Heather’s Anaheim and Disneyland Getaway

An Ode to MSP (Minneapolis Airport)

In 2007 when I was a shiny new travel agent I flew to Walt Disney World via Minneapolis. Since then I never had a reason to have to fly through this major hub. Five years ago I thought this was an outstanding airport as I did the Home Alone Dash from one gate to the next to make my connection and guess what? I was TOTALLY right. Although there are most likely thousands of people milling about I really don’t feel crowded or like I am in the way. There is not just some shopping like I’ve found in other major airports, there is SHOPPING. A mall area with the high end items and duty free that you expect in an airport as well as surprises that I may check out in a bit like The Body Shop. If shopping isn’t your thing well then eat! The food court had options for all tastes from Arbys and Burger King to Sushi to bakeries to countless sit down pubs and lounges. Too bad it’s so early, I would have had 5 lunches for sure! I do recommend visiting Caribou Coffee as a delightful alternative to Starbucks. My turtle mocha “zebra” style with both dark and white chocolate is unreal! Compared to my surprisingly enjoyable visit to Denver (another major hub) earlier this year this is a palace of an airport! Ultimately, the point is that I can honestly say that if I could choose my flights purely based on their layovers MSP would be my #1 choice every single time!

So here I am on my Anaheim OC Visitors and Convention Buerro Familiarization trip. What is a Familiarization trip you ask? It’s a trip that travel agents go on to become more familiar with a destination, do hotel tours etc. It is actually a lot more work than it sounds although I have a feeling this particular trip will be a blast. Tonight we met for a cocktail party and some bowling with various suppliers in the area. We had a blast getting to know each other and I got to show off my mad bowling skills. Afterwards some of the other agents and I, who were all staying at the Marriott, stopped by the concierge lounge for dessert before heading to bed. I love hotels that offer concierge lounges for their higher floors (I’m on floor 18 of 19). It’s great to be able to stop by and grab some fruit, a snack, or your morning coffee. The lounge is only open on weekdays though which is too bad, I feel as though I will be wanting to stop in on Saturday after my Disney day.

Day 2

After a hotel tour and breakfast at the gorgeous Hilton we piled into a bus and headed down to Universal Studios. We arrived and received our passes then rode at least 4 or 5 escalators down to the lower level of the park (what’s up with this park being placed both on the top and bottom of a mountain??) to ride the brand new Transformers ride . This ride was unreal. Even though you know it’s all fake I honestly covered my head as a car came flying through the air towards me. These types of rides are to blame for my intolerance of 3D movies at the Galaxy. It’s just not even close to real enough.

I really enjoyed the attractions I saw at Universal Studios, even the “Tram-tastic” back lot tour, although it is very long (like 40 minutes). It is a really small park though, with only a handful of big ticket attractions so it is not a whole day excursion in my opinion.

We visited a mall called the South Coast Plaza this afternoon. It was beautiful but very high end. From there we traveled to Huntington Beach to do a tour of the Hilton there, have an amazing supper and then have s’mores on the beach. What a great experience. There are tons of fire pits along Huntington Beach that you can use (assuming they’re available, apparently in the summer you would have to reserve it early in the morning. If you’re staying at the Hilton they can arrange the whole thing for you of course). If you’re planning a trip to California and want to spend some time by the beach this seemed like a really nice area to visit. One of my friends on the tour thought he may even get married there!

Once we returned to Anaheim a few from our group decided to go out for a quick drink. We walked from our hotels down to Downtown Disney. It turns out a lot of the bars and restaurants actually close early on Thursdays (again, this is probably something that varies based on season). We found the piano bar was still open for about another hour so we had a seat and ordered some drinks. What a fun bar! We sang along to Sweet Caroline and Don’t Stop Believing like superstars.

Disney Day

Yesterday was our Disneyland/California Adventure day. We started the day off with a character breakfast at Disney’s Grand Californian hotel. I had heard mixed things about these breakfasts with regards to the quality of food. Personally I was really impressed with the buffet. It’s comparable to any nice all inclusive resort I’ve visited with a good selection of both healthy and unhealthy options. There were no Mickey waffles available on the buffet line, they are included though, you just have to order them separately. I really enjoyed being able to meet characters while I had breakfast. The best part was watching a little girl dressed as a princess offer Turk from Tarzan her banana. Kids are always 10 times cuter when they’re at Disney!

After this we toured all 3 Disney hotels which took quite a bit of time and we were all anxious to get to the parks. I’m so glad we did tour them all though because we got to view the Adventureland Signature Suite. This room was UNREAL. Honestly the very best hotel room I’ve ever experienced. Think about a theme room at Fantasyland hotel in Edmonton, then think about the old Adventurer’s club bar that was a part of Pleasure Island at Walt Disney World. Combine the two and you get the Adventureland suite. When you ring the doorbell the masks on the wall let you know that someone is at the door (chanting in a creepy loud song). There were two bedrooms plus a day bed situation in the main living area. A handful of bathrooms including one with a  sauna. But it’s just the decor that blew us all away. We were told that it is about $2500 + per night, but if you happen to have a money tree I say DO IT!

Once we were in the park we were on our own to do as we wished. My friends and I accomplished a LOT in the hours that we were in the two parks. At Disneyland my favorite attractions were (not surprisingly) the Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain. The cool thing about the Haunted Mansion is that Disneyland is all set up for their Halloween celebrations. So the Haunted Mansion is Nightmare Before Christmas themed. At California Adventure we did quite a few of the rides as well. The favorite between my group was clearly the Tower of Terror. We actually did it three times! After our first go at the tower we started playing a game to see what kinds of crazy poses we could do for the pictures on all of the rides. All of the silly things we did really didn’t compare to the couple who were sitting in the Tower of Terror reading magazines like it’s no big deal and not scary at all. Maybe next time we’ll have to bring props…

We had a reserved area to view the World Of Color show which was really nice to have. There is not really a lot of actual seating for World Of Color which is a bit frustrating as it’s a fairly long show at the end of the day. Everyone’s legs and feet are tired by this point. I saw a lot of kids on dad’s shoulders. The show was beautiful but I think I still prefer Fantasmic as a fireworks alternative. I do recommend checking it out if you’re there though. You might as well since all of the rides near the lake are shut down well before the show and during the show. They do restart the rides after. A good tip we learned is that as long as you’re in line for a ride when the park closes you will still get to ride that ride. So you don’t need to run out of the park as soon as the fireworks or show ends, you can get one last ride in and avoid some of the crowd craziness trying to get out of the park.

Oh, by the way, if you loved the Adventurers Club at Walt Disney World you should check out Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. No, it doesn’t really have even half of the magic as the Adventurers Club but it was a good alternative. Ordering any of their specialty cocktails causes some type of mayhem to happen somewhere within the bar. Everyone inside this bar (staff and guests) was having an absolute blast. We went there on a Friday night and had no hope of getting a seat inside the bar so I would recommend going early if you want a seat (pick a bar stool right at the bar for your best experience)

 

Heather’s Punta Cana Destination Wedding Adventure

Here I am at the gorgeous Now Larimar in Punta Cana for my friend Tara’s destination Wedding.  This is a new adventure for me, since not only have I never been a part of a destination wedding, I’ve never been a part of a wedding at all.  So far, we’re having a blast just hanging out as a group and exploring the resort and the Dominican Republic.  Today most of the group went on an excursion to Sanoa Island.  This is an uninhabited island with amazing beaches.  The excursion included a looooooong bus ride to the Caribbean side of the island (Punta Cana is actually located on the North Eastern side of the Dominican Republic, so it’s in the Atlantic Ocean), then a catamaran (party boat) for a few hours out to the island, a few hours with a bbq lunch on the island, a speed boat ride back to the main land with a stop along the way at a “natural pool” to see if we could find any star fish.   Personally, I thought the excursion was a lot of fun but it did seem odd that there was no actual snorkeling included.   Because we were about 20 people we were super lucky and had a private catamaran!  That meant our party boat was soley for us!  It was a bit early for drinks at first but we had a great time soaking up the sun and dancing with the crew. Of course, because I have blue eyes and am single the men working on the boat were all trying to be my “Dominican boyfriend”.  Have you ever experienced this?  It’s something I’m quite certain most North American women go through at some point.  The men being extra flattering and flirtatious.  It’s always fun as long as you remember that it’s all for fun, you can’t take it seriously. The other parts of the tour were very enjoyable as well but the best part was the private catamaran, it felt like it was something special, just for our group.   I loved Saona Island for its laid back feeling, unfortunately they seem to have a real problem with bees there.  When we arrived on the beach we noticed a lot of bees around,  near a garbage can they had some sugar water out for them.  This was supposed to “distract” the bees from us.  Well… it’s been 22 years since I’ve been stung by a bee and let me tell you, it hurts just as much now as it did when I was a kid!  (I cried less this time around but honestly have probably whined more haha)  I’m not sure why they have so many bees but it seems like something they should work to resolve.  I still think the excursion is amazing, just maybe not something I would recommend to someone who has an allergy…

One other thing I wanted to talk about is how great it is to travel with someone who hasn’t done it before.  I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, I know I loved doing it with various members of my family.  Tonight I had supper at one of the a la cartes with some of my friends.  One who has traveled to all inclusive resorts before and two who have not.  It was so fun to see their excitement and complete wonder as their food arrived.  My one friend had outbursts like “best fish I’ve had in my life!” and “oh my god have you guys tasted these potatoes” throughout the whole meal.  I loved seeing the complete joy and excitement over things that I’ve started to see as “normal” because I’m a bit spoiled by my job.  If you tend to travel to all inclusive resorts and don’t check out the A La Carte restaurants I say reconsider for next time.  The food is generally exceptional and the atmosphere is beautiful.

Now Larimar