Wednesday, August 31, 2011

New Adventures By Disney Destinations

For those of you not familiar with Adventures By Disney a little bit of information on Disney's take on the world of guided tours.

Launched 7 years ago, Disney created a new kind of guided tour. One where you're not forced to choose between the stress of planning an overseas trip & the mind-numbing people herding of  "Get on the bus. Get off the bus." offered by other tour companies.Want to stay for a few extra minutes to take pictures at the Louvre? Sorry-you're scheduled to be back on the tour bus at 12:13 sharp!

With Adventures by Disney, it's more like getting a tour by a local friend. Someone who knows all the ins & outs of their city. All the local secrets and history. But even better-your friend has connections. With ABD (Adventures By Disney), you don't just visit the Louvre, as you take in the some of the worlds greatest art, the kids-or junior adventurers are going on a treasure hunt through the Louvre with their guide. Then everyone meets back up for a private dinner INSIDE the Louvre. In Italy you don't just go out for pizza, with ABD you go to a local farm where they make the cheese and make your own pizza for lunch.

It's the Disney's attention to detail that make these tours a completely amazing experience. Disney takes care of everything-from world class accommodations, to meals, transportation & transfers, and even gratuities (*except your tour guide which Disney let's you decide). They even have native speaking guides so there's no worries about a language barrier.

To be honest, I was never a fan of guided tours. I am a pretty confident traveler and never felt the need to have someone hold my hand. But my view of ABD is instead of holding my hand, my guide gets me backstage passes to a side of my destination choice I would have never seen on my own.

Some of the exciting destinations coming in 2012:

"Greek Odyssey: Athens, Santorini & Crete"
"Espirt de France"
"Discovery Down Under" tour which now includes a visit to Tasmania
And the return of the "Pyramids, Pharaohs & Ancient Treasures" tour to Egypt

Disney offers a total of 22 exciting destinations, across the world. While not an inexpensive trip option, they are premium experiences and extremely all-inclusive. But as someone who has traveled to Europe before, I can tell you that you can easily spend as much if not more money and not get the completed immersive experience you will with Adventures By Disney. Truly an amazing product. Of course-it's Disney ;)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cruising on the Disney Dream

SO I have to start off with a small confession. I never had the urge to cruise. Putting aside I've watched the Poseidon Adventure one too many times, I had some misconceptions about cruises. The first being they're boring. I figured eat and lay around-that was it. The second was that my impression of staterooms was akin to something you'd find small fish canned in. I just didn't get it, and so when John mentioned cruises, all I could think was please let him pick a ship that has LOTS & LOTS of port stops so I can get off that infernally boring boat.

As some of you may know, I just returned back from a Disney Agent Education Program last week. This is Disney's way of immersing you in a sea of information, experiences and Disney culture in an amazing 5 day adventure through resort, restaurants and in our case, a cruise ship. We were fortunate enough (or more likely Disney is just that good at planning) to be able to tour the Disney Dream cruise ship during our training program. And without a doubt I have been converted. As soon as I stepped off the ship-not boat-I called John and told him we're taking a cruise as soon as possible. So allow me to explain and show the things that caused my change of heart.
**Small aside-photography is not my gig, as you will see, plus there was so much to see and we were moving fast to get it all in, so please pardon my shoddy picture taking skills.

I am going to start with the ship itself. Whether you send away for the Disney Cruise Line DVD or watch a special on the DCL, you will often hear that in staring the DCL, Disney wanted to take the ships back to the Golden Age of cruising, and boy did they ever. Being a Disney product, I expected it to be amazing, but they took my expectations and blew them so far out of the stratosphere I pretty much am left with words like "WOW!" and "Oh my gosh!" and other eloquent phrases to express delight over this ship. The attention to detail, the quality & flat out beauty of the ship is breathtaking. As you can see by these pictures of the Atrium lobby and the art deco chandelier, Disney is looking to wow you the minute you walk on the ship.

Captured some Pixies in this pic ;)

As you move through the ship, you find yourself either saying to yourself or out loud "Oh wow look at this." many, many times. There are so many beautiful touches & details as well as Disney whimsy. One of my favorite examples of this is the animated art on the walls. Here's a quick example of that (pardon the poor photography):

Along with the not-so-common areas awesomeness, Disney raised the bar in staterooms as well. Larger than your average cruise line, Disney also redesigned bathrooms, and added cool little touches like magical portholes for inside staterooms. They also did a great job on designing handicap accessible rooms as well. 

Here is another another stateroom style:

There's Jerry-our honorary Pixie :)

The next place the Dream proved me wrong was on my assumption that there's nothing to do. From toddlers to adult, Disney has created numerous areas on the ship to keep you entertained, relaxed, well fed-you name it and Disney has already anticipated it and put it on the Dream.

Kids programs are broken into perfect little age groups. There is It's a Small World &  Flounders Reef Nursery for babies 3 months to 3 years old. Kids 3-9 can let their imaginations run wild in the Oceaneer Club. Tweens 10-13 have the Edge where they can surf the net, watch TV, play video games & listen to music. And Teens 14-17 can enjoy a safe club like atmosphere with other teens of their own age. Funny story told to us by one of the cast members on the ship, often when parents come to pick up the kids, the kids often run and hide because they are having so much fun. I can totally see why :) Here are some pictures of the different kids areas:

There are a variety of adults only nightclubs on the Dream, so when the kids are off having a blast at the kids clubs, parents can spend some time enjoying some adult entertainment in clubs Like Pink, Skyline, Evolution & Meridian to name a few.


In addition to Spas (including a teen only spa), pools, and water play areas, amazing dining options (both family and adult only choices), there is a theater where Broadway quality shows are performed throughout the course of the cruise, a full size movie theater which plays first run Disney movies. There are character experiences, games, and one of my favorite things completely exclusive to Disney Cruise Lines-nightly fireworks off the ship.

We've covered a lot of stuff, but I had to save the best for last. A new addition to Disney Cruise Line bag of magic-the Aqua Duck. A watercoaster on a cruise ship-only Disney. I really don't think much more needs to be said.

Sadly my pictures come from standing on the deck, but trust me I would have totally volunteered to give it a test run. Like I said-leave it to Disney.

So there it is, a long version of why I can't wait to try a Disney cruise. I actually could have easily made this a 3 part series I have such much good stuff to say about the Dream. If you have any questions about the Dream or Disney Cruise Line-feel free to drop me a line. Trust me you want to cruise on this ship :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Because Food + Cute will always get my attention

So I found these posted and couldn't resist. I mean chocolate, cake & tiny monkeys-I mean what more could you ask for?

In honor of August being cotton-top tamarin month at Disney's Animal Kingdom, chef Andreas Born create these ridiculously cute cupcakes to celebrate. They are available the Coffee kiosk near Discovery Island, the Kusafiri Bakery & at Rafiki's Planet watch for $3.99. It's Disney's delicious way of helping save these endangered species of monkeys. I fully plan to do my part by enjoying one (or more-no judgements please) of these little cuties.

Chef Born did a pretty good job-quite the likeness huh?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fruity Drink Fridays

The Classic Margarita

Hello all-I apologize for skipping last Fridays post, hopefully this weeks will make up for it. This is an homage to one of the most perfect alcoholic concoctions ever created-the Margarita. Disney offers a lot of opportunities to indulge in this wonderful beverage-most especially in Epcot's Mexico pavilion. The photo above is of the margarita flight from La Cava Del Tequila inside the Mexico pavilion.

I am a complete margarita snob so let me start by saying 2 things: First many drinks can be made with well (no-name) alcohol-NOT margaritas. Personally I believe there is nothing worse than cheap tequila. So if you're gonna make a margarita, use the good stuff. And second, this is one drink that really benefits from sticking to the recipe. 

The Classic Margarita Recipe

2 parts High Quality Tequila (I am a Patron & Don Julio fan myself)
1 part Grand Marnier or Cointreau (you can use Triple Sec in a pinch)
1/2 part Fresh Lime Juice ( you can cheat with Rose's but...)
2-3 parts Sweet & Sour Mix **

Salt & fresh lime to garnish

Mix all ingredients together and shake with ice. To salt-rim the glass, dip the lip into the sweet & sour mix or rub the fresh lime on the rim & dip into the salt. Pour margarita into salt-rimmed glass & enjoy!


** To make homemade sweet & sour mix:
3 Cups Water
3 Cups Sugar
2 Cups Fresh Lemon Juice
2 Cups Fresh Lime Juice

****Now for the disclaimer: These recipes DO contain alcohol and should only be consumed by persons of legal drinking age. Please drink responsibly & don't drink and drive. Lisa Ruiz & Disney A La Carte are not responsible for any damage to person(s) or property, or loss of life that result from over consumption or abuse of these recipes. Got it? Not for kids, don't drink & drive, and be responsible :)

How to get the most ouf of Free Dining: a Bakers Dozen of Tips

So you, or your wonderful travel agent, snagged one of the Free Dining packages-so now what? Of course you need to make those ADRs (advance dining reservations) but what else? Here's a few quick tips on how to get the most out of your dining plan.

1) Not thrilled with the plan you got, or want to try the fancy-schmancy Deluxe plan-then upgrade. You can pay the difference between the price of the plan you are getting free and the plan you want to upgrade to.

2) Maximize those credits. Especially the kid credits. Let's take dinner in the same park: one at Crystal Palace and one at Tony's. Each one will cost you one sit down dining credit. But the Crystal Palace kids dinner is $17.99 and the Tony's kids meal is around $8.59. It makes more sense to save that kids credit and pay out of pocket for the Tony's meal. It can sometimes make sense for adults too. If you are planning a light lunch in the parks, it makes more sense to pay our of pocket and save your dining credit for a dinner later.

3) Learn to use snack as meals. There are lots of snack options that make nice midday light meals. Cups of soup, salads, giant cinnamon buns (I didn't say healthy-I said light), sandwiches and fresh fruit, all make great tie-me-overs until your next meal. Keep an eye out for the snack credit symbol-you might be surprised what counts as a snack.

4) IF you are going during my High Holy Time (aka the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival)-don't forget to save the snack credits for the Festival. Yup-that's right, they can be used at the kiosks. Now you can't but alcohol, but almost every food item from the stands qualifies.

5) You can share meals. So if you're only looking for a light lunch or breakfast-you can share a meal and save a credit.

6) Can't eat another counter service dessert (they're not the best)-ask for the fruit option or a bottled water instead.

7) If ice cream is the only dessert option (often the case in the water parks) ask them if you can come back for it when you're done with your meal. This is a god-send in 90 degree weather with a pokey eater (aka anyone under the age of 14). Then when everyone is done with their lunch, you can go get a nice non-melty ice cream dessert.

8)If you want to try the Deluxe plan, but are intimidated because the guy you run next to on the treadmill at the gym said "It's too much food!!", consider attacking it in a different way. Instead of eating (3) 3 course meals a day, have an early or late breakfast at one of the character buffets (or any other restaurant you like) and an early or late dinner at one of the Signature restaurants. This way you can do the Irish/English breakfast thing-a huge brekkie that ties you over for a good part of a days touring, and then have a wonderful meal in one of Disney's fine dining restaurants. Bonus-it also saves you time.

9) Be adventurous. Push yourself to try a new restaurant. Sure, revisit your favorites-but try to fit in at least one or two places you have never eaten before. Hey-you might have a new favorite place!

10) Don't save your snack credits just to save them. Everyone makes this mistake-even us. We sometimes horde them too much. If you want an ice cream or the kids want a box of popcorn-get it.

11) Don't freak out over the spilled box of popcorn. If you don't know what I'm talking about-you will. If you do know what I'm talking about, just let it go. Trust me-you'll only feel like a heel 10 minutes later. And that's all I'm gonna say on it.

12) You probably don't realize you have extra credits. A lot of people don't factor in the day they leave and the fact that you will probably be on the Magical Express early for your flight. This leaves you with that days whole allotment of credits-don't let them go to waste. Factor them into your vacation and make sure to use them.

13) And finally, you've done all you can and you somehow managed to come to the end of your vacation with a meal or a few snack credits left. You can do a nice thing and use your credit to pay for a meal for the person next in line behind you-spread the magic a bit. And the credit will only expire at midnight anyway. And those snacks you can use to grab a few Mickey rice crispy heads, or a box of Minnie cookies or if you fancy a bit o' shortbread-a single serve package of Walkers to bring home with you and extend the vacation magic a little longer. And take my word for it-when your kids (or you) are feeling those post-vacation blues, and you pull out a Goofy's Candy Co. lollipop, or that Rice Crispy Mickey-you will be a superstar.

Happy Dining Everyone!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Free Dining Extended Through 2012!!!

Hello All! Seems the rumors were true and Disney has offered Free Dining from Fall 2011-Late Spring 2012.

Here are the travel dates:

Travel Dates for 2011 include: 10/2-8, 10/30-11/5, 11/13-19, 11/27-12/3 and 12/11-12/17.

Travel dates for 2012 include: 1/8-14, 1/22-2/4, 2/12-18, 3/4-10 and 3/25-3/31

2 Day ticket purchase required
3 Night Minimum

Quick Service plan for Values
Base (Plus) plan for Moderates & Deluxes!!

On the phone with Disney now, will post more later :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Free Dining Confirmed!!

Just a quick update: Free Dining has been confirmed, but we are still waiting on the specific dates & blackouts. Although it seems it's going to be extended into March 2012. Hopefully that's the case. Remember-if you book with me, you can get Disney's promos AND earn free Disney gift cards from me on top of whatever Disney is offering. 

Oh! And YAY!!