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!




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!




Motivation Monday: The 30-Minute Challenge

For the last month, I’ve been waking up about 30-minuets earlier than normal to see what I can accomplish during this time. Everything from laundry and loading/unloading the dishwasher to quiet “me time” and reading.

It sounds simple, but giving up 30 minutes of sleep has been a game changer in terms of productivity and taking back my weekends.

This idea came out of a recent workshop I attended/guest hosted given by my friend and life coach, Chelsea Quint. The workshop was all about approaching the holidays stress free and having more joy, but it turned out to be much more beneficial than just for one season.

As the women gathered in the “living room” of a lifestyle retail space, Hearth & Soul, sharing their thoughts on what brought them joy versus what induced stress, one of the attendees shared a simple, yet transformative idea. She had started waking up 30-45 minutes early to do chores around the house with the goal of not spending her entire weekend doing these very things.

I could immediately relate. While we usually run errands and do house work as a family unit (with the toddler usually undoing what we do), it would be way more fun to do other things during our time off from work. Things we enjoy much more than laundry!

The idea struck a cord in me and on that rainy Sunday, I committed to waking up 30 minutes early as a test. Certainly 30 minutes is doable and would not result in me giving up too much precious sleep.

The results have been phenomenal! First, I feel much more energized and ready to take on the day by the time my old “wake up time” rolls around. I’ve already accomplished so much, had some quiet time and am ready for the day.

I also have noticed a difference in the amount of weekend chores we have to do. Laundry is usually finished (or close to it) by Friday and the house is in pretty good shape.

This extra time also let’s me exercise creative outlets outside of work. For example, I wrote this blog during a few of these early morning sessions!

I also use this extra 30 minutes to sometimes get ready earlier, and run an errand before work like dropping off dry cleaning or running by the post office.

My verdict – I’m committed to giving myself these 30 minutes. It’s life changing. It makes me happier, healthier and more energetic. Win win.

What would you do with an extra 30 minutes a day? If you’ve tried this, I’d love your thoughts!



PR Pros: Should our new title be Relationship Managers?

While attending the amazing Florida Public Relations Association annual conference, I participated in a strategic thinking and planning session with Peter H. Hollister, principal and counsel at Hollister, Trubow & Associates.

We discussed the importance of training our brains to think more strategically and explored strategic plans as dynamic, living documents with no ending. I took a lot from this session, but the most interesting concept discussed was the idea of public relations professionals actually being referred to as relationship managers.

When you think about it, that’s exactly the role we play. We manage relationships internally and externally, between an organization and its audiences. We are in charge of ensuring those relationships are positive, proactive and continue to grow and prosper. I also like the term “relationship manager” because it touches on the psychology behind PR and the fact that at times we may also be therapists, listening to our audiences and working with them to make sure their needs are met and all parties involved understand each other and can benefit from their relationships.

I once led a branding session for a client and before we were able to move forward with the session, each participant went around the table and shared their internal issues. They needed to vent and I was there to serve as therapist and mediator. Although it took a while to get their feelings out and get on the same page, it actually resulted in a very successful branding session and everyone left feeling like they were heard and were part of the process. In essence, I served as a therapist (listener) and helped manage the relationship between this group, which in turn resulted in a concise brand direction that everyone was behind.

Adopting the concept of relationship managers is also a great way of getting away from the stigma of Public Relations professionals being “spin doctors” or “liars.” Relationship management doesn’t have a negative connotation and it’s new enough that it can allow us as an industry to define and nurture it.

What are your thoughts on public relations vs. relationship management? Do you prefer one over the other or does it even matter?

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?