Everything you want to know about planning your FIRST Disney Cruise Line vacay!
Honestly guys, in the past 4 years, we have started to become one of “those” families. You know the kind. They wear Ears on vacation, they do extensive research on park peak times, base all customer service interactions off of the standards of the “Mouse”, and really see the value in vacations that put families first.
In 2016, my husband was getting ready to live away from our family for a year as part of his training with the Canadian military, so we decided to surprise our girls, who were almost 4 & 6 at the time, with a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. We had the BEST time! It was a sneak peek into what some of our best memories would look like in the years to come.
After my hubby’s year long stint in Alaska, we moved to Southern California, and only a 3 hour drive to Disneyland! Since our move we have been to Disneyland numerous times, Disneyland Paris for 5 days and we just came back from our FIRST every cruise and of course, we chose Disney Cruise Lines!
I have spent countless hours over the last year and a half researching, planning, asking questions, gathering intel and making choices about how to make our cruise perfect. And you wanna know what? The damn vacation was just that! It was as close to PERFECT as I think we can get.
Now don’t get me wrong, there were definitely a few “lessons learned” along the way but we truly had a spectacular week that was both relaxing and full of fun!
My Number 1 first time Disney Cruisers tip would be to put down the Google machine for a minute to really map out, and decide clearly, what you and your family want to get out of your cruise. Think about where you want to cruise from, and where you want to cruise to…Mexican Riviera, Caribbean, Europe?! Set your budget, and check to see if there are any promos/deals offered you can cash in on. For instance, when we booked our cruise, there was a 50% off your deposit offer so we jumped on it! There may also be discounts depending like if you are Canadian, active duty US Military, or if you are looking at travel dates during a slower vacation time versus a holiday timeline. Also think about what size ship you might feel most comfortable on and the types of port excursions you are interested in. I say dream big, and then see what you can make happen!
Also, in this pre booking phase I would ask the “experts” all the questions. Do you know anyone who has sailed on Disney Cruise Lines (DCL) recently? Do you follow any frequent DCL cruisers on social media (if not you should!)? Have you looked on Pinterest? Are you still looking on Pinterest?! Ha!Ha! There are endless Pins about DCL dos and don’ts so this can be both helpful and overwhelming.
One of the biggest untapped resources in the planning phase, in my opinion, is Disney Cruise Line Customer Service! And, that’s is actually my number 2, first time tip! Don’t hesitate to call or use the online Chat feature to speak with a DCL rep to talk about any questions or concerns you may have about cruising! In my experience, Disney customer Service is bar none, so this may be your best starting point for current and factual information. Frequent cruisers may talk about Customer Service “secret keeping” but at this point you are just trying to decide on whether or not to book, not in the weeds of planning things like, what movies are playing on board.
So, now that you have all of the information you needed to make the decision on which cruise to book, and you have booked the itinerary that speaks best to you and your family, the fun REALLY begins! Before I jump into my 3rd tip, you MUST download the Disney Cruise Line app, plug in your sail away date and start your countdown! Ours started at over 400 days when we booked, but it was AMAZING to watch our countdown during our planning!
So, my first timer tip Number 3 is, get on social media and find the Facebook group for your Cruise date! No, this is not officially endorsed by DCL however I feel 100% confident that you have read, during your initial research, about these Facebook Groups and the, ever so popular, Fish Extenders. Whats the big deal in joining a Facebook group 400+ days before you even sail you ask?! Well, let me tell you why?! It is like having a group of Disney pros helping you navigate the more delicate details of your cruise experience, like how to do online check in, what sail away day will look like, why they ONLY sail DCL, the ups and downs of cruise life, and a MILLION other things you didn’t even know you wanted to know! And the best part, you get to make friends along the way!
The absolute BEST part of my DCL Facebook page, even more than all of the extremely helpful information, was that we actually connected there with another family who live fairly close to us and we now have friends for life! Our kids are similar ages, we have a million things in common, we had familiar faces on a cruise that held 2500 vacationers, and now we have these beautiful cruise memories that will last a lifetime! We even spent a part of our “pre-vacay” vacay together near the port! How cool is that?!
I bet you’re thinking, ok now that I have paid all this money for this cruise, what is actually included?! First timer tip Number 4: know whats included with your vacation! Disney prides itself on having many of the amenities, that you think you may need to pack, ready for you on board! Additionally, It is one of the only cruise lines that has life jackets for kids! All you can enjoy soft drinks, coffee, tea and hot chocolate & soft serve ice cream, many quick service and snack stations, an included room service menu, Disney Character Meet & Greets and amazing Entertainment including live Broadway-style productions and Disney movie classics and current first-run films at the Buena Vista Theatre! But wait, here is the BEST PART! For children ages 3 and up, their amazing kids clubs are available at NO EXTRA COST!
Lastly, my Number 5 first time DCL Cruise tip is to be prepared to have your expectations matched and exceeded! Our family had read all the Pinterest info we could find. We watched more YouTube tours of the ship and reviews of the restaurants than I can count. We talked to tons of people about what to expect and how to best prepare. I was honestly worried we would feel underwhelmed or that the Cruise would under deliver but that was far from the truth.
From the familial feel of the staff during our rotational dining, and the motherly attention from our cabin attendant, Dolly, to the high level customer service and the fact that this vacation allowed us to have quality family time as well as time doing our own things, like Kids Club and Adults only Cove Cafe, it was the trip of a LIFETIME! We were already planning out next DCL Cruise before we even got off of the ship!
Over the next little while, I will be blogging about all aspects of our Disney Family adventures both on the Cruise Line and at Disney Parks! For now, check out a few of the photo highlights from our time on the Disney Wonder!
When you are a military family, you get a lot of questions, especially from your own children, as they start to recognize that their lives are different than the lives of their peers. As April is the month of the military child and celebrates the remarkable resilience of our children, it was “perfect” timing for our oldest, to truly express the weight of this lifestyle on her shoulders.
Two years ago, my family got notice that we would be moving out of country for at least three years. From that moment we put on our resilient game faces and have made the absolute most of our adventure thus far, but it is not always sunshine and palm trees friends.
The first military move for my husband and I wasn’t a big stretch. We moved an hour and a half from where we had been living and most of our family and life long friends were a day trip away. Also, and this is the kicker, we didn’t have kids.
Seven years we lived in the same place. We brought our newborn babies home there, they took their first steps there and every milestone imaginable, for SEVEN years. Our daughters started their lives with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins close enough to be around for every occasion, and to be ever so present in their day to day lives.
We included our children in every aspect of our move to the United States. They participated in anything they could. They came on the house hunting trip, saw schools, picked out new bedrooms and enjoyed the beauty of the California sunshine and all the palm trees (we LOVE palm trees). They helped prepare the house for movers and attended “see you soon” parties like seasoned socialites. They shed big tears in painful goodbyes. And they did it all with love and support surrounding them.
When we started our move, they loved the two week long road trip across North America and ate up every bit of fun, food and culture we could feed them, showing them places and things neither my husband or I had ever dreamed of being able to show them. The the hustle and bustle of New York City, the majesty of the Grand Canyon, and every damn thing we could experience in between.
We worked tirelessly in our new community to put ourselves out there; I literally stayed at the school for all of morning recess every day and was early to every pick up to make sure we could connect with the parents of their ‘new friends’ to arrange play dates and to start to tend to the delicate roots of our newly blossoming life. Were there tears? Yes, lots. Were there days when we all just wanted to pack up and head home? Yes, a few. But mostly the days were filled with new experiences, new memories and slowly but surely, new relationships. We were indeed making connections and building capacity for a life and community in our new ‘home’.
As our oldest has matured through this experience, she has always held onto a piece of our ‘old life’ in her day to day. As her mom, I see it. I see it in the way she is hesitant to get too close to people. I see it in her face when our family aren’t in the crowds of dance recitals and concerts. She voices it loudly on the days when it hits her heart so hard she can’t bear it. But this week, for the first time she asked the question I was dreading. “Mommy, when are we going home?”.
My heart sunk. We had to really spell it out clearly for her now. We had to include her in the tough conversation and understandings of military life. We had been back “home” for a vacation about 9 months prior, but she wasn’t talking about a summer trip. She was talking permanence.
With a heavy heart, I said it. “Babe, this IS home, for now. And when we move again, that is where our home will be”. Trying to explain to an eight year old that the greater worlds definition of home will always be different than ours as part of the military community. We had to talk about, through all the tears, that although the physical location of where our extended family is back East will ALWAYS be our definitive home, in our world, home is defined as where we are together. We spoke, at length, about building a global community of friends. She smiled when we regaled anecdotes of times in our old home, and our new home. She was in awe when we listed the number of friends and families we know that had moved with the military and all the places we may run into them again in our travels.
Her doe-eyed, chocolate brown eyes looked at me with a sense of pride and also sadness. She knew that all of what we shared with her was true, and in that moment I felt it. She had lost something. She was changed.
That little glimmer of hope that she had held onto, vanished. In front of my eyes, her heart and soul was growing up. This experience and these realizations were building blocks in the evolution of her resilience. Building resilience, as it would turn out, is both the plight and blessing of life as a child in a military family.
While April is the month of the military child, the daily experiences of military children are shaping their lives and those are the lives of our future leaders. Recognizing their struggles and celebrating their strengths, is so much more powerful than pitying them for “all that they have to go through”. The beautifully determined, open-hearted and open-minded girls whom I have the joy of calling my daughters, and all of the children of military families around the world, deserve our recognition and commendation today and every day.
Ok, so now that you have that 90s Madonna jam stuck in your head, let’s talk about music!!! I have been revelling in some old school jams of mine for a few weeks now and it is like a new part of who I am has come alive. Actually, it’s like an old version of me, met the new (and more awesome) version of me and opened my eyes to music all over again!
One of the things I love about music is the ability to be transported to a specific place, time, smell, touch, memory. And, in each note, thumping beat and guitar solo, you can feel that memory with your entire being.
I can hear the notes of Chantal Kreviazuk singing “Surrounded” and I am in my university dorm TV Lounge watching Dawson’s Creek, with 10 of my closest friends. We are waxing poetic about the boys in our lives. The tumultuous nature of being late teen, 90s kids oozing out of our late night talks of philosophy, politics, religion and boys. It was never really about the guys, but it was always about our camaraderie, growing up and shared experiences. Recently, I was binge watching some episodes of Dawson’s on Hulu and this song came on and BAM, it all flooded back. It was amazing to be there in that moment again, in my heart and soul I could feel everything that was great about it. I was awoken in a part of my heart and head that had put a lot of “that girl” away for safe keeping.
This prompted me to think about the power of music to heal, move, enlighten and bond us together as friends, family, community and humanity. Ironically, this was all coming to me just as this years Grammy Awards was coming on and Alicia Keys spoke so eloquently about the power of music, flanked by powerful women in the entertainment industry and it really spoke to me.
Music helps us share ourselves, our dignities and sorrows, our hopes and our joys. It allows us to hear one another, to invite each other in. Music shows us that all of it matters, every story, every note, within every song.Michelle Obama, 2019 Grammy Awards
I have been able to use music to be the “storyteller” of many an era in my life. My most poignant moments, flanked by a soundtrack of songs that truly allowed me to let people in; to feel my joy and to feel my pain.
When my husband and I got married, I was a bit of a Bridezilla when it came to our “songs”. I had some very specific instructions on songs that needed to be played and even a few that needed to be avoided. I put so much time and care into the soundtrack of our wedding so people could be even more in the moment with us than just watching. It had to be a combination of playful, but wrought with emotion. I chose to dance to “My Girl” with my dad, because I felt it was fun and spoke to the nature of our relationship, which hasn’t always been easy, but I never forgot that I was his little girl, always. I chose a Hedley song called “Old School” for the bridal party dance because it really spoke to the core of friendships and the “good ol days”. But, the most memorable soundtrack moment came when the DJ started playing the wrong song for the Father/Mother dance and this Bride, well she full on stood up, walked mid dance floor and yelled cut to the DJ and promptly told him to fix his mistake so the proverbial show could go on. Girl don’t mess around when it comes to those moments.
Then came the painful moments. The inconceivable heartbreak of having to plan a memorial service for the loss of our Addison. I felt powerless, grief stricken and there was little I could do without being in physical or emotional anguish. But, while my brave and amazing husband made funeral arrangements for his baby girl, I threw myself into planning the readings and music for her ceremony. It was what I needed to do to help my heart heal. It was the only way I felt people could even begin to understand our feelings and heartbreak. To this day, I cannot listen to Billy Joel’s “Lullaby” without sobbing uncontrollably. And it was probably 6 years before I could hear “When you Wish Upon A Star” without feeling a pit in my stomach. During that ceremony, there is little I remember. But I do know, with out a doubt, I felt we had been able to celebrate her, say goodbye and express our grief through the readings we chose to have read, and the music we chose to play.
As I sit here writing this I can think of so many songs that are “transporters” for me. If I hear the initial “high hat” from “ICE ICE Baby”, I am 18 and in Windsor, England on a class trip, having a pint and once the hops hit me, I am convinced I am the coolest of White girl rappers ever and singing every word loudly and proudly!
Give me the piano riff and harmonica at the beginning of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and I am at St.FX listening to a live band, at a ‘Super Sub’, waiving drink tickets and telling my friends ‘I love you guys’ while we clumsily sang/yelled every word passionately and full of life! Revelling in the moment and trying to soak it all in!
Play me “Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet” by BTO and I am full of giggles, laughing hysterically with my mom about the back story of the song and making memories together!
Play me, Maroon 5’s “She Will be Loved” and I am at the Youth Centre, singing Karaoke with friends and knowing in that moment that my boyfriend (and now husband) was beyond words in love with me as he sang it to me, a little off key, but with his whole heart.
If I hear the Glee Cast version of “Rollin’ on the River” Im at a private 3D ultrasound centre seeing my baby girl (Ava) on the monitor rolling around in my uterus, dancing her way into my heart.
When the bass line of Uptown Funk starts to pump through my speakers, I can see my 3 year old Mackinley dancing in her car seat, singing along with out a care in the world and loving every minute of it!
I could go on and on and on. But the point is, music movies us. It adheres us to a place, time, person, space. It gives us the power to feel. It can help us cry through heartbreak, rage through the anger and speak to our power. It can be the conduit for us to ‘dance it out’ when things are hard and it can be the joy in our hearts, that we can’t quite verbalize on our own.
So, the next time Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” comes on and it makes you strut your amazing self down a hallway, own the power it gives you and work it! I know I will!
Where words fail, music speaks.Hans Christian Andersen
It is THURSDAY friends! And, its official, T.I.L.T. (Things I Love Thursday) is making a comeback!
Having such a large gap between these T.I.L.T. posts, I have so many new things that I love, that I cannot possibly share them all with you today BUT I do have FIVE (5) random, fabulous things to share with you!
First, when you live far away from people you care about and you want a fun way to keep in touch that feels more personal than a text, but less gimmicky than SnapChat, you MUST download the MarcoPolo app! It is a way to leave video messaging with your friends and family without any limit on length of time. There is no cost attached to download and the ‘calls’ are free! Also you don’t have to hold down the record button while you’re talking so it can be completely hands free! I have been using this app as recommended by a dear friend of mine and this has allowed us, and so many of my friends, to reconnect or stay connected in a completely unique way! If you do check it out comment below or DM me on Instagram or Facebook so I can hear about how you like it!
Next up, is my new favorite snack! If you know me at all, or you’re just getting to know me, staying healthy and maintaining a healthy weight is super important to myself and my family! I don’t really conform to any fad diets or assign myself to one particular way to eating except for the fact that finding balance in my diet is important. As a working mom of two, who is often running from place to place, having a healthy and filling snack option is imperative or I go off the HANGRY deep end or I opt to grab fast convenient foods (aka. garbage) that aren’t good for me. My go to snack these days is a cup Non-Fat, Plain Greek Yogurt (I buy the organic Kirkland tub at Costco) or any plain Yogurt that suits your dietary needs, and I add a scoop of Quest Chocolate Milkshake protein powder. Again, you can add whatever protein powder suits your tastes and needs. This carbs any sweet tooth cravings I may have as well as keeps me full and satisfied! My go to is usually Quest products because I like the taste and their products are clean. Quest Protein Powders are highly versatile. … It’s made from a proprietary blend of high-quality proteins including whey isolate, micellar casein and milk-protein. It’s gluten-free, with two grams of sugar or less, and has one of the highest protein-to-calorie ratios of any protein powder on the market (Prnewswire.com November 12, 2014). This is not an Ad of ANY sort as I get nothing in return for saying I use Quest, but wanted to include WHY they’re a favorite of mine.
Third, and switching gears entirely, is my love for Pixie Pants from Old Navy! OK, random and very specific I know, but hear me out! These pants are classic in every sense of the word. They are easy to transition from work to dinner out. They can wear well in ANY season and they come in so many colours and patterns, there is literally something for everyone! This is not a new fave for me as I have been wearing them for a few years now, but the last time I was in my local Old Navy store, they had them in this beauty of a new colour! It was love at first sight and then BAM, disappointment. They didn’t have them in my size in store! Thank goodness for online shopping right?! I have friends of all shapes and sizes who wear and ROCK these pants. I have them in about 8 different colours and cannot tell you how many times they have been washed and worn, but they take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’! Kudos to Old Navy for having such awesome staples in their regular collection and to appeal to a wide range of women!
Next up, who doesn’t love something even more when it comes in an itty bitty version?! Like when you go to Starbucks and you get the wee little sample cup. Any way, it could just be me, but I LOVE mini versions of things and at my local BevMo I found a four pack sampler edition of Strongbow Cider. Four different flavours and all are delish and perfect for when you want to partake in a sociable but you dont want to entirely blow your calories/macros/points for the day! These are going to be a MUST for my fridge from now on!
Lastly, I am mildly obsessed (in a healthy way, I promise) with Busy Philipps! Actress, Writer, TV late night host, InstaStory Icon! Her wit, authenticity and “sparkly” nature all tell me that, if given the opportunity, we would totally be BFFs! Her book This Will Only Hurt a Little is raw, honest, heart breaking and hilarious! If you haven’t read it, or listened to the Audio Book, you should!!!! And at least follow her on Instagram, she’s brilliant!
Ok folks, those are some of my current faves! Let me know what you think!!!
Happy Thursday ! ❤️
Real life is tough. Its super simple to sit back and post the ‘Insta” worthy photos, and have glimpse into a highlight of our day. Social media has become this place where it can be very tough to discern what the reality is and where the filters and hashtags stop. Now, before I go any further, I will state loudly and clearly that I LOVE posting the happy, the fun, the memories. I eat up the filters and hashtags and enjoy the heck out of the entertainment that is social media. That is WHY I personally use social media. That being said, I strive to be authentic, positive and part of the reason my friends and family take a moment to check their “feed” on the regular. I am not photo-shopping any photos, I am not trying to force feed over indulgent B.S., but I AM going to be myself and put it out there, good and bad.
In my journey to motherhood, my journey to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle, and in my journey as a military spouse, I have been told, on more than one occasion, that people appreciate my authenticity and approach to life. I share my journeys through my writing as a method of practicing gratitude; as a way to cope with harder days; as a way to reach out to my friends and family near and far; and really as a way to support ANYONE who feels any connection to what I am sharing.
So, if you choose to take a peek in on my journey every now and again, remember that I am here in the trenches of motherhood with you. I am here for the cheat meals that spill over into cheat months. I am here for the long deployments and the homecomings. I am here WITH you. No one should compare themselves to the social media “highlight reel” when everyone has their “behind the scene” real life happening.
My reality today is that I feel LAZY! Like the week ate me up and spit me out but in the BEST kind of way. Work was busy, but I LOVED every minute. Kids were loud and energetic then tired and grumpy, but that is life. And honestly I just want to sit and eat an entire tub of rocky road ice cream with a side bottle of Argentinian Malbec, but I also wanna feel and look healthy. Ohhh the humanity. Ha!Ha!
If you’re having one of those days where you find yourself less than confident, positive or grateful, remind yourself that you are NOT alone. Remind yourself, that you are WORTH some self care (a nap and a hot coffee are self care!). Remind yourself that social media is a HIGHLIGHT REEL, not the backstage drama. Take a deep breath and look for one moment in your day that has been a highlight and RUN with that. Some days are easier than others, but friends, that is the beauty of this life!
Comparison is the thief of Joy.Theodore Roosevelt
So the thing about being a family where one parent can go away for weeks and months at a time, is that even in the days that are doing well on the home front, the team is missing a key player.
When you’re on a hockey team, for example, and you’re on the top line, you are expected to show up and play your best every time you hit the ice. Imagine that not only is your top line missing a player, but another one of the players is exhausted and can’t call for a line change.
Today, my girls and I all hit the proverbial ice and we were tired before the start of the third period.
Ok enough with the hockey metaphors, but I am Canadian and I love me some hockey! Haha!
Today was one of those days was jam packed from the time the feet hit the floor at 530 am. Multitasking was my middle name today and I know you can all relate. I also hope that you Can relate so I am not alone on this. I was literally working from my smart phone via email and our team share software while on the elliptical at the gym. By the time I finished my last meeting of the day, where I hope I made a decent impression, I needed 39 mins (yes, 39) to decompress. So I head into Kohl’s near my kids school and wander aimlessly looking at clearance items trying to get out of my own head.
Then IT happened.
I literally couldn’t stop it from happening either. I had tears streaming down my face and yep, I was definitely crying in the middle of a department store. My brain had been swirling with the nights plan : make dinner, clean up, homework, multiplication table practice, baths, laundry and I was running full throttle on the hamster wheel.
I left Kohl’s, with new PJs in hand, hoping the cashier hadn’t noticed my red eyes and I left to do school pick up. The swirling continued as my oldest was so upset that she was in a bit of a spiral of her own and my little was blissful, thank the Lord! 1/3 of us was hanging in there!
But there it was, my slap in the face to say “today is heinous & you need to take a step back”. So we drove from the after-school program directly to not one, but two take out spots and picked up dinner. We came home and did the bare minimum to meet our responsibilities and are now sitting on the couch, in our PJs and eating snacks while watching Ellen’s Game of Games.
I truly believe that taking tonight as a family “time out” was the best plan for my little ladies and I. And doing so without guilt or apology was even better.
Moral of the story is that if you need to let go of expectations and guilt that you aren’t “doing all the things” that you’re “supposed to” then do it! Grab your favourite PJs (or buy some new ones as you try not to cry in a department store) and take an evening off, you deserve it!
As I sit here, about to embark on a new decade, I’m so proud of the woman I became in my 30’s! I became a mom to three of the most beautiful babies on the planet. I survived gut wrenching loss and grief. I became fierce in my pursuit of self care and in doing so lost over 100lbs and became a runner. I ran Five half marathons! I learned with each passing moment that I am loved endlessly by my husband and girls, as well as the family and friends, whom we call family, that surround me. I showed myself that I can handle a year long deployment without completely losing it. I proudly packed up our first home and we moved to another country, showing our girls the beauty and gifts of travel along the way. I persevered and planted seeds in California that have become roots in our new community. I am passionately dedicated to supporting military families just like my own. I made memories with friends new and old. Connected and reconnected with people whom are near and dear to my heart. I learned that I can accomplish great things and I WILL be forty and damn fabulous while enjoying every single moment. Life is precious and I will practice gratitude everyday and see the joys of life in my babies eyes, my husbands embrace and the love that surrounds me. Bring it on 40, I can’t wait to see what you hold for me!
I am a huge fan of photography and capturing some of my favourite moments in digital photo format! Check me out on Instagram!