Disney Dream Cruise: A Magical Vacation

Definitely thought I would get to this post a little faster…but life. Finally, I’m sitting down on a weekend morning, drinking coffee and reminiscing about our magical Disney Cruise vacation. We’ve always been big cruisers – growing up in Miami, my family went on lots of cruises because we had easy access to a Port and when Sam and I started dating our first big trip together was a cruise. We also spent part of our honeymoon on a week-long cruise to Alaska. So I’ll preface this by saying, we’ve experienced lots of different types of cruises, cruise lines, itineraries, etc.  I can honestly say, a Disney Cruise really was like no other. From the moment we stepped on board until we were escorted off, it was absolutely magical.

Having a little boy who loves all things Disney, it was an obvious choice because the entire cruise caters to families and provides tons of quality interactions with beloved characters. But I would also say that it’s a great experience for adults who want to have an awesome, relaxing vacation with great food, entertainment and fun. There are tons of adult only areas, restaurants, pools and experiences. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on our vacation experience, which was family focused.

When we decided on taking a Disney Cruise, we had a few decisions to make – timing, length and type of cruise experience. We did a lot of research and decided to go in May (right before Memorial Day and also before the start of Hurricane season), take a 5-day/4-night cruise and also splurged on Concierge.

The Disney Concierge Experience

First off, while this made our vacation extra special, this option is definitely a splurge. We decided to try Concierge out because we planned and saved for this vacation well in advance. It was a “treat yourself” decision and I’m glad we did it. The biggest benefits to Concierge included the boarding and de-boarding process, cabin size, Concierge lounge with nightly open bar, exclusive character meet n greet, landing a Cabana at Castaway Cay and the ability to have dinner from the restaurant in your cabin dining room.

Overall, the investment in Concierge delivers an ROI. From the planning and off-shore portion of your vacation to literally being escorted swiftly off the ship, it was an awesome experience. As I mentioned, cruising has always been a part of my life and while I love it, boarding the cruise can be a long process. With Concierge, we walked straight to the dedicated check-in where they took our passports, gave us our “Key to the World” cards and promptly escorted us straight to take our “Welcome Aboard” picture and then onto the ship. It was 30-minutes max! They took us straight to the Concierge Lounge where we were met with drinks and a dedicated crew member who reviewed our itinerary, handled any special requests and then took us to our cabin, which was ready by 12:30pm!

Since Concierge involves so many different aspects, I’m going to do a separate post for anyone who wants to know all the details.

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Fish Extender

This is another cruise experience that was a fun way to enhance our vacation. Our friend told us about the “Fish Extender,” which you can join via the cruise’s unofficial Disney Facebook page. You look up your particular sailing date and ask to join the group. You can then become part of the “Fish Extender,” which is essentially a gift exchange aboard the cruise. You have a group of about 8-12 other cabins and each person staying in the state room adds their info onto a spreadsheet so you know names, ages, fave Disney characters, etc. You buy each person a gift and drop them off outside their cabin door throughout the cruise. We bought Mickey sunglasses for the adults and older kids, Minnie earrings for the little girls and Disney tic, tac, toe for the one younger boy in our group. I’m not crafty, so I ordered everything, including the gift holder (looks like a fabric shoe holder) on Etsy!

This was a really fun and unique way to enhance our overall experience. Every time we went back to our room, there were new gifts to open. We got everything from monogrammed tumblers and toothbrush holders to chocolates and a Mickey baseball cap for W! Definitely recommend joining the fun if you’re on a Disney cruise.

Itinerary + Excursions

We opted for a 5-day, 4-night cruise as our first family cruise vacation – mainly because I knew I wanted it to be longer than 3-nights, but I wasn’t sure how Westley would do on a 7-night cruise. I’m glad we chose this for our first cruise, but truthfully, we could have done a 7-night. Westley loved being on the ship, never got seasick and we could have enjoyed a few more nights and more stops.

Our Disney Dream Itinerary included 3-days at sea and two stops: Nassau and Castaway Cay. There are a lot of people who choose to stay on the ship for extra pool time and less crowds during the port stops, but we’re fans of getting off the ship and exploring a bit. So we decided early on to book a trip to Blue Lagoon Island during our Nassau stop and rent a Cabana on Castaway Cay for our second excursion.

Blue Lagoon beach day was fun and relaxing. We walked off the ship and onto a ferry boat that took us about 25-minutes outside of Nassau to Blue Lagoon Island — a private island with a beautiful beach, floats, water sports and even encounters with dolphins. We opted to keep it light and simple since we were traveling with our three-year old and just booked the beach day. We spent hours in the water swimming and playing, laid out for a bit and then enjoyed a cookout lunch with hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, french fries and other fixings. It was a perfect day and still gave us plenty of time to get back to the ship, enjoy some pool time and get ready for formal night!

The Disney Cruise was pretty casual, but they did have an optional formal night, of which I took full advantage. I LOVE curating special wardrobes for all of our trips (I know…I’m weird, but I love it) and formal night is always fun. We bought W a seer sucker suit, Sam wore his navy suit and I debuted a bronze, Greek inspired cold shoulder, pleated dress for the occasion.

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The other fun night is Pirate Night! Everyone receives Disney Pirate bandanas to wear, so if you’re not into costumes, you can just wear that or not dress up at all. However, I’m a huge fan of playing dress up, so we brought our Halloween costumes (which strategically were Pirates for double usage) and went all out. There was a themed “Pirates in the Caribbean” dinner menu, a live musical show out on the deck with all the characters and then a dance party and fireworks show! We stayed up until 11pm to participate and danced the night away. Westley had a blast!

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The other amazing part of the cruise was all of the character appearances and interactions! We never waited more than 10 minutes to take a photo with a character and each time Westley met a character, he got quality time including hugs, high fives, individual photos and family photos. The Disney Cruise app is awesome because it lets you know where each character will be throughout the day, so you can plan your meet n greets and photo opps. The other bonus, the characters appear multiple times a day, so we were able to meet Mickey (three times), Pluto, Donald, Daisy and Goofy. There are also dance parties and other ways to hang out with the characters, so it truly is magical!

We also opted to purchase the Photo Package, which allowed us to keep hi-res, digital copies of all the photos we took throughout the cruise for a flat fee. I’m a photo freak, so this was another awesome investment IMO. I purchased it well in-advance and saved 15 percent off the on-board price. It was a huge relief to not have to constantly ask for someone to take iPhone pics of us and allowed us to truly enjoy the vacation and character engagements without worrying about capturing the special memories ourselves.

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Castaway Cay

I could live on this Island! This was one of our favorite parts of the cruise. The Disney Dream docked right on the island and you walk off the ship and you’ve arrived at Castaway Cay. Almost all cruise lines own private islands in the Caribbean, but most of them do not have a port, so they dock at sea and you have to take a ferry to the island. The Disney Cruise experience was definitely superior and easier since you’re able to walk on and off the ship quickly and seamlessly.

Once at Castaway Cay, you take a tram to different parts of the island. There’s a water sports and excursion area for snorkeling, etc., an Adults Only beach, family beach and then the Cabana Area (family cabanas and adult only ones).

Part of the reason we chose Concierge is because we wanted to experience a Cabana at Castaway Cay and there are only a limited amount available. Unless you’ve cruised a lot and have Platinum Castaway Club status, pretty much the only way to land one of the 26 cabanas is to be Concierge Level. I signed up on the first day it opened and we got one!

It is an extra expense, but it was definitely worth it to have a private area for us, a private beach and somewhere to rest and nap away from the sun. While I’m Cuban and can tan, Westley and my husband have very fair skin, so having a covered area was a must if we were planning to enjoy multiple hours at the beach!

In the Cabana area there are a few Concierge team members who are available to bring drinks and help out with anything you may need. They also have a golf cart to drive you back to the ship when you’re ready to leave the island.

The Cabana included fresh fruit, snacks and drinks along with sunscreen (kids and adult bottles), towels, bikes, sand toys, snorkeling gear and floats.

Additionally, we enjoyed a delicious BBQ lunch on island and our favorite dessert – soft serve!

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Dining + Entertainment

I’m a big foodie and I definitely give the Disney Cruise dining experience top marks. The main dining rooms offer an eclectic menu of options and every meal was delicious. I also love that unlike most cruise lines, on a Disney Cruise you rotate dining rooms, so every night you dine in a different place, but your dining team travels with you. My favorite restaurant in terms of decor and ambiance was The Enchanted Garden, which pays homage to Versailles in Paris. It was absolutely gorgeous. Thanks to Concierge, we landed one of the coveted 12 booths in the front, which made the dinner even more perfect.

As we’re big fans of sampling tons of options, we ordered a couple of apps, three entrees each and two desserts to share each night. It’s a miracle I didn’t gain a ton of weight, but honestly the portions are perfect for sampling and ordering more than one item!

The kids options were also great. Westley loved the steak, mac n cheese and kiddie desserts!

I’m equally obsessed with the entertainment on-board the Disney Cruise as it was Broadway caliber musicals with incredibly talented casts. The theater and stage is phenomenal with digital screens, moving sets, special effects, flying cables, etc. Basically the same level I’ve experienced during Broadway shows, but in the high seas.

The two shows were Disney’s Believe! and the new Beauty & the Beast musical, which plays two nights in a row. Disney’s Believe! was the story of a dad and his daughter – he doesn’t believe in magic and she shows him that magic is everywhere. It includes appearances from iconic Disney movie characters along with memorable songs and dances from each movie. Think Genie from Aladdin all the way to everyone’s favorite nanny — Mary Poppins!

Beauty & the Beast was a masterpiece. It’s adapted from the live action film and captures all of the emotions, music, drama and fun of the movie. All The Feels. It’s my favorite Disney movie, so I was literally like a little kid, super excited to see the show. It did not disappoint.

We chose to watch it on the second night and opted for the early showing, which meant we had to skip our main dinner seating. However, we were able to order from the restaurant and have our dinner delivered and served in our cabin’s dining room (another Concierge perk). So once the show wrapped, we headed upstairs and enjoyed an amazing dinner in the comfort of our suite complete with the balcony doors open for fresh air and sea sounds! It was our last evening on board and it was an amazing way to end our vacation. We then got in our PJs, watched a Marvel movie (tons of awesome free movies available in your room) and ordered Mickey Ice Cream Bars from Room Service (YES…the same ones from the park that literally taste like heaven) and ate them in bed. And we lived Happily Ever After…the End 🙂

Overall Takeaways

From beginning to end, this was an AWESOME vacation and overall experience. Disney Magic is a real thing and it’s definitely a vacation we will take again. Next time, it will just be longer.

Here’s a little video to give a taste of the overall adventure!

Happy Cruising,

Ivette

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Travel Diary: Independence Eve in Apalachicola

This year we started a new family tradition: celebrating 4th of July early during Apalachicola’s Independence Eve Celebration.

Over the last few years we have mostly missed all the spectacular fireworks displays on the 4th because we have a young child who is usually asleep by the time the fireworks begin.

We also haven’t had the holiday land during the weekend where you have the next day to recover. With that in mind, we spontaneously decided to head down to Florida’s Forgotten Coast to a quaint little Oyster Town that celebrates America’s Birthday a day early.

The Town

Apalachicola is an adorable small town about an hour and a half from our home town of Tallahassee. The drive is scenic and fast, which makes it ideal for our family. As you cross the bridge into the town, there’s usually oyster boats on either side. The area is known for its world class oysters.

It’s a small area, but it’s packed with historic buildings, a brewery, raw bars, great restaurants, old time fountain soda shop, galleries, coffee shops and adorable boutiques. There’s a lot to do even outside of the Independence Eve celebration.

The Accommodations

We decided to do this pretty last minute (the week of), so I wasn’t sure what options would be available. Luckily my hubby’s co-worker recommended The Coombs House — a historic Bed & Breakfast.

The B&B ended up being absolutely perfect. Quaint and comfortable with incredible bedding and a delicious homemade breakfast served in the Main House dining room.

After arriving I discovered (proudly displayed on a door plaque), it’s been named one of America’s 33 Luxury Inns by Travel + Leisure. It definitely delivered.

The Celebration

The Apalachicola Independence Eve Celebration is jam packed with family fun. After checking into our historic B&B, we walked a couple of blocks down to Water Street where the majority of the activities were taking place. We brought our lawn chairs and blanket and found a grassy spot near the dock with a perfect eye-line to the fireworks display that would take place over the water. Everyone is super respectful of your claimed spot and we left our chairs for hours with no one moving them. It was such a relief to know our viewing spot was secure and we could enjoy the festivities!

First up, we grabbed some Oyster City (local brewery) beers and headed to the Bounce House, so Westley could jump, while we enjoyed live music. The. It was time for the Parade, which includes locals who decorate golf carts with Americana decor and hand out everything from beads to juice and candy.

Post parade, it’s time for the free ice cream social where you can choose from vanilla or chocolate ice cream and toppings. So we definitely broke the rule and had dessert before dinner 🙂

While there was a food truck court with options from seafood and gourmet tacos to a British food truck serving up fish n chips, we opted to walk around and find a local restaurant to sit down, cool down and grab a bite. We ended up at The Seafood Grill and enjoyed the fried Captain’s Basket with huge Gulf shrimp, bay scallops, fish, crab cake and hush puppies served with an array of sauces. It did not disappoint.

After dinner, we walked back to our spot on the lawn and got ready for the main event!

Fireworks

I’ve seen a lot of fireworks in my life and this display definitely takes first place. Hands down the best fireworks show ever. The choreography, variety of fireworks and length made it a spectacular display! The fireworks over the water felt like a 3D display and we were all in awe!

Once the 30-minute show wrapped, we grabbed our chairs and walked back to our B&B – no traffic or hassles…just a nice walk, hot shower and a super comfy bed.

If you’re looking for a different way to celebrate 4th of July, Apalachicola is a great choice and will be our new go to for one of my favorite holidays! St. George Island is super close, so you can also extend the trip and spend some time at one of the area’s beautiful beaches!

Happy Independence,

Ivette

The Marvelous Medieval Times

Spending Mother’s Day at Medieval Times ended up being such a magical night. Growing up in Florida, I was always aware of the Castle, but never visited. My husband also had never been, but always wanted to go thanks to Jim Carrey’s The Cable Guy.

The experience was awesome for us and for our three-year old who was thrilled with all the excitement and elements of the performance.

The Pre-Show Experience

Arriving at Medieval Times you walk through a village setting and enter the grand castle to pick up tickets. The area is adorned with knight statues and paintings. With tickets in hand you are greeted by staff in costumes who give you a colored crown that dictates what are you will sit. We proceeded to meet the Queen and take a photo and then walked into the Hall.

The Hall has bars, a sitting area and retail space with swords, cups, shirts and other branded items. We grabbed some drinks, bought Westley a light up sword and took some photos.

The Show

We were part of the Yellow Knight’s team and sat toward the front. The seating is family style with long tables in a stadium setting.

The show features different components from games and competitions between the knights to falconry, jousting and sword fights. It is very engaging and fun because you’re cheering for your knight at every turn.

The Queen rules the land, which is a new element to the show. For the last 34 years it’s been a King. This timely and relevant leadership change also adds to the plot of the show.

Finally, the horses are gorgeous and show off their skills in the ring. Each horse does special tricks, something Westley really enjoyed.

The show is about an hour and a half give or take, but because there are so many different parts and is paced well, Westley paid attention and enjoyed the show without fussing!

The Dinner

Coming into the experience I was expecting dinner to not be a highlight since it is secondary to the show. However, while it’s simple and food you can eat with your hands — Medieval Style — it was surprisingly delicious. We started off the meal with a tomato bisque (you drink from the soup bowl), followed by a half chicken that was moist and perfectly cooked, paired with potatoes and corn on the cob. The dinner is topped off with a pound cake for dessert.

It was adult and child approved!

Overall Experience

The production quality, characters, show elements and overall experience was wonderful! We were never bored and always looking forward to the next part.

For me, the horsemanship and the falcon flying around the arena were definitely highlights. I also thought the Queen did a phenomenal job in her role.

For the boys, it was all about the action. Both big and small — they were all about the jousting and sword fighting.

We definitely will visit again and as there are several castles across the country — it would be fun to check out some of the other shows!

If you’re looking for a dinner show that will have something for the whole family, I would recommend Medieval Times! You won’t be disappointed.

Happy Jousting,

Ivette

Wedding Guest Looks for Summer

Wedding season is in full swing and since I’ll be heading down to Miami for a family wedding, I wanted to share some fun looks if you’ll be attending a wedding in the next few months.

These three looks can be dressed up, or dressed down and can be worn to a number of wedding occasions.

Look 1: Silk Maxi

This Olivia Palermo x Banana Republic pleated silk maxi with cold shoulder is the perfect dress because of its versatility. You can dress it down with flats or low heeled sandals for a daytime wedding or add statement earrings and heels for a more formal affair.

The fabric is light and airy and the dress is incredibly comfortable. You can eat cake and drink bubbly and feel good in this dress!

Look 2: Green Goddess

This one-shoulder Grecian inspired BCBG dress makes a statement. The shoulder detail is gorgeous with a very flattering gathering and slit detail. The color is perfect for day or night and especially beautiful for a waterside wedding. The fabric is easy breezy, so if you live in a warmer climate like I do – this could be an awesome option!

For a more formal look, pull hair back and add a statement earring and bold lip.

Look 3: Pretty in Lace

This last look is all in the details. The high neck, lace detail and beautiful blush hue will certainly stand out.

I love the tiered layers and the length. Perfect for a daytime or more casual wedding without compromising in style and WOW factor.

Paired this look with my favorite rose gold pumps, but you can also wear with an open-toed nude heel or a fun color to add more flair and interest!

Photos by Taylor Zegarra

What are some of your favorite wedding guest looks?

Happy Shopping!

XO,

Ivette

A Colorful Day at Crayola Experience

To kick off our summer family vacation, we headed to Orlando a few days before boarding our Disney Cruise. Since we would be surrounded by Mickey and friends for an entire week, we wanted to experience a different side of Orlando.

Researching attractions outside of Disney, I found Crayola Experience — a fun and colorful attraction, bigger than a football field and filled with arts, crafts, imagination and play. We decided to spend our first afternoon exploring Crayola Experience! This was a great choice for our family as it was nostalgic for us and incredibly fun and engaging for Westley.

We started the tour by making crayons — Westley chose an orange and I (with his help and input) made a “Mama Blue” shade.

We then went to one of the interactive stations where Westley became the star of his very own coloring book page. Then he spent a while playing in the interior playground and after that we enjoyed some of the interactive exhibits from making frogs dance to creating a magical masterpiece mixing and melting two crayons.

The verdict: Crayola Experience was fabulous! It provided entertainment, learning opportunities and a creative outlet for our little guy. If we lived in Orlando, we would definitely buy an annual pass and would also consider the birthday party option as that would be such a fun party theme and event!

The best part?! Crayola Experience is offering my readers a discounted admission fee of $18.99 if you buy tickets using this link: http://bit.ly/2H86tUk

Happy Coloring,

Ivette

Orlando Travel Diary: How to Vacation in the City without doing Disney

Since we are headed on our first Disney Cruise (five days out of Port Canaveral), we wanted to maximize our vacation and spend the weekend leading into the cruise in Orlando. However, as we’ll be spending an entire week with Mickey and friends on the ship, we did not want to visit any Disney parks during the Orlando leg of our vacation.

Instead, our family will be exploring Orlando’s many other awesome attractions and enjoying another side of the city. After researching potential activities, we landed on two attractions and a few yummy restaurants to kick off our getaway.

Here’s a sampling of our planned itinerary. I’ll be sharing full posts on each attraction once we’re back from our trip 🙂

Day One

Crayola Experience

We’ll be hitting the road bright and early and driving straight to Crayola Experience for a colorful kick off to our family vacation. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty excited about spending the day in a magical Crayola world that is bigger than an NFL football field! There are 26 hands-on attractions to explore from starring in your own coloring page to naming and making your own crayon (fingers crossed adults can curate their own Crayola crayon too)!

With two floors and more than 70,000 square feet of play space, we will be giving our creatiovy a work out. After all that fun, we will need to re-fuel and will likely grab a bite at the on-site Café Crayola, which serves pizza, salads, hot dogs and snacks. This entire experience will easily entertain W for 3-4 hours, which is perfect as we will then head to our hotel for check-in, nap and then off to dinner.

The team at Crayola Experience is so sweet they have shared a special offer for all of you! Click here to access the discounted general admission ticket for $18.99!

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 Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming

I’ve been dying to try Chef Art Smith’s new restaurant in Disney Springs. Last time we visited there were no reservations available, so I made sure to book well in advance for this trip. Chef Art Smith is an FSU alum who cooked for two Florida Governors and was Oprah’s personal chef. He’s fairly active in the Tallahassee community, making appearances over the years, so I’m looking really forward to this Southern cuisine experience. The hard part will be deciding what to order. I literally want EVERYTHING on the menu. A must have will be the Jasper Board with smoked fish dip, pimento cheese, shaved country and Tasso hams, bread and butter pickles, candied pecans and buttermilk crackers. Can’t wait to bask in all the grits, gravy and goodness of good ole Southern food and share the food experience post trip!

Day Two

 Columbia Restaurant, Celebration

I LOVE the original Columbia restaurant in Ybor City (Tampa) and the gorgeous St. Augustine location, so when we were discussing Mother’s Day brunch, I came across the Columbia in Celebration (an adorable Truman Show-esque perfect little town near Orlando) and of course decided to book it. Sam and I have a slight (okay huge) obsession with Cuban food, so there is no better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than with an original Cuban sandwich, “1905 salad,” Boliche, Sangria and Crema Catalana. Que rico!

 Medieval Times

This Queen will be spending Mother’s Day with her King and the Little Prince at the Medieval Times Castle in Orlando. We are super pumped about this experience because it will be a first for us all. I vacationed in Orlando growing up, but somehow never made it to this attraction. Sam has loved the idea of Medieval Times since he watched The Cable Guy way back when and Westley is all about horses and knights, so this will certainly be a treat.

We selected the 6:30pm show for obvious reasons (there’s also an 8:30pm show) and doors will open at 4:45pm, which will give us plenty of time to check out Medieval Life Village & Museum as well as the Castle Halls. The coolest part? In its 34-year history, the show has always had a King ruling the kingdom, but now a Queen is in charge. Can’t wait to check out this show.

Ready for jousting, epic battles, Falconry (our last name Faulkner is derived from Falconers!) and an exquisite equine experience all paired with a royal dinner and libations. Now what to wear to go with my crown?

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Excited to share pictures, videos and full reviews of each of these attractions and restaurants in the coming weeks!

 

Happy Traveling,

 

Ivette

Lookvine Street Style Feature

I’ve always loved fashion, putting together looks and expressing myself through clothing. You can become different versions of yourself and channel different personalities and vibes just by curating an awesome look.

From fun and frilly to rocker glam and boho chic to power plays, there are endless combinations of clothing to bring to life whatever persona you’re feeling. To me, it’s an art form.

So I was super excited when Lookvine, a site that showcases different street style looks and women they love, reached out with a short Q&A and asked that I share my five favorite fashion pics. Click here to view the feature.

Fashion Q&A

Piece I can’t live without: Dresses. It’s one piece and it instantly makes you look put together. A dress is also incredibly versatile. You can dress up or dress down, pair with a denim jacket or blazer and take it from day to night or from office to happy hour flawlessly!

Style Icon: Blake Lively. She makes boho chic and runway glam look equally effortless and accessible. She also knows how to laugh at herself and never takes herself too seriously! Love her.

Fashion Style: I describe my style as classic with a trendy twist. I love investing in pieces that will last forever and never go out of style, but also enjoy throwing in some affordable and fun trendy pieces to keep my fashion on point.

What I’m loving right now: Evert spring I get super excited about floral prints, which I often pair with stripes. I’m also loving all the fun ways to sport gingham this season.

Fave Shops: I’m a big fan of online boutiques because they carry a large variety of options at really great prices and often have discount codes for extra savings! A few of my favorite shops include Vici Collection, Red Dress Boutique and Evereve!

XO,

Ivette