August 27, 2014

The Beginner's Guide to Disney Cruise Line

With so much riding on picking out the perfect vacation (time, stress, money) it always made sense to me to stick with what we knew. Growing up, our vacations alternated between Walt Disney World and beach condos. Until one day, during my junior year of college when I agreed to chaperone a high school Europe trip. That trip taught me many things, but mostly that I wanted to see more than just a part of this world. As a fan of all things pixie-dust related, I wanted to follow Disney and set to sea with the newest cruise ships.


How do I go from my beloved home away from home at Walt Disney World without finding myself adrift? The "fish out of water" feeling sent me straight to the DVR/library/discussion boards/Google for more information. Armed with entirely too much information, much of it contradictory opinions on what I "must do" for a fabulous first cruise, I finally shipped out on my first cruise. Guess what? We didn't do most of the things on that list of "must do" activities but loved every minute of our vacation and planning ahead for our "next cruise."

So where should you start your adventure?

1.) Pick an Exciting Destination
The majority of Disney Cruises visit either the Bahamas or the Caribbean. The Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy currently visit Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private paradise, year round.  Although many Disney cruisers started out on the three or four night Bahamian cruise in order to "get their feet wet" first time cruisers make up a significant number of cruisers on all but the rarest itineraries. I prefer at least four nights with at least one day at sea for a first time cruiser to really get a taste of being on a cruise. Whereas port days offer a chance to explore the world and get a taste of a new culture, sea days let you relax and reenergize; a great vacation balances both.


Seven night Caribbean itineraries allow a wonderful mix of both. Europe and Alaska tend to be port intensive while a Transatlantic cruise offers many sea days. For something longer and a little further out to sea, Europe, Alaska, the Transatlantic crossing, the Panama Canal, Norway and even Hawaii host these graceful vessels for anywhere from a seven night Mediterranean itinerary to a fifteen night voyage through the Panama Canal.

The least you need to know:
Picking out your destination first leads you to which ships and then what time of year best suits your dream vacation! (e.g.: I want to go to Alaska, so I will be traveling during summer season on the Disney Wonder.)

2.) Pick a Date and Book
Once you know where you want to go, figure out when you should set sail. Disney Cruise Line, much like the parks, enjoys much busier holidays and summer seasons. Holiday seasons feature special events on board (everything from gingerbread house decorating to trick or treating.) The trade off for cruising during the holidays and school vacations is that they can be more expensive than the same itinerary on a different week. If you are more concerned with making your voyage economical there are quite a few tips and tricks to sail Disney Cruise Line on a dime.

Hurricane season for the Caribbean runs from June first through November first each year, if you prefer to avoid that. Disney unfortunately still can not control the weather, so trip insurance might be the way to go.

The last piece of information to be nailed down at booking is your stateroom category. You've seen the promotional materials flaunting inside staterooms on the classic ships "up to twenty five percent larger than the cruise industry standard." This is wonderful, until you realize that this makes a stateroom a smidgeon smaller than the average American dorm room. Fortunately, this "Itty Bitty Living Space" is quite accommodating even for a family of four or more. Although Disney breaks the staterooms into eleven categories with an even greater number of subdivisions. Thankfully, there are four basic categories to consider.
  • Concierge with Verandah - Whether you're living the suite life in the Walt Disney Suite or enjoying the service of your concierge from a family oceanview stateroom with verandah, you get a little more elbow room than the average cruiser and unparalleled luxury and service to boot!
  • Staterooms with Verandah - Enjoying room service coffee on a private verandah is a lovely way to wake up.
  • Oceanview Staterooms - A room with a view! Either a single large porthole or a pair of smaller portholes will let you enjoy sunrises, sunsets and natural lighting.
  • Inside Staterooms - These rooms do not come with an exterior view (unless you are on the Dream class where magic portholes provide lovely outside views.) 
As the ship fills up for a particular sailing the pricing will jump to the next tier, so booking as early as possible doesn't just allow for plenty of planning time but also saves cash in the long run.


The least you need to know:
The bulk of the difference in price between cruises will be based on time of year and cabin category. Avoid times of year when school is out and book as early as possible for the biggest savings

3.) Pack (Less Than You Think)
Though you will want to pack appropriate clothing for dinner, excursions and perambulating about deck four, you don't need to worry that you will appear on What Not to Wear: Disney Cruise Line Edition anytime soon. Keep in mind that mid-winter the Caribbean is still very warm and mid-summer Alaska is still fairly cool. "Cruise Casual" is the rule of the day on deck and even most evenings. For dressier evenings, mixing and matching stretches your wardrobe. Palo and Remy each follow a slightly stricter dress code.



The shops on board carry a variety of resort wear, with one shop focusing on children's wear and the other tending toward more adult sized clothing from swimwear, sweatshirts and beach cover ups to dresses and polo shirts. If all else fails, or if you're enjoying a two week vacation, laundry services or self service (detergent, fabric softener, washers and dryers) can charged on your Key to the World card.

The least you need to know:
Disney keeps a fairly loose dress code with exceptions in Palo and Remy. Laundry is available on board.

4.) Embrace the Pixie Dust
The one thing that you can rely on when setting sail with Disney is that magic will appear around every corner. I've run into dozens of Disney characters just by walking the halls. Peter Pan on the staircase, Donald Duck while walking my daughter to the restroom and Belle reading to a cluster of little princesses on the floor in the hall?

The Royal TreatmentReally?

Yes, that's just another day on a Disney cruise.

If you're lucky Donald will do the potty dance with your daughter and remind her she should be on her way somewhere.

Food more your speed?
From Mickey bars to chocolate soufflés, they've got you covered. From breakfast time to the wee hours counselors entertain the smaller sailors in the Oceaneer's Club and Lab so that adults can take advantage of all the amazing adult activities. With more activities than you can shake a stick at, it's entirely possible to run from dawn to dusk on board, or kick back, relax and let Captain Mickey do the driving while a lounger and fruity drink call your name.

One of the best parts of Disney Cruises, in my book, is the opportunity to entirely unplug from the outside world and spend some time with my family making memories. Whether taking an animation class, shuffleboard, putt-putt or competing in something a little higher tech (Midship Detective Agency, anyone?) it's all a little bit more magical when everyone can relax and enjoy together.

If you're looking for an adventure a bit off the beaten path (but still on the ship) try one of these ideas for a bit of hidden pixie dust. Cruising tends to be one of the unique situations in life where you are encouraged and expected to sit back relax and go with the flow, so enjoy!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Even Platinum Castaway Club members (DCL's return cruiser program) started out unable to tell the port from the aft! With a little bit of faith, trust and pixie dust even the biggest landlubber can earn their sea legs. Just cruise on over to Disney Cruise Line's website to start picking out an itinerary and soon you'll be saying "Bon Voyage!" to your normal vacation. I hope to see you soon and "Welcome Aboard!"


Want more tips on how to plan your first Disney Cruise Line vacation?
Cruise on over to my Disney Cruise Line 101 tab for answers to FAQs and my favorite tips!

August 26, 2014

Wordless Wednesday ~ Disney Details

Welcome Wordless Wednesday Blog Hoppers!

Spot the hidden Mickey in the old Palo dishware.

Thank you to Focused on the Magic for hosting!

Focused on the Magic

#DisneyMP 2015: One Week More!

Time to stock up on Mickey Bars, Oxford commas and patience. The best guess, based on rather cryptic Seinfeld tweets from the Jedi Master himself, is that next Tuesday morning the applications for the 2015 Disney Parks Moms Panel will open.


I'm excited yet calm, (which is a good thing considering that round one traditionally lasts over a month.) Will there be multiple choice questions? A lightning round? Videos? Skype? It's really wide open as the panel application process continues to evolve under Gary Buchannan's leadership. I plan to dream pixie dust dreams and enjoy every minute of this year meeting the most magical ladies (and men) in the world.

Who else is applying?
 

August 22, 2014

Foodie Friday ~ Chocolate Chip Pecan Mickey Pancakes

Welcome Foodie Friday Blog Hoppers!

Chocolate Chip Pecan Mickey Pancakes (GF and Vegan)
Location: My Kitchen!
Cost: The Cleanliness of My Kitchen

Magical breakfast for one!
My kids love making pancakes at home because they get to be in charge of creating their very own culinary magic. The chocolate chips may have something to do with it, too.



I love mixing up our own pancake batter at home because it's easier to mix our own than to find gluten free vegan pancakes anywhere outside of Disney.

Honestly, there is no telling how much milk or vegetable oil went into these.
They seemed to taste pretty awesome regardless of exact measurements!
Ingredients:
1 cup Bisquick Gluten Free mix
1 cup almond milk
1 egg substitute (your choice. We like 1 TBSP Chia Seed to 3 TBSP hot water.)
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup pecan chips
1/2 cup chocolate chips (Vegan and GF)
       or blueberries
Earth Balance to grease griddle

The joy of getting to use the electric mixer.
Directions:

1.) Clear counter of everything breakable.

2.) Add Bisquick Gluten Free mix, almond milk, egg substitute, vanilla and vegetable oil to large bowl.


3.) Blend well. You can really go nuts on this step as GF goods never really seem to get too tough from overbeating the way wheat based pancakes do.

4.) Fold in nuts, chocolate chips or berries.

5.) This is where I get a turn. Pour 1/4 cup Mickey head attached to heaping tablespoon Mickey ears onto a frying pan.
Frying pan.
Who knew?
You can use a griddle if you prefer.

6.) Cook until the edges are  bubbly.
Flip very gently (or Mickey may lose an ear).
Cook until golden brown.

7.) Enjoy with earth balance, maple syrup and a nice cup of tea.

Makes four Mickeys or two Mickeys and 10 extra ears.

 


 Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go eat the ears off of my pancake.

August 19, 2014

Wordless Wednesday ~ Retro-Rad

Welcome Wordless Wednesday Blog Hoppers!


For the record, the old bride and groom Mickey Ears ROCKED!


Thank you to Focused on the Magic for hosting!
 
Focused on the Magic

Why I Plan to Apply to #DisneyMP (Again)

As a child walking into Disneyland I seriously considered running away from home and hiding out in Fantasyland for the rest of their life. I figured Aurora wouldn't mind if I slept in the castle. In this magical wonderful place that inexplicably smelt of hot buttered popcorn and ice cream cones and hope, everyone feels welcome and at home.

Sharing the magic of family togetherness and memory-making with other people is a real treat. Nothing comes quite so close to the idea of living everyday in Walt Disney World or onboard the Disney Magic. Nothing is quite so fun as meeting for coffee with a friend to discuss port adventures, kids clubs, and amazing destinations.

Then, I applied for the panel last year.

Everything changed.

I belonged to a few different Disney discussion forums, but somehow, meeting fellow super fans among the Disney Parks Moms Panel hopefuls made the whole community come to life for me. Maybe it was the mystery of figuring out the tweets. Maybe it was the feeling that everything routine about the search was new last year. Maybe it was serendipity of social media blooming and new leadership at the panel search. Whatever it was, it was above all else incredible, wonderful and special to talk to these ladies (and men) in our own little "waiting room." The humor and wild creativity was heady stuff. The antics and off the wall theories (Hunger Games round? Reality Show for the final contestants?) made the waiting quite the bonding experience.

These are my people.

People who have an issue figuring out what a #DisneySide could be because they are all Disney Side. Almost a year later, we are still friends. We follow each other's blogs. We share well wishes and help and laughter. This community is surprisingly without drama aside from the obvious who made the next round shake-up.

If I made the #DisneyMP (the Disney Parks Moms Panel, that is) last year when I had applied, I would have jumped up and down, squealed, run a half marathon, checked that it was real a million times and started planning for the training. Then I would have helped hundreds of people plan the Disney Cruise of their dreams. The #DisneyMP hopeful friends I've made would cheer (just like I will cheer if it is their year to be recognized for their incredible love of Disney.)

Instead I got the world's most pixie-dusted "no" and after a brief mope, returned to helping friends, relations, and acquaintances decide on sail dates, staterooms, and ships. There is something remarkably rewarding in knowing that you told the family with the "Total Ironman Fan" boys about MARVEL's  Avengers Academy on the Disney Magic. So while I did not make the Disney Parks Moms Panel in an official capacity last year, I continue to be the most outspoken advocate of all things Disney in my circle of friends. I continue to help plan trips. I continue to hope and dream and help others imagine their own perfect vacation.


Though I love my role in the Disney Fan chorus, some part of me still longs to explore the role of Disney Moms Panel and see what adventures lie down that path.
I am ready to apply again.
Let's get this party started!

Do you plan to apply? Have you applied a previous year?

August 18, 2014

Galavant

Winter season break becomes a little more magical for Oncers (fans of the ABC show Once Upon a Time.) Aside from my usual hanging on the #OAUT twitter tag for hints about the spring episodes, I can enjoy something fairytale with a lovely touch of the whimsical. Galavant boasts a score by musical phenomenon and Disney Legend Alan Menken (everything from The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast to Tangled) and lyrics by Glenn Slater (Tangled and the stage adaptation of The Little Mermaid).

"Huzzah And Tally-Ho! Sit Back And Here We Go!"



Serious?
I don't think so.

Seriously fun?
I'm betting on it! I love that it doesn't take itself too seriously and I'm definitely going to watch it. Will you be tuning in to see this offbeat musical epic adventure?
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