Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Brilliance of the Seas Review 2014

My wife and I returned recently from our February 10th, 5 night western caribbean cruise out of Tampa aboard the Brilliance and I wanted to give you a brief summary of our experience and explain why we love this class of ship.  The Brilliance is a part of Royal Caribbean's Radiance class of ships.  Back in the day, the Radiance class would have been considered a very large ship (weighing in at  90,000 tons), but compared to today's mega ships, the Radiance-class will look and feel more like a midsize vessel.  This was our second cruise aboard this class of ship.  Our very first cruise ever was aboard the Radiance of the Seas so this cruise held a lot of nostalgia for us.  While so much was still the same, RCCL has added some great features due to the huge refurbishment in May of last year (2013).

It is an easy ship to get from point A to point B which cannot be said of some ship designs and sizes.
The decor is still what I call modern, but elegant which is why I think Royal Caribbean as a whole appeals to a broader clientele.  They tend to not be as flashy (Vegas-like) as Carnival, but also not as dark and stately as Holland America.  But back to the Brilliance.  The additions of Vintages to the Centrum was a nice addition.  I loved the decor.  For wine-enthusiasts, this will be your favorite hangout on the ship.  The new restaurant called Izumi was also a new-addition home run.  I was a bit disappointed in the location of the "library" because it is not really a library anymore; it is more like a area used for photos that happens to have some shelves of books back behind it.  But that was really the only change that I saw that I was not fond of compared to the way it was pre-refurbishment.   I will post a link to the pictures so you can see the decor yourself and I won't have to blather on and bore you with details.

Let's get to the important things that most want to know about in a review:

1) Pre-cruise stay.  We drove to Tampa since we are only about 12 hours away.  It is hard to justify flights these days when you look at the overall cost compared to driving.  We enjoy our leisurely drives to various places in Florida.  So we arrived actually two days early because we were staying at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Spa.  We really wanted two days at this awesome hotel.  It is located just steps away from the pier.  By steps I mean it is walkable.  Our room was a standard room but had a great view of the city and was plenty big and comfortable.  There is a Starbucks on the first floor that offers free wifi in its seating area which beats the expensive wifi offered in the rooms.  The best thing about this hotel is its location.  You can arrive, park your car and not have to drive to any shopping or eateries before you head out on your cruise.  I particularly loved waking up early the morning of our cruise and standing by the waters edge as I watched our ship return back to port.  For sports fans, the hotel is across the street from the home of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.  One of the hotel's staff members let us know that one of the stars of that team uses their hotel for his pre-game nap which we thought was quite funny.

2) Embarkation.  I had heard mixed reviews of Tampa's port.  Most of the negativity was directed at disembarkation, which I will get to in a minute.  But as far as embarkation is concerned, we left our hotel around 10:30am, drove the whopping 5 mins from the hotel to the pier and opted for the valet parking service.  For about $20 extra, you drive up, give your bags to the porter and watch your car get whisked to the lot that is right there next to the terminal.  I am all about convenience and I highly recommend their valet service.  You pre-pay for the valet parking right at the bottom of the escalator that takes you up to the check in area.  It took no more than 5 mins to pre-pay and and no more than another 10 mins to get through security and checked in.  We waited another 10 mins or so for our boarding group to get called and we were on the ship by 11:00am.  30 mins from the time we left our hotel until the time we were looking at the decor of the ship...not bad at all.

3) Stateroom. We were in a Category D2 which is the deluxe ocean stateroom with balcony.  One of the highlights, other than the balcony, was the abundance of storage.  We could not fill up all of the storage areas in our room.  The stateroom was spacious and very comfortable.  We were on deck 9 in #9614.  Not too far from the stairs and only 2 decks away from the pool deck and the Windjammer which is the main buffet eating area on the ship.

4) Food and Dining.  Seems like the food is becoming more and more bland in the main dining
rooms and the buffets these days.  We just found the food to be OK.  Breakfast was...OK.  Dinner in the main dining room was...Ok.  The highlight as far as the mass-produced food goes continues to be Royal Caribbean's french fries.  They are awesome!  And if you have had them, you know what I mean.  Our best meal by far was in the new Izumi Restaurant which is near the back of the ship in the area that used to be the Seaview Cafe.  It is a made-to-order Japanese/Asian restaurant and it was excellent.  We did not make any advance dining reservations before we boarded and we were able to call the day we wanted to try it and we got right in.  Great new addition and I highly recommend it. And for the first time, we tried the "My Time" dining option for the main dining room.  Unlike NCL's "Freestyle" dining, RCCL's version is a little more structured, or at least it can be.  With "My Time," you can still pre-select a set dining time for each night of your cruise.  You can select the same time for each night or mix it up a little.  Or you can simply opt to show up at the "My Time" level of the main dining room and wait for the first available seating.  We opted for 6:30pm every night.  We had the same table every night and the same waitstaff, but we had different table mates every night.  Nice option and we may opt for that again on a future cruise.

5) Entertainment.  The comedian was great.  The juggler/comedian was great.  The guest singer was great.  But some of the other musical groups throughout the ship left something to be desired.  If it had not been for the main performances in the main theater, we might have felt a bit bored at night after dinner.  RCCL has added some new acrobatic shows in the Centrum and they were OK, but you need to get to the Centrum early if you wanted to be able to get near the railing so you could have a good view of what was going on.   Our cruise director was good, but not the best compared to our other cruises.

6) Ports of Call.  Since this was only a 5 night cruise, we had two ports of call; Grand Cayman and Cozumel.  This was our 3rd visit to each of these ports.  We hired a taxi driver in Cozumel and negotiated a private tour of the island.  For $35 per person, we had an entire van to ourselves and a nice tour of the entire island including at least 4 stops at various areas of the beach so we could get out, take some pics, get a beverage, shop etc.  It was a great way to see so much of beautiful Cozumel.  One of the stops was at the new area call Paradise Beach which is an area really built for the day tourist.  You pay a one time fee and you are given access to a nice pool and also a great stretch of beach including lounge chairs and hammocks.  Food and beverages can be purchased at an additional cost.  While in Grand Cayman...we opted again to do some shopping and enjoy a day at leisure.  We did happen across a great Thai restaurant for lunch which happens to offer free wifi if you are a patron.  It appeared to be a popular spot for cruise line employees to eat and chat with their family back at home.  We also had to stop in at Breezes and enjoy a cool beverage on their open air balcony before heading back to the ship.

7) Disembarkation.  Ok...here is where some of the negative reviews about Tampa's port were correct.  This has nothing to do with Royal Caribbean.  Royal Caribbean is at the mercy of the customs department when it comes to how quick guests can actually get off the ship.  The customs area at the pier is chaotic at best.  They just don't seem to know how to organize everyone.  The Getting off and getting your luggage is the easy part.  But then the line to get through customs just seemed to be a mess as if no one seems to know what to do.  Employees were trying to get people to follow a certain line path, but nothing was marked very well and the lines were backing up fast.  So here is a very important tip; when it is your time to disembark, grab a porter as soon as you get into the baggage claim area.  Porters are allowed to escort you to the front in a different line and you can be out of there in no time at all.  That is what we did and it took no time at all and we were off the ship and in our car in about 15 mins.   And this is where having your car valeted helps. We walked out, handed our claim slip to an attendant and our car was quickly brought to us curbside.

Regardless of what some might consider negative comments, the cruise was awesome.  Can't say enough about the beauty of the ship.  Our stateroom was kept spotless and our attendant was there if we needed him.  Our service staff in the dining room was wonderful.  Everyone we came in contact with on the ship was friendly and helpful.  The public areas, including the restrooms (keep in mind that this cruise was shortly after the big moro-virus news aboard another RCCL cruise), were spotless.  The weather was ideal...lots of sun and warmth.  The Brilliance is, well, Brilliant.

If you have any specific questions about any part of the cruise or the ship that I did not address, please leave a comment and I will make sure I respond.

For more photos of the ship...you can click on these links:

Brilliance of the Seas Part 1
Brilliance of the Seas Part 2



Caribbean Cruise 2014 from Oeshpdog2 on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Top Trending Destinations in 2014



Are you tired of visiting the same ole' destinations? It may be time to switch things up and add a little adventure to your life. According to a recent article from Travel Agent Magazine, here are the top trending destinations to visit in 2014:

Douro River Valley, Portugal
Vineyards, castles, and monasteries -- oh my! Port wine gets its name from this locale and you can find world-renowned wines here. There are also plenty of historical sites to see. Cruise the river, experience the riverfront, or choose a stay with seaside terraces for breathtaking views.

Black Sea Region
This coastal region includes parts of Turkey, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, and Russia. Whether you choose to cruise the Black Sea and its 17 ports along the coast, or take it in from your hotel's rooftop bar, you are sure to enjoy its beauty.

Puebla, Mexico
This is the place to visit if you are looking to break out of the "party" atmosphere that dominates many tourist spots in Mexico. With live bullfights, an outdoor market along colonial stone streets, an active volcano, and rich art in the form of murals and architecture, you'll definitely want to spend an extended vacation here.

Nicaragua, Central America
With 37 miles of beaches and perfect waves, it's no mystery why this spot is so popular with surfers! Whether you choose a private beach villa or an exclusive resort, you're sure to enjoy a "carefree luxury" stay.

Myanmar
At the northern border of Thailand, you'll find high-end boutique hotels and cultural landmarks. This spot has been steadily gaining popularity with American travelers since its political climate has become more favorable.

Hainan
Projected by travel experts to be one of the world's leading tourist destinations by 2021, this international Riviera is located off the southern coast of China. The city of Sanya features ultra-high-end hotels and resorts, including future plans for an Atlantis resort.

Tanzania
Take a safari in the Serengeti! See zebras and wildebeests in their natural habitat during the day and return to your luxury hotel at night. Or, take a walk on the really wild side -- there is a tented camp located in the Serengeti National Park.


St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
White sand and blue water made this the perfect location for The Bachelor in 2013. You can take a diving expedition to explore reefs, wrecks, or one of only three underwater museums in the U.S. Or, if you prefer, experience championship golf. This island features 18th century architecture and botanical gardens, as well as the Cruzan Rum Distillery.

Samana, Dominican Republic
Great news for travelers who hate layovers -- you can take a direct flight to Samana. Resorts feature access to beachfront, a lagoon created by a fresh water spring that runs down from the mountains to the ocean, as well as exclusive swimming pools, a spa, restaurants and bars, water sports, a playground for the kids, horseback riding, tennis courts, and bike trails. The family won't want to leave, even if it is a nonstop flight.

Curacao
The setting for 2012's The Bachelorette, this Dutch-European cultured Caribbean island is located 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela. It belongs on your list because of its "sophistication, ecotourism and pristine diving conditions."


Are you ready to have an adventure this year and visit one of these incredible destinations? I would love to help you plan the trip of a lifetime! For more information about any of these locations feel free to send me an email at bryan@operationdestination.com.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel...a True Destination Hotel

Who says that Universal Orlando can't be an actual destination in and of itself?  I am discovering that too many travelers don't give Universal Orlando and one it's onsite resorts enough credit for being its own stand-alone vacation destination.   I must confess that I was one of those travelers a few years back...ok, maybe only a couple of years back.  But I am no longer one of those people.  I am a true fan of Universal and what it offers when it comes to a full vacation package.

Did their rides and attractions change my mind?  Not completely, although The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has aided a bit.  Their resorts are what has sold me.  Universal Orlando has made a smart move in teaming up with Loews and Hard Rock.  Both Loews and Hard Rock know how to run hotels and resorts.  They know what makes their hotels something that travelers will stay at even if a theme park is not adjacent to them.  That to me sets them apart from Disney.

Show of hands...how many of us Disney fans (if we are really honest) would stay at one of Disney's resorts if there were no theme parks to visit?  How many of us would pay the prices at a Disney resort if there were no theme parks, would be a better question to ask.  I am thinking not many of us would including myself.  But in comparison, I would for sure stay at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel even if a theme park visit was not planned.  It is a true resort hotel and a destination hotel.

What makes it a good destination hotel you ask?  Here is my criteria for a great hotel to be a destination hotel:

1) Great pools with attentive staff and good ambience
2) A good variety of food options ranging from grab-and-go to fine dining
3) Lot's of shopping options that cover a lot of different things from art to clothes to souvenirs
4) Great eye appeal in the design and lots of areas of interest (best way I can describe that)
5) Evening lounges for entertainment
6) Large, comfortable rooms preferably with a separate tub and shower
7) A first class spa

The Portofino Bay Hotel offers all of these and does a great job keeping your interest at the resort itself.  You could wake up, go grab a nice buffet breakfast at Trattoria del Porto, enjoy the paper and cup of coffee before putting on your swim wear and heading down to one of their great pools.  You could then eat lunch at the Splendido pool side grill before you head off to your mid-afternoon spa treatment at the Mandera Spa.

Then go back to your comfortable room, relax before getting ready for pre-dinner drinks at either Bar American or the Thirsty Fish.  Let your appetite build there before heading off to a fine dining experience at either Bice or Mama Della's.  Then cap the evening off again with an aperitif and some live music and take in the evening serenade out on the promenade.  That is what I call a vacation!

That is how a stay at the Portofino Bay Hotel can go.  I am speaking from experience and am writing this post as a review of just the property itself, not the parks.  Did we visit the 2 Universal Orlando theme parks during our stay?  Sure we did, but we found ourselves gravitating back to our resort during the day.

Our stay consisted of 2 nights in one of the hotel's club level rooms which gave us access to the private lounge downstairs where we enjoyed our included continental breakfast, afternoon snacks and beverages, evening snacks and beverages and our nightly cookie run before heading back to our room.  We enjoyed the evening snacks well enough that we considered them a meal. Beverages included at the evening snack time were choices of red or white wine, domestic and imported beers, sodas, water and teas.  And the continental breakfast was plentiful each morning.

We enjoyed a pool side lunch at Splendido and utilized their pool servers often for some fun afternoon treats.  One of our dinners was at the wonderful Mama Della's.  The food and atmosphere were wonderful if you enjoy Italian cuisine and being serenaded table side.  The Italian theming of the hotel is well done.  Great theming means you transport the guest from where they really are to somewhere else (mentally) just by good design, architecture and ambience.  As you walk around the hotel's grounds, you do get the sense that you may have taken a longer flight than you had planned and have actually stepped into a nice seaside Italian town.

So here again is where I think Universal has done well by forming this partnership with Loews.  When you are at a Disney resort hotel, you are constantly being reminded that you are at Disney.  Their dining is built around their dining plans.  Their shops are mainly focussed on selling their name and merchandise.  The Disney deluxe resorts have smaller rooms overall.  Disney's argument in return would be...you come to Disney because you want all things Disney and because you will most likely be heading into one or more of the 4 main parks so the room sizes are overlooked.  True! But for those who don't want Mickey staring at them every time they turn around, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is a great Orlando vacation option.  I think it is time to quit thinking of Universal Orlando as just an add-on to a Disney World vacation.  I think it is time to start considering one of their resort hotels as an actual destination and then you can decide what you want to add to the trip as far as theme park visits or some other Orlando area attraction.  Bravo Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, bravo!

For more photos of the resort...you can click on this link, Portofino Bay Hotel

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Is the Grand Floridian Truly "Grand?"

Anytime I am about to write a review that is at all less than 100% positive when it comes to Walt Disney World, I feel the need to announce that I really am a huge fan of Mickey and his pals.  So let's get this straight...I am a believer in the Disney magic, period.

But being a believer in the magic does not always mean that I will cover my eyes or stick my head in the sand when it comes to writing an honest review of one of my stays at a Walt Disney World onsite property.  You can probably already sense where this is headed.  So let's just jump into the cold chilly waters at the deep end of the pool, shall we?

My wife and I enjoyed a long 10 day vacation in Orlando back in September of this year.  The trip was broken up into 3 nights at Universal Orlando's (Loews) Portofino Bay Hotel and 7 nights at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort. I will write a separate review again of our stay at the Portofino in the coming days.  We had a WONDERFUL stay at the Portofino.  Because of that wonderful stay, we were thinking about how even more wonderful the last 7 nights of our trip were going to be.  I mean after all, we were headed to the creme de la creme of all of the Disney properties.  The grand daddy so to speak.

The resort is eye-poppingly beautiful as you drive up to the main entrance and step inside the main lobby.  It is one of the resorts that so many like to simply make a stop at so they can go inside and take pictures of the towering lobby and timeless decor.  The service staff is mainly made up of veteran and experienced cast members who know the art of service and especially "Disney" service.  So all started well with our arrival.  Check in went smooth as expected and we were escorted by golf cart to our room's building.  We were in a "garden view" room which meant we had a great view of a small section of Bay Lake and the monorail.  I actually enjoyed sitting out on our balcony sipping my morning coffee watching the monorail go by and hearing the train from the Magic Kingdom fire up it's whistle.  That really was the highlight of the room and that is where the positives of the room begin and end.

We noticed as we entered that the room smelled quite musty.  Frankly it smelled like dirty socks.  We thought maybe it just needed to be aired out but the smell did not improve as the week went on.  You are probably asking, "why didn't you go complain and ask for another room?"  Well for one thing, I hate moving rooms.  It is frankly a hassle.  And for another thing, I figured that if "mousekeeping" can't tell that our room smells like stinky socks, that possibly means a lot of other rooms smell like stinky socks. And the last thing I want to do is move to another room and find out the stinky sock smell is commonplace.  So we decided to stay put and made the best of it as we would return each day to our room and exclaim "home stink home."

The room size was average with other deluxe resorts we have stayed in.  The decor seemed faded which is not a big deal, but coupled with the smell, it just made the room seem like an old hotel room that you might find anywhere.  Mousekeeping did a good job of keeping things cleaned up but we did not observe anything that made us feel like we were at the top of the resort food chain.  We tip mousekeeping every time and it is becoming apparent that all you get from that is what you would get had you not tipped...a clean room, other than your standard Mickey head towel when you first arrive.
So let's throw in some positives before this becomes a totally negative nelly review.  Gasparilla's was great.  We enjoyed our snacks and meals there and had great service each time.  Cast members were friendly and helpful and we liked the food choices considering this is a counter service venue.  We also enjoyed the Grand Floridian Cafe for breakfast.  Food was good and the service was very attentive.  The shopping at the Grand Floridian is also plentiful and our pocket books reflected that when we returned home.  Their general souvenir shops seemed a bit slim compared to other resorts like the Polynesian or even the Pop Century, but overall the shopping options were great.  We did not try any of the other table service venues due to budget constraints so I can't include those in this review.

But I now must press on to the more negative aspects again.  You have to keep in mind that staying at the GF is not easy on a bank account.  You pay a premium to stay at this resort compared even to the other 2 monorail resorts (Polynesian and Contemporary).  The nightly rate is comparable to what you would pay at a Ritz property of even a Waldorf Astoria hotel.  So you go into your stay with a HIGH level of expectation.

So to get to some of the huge negatives that Disney has to address at some point, let's talk resort to park transportation.   To sum it up, it is the worst we have experienced to date.  Keep in mind we have stayed at every level of resort, value to deluxe, and this was the worst bus system by far.  For example, Monday's are usually extra magic morning hour at the Animal Kingdom.  So every trip we take, we plan on heading to the AK on our first Monday.  Our routine is that we usually get up and go eat around 6:45am or so and try to be at the bus stop no later than 7:30 to make sure we are at the park by 8am.  We actually got down to the bus stop by 7:15.  Another family was already there and said that a bus had already come by but it was for Hollywood Studios and they had yet to see one for the AK.  That was a tad odd since HS was not having extra magic hours, but ok.  7:30 came and another bus arrives and to our surprise, it too was heading to HS.  2 buses for HS, 0 for AK and we have 30 mins until rope drop for extra magic morning hour.  The family that had been waiting also had an 8am ADR at the Tusker House and you could tell they were starting to get a little nervous. 7:40 rolls by and you guessed it, another bus for HS and no bus yet for the AK.  A Disney "bus coordinator finally arrived around 7:45 and assured the large antsy crowd that was gathering that a bus was on its way.  7:50...no bus.  7:55...no bus.  Finally at 8am a bus for the AK finally arrives.  So families were late for their ADR's and we missed the first 30 mins of the extra magic hour for the first time out of our previous trips.  I was not happy, others were not happy and to make matters worse, when the bus finally arrives, it had already stopped at the Contemporary and Polynesian.  That's right, the GF is the last stop on the bus route which means you may or may not get to sit down depending on crowd levels.

Well...we made it to the AK and still got to do all we wanted to do, but as we made it back to the GF, my wife and I were talking about the horrific bus system and she was asking me if I was going to complain.  My answer to her was that it would be fruitless to complain to someone at the GF since it is really Mears who needs to get their you know what's chewed off for the terrible bus planning.  As I said that to her, a manager of the resort walked by and overheard and stopped us and wanted to know what had happened.  I explained the situation and told him that when you stay at the GF, you are expecting a lot since you are paying a lot.  I let him know that it will be hard for me to recommend the resort to my clients who like to also spend a lot of time at other parks besides the Magic Kingdom.   And heaven forbid the monorail breaks down (which it did twice during our stay).  It is not a pretty site when guests are trying to cram onto the boats to get to the MK or onto the newly dispatched buses for those trying to get to Epcot. But back to the manager.  He listened and acted very concerned.  He asked if he could do anything for us and we politely said no since we were not complaining to try to get a freebie.  But he insisted on taking our names and room number which then set up a little expectation in our minds.  Long story short...nada.  He did nothing.  It is a bad thing to set up expectations as if you are going to try to do something and then simply do nothing.  No bueno!

Well, to top it all off, we took one of the hot sunny days and decided it needed to be a pool day.  Now this is going to sound knit picky, but we had spent three days at the Portofino which has an awesome pool.  Their pool chairs are wonderful, their pool staff was attentive, the pool towels were large and in abundance.  We thoroughly enjoyed our pool days while at Universal.  So again, picturing that the GF was going to be even better, it turned out to be a tremendous let down.  The pool chairs were not that good (again compared to what you would get at a Ritz or Waldorf) and the towels were the size of hand towels.  We actually giggled when we grabbed their pool towels and realized that it would take like 4 of them to cover your chair and the pool bar cast member came by once and that was it, never saw him again.  Again...no bueno!

Now I know this sounds like a terribly harsh review and I am not happy about having to write it, but it is time for those of us who have been long time supporters of WDW to quit treating it like the a sacred cow.  When they mess up, they need to hear about it and people need to see that not everyone is turning a blind eye to their slips in service and overall experience.  This was the first time that we were ready for the trip to end and that saddens me a bit.  I want to always be able to go and be sad about leaving and I always want my clients to have the extra magical experience as well.  So when I have a less than magical experience at one of their resorts, I want them to know about it so maybe just maybe corrections can be made etc.   My fear is that first time Disney goers are being given an experience that is nothing like what so many of us experience several years ago and that is becoming the new norm.

So to sum it up, poor transportation, bad management follow-through, stinky room and hand towel-sized pool towels makes this a resort that we will not be returning to other than to visit for the day and enjoy one of it's restaurants.  Grand?  Not so much.  I would call it the "Pretty Nice Floridian Resort."




Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party 2013 Review

Orlando is packed full of things to do during the months of September and October, especially if you are a fan of Halloween.  The two biggies, Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, put on some incredible events starting near the end of September.

If being scared out of your wits is your thing, Universal Orlando puts on one of the most famous wet-your-pants, hurl-your-flaming-Moe, shindigs found anywhere.  Their Halloween Horror Nights 23 took things to a new level this year by adding more effects such as the smells of death and decomposition.  No...we did not attend this event during our 10 day stay in Orlando.  Part of me wanted to, but I also knew that we were headed to WDW after our Universal stay and I had planned on buying event tickets to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party which I will from now on refer to as MNSSHP.  Plus...I am not sure nasty smelling zombies jumping out at me is my thing anymore at the ripe old age of forty...uh never mind.

So let's move on to MNSSHP which we did attend on Friday the 27th.  This event is equally as popular as Universal's shindig, but offers a much less frightening experience which appeals to everyone in the family (especially since Universal's party is for adults only). We had already attended Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) back in December of last year so I wanted to compare the value between the two events since both require an extra ticket besides just your normal park ticket.  If a family is going to spend upwards of an additional $60+ per person for a single night, they need to know what they get for the money.

Now I know some will disagree with me on this, but I am going to say it anyways; MNSSHP is a much better bang for your buck event than MVMCP.  Don't get me wrong, we enjoyed both events.  Both are magical in their own way.  But just looking at what you get for the extra ticket that others won't get if they don't pony up the extra cash, MNSSHP comes out on top.  For example...everyone who attends the Magic Kingdom during the Christmas season will have a chance to see Wishes, their awesome nighttime fireworks show.  Those that attend MVMCP pretty much get the same fireworks show as everyone else.  During MNSSHP, you get a fireworks show (HalloWishes) that is only for those who attend the event and it is FAR different than the normal Wishes show that is put on for other guests.  And is possibly one of the best fireworks shows I have ever seen.

Both events have special parades, but the addition of the Headless Horseman riding down Main Street during "Mickey's Boo To You Halloween Parade" makes it uber special in my opinion (see attached video).

Both events have special treats offered to guests.  MVMCP has stations set up where guests are treated to cookies and hot chocolate.  MNSSHP has trick or treat candy stations set up all around the park which gives the kids an early pre-halloween candy advantage over their friends back at home.

Both events have a lot of attractions open for guests who attend and most had VERY short queue lines which allowed us to get off and right back on some attractions had we wanted to.

But one of the other differences I noted that makes MNSSHP better in my opinion is how they are able to transform Liberty Square into an entirely different feeling area of the park during the party.  The music at the start of the video in this post is the same music that you hear during the party as you walk through Liberty Square.  But the best part is how they also bring the Haunted Mansion to life during the party.  The colors, the fog, the music and even some changes to the cast members make it an awesome thing to see during party hours.

One more added benefit to the MNSSHP is the attendees to the party.  Guests get to dress up which makes the party one gigantic costume party.  It was fun seeing the creativeness put into some of the costume designs. The atmosphere overall was one of a huge, fun family-friendly party.

So to sum it up...yes my wife and I spent over $120 to attend this event.  But would I spend that money to attend the MVMCP again?  Maybe not.  Would I spend it again to attend MNSSHP?  Absolutely yes.

Have you been to one of both?  If you have been to both, what is your overall opinion of the two parties?  Would you do one or both of them again?  I would love to get your feedback.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Walt Disney World Quiz Contest #6

Here is the final quiz contest for this trip.  We have been at Walt Disney World for 7 days and you have had 6 chances to win. We head home tomorrow so stay tuned for my reviews of what we have done on this trip to the "Happiest Place on Earth."

So because this is the final quiz and final opportunity to win a Starbucks gift card, I am going to include a bonus question to give you two chances to win.  The person who again answers first with the correct answer (in the comment section) will win a $5 Starbucks gift card.  If you answer both correct, you can win $10 in Starbucks gift cards.

So first...tell me where the photo was taken.  Was it at a resort?  Was it in one of the 4 main parks?  If you think it was in a park, name the specific attraction.

And for your bonus opportunity...name the Star Tours flight number that everyone travels on.




Thursday, September 26, 2013

Walt Disney World Quiz Contest #5

Hello friends!  Here is today's Walt Disney World quiz challenge.  Name the park, resort or restaurant within Walt Disney World property where the object in the picture can be found.  If it is a park, name the park and attraction in order to win.  If it is a restaurant, name the resort or park that the restaurant can be found in.  The first one to comment with the correct answer wins today's $5 Starbucks gift card. If you play everyday, you can win everyday.

Thanks for playing!