Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

I have always loved this park. I have heard people say, ” It is a half day park” Not true! We spent a full day there on July 11th and still only scratched the surface. Here is a quick run down of my thoughts of a great day at Hollywood Studios.

Fast Passes. (For more info on how fast passes work visit my previous blog on the Magic Kingdom)

Tower of Terror, Star Tours and Rock ‘n Roller Coaster are easily the best choices for fast passes! I can not stress enough that getting fast passes for the shows is a total waste of fast passes. Don’t do it.

IMG_5428The Tower of Terror (left)

This is the best ride at the park,  if you want to be terrified. I first took my son on this ride when he was five and I do think I gave him a lifelong fear of elevators so maybe don’t do it  if you have a five year old,  but if you are ten or higher….go for it! My suggestion is to  get to the park as it opens and head straight to this ride. That way you can get a ride in before the lines get bad and you will still have a fast pass for it later, believe me, you will want to do it twice.

The Rock n’ Roller Coaster.

This is also an all time favorite roller coaster, its fast, smooth and fun! Highly suggested.

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Star Tours –  The Adventure Continues (left)

This is a “Star Wars”,  simulation ride. You travel through the galaxy with motion simulation. If you are at all a Star Wars fan, it is a must do.

I would say that after you have done these three rides you can pretty much wander about the park and take in the great shows that run at set times all day. The only ride that is probably not worth the wait is  Toy Story Midway Mania. It was a huge line and a bit of a let down after waiting so long. If you have a big Toy Story Fan in the house, you may want to fast pass this ride to avoid the long wait. I think the Buzz Light year ride at Magic Kingdom is better and will give you the same experience.

At the end of the day be sure to catch the musical light show “Fantasmic” and then the incredible, and I mean incredible fireworks. The Fireworks are to the “Frozen” theme and really are breathtaking.

I am just home from an amazing trip to the beautiful Province of Alberta, Canada.  Coming up next, review of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Disney Theme Park Review- Magic Kingdom

Lets just say that going to a theme park is not on the top of my travel to do list. That said I had a blast at both the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Having my kids with me defiantly made it extra special. This review will give you an overview of each park and some tips!

 Magic Kingdom- July 6th 2014

IMG_5131This park has something for everyone. From the awesome Space Mountain Roller coaster to Pirates of the Caribbean,  every ride is special. You don’t just line up and wait to go on the ride, even the line ups are enjoyable (yes it is true) but to be honest the longest we ever stood in line was about 30 minutes!. On arrival at the park we went straight to guest services for fast passes.

What is a fast pass? Well it is kind of like a reservation that you can make for up to three rides at the park. The fast pass lets you skip the long lines, it would be crazy NOT to take advantage of the fast pass. Once you have used up your three fast passes that day you can add more.

There is a very user-friendly app that you use to make your fast passes and other Disney perks manageable called “My Disney Experience” you load it to your phone, scan your ticket and volia.. you can start planing your day. You can use the app for everything from Fast Passes to Meal reservations.  If you are with family and friends you just connect your tickets and you can plan your fast passes at home before you even arrive at the park.

We had a group of about 16 people the day we went to the Magic Kingdom and connecting all the tickets through our app seemed a little tricky so we went to guest services, they fixed us all up. Planned our fast passes and off we went. The rides we got our fast passes for were:

Space Mountain Roller coaster , Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

splash

As soon as we used them up we go another one for Splash Mountain. Here is a pic of me on splash mountain…  I am on the right, 2nd row,  in the red dress 🙂 Warning, this ride is scary lol.

Advice for the best day at Magic Kingdom

1) Download the My Disney Experience App before you leave home. Once you have your tickets play with it and get you and your family and friends connected. If you plan ahead you can  get the most out of fast passes and the park.

 

2) Use your fast passes wisely. Don’t waste them on shows,  these lineups are never bad. Use the fast passes for the big rides with big waits.  The four mentioned above probably give you the best advantage. If you or your kids want to meet a character, like the Disney Princess, the fast pass is also good for this.

3) The indoor restaurants will give you free ice water if you ask for it!

4) You will get wet on Splash Mountain!

turkey5) You will see lots of people walking around eating turkey legs. They look disgusting, cost a fortune but man are they delicious! You have to try it. They are sold in Frontier-land. Its worth the effort to find them. Trust me on this! (picture left)

6) There is a new ride this year called the “Seven Dwarfs Mine Train” The lines were ridiculously long when we were there. I would strongly suggest that if you want to try the new ride, (which does look awesome)  try get a fast pass for it (we couldn’t when we were there) or go straight for the ride as soon as the park opens in the morning. When we were there is was an 1 hr 45 min wait!

7) Enjoy the crowd, the noise, the heat. And if you start letting it get to you just hum a few bars of “Frozen’s”, “Let it Go” and you will be fine 🙂

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Next Review…Hollywood Studios

 

 

 

 

Walt Disney World Swan Resort

This review is based on my experiences at the hotel, for facts and figures I always suggest visiting the hotels website: http://www.swandolphin.com/

The Grounds and Location

Located right between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood studios, the location is excellent. It is a two-minute walk over a little bridge to Disney’s Boardwalk and you can see the nightly fireworks from both parks at the resort.  Because the resort is 34 years old, the gardens are lovely, there are soaring palm trees and at sunset, it is just a magical place to be. The pools are fantastic too, there is a grotto pool with a waterside and daily activities and there is also a calmer quiet pool, the pools were never too full, there was always, places to sit. There were towels available and very attentive staff. Poolside bar service is prompt and affordable which of course makes me happy.

Swan at nightThe Rooms

I had a fantastic room on the 6th floor overlooking Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the “quiet” pool,  the view at night was simply spectacular and we loved being able to watch the fireworks from our balcony.  I strongly suggest ensuring that you stay in a room with a balcony. Our stay would have been totally different if we were cooped up in a room without access to the outdoors. The room itself was pretty small, 340 sq feet but does have a small fridge, which I loaded up with food and drinks from near-by Wal-Mart, when the fridge gets low, you can visit the General Store at the Boardwalk for supplies. The beds are excellent, it is a hotel managed by Westin and their signature “heavenly beds” never disappoint. The room was a little tired and the bathroom is defiantly cramped, I would say that I would have been pretty disappointed had I not had a balcony, as the awesome view and nightly fireworks show made up for any shortcomings. I do believe the hotel is doing some room renovations soon. It was super quiet in the room at night, which for me is really important.

The Restaurants

Being a foodie I have to admit that this hotel really won me over with their food! Most of you know that I love Sushi more than just about anything, so imagine my delight when I discovered that the hotel had their very own highly rated Sushi restaurant, “Kimonos.” I ate here two out of seven nights. It was incredibly good, the sushi was fresh and beautifully prepared,  the service was excellentsushi and they had an awesome Karaoke party every night which I thoroughly enjoyed. I would probably stay at this resort again, solely based on this great sushi restaurant. Great job, Kimonos you were amazing.

Cabana Grill: We arrived on the 4th of July Weekend, which is one of the busiest times at Disney, our room wasn’t quite ready so we went to the Cabana Grill for a late lunch. The food was amazing and the service very good.  Loved the fish tacos and lets just say the burger was unreal!

Il Mulino: I picked up some take out from here one night, it was quick and excellent. Really good. Our friends had dinner here the one night and said the side spinach was fantastic. We didn’t have time to stay for full dinner service and wanted a snack of calamari to eat so we got it as take out, it took maybe 10 minutes and then ate it as we watched the fireworks on our balcony.

Java Bar: This is where I got my coffee every morning, it was good coffee, but pretty pricey.

The overall service at the hotel

I had a couple of service issues that I brought to the hotels attention and were quickly remedied. Juan in guest relations did a very nice job, dealing with some of my issues.  Overall I would say that the Swan Resort did a great job ensuring my needs were met. I think that I would definitely stay here again, the close proximity to the parks, reasonable rate, great view from my room and of course, the Sushi made it all magical.

Tips and suggestions

1) On your first day, visit the near by Publix grocery store to stock up on food and beverages for your room. We went to Wal-Mart and it was a bit of a horror show with literally hundreds of people jamming the isles. Publix is a far more sensible place to shop, the prices are almost the same, you just don’t have as much selection. We pretty much ate breakfast everyday in room to save time and money.

2) Bring a small kettle. I bought one at Wal-Mart for $10 to make instant oatmeal and  ramen noodles for the kids as snacks.

3) Bring a wine opener! (Enough said!)

4) Get the room with the balcony, I looked at balcony rooms overlooking the other side of the hotel (looking at Epcot) and they were just as nice as mine.

5) Visit the gym. Even if you don’t want to use the work out equipment, the gym stocks great “walking trail” maps that show everything from 1.6km – 4.8 kms trails through the resort.  I took this photo of it on my phone for quick reference.  Next review….. The Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme parks.Walking trails map

 

 

 

Walt Disney World 2014

mouse earsHi Everyone, I have been travelling like crazy this month and have finally recovered from my most recent trip to Orlando and am ready to Blog! I will be reviewing; Two Walt Disney World Theme Parks, The Walt Disney World Swan Resort,  Southwest Airlines and Transportation in Orlando I should have all the reviews posted by the end of the week.  But lets start with my thoughts on getting around Orlando.

Transportation in Orlando

On arrival at MCO, Orlando’s airport, it is super easy to find transport to your hotel. Many people have asked me if its better to rent a car, take a taxi, or book a shuttle to get from the airport.  I took a taxi. It makes no sense financially for a family to take a shuttle.  It is $36.00 round trip per adult for a shuttle with Mears Transportation. A one way taxi fare is $67.00.  We have rented cars on previous trips but found it was more of a hassle than just taking taxis for the odd times you need to go off property. If you are staying on the Walt Disney World Resort Property, everything is connected by a complementary network of buses, water taxis, trams etc. It is efficient, easy to use and very relaxing. The Swan Resort charges $16.00 plus tax per day to park, this adds up quickly. During our week we left the Disney Property twice. Each time using a taxi. A trip to Wal-Mart for supplies, cost $18 each way. A trip to the Outlet mall for fabulous shopping was $20 each way. The rest of the time we used the complementary  transportation to get to all the Disney attractions.

If your accommodation in Orlando is not on Disney property or you would like to visit Universal Studios and do a lot of shopping a car rental makes more sense. Remember however,  you will have to pay $17.00 per day to park you car at the Disney Parks. But, if you are going primarily to be at Disney, (like we were!) I would suggest staying at a hotel on the Disney Property. It makes everything so much more convenient, to give you an example, we spent one day at Disney’s Hollywood studios, took the quick 8 minute water taxi back to our hotel, had a shower and dinner and then returned for the evening fireworks, simple, fast and easy to do. Here is a picture of us returning to our resort on the water taxi.water taxi

 

Next Post….Review of The Walt Disney World Swan

Review of Melia Las Dunas- Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

Review  of Melia Las Dunas- Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

cayophoto-4So before I begin I should post a disclaimer.  Last year I did some SERIOUS high end travel, staying at the Grand Hyatt in Kauai and the Westin Moana Surfrider in Oahu. We rented a luxury Condo in Maui for a week, spent a week in fabulous Martha’s Vineyard and had a visit to the Waldorf in Manhattan. (I checked in the day Barrack Obama checked out!) This trip to Cuba was not about high end luxury travel and I will not be comparing this resort to other resorts I have stayed at. I will be giving you a review of my stay here and what I think of the property.

The purpose of this trip was to get away from the 2014 Polar Vortex that we were experiencing in Ontario. I had a limited budget, since I had blown a ton on our Hawaii trip so I was looking for value for money. I expected  great weather and a beautiful beach. Other than that I had NO expectations. Our Budget was CAD$ 1100.00 Per person. That is for flights, accommodation and food and drinks so an All-inclusive package to the Melia Las Dunas was the perfect price.

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Transfers from Santa Clara Airport to – Cayo Santa Maria

It is a 1 hour 45 minute drive from the Santa Clara Airport to Cayo Santa Maria. It was quite an enjoyable scenic ride, the roads are excellent, it is pretty much a straight ride so no need to worry about motion sickness. Compared to the bumpy, twisting two hour drive from Cancun to the Mayan Riviera this was a pleasure.

Arrival at Melia Las Dunas

Check in was smooth, no problems there. We were given two rooms in the 21 block of the “family” section.  The resort basically has two sides “Adults only” and “Family” With most of the amenities in the middle. The first impression I had of the rooms were;  spacious, overlooking jungle,  a little tired but clean. I was happy. My room had a king bed and the Kids room had a king and a single. There was an amenity kit in the bathroom which was surprising, as well as a nice bottle of Rum to welcome us. The mini bar was overflowing with Beer, Sodas and Water.

The Beach

sunrise in cayo santa mariaIn a word the beach was PERFECT. This picture shows my  attempt at Yoga at 6:30 AM (what can I say I am an early bird!) The beach is seemingly endless, the sand is like talcum powder, the water absolutely crystal clear. It is one of the most beautiful beaches I have visited. We walked the beach for hours and had to turn around because we were tired, rather than running out of beach. The Melia las Dunas was 100% full when we were there so there was a lot of people on the beach. You had to get up early to “reserve” a spot in the shade, but there were always beds available in the sun and as long as you were up early (as we were) you could always find a great spot.  There is no drinks service on the beach, so you have to get up and walk a few hundred feet to get a cocktail. This is kind of like work, so if you are expecting cocktail service to your loungers you are not going to get it but honestly, what has this world come to if we can’t walk to the beach bar and get our own drinks 🙂

There was a beach grill that did Panini’s and Burgers, it was awesome. I like nothing more than getting to the beach early and spending the day there and this is exactly what I did, all day, everyday. My teenagers were happy as there was beach volleyball, watersports and other activities as well as an area close to the main beach bar that was pretty festive and had beach activities.

Casyo santa maria beach shot.fwShot of my boys, playing ball in the crystal clear water.

The Food

The food was fine. I can’t say it was great but it was fine. You had to know what to get and where to go. Most people who have traveled to Cuba will tell you, the food is different, but there was always grilled fish at the beach bar, and dinner buffets, freshly squeezed orange juice and grapefruit juice at breakfast as-well as great omelets and delicious oven fired pizza at the pizzeria. The espresso in the lobby bar was excellent! There was a ice-cream parlor that the kids would visit several times a day. If you are a picky eater you can eat french fries and burgers 24 hours a day at the snack bar. My only criticism is that other than the grilled fish most of the food is high carb and high fat, not great if you are trying to stay healthy. All that being said, we all ate a lot and enjoyed ourselves.

The Resort

The resort is huge. 900+ rooms. At 100% capacity it didn’t feel too overcrowded because it is so large.  It did feel huge, however! It took about ten minutes to walk from our room to the lobby. If you don’t like walking don’t stay here! Every night at around 7:30 the resort had an open air, live band and dance party under the stars for about an hour. It was quite charming. The music was excellent and the guests were encouraged to dance and enjoy the Cuban rhythms. After this they offered entertainment in a weird amphitheater, we went one night and the entertainment was so bad that we left. So trust me if you are looking for excellent shows etc forget it, it doesn’t happen here. That said, the open air dancing and music 7:30 – 9:00  was awesome and by 9:00 I was ready to retire anyway.  I did not experience nightlife beyond this,  there is a piano bar and night club, we just never made it.

The staff at the resort were lovely, friendly and welcoming. We took a suitcase of old clothes and shoes with us to give out to the staff, they were so thankful as it is really hard to get anything in Cuba. Please, if you ever visit the island, take clothes and shoes with you to give to the local people.

Overall, we had a great time at this resort. Would I go back? At $1100 per person in the middle of winter, yes! I would not go here if I was looking for high-end luxury or anything beyond a beach vacation as there is little to do near to the resort. The Melia Las Dunas is a solid choice for a beautiful beach, great family time and a break from awful winter weather. 

Travel Tips

– Take lots of suntan lotion. If you run out like we did its $22 per bottle to replace. OUCH!

– Take a ball to throw around on the beach. Take your books and magazine from home.   You can’t buy ANYTHING in Cayo Santa Maria.

– Get a cell phone package for email BEFORE YOU GO. I got a $40 plan so that I could check email everyday.  The internet is slow there so if you don’t have a plan the bandwidth used just to check email could cost you a fortune!

– The currency is Convertible Pesos. Don’t bother taking US$ they don’t want it.

– Tipping is not compulsory, but I would suggest you take money to tip. The local staff earns very little and you can really help out by leaving a small tip to your servers, cleaners etc.

– Know why you are going to Cuba, and know what to expect and you will have an amazing vacation…we certainly did.

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Flights to Cayo Santa Maria Cuba YYZ WG SNU

Hi Everyone!

I recently returned from seven days in Cayo Santa Maria Cuba and have been asked for my opinion on the flights (Sunwing) and hotel (Melia Las Dunas) so here it is.

The flights with Sunwing Airlines. YYZ WG SNU

Sunwing

Our flight departed at 6:00AM therefore you could check in online at 2:00AM.  I know it is always best to check in online before going to the airport so I got up at 2:00AM to check in online.

The online check in process for Sunwing is awful. It was slow, and not easy to navigate, it also has major glitches that kept “kicking me out of the system” Since there were five of us traveling, I had to make two separate reservations with Sunwing Vacations so our flight reservations were also separate. I was able to successfully seat three of us together but when I got to the second reservation it kept kicking me out of the system. After three attempts to seat the second reservation together I gave up and left for the airport.

The check in counters were a mob show. There were line ups unlike anything I have seen in years. Because we had already checked in, we went to the “Bag Drop” line. After waiting 45 minutes, the supervisor pulled about 15 people out of the line and walked us around the counters to another Customer service agent. Unfortunately the agent we were taken to was quite possibly the most incompetent airline employee I have ever met.

I have to say, I have been training students to work for Airlines for many years, so I am patient and understanding that the job is not always an easy one but this Sunwing CSA was BRUTAL. He spent almost 30 Minutes processing us.  Sunwing, what are you doing? You need to spend some time on employee training, more stringent hiring practices and better management at the airport. At one point I asked to speak with the supervisor but no one ever came.  I know many qualified Sheridan Grads that would be far better Customer Service Agents.

By the time we boarded the aircraft I was seriously worried about our choice to fly Sunwing.  I was not able to get the second reservations seats together so I had hoped to switch on board, no luck there. Three of us were together but two of us were split up rows away.

The Flight itself was excellent. I can honestly say that the Flight Attendants and crew were amazing. The in flight experience was very good, with a glass of sparkling wine at takeoff (who cares if it is 6:00AM) and excellent inflight service.  The only negative comment I have to make about the amenities was there was no communication about the Men’s Gold Medal Olympic Hockey game that started at 7:00AM, now I know if we had been flying Westjet, we would have had a live stream. That is why I love Westjet!

Overall,  the grueling check in process and terrible staff at the YYZ airport made for a miserable start.  The only reason to make Sunwing your first choice is price, plain and simple.  Sunwing needs help, they have the inflight experience right, it is now time to focus on the Airport.

Coming soon….Next post….. Cayo Santa Maria, Melia Las Dunas