance at 3:00.  

Why DCL is a great adult vacation

"One of these things is not like the other. . ."

That's how Dan and I felt on our Disney cruise in April.  When you find yourself surrounded by families in a cruise terminal, you really do start to question if making a cruise reservation for a 4-night date weekend over Easter break was the right decision.  But I'm here to share with you that Disney cruises are not just for kids and families like one might think!  Below are some of our favorite memories from the trip that we got to enjoy as part of the adult only services and activities.

While we enjoyed a few dinners in the main dining rotations (especially at Animator's Palate), we opted for several special dining experiences.  We loved Palo when we cruised on the Fantasy in June 2013 so we decided to do it on the Dream as well this time around. Palo did not disappoint once again!  In fact, we loved it so much on the first night we went back later in the cruise for another dinner.  This time we also tried the champagne brunch at Remy , the othe adult only restaurant.  (Look for a future Remy review post.) It was fabulous!  The brunch is only offered on "at sea" days so we only got to do this once.  I'm already looking forward to our next cruise though to do it again.  Both of these do have an additional fee.

Quiet Cove Pool
The main pools on the Disney cruise ships are packed with families and kids ALL THE TIME.  It was great to retreat to the adult only pool area.  Here you'll find a nice sized pool, a swim up pool bar, two hot tubs, and a large amount of cushioned comfy seating.  When we weren't eating or in port, this is where you would find us!  Disclaimer on this area - you will SEE kids in this area from time to time passing through.  Since the Deck 11 forward staterooms and elevators are right by this, families will walk through to get to the main pool.  The idea that you're on a Disney ship and could never "see" a kid is a fallacy - but they do a nice job of separating out adult only areas.

Serenity Bay @ Castaway Cay
Castaway Cay has been my favorite port on both of my Disney cruises.  I LOVE this island.  And just like they did on the ship, Disney carved out a piece of paradise here just for adults.  This side of the island is practically deserted!  They have their own bar, lunch area, lagoon, and beach.  It's on the backside of the island so it's a good walk / tram ride away, but well worth it.  They also have spa treatments offered over here which we took part in.  A beautiful view during our couples massage!

View of Serenity Bay during our couples massage.

Rainforest Spa
And speaking of spa treatments, the spa on the cruise ship is fabulous as well.  We did a couples massage on the first day we arrived.  While it was expensive, it was a great way to start vacation.  They then offered us discounts on additional spa services during our trip which is when we booked our couples massage on Castaway Cay.  We decided to indulge since these kinds of "extras" are ones that will most likely be forgone on future kid oriented cruises.

While all of these great adult features of DCL are available whether you sail as a couple or with kids (just as long as you drop them in the kids club first!), don't overlook Disney as a great adult only vacation option when you're looking for first class dining, service, and fun!   

Castaway Cay 5K

As many of you know, I used the excitement of a runDisney event to get myself off the couch and back into running shoes.  Even though the Castaway Cay 5K is not an official runDisney "race" it is an official runDisney "run" as evidenced by the bib and t-shirt :)  Here is my recap of the race for both my running friends and those of you who also suffer from a mild (or major) Disney obsession!

I read a lot of blogs about the race and the experiences of others before leaving for the cruise so I was well prepared on what to expect.  The biggest piece of advice that I heard time and time again was that running this 5K rivals what it must be like to run on the face of the sun.  The Bahamian heat and humidity is brutal and everyone recommended hydrating well before the run.  I packed gatorades in our suitcase and used those and bottled water the day before the race to begin preparing.  The other thing to know going into this run is that (as of right now at least) it is a free event.  They do ask that runners pre-register at the Port Adventures desk and all runners are given a ticket and bib for race morning.  The night before the run, I laid out my things so I'd be ready to go in the morning!

Run Morning
We were supposed to meet at Evolution at 8:15 so I set my alarm for 7 and was at breakfast by 7:15.  After a breakfast of oatmeal, yogurt, half a bagel and a gatorade, Dan and I made our way to Evolution.  Even though Dan wasn't running, he was able to gather with the runners at check-in and disembark the ship with our group.  Once runners were all checked in, the cast member in charge went over a map of the route and gave instructions to parents who had little ones to drop off at Scuttle's Cove when we were on our way to the starting line.  We got the all clear from the captain to disembark around 8:30 and our group quickly exited off the aft gangway (look at me being all nautical!)  The starting line is about a 10 minute walk from the ship which provides a great warm-up!

The Run
By 9:00 we were ready to begin.  Jamesy (our fabulous British Disney cast member) reviewed the route map one more time and then away we went!  The course is very flat and follows a bike route that is on the island.  The bulk of the route is inside a bike loop that has tall shrubs on both sides.  This helps provide a little shade for the run, but also makes it a little boring at times.  However, you miss the shade of the bike loop when you turn onto the air landing strip that is miserable hot and sunny.  During the run, you pass a water station 4 times which is helpful during the run.  You will find everyone from kids to grandparents, experienced runners to walkers on this course. . .and everyone is having fun!  I felt surprisingly good during the run and was pleased with my pacing considering the heat, humidity, and the fact that it was my first 5K in about 8 years.  

Post Run
When I crossed the finish line, my plastic bling was waiting for me!  The Mickey medal is simply plastic that says Disney Cruise Line - not even a mention of the race - but I know what it was for and that's all that matters :)  And in true Disney fashion, the race finishes next to a gift shop that sells Castaway Cay 5K t-shirts, which of course I had to buy.  Over the next 3 hours I drank some gatorade and water to replenish.  I felt good throughout the rest of the day. . .but then again, how can you not feel good in this paradise??  And the couples massage Dan and I had in a beach cabana after lunch probably helped a lot too!  

I absolutely LOVED my experience with the Castaway Cay 5K and would highly recommend it to anyone on their next Disney Cruise.  On a personal note, this really motivated me to get back to running and I plan to now use this to propel me into some of the larger runDisney events in the years to come!

A DREAM come true birthday vacation. . .

We are just back today from the Disney Dream and had a magical time!  This trip was just Dan and I for a "grown-up" trip to celebrate my 30th birthday.  I've got lots of ideas for wonderful blogs about all of our fantastic experiences, but here is just a quick recap and sneak peek of what's to come.

Itinerary - We flew out of Baltimore on Sunday, April 13 and boarded the ship the same day.  It was a 4 night Bahamian cruise with a stop in Nassau, Castaway Cay, and then one day at sea.  When we disembarked on Thursday, we rented a car and visited Kennedy Space Center before visiting Downtown Disney and having dinner at Ohana inside the Polynesian Resort.  The Bahamas were beautiful and we couldn't have asked for nicer weather!  I loved the 4 night cruise as a perfect little getaway.  Dan would disagree after doing the 7 night cruise last year and argue that 4 nights is too little of a vacation for all the work, planning, travel days, etc. that go into preparing.

Activities - I have so many things to review here!  We went to a beach on Nassau and ended up finding our own private side that no one else was on.  It was 4 hours of wonderful peace and quiet with the only sound being crashing waves.  At Castaway Cay, I ran the 5K (loved it!!!) and then we spent the day at Serenity Bay.  We also took advantage of some fabulous spa treatments on board.

Dining - Disney is known for their rotational dining on the cruise ships, which we loved on our first cruise.  Since we had the flexibility without toddler in tow this time, we opted though to take advantage of more adult dining options.  We had 2 dinners at Palo and a brunch at Remy.  Palo was wonderful as always and Remy was a delicious new experience that I can't wait to share more about!

Entertainment - Would you expect anything other than perfection from Disney in this category?  The shows, staff, adult areas, etc were all great.  I'll give a run down of all of the shows we've seen between our trip on the Fantasy and this one on the Dream as well as telling you about the adult night scene on the Dream.

Overall - What a wonderful trip!  Capping it off at Kennedy and with dinner at Ohana only made it more perfect.  From Ohana you have a straight on view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks so we had a front row seat to the fireworks while the accompanying music was played in the restaurant.

I hope you're as excited to hear about some of the awesome experiences from DCL as I am to share them in the weeks ahead!

My Disney Bucket List

After reading a blog from another Disney fanatic on the web, I was inspired to create a Disney Bucket List.  Below are some Disney experiences I hope to see or do at some point in my life!  And I know that the Bucket List will never be completed, because as Disney continues to grow and expand with new and exciting experiences added each year, there will always be something new for me to explore!

My Disney Bucket List (in no particular order. . .)

Run each of the 4 major Run Disney events at WDW - This would include the WDW Marathon, Princess 1/2 Marathon, Tower of Terror 10 Miler, and Wine and Dine 1/2 Marathon.

Stay at the Grand Floridian - I think this resort looks gorgeous!  I'll probably save this until Brody (and any future children) are much older or maybe an adults only trip.

Disney Cruise to Alaska - I've always thought Alaska would be beautiful to cruise, especially with Mickey and Minnie by my side!

Disney Cruise to the Mediterranean - I haven't travelled to Europe before and think a Disney Cruise would be a great way to get a taste of some of the areas along the Mediterranean coast.

California - Even though I've heard I'd be disappointed compared to WDW, I'd still love to get out to Disneyland, California Adventure, and tour the Disney Studios at some point.

What would be on your Disney Bucket List?


Today I received a very exciting package in the mail. . .my new runDisney shoes!  These are a high demand item as they can only be bought at runDisney expos held just a few times a year in either Disney World or Disneyland.  Since I wasn't at a runDisney expo, I found a business that I ordered from who went to the expo for me and then mailed the shoes.  Aren't they super cute?!?!

So why the fancy new runDisney shoes?  Well as some of you may recall from my original blog post on NYE (that never did get moved over here to the new blog), I made a resolution to return to running this year.  I'm planning to run the Castaway Cay 5K while we are on our Disney cruise and hope to join some friends in other local running events.  I would LOVE to make it to Orlando for one of the official runDisney events this year, but doubt that will happen - oh well, there's always next year!  And if anyone (or anything) can motivate me to run, it's definitely Disney.  Just think of me as running on "mouse power."  After all, the only things I need to get me going are "faith, trust, and pixie dust" (and cute shoes. . .and a treadmill. . .)  I'll give updates on my progress and a full review of the Castaway Cay 5K as my training continues!

. . .and what I learned on a DCL vacation with a toddler!

Vacation and toddler are two words that I'm not entirely sure go together.  Or at least I should say that the speed and energy of a "vacation" changes dramatically when a toddler is joining your group.  While my only cruise experience has been with a toddler, I feel like I learned a lot on that trip that would better prepare me in the future and hopefully help others as they plan their trips.

Take Advantage of the Nursery - As you can imagine, Disney does kids clubs in a truly amazing sense.  Brody was only 17 months on our trip so the only kids "club" he could be in by himself was the Nursery.  On the Fantasy, It's a Small World Nursery was for kids from 0-3 years old.  Disney charges $6 per hour and recommends booking your time ahead as space is limited (although we never had a problem taking Brody spur of the moment the two times we needed to).  We used the Nursery 3 hours each of our "at sea" days during Brody's nap time.  They gave him snack, put him in a crib for a nap, and then played with him when he woke up.  This was great for Dan and I so that we could enjoy some of the "adults only" areas on the ship - like the Quiet Cove pool.

Check out the Oceaneer's Club Open House - Even though Brody was too young to be checked into the Oceaneer's Club during the day, he could still attend the daily open house hours with Dan and I.  This was usually in the morning and allowed children to explore the space with their parents.  It's a great chance for the younger toddler crowd to get to try out the "big kid" play areas and also get visits from Mickey and Minnie for play time.  Brody especially enjoyed playing with all the Toy Story figures in Andy's Room.

Pay Attention to Toddler Time Activities - DCL has a special listing of activities that they give to families cruising with toddlers.  These include highlights during the sailing of things like Wake Up with Disney Junior and Jake and the Neverland Pirates as well as toddler playtime in the D Lounge.  We went to several of these activities and enjoyed each.  Most are scheduled in the morning because Disney understands that little ones don't know what a vacation is and continue to get up early.  The songs and character visits were fun and familiar to the kids and the shows were all designed to be interactive.

Nemo's Reef - If you are on a cruise with a toddler, they won't be able to use any of the pools.  Maritime law prohibits kids who aren't potty trained from using a pool on a cruise ship so Disney created a splash and play area with toddlers in mind.  I wish Disney enforced that this was designed for kids 6 and under because there were a lot of upper elementary school aged kids messing around in here and playing kind of rough with the little ones so close by.  The theming is adorable and all of the slides and water features are made to be toddler friendly.

Dinner & Shows - Every kid is different so this last one may not apply to you, but Brody is a toddler who needs his schedule.  Having first seating for dinner was really important to us because his normal bedtime was 7:30.  We had dinner each night at the 5:45 seating and saw the 8:00 show.  There were several nights that Brody couldn't make the show so either Dan or I went back to the room to put him down for the night.  I learned about halfway through the cruise the DCL plays the show on their stateroom TVs at the same time it's being shown in the theatre so if you can't make it down to the show you can still catch it in your room.  We took advantage of this a few times on the cruise which was a nice feature.

Cruising with a toddler can really be a vacation for all involved if you learn some of the ins and outs of navigating the Disney cruise ships!

Saving $$$ - Tip #1

Over years of traveling to WDW and after experiencing DCL for the first time last year, I can tell you a lot about restaurants, parks, resorts, etc.  In recent years though, I have also learned a lot about stretching those Disney dollars.  Of course you can almost always catch some special from Disney - whether it's free dining, 30% off rooms, etc. - but what about on top of that?  One of the newest secrets I've learned is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

The only requirement to access this deal is to have a Target Red Card.  As most of you probably know, Target offers 5% off all purchases in their stores when customers use their Target Red Card.  What you may not know (and it was news to me when I learned it in November) is that this includes most gift cards too - especially those Disney ones!

Disney Gift Cards can be used to pay for your room reservation, cruise reservations, restaurants in the parks, onboard accounts on the cruise ships, gift shops,, etc.  So let's say that you have a reservation booked and the vacation will cost you $3000.  You can go to Target and buy $3000 worth of gift cards for $2850 then call Disney or login to their website and pay with your gift cards.  Magically you've paid $150 less for your vacation!  (And of course this savings is on top of any discounts that Disney is directly offering.)

This does take some dedication.  Target only sells gift cards in $50 increments so you will have to buy lots of them to pay for your vacation, but a little extra effort to save some money may be worth it to you!  I also like the idea of buying gift cards to pay for vacation and my on property Disney expenses because it allows me to do it a little at a time.  When I get a few extra dollars for extra hours at work, I can go to Target and buy some gift cards to stash away for later.

Keep your eyes open in the weeks to come - more ways to save on your next Disney trip will be posted soon!

Saving money makes me happier than a one-eyed monster!

Date Night on the Fantasy

The other night I stayed up until midnight just to be sure I had the best chance at booking Palo and Remy on our upcoming Disney Cruise.  And I'm happy to report that we have reservations for Palo on the first night of our cruise and Remy for a champagne brunch on the fourth day.

On the Disney Fantasy, we were lucky enough to dine at Palo.  Palo is one of two adult only restaurants on the Fantasy.  It is an experience that is well worth the $25 per person additional charge and should not be missed on any Disney Cruise.

Palo is located on Deck 12 Aft.  You will find the entrance to Meridian (a cocktail bar) and Remy also in this location.  When you check in for your reservation, the host will show you to Meridian to have a pre-dinner cocktail while your table is prepared.  We had about a 10 minute wait which gave us a chance to soak in the breathtaking views from the bar while we sipped some yummy martinis.  We were then escorted to our table which was perfectly located right next to a window so we could watch the sunset during dinner.

Enjoying a martini in Meridian before our Palo reservation.

Our server that night was fantastic.  As we were seated, we were finishing up our cocktails and she offered us a wine list for the night.  She recommended a delicious Amarone wine which was perfect for Dan and I.  Dinner began with a visit from the Antipasti cart.  With lots of olives, proscuitto, a variety of cheeses, and many other wonderful appetizers this was a great way to start the dinner service.

Our table and wine
At Palo you are sure not to go hungry!  After our Antipasti cart, we each started with an appetizer course before progressing to the main course.  Unfortunately, I can't remember EVERYTHING that we ate that night, but I can tell you that the calamari was wonderful.  For dinner, I couldn't make up my mind between the Lobster and Mascarpone Ravioli and the Osso Buco.  When I asked the server for her recommendation, she said "Why not have both?" and who can argue with that logic?  I ended up with both entrees in front of me and while I didn't come even close to finishing them, I can say wholeheartedly that they were some of the best dinners I've ever had.

The last course of the evening was dessert.  Between the antipasti, calamari, ravioli, and veal (and don't forget the wine!) I didn't think I had room for anything else.  But I had read that the chocolate soufflé  was out of this world so I persevered on.  The soufflé is made to order for each customer so you actually order it at the beginning of your meal so that it comes out nice and hot and perfectly timed at the conclusion of your meal.  I could only get through a few bites, but the reviews were all true - I loved every bite!
Our "Happy Anniversary" plate written in chocolate and fruit sauce!

My overall grade A+

Palo is worth every penny and a dining experience not to be missed.  The overall dining experience took us about 2 - 2 1/2 hours so make sure you plan appropriately in the evening if you want to make sure that you are still able to see the shows.  It's nice to escape the hustle and bustle of the main dining rooms and have some quiet adult only time on your vacation.  Don't forget - mom and dad need a break too!

Our To Do List

Today Dan and I are a mere 91 days away from our next Disney Cruise.  We'll be taking a 4-Night Bahamian Cruise to celebrate my 30th birthday.  This cruise will be just the two of us as a little "romantic" getaway.  And of course the Disney fanatic in me couldn't more excited.

I can't possibly sum up the whole cruise in only one blog entry, but I thought I would use this particular post to give you a bit of an overview of Disney's Castaway Club.  I'm doing this at the 91 day pre-cruise mark for a significant reason - tomorrow is when we as Silver Castaway Club members can begin booking our excursions and onboard extras.  The Castaway Club is Disney's "thank you" program for returning cruisers.  After 1 cruise you get Silver Status, after 5 cruises you reach Gold Status, and after 10 cruises you get Platinum status.  There are many different perks you can find on the Disney Cruise website, but probably the most important is when you get to reserve your adult only dinners at Palo or Remy, time in the Spa, and book your shore excursions.

We're a middle child right now.  While Platinum members were able to begin booking at 120 days out, we can start booking today.  However, we do still have a jump on first time cruisers who don't get to book until 75 days out.  Does this really matter?  Well yes and no.  For most of what you want to do on the cruise, you are probably going to be OK even at 75 days out.  When we went last summer as first time cruisers, our entire group (6 adults and 3 kids) were able to book everything we wanted.  On shorter cruises though, things like the brunches at Palo and Remy book up fast because you only have one day at sea.  Also, the older ships (the Wonder and the Magic) only have Palo so dinner reservations are harder to get there.

So what must-do's are we booking on this exciting day?  The hardest reservation to get is going to be the Remy brunch.  We didn't eat at Remy on the last cruise and I really want to this time around.  Since we only have one day at sea, reservations are going to be limited and may be booked up.  I might be staying up until 12:01AM to do my best and get that.  The other reservations I think we'll be fine to still secure.  Dinner at Palo was fabulous and we can't wait to do that again.  And our only excursion we are booking is a Wine Luncheon at Graycliff Hotel.  Wish me luck as we inch ever closer to our cruise!

Drinks at Meridian before dinner at Palo - July 2013