Tag Archives: travel

Portofino Bay Hotel Review

My family recently ventured to the “dark side” and added a 2 night stay at Universal Orlando Resort to our traditional Disney vacation.

Perfect add-on for families with older kids, tweens and teens!

Planning a Universal Orlando Resort trip is not quite as overwhelming as a Disney trip can be, but there is still a little planning to be done. I can help you with this too 🙂 This wasn’t my first stay at Universal, but it was our first trip as a family and with the kids . We will be back!

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We chose the Portofino Bay Hotel as our home  base for our 2 night stay. This hotel is simply stunning. It’s is a replica of the Italian coastal town of Portofino, right down to the little fishing boats in the harbor and vespa’s lining the piazza!

The hotel complex is sprawling, made up of 3 main areas. The lobby facing the main harbor piazza and then the East and West Wings. A Villas Wing extends off of the West Wing.

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The West Wing offers the best proximity to the boat dock and walking path to the theme parks and the feature pool.

Rooms at Portofino Bay are spacious and well -appointed, starting at a generous 450 sq feet for a standard room Garden or Bay view. Deluxe rooms, suites and club level services are also available.

Rooms have all the standard amenities and beds are queen sized.

Portofino Bay features  Despicable Me suites in the East Wing. 

There are numerous restaurants, all Italian, including a Gelateria and Starbucks. Splendido Bar & Grill is right by the main pool with lounge chair service. Three pools are scattered throughout, the Beach Pool being the feature pool with the Roman aqueduct themed water slide, zero entry, sandy beach, waterfalls and a small grotto. Even when busy, we were always able to find a few lounge chairs available.

Recreation includes poolside activities, bocce ball, a game room, fitness center, a spa and much more.  Be sure to catch the daily Musica della Notte show in the harbor piazza, and enjoy the sounds Italy.

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Transportation to/from the parks is so easy! There are boats running constantly from early morning till the wee hours of the night. Every 20 minutes or so. The ride is less than 10 minutes. The walking path is just past the boat dock and takes about 15 minutes at  a leisurely pace, 10 minutes if you are really trying to make it back before a downpour…we made it. 🙂 The path brings you past the Hard Rock Hotel and right to the Universal Studios entrance. They also have bicycle jitneys going back and forth if you choose.

The major benefit of staying on-site at Universal is this:

  • SKIP THE REGULAR LINES with Universal Express SM Unlimited ride access* in both theme parks – a FREE benefit worth up to $89 per person, per day** (valid theme park admission required)
  • Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, one hour before the theme park opens† (valid theme park admission required)

That’s right, staying at one of the 3 deluxe onsite hotels, Portofino Bay, Hard Rock or the Royal Pacific, entitles you to the above benefits. With the popularity of Harry Potter, that extra hour is much needed! And Express Pass really helps with the rest of the parks , the only place it is not accepted is for the Harry Potter rides.

We made the most of both the parks and the resort by splitting up our day with a pool break in the afternoon each day and with Express Pass and having early entry one day, we were able to see and do everything we wanted to in less than 2 full days, but would probably stay longer next time to really make the most of everything offered.

Universal offers some great packages including a Wizarding World of Harry Potter package and Stay More Save More deals. Contact me for a free no obligation quote.

 

 

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Magic Kingdom Park Special Event Dates Announced

Magic Kingdom Park Special Event Dates Announced – Tickets on Sale in April!

Your favorite fall events at the Walt Disney World® Resort have been announced! Dates have been announced for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. And, tickets for both events will go on sale in April.

During these specially-ticketed events the Magic Kingdom® Park comes alive with holiday decorations, special entertainment and tons of fun!

mnspThis year, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party will be held 25 nights throughout the months of September, October and November. And, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party will be held 20 nights in November and December.

Dates for 2015 Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party are:

Sept. 15, 18, 20, 22, 25, 27
Oct. 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31
Nov. 1

Dates for 2015 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are:

Nov. 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 29
Dec.1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 18

 

Tickets for both events will go on sale in April.

Land of Frozen Coming to Disney Cruise Line

In summer 2015, Disney Cruise Line Guests can immerse themselves in the animated hit “Frozen” with brand-new experiences inspired by the film, including a spectacular deck party, a three-song stage show production number, new character meet and greets, storybook adventures ashore and more.

Debuting this summer, on select Disney Magic and Disney Wonder sailings to Europe and Alaska, you will be transported to the land of “Frozen” when the ship is transformed into a winter wonderland for one day of frozen fun.

Experience family fun throughout the day with all-new meet and greets and themed experiences, including:

  • Memorable moments with Anna, Elsa, and for the first time in forever, Kristoff and Olaf
  • “Anna’s Chase for the Chocolate” scavenger hunt for those who share Anna’s sense of adventure, with a special surprise for finishing the game
  • “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” activity where kids take on Elsa’s magical powers to make snow and ice
  • “The Maypole Swirl and Twirl” for families to learn a traditional Scandinavian dance spinning and braiding giant ribbons
  • “Frozen” themed dining experience, including a menu inspired by traditional Nordic fare and special dishes inspired by the film
  •  “Freezing the Night Away with Anna, Elsa and Friends,” a family-friendly interactive deck party featuring the famous royal sisters of Arendelle and their fun-loving Nordic companions.

Also on the Disney Magic this summer, friends from “Frozen” will make their stage show debut at sea in the Walt Disney Theatre aboard the Disney Magic. In the Disney Cruise Line original production, “Disney Dreams … An Enchanted Classic,” Anna, Elsa and Olaf join the line up of beloved Disney characters who together teach a young girl the power of her dreams.

Guests who travel aboard the Disney Magic to Norway will have the opportunity to join exciting new Port Adventures that bring the fairytale setting of Arendelle to life. One signature adventure ashore in Ă…lesund, Norway, created exclusively for Disney Cruise Line, will immerse Guests in the splendor and charm of Norway, with the help of Anna and Elsa, in an enchanting storybook village.

On the Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy this summer, Olaf will be giving warm hugs when he joins Anna and Elsa on their royal tour of the Disney Cruise Line ships. Guests should check their Personal Navigator on the first day of their cruise for special Meet & Greet ticket distribution locations.

And, with the help of everyone’s favorite snowman, Disney Cruise Line is cooling down Disney Castaway Cay with the addition of Olaf’s Summertime Freeze bar. Serving non-alcoholic specialty frozen drinks, Olaf’s Summertime Freeze opens summer 2015 near the Pelican Point tram stop by Disney Castaway Cay Family Beach.

So much Frozen Fun this summer. Don’t miss it! Contact me for a no obligation Disney Cruise Line quote today.

Port Orleans French Quarter

Disney’s Port Orleans Resorts are two of the most popular moderate resorts.

Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter is the smaller of the two sister resorts and designed in a New Orleans Bourbon Street style.

Laissez les Bon Temps Roulez!

Rooms

There are 1008 rooms at French Quarter. Options include Standard (parking lot view, although lots of trees mitigate this), Garden View, Pool View and River View. Rooms offer 2 queen beds or a limited King bed option.

One of my favorite sites for information on the Port Orleans Resorts, it’s all-encompassing!

Dining

French Quarter has a large Quick Service food court, Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory offering breakfast, lunch and dinner options as well as the immensely popular beignets! Poolside snack bar and pizza delivery service also available.

Recreation

Scat Cat’s Lounge offers entertainment 4 nights a week. Swimming in Doubloon Lagoon with the Sea Serpent slide and poolside activities are always fun. Movies under the Stars nightly, Cajun Campfire, playground,  and an Arcade.

Many more special activities like Horse-drawn carriage rides, fishing, surrey bike rentals, Pirate Adventure cruise for kids is available next door at Riverside. There is a walking path between the 2 resorts and boat transportation as well. Pool hopping is allowed between the two sister resorts as well.

Transportation

Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside share bus transportation to all parks. French Quarter is picked up and dropped off first. Water Launch is also available to Downtown Disney via a 15 minute ride down the Sassagoula River offering more dining choices.

Port Orleans French Quarter is an amazingly well themed resort, one of the smaller of all Disney resorts in-keeping with the quaint New Orleans charm.  This was the resort my husband and I stayed at on our honeymoon and we really enjoyed it.

 

Wilderness Lodge

Disney’s Wilderness lodge is themed after the Pacific Northwest, the beauty and majesty of the great outdoors abounds! The lobby of this hotel is spectacular and worth a visit just to see it.

Rooms

This rather small and compact resort has 725 rooms and 181 Villas in the adjacent Villas at the Wilderness Lodge Disney Vacation Club property. Which incidentally, has it’s own lovely lobby dedicated to Walt Disney’s love of trains. Rooms range from the standard 2 queen bed configuration, but also offer a bunk bed option and a few king-bedded rooms. The Old Faithful Club is the Club Level offered at the Wilderness Lodge with it’s concierge lounge, continental breakfast, midday snacks and evening wine, hors d’oeuvres, cordials and desserts.

1 bedroom villa at Villas Wilderness Lodge

Dining

Many visit the Wilderness Lodge for one of the very popular restaurants on properties, Whispering Canyon Cafe. This restaurant offers a fun playful atmosphere and comfort BBQ style food. Kids can play, run around on wooden horses and see the mayhem ensue when someone asks for ketchup!

The Wilderness Lodge also offers a Signature Dining venue . I consider Artist Point to be one of the most underrated restaurants in the World. Few know about this rustic yet elegant choice offering American cuisine with Pacific Northwest flavors.

Roaring Forks quick-service is located right inside the hotel, not far from the pool area with indoor and outdoor seating.  A pool bar outside with seating and a cozy lounge near Artist Point round out the options.

Recreation

The Resort offers two heated swimming pools, one by the Villas and the main pool with a slide by the Lodge overlooking Bay Lake. There is a children’s pool, whirlpool, beach for sunbathing, marina with watercraft for rental, arcade, playground, health club and movies under the stars. Another fun feature, bike rentals and access to the trail to Fort Wilderness. Don’t miss the hourly erupting Geyser!

Geyser

The Wilderness Lodge also offers a children’s club so parent’s can get a night out, Cub’s Den is located right by the doors leading to the covered walkway to the Villas.

Transportation

The Wilderness Lodge is a just a stone’s throw from the Magic Kingdom and accessible via Water Launch. Boats go between the Lodge and Magic Kingdom as well as a separate boat to Fort Wilderness and the Contemporary Resort. A large and smaller boat alternate, on the larger boats, strollers do not need to be folded up. All other parks as well as Magic Kingdom are reached by bus.

Boat Dock at Wilderness Lodge

The Wilderness Lodge is a spectacular resort on the lower level of Disney Deluxe Resorts making it a perfect choice for easy “off the monorail” access to Magic Kingdom. It’s in the heart of the Magic Kingdom resorts, but still completely away from it all.

Disney Cruise Line Fall 2015

Disney Cruise Line just released their new Fall 2015 itineraries and they’ve got some exciting things going on.

Back in Galveston!

That’s right, they’ve returned to the port of Galveston, Texas for a limited time. Holiday season sailings to the Bahamas and Western Caribbean.

The Wonder is will be in Hawaii for 2 special 10 night sailings September 7th and 17th. Then she is off to San Diego for the month of October with 6 sailings to Mexico!

Of course, the traditional sailing from Port Canaveral Florida continue with Bahamas and Caribbean itineraries which all include a day at Disney’s private island paradise, Castaway Cay.

Contact me to get pricing on these fabulous cruise itineraries, these limited engagements will book up quickly!

 

Disney Resort News

The iconic Walt Disney World Resort hotels, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, is undergoing a complete re-imagining! The  renovation includes a new food & beverage experience, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. Plus, the hotel is returning to its original 1971 name, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

Disney's Polynesian ResortThe biggest construction impact will affect the beloved pool. The Nanea Volcano Pool and Slide will close for “enhancements” beginning July 26 through early 2015.

Guests staying at the resort while the main pool is closed will receive one (1) complimentary ticket for each member of their party to visit Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park during their stay. Transportation will be provided and guests will enter through a dedicated check-in point where they will receive their complimentary tickets and towels.

In the Great Ceremonial House, several areas will be revamped including the lobby.

 

 

MyMagic+ and FastPass+

If you haven’t been to Walt Disney World in the last year, things…they are a changing! A new system has finally been completely rolled out although it’s still being tweaked and kinks are still being worked out.

MyMagic+ is a complete system of keeping all data together and simplifying the experience for guests. The My Disney Experience tool, MagicBands, FastPass+, all work together.

What is FastPass+

One of the big changes is to Disney’s FastPass system. The old familiar FastPass Ticket system is gone. All the ticket machines have been removed. FastPass+ is in full effect. Guests can book their Fastpass+ selections 60 days in advance for Resort guests and 30 days for non-resort guests. This gives an advantage to buying your tickets in advance and not waiting to get them at the park.

MagicBand

Guests can choose 3 FastPass+ selections limited to one park. Then, once they have used up those 3 experiences, they can book additional Fastpass+ attractions, one at a time at kiosks  in the parks. They are not limited to one park for the additional ones. So a guest could schedule their 3 for a morning in one park, then hop to another park and book at the kiosks there based on what is available.

Booking FastPass+

So how do you book these FassPass+ attractions? Using the My Disney Experience website or app on a smartphone or tablet. You sign up for an account and set everything up linking your reservation and ticket numbers. Have the lead person set it up, add your family and friends and then you can book the FastPass+ for everyone in your traveling party. You can use the app in the parks to check wait times and maps, and of course change your FastPass+ selections on the fly if you need/want to.

How does it work:

The system works by using an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip embedded on the tickets or in the Magic Band. Ticket media are now like credit cards with the chip embedded with your My Disney Experience profile and information. Magic Bands are a band/bracelet you wear embedded with the chip. Non resort guests can buy Magic Bands if they wish.

Magic Bands

Magic Bands are free to resort guests and can be customized by choosing colors and names printed on the inside of the band.  They ship out before your trip (or can be picked up at your resort at check in) and can be used right from your arrival at Orlando Airport for Disney’s Magical Express if you are using that option. You Magic Band is your Key to the World card. It will open your hotel room door, it is your park ticket and FastPass+ ticket, and it can be used with a pin number to make purchases and charge to your room. Your ADR’s (Advanced Dining Reservations) can also be stored booked through your My Disney Experience account and they will be listed there for you. The bands are comfortable to wear and waterproof.

MagicBands

If it all seems complicated and overwhelming, no worries. It’s not too bad once you get the hang of it and experience it and of course, a good Disney Travel Planner, like myself,  will do a lot of the set up and booking for you or with you, free of charge!