Heaven on the Norwegian Escape June 2017

Day 1

Norwegian Escape

Haven

 

We pulled up in front of terminal B at the Port of Miami around 11:15 on Saturday, June 17 and it was a bit of a nightmare. There were many cars still picking people up from the last cruise. We finally found a place to briefly stop the car and with the help of a porter, we unloaded our bags along with me and the kids while my husband went to park the car in the garage.

 

Same cruise line, different cruise, different experience. When we walked up to the terminal, there was a line to get in. We got into line all the while looking at the beautiful ship. What a tease!

 

The line did not move quickly, but on the bright side, my husband caught up with us before we got to the front. We showed our documents and passports and walked through the security area. Right on the left in Terminal B after security is the Haven area. In Terminal C there is a separate check in and snacks area, but in Terminal B it is all in one room.

 

It was crowded, but soon enough a helper came to take folks who had already checked in up to the ship leaving those of us who still needed to some space. When she came back, she also cleaned up the snack area and put away empty glasses and such so that it looked nicer.

 

We filled out our health forms and after a few minutes, we were called up to check in. Unfortunately, my sea card was wrong, again. This is two cruises in a row that Norwegian had my amenities wrong. It was right on my reservation (I know, because I made it and I had it printed out and with me), but somehow it wasn’t right in their computer. FYI, the person at the computer in the terminal can’t do anything about it. She was going to get a supervisor, but my husband wisely said, we are in the Haven, let’s get on board and have the concierge fix it. Stress level down. Great idea.

 

We were escorted passed the lines and up to the walkway where we merged with others, but stayed with the person escorting us up to the Haven. We walked on and were up in the Haven by 12:00. The Concierge, Rishida, was very welcoming, gave us the spiel about the Haven and that the first day lunch at Margaritaville was complimentary and that evening only Food Republic was 50% off for Haven guests. We could eat at the Haven restaurant, but we wanted to try Margaritaville. After she was finished, we approached Rishida and she immediately took care of the amenity issue. Ah … I was officially on vacation! While the presentation was ongoing, waiters were handing out plates of sliders and fries and nonalcoholic drinks. Our boys were ecstatic. I looked over and they were all sitting down with the plates and drinks. Vacay had officially begun! I walked over to the Haven bar and got my first official drink, a Miami Vice (half Pina Colada, half Strawberry Daquiri and blue curucao liquer). Yes, I paid tax, but no worries, I was on vacation.

 

We dropped the bags we brought on board at our room, which was not ready yet and met our lovely Steward Marta. She was amazing throughout the cruise. Our room was spotless and she was very nice. We toured the Haven pool area including walking up to the sun deck and then walked across the ship to Margaritaville. Our cabin was on deck 17 and so was Margaritaville so we walked straight to the back of the ship. We gave our key cards and were immediately escorted to a table. Not everyone was hungry since the kids had just had sliders, so two of our kids went to play minigolf, my husband and remaining kid had nachos first. I had fish and chips. It was good, but nothing really special. A fun experience to be able to try for free though. My son had a cheeseburger in paradise for lunch – and that is a neat treat!

 

We then split up and my husband took my older son to Entourage (right next to Margaritaville inside) to sign up and I took the two younger ones down to Splash Academy on Deck 5. Signing up went smoothly. We then returned to our cabin, which was ready.

 

We had 17106, a two bedroom and it was beautiful. We loved the bathroom with the double sinks and being able to look outside and the bedroom had enough room to walk on either side of the bed. As many say, the second bedroom is tight, but it was perfect for two teenage boys who like to sleep late. They shared the second bedroom and bathroom and our youngest slept on the couch in the living room. There is plenty of storage. One thing I haven’t read about before is that that bedroom has a door, but no lock. I was pretty surprised, but it was not an issue. We enjoyed our room and toured the ship and before we knew it, it was time for sail away. So exciting! We changed for the pool and we went up to the Haven Sun Deck for sailaway. It was very windy up there, but great views from the front and sides of the ship of us leaving. Bye Miami!

 

At this point, I got my second drink, a Strawberry Daiquiri and we hung out at the pool until it was time to change for dinner. We had dinner at the Haven. Service every meal at this restaurant was fantastic. The manager of the restaurant, Maria, made every experience really enjoyable. We were so spoiled and it felt amazing. Not only was the service good, but the food was also really good. Every night the menu is the same, but there is so much on it that it would take more than a week to be able to try everything! My kids and I had a pork belly appetizer (that they then ordered every night we ate there!). My youngest son really wanted lobster, but the only restaurant that has it now on the Escape is Bayamo. He had a soup that had seafood in it at the Haven, it had lobster, and he loved that. The other kids got surf and turf and I had a delectable duck dish. It was all delicious. We were completely full and decided to take a walk. The sun was setting and the views were just gorgeous. The kids went to Splash Academy and Entourage to meet kids and my husband and I went to the District Brewhouse. There was a singer playing the piano most nights. He was from Texas and very good. We were surprised on the screens there to see that the person with the most brews the past cruise only had 29. What?!

 

Our favorite thing to do is relax and people watch so we walked around the ship for a bit doing that and we walked up to the buffet to see what there late night options were so that we knew for future notice. We hung out, enjoyed the relaxation and eventually got the youngest and called it a night. The older ones had a curfew each night and were very good about coming back when it was time.  End Day 1 – great start!

 

 

Day 2

 

We started each morning with breakfast out on the patio at the Haven restaurant. We had it mostly to ourselves just my husband, my youngest and me. Great views, always yummy food and great service. Almost every morning I had Tahitian Vanilla Challah French Toast with a berry sauce (it comes with marscapone cheese, but I get it without). They had lots of good options, but I had this on our last cruise on the Getaway, and I really liked it! One thing we really like about the Haven restaurant is that they always serve French Press coffee. It is so good!

 

After breakfast, my son, husband and I got changed and went to be by the slides for when they opened. They were so much fun! I only wish I had done them more. There is so much to do and seriously not enough time to do everything. After we did the slides a couple of times, they went to the pool in the Haven and I got changed and went to the atrium to watch a Food Republic food demonstration. The chefs had a lot of personality and the demonstration made me hungry again (why are we so hungry doing nothing!!) Soon it was time for our Meet & Greet.

 

Our Cruise Critic M&G hostess did an amazing job and NCL went all out. Our hostess had name tags for us and cards with all of the officers names on it. It was fun meeting folks from the forum! Waiters walked around with food and brought flights of beer to the tables. It was in the District Brewhouse and was completely packed!

 

A couple of the officers spoke including the amazing cruise director Tyler. One thing he said that really rang true is that they are here to make our experience better. If there is something that we aren’t happy with, to say something to one of the officers on the card so they have a chance to make it right! The hotel director Deepak came by to our table and we told him how much we were enjoying the ship – our youngest son was with us and he gave us a business card to take to the Gelato shop for free gelato. They were all very, very nice!

 

After the Meet & Greet, we decided to try Food Republic for lunch. Obviously the food demonstration was still on my mind. It was really, really good. It is seriously a no miss. We had great drinks, great food and it comes pretty quickly. It was quite busy, so the word is out on how good it is at Food Republic! We had eel rolls and crunchy spicy tuna along with Pad Thai, Edamame and some sort of fried rice dish. Everything was delicious. My drink was called a Ciao Venezia and had Aperol, pineapple juice, fresh lemon juice, rosemary and sparkling water. Seriously, really good!

 

After lunch we went to see if the ropes course was open. It was very windy Saturday through Tuesday and the ropes course was not open yet so we played Mini Golf. We did mini golf and then went back to hang out at the Haven pool area. There were always snacks and drinks in the courtyard. We were spoiled and relaxed and it was a good time. We got changed for dinner and had dinner in the Haven again. It was delicious once again. We walked around the ship for a bit, tried to get in to see Howl at the Moon, but couldn’t even get in to stand and eventually went back to the Haven to have dessert. This chocolate layer cake was so good.

 

The boys were at Splash and Entourage and we went to the Haven bar. Guess who was there? Bong! He had been there for about 2 weeks and was so much fun to have in the Haven! This night we had our first towel animal – a puppy. So cute! It was a late night (for us) as the older two wanted to stay out late, but by 1 am we were all in the cabin and it was the end of another amazing day on the Escape.

 

Day 3

 

It looked like a beautiful day, and the wind started to die down. We had our regular breakfast out on the patio at the Haven restaurant and spent most of the day at the Haven pool. The best part of the Haven pool is that they can keep it covered or not depending on the weather. This day they opened up the roof. That was pretty cool to see. We ate lunch at the buffet to check it out. The options for lunch at the Haven aren’t great for kids (they can always order from kids menu), but we wanted to try out the buffet.

 

We went up to try and do the ropes course, but it wasn’t open yet. Part of the mini golf course was closed while they were fixing something on the ropes course, but we were still able to play. People were lined up at the ropes course waiting for it to open, but eventually someone came over to tell everyone it wasn’t opening. Our little one wanted to try the splash area. He had a great time in it.

 

We had a fantastic day of just relaxing, reading and enjoying the hot tubs and the water. Overall a very sleepy day. We aren’t used to having this second sea day and we used it to catch up on sleep and relaxation.

 

We fed our boys at the buffet and then brought them to Splash or sent to Entourage because we had dinner reservations at Le Bistro.

 

The atmosphere inside of Le Bistro is so different than outside due to the smoke from the casino and the general noise level. It’s intimate and cozy. While it did take a little while to get a server to take our drink order, we had a delicious meal.

 

We got the Seafood Medley and Green Asparagus with Puff Pastry and Lobster Bisque. I can’t eat the Bisque, but my husband had it and said it was really good. I loved the seafood and puff pastry – it was light and fluffy and delicious. For my meal I got the Veal medallions in morel sauce. Really, really good. I can’t eat dairy and they easily switched out the twice baked potatoes for fingerling potatoes. Overall it was a really lovely meal.

 

I was way too full for dessert – which pained me because I really wanted the fondue … so we said goodbye to Le Bistro and strolled around the ship to walk some of it off.

We hung out in the bar at the Haven a lot. It was convenient, and because Bong was there, it was a lot of fun. We met a lot of neat people in the Haven as well so we had a lot of people to talk to each evening. Soon enough we went to collect the kids and head back to the room.

 

We got a cute elephant towel animal tonight and called it a day early so we’d be ready for our full day in St. Thomas the next day.

 

Day 4

St. Thomas

 

We got up bright and early since we had an early excursion – Snorkeling with Turtles at Turtle Cove. We ate breakfast at the buffet, which was quick and delicious and had a great view of us pulling in to St. Thomas.

 

We headed back to the Haven to collect our things and be escorted off the ship through the priority line. This is the coolest perk. You go to the lobby of the Haven and they take you out a back staff elevator that lands you right at the podium area where you are being let off the ship. You hand over your sea pass, which they scan, and off the ship we went.

 

We easily saw the guy holding the sign for our excursion and we stood with others in our group to wait. While we waited, we put on sun block and took photos. We waited maybe 20 minutes for the whole group to get there and then they walked us about a quarter mile down the pier past the open air taxis to where the small boats are docked. We heard the safety lecture and overall what would happen and then we were escorted onto the catamaran. Please note that you have to hand over your shoes before you get on the catamaran and then they line them up on the dock for you to get when you get off.

 

As we started out, we passed by the Escape. She is so beaufitul! We sat around the netting at the front of the catamaran and it was exhilarating to feel the wind and the waves. As we hit some larger waves, our eight year old announced, “I’m having the time of my life!” That was definitely worth the price of the excursion!

 

As we went out, they gave us the equipment we would need. We headed toward Buck Island. Once we were just a bit away, they anchored and explained to us that Buck Island is a nature preserve for birds. The cove in front of it had extra salt so you float more, which is neat, but bothersome at the same time. They also have a reef from a wreck. There are so many turtles and rays. They had us split up and beginners went from one side of the boat and those with a little experience could go off the back. My husband took our youngest son off the front of the boat and I took our other two off the back. It was a little awkward, but we made it in and swum around to the front of the boat to meet up with our guide.

 

Almost right away, the guide told us to get in a large circle around a turtle that was on the bottom. I was frantically taking pictures, while being kept at the top because of the salt content in the water. Sure enough, the turtle swam up to the top. It was so beautiful.

I also saw some rays and generally just enjoyed the swimming and the beautiful water. Unfortunately, at this point, I looked over and my husband and youngest son was back on the catamaran. He’s had some issues with salt water in the past burning his skin. Is it possible to have a sea water allergy?? Of course because this water had a higher salt content, he wasn’t happy from the minute he hit the water, so I swam back to the ship and switched places with my husband.

 

He swam out to the reef with our other two children and I stayed on the catamaran with our youngest. Other catamarans were docked in our same area and we saw a lot of turtles from the catamaran. Everyone had a great time and eventually (about 45 minutes later) everyone had to get back on the boat. One side note here, you are not supposed to touch the turtles, it stresses them out and they can die from it. On one of the other catamarans, they didn’t give as good instructions and a girl near my husband was chasing a turtle and kept touching it (he got it on video). The guides on our ship were really mad and yelling at the guide on the other ship to pay attention to their guests.

 

We had a relaxing ride back to the pier. They gave us rum punch (regular punch for the kids of course), tried to sell us shirts and of course, at the end as we were exiting made a pitch for tips, which we had already had out to give them as we exited. We really enjoyed it. I’m not sure I’d do it again with my kids due to the youngest kid’s issue, but maybe when they are older if we went without them, I would definitely do again. I have to find some more catamaran excursions, because I really enjoyed that!

 

Our plan after the snorkeling was to go back to the ship, change our clothes, eat and then walk over to the tram to take us up to Paradise Point. I was really excited to see those views.

 

The walk back to the ship seemed longer than when we went, but we were probably a bit tired from all of the swimming. We easily exchanged our towels at the checkpoint in front of the ship, got back on and went back to our room to change.

 

We ate lunch at the buffet to save time and then off we went. It’s very easy to walk to Paradise Point, but you do go through a little bit of a shady area. We stayed on the sidewalk in front of the shops across from the pier and then walked through the shops just past the shopping center to cross the street to Paradise Point. At this point, we were approached by a man trying to sell us a drive around the island and we quickly said no thank you.

 

There was a bit of a line at the tram center. I’d say we probably waited 20 minutes to buy our tickets. I had thought kids were $10, but they were now $18 and adults were $21. You also wait for the trams to come down and around, but waited maybe 10 minutes and then we were able to get on. The windows of the tram are open (they are slat windows) so there was a breeze. It was a beautiful view.

 

It was really cool to see the homes as we rose up the mountain and the view of the harbor and the cruise ships in port. Once we got up there, we took pictures from the highest point and then walked down to the bar/restaurant area.

 

They had some fund photo areas set up and then we sat down once a table of folks got up and ordered drinks. They have plenty of food there too, but luckily we filled up on the ship.

 

Just a word about their drinks – they are no joke. They don’t give you half alcohol or hold back at all so be aware. I had a key lime pie frozen drink that was ah-mazing, but after one drink I was completely tipsy. My husband had a raspberry other berry thing and our boys got similar berry/strawberry drinks made alcohol free. They were delicious!

 

I really couldn’t get over the views from this point. I saw it in so many reviews on Cruise Critic, but seeing it in person was truly amazing. We spent about an hour up there and then went down the tram and walked back to the ship.

 

There was a bit of a line to get back into the port since you have to show your driver’s license and see pass, but it went quickly. We love coming back to the ship on Norwegian. The music and party atmosphere is so much fun. They always offer cool drinks and cool towels. Then washy washy, go through security and back on the ship you go.

 

Our older kids went on the ropes course. According to them, this course is much harder than the one on the Getaway, but it did have more zip lines and another plank. They were just happy to finally be able to go on it.

 

My husband and I and our youngest went up to the top sun deck in the Haven for sailaway. We had a great view from the hot tub.

 

We ate dinner in the Haven that night, which we loved since the service is so amazing. Our youngest ate from the kid menu that night. Our oldest went to Entourage, middle went to Splash and our youngest hung out with us in the Haven courtyard in the hot tub/pool area. We called it a night since Tortola is an early port. We had a cute little mouse/rat towel animal when we got back to our room.

 

Day 5

Tortola

 

Each port we go into in the Virgin Islands is more beautiful than the last. Just gorgeous views, incredible blue water and nice breezes. We had a leisurely breakfast out at the Haven restaurant and then got our things to get off the ship. We decided to do an excursion to the beach. The walk to the parking lot to find out excursion host wasn’t bad, but we did wait a bit (they had a covered area) before we got our ride to Cane Bay. The beach was gorgeous and we had an awesome day.

 

Day 6

Sea Day

 

There is so much to do on board the Escape that we never had time to do it all. We spent the day lounging around the pool in the Haven and in the evening at the District Brewhouse. It definitely felt like a home away from home

 

Day 7

Nassau

 

We’ve ben to Nassau a number of times and debated not getting off the ship at all. We decided to go to Blue Lagoon. We weren’t impressed despite the fact we had been there before to meet dolphins and Sea Lions. This excursion just wasn’t planned well. We waited outside in the sun and heat for a very long time before being walked in a long line (of which we didn’t retain our place) to where the boat to the island was located. Why didn’t they just have us meet them at the boat?

 

The 45-minute ride to the island was lovely and the views are gorgeous. When we got to the island, there wasn’t a seat left. All the other ships or however other folks got there prevented us from really enjoying our time on the island.

 

The lunch wasn’t bad at all and there was plenty of food, but with no shade and no seats, it didn’t make for a very comfortable, relaxing day.

 

The kids really enjoyed the inflatables, but there was no relaxing beach day for the rest of us.

 

Day 8

 

Disembarkation could not have been easier. I can’t say enough how wonderful it is to be in the Haven. The ship within the ship really is a slice of heaven. From being helped by everyone we see, to extra help from the Concierge, a little bar and restaurant of our own and a pool that wasn’t crowded, it was well worth the money.

 

Symphony of the Seas: Pros & Cons

This summer, my family and I enjoyed a 7-day Mediterranean itinerary on the Symphony of the Seas. We had an incredible time. We do feel, however, that you don’t have enough time during a one-week cruise to fully explore the ship. We took the La Spiza day as a Sea Day and enjoyed the surfing and other activities the ship has to offer without the lines.

We had previously been on the Oasis of the Seas — and we can say we love the Oasis Class Ships in general. The obvious benefits for kids of SotS over OotS and AotS are the slides.

Our connecting balcony rooms were beautifully appointed and we picked a wonderful location between mid and aft.

Pros:

Staff was excellent. Ship was beautiful and kept clean and constantly being worked on. Deck 8 was an excellent location. Right near Central Park and just aft. Semuel at the Central Park bar was fantastic. MDR varied. Two nights we had Sandra and she was excellent. Our last night on the ship they put us with a different server and he was not good at all.

Hairspray and Hiro were fantastic. Flight the talent was excellent, but the premise was weird. We loved the trivia on board and the piano players. The band that played for the balloon drop and a few other nights were also really good.

Playmakers was awesome. We watched the world cup every evening there and it’s a great atmosphere.

Water slides were awesome. Ultimate Abyss was ok. My kids were expecting a bit more excitement. I liked it.

Flow Rider, as always, is awesome.

Never felt like there were 6,000 people on the ship (except after Muster as always)

Con:

Food in Wonderland while executed beautifully was just ok. Mad Hatter was the highlight. Smoke from Casino was not contained and could smell and breathe it while waiting in line for MDR on deck 4. Also could smell it on my balcony on deck 8.

As mentioned above, service wasn’t consistent in the MDR.

Got the six hour extended time excursion for Cassis and ended up being able to spend less than 2 hours in Cassis due to choices that the tour guide made (without consulting those on the excursion). I mentioned it to her and on the ship, but I think there should be a deeper dive into what went wrong there.

Overall, a wonderful family vacation. Not sure there is a huge difference between Harmony and Symphony — I toured Harmony, but have never sailed on her personally. Playmakers is a wonderful addition on Symphony, but if I was looking at both ships with a similar itinerary and HotS is less expensive — I’d sail her and not feel like I’m missing anything.

Ask me if you have any questions I can answer!

What to pack for a cruise?

As we get ready to depart on the NCL Escape, I went back to my trusty cruise list for those things that I simply can’t do without on a cruise. For a family of 5, we have a lot of “must haves” that cost a lot more if we don’t prepare. Preparing is key. We usually drive to Florida, so room is not the issue.

Here are my must haves!

  • Tide pen
  • small blue tooth speaker for music in room
  • Bonine for kids and adults
  • Downey wrinkle release  (smells great and no more wrinkles!)
  • nail clippers
  • ear plugs (in case the cabin is noisy!)
  • wet ones (small children, plus melting ice cream es no bueno!)
  • camera and extra sd cards and extra batteries
  • headphones
  • Power strip (Make sure your power strip DOES NOT have the surge protector. They’ll confiscate it. )
  • multi usb charger for charging devices
  • Highlighters for the Daily Schedule
  • First aid and over the counter drugs (we bring kids cold medicine, pain relievers and tummy medicine)
  • bandaids and antibacterial cream
  • waterproof bag for phone
  • magnet hooks (can hang wet stuff up or hats or jackets — walls are all magnetic)
  • sunblock (bring enough for the whole time, it’s expensive in port and on the ship!)
  • spf lip balm
  • aloe for after sun in case get burnt
  • bug spray
  • garbage bags (for dirty laundry)
  • dryer sheets (just a few to put in dirty laundry bag so don’t smell)
  • nightlight
  • copy of passports and driver’s licenses (keep separate from actual passports and licenses — bring copies of passports into port with you)
  • blister feet rub stick (if your excursions will take you far)
  • powder gatorade (in case of tummy trouble or hangovers)
  • kids snorkel stuff
  • large towel clips (so you know which chairs are yours)
  • lanyards for kids room cards (so they don’t lose them)
  • special stuffed animals or blankets for little ones
  • beach bags
  • water shoes
  • hats and sunglasses for all
  • goggles
  • air spray for bathroom
  • anti-itch cream
  • cards
  • snacks (only take ones that don’t melt and remember you can bring small cereal boxes with you off the ship for snacks in port)
  • ziploc bags (for receipts, snacks, small items)
  • small umbrella
  • glow sticks from dollar store and white clothing for glow party (if on NCL)
  • 80s costume if want to dress up for 80s night (if on NCL)
  • hanging up bathroom organizer to hang on back of bathroom door
  • One set of something with sleeves/pants in case cool
  • back up eye glasses/contacts
  • sanitizing towelettes for room (door handles, remote control — anything you touch)

After that, Bon Voyage!

Can’t wait to share our experience on board the NCL Escape!

When’s the best time to plan a cruise?

While this is a difficult question, there are many tips that can help you get the best deal on your cruise.

  1. When the itinerary first is released. Recently Royal Caribbean released their 2018-2019 itinerary for the Caribbean and I’ve seen some super low prices. E-mail me and I can help walk you through an amazing vacation and the best you can get for your budget!
  2. September! When you’ve just come back from your summer vacation, cruise lines are tempting you with free on board gratuity and other great perks. Spend your summer looking for the itinerary you want for 2018, and I can help make your dream come true!
  3. January-March. In the travel agency, this is wave season. Best deals hands down. If you didn’t book during the times listed above, watch the cruises you want (or better yet, let me do it for you) and then pounce when the sales come forth in winter.

We have 41 days until our cruise, which we booked during September of last year and we can’t wait! Watch this space for my review of the Norwegian Escape. It’s sure to be a blast!

Don’t miss out on this earmazing opportunity!

Always wanted to go to Disney, but think the tickets are too expensive?

This summer, the 4 Park Magic Ticket is a great way for your Clients to experience everything new in each Walt Disney World® Theme Park. This value-packed, limited-time ticket lets your Clients experience all four Theme Parks for only $79 per day (plus tax) with one admission to each Park on four separate days from April 30 – Sept. 30, 2017.

Let me know when you want to go and I’m happy to help you plan your time there and make the most of these great ticket prices!

When’s the best time to purchase a cruise?

Just like with airplane tickets, this question gets asked a lot. The answer isn’t easily defined.

Why not?

Cruise lines run many different types of sales throughout the year. Sales vary whether you can plan last minute or if, like me, you are a long-term planner.

What can you tell me?

The good news is that January through March is known as Wave Season. The major cruise lines run various sales throughout this time period. Hey, guess what? It’s March 23! Get on that next cruise!

I’m not ready to purchase now. When’s the next time?

Another good time to purchase is September and October for the following year. At this point of the year, cruisers are done with summer vacations and are starting to look at the following year. Usually additional amenities are added into sales prices this time of year. Items like free gratuities, drink and meal packages.

How far in advance should I book?

If you are free of responsibilities and don’t need airfare, you can wait to see what cabins need to be filled, and go from there to find the best deal. For the rest of us, book as far out as you can and during the Wave season, when dates are just released or in the fall post-trip haze. You can also get special deals on board if you book on board your current cruise — either by getting a certificate toward your next cruise or by actually putting a deposit down.

So, what’s next?

Email me and let me help you find the best fit and best deal for you!

Our birthday magical getaway

Four Walt Disney World parks, two and a half days, what could go wrong? Nothing really. We created a spreadsheet with all of the rides we wanted to ride, booked fast passes for what we did not want to miss and booked the hotel I most wanted to stay at on the Walt Disney World property, Bay Lake Tower. It was finally here, time to leave for Disney!

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Bay Lake Tower is unlike most other Disney properties. You have to squint to see the traditional Mickey ears and the hotel appears to cater more to adults than children – although the pool does have an amazing slide that the children loved.

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The one bedroom has two bathrooms (ideal with a family of 5), a full kitchen, laundry room, living room, master bedroom and a balcony. The living room has a queen-sized pullout sofa and a twin-sized pull out chair. The furnishings are all modern, clean and beautiful. Our room was on the 10th level and had a nice view of the lake and the pool.

The hotel can’t be beat for its closeness to the Magic Kingdom – a 10-minute walk and you are at the gate. Another bonus feature is the bridge between it and the Contemporary Resort. I found it to be an amazing place to watch the nightly fireworks at the Magic Kingdom – a perfect view of Cinderella’s castle and Space Mountain.

Despite all of these positives, there were a few negatives. Nothing that ruined the trip, but they definitely caused me to lose some sleep. I could hear the toilet in the room above us flush – a very loud high-powered flush. I could also hear a baby crying from the room above us as if he/she was in our room. Not the five o’clock wake up call I was looking for each morning. There was also a nightly 10:30 electric water parade on the lake. When reading the description, this sounded cool, but I definitely didn’t think about how loud the parade would sound!

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The best part of our trip was the decision to purchase Disney After Hours. I read on some of the Disney forums that you could get in earlier than the 7 pm promised when purchased and that was correct. The problem with going in earlier is the crowds. Oh the crowds! I looked at all of the crowd calendars before we went and I naively thought that the long weekend we were going would be before Spring break crowds and, therefore, not at top business. I was completely wrong.

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From the moment we walked into the Magic Kingdom at 5:30 pm, it was obvious that there were many more people there than I had forecasted. The good news is that with the After Hours tickets, there is a special “gate” for you to go through and they give you your lanyard for the evening indicating it is ok for you to be there after park hours.

Some had indicated on Disney forums that they were able to make fast passes for that evening, but that was not the case for us. Everything we thought of going to when we first got there had wait times 45 minutes or longer. We decided to have dinner at the taco place (walk up and sit down to eat) between Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain. It was delicious and helped us kill time until more people left the park. We were going to go on Pirates right after we ate, but the ride went down, so we went over to the Haunted Mansion. We waited about 25 minutes, but it was fun as always.

 

Afterward, it was nice and dark and time for the Wishes fireworks. We found a place to stand and enjoyed. As always, it is a great show. We knew that we still had about ½ hour before the park cleared out, but went over to tomorrow land. The Toy Story Rangers Spin ride had a shorter wait time so we went on it. The kids had a blast!

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Ok, now it was time for After Hours. Woo hoo! We went over to Space Mountain and they were checking to make sure anyone trying to get in had a lanyard. Success! No wait time. The kids loved it so much we went on it two times in a row with no wait time. We then went on the Tomorrow Speedway (maybe 5 minute wait), Winnie the Pooh and then we were dying to try the Mine Train ride. None of us had been on it yet. Despite the After Hours, we waited 25 minutes for the ride. It was fun, but I was disappointed that we had to wait – keep in mind that same day some waited in line three hours to go on it, but that is not my style at all!

We went from Mine Train to It’s a Small World. It was the same as always until the end. There are electronic signs as you are coming to the end of the ride that say goodbye to you personally with your names. The RFID in the bands is a bit creepy that way!

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We then went to Thunder Mountain, which had a small wait and right on to Splash Mountain. We got soaking wet on Splash Mountain and then followed it up with Pirates, which was working again. I wouldn’t recommend going on them in this order again at night. Pirates is quite cool and since we were wet, I was freezing!

We had a fantastic time and then walked back to do Space Mountain again before calling it a night. Since we had After Hours, we also got to get free ice cream and drinks for the carts that are all around the Park. This was very convenient – and yummy!

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The Park was closing and it was time for bed. We did the 10-minute walk back to Bay Lake Tower, and called it a night.

Next up Hollywood Studios and Epcot. I was so excited that I was up at dawn.

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We brought food with us to eat in the hotel room since we had a kitchen. We had breakfast and were on the bus to Hollywood Studios by 8:15 am. The Park opened at 9 am. We did the traditional waiting at the stop line before the Park was opened. We had a plan, but it was all for naught.

While we were waiting, Cast Members walked through the crowd to tell us that Rock and Roll Rollercoaster was down. This was a huge bummer. We were going to do that one first, then Tower of Terror and then Toy Story.

Instead we went straight to Toy Story. We had about a 15 -minute wait, which was definitely the shortest it would be all day. We never did get on Tower of Tower – the ride was immediately a 45-minute wait and went up to 135 minutes before we left the Park.

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After Toy Story, we did Star Wars and saw the Star Wars Imperial Star Trooper show. The boys really enjoyed all of these, but when we saw that the ride was still down and the wait time was so high for Tower of Terror, we decided to hop over to Epcot. We had fast passes for Epcot, so we knew we would get to do more over there.

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We took the convenient boat at the front of the Park. It stops at several beautiful Disney Resort before heading over to Epcot. Conveniently, the boat drops you off near France at Epcot. No need to walk the huge distance over to the countries from the front of the Park. I did have my first instance of problems with the magic band here. I had a similar problem at Animal Kingdom the next day. All Cast Members were very nice about the issue, we cleared it up and started moving.

The Flower and Garden festival was at Epcot. The flowers and exhibits were truly amazing. We checked the app and again, the wait times were terrible.

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We walked over to the Mexico and Norway side of the lake. I had a fast pass for 1 pm for Frozen, so we searched for a place to eat before it was my turn. I was able to find something at China, but the kids were a little bit more difficult.

Frozen was amazing. It is the same track and ride overall as the previous Norway ride, Maelstrom, but the animatronics and overall ride was really beautiful and well done. I really enjoyed it.

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Meanwhile, the rest of our party had a fast pass for Test Track, but you guessed it, the ride was down. We headed over to have a snack and then do Imagination, which is always a family favorite. We had really no wait. We did Ellen’s Energy Adventure afterward. I had never done this ride. It was funny, there was no wait and it was nice and cool in it – a win!

Then the family did Mission Space with a fast pass and finally Test Track was back up again. The rest of our party had the fast pass, so they got right on. I did single rider and came out of the ride five minutes after they did – so that was perfect timing. We all love Test Track so that was fantastic!

We ran into a lovely Cast Member at Starbucks while getting coffee. She was so nice and asked if we were having a magical day. I said we were, but my one regret was that we couldn’t get a fast pass for Soarin! and the line was too long for me to get on it. She told me to wait where I was and came back with a fast pass for all five of us. I love Cast Members!!!

Getting to see the new movie on Soarin! really made my day! The movie takes you all over the world. It was beautiful.

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We had dinner reservations at the San Angel Inn in Mexico for my birthday. Dinner was delicious. There was only a short wait. The service was good, the food was excellent (I had a Chicken Mole) and the price, well, it’s Disney!

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We had a long day and decided to take the Monorail back to the hotel. It’s a bit convoluted to get back from Epcot – much more so than I thought it would be anyway. You take the Monorail back to the transportation center. Then at the transportation center, you get off and go down and around and back up to another platform for Disney resorts. It then stops at the Polynesian, Grand Floridian and then goes to the Contemporary. Every one was happy to be back.

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The pool at Bay Lake Tower has a long slide, which the kids really enjoyed. While they went to the pool, I went to the Contemporary Shops to see what they had for me to get for gifts. At 9 pm, we went to the bridge between the Contemporary and Bay Lake to view Wishes at Magic Kingdom. It’s a fantastic view, but a bit windy so if it is cool out, it isn’t very comfortable. I still enjoyed getting to see the show again.

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We went upstairs and tried to get some rest for our big walking day at Animal Kingdom. Here’s where the Electrical Water Parade barged into my dreams (sorry, couldn’t help the pun). It was so loud. If the kids had still been up, we would have gone out onto the terrace to watch, but it was an exhausting day.

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We were up early the next morning because there were extra Magic hours at the Animal Kingdom. We got down to the front of the Contemporary early, but we had just missed the bus. We waited about 20 minutes for the next bus to Animal Kingdom. We were able to get in right away and made a beeline for the Safari. We had a short wait and then got right on.

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We always love the Safari. Because it was early in the morning, they were all out. We saw so many animals. We walked around the area in front of the Safari where all of the animals were around and it was great to see all of the gorillas and other animals.

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We had a fast pass for Everest, so we headed in that direction after the animals. There were so many people!!! The wait time for Everest was already 55 minutes – luckily we had the fast pass. It was awesome!

We then headed back a bit and did the Kali River Rapids. We brought ponchos so no one got wet. There was about a 35-minute wait. Luckily it is mostly in the shade.

From there we headed quickly over to the Finding Nemo show – we had a fast pass. It was beautifully done, but the adults agreed that the Lion King show, which we had seen five years before was better. If you are only there for a short time and only have a choice of one of the two shows, choose the latter.

We were close by to the Dinosaur area and as there was a shorter wait time for it, we waited for Dinosaur. It said 30-minute wait, but we definitely didn’t wait more than 20 minutes. It’s a great ride!

We then ate lunch at the nearby restaurant where you get hamburgers and hotdogs. It’s so expensive, but hit the spot.

We also had a fast pass for Primeval Whirl. No wait, we just walked right on. You really get whipped around with that ride, but had fun!

We decided to head to Disney Springs at this point. The crowds were large and we were done. We walked over to Earl of Sandwich shop (huge wait, but reasonably priced). There were more people at Disney Springs than I had ever seen there before. We had a decent meal and then went into the Star Wars shop and others to get gifts. We found what we wanted and headed back to the hotel where the kids went into the pool again.

Overall, we had a great time. We’ve decided not to go back again anytime in the near future – can’t take the kids out of school and other times the wait times are just too long. However, the After Hours event was really the winner of the whole trip. That’s a must do again at some point!

Have any Disney questions? Comment here or send me an email at Samantha.kappalman@gmail.com

 

 

 

Magical Getaway

Taking a small magical break so I can bring a little bit of the “happiest place on earth” back to you! Stay tuned for amazing photos, a Disney World “how to” and more. I’ll be back to take your emails and calls on March 13th!

Which cruise line/ship is right for me?

There are so many factors that go into choosing the cruise vacation that is perfect just for you. Before you decide on your next voyage, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • What is my budget?
  • Do I want warm weather?
  • How long do I want to cruise for?
  • Do I want to drive or fly to my port of departure?
  • Do I want to relax or have constant activities?
  • Do I want a budget cruise so I can just go? Or do I want to live in luxury while I am gone and be waited on hand and foot?
  • If there are more than two people going, do we want to all be in one cabin? Or get two connecting cabins?
  • Do we sleep through anything? Or do we need to be aware of our cabin location for noise?
  • Is our mobility good? Or do we need to be near elevators and get accessible cabins?
  • Is it about the cruise ship? Or is the cruise ship more of a vehicle to get us to the itinerary?

With answers to these 10 questions, I can help you pick the perfect cruise for you. We are just days away from the end of WAVE season — which means the end to the biggest deals of the season. Email me today to learn how I can help you pick the perfect cruise for 2017, 2018 or beyond!

How do I get the best deal for airfare?

I am always asked how to get the best airfare. It IS true that you can find the best airline deals on Tuesdays, but you might not know these other pro tips for finding the best airfare.

  1. Check first on Google flights. Not only will you find a great comparison here, you can also track the trip to see if it will go up or down in price. Remember this doesn’t include airlines like Southwest or Allegiant Airlines.
  2. Sign up for Thrifty Traveler to find out about the best deals as they happen!
  3. Go to Momondo and make sure you got the best deal and then buy your tickets and have an amazing time!

Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance if you are taking a big trip! It’ll cover your air, bags and much, much more!