Disney Dream

Cruises aren’t our favorite way to travel, but after our wonderful experience aboard the Disney Dream, we cannot wait to do it again! Here are some of the photos from our cruise.

Pre-Cruise Stay at Disney World

Onboard the Disney Dream

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Star Wars: Millenium Falcon

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Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

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5 Reasons Why the Disney Dream Cruise was the Best Vacation I’ve Had

The Disney Cruise Line takes the magical feeling of a Disney park and the sense of adventure you get from a cruise. The combination of these two makes the Disney Dream one of the best vacations you’ve ever taken. Here are some of the reasons why I loved the Disney Dream Cruise.

Vibe

Vibe Teen Club (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Vibe Teen Club (Photo: Michelle Rae)

For me, the best part of the Disney Dream cruise is Vibe, the onboard teen club for ages 14 to 17. It’s the perfect place for teens like me to get away from their family and connect with other kids their age. Vibe has it’s own private deck with its own pool and lounging area, as well as deck games. The counselors are really cool and welcoming to everyone. Although our counsellors were technically our “chaperones,” it felt like they were just hanging out with us.

At the coffee bar, food and drinks such as chips and smoothies are served. There are a lot of things to do from watching movies to chatting with the counselors and playing foosball with them. Every so often, we would start playing a game that involved everyone, such as Crown the Couch Potato. To ensure that only teens can get in, you have to present a special Key to the World at the secret entrance.

Castaway Cay

Disney Dream from Castaway Cay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Disney Dream from Castaway Cay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Castaway Cay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Castaway Cay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Beach on Castaway Cay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Beach on Castaway Cay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Castaway Cay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Castaway Cay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Bike Path on Castaway Cay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Bike Path on Castaway Cay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Tower on Castaway Cay (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Tower on Castaway Cay (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas that serves as a port for all of the Disney Cruise Line ships. Since it’s privately owned by Disney, it’s not crowded and you don’t have to wait in lines for long. The water is very clear and beautiful, which makes it very refreshing and a nice change from the pools on the ship. There’s a variety of activities from snorkeling to going down a water slide. I didn’t have time to visit it, but there’s a teen area called Hide Out for ages 14 to 17. My favorite activity is the Stingray Adventure where you get to learn about stingrays, feed them, and snorkel with them.

The Staff

The cast members were extremely friendly and made me feel like I was part of this huge Disney family. We got the same two servers who catered to our dinner needs every night. On the first night at dinner, I got extremely seasick and our servers checked up on me constantly, trying to help me feel better. Although I was okay for the rest of the trip, they continued to check on me and make sure that I wasn’t feeling sick. And the counselors at Vibe felt more like friends than chaperones. I was extremely sad to say goodbye to everyone.

The Food/Restaurants

Enchanted Garden (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Enchanted Garden (Photo: Michelle Rae)

For dinner each night, you rotate through one of three different restaurants – Animator’s Palate, Royal Palace, and Enchanted Garden each having their own theme and menu. The food options were a lot better than I expected and tasted AMAZING! My favorite restaurant is Animator’s Palate, which is designed like an animator’s studio and its walls are covered with sketches of beloved Disney characters. Although Animator’s Palate was my favorite restaurant, my favorite menu was Royal Palace’s french cuisine. I ordered the best duck I’ve ever tasted and I even got to try escargot.

The Shows

The entertainment was fantastic and made me feel like I was 6 years old again. In the Walt Disney Theater, there was a different show every night. I only had the chance to go to 2 out 3 of the shows, the Golden Mickeys and Disney’s Believe, both of which were very magical. My favorite was Disney’s Believe which got me to tear up at the end and made me never want to grow up. There are also shows and parties on the 11th deck each day, the first of which was the Sail Away Celebration. One of the deck parties, Pirates in the Caribbean, ended in an awesome fireworks display.

Deck 11 on Disney Dream (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Deck 11 on Disney Dream (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Caribbean view from Disney Dream (Photo: Michelle Rae)
Caribbean view from Disney Dream (Photo: Michelle Rae)

 

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20 Free Attractions in Vegas for the Whole Family

It’s no secret that a Las Vegas vacation might involve gambling and partying until the early morning hours as well as spending a boatload of money to have fun. But while this desert city in Nevada is indeed the gambling capital of the United States, it also prides itself on offering family-friendly attractions that are just as fun for kids as they are for adults. And, despite popular belief, you don’t have to spend much to have a good time.

Skip the city’s famous casinos and grand shows this year. If you’re on a budget, then rejoice. Here are 20 wonderful things to do in Vegas that won’t cost you a dime!

 

Flora and Fauna

Bellagio's Conservatory and Botanical GardensBellagio’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (Flickr: Lynn Gateley)

Bellagio’s famous attraction is its water show, but it’s not the only one. Open 24/7 is the hotel’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which showcases beautiful and colorful flora according to season and hosts live performances from 5 to 6 pm. For your curious future botanists and gardeners, head there from 10:30 to 11:30 pm to meet Mr. and Mrs. Green Thumb.

The Caesars Palace is one of Vegas’ most iconic hotels. If a night’s stay in one of its rooms proves a little over your budget, don’t despair. You don’t have to book a pricey room here to enjoy it. Aside from its beautiful architecture and fountains, all designed to resemble ancient Rome, you can also visit its impressive 50,000-gallon saltwater aquarium. It’s brimming with tropical fish – from clown fish to rays and sharks – that the kids will absolutely adore.

As a tribute to its namesake, the Flamingo offers families vacationing in Vegas a respite from the hustle and bustle with their beautiful Wildlife Habitat, a 15-acre home to an assortment of birds, including Chilean flamingoes, pelicans, parrots, and even hummingbirds. It’s open daily from 8 am ‘til dusk and holds pelican feedings at 8:30 am and 2 pm.

Silverton Casino’s massive saltwater aquarium, all 117,000 gallons of it, is not only home to some 4,000 brightly colored tropical fish that the kids will marvel at, but also features wonderful mermaid shows every half hour at certain times from Thursday to Sunday. Plus, they hold interactive feeding shows every day at 1:30 pm and 4:30 pm.

With MGM Grand’s Lion Habitat and the Southern Nevada Zoological Park both closing permanently, it might be hard-pressed for animal-loving families to find a land animal-related attraction in the city. Thankfully, Anderson Dairy offers a free hour-long Barnyard Buddies Tour of their plant, where kids can interact with a talking cow, a rooster with attitude, and a hound dog.

 

Greatest Free Shows on Earth

The oohs and aahs aren’t over yet after you visit the Caesars Palace’s aquarium. Behind it is a spectacular fountain that features animatronic figures. Every hour daily, these figures put on a fantastic fountain show called the Fall of Atlantis, which tells the myth of the legendary city.

To see the world’s largest permanent circus, look no further than Circus Circus which takes place daily starting at 11 am in the Carnival Midway and features entertainment favorites clowns, flying trapezes, jugglers, and contortionists. And just when you think it doesn’t get better than this, you realize that the shows are completely free.

Famously starring in many movies, the Bellagio Fountain Water Show is even more impressive in person. The show, accompanied with music – from show tunes to holiday songs, features lights and dancing water that can shoot as high up as 460 feet. Best of all, it runs all day and all night until midnight so families can enjoy it as often as they want.

Mirage’s Volcano showMirage’s Volcano show (Flickr: Nan Palermo)

Every night on the hour from 8 pm until midnight, the Mirage impresses passers-by with its awesome volcano show, complete with fire, (fake) lava, smoke, and sound effects, right in its front yard. The show is free for everyone to see and will amaze the budding volcanologists and geologists in the family.

You don’t have to buy tickets to the Tournament of Kings Dinner Show at the Excalibur Casino to get some medieval age fun. At the Court Jester’s Stage in the casino’s Medieval Village, performers, jugglers, and magicians entertain spectators for free every 45 minutes daily starting at 11 am. Of course, you’re welcome to see the dinner show afterwards and take the experience to a new level.

A large part of casino traffic may have moved to the Strip years ago, but Fremont Street is still alive and well, what with the Freemont Street Experience making this original strip its home. Daily shows and live performances as well as the light and sound show of Viva Vision make this open-air mall a must-visit when you’re in town. The ample shopping opportunity doesn’t hurt either.

Shopping is made better at the Venetian’s Gran Canal Shoppes with the shows that take place there daily. Members of the street performing group Streetmosphere go around in Renaissance Italian costumes and liven up the atmosphere with their short performances that include the 15-minute opera Carnevale di Venezia and the twice-a-day Gondolier March.

On a secluded lake at the Wynn Resort is a nightly show of music, water, lights, puppetry, and other special effects. The Lake of Dreams has been voted as one of the top attraction in Vegas, and not only is it free, it’s also visible from many different vantage points around the lake, so you and your kids can enjoy it while savoring a nice family dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Sunset Stampede Laser Light and Water Show at Sam’s TownSunset Stampede Laser Light and Water Show at Sam’s Town (Sam’s Town)

The tranquil atmosphere in Mystic Falls Park at Sam’s Town Hotel is disrupted as the park suddenly comes alive with music, dancing water, and an awesome display of laser light. The show, dubbed Sunset Stampede Laser Light and Water Show, recounts the journey of the Western pioneers and plays five times daily, beginning at 2 pm.

 

Museums

Take a break from that high mid-afternoon desert sun and let the kids cool down while learning about the history and culture of the Southwestern American Indian tribes as well as ancient Mexico. Located not far from the Vegas Strip, the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History opens its doors at 9 am on weekdays and at noon on Saturdays and is completely free (donations welcome).

Neon MuseumNeon Museum (Flickr: soccergirl296)

While it might be, in a lot of ways, a neon sign graveyard, the open-air Neon Museum is a colorful and unique treat for everyone in the family, especially those who love all things vintage and kitschy. A section of it, the Neon Museum Urban Gallery, that features refurbished neon signs, is free for everyone. You can download the map to this outdoor gallery on their website for free.

 

Sweet Tooth

The chocolate lovers in your family will appreciate the sweet surprise when you take them to tour the Ethel M Chocolate Factory, which includes delicious chocolatey samples. Afterwards, you can burn off all those extra calories by exploring their botanical cactus garden. Best of all, you won’t have to spend a penny… unless, of course, you want to take some goodies home.

This M&M’s World location is not just a candy retail store. It’s THE first M&M World location. Additionally, it has a replica of the M&M race car used in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, a 3D movie theater, and a gallery that shows the evolution of our beloved M&M characters over the years. And sometimes, they even give out free chocolate samples. Yum!

 

Architecture

Paris is a place like no other, but the Paris Casino’s impressive replicas of the City of Lights’ best landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe, come pretty close. Take the kids here for a preview of what’s to come, if you’re planning a trip to Paris soon, or simply to enjoy the architectural wonders.

A must-stop during your visit in Vegas, Hoover Dam is a modern engineering marvel that astounds anyone who looks upon it. Look for the free parking area, walk around and see the dam, and visit the Visitor’s Center area where you will be welcomed with more fascinating tidbits. The dam is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily.

 

(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

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Four Reasons to Take the Kids to Disneyland This Summer

When the days are longer and the temperatures are higher, many families make that journey out west to Southern California where the weather is always perfect, the beaches are glorious, and there’s unforgettable, assorted fun to be had everywhere you turn. This summer, spend a day or two at the Disneyland Resort with the kids during your family vacation to complete the experience. Here are a few great reasons why.

1) The Fun Doesn’t Stop at Nightfall

Just because the sun has set, it doesn’t mean the fun has to end. In fact, at Disneyland, family fun’s only beginning. After spending the entire day running around from ride to ride, it’s time to set-up shop on Main Street U.S.A. (or in front of the Ferris Wheel at California Adventure) to see the three new spectaculars that will dazzle both kids and adults.

Courtesy Disney
Courtesy Disney

Paint the Night. Disneyland lights up with a river of some 1.5 million LED lights streaming down Main Street U.S.A from the new Paint the Night Parade. As part of the park’s 60th anniversary celebration, this parade of colors and lights is a one big moving musical party, featuring our favorite Disney characters – including Lightning McQueen, Ariel, Belle, Anna and Elsa, and Mickey – glittering and glowing from atop their illuminated floats. Kids aren’t likely to forget when a Disney princess blows them a kiss and will wonder how the performers seemingly control the lights on their costumes with their dance movements.

Courtesy Disney
Courtesy Disney

Disneyland Forever Fireworks. A visit to Disneyland is never complete without the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, but with the Disneyland Forever Fireworks, you’ll go beyond just watching the sky light up. Also a part of the Diamond Celebration, this nighttime spectacular transports you and your kids to familiar but faraway worlds without having to leave the park. One minute you’re standing on Main Street U.S.A. watching Tinker Bell start off the firework show, the next you’re in Ariel’s colorful world under the sea, in the middle of an animal migration in Africa, and in Arendelle with snow falling on your heads. After your magical journey, you’re transported back on Main Street for a perfect kiss goodnight.

World of Color – Celebrate! The Diamond Celebration extends to California Adventure and to one of its most popular attractions. During your visit, make sure to grab a FASTPASS for the nighttime showing of the bigger and better World of Color, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and Mickey Mouse. The new and improved attraction will take you on a nostalgic experience as it showcases Walt Disney’s artistic journey, featuring his early creations and his very first visions for the Happiest Place on Earth.

2) Your Favorite Rides Have Reopened… With Swanky Upgrades

Courtesy Disney
Courtesy Disney

Haunted Mansion. Over in New Orleans Square, the kids’ favorite “scary” ride has reopened so families can once again experience the supernatural happenings in this ghoulish mansion. During your haunted tour, keep an eye out for the Hatbox Ghost as rumor has it that he’s back with a vengeance after a long absence!

Soarin’ Over California. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing California’s beautiful lands from up above? This family-favorite ride showcases everything the Golden State has to offer, from its irresistible Pacific coast to its rolling vineyards to its awe-inspiring High Sierra forests. And with updates to its screen and projection system, the ride feels even more real than before.

Matterhorn Bobsleds. Go on a bumpy ride, staggering down the famous Alps mountain, at the Matterhorn Bobsleds, which has also reopened for the Diamond Celebration. Watch out for the Abominable Snowman – he’s more ferocious than ever, especially after you come upon his stolen treasure.

3) Star in a Disney Musical

Courtesy Disney
Courtesy Disney

We all love to sing and dance along our favorite Disney movies, and secretly, we all want to part of those movies. At both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park, you can let go of your inhibitions and just let your inner princes and princesses take over. Kids and kids at heart will have plenty of opportunities to partake in a Disney musical with events like the Diamond March-Along, which lets guests join a Disney parade, the Diamond Sing-Alongs, the Diamond Dance-Alongs,Dream-Along and the Diamond Mad T Party.

4) There Are New Collectibles to Be Had

One of the best things about visiting a Disney park is you can take home that magic with you in the form of Disney merchandise. Whether you love collecting Disney pins, ear hats or shirts, enjoy decorating your home with Disney home accessories, or the kids want to spend their “park allowance” on a huggable plush toy, there are Diamond Celebration merchandise and souvenirs all over the park to splurge on and remember your visit by. Additionally, you also grab some Diamond Celebration cupcakes at both parks to satisfy your sweet craving during your visit.

For a family-friendly hotel on-site, consider staying at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, which features that famous Californian rustic and outdoorsy décor, themed pools with waterslide, special direct access to the California Adventure park, and early admission to the parks. For an off-site luxurious option, splurge at the beautiful and kid-friendly St. Regis Monarch Beach, which currently offers the “Monarch Magic” Disney package that includes chauffeured transportation to and from the Disney parks, four 1-day base tickets, a Mickey Mouse pancake breakfast for four and two 60th anniversary ear hats, as well as easy access to the beach for a taste of that irresistable California coast.

(Originally published on MiniTime.)

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