Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hotel Review: Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport--Diamond Benefits and Day Use Room

Disney Fantasy Trip Report So Far:
Vacation Video
Hotel Review: Disney's Polynesian Village Resort 
My Tween's Review of the Edge on the Disney Fantasy
DCL Port Adventure Review: Tour to Virgin Gorda (TT23)
DCL Port Adventure Review: The Legendary Kon Tiki Sightseeing and Beach Cruise (ST45) in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

Hotel Review: Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport--Diamond Benefits and Day Use Room

On our recent Disney Fantasy vacation, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport hotel twice. Our inbound flight arrived after 11:00 p.m., and originally I had booked the nearby Hyatt Place for 5000 Hyatt points, which required us to take a free shuttle offsite to the hotel. However, after my stroke of luck in December receiving a complimentary Hyatt Diamond status, I canceled our reservation at the Hyatt Place and instead booked a 1-bedroom suite in the airport hotel for 6000 points + $75 cash + 1 Diamond Suite Upgrade (DSU). Without points and Diamond status, this 1-bedroom suite would have cost around $300.

We also booked a day-use room after our cruise for $99 since our flight did not depart until 4:30 p.m. The convenience of this airport hotel cannot be matched!

When our flight arrived at night, I took my two younger kids directly to the Hyatt desk to check-in. It was so nice not to have to go outside and wait for the shuttle for a nearby offsite hotel since my kids were so tired. The hotel is right in the airport lobby. At the desk, I was informed we were upgraded to a VIP suite! I was given the option to choose a free amenity (a few bottles of water and some snacks) or extra points added to my account, and I chose the points. Brian and my Nathan went to collect our luggage, so they arrived at the room a few minutes later. Note: the elevators require key card access, so they also had to stop by the front desk instead of coming directly to our room.

Our room was huge! It had a large dining room/living room area in addition to a bedroom with two queen beds. One of the sofas converted to a bed.

The bedroom:

It was like having our own apartment. Too bad we didn't do much there besides sleep! It was late.

The next morning, we headed to the restaurant for our free diamond benefit breakfast. The dining room was fancier than the one at the nearby Hyatt Place, but the food was about the same.

The restaurant dining room for diamond breakfasts:

We left the hotel mid-morning to catch Disney's Magical Express bus to our next hotel destination, the Polynesian Village Resort.

On the day our cruise returned, we arrived at the airport by 9:00 a.m., but our flight did not depart until 4:30 p.m. Southwest has a rule that you cannot check your luggage until four hours before your flight, so we were looking at a lot of waiting around in the airport. And we've done that before, since the Orlando airport has a nice food court and shopping area. But this time we decided to splurge on a day-use room at the same Hyatt hotel inside the airport.

The room was good from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., but we had no problem getting into our room at 9 a.m. We were upgraded to a deluxe room (I did not use one of my designated Diamond Suite Upgrade certificates for this stay). The room was still quite large!

It had a king bed, sofa bed, desk and a large bathroom with two showers.

This room is large enough to add a rollaway for a 5th person, which we did back in October 2014 before our previous cruise.

Having this day-use room was such a blessing! My oldest son was able to use the desk to work on school work he missed during our trip. My younger two kids played. We rested in the bed. My husband and I both showered. We had the option of using the rooftop pool, but since the temperatures had dropped that day we decided to stay inside.

Our room was our home base for the day. At various times, one or more of us ventured out to check in our luggage, get boarding passes, and bring back food for lunch. The hotel offered us the free breakfast again, but we declined since we ate breakfast on the ship before arriving at the airport.

We would use this hotel again before or after a Disney vacation if we have a late inbound flight or late-day outbound flight after a cruise. I don't mind spending the extra money for it if it makes our travels go so much smoother.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

DCL Port Adventure Review: The Legendary Kon Tiki Sightseeing and Beach Cruise (ST45) in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

Disney Fantasy Trip Report So Far:
Vacation Video
Hotel Review: Disney's Polynesian Village Resort 
My Tween's Review of the Edge on the Disney Fantasy
DCL Port Adventure Review: Tour to Virgin Gorda (TT23)

DCL Port Adventure Review: The Legendary Kon Tiki Sightseeing and Beach Cruise (ST45) in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

On our recent Disney Cruise, we visited the island of St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. This was our second time visiting St. Thomas, as we went there during our October 2014 cruise. The first time we went to St. Thomas, we stayed on the ship in the morning and rode the skyride in the afternoon. The island is gorgeous, and this time we wanted to experience one of the beautiful beaches.

We thought about just catching a taxi to Magen's Bay beach, but instead the Legendary Kon Tiki Sightseeing and Beach Cruise port adventure caught my eye. Priced at $49 for adults and $29 for kids, it seemed like a good value and had 4 1/2 star reviews on Trip Advisor. I just wanted something very easy with no "schlepping" around the kids.

Our tour met at noon in The Tube on the Disney Fantasy. We walked off the ship together a few yards to the Kon Tiki boat, which is like a flat barge.

You can see how close the boat docked to the Fantasy.

Apparently there were already passengers on the boat from two other cruise ships, and ours was the last stop before heading out. There were plenty of seats downstairs under the shade.

There was also a sundeck on the top deck that wasn't used by many people, but it was so pretty up there.

As we boarded, a steel drum band was playing, which made for a great atmosphere. The captain hosted a music trivia contest, and I won a free drink for guessing the right song. There was free fruit punch and water, and alcoholic drinks for a charge at the bar.

We had a short narrated tour of the harbor that explained a bit about the history of the island. We then pulled up to a coral reef where we could look into the water in these glass-bottom viewing areas. We just saw a few fish and nothing exciting down there, but it was a unique feature of the boat.

After about 45 minutes of sailing, we pulled up to Honeymoon Beach on Water Island. The boat pulls right up to the sand and we just walked down the steps onto the beach. Even though our boat carried a lot of passengers, the beach still didn't seem too crowded.

The water here was very clear and calm, with barely any waves. It's perfect for soaking in with a drink, or for small children who can't handle waves.

My oldest son prefers a beach with more waves and surf, so he opted to play in the sand most of the time.

We had 1 1/2 to 2 hours at this beach, and it was the perfect amount of time. We could go back onto the boat as needed for the restrooms and bar.

The almost-empty beach after we pulled away:

Things got interesting on the ride back to our ship. The boat turned into a big party! The steel drum band got going, there was dancing and limbo contests, and just watching it was a lot of fun. My kids chose to hang out on the top sun deck for most of the ride back, but they participated in the limbo towards the end.

The crew did a great job and put forth a lot of effort to make sure everyone was happy and having fun, but they didn't push you to dance if you didn't want to participate. Overall, this excursion was very relaxing and a super easy way to see the beautiful harbor and a pristine beach in St. Thomas.

Friday, January 29, 2016

DCL Port Adventure Review: Tour to Virgin Gorda (TT23)

Disney Fantasy Trip Report So Far:
Vacation Video
Hotel Review: Disney's Polynesian Village Resort 
My Tween's Review of the Edge on the Disney Fantasy

DCL Port Adventure Review: Tour to Virgin Gorda (TT23)

Part of the reason we booked our last cruise with the Eastern Caribbean itinerary was for the stop at Tortola, British Virgin Islands. I had read about the famous Baths on the nearby island of Virgin Gorda and knew they were a must-see! The Baths are a national park and feature caves made from large granite boulders along the beach that create little pools or baths along the shore.

We signed up for the Disney Cruise Line official port adventure "Tour to Virgin Gorda" (TT23). This was the shorter of DCL's two excursions to the Baths and cost $59 for adults and $42 for kids. (The other tour was only one hour longer but cost almost twice as much with lunch). The cost included the boat ride to Virgin Gorda, taxi to the Baths, admission to the Baths National Park, and fruit punch on the boat ride back. Our excursion tickets were waiting in our stateroom on embarkation day. Note: this port adventure did sell out early; we booked it 90 days prior to sailing and it wasn't available for some cruisers who tried to book it later.

First of all, look at how gorgeous the port of Tortola is! This photo was taken by my fellow-cruiser. The Disney Cruise that docked there two weeks before us also had a rainbow.

Our meet-up for the excursion was in The Tube (adult night club on the Fantasy) at 12:45 p.m., so we had the entire morning on our own. We were able to take towels off the ship with us from The Tube. The entire group walked off the ship together and right onto a waiting catamaran a few yards away: 

The catamaran had seats downstairs and upstairs. We sat downstairs for the trip over to Virgin Gorda island.

The ride to Virgin Gorda took about 30 minutes. The dock at Virgin Gorda:

We were ushered to some open-air taxis for the 15-minute ride to the Baths:

I estimate there were about 100 people on the excursion.

We arrived at the top of the baths area and had a briefing from our tour guide. He said we would walk down this path together to the bottom of the hill to the Baths (which took about 10 minutes), and we would meet at the top of the hill again in about two hours. We could enjoy the beach at the bottom and look at the caves, or walk through the caves to the other side to Devil's Bay Beach. He offered a guided tour through the caves at a certain time if we wanted to walk through with a group.

The path down was a little slippery in places with wet rock and sand, but it wasn't too bad. Note: you definitely need water shoes for this excursion, flip-flops are not gonna cut it!

My 5-year-old slipped a little and Daddy carried her part way:

Soon we reached the beach. It was gorgeous!

So picturesque! There were rocks to the right of the beach and to the left (where the official path was to Devil's Bay).

We could have stayed at this beach a long time! It had strong waves but they were short/shallow.

After about 20-30 minutes at the beach, we decided we should head through the caves to the other side. We didn't want to wait for the tour guide because we wanted to make sure we had time to hang out at Devil's Bay beach on the other side. (Note: Devil's Bay beach does not have any facilities, so take care of your needs before you start through the caves).

The tour guide told us that the maximum water depth in the caves would be up to our knees, and if we started to get into deeper water we went the wrong way. This was good advice! We ran into two families coming back from the caves who said the water got too deep and they turned around. We noticed that at one area there was a yellow arrow painted on the rock that told us the path turned to the left, and not straight. The folks who went straight got into the deep water.

We also ran into 2-3 families who turned around because the path through the caves was too strenuous. It's definitely not for anyone with a bad knee or bad back. We had to crouch down in several places and walk on wet, sandy rock holding a rope. I don't recommend taking large backpacks--my husband brought his thin backpack for all of us to share, and we only grabbed 2 towels to keep our load light.

This spot here was probably the most difficult...we had to squeeze through those rocks to get down using the rope. This was the one area in the caves where we carried my daughter.

The kids thought it was a great adventure!

Several spots had wooden stairs.

It wasn't very crowded in there--we only ran into a few other families, and sometimes had to wait for them to pass by since the path was so narrow in certain areas. I am slightly claustrophobic, but walking through the caves did not bother me at all.

This is one of the crouch-down areas. I'm amazed I fit in there! Taller people had to get on their knees.

Almost to the other side!

After about 20 minutes, we made it to Devil's Bay, which was another great beach area! We spent our remaining time at this great beach.

We had to watch the time to make sure we made it to the top of the Baths to meet up with our tour. We walked back up on the Devil's Bay path, which was a longer walk but not as steep as the way down. We saw a lot of great nature (giant caterpillars, crabs and lizards) on our walk to the top. My son cut his leg on the walk up, and we saw that a few other people got some scrapes from this excursion, so bringing band-aids is a good idea.

We enjoyed the gorgeous view at the top:

Soon, we boarded the taxis back to the dock:

On the return boat trip, we sat up top to enjoy the view:

Heading back to Tortola with a view of the Fantasy:

My entire family loved this excursion for the adventure and the great beaches! It is such a unique, beautiful area that I'm glad we had a chance to visit.

My only wish is that we had more time there--two hours is not enough! But the alternative was going on our own, which would have involved a 15-minute walk to the public ferry, getting ferry/taxi tickets on our own, paying separately for admission to the Baths, and hoping that the return ferry wasn't full so that we could make it back to the ship on time. And I think for most people, it's not a problem to do this excursion on your own. With our three kids, I just didn't want the stress of going on our own and the risk of a full ferry. If we had no kids, or if our kids were older, I'd do it on our own so that we could spend a longer day there. The cost of the public ferry was $9 cheaper for adults and only $2 cheaper for kids but we would also have to pay a few dollars each to get into the Baths on our own, so it wasn't that much of a savings for us to forgo the organized DCL excursion.

If you are going on a cruise that stops at Tortola, British Virgin Islands, head over to the Virgin Gorda Baths! They are so worth the time and expense to see.