Spring Break Wrap Up

And, just like that, it took me way longer than anticipated to post The End of the Story.

This post covers my final thoughts on Spring Break 2018 at Walt Disney World with MGM and Trixie.

Since this was already a few months ago, I’ve had quite a few new adventures, including a move, a trip to Mexico with Spouse to celebrate our 20th (!!!!) anniversary, a new pet (also !!!!) and a major remodeling project on Fancy Pants Ranch Deux: Fancy Pants Ranchier. I digress. That will come.

Back to where we left off:

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The final full Disney day of our trip was spent at EPCOT. Personally, I love EPCOT, especially wandering about the World Showcase pavilions and the food, food, food. EPCOT tends to be the more adult-oriented of all the parks, which is why I think my kids found it a teensy bit boring as their last day.

We used our premium FastPass for the new Frozen ride, which meant we were shut off from a FastPass for Soarin’ – one of my all-time favorites. That strategy meant that we needed to get to Soarin’ first thing in the morning, and I had the kids out of the hotel and hustling through the back International Gateway entrance when the park opened. We bee-lined to Soarin’ and were rewarded with a walk-on to the ride. Once it was over, we ate breakfast at Sunshine Seasons (I think this is what it’s called) and rode The Land, the other ride in the Soarin’ building.

The EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival was also occurring during our visit (see topiary above), and we opted to buy a scavenger hunt map where we could identify small bee statues throughout the park and turn our completed scorecard in for a prize (embroidered patches, if you’re wondering). I think the cost for the map was about $6, which was worth it since it gave us something else to do.

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We also sampled some of the festival’s food specialties like this cauliflower dish:

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Oh, and I had a small beer with it.

I thought the Festival merchandise was cute and bought a tank top and keychain. The rose gold ears below are Trixie’s:

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MGM also found a shirt he liked:

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He draped it over my back while I was not looking. Not my most flattering photo.

As far as rides went, EPCOT is kind of thin on the thrillers. We rode Soarin’, The Land, Frozen, the boat ride in Mexico (I loved the re-theming of the pavilion to update it after “Coco” with more Dia de los Muertos imagery), Spaceship Earth (whatever the big golf ball is called), and watched the movie in the France pavilion. BTW, the soundtrack to that is really enjoyable and I was able to download a copy of it from iTunes.

Overall, though, the EPCOT day rolled out at a much slower pace and I think the kids missed the adrenaline rush of the other parks. Next time I would put an EPCOT day in the middle versus the end of the trip.

On Friday morning, we packed up to head home. Our flight wasn’t until late afternoon so we went to a science museum-ish thing in Orlando, ate a late lunch, turned in the rental car and got on the plane.

This was one of the rare trips where I felt like I got packing right. I brought everything from my March Stitch Fix and only a few more pieces. I was able to do a quick load of laundry at my mom’s place on the front end of the trip so I also could recycle a few pieces along the way, despite the sweat-inducing heat.

Here are a few looks:

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Shirt is Old Navy and shorts are from Stitch Fix

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Same shorts and shirt is from my last Fix

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All Madewell from a last season

Dress is Lilly Pulitzer tunic with SPF 50 (I liked this so much I bought another in a different print. The style is called “Sophie.”)

 

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Basically everything minus workout clothes

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The shoes I lived in

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Plane outfit, both ways. Sweatshirt and tank are Athleta, scarf is Spring ’18 from the Gap, shoes Kenneth Cole, bracelets mostly Kinsley Armelle, bag is Chloe and sunglasses are a cheap-o pair from the flea market we visited at the start of the trip

Thanks for following along! I love travel and especially packing for travel. This was one of the rare trips where I got it right.

 

 

 

Christmas Brickmania Display

Last weekend we went to see a massive Lego display sponsored by Brickmania Toyworks.

The Christmas diorama was fantastic:

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It was hard to capture Santa’s train:

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A huge State Fair/Circus scene was also so much fun to view. There were a lot of surprises – aka Easter eggs – hidden in plain sight, like the Mystery Machine from “Scooby Doo” in the parking lot.

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Storm Troopers were also riding the Giant Slide.

While Spouse originally planned this with the kids in mind, we all had a blast.

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If you’re in the Twin Cities, this is worth a visit.

 

 

Disney’s Castaway Club

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One of the best parts of going on a Disney Cruise is the anticipation.

You know you’re going to have fun.

And once you’re there, you’ll probably want to do it all over again.

After your first Disney cruise, you become a member of the Castaway Club, Disney’s loyalty program for veteran cruisers.

Currently there are three levels available:

  • Silver: 1-5 completed cruises
  • Gold: 6-10 completed cruises
  • Platinum: >10 completed cruises

So, what do you get with membership?

One perk is that you can book activities, excursions and specialty restaurant reservations ahead of the crowd. Silver members can book 90 days out, Gold 105 days, and Platinum members 120. [Note: You also get early booking with Concierge status, even on your first cruise].

There’s also a digital magazine you can read and a special phone number to use for assistance with booking or travel arrangements.

A dedicated part of the Disney Cruise Line website for the Castaway Club lets you see your personal status meter.

Here’s a snap of mine:

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But what’s probably the thing that guests love the most is the swag.

Castaway Club bonuses start arriving at check-in. You’ll receive a lanyard displaying your status to hold your room key. Here’s a Silver one:

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Personally, I carry my card around in my pocket and hate wearing a lanyard, so we don’t usually keep these. That puts us in the minority, though, because other guests seem to love wearing them everywhere.

You also get a welcome aboard gift that’s waiting for you in your cabin. On our recent trip to Alaska, we received a one-shoulder backpack and an umbrella. On prior trips we’ve received a different style of backpack, a tote bag, and a keychain. Twice the backpacks were filled with snacks.

Here’s the Alaska bounty:

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Front view

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Back view, sling backpack

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We used the backpack once in Alaska and the kids both wanted the umbrella upon our return.

Unfortunately, they immediately weaponized it and attacked each other, umbrella style, so it’s tucked away out of their reach at the moment.

A new thing that started in 2014 is that Castaway Club members also get a 5″ x 7″ drawing mailed to them after the cruise. Here’s the one we received in the mail after Alaska:

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I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so it’s currently on the fridge. The line drawing is pretty cool, but I’ve already got way too much everything so this probably won’t stay there for long.

Once you cross into a new level, you’ll also receive a magnet for your car. We received a Gold one last year but I’m not the bumper sticker/stick figure/car magnet type, so it’s also on the fridge for now.

One benefit we just experienced for the first time was the onboard party for Gold and Platinum Castaway Club members. This was fun. During our Alaska trip, it was held during the afternoon of one of the sea days and there was free food/drinks and a take-home Mickey crispy rice treat for guests. The captain and several officers were there, and the crew made a point of coming around and meeting people, asking about prior trips. Everyone at the party was really friendly and trust me when I say that the guests could have talked about Cruising with Disney all night if given the chance.

We also discovered a 10% discount on select shipboard merchandise as Gold members, which was unexpected and cool.

Final thought: everybody loves to be a V.I.P., and Disney’s Castaway Club makes you feel like one.

 

 

 

Ahhhhh-laska!

Wow.

You know how you can anticipate something so much and then build it up to a place where it’s impossible to meet even the tiniest expectation? In essence, you’re just set up for disappointment before the event has begun.

Scratch that thought, because our trip to Alaska completely exceeded all of my wildest dreams.

We’ve been back for a little over a week and it’s still hard to take it all in.

Alaska previously hadn’t been a bucket list destination for me, but last year one of my partners went and raved about the whole experience so much that I had to check it out.

I also enjoyed the thought of having an unplugged vacation with the kids, mostly free of lights/buzzers/gizmos.

Huge bonus: the chilly weather in Alaska also precludes bikini wearing, so bring on the buffet! (Kidding, sort of).

We started the trip with a weekend in Vancouver, a city I fell in love with last year.

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The weekend was a mini-vacation in itself: spouse took a tour on a float plane, the kids and I went to the Vancouver Aquarium, we saw the Olympic torch from the 2010 Games, and I ran in Stanley Park twice.

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Our boat as seen from Stanley Park

By the time Monday rolled around, we’d squeezed in a lot of fun and it was time to board the Disney Wonder.

This was the sixth Disney cruise for the kids and me and #5 for Spouse (he missed out on a quick trip the kids and I took with my sister last winter).

The Disney Wonder was new to us. We’ve been on the Dream and Fantasy before, but not this ship. I was nervous because the Wonder (along with the Magic) is one of the older, smaller ships. Unlike the Magic, though, it hasn’t undergone a major remodel, so I didn’t know what to expect.

We stayed in a one bedroom suite on the 8th deck. Here are a few shots of the room. It was really spacious:

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Trixie liked the fruit bowl that was waiting for us:

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Concierge service is also different on the Wonder than the newer ships. Specifically, there is no Concierge Lounge, which is usually our favorite hangout.

However, Glenn and Rodrigo – the two Concierges onboard – really went over the top to provide a Concierge experience. In the end, I think they out-did the newer ships, and that is saying a lot.

Here’s a summary of Concierge amenities on the Wonder:

  • A welcome reception where you meet the team, have a glass of bubbly and go over your personalized itinerary. We were able to book a wine tasting and a chocolate and liquor tasting for later in the trip during that event.
  • Snacks delivered to your cabin every afternoon. These varied from the above fruit bowl to small cupcakes, a cheese tray and chocolate covered strawberries.
  • Priority disembarkation. Being the first group off the ship helps beat the long lines at Customs on the last day.
  • A twice daily cocktail reception. Ok, I’ll be honest: this is my favorite perk of traveling Concierge. I was worried that without the Lounge, this wouldn’t happen. It still did; Glenn and Rodrigo’s team took over half of the Outlook Café every night and re-created the Lounge atmosphere.
  • Free fancy coffee drinks in the Outlook café. This was a new one to me. The Concierge Lounge on the new ships has a deluxe espresso machine that you can use any time, but you have to make your own coffee drink. Without that feature on the Wonder, you can get your coffee fix made by a barista, for free. This was actually even better than on the new ships, since you could order off a deep menu of things like Salted Caramel Hazelnut Mochas. I probably should have taken more advantage of this perk, but I didn’t think that a 600 calorie coffee drink was in my daily best interest.
  • Glenn and Rodrigo also came around every day, checking in on us. I really liked them. Glenn told us that this was his last cruise for two months, as he was leaving for vacation and to run the Disneyland Half-Marathon. I was jealous about the race! I hope we see them again on a future trip.

As for the trip itself, it was amazing! After setting sail the first day, the second day was at sea. The scenery was spectacular.

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During the third day, we slowly floated through Tracy Arm fjord, ultimately ending near Sawyer Glacier. Spouse and I had brunch at Palo that morning and were treated to views of iceberg chunks and jumping whales. (I also ate most of a gorgonzola and grape pizza, washed down with Prosecco. Just thinking about it now makes my mouth water…)

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The glacier:

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Trixie on our balcony, taking in the sights:

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The four of us took the Whitepass and Yukon Railroad in Skagway the following day, riding all the way to the summit. Spouse is a train nut and this was a long-standing item on his Wish List. Check! We followed up the four-hour trip with lunch at the Skagway Brewing Company.

The next day in Juneau, our first stop was whale watching. Hands down, this was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. We watched a group of five or six humpback whales bubble-net feed for nearly two hours. The whales swim in an underwater circle, blowing bubbles that force smaller fish (herring) to the surface.

Here is a National Geographic video of what this looks like (totally worth your time to watch this!):

The whales simultaneously jumped out of the water, over and over. I overuse the word “awesome” all the time, but this truly was something that left me awestruck. I could not believe this was happening in front of my eyes. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Whale tail

Our crew took us to lunch on an island and we feasted on freshly grilled salmon. MGM hunted for rocks when we were done:

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We also capped that day with a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier.

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Our last stop was Ketchikan. The guys went salmon fishing (double thumbs up from them) and the girls went bear watching.

Trixie and I saw about ten bears, including a mom/cub combo:

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The streams were packed with salmon. I felt like I could have grabbed one bare-handed. The mama bear above just caught lunch and has a fish dangling from her mouth.

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High density salmon

There were also a lot of “Frozen”-themed events on board, which Trixie loved. She met Anna and Elsa, plus Olaf.

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There was also a “Frozen” scavenger hunt around the ship that went on for three days. If you completed all the clues, you won a Rice Krispie treat decorated in a “Frozen” theme. Trixie and I had so much fun finding the clues, but it was disappointing in the end that she couldn’t enjoy the reward since Rice Krispies aren’t gluten-free (malt is the culprit in the regular version, although there are special GF Krispies out there).

One night even featured a “Freezing the Night Away” deck party. This was a stage show with all of the characters from “Frozen,” culminating in Elsa singing “Let It Go” (of course it ends with Elsa singing “Let It Go;” you knew it would) with fake snow falling on deck. MGM was having none of it and requested to be in the kids’ club that night. Trixie wore her Elsa dress and basically lost her mind.

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One other event worth mentioning: Trixie lost a tooth onboard. Fortunately the Tooth Fairy was able to scrounge up ten quarters in exchange for her tooth (the going rate around here), but there was much speculation about how she got to the ship (Flying? Her wings would get too cold? On another boat? But how? The final verdict was via helicopter).

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Two cute towel animals (why do I find these so hilarious?):

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My souvenir:

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A coffee mug, natch

Final thoughts: For so many reasons, I think was quite possibly our best vacation ever. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Alaska really outdid herself. I am so grateful that we were able to have this adventure.

Is Alaska on your bucket list?