Friday, August 18, 2017

A Tribute to La Rambla and Beautiful Barcelona

My sadness for the people of Barcelona is palpable.  Besides prayers, I don't have a lot to offer to those affected by the terror attack on La Rambla, so I decided I'd share some of my photos to celebrate the beauty of the street and its people.

La Rambla is the featured tourist hub of Barcelona.  At any given day, you can walk down this wonderful area and experience culture, glorious food and drink, fun hotels, interesting shops, and street performers.

This performer was vocal, but just the head:) he laughed loudly, and made kissing noises as people walked by.

Most of the street "statues" stay so still they may as well be made of stone.  Takes a lot of talent!

Colorful characters were everywhere, and it was obvious they love the area and their contribution to it!

The architecture is just incredible. We spent hours just gazing around at the buildings!

Artists selling their creations

This street artist was very talented.  Lots of artists congregate on the street.

Rentable bikes

Lots of tourists enjoy visiting places like McDonald's an KFC in foreign destinations!  We didn't, we were more interested in authentic cuisine

La Rambla is tree lined and gorgeous

We got a kick out of "Dunkin' Coffee"

We visited on St. George's day, where people exchange flowers and books.

A visit to La Rambla and Barcelona in general isn't complete without trying the National dish.

This seafood Paella was simply delicious.  

We also tried Sangria, and nowhere in the world have we had Sangria as wonderful as in Barcelona.  All replicas pale in comparison.  We were given bread in the Catalan way, which is crusty bread rubbed with fresh garlic in the clove and fresh tomatoes with oil and vinegar.

One of the most delightful things we experienced was the large food market. The atmosphere was delightful, and the colors and life there was a pleasant sensory overload!

There are many wonderful streets and squares off of La Rambla to explore

The Barcelona Cathedral is worth a visit

I have a tradition of lighting a candle for a few loved ones at every church I visit.  The Barcelona Cathedral is one of the most beautiful churches I've had the privilege to see.

Our prayers and sympathy extend to the injured and the families of the people that lost their lives.

By Lucy

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cruising...the Perfect Balance of Family and Alone Time! Tips and Tricks to Cruising

I've often said that cruising is the perfect balance of family and alone time.

Choosing a vacation in which your whole family agrees upon or that you can afford is often a challenge.  Choosing a cruise for your family vacation solves those problems, as there is something or everyone on a cruise, and a cruise for every budget!

     The great clubs for kids and teens on most ships ensure that the younger members of your party are delighted, and the adult areas (pools, clubs, spas, casinos, sometimes even private beaches) guarantee there are plenty of adult oriented activities to be enjoyed.  You come together for pool time, meal time, activities of your choice…but planned correctly, everyone gets to experience what they enjoy, and you still spend quality time as a family!


     Your vacation budge will make it easier to choose a cruise line, ship, and destination.

Economy Budget (under $500 per person)

     If you are on a tight budget, compare flying to driving to see which makes more sense.  There are ports all over the country, perhaps closer than you might think.  There are ports in places you would expect, like Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral, but also Miami, Charleston, Long Beach (great option for West Coasters), Baltimore, Mobile and New Orleans.  Even Seattle has departures!  Don’t forget to keep in mind baggage fees for the airline, and transfers to and from ship.  Next, make sure the price you get for your cruise includes what you think it does.  There may appear to be awesome deals out there…too good to be true!  Often, they are too good to be true.  Be certain that they include taxes and fees, and also be aware that fuel supplement charges may be added if the price of oil gets too high. 

     One of my top picks for lower budget are the 3 and 4 day cruises on the Carnival Inspiration and Imagination. I've seen cruises as low as $169 per person to start, and you visit Ensenada, the four days go to Catalina Island, and you get a day at sea.  You can also extend your trip a day and stay at the awesome, rumored to be haunted Queen Mary.  To save even more money, choose an inside cabin or a lower category ocean view cabin.

Carnival Inspiration

Middle of the Road Budget ($500-$1000 per person)
     If your budget stretches a little further, consider a longer cruise, or a nicer ship.  Three and four day cruises out of Port Canaveral, Florida are available on the Disney Dream, and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay (pronounced Key), is like heaven on earth. At various times of the year, you can find reasonably priced cruises on Disney's smaller ships, the Wonder and the Magic, with various destinations.  The Wonder even has a couple right out of San Diego.  Disney also provides the best clubs for kids and teens that I have seen, and embarkation and debarkation is usually seamless and pain-free.  

Royal Caribbean has several options in this range.  The Freedom is a great ship that has a ton to do onboard, including a surf full water simulator called the Flowrider and an ice skating rink!  


     Explore shore excursion options – there are dozens.  There are also usually specialty restaurants available for a nominal fee for an extra treat, and don’t forget to check out the spa onboard!

Splurge Budget ($700 and up per person)
     My top cruise ship pick for families with a little more cash to spend is the Disney Fantasy, preferably in a balcony cabin.  Keep in mind that the Captain usually backs into Castaway Cay when you choose your cabin location and ask your travel agent what spot is best for you for the best possible view of the island!  Or the Royal Caribbean Oasis or Allure, the biggest ships in the world and floating cities, complete with more restaurants, shows, and activities that you can count, and "interior" cabins with verandahs overlooking Central Park or the Boardwalk.
     Consider an exotic itinerary on a higher budget, such as Alaska.  Princess is a great choice of cruise line for families going to Alaska as they have a direct train to Denali, and lodges in the national parks. There are ships like the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas that leave right from Seattle, or try the Disney Wonder out of Vancouver. Alaska is simply stunning, and a great educational opportunity.  Children will enjoy the wildlife and appreciate the view more than you think!  

Whale Watching in Victoria Island from the Explorer of the Seas

What is included on a cruise?
     Normally, the price of your cruise includes cruise fare, taxes and port fees.  Food, many non alcoholic beverages, twice daily cabin servicing, room service, and most entertainment onboard are also included.
What is extra?
     Gratuity, flights, transfers to and from the airport, alcohol, soda on most lines, shore excursions, specialty restaurants, some activities, babysitting very young children when available, photos internet service, souvenirs, and some specialty food onboard such as coffee bars and smoothies.
How can you save money?
·       Most ships have soda cards available for purchase if you drink a lot of soda, which can be a good savings over buying sodas individually.  On Disney ships, soda is included.

·       Gamble on a guarantee cabin.  What that means is you don’t choose a specific cabin, you choose a guarantee, and give the cruise line the ability to put you where they need you to be.  You may be bumped a category or three by giving them that option, although you are taking a risk on where you end up.

·       Alcohol can be costly on a cruise.  Most lines will allow each adult to bring one or two bottles of wine or a certain amount of beer onboard, although it must be hand carried and not in checked luggage. Another savings option is to learn to like the featured Drink of the Day (they are usually quite good!) since they are usually a savings and also include souvenir glasses.

·       You can save money on shore excursions by booking through outside companies instead of through the cruise ship.  Your travel agent is the best source of shore excursion options.

·       If you have a large family, hire a car service for your transfers to and from the ship rather than use the cruise ship transfers, it will save you money.

·       For air travel, I don't usually book it through the cruise line. If you are considering that option, make sure they don't assign the flight at a later date, make sure you can choose the flight you want and your seat assignment.

·       Buy travel insurance, but you should determine which is a better value: buying through the cruise line, or a separate travel insurance company.
Other cruise tips
·       Choosing a cabin can be completely confusing.  Your travel agent can explain the different categories, or you can study the deck plans available on each cruise line website.

·       Arrive in the port area the day before cruise departure.  It might be an extra hotel expense, but invaluable for peace of mind.  If your flight is delayed the morning of departure and you miss embarkation, you will have a terrible time trying to get to the next port to join the ship.  This gives you an opportunity to explore the area, and is a good excuse for a longer vacation, but it is really a great precaution.

·       Embarkation and debarkation can be taxing on your patience.  Make sure to fill out the pre cruise planner on each cruise line website completely, and print off necessary paperwork (if you have a travel agent, they should provide you specifics on this process.)  Have all of your paperwork and documentation available in hand when you join the embarkation line.  A passport is always a good idea, although currently not required for closed loop cruises (departing and returning to the same US port), but ALWAYS double check what is required. You can check here for the latest passport information:   If you do not have the correct documents, you will be denied boarding.  If you are concerned with crowds and waiting, get to the ship around 1:30, there will be much less wait, you might even walk right on and your cabin will be ready.

·       When you embark, get lunch right away, since the restaurants will close way before sailing.  The buffet on the ship is usually where staff will direct you, but often one of the other restaurants are open and are much less crowded.  Try to get into one of those if possible.
Bottom line on cruising
     Do your research.  I suggest choosing a qualified Travel Time agent to assist you.  Using a travel agent should cost you nothing, and can save you not only a lot of money but a lot of time; they often have contacts for shore excursions and can arrange all aspects of your cruise including transfers.  Choose a travel agent that has experience and can speak freely when discussing cruises.  Many have deals or specials that aren't readily available to the public, like discounts or onboard credit specials. Better yet...choose a qualified travel agent AND do research.  And happy cruising!

By Lucy

Let us make your vacation even easier!  We'll help you plan from the start and can advise you and handle your arrangements, including dining, fast passes, room requests, discount application, and celebrations.  We are the same price or less than if you book on your own, and you get us for FREE!  Have an expert on your side at zero cost to you and contact one of our agents today!

Monday, August 14, 2017

First Time Cruisers: What to Expect on Your First Day on a Disney Cruise

First Time Cruisers: Day one

The Terminal: What to Expect When You Check In for Your Cruise

Upon arrival at the terminal, you will be greeted by porters who will take your large bags from you, be sure you have your tags which were provided with your booklet prior to sailing (I usually tip a few dollars per bag.)
            Just like airports, cruise ports have an initial security stop where you’ll be asked to show your ID and cruise documents. This is how the cruise lines makes sure only ticketed passengers enter the terminal. As you enter, you’ll undergo a typical security screening with metal detectors and luggage scans.


Port Canaveral Disney Terminal

You will then go to the Disney cruise line area and go through “check in” where you will be required to present valid passports or other acceptable proof of citizenship like your passport. You will also present a copy of your Online Port Arrival Form. You can complete your forms online at the official Disney Cruise Line website. If you have a minor traveling with you with their legal guardian you will also be required to provide an “Authorization for Minor To Travel  Without a Parent or Legal Guardian” form, completed and signed by that child's parent or legal guardian.
While having your documents verified, you will also get your picture taken for your card (so you can be verified when getting off and on the ship at ports) and be required to fill out a brief health questionnaire which asks if anyone in your party has experienced diarrhea, fever or vomiting in the past three days. If you answer “yes” to any of the questions, DCL might have you see the ship doctor and ultimately could keep you from boarding the ship. Take care that everyone in your party is in good health.
You will then be presented your “Key To The World” (KTTW) Disney cards which will function as your id, state room key, and your credit card aboard the ship (much like a magic band functions at Walt Disney world.) This key will also tell you the when and where of your dining rotation. This is where I start to get really excited. Upon boarding, Disney cruise staff will be there to greet you and they will likely have a special VIP character with them (like Minnie or Mickey) to say hello.

First picture with the Captain before boarding

Understanding your Key to the World (KTTW) Card

Your card will include your legal name and the dates of your cruise. It will either have an “A” for adult or an “M” for minor. The times on your card will indicate your dining rotation time (when you’re supposed to go to the restaurant for dinner) and table number. The letters below that indicate your actual dining rotation. For example, the card below says you’d dine at 8:15 pm the first night at Triton’s, the second AND third night at Animator’s Palate, and the fourth night at Tiana’s Place.

Key to the World card

The final number on the bottom corresponds to which check in counter you used at your arrival port. The large letter on the bottom left tells you which “lifeboat/muster drill station” you should report to during the drill, which everyone on the ship MUST attend, on sail away day. Each station will be clearly marked with a letter, just find the letter that corresponds with the one on your card and you’ll be in the right place! We will talk more about how to locate the right deck and letter later on.
As a first time cruiser with Disney, your card will not have a Castaway number. But after sailing your first cruise, you will automatically be enrolled into the Castaway Club. You start off as a Silver member and can sail your way into higher tiers such as the Gold membership or even the coveted Platinum level!

The Ship: What Happens When You First Board
Once your boarding number is called, you are free to board. Your KTTW card will be scanned when you first enter the ship (and every other time you get on or off).

Photographers will be stationed along the way to take your picture. It is free to have your picture taken. You are also welcome to take pictures with your own camera at these spots. These photographs are completely optional; just pass them by if you’re not interested.  
Boarding the Ship

Exclusive to the Disney Cruises line is the grand Entrance to your Disney Ship. A Cast Member will ask for your family name and then, with microphone in hand and a slew of other cast members there to applaud, will grandly announce the entrance of your family onboard, as if you were royalty. “And now…please welcome the ________family!”
Are there any reservations you need to snag or change before setting sail? It’s best to do this first thing (before eating or swimming) to increase likelihood of your desired options being available. Also if you need anything for baby, you will want to request a bottle warmer or Diaper Genie at the front desk as soon as you board! Lastly, if you didn’t sign your kids up for one of the included clubs online during your  check-in process; use your time waiting to board to do so in the terminal at the designated kids’ club desk.

The First Afternoon Aboard The Ship


If you or your kids are huge swimmers I recommend you wear your swimsuits under your clothes. This little tip lets head straight to the pool deck and enjoy the water slides or pool with minimal lines.

Adult only pool on the Disney Dream


Beautiful mural inside Cabana's Buffet

The buffets at Cabanas (at the top of the boat, near the pools) will be open for lunch right away. Also, each ship has another restaurant open for a lunch buffet (Enchanted Garden on the Fantasy/Dream, Carioca’s on the Magic, and Tiana’s Place on the Wonder).


Inside Stateroom with animated porthole on the Disney Dream

Your stateroom is usually available around 1:30pm. You can leave any of your personal belongings there. The room stewards will bring your checked bags to your room that evening, usually by 5pm, but often much earlier. While in your stateroom you will want to access the map on the back of your door and match your letter on your KTTW to find out where your meeting area is for the lifeboat drill. They will also have the television in your room playing the safety drill information.

Assembly Station information

Around 4pm, each guest is required to attend a mandatory lifeboat drill. This exercise is required by law and everyone must attend. Bring your KTTW card with you; this is how DCL keeps track of who attended the drill. On Disney Cruise line you don’t need to wear your life jacket to this drill, so leave it in your stateroom. But do make sure you know where it is… just in case!

Lifeboat/Muster Drill Demonstration


Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and their friends kick things off with a special dance party. It’s a fun little show with some dancing & music it is a great way to start your trip but it is completely optional. There are all sorts of things to do and explore now that you are setting sail.

Sail Away Party

That was just the first day; you still have dinner, shows, and other adventures ahead.
Enjoy the ride and let the fun begin!

By Kris,

Let us make your vacation even easier!  We'll help you plan from the start and can advise you and handle your arrangements, including dining, fast passes, room requests, discount application, and celebrations.  We are the same price or less than if you book on your own, and you get us for FREE!  Have an expert on your side at zero cost to you and contact one of our agents today!