Monday, February 4, 2013

Disney Dream for Adults - January 2013

Having just returned from our first ever Disney cruise, we thought it made good sense to update everyone who's been thinking about sailing Disney without kids, but were perhaps reluctant to do so.

This was our experience:

This cruise was met with MUCH enthusiasm as we’d heard so many great things over the years.  We are a couple with no kids and really wanted to experience a Disney cruise without feeling overrun by children.  Disney exceeded our expectations in just about every way.

The Port – Disney’s facility at Port Canaveral – is amazing.  Even the porters embody the Disney brand.  It sets the standard for service and cleanliness even before you’re on the ship.  Check-in was a breeze and you can have your photo taken with Mickey before you even get on the ship, if you like!  The walk to the gangway is preceded by an entry way shaped like Mickey’s head.  Again, a special touch. 

Embarkation – We had no idea we’d be greeted with a, “Welcome the Jacobs family!” announcement upon boarding.  What a nice touch and something that differentiates Disney from other cruise lines. 

Cabin – Our 5A cabin (10026) was the first cabin on the port side near the elevators.  It was the only one left in this category when we booked it, and we were very concerned about the sound level since it’s so close to the elevators.  Well, guess what?  Disney got this right too.  We never heard a peep of people in the hallway or anyone standing near the elevators.  Obviously, the stateroom doors are sealed well.  My favorite part of the cabin was the split bathroom – one with a sink, tub and shower, and the other with a sink and toilet. It just made getting ready in the morning very efficient for both of us!

Adults-Only areas – The adults-only open air decks were a wonderful respite during the day.  Because Disney appeals to so many families, the adults-only areas always seemed to have lounge chairs available and ample space to feel like we were “away from it all”.  This was very noticeable any time we walked through the main pool areas where the masses were gathering.  It really felt like it was too different ships – the family area and the adults-only area – they completely contrasted each other.  The musician in the adults-only area played a guitar and sang adult contemporary music, mostly from the 60s and 70s. It was such a nice, welcomed change to what we’re accustomed to on other cruise lines.

The District was such a great evening spot to sit with a drink and relax or to live it up and enjoy some nighttime entertainment that didn’t scream “kids”.  My husband enjoyed 80s trivia in Evolution one night (his team won!), and we enjoyed the vibe here but didn’t spend as much time here as we would have liked.  Next time!

Castaway Cay presented the perfect spot to relax all day under an umbrella and just soak in the serenity of it all. We took the tram out to Serenity Bay and first toured a cabana.  For $399 you get exclusive use of a cabana with cushy chairs, hammock, water toys/tubes, shade, fruits, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages stocked right there in your own fridge.  There is a call button in case you need anything beyond that such as a cast member to bring you lunch.  For more than 4 people, there is an additional charge of $50/person.  For us, this seemed like overkill since Serenity Bay had ample space with either sun or shade right by the water.

Food – The rotational dining room food was REALLY good!  We enjoyed the Royal Palace and Animator’s Palate, and appreciated the vegetarian portion of the menu that was clearly outlined without having to request anything special.  I’m a pretty low maintenance vegetarian in my 12th year, and have seen it all when it comes to how restaurants handle veggie food.  My biggest accolades go to the cast members in Serenity Bay on Castaway Cay for their handling of the BBQ food in the adults-only section.  When I simply asked how the veggie burger was prepared, I was told that Disney is very concerned about “cross contamination”.  What?  That is music to my ears.  Never did I expect them to use that term nor invite me to see the grill and how the veggie burger would be prepared separate from the meat with different utensils.  This was unexpected and very much appreciated.  This private island experience by far exceeded any other private island experienced with other cruise lines.

The buffet was great.  While I prefer the use of “islands” in the buffet (as opposed to long counters), the food and service were both great.  In fact, each morning, TravelGuy would go grab us some food from the buffet and bring it to our cabin for consumption on our balcony.  The first morning, he asked if they had any hard-boiled eggs, even though there weren’t any in the buffet.  A minute or two later, a chef came out of the kitchen with two hard-boiled eggs (whenever we asked for one of anything, we were always given two.  I’m guessing this is a Disney policy).  This was his routine each morning, and each morning he came back to the cabin with a hard-boiled egg. 

We dined in Palo our last evening, and while the food was exceptional, the host/hostess service was not.  It wasn’t terrible by any means, but it was a little odd.  There was some sort of a mix-up with the seating arrangements. We waited 15 minutes to be seated despite arriving on time for our reservation, and watched quietly as several other couples were seated ahead of us, though they arrived after us.  Just as TravelGuy was prepared to say something, we were seated.  Shortly thereafter, a hostess came to our table and gave me my “Key to the World Card” but it wasn’t mine.  (They thought I had left it in the adjacent lounge, Meridian.) I told her my name was not “Kimberley”.  She looked baffled, then looked at our server who looked down at a piece of paper, and then they realized they thought we were a different couple and said we were supposed to be seated at a different table.  It could explain why we waited so long to be seated.  The whole mix-up really wasn’t a big deal, but it was a bit surprising given how “on top of things” Disney was in every other way.   From the appetizers to the main courses, to the desserts – Palo does it right.  We’ll definitely dine here again.

Disembarkation – Another differentiator here was that there were no assigned disembarkation times.  We self-disembarked at about 8:15 along with the rest of the ship.  We walked right off the ship, but experienced one of the longest customs lines we’ve ever seen.  The great thing is that the lines moved quickly.  We got through the line, to the car over on level 3 (there is a walkway from the terminal), loaded up the car, and were on I-95 by 9:15.  Not a bad experience at all.

Overall, of our 20 cruises so far, this one ranks in the top 5. We have Disney to thank for that, and are already looking at Disney Fantasy sailings in 2014. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Review: Celebrity Eclipse – Feb 11-18, 2012

By TravelGirl:

It's been awhile since our last blog entry, but TravelGuy and TravelGirl have been busy with...well...traveling and enjoying a new life in South Florida.  Here is a review of our latest cruise --

This was our second cruise on Celebrity, first on an S-Class ship, and was a celebration of our 15-year anniversary.  Overall, Celebrity gets an A from us.  This experience was probably our best at sea so far!

After hopping the shuttle from an off-site parking lot about 10:55am, we arrived to the port about 11:05am and were on board by 11:20 a.m.  It was a quick and easy process.  We enjoyed the champagne welcome by Celebrity, as most other lines no longer greet passengers with a glass of bubbly upon boarding.

We originally booked an inside, but starting about three weeks prior to sailing, prices kept dropping.  We upgraded a couple of times, and ended up in a category 1B veranda – 9108 – forward, starboard, for only $50 more p/p than the original price we paid for the inside.  What was particular notable for us is that even though we were very far forward, we felt very little movement.  Compared to other ships and other lines, the cabin bathrooms were the largest we’d ever seen without being suite bathrooms.  We toured an inside cabin also and saw that the inside bathrooms were the same size as the verandah bathrooms.  Celebrity is doing it right!  I’d choose this cabin category again in a heartbeat, but frankly, would be happy in an inside as well since they were mighty spacious.

Food in the main dining room was unremarkable most evenings, but in the specialty restaurants, well…it was outstanding!  Qsine is an experience everyone should try.  It earned an A from me in the “presentation” category, creating a memorable experience from the moment we arrived to the experience of ordering from the iPad, to the nice arrangement of each shared dish as it was placed before us.  I’ve never experienced strawberries on sticks, embedded in a grass box.  Have you?  How cool is that?  For our dessert, we chose to decorate our own cupcakes, and since it was our anniversary, we each happened to create cute heart decorations with various frosting flavors and different types of sprinkles.  Be sure to go to Qsine on an empty stomach as you’ll want to explore the menu and try various items.

Though Qsine really won me over, Tuscan Grille was an even better experience, albeit different.  Because of its location on the ship, it lends itself to quite a romantic environ being that it’s directly aft.  We were seated at the window, right over the wake, and really felt like we were the only two in the restaurant.  Of course, we weren’t though. Our serving team was over-the-top attentive without pestering us, and I must say that the focaccia bread, both the tomato and the onion, was probably the best focaccia I’ve ever tasted.  The food here is flavorful and presented beautifully, and the service just tops off a wonderful evening.  I can’t say enough about the fantastic experience here.

Bistro on Five – Fantastic option for breakfast or any meal, especially if you love crepes like we do.  There is an upcharge of $5/person to eat here, but worth at least one or two visits to try both the sweet and savory crepes.  We dined at Bistro on Five about 10am on Day 2 and were literally the ONLY people there.

Oceanview Café – The Eclipse buffet is one of the best I’ve experienced at sea.  I love their assortment of international foods, and the variety from day to day.  One of the highlights for us was the daily sushi station that opened every day at 5pm.  It became a sort of “appetizer” stop for us on our way back to our cabin each night for our pre-dinner nap, and I admit that on some evenings I overindulged.  It would be great if the sushi were available earlier in the day so it didn’t conflict with those enjoying early dining or, like us, those wanting to snack on it but not spoil our late dinner.  I still think about that sushi because it wasn’t like typical “cruise” sushi – it contained the right balance of rice and seafood.

We visited several bars on Eclipse, especially during a poker run/pub crawl we attended.  Our favorite bars were:

Molecular Bar for the freshness and flavor of the nicely crafted drinks.  Be sure to try a Lucky Cat with liquid nitro!

Martini Bar for the show they create when someone orders a flight.  We sat next to a group who ordered a flight of 17 martinis, and yes, the bartender poured 17 martinis on  top of the bar all at one time.  Pretty impressive!  This bar has an ice top to it so you can feel free to carve your sweet sayings or whatever you feel like saying.

Sunset Bar for the fantastic location on the aft of the ship.  Watch the wake and see an all-around view of the sea.

The late night adult comedian, Brad (something) was funny, but not the funniest adult comic I’ve seen at sea.  He performed just about every night on the ship, but the Cruise Director said each show was the same.  So, if you see him once, there’s no need to go back to see him again.  I DO recommend going to see him, but I could have gone for a “more adult” show, if that makes sense.

The Corning Glass Museum Hot Glass Show is a must see!  Watch as they create bowls and vases and other items for the ship.  We got to see them make a couple of different items, but the large bowl they were making for the Liquid Chef at Molecular Bar actually broke after they’d worked on it about 45 minutes.  You could see the disappointment in the gaffers and the crowd as well, but they kept on keepin’ on!  They offered several shows, so be sure to catch at least one.  Note that the Hot Glass Show is not on Silhouette and it won’t be on Reflection.

San Juan – We took the free hop on/hop off trolley from the pier up to the San Cristobal fort.  We’ve been to so many forts in the Caribbean and in the U.S., but if you haven’t been to this one or El Morro it’s worth a visit.  Cost was $3/person and the trolley stops right in front of it.  Afterward, we walk easily down the hill to our favorite spot in San Juan – Café Berlin.  That place just keeps getting better.  Their menu is fantastic for both vegetarians and carnivores, their drinks hit the spot, and the service is attentive and friendly.  We enjoyed dining outside on the sidewalk and meeting another couple from Seattle, and sharing stories.  Small world.

St. Maarten – We cabbed it over to Orient Bay, and walked to the north end as far as possible, to Coco Beach, which is where we spent the day sunbathing and eating/drinking.  It’s not the cheapest spot on Orient, but it’s not as touristy and has far less people enjoying the place.  We didn’t feel like we were on top of our neighbors, and I was able to sunbathe topless without people gawking (except for two young girls who were curious – but it was a bit amusing watching them watch me through their sunglasses as they strolled by slowly).  Yes, I could see them.

St. Kitts – This was our first visit to this lovely island and we were happy to have chosen Welcome Tours as our tour company.  Beulah is the owner, but our tour guide was York.  Beulah greeted our group (we had put together a group of 8 in advance) with hugs, and welcomed us back at the end of the day with hugs.  She was such a warm person and great representative of the island.  We purchased the Full Island Tour for $38 p/p which was a steal compared to some other companies.  We felt fortunate to have received a tour of the full 68-mile island so we know where we want to hang out next time we visit St. Kitts.  I recommend this tour company as a great way to see the island and meet some of the locals along the way.

Celebrity Eclipse is one of the, if not THE most beautiful ship I’ve experienced in our 15 cruises so far. 

The atrium area with the glass elevators, and the artwork sprinkled around the ship really add to an elegant but UNstuffy experience. And The Lawn Club.  If you miss spending time at The Lawn Club, you’re really missing out on something that sets these ships apart from others.  There’s nothing quite like seeing a guy mow the lawn on a cruise ship!  The grass is so perfectly kept that you MUST walk your bare feet through, play some lawn games, or lay down a towel and just relax while gazing out at the ocean.  It’s a majestic event. 

The service really set this cruise apart from others – each staff member delivered excellent service, and I just can’t thank them enough for providing such a memorable anniversary cruise for us!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Walt Disney World Resort - A tour of the resorts

I had the opportunity to stay at Walt Disney World recently while TravelGirl was there on business.  My goal was to visit as many Disney resorts as possible during the three days, and I managed to hit 10 of them.  We also spent one day at three of the parks, with the sole purpose of going on as many rides as possible (which will be part of a separate blog post).  As always, it’s still a blast to experience Disney parks. 

Disney’s Deluxe Resorts
We arrived around 11am on Wednesday at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort.  Check-in was a breeze and the front desk was very friendly.  We had the option of valet parking or self-parking, and we chose the latter.  The self-parking lot wasn’t that far away, but it could be a bit of a trek if you’re carrying a lot of stuff.  If you’ve got a big family, you may want to opt for the valet option.

The room was spacious and mostly clean, except the refrigerator had a leftover dried liquid of some sort (click HERE to view the room tour).  Wi-Fi is available in the lobby, and wired internet was available in the room, both for a fee of $9.95 per 24 hour period.  They were not interchangeable, however, so if you purchased Wi-Fi in the lobby, you needed to purchase it again in your room.  Deluxe resorts come with a refrigerator, dual sinks in the bathroom, and microwaves are available on request.

I then toured a standard room at Disney’s Animal Kingdom resort, The Jamba House.  Recently upgraded, the room’s layout was very similar to that of the Yacht Club (click HERE to view the room tour), and came with all of the same amenities.  The staff was extremely friendly and helpful.

Finally, I was able to see three rooms at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (opened in 1988 as The Grand Floridian Beach Resort).  Of all the resorts I toured, this Victorian themed resort was closest to the Magic Kingdom, with some views of Cinderella’s Castle, Space Mountain, and even Epcot in the distance.  While not within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom, it’s a very short monorail ride from the main entrance.  I found the cast members extremely friendly, the rooms very clean and the grounds very well kept. The only possible negative I encountered was how far away the self-parking lot was from the resort’s entrance.  This resort also has the oldest and most cheerful bellhops I have seen at any accommodation I’ve ever visited anywhere! (Click HERE to view the room tours)

Disney’s Value Resorts
The first Value resort I visited was Disney’s All-Star Sports resort, but unfortunately they were unable to give me a room tour.  I did not enjoy my time at this resort, as I had to wait in line for about 20 minutes while I counted 10+ cast members chatting behind the counters. Of the 10 resorts I visited, this was the single worst lobby experience.  I will not be recommending this resort to my clients.

The second Value resort I visited was Disney’s All-Star Music resort.  The staff there was friendlier than the previous resort, but I didn’t really get that great “Disney customer service experience” that I’ve come to expect.  The room felt older, and while I’m not 100% certain, I’m pretty sure it hadn’t been refurbished anytime recently.

I visited the All-Star Movies resort next, and it was definitely the best of the All-Star resorts. The people were friendly, the manager took a minute to introduce himself to me, and the room had been refurbished recently, so it looked great! 

Disney’s Pop Century resort was the fourth and final Value resort that I visited, and was my favorite of the Value resorts.  As with the previous one, this resort was clean, the people were very friendly and accommodating, and it’s also the newest of the Value resorts.  The over-sized artwork from the various decades were captivating.  Pieces like the huge foosball table, a giant Big Wheel, and mammoth 8-track cassette tapes really brought me back to memory lane even if for just an hour.

Other notes regarding the value resorts:
  • None of the rooms include a refrigerator, but one can be rented for $10/night
  • The rooms will have either one king bed or two double beds
  • The maximum occupancy in any one standard room is 4
  • The layout of the lobbies are nearly identical for the Sports, Music and Movies resorts
  • Click HERE to view tours of the All-Star resorts
  • Click HERE to view a tour of the Pop Century resort

Disney’s Moderate Resorts
The first Moderate resort I toured was Disney’s Caribbean Beach resort.  The lobby was open and inviting, and again, the cast members were very friendly and accommodating.  The good news/bad news about this resort involved the beaches.  The good news was that each area of the resort, known as “islands” (Aruba, Jamaica, etc), featured a sandy beach area with chaise lounges.  The bad news was that the water is unswimmable since it is swampland.  The good news is that just above each of the beach areas is a pool, so you’re not that far from the water. 

All of the rooms had been recently refurbished, so you have the iHome radio with a docking station for your iPod or iPhone as well as updated furniture and fixtures.   Rooms in Moderate resorts also include a refrigerator, so if that’s something you’ll definitely want during your stay, I would recommend at least a Moderate resort. 

I toured two different types of rooms: The standard room and the Pirate themed room.  Both rooms will accommodate 4 people, but the biggest difference is the absolute, over-the-top décor of the Pirate themed rooms.  The beds are shaped like pirate ships, the refrigerator is in a barrel, the dressers are shaped like shipping crates and the curtain that you can draw for privacy in the bathroom area has a giant pirate skull and cross-bones.  If you and/or your kids love pirates, YOU MUST STAY IN THIS ROOM (click HERE to view the room tours). 

Next, I visited Disney’s Coronado Springs resort, a southwest-themed Moderate resort.  Again, nice lobby area, plenty of cast members available, and the wait in line wasn’t bad at all.  Unfortunately, there was some miscommunication among the cast members regarding my tour.  After requesting the tour, I waited nearly an hour for a cast member.  Not really a big deal, but surprising nevertheless.

The rooms had been refurbished recently and were very nice and spacious.  There really isn’t a ton to add about the rooms, as the layout among the two moderate resorts were very similar (click HERE to view the room tour).  The cast members were polite and friendly, just as I would expect from Disney. 

Finally, I had a chance to tour The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness resort. This was the last resort that I toured and also included a somewhat… different tour guide.  What was so different, you might ask?  He was cranky and chose to give me some of his opinions on Disney as an employer!  I was shocked, but I must admit that I found it rather amusing. 

If you prefer to unwind away from all the action in a cabin that can comfortably sleep a family of six, this is the resort for you.  Each cabin includes one set of bunk beds, one double bed, one pull-down double bed, a full kitchen, a sizable deck and a barbecue.  This is also a great option for families looking to save a few bucks by preparing some meals in the cabin versus dining out every night.  Also at Disney’s Fort Wilderness resort are full campsites with RV hookups as well as standard tent sites -- a neat option if you want get your Disney on during the day and “rough it” at night (click HERE to view the cabin tour).

In summary, I found the vast majority of resorts clean, spacious and the cast members very friendly and helpful.  The difference between the Value, Moderate and Deluxe resorts were noticeable and I walked away with a clear understanding of which level to recommend to my clients when they’re considering a trip to Walt Disney World.