Things To Do Before Visiting Disney World

Back a number of years ago the average Disney World trip involved making a hotel reservation and traveling to Orlando. Once at Disney World you bought your park tickets and spent a few days eating fast food, waiting in lines and riding rides. A lot has changed from those times and today there is much more to do. There are hundreds of places to eat from fast food to fine restaurants and dozens of additional entertainment options. If you plan right, there’s a lot more you can fit in to your visit as well. Following are a number of tips to help you make the most of your vacation.

  1. The First Thing You Have To Do.

Regardless if you are staying at a Disney hotel or outside “The World” you need to get a My Disney Experience account. Setting up your account is free and allows you to register your park tickets. After that you can use FastPass, make restaurant reservations, access your photo account and much more.

  1. Buy Your Park Tickets and Pick Dates

You cannot make use of a number of perks at Disney World until you have your park tickets. Once you have ticket confirmations, register them with My Disney Experience.

  1. The Not-So Secret Tip To Getting On Rides

To make the best use of your park time you need to use FastPass. Most people probably know about FastPass but you really need to be up to date on how it works. The first tip to booking FastPass rides is you need to purchase park tickets. You than register the tickets on My Disney Experience, pick dates you intend to visit the park and start making FastPass reservations. This one step can save you hours of waiting in lines.

  1. Order or Buy a MagicBand

If you are staying at a Disney Resort you will automatically receive a MagicBand either in the mail or at check-in. If not you can buy them at My Disney Store. Once you have a band you can register it at My Disney Experience and connect your park tickets and FastPass choices to the MagicBand. Once you get to the park just tap and proceed.

  1. Carefully Plan Your Visit

The simple fact is there is more to do than can be fit into a month or two. In order to make the most of your trip you have to get out a calendar and start planning which days you will want to do what. Picking a date for each park is important so that you can start making FastPass reservations. Also some restaurant and special event reservations are hard to get so you need to book as soon as possible.

  1. Build In Some “Down Time”

If your trip is going to be more than a few days make sure you include some down time in your calendar. A couple of days in the parks can wear anyone out, so fit in some recuperation time. Planning an afternoon at a pool or cruising around the lakes and canals could be just the thing. Also plan an evening over at Disney Springs. There is lots of entertainment and good restaurants, especially after dark.

  1. Make Restaurant Reservations

With the explosion in prepaid meal plan use it is getting harder and harder to get into restaurants around “The World”. It’s a very good idea to make some reservations so you don’t waste hours waiting for a table.

  1. Make Special Event Reservations

There are a great number of special events to consider during your vacation. From the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue to Dessert Parties and fireworks cruises they all require reservations with many far in advance. WDW Special Events.

  1. Include and Make Plans For Water Parks And Shows

In addition to the main theme parks there are also two water parks and additional shows like Cirque du Soleil (a new one will be opening soon) to consider. While reservations may not be necessary they still need a spot on your calendar.

  1. Book Your Magical Express

If you are staying at a Disney property and are flying in to Orlando you need to make a reservation on the Disney Magical Express. It’s free and probably the best way to get back and forth from and to the airport.

As the Mouse says “See you real soon” and have a great time…

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Dolphin Watching On Indian River Florida

dolphin surfing a boat wake
Dolphin surfing the boat wake

A day spent on the Indian River in Florida was an easy adventure. Just south of the Kennedy Space Center the water and land intertwine making a sanctuary for marine life and water birds sharing the space with expensive estate homes and marinas.

Indian River shore
The coast from the Indian River

Recently we took advantage of a Groupon and booked a morning excursion with Good Natured River Tours and we had a great time. Cruising out of the marina next to Grills Riverside restaurant the trip went out on the Indian River and circled back toward Banana River and the tip of Merritt Island.

A number of dolphins seem to have made their permanent home in these sheltered waters and in addition to raiding crab traps they really love surfing in the wake of boats. That alone makes the trip worthwhile.

feeding frezy

Brown pelicans, anhingas, herons and gulls where everywhere. At one point the water near the riverbank was a froth and we went over to take a look. It seemed a large school of fish had come in and the seabirds, along with a few dolphins were taking advantage of the situation. The water was an explosion of froth, wings and flippers with hundreds of anhingas sticking their heads out of the water or bursting into flight.

All along the river’s banks were trees and boat sheds with the nests of Osprey decorating their tops, where male Osprey were hoping that there handiwork would attract a female.

Onboard everyone was busy with phones and cameras trying (hoping) they would be fast enough to catch a photograph of a dolphin as their dorsal fins broke the surface. Not an easy job. The sky was blue and the temperature pleasant and the crew were very knowledgeable about the wildlife and area. It ended back at the marina with a late lunch on the deck of Grills Riverside – highly recommended.

Grills restaurant
The deck at Grills

 

Port of Call New Orleans

Cruise Port New Orleans, The Big Easy

The French Quarter

To begin with New Orleans is a destination virtually in a class by itself. The city is famous for its history having been settled first by French trappers in the seventeenth century, than ceded to the Spanish in 1762 by Treaty. Following a number of fires in the late eighteenth century the Spanish rebuilt the French Quarter using mostly fired brick, including the most impressive structure in New Orleans, St. Louis Cathedral. The architectural character of the French Quarter, including multi-storied buildings with inner courtyards, arched doorways, and the extensive use of decorative wrought iron, were actually characteristic of the Spanish colonies

Beginning in 1800 Spain and France signed a series of treaties stipulating that Spain give Louisiana back to France, these confirmed and finalized the retrocession of Spanish Louisiana to France. In April 1803, Napoleon sold Louisiana which then included portions of more than a dozen present-day states along with New Orleans to the U.S. in the Louisiana Purchase.

Involved in a war with England, in 1814 New Orleans defended itself against a large English force sent to take the city. Marshaling forces (regular, militia, and naval) and recruiting pirates led by Jean Lafitte, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson routed the British in a decisive battle in the early morning of January 8, 1815.

Anchored by the famous French Quarter with its iconic architecture the downtown area wasn’t big enough to hold all that was going on so it’s spread out into the adjacent neighborhoods and the warehouse district with famous eateries, clubs and trendy galleries.

night on Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street at night

Famous for throwing one of America’s biggest parties each year called Mardi Grau, the truth is the party virtually never stops in this city. The sidewalks of Bourbon Street are packed at night and some of its bars and restaurants virtually never close. Home to a musical tradition second to none and a restaurant scene famous around the world New Orleans isn’t just a cruise port it’s a destination.

Where You Dock

The Mississippi waterfront runs along the French Quarter and the growing Warehouse District and in the middle of it all is the Riverwalk Mall where the cruise ships tie up. Virtually in the heart of everything the cruise terminal is attached to the outlet shops of the Riverwalk Shopping Mall and only blocks from Canal Street and The French Quarter.

Transportation

If you are flying into New Orleans to catch a cruise expect to pay a little over $50 for a taxi ride to the cruise terminal. There is a public bus route that will take you into downtown from the airport for less that $4 but the trip takes about forty minutes. We have found an advertised shuttle to be unreliable but the airport has a very convenient ride share pick-up area. A recent Lyft ride cost us $32.

In downtown New Orleans there are numerous good hotels and if you aren’t up to walking there are pedicabs, street cars and easy to catch taxis.

Currency

Being the United States the currency is the Dollar and if you are visiting from out of the country you will find a number of conveniently located currency exchange outlets along with ATM machines.

Attractions

New Orleans is an attraction in itself. Just walking the French Quarter, listening to street music, eating Creole food, visiting Jackson Square and window shopping is a true experience but there are some other things to consider:

St. Louis Cathedral

St. Louis Cathedral built in 1789 is the oldest cathedral in the United States.

Saint Louis Cemetery is a famous New Orleans cemetery (actually 3) where most of the graves are above-ground vaults constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Preservation Hall is a jazz venue in the French Quarter. The building is famous for a house band, a record label, and a music foundation.

The National WWII Museum, formerly The National D-Day Museum, a military history museum located in the Central Business District. NewOrleans was the manufacturing center for the landing craft used for WWII beach assaults. The museum focuses on the contribution made by the United States to Allied victory in World War II.

The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas located on the waterfront is run by the Audubon Institute, which also operates the New Orleans Audubon Zoo and the Insectarium on Canal Street.

 

Food

When it comes to food New Orleans has more than its share of famous chefs including Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, John Besh, John Folse,, Donald Link, and on and on. With restaurants like Emeril’s New Orleans, K. Paul, Commanders Palace, Brennen’s, and Emeril’s Delmonico you’ll run out of time before you run out of great restaurants.

A Road Like No Other

A Short Story
The Hogsback on Route 12 in Utah

Last summer we spent a couple of weeks checking off items on our bucket list in the National Parks of Utah. We rented a car in Salt Lake City, toured the parks and dropped off the car in Los Vegas.

After leaving Capital Reef National Park one afternoon we were headed for our next hotel in the town of Panguitch near Bryce Canyon National Park to the southwest. We came out of Capital Reef on Route 24 and soon hit an intersection with Route 12. At the intersection Rt. 24 headed to the north, which is the way we had been told to go but Rt. 12 went south. Just looking at the map it seemed like 12 was a much shorter route to take.

At this point I need to confess that the older I get the more nervous I am about heights. Already on this trip I had driven a couple of roads that had given me reason to pause. I’m not sure where this fear of heights has come from but when I was much younger I was fearless. lately I find it hard to believe that decades ago that young man that hung one handed off high catwalks and jumped out of helicopters was actually me. At this point I am much more nervous than my wife.

Anyway at that junction we made a snap decision and headed south on Utah Route 12. Some distance along this two lane road, near Boulder Mountain we came across the Anasazi State Park and archaeological site. This was a lucky find and well worth the stop. It was built around the excavation of an ancient Anasazi village and included a nice museum.

Back on the road we headed southwest again and soon came up on one of the scariest bit of road I can remember. Its called the Hogsback (or Hog Back) and it’s a narrow two lane road with, at times, barley any shoulder on either side. It rides along a ridge for about four miles with often sheer drops of over a hundred feet on one side or the other and sometimes both sides at once. Few guard rails and almost no room to pull off. The speed limit was between 25 and 35 mph and with my fear kicking in that seemed way too fast.

The good news was there was almost no traffic and the one car ahead of us seemed really terrified. He crept along at 15 to 20 mph and that was just fine with me. Not only did I feel safer but he gave me an excuse when eventually another car caught up to us.

Watch this YouTube video of a drive along the Hogsback.

 

A Tale of a Whale

Whale Watching In Alaska

Sunset at Icy Straight Point

A Short Story

Kayakers searching for whales

A few years ago while on an early season Alaska cruise our ship stopped at Icy Straight Point. For a number of reasons we had decided to take it easy that day. The ship was anchored out and we had gone ashore early in the morning and took a nice hike thru the forest. We were back on the ship well before noon and had gone out on our balcony to read.

Some of our friends had taken the opportunity to go on excursions in the port and whale watching seemed to be the choice of the day. Of the whale watching options one was a kayak trip and as we sat on our balcony we could see the kayaks move along the shore and head out toward open water.

Humpback whale at Icy Straight Point

A little over thirty minutes into our reading we were startled by a load noise coming directly below us. It was a large Humpback whale that had crossed under the ship and was blowing as it surfaced directly below our stateroom.

We had been whale watching before and had seen whales off of Hawaii, Vancouver Island and in Alaska. On one cruse up the Inner Passage we had a pod of Orcas pace the ship for over a half hour. With them I never got a picture because we never knew where they would surface next and before you could react – they were gone.

Whale pod of Humpbacks encountered off Vancouver Island

This time at Icy Straight Point our Humpback stayed near us for twenty minutes, circling and diving and putting on a real show. Most of our fellow passengers were off exploring and it didn’t seem this whale was drawing much attention at all.

That evening talking to our fellow passengers it seemed that the whale watch tours that day were mostly a dud. The kayakers had seen whales but none had come anywhere near the group and one whale watching boat had not seen any whales at all.

Sometimes lady luck just smiles in your direction…

A New Travel Map

Earth Glow At Night From Space

It started as a one-off for our own use and morphed into gifts for family and friends. Now our travel push pin maps have advanced to the level of a hobby. A local gift shop has added a display and personalized order form and we have just started selling on Etsy.

Our travel maps are printed 13″x19″ on heavy weight matte stock with personalization included.

Always trying to improve the look, I have now married a satellite composite image of the earth at night with my world map design. It is now available on the Etsy page.

 

Take a look HERE.

The Port of Honolulu Hawaii

Cruise Port Honolulu Hawaii

Honolulu is a frequent stop for cruise ships repositioning in the Pacific, cruises going out of the west coast of the U.S. And Canada as well as cruising the Hawaiian Islands. It is the largest city in the islands, the states Capital and gateway to Hawaii’s most developed island.

General

Honolulu is located on the island of Oahu with a number of areas to visit and sights to see. Nearby is Pearl Harbor with the museums and memorials and in the other direction is Waikiki Beach with the hotels and shopping. This island and city are major tourist destinations and to get a feel for Oahu you need a number of days.

Where The Ships Dock

The cruise piers are located on the northwest side of Honolulu between Waikiki Beach and the International Airport. Cruise ships dock at either the Aloha Tower (pier 11) or Pier 2 about a quarter mile more to the south (primarily used by NCL for Hawaiian cruises). Aloha Tower is conveniently located not far from the downtown area and the Aloha Tower Marketplace. There are facilities located at the cruise terminal and you can walk out without much difficulty. “Downtown” with its shopping and “Waikiki Beach” are not the same location so if you want to visit this famous beach area you will need transportation.

Transportation

For a short visit we would recommend trying to share a cab with others to get to Waikiki Beach, share costs and save time. Local public service is with TheBus and the ride to the beach doesn’t long. If you want to take TheBus a 1-Day Pass is $5.50. Ask your bus operator for the 1-Day

Pass before placing your money in the farebox. It’s valid 12:01 a.m. To 2:59 a.m. the next day, for up to 27 hours of unlimited rides. Our preference is to rent a car. Rates are usually very reasonable and since you are in the United States your insurance covers you. Oahu is a pretty big island with 3 major highways (H-1, H-2 and H-3) and we would strongly suggest that you use GPS navigation. The street anmes are difficult to pronounce and remember and the roads tend to wind around.

Currency

This is the 50th state and the US Dollar is currency.

Attractions

We’ve taken the Waikiki Trolley tour and found it way overpriced for what you get to see. Again we recommend renting a car if you want to see the island. A short taxi ride into the center of the beach is a better investment. If it’s going to be a first trip don’t miss a visit to Pearl Harbor with the USS Arizona Memorial (last we heard it was closed for refurbishment) and the USS Missouri. In Honolulu there are almost too many attractions to count, from shows to an aquarium and zoo. For the best view on the island drive up to Hawaii puu ualakaa state park with the overlook above Honolulu on Mount Tantalus. We love the North Shore with the surf at the Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay and a number of great small towns (look for the food trucks) and Waimea Falls Park. There is also The Dole Plantation in mid-island and also a couple of beautiful gardens to check out. Above all else is the ocean and the beaches and the reefs. Snorkeling and diving opportunities abound and depending on the season you can go whale watching too.