Sandals Royal Caribbean and Montego Bay – Luxury All Inclusive!

I recently had the opportunity to spend 5 days at Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort. During my stay, I toured the resort, as well as Sandals Montego Bay.

In this edition of Journeys with Jen, I will share information on both resorts, as well as talk about the health screening process required for entry into Jamaica and the safety protocols in place at the resorts.

Let’s start by talking about my trip preparation and arrival in Jamaica. Jamaica is requiring a negative COVID test for entry. At the time of this post, you need to be tested between 10 and 2 days prior to travel.

My husband and I both tested at a local Urgent Care Facility and thankfully tested negative. Jamaica is very specific about the documentation you need to present in order to be allowed entry. This is where having a travel agent can be especially helpful! We literally saw people being denied entry because they did not have the proper paperwork!

We made sure everything was in place, applied for our Travel Authorization and anxiously awaited our trip!

At our airport, we were required to present the appropriate forms and test results prior to check in. Once we arrived, all of our documentation was checked again at Customs. We booked a service called Club Mobay and I would never travel to Jamaica without it. We were greeted at the gate and escorted through the entire process. We bypassed a huge line and went straight through. The entire process took about one hour from touch down to resort shuttle.

To the right of our hostess is just a portion of the line we would have waited in without this service.

Now, on to the fun stuff! Sandals provides complimentary transfers to and from your resort. For the transports, whether a shared shuttle or private vehicle (based on your room category), masks are required by the driver and all passengers.

The 2 resorts in Montego Bay that I visited are a very short ride from the airport. We were greeted at the entrance with cool towels, water and porters who handled getting our luggage right to our room.

As guests booked in a Butler category room, we were taken to the Club Sandals lounge for private check-in. We were offered a variety of finger foods and beverages. We decided to toast the start of our vacation with champagne.

Our Butler greeted us once check-in was complete and gave us a walking tour of the entire resort, even stopping to make sure we had the drink of the day right off the bat! He also gave us a complete overview of our room and asked what we would like to have our in room mini bar stocked with during our stay.

Our first drink of the day, A Painkiller! Delicious!

Our room was absolutely beautiful! We had a large balcony that overlooked our semi-private pool, a King Size 4 Poster bed, and a jetted tub/shower combination. We also were located just steps from the main pool, dining and 2 Bars!

Throughout our stay, we took advantage of the Water Sports that are included with your stay. We went snorkeling and enjoyed a ride on a glass bottom boat. We also spent quite a bit of time on the private island, which is just a short, complimentary boat ride away.

Let’s talk food and drinks! Between the two resorts, you have 21 Restaurants to choose from. They range from counter service options for pizza, sandwiches, Jerk Fish or chicken and Empanadas to full service, gourmet dining. There is something for even the pickiest eater. We primarily ate at our resort , but we did enjoy two of our favorite dinners at Sandals Montego Bay. We also loved Cafe de Paris, where we would go for iced coffee and sweet treats.

All of your meals are covered with your stay, so make a point to try a little something from as many venues as possible!
There are several bars located on each property, including swim up bars so you don’t need to leave the pool to get a drink!
Each resort has a drink of the day, as well as your favorites. The bartenders are super accommodating and the drinks are made with top shelf liquor. Absolutely delicious!

After dinner, head to the Main Stage area and enjoy dance parties, trivia and game shows. My husband and I actually walked away with a bottle of rum after we won the Couple’s Game Show. We had a blast! The entertainment crew was so fun. There was never a dull moment.

Alright, back to that Butler! Butler service is absolutely worth the splurge! Shout-out to Nicolas and Steve, our amazing Butlers.

In addition to making dining and activity reservations for us, they also escorted us to dinner each night. Each night, they would check in to see what we would like in our cooler that they filled for us when they reserved us a spot on the beach.

We were greeted by a treat or two each afternoon. We returned to fresh cookies, fruit and cheese plates, champagne, a bubble bath and flower petals on the bed. It was heavenly.

Having a Butler also means you can have room service. I awoke each morning to a delicious breakfast with fresh coffee and a Mimosa. Another perk of having a Butler is the private transfers to and from the airport. Nicolas escorted us to the BMW waiting for us on our final day, introduced us to our driver and loaded our bags into the car.

Our awesome Butlers!

In addition to experiencing the resorts for myself, I also spent a day touring the resorts and seeing a wide variety of room categories.

I was so lucky to get to tour both an Over the Water Villa and and an Over the Water Bungalow! Check out my walkthrough below!

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2810553289234044

Just a few examples of room amenities.

Regarding COVID, Sandals is taking every precaution to keep guests safe. As I mentioned, everyone entering the country must provide a negative COVID test. Temperatures are checked upon arrival and it is possible that you will be retested at the airport.

On resort, guests are only required to wear masks when using the shuttle service. Masks are optional the rest of the time. Staff is wearing masks at all times.

Rooms are cleaned based on an 18 Touchpoint system. Rooms are cleaned and then sealed from the outside. The common areas throughout the resort are constantly being cleaned.

Hand Sanitizer is also required when entering a dining or shopping are.

Sandals has over 20 All Inclusive Resorts throughout the Caribbean. At each resort, there are numerous room categories. Being able to experience these resorts first hand is so important for me as your travel partner.

As a travel agent, I am familiar with each category and notice details you may not, such as which rooms have very high beds, whether there is a deep tub to step into or a Walk In Shower (or BOTH!), which rooms are closest to dining and which are right on the beach. So much goes in to choosing the best room for your wants and needs.

I also have built personal relationships with the General Managers and Hotel Managers. They encourage us to contact them prior to our clients visiting so that they can take extra good care of them. Additionally, if an issue should arise, I know exactly who to call to get it taken care of ASAP!

Dawn, General Manager of Sandals Royal Caribbean. She is so proud of her resort and she has so many reasons to be! I absolutely loved it here!

If you are engaged, and dreaming of a destination wedding, Sandals is the place for you! Couples receive a free wedding ceremony with a 3 Night Stay. A wedding specialist is assigned to you and they help you create the wedding of your dreams!

Imagine a wedding with clear blue waters as your backdrop!

Sandals Resorts are All Inclusive.

That means you do not pay extra for any of the inclusions below:


🏝Meals
🏝Drinks, including Top Shelf Alcohol
🏝Entertainment
🏝Water Sports
🏝Round Trip Airport Transfers
🏝Gratuities

If you are interested in planning a romantic escape, honeymoon, vow renewal or destination wedding at one of Sandals stunning Caribbean Resorts, please reach out to me! I would love to help you plan an experience you will never forget!

Returning to Walt Disney World

Last week I headed to my second home…Walt Disney World. I really wanted to experience the parks and how they are operating since re-opening.

What I saw was incredible. Just as I felt very safe in Universal Studios earlier in the month, I felt safe and so impressed with all of the new measures put in place to keep guests and cast members as safe as possible.

I also really enjoyed the low crowds, new magical experiences and the opportunity to try new things that I frequently skip so that I have time for other attractions.

For this edition, I am going to share a live video I did discussing my experiences at the parks, at my resort and dining. You can also visit my Facebook page and scroll through the many pictures and videos I shared while I was there!

http://www.facebook.com/JenMMarvelousMouseTravels

If you have any questions about what Disney World is doing or if you are interested in a planning a visit, please reach out.

Visiting Universal Orlando During a Pandemic

I just returned from an EPIC visit to Universal Parks and Resorts in Orlando and wanted to share my experiences with you! 

First, I have to say, I could not have been more impressed with all of the measures Universal put in place to ensure guest safety.

They also have U Rest Stations throughout the parks and CityWalk where you are able to remove your masks while socially distancing.

From requiring masks and social distancing to mobile ordering, virtual queues and constant cleaning, Universal is taking safety precautions very seriously.

Now…onto the fun! 

We spent the week in a 2 Bedroom Volcano View Room at Cabana Bay Beach Resort. This room has plenty of room for the entire family and sleeps 8! And you absolutely can not beat the view!

During our stay, we spent two days at Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure and one day at Volcano Bay. The crowds were very low and we were able to see and do everything we wanted to do with minimal waits. There were more characters out than I have ever seen during previous visits! It was a completely unique experience.

We took advantage of our one hour early admission that’s included when staying onsite or buying your tickets through MMT. During that extra hour, we enjoyed seeing Diagon Alley virtually empty, signed up for the wand choosing ceremony, rode Escape from Gringotts-twice and took amazing pictures without a bunch of strangers in the background.

We also spent time exploring each of the onsite resorts and enjoying the different themes and dining options.

Universal offers a variety of resorts for every budget! A stay at one of these great resorts always includes early park admission, plus when staying at a Prime Resort, Unlimited Express Passes are included!

Here is what you can expect during your Universal Resort stay: 


🌡 Temperature checks arriving at hotels  and prior to heading to parks or city walk.
🌈 You get a different colored wristband each day when your temp is taken. You are not allowed on any transportation, or to enter any park without a wristband for the day.
🛏 All guest rooms are left vacant for 24 to 48 hours when a guest checks out.
🔝Elevators are one family only each time.
👯‍♀️ Social distancing of 6 feet at all times. There are markers on the ground all over the parks, in ride lines, food lines, etc.
🧴Hand sanitizer is everywhere. You are given it prior to entering any and every ride, then it’s on the wall right after you exit.
⛱ Poolside chairs are spread out.
🧼Team members are constantly wiping down rails, lockers, tables, etc all day.
📲A Text system is being used to contact Housekeeping for anything you may need.
🥤At poolside dining, your sodas are still refillable, but you have to go up and ask for a fresh cup. 
😷 Masks are not required at the pool, but are needed when ordering food or using the restrooms. 

So the big question on everyone’s mind is how bad are the masks in the Orlando heat. Not going to lie…it’s hot.


•Are they fun? No.
•Are they hot? Yes.
•Is wearing them better than staying home and not going on vacation? YESSSS. 1 million% YES. Take the trip if you feel comfortable.*
•What if my kid won’t wear one? Does your kid wear shoes and pants when they have to? Hair bows? Hats? Sunscreen for their safety? YES. They will wear one if made to. I saw tons of kids with them on. All ages. My youngest is 12 and he asked to stop at the U-Rest areas for a break a few times. Take the breaks. It will help.
•You can eat and drink without them obviously. You can also remove them for photos.

I do not like the heat. Not at all. Wearing one in the Florida heat was definitely an adjustment. I HIGHLY recommend wearing them prior to your trip. Walk in them outside. Get used to them. Get your kids used to them. By the 3rd day in the heat, it was much easier than the first.

Would I wear one and go back? Yes. 100% yes.

I understand traveling right now is not for everyone. But for those wanting to travel, or wanting to visit Universal, I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, please message me. I’ll be happy to answer any questions. This is why I went. I wanted to see this hands on to better help my clients.

If you want a free quote. Message me!

Returning to Travel

Many people are looking forward to traveling again after being confined to their homes for months, but are just not sure it is safe.

Throughout the pandemic, our vendors have done an excellent job of keeping travel advisors up to date with opening dates, as well as new protocols to keep guests and team members safe. Across the board hotels, resorts, cruise lines and theme parks have enhanced cleaning procedures, are checking temperatures of guests and staff and are encouraging social distancing.

While cruise lines are not ready to sail just yet, they are hard at work preparing to welcome guests back. Most cruise lines have suspended sailings through August, 2020. Here are some samples of what various cruise lines are doing in response to COVID-19.

Disney Cruise Line’s official statement is as follows:

Disney Cruise Line Coronavirus (COVID-19) Additional Information

Disney Cruise Line consistently receives among the highest public health inspection scores and has health and safety protocols in place. We also have a comprehensive plan that outlines protocols for managing illness and closely follow the guidance of public health officials. In light of COVID-19, Disney Cruise Line is operating at elevated cleaning and sanitation levels. Among the procedures currently in place include:Training for all of our Crew Members on how best to prevent the spread of illness on board.A health screening completed by all Guests and Crew Members to check for illness before they board the ship.Extensive cleaning and sanitation of high-traffic areas (e.g., handrails, doorknobs and elevator buttons) and children’s facilities.Cleaning of all staterooms twice a day and additional disinfection when necessary.Discontinuing self-service at buffet locations.Regular communication with Guests and Crew Members regarding how to prevent illness.Hand-washing stations and sanitizing wipes conveniently located throughout our ships.Medical clinics on our ships staffed with experienced doctors and nurses and stocked with supplies and medications to treat a variety of illnesses.

In addition to safety protocols, cruise lines are relaxing their cancellation policies. From 125% Future Cruise Credit to 100% refunds on canceled cruises, you can book with confidence that you will not lose your precious vacation dollars.

Disney Parks around the world are slowly opening (Disney World will begin its phased opening with select resorts opening June 22). Universal Studios Orlando is currently open.

Both resorts are employing similar policies to promote safety. Face coverings are required except when eating or drinking. Enhanced cleaning is taking place and social distancing markers are prominent throughout the parks. Additionally, Universal Studios is using a virtual queue for most attractions to reduce the number of people waiting in line.

Universal’s protocols are shown below.

The resort hotels are also undergoing extensive cleaning. While staying in a room, housekeeping is not currently being offered, but you are able to call and request any items needed. Rooms are sanitized and remain vacant for 24 hours between guests.

Caribbean Islands continue to open and welcome visitors back to their numerous resorts. Sandals and Beaches All Inclusive Resorts have introduced their 18 Touch Point Practice.

If you are looking for a vacation away from the crowds, rental homes, cabins and condos are definitely a popular choice right now. I recently sent clients to Gaitlinburg, TN where they stayed in a beautiful 3 bedroom cabin in the mountains. They had a hot tub, game room and private pool. They also had assurance that the homes were meticulously cleaned and prepared for their visit.

Anna Maria Island, Clearwater Beach and St. Augustine are all very popular choices right now for beach escapes.

If you are ready to travel, or if you want more information on what destinations are available to book and how they are keeping you safe, please contact me.

The best piece of advice I can give you is to use the FREE service of a travel agent. It is especially important during this uncertain time that you have an expert in your corner. People lost thousands of dollars on vacations they booked online through booking engines and spent hours and hours on the phone trying to rebook, get refunds or just get questions answered. That is a service I provide for my clients. I know who to call, I know what is being offered and I know how to help you get your vacation back on track!

Bringing Disney Magic to Your Home!

Hey – It’s me again. I know it’s been a while since I posted a Blog, but honestly, I really struggled about what to share during this unprecedented time. I wasn’t sure if anyone really wanted to read about travel. It’s the same problem facing me in my professional life. But then I realized, I can share lots of things in a Blog that I have been sharing on my Business page!

If you are anything like me, you are missing the Disney Parks! I had a personal trip scheduled during the quarantine and have unfortunately had to help more clients than I care to mention reschedule or cancel the vacation they had been looking forward to for so long. So, I decided to bring a few a my favorite things about the parks, to me!

I started by making several of my favorite treats from Walt Disney World and Disneyland. My agency has been sharing amazing recipe cards. Not only are these recipes delicious, they are super fun to make and are a great way to get the kids off of the sofa for a bit!

Another fun and healthy activity we found was Disney Zumba. And boy did we need it after enjoying all of those delicious treats! Just head to You Tube and search “Disney Zumba” and you will find so many fun options!

One really fun thing we did was to pull out old home movies and watch videos of past trips. Some of these were up to 15 years old. It was so fun to watch the old parades and to see old attractions. The parks are constantly changing – everything from the shows to character costumes. Plus, seeing the reactions of my big kids when they were little is absolutely priceless!

Of course, we have definitely been watching Disney Classics, both old and new, as well as celebrities reading Disney stories and the amazing Singalong from earlier this week. We broke out Disney Scene It! and I also hosted my own LIVE Disney Trivia night on my business page. I even went as far as to order candles that smell like different Disney Resorts and attractions! LOL! The kids got a little creative and brought in the princess tents that I set up for events.

One of my favorite activities so far has been the Disney Animation Academy Videos! We love this activity at the parks. You can find just about any character you can imagine and learn how to draw them. I have to admit, my older son is a little better at this activity than I am.

If you are looking to bring the Magic Home, one of the best places to start is #DisneyMagicMoments at https://news.disney.com/magicmoments. Several activities I have mentioned can be found there and so much more! From Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf, hosting an “At Home with Olaf” Series, Virtual Background downloads, amazing performances from The Dapper Dans, to videos of popular Disney Cruise Line Musicals, this website is a Dream Come True for Disney fans!

Lastly, now is a great time to start planning your next Disney vacation. Whether you are wanting to visit one of the Magical parks, sail on a beautiful Disney ship or visit one of the amazing itineraries available from Adventures by Disney, it is the perfect time to do your research. Reach out to your friendly neighborhood Travel Planner (wink, wink) and begin the process of planning travel for Fall, Winter, or even 2021! I can point you in the right direction to research, assist you in planning dining, activities and more – and best of all, there is never a fee for my service!

So tell me, have you done any fun Disney themed activities while quarantined?

Surprise!

I did it! I actually pulled off a surprise vacation! It never fails – I try to surprise the kids with a vacation, a special reservation while traveling or an extra activity on a trip and they figure it out before I can surprise them.

This time, I actually succeeded.

Last year, my oldest and youngest each took a one on one trip with me. My 15 year-old son had been asking for a trip to Universal Studios for a while, but his hectic schedule just made it really difficult to find the time.

So for Christmas this year, I planned a surprise trip. It was so hard to keep it to myself and I nearly let it slip a few times. I was so excited.

Christmas morning finally arrived! First, Kevin found Gryffindor socks in his stocking. No big deal. We all received fun socks in our stockings. Then he opened a box with a Gryffindor Quidditch shirt. I saved the real tip off as the very last gift.

Inside were two Harry Potter lanyards for our tickets and a Train Ticket for the Hogwarts Express. His reaction was priceless!

I was so excited to actually pull of a surprise and I just loved his reaction.

Flash Forward to January 8 and we were on our way! We arrived after dinner time and headed straight to our first night hotel. I did a split stay so that my son could enjoy the adorable Cabana Bay on our off day. We then moved to a Prime Resort that included Express Passes for the parks. But more on that later.

The next day we checked into Royal Pacific, activated our Express Passes and headed to Universal Studios for our one hour early admission. Express Passes are basically Front of the Line tickets offered by Universal Studios. When staying at one of the top three Universal Resorts, the passes are included. If staying at a value level or off-site, the passes are an additional cost.

I can’t say enough about how awesome Express Passes are! My son literally walked on to the Hulk coaster 3 times and we were able to skip the lines for 3 out of 4 of the Harry Potter attractions. As of right now, the passes are not available to use on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Ride.

Another perk of staying onsite is getting to enter a selected park one hour ahead of official opening. Check out Diagon Alley with early admission!

After our free hour, we hopped on the Hogwarts Express and headed straight to Hogsmeade. My son tried his very first Butterbeer before we rode Flight of the Hippogriff and The Forbidden Journey. We explored this awesome area before heading out to check out other areas of the park.

We were on the dining plan and decided to try lunch in Suess Landing. We ended up at Circus McGurkus and it was so cute! It fit in perfectly at Suess Landing, making you feel like you were walking through a Dr. Suess book. Our meals were extremely filling and really good.

Following lunch and some time at Marvel Island, these Harry Potter fans headed back to Hogsmeade and the best thing happened. Kevin was selected to be a part of the Wand ceremony at Ollivander’s. He was so excited and if you have never seen the ceremony, be sure to stop by Ollivanders at some point throughout the day. Kevin did purchase the wand and we had a lot of fun making magic happen at Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley and Nocturn Alley.

After a full day at the park, we had the best dinner! We went to Toothsome Chocolate Emporium at Universal’s City Walk. If you have never been, it is a chocolate lovers dream. And the non-dessert items are pretty good too. We shared a Brussel Sprout Appetizer that was out of this world!

After a great rest at our beautiful resort, we headed to Universal’s Volcano Bay. It was a perfect day for the water park. The weather was beautiful and the crowds were low.

Volcano Bay is full of great water slides, a huge wave pool and multiple lazy rivers. The park offers a really convenient system called Tapu Tapu. It’s looks like a watch and you are able to tap it at an attraction to receive a time to return for the ride. It alleviates long waits for popular attractions. The band also allows for charging privileges so that you do not have to pull your wallet out for your food, beverage and souvenir purchases.

The nice thing about Volcano Bay the day we visited was that with such small crowds, we were able to move at a nice pace, grab a nap and get back to the park for the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts.

The highlight of the trip for us was that we got to ride Hagrid’s coaster twice! Pro tip – if you can’t get in line for this first thing in the morning, go immediately after the Nighttime Lights of Hogwarts and the wait time is much shorter. The ride definitely does not disappoint! I couldn’t get over how smooth it is!

For our Saturday night dinner, I took Kevin to the NBC Sports Grill and it was really delicious. Kevin ordered a huge platter that included samplings of all of their meats and I had the beef brisket. Our dessert was another Brookie, which we had been given at a previous meal, but this time it was served warm with ice cream. It was delicious! In case you are wondering, a Brookie is a chocolate chip cookie baked into a brownie. YUM!

That night we also enjoyed some shopping at CityWalk. We picked up some great souvenirs for the rest of the family and took some fun pictures.

The next day before our flight we had plenty of time to enjoy the parks. We went back to see the things that we had skipped our first day.

Toon Lagoon is absolutely adorable and there are lots of fun shops and dining options. The rides are all water rides, so we skipped those this time around. Next time I’ll plan to pack some flip flops and a change of clothes so we can get soaked.

Next up was the Jurassic Park section. We did some climbing and exploring and even created our own dinosaur. After that we were treated to a concert by the Blues Brothers. So fun! And then we met Donkey from “Shrek.” Even if you are not a huge Shrek fan, you need to experience this! We laughed so hard!

Before we wrapped up our vacation, we raced through New York with Jimmy Fallon. Then we got in line for one last ride on Hagrid’s coaster. This time around we got in the single rider line and rode separate cars, but the shortened wait was definitely worth it.

Now a few tips. If you are considering a Dining Plan, be sure to review both options to decide which is right for you. And it is okay to mix and match. I did one day of quick service and one day Full Service. I personally preferred the Full Plan and found it offered a better savings. That being said, I reviewed menus and pricing before we left and made the call based on the way we eat.

Stay past park closing. What? Yes – as long as an attraction has not closed, you are able to get in line even if it’s 5 minutes to closing. You will not be kicked out of line. On your way out after your ride is a great opportunity to take some park photos without the crowds.

I mentioned it earlier, but it bares repeating. Stay on site and take advantage of the one hour early admission at least once during your visit. The parks, especially the Wizarding World fill up very quickly. That extra hour becomes an even bigger deal if you do not have Express Passes.

Lastly, when you stay onsite, several of the resorts offer boat service or a walking path to the parks. Each of these sites have their own security checkpoint allowing you to skip the huge entrance that the general population is using. It is a huge time saver!

Have you visited Universal Studios – Orlando? What is your favorite part?



Thanksgiving Surprise!

In my last blog entry, I discussed what sparked my family to travel over Thanksgiving. Several of those trips had been to Williamsburg over the years. It had been many years since we spent Thanksgiving in Williamsburg. The idea of going back had come up a few times, but I always dismissed it for something I considered more fun or newer to us.

This year, between schedules and a few other factors, we actually booked ourselves a long weekend in Williamsburg and I am so happy we did! We had the best time! And there was plenty to see and do that we had not done before!

We stayed at the Historic Powhatan Resort. We had stayed there before, but it had been more than 10 years ago. Powhatan Resort offers condos at great rates! We stayed in a 2 Bedroom condo and had all the comforts of home, plus plenty of space. The resort grounds are beautiful and there is so much to do that you will want to be sure to leave yourself some time to enjoy all of the amenities. From game nights, to swimming, to movie rentals, to touring the Historic Mansion or enjoying coffee at the onsite coffee shop, Powhatan has so much to offer.

On Thanksgiving day, we experienced a first for us. We are all huge history buffs and always visit the historic sites in Colonial Williamsburg. This time, we visited the Art Museum and attended a re-enactment of Hamilton and Madison discussing the Federalist Papers. The performers were excellent and it was so informative.

Following the performance we strolled through Colonial Williamsburg and chatted with a few re-enactors.

The next two days were spent at Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town. It was really beautiful and so different from the last time we were there. On Friday, we enjoyed a traditional German Holiday Meal with an adorable Christmas show. We visited with Sesame Street Characters, rode some rides and just had so much exploring each of the countries. It was especially fun to visit with Rudolph and Friends at Holiday Hills!

I also learned a few things about the park which is always a plus in my line of work. For example, I know now that at Busch Gardens the PhotoKey is totally worth the price! At first I didn’t purchase it because there weren’t a ton of photo opportunities listed throughout the park. I learned quickly that if you want to be in your photos, you NEED the PhotoKey. Unlike Disney photographers, Busch Gardens photographers will not take photos for you. Also, if you take the photos yourself, you must stand outside of the character meet or attraction. It makes for pretty rotten pics, such as this one:

Versus the one the photographer took:

Another tip I learned at a newer addition to Christmas Town – even if there is a long wait to meet Santa, it is totally worth it! The line weaves through Santa’s Workshop and it is adorable! You also meet some very friendly elves along the way!

Lastly, do not discount the food! When I think of excellent theme park food, I usually think of Disney food, but Busch Gardens did not disappoint! I highly recommend getting a dining plan. We used ours both days. I had the most amazing dinner at the Smokehouse in New France. It was very filling and really delicious. PS – do not skip dessert there!

On our final day we made the obligatory stop at the Yankee Candle Village. This is such a fun stop on any visit to Williamsburg! They have several stores within one building, as well as snacks. I absolutely adore their Christmas Store and the kids always look forward to creating their own dipped candles. The Village also includes an accessory store, general store and of course, tons of Yankee Candles.

Looking back, I’m not sure why I always resist the idea of going back to Williamsburg. Regardless of the season, it is always fun and informative. For summer travel, there are always great offers for combination tickets for Busch Gardens, Water Country, USA and Colonial Williamsburg. You can easily spend a week there and never run out of things to do.

The area has so many options for lodging. If you are going as a couple or small family, you have your pick of hotel chains and if you are like my family and want more room and extra amenities, there is no shortage of Condo Resort options.

Have you been to Williamsburg? What is your favorite thing to do there?

Thanksgiving Reflections

While today’s blog still deals with travel, it is also a bit more personal than my usual posts.

Quite honestly, I have never been a fan of Thanksgiving. I’m not really sure why. I don’t have a traumatic experience that made me dread the holiday. I think I basically just found it dull. I understand the meaning behind it and appreciate that, but I also feel that gratitude should be practiced everyday.

I am so thankful for all that I have. I tell my husband and kids all of the time that I absolutely can not believe the life that we have built and the things I get to do and share with my children. For me, travel is a huge part of that. I am very thankful every chance I have to travel. It doesn’t matter if it’s a long weekend in DC or a 7 Night Caribbean cruise.

So between the time off from school for the kids and my need not to just sit and make small talk all day on the last Thursday of November, we travel. Sometimes it’s a long weekend and sometimes we manage a full week away to kick off our holiday season.

For several years, we would join my in-laws and other extended family members for a few days at a time. My in-laws would treat everyone to a stay at one of their time share properties. We visited D.C., the Poconos, Williamsburg, VA and Myrtle Beach.

It was nice to visit with out of town relatives and so nice to be given the opportunity to travel for so small a cost. However, as the kids got older, they became more like their parents and had trouble just sitting in a condo to chat for days on end and not really have the opportunity to enjoy the resorts or the area we were visiting. The expectation of these visits was that the kids would play games or do crafts and the adults would sit and chat.

Once that tradition sort of fell by the wayside, we basically made Disney World our Thanksgiving tradition. Just the 5 of us! Sometimes we would do multiple parks and sometimes we would go just to explore the beautifully decorated resorts, enjoy a character meal and spend a night at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

Most years we didn’t even have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and when we did, it was usually the day before. When going to Disney World, we would fly on Thanksgiving day. Two years ago, we arrived in Orlando close to 9 p.m. and the only place open was McDonalds. We still crack up about our Thanksgiving dinner of McDoubles and fries.

Last year was my favorite so far! We went to Disney World for Mickey’ Christmas Party and spent 3 days in Orlando followed by 4 nights on the Disney Dream for our first Very Merrytime Cruise!

The ship was decked out for Christmas and WOW was it beautiful! Mickey and friends were dressed in their Christmas best. Santa and Mrs. Claus made various appearances and you could stop by the atrium throughout the cruise to enjoy sugar cookies and hot Chocolate. If you have not sailed with Disney, I highly recommend it, especially during the holidays.

This year, having spent a week in June at Disney World, we decided to return to an old favorite. We will be heading to Williamsburg, VA. We haven’t been there in years. We plan to visit Busch Gardens Christmas Town, which is full of new attractions that were not there last time we visited. We also have a traditional holiday meal and show scheduled Friday evening at their German Festival House.

On Thanksgiving day, we will be attending a re-enactment of Hamilton and Madison working on the Federalist papers. Being a family full of history buffs, we are all looking forward to this.

As much as we have enjoyed our Thanksgiving travels, every family has a nightmare vacation story and we are no different. Several years ago, we decided to go to Atlantic City for Thanksgiving…with the kids. Yep…we took a 2, 6 and 10 year old to Atlantic City. We wanted to take them to a buffet hosted at one of the larger hotels that we had loved on a previous trip the two of us had taken. We also read about this fun aquarium and the hotel claimed to have activities for kids.

Everything that could have gone wrong did. It rained the entire time. The hotel activities closed at 6 p.m. The restaurant was closed for renovations. The kids were so cranky. The only saving grace was the aquarium! But, we traveled and we still crack up about it.

Do you travel for the holidays? Do you have a Crazy travel story to share?

How I Spent My 4 Days of Walt Disney World Training

Last week, I spent 4 very full days training onsite at Walt Disney World. 

I joined 100 of my fellow agents and toured 23 Resorts, spent hours in classroom trainings and experienced my first VIP tour. 

People who know me often ask why I need to “train” in Walt Disney World. After all, I do visit rather frequently. The thing is, Disney World (and all Disney destinations for that matter) changes frequently. My recommendation or plan of attack for Disney in February will most likely be different by summer. New rides, attractions, rules, dining and accommodations are constantly in the works. So No, I don’t know if all.

My training kicked off at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. We gathered in a conference room, connected with our fellow agents and had a session regarding Travel Insurance. Afterwards, we were broken into teams for a Scavenger Hunt. This was such a fun activity and I actually saw a few things at the Monorail resorts that I had never seen.

That night I experienced another first. We enjoyed dinner and a show at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue at Fort Wilderness Campground. This was quite an experience! It’s a lively, silly show accompanied by an all-you-can eat down home dinner.

We started out bright and early the next day to tour Official Disney World hotels located at Disney Springs. This was a great opportunity to see first hand some of the options visitors have outside of the park resorts. Some offer larger rooms and they all offer a few of the onsite perks of Disney Resorts, such as Extra Magic Hours, character breakfasts, and shuttle service.

That evening we attended one of my favorite special events, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. This year’s party had brand new fireworks and they did not disappoint! If you have never attended the party, be sure to add it to your bucket list when in Disney! The event features great character interaction, special shows and trick or treating in the Magic Kingdom!

A full day of classroom training with Disney representatives followed and we were even treated to a visit from 2 very special guests!

The next day of training was my favorite! We toured Disney’s onsite resorts! We learned some of the backstory of several resorts, as well as which resorts have been renovated and when to expect it for other resorts.

Here are just a few things I learned that will allow me to serve you better! 

Which resorts have refurbished rooms and where they are located within a building?

Coffee maker type is not uniform throughout the property, but I now know how to find out whether you have a Keurig or Cuisinart Pod coffee maker in your room?

Did you know that with refurbishments, resorts have only a limited number of rooms with bathtubs. I do and I know how to make sure you get one! 

Are you a beer aficionado? I can tell you the only resort whose Club Level has a lounge that offers speciality beers on Tap!

I can tell you which resorts have connecting rooms, the size of the resort, extra Magical experiences that can be customized for you, which building within the resort fits your needs and so much more.

Our tour guide shared information about a character experience at a brand new resort that she herself had only learned within the last day. And she gave us a heads up to a major room occupancy change that could happen at any time.

During my training, I split my stay between Disney’s Coronado Springs and Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

Coronado Springs is a moderate resort, but it certainly has a Deluxe resort feel, especially if staying in the brand new Gran Destino Tower. This newly renovated resort is the only moderate property offering Club level rooms. In fact, this resort has more room categories than the other moderate resorts. Adults can enjoy stunning views from the Dahlia Lounge or Toledo signature dining. Coronado Springs is definitely a great choice for your next Disney stay.

I spent my last two nights at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. The Contemporary is a deluxe resort located directly on the Monorail line, making it quick and easy to get to and from the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.

Contemporary is home to some great dining options such as Chef Mickey’s and the California Grill, which offers beautiful views of the Magic Kingdom. Time your reservation just right and catch the nightly fireworks.

I really enjoyed the split stay. My luggage was delivered from Coronado Springs to the Contemporary and it gave me the opportunity to experience two resorts that I had never stayed in before. Disney makes it very convenient to do this.

Finally, the big day arrived! My very first VIP tour! Our group met at Hollywood Studios. We were greeted by our VIP guide and headed straight to Galaxy’s Edge to ride Smuggler’s Run. We entered an area that I can only assume will eventually be the FastPass Line and were led directly to our ride. It was incredible.

After Galaxy’s Edge we took a quick walk and entered Toy Story Land for Quick rides on Slinky Dog Dash and Toy Story Mania. Next up, we moved to the front of the line for Rockin’ Roller Coaster and the Tower of Terror.

Once we ended our time at Hollywood Studios we were taken through a back door and loaded into our private van. We drove to Animal Kingdom and entered the park at a back entrance to Pandora. We literally walked up a set of stairs to Flights of Passage and hopped right on! Then we rode Expedition Everest – twice!

After we conquered Everest it was back to our private transport for a quick ride to Epcot for our final ride of the day, Soarin’. In between rides and during our transfers, the guides shared stories and tips. It was an experience I would recommend to all Disney fans. It comes with a price tag, but it is so worth it. You can design the tour to meet your personal needs. No two tours are the same.

I had some free time for the evening and made sure to make my way to the Magic Kingdom for fireworks.

Overall, I had a lot of fun, but more importantly I learned so much! I saw things at the resorts I had never seen. I gained insight in to additional qualifying questions I can ask potential clients to be sure they end up at the best resort for them and I learned even more about the extra experiences I can plan.

Have you ever taken a VIP or Behind the Scenes tour at Disney World?

It’s Party Time!

Walt Disney World has a variety of fun events such as After Hours, Marathons and the H2Glow summer event at Typhoon Lagoon. Two of their most popular special events also happen to be two of my favorite!

Late August is the kickoff of party season at the Magic Kingdom!

The first party is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween, which runs on select nights from August to October. Next up is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

The parties are similar in many ways. Both require a separate ticket. Tickets vary in price based on which event you are attending and which night. The closer you get to the holiday, the higher the price. Because it is a separate ticketed item, that means smaller crowds for the night.

At both parties, you will have the opportunity to meet characters that are not normally out. That means villians at Halloween and Princes at Christmas…that’s right…princes! As you can see from the pictures belowthis is definitely a highlight of the events for me.

PRO TIP – If you have your heart set on seeing a specific character, line up early or wait until the end of the night. The wait times for the Seven Dwarfs and Jack Skellington in particular, reach 2 hours very quickly.

Be sure to try at least one of the amazing party treats! Just look at those cupcakes! Yum!

Lastly, at each event you can expect unique parades and entertainment, including shows at the castle and incredible themed fireworks – after all, what is the Magic Kingdom without fireworks?

So let’s look at each party a little closer. Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween is full of spooktacular fun! Upon entry you are given a wristband to wear for the night, then you collect your trick-or-treat bag (that’s right, both kids and adults get to trick-or-treat through the Magic Kingdom) and you are off to the fun!

PRO TIP – Bring your own bag. The free ones are cute, but nowhere near big enough for the insane amount of candy you will get!

You are allowed to trick or treat at the same station as much as you would like. But save some of that candy for home because you do NOT want to miss the specialty treats. And for those of you on the dining plan, you can use a snack credit to try these.

This year’s specialty treats include Frozen Apple Cider, Headless Horseman Cheesecake, Chocolate Mickey Waffle Sundae, Cinnamon Donuts, Pumpkin Spice Soft Serve and the Maleficent Ice Cream Cone!

Be sure not to miss The Boo to You Parade and the Hocus Pocus Spectacular!

Hocus Pocus features the Sanderson Sisters and a host of other characters and is performed at the castle 3 times nightly.

The Boo to You parade is one of my absolute favorites! It kicks off with the headless horseman and features favorite characters in adorable costumes, plenty of villians, a group of Gravediggers doing really fun choreography with their shovels and Ghosts from the Haunted Mansion! It is a not to be missed!

Of course, the Christmas Party has its own signature parade and fun shows.

The Christmas Parade is so pretty and in addition to Mickey, Minnie & Friends, so many others join in the fun leading up to the FAMOUS wooden soldiers. Of course, Santa closes out the parade with his signature “Ho Ho Ho.”

Mickey’s Most Merry Christmas Celebration and A Frozen Holiday Wish take place center stage at Cinderella’s Castle. The highlight of the Frozen show is that it ends with Elsa lighting the castle. It is beyond beautiful and is sure to melt the hearts of Frozen fans young and old.

Here is the biggest difference between the two – Free food! While there is plenty of candy at the Halloween Party, when you visit the Christmas Party, you get unlimited holiday treats and beverages at a variety of locations. Everything from Eggnog with molasses cookies to sugar cookies and hot chocolate and a Mickey shaped soft pretzel and Snowcones.

Last tip – If you attend either party, be sure to leave space in your suitcase for the adorable specially themed merchandise! From ears and T-shirts to home decor and stuffed animals, there is bound to be a few things you will just have to have!

So tell me, have you been to either or both of these parties? Do you have a favorite?