Archive for May, 2013

24 Hours At Disneyland

A couple months ago, my husband told me of a work conference he was planning to go to in Anaheim.  He knew my response before he even told me.  Of course I have to go with!  It’s by Disneyland, my Happiest Place on Earth!

We booked our trip and were all set to go when Disney made an announcement.  To kick off the Monstrous Summer, on May 24, Disneyland, Disney California Adventure and Magic Kingdom would be open for 24 hours!

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Traveling Recommendations

When I first started flying, it was recommended that you arrive at the airport for your flight 2 hours in advance for domestic flights and 3 hours for international.  At some time, that seemed to change to 90 minutes prior for domestic flights.  Most airlines will tell you you’re expected to be on the plane 10-20 minutes prior to the flight for an on-time departure.

The reason for these times are basically lines.  It only takes a couple minutes to check your bags, go through security and get to the gate, but that’s with no one else there.  You never know how many people there will be.  Even if not checking bags, you still should give it extra time.

Here is a story of our recent flight.  First, I’ll tell you that everyone blamed TSA.  You be the judge as to who was at fault.

We arrived at 5:35 am for a 7:20 am flight.  We got in the line for bag check and waited only a minute or two for an agent.  After our luggage was checked, we got on the escalator to security.  Only one check point was open, possibly due to the departure of a World War II veterans freedom flight gathering at the other end of the terminal.

The line was out past the room where we normally would wind back and forth.  The line went back and forth three times before we got the usual room  The time was now 5:40 am.  After about 5 minutes, a gentleman came up and asked to cut across the line as his flight was at 6:00.  Another woman moved ahead with him.  This process repeated more than a dozen times  At one point, a group of travels all with flights before 6:15 am decided to go to the crew line to see if they could get through because their flights were so soon.  TSA agents told them there was one passenger line and they must go through it.

When we got to within 30 people from security, we could see a new hold up developing.  The TSA agent at the scanner made an announcement reminding everyone that they must remove all liquids from their bags.  many bags were put through multiple times as a result of those “not remembering” to do so.

At this point, a gate agent was in the area and asked who was there for a 6:10 am flight.  It was not 6:00 am.  A passenger from the 6:00 flight was paged and she was still getting ready for the scanner (due to the liquid issue).  She started having a meltdown.

We finally got through at 6:10 am.  We would have been through be 6:00 or 6:05 if not for the people who cut ahead and those who didn’t remove stuff from their bags before the scanners.

Thinking this was partially caused by the airport event, we spoke to our gate agent.  She was not surprised there were only five of us at the gate for a full flight.  She said it’s always that way at security.

That changed my opinion slightly.  The biggest problem was that people think it’s okay to arrive 30 minutes before a flight and expect the lines to move aside for them.  Next are the people who have been in line for more than 10 minutes but can’t be bothered to follow the rules.  Finally, it is possible that TSA needs more staff at times when there are more flight departures.  This is hard in some airports though as there just isn’t enough room to add more people.

I don’t put as much blame on TSA as I do on the passengers because they chose to come so late and not pay attention to the rules.

The bottom line is no one likes waiting forever at the airport but do everyone a favor and get there at least one hour to ninety minutes prior to your flight.  If you miss it, you’ve only got yourself to blame.

The Boss Is Away Sale

I’m not kidding…hurry, she will be back soon!

Tracy and her husband are celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary in Disneyland this week so we thought what better time to offer you a special deal!  You can receive double referral credit when you refer your friends or family to Travel On A Dream in general or any agent of Travel On A Dream other than Tracy (if you refer them to Tracy, you will still receive referral credit, but at the regular amount).  Booking must be confirmed between May 20th and May 27th with a deposit.  Not only do you receive the double referral credit but with eligible bookings, your friends and family will receive a $25 onboard credit or gift card payable at their time of travel!  Bookings must be $1500 or higher to qualify for the bonus $25 offer.

Hey, she is on vacation she shouldn’t be working anyways, right?  So let’s talk travel!  Email me at deb@travelonadream.com for any questions or more information, or simply submit a quote request at Travel On A Dream.

Happy Anniversary Tracy and Bill!

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Dining on Cruise Lines

Today I’m going to compare our dining experiences on the various cruise lines that we have cruised with.  The most important thing I can say with dining reviews is that each person has their own tastes.  I have a cabinet full of spices.  In fact my New Year’s resolution was to not buy more spices until I used some up.  My mom on the other hand felt that salt and pepper was good enough, though she would go out on a limb once in a while and get seasoned salt or parsley.  We cruised together once and she was very happy with the food, but I found it to be bland and was not pleased with it.

I divided my review into two categories – complimentary dining and specialty restaurants.  Complimentary dining includes the main dining rooms and buffets on most ships, plus some other locations which offer no charge.  Specialty restaurants is anything where you pay an extra fee.

My top choice for dining would have to be Celebrity Cruises.  I found that their buffet was one of the best in terms of layout, offerings and quality of food.  There was a wide selection of breakfast items, including several ethnic choices.  This carried over for each meal as well.  The organization was great and there was rarely a line for anything.  Food choices and quality were very good in the main dining room.  We did get a chance to try the cafe in the solarium and the grill which were nice choices.  We ate at all of the specialty restaurants, including the Bistro on Five, Muranos and Silk Harvest.  The prices and the food was very good at all of the specialty restaurants.  I especially liked no per piece charge for sushi at Silk Harvest.

It is joked that some cruise lines serve sub-par food in the main dining rooms on the first night or two to get you to go to the specialty restaurants for better food.  On Celebrity Solstice, they had a “Taste of Solstice” event to get us to try food from the specialty restaurants because everyone was happy with the main dining room foods.

Next would have to be Disney Cruise Line.  Disney doesn’t offer many specialty restaurants, but I don’t think it is necessary.  With the main dining rooms, Disney offers rotational dining, which brings you to a different restaurant each night, complete with a different themed menu and different costumes on the cast members.  Each ship has three different dining rooms that you will be able to experience at least once each per cruise.  The quality of the food is very good with filets being served instead of sirloin steaks for example.

Cabanas is good, though traffic flow can be difficult at times.  On the newer ships, the aft elevators empty in the middle of Cabanas and Disney cruisers have a hard time abandoning the idea of a line through the buffet, but this is due to the design with everything against one wall.  Disney gets the nod as being the only cruise line with complimentary soft drinks not just at meal time, but anytime in Cabanas or at the 24 hour beverage stations.

Salads, sandwiches, pizza and ice cream are readily available at no extra charge in the quick service locations located on the pool decks.

Disney does offer two adult only specialty restaurants.  This is one of the few lines that have restricted the specialty dining to adults only.  Palo is a Northern Italian fare while Remy (on the two newer ships) is a French dining experience.  The price of Palo is much better than comparables in the industry.  Remy is high priced at $75 per person for dinner (not including wine pairing) but I must say Remy is the best specialty dining we have experienced on a cruise ship.

My next choice for dining would be Carnival Cruise Lines.  This one surprised me.  I didn’t go into the cruise expecting to much from Carnival in terms of dining and was pleasantly surprised.  The food on the buffet was very good and fresh.  They had tandoori, Mongolian grill, Italian dishes to name a few on the buffet most days.  The food in the main dining room was also very good.  We had planned to eat elsewhere more nights but enjoyed dining in the main dining room on the second night and returned nearly every night.

There were some disappointments though as the extra choices on the buffet as they closed down early each day, most late afternoon.  We were never able to get a burger at the pool for dinner as the grill was never open that late.  We tried to have pizza (one of two quick service locations available in the evening) and were told it would be a 15 minute wait for the pizza (this was told to everyone in line who were ordering different types of pizza – nothing was ready at 6:00 pm).  We ended up with a sandwich instead at the deli.

The steakhouse was just ok.  Not bad but definitely not worth the upcharge.  The only plus on this restaurant was that they closed the basketball court immediately above the restaurant during open hours.

Royal Caribbean has moved up a bit since our recent sailing on Oasis of the Seas.  We expected it to be similar to our last cruise on Grandeur of the Seas, which was incredibly bland.  Cuts of meat were the same as we had remembered, unless we paid for an upgraded steak.  The specialty restaurants were good, but overpriced compared to other lines.  Giovannis was the best restaurant for me because the food was plentiful and good tasting, plus the server made it fun.  150 Central Park was good, but for $40 per person plus the wine pairings, it felt expensive.

There were plenty of other complimentary food options during the day including donuts, breakfast at Johnny Rockets and even a character breakfast with the DreamWorks characters.  Much of the complimentary food (with the exception of Johnny Rockets and the Wipeout Cafe for breakfast) was very bland.  The coffee was undrinkable unless you paid for the Seattle’s Best or Starbucks.  Pizza was pretty good when we tried that.  There was a lot to offer at the buffet, though it seemed very small for the number of people onboard.

By the end of the cruise, we were tired of paying the upcharges for mediocre food.  I must say though that the food was better than the last time we cruised Royal Caribbean.

Remember what I said about the food in the main dining room driving the guests to the specialty dining?  This was definitely the feeling we got when we cruised on the Norwegian Dawn.  I have to say that we did enjoy the buffet, but ended up eating there too many nights.  The food in the specialty restaurants did not warrant the upcharges.  We ate in the steakhouse and paid the service fee but an upgrade charge to get surf and turf.  This was a total waste.  There seemed to be an upcharge for everything, even pizza.  We were happy at the buffet but this also meant eating way more than we should on this cruise.

Princess finishes off the list.  Everything was bland on this cruise, including both specialty restaurants.  We were excited about the newly updated menus in them but couldn’t find any taste in any of the dishes.  The only exception was when we ate at the Chef’s Table.  This experience was amazing and the food was outstanding.  For the price and what we got, I would even say this was better than Remy, but it is very exclusive so I can’t really say this is a choice for most to be able to do.  I have a feeling that Princess as a whole has set standards for the food on the ships and have given the galleys very little leeway.  The Chef’s Table however, is a whole evening orchestrated by the Executive Chef.  Rumor has it they have a battle between different chefs for who has the best meal.  It’s unfortunately they don’t do this with all of the meals offered onboard.

Once again, these are my opinions based on my tastes and desires.  I can’t say that we have had bad food on any cruises, just food that I don’t enjoy.

Entertainment on Cruise Lines

At the end of the day, after spending time on shore or at the pool, it’s time to relax and catch a show.  The variety of entertainment on cruise ships has gotten better over the years.  It’s no longer just the cheesy song and dance numbers by the “cruise line dancers”.  Yes, there still is some of that, but some lines have stepped it up considerably.

In some cases, the ship will make a difference.  We have cruised on than Norwegian Dawn and were very disappointed by the nightly shows.  I haven’t been on one of the newer Norwegian ships for a sailing, so I can’t comment on that.  The first two times we sailed on Royal Caribbean, the nightly shows were not worth our time, but I was very impressed by the shows on the Oasis of the Seas.

If the nightly shows are important to you, make sure you let your travel agent know so they can pick out the best cruise line and ship for you.  Here are my picks in order of personal preference.

Royal Caribbean – Oasis of the Seas has Hairspray, Allure of the Seas has Chicago, Liberty of the Seas has Saturday Night Fever.  In addition we had a headliner (on our sailing it was Abbacadabra and we also had an American Idol star), Come Fly with Me and Oasis of Dreams in the AquaTheater.

Disney Cruise Line – Fantastic shows with outstanding choreography, stories and music.  It doesn’t matter which ship you are on, the shows are amazing for kids of all ages.  Yes, these shows are appropriate for everyone, which seemed to be a problem on some of the lines.  The Golden Mickeys, Wishes, Aladdin, Twice Charmed.  The only thing that made me unhappy was that DCL discontinued Hercules the Muse-i-cal.  Loved that show!  Disney spares no expense with these shows as the sets and costuming are top notch.

Celebrity – The shows we saw on Celebrity Solstice were mixed.  Some seemed very professional while others were a bit laughable.  Definitely there were shows that shouldn’t be missed.  Pulse, Remix and Edge are three of their custom productions.

Norwegian – Revue-type shows with singing and dancing.  Sets are minimal and costuming is refitted when new cast comes in.

Carnival – More of the revue type shows.  Went to two shows that were supposed to be “the best”.  Dancing in the Streets was ok but not in a league with either RCCL or DCL.  We didn’t bother with Get Ready but were invited as VIPs to Xtreme Country.  Since we were sitting next to our hostess for the night, we felt we had to look like we were enjoying ourselves.  It was a hard act.  A couple good singers, but not a good production.

Princess – Nothing about these shows “invited” us so unfortunately, I cannot rank Princess.

Next up:  Dining.

Fall Discounts and Free Dining at Walt Disney World

Editor’s Note:  Today’s blog is from our agent Deb Feaster.  Thanks Deb!

Today Disney World has released two new promotions for those of you traveling between mid-August and the end of September, 2013.

The first offer is for travel dates from August 15 to September 28 and is a room discount.  Rooms booked under this promotion can be upgraded with tickets and the dining plan for a package (they cannot receive free dining though).  Discounts range from 5% to 30% off the room rate and must be booked by July 31, 2013.

The second offer is for free dining!  For arrivals between September 2 and September 25, 2013, you can qualify for a free dining plan with your non-discounted package of at least three nights with at least a two day ticket.  For packages at a value resort, the quick service dining plan would be included at no extra cost.  For packages at moderate, deluxe and deluxe villa resorts, the plus dining plan is included at no extra cost.  You must book this offer by July 31, 2013 as well.

With the free dining offer, you can upgrade your dining plan for the difference in the normal price of the dining plan you are getting for free and the dining plan you would like instead.

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Some restrictions do apply and availability is very limited.  Campsites, 3 bedroom villas and Little Mermaid standard rooms at the Art of Animation are excluded from this offer.

Contact me at deb@travelonadream.com for any questions or more information, or simply submit a quote at Travel On A Dream agent.

Are The Oasis Class Ships Too Big?

As you may know, I was on the Oasis of the Seas last week with a group of ToaDers.  We had a fantastic time, as is usually the case with ToaDers.  We created lots of memories that will last forever!

I had always said that I wouldn’t want to cruise on a ship as large as Oasis of the Seas.  It’s HUGE!  But when I toured the ship in 2011, she didn’t feel like a huge ship.  It wasn’t overcrowded and that was on embarkation day.  I decided to give it a try.

I don’t think I would have been as happy had we booked this cruise alone without friends.  It was great meeting up with people for activities and meals.

If I were to ever sail on the Oasis or Allure of the Seas again, I would definitely select a different room type.  I missed the ocean view.  I also didn’t like being so far back on a deck.  It wasn’t the motion (though surprisingly I did still feel motion even on such a large ship), it was the distance to everything.  Just getting to the nearest elevator was a hike.  I would likely select a room closer to the forward stairs/elevators.

One of our travelers clocked the distance from our room to the forward beverage machine on the Promenade.  Roundtrip it was 1/2 mile.  We got into the habit of combining trips and carrying more stuff with us on each trip to avoid the lengthy walks.

I never felt that things were worse at the elevators or getting out of shows or dinner seatings because of the number of people onboard.  It was pretty much the same as any other ship.  Yes it took time and there was waiting involved, but it wasn’t any worse than other ships with half as many passengers.

The biggest issue I had was with customer service, which indirectly was related to the size of the ship.  I did have an officer blame the customer service on the size of the ship itself (fewer crew to handle the ship), but the problem I had was most responses to inquiries was “you need to go there” to take care of anything.  It was never a simple phone call.

To set up the internet access in my cabin, I needed to go to the aft elevators, up to deck 14 to the card room and sign up.  But I had a discount coupon so I had to go to deck 5 after signing up and turn in the coupon.  Then finally I could go to my cabin to use the internet.  Only problem was, I couldn’t send emails from Outlook so I called for help.  Can’t do that, have to go to Guest Services, who then directed me back to the card room where they gave me a different outgoing server name.  I asked about the port number to use and was told that didn’t matter “if it did matter, the IT department would have told me what to tell you”.  It did matter.  For the duration of the cruise, I had to go to my web client and send all emails, requiring considerably more time on the internet and less time available to post pictures and blogs.

I did enjoy the extra space available though.  We never felt crowded in any area or venue, except on formal night or when they were giving away something.  The Promenade did tend to fill up then.

Other than these few issues, I didn’t feel that the Oasis of the Seas felt too big.  I don’t think you should be intimidated by the size of the ship when selecting a cruise.

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