Disney Cruise: Vacation Planning Tips

Our big family vacation of 2018 will be setting sail on our first Disney Cruise! We’ve always been into cruising. In our 10 years together, Sam and I have been on numerous cruises, sailing on different cruise lines, but we have never embarked on a Disney Cruise adventure, partly because we thought it would be best enjoyed once we had a little one. (Kids are not a requirement and we’ve heard from a lot of people that it’s a great option for an adults only vacation too.)

Planning this trip for a while, I’ve learned some tips and tricks I wanted to share and a few I learned from friends who have cruised before. As we get closer to our cruise, I’ll be sharing our packing lists, and of course all about the Disney Cruise experience from itinerary and excursions to culinary and entertainment. But for now, here’s what I’ve learned during the off-shore planning portion of Disney Cruise vacation planning.

Do Your Research/Plan Ahead

Compared to other cruises lines, a Disney Cruise is going to be more of an investment, albeit a worthwhile one. Once we decided this would be our next vacation, I began extensive research, looking into the different ships, ports, length of cruises, room options, etc. I read a lot of blogs (like these) to get real people’s insights on their experience and recommendations. This was helpful as we were making Cruise decisions.

Because I started the planning well over a year before the actual cruise, all the room types were available and based on what we chose, we were able to budget and plan accordingly.

Use a Travel Agent/Vacation Planner

I recognize I may be the minority when it comes to truly enjoying the research and vacation planning stage. For me, it’s all part of the fun and makes our trips feel more exciting and longer in terms of build up and anticipation. (I know, I’m weird…)

However, one of my good friends who just went on her first Disney Cruise used a travel agent to help plan her family’s vacation. She raved about the process and all the insider tips she received from her travel agent. The best part, using this service is completely free. Disney pays the travel agents! If you’re interested in taking that route, my suggestion is to Google “Disney Cruise Travel Agent + Your City” to find a vacation planner near you!

Find the Right Room Type for Your Family

There are several room types and levels available on a Disney Cruise and knowing the options, perks and pricing is a key component to making a decision on which cabin will be the best choice for your family.

Disney Cruises offer indoor cabins (which still include an interactive/magical port hole), port hole cabins with an ocean view, verandah cabins with a balcony and Concierge level cabins, which have a separate bedroom, dining and living space along with a larger balcony. Concierge level guests have access to concierge service off-shore (for planning, booking and early access to activities) as well as on-board during the cruise.

Land on Excursions Pre-Cruise

Again, this may be another Type A tip, but I’m a fan of having everything booked and figured out before we step foot on the ship. The Disney Cruise website allows you to explore all of the excursion options ahead of time, based on the ports being visited. You can also filter by level of activity, half or full day, etc.

As we will be stopping in Nassau and Castaway Cay during our five-day Cruise, we selected a full beach day at Blue Lagoon island for the Nassau port stop. This excursion includes a Ferry Boat ride to the island, full beach day, lunch and kid’s activities like face painting.

The other benefit to pre-booking, you can budget ahead and if you change your mind you can cancel up to a certain time period.

Book Character Meet n Greets

Before you set sail, you are able to pre-book special character meet n greets for your kids. Depending on Cruise status (the more you sail, the higher you climb), the pre-booking window will change, but once it’s open, check out the available character experiences and lock them in.

Our cruise will feature a Frozen experience (Elsa, Ana and Olaf) as well as a Princess meet n greet. Since W loves Frozen, I’ve already booked this for a set time, avoiding the stress of waiting in line!

Join the Private Facebook Group

This tip was another great one from my friend who just went on a Disney Cruise. Every cruise has a dedicated Facebook group you can join by answering three questions (simply search Disney SHIP NAME + Sail Date on FB). The group is made up of other people who will be sailing with you. There is a moderator and it’s a great resource for asking questions and getting pro-tips, especially for first time cruisers.

Fish Extender Gift Exchange

Another fun part of joining the Facebook group is the ability to take part in the Fish Extender gift exchange. This is not an official Disney Cruise activity, but it’s a way to add more magic and fun to your cruise experience.

If you choose to participate, there is a Google doc you can access from the FB group where you sign your family up (name, age, fave Disney character, cabin number). The gift exchange usually includes anywhere from 8-12 families that you’ll bring special gifts, dropping the surprises off at some point during the cruise.

To collect your gifts, you hang a Fish Extender (looks like a hanging shoe holder with pockets) outside of your cabin door and the families leave the goodies inside.

Since this is our first time participating, I’ll be sharing more about the experience after the cruise in a separate post. But it sounds fun and I’m looking forward to being part of the gift exchange!

For the Shutter Bugs: Prepaid Photo Package

This is another gem I discovered while going through the online check-in process. If you know me, then you know I’m OBSESSED with photos. So this pre-paid photo package was a no brainer. Cruises (regardless of Cruise Line) are notorious for selling photos for outrageous prices. However, most people end up buying at least a few since they’re professional quality.

By pre-purchasing the photo package you save 15 percent off on-board price. So you can definitely still make the decision on-board to buy the photo package, but I knew right away having ALL THE PHOTOS was necessary for me! There are three packages to choose from: 10 Digital Images, All Digital Images and All Digital Images + 10 prints. As I’d rather print my own pictures at a later time (or likely create a Shutterfly photo book), I decided on the all digital one.

Friends who have cruised with Disney before all shared the photo options are endless with photographers capturing moments with characters, family pics and more. So having the ability to take home all those amazing memories digitally made for an easy choice!

Hope this is helpful for anyone thinking about taking a Disney Cruise or in the midst of planning. For expert Disney cruising peeps, I’d love to know any additional tips, tricks or recommendations.

Excited take you all on our adventure and will be sharing more Disney Cruise related posts throughout!




A Wild West Birthday

Ok I’ll admit I probably enjoy planning Westley’s birthday parties a little too much. I usually lock in next year’s theme the day after his party. Type A extreme? I think so. But also I recognize I only get a finite number of years where I get to be the CBO (Chief Birthday Officer) and I am fully taking advantage.

I was especially thrilled for his third birthday party because he’s now at such a fun age. He’s immensely enjoying everything, fully participating and really into his birthday. From the song and blowing out the candles to the party and of course the presents.

Because W has a January birthday, immediately following the holidays, I want to make sure he feels like his big day is special and not lumped into the Christmas craze. This may be the June baby (celebrations and gifts every six months) in me speaking, but I’ve always felt bad for people who have birthdays around the holidays because so often you hear – “this is your Christmas and Birthday gift.” Or worse, there is no celebration because everyone is holiday-ed out. So this mama has made it her mission to ensure her wild man’s wildest birthday dreams are realized.

Ever since we landed on the name Westley, I’ve been dying to bring to life a “Wild West” themed party. And lucky for me, Westley is absolutely obsessed with horses. He watches Spirit on Netflix repeatedly, rides his rocking horse and loves cowboy boots. So naturally, I decided this was the year for Wild West.

Here are the details on throwing a party that will have guests saying, “howdy partner.”

The Venue

A venue should bring the theme to life and there’s no better place than a horse farm to create your own version of the Wild West. Lucky for us, North Florida provides the perfect backdrop. We landed on Happy Trails Horse Ranch because the birthday party package includes a variety of activities for the kids and the location is roomy and open for the adults attending. Ms. Nikki, the owner and party host, is incredibly sweet and patient with kids!

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The Décor 

Being outdoors, surrounded by pastures, horses and nature, the décor doesn’t have to be too extravagant to create the Wild West feeling. I landed on the traditional red bandana print to pull everything together, ordering table runners for the picnic tables and a table skirt for the cake table from Oriental Trading. I used large mason jars with fresh sunflowers as the centerpieces and voila, the West is born.

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The Goodies

This theme is perfect for maximizing party favors/goodies since they serve a dual purpose as part of the décor. I wanted each child to feel like they’re part of the Wild West, so I ordered cowboy hats, bandana, sheriff stars and mustaches! Oriental Trading has a great party pack that included most of the favors for a really affordable price. The best part, these favors were used as table settings, adding another visual element to my tablescape.

I also wanted to provide some fun propos for photos, so I purchased a giant “Wanted” sign along with a pack of western themed props on a stick. This is a fun and inexpensive way to highlight the party theme and inspire people to capture fun photos!

The Cake

The cake to me is the centerpiece of the party and should really embody the theme. We have an incredibly talented cake artist here in Tally who has been making Westley’s cakes since his first birthday. Her cakes are not only works of art, but they are so delicious. My favorite part of working with her is I trust her vision completely. I usually tell her my theme, send a few inspiration pics and she comes back with a description of the cake creation. Of course, the final product is always ten times better than I imagined.

This year was no exception. This is my favorite cake yet. It captured the Wild West theme perfectly incorporating denim, cow print, a cowboy hat, sheriff’s star and rope. It was absolutely gorgeous! The inside was equally satisfying with red velvet (my favorite) and chocolate cake with buttercream icing. Nom nom.


The Food

When I think Wild West, I think hot dogs…no clue why, but in my head it made perfect sense. I researched a few options and landed on a hot dog cart called Frankly Delicious. It was a cool visual with the cart and big red umbrella, but it was also a great decision because I did not have to worry about picking up food, setting up, getting plates, etc. The hot dog cart was a one-stop-shop. Party guests could choose from hot dogs, Bradley’s sausage or chicken sausage along with fun toppings including coke onions, chili, cheese and traditional toppings like mustard, ketchup and relish. The meal came complete with chips and drink. This was the perfect meal for both kids and adults! I highly recommend a food option like this because it’s totally hands off for you as the host, kid approved and nostalgic for adults.


The Fun

The party was kid and adult approved. The kiddos got to meet the horses, feed the horses, go on a hay ride and then ride a horse. It was a perfect mix of activities that kept the kids engaged and entertained. It was an absolute blast! After all the fun, we sang Happy Birthday and wrapped up a very magical and memorable birthday.


Birthday Party Planning Tips

I’m a big fan of planning all events, but especially my son’s birthday parties every year. Pro tip: start early and plan throughout a few months, so you’re not stressed and have plenty of time to nail all the details. This also means you’re spreading out your expenses and not paying for everything at once. With Westley’s birthday right after Christmas, I usually plan his parties in three phases, breaking up the tasks, so I’m not overwhelmed.

Here’s a breakdown of my party planning choreography.

Phase One (Pre-Planning, a few months out)

  • Decide on theme
  • Plan your party budget
  • Secure venue
  • Design and order invites (I’ve used Vistaprint the last few birthdays and they have cute designs and awesome promos)
  • Lock in cake (my cake lady is in high demand and books far in advance)
  • Research food options and get pricing for comparison
  • I also research décor and goodies and usually create a wish list for reference when I’m ready to purchase

 Phase Two (one month out)

  • Mail invites
  • Finalize food plan
  • Purchase decor and goodies for guests
  • Have photo plan in place (If I’m in charge of taking photos A. I’m not in them and B. There won’t be very many memories captured)

Phase Three (night before/day of)

  • Open all decor, paper goods, goodies, etc. and have everything sorted and ready for party time. (This saves an enormous amount of time and makes things way less stressful)
  • Pack necessary supplies in vehicle including a cake knife (forgot that for his 2nd birthday and my FIL had to make a grocery store run, while guests eagerly awaited cake…won’t EVER make that mistake again), lighter, tape, etc.
  • Confirm with any vendors (cake, food, venue) to ensure everyone is stil on board
  • Give yourself time to decorate and arrange party goods and have a team of people willing to help (my hubby and mom rounded out the party trio this year).
  • Sit back and actually enjoy your child’s birthday party after all the planning!

 Lessons Learned/Things to Consider

  • Plan ahead
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate
  • Have a friend, family member or professional photographer capture the memories
  • Have someone else handle food (having a hot dog cart offering a one-stop-shop for food, chips and drinks was well worth the investment)
  • Be in the moment and enjoy the birthday party with your child

Do you have any party planning go-to tips?



Plan Ahead: A Goal Without A Plan Is Just A Wish

One of my favorite parts of starting a new year is getting a new planner to keep me organized. It may be my Type A personality, but there is something so exciting about writing down all the planned activities for the year, adding work and personal travel and filling up my calendar with to dos. Am I right?

Part of staying organized for me includes color-coding. I use my favorite Pilot FriXion Color Sticks, which are erasable gel pens that come in a variety of colors. Because I’m beyond crazy, I assign a different color for Westley’s activities, personal/family trips/events/activities and then each of my clients has a unique color, which allows me to quickly glance at my planner and immediately know what event corresponds to what person or client. The best part…these pens are erasable (they actually work, not like the old school blue pens with the grey eraser of elementary school), so my planner does not look messy or disorganized when something inevitably changes. (Not a fan of a messy planner) On top of color-coding, I outline the days I’m traveling with a highlighter – pink for personal and yellow for work travel. All of these things combined, help me stay organized and on top of my to dos.

Speaking of to dos, I’m a huge proponent of a good To Do list, which of course I hand write. For me, writing things down makes it stick. I also like feeling accomplished when I write out my weekly to dos, so I always add a few items I’ve already conquered, so I can immediately cross them out. I feel accomplished from the get go because nothing feels better than crossing out an item on the list 🙂

Since I am trying out a new planner this year, I wanted to share a list of my favorites, if you’re in the market for a planner!

Bloom Daily Planner – I came across this company (my 2018 planner) when looking for the perfect planner for this year. I immediately connected with Bloom because the mission is to “help women bloom into the best versions of themselves.” Sold! It’s made for women, by women and the designs are absolutely adorable. I went with the Pineapple design with the words “Be Sweet.” I chose the Monthly & Weekly view layout. Excited to become a #BloomGirl.

Lilly Pulitzer Agenda – This has been my go to agenda for the last few years. Not only do I love the beautiful patterns and stickers (I’m still stuck in my Lisa Frank days…LOL), but the layout is great. The monthly calendar view also includes a To Do list section and there are notes, travel lists, pockets and more. Definitely a great choice!

Simplified Planner, Emily Ley – This planner features a minimalist design and luxurious paper with open pages, bringing to life the company’s mission “to inspire women to organize, simplify and carve out white space for the good stuff of life.” This line includes Daily and Weekly editions based on your organizational needs. Every planner purchase also includes Emily’s monthly “planning tips” via e-blast. Emily Ley also has Home + Kitchen, Baby + Big Kid Books, Journal + Notebooks as well as Notepads + Notecards.

Are there any planners you love or organizational tips you use? Would love to hear from you guys.

Happy Planning!




Approaching Wedding Planning like a PR Plan

I’m recently engaged and am now in wedding planning mode. A lot of people have said – “Don’t stress.” or “Planning a wedding is a huge task – take it easy, hire  a planner.” Maybe I’m just naive and have no clue what I’m getting into, but for me planning events is fun and part of what I do for a living. So my motto is to approach planning my wedding the way I would planning any type of event for a client. I will create a “PR Plan” of sorts to be my guide. I will be my own client and of course my fiance also will be considered a client too, although he is not as demanding a client as I am! 🙂

Using a PR plan as my guide makes things easy and clear. I have my goal: To have an amazing wedding! I have set measurable objectives including booking a ceremony and reception site by the end of July, finding a photographer by September and setting up a engagement shoot, and booking a band to play at the wedding. To meet these objectives I have set clear tactics and activities that go with each tactic.

Just like in a PR plan, I have a target audience AKA my guest list. These audiences are split into categories: family, friends, colleagues. I also have a budget I must adhere to and a strict timeline. All of the elements of a PR plan successfully translate into my “wedding plan.”

Ask me in a year how it all goes, but from where I’m standing my training in PR has come in handy as I embark on planning the most special event of my lifetime so far!

Do you use PR as a guide for other things in your life?