A must-see on a road trip through the Keys, the Marathon Turtle Hospital is a small, non-profit organisation dedicated to the rehabilitation of endangered sea turtles.
The Turtle Hospital is home to over 50 sick and injured turtles who are undergoing various stages of treatment, rehabilitation, or have been deemed unsuitable to be released into the wild and so have become permanent residents.
In order to meet the turtles you must book in for a tour of the facilities. The tour lasts around 90 minutes and includes a presentation on the various turtle breeds and the threats they face in the wild, a tour of the hospital facilities, and, what everyone had been waiting for, meeting the turtle patients. The majority of the turtles end up in the hospital after bodily trauma (such as being hit by a propeller blade) or sickness suck as infections or tumours.
Several of the turtles have what’s called “bubble butt” where an accident, such as a boating incident, has damaged their shell, letting air in underneath it, giving them the appearance of a “bubble butt”, which causes the turtle to float.
Turtles with bubble butt have weights affixed to them to help them balance out and give them the ability to swim underneath the water once more.
At the end of each program guests are invited to feed the permanent residents – not touch them, mind you, but throw their favourite pellets to them as they swim happily in the pool underneath.
Because they are a working hospital, you must be part of one of the guided educational programs in order to visit the turtles. Reservations are highly recommended.
The Turtle Hospital 2396 Overseas Hwy, Marathon, FL Prices: Adults: $22, kids 4-12 years old: $11, under 4 free
The brand new Royal Sommerhus has opened at Epcot in Walt Disney World as a permanent home for the Anna and Elsa meet and greet.
We visited the Royal Sommerhus five days after it opened, and perhaps because it hadn’t been advertised or promoted anywhere that we saw, it was really quiet, especially compared to the Mickey and Friends character meet and greet, which had a very long line and a 25 minute wait.
Expecting a long line like we found in Disneyland on our last visit, we bolted to the Royal Sommerhus as soon as the gates opened, and found … a 10 minute wait at 9:15 am. We walked past the house several times during the day and the wait time was never over 10 minutes, making it officially the fastest place to meet Anna and Elsa out of Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Disney Cruises.
The Royal Sommerhus is located between Mexico and Norway in the World Showcase section at Epcot in WDW, just before the new ride, Frozen Ever After. The house is set up to appear like Anna and Elsa’s home. The queue to meet the characters winds through the house, past their bookshelves, lounge, fireplace and staircase. The attention to detail is amazing.
The meet and greet takes place at the end of the walk through the house, with seperate sections to meet each character.
Anna was first when we visited, and then Elsa.
Each character spoke with Cheese briefly and then posted for pictures, both for the Disney official photographer, and also for me. While there is no pressure to buy the photos and you can absolutely take your own, I like to take photos on my own camera and also have the photographer take a few, so at the end of the day if mine don’t work out I have a back up in the Disney photographer’s images so I always get a great pic.
At the end of the meet and greet guests are ushered into the very well stocked gift shop, filled with Frozen merchandise.
Our time at Disneyland was magical! My almost five-year-old and I spent a wonderful day-and-a-half at the park and it just wasn’t enough time. While we loved pretty much everything about the experience, we had to have our favourite rides and experiences, right? Here they are, through a mix of photos from our last trip as well as our time at Disneyland in 2014:
Fantasyland ride: Mad Tea Party
So much fun we went on it over and over and over again.
Fantasyland: Kind Arthur’s Carousel
It’s a gorgeous carousel and rarely has a queue.
Fantasyland: Dumbo The Flying Elephant This is just fun. Best to visit in the morning when the lines are short.
Character meet and greets
Ask at guest services for a schedule of character meet and greets so you’re always the first one there.
The hot ticket at Disney California Adventure Park this year is the brand new stage show, Frozen – Live at the Hyperion.
The show is exactly what you would imagine it to be: a very closely followed adaptation of the movie Frozen, performed live on stage by excellent performers on some seriously stunning staging.
The show is one hour in duration (the movie is 1 hr 49 minutes) and as a result there are small cuts in places – a few minor characters are either missing or have their parts shortened significantly, but the changes I noticed the most were to take away anything remotely “scary”.
As a result, the show is billed as “suitable for all ages” – and I have to agree, it was extremely mild and even my scaredy cat Cheese who refuses to see the movie at the moment because she deems it “too scary”, didn’t find a single moment of the show anything other than thoroughly entertaining.
As per all of Disney’s productions, Frozen – Live At The Hyperion is of the highest standard. I was particularly impressed with their Elsa, considering the difficulty of the song Let It Go, (which she nailed, by the way).
The set design for the show is incredibly impressive, particularly the scenes from the sisters’ childhood, where the props are made larger than usual to make the “child” Anna and Elsa really look small, even though they are played by adults.
Even with the show significantly shortened from the original movie, it seemed a perfect length, with all the major songs and moments covered beautifully. It was also a great length for all of the small children in the audience, who were happily belting out the lyrics to each number and wiggling joyfully throughout the show.
Tips on how to see the show:
As the show is so popular, I advise getting tickets using the Disney FASTPASS Service, which provides first-come, first-served tickets to same day Frozen – Live at the Hyperion shows.
Tickets are available when the park opens at the Disney FASTPASS Service machines located to the left of the Hyperion Theater. Tickets are distributed for the first show of the day via the machine until all the tickets run out. After the first show is sold out, tickets for the second show are made available, and so forth. Guests are not able to choose a specific time show.
At the FASTPASS machine, insert your park admission ticket and you will be given a Disney FASTPASS ticket printed with your Frozen – Live at the Hyperion showtime and recommended arrival time. Pay attention to the suggested time and turn up as early as possible. My ticket suggested I arrive 40 minutes before the show started. We arrived 30 minutes before showtime and we were among the last people seated at the end of the queue.
If you have a stroller with you, be very aware of where it is parked when you go into the show. Our stroller was taken from us and parked by a Disney cast member and we didn’t see where it was taken. As a result, at the end of the show it took us a very long time to search for our stroller among a sea of about a hundred or so.
Get more information on Frozen – Live At The Hyperion and the latest show times here.
The Frozen sisters have found a permanent home in California Adventure Park’s Hollywood Land. The meet and greet isn’t anywhere near as crazy popular as it was when we visited two years ago. Back then, if you didn’t get to the link as soon as the park opened you were in for an all-day wait.
This time, we did the rounds in the morning to get FastPasses for our fave rides and then came back to meet the sisters. Anna and Elsa’s Royal Welcome is located deep inside the Animation Academy within the Disney California Adventure Park.
From the outside, it’s unclear that this is even the place to meed the Frozen duo as there are no clear signs that say so. We asked a helpful Disney cast member outside who confirmed that this was the place and pointed where to go.
The Animation Academy has several experiences inside, just one of which is the Anna and Elsa Royal Welcome. it’s a huge space with Disney films playing all over the walls, which makes waiting to meet the sisters much more palatable. The queue wasn’t too bad – maybe 10 people before us, and we waited in total about 30 minutes to meet the pair.
Anna and Elsa share an Arandelle-themed room in the Animation Academy for meeting their royal guests. I really think the pair are best as a dual act – they play off each other, make witty jokes, and in general are so much fun when they’re experienced together.
The princess and queen really took their time talking to Cheese. They wanted to know all about her kingdom and commented on her beautiful hair.
After the meet and greet, with Frozen stars in our eyes, we head off to the new show, Frozen – Live that is now playing at the Hyperion Theatre next door. If you have an avid artist on your hands, drop by the Royal Academy (it’s tucked inside the Animation Academy) where a real-life artist is on hand to teach you how to sketch characters like Olaf and Marshmallow.
Get more information about Frozen experiences at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park here.
The beautiful Virgin Gorda, second-largest of the British Virgin islands, is a popular day trip for cruise ships stopping in Tortola. The “plump” shape of the island reminded Christopher Columbus of a reclining woman, or a “Fat Virgin,” which inspired the rather interesting name.
Virgin Gorda has a population of around 3000 people, including celebrities like Morgan Freeman and Richard Branson. A glimpse at the pristine beauty of the island and it’s easy to see why. White sand beaches, crystal blue ocean and a slow way of life are draw cards for those wanting a relaxing vacation or a complete sea change.
A Tour of The Baths is a popular way to see one of the area’s must-see sights – The Baths. Many cruise ships, including the Disney Cruise Line’s 7-Night Eastern Caribbean include this as a port of call option for an additional fee.
To get to The Baths from Tortola, the main port of call where cruise ships dock, it’s possible to go on the cheap and take the local ferry, but I would advise to just pay the bit extra to have the entire trip organised for you so there is zero stress involved. It’s quite a way from where the ferry lands on Virgin Gorda to The Baths and not much in the way of public or private transport options.
The half-day tour to Virgin Gorda begins with a scenic 40-minute cruise along the Sir Francis Drake Channel to Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. Open-air safari buses await the cruise boat, ready to take its passengers on the short 20-minute drive through Spanish Town to an outlook over Savannah Bay for a photo stop.
It’s only a short drive further to the Top of the Baths, where a local tour guide meets the group and leads us down to The Baths. The path is somewhat rocky but doesn’t take more than 10 or 15 minutes, and is easy enough for my 4.5 year old to walk on her own.
The spectacularly beautiful Baths lies at the bottom of the path. There are waves to swim, boulders to climb and beaches to laze on. Paradise.
We journey further through narrow caves and water-filled grottos to find the pristine waters of Devil’s Bay on the other side.
This stunning beach is perfect for families with its gentle waves and soft sand.
The tour ends with a retracing of our steps. Back up to the car park, back on the safari buses, back onto the cruise boat, which speeds us back to our ship, just in time for lunch.
Tour To Virgin Gorda Tips
*Wear comfortable walking shoes as the path to The Baths is rough and uneven.
*Recommended age for the tour is 5 and up. Our 4.5 year old had no problem with the walk or the climb through the caves.
*Take plenty of drink bottles with water. Food from the ship is not allowed off the boat (such as fruit) so eat a hearty breakfast. We did take packaged crackers that we had taken aboard with us and were very grateful we did when our daughter badly needed food and there was nowhere to buy any.
*While our tour notes said a beverage (water, soda or fruit juice) is included, we were served the beverage on the cruise boat back to the ship at the very end of the tour, so taking lots of water is crucial.
*Additional food and drinks can be purchased at the Top of The Baths restaurant.
*Bathrooms/changing facilities and lockers are available at the beach; however, Guests are encouraged to wear a swimsuit underneath their clothes if wishing to swim at the beach as there are limited bathrooms and a long line to use them.
*Bring credit cards or cash for optional extras such as souvenirs.
*Pack a swim suit, sunscreen, sunglasses, additional clothing, hats, cameras, backpacks and towels.
*After swimming in the salty beach water you’ll want to rinse off – which was a problem when we visited as there was no running tap to use and we had to use the rest of our drinking water.
Castaway Cay is a private island in the Bahamas reserved exclusively for Disney Cruise Line (DCL) guests on Bahamian and Caribbean cruises.
Because the island is only used by guests debarking from the Disney boats, it’s possible to enjoy a fun-filled day without spending an extra cent.
Many of the amenities on the island are FOC for DCL guests, such as tram transport to the different parts of the island, a full buffet lunch and beverage station, several gorgeous beaches, character meet and greets, child care for kids aged 3-12 at Scuttle’s Cove and the two water play areas, Pelican Plunge (more below) and Spring-a-leak, which we didn’t find on our day at Castaway Cove. Don’t have kids? Adults can enjoy Serenity Cove, the 18+ area on the island.
There is so much to do on this island, particularly for families, that many guests say it’s their fave place to stop even on repeat cruises.
Castaway Cay Stingray Adventure
On our Castaway Cay day we booked into the Castaway Cay Stingray Adventure, suitable for guests aged 5 and up. Despite Cheese being not quite 5, it was fine for her to join us.
We checked into Ray’s Stingray Hut straight off the boat and were given a very quick run down by the crew on how to put on our gear (lifejackets and snorkel equipment) and told the rules of how to handle the stingrays during the feeding, which was the first part of the adventure.
Into the water, we gathered around platforms thigh-deep in water and held pieces of slimy fish in our fingers for the stingrays to eat. While we waited for the rays to approach the platform a few of the more curious of the stingrays rubbed against our legs. Don’t worry – the stingrays here to not have stingers, making them completely harmless.
The stingrays caught the scent of food and slid themselves onto the platform to slurp up the food from our fingers, tickling out palms with their rubbery mouths. After the food supply ran out, we donned our snorkels and went for a swim to watch these amazing creatures underwater.
See our Castaway Cay adventures in the video below at 1:42.
Castaway Cay Beaches
The majority of people who visit Castaway Cay are content to just relax on the beach and paddle in the soft waves.
We hired a water tube for some serious floating action. There are several beaches to enjoy, all marked clearly on the island’s map, so while the beaches are busy you’d never guess that a few thousand people were there all at the same time.
The free tram makes it very easy to get between the beaches, and there are also plenty of shaded deck chairs available for lounging.
After the free buffet lunch we walked to the Pelican Plunge to check out the water play area.
It looked a bit scary for our little one, so we contented ourselves with squirting the water guns over the side while watching people climb up and slide down the plunge adjacent.
Castaway Cay Tips
*No need to bring a towel – there are plenty of towels available on the island.
*Do bring sunscreen, hat, water shoes/thongs and a refillable water bottle to fill at the free beverage station.
*Head to the buffet either at the beginning or end of service when the queues are shorter.
*Bring some cash if you’re planning on shopping.
*There is occasionally sea lice in the water – you may want to buy some Sea Safe just incase. We didn’t have any problems with the sea lice.
*Head back to the ship early to ride the Aquaduck with zero queues!
Disneyland is magical for adults and kids alike. It’s such an incredibly designed place that keeps the magic of childhood well and truly alive, through rides, entertainment and live characters. Disneyland is also a place that requires a lot of planning to get the most out of. I hope my tips will help you plan your perfect Disneyland holiday.
What age is best for Disneyland?
Honestly, any age! Disneyland caters to all ages from 0-100 as long as you love Disney. I’ve been as an adult without kids, with a 2 year old, and most recently with my almost 5-year-old. Each time is different but equally enjoyable.
What time of year should we go?
Disneyland is gorgeous to visit all-year round. They have special seasonal events around Halloween and Christmas in particular, making these two times of year a really special time to visit. Check out the crowds at the time of year you’re considering visiting at this website – if you can visit during a slower time, I would suggest doing so. We have visited twice in June or July and both times it has been very hot and very busy.
Where should we stay?
There are so many choices! Disneyland have their own hotels that are on the park grounds and give you special benefits – the biggest two being early entry into the parks every day (an hour before general admission) and a special entry to Disney California Adventure Park through Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa so you’ll never have to line up. While the Disneyland hotels also offer other great features that carry the Disney magic to all areas of your stay, they are also the pricey accomodation option – so if you’re on a budget you’ll want to consider staying at a “good neighbor” hotel instead.
We have stayed at two different “good neighbor” hotels, the Howard Johnson Hotel and Water Park, and the Carousel Inn and Suites. Both were half the price of the Disneyland hotels and had excellent locations – directly across the road from Disneyland, making our commute each morning a mere 5 minutes walk.
How long should we stay for?
We have stayed for three days both times we visited, and this was the perfect amount for us. We spent one day each at Disneyland and California Adventure park, and one day hopping between the two. If you buy tickets for three or more consecutive days, you get a magic morning included, where you can enter Disneyland an hour early (7am!) on a designated day.
What’s a “magic morning”?
Magic mornings are the days when you can enter the park at 7am instead of 8am, which is when the parks usually open. You need to have a 3+ day pass to be able to use a magic morning early entry. Magic mornings are held on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. It’s recommended that you arrive an hour and a quarter before the regular park opening. We didn’t have magic mornings with our trip this time around, and we went to California Adventure park that day instead – which turned out to be a brilliant choice as the park was pretty much empty – everyone was at Disneyland using their magic morning!
What tickets should we get?
You have a choice between single park passes, which allow you entry into one park per day, or “park hoppers” which let you go back and forth between the parks. If you buy multi day passes (which is the cheapest way to buy tickets), you will have to choose between the two types, you can’t mix and match. With older kids, I’d recommend park hoppers, particularly if you will be there three days. I found a full day at each park was perfect, plus that extra day to jump between the two and finish up a few things we missed or wanted to do again.
I always advise buying tickets at least a few days in advance. While the queues have always been short to buy tickets when we’ve arrived, it just cuts out one extra step to get into the park. When you buy a ticket online you can choose an eTicket which you then present on your phone (or printed out) at the gates for entry.
What time of day should I arrive?
The parks open at 8am (with the exception of magic mornings when it opens at 7 if you have valid tickets). My best advice on getting the most out of a Disneyland day is to arrive well before the park opens. It can take quite a while to get through security, and also through the gates. When you use your tickets for the first time, you will have a photo taken and linked online to your pass, and you will need to sign the tickets they give you – all making the entry process that much longer.
We enjoyed the early mornings the most as there were the fewest people in the park, so lines were shorter.
How do I plan a day at Disneyland?
My best advice is to plan to do all the rides first thing in the morning. As soon as the gates open, go straight to the rides you want to do the most that are the most popular rides, and either do the rides immediately, or get a FASTPASS (see more below) to return and do the ride later without having to line up to do so.
We spent the first three hours just doing all of the rides, then took a break for lunch and spent the afternoons watching shows, meeting characters, shopping, eating ice cream, and watching the parades.
What is a FASTPASS?
A FASTPASS lets you skip the queue for the most popular rides at the park. Look for the FASTPASS Distribution sign near the entrance of an attraction, check the Return Time displayed on the sign, insert your Disneyland Resort admission ticket into the FASTPASS machine and take with you the FASTPASS ticket it spits out, printed with your return time. Then return to the ride during your time window at any time, show your FASTPASS ticket to the Cast Member at the entrance to the ride, and enjoy a minimal wait. Note: You can only have one FASTPASS at a time.
What are some tips for watching the parades?
The parades are incredibly popular, with people staking out their front row spots over 45 minutes before the parade begins. If you watch carefully around the park from an hour before the parades start, Disneyland staff will begin marking out the areas for crowd control. Grab a spot on a bench or on the gutter edge and either all sit with some snacks and wait, or leave one adult there while the rest of the family entertain themselves in other ways while you’re waiting.
The parades wind their way from the back of the park to the front, so if the start time is 4:30pm, it will reach around the front of the park around 4:45-4:50pm.
Can we take food and drink into the park?
Yes you can. Take a large refillable water bottle – you can refill with water at any drink station through out the parks. You can also ask for cups of ice water at any restaurant/fast food outlet. You are allowed to take whatever food and snacks you like into the park, which is a great way to cut down on costs. We didn’t take many snacks with us as we were staying at a very basic hotel with nowhere to keep food. We ate park food all day and didn’t find it overly expensive.
Should I take a stroller?
If your child fits in one, absolutely yes. Many hours of walking will tired even older children. There is stroller parking at every ride, and every restaurant/facility is stroller-accessible. I also like having a stroller to put our stuff in, like water bottles and snacks, and the canopy provides much needed shade during the heat.
Should I use the Disneyland photographers?
Personally, I always utilise the Disneyland photography service, called PhotoPass. For $39 a day you can download all of the images taken by the Disneyland photographers. The photographers are scattered around both parks all throughout the day and take some really great quality photos – with the entire family in them! I love that I can get out whole family in the same shot with zero effort, and I also like to leave my giant SLR camera at home and just take my point and shoot with me, knowing the Disneyland photographers will have their excellent cameras to snap portraits for me that save me lugging around my behemoth for the day.
When getting your photo taken, you can either download the Disneyland app to your phone and present the app to the photographer and add the photos to your account, or the photographer will give you a small card with a bar code that you can then add into your account yourself later on.
You can take the cards to a Disneyland PhotoPass store to buy the images at the park, or log into the Disneyland PhotoPass website later to buy and download them.
How do I keep on top of what’s happening during the day?
This trip I discovered the excellent (free) Disneyland app. It allowed me to see the wait times on every ride, has a map with a compass so you know where you are, and also shows what characters are where for meet and greets, where food outlets and bathrooms are, and times for entertainment such as shows and parades.
How do I meet characters at Disneyland?
Characters roam around the parks all day. Some have designated spots and times that you can find either on the app or by asking at Guest Services inside the park. The core characters such as Minnie, Mickey and friends and the princesses have designated places where they can be found.
Others simply roam and you have to be lucky to spot them, such as Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter, and Mary Poppins. If you want an easy way to meet lots of the characters all together, book in for a Character Breakfast. Our faves are Ariel’s Grotto, which has all of the princesses some around to each table, and Plaza Inn, which has Minnie Mouse, plus core Disney faves like Donald Duck, Hook and Chip & Dale, Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore.
How do I meet the Disney princesses?
You can meet three princesses at any time of day at the Fantasy Faire inside Fantasyland, Disneyland. The princesses change regularly so you won’t know which ones will be there until you go inside.
The princesses are in seperate rooms and you walk around to meet them one at a time. You can also happen upon princesses outside Cinderella’s Castle – we found Aurora this way. If you want to meet the majority of the princesses in one go, the only way is to book in for a character breakfast at Ariels Grotto. When we visited in 2014, met Ariel, Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora and Belle here. If you want to meet Jasmine, Merida or Tiana, look for them roaming around the park.
What about Anna and Elsa?
The sisters are located inside the Animation Academy in California Adventure Park, and are the only princesses you meet together. We really enjoyed meeting Anna and Elsa – they have a great repartee together, making the sisters a really fun duo to chat with.
Is there any thing else “Frozen”?
Yes, there is a fantastic new live “Frozen” show in the Hyperion Theatre in California Adventure Park. the show goes for an hour, and runs several times a day. You can get a FASTPASS to the show – tickets are distributed outside the theatre in Hollywood Lane.
I would advise returning to line up for the show 40 minutes before start time to guarantee a decent seat. The show is excellent, and does a fantastic job of telling the Frozen story minus the scary bits.
What else should I know about that’s awesome at Disneyland?
My almost five-year old particularly enjoyed being turned into a princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and taking part in jedi training at the Trials of the Temple show.
Do you have any questions about how to plan the perfect Disneyland holiday?
I’m going to be upfront and say Disney cruises are REALLY expensive. Crazy expensive – much more so than a lot of other cruise liners, in fact, that offer similar itineraries. So why choose to spend your time and your money that way? Simply because the experience is unparalleled. We just got back from the 7-Night Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy, and can happily say that here are 16 reasons why, for us, a Disney cruise is worth the money.
1. It’s (almost!) all-inclusive
All your food at the main restaurants and snack joints, entertainment, use of facilities and even room services are included in the price. What’s an extra charge? The spa services, popcorn before the shows, snacks from additional cafes not in the main dining areas and alcohol, and gratuity at the end of the trip (it’s charged to the room at a rate of $12 per person per day).
2. The service is impecable
We received some of the best service of our lives on the ship, especially from the servers in the dining rooms. Our head waiter, assistance and dining room head all knew our name and our dining preferences (for example, I’m a fussy vegetarian and my daughter is fussy period), and would be prepared to offer us with alternatives to the menu each evening if they knew we wouldn’t like them. Our amazing servers followed us each night through the dining rotation (there are three restaurants that we rotated between) so we were always greeted with their smiling faces each evening.
3. Mickey is everywhere
It’s fun to make a game of finding all the hidden Mickeys. From tiny nautical Mickeys made out of ropes in the shower curtains to bigger emblems on the ships decks, there are Mickeys everywhere you look in both discrete and obvious ways, but still pulled together so harmoniously as to present an elegant ship for adults rather than a carnival for children. A masterful design.
4. Disney magic is all around
Disney is renowned for making the ordinary magical, and they don’t disappoint on a cruise, either. Little touches like magical pictures that guests can interact with, or a steering wheel set up in front of what looks to be an ordinary painting but turns out to be a pirate ship that you can steer in search of treasure really give the illusion of a bit of pixie dust sprinkled liberally over every element of the ship.
5. See the world with zero effort
One of the big bonuses to taking a cruise is that you get to wake up at exotic destinations without lifting a finger. Everything is so incredibly easy and manageable, which is what we wanted with a young child. On our cruise, we visited Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and Disney’s own island, Castaway Cay. We were offered off-ship excursions at additional costs, or you can also just walk straight off the ship and find your own way around.
6. Incredible entertainment every day and night
Dazzling shows is what Disney does best, and again they bring this to the cruise. Every night there is a new show to see, the highlight on ours being Aladdin. The performers and staging in these shows is just incredible – it’s a standard of quality that you would happily pay to see under ordinary circumstances.
If you feel like seeing a movie on the cruise, you can head into one of the two movie theatres playing brand new or recent releases (on our ship we had Finding Dory the same day it was released globally in cinemas, Jungle Book and the new Captain America movie), or lie in luxury on the pool deck and watch the “Funnel Vision” movie screen playing Disney classics above the pool on the top deck during the day and night.
7. Water play all day
The top desk is all about getting wet! Our number one fave water play activity was the AquaDuck slide, an exhilarating “water coaster” that sends guests clinging to rafts speeding around the ship enclosed in a tube. Kids can also enjoy a more sedate Mickey slide, the Nemo Reef splash area for littlies, the shallow Mickey Pool and AquaLabs for older kids. Adults can sit back and relax in adult-only pools, too.
8. Everything is super high quality
This is Disney, after all, where nothing but the best is good enough. Every detail about the ship is flawless, and I’d challenge anyone to find a paint chip or a carpet stain on the entire boat. The rooms, the food, the facilities, absolutely everything is top notch, shiny and brand-new looking.
9. The kids won’t want to leave kids’ club
There are plenty of options for kids to be entertained while adults take some time out to relax. As well as a nursery for babies, there’s the “Oceaneer Lab” and “Oceaneer Club” for kids 3-12, “Edge” for tweens 11-14 and “Vibe” for teenagers 14-17. Cheese was a great age for the Oceaneer Lab/Club and loved going so much she would request to be dropped off when we asked what she’d like to do. In the Oceaneer Lab/Club, as well as various open play areas, kids are also entertained with games and visiting characters such as Lilo and Stich or Tinkerbell.
10. Activities are endless
Let me put it this way, no one will be bored. Every evening, an activity sheet is released for the next day which is jam packed with options for the whole family. Adults can choose from plenty of 18+ options such as bingo, animation and fitness classes, but the majority of activities are family-focussed, such as character appearances, trivia competitions and even baby racing. Yes, you read that right.
11. The food is top notch
Dining aboard a boat was a major concern of mine, which thankfully we didn’t need to worry about at all. There were both plenty of options, as well as lots of fresh, healthy food to choose from. Each morning and lunch we dined at Cabanas, the buffet restaurant on the top deck, blown away with the choice of food such as fruit, made-to-order omelettes, yogurts, cereals, toasts, bagels, Mickey waffles and more for breakfast, followed by salads, more fruit, and hot food options such as vegetables, pasta dishes, pizza and so forth for lunch.
Dinner each night was served in a rotating restaurant – Animator’s Palate, Enchanted Garden and Royal Court, where we were presented with a three course menu to select what we would like. While there were always vegetarian options made available, if I didn’t particularly fancy that night’s menu, the kitchen staff were more than happy to either send me a dish from another restaurant, or whip me up something specially in the back.
If we missed our dining rotation or the Cabanas buffet times, there were snack options available on the pool deck most of the day, including burgers, sandwiches, pizza and fruit, plus the 24-hour room service. It was hard exercising off all the food we ate!
12. Free-on demand tv
On a Disney boat, you’d expect a lot of Disney TV, wouldn’t you? In the rooms, Disney TV shows and movies are streamed 24-hours on demand, with a huge variety to appeal to both the kiddies during the day, and adults once the kidlets have gone to bed at night.
13. The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
Wittout a doubt my daughter’s favoruite thing abut the ship was her transformation into a princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. You can read about our experience here.
14. Plenty of 18+ only areas
While we loved spending time with our daughter on the Fantasy, we occasionally needed some adult time, so when she was keen to head off to the kids’ clubs we would also happily wander up to the 18+ areas for a drink or just a coffee and would sit happily watching the ocean roll past and chat or read a book without having to listen to other peoples’ children screaming. Bliss!
15. Everything is seamlessly run
The ship is run with what can only be called Disney efficiency. Everything happens exactly when it is supposed to happen, to the very second, and there are no hiccups, no mishaps, no wrinkles in the perfect Disney holiday experience. A Disney cruise is a slickly run machine.
16. Countless character interactions
The numerous character interactions were a big plus for our family and our daughter who is at the age where she likes to throw herself with gay abandon at all Disney characters like they’re a long-lost loved one. Luckily the characters are ready for four-year-old missiles and handle all the poking and whacking with swords with good humour.
I did wonder if, after the first day or so, she’d get bored with seeing the same characters over and over again, but, the geniuses, have outfitted the characters in numerous costumes, so each time we saw them they always looked a bit different (except for Peter Pan, who always looked exactly like Peter Pan in his tights and little green hat). On formal night, for example, the characters appeared in tuxes and sparkling gowns, and needless to say, pirate night was full of eye patches and bandanas.
Every day the times and locations for where the character meet and greets will occur is printed in the “navigator” that is distributed to the rooms each evening with the following day’s activities so you always know where to find your favourite giant plush or princess. Characters often just roam the ship too, so you never know who might start crowing over the balcony (yes, the crowd favourite, Peter Pan, yet again).
The most popular characters have free ticketed events that you can sign up for online before boarding the ship, such as the princess Royal Court, Anna and Elsa from Frozen and the Disney Junior character breakfast.
Compared to Disneyland and Walt Disney World, the characters on the boat spend a lot of time with each guest interacting with them personally, rather than it just being a quick photo op. This does make the wait a bit longer, but the characters and also Disney cast members who are managing the crowds, make the kids each feel so incredibly special that it’s worth it.
Choosing a hotel when visiting Disneyland is a big decision. To make the most out of an expensive visit to the theme park, I like to stay as close to the park entrance as possible.
My ideal location is somewhere I can wake up as late as possible, get the kid out of bed at the last minute and walk 500 metres or less across the road to the entrance to Disneyland, arriving well before the gates actually open.
The best time to visit Disneyland is first thing in the morning, as soon as the gates open and before the crowds descend, so it makes sense that the best place to stay is as close to the parks as possible and minimise your time travelling to and from the parks.
We decided to stay at the The Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground on this trip. The hotel is extremely close to Disneyland – it’s actually closer to the park than two of Disney’s own hotels. On the Howard Johnson website it states that the hotel is an eight-minute walk away – I’m a fast walker though and I’m pretty sure I did it in five minutes or under. Fantastic location at a fraction of the cost of staying at a Disney resort.
The Howard Johnson is renowned for their water playground. It’s a huge, pirate-themed water area that includes a 30-foot pirate ship with slides, water cannons, fountains and toddler wading pool, plus a 15-person hot tub and a garden pool.
Having such amazing pool facilities is great for visiting the parks for an extended period. It’s a good idea to leave the parks around midday when it gets busy and hot, return to the hotel for a rest and a swim, then return to the parks before the parades and fireworks – I find that this strategy really makes the stay that much more of a holiday than just a theme park visit.
The rooms at the Howard Johnson are another reason to stay at the hotel. They are huge! Bigger than any other hotel we have ever stayed at now I think about it. We had two bedrooms with a king bed in one and bunk beds plus a fold out sofa in the other, plus two bathrooms. Yes, you could actually fit a family of five grown people in this single hotel room.
There was room for our mountains of luggage we collected along the way, which we had tripped over in every other hotel room. The added space just made us feel that much more relaxed as we had some real space finally to spread out.
The Howard Johnson also features free WiFi, free parking and a free laptop-sized safe. We had a microwave, fridge and tea and coffee making facilities in the room, plus the Main Street Market downstairs next to the hotel lobby where we picked up a basic breakfast every morning as we walked to Disneyland.
One of the problems we always face with visiting Anaheim is finding decent places to eat dinner – there is a lot of fast food, but that’s about it. We were so happy to discover a really nice restaurant a few steps from the hotel, Mimi’s Café Anaheim Restaurant and Bar, that offered affordable breakfast, lunch and dinner, including a decent kids’ menu.
We highly enjoyed our stay at the Howard Johnson Hotel and Water Playground in Anaheim and will absolutely stay here again when we visit Disneyland.