Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Disney Cruise Line

I'm often asked, as a travel professional, about Disney Cruise Lines, and the comparison between their cruises and the other companies.  There is really more than can be written in one post about Disney cruises versus the other lines, but I'll try to hit the highlights and elaborate in later posts.

First, and foremost, a Disney cruise is one that is completely orientated around the family.  From the decorations, to the shows and activities, to the restaurants and amenities, a Disney cruise focuses on all members of the family, no matter how young or how old.

All cruises are similar in many ways.  All include your meals onboard.  All include some form of refreshment.  All include onboard entertainment.  All include most onboard activities.  All have exciting ports of call with the ability to book excursions and onshore activities sanctioned by the cruise line.  All, obviously, include a stateroom, appointed appropriately for the level for which you cruise.  All have dedicated staff, wonderful cruise and activities directors, and knowledgeable employees that can make your cruise the experience you hope and dream it will be.

One of the first and biggest differences between DCL (Disney Cruise Lines...I'm just lazy and don't want to type it out :)  ), is that the refreshment, or drinks, that are included also include soft drinks.  Most of the other cruise lines only offer coffee, tea, juice (in some cases), or lemonade.  The inclusion of soft drinks is a big deal to many that travel with DCL.  I, personally, think it's a great idea, as I'm a big diet soda drinker as my morning pick-me-up versus coffee or tea.  Many that are traveling with kids also enjoy being able to offer soft drinks as a treat while aboard a Disney cruise.

One of the other biggest differences is the onboard activities for kids.  Most cruise lines offer some form of children's recreation, whether it's a special children's area, or special activities on a daily basis for kids.  Disney, however, takes it to a new level, with included children's activities for ages 3 and up (for voyagers younger than 3, Disney does have nurseries, however an additional fee is required for that service).  From Disney's Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab (ages 3-10), Edge (ages 11-14), and Vibe (14-17), kids of all ages can find fun activities, onboard getaways, and lots of new friends while on a Disney Cruise.

Adults...don't thing we've left you out!  Private, Adults Only pools, spas, dining, and clubs offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of the cruise where you can get away an have some alone time.  There are even some adult only excursions on selected voyages (see your travel agent for more information).

Speaking of dining, another difference on a Disney cruise that sets them apart is what is referred to as Rotational Dining.  This is where each night, you and your seating party (which is your family plus others, depending on the size of your family and the table at which you are seated) rotate to a different restaurant
(there are three on each vessel) for a different, unique dining experience.  The best part...especially for those who are particular about certain aspects of their dining time...the servers rotate with you!  You get to know your server, and most importantly, your server gets to know you!  If you want coffee with 2 sugars and just a splash of milk?  Done!  They'll have it for you before you even think the thought.  Do you like Diet Coke with a wedge of lime?  No Problem!  It's there, and refills are just around the corner!  Your server will learn your likes, dislikes, and wishes and, with your help, can even suggest dishes to try in each restaurant.  It's a unique experience, only available on a Disney Cruise.

Of course, you can't have a cruise (or any destination/vacation for that matter) with the Disney name and reputation without having some signature Disney items built right in.  Characters abound on a Disney cruise, so seeing your favorites is no problem.  Disney's private island, Castaway Cay, offers many activities along with pristine beaches and wonderful grounds.  Adults, there is even a secluded adults only beach on Castaway Cay!  And for the kids, the activities continue on the island for those interested (always supervised, of course!).  On most voyages, nightly fireworks light the sky above the vessel and the ocean, creating a one-of-a-kind experience for your family at sea!  And, if that wasn't enough, on the Disney Dream, and the Disney Fantasy, you can cruise like Donald on the AquaDuck, a watercoaster at sea that even goes out beyond the rails of the ship!  Those Disney Imagineers think of everything, don't they!

All in all, a Disney Cruise is like no other.  From family entertainment, to quality beyond compare, a Disney Cruise vacation is sure to cover all your bases for a wonderful family trip!

Bon Voyage! and until next time, have a Magical Day and always be looking for your Enchantment Destination!!


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

To Dine, or Not To Dine...That is the question!

Another quite popular discussion about Disney vacations is whether or not to purchase the Dining Plan.  I guess, for us, it really depends on a few factors, including time of year, where we are staying, and the destination we are visiting.
 Obviously, Disney Cruise Lines and Destinations by Disney are left out of this discussion, as meals (or at least some with DbyD) are included with your vacation price.  We are really talking about Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida. 

Let me first discuss the various options you have for dining.  This week, I'm going to start at Disney World in Florida (I'll hit Disneyland in California next post :) ).  The basic bottom level, Disney offers a Quick Service Dining Plan.  With this plan, guests are able to receive 2 counter service (think fast food type ordering) meals, 1 snack, and few extras per person per night.  The next step up is the Disney Dining Plan, where guests are afforded 1 table service (waitstaff ordering) and 1 quick service meal, plus 1 snack per person, per night.  The highest level is Deluxe Dining, which includes any combination of three meals (table service or quick service) plus 2 snacks per person per day.  The plan itself is associated with your room key (Disney calls it your "Key To The World") so there is no need to carry anything extra with you.  The tally of meals counts down each time you use it (snacks too), so the hassle is taken out of it.  

Generally speaking, the Quick service plan is for families or travelers who aren't concerned with anything spectacular or special and just would like an easy to follow meal plan for themselves and their families.  That is not to say that the food isn't fact it's quite good at all of the quick service restaurants (I particularly prefer Cosmic Rays in Magic Kingdom and Flame Tree Barbecue in Animal Kingdom).  I'm
really referring to culinary experiences that are basically ordinary.  The benefits include ease of use, low cost, and convenience.  If you are going for the first time and don't know what you'd like, or you are not interested in anything like character meals, or upscale dining at the resorts or Downtown Disney, this is the plan for you.  Notice, however, that it only includes 2 meals per day, so there would still be one meal (assuming you eat three) you'd have to purchase.  Keep in mind, however, that you do get a snack...and Disney is quite generous with that term "snack."  The snack options are listed all throughout the parks and resorts and can include anything from candy or pastries, to pretzels or ice cream.  It's quite extensive and, with proper planning, a snack can easily bridge the gap between meals.  It's also important to note that many of the entree's that are offered as quick service options are truly big enough for 2 people.  Be creative!  Do some research about what is offered where.  You may be able to share meals and stretch the number you have out over the entire time you are there. 

The middle plan, the Disney Dining plan, is probably the most popular among families.  The combination of quick service and table service meals allows families to eat both the typical "fast food" style meals on the go as well as to slow down and eat a meal at a table with real plates and flatware.  For me, the biggest draw to this plan is the ability of those table service meals to be used for character dining experiences.

A quick side bar...meeting the characters is probably one of the most important things you can do on a Disney Vacation. The parks have the schedule (and now it's available through the My Disney Experience links) of where the characters will be and what times.'s a gamble whether or not you'll be able to see them.  Many of the characters have very limited times that they are available, and they will frequently close the line long before you make it there.  I've found that, especially for the big ones my princess cares about, it's easier to plan a character dining experience than to try to schedule our day around the possibility of a meet and greet with Mickey.

Getting back to the dining, the Disney Dining Plan is the middle of the road expense wise, however, in my opinion, gives the most bang for the buck for most families.  With the quick service as well as table service, the dining options are vast.  A pastry snack for breakfast, Quick Service shared lunch, and then an All-You-Can-Eat buffet as a table service for dinner.  That's a normal meal progression for families using this plan.  The best thing is that many of the character dining experiences that fall under the table service category are all buffet style meals, giving you a HUGE meal for which ever meal you choose (breakfast, lunch, or dinner).  Another way to stretch this plan is to forgo even the snack in the morning and try to make a breakfast reservation as late as you can (Chef Mickey's in the Contemporary generally has 11:30 breakfast reservations...that's pretty much lunch for most people!).  That will allow you to stretch the afternoon out even longer and take the quick service later on in the evening.  The possibilities are numerous with this plan, and for this Disney Freak, it's the best value for my buck.

The final plan at Disney World is the Deluxe Dining.  Not too much to say here, other than this one allows for any combination of 3 meals (quick service or table) for each person, thus allowing those with specific tastes or wanting specific experiences the chance to indulge in those.  For instance, if you wanted a buffet breakfast at Hollywood and Vine, then a hearty lunch at The California Grill, then a steak dinner at Le Cellier, it would all be included.  Again, this plan is for those who want their food experience at Disney to be as memorable as the trip itself.  While it's the most expensive package offered (of these three...there is one more that includes even alcohol...I'll elaborate on that later), it also offers guests with the largest number of fact, depending on the length of your stay, a choice doesn't have to be made.  You could, in theory, eat at every table service restaurant in the parks on this plan.  That would be a lot of food!  It's a good thing that the average person walks nearly 4 miles on a Disney vacation! :)

Joking aside, it's truly up to you whether or not you use the dining plan.  As a professional travel planner, I do recommend the Disney Dining (the middle) plan.  I feel it really does give the best of everything for those who wish to have the ease of not thinking about meal.  Research is key, however, and your family has to do what is best for you.  I would very much encourage anyone looking to travel to Disney World to discuss these options with your travel professional and see which (if any) fit your budget, your family, and your tastes!

Until next time, Have a Magical Day, and remember...always be looking for your Enchantment Destination!!


Friday, April 19, 2013

When should I visit?

First off, I want to apologize for my tardiness in this post.  Life, as it does sometimes, got the better of me, and I just flat ran out of time! :)  Oh well...not much you can do, I guess.

Anyway, I wanted to address a quick question that seems so benign, but can be the biggest determining factor when thinking about your Disney Vacation (or any vacation, for that matter):

When Should I travel to Disney?

The answer isn't quite as simple as you may think.  For many of us, our lives and our calendars revolve around the school calendar.  My daughter is in kindergarten and as a result, we are bound, to some extent, by the school holidays, and specifically the big ones (i.e. Christmas, Spring Break, Thanksgiving, Summer, etc.).  My wife is a teacher in a different district so we also have to take into account her schedule as well.

Others like to travel during "off season" times.  These are mainly during the school year, mid semester (either fall or spring) and generally during the week.  With Disney, while there may be days that have less attendance at the parks than others, a true "off season" doesn't really exist in my opinion.  Disney is a destination that is far reaching, with visitors coming from all over the world.  While most of us in the United States are on basically the same school schedule for our students, many in the rest of the world are not.  As a result, the patronage at Disney only slows...but never stops.

That being said, there are better times to visit than others.  The first thing you should look at are the events that are happening in the parks.  For instance, two of the biggest events held at Walt Disney World in Orlando are the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival and the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.  Happening on opposite sides of the calendar (Flower and Garden is in the spring; Food and Wine is in the fall), these events draw huge crowds during a normally slower time of the year for theme parks in general.  These festivals, however, both offer some significantly special events for those interested (I'll explore those in later posts.  For those interested, please visit or for those festival dates/information).

Other popular events include Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween, Disney Holidays featuring the Osborne Family Lights at Hollywood Studios, Run Disney and the Disney Marathon, and the various special weekends that are not annual, but are still special (like this year, 2013, they are having a number of Star Wars weekends, and specifically on September 13, there will be a Villain Day as this is the only Friday the 13th that is happening in the 2013 calendar).  These all offer special times and events, and in many cases, special rates for tickets, rooms, and vacation packages.

For our family, taking one of the holidays at the parks is our favorite time.  Specifically, the week of Thanksgiving.  We feel that the crowds are not too bad, the weather in south Florida is great, and we get to spend Thanksgiving in one of the most magical places on the planet!  Of course, it's during a vacation time for most of the country, so it's a balance of wanting to have the magic, but at the risk of a larger than average crowd.

It's best to look at a large picture of the calendar.  There are a number of resources available to help you decide on the time of year to go to the parks.  It is imperative to use all of the information that is presented to make the best informed decision you can.  You would never want to plan a trip, get there, and realize that you've misjudged the crowds, weather, day light, or any other variable and cause a trip that you've planned for quite some time to become less than stellar.

Some items to think about when planning when to go include:
School Holidays
Special Events
Special Offers
Family/Friends Going With You

Stopping to consider all of those will ensure that you have a truly magical time at a Disney property.

Last, but certainly no least, if you have any questions, contact an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.  They are specially trained to help you navigate the myriad of decisions that must be made in order to plan a vacation getaway.  Remember, their services are free, and you can rely on them to make the trip of a lifetime happen for you and your family.

Until next time, have a Magical Day and always look forward to your Enchantment Destination!


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Disney Vacations...getting ready!

Getting ready for a Disney Vacation is, for me, almost as good as actually going.  Planning where to eat, where to go, where to stay, even which resort to visit, or which trip to take is really the meat and potatoes of what a Disney Vacation is to me.  I guess that's why I became affiliated with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner! :)

To make things easier, there are plenty of resources, both free and paid, that will make your planning easier.

First off, I would suggest (and most would agree, even if they aren't in the business) that going through an Authorized Vacation Planner can help with many decisions that you may not even think of.  I've used many in the past, and I still suggest to friends and family to use them.  Of course, I'd love for all of my friends and family to use me (as well as those fans who are now following my Blog! :) ) but honestly, any of the
Authorized Planners that you can find will be a big help in planning your vacation.  I'm sure I'll miss many, but some I've used in the past include Small World Vacations, Pixie Vacations, Fairytale Journeys, and working directly with the Disney Travel Company.  Google search (or use your favorite search engine) and look for the tell-tale mouse ears logo for an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.  Each of us have graduated from The College of Disney Knowledge, and have an intimate knowledge of everything having to do with any Disney Vacation, whether it's a cruise,
and Adventures destination, or one of the theme parks.  That is the best way to begin.

After that, it's completely up to you.  There are countless books, countless websites, and even more ways to make it a special time.  Our favorite books include The PassPorter guides, Frommers, Fodors, and The Undercover Tourist.  A good read (although it does have some comedic false info in the book) is the Unofficial Guide.  The Hidden Mickey's books are also fun to read (and can be a great scavenger hunt to do when you are at your destination...more on that in a later post).  I'd suggest one of those, or any one you are comfortable with, and definitely read it.  Disney (especially Disney World) can be intimidating to the first timer.  It's so big, and so spread out that you can easily get to the end of your well earned and deserved vacation and end up feeling like you didn't get all that you wanted to get done.  Worse yet is the feeling that you went so fast and so furious through the parks that you wore yourself out while on vacation!  That's like the total opposite of a vacation!!  Take you time planning now, and you can avoid that.

There are also amazing online sources.  If you're reading this blog, then you probably found some, but I'll include my favorites here.  The best sources for unbiased info are many of the blogs or bulletin boards that are available.  DisBoards, DisDads, Disney Food Blog, PassPorters Blog/Forum, and AllEars are some of the top on the list.  Additionally, most of the Authorized planners I mentioned above have blogs or links within them to various boards and forums.  That's a great place to find advice, ask questions, and even find discounts you may not have known about if you hadn't checked.  Explore what you can and see what you can find.  It never hurts to ask other Disney people how, when, where, and what to do on your vacation, whether you're a veteran or a first timer.

The last source that I'll mention (but certainly not the last source available to you) is the info directly from Disney.  First and foremost, get a Disney Planning DVD.  These are free through Disney and provide a wealth of information at your fingertips and include all of the Disney Experiences.  Also, watch your local TV listings for the different Disney Travel Company offerings on the cable channels.  These shows (Disney Behind the Scenes, Hidden Disney, etc.) can offer some great insight into the inner workings of the Disney parks and have even helped me, a Disney veteran, find some new and exciting things to do.  The Disney website also can offer a wealth of information.  Check all of them out

**Quick Tip!  A good friend of mine...another Disney Freak like myself...has been able to get special discounts emailed to him just because he's been on the Disney email list.  I've not gotten any, but he's been able to get such great perks as free dining, second night free, and room upgrades just for getting on the mailing lists.

All in all, if I could give you three pieces of advice when getting ready for your vacation, it's this.  1) Plan, 2) Plan, and 3)...well...PLAN!!  You won't regret it, and you'll have a blast doing it!

Until next time,  Have a Magical Day, and never stop working toward your Enchantment Destination!