Sailing with Disney – A Day at Sea

A look back at our final day aboard the Disney Dream. Sea days are the best!

The final day of our sailing on the Disney Dream was also a sea day, something we always look forward to. On a normal ship, that means the occasional activity mixed in with some resting out on deck, all things we love. On the Dream, the only sea day of the sailing brought a full schedule of fun!

First up was our reservation for brunch at Palo. We’d heard good things, so much so that spending the $30/pp on this was a no-brainer. We got up there a few minutes early, and were led over to the Meridian Lounge to relax while we waited. It didn’t take long, within a couple of minutes, they came to take us to our table. That’s where the awesome really began.

We were led to a nice table right by the window. Nothing beats good food with an ocean view! Our server came over, introduced herself, and took us on a tour of the buffet. This part is definitely a nice touch, as there are a wide variety of items on the tables, but it also kinda gets in the way when you’re up trying to get food and another group is on their buffet tour. Anyway, after our tour, she also covered the menu we could order various items from in addition to what was available at the buffet. The Disney Cruise Line Blog has a picture of it here.

In addition to enjoying the buffet items, we ordered a few things off of the printed menu. I had the buttermilk pancakes, which were some of the best I’ve ever had, along with the lasagna, which was delicious as well. Jen and Bayley tried what turned out to be an excellent flatbread that was half Italian sausage and half margherita, and both of them also had the Parmesan crusted chicken breast. The latter was so good that Bayley skipped finishing her meal off with dessert to have a second one. How often does a kid skip dessert for chicken?

We absolutely loved our meal and felt it was easily worth the cost. I have to say, if you only spend money on one specialty meal aboard the Dream, do it for brunch at Palo. I say that totally biased and without anything to compare it to, since it’s the only specialty meal we did, so keep that in mind :). Also remember that brunch at Palo is adults only.

After brunch, we had some time on our hands and decided to just walk around and see what was going on. While doing so, we managed to again run across whatever thing they were filming while we were out on deck:

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I’d still love to know what they were shooting! Shortly after, we made our way inside for baby racing. I can honestly say I’ve never seen this on a cruise ship before, and it was exactly what it sounds like. The only thing missing was people throwing money on the ground around the mat placing bets on the racers. I kid :), this was actually pretty entertaining to watch.

Shortly after a winning baby was crowned, we got what we came for, the character dance party! All of the main characters take turns in the spotlight on the stairs, while the others rotate to various positions in the lobby atrium area. It was pretty packed in there, and everyone seemed to be having a fun time. Definitely an activity I’d recommend for Disney fans young and old!

We had some time to kill after this, so we did a little more walking, thins time checking out the shops on board. Jen’s got a Pandora bracelet with a few Disney charms, so we wanted to check out the exclusives they had on board, and ended up adding one to her bracelet. This was also the only time we encountered service on the ship that didn’t live up to Disney standards, as the woman working the counter really wasn’t all that helpful or friendly. This is really the only staff encounter during our time on board that was sub-par. We made up for it shortly after, however, as the captain was signing autographs and posing for pics, so once the line cleared, we decided to jump in for a picture with him.

Bayley had been waiting for our next activity all week. As mentioned in a previous post, she loves the animation classes Disney does, and had been looking forward to drawing Stitch, which was the final animation class of the sailing. They obviously know this one is popular, because it was held in Animator’s Palate, and there were a lot of people there for it. We got a seat with a pretty good view of the instructor, but if you happen to be far away, don’t worry, they show what she’s doing on the screens around the restaurant. While drawing, Stitch even comes in to see what’s going on!

After finishing up the animation class, the next couple of hours were filled with a combination of character pictures, walking the ship, and attending one of the arts and crafts events. This one was held in Pub 687, which ended up being a poor choice of location. I was happy, as I finally got to have a beer in here, but it’s way too small of a venue for something like this, and resulted in an overcrowded pub. I saw more than one family come in for this, only to turn around and leave after seeing the lack of tables and line for supplies. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good time, just that a larger room would have been better.

I should note that the two character meet and greets we did during this time were with Stitch and Donald Duck, both of whom Bayley and Jen learned to draw in the on-board animation classes, so Bayley brought her pictures for them to sign. Both characters were excited to see pictures of themselves, and responded in various ways. Donald grabbed the one she did of him and held it up for the lobby to see, while Stitch couldn’t believe shed brought a picture of him, and proceeded to slide onto his belly on the floor to sign it. Definitely a nice touch ūüôā

Our next major event after all of this was the final stage show of the cruise, Disney’s Believe. It’s a fun show with some fun acting and excellent singing. Once again, happy to oblige the ‘no photos or video’ rule, all I have is a shot from our seats, which gave us a full view of the action:

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After dinner was one of the coolest events of the cruise, if you’re in to Disney’s pin trading culture: Officer pin trading night! It’s exactly what it sounds like, an opportunity to trade pins with various officers of the ship! It was a lot of fun, and for anyone sailing on Disney that’s never done this, here are a few recommendations:

  1. Bring a lot of pins you want to trade with you. They’re not picky, they’ll take any cheap pin in trade for anything they’ve got!
  2. There’s a mobile box out there where you can also buy pins. The person running it has lanyards full of trading pins behind that, and they will occasionally swap out with officers participating in the event who may have traded away all the good stuff, which gives them fresh good pins to trade. Keep an eye out for the swaps, as the fresh lanyards generally have some good stuff. Bayley got a number of excellent pins this way!
  3. Have fun!

It’s really an awesome event, and wasn’t super packed, at least not as much as I expected. It’s held in the little rotunda outside the shops, which seemed to be a perfect fit size-wise.

Dinner was next on the schedule, moving us to Royal Palace this time around. I love the venue, and service was a bit quicker tonight. The food itself was pretty good, as I had a double serving of the breaded and deep-fried Brie (sooooo good), the Chateaubriand roasted filet steak, and the Grand Marnier souffle for dessert, always a favorite of mine.

After dinner, we finally got around to our night-time ride aboard the AquaDuck. As mentioned before, this is easily the best waterslide at sea we’ve been on, and taking a run or two down it at night is an absolute must!

Following our Aquaduck rides, we weren’t done yet! We decided to catch the magician’s show in Evolution. John Cassidy’s show is definitely worth catching, he’s both a good magician and funny to boot! For one of his tricks, Bayley ended up on stage helping out, too!

We also hung out for the ’80’s music challenge, which was an absolute blast. No pictures or video of this, as we were participating. The room is divided up into two teams, and you take turns guessing what the song name and artist are for a given clip. Additionally, both teams then hit the floor to dance for bonus points, and the more creative, the more bonus points you get. At one point, we were crowd-surfing Bayley around the room. Fun times, and our host Chris was great!

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Well, that’s about all for our final day on the ship, and proved to be an excellent way to wrap up an incredible sailing aboard the Disney Dream! Next up, our debark experience and final thoughts on this cruise!

Animal Kingdom: Wild Africa Trek

This adventure was part of our Thanksgiving trip to Disney World, and I can honestly say it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done at any theme park.¬†We were on the 8am¬†tour on Thanksgiving day, which meant meeting at the entrance to Animal Kingdom before the park opened. Being that it was my birthday present, Jen did an outstanding job of keeping it a secret, even from Bayley. As we arrived at the park, all we knew was that whatever my present was, it was happening that morning, and it would mean getting in to the park prior to the actual opening time. It wasn’t until we walked into the Wild Africa Trek area that either of us began to figure out what we were about to do.

On arrival to the park, we were instructed to wait off to the side until our guides arrived. Once they did, we were led through the park just prior to opening, so just like our Magic Kingdom breakfast at Be Our Guest the day before, we got to enjoy an empty park as we walked to the staging area for the trek.

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Once you arrive at the starting point to the trek (right next to the Kilimanjaro Safari entrance), you go through some instruction from your guides, and get suited up for the trek. Things to note here:

  • No sandals. ¬†Closed-toed shoes only.
  • The tour cost does not include park admission, you still must have a ticket for Animal Kingdom.
  • Kids must be at least 8 years old, and 48″ tall. No unaccompanied minors, either.
  • If your health doesn’t allow for long periods of walking over some potentially rough terrain, don’t go.
  • No loose cameras, including phones. If your camera or phone can’t be strapped to the gear you’ll be wearing, you have to put it in your locker.

Those are the basics, but be sure to check the “know before you go” section of their site for all requirements. That last one is a big one that several people in our group, including us, didn’t know going in. I’m pretty sure I was the only one allowed to take my phone, because I had two straps on it that I could use to strap to my gear. If you don’t get to take your camera, it’s not the end of the world, as they take a lot of pictures along the way, all of which are included in the cost. They give you a web site address you can download all pictures from a day or so later.

After they get everyone into their harnesses, go through some basic safety instructions, test out the wireless headsets your guides talk to you on, they give you a short description of what’s going to happen, and you’re off! The tour starts with a walk down¬†the same¬†Pangani Trail all the other guests can access, and you’ll end up getting some funny looks from other guests along the way who have no idea why you have all that gear on. Along the way, one guide is giving you information on the animals you see as you walk, while the other one is shooting pictures of the group. They switch off roles a couple of times along the tour too, so you get to hear from both guides assigned to your trek. Once you get close to the end of the¬†Pangani Trail, you take a little side exit that dumps you off on a closed trail. You then hike along this trail for a while, with your guide talking to you about the area and animals, until you arrive at the hippopotamus pool.

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Once here, they strap your harness into a support railing so you can safely walk along a ledge overlooking the pool. While here, you’re given a talk by their resident hippo expert while enjoying the view, and while having your picture taken by the guide with the camera.

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Once complete, you trek a little farther to the start of the ropes course. This is one of¬†the highlights of the trip, as you get to walk over two rope bridges. If you’ve experienced the Kilimanjaro Safari ride before, you’ve driven under the first of the two bridges, and like us, may never have even noticed it. When you get to the first bridge, you’re strapped in one by one, and cross over to the platform between the two bridges. The guide currently shooting pictures actually crosses first, so he/she can get pictures of each person as they cross. The shots of us on the bridge face-first were shot by our guide, and the others were taken by me.

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Once you’re across to the first platform, they stop each group for a quick¬†photo:

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After that, you make your way across the second bridge one by one, and pass¬†over the crocodiles. The bridges are pretty easy to walk across in my opinion, but they can get a little bouncy when more than one person is on. They also don’t mind if you make a quick stop while walking to take a pic or two if you have your camera on you, just don’t stop for long periods and hold everyone else up.

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Disney’s attention to detail is quite evident on the bridges, too. Even though the bridges are perfectly secure, and there’s¬†no danger of falling, they make the planks along the way look worn and brittle. Nice touch ūüôā

Once across, you walk to a ledge overlooking the crocodile pit and strap in to another support railing while listening to the croc expert and having your picture taken with them.

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After¬†you finish up here, you shed your harness, as you no longer need it, and hop into a safari truck for the next part of the expedition.¬†Your truck joins the same path the regular¬†Kilimanjaro Safari trucks are on, with the occasional deviation on to side paths the regular trucks don’t take. These side paths allow your group additional time to see some of the animals, and in some cases, allow you to get closer to animals than the regular path does, depending on where the animals are that day. When the trucks stop for these closer views, you can also stand up to get better shots. We got lucky with the giraffes, with several of them congregating right next to one of these side paths. Our truck pulled up next to them, and while our guides gave us good information on them and answered questions, we got to be pretty close and get some great shots.

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Once we finished up there, the truck headed up to a building sitting on the savannah. We’d seen this on past safari trips, but until now had no idea what the purpose was. For the trek, it actually gets used as a 30 minute rest¬†stop, giving you time to relax and enjoy some food specially prepared by the chefs at Tusker House. All this as you¬†enjoy some spectacular views, complete with binoculars to use. While there, the guides will also take pictures of you in various poses, and you obviously have the opportunity to take some of your own pictures.

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There were also a coupe of short rain showers during our stop, which caused some of the animals to run for cover. I can’t say I’ve ever seen giraffes running so fast!

Once your time at the camp is up, you load back in to the truck for the ride back to the drop off point, which is the same platform the regular Kilimanjaro Safari trucks drop off at. You then follow your guide back to the Wild Africa Trek entrance where you pick up whatever you placed in the lockers before heading out into the park to enjoy the rest of your day.

The whole trek is about 3 hours, and it’s worth the time and money in my opinion. Getting to see things from a more behind-the-scenes perspective in a small group setting, while getting a ton of useful information was a blast. The rope bridges and brunch¬†at the private safari camp are icing on the cake, and totally justify the cost, in my opinion. Our guides were great, too, we can’t thank them enough for an outstanding morning!

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Enjoy a few more pictures from our trek, and when at Animal Kingdom, consider giving this a try!

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Good Eats in DC – Scion Restaurant

Last¬†weekend we made a completely unscheduled overnight trip up to DC. Bayley’s two weeks working at Woodward had come to an end, and both of her options for a ride home fell through, so early Saturday afternoon we hopped in the car and headed up to DC to get her. We decided to take our¬†dog Indy with us, so before leaving Jen did a quick search to see if she could find a restaurant in the area that was dog-friendly (the search was literally “dog friendly restaurants in Washington DC“). The first¬†hit in the results took her to¬†BringFido, which led her to¬†Scion Restaurant in the Dupont Circle area. It wasn’t all that close to our hotel, but we liked what we saw on the menu and decided to stop there for dinner as soon as we got to the city, so on the way up I used OpenTable to make a reservation for 7:45pm, noting that we had a dog with us.

When we arrived, parking was a bit of a hassle, but after hunting a bit we finally located a space on the street a few blocks away and walked over to the restaurant. When we got there, I stayed outside with Indy while Jen went to check in. While they had our reservation, the note that I put in OpenTable about having a dog with us apparently didn’t get transmitted to them, and as a result they weren’t quite ready to seat anyone with a dog since the end sections of the patio where they allow dogs weren’t set up. No matter, with a very friendly attitude they jumped right on it and set up the corner that had an awning over it and seated us quickly. Definitely a good start to the evening!

After being seated, we ordered our food and drinks. I decided to try something on draft, and chose the Sun King¬†Wee Mac Scottish-style ale. I’m not a huge beer guy, so I don’t often call out what I drink, but this was one of the best beers I’ve had in quite a while. For my dinner, I ordered the Scion burger (sans onions and pickles) and Jen got the LBJ Mac and Cheese. I should also mention that when they brought our water out, they brought a plastic bowl full of water out for Indy, too, and kept it refilled while we were there. Nice touch!

While waiting on our food, it started raining pretty good, so we ended up switching tables in that same little corner area to avoid water runoff. I think due to water running in on the ground, Indy got a little wet (but not a big deal), but we stayed dry the whole time, even with the downpour it turned in to. Once the food arrived, we dug in. My burger was excellent, as were the garlic fries, which were some of the best garlic fries I’ve had. Jen’s mac and cheese was really good too, although she realized something we already knew from past experiences, that she’s not really a fan of lobster meat. Oops ūüôā

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Overall we really liked everything we had, and the service was outstanding the entire time. Our experience that night led us to come back for brunch the next day with Bayley and her boyfriend. Thankfully it wasn’t raining this time, but the food and service were just as good. It was noticeably busier, but they had space for us in the opposite corner of the patio, so even at noon, we were seated right away. While I was tempted to get the Scion burger again, I ended up going with the cinnamon vanilla french toast. In a word: wow. It was absolutely delicious, and one of the only¬†times that I’ve eaten french toast without any syrup. The vanilla drizzle was more than enough to top it, and I enjoyed every bite. Jen got the New Orleans Benedict (See the above ‘brunch’ link for a description), and while she enjoyed most of it, she wasn’t a big fan of the Cajun Hollandaise sauce that was on it. Bayley went with a side of mac and cheese and breakfast potatoes, both of which were delicious, and her boyfriend had the Scion burger.

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As mentioned throughout this post, both meals were absolutely delicious, and the service was outstanding. The Dupont Circle neighborhood that the restaurant is in is pretty cool, even if it was a pain to find parking (all parking garages we found were closed both times). We wish we could have spent more time in the area, but being on a compressed schedule that had us arriving in DC around 8pm Saturday and leaving right after brunch on Sunday, we simply didn’t have any time. Hopefully we’ll get some time to drive back up late in the summer before Bayley goes back to college. If we do, we’ll definitely be stopping at Scion again!

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