Friday, April 25, 2014

Marveling at Disney Magic

I just returned from a Spring Break vacation at Disney World. I must start by saying I used to live in Orlando and didn't frequent the parks. But now that I live 1000 miles away in Indiana, Disney magic has more meaning to my family. It's amazing what a little distance can do to your mentality. I never understood why my family in Indiana was so obsessed with Disney. Now after a week with the Mouse, I have a renewed love of Disney.
I traveled with my eight year old son and mother. We used my Mom's Disney Vacation Club points and stayed at Old Key West. It's not my favorite resort, but as Disney's first DVC resort, the rooms are huge. We had a one bedroom suite and it came with a king size bed and full kitchen. When we arrived we were given our MagicBands. Each one is personalized and linked to your account. It serves as your room key and credit card during your stay. This was a wonderful alternative to carrying my purse and wallet into the parks.
I will admit I did have one issue with the MagicBand. Twice, I was unable to get into my room. I had to run back to check-in and have them reset my band. Luckily, my Mom was in the room and this wasn't too much of an inconvenience. One perk I did love about the MagicBand, being able to link 3 Fast Passes a day. I let my son pick which park we would visit. Naturally he chose Magic Kingdom. He cannot pass up his favorite ride, Buzz Lightyear!! We chose to go to the park right at 8am when it opened. This allowed us to ride Buzz Lightyear and Dumbo twice without having to wait at all. I chose Fast Pass times for the afternoon. This was priceless. We had only a few minute wait to see Mickey Mouse and ride Pirates of the Caribbean. I would absolutely chose afternoon times for your Fast Passes. The wait times were more than an hour by noon for most rides.
I decided to splurge and had made reservations at the Crystal Palace. This is a buffet and character dining restaurant. Since my son is a picky eater, this was a perfect choice. There is plenty of food to choose from and we did not go hungry. Plus, you will get a visit at your table by Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore.
Disney just announced that while you can only load 3 Fast Passes onto your MagicBand, once you have used them up you can go to any FastPass Kiosk in the park and get another. Unfortunately this was not available the week we visited, but definitely could have come in handy.
Our day in the park was long but enjoyable. I'm a very easy going person, so the large crowds that had amassed by the early afternoon did not bother me. I was pleasantly surprised by the changes since my last Disney visit and can't wait to see what the Happiest Place on Earth will have in store for us next year!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Freedom of the Seas.. new look this time around

On June 23rd, I set sail on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas. This was my second time on the Freedom class ship, but many new and exciting changes greeted me! Freedom of the Seas underwent a refurbishment in 2011. It included new features found on Oasis class ships, such as touch screen kiosks and a large movie screen over the pool deck.
We could immediately notice the changes. My son loved the addition of the Dream Works Experience, 3-D movie screens and the Cupcake Cupboard to name a few. This time I booked an ocean view cabin on deck 3. It was 159 square feet which was plenty of space for my son and I. This was a Western Caribbean sailing that stopped in Labadee, Haiti, Falmouth, Jamaica, Georgetown, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico. I have been to all of the countries before on previous cruises, except Haiti. Labadee is Royal Caribbean's private island. One of the best features is the dock. You can walk off the ship, no tenders! My son and I decided to just enjoy a day at the beach. But there are a lot of options if you are looking for water sports or more active excursions. Just like Royal Caribbean's other private island, Coco Cay, there was a beach side bbq. Since I booked this cruise last minute, I was given the late dining time of 8:30pm. This turned out to work well for us. After a long day on the beach or on an excursion, my son and I both needed naps. So we never had to rush to dinner.
Some of our favorite highlights were meeting Dream Works characters, such as Shrek, swimming with dolphins in Grand Cayman and of course the food. I could go on about every little detail about the cruise, but sometimes pictures can say it all. Here are a few of my favorites!! Enjoy and call Beck Tours & Travel when you are ready to book your next cruise!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Windy City Getaway

I recently took a trip to Chicago with my husband and young son. Only a three hour drive from Indianapolis, Chicago is a great destination for a short vacation. While I love the Chicago Cubs, we are big New York Mets fans, so we took the 3 hour drive north to see the Mets play.
We chose to stay at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. We had a great view of the Chicago river and Lake Michigan. I enjoyed staying at the hotel, but did find the rooms needed more drawers for clothing and the only refrigerator was the mini-bar and it was forbidden to use the mini-bar for your own food.
The hotel was only a one mile walk to the Navy Pier. We found the location very convenient. Our first stop was to Lou Malnati's Pizza. I had heard that they were one of the best pizzeria's in Chicago and was not disappointed. My husband, who is originally from New York, said it was the best pizza he had ever eaten! This was huge coming from him!
We ordered the Lou Malnati's Classic, which was a deep dish sausage. I would drive back to Chicago any day just for another slice!
We walked the one mile from the Hyatt to the Navy Pier. There was plenty of activities for adults and children. Our son enjoyed the remote control mini boats and carousel. There is also a ferris wheel, mini golf and lots of family entertainment. We spent a few hours at the Navy Pier and enjoyed a fantastic lunch at one of the many restaurants. After a busy day we headed to Wrigley Field.
No visit to Chicago is complete without a trip to this historic ball park. We felt like we were transported back to the 1920's. There are no jumbo-trons and the score board is still run by a person, not electronics. We only spent two nights in Chicago, but could have easily spent a week. Between the museums, sporting events, theaters and countless other attractions, Chicago offers something for everyone! It is perfect for a short stay or long vacation!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Best thing I've ever eaten on a cruise ship

One of the many, many reasons I love to cruise is for the food. Each cruise line is different and that goes the same for the cuisine.
I've sailed more than a dozen times in the last few years and one meal stands out in my book.. The Chef's Table onboard the Crown Princess. This is one of the main reasons I sail mainly with Princess Cruise Line. However, Carnival Cruise Line is now offering this as well. For $75 per person you are treated to a night of culinary delight. Before you balk at the price, let me say, it's worth every dime. For the money you get a private tour by the Head Chef and Matre D' of the galley. For about 30 minutes you get to see where the food is made and prepared.
The Head Chef also has hand cooked special appetizers that are not available to anyone else on the cruise. Some of the appetizers include caviar, crab in a martini glass, and salmon tar tar. And that's to name a few. Plus you are sipping on a french champagne while enjoying the food and company in the galley. After your galley taste-fest, you are escorted to the dining room where a special area has been roped off for your small group. (Only 12 people can make up the Chef's Table) This is where the real fun begins. Course, after course is placed before you. We started out with Beef Carpaccio. It was 12 layers of beef, spinach, cheese and bread.
Next we dined on Lobster Risotto. To this day I have yet to taste risotto that has come close--even in Italy!! I still dream about that lobster risotto. We are then offered sherbet to cleanse the palate.
What makes this more fun is that the Chef poured Grey Goose vodka on top of the bloody mary sherbet. After our stomachs are given a very short break the Chef brought out a trio of beef on a spike and the fireworks began.
He lit the meat at our table side. This caught everyones attention throughout the dining room! We were offered veal, pork and beef, along with several sauces to choose from.
Then the waiters brought out the lobster and vegetables.

A cheese course came next followed by dessert. This dessert is a work of art.

The amazing treat was sitting on top of a sugar blown bowl that was also edible. And finally, we were given a chocolate plate. My best advise is first, book the Chef's Table the moment you get onboard a Princess ship, then make sure you eat a very light lunch! Your stomach will thank you in the end.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My favorite cruise ship

As a cruise expert, I'm often asked, "Which cruise ship is your favorite?" In November 2010 I sailed on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas. I was amazed by the ship. It offered something for everyone. But my heart is still onboard Princess Cruise Line's Ruby Princess. I was invited to sail on a 2 night pre-inaugural back in 2008. The Ruby Princess was not my first Princess cruise, I had already sailed on the Emerald Princess. All Princess ships are elegant in my book, but the Ruby stole my heart. I loved that some of the staff that had sailed with me on the Emerald and were now working onboard the Ruby, remembered me.
The Ruby also offers specialty drinks such as the Ruby-Tini, Ruby Champagne or Ruby cocktail. The food onboard Princess ships wins my vote. If you get a chance book the "Chef's Table." For $75 per person you get to tour the galley, have special appetizers prepared by the head chef and an incredible dinner.
I also love sitting in the Piazza. I feel like I'm transported to a small Italian village. Princess swimming pools are also fresh water and not salt water like most other cruise lines. It's the little things that go a long way with me. Since the Ruby I have sailed on the Crown Princess, Caribbean Princess and Emerald Princess for a second time. I have loved each and every cruise, but still consider the Ruby Princess as my favorite cruise ship!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekend Getaway

Last weekend I spent a few days in Virginia visiting my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. My husband hadn't seen his twin brother in almost two years, so this trip was long overdue! We took our youngest son with us and enjoyed three nights in Hampton. The boys spent part of Saturday visiting the Air and Space Museum. The three story building was a wonderland to my five year old. He went nuts running around the exhibits. The museum featured lots of interactive exhibits for kids of all ages. The simulators were the big hit. Since both his Father and Uncle are pilots, it's only natural Spencer is preparing for the future. He loves all aspects of aviation.

The next day we spent much of the morning touring Colonial Williamsburg. The historic town gives visitors a look at life in the 18th century. A single day ticket is $22.95.

But if you chose not to enter any of the museum exhibits you can tour Williamsburg for free. You can still tour the shops and taverns at no cost. I loved seeing the townspeople dressed in 18th century dress. Spencer also loved seeing the horses. We had to make sure that he petted every horse in Williamsburg, or the trip would have been a disaster-lol.

I minored in History in college so I was thrilled to visit Williamsburg. We visited in mid-January so we did not have to worry about big crowds. But my brother-in-law tells me that summer offers more exhibits, but crowds as well. If you would like to visit the area, I would recommend the historic Williamsburg Inn. (Pictured below)

I wish we could have spent more time with Glenn and Annie, but our short weekend was filled with fun and laughter. This was my first time to Virginia and I can't wait to go back. Next time we will visit Jamestown and soak up the sun on the beach.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Carnival Cruise Line heading Down Under

I read this morning in USA Today, that Carnival Cruise Line will send a ship to Australia-a first for the cruise line. The world's largest cruise operator says the 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit will reposition to Sydney, Australia in October, 2012 and begin offering 8 to 12 night voyages to the Pacific Islands as well as 13-night sailings to New Zealand. Spirit will be the largest ship ever to be based year-round in the country and the first ship based in Sydney that is so big it can't fit under the city's Harbour Bridge. Carnival says that due to its height the Spirit will be based at the only cruise facility east of Sydney's Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay's Overseas Passenger Terminal.

I believe this is a great decision by Carnival. As a cruise specialist more and more travelers are looking for alternatives to just the Caribbean or the Bahamas. Cruising is such an amazing way to see such exotic places as Australia or New Zealand. Australia has become more and more popular for cruisers over the past few years. Many cruise lines already operate year round Down Under. Cruising to Australia and New Zealand is also more affordable than you may think. Cruise fare for an eight night sailing starts around $1200 per person. Please contact me at 321-945-4949 or 800-249-7151 if you would like more information or would like to book an Australia or New Zealand cruise.