Why use a Travel Agent?

Why Use a Travel Agent?

The internet provides a sea of information for you to use when planning your next vacation.  It’s great that there is plenty of information, but this sea can get overwhelming!  When you use an expert to help plan your vacation you can save valuable time, because a Travel Professional can wade through the sea and offer choices that will work best for your family.

I am an expert in helping families create fabulous vacations to Disney and Universal.  I have traveled extensively to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Universal Orlando, and have sailed on most of the Disney Cruise Ships.  I can offer you first-hand experience on the destination that you choose.20160405_162340595_ios

It is my job as a Travel Professional to help you plan every part of your vacation.  We will start by talking about what you are looking for, the dates you have in mind and what kind of vacation you want for your family.  Once we have those particulars nailed down, I will go to work finding suggestions that I think will be the best fit for your family.  We will also talk about additional items such as dining options, shore excursions, show tickets and special events that you may want to add on to your vacation.

Once your trip is booked we get to have some fun!  We will work together to choose any dining reservations your family would enjoy.  I will get up early to make those reservations for you.  You get to sleep in, get to work or get the kids off to school while I do all the work.  We will talk about which rides or shore excursions you would like to reserve in advance.

During the months leading up to your vacation I will send you tips, suggestions, and information on everything from the ports your Disney Cruise will visit to details on shows and attractions in the parks.  I love getting to know my clients and recommending special activities that will make their vacation extra magical like the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Fireworks Dessert Parties or a special adults-only night out.

Often, Special Promotions are released during the year.  Most travelers are unaware of when a promotion has been released.  That is ok for my clients, because I will already be in the know. By using my concierge level travel planning services, you do not need to watch for these special offers!  I will know in advance that the promotion is being released and will get any discounts that apply to your reservation.  I will work diligently to save my clients money on their vacations!

My services do not end once you arrive at your destination.  If you have any issues at your resort with dining or tickets, or once onboard a cruise ship, I will be on the phone trying to get the problem resolved so you can enjoy your vacation.

What is the best part of using my professional travel planning services?  All of these extra services do not cost you a dime!  You will pay the same for your vacation whether you do all the planning or if you let me take care of everything for you!

I would love to help you and your family plan your next trip to Disney or Universal!  Contact me, julir@wishesfamilytravel.com for your complimentary, no obligation quote.

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Castaway Cay, My Favorite Disney Cruise Port

Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, is a favorite stop for our family on every Disney Cruise.  This 3-mile-long, 1000-acre island has something for everyone, just like on the ship.  We love watching the ship pull into the dock and looking at all the fun we will have for the day.

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For runners and walkers there is the Castaway Cay 5K.  Registration for the 5k is available on the ship at the Port Adventures Desk. The 5K does fill up, so registering early is a good idea.  Those who register for the 5K gather together first thing in the morning to disembark before all the other passengers.  The run takes you on a lovely early morning tour of the island, then you have the rest of the day to relax or join in all the fun!  You will find a water station at the starting line and on the course.  At the end of the 5K all participants receive a medal!

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Castaway Cay has a family beach which includes a great water playground for the little ones and a fun water slide called Pelican Plunge.  Check your personal navigator before leaving the ship to check for any play area closures.  My kids can’t get enough of either area, it’s hard to get them out of the water.  While the kids play in the water, I like to relax in one of the hammocks under the palm trees while I can!  It doesn’t take long for one of my family members to come get me to play in the water.   For passengers without children, Serenity Bay, the adult only beach, is the perfect place to spend the day.

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Cabanas are available for adults and families who would like a little more privacy.   The cabanas come with all the equipment that might normally be rented: snorkel gear, floats, and bikes.  Every cabana has a refrigerator stocked with cans of Coke products and Evian water.  Snacks are also provided in the cabanas.  Cabanas are booked just like an excursion, but they do fill up early with Platinum members.

There is no shortage of food or beverages on the island.  Cookies BBQ and Cookies Too serve up delicious BBQ style food with selections such as ribs, burgers, coleslaw, chicken, and cornbread.   Dessert is also available; ice cream, cookies (my favorite) and cakes.  Serenity Bay offers adults their own restaurant which serves entrees not available at the family restaurants like, steak and mahi-mahi.  There are bars located throughout the island where you can get a refreshing cocktail or cold beer.  Keep an eye out for the two for one specials often available later in the afternoon, you can often find two for one drinks before the bars close!  All of the restaurants and bars are staffed by Cast Members from the ship, so look for your favorite dining room attendant.

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Excursions are plentiful on Castaway Cay from fishing, parasailing, and a sting ray adventure to snorkeling, biking and float tube rental.  Our favorites are the snorkeling and bike riding!  While following the under water snorkel trail you will see boats, Mickey & Minnie and a reef filled with fish.  Renting bikes is a fun family activity which takes riders across Castaway Cay.  There is even a stop at an observation tower where a beautiful view of the entire island awaits.

If you are in the mood for a little shopping, you won’t be disappointed.  Traditional Bahamian items can be found at Cultural Illusions as well as Castaway Cay only souvenirs at She Sells Sea Shells…and Everything Else and But the Sea Shore.  We always stop by the shops before getting back on the ship for a little something to bring home.

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A stop on Castaway Cay would not be complete without visiting without some Disney characters!  We love to see Mickey and his pals in their beach attire greeting guests as they enter the island.  My kids would like Mickey to hang out with them on the beach all day!

 

Our very last stop as we leave Castaway Cay for the day is dropping post cards off at the Post Office.  It’s fun to send mail that we have written on the ship to family and friends from the Bahamas!  We have even sent mail to ourselves as a souvenir.

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Disney’s Island is the perfect way to spend a day during a Disney Cruise.  I look forward to this day more than any other during our cruise.  Whether you want to relax on the beach or experience the many excursions, Castaway Cay really does have something for everyone.  I would love to tell you more about the Disney Cruises and all the wonderful places the ships visit.

Disney Cruise Fish Extenders

What in the world is a Fish Extender?  I asked that question before my first Disney Cruise and the answer opened a door to a lot of fun, new friends and great gifts.

Outside of a Disney Cruise Ship cabin is a decorative hook that looks like a fish, starfish, or seahorse.  The Cruise Cast Members leave notes for your cabin on these hooks.  Our cabin had a seahorse that looked like this:

Using the FISH on the Door as the Hook

A fish extender is an organizer that is hung from the hook.  Some are handmade, like mine, some are purchased.  Each member of my family picked out a Disney themed material that I used to make the pockets, then I attached a Mickey head with their name on it.  It was a lot of fun and very easy to make.

Now, you may be wondering what the fish extender is used for!  Little gifts are placed in the fish extender over the course of your cruise.  They can be gifts the whole family would love, gifts for each member of the family, or gifts just for the kids.  We decided to make a gift for the cabin and give a little something to each child.  Our cabin gift was bottle cap magnets that my whole family helped make.  The gifts for the children ranged from Disney themed rubber band bracelets, glow sticks to candy for the older kids.   For cabins with no children we gave chocolate from a local company along with the bottle cap magnets.

Door Magnets  “How do I get involved with Fish Extenders on my Disney Cruise?” is probably what you are asking yourself.   Facebook has groups for most Disney Cruise sailings where one or two people take on the responsibility of organizing the fish extender gift exchange.  A list is compiled of each cabin that is interested in participating.   If the list grows to be very large, it will be divided into smaller groups.  Our last fish extender group was about 20 cabins.  The list is distributed via email shortly after the paid in full date for each cruise and includes the names of the family in each cabin, the ages of the children and if there are any allergies or special requests.

Now the fun part!  We made and packaged the gifts for each cabin.  My kids had a lot of fun helping with the bottle magnets and my daughter made all the rubber band bracelets for the girls.  We decided that when we were on our cruise we would deliver the gifts to one deck per day.  We enjoyed visiting different decks and tried to be pretty sneaky so no one would see us dropping the gifts off.   Every time we came back to our cabin the kids couldn’t wait to see what treats were waiting for them.  We received wonderful gifts from our fish extender group; personalized plastic cups, ice cream sundae fixings, handmade puzzles, ornaments, jewelry, and many other fun surprises.

I am a huge fan of being a part of the fish extender groups!  We have a lot of fun thinking of the gifts, making them, and delivering them, but the very best part to me is making new friends.  We got know our group well, one family very well.  Our kids were inseparable during the cruise, have stayed in touch since the cruise and are planning a summer get together.  The adults enjoyed each other’s company so much that we are all sailing together on a couple’s only cruise in the fall on the Disney Magic.

The Stateroom Door!

Joining a fish extender group is just one more way to enjoy a Disney Cruise by exploring the ship, meeting new people, and finding little   surprises waiting for you outside your cabin every day.  If you are looking for more information about fish extenders, click here for a great article

I would love to help you plan a Disney Cruise, or any Disney Destination vacation.  Follow my Wishes Family Travel – Juli Russ Facebook page for Disney news, help in planning a magical vacation and other fun tidbits.

Surprise Disney Cruise

Have you ever wanted to surprise your family with a Disney Cruise?  My husband and I planned our first Disney Cruise for over a year completely unknown to our children.

How in the world would we keep such a fun secret for such a long period of time?  How would we pick excursions and make plans without asking the kids their thoughts?  How would we contain our extreme excitement?

We started having late night conversations, trying to stay as quiet as we could so the kids wouldn’t hear anything we were saying.  We also had many, many email and text conversations picking our excursions on Grand Cayman and Cozumel.  Would they like swimming with sting rays?  Do you think they would like snorkeling better?  How would we sneak pirate costumes into our luggage?

The year flew by and we had done it!  We had made all the plans, kept cruise packing secret, and had managed to keep them in the dark.  All that my children knew was that we were driving to Florida to visit Grandma and Grandpa for Thanksgiving.  They didn’t even know how long we would be gone on this vacation, I can’t believe they never even asked when we would go home.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving we packed up the car, told the kids we were staying that night near the beach, and headed to Port Canaveral.  We decided it would be best to arrive after dark so they didn’t see any cruise ships that may be in port.  At this point we were beyond excited not only to tell them our surprise, but excited for our DISNEY CRUISE!

My husband was “too excited to sleep” and was up bright and early.  He drove over to the Port to scout out a spot to take the kids to “just look” at the Disney Fantasy and spotted the ship just after sunrise.

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We woke the kids up, told them to put their swim suits on so that we could go for a swim (left out the details of where!), then went down for breakfast.  At breakfast we told them that the Disney Fantasy was in Port and asked if they would like to go see it.  They weren’t super excited to just look at the ship, but agreed to go.

After breakfast we loaded them up in the car, drove to the spot my husband had found and pulled over to let them get out and take a look.  The ship took my breath away and I was holding back tears as we gazed for a minute.  I couldn’t keep the surprise in any more, we asked them if they would like to go on board.  They looked very confused.  Then we asked if they would like to go on board for seven days and travel to Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Costa Maya, & Disney’s private Island Castaway Cay.

 

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I will never forget the next few minutes as long as I live!  My daughter screamed in excitement then jumped into my arms.  My son who was looking forward to the lunch he had ordered at school on Monday was actually a little angry and said he didn’t want to go.   Once we told him about the Aqua Duck and the free unlimited ice cream he came around and couldn’t wait to board.

 

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The cruise was amazing!  We enjoyed everything about the Disney Fantasy from the stateroom, to the food, the Aquaduck, the adult areas and the incredible entertainment.  I think surprising the kids made this vacation even more magical. I’m still amazed that they never questioned how many suit cases were in the car, or how long we would be gone and even more amazed that they loved most of the excursions we planned.   The sting rays at Sting Ray city were a little “gross” for them, but they loved our snorkel trip in Cozumel.  I don’t think we could ever pull the wool over their eyes again, it sure was fun when we did.

I would love to help you plan a surprise Disney Vacation for your family.  Whether it’s a Disney Cruise, a visit to Walt Disney World, or an Adventures by Disney extravaganza, I have fun ideas to make the surprise extra special.  Follow my Wishes Family Travel – Juli Russ Facebook page for great Disney information of all kinds, including surprising loved ones with a Disney Vacation.

Disney Cruise Itinerary, Plan B

 

If you are like me, once you book your Disney cruise you start planning all the fun activities you will do on the ship and in the Ports.  Our latest Disney cruise was four days to Castaway Cay, Nassau, and Key West.  We were very excited to experience this itinerary, and were especially looking forward to participating in the Castaway Cay 5k and having a massage on the adult only beach.  Ah the best laid plans!

As our cruise drew near, we started watching the weather and discovered Hurricane Joaquin was heading toward the Bahamas.  We are eternal optimists and decided that the hurricane would not affect our trip and we would enjoy all the activities we had spent a year planning.  Hurricane Joaquin had a different idea, however.  Not long after boarding the ship Captain Tom informed us that we would be switching our itinerary to visit Key West first and Castaway Cay last.  We were glad that Disney Cruise Line had the safety of its passengers and crew as its top priority and didn’t mind the little switch at all.

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The original time for us to be in Key West was Noon to 6:00pm, with the quick switch the time changed to 8:00am to 2:00pm.  This was a little disappointing based on our plans, but we made the best of it.  We were the first in line to disembark the ship which gave us plenty of time to take a walk to the Southern Most Point in the USA.  The best part of our day was meeting a group of couples all traveling together from the Orlando area.  If we had spent the first day on Castaway Cay, we probably wouldn’t have met them and wouldn’t be planning a Spring Break trip to visit them.

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We got back on the ship at the very last minute because we were having such a good time on Key West.  It wasn’t long before Captain Tom made another announcement, Hurricane Joaquin wasn’t moving away from the Bahamas so we were going to Cozumel and we would also have a day at sea.  That announcement meant we weren’t going to stop at Castaway Cay which is always my favorite.  This cruise we were going to able to enjoy the adult beach and run the 5k, so we were disappointed.

As the ship set sail toward Cozumel we realized that since there would be a Sea Day, we could make reservations for our favorite meal, Palo Brunch!   Who cares about an adult beach and a 5K when you can enjoy mimosas, sticky buns, and the best chicken parmesan in the world!  We almost ran up to Palo to make our brunch reservations, luckily we didn’t miss out.

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Despite our disappointment, the change in itinerary turned out to be as much, if not more fun than the plans we had originally made.  Sailing during hurricane season means there is always a chance that the itinerary can change.  Disney Cruise Line cancelled all the missed port excursions with no charge.  We were also given a small refund due to the change in port fees which we used to enjoy a couple cocktails at the pool.  I love that the ships can sail around the storms and my vacation isn’t ruined by bad weather.  Passenger and Crew safety is always the top priority for the Captain which I appreciate tremendously.  The passengers on the ships also need to understand that itineraries can change and be flexible, you never know how great the new experience will be!

Planning a Disney Cruise is fun, I would love to help you plan a cruise on one of the Disney ships.  Contact me at julir@wishesfamnilytravel.com and follow my Wishes Family Travel Facebook page for all kinds of Disney information.

 

Palo Brunch or Palo Dinner, How to Choose

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On our last cruise aboard the Disney Magic, my husband and I had the opportunity to dine at the adult only restaurant, Palo, for both dinner and brunch. Palo offers a beautiful view of the ocean as the ship sails across the Caribbean in an elegant setting.  Not only do we look forward to visiting Palo for the amazing food, the service is always top notch and this visit was the best yet.

Our server, Ratif, began our dinner by giving us a history of the name given to the adult only restaurant.  Since the Disney Magic was built in Italy, Disney wanted to pay tribute to the county and chose Palo, the word for the poles used to guide the gondolas through the canals of Venice.  The basket used to serve the bread with our meal is designed to look like a gondola.

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A delicious antipasto tray prepared table side is soon followed by a mouth-watering appetizer.   We decided to try the marinated grilled shrimp and the mozzarella caprese.  Before our entrée was delivered we enjoyed a palate cleansing sorbet.  The entrée selection was difficult, how to choose between osso bucco, rack of lamb, or my favorite the Beef Tenderloin, “Palo”?  My husband selected the rack of lamb and I opted to stick with my favorite tenderloin.  We also had to have an order of the lobster mascarpone ravioli.  Both meals were scrumptious and it was hard to save room for dessert.  To top off our dinner we ordered the best dessert ever, Palo’s signature chocolate soufflé which is the lightest, most decadent soufflé topped with chocolate sauce and anglaise and accompanied by a scoop of vanilla gelato.

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As we left dinner completely stuffed we stopped by the Maître D’ to check on availability for brunch later in the week.  We were surprised that there were still open reservations and excitedly took one!

We arrived for our brunch reservation a couple of days later and were greeted by a line of Palo servers wishing us a warm welcome.  We were seated at the same table overlooking the ocean and to our pleasant surprise Ratif was again our server.  Brunch begins with a complimentary mimosa or bellini and a tour of the expansive brunch buffet.

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There are so many wonderful choices on the buffet, it’s hard to know where to begin; sticky buns, croissants and muffins, caviar, meats and cheeses, shrimp, and fruit just to name a few.  We opted for a little of each.

Accompanying the buffet are made to order items including flat bread pizzas, egg dishes, and chicken parmesan.  We tried the grape and gorgonzola pizza, the eggs Julia and the chicken parmesan.  The grape and gorgonzola pizza and eggs Julia were delightful, but the chicken parmesan was the most delectable I have ever had,  the dish is literally melt in your mouth.   Of course after all of this fabulous food we had to sample the desserts, my favorite was the berries with champagne jello.

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How to choose between Palo Dinner or Brunch? The answer is simple!  Don’t!  Each is a unique dining experience that shouldn’t be missed.  Dinner in Palo is a wonderful date night or if you are traveling with a group it is the perfect getaway for an evening.  Brunch is a wonderful alternative to the breakfast buffet.

There is an additional cost of $30 per person for each meal and it is well worth the cost.  Reservations are required. The dress code for Palo is a collared shirt and long slacks for men, a dress or pantsuit for ladies.  Flip flops, shorts, capri pants and jeans are not allowed.  If you are thinking of a Disney Cruise or have been on a Disney Cruise and would like to learn more about the adult dining, contact me at julir@wishesfamilytravel.com.