Walt Disney World & World Travels

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Today’s guest post is from Megan, a 16 year old who knows Harry Potter as well or better than JK Rowling herself.  As excited as Megan was to go to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, she was also a bit worried that it wouldn’t live up to her expectations.  Here are her thoughts on WWoHP:

I first started reading the Harry Potter series in first grade, just after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released.  I went to the midnight release parties for the final three books and stayed up all night to read them.  I’ve seen all the movies and read the books a million times over.  Now, as I am starting eleventh grade, they are still my favorite books.  I have grown up with Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and the entire Weasley family.  I know all the details in all the books.  I have extremely detailed, over-developed pictures in my head of Hogwarts castle, Hogsmeade village, and the Hogwarts Express.  Needless to say, I had high expectations for the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The morning started around 7, much earlier than I like to wake up in the summer, when we got ready to leave our room at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort for a night at Loews Portofino Bay Resort at Universal. We checked in at the resort and got to Islands of Adventure around 8:40—just in time to get back to the Wizarding World for early entry.  Early Entry was a great resort benefit, especially since we were there for the Wizarding World’s opening week.  At regular opening, there was a 4 hour wait just to get into the Harry Potter section of the park.  We cut across a couple islands and arrived at the entrance to the Wizarding World.

We walked into the beautiful, snow-capped village of Hogsmeade, where we could see the Hogwarts Express pulled into station and landmarks like the Three Broomsticks that readers have been imagining since the beginning of the series.  The Hog’s Head Pub and Zonko’s Joke Shop are also there, as well as a new, second location of Ollivander’s wand shop.  Throughout the village there are stands selling all types of wizarding necessities: wands, brooms, and cool, frothy butterbeer.

After entering the Wizarding World, we headed to its headlining attraction: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  The queue area for this attraction is almost as good as the ride; Hogwarts is holding an open house for muggles (non-magical people), and you are on a tour of the castle.  On your tour you go through the Herbology greenhouses, various classrooms, and hallways in which some of the portraits may start moving and talking in their frames.  The effects in the castle are fantastic; it’s impossible to tell which portraits will move and which will not, and the oil paintings are beautiful.  I will not divulge much about the ride except a quick warning.  If you get motion sick, take Dramamine before you ride; the Forbidden Journey is an absolute don’t-miss, but it’s much more enjoyable if you don’t feel like hurling.

After we rode the Forbidden Journey, we made a short walk over to Flight of the Hippogriff, a small, fairly gentle coaster with a cute theme, based on Harry and Hermione’s rides on Buckbeak in the third book.  It’s faster than I expected, but the track is similar to Goofy’s Barnstormer at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  The rest of the family went to ride Dragon Challenge while I recovered from my Forbidden Journey motion sickness (Really, be prepared and take the Dramamine before you ride!).  Dragon Challenge is based on the first event of the Triwizard Tournament, when Harry has to capture an egg from a particularly volatile dragon.  There are two tracks for the coaster, each a little different.  Supposedly, the blue track is better than the red track, but if you get a chance, try both and compare them.

After hitting all three attractions in the Wizarding World, we stopped at a stand for butterbeer.  Cold and sweet, butterbeer is the Coca Cola of the magical world; it is a butterscotch-flavored soda with a thick, foamy head like a beer, available regular or frozen.  Though rich, it is a decadent way to cool off on a hot day.

Butterbeer in hand, we wandered around Hogsmeade and the area surrounding Hogwarts Castle.  The attention to detail in the Wizarding World is truly incredible—a step up over everything else in Universal and even areas of Disney (Am I going to be excommunicated as a heretic for saying that?).  As a rabidly obsessed and picky Harry Potter fan, I don’t do this often, but I give the Wizarding World of Harry Potter my stamp of approval.

There are a lot of ride time applications available  for free or for a small fee.  I was curious how some of them worked and if they were worth the money.   Today you get a guest posting from my 13 year old son.  While on our recent Disney trip, I gave him a job; download the Verizon-Disney Mobile Magic application and test it for the week.    Here is his report on it:

Mobile Magic

Mobile Magic is an  application for Verizon phones created by Disney and Verizon to show accurate wait times in the park that you are currently in.  Mobile Magic is a very simple application to use.  We found  that the app was always right compared to other applications out like Ride HopperRide Hopper (a free, social reporting application) was very random, it could have wait times with-in 5 minutes or it would be 2 hours off.  Mobile Magic was always right in all four parks on wait times but that’s not all the application can do!  The app can help you find your favorite Disney characters  or locate a restroom or dining or whatever you will need.  Overall, Mobile Magic was a great application to have while we were on our trip.

One of my problems with it was that it was very slow, it could take a while to load when you are at a resort with good cell service, and it took forever to load in the parks with not as good cell phone service.  Is it worth the money?  I say it is, besides the loading problem I found that the application was great.  I think it is worth the money.  It was great you could wait in line for one ride and right after say let’s go get fast passes for Space Mountain.  It would give you fast pass return times and the wait time.  It would also show you a map of the park which is useful when finding food. Again, I think that the application Mobile Magic is worth the money every little bit.

Thank you Jason for your review!   A few extra things to know;  the cost is $9.99 for 180 days of access.   You do need to have a cell phone that can access the internet and data charges are separate.    Data usage does add up, especially when playing games or trivia while waiting in line for your favorite rides or on the bus ride to/from the parks.  Tip: add a monthly data package instead of paying per MB, then drop the plan when you get home from vacation.

As a former Disney Cast Member, I’ve always refused to go to that “other park”, they were the enemy, opening Universal Studios the summer I was on the College Program at Disney.   Now that I’m more “mature”, and with the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter; it was time to give in and spend some time at Universal.

Our vacation happened to line up for the week of the grand opening of Harry Potter.  I knew the park was going to be packed beyond packed so I did what any good travel agent would do and researched my options.  The three Universal Resort Hotels offer what looked to be the answer: a Universal Express pass that allows you to skip all of the lines on participating rides AND gains you early entry in to the park.  I also knew that you could buy a head of the line pass, but at $60-$87 per person per day, it made more sense to look at staying on site and getting all of the resort benefits.  I also learned that the pass you can buy, is not exactly the same as the one included for resort guest.  The “bought pass” is only good for 1 day, and can only be used once per ride/attraction.  The resort guest Express Pass is good from check in through check out and can be used multiple times on the rides/attractions.   The three resorts are all owned/run by Loews Hotels, a company known for very nice, deluxe hotels.  Loews Royal Pacific, Loews Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Resort.

I ended up splurging a little and booked a night at the Portofino Bay Resort.   This is a beautiful resort, that is built to be reminiscent of a sleepy seaside village, Portofino, Italy.  The rack rates are a little bit pricey, but there are some good deals to be had and the benefits of staying on property are well worth it!  A quick overview of resort benefits:  Universal Express Pass (good from check-in through day of check out), good for multiple uses, 1 hour Early Entry into the parks (makes all the difference in the world if you want to get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), complimentary transportation to the parks by boat or bus, room charging privileges, and priority seating at certain restaurants.  That can be very useful!

Our stay at Portofino Bay Resort was a little unusual; we were only there for 1 night during the middle of our vacation, so we didn’t get to enjoy the resort as much as I would have liked to.  We arrived and checked in at 8am.  Check in was very quick & easy.  We were given our room keys (but not the room number as it wasn’t ready yet).  The room keys work as your Universal Express Pass, with a bar code on there that is scanned at each ride.  Our luggage was given to bell services, the car handed off to the valet and we were given directions out to the boat that would take us to Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure.  We were so excited about getting to the parks, that we might not have seen a whole lot on the way to the boat but what we did see was absolutely beautiful!  It felt like we were in an Italian seaside town.  We made our way to the boat dock and I noticed a few things right away that I was impressed with: there was a canopy area with benches and fans.  On a super hot day, that was really appreciated!

We spent the day at both parks; Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure and took advantage of another resort benefit, early entry into the park.  We went straight back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and when we showed our room keys we were sent a different way and straight in before the park “officially” opened.  I’ll write about Wizarding World and all of the rest of the parks in other posts, but for now I’ll just say WOW!!!! The Universal Express pass allowed us to skip the regular line for most rides in the park (very few don’t have an express line) so we were able to get a lot done in a short amount of time.

After a very full day visiting the parks, we went back to our resort looking forward to having some dinner & pool time.  I had received a call on my cell phone early in the day informing me that we would need to come back to the desk for new room keys, so that’s where we went as soon as we got off the boat.  We recieved our room information and a porter got our luggage and gave us a tour of the resort on the way to our room.  The service was wonderful, but I did feel that the room was 6 miles away from the desk.  The room was actually in a very good location for convenience to the pools.  We had a view of the villa pool from our room, which was very nice.  Standard rooms are 460 square feet (good size!) our deluxe room was 490 square feet with 2 queen beds and a (requested, not guaranteed) sofa sleeper.  The bathroom had separate shower & tub, super soft cotton robes and the 13year olds’ favorite thing a telephone in the bathroom.   The room was beautiful and the beds were the most comfortable beds ever!

We got settled, changed into our bathing suits and headed to the pool to relax and have dinner.  Yes, you read that right we were going to have dinner at the pool.  There is a pizza place, casual restaurant next to the Beach Pool.  However, they were closing as we got there so we went to Sal’s Market & Deli (on the other side of the resort).  Ordered pizza & salad, and brought it back to the pool to eat.  Sat at a table overlooking the pool and the movie by the pool (Harry Potter that night), it was very relaxing and the food was excellent.  The pool area was very nice, lot’s of tables, lot’s of chairs & chaise lounges.  There is a sandy zero entry area, several hot tubs, a kids pool and a Roman Aquaduct Slide.  My family loves slides, and rates all of them.  This one was allright, but not great.  It was slow and the pool was not super warm.  The hot tub was very warm and felt great after a long day in the themeparks!

Next to Sal’s Market, they sold gelato.  As a treat, Jon & Megan went and got gelato for the 4 of us to enjoy while we watched the poolside movie.  Super creamy & very rich, the gelato was excellent!  The poolside movie was a great idea, but not executed all that well.  The blow up screen kept deflating because they couldn’t keep it plugged in close enough to the pool (cord was too short).  It was fun, but almost funnier watching the screen deflate.

After a wonderful nights sleep on those super comfy beds, we checked out and headed back to the parks.  The “boys” went ahead and managed to get in for early entry, my daughter & I were a few minutes late and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter had a 4 hour wait at 9am when it opened.  We used our Universal Express passes (good for both check in & check out day) and rode some other rides while the boys spent more time in Wizard World.  After another full day of parks, we rode the boat back to Portofino Bay, collected our luggage from bell services and the valet pulled the car around.  While we waited on the car, another of the valets offered and brought us bottled water.  A very thoughtful and appreciated gesture!  That was a great way to leave, on a high note.

I can honestly say that I will go back, and next time I might need to check out the Royal Pacific or the Hard Rock…..

Here are some pictures of the Loews Portofino Bay Resort and our room:

Wow, that was an exhausting week, but it was fun and really exciting!  I was able to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter during the opening week, go to both Universal parks, check out a new (to me) resort, and all 4 parks at Disney World.  I’m ready for a vacation from my vacation 😉  I have lot’s of stories & pictures to share.  I’ll be writing separate posts for different parts of the trip, and will have some “guest posts” to give everyone a different perspective.  Please if you have any questions, drop me a note.  I love to get feedback!

Today I’ll keep it short.  I just want to remind everyone that it really gets hot in Florida during the summer and you can’t underestimate how that will affect your trip.  Dehydration happens much faster than you would think possible and heat exhaustion and heat stroke aren’t to be messed with.  I learned a great lesson from Fairy Godmother many years ago and it’s really true; if you notice that your princess or prince has gotten grumpy at the happiest place on earth; they’re already dehydrated.   Grumpiness is a BIG sign of dehydration, followed by lethargy & the blahs.  They may not even think they’re thirsty.  Get them to drink something, anything.   Take bottles of water into the parks with you (it’s fine, Disney allows it), refill them throughout the day using the water fountains.  Now, I’ll admit Florida/Disney/Orlando water sometimes tastes a little different than it does at home.   No problem!  The solution are those single serving packages of kool aid, gatorade, lemonade, etc.   1 little package into a 16 oz bottle of water and ta da, something yummy to drink that keeps you hydrated.   If you don’t have water bottles with you and don’t want to keep spending $$$ on water, sodas, etc; go to any quick service or snack location that has fountain beverages and ask for a cup of ice water.  Disney will give free cups of water if you ask, it’s not bottled water but it’s free and that ice cold water will taste just fine when you’re melting in the parks.

Take breaks from the heat, stay hydrated and you’ll have a fun & safe summer day at Disney.

Usually when I mention Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, people look at me with confusion and surprise.  I think this resort is” Disney’s Best Kept Secret” and that very few people know it exists.   This was our 3rd time at Disney’s HHI Resort and our trip this time was a little different than previous trips.  This time we brought 5 teenage girls and our tween son and only stayed for 1 night for Megan’s Sweet 16 birthday party.   Yes, we drove down for only 1 night and it was the best decision we could have made! 

We wanted to do something special for Meg’s Sweet 16, but she didn’t want a big party.  We finally decided to take her & her 4 best friends to Hilton Head for a night.   After a call with a great Cast Member, we booked our 2 bedroom villa and started planning.  Megan knew of some plans, but the rest were a surprise.   One of our favorite things about the resort is the campfire.  Who doesn’t love singing silly campfire songs and eating s’mores?  Unfortunately when I called during the week to check on the scheduled activities, the campfire was scheduled for Friday night and Sunday night, but not on Saturday.  A few days later, Jon called back to put a few requests in: early check in & pool view (both were noted, but not guaranteed) and he asked if we could have our own campfire.  The call was transferred to the Rec dept, where Jon was told that we couldn’t hold our own fire for safety/liability issues, but they could schedule a private campfire for us as long as a Cast Member was available to work.  A little while later, I got the phone call that Brittany would be able to come in and do the campfire for us.  We decided to have it at 8:30pm, and I told them that the girls would love to be silly and of course we wanted s’mores.  Anything else was left up to Brittany to plan.  We felt bad that she was going to come into work just for our campfire, but we were assured that they love doing the fires and were happy to have an excuse 🙂

The Birthday Bash as it became known started Friday afternoon when the girls all came over.  An evening of pizza, high school football, movies & girl talk were followed by an early wake up for a 4 hour drive to Hilton Head Island.   The first surprise we gave the girls Friday night; matching T-shirts that said “Megan’s Sweet 16 Birthday Bash  Hilton Head Island 2009” and had each girls name on it as well. Just arrived

Saturday morning, the guys headed out about an hour before I left with the girls.  When Jon got to the resort at 11:30am, not only did we get our pool view; the villa was ready!  The boys had the villa decorated by the time I arrived with the girls.

Streamers & birthday balloons all over the villa

After unloading all the bags, we got lunch at Tide Me Over and then the girls took off for some pool time.  While they did their thing, Jon, Jason & I went over to the Beach House for awhile.  Played some ping pong, walked on the beach and relaxed.  On the way back we stopped at Big Murgies Den and ran into B’loue.  B’loue is a Cast Member who has been at the resort for a very long time!  We met him for the 1st time on our very first HHI vacation almost 5 years ago.  When we walked into the room he told us we looked familiar; we told him that he had done a magic trick involving a dollar bill with our daughter all those years ago and he remembered it immediately.  He told us that particular trick he always got a “dad” from the audience to participate but this one night a little girl in the audience jumped up, very proud to have a dollar bill in her pocket that he could use.  He couldn’t say no to her, so he had to improvise a bit and told us that to this day it is the only time he has done that trick without a “dad”.  We told him that we were back for that little girls sweet 16 and he was couldn’t believe it.  After chatting and catching up, he asked Jason if he liked card tricks.  Well Jason loves magic & card tricks, so B’loue spent about 20-30 minutes with him and taught him 3 new tricks.  It was a great afternoon!

We went back to the villa, I started getting dinner ready while the girls headed up to Big Murgies Den to hear B’loue tell ghost stories and legends of the Low Country.   One of the great thing about the villas is having the full kitchen.  I was able to make everything for a taco bar, room to server and a table for everyone to sit and eat.  After dinner, we all went down to relax in the hot tub for awhile and then got ready for the surprise campfire.

At 8:30pm we met Brittany at the campfire pit.   The fire was started and there was a chair with a bunch of balloons tied to it, a goody bag and a crown that said “it’s my birthday” waiting for Megan.  Brittany was great!  She got the girls involved and they sang and danced to silly campfire songs, laughing & giggling up a storm.  After they had “earned it”, it was time to make s’mores.  Normally, you get 1, maybe 2 s’mores.  Since this was a private party and there were only 8 of us, she told us to have as many as we wanted.  The girls and Jason were happy to oblige! 


The girls spent time playing ping pong and shuffleboard and then came back; ready to sing Happy Birthday and have birthday cheesecake.  They talked, ate and giggled until it was time for SNL and then they collapsed from exhaustion!

Sunday morning we got everyone up, packed and ready to go.  Everyone was hungry so we went down the road to Stacks.  We were there on the 1st trip and had a great breakfast then, so decided to try it again.  It couldn’t have been more perfect!  We didn’t expect entertainment with our food but we ended up with Mick as our server and our meal was a cross between the Jungle Cruise and 50’s PTC.  He was hillarious!  Even better, the food was excellent!    Jon & I both had one of the specialties of the house; the Low Country Omelet.  It was an omelet stuffed with lump crab meat and avocado slices, topped with hollandaise sauce.  YUM!  It was served with potatoes & pancakes.  The pancakes were amazing, because as we learned from Mick; Stacks grinds their own flour to make the pancakes.  The girls all enjoyed breakfast and then we headed over to the Beach House for a few hours.

The weather was absolutely beautiful!  Sunny and 80 degrees; it doesn’t get much better than that in November!  Disney’s HHI resort heats both pools to 84-86 degrees, so they’re comfortable to swim in  all year long.  The girls changed into their suits and took the plunge together!  We're all in this together

They played volleyball, and practiced cheerleading stunts and then it was time for the pinata.  There was a perfect spot to hang it from and lots of room for the girls to take a swing at it.  It took some work, but they finally broke through it 🙂   After the pinata we all headed down to the beach for a bit.  The sand was soft, the water was a bit cool but that didn’t stop the brave ones.  The rest practiced cheerleading jumps and stunts and played in the sand. The brave ones enjoying the surf

 Before we knew it, it was time to load up in the car for the drive home.  We all had a great time and I don’t think we could have planned a better party!  The girls are still talking about it and singing the campfire songs (Brittany, you were right; it’s stuck in our heads)

A little about the resort:  Located on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina is a beautiful Disney Vacation Club resort.  Not a Member?  Not a problem!  Rooms and villas are available for cash reservations to anyone.  The main resort is on its own little island –Longview Island- in Shelter Cove on the Broad Creek marsh side of the island.  This is where all of the villas and main lodge are.  There are several types of villas to choose from: studios, 1 bedroom villas, 2 bedroom villas and 3 bedroom grand villas.  Studios sleep up to 4 people and have a queen size bed and full size sofa sleeper along with a kitchenette.  The larger villas sleep 4, 8 or up to12 people, have full kitchens, washer & dryers in the room and living comfortable living rooms.  The grand villas are often booked by large groups or families for birthdays, reunions, and holiday get-togethers. 

Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is a great place to get away for a relaxing weekend or a weeklong vacation and it’s a great place to get a refill on Pixie Dust when Walt Disney World is just too far away.

I’ve had cruising on my mind lately; a lot.  Disney Cruise Line just announced their new itineraries for 2011 and I’m dreaming about a Panama Canal Cruise, Mexican Riviera or Mediterranean Cruise.   I’m not sure when or where, but there’s definitely a cruise in my future.  Why?  Well that’s what I want to talk about today.

Where to start?  I love cruising for quite a few reasons.  First is value.  Yes I know it looks like cruises are expensive, but when you think about it and add it all up; they’re really not much more than a land based vacation.  I’ll use Disney Cruise Line as my example because I have the most experience with it (and I love it).  When you cruise on DCL and the fare that you pay is it.  Of course if you want to go to the spa or order drinks at the bar, there are charges for those but your meals, sodas/coffee,shipboard entertainment, even room service are all included.  It’s nice to know that you’re not going to get nickel & dimed to death.    Did I mention the meals?  There’s food available all the time, as the parent of a growing  tween & teen I can’t begin to tell you how helpful that is!  On our trip this summer, I think my son ate enough food to have covered all of our fares……In the morning he would eat a bagel from room service before heading to breakfast. Where he would have pancakes, eggs & bacon.   That was followed a couple hours later by a large lunch including dessert, then a couple slices of pizza up by the pool.  After playing some soccer on the sports deck, he’d grab another few slices of pizza or a hot dog before going to the show (and possibly again between the show and dinner).   After dinner, more soccer or club time and another snack, the best is a Mickey Bar from room service.  If the boy went more than 2 hours without food during waking hours, I’d be shocked!   What did all that pizza cost?  Nothing.  The Mickey Bar ice cream?  No charge, it’s all included.  I loved being able to say “order what you want” and “if you’re hungry, get something to eat” instead of “no” or “I don’t know, how much is it?”.   If we had been anywhere else, that would have cost a fortune, but thankfully it was all included.

Why else do I love to cruise?  Well, I love that I can do as much or as little as I want, and I can change my mind at any time.  Unlike planning a quite beach trip and then getting bored or an active adventure trip and just wanting to sit by the pool and read; you get all of that on a cruise.  Every night you’ll receive your Personal Navigator–the schedule for the next day.  Just like reading an old TV Guide; you’ll see hour by hour what’s going on in all locations for all age groups.  Sailing with small kids?  You’ll check the schedule in the Oceaneers Club for the kids and the family section for all of you.  The kids want to go make flubber in the Oceaneers Lab?  Great, now you can go to the spa or the adult only pool.  Maybe that Martini Tasting Seminar in the Navigator caught your eye……  From playing sports on the sport courts, to watching them on TV in Diversions or working out at the fitness center or relaxing in the Rainforest Room in the spa; game shows, bingo, reading a book, watching a 1st run movie, taking a nap.  Those are just some of the options of things to do on the ship.  There are so many things to do that I don’t think anyone could possibly do everything.   The four of us did things together, seperately and off in pairs.  There was always something someone wanted to go do; even if it was just to nap on the “secret” deck.

Now, when it’s a Disney Cruise, there are a lot of fun family things to do.  The Sail Away party as you leave Port Canaveral is fun for kids, adults and anyone that wants to have fun.  Dance & sing along, sip on a Bahama Mama and know that you’re headed for fun!  Disney also has a Pirates in the Caribbean Party on deck during one of the evenings of your cruise.  More singing, dancing, Characters and FIREWORKS!  Only Disney shoots off fireworks at sea and it’s amazing!  There are family game shows to participate in (or watch if you’re shy), family karaoke (Disney songs of course), dance contests, pin trading, character meet & greets, pool time, scavanger hunts, ping pong & shuffleboard on deck…….are you tired yet?  Those are just some of the things to do on the ship. 

What do you do when in port?  Whatever you want!  There are excursions that you can book (before or during your cruise) that will take you to explore historical locations or cool resorts & aquariums.  You can explore a place on your own.  We spent a morning in Nassau just walking and wandering around to get the “flavor”.  If you’ve “been there done that”, stay on the ship and enjoy a nearly empty pool or take advantage of a “Port Special” in the spa. 

No matter if you take a 3, 4, 5 or 7 night cruise in the Bahamas or Caribbean, you will stop at least once at Disney’s own private island Castaway Cay.  This is a wonderful place and is only going to get better when the refurb is finished.  Right now, there is: a snorkeling beach, family beach, teen beach (13-17 only) and an adults only (18+) beach.  The kids clubs (not the nursery) move ashore for the day.  Your kids can go on a snorkeling excursion with you and then join their friend in the kids programs for a couple hours and meet back up with you for lunch and a volleyball game on the sports beach.  While the kids are off doing their things, you can enjoy a peaceful, quiet nap on the adult beach or sip on the islands specialty drink or indulge in a massage in a beach cabana.  Again, you can spend the day resting, being very active or a combination of the two.  We went for the combo approach this summer.  As a family we did an excursion that included snorkeling, stingray experience & bike/float rental.  First thing we did was the snorkeling, all I will say now is that it was really cool and you have to look for the Disney touches…..they’re out there.  After snorkeling we went and learned about and fed stingrays.  That was pretty neat and we got a lot of time out in the water with them.   Then my daughter took off to “chill” at the teen beach and my tween went for lunch (does that suprise anyone?).  After lunch he went and joined the kids club group at the game pavillion so we had some time on our own 🙂  We went to Serenity Bay beach and enjoyed a cool beverage and snorkeled out there for a change of pace (still neat things to find, besides the wildlife).  We met back up with our son, and headed to the family beach.  He decided to snorkel some more before going to get a float and relax.  We did a little shopping and we’re back on the ship in time to get ready for the evening show and dinner.  Wondering what happened to the teen?  She had directions to be on the ship & in the room at “X” time.  Whenever you leave or come onto the ship, you must go through security and scan your Key To The World card (it’s your room key, charge key, everything key), that way they know who left and came back.  When we walked back onto the ship, and they scanned my Key To The World card, I asked the Cast Member if her key had been scanned yet.  They were able to look and tell me exactly what time she returned to the ship.  Just a nice little piece of mind.  We had rested & been active and it was a fantastically fun day!

The DisneyDifference and service are the main reasons I want to go back so bad.  From the artwork and design of the ship, the special touches in the snorkeling beach, the towel animals in the cabin each night; it’s wonderful but the people really make it Disney special.  The service wasn’t just good, it was excellent and more than that; it was personal.  I had Cast Members say hi and welcome me back because they remembered seeing me on my agent cruise.  A waitress in the Cadillac Lounge the 1st night, also served us on Castaway Cay and picked the conversation back up from where we had left it.  A mix-up/confusion about celebrating our anniversary at dinner was not only fixed, but improved upopn and apologized for more than necessary.  The best of the service though can be summed up with 2 experiences that my son had on the last night of the cruise.  When he went to give the tip to our room attendant, he told her how much he liked the towel animals.  She stuck her head in and asked us if it would be allright if she could come in and teach him how to make them himself.  She didn’t have to do that, but he was thrilled!  The most amazing was Liam.  He was a retail CM at the pin trading event.  My son had been looking for a pin to complete a set of 5 for over 3 trips in the previous 18months.  The pin he was missing was of course the most limited edition of the set and we didn’t have high hopes of finding it.  Liam looked through 5 or 6 pin lanyards while we were talking to him.  When he couldn’t find it, he asked for our sons name & room number just in case he found someone with it.  In the middle of the night, en envelope was stuck partially under the door.  Inside was a personal, handwritten note with the impossible to find Ursula pin attached.  That was a Magical Moment and is a big part of why I can’t wait to go back on a Disney Cruise!

Toasted and heated all the way through after our day at Castaway Cay, we all showered and changed for our last night on the ship. 

Tonights show is Disney Dreams, every night it gets better and this is the best!  The cast shows just how talented they are and will bring a tear to your eyes; guaranteed!  Jon & the kids had doubted me, but I think they were impressed.  I really don’t want to spoil this one, but there are some pretty darn cool effects that go on during this show.    Just a tip, if you have a drink in the theater, you may want to cover it at times….   If I haven’t mentioned it yet, there are concessions stands outside the theater with drinks (alchoholic & non), snacks, etc (these snacks & drinks are a purchase, not free).  There are also servers that take & serve drink orders in the theater before the show starts. 

On our way to dinner, we stopped by the big pin trading event near guest services.  Jason has been collecting a series (Hidden Mickey Villain series) and has 1 missing pin; Cruella DeVille (the most limited edition of the series) that he’s been looking for for a year and a half.  We checked with everyone, and the last CM we talked to, Liam, searched 8 lanyards that he had.  He asked Jason for his name and cabin number just in case he found one.  We thanked him for his time and headed to dinner.

Our meal tonight is at Parrot Cay.  This is one of my favorites of the trip!  I prefer to have it on ‘Pirate Night’  instead of ‘Formal Night’ but it’s still really good and a fun place to eat.  My favorites on the menu….Appetizer; Baked Crab Martinique.  This is filled with lump crab, creamy and delicious!  Next, order the Cold Cream of Mango & Papaya soup!  This is probably in my top 3 foods from both cruises!  and I’m not even a mango or papaya fan.  The Mixed Grill is a great entree and I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the banana bread they serve with dinner, yummy!  If you aren’t stuffed at this point (even if you are) try the French Toast Banana Bread Pudding with coconut icecream & caramel sauce.  Now you’re stuffed!  Good luck doing the limbo….. 

As usual, the kids took off after dinner.  Megan went to Aloft and Jason took off for the sports courts & the kids club.   Jon & I made sure everything was packed and in the hall for our bags to be picked up.  Then we wandered around, enjoying our last night on the ship.  We stopped by Cadillac Lounge, Diversions, Wavebands and finally ended up at Cove Cafe enjoying some tasty coffee drinks 🙂  while watching the incredible light show the storms were putting on.  We finally went back to the room caught up with Jason, and watched the storms from the verandah.  Jason went out and gave our tip to Willie our cabin attnedant and told her he really liked the towel monkey in our room.  After checking with us, she came in and taught Jason how to make the hanging towel monkey.  Very cool!  It was after 1am, time to kick back and relax, and try to stay awake till Meg came “home”.    She had told us they had a lot planned for their final night and that she’d be back late.  I tried to stay up, really I did.  I woke up around 2:30am and went to the bathroom.  I saw there was an envelope under the door, but it was stuck and I didn’t want to open the door and wake anyone.  It was addressed to Jason, assuming that it was a “hope you feel better” after the ray bite yesterday,  I left it till morning…..  I know, don’t assume.   Worried because I hadn’t heard Megan come in, I decided to peek around the curtain,  and  saw her in bed sound asleep – 1st time in her life that she’s been quiet 😉   Knowing she was safe and sound, I went back to sleep.

Mickey Mouse called again to wake us up (some of us were already awake).   I got up and got the envelope from outside.    Jason was just excited that he got an envelope, then when he opened it he was ecstatic!  There was the Cruella DeVille pin he’d been searching for and a note from Liam the CM.   That was so far above & beyond the call of duty, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU Liam!  Truly a Magical Moment!

We all got ready, finished packing up our last minute items and left our cabin for the last time. 😦     We went and had our farewell breakfast at Parrot Cay (you’re scheduled to eat your return to port breakfast at the restaurant you ate at the night before -or were scheduled to eat at).  Good breakfast, omelets, pastries, bagels.  Fueled up for our drive home, we made our way off the ship. 

A tip, grab a porter when you get off the ship.  Let them help you find your luggage (that part is actually very easy), they will load it up and take you through the Customs line quickly and efficiently.  I think it is well worth the tip money!  Before you know it, you’re outside and your car is loaded up ready for the drive home.

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