Cruising on the Disney Dream


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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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. **

Playing tourist …when you aren’t one.


The Destin Bridge and east pass.

The Destin Bridge and east pass.

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

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.

Who wouldn't want to cook in this kitchen?

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.

Bowling in a fishbowl Bloggers Bowling!

 

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.

The ambiance is awesome at Uncle Bucks! The decor is fantastic!

Seriously, how neat is this? You feel like you are under the sea!

Serene Day at the Beach    IMG_6266

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.

Fried Green Tomatoes = Bliss! Lunch at Lulu's!

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.

Fish Trax! Shrimp & Grits (Manna from heaven)

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.

New baby dolphin! Gulfarium history

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.

Sea lion waves! Walk like a sea lion

We watched the sea lion show and it was a hoot. The sea lions appeared to have more fun than the trainers.

Turtles Penguins

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.

Ropes course at Sunset

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.

Arcade Dinner

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.

4D Movies! My viewing companions

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!

He looks grumpy! My firstborn would live here

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.

I was fortunate enough to try out all these gems right under my nose thanks to MomDot and the fine folks at Brandcation. Thank you! I can’t wait to go back and take my family!

EmeraldCoasting! 


  
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. 

Weekend at Portofino


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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.

Portofino

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.

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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.

Kitchen

Kitchen

Dining

Dining

View from our Balcony

View from our Balcony

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. IMG_4295

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.

Cameron at Fort Pickens

Cameron at Fort Pickens

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.

Sunset from our balcony

Sunset from our balcony

What are your favorite places to visit to getaway?

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DragonCon 2014


Marriott Marquis

Marriott Marquis

Every year since 2001, Cameron and I can be found in one place during Labor Day weekend – Atlanta. I call it the happiest place on Earth because of DragonCon.  (Yes, I know somewhere else thinks they have this moniker but they have clearly never been to DragonCon.) For 4 days, the downtown Atlanta area turns into a glorious hodgepodge of stormtroopers, red shirts from Star Trek, and every other genre of fantasy and science fiction in the past 100 years. Hosted over 5 hotels, DragonCon is the largest convention of its kind in the Southeast and possibly the entire East Coast. It has often been compared to San Diego Comic Con, but from what I have read and heard from those who have attended both conventions, there is no comparison. Comic Con is highly stylized with many A list actors and some amazing cosplay. DragonCon also has A list actors, bands, artists and the unique ability to meet all of these people in a casual, chaotic environment. Whereas the talent at Comic Con is often kept separate from the congoers, at DragonCon you can find yourself in the hospitality suite with Malcom McDowell or George Takei. (Yes, this happened to me last year. No, I didn’t snap pics. They were eating breakfast and I didn’t want to be rude.)

Top 5 things I LOVE about DragonCon:

1. Reconnecting with old friends.

Carly and I

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Minion Dinner

Minion Dinner

There are some people that I only see once a YEAR. Thankfully our shared interest in DragonCon brings us back together year after year to catch up and enjoy a beverage or two.

2. Helping out friends.

SCF group shot

For the past two years we have helped out our longtime friend Allen of the Superhero Costuming Forum with one of his epic photo shoots. Cam and I worked security this year and it was fun watching the shoots while also keeping the backgrounds clean for them. Allen insists that he has retired from coordinating the shoots. Time will tell. 😉 Beatdown Boogie usually comes out with a video showing some of the footage from the shoots. You can find one of them HERE.

3. Cosplay. Lots and lots of cosplay

Fiona!

Fiona!

Ice King!

Ice King!

Portal!

Portal!

Yaya Han!

Yaya Han!

For 3-4 full days, there is an endless supply of people watching and costumes to admire. Some of the costumers spend an entire year planning, sewing and assembling their costumes for DragonCon. It is so much fun to go through the hotels that host the convention and see everyone decked out in their best cosplay finery.

4. Giving blood.

After giving a pint, they instagram you.

After giving a pint, they Instagram you.

I started giving blood at DragonCon 4 years ago and have kept it up as a tradition. LifeSouth hosts the Robert Heinlein blood drive each year. I like it as it is a definite time of year that I know I can make time to donate. Plus they tell me my cholesterol.

5. This one is for my guys. Battlepods.

Mech Corps Battle Pods

Mech Corps Battle Pods

Cam and Riley both love the battlepods. As posted on the MechCorps website: In the simulators you see above, You can battle multiple other pilots in 3-story tall, 75-ton walking tanks in a virtual world of futuristic war. Fight one-on-one, everyone for themselves or teams; with or without computer AI opponents. We will train and prepare you for 10 minutes of the most fun you’ve had beating up your friends … without leaving bruises!

Riley would spend his entire DragonCon in the battlepods if we let him.

5.b – And then there is everything else – the parade, the Masquerade, the music, the artists (both in the art show and comics gallery), the Dealers Hall and so, so much more. The sheer volume of activities at any one time during the convention are so diverse that you could have an entirely different experience each year and still not see and do all that there is to do. We go for the friends, the costumes, the events and the camaraderie.

 

Have you been to Dragoncon? If so, what is your favorite part of the experience?

My 10 most favorite things to do on a cruise. #SeasTheDay #RoyalCaribbean


A few short weeks ago I went on a 4 night cruise to Cozumel from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on the Liberty of the Seas. I joined 39 other bloggers to experience the bliss of a Royal Caribbean cruise through the Gulf of Mexico to the island of Cozumel. The trip was amazing and the camaraderie rejuvenating. It was the perfect winter escape to raise my spirits!

There were SO many things to do on and off the cruise and I tried to sample it all. Obviously there are only 24 hours in a day and only so many days on the ship, so here are my top 10 favorites, in no particular order.

1. Watch an Ice Skating Show. On a cruise ship in the tropics. It just sounds far fetched, but it is true and fun. Even better, find out when they have open ice skating and go do it. Here is a clip from the show I watched. I couldn’t do this on dry land, much less on ice on a cruise ship in the middle of the Gulf.

 

2. Eat. This is a given, it is a cruise ship after all. The expectation is that you will eat and in abundance. The food on the Liberty of the Seas was utterly delightful – healthful, fresh and flavorful. (Yes there are decadent, unhealthful options. I did my best not to choose them. Until dessert came around….)  One night I was torn between trying a cold soup as an appetizer or a salad, so I tried them both. They were both good and I’m glad I didn’t miss out. (In truth, I hit the stairs so much that I didn’t gain a pound on the ship!)2 appscheese souffle

3. Decorate Your Door. I know this sounds a little silly, but think about it. You are utterly exhausted from swimming, surfing, shopping, and rock climbing. Not to mention the 2 million flights of stairs you took because really, who has time for an elevator? Having a little something extra on your door helps you find it soooooo much faster. door decorating

4. Go Surfing. Or Bodyboarding. The surfrider on the Liberty of the Seas was awesome and great to watch as well. The wipe outs from young and old were well… hilarious. But fun. Oh so fun. surfrider

5. Learn to Decorate Cupcakes. The cupcake decorating class on the ship was so much fun. I don’t know that I would have tried it out on my own, but after learning more than I thought I could know about how to transfer 2 cupcakes into a dog I am hooked. Seriously, who can resist this face?dog cupcake

6. Order Room Service. Some mornings you just don’t want to go upstairs and eat breakfast in a room full of people. Room service is the answer. My roomie and I ordered eggs, toast, bacon and hash browns one morning and it was everything I had hoped it would be and more. room service

I even ended breakfast with a cup of coffee on the balcony. Pure bliss! coffee on balcony

6. Donate a Book to the Ship Library. After you finish your book that you read on the balcony with your cup of java, donate it! Most cruise ships have a library. They can always use more books.library

7.  Go Rock Climbing. This was my absolute favorite part of the ship. I went three times and would have gone back more if time had allowed. I love rock climbing and haven’t had much opportunity since having my boys. Since my family was home for this trip, I went often. I learned that I need to climb more if I want to get back to where I was many moons ago. rock climbingthe wal

8. Get a Massage. Or Facial. Or Both. During our port day I decided to forgo the typical excursions and instead do a bit of shopping and head back to the ship for a little R&R. Most cruise ships have specials for port days since the majority of passengers are off the vessel for other adventures. I got the Traveler’s Special which consisted of a facial, scalp massage, neck, shoulder & back massage and a foot rub. It was heavenly. I haven’t had a massage in at least a year and it was everything I had hoped it would be. I didn’t get a photo of the spa room but here I am with my wonderful spa tech. massage

9. Catch a Musical. The last night on the ship, they had a performance of Saturday Night Fever. The costumes, the set, the actors were all wonderful. They did an amazing job of recreating the feeling from the original 1970’s film and brought it to life on the stage. sat night fever

10. Stay Up Late and See The Quest. This is an audience participation in-room scavenger hunt. The room is divided up into 6 sections and a male and female are selected to be the leaders for each section. Summer was selected from our group and she was PERFECT. Summer in Quest Summer guided us through obtaining lipstick, a photo of the white house, putting men in women’s shoes and ultimately – dressing one dude as a lady. quest guys This photo shows the outcome of each section’s offering for the final challenge. The game was irreverent, engaging and hilarious. Our announcer Jerome was super witty and made the game the event of the cruise.

 

Even though this is only 10 things – the real number of opportunities on the ship is easily in the triple digits. There is so much to do. Mini golf, arcades, swimming, hot tubs, fitness center, yoga, boxing, spinning, spa, acupuncture, etc. What are YOUR favorite things to do on a cruise ship?

 

 Cruise provided by Royal Caribbean and Brandfluential. All opinions are my own. (Always.)

I thought I hated cruises. Turns out I was doing it wrong! #SeasTheDay


Last November I went on my first cruise with my husband and two boys. The room was super cramped, the food was meh, and it honestly felt like they were trying to drain every last penny from our wallets. During the ship orientation one of the staff actually said that since we were on vacation, we needed to open our wallets. While the boys did enjoy the trip and my youngest has asked repeatedly to go back on the boat, if I knew cruising was like that experience you would never get me to step foot back on a ship.

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Fast forward to last week. I was invited with 39 other bloggers to #SeasTheDay with Royal Caribbean on their vessel Liberty of the Seas. The Liberty of the Seas is a freedom class ship and the third largest cruise ship in the world. It was AMAZING.
Exhibit A:

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This was the room on the previous ship. The kids slept in bunk beds over our heads. We were near the engines and could hear the stabilizers throughout the evening.

Versus Exhibit B:

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This was my room on the Liberty of the Seas. I shared my room with Heather from OurKidsMom and after we were settled on the cruise, our room steward separated our bed in two twins.

There was so much to do on the ship.
A rock climbing wall…

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A wave rider…

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A fitness center complete with boxing ring…

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Seriously, if you gain weight on a cruise it’s because you chose to, but because of a lack of things to do. I took the stairs between the decks as much as possible and that alone had my calves screaming by the end of each day.
Even the kids areas and arcade were amazing.

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The promenade with shops was beautiful and the coffee shop with specialty coffees was my favorite place.

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So if someone were to ask me now, “should I go on a cruise?” The answer is a resounding YES! The activities, the food, the shops and places to explore are wonderful. It’s a great reprieve from the day-to-day and even for those of us that live in vacation spots, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Cruise provided by Royal Caribbean and Brandfluential. All opinions are my own. (Always.)