Monday, 18 May 2015

How to Walt Disney World - Part II

Walt Disney World Main Gate

So, you know when you are going and where you are staying. You will probably want theme park tickets, since few people go to Disney World strictly for the resorts and Downtown Disney.

Here is how it works: You can buy individual admissions at the gate each day for each park you want to visit. This will set you back an insane amount, because Disney tickets are discounted in multiples. For example, a 5 day ticket is only $10US more than a 4 day ticket, but a 1 day ticket for the Magic Kingdom costs $105US at the time of this entry. So, it is best to figure out how many days you will be going to the parks. I would recommend 2 days each for Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, and 1 day each for Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios (or whatever they are calling it this week).

Base tickets like this are only good for 1 park per day, (and you can't use 2 separate admissions on the same ticket for different parks in the same day) but you can purchase the Park Hopper option on your ticket. This allows you to do multiple parks any day you are using an admission. You can also choose to add water parks to your admission (Disney World has 2 very elaborate ones).

You can buy tickets through Disney's own website (on their own, or as part of a room/ticket/whatever package), or through a reseller like CAA, or Undercover Tourist. Beware! There are also scam organizations that will sell you "used tickets" which "still have days on them". Reselling tickets is illegal, and iffy at best.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

How to Walt Disney World - Part I

Walt Disney World is a very expensive place to vacation, but it is worth a trip if you have children or if you are your child(ren). ;) But, a certain amount of preparation is helpful if you want to get the most bang for your buck. After you have decided to go, it's a good idea to start looking into where you are going to stay.

There are off-site resorts which I understand are quite nice and affordable, but I am not going to deal with them. The perks of staying onsite are well worth any extra expense to me. Also, some savings can be had by staying there: you don't need to rent a car, and Disney will take you to and from the airport for free. You also don't need to worry about enjoying a few beverages and having to drive back to your hotel. (Florida and I have a deal: I don't drive on vacation, and they don't arrest me).

If you are staying onsite, you have a number of options for type of accommodation:
  • Camping $
  • Value Resort $$
  • Moderate Resort $$$
  • Deluxe Resort $$$$-$$$$$
  • Villas (Studios and Suites) $$$$

Camping at Disney is done at Fort Wilderness. They have camp sites, both for tents and campers, and cabins, which are pricier, but sleep many. I don't recommend tent camping because rain can fill the campsite. That said, Fort Wilderness has a boat to the Magic Kingdom, and a variety of outdoorsy recreation choices, including swimming pools and horseback riding.

Finally, Our Campsite!

If you're not the hardy outdoors type, and on a budget, you can stay at a value resort. These are motel-like in structure, but have wonderful theming. They all have swimming pools and food courts. And beds.

Mickey at the All-Stars

Surf's Up

For a little more luxury, you can choose a moderate resort. They have better theming in their pools, and hot tubs. They also have nice rooms, although they are still motel style.

Florida2010 790

Florida2010 129

If you want to splurge, there are plenty of deluxe resorts to choose from. Deluxe resorts have rooms with balconies, and interior corridors. They have bars and table service restaurants. They tend to be located nearer the parks, and have very nicely themed pools. Many of them have fitness facilities. My personal favourite, the Animal Kingdom Lodge, has savannahs full of African animals which can be seen from most of the rooms.

Room 2519

Still More from the Balcony

The Yacht Club is also nice, and has the bonus of being walking distance from Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Driving Up to the Yacht Club

Looking Towards the Balcony

Once you have chosen, you can book online at, or by phone at 1-407-WDISNEY.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Dream Destination #1 - Bora Bora

The idea of going to the South Pacific has always been extremely attractive to me. Bora Bora seems to be an especially magical place (sorry, Coulson, Tahiti takes second place in my island dreams).

Bora Bora

There are many cruises that will take you around the islands, but the thought of spending time in one of those huts over the lagoon, where you just snorkel right off your room in the morning, seems to me to be the height of decadence.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

St Augustine

These are just some pictures from St. Augustine. It boasts of being the oldest European city, and the most haunted. The photos were taken in 2007.

Ghost tours here are plentiful, and there is a section in town preserved from times gone by. It includes recreations of several businesses, including a tavern.

There are many historic sites, including the old Spanish Hospital, the old jail, an old Spanish Fort and Ponce De Leon's Fountain of Youth.

It also has it's share of fun tourist attractions, including a Ripley's, and a Pirate museum.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Cruising for Beginners

A little change of pace here. This is just a briefing document I made up for some friends who are new to cruising and I thought I would share it.

What’s Included

  • All Meals in main dining room, buffet and quick service stands
  • Snacks
  • Room Service (customary to tip a few $$) Note: some cruise lines have implemented an after hours service charge.
  • Coffee, tea, iced tea, (juice in the morning) (Some lines also include soda)
  • Entertainment
  • Use of exercise facilities, pools, hot tubs

What’s Extra
  • Alcohol (gratuity automatically added to bill) (optional)(Some lines have all you can drink packages -- see entry on beverage packages)
  • Gratuities for stewards and wait staff ($X /person/night) varies by Cruiseline. Usually added to your account or prepaid. We are usually moved to tip extra, the service is good.
  • Some specialty restaurants (optional)
  • Port of call excursions (optional)
  • Beverage packages of varying types (optional)
  • Mini-bar items (overpriced)(optional) depending upon line
  • Spa services (optional)
  • Tips for porters (yeah, they’re unionized, and you’re not supposed to tip them, but I like my bags on the ship and not in the water) (“optional”)

What You Need
  • Passport
  • Credit Card (on board, cash is only used for tips: your room key card, which is linked to your credit card, is used to charge for everything)
  • Singles (to tip room service and salt the bartenders)
  • SunBlock (for warm weather cruises)
  • Bathing suits (for warm weather cruises)
  • Non-shorts to wear in dining room
  • Formal dress if your line does formal nights
  • “Half the clothes, and twice the cash”

What to Expect
  • A room (maybe with a window or balcony depending upon what you select, a queen bed and other possible bunks/fold out sofas depending upon how many are travelling in your room), a bathroom and a closet
  • Assigned seating at dinner, possibly with strangers - if your cruise line offers traditional dining, and you choose it. Restaurant-style dining is becoming more common on cruise ships.
  • Attentive wait staff who will try to get you to eat more
  • A steward who makes up the room twice a day -- includes turn down service
  • Beach towels (not to keep, but to use on the cruise)
  • As much or as little as you want to do

  • Finalize date
  • Book cruise (deposit due)
  • Make final payment
  • Do online check-in
  • Select excursions
  • Book flights  -- I recommend flying in the day before so there is no chance of missing the ship due to flight delays.
  • Book hotel (1 night)
  • Fly to Port 
  • Spend the night
  • Go to the port ($$)
  • Give porters the bags ($$)
  • Go through security
  • Go through port check-in process
  • Lunch buffet *Check your ship, there might be better options
  • Relax, explore the ship, swim.
  • Muster drill (mandatory)
  • Dinner, etc.
  • Enjoy cruise
  • Disembark - perhaps with excursion
  • Go to airport ($$)
  • Fly home

Monday, 11 May 2015

New Orleans & Caribbean 2015 - Part V

Our first port was Grand Cayman. We have been here several times, and love the water and the lizards.  This time, we opted to do an island tour, since we hadn't done that before.

Hell. Yeah, it looks like that.
We started with a trip to Hell. (Humorous side note, we actually started with a misdirected trip to the beach, since the driver hadn't realized he was doing an island tour). Hell is apparently mostly spiky black rocks and gift shops. There is a joke in there somewhere; I will leave it to you to find it.

Me and my new friend.
There was a gentleman there doing photo ops with his tame lizard. Since the lizard was clearly comfortable with people, I took him up on it.  I am very fond of lizards (my own body-heat generating abilities would suggest they are my people), and don't often get a chance to snuggle one. I guess you could say we were chillin' together.

We stopped off at a condo/mall complex. It looked quite lovely with the little island in the middle of the lagoon. 

I'm Not the Only One Who Loves Palm Trees
After we finished the tour, we went to the beach for a beach break. Included were a welcome drink and beach chairs. And of course, as soon as we got situated the skies opened up. We found a sheltered beach front restaurant and ordered lunch. While it was a bit pricey, the food was delicious and the fish was fresh, so I have no actual complaints. We did have to stay in the shelter of the bar until our mini-bus came back for us. It was pouring quite vehemently.

The Clouds Begin to Threaten

Our next port of call was Falmouth, Jamaica. We didn't take a lot of pictures because we opted for an all-inclusive resort day the Jewel Runaway Bay. The jerk wasn't bad, although it wasn't terribly spicy, and the service was good. The main pool was fairly un-busy, and the beach was nice, with clear, sparkling water. We would do this again, although I might opt for a resort closer to Falmouth.

Our last port of call was Cozumel. We haven't had terrific luck here, so we normally step gingerly off the ship, have a couple of beers in the port area, and step gingerly back on. This time, the worst thing that happened to us was getting ripped off for $5 by the wait staff at a beach side bar. I figure we got off lucky.

Before that, though, we went to the little bar we have made a tradition to get Dos Equis Ambar's to kick off our little tour of the port. Ice cold cervezas, and cheery Mexican music. It's a nice way to start a port day.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

New Orleans & Caribbean 2015 - Part IV

The next morning was Valentine's Day, and we embarked on the Serenade of the Seas, for a lovely non-winter week in the Caribbean. This post will deal with the ship. I will report on the ports of call in the next post.

She's a Royal Caribbean ship, and quite lovely. Our cabin was an aft balcony cabin, which meant we had a larger balcony than we normally do, and the wind wasn't actually an issue.

I always feel kind of sentimental when sailing up and down the Mississippi. New Orleans is one of my favourite places in the world, and it's like there's one more gift from her as the ships leans first to one side and then the other as we navigate the curves of the river.

I do find the upcharge restaurant Chops Grill to be worth it on Royal Caribbean ships. Chops is quieter than the main dining room, the service is excellent, and the food. Well, that's why you go to a restaurant isn't it? My favourite things here are the Caesar salad (caviar available upon request. Do I request? Of course I do.), and the Red Velvet Cake (capital letters deserved). 

The sushi restaurant is also worth a visit. A seat at the sushi bar puts you in front of the action, so to speak, and the chef we had was wonderful.

The Schooner Bar is one we tend to gravitate to on any RC ship, and this trip we tried some of their speciality cocktails. My personal favourite was the Lavender Daiquiri. Interestingly, every bartender made it different. Some frozen, some on the rocks, some in a tall glass, some short. They were all delicious, though.

Another spot I favoured was the Solarium. Adults only, nicely temperatured pool, piped in bird song; it was very peaceful. I loved the decor as well.

The one thing that disappointed us was the difficulty of getting drinks in the main dining room. Our servers did their best, but it was obvious that the lack of bar waiters (there used to be a lot more) was being keenly felt. I don't know why RCCL has decided to cut back on this particular part of the staff, but it seems a horrible idea. I also felt that they had really crammed the tables into the dining room. It was very crowded and busy.

Formal Night with The World's Greatest Husband™

And the World's Greatest Parents™

Overall, though, the good vastly outweighed the bad, and we had a lovely time.