A couple of weekends ago we traveled down to Port Canaveral to take a quick 3 night cruise on the Disney Dream. We stayed in a family suite with balcony and I was amazed by the amenities in the room and throughout the ship. It truly was a dream!
The room itself was spacious. When you walk into the room, you enter a small foyer with two 1/2 baths on one side and a large closet on the other. Each bath has a sink and either a toilet or a shower/bath combo. Past that is a queen size bed with nightstands on either side. A pulled back curtain shows a living area with desk, tv and couch. At night a bunk bed descends from the ceiling and the couch is converted to a second bed. The curtain can be drawn between the queen bed and bunk beds to provide some privacy and a sense of two rooms. The balcony was not huge, but has room for two chairs and a table and was an excellent place to watch the sunset or enjoy a morning cup of coffee.
The ship itself was one of the largest in the Disney fleet. Both the Disney Dream and the Fantasy are the same size. The Dream has 14 levels with the pools on the 12th level and theaters, shows, shopping and dining mostly on levels 3 through 5. The ship was beautiful. Photos really do more justice than my mere words, so check it out!
The middle of the ship didn’t even feel like being on a ship! When we moved at night, the only time I felt the ocean was at dinner. Somehow staying seated did give me a minor need of Dramamine, but once I was walking around again I was fine.
Food. Did I mention food? It’s good that we only went for 3 nights our first Disney Cruise. My waistline could not take more. The food was AMAZING. There are three restaurants on the Disney Dream and each night you dine in a different location. Each restaurant has a different theme and is a completely different experience. We were assigned a server (Victor), assistant server (I Gede) and head server (Selo) that followed us to each restaurant. It was wonderful to have the continuity each evening and get to know each of our servers. The restaurants were amazing. The architecture and design that went into each establishment was breathtaking. Realizing that it was on a ship made it even more amazing.
Ok. Now to the kids. Most families choose the Disney cruise line for the kids. They know how to make an amazing experience even better and our cruise was no exception. My boys are 6 and 12 which fit perfectly into the demographic for the maximum amount of activities. The Oceaneer Club and the Oceaneer Lab are for kids from 3-12.
When we checked in at the terminal, the kids were given a wristband that identified them and us as their parents. The band remained on their wrists until the last night of the cruise when we returned it for a deposit. This band was amazing. when the clubs operated in secure mode, the staff could tell us exactly where our boys were at any given time. This made pick up at the end of the evening much easier as these clubs on the Disney Dream were huge.
Part of the club was recently remodeled to fit the Star Wars theme complete with a Millennium Falcon cockpit. The lab and the club both consisted of a large main room and many smaller themed rooms. Disney movies played, iPads and computers were available and the entire Disney Infinity console line was represented for play. On the last night, Riley did not want to leave until they closed. Unfortunately, we left the ship early the next day and could not let him stay until midnight!
Our cruise visited Nassau and Castaway Cay. We chose to stay on the boat at Nassau as there was so much to explore and we had visited Atlantis on our first cruise ever (on a different cruise line). Many other people had the same idea and the ship was very busy.
The second day landed us in Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island and cruise stop. Our day at port was super, super windy.
We did not know it at the time, but there were sustained winds that were just at tropical storm strength. We tried to go to the beach and Cameron and Gavin even went swimming for a bit. Riley hid out from the sand and tried to nap.
About an hour after getting off of the boat, the rain rolled in and we hid out until the heaviest storms passed. We then made our way back onto the boat and rinsed the sand off. The kids decided they wanted to go back to the magical Kids Club/Lab and we stumbled into a cupcake decorating class.
Freshly decorated cupcakes were a great way to get our minds off of the experience of being sand blasted. I spoke with some of the cast members in the kids club and they said that they had never seen it as windy as it was that day. While the kids hung out, Cameron and I watched Bridge of Spies in one of the movie theaters. (They have first run movies on board!)
We had an absolutely wonderful time and would happily sail with Disney again. Next time we plan to cruise a little longer to enjoy more of the experiences offered. I booked our trip through Brittany Sexton with Glass Slipper Concierge and she was a dream with work with – thinking of all the details and guiding me through the process of booking. If you need a knowledgeable person who loves Disney and wants you to have an amazing family vacation, email or call her and tell her I sent you.
** No part of this trip was compensated or paid for except through my own funds. All opinions are my own. **
I got the opportunity to play tourist in my town with a group of fellow bloggers recently and I must admit, I had a blast. Catching up with old friends and making new ones never gets old to me. We stayed at the Emerald Grande overlooking HarborWalk Village, the Destin Harbor and the East Pass leading to the Gulf of Mexico. The entire Destin fishing fleet travels right by this area and if you are fortunate enough to be an early riser, you can watch them parade out each morning to gather the day’s catch.
Harborwalk is home to restaurants, shopping, events and music. There is always something on the calendar of events most weekends and each Thursday during the summer is ended with a display of fireworks that I can sometimes see from my house. During the Mardi Gras months, there are parades and Christmas is beautifully lit the whole season.
The Emerald Grande is a 13 floor condominium with two towers – East and West. The west tower has independently owned condominium units from 2-3 bedrooms with full kitchens, laundry machines in the unit and spacious living areas. The east tower has fractional ownership with some of the units on a rental program. Both towers have similar furnishings and access to the same amenities – pools, fitness center, spa, meeting rooms and garage parking.
The first evening we went to Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill. We sampled the menu and then donned our bowling shoes to try out the lanes. The sampler was delicious and the bowling truly was a blast.
Seriously, how neat is this? You feel like you are under the sea!
The next day we rode the Emerald Grande water shuttle to the beach and enjoyed the cloudy, non-humid day for a couple hours before lunch. Although the sky was overcast, the water was warm and it was really an excellent time to be at the beach.
For lunch we reconvened our group at Lulu’s. They are located at the foot of the Mid-Bay bridge next to Legendary Marina and just north of Destin Middle School. I had not had the chance to eat at Lulu’s before and I was REALLY missing out! We tried tuna dip & fried green tomatoes for an appetizer and they were wonderful.
I was happy to notice that they also had FishTrax on their menu! Are you familiar with FishTrax yet? Its a service I have seen at one or two local restaurants that lets you stalk your meal. Find out who caught your fish, where it was processed and even who prepared your food. It’s the coolest trend I’ve seen in local eating. I didn’t get a fishtrax with my meal as I had ordered the shrimp & grits. It was utterly delightful and truly worth returning to eat again.
After lunch our group headed over to the Gulfarium. The Gulfarium is a fixture in our area and has been here since 1955! I honestly did not realize that until this most recent trip. I do remember going to the Gulfarium in early high school for my marine biology class and wishing fervently that I could speak dolphin. They have a new baby dolphin named Kaya and watching her swim with her mom was beautiful.
We watched the sea lion show and it was a hoot. The sea lions appeared to have more fun than the trainers.
There was a great variety of wildlife at the Gulfarium to view – from turtles, penguins and sea lions to otters, sharks and rays. The animals appeared to be very well cared for and the staff was friendly and knowledgeable.
After our fun at the Gulfarium, our last event was a fun Mom’s Night Out at Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone just across the street from the Gulfarium on Okaloosa Island. Its a new business that just opened this year and I’ve been eager to check them out. The ropes course is very visible from the road and looked like a worthy reason to return.
We had dinner in the dining area and I noticed a birthday party going on in a room adjacent to ours. We had pizza and there was an excellent menu with lots of salad options as well. The arcade was large and something I know my boys would adore.
In addition to the ropes course and dining area, there are several additional places to explore. Our first stop was the 4D movie experience. We saw the Dino Safari which looks similar to a recently released popular dinosaur movie. The seats moved, the movie was in 3D and there was a sensation of wind and movement throughout the movie. It was a really neat experience!
Next up was exploring the rest of the area which included mini golf complete with moving skeletons, bumper cars, a trampoline jump, bumper boats, a lazer maze, and a mini roller coaster. My older son went to a birthday party the weekend after my adventure in the zone and he had a blast. I will definitely keep the Adventure Zone in mind for future birthdays and weekend family adventures.
This weekend I am playing tourist in my hometown. Courtesy of the fine folks of MomDot Media, the Emerald Grande, Uncle Bucks Fishbowl, Lulus, the Gulfarium and Wild Willys Adventure Zone, I will finally experience all the fun stuff I hear about but never quite make the time to do. (Seriously, it takes having houseguests to get me on the beach during the summer.)
Stay tuned for fun updates on Twitter and Instgram via my account @Destin_Mom! Check out our adventures under the hashtag #emeraldcoasting and #finalDESTINation15
Pictured above are our beautiful beaches on a sunny summer day.
Gavin adores his shirt. It is soft, stretchy and is just the right attitude for my feisty little guy. He had such a blast playing on our beach that I’m not sure he realized that I was photographing him to send the photos back to my friend. Thankfully she loves the shots as much as I do and has shared them on her facebook page and across social media platforms.
We ended up spending 2 hours just hanging out. I shot photos (which I love) and Gavin dug in the sand, ran in circles and chased birds (which he loves). Right before we left, we caught the sunset. A perfect ending to a fantastic afternoon.
Checkout Love Rocky’s designs! She has clothes for kids and moms. And if you use the coupon code DESTINMOM at check out, you’ll get 20% off your order! (Seriously. I need to go shopping now.)
One more for the road!
No really… Bacon.
I adore bacon. Its flavor enhances the most dull of vegetables and brightens breakfast. There are typically two camps of people when it comes to bacon- crispy and non-crispy. I am a card carrying, flag waving member of camp crispy. Non-crispy bacon just seems …. Weak. (No offense meant to the non-crispy group. Just don’t let me cook bacon for you.)
In today’ s class we cover how to cook an entire package of bacon at once and make it all crispy without decorating the kitchen with grease. First step is to take a baking sheet and completely line it with foil. Then drop in a wire rack. The rack is very important. You can bake without the rack, but instead of fluffy, crispy bacon, you run the risk of non-crispy bacon.
Next step- preheat the oven. This is my preferred temp. I’ve cooked it at 400, 425, 350, etc. For some reason 375 works, as I don’t cook the bacon too fast but it doesn’t take forever either.
Next up, take thick sliced bacon and line it on the rack. I have cooked regular bacon as well, but believe me on this- it cooks too fast and burns too quickly. The bacon will shrink as it cooks so you can line the pieces right next to each other on the rack. Don’t overlap or they will not cook evenly.
Cook 20-30 minutes. I know this is a wide range of time. I basically cook until the bacon looks almost burnt, but doesn’t smell burnt.
Voila! Crispy, crunchy and very tasty bacon. Perfect for you next BLT, omelet or alongside your plate of pancakes.
Last weekend the husband and I took some time away from the kids, work, and every day life and headed west. We were a little overdue for time alone to reconnect and unwind, so we chose Portofino.
I’ve been a real estate appraiser for 11+ years and I cover Pensacola Beach to Panama City Beach. I’ve seen a lot of condos and homes along the beach and while I always admire the view, there have been few that I have wished to share with my family. Portofino is a five tower resort on the Far East end of Pensacola Beach. It abuts the Gulf Island National Park to the immediate east and is the last development before several miles of untouched white sandy beaches. The development itself is high end with pools, spas, tennis courts and a lifestyle center complete with Starbucks. It is gated and manned 24/7 and they ask for your card key every single time you enter the property.
We stayed in Tower 5 in unit 1001. This property is managed by Pointe South, a Southern Resorts company. The unit is fully tiled with area rugs throughout, granite countertops and enough bathrooms to give everyone privacy. It is well furnished and (to put my appraiser hat on) with minimal deferred maintenance. The couch and chairs were comfortable, the beds soft, the kitchen was fun to cook in and the views were awesome.
The tourist season throughout the Gulf Coast area is from Spring Break through Labor Day weekend. The golden time for locals is autumn as the beaches are more vacant but the weather is still warm enough to enjoy the fall season. The husband and I decided on a romantic getaway at the end of October. We’ve been together for 20 years and married for 15, so it seemed like an excellent reason to celebrate. Waking up two mornings to the sound of the Gulf and enjoying coffee while watching the sea was utterly delightful.
In addition, we also explored Pensacola Beach a little bit and visited Fort Pickens. The last time I visited there, I was a pre-teen. I didn’t remember much about the fort, but I did know that it would be a fun place to take photos. We went to the museum on property and to the original structures which date back to the early 1800’s. The history lesson available is pretty extensive. The fort was one of only four that was not occupied by Confederate troops during the Civil War. In addtion, it was used for military operations from 1834 through the end of WWII. It was turned over to the National Park service in the 70’s and has been open for visitation since then. Several of the original canons are still in place and it is easy to visualize their use. There were several dark tunnels to wander through and the architecture is intriguing.
The entire weekend was wonderfully relaxing and recharging. It was great to get away for a couple of days and to play tourist. We spend so much of the year in our everyday lives juggling work, kids, school, and life in general. Taking time to enjoy the beautiful beaches we live near was important. I know we live in paradise. It is great to confirm it from time to time.
What are your favorite places to visit to getaway?