Photo Friday: It’s Baseball Season!

Baseball season has gotten a little bit more exciting around Pensacola. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos, part of the Cincinnati Reds franchise, opened up their first season on Easter weekend. As partial season ticket holders, we got to attend the open house the night before opening day. We were also there for the third game of the weekend.  The kids are so excited that they can go to a game here in town.

What you can’t see in this picture is that the Pensacola Bay is beyond the outfield. It truly is one of the most beautiful stadiums I have seen.

Truth. You will need a baseball glove because you have a chance of catching a baseball in just about any seat in the house.

Stop by Delicious Baby to see other Photo Friday submissions!  I am also participating in Friday Daydreaming over at R We There Yet.

Justifying the Cost of a Disney Cruise

Anyone who has ever planned a Disney trip knows that it can quickly become a very expensive affair. I have written about some ways to save money on a trip to Disneyworld, but is it even possible to save money on a Disney cruise? Since I write so much about budget travel with your family, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about how and if I could justify a Disney cruise for my family.

This Disney cruise was not my first cruise. About eleven years ago, my husband and I went on a cruise with another couple. I think we paid all of $200 per person for four nights to the Bahamas in December. It was very low budget and we suffered because of it. The ship was small, it was crowded and there wasn’t much to do unless you were interested in gambling, dancing, drinking and eating. The one thing that I can say is that the food was wonderful.

After taking my first Disney cruise, I can whole heartedly say that it was a wonderful experience and, if you are a Disney fan, well worth the money. Disney just knows how to do entertainment. Even if you aren’t a big theme park fan, it is not hard to see that Disney knows how to entertain in movies, parks, books, music, and more. The Disney cruises are no exception but that doesn’t change the fact that the cruises are expensive.

Comparing Cruise Lines

I ran a search on several different cruise lines. I searched for similar cabins, dates close to each other and made sure that all three ships left from the same port and had similar destinations. My conclusion was that the Disney cruise is, in fact, more expensive than the ones I searched. However, in some instances it was only by a few hundred dollars.

If you have read this site before, it should come as no surprise that this would be the type of trip that we would have to save for. I advocate traveling even if you are on a tight budget. There are ways to plan a trip on a budget and save while you are on your vacation. However, I also believe in saving your pennies for a dream vacation. If your dream vacation is a Disney cruise, then start saving.

Before experiencing a Disney cruise, I would have told you there is no way that we would spend that kind of money when there are plenty of other less expensive cruising options. When I consider the Disney cruise amenities though, I can justify spending the money on it if I were to cruise again.

If you aren’t limited to a certain week of vacation, try looking at several different sailing dates. Prices vary significantly depending on the date that you would like to sail. For example, sailing in July can cost you almost $1800 more than sailing in December.

Saving Money on the Cruise

Soda, coffee, and tea are included in the price of the cruise. This may not be important to you but I would put in an IV of Diet Coke in every morning if I could (though I have managed to cut back to one soda a day recently!). This would save me a significant amount of extra money.

Most entertainment for the kids is included in the cost of the cruise. There are no hidden costs in the Kids Clubs or onboard ship activities.

In addition to the cost of the cruise, you have to consider the cost of port adventures, which can be very pricey. I think there was so much to do onboard that by the time I got to Castaway Cay, all I wanted to do was sit on the beach. If I were traveling with my family, this would help me save money. We could skip the port adventures orsplurge on the ones we really want to do, and do a little exploring on our own and enjoy the beach.

Avoiding the shops on the cruise is easy. They are located in an area that can be avoided if you choose the right elevators. One of my favorite tips for heading to the Disney theme parks is to purchase souvenirs before you leave and bring them with you. You can do the same thing on the ship. Purchase some souvenirs ahead of time and give them to your children throughout the cruise.

See Pitstops with Kids latest post about what’s included (and what you’ll pay extra for) onboard a Disney cruise. Many of the things you pay extra for can be avoided with a little bit of planning and creativity.

Am I Thinking About Taking Another Disney Cruise?

If I go on a cruise with my family, I would definitely spend the money on a Disney cruise. I think that there is something for everyone and it is worth the extra money. My husband is not 100% sold on cruising. To be honest with you, I don’t think I could cruise for more than four or five days and I would want to choose a location that I might not otherwise visit.

How do you feel about cruising? Is it worth the money? Do you prefer to travel overland?

Thank you to Disney and Traveling Mom for providing my cruise accommodations. I paid for travel there and back as well as other expenses. As always, opinions are mine and mine alone.

HTC Rhyme vs. my DSLR

The HTC Rhyme is a compact cell phone that has a fantastic camera on it. This camera is so great that if the company let me keep the phone, I would halt my search for the perfect point and shoot camera. A search which, by the way, has been perplexing me for months. While exploring the Disney Fantasy, I got to review this camera…I mean cell phone.

The camera has a number of settings that help you take beautiful pictures while on vacation or just out and about in your own town. You can adjust the ISO, white balance, resolution, and more. You can auto upload your pictures to Facebook or Flickr.  There are scenes that you can choose from like portrait and landscape. There is an action burst setting that takes five pictures, one right after the other to help you capture those perfect sports pictures. There is an option for close-up and low light. There seems to be an option for just about everything. My favorite setting to try was the panoramic.

You can also choose from several effects that will change the look of your picture such as distortion, grayscale, sepia and more.

The pictures looked pretty great in the phone and it was nice to have a small camera to use when I didn’t want to carry around my DSLR but I wanted to see how the two stacked up against each other.

To do that, I took a number of pictures with both the HTC Rhyme and my DSLR (with a 28-80mm lens) while standing in the same spot. These are all straight out of the camera or phone with the automatic function. There was no post-processing (besides adjusting the image size). Can you tell which picture was taken with the cell phone and which was taken with the camera.

Taken with the HTC Rhyme

Taken with my camera

Taken with the HTC Rhyme

Taken with my camera

Taken with the HTC Rhyme

Taken with my camera

Taken with the HTC Rhyme

Taken with my camera

I should probably disclose that I am already an Android fan and for the past two years my phone has been a Droid. As for the phone features, I didn’t make any phone calls with it but I did set up the WiFi while on the ship. I was able to pull up a search page, check email and send out a tweet on it.

It sounds great doesn’t? The BIG downside?

The phone does not have a slide out keypad, which is something I depend on greatly.

It does however take a pretty decent self-portrait…or at least one that I like enough to share on my site. Don’t I look all relaxed from my working vacation?!

Stop by Delicious Baby to see other Photo Friday submissions!  I am also participating in Friday Daydreaming over at R We There Yet.

*This post is sponsored by HTC. Thank you to HTC and TravelingMom.com for giving me the HTC Rhyme to try. I will be returning the phone to the company next week.  Thank you to Disney and Traveling Mom for providing my cruise accommodations. I paid for travel there and back as well as other expenses. As always, opinions are mine and mine alone.

Staterooms Available on the Disney Fantasy

The Disney Fantasy offers a number of different staterooms to meet the needs of each type of family. When I sailed on the media preview cruise, I was in a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah. The room would sleep three comfortably. It had a queen-size bed and a sleeper sofa. If you are traveling with 4 or 5, there is an upper berth and/or wall pull-down bed depending on the room you choose. The Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with private verandah has sliding doors off of the room.

Approximately nine out of ten staterooms on the Disney Fantasy have a view of the ocean. Some rooms have full verandahs with unobstructed views, some rooms have verandahs that may have obstructed views, and other staterooms have large portholes. The rooms that do not have an ocean view have a Magical Porthole that shows real time views from a camera mounted outside of the ship. Keep an eye on the Magical Porthole because you never know who might swim or fly by.

Except for the Standard Inside Stateroom, each room has a split bathroom. There is a toilet and sink combination in one room and a bath/shower and sink combination in the second room. This would help save a family significant time getting ready in the morning.

Rooms come with plenty of storage space so you can unpack your belongings and still be able to move around the room comfortably. The beds have been raised a bit so your luggage can be place under the bed and out of the way. The desk area has storage space as well as the ottoman.

Disney has put extra thought into making families comfortable. The flat-screen TV is on a swivel arm so that parents or children can watch TV without disturbing the other. There are nightlights that can be turned on to help your children adjust to the new space. The privacy curtain can be pulled so that children can sleep and not be disturbed by the TV.

Having a verandah was nice but after touring the other staterooms, I can confidently say that I would be perfectly happy with an inside stateroom. To be honest with you, I would probably prefer an inside stateroom because of both safety and budget reasons. I wouldn’t have to worry about my children out on the balcony (though the Disney Fantasy has a safety lock at the top of the sliding glass door). The stateroom would mostly be a landing zone at the end of a long day. We wouldn’t spend much time in the room because we would be so busy exploring the ship. For this reason, I would rather book an inside stateroom and have the extra money to spend on port adventures and more. If my children were at the tween/teen stage, I would be willing to splurge for the Deluxe Inside Stateroom so that we could take advantage of the split bathroom.

I think that my children would much prefer watching Peter Pan fly across the Magical Porthole than sit on the balcony anyway, don’t you?

Do you spend the extra money on a room with a view or do you book an inside stateroom when you cruise?

See more information about the Disney Fantasy: Panoramic photos from the trip; Seven Mistakes Made by a First Time Cruiser; and Security in Disney’s Fantasy Kids Clubs.

Thank you to Disney and Traveling Mom for providing my cruise accommodations. I paid for travel there and back as well as other expenses. As always, opinions are mine alone.

Seven Mistakes Made by a First Time Disney Cruiser

Disney just recently launched the Disney Fantasy and I had the opportunity to sail on one of the media preview cruises. I learned so much about the Disney cruise line and have so much to share with you over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, now that I am home I have come up with a dozen things that I wish I had done or seen while on the ship. Don’t make the same mistakes that I did.

1. Leaving your reusable water bottle in the stateroom or not bringing/buying one.  Soda and water are included in your price of the cruise but the beverage stations are located on the 11th deck. You won’t always find yourself on the 11th deck or next to an open restaurant when you are thirsty so bring a water bottle that you can carry around. Also, the cups are small and don’t hold very much.

2. Not Trying the Spa Day Pass. The Senses Spa and Salon offers a pass that gives you access to saunas, aromatic showers, steam rooms, and more. There are two price choices depending on what you want access to: $16 and $27. I was so busy with tours that I didn’t take the time to try the spa day pass. It is priced reasonably and is a great way to get a little pampering in even if the spa treatments are booked up or out of your budget.

3. Leaving the camera in the room. After touring the ship the first day, I left my camera in my room when I was running to the 11th deck (see tip #1). I ran smack dab into Snow White and was so disappointed that I didn’t have my camera. As my bloggy pal, Steve from More Kids Than Suitcases, points out, these events happen often (Click that link to see his review on the characters about the ship…be sure to click the rest of his Disney cruise reviews.  I wish I had found his posts before the trip rather than after while I was in the airport!). If you have a large DSLR camera, you might want to bring a camera that fits in your pocket for moments when you want to leave the big camera in the stateroom.

4. Skipping the shows. I went to all three show offerings and I am so glad that I did. The shows are brilliant and as I sat in the theater watching the special effects it was hard to remember that I was still on a ship. I spoke to some people who had skipped all but the last show and were disappointed they missed the first few. Be sure to at least watch one show.

5. Going back to my room immediately after the Pirates in the Caribbean party. Once the party and the fireworks show were both over, we practically ran to the elevators to beat the crowd. We were in the back of the show and didn’t see too much so we thought that it was over. By the time I got to my room, I could hear the horns playing famous Disney songs. I was able to hear it from my verandah but I am sad that I wasn’t on the top deck for it.

6. Eating like a bird at dinner. The gourmet meals served at dinner were delicious. They are portioned well and I didn’t feel like I was overeating (except for maybe when I ordered double desserts each night!). If you want to try something, don’t be shy. It is included in your cruise. That being said, if you are watching your weight, it is easy to stick to small portions if you eat at the sit down dinners.

7. Doing too much in one day. I was on the Disney Fantasy as part of a Traveling Mom working retreat. I was in workshops, panel discussions, and interviews. In between all of that, I was trying to squeeze in as much as possible. By the time, I got off of the ship, I was exhausted. Choose the activities that you most want to do and don’t miss them. Watch the Personal Navigator over the next few days to see if an activity you missed is on the schedule later in the week.

 Thank you to Disney and Traveling Mom for providing my cruise accommodations. I paid for travel there and back as well as other expenses. As always, opinions are mine alone.

Disconnecting While Traveling without the Family

When given the opportunity to attend a retreat with Traveling Mom aboard the Disney Fantasy for an inaugural cruise, I jumped at the chance.  I booked a plane ticket to Orlando and gave myself an extra day to enjoy some time before boarding.    The timing couldn’t be more perfect as my kids are on spring break so we set up a visit to the grandparents.  Both the grandparents and kids are thrilled.  My husband is looking forward to having some time to do the things that he wants to do without having to worry about what we are doing.  I know that safety is important to Disney and I know that I will be safe and have fun on the ship.  I wasn’t worried about anything.

Until I visited my cell phone provider this week.

After waiting way too many minutes to speak with someone, I was informed that I could in fact have cell phone service on the boat but it would cost approximately the equivalent of a semester at college.  We decided not to enable the service and will just pay the extra fees if I have to make an emergency call.

I know that Internet service is available on the ship, but I have been told that it is also pricey and spotty.  I will be interested to see how it is for myself.

Luckily, my family can still get in touch with me if they need to.  My Disney cruise documents came with three little cards to give to loved ones.  Each card has the contact information should there be an emergency.  This has given me a little bit of peace of mind while I am completely disconnected from my family.

Have you ever been completely disconnected (or for the most part) from your family?  What did you do to make sure that they could get ahold of you in case of an emergency?  Were there any issues?

 

LEGOLAND Water Park Coming Soon to Florida!

It is no secret that we were so excited to hear that a LEGOLAND theme park was opening south of Orlando.  When we got to visit over opening weekend, my children couldn’t believe their luck.  Jumping from ride to ride with my kids and watching their eyes light up as they found out they were big enough to go on just about every single ride was the best part of our trip. Usually when we visit a theme park, I spend a lot of time telling my daughter that she is not quite tall enough (though we are almost out of this phase) so it was nice to be able to tell her that she was able to ride the ride!

LEGOLAND is expanding this summer with a water park!  There will be a wave pool, which is one of my children’s favorite parts of any water park.  There will be water slides, an interactive playground, and a section just for little ones.

The one thing that I am looking forward to the most is checking out the Build-A-Raft River where families can “imagine, design and build a unique LEGO vessel and set afloat on a maiden voyage” on the lazy river.  I love that so many of the attractions at LEGOLAND Florida inspire thoughtful interactions.

The LEGOLAND Water Park is set to open May 26, 2012.  There will be several ticket options.  If you purchase a single day ticket, it is only $12 per person (only $3 for children under 3) to add the water park.

I am hoping that we can squeeze in a quick weekend trip to LEGOLAND to check out the water park after it opens.  Will you be visiting this summer?

A Dream Family Vacation in Destin, Florida


White sand beaches, deep sea fishing, and family friendly activities make Destin, Florida a great place for a family beach vacation.  Destin is located on the Gulf Coast in between Pensacola and Panama City Beach.  We live in Pensacola so a drive to Destin is just a short hour away for my family.  We day trip over often and go shopping.  Sometimes we play in the sand or meet up for a lunch with family.  Every year, my husband and I talk about spending a week in Destin but we always seem to find a reason not to.  I am hoping that this will be the year and I have been dreaming about getting a vacation rental right on the beach.

A Beach Rental to Call Home for a Week

The vacation home that we stay in doesn’t have to be huge, but I want it to be the perfect beach house.  My dream family vacation will be spent in one of those beach homes with a large wraparound porch and a fun name like Tangerine Dream or Take me to the Sea.  I want to wake up to the sun shining through my open balcony doors.  I want to watch my kids run just a few steps from our door to the shore to splash in the water and build sand castles.  After a long beach day, napping in a hammock would be the perfect way to spend an afternoon.  I want to fall asleep late at night to the sound of the waves crashing.

One Way We Save While on a Dream Family Vacation

All of that seems so dreamy but expenses for a trip like this, even for a long weekend, can add up quickly.  One of our biggest expenses when we travel together as a family is food.  Now that my kids are older, sharing a meal between the two of them or eating off of my plate is no longer an option.  We can’t get out of a fast food restaurant for less than $25 lately.  If we are enjoying a nicer sit -down dinner, it usually costs us twice that.  These meals can add up quickly.

To help defray the costs of our meals, we look for a vacation rental when we are choosing our accommodations.  Most all rentals come with a fully equipped kitchen and a large refrigerator to hold all of our supplies.  Purchasing our food at the grocery store and cooking it in the vacation home helps us save some money.  But, who wants the same old meals on vacation that you cook at home?

Eating in Doesn’t Have to Make it Less of a Vacation for Mom and Dad

Use the vacation as a time to experiment with new meals.  Give each day a different theme and make meals that go with that theme.  Visit the butcher or fish market for a local delicacy and learn how to cook it just right together as a family.

Meal time is a family affair and being on vacation is no exception.  We have fun cooking as a family and everyone is in charge of the cleanup.  This helps me feel like I am on vacation too and not just cleaning dishes all week!  We can grab a quick breakfast of cereal and milk and get out to the beach.  If we have more time, we can cook an elaborate breakfast with all of our favorites like pancakes, eggs, and bacon.  Picnic lunches can be packed to take with us on hikes or boat rides.  We can enjoy a leisurely dinner on that wraparound porch while watching the sun set.

When we stay in a hotel, we often find ourselves choosing the least expensive food options and we miss out on a lot of great restaurants.  We save money by eating in for many of our meals and that enables us to splurge on a nice dinner out.  Eating our meals at home also allows us to try things that we might have otherwise skipped due to cost.  While on this dream vacation to Destin, Florida, we would have room in the budget to try some new activities. I would like to take the kids on a dolphin cruise.  We could rent a boat and cruise out to the popular sandbar at Crab Island, where we can dock and let the kids play.  We might finally take them to Big Kahuna’s, the local water park on Hwy. 98, that we drive by at least once a month with the kids pointing it out from the backseat.

How do you think I will look in a parasail?

This post is sponsored by HomeAway, which offers the world’s largest selection of vacation rental properties online.

 

Home Away offers the world’s largest selection of vacation home rentals that provide travelers with memorable vacation experiences and benefits, including more room to relax and added privacy, for less than the cost of traditional hotel accommodations.  Make memories where you stay, not just where you go.  HomeAway.com – let’s stay together.

 

Gaylord Palms Resort Dreamworks Experience

A few weeks ago, my family and I got the chance to drive to Orlando and meet Shrek and his pals.  It isn’t often that you can see snow and ice in Orlando, Florida but you can if you visit the Dreamworks Experience at the Gaylord Palms.  I was honored to represent Travel Mamas, a site that I love and read often.  Hop on over to Travel Mamas and read about our visit to the Gaylord Palms Resort Dreamworks Experience!

 

 

Spotted in LEGOLAND Florida

When you walk around LEGOLAND Florida, you will spot lots of figures made from LEGO bricks.  The kids love spotting them everywhere they turned.

Stop by Delicious Baby to see other Photo Friday submissions!