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Alaska or Aloha Bound? Part 2 – Getting There

The first thing to think about when trying to decide whether we are going to plan our vacation next summer to Alaska or Hawaii is how we are going to get there.  When you consider that we have to transport five people, just getting to our destination could be a big chunk of the travel budget.

Aloha plane

Hawaii is pretty much a no brainer.  Flying is really the only option, and currently, airfare from Philadelphia to Hawaii (with a stop in Phoenix) is $480.  For five people, even for someone who cried at the mere thought of math class, it looks like close to $2500.

Now Alaska.  My husband is a huge fan of the road trip.  We could fly out to Vancouver for about the same price that it would take to fly to Hawaii, but Jim wants to make it “fun” by packing the car with a gaggle of children, their bickering, fidgeting, and body odoring.

Alaska Road trip

A tentative road trip schedule would look something like this:

Day 1 – Bellmawr to Chicago – 12 hours; one night at the Springhill Suites in Rosemont for $100/night (military discount available) with breakfast included

Day 2 – Museum of Science and Industry; Navy Pier; Garrett Popcorn; drive to Milwaukee – 2 hours; one night at the Fairfield Inn, Downtown Milwaukee for $104/night (military discount available) with breakfast included

Day 3 – Morning miniature golf.  Drive to Fargo, ND – 9 hours; one night at the Courtyard in Moorehead, ND for $83/night (military discount available) with no breakfast in the morning

Day 4 – Drive to Glacier National Park – 14 hours; one night at Glacier Park Lodge for $202 (no military discount) with no breakfast

Day 5 – Early morning visit to Glacier National Park, then a drive to Vancouver – 11 hours; one night at Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle for $200/night plus $30 parking fee (no military discount available) with no breakfast

Day 6 – Arrive at the port to depart for the cruise

Fuel cost for the trip (one way) as estimated by AAA – $650 http://fuelgaugereport.aaa.com/fuelcostcalculator/

Total before attraction fees:  $1339

Now, assuming approximately the same costs going back the other way, this makes the road trip a little more expensive than the airfare to Hawaii, but there are two ways to look at this option.  It is 48 hours in the car together.  That’s a lot of time.  But we’ve always seen some of the best parts of this country during road trips.  We’ve done the big things, like Mt. Rushmore and the Grand Canyon; and we’ve done the little things like the Corn Museum in South Dakota and the world’s tallest Jolly Green Giant.  It’s always fun, it’s always different, and it reminds me that one of the big reasons I married the man that I did was because we could do a nearly 50 hour car trip and not run out of things to talk about.

For some, there would be no question but to fly to Hawaii.  For others, the adventure of the road is really appealing.

Which team are you on?



Alaska or Aloha Bound? Let’s Decide!

In September of this year, I turn 50.  In March of 2016, Jim and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  We made the decision to do a big summer vacation in the summer of 2015 to celebrate both of these momentous events, and we immediately set about planning our second Alaska cruise.


But hold on a minute.

There is also a possibility of making a trip to Hawaii.  We’ve never been to Hawaii, and there are certainly things we’d like to see in the Aloha state.  So after completely making our minds up to revisit Alaska, we are now weighing options.


Over the next couple of months, we’re going to do our research, consider things like activities, relaxation factor, look at the difference in cost overall, and discuss all of the components that go into making this type of decision.  We would absolutely love your feedback every step of the way, and from those of you with more experience in these two locations than we have, your advice will become crucial as we make the final decision.

Keep an eye on the blog for updates in the decision making, or follow along on Twitter – #AlohaAlaskaAnna

So What CAN’T You Do on a Cruise?


Cruising is my favorite kind of vacation.  You can enjoy the four corners of the world in small, bite sized chunks.  I push cruising to anyone who asks (and even people who don’t), and I am always touting the best things about cruising. So here’s the question most people always ask back – What can’t you do?

I had to think about this.  You really can do a ton of stuff, but there are some things you might want to be aware of if you’re embarking on your first cruise.  So here’s my list of things you CAN’T do on a cruise:


I assumed most people would know that when the ship sails, you’d better be on it, but honestly, this is a great question.  If your activities cause you to miss your set sail time, you’ll be on your own to get yourself to the next port of call.  The cruise line may be able to help arrange transportation, but you will have to pay the all expenses.


Some veteran cruisers will tell you that you can order a room service sandwich to take with you on excursions so you don’t have to pay for a meal. Or head to the buffet and grab a few extra pieces of fruit to take to the beach with you. That may end up being the most expensive free picnic you’ll ever enjoy.  Fines can soar upwards of $5,000 for taking food off of the ship, introducing produce or meats and cheeses to foreign soil.  Don’t risk it.  Enjoy the local cuisine, or head back to the ship when you feel the hungry coming on.



I’ve had conversations with people who have said they don’t want to cruise because they don’t do a midnight buffet on cruises anymore.  While it’s true that most cruise lines have done away with the nightly midnight food fest, you can get food on a cruise ship around the clock. Room service is always available, and there are lounges with snacks, deck parties late into the evening, and even late night pizza or burgers.  If you go hungry while on a cruise, you are wandering around with your eyes closed.


Some people want to find a chair by the pool on Saturday and stay put until they have to go home the following Saturday. And some people don’t know you can do that on a cruise. You can board your ship, find your deck chair, and still have your cheeks in the seat when they kick you off a week later.  You do not have to leave when the ship is in port, you don’t have to go to any of the shows, you don’t have to dress up and go to dinner.  This is your vacation – have it your way.  Cruising gives you that flexibility!

Ready to book your cruise? Just remember to take me with you!



Making your Disney Cruise a bit More Magical

There is only one thing my family loves as much as Walt Disney World vacations, and that’s cruise vacations.  When we can combine both of those loves by doing a Disney Cruise, which we’ve done now nine times, we know it’s gonna be one awesome trip.

Over the years, we’ve tried some things that have always given us even more amazing memories of our cruise vacations.  If you are new to Disney cruising, you might want to think about trying some of them, too!

1 – Board Ready for Your Close-Up!

After you’ve checked in, you will at some point be ushered through to your adoring fans – we call them “Photographers”.  They will take your family’s embarkation photo, the first of many you might have taken during your cruise.  I like to try and have the family dressed similarly – and if I can get away with it, the kids all dressed alike.  You don’t get many chances at home to have the whole family posing together, so take advantage!


2- Have your bathing suit ready when you board!  Most guests tend to follow the crowd when they get on the ship, and that usually means heading to grab some lunch before you can gain access to your stateroom.  Most guests will have their bathing suits packed away in their luggage, so this is a great time to hit the pool.  My girls have had the whole pool to themselves on a cruise or two in the past, and the shortest wait you’ll have the whole time you’re on the ship for the AquaDuck is just after embarkation.

3 – Door Magnets!! – You will find this is unique to the Disney cruises, where the metal doors make the perfect canvas to express your inner vacation artist.  You’ll find people bring everything from just a few magnets to a whole door full, decorating the “porthole”, changing magnets to reflect the port, or even using magnetic dry erase boards to communicate with travel companions in other cabins.  It’s always fun for the kids to the see different magnets, and a unique way to show your Disney Side!


4 – Ahoy, Me Hearties!  On most Disney cruises, you’ll get to experience the Pirates IN the Caribbean deck party.  Complete with fireworks and turkey legs, this is a fun night, where you’ll see lots of your shipmates decked out in their Scurvy best.  Pack your eye patches and be ready to party, but in case you forget, you’ll find the finest pirate couture collection at the gift shop on the ship.


5- Dine and Play for the Kid that wants to Dine and Dash – Not every guest on a Disney cruise can score early dinner seating.  For our family, that works out just fine.  I can usually convince my kids that they need an afternoon nap, especially if we’ve been busy on Castaway Cay or touring another exotic destination, so we always request late dinner seating.  We can be seated at our table around 8:15 in the evening, and the kids have the option to order their meal from the kids menu right away, and by about 8:45 – 9:00, a cast member from the Kids Clubs will come gather up the interested children and escort them back to the club.  The service allows the grown ups to linger a bit longer, enjoy a leisurely dessert and coffee.  You could even go snag a nightcap at one of the adult only hot spots before snagging the kids to head to bed.

6- Castaway Cay 5K – Have you ever wanted to attempt a 5K, but were afraid of being swept up at the end for coming in last?  Neither had I.  But on a recent cruise, when a group of friends wanted me to walk the 5K, I realized it was unlikely that I would spontaneously combust and get out of it, so I embraced it.  It was FUN!  The event is free, but the number of guests permitted to register is limited.  Head to Guest Services on your embarkation day to get your number, and get ready to enjoy an early morning stroll (or sprint) around the beautiful private island.  There is no time limit, so it’s a great first experience, and the “medal” is cool, too.  They also have t-shirts you can buy when you’re done!


7- A Vacation With Character – One of the biggest differences on a Disney cruise is, of course, Disney characters!  Not only will you find meet and greets scheduled throughout the day, longer cruises also have a character breakfast you can attend.  Characters may also pop into the kids club, on the beach when you dock at Castaway Cay, and even at the Sail Away Party as your ship gets underway.  Keep a camera at the ready!

8- Don’t Miss the Shows!  Entertainment is what Disney does best, so why would you want to miss a great show?  You’ll find a different stage show each night of your cruise, and some of the performances are really Broadway quality.  The shows are kid friendly, and they’ll love seeing some of their favorite characters on stage.

9- Fish Extenders – Fish what?  Is that on the menu?  No!  Outside each stateroom door, you’ll find some variety of sea creature that acts as your “mailbox” during your cruise.  You’ll get invitations to various events or find your final bill tucked behind the fish mail holder.  Well, a group of incredibly creative people decided to start a bit of a Pollyanna type of thing.  You join a Fish Extender group on the DisBoards at http://www.disboards.com/ or find a group on Facebook, and you sign up agreeing to deliver some little gift to your fellow cruisers.  In return, you hang your Fish Extender on your fish mailbox, and the other cruisers who are participating will bring you little surprises as well.  Kids love getting the little surprises, and even grown ups will enjoy seeing what little treats have been left while they were gone.  It’s a must do for my girls.

Fish Extener

10- Milk and Cookies at Bedtime – You will not go to bed hungry on a Disney cruise, but as an extra little treat, we have gotten into the habit of ordering cookies and milk from room service for the girls.  There is no extra charge for the midnight delivery, and we often sit on our balcony, enjoying a recap of the day or watching our favorite Disney movie on TV.  The cookies are delicious and home-made tasting, and the memories we create in those waning minutes of a day on vacation – pure magic!

Review – Disney Cruise Line – A Price fit for Adults (or not?)

DreamI will always consider Disney when it comes to vacation.  I love Walt Disney World, and have made some of the best memories with my family on Disney cruises.  From our first cruise ever – the Maiden Voyage of the Disney Magic – to the girls weekend I just had, I have enjoyed every one of my cruises aboard the Disney Cruise Line.

But is it really a cruise for adults?

There are certainly things to do for adults on this cruise line.  The spa services are extensive, with everything from a simple manicure to unique treatments and personal fitness trainers.  With an entire adults only district, you’ll find adult beverage tastings, evening entertainment, and a pool and jacuzzi for adult use only.  If your sailing includes a stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, you’ll even find a beach designed for some real adult relaxation.

Dream Castaway

So then it comes down to this – price.

A quick comparison for a weekend cruise in March 2014 to the Bahamas shows me that I can get this type of cruise for as little as $60 per night on a Celebrity ship, with a minimum price on Disney at more than double that.  A five night Western Caribbean cruise for two adults on Disney will run me a minimum (inside cabin, 184 square feet,  lower deck) $2007.70. For $2100, Celebrity will give me a penthouse suite that is more than 250 square feet – not including my verandah.  I will have European style butler service, which includes assistance unpacking and packing; in-suite lunch and dinner service (this is not room service – this is a full, served dinner, exactly like what I would get in the dining room, served in my suite); Afternoon tea; evening hors d’oeuvres; complimentary espresso and cappuccino beverages in-suite.  You’ll get express boarding and disembarkation.  You’ll have a concierge to help you with making reservations for specialty dining restaurants, shore excursions, and spa treatments.

Dream spa

So what’s the difference?  What would make adults choose Disney over Celebrity – or any other cruise line?

There are die hard Disney fans.  Totally acceptable to see adults clamoring with the kids for photos with their favorite characters or acting goofy over Goofy at a character breakfast.  And the value of Castaway Cay cannot be oversold.  The island is beautiful, the beach serene, the water crystal – it’s the perfect stop.  Another advantage to adults on Disney is the free soda.  If you are a big soda drinker (and you’d have to be a pretty big soda drinker to get your money’s worth), you may be disappointed to find on most cruise lines, soda is not included in the price of your trip.  You pay by the drink, or opt into a soda package, which varies in price based on the length of your cruise.  Disney, however, has machines where you can drink your fill, and sodas ordered with meals are also included.  Some sodas – such as those in cans sold at the snack bar outside the theater – will cost you extra.

Is it worth it?

I think the big draw on a Disney ship is the awesome and extensive children’s clubs.  From the wee ones to the teen ones, you’ll find close to round the clock activities for your kids – including while on Castaway Cay or in port.  They will even come get your children from a late seating dinner to take them to the club activities while mom and dad enjoy their meal in relative peace.

But honestly, for a much lower price on other cruise lines, you’ll find excellent dining options, great lounge entertainment, Vegas style shows, casinos, and even on some cruises, adult classes in computers, photography, cooking, bartending, and entertaining.  It’s a tough sell to spend twice as much on a Disney cruise for adults only, when the biggest bang for your buck on a Disney cruise is the kids’ entertainment.

As much as I love my Disney, if I’m going to take a trip with just my husband, I am more likely to opt for a more upscale experience, such as Celebrity.  I wouldn’t trade Disney for the world if the beauty girls are in tow, but I think my money is better spent elsewhere for just me and the big guy.

Set in Stone – Summer Roadtrip 2012 is Finally Taking Shape!

Stone may not necessarily be the right word.  We have established a game plan, booked hotels, and projected where we’ll be when as we journey to Seattle to board the Disney Wonder for our cruise to Alaska!

The plan going out –

Leave June 21st – well, at least some of us.  Brighid and Eilis are going to fly out later due to work obligations (in Brighid’s case) and obligations not to have to endure a four day road trip with her crazy parents (Eilis’ case).  The plan has us leaving at some outrageous hour of the morning – like before Starbucks is even open.  Who does that?  We’ll drive like lunatics and end the first day in Racine, WI.

Day 2 – This is an interesting day.  North Dakota is our ultimate destination.  Did you know there really was a North Dakota?  Apparently, very few hotel chains knew.  We originally booked a Marriott in Fargo, but when Jim realized we wouldn’t be completely bleary eyed by the time we hit Fargo, he decided to bump us ahead to Bismarck.  Kelly Inn, Bismarck, ND – here we come!

Day 3 – Ummm, did I mention we want to be in Seattle in only four days?  By this day, I anticipate nerves will be fried.

After another wake up call at NoOneShouldBeUpThisEarlyUnlessTheyAreGoingToMakeTheDoughnuts o’clock will give us time to get to Missoula, Montana by just after dinner.  If we arrive earlier, we’ll do something touristy.  Is there anything to see in Missoula, MT?

Day 4 – My well rested, well relaxed older children will be arriving in Seattle around 10:30 AM.  We don’t expect to arrive until closer to dinner time.  I’ll probably take the time when we get there to do laundry, because everyone who has spent four straight days in a car wants to do laundry.

Of course, this plan is subject to change.  Well, except the doing laundry part.

I’m so glad our first day of the cruise is at sea.  My behind will be so sore, I won’t be able to sit up to see anything!

North to Alaska – and Whatever Else We Can See In Between!

I always have these grand intentions of building fabulous trip reports, and every time we take an awesome vacation, I go into it saying “I think I can; I think I can; I think I can” – and then I don’t.

Let’s approach this from a different angle – let’s start talking about it now, and maybe by June, when I actually take the trip, I’ll be more motivated to finish the conversation!  So let’s get started – come plan this trip with me!

Here are the basics:

We have to be onboard the Disney Wonder on June 25, 2012 – that’s only 252 days away!  Thank God we’re going to Alaska – I’ll never get into a bikini by then!!  We board in Seattle, WA.

We’ve chosen second seating because it gives us time to eat breakfast, second breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, second lunch, afternoon tea, and an evening snack before dinner.  We’d miss at least the evening snack if we did main seating dining!  Actually, we prefer second seating for a number of reasons.  We never feel we have to rush to get ready after a day of excursions, and if a kid comes back needing a nap, there’s time before dinner to do that.  We’re also more inclined to get to the shows if we go to them before dinner, as after dinner, you are so full and tired from a big day of adventure, you might decide just to turn in.  I also like that on some of our Disney cruises, the kids will get picked up by the kids’ club staff at second seating, and they will be escorted to their club for evening activities.  This gives Mom and Dad a chance to eat dinner with the kids, but also have some time to themselves to linger over a cup of tea and dessert.

Our itinerary:

Day One: Seattle, Washington

Day Two: At Sea

Day Three: Tracy Arm, Alaska

Day Four: Skagway, Alaska

Day Five: Juneau, Alaska

Day Six: Ketchikan, Alaska

Day Seven: Victoria, British Columbia

Day Eight: Seattle, Washington

Now to get there.  The plan at the moment is to drive.  From Jersey.  With three kids.  In one car.  Oh, and did I mention that at least one kid is in school until June 20th?  Unless we get no snow days, and then she might be done a couple of days sooner.  Should I start taking Valium NOW?

If Google Maps is accurate, we eliminate all pee breaks, we don’t eat anything not already in the car (I’m thinking by hour four, Granuaile is gonna look mighty tasty with some honey mustard), we don’t stop for gas, and we skip any side trips to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine and the World’s Biggest Rocking Chair, we can be there in just under two days (1 day, 22 hours).  My fear is, just adding in pee breaks is going to cause us to miss the boat.  Somehow, I have to balance potty stops, eating, and a tiny bit of sightseeing with getting there in four days – which puts us at a Seattle hotel the day before the cruise.  Oh, and did I mention that I wish to arrive somewhat sane?

And we’re off, faithful readers!  Watch over the next few posts how I try to lay out the trip TO Seattle.  Then we’ll talk shore excursion possibilities.  And finally, we’ll talk about how we get back in time to make my sister’s wedding on July 21st.  Dressed.  In North Carolina.

Oh – and who wants to watch my dogs for three weeks?  They’re great fun to have around!