Jan 172011
 

The last time we were in Orlando we took a day out from making the rounds at Disney World and hopped a cab to Discovery Cove.  It turned out to be a magical day playing with dolphins, swimming with stingrays and relaxing in the most amazing lazy river we have ever experienced.   If you are planning a spring trip to Orlando consider splurging on a day at Discovery Cove.  Our teen and tween thought it was the highlight of the week.

A Quick Discovery Cove Overview

For those not familiar with Discovery Cove, it is an idyllic, all-inclusive, capacity controlled resort that features a 30-minute dolphin encounter, up close and personal snorkeling and swimming with tropical fish, stingrays, and sharks and interactions with free flight exotic birds in a state of the art aviary.  The price of admission also includes  all  required equipment and meals – just bring your swim suit and sun tan lotion.  Rates range from $199 to $299 a day per person during the winter and spring depending on demand.   Rates are lower for kids under 6, who are not permitted to swim with the dolphins, or for anyone else who opts out of the dolphin encounter.

The Beach, courtesy Discovery Cove

This is one resort where it is definitely worth booking ahead to make sure you get the day you want.   In planning your visit to Discovery Cove we recommend booking your dolphin encounter early in the day, when you don’t have worry about tearing yourselves away from something else and will have plenty of time to find your way around the complex.  Check in begins at 8 am and we arrived shortly thereafter.  We were able to find appropriate wet suits and get our bearings and still be in one of the first groups out with the dolphins.

Small groups of 6 to 8 people venture into waist deep water to touch and kiss the well trained dolphins.  Then its into the deeper water for a little bit of a ride.  We found the trainers to be very friendly and helpful.  And we had plenty of photo opportunities as well.    After the dolphins it was on to snorkeling and swimming with the stingrays and multiple trips around the park in the lazy river.

Swim with the stingrays, courtesy Discovery Cove

Coming Soon – The Grand Reef

It has been about two years since we visited Discovery Cove so we were excited to learn that the resort will be expanded in June 2011 with the addition of The Grand Reef, which will provide new opportunities for both shallow and deep water animal interactions.  The most unique element of The Grand Reef will be the SeaVenture underwater walking tour wearing dive helmets to allow for extended underwater encounters.

Discovery Cove frequently offers discount ticket packages that include passes to one or more of its sister parks:  SeaWorld, Aquatica, Busch Gardens and Adventure Island.  You can have a whole week of water adventures with this family of Orlando Parks.  The teens and tweens are sure to love them all.

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Disney Dream Cruise: Wishing We Were Here

 Posted by on November 11, 2010  Comments Off
Nov 112010
 

    

The Disney Dream

   Cold weather in the Northeast has us wishing we were in the tropics.  What better way to enjoy the sun and warmth than via a cruise?  We’ve been investigating some of the newest cruise options that cater to families with teens and tweens and the soon to launch Disney Dream is looking pretty fine.

    Years in development, the Disney Dream’s first voyage begins January 26, 2011.  During the winter of 2011, the ship will take 3 and 4 night cruises from Florida to the Bahamas and Disney’s private Castaway Cay island.  With the introduction of the Dream, Disney is promising to take its service and its use of technology on the high seas to a new level. 

Disney Dream Aquaduck water coaster

     One of the most original innovations is an industry first – the AquaDuck water coaster.  It stretches 765 feet in length and spans four decks in height.  It includes a loop out over the side of the ship, 150 above the ocean below!

    The Dream also features Disney’s rotational dining program that cycles guests and waitstaff through a different dining room experience each night.  Adult gourmet restaurant and evening entertainment options are available and of course, spa and salon services are provided as well.

      Cabins are designed for families with split bathrooms.  The design of the staterooms is Art Deco inspired.  Most (88%) of the Disney Dream’s 1,250 staterooms are outside rooms, and of those, 90%  have a private verandah.

Teens and Tweens Get VIP Treatment

A teen sun deck is part of the Disney Dream's Vibe club

     Disney is well known for its Oceaneer Club and Lab for kids ages 3 to 10 but they didn’t forget about teens and tweens when designing the Dream.  Forward of the funnel is the Edge lounge for tweens (ages 11 to 13). It is full of hi-tech entertainment including tools to create and star in photo postcards and video karaoke using green-screen technology.  Activities  such as dance parties, trivia games and sports contests are also frequently organized.

The interior of Vibe rocks

     Teens ages 14-17  have their own club – Vibe – which Disney describes as a trendy, 9,000-square-foot club where teens can create videos, play computer games and try their hand at mixing dance tracks. Teens also get a private outdoor area for sunbathing, deck games and cooling off with wading pools and water jets.  Parents may not see their teens for the whole trip with this set-up!

Disclosure

     As with all the articles in our “Wishing We Were Here” series, we received no compensation or incentive to write this article.   We just wish we here here!  Visit the link to see some of the other cruises on our wish list.

     Photos courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Mar 182010
 

     Epcot (which stands for  Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow) offers teens and tweens a wide range of Disney adventures.  The Future World section of the park is home to a number of thrill rides including a hair raising, high speed car ride  at Test Track, an astronaut’s liftoff to Mars at Mission Space and a simulated hang glider ride at SoarinSpaceship Earth, recently updated to reflect the advent of the internet and cell phones, offers a slower ride but the view of the starlit  inside of the dome when you begin your descent is amazing.  Epcot’s rides are some of the most sought after at Disney, so if you really want to ride them go early in the day and plan to use the Fast Pass program or to take advantage of the single rider line if you want to ride them more than once.   If your tween is on the shorter side be sure to check height restrictions before getting in the lines.

Epcot

Epcot offers thrill rides and great food

      Unlike the other Disney parks, where the rides are the main attraction, Epcot celebrates food, creativity and diversity on a grand scale.  Throughout the year Epcot hosts major Disney celebrations like the Food and Wine Festival and the  winter holiday Candlelight Processional.  Our Spring vacation frequently coincides with the Flower and Garden Festival which features millions of blooming flowers and dozens of Disney-themed topiaries.  If you’ve just arrived from the cold, grey Northeast it really picks up your spirits in the Spring.

A Stitch Topiary at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

A Stitch Topiary at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

      We always make sure to book several meals at the various Epcot restaurants.  These are very popular and reservations are generally filled up months ahead of time so be sure to book them as soon as you can.  Our top picks include Le Cellier Steakhouse in the Canada Pavilion and Teppan Edo  in the Japan Pavilion where the chefs put on a floor show as they cook dinner right in front of you.   You do not have to be staying on the Disney property to take advantage of the Priority Seating program.  Most of these restaurants are available as part of the Disney Dining plan as well.

Visit Epcot for food from around the world

The chefs at Teppan Edo are a dinner highlight

     In between the rides, food, fountains and scenery, Epcot does double duty as a multi-cultural shopping mall.  Every pavillion offers an extensive shopping area with the World Showcase country pavillion  featuring goods unique to their area.  You can pick up a kimono at Japan, hand-painted eggs and teddy bears in Germay, and exotic jewelry in Morocco – and still make it to the spectacular IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks display that takes place every evening over the World Showcase Lagoon.

Shop your way around Epcot

Shop your way around Epcot

     If you are staying in the Epcot area and have Park Hopper passes, dinner, fireworks and a ride or two at Epcot is a good complement to a day at another park.  Alternatively, there is plenty to do at Epcot to make it a full day visit.  Be warned that it is a large park and a lot of walking is involved.  If you go for the day bring the sun tan lotion as things can really heat up.  Look for the cooling mist tents that appear on hot afternoons.

Check Out Our Other Disney Posts

     Check out our Disney Days with Teens and Tweens post to learn more about our recommendations for your visit to this magical World.  Want more Disney pictures?  Check out our Disney Archives for Photo Friday reviews of Disney’s other main parks  Thanks to Delicious Baby for hosting Photo Friday.  Visit them to see lots more great pictures from family travels around the world.
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Photo Friday: Disney Magic Kingdom with Teens and Tweens

 Posted by on March 11, 2010  Comments Off
Mar 112010
 

     When we hit  Disney’s Magic Kingdom our teen and tween have a list of 6  must do rides and many more well loved attractions that are great if the lines are short and we are waiting for Fastpass return times to arrive.  We generally stay on property and take advantage of the early openings so we get on to a lot of the top rides with little or no delay.  Our hint – head straight to Tomorrowland and  Space Mountain first thing– you might want to eat breakfast afterwards if a dark ride roller coaster is too much that early.  From there, we can usually walk right onto  Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin then make a beeline for Frontierland and some of the best rides the park offers for teens and tweens.  Jump on a log flume  at Splash Mountain  for a splendid retelling of the story of Br’er Rabbit outwitting Br’er Bear and Br’er Fox.  Be prepared to get wet on the 5 story drop at the end of the ride!!  Can you do it without closing your eyes?

Disney Magic Kingdom Splash Mountain

Disney Magic Kingdom Splash Mountain

     Next door, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad line is usually still pretty short before the general park opening so get there quick before the wait gets too long!  The whistle blows and you are on your way for a wild ride through a Disney imagineered gold-mining camp and cactus-covered desert.  No time for a break as you stagger off Thunder Mountain because the ghosts of the Haunted Mansion are waiting to take you for a ride in a doom buggy.  Be sure to read the tombstones on the way into the Mansion and check out the vintage hearse out front.

Beware the Haunted Mansion

Beware the Haunted Mansion

    After leaving the ghosts and ghoulies you can search for Captain Jack Sparrow at the Pirates of the Caribbean.  But look alive swabby, cause “dead men tell no tales!”  When the line is short we have been known to do this one twice in a row.

Dead men tell no tales at Pirates of the Caribbean

Dead men tell no tales at Pirates of the Caribbean

     From here we slow down the pace, maybe stop for a snack and snag a Fastpass for a return to one of the favorites.  While waiting we love to chill out at Mickey’s PhilharMagic 3D  animation classic or take the hokey but always fun psuedo-safari Jungle Cruise .  We’ll alternate using Fastpasses to go back to the favorites, and in between check out oldies but goodies like Its a Small World, where there is often little or no line.  Grab lunch on the early side to avoid the crowds, use Fastpasses again and if its hot head to the pool for the afternoon.  If we are staying for the 3 pm parade we’ll sit down a bit and take the ride around the park on the Walt Disney World Railroad or enjoy the scenic tour of the Rivers of America aboard the paddlewheel Liberty Square Riverboat.

Disney Magic Kingdom Liberty Square River Boat

Disney Magic Kingdom Liberty Square Riverboat

     Teens and tweens love the Magic Kingdom but its really about getting as many rides as possible on the major attractions.  Make sure you understand the Fastpass system as you will end up with some very frustrated teens if you wait in the regular lines as the day goes on.    Many of the rides targeted at younger kids don’t hold a lot of interest for teens and tweens – and mom and dad are fine with that.  We love Disney, but the wait for Dumbo, the Tea Cups and some of the other slow loading Fantasyland rides isn’t worth it during the crowded daytimes.  Save them for a visit later at night (or even on a rainy day) when the little kids have gone home and the big kids can indulge their inner child!

     Want more Disney pictures?  Check out our Disney Archives.  And as always, thanks to Delicious Baby for hosting Photo Friday, it is a great place to connect with a wide range of family travel bloggers and see some great pictures too! 

Orlando Family Travel Tips


Mar 042010
 

     Disney Hollywood Studios evokes the look and spirit of Hollywood’s 1930s and ’40s hey day with large sound stages, lots of chrome and neon and plenty of shows and thrill rides to entertain teens and tweens.  For our teen and tween the first (and last) stop is often the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror that features multiple drops in a eerie elevator from as high as 13 stories.   If your tribe is into roller coasters the Rock ‘n Roller Coaster featuring Aerosmith is located in this area.    Keep the thrills going by following these with a ride in the Star Wars Star Tours Starspeeder simulator for an out of control trip through an asteroid belt.  The entry way for this ride is particularly fun with lots of droids busy at work. 

Welcome to Star Tours

Welcome to Star Tours

       Outside, check the show schedule and catch the Jedi Training Academy, a 30-minute live show featuring  lightsaber duels.  At every show about 25 audience members are selected as Padawans to wear a brown robe, pledge the sacred Jedi Oath and grab a lightsaber to learn from a Jedi Master.  Star Wars is so popular at the Studios that it hosts several Star Wars Weekends each year.  In 2010 these will be May 21 – 23, May 28 – 30, June 4 – 6, and June 11 – 13.  These weekends feature lots of extras including special shows, autograph opportunities and plenty of Ewoks, Wookiees, Jawas and Stormtroopers.

     From there, its on to Toy Story Mania and  the Studio Backlot Tour.  The 35 minute tour is part walking and part tram ride.  It provides an opportunity to see how water, earthquake and fire effects are executed.  If you are at the front of the line and they ask for adult volunteers mom or dad may get to be one of the actors in the Harbor Attack water scene.  Sit near the left side of the tram for good views of Catastrophe Canyon, where an earthquake, a flash flood and explosions feel almost real.

Disney Catastrophe Canyon

Disney Catastrophe Canyon

     If you are a fan of shows, there are plenty more explosions and stunts available at the Indiana Jones Stunt Show and the Lights, Motors, Action stunt car show.  If possible try to get fast passes for these so you don’t have to waste too much time standing in line.

Check out the Lights, Motors, Action stunt show

Check out the Lights, Motors, Action stunt show

     Beyond the thrills and chills, the Studios also offer some fun side diversions.  There are many opportunities to learn about Disney animation, sound effects and optical illusions.  The Streets of America area uses forced perspective and streetscape facades to portay the illusion of being on the streets of New York, San Francisco and even London.  This area makes for great photo opportunities.

Disney Studio Street

Disney Studio Street special effects

     During the Christmas Holidays, the Streets of America are transformed into the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights . This event is definitely a one-of-a-kind Disney event featuring thousands of lights covering blocks of  facades and artificial snow wafting through the air.  We still talk about this one.  Additional animated lighting displays include twirling carousels, soaring angels, and even Santa and his reindeer.

Osborne Family Light Spectacular

Osborne Family Light Spectacular

     Although parents with younger children may find a half day at the Studios is enough, the older kids really enjoy the mix of rides, shows and attractions.  Be prepared for a long day as many shows and rides can last 30 minutes or more, in addition to the time spent filling and exiting the theater.  Take advantage of the fastpass program as much as possible.  If you are staying for the Fantasmic fireworks show in the evening look into dinner packages that provide preferred access to the show following your dinner at one of the Studios’ sit down restaurants.  Fantasmic is not offered every night so if you want to see the show be sure to check schedules ahead of time.  Seating opens 90 minutes prior to the show and it is usually full well before show time.

     Want more Disney pictures?  Check out our Disney Archives  Thanks to Delicious Baby for hosting Photo Friday

Orlando Family Travel Tips


Trekaroo and Teens and Tweens Too

 Posted by on February 21, 2010  Comments Off
Feb 212010
 

     We recently contributed to the Trekaroo KidsMobile travelling blog carnival for Disney World and the Orlando area.   The carnival includes wonderful recommendations from Trekaroo families and those of local Floridian bloggers and Orlando aficionados. They’ve been there, done that, and now they’re giving you their inside scoop.   Trekaroo tends to target the younger set, but this carnival has a couple of gems for families with teens and tweens as well.  Check out:

    If you haven’t seen it yet, visit  our Disney Days with Teens and Tweens post to learn more about our recommendations for your visit with teens and tweens to this magical World.  And if you like animals, take a peak at our Photo Friday at the Disney Animal Kingdom.

     In addition, since many of our readers may have younger siblings, or might be visiting Orlando with other families that include younger kids,  you should also  look at these Trekaroo reader recommendations:  

More about the Trekaroo KidsMobile

     The Trekaroo KidsMobile’s next stop is Memphis, Tennessee – if you have opinions about Memphis you are invited to jump on board the KidsMobile.   The Trekaroo KidsMobile is a blog carnival with a twist. It’s designed to provide a unique opportunity for mom and dad bloggers to be featured on Trekaroo while 1) expressing their unique point of view 2) getting a web of link exchanges. Join them for one of their next stopovers.

Feb 192010
 

     Our regular readers know we are big Disney fans.  Even as teens and tweens our kids usually choose to start their Disney vacation at the Animal Kingdom.  Although the main attraction may be the Expedition Everest roller coaster, the African Kilimanjaro Safari ride is a must do.  Walking tours of the Maharajah Jungle Trek to see tigers and the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail to view gorillas are also high on the list.  For this Photo Friday, we are sharing some pictures of our favorite Animal Kingdom natives including:

Gorillas

     The park’s silverback gorilla tribe can be found on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.  There is a family group that in recent years has featured younger animals while a group of bachelors shares a separate section of the reserve.

Gorillas at Disney Animal Kingdom

Gorillas at Disney Animal Kingdom

Elephants

     Elephants are usually seen from the Safari ride, often covered in mud to keep cool in the hot sun.  We love the babies!

Elephants on parade at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Elephants on parade at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Zebras

     Another safari ride favorite is the zebra herd.  Try searching online for the name of a group of zebras, depending on where you look they are called a zeal, a dazzle, a cohort or a crossing.  We’ll just call them a group as we drive by.

Zebras show their stripes at Disney World

Zebras show their stripes at Disney World

Meerkats

     Although they are one of the smaller animals at Disney, the Meerkat colony located on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail seems to always hold our attention the longest.  There is usually an interpreter nearby to explain about meerkat behavior and the presence of vultures overhead often lends a sense of realism to their behaviors.  We can watch them for hours.

Our favorite - the meerkat

Our favorite - the meerkat

     The Disney Animal Kingdom offers a full day of exploration and awesome rides for teens and tweens. Check out our Disney Days with Teens and Tweens post to learn more about our recommendations for your visit to this magical World.  Thanks to Delicious Baby for hosting Photo Friday