Packing Cubes! Oh, how I Love Thee! Let Me Count the Ways….

packing cubes

By Kimber Preece, Travel Specialist

suitcase with packing cubes

My family travels all the time: quick trips to the mountain, a week at Walt Disney World, lengthy trips to Europe, cruises, you name it. These cubes have changed my packing game for the better.

Cubes….

1. You keep everyone’s stuff separate

2. You compress stuff so we can fit more into our bags

3. You make unpacking easy, just unzip the lid, fold lid back, and place cube in drawer

4. You turn any bag into luggage

5. You are a spiffy overnight bag all by yourself

6. You make divvying up stuff to various rooms easy

7. You make my kids more responsible for their stuff, because they like cubes too

packing cubes in drawers

How to make the most of your packing cubes:

1. Pack a few complete outfits in a smaller cube and pack that cube in another traveler’s bag or your carry-on (I do both when traveling internationally). This way if you lose a bag, you will have at least a few outfits to see you through until you get your luggage catches up with you. Do this for all your family members.

2. When sending the kids to stay grandparents’ house or hotel room, cubes are convenient mini suitcases.

3. Buy cubes in different colors for each family member to make finding things easier. It’s also more fun for the kids.

4. Repack cubes with dirty clothes (folding optional) and put them away in the luggage to keep your room tidy and repack along the way. This also keeps the dirties from spilling at the airport in case you bought too many souvenirs and have to rearrange your load. Some travelers like to turn them inside out when they put their dirty clothes inside.  

packing cubes
packing cubes

Child Anxiety on Vacation

Simple Ideas for Lowering Childhood Anxiety on a Disney Parks Trip

Have you dreamt of taking your children to Disney, but worry about the way one or more may react due to crowds, an unknown environment, and over stimulation?

Having traveled numerous times with children who are prone to, what I call, over excitement, I have a few tips!

1. Children under eight will benefit greatly from a stroller. I love to bring my trusty umbrella stroller. Any ride with a comfy back, and sun cover (this is a must) will do! Strollers act as more than just a ride. The shade can be used for blocking the sun along with the feeling of protection against crowds. When not riding in the stroller kids can occupy themselves by pushing it. A stroller is an all around win!

2. Bring a new or favorite toy! It can be used as a mental escape as well as something to hug and hold in order to promote a feeling of safety. While visiting Magic Kingdom, just this year, my youngest son was overwhelmed with the environment. The heat, the crowd, and just all the unknowns, were working his little nerves. I watched him engage with a beloved Toy Story hero, as we were exiting our first stop. It was a must buy. As my older son and I were walking ahead of, my newly appointed space ranger now zooming through the galaxy, I explained the reason we bought him this was to get his mind off his worries. This time the older brother glanced back and said, “wow, ok that did work, he’s happy”. We went from pre-meltdown, to a space ranger with one purchase… why? Mental escape, by way of a special item to focus their energy on. It works wonders!

3. Eat outside! While every parent loves a good sit-down meal, this can be a very stressful time for little ones prone to anxiety….unknown foods, close spaces, having to be quiet, need I go on? Save the stress and sit outside. Disney has many quick service options, with outdoor seating. There’s also the option of bringing lunch. Disney allows you to bring any food and non-alcoholic drinks into the parks. Keep in mind, glass and hard side coolers are NOT permitted.

4. Shorter park trips. I know, with the price we pay to go to Disney World we feel like we should be there all day. Now listen to me, I feel the same way. If I’m with my travel ladies, I’m there from open to close. When we’re with our little ones, that have problems with crowds, they need time to unwind. Plan for down time within the day. I find showing up early, and leaving for a mid day swim at the hotel is perfect! A hotel break gives the kids time to cool down and relax. Then its back to the parks 😊 for less sun, the nighttime shows, and lower crowds!

Ride Line Boredom Busters

written by Christina O’Neill, Travel Specialist

Don’t let the Ride lines at Walt Disney World get you down!!!  

We all associate Walt Disney World with fun character meets, yummy food,  family adventures, fun rides and of course, ride lines.  Pretty sure we enjoy all but the last!  Those ride lines don’t have to make everyone be like Grumpy!   There are ways to pass the time and keep everyone acting like Happy instead! Here’s a countdown of my family’s personal ride-line-coping-mechanisms!

10.  Open your My Disney Experience app and start making plans for what comes next.  Check out wait times, book your next FastPass, plan your next food stop, see what rides or shows are nearby, or parades and characters you might like to meet.  Get the whole family involved in the planning!

9.  Keep a secret stash of snacks and candy in your park bag reserved for lines only and take this time to open it up and thrill your kids. I keep a little tin of mints or gum, or small hard candies in my bag and only hand it out in ride lines.  Cheetos,too, which my kids never get, thanks to that messy orange powder!  The nice thing about this is it keeps my kids from groaning when we enter a long ride line, but rather they get a bit excited because they know it’s a chance for them to get a special treat.  Or if you know you’re about to enter a long wait, grab a cotton candy, Mickey bar, Mickey pretzel or other snack before heading in.  Food always helps pass the time.  

8.  Use your wait time to take silly selfies!  Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook all have fun filters to have fun while you wait.  Even better, post them to social media and let your kids watch peoples funny responses to their posts.  Or take pics of your favorite pair of ears while waiting and have your friends guess where your ears are on social media!  

7.  Look for Hidden Mickey’s while you’re just standing around! I guarantee you’ll find a few.  

6.  Take in the your surroundings while you’re looking for those Hidden Mickey’s!  The Imagineers are some of the most creative minds in the world and the tiniest little details they come up with and add to the attractions and around the park are always so amazing.  For example, the submarine in the rocks at Journey of The Little Mermaid, a nod to the extinct ride 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.  Look down at the sidewalks in the lines for horse shoes, boot prints, jewels or the fabled engagement ring at Haunted Mansion. Speaking of Haunted Mansion, spend some time in line reading the tombstones!   They’re super fun.  Look for Madame Leota, she’s looking for you!  And Mr. Toad, too in the pet cemetery.  There is a chemical makeup detailed on pipes in Dinosaur.  Do you know what those ingredients actually make?  Or while you’re waiting in line for the Royal Carousel, be on the lookout for Cinderella’s horse, the one with a gold ribbon on her tail.  So many fun things to notice and see while you wait!

5.  Speaking of details, some of the rides around the parks have interactive queues.  These are always a big hits with kids and adults alike!  From the dripping honey or musical garden at Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh to the giant playground awaiting you in the Dumbo queue, there are some attractions whose lines are almost as entertaining as the ride itself.  Peter Pan, Space Mountain, Journey of the Little Mermaid, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain, Frozen Ever After and Soarin’ all have interactive queues too.  Take advantage of the entertainment and use these fun queues!

4.  SING!  Just start belting out your favorite Disney tune!  I promise not only will your kids have fun, but you might just start a chorus when others fighting boredom join in too.  

3.  We like to play games during our wait times.  The Heads Up app is always a hit with my kids. You can play any sort of alphabet game, like naming things you see in order of the alphabet, characters that start with A, B, C, etc.  If you have any games you like to play to pass the time in the car, use them here too.  

2.  Checkout the new Disney Play app!  Disney introduced this super fun new feature the summer of 2018 and it is such a great little secret.  I see so many iPads being used in queues but the Play app allows everyone to participate.  You can play Disney trivia at anytime in the app, just pick your favorite land and get started with the trivia button.  The Play app unlocks games in certain rides that don’t activate until you have entered the Ride queue.  Some even allow you to play with others waiting in line.  There are ride playlists for great Disney music, rewards for using a fastpass or even getting in line, ride specific games.  It’s just all around fun throughout the park and good for everyone to play.  It’s nice to be able to use the electronics as a time-killer, but in a way that involves the whole family.  We LOVE this new Play app and just in the few months we’ve been using it have seen lots of new additions.  I hope it only continues to grow and just add more fun to our park days!  My daughter insists I keep it on my phone and she still plays music and trivia at home, while wishing to be back at Walt Disney World of course!

1.  Use this time to TALK to each other!!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen whole families with everyone on a different screen, noses in the iPads and phones.  Ask about favorite rides, best experience of the day, what to do next, what do you think your friends are doing back home? Use this time to find out what your kids will remember the most from this trip.  Ask your spouse or whoever you are traveling with what has been their best moment.  And don’t stop there.  Get to know your line neighbors!  Maybe you’re from the same town.  Maybe you will learn something new about the parks, get a good tip, find out that a ride is down or that something has a really short line.  And take it even further!  Talk to the Cast Members!  We love love love to do this.  We always enjoy talking to the Cast Members.  And they enjoy being acknowledged as more than just the person checking your magic band!  We have had such fun conversations in the lines waiting for attractions.  I even once met a woman who had decided on an impromptu weekend road trip for her kids first Walt Disney World visit and basically showed up the day before with a new hotel reservation.  She hadn’t booked any fast passes or done any research.  She was so confused and we stood in line at Small World and booked all her fast passes for the weekend.  She was thrilled and we kept bumping in to them around the parks.  Make a new friend and have a little fun!

The ride lines don’t have to be the worst parts of your trip!  Find what works for your family and turn the waiting into a memory too!

Certified autism resorts and theme parks

Certified Autism Travel Professional

written by Lynnette Katz, Travel specialist and Certified Autism Travel Professional

Sometimes planning a family vacation to a theme park or any other destination can be really overwhelming, but specifically more for families with children with Autism due to sensory needs, dietary restrictions and safety concerns 

     Some resorts and theme parks have become certified to offer the best service for individuals of all ages on the spectrum.   Each destination has extensively trained staff and have committed to an ongoing training program.

      In 2017,  Beaches Resort became the first All Inclusive Resort to be certified by IBCCES as a Certified Autism Center.   They offer a variety of activities and experiences tailored for children on the spectrum.

Other places that are also certified are:

  • Sesame Place
  • Sheraton Park Resort Anaheim
  • Grand Palladium Bávaro Suites Resort & Spa
  • Space Center in Houston
  • Santa Barbara Zoo
  • Georgia Aquarium
  • St. Augustine Pirate Museum
  • Edventure Museum in South Carolina

      
      Even though other destinations, like Walt Disney World Resorts, are not yet certified, they do offer special accommodations, like Disability Access Service, dietary accomodations, break areas and more.

     Recently I became a Certified Autism Travel Professional to help you plan austim-friendly vacations for your family.  Call me to help find you the best option that suits your family’s needs. 

“My child is differently-abled. What is cruising like for children with special needs?”

Goofy with Aaron

written by Sara Toerner, former Disney College Program cast member, culture-loving Midwest native, adventurous Florida resident, and mom 

Parents of children with special needs have more vacation options today than ever before. Some resorts require that all staff be Autism certified. Some cruise lines offer sailings fully dedicated to children with sensory processing challenges.

What always comes to mind when answering this question is a dear friend who has an adult son with an intellectual impairment. Her family took their first Disney cruise when he was a child and they continued to cruise today. She has said many times that “Disney ships feel safe to him. He can roam freely and I don’t worry. He has his independence, and I know he will be okay. It’s the most relaxing vacation for him and for my whole family.”

Disney ships are known for being family friendly. Disney Cruise Line (DCL) vacations are DESIGNED for families and Disney knows that families come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities. If you have sailed on the Magic, Fantasy, Wonder, or Dream before, you may recall that on Day 1 at the Kids Club Open House parents are asked about any allergies, special needs, and special requests that apply to each child.

Disney staff takes the time to sit with EACH parent and inquire about these things, so they are able to make each kiddo feel as safe and comfortable as possible during their cruise vacation. These details are important to every parent, and they aren’t just written in a file and placed in a cabinet. Instead, they are tracked on each child’s Sea Band (which the child wears) and that Band is scanned each time a child enters or leaves the Club so cast members are reminded of those special needs.

Communication between the Clubs and parents is taken seriously, too. Parents are given an actual phone to carry along that keeps communication open between the Club and each parent, and these phones have service throughout the ship and on DCL’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay. That’s an extra layer of comfort that I haven’t seen elsewhere. There is an onboard messaging app too, which is free and linked to the ship’s WiFi. Plus, the Sea Band each child wears has tracking capabilities and with a click of a button, a cast member can determine the exact location of any child in the expansive Clubs. These are details that can be a saving grace to parents of a child with special needs.

While you may find it difficult to pry your children away from DCL’s Clubs, you may also find that there are more opportunities for families to play TOGETHER on a Disney ship than on other vacations. It is very easy to find a verity of activities for the entire family to do together at any given time on board. This is true for adults and children with all types of abilities.

So what’s my approach to fielding the question above?

I do not work for DCL (I interned in Disney World Resorts in college) so I can’t speak for them exactly. What I CAN share is the experience I have gained planning vacations for countless families and then hearing about those adventures upon their return. That combined with an infinite number of conversations with DCL representatives has led me to my conclusion — DCL entertains children of all abilities WELL. My strategy is to find out what the parent needs in order for the child to be comfortable. Every child is different, and once I know how the parents of THIS child makes him/her most comfortable in any situation then we can talk about ways DCL has addressed those types of needs in the past.

Security, cleanliness, sanitation, FUN, engaging activities, and the overall all FOCUS on children is what sets Disney Cruise vacations aside from the rest — they are the industry leaders when it comes to family cruise vacations and I have personally found that they are able to meet the needs of “differently-abled” cruise passengers in ways that other world-class vacation brands cannot.

Contact Wish Upon a Star with Us to book YOUR next Disney Destination or Cruise vacation. You’ll appreciate the personal knowledge and professional assistance provided while planning a memorable vacation experience. 

 

Guide to Walt Disney World Mobile Food Ordering

written by Sally Portera, travel specialist

Instead of waiting in line, you can save time by ordering from your phone from wherever you are!  Many quick-service dining locations throughout the parks and Disney Springs offer this convenient option.  Note: There will be times when mobile ordering is unavailable and you will need to use the traditional line to order.

First, Order Your Food

First, open your My Disney Experience App and either:

  • Tap on the image of your character, scroll down to “My Plans” and press the “Order Food” button.
  • Select “Dining” from the top of the app, tap on the restaurant you want and press the “Order Food” button.

From there, just select the menu items that you want to order!

Next, Pay Using the App

Once you’ve added your family’s meals and/or snacks, you can review your order and purchase it right from the app. Disney currently accepts credit cards, debit cards or your Disney Dining Plan for mobile order payments.  Gift cards can’t be used and no Annual Pass/DVC/Disney Visa discounts are accepted through mobile ordering at this time.

Let Them Know When You Have Arrived

When you arrive at the restaurant, open the app, tap on the image of your character and press the “I’m Here, Prepare My Order” button. This lets the restaurant know you’re here, and they will start preparing your order.

When your food is ready to enjoy, you will receive a notification from the app.  Follow the signs marked “Mobile Order Pick Up” to pick up your meal(s).  It’s that easy! 

Locations That Offer Mobile Ordering

Magic Kingdom

Epcot

Disney Springs

Hollywood Studios

Animal Kingdom

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

 

This year’s event runs from Sept. 28 – Nov. 12, 2012, and is included with Park admission. Demonstrations and seminars that share mouthwatering recipes, preparation techniques, and general food and wine education, can be added to your vacation for an additional fee.
• Culinary Demonstrations: Celebrated chefs and beverage professionals offer helpful tips and tasty samples at these 45-minute culinary demonstrations.
– Offered daily at 1 pm, 3 pm and 5 pm
– $11 and $14 per person, tax included
• Wine/Beverage Seminars: Meet a featured winery principal or beverage expert, learn a handful of tips and sample the selected wines/beverages.
– Offered Monday through Thursday at noon, 2 pm and 4 pm; and Friday through Sunday at 2 pm and 4 pm
– $11 and $14 per person, tax included
• Mixology Seminars: A mixologist demonstrates the art of preparing trendy and classic cocktails, then serves you the final product. Cheers!
– Offered daily at 6 pm
– $14 per person, tax included

The Disney Magic-Very Merrytime Cruise

written by Crystal Boston, Travel Specialist

I just returned from my first experience on the Disney Magic and also my first Very Merrytime Cruise!

It had been a couple years since my last cruise and once we booked the Disney Fantasy in May we got the “cruise bug”! It’s a good bug to have…

On this 4-night itinerary, not only was this my first experience on the Disney Magic and a Very Merrytime Cruise, it was also our first experience in Key West – and, YES, Key West is open for business and ready for you!!

The Disney Magic is one of their smaller ships and we learned our way around quickly. Our dining experiences were also new to us – we enjoyed Carioca’s and Lumiere’s for dinner and, of course, we always enjoy Animator’s Palette – it’s my favorite in the rotational dining options. We dined at Animator’s Palette on our final night so our breakfast on disembark day was also at Animator’s Palette.

My husband was cruising with me and we chose a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah for our first Disney Magic experience – we prefer the starboard side so that we can see our ports of call on arrival. The staterooms are good sized with under-bed storage for your luggage and we have never felt crowded in our stateroom when cruising with Disney, even on this smaller ship. The Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah design features include:

  • A sitting area with a couch, TV and desk
  • A heavy privacy curtain to separate the sitting and sleeping areas
  • A “split bath” (in most) that includes a bathroom with a vanity, sink, shower and tub and a half bathroom with a vanity, sink and toilet
  • Cabinets with abundant storage space in the living area
  • And my favorite feature – Elevated bed frames for under-bed storage of suitcases and other large items

This Very Merrytime sailing offered many fun holiday activities in addition to the normal onboard fun! There was a gingerbread house, Santa, Christmas trees, holiday music throughout the ship and more. As a special touch, many of the characters were also dressed in their holiday themed costumes.

 

 

We had 3 ports of call – Key West, Nassau and Castaway Cay. While Castaway Cay is always my favorite port of call, we chose this cruise itinerary because of the stop in Key West. This was our first experience in Key West and we enjoyed a beautiful day – seeing the Southernmost Point with lunch at Gas Monkey Bar & Grill and then met up with friends that were also cruising with us at Bourbon Street Pub. The locals were friendly and we definitely plan to go back to Key West!

Our preference for our Nassau port of call is to stay onboard and enjoy the ship – movies, pools, water slides, games, dining, entertainment – it’s all included.

Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, consistently rated by Disney Guests as their favorite port of call – and MY favorite port of call when cruising with Disney!! Castaway Cay is reserved exclusively for Disney cruisers and the ship will dock right at the island to allow you to come and go as you please while enjoying experiences such as snorkeling, boating, swimming and sunbathing and bicycles can also be rented if you want to explore the island’s nature trails. While all areas of the island can be reached by walking, an island tram offers four stops to help you easily get where you want to go.

Your “Key to the World” card works for all purchases on Castaway Cay except at the local post office where you can send mail to your loved ones back home with a Bahamian postage stamp; the post card postage rate is approximately $0.65 USD each. Dining is also included as part of your cruise package with covered outdoor restaurants serving burgers, BBQ chicken and ribs. Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase and, if you are traveling without children, Disney offers “adult only” areas at Castaway Cay – Serenity Bay is a secluded beach exclusively for adults and families can have fun together at the Castaway Family Beach.

We are runners and weather permitting, Disney Cruise Line offers a 5K on every stop at Castaway Cay. It’s very informal but you do get race bibs and a medal at the finish line. If you want to participate in the 5K on Castaway Cay, you can register at Guest Services when you board your cruise. Your registration ticket, “Key to the World” and photo ID are required the day of your event to participate. The 3.1-mile out-and-back event is free and family friendly; it’s open to walkers and runners ages 10 and older. The race takes place first thing in the morning on the island, typically with a meeting time onboard of 8 am. The vibe of the event is casual, a fun experience worth the early wake-up!

Cruising with Disney is a very casual experience – I wore sun dresses and flip flops while my husband wore shorts and polos – even to dinner. The only exceptions are if you reserve adult only dining experiences at Palo or Remy which both have dress codes. We enjoy the rotational dining exclusive to Disney Cruise Line, experiencing a different restaurant and menu with the same servers each evening. And, unlimited room service is also included!!

In addition to exceptional dining experiences, Disney Cruise Line offers many entertainment options including Broadway-like musical productions, viewings of recently released Disney movies, character meet & greets that you often cannot find at the parks, deck parties, dance clubs, karaoke, trivia and so much more!  O’Gills Pub even offered a buffet of light snacks early evening with another buffet for late night snacks later each night of our sailing. There is definitely enough to keep you busy on a Disney Cruise if you aren’t the lounging at the pool or beach type.

And don’t miss Goofy as you disembark, he’s busy helping the crew prepare the ship for the next cruise…

Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas Review

written by Sara Toerner, Travel Specialist

I had a wonderful time on the Liberty of the Seas this past week. The ship is beautiful and the oceanview cabin was quite nice — I was concerned that I’d miss a balcony, but it was great to wake up each morning with a view of the ocean right at the head of my bed. 

I was very impressed with the quality of entertainment on the Liberty. I didn’t anticipate it being as top-notch as it was — the performers were high-energy and truly very talented. During the evening performances (Up in the Air — an aerial show, and Saturday Night Live the Musical) and the ice skating shows, I was amazed and wowed on so many occasions. What a treat! I felt as though I had paid hundreds to witness world-class performances in New York — they were THAT good!

My daughter, Audrey, enjoyed the kids club very much. In fact, she met a lifelong friend — a girl, also 7, from El Paso, whose family was seated with us at dinner each night. Audrey and Sophia spent hours each day in the kids clubs — they were so anxious to see what games the club staff would organize next. I even took advantage of the after-hours care on several nights (at $7 per hour — not bad!). The counselors were engaging with the kids. There were active games, science projects, and family activities that encouraged kids and parents to have fun together. I didn’t expect the kids clubs to be so large — there were separate rooms for the “Babies and Tots”, 3-5 year olds, 6-8 year olds, teens, and tweens. Each was a decent size (dare I say larger than kids clubs I’ve seen on “Fun Ships.”

The staff on board made the experience even better. Our stateroom attendant, Thomas, made a special creation for Audrey each and every day. Sometimes twice a day. He greeted us by name, asked about our day, and was a delight. Best cabin steward I’ve ever had, I’d say. There was one evening where I had “misplaced” one of Audrey’s favorite toys…..she asked me to hold it while she was in the kids club. I accidentally left it in the casino. Big oops. Within minutes, the casino staff, Guest Services staff, housekeeping staff, custodial……everyone was looking for her precious wooden snake. I  took the opportunity during the Captain’s Talk to express my appreciation to the entire staff for going above and beyond, truly caring that Audrey’s snake was found (which it was….at a cards table a few hours later). Their genuine concern and empathy is exemplary of RC’s dedication to guest satisfaction. 

I feel that a cruise vacation is a genuine bargain and a true “vacation” from the stresses of life — my experience on this Royal Caribbean cruise is evident of that. I have found Royal Caribbean to be priced appropriately based on the service, amenities, activities, and food on board. I will continue to recommend it to clients who are searching for cruises with a quality experience within budget. Of course, there are certainly perks to Suite categories too…. ? and I’m always sure to communicate that. Cruisers who are looking for a nice vacation on a well-maintained ship with a balance between fun and relaxation (not too much “party” and not too much “quiet”)  — Royal Caribbean is perfect for those cruisers.  This cruise line effectively caters to the needs/interests of families, couples, honeymooners, and seniors. It’s a well-rounded vacation experience.