you I am writing this while sitting in the Philadelphia airport and an announcement just came on saying the airport is under a ground stop. That is never a good thing and since it is weather related there isn't much you can do it about it. You might think you have more of a chance of weather delay during winter when snow and ice are an issue but summer weather can be just as disruptive.
I think it is pretty safe to say that everyone has encountered a flight delay at one time or another. It could be weather related, mechanical issues, crew delays, or something you might never have thought of before. Nobody likes to be delayed but being prepared can be make a big difference. There are a few apps that can come in handy when flying.
#1 - Airline's app. I always make sure I have the app for the airline I am flying on that day. The airline app comes in handy for things like checking in for your flight and watching the status of your flight. One time we were already sitting in the plane out on the tarmac and were delayed. We had a connecting flight that day so after an initial delay boarding the plane and then sitting out on the tarmac another hour we realized there was no way we were going to make that connection. I was able to use the airline's app to make changes to our connecting flight and find another option to move us to. We almost didn't make that connection but luckily we did. Unfortunately our luggage did not but we were also able to sort of track our bags using the airline app as well.
#2 Flight Aware - While the airline's app is good, flight aware offers a bit more information. Flight aware offers real time tracking for all airlines and you can check the status of airports too so you get more information. They even have something called the misery map (you can take a guess at what that will show you). You can see where your plane is coming from and get notifications when it takes off from there and when it lands at your airport. You can also check on the status of the airports you are headed to which can be good to know as well. If your flight is connecting and that airport you are going to connect through is also having delays you might not have to worry as much about missing your connection.
#3 Air Help - I haven't actually tried this one out yet but after reading about it I think it is good to have just in case you need it. Have you ever wondered if you might be entitled to some type of compensation due to the flight delay? You don't need to wonder anymore this app will tell you. They say they can even check on flights from up to 3 years ago so who knows you might have money to collect.
#4 Grab - If you get hungry or thirsty while waiting on your flight but have no idea what food options are in the airport this app can help. This came in handy when I wanted Starbucks in the Philly airport and wasn't sure where I could find one.
If you read my previous blog about what I pack in my carry on you know that I do have everything I need in my carry on in case of delays. The lady sitting behind me today wasn't so prepared and I just heard her say her phone is almost dead and she didn't pack her charging cord in her carry on so now she has to go find one to buy. Another tip is try to find a comfy spot to hang out but don't go too far from your gate because I have learned in the past that even though your flight says an hour delayed now it could actually go back to being on time again without much notice. The airlines really do want to stay on time as much as possible so sometimes they will make some changes in order to avoid delays. So if they are able to do something that keeps you pretty close to on time they will want to get that plane boarded and off the ground as soon as possible.
Travel delays can be a bummer since they might also affect some of your vacation plans that you have already set up for your arrival. That is when having a travel agent can really come in handy. I can jump into action for you to start rearranging things as needed. Worst case you might also need help finding a last minute hotel room if your flight delay turns into needing somewhere to sleep for the night unexpectedly.
Lucky for us I see flight aware is now showing that our plane has arrived so we should be on our way shortly, only about 45 minutes late.
I don't know about you but I love reward programs! These days you can pretty much sign up for some type of rewards program just about anywhere you do business. Some of the bigger ones are credit card rewards, frequent flyer programs, and hotel loyalty. Even your small business like your local nail shop probably offers some type of loyalty program though. Sure I get it that the idea behind them is to build brand loyalty but it is also nice to feel valued by a company (and free stuff doesn't hurt). Some of the key points for loyalty programs to me are - is it easy to join (free is key), is it easy to understand the system for earning points/miles (or whatever they call it), do you get rewarded often.
Here is my look at 3 of the main travel related rewards programs:
First let's look at one of most of thought of loyalty programs, frequent flyer. We all want to get those miles to earn things like free flights or maybe a first class upgrade, however if you are just a regular person that usually only flies for vacation you can end up feeling pretty unimportant to an airline. Personally I might travel on vacation a little more than most people because you know I have to do research (it is a tough job) but I certainly am not coming close to getting above the entry level for most airline programs. Even though I have taken 3 international flights with Delta in the past 4 years I still have yet to even earn enough miles for a free domestic flight or any kind of upgrade deal mainly because I do not do a high volume within one year. I am a big fan of Southwest and Jet Blue and while they are not taking me anywhere international I have actually earned free flights from them. I earned free flights though both of them by just simply flying with them not anything else. You can try to boost your miles with some airlines by getting their credit card or booking hotels and other things through them but I rarely do that. Now I did make one exception this year and I took advantage of the Southwest credit card offer that gave you a free companion pass for the year once you spent a certain amount. I knew I had a big purchase coming up so the timing was perfect and I hit that spending mark with just that one purchase in February so that meant 10 months of a companion pass which I am taking advantage of the best that I can. In this case I kind of look at this one as a dual reward program - one I am getting stuff from Southwest but the card is through Chase so I think of it as their program too. In the future I will mostly only use the card for purchasing Southwest flights since that is what I get the most bang for my buck with that card. We cannot always go out and open new credit cards just to get rewards but that is also another type of reward program to consider when it makes sense.
To me signing up for a hotel member program is a no-brainer as they tend to always offer you something easy to obtain like maybe free wi-fi or member only rates even with your first booking. Personally I sign up mostly for the extras you get with that first stay and I cannot think of any hotel program that really makes choose their hotel over another when I am shopping for a hotel. I will almost always sign my clients up for a hotel's program when booking them too so that I know they are getting the freebies. Hotel program are generally easy and straightforward and similar from brand to brand. For the most part hotels are like the airlines and you are only ever going to get to the upper levels by staying a lot of hotel nights in one year. Also many hotel points tend to expire after a year if you are not active. I tend to look at these programs as an in the moment type of reward and I am not in these for the long haul.
Here is a link to a US News comparison of airline and hotel rewards programs
Cruise Line Rewards
These days just about all the cruise lines offer some type of loyalty program and for the most part you will be enrolled just by going on your first cruise with that line. Some are really easy like Disney, who calls theirs Castaway Club, your cruise counts as 1 point no matter the length of the cruise or price you paid. Disney has 3 levels - Silver, Gold, and Platinum. You are silver for 1 - 4 cruises, after your 5th you become Gold, and then Platinum after your 10th cruise. The rewards are simple but do the trick. You feel important getting to book things earlier based on your level and get a freebie onboard. Other cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL, mainly give you one point per day of your cruise and they have 5 - 6 levels that you can move up to earn more stuff. Again pretty easy to follow and I like that you get rewarded based on the total number of nights you have sailed vs just how many cruises you take. MSC has the most complicated where you earn points based on multiple things such as your room type and experience add on you choose. So you end up needing 10,000 points to top out on their program vs the 10 needed on Disney. One interesting thing about MSC is they offer to level match you based on the other loyalty programs you might be long to. So if you are let's say Diamond level on Carnival, then MSC might make you automatically Gold with them on your first cruise. Some of the other cruise companies have multiple cruise line in their family and might also offer reciprocity with their sister line's program. For example if you have sailed on Royal Caribbean many times and are Emerald level but decide to try out Royal's other line Celebrity you could enjoy upper level program benefits on Celebrity even though it is your first cruise with them. Even though they all offer something pretty different I think they are all great programs and to me more interesting then the airline or hotel ones, but that could just be because I really like cruising most!
OK so now I have to admit there was a little more motive behind this article than just talking about my feelings on reward programs. If you have read this far you will be first to hear that I am excited to announce that I am rolling out a reward program for my own business! I am working on all the details now and I have put a good amount of research in to hopefully have a program that really makes my clients feel like a VIP! I will post all the information on the website soon and don't worry if you have been booking with me for years you won't be starting from scratch. If you have anything you would like to suggest for a reward please feel free to comment or send me an email (you might get bonus points too).
The more the merrier can be the theme for your next vacation but it is not as easy as it sounds. There are some vacation options that work better for a group such as cruises and all inclusive resorts but you can plan a group vacation just about anywhere. Here are some of the pros and cons to traveling as a group.
1. You get to enjoy a vacation and you get to hang out with a lot of friends or family that you might not see very often. Being on vacation together means you can really spend some quality time catching up and making new memories.
2. Save money. Most times you can score some nice group discounts for traveling together. I highly recommend working with a travel agent, not just because I am one, because an agent will know the ins and out of a group rate so that you don't end up paying more. I have worked with many groups over the years and it can sometimes get tricky making sure the group qualifications get met.
3. You might do something you never would have done if it wasn't for the group deciding to do it. There are also some things that might only be available to a group that you couldn't do if you were traveling on your own.
1. It takes a lot more planning. It can be hard to get a large group to decide on when and where to travel. Getting everyone to find dates they can agree on is one step then you have to agree on where to go too. Even once you are on vacation there might be more issues getting everyone to agree one what to do each day, like where to eat. As long as you plan far enough in advance you can avoid some of these headaches. Again this is where a good travel agent comes in. If you have one main contact person, like a travel agent, for the group that can help make sure no one feels like one family member is making all the decisions or having to do all the work.
2. You might have to do something you do not want to because you get out voted by the group. Sometimes in a group the majority rules so might end up going with the group to do something you don't want or it might take twice as long to do something because not everyone moves at the same speed. One way to deal with this is by picking a vacation that might offer multiple options to do each day so the group can split up if not everyone wants to do the same thing all the time.
3. More drama. With more people all spending time together there is bound to be more drama than your normal vacation. Let's face it spending a lot of time all together is just bound to end up in a disagreement or two. Planning for some downtime and having options for everyone so that you are not all together all the time can help diffuse the drama.
Some ideas for group trip can be family reunions, school reunions, milestone birthday or anniversary celebration, bachelor/bachelorette party, shared hobby or interest, or just a bunch of people that want to get together and vacation together. You can have a big group or a small group but either way the key to a successful group trip is planning.
Celebrate your independence! Solo traveling is becoming more and more popular as people realize the freedom to do your own thing on vacation is really nice. I have traveled solo a few times and I will admit the first time I was really nervous but then I realized you are never really alone when traveling.
There are a lot of pros and cons to traveling alone and here are a few that I ran into and how I dealt with them:
My favorite travel options for going solo are a tour group, cruise, and theme parks. In a tour group there will usually be a bunch of people and not everyone will know each other but you will all be going to the same locations throughout your vacation. Tour guides are usually very good at making the group all feel like they know each other really well after the first day and you will never feel alone. On a cruise you won't get as personal with all your shipmates as on a tour group, but there is always plenty to do and others doing the same things that you feel like part of a group. In theme parks there is just so much to do where you are always on the move so being solo is actually super easy.
If you have ever thought about traveling solo go for it - you won't regret it!
Last week I wrote about the idea of flying carry on only. I have done carry on only for short visits to see family but never for an actual vacation. No matter where or why I am flying I do always have a carry on and I have certain things I never fly without. Some of these never get unpacked from my carry on so that no matter what I know they are already packed and I know exactly where to find them. Depending on my trip I will always have my personal carry on bag which is always some type of Vera Bradley bag since I just love all the pockets they have to help keep me organized. If I am also taking a bag to put in the overhead I opt for a rolling bag so that I am not having to carry it. Here are the things that I just have to have with me when I fly:
#1 - At least one complete change of clothes. My luggage has been lost in the past and I was so thankful that I had that change of clothes in my carry on. Now I never travel without a complete change of clothes that I know will be with me when I get off the plane.
#2 - Lotion. Planes are always dry so it is very important to me to keep my skin moisturized. My current favorite choice is Avalon Organics Nourishing Lavender. I was shopping for a few things for a trip and grabbed it because it was TSA approved size. I loved the smell so much that I bought bigger bottles and now I just refill the little one so that I always have it when I travel. The lavender scent is perfect to help relax on a flight so I take a deep breath as I rub it on my face. On long flights I will reapply a few times.
#3 - Lip balm. This one should be tied with #2 as they pretty much go together and are equally important to me as I cannot stand when my lips get dry. I like the EOS balls because their shape makes them so much easier to find in my bag.
#4 - Candy. I have a crazy sweet tooth and never travel without some candy. You never know if you will even get a snack on some shorter flights and many times I don't care for the snack they do give so I always have something sweet in my bag. I also like cookies but I find they do not travel as well as candy.
#5 - Something to read. I used to say a book as I am a big fan of real paper books but I recently gave in and agreed that for longer trips where packing space is more limited I don't really need to be lugging around a heavy book so I opted for a kindle. I would still prefer a real book but I have realized that they do take up a good chunk of carry on real estate and also weigh my bag down more than I would like so I limit real books to shorter flights where I am not packing as much in my carry on.
#6 - Fuzzy socks. I always like to take my shoes off once the plane takes off. Even though I only travel wearing shoes with socks with I always put on another pair to keep my feet warmer. Plus I figure it is just nicer for the person next to me that I cover up my sweaty socks that just came out of my shoes. Nothing is worse than being stuck next to someone that flies barefoot - trust me I was stuck next to a large fellow that took off his shoes and was barefoot for the whole 8 hour flight.
#7 - Earbuds/Headphones. I almost always watch movies on long flights so headphones are important. On shorter flights I don't always use them but I always have them just in case. I recently upgraded to the larger over the ear ones that offer noise cancellation and they have come in handy for sure (one of things living in Orlando means your fligths almost always have lots of kids).
#8 - Laptop. I admit that no matter where I am traveling or why I am always going to have my laptop with me. I rarely use it on the plane but it just one of those things I do not leave home without and would never put it in a checked bag.
#9 - Back up battery power/charger. You never know how long your flight might really end up being so I always have back up power in my carry on in case of delays or long connections.
#10 - Blanket. I am always cold and even though I dress in layers for my flights I cannot get really comfy without a blanket. On our recent flight to Europe I took along a "big one" blanket I picked up at Kohls and it turned out to be the best one I have taken with me yet! It wasn't heavy but it was super soft and the perfect size for getting all wrapped up to take a nap. Normally I would have ranked this higher up but I realize that if it is short flight and packing space it limited I might not bring it (but I will wish that I had).
Do you have anything that you always take with you on a plane?
For those that know me you would agree that I am pretty low maintenance. I don't use much make up, or other devices for my hair, so that saves a lot of space. I am not a shoe person so rarely travel with more than one pair. I also tend to put on my rose colored glasses when it comes to the weather forecast for where I am traveling and I just want to believe that it will be perfect weather and I won't need any rain gear or stuff like that. So why is it that I do not travel carry on only?
Are you up for the challenge of traveling carry on only? There are certainly some advantages but of course also some disadvantages as well.
First up the PROS:
#1 - Less waiting. You do not have to get in line to check your bag or have to wait for your bag to show up on the carousel.
#2 - No lost luggage. You know where your bag is so you are the only one that can lose it.
#3 - Save money on bag fees (although that might not be true on all airlines)
#4 - Easy access. Everything you are traveling with will be just above you so you can get it at anytime during your flight.
#5 - Less weight to lug around from one place to the next.
Now the CONS:
#1 - Limited space. You will have to narrow down what you take along with you.
#2 - Prohibited items. Some things cannot be carried on so you will have to really think about those liquids and other items that cannot be carried onto a plane.
#3 - Extra work. You might have to do laundry while on vacation since you cannot pack as many clothes.
#4 - No Overhead Left - Sometimes it seems like everyone is doing carry on only and that overhead bin space fills up for your get on and then you end up having to check in anyway.
#5 - Lifting - you have to be able to lift that bag up into the overhead and get it out.
Before taking the leap to carry only traveling it is smart to do some pre-planning. You will want to be sure you choose the right bag. Since you are going to squeeze everything you need into this bag be sure it is something that makes it a little easier. While some people might prefer a backpack for their carry on I definitely prefer the rolling bag. I have heard some amazing things about Away I think it will be my next purchase to try out. (if you use that link to buy one we both save $20).
Next up, you will want to double check your airlines rules. Maybe should do that before buying your bag just in case, but if you already have the bag just make sure it does qualify as a carry on for the airline you are flying. Also make sure to compare the fees, in case you are flying one of those airlines that charges for a carry on.
Get organized - some packing cubes like these will help squeeze in as much as possible, plus help keep you organized. Make sure you leave out the things that cannot be carried on. If you have some liquids you just have to bring that are either small enough or can be put into smaller containers like these then take them along. Just be sure to pack them somewhere easy to remove when you go through security. It might be easier to just buy certain liquids when you arrive.
Don't forget you also get a personal item that has to fit under your seat. Be sure to maximize this option as well when squeezing in everything you will need. I tend to choose a soft sided tote, like my Vera Bradley, which has plenty of little pockets inside. This is also where I keep my laptop so that it is easy to take out when going through security. One note of caution though is when picking your seat on the plane certain ones will not have under seat storage so think about that before choosing.
When might it be hard to try and go carry on only? If you are going somewhere that is cold it could be hard to pack all the cold weather stuff into just a carry on. If you are traveling through different climates during one trip you will need a variety of things that might be too much get get it all into a carry on. We once did a cruise that started in Florida and ended after a visit to Alaska so I think it might have been really hard to pack for that in a carry on. If you are traveling for a special event where you might need to bring along some more formal clothes and shoes that could make it hard to go carry on only.
If you have a trip that is pretty much going to have just one type of weather, especially something like a beach trip, packing in a carry on should work out pretty well. Who knows after you do it once you may never check a bag again!
note - any amazon links are part of the affiliate program and I will be donating any proceeds at the end of the year.
Dad's love gadgets and with Father's Day this Sunday I thought this would be a good time to list some of my favorite travel tech. I am a huge Amazon fan and thanks to prime shipping if you forgot to get dad something or you see something on this list you know dad would love there might still be enough time to get it before Father's Day. These gadgets are not just for dad though so you might find something that you just have to have for your next vacation too!
My don't leave home without it travel technology is my Skyroam. It does only work internationally but I also take on cruises and as long as we are close enough to land we will usually get wi-fi.
For the traveler that wants to be well prepared but not carry a bulky tool this gadget it pretty cool! Victorinox Swisscard Lite Pocket Tool - but it is important to remember that even though it is very compact it cannot be carried onto the plane with you. My husband has already either paid to ship his Swiss army knife home from the airport or at least once he just donated it to TSA. I can see that this one is even easier to forget that you have it in your wallet or carry on so be sure to double check before going through security.
What good is a gadget on the go if you run out of power? Having a back-up power source is always a good idea. There are lots of great options for portable power banks - Here is Amazon's Top 50 but who has more gadets than Tony Stark? Dads are super hero why not get him the power supply with super style!
Noise cancelling headphones are a must have on any flight! Besides helping deal with all the noise on a plane, they come in handy for watching an in flight movie or just listening to some music or audio book. I used to just use my ear buds until I learned how much more comfortable the bigger over the ear styles are.
There never seems to be enough outlets when you travel, especially on cruises, so bringing a charging station helps make sure all our gadgets are ready to go all vacation long. My husband always makes sure our charging station is packed in the carry on because he likes to be prepared for anything.
If you are traveling with all these gadgets you need a way to keep all these cords and small things organized. I like this travel organizer since it rolls up nice and compact. I also like the mesh pockets so you can see what is in there easily.
Getting a good night's sleep on vacation is important but sometimes can be hard with all the strange noises that come along with sleeping somewhere other than your own bedroom. My husband picked up this little sound machine a couple years ago and we take it everywhere we go. It also doubles as a nice Bluetooth speaker so we can listen to our favorite tunes while in our hotel room or out on our cruise ship balcony.
Links to Amazon are part of the affiliate program and any money generated through that I will donate to charity. I think of it as a win-win. I get to share my favorite things with you and then we get to give back more to worthy causes.
Sorry I am a few days behind on my blog but visiting Disneyland Paris didn't leave much time for writing. You can also check out more of my photos on my facebook albums
Our Avalon package officially ended and we checked out of the Paris Marriott. Most people were headed home and I have to admit after 10 days of an Active vacation I think they might have the right idea but there is no way I could go to Paris and not visit Disneyland Paris. Adding on a visit to the parks was one of other main reasons I chose this itinerary. I looked up the different transportation options but the train is by far the cheapest and seemed like it would be very easy. We rolled our luggage about 2 blocks from our hotel to the main station where we easily bought our ticket (7 euro each) that would take us right to Disney Village. There were 15 stops along the way but the nice thing is Disneyland Paris is very last stop so you can't miss your stop. When they say the train stops right at Disney Village they really do mean it. You could walk just a few steps and be headed into one of the parks. Right now though we are headed to our Disney Hotel.
There are 7 hotels that are considered Disney property. One of which, the Hotel New York is under a complete refurbishment to made made over to be the Art of Marvel Hotel due to open June 2020. From the looks of things I think it will be pretty amazing when it is finished and also the second closest to the parks. The closest to the parks is the Disneyland Hotel, which you cannot get any closer since it is technically inside the Disneyland Paris gates and looks right up Main Street. That wasn't quite in my budget this time though so we chose the Newport Bay Club (if you have been to Disney World it is pretty much a copy of the Yacht Club resort except painted yellow outside). Newport Bay would be considered a Deluxe resort like the Yacht Club and you can easily walk to the parks or if you preferred take the Disney bus. We planned to use that bus that runs from Disney Village to the resorts when we came out of the train station. I admit we had a pretty laughable experience trying to find our bus because in typical French style the directions were not very clear. After a bit of wrong choices we found our bus and were on the way to the resort. We were surprised to find when getting off the bus our luggage needed to be put through security before we could go into the hotel. Check in was like any Disney resort and as we were too early for our room to be ready we stowed our bags with bell services and headed over to the parks. In case you are wondering the other 4 resorts are - Sequoia Lodge (think Wilderness Lodge in FL), Hotel Santa Fe and Hotel Cheyenne (these are a bit further of a walk and might be considered a Value to Moderate type resort), lastly is Davy Crockett Ranch (think cabins at Fort Wilderness in WDW).
There are 2 parks to choose from Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park. As the name suggests Disneyland Paris is a pretty close copy of Disneyland in CA. The castle is Sleeping Beauty's and I did like it much better than CA as they put a lot more detail into it, including a dragon that lives under the castle that you can visit. For the most part the attractions here are almost the same as we have in CA and FL. One exception was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril. This is an outdoor roller coaster and personally I didn't like it mainly because it is a rough ride where my head bounced around in the safety harness too much. Luckily we didn't have to wait to ride it so that helped. We also pretty much walked onto Hyperspace Mountain (like Disneyland has done they overlayed the original Space Mountain with a Star Wars theme). This turned out to be my favorite. Outside of Space Mountain there is a Nautilus from 20,000 leagues under the sea in the water but it is just a walk though attraction not a ride. We did a lot of walking as Disneyland Paris has a lot more dead ends and walk through type attractions like Adventure Isle (think Tom Sawyer that you don't need to take a raft to get to). There is also Alice's Curious Labyrinth, which as you would guess is a hedge maze. I admit it was really hard for me to feel like I needed to use the park map since I am so used to knowing where everything is in a Disney park. Frontierland was the most crowded and we guessed that this is what most Europeans must think America is all about. Big Thunder had the longest line so we skipped that for now. Disneyland Paris does still have the old school fastpass where you have to go to the attraction and put your ticket in to get a fastpass return time ticket. Phantom Manor(aka Haunted mansion) just came out of a refurbishment and looked great. I think it is my favorite of the 3 Haunter Mansions I have done (although I do really like the Nightmare Before Christmas version of Disneyland CA). The night ends with a showing of Fantasmic which is very similar to CA.
By staying in a Disney resort we do get to take advantage of an extra hour in the park each morning. Since Walt Disney Studios has a lot of rides we do not have here in FL we knew we wanted to make sure and hit that with the early hour. Walt Disney Studios is broken into 4 sections - Front Lot, Backlot, Production Courtyard, and Toon Studio. I already knew I wanted to head straight to Toon Studio for Crush's Coaster since this one doesn't offer fastpass and is a very popular one. While they let us line up they didn't let us into the attraction right away so we lost a bit of our early hour. However we found out later it was good that we rode it when we did because it seemed to be down a lot the rest of that day. It was worth the wait as it was a fun coaster ride where you got to feel what it might be like riding the EAC. I would love it if they brought this over to the US! Next stop was Ratatouille, which will be opening here in Epcot soon. This one is going to be very popular here as it is really a great ride for the whole family. You really get to feel like what it would be like to be a rat in the movie. Chez Remy is a sit down restaurant that looks totally adorable and I hope they bring that to Epcot as well even if we didn't eat there. After that we headed to the Toy Story section of Toon Studios. Sorry FL but I prefer the Paris version of Toy Storyland. We rode RC Racer, which looks the half circle from a matchbox car track and RC from Toy Story is riding it back and forth. Even though it is a quick ride with no surprises it is a lot of fun. We were heading to Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop but at that time it was stuck in the up position with guests on it so we decided maybe we didn't want to do that one. A couple attractions were closed for refurbishment in this section so we missed out on Slinky Dog Zigzag spin and then also Cars Quatre Rouse Rallye. Next up was Production Courtyard where we found the classic backlot tour - Studio Tram Tour Behind the Magic. Like we used to have here in FL you board the tram which takes you by some large movie props and cars before heading into Catastrophe Canyon. I do miss this even if it is a bit cheesy. There isn't a working Studio here so that part of the tram tour isn't here but there was another movie set replica we drove through before the end. Tower of Terror is also in this section so we grabbed fastpass for that to come back later. We walked over to the Backlot section where you can find all your favorite Marvel characters doing different shows throughout the day as part of the Marvel Summer of Super Heroes event. We watched a little and then headed to Rockin Rollar Coaster. it was pretty similar to what we have here in FL but without the limo theme and you are not riding through the CA streets. Honestly I am not really sure what the theme was supposed to be except that it was a roller coaster with music. This section also has another attraction that used to be here in FL but didn't last too long - Moteurs...Action (or as we called it Lights, Motors, Action). We headed back to Tower of Terror for our fastpass return time. Even though it was pretty much the same as here in FL the cast members here were excellent and really made the experience so much better than any other attraction. That was pretty much everything so as you can see even if all attractions where open you could most likely do this all in a day, especially with the early hour to help. I guess that is why this park closed at 7 pm each night while Disneyland stayed open until 11 pm each night we were here.
Our third day we would be heading over to the airport to stay the night since we have an early flight the next morning. We got up and hit the early morning in Disneyland Paris in order to catch all the things we missed he first day. Big Thunder was first on our list and so worth it! Also squeezed in another ride on Hyperspace Mountain before the Saturday crowds started rolling in and we felt like it was getting too packed. We grabbed some lunch and did some shopping in Disney Village (think Downtown Disney about 20 years ago). There are a few shops (a World of Disney of course) and some restaurants. There is a dinner show called Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show...with Mickey & Friends! I was told that being American we probably wouldn't be interested in it which I thought was a funny thing to say. There is another attraction that came over to FL from Paris and that is the big balloon you will find in Disney Springs. You will also find some Downtown Disney regulars like Rainforest Cafe and Earl or Sandwich along with Starbucks and McDonald's do you don't have to worry about finding some comfort food.
We were ready to say goodbye to Mickey and head over to the airport. It was super quick and easy as there is a non-stop high speed train from the Disney station right to the airport that took only about 10 minutes. I guess if we had a later flight we easily could have stayed in Disney and gone right to our flight pretty quickly and easily. Instead we were staying the night at an airport hotel and I am glad we did as the Paris airport is huge! Since we didn't fly into this airport it was our first time here and I can see why people are not a fan of having a connecting flight here. Even from our hotel it took 30 minutes to walk and take the airport shuttle system to get to our check in gate. The nice part of an early flight though was the airport was still pretty empty so check in and security went pretty quick. We then were on our plane to Atlanta before making our way back to home sweet home in Orlando! We really lucked out and ended up with an empty seat in our row of 3 so we got to spread out and get comfy for the 9 hours. I have to say I was really happy with the food Delta offered during this flight. Just give me warm cookies and a magnum ice cream bar on a plane any day and you will have a happy flier! Connecting in Atlanta wasn't bad and customs was unusually empty. Happily no summer storms to delay us so we made it home pretty quick. After 2 weeks of pretty much non stop action I was happy to be home sleeping in my own bed and not having to get up early (of course being still a bit on France time I was awake before sun up).
Paris - Day 1
Sadly our cruise ended this morning but the good news is our Avalon vacation isn't over yet. We booked a package that included 2 nights in Paris after the cruise. Since it is all one package we will have the wonderful Avalon service even while off the ship. Last night we were told when to have our luggage ready and the color tags we needed to put on our bags. After some breakfast in the dining room we boarded a shuttle to the train station while our bags were transported by car so they will take a bit longer but we won't have to lug them around so that is nice. It was a quick ride to the train station where our Avalon cruise director, Barbara, is joining us and lead us to our train and we were all seated together for the 3 hour ride to Paris. It went by pretty quick and we were met at the train station by our bus that took us to the Paris hotel that would be our home for the next 2 nights. We were very close to the Paris Opera House which is a nice central location. Our lunch and dinner are not included in this part of the package so while we were waiting for the official check in time of 3 pm we went off and found some lunch nearby. We were able to get into our room after lunch so we took a short break before going out to explore Paris on our own. We headed towards the river and walked around the outside of the Louvre and then headed up the river towards Notre Dame. We couldn't resist walking across Pont de Arts, which used to be the love locks bridge but all the locks have been removed. I think we heard there were over 13 tons of locks that removed so that was a lot of extra weight for a bridge that really seemed to be barely standing without all that. It was a great spot to enjoy sunset though. When we got to Notre Dame it was getting late and you cannot get close as it is all gated off and guarded.
Paris - Day 2
Breakfast is included with our stay so we started with that before meeting the group for our included city tour. We are a small group of just 18 which is nice. Our included tour was a bus tour around the city with a stop at the Pantheon. At first I thought it was really odd that they would include the Pantheon on a Paris tour but when we got there I realized why. We went all the way up to the roof of the Pantheon which gave us a spectacular 360 view of Paris. Definitely worth a visit! We also drove by all of the other main sights and our driver did a great job of going slow enough for us all to get the photos we wanted. Our tour ended just before lunch. Avalon also offered a Paris foodie tour that was an optional excursion. Some of our group chose to do that so they were off on that as soon as we got back to the hotel. Food is not my thing so we opted to find our own tour for the afternoon and went off to Versailles. I chose a small group tour through Project Expedition so we were picked up directly from our hotel and went in van with just 6 other people and after dropped off right at our hotel. Our driver was also our guide through Versailles and she was wonderful, even with how crowded the palace was inside. She guided us through each room and pointed out a lot of interesting things. After walking through inside we had some free time in the gardens. I would have liked more time in the gardens and I could see why our guide said you really need 2 days to see Versailles. I guess next time we will just go and explore the gardens which we also learned is free to do. This was our last night stay in the city of Paris but we our vacation still isn't over yet as we head to Disneyland Paris in the morning. How could I go all the way to Paris and not go to Disneyland!
When you think about a river cruise you might envision a small floating retirement home where everyone onboard is 80 years old and all you do is visit old churches. I know a few years ago when we took our first river cruise and I told people what we were doing they laughed and said we would be the youngest by at least 40 years onboard. Ok so a few years ago they were not too far off on that guess as most of the guests onboard our first river cruise were probably 70 and above but we still had a great time. Everything about that first river cruise was just wonderful so I thought it was a shame that most younger people were not aware of what a great vacation it could be.
Things are changing though and the river cruise lines have been doing a lot to try and attract a younger market. The main thing almost all the river lines did was to start offering shorter cruises. They realized that younger people really do not have 2 weeks to take off so they started offering 7 night sailings and there are even a few shorter itineraries. Shorter cruises also meant the pricing would be a bit lower which helps too. They still needed to do a little more to shake the image of river cruises being boring. It is true you won't find a lot of extras onboard a river cruise ship that you find on some of the ocean ships these days but a river cruise is more about the destination than the ship itself.
Avalon Waterways started offering Active and Discovery cruises where they are including some more adventurous options at some of the stops. I had already sailed Avalon on a previous cruise so I knew I liked their ships and the service they provide so I was excited to try this new Active and Discovery. We just got off the Avalon Poetry II that did an Active Discovery on the Rhone. It was a 7 night cruise from Arles to Lyon and they did a great job of offering some fun active options like biking, hiking, and kayaking. There were also some interesting Discovery options where you got to do some more in depth things like a foodie tour, wine blending, or make your own chocolate bar. Since they were offering multiple included options each day our groups for each excursion were nice and small with some only having about a dozen people. Since this was the first time they were doing these Active and Discovery things on this river there was a bit of a learning curve such as we didn't know the bike ride would be 20 miles or what Avalon called canoeing was actually kayaking but we still enjoyed it all. I am sure once they tweak it a little and are able to set the right expectation ahead of time the guests will really love all the fun options available to them. One thing I can say for sure was that I was never bored! If you want to read more about our adventure I did a short blog each day you can check out.
Here is why I love river cruising on Avalon Waterways -
- You have a nice size ship with only about 110 guests (maybe more on other lines but Avalon stays around 110).
- 3 meals a day included onboard so even if you are picky eater like me you can visit foreign countries and not have to worry if you will be able to find something you like to eat. Wine and Beer are included with meals on Avalon as well.
- An excursion at each stop is included (most times you will have more than 1 to choose from) and Avalon even takes care of tipping all of your local guides and drivers for you.
- You get to visit multiple cities or maybe even multiple countries and only have to unpack once.
- Most times you ship will be docked right in the heart of the town so you won't have far to go to explore the main sights.
- Avalon staterooms are a nice size and the balcony rooms offer a nice feature of a bed that faces the view instead of sideways. Also the balcony is part of the room so you don't lose room space like you might on some of the other lines that have the typical balcony.
- Avalon will now let you go right to the ship at whatever time you arrive on embarkation day so you can get checked in and if the rooms are not ready yet you can grab a snack and store your belongings and go explore or hang out in the lounge until the rooms are ready. The same goes for the end of the cruise if you have later flight you will have to be out of your room but you can hang on the ship or at least store your belongings onboard until it is time to go to the airport. I think this is one of the best bonuses!
- Little things as well like free wi-fi onboard, 24 hour coffee and drink station offering juices and tea and cookies, and bottled water waiting for you to take out on each adventure everyday.
If all of this sounds good to you then you really should give river cruising a try!
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