I’ve lived in Florida nearly my entire life, and I’ve spent more days than I can count at all of Disney’s wonderful theme parks, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’d never visited SeaWorld before! In order to do some “very important travel research to better serve my clients”, I spent last weekend in a part of Orlando that’s totally new to me…
This ended up being a real family affair, with 3 generations all watching Shamu and others for the first time!
The day was off to an interesting start as The First Grader lost his first tooth ever (and then proceeded to actually lose it at breakfast, but it was finally found on the floor after a few minutes of searching on hands and knees). My daughter, The Tween, complained of a stomachache in the morning, which we just chalked up to nerves when she looked at the sky-high roller coasters…but then it turned out she really had a little stomach bug. But we managed to make the best of the trip, and it was helpful and fun to have The Grandmas along, keeping us at a 1:1 adult-to-kid ratio.
The way I see it, SeaWorld has a nice mix of three main types of attractions: rides, shows, and animal viewings/interactions. Given the heat, my daughter’s illness, naptimes, and the heat (!), we weren’t able to conquer everything we set out to do, but we had a nice day, and some attractions left over to do during another visit.
So let’s talk about my personal favorite: the rides! I love roller coasters and thrill rides. Let me tell you: the SeaWorld roller coasters are a little CRAZY! Even though my daughter (“The Tween”) was just tall enough to ride at 54”, she would have been scared out of her wits. The coasters are fast, tall, and go upside down multiple times. And on Manta, the ride tilts you forward so you are positioned on your stomach for the entire ride of climbs, drops, twists, and turns!
Journey to Atlantis is a water-flume ride that reminded me a bit of Disney’s Splash Mountain with a different theme. There were a few more drops and splashes than Splash Mountain, and it turned out to be The Tween’s most favorite ride in the park. The First Grader went on it twice, but later admitted he didn’t really like it because he got too wet. When I asked him why he wanted to go a second time if he didn’t like it, he replied that he thought Dad would opt for the mysterious $3 Family Dryer machine after the ride! (Which he didn’t!)
Wild Arctic is a simulator ride where it feels like you ride a helicopter into the Arctic on a mission of sorts. All of the adults who went on this felt they got shaken up too much for it to be fun. But the First Grader enjoyed it, and he likened the feel of the simulator to Disney’s Star Tours.
Shamu’s Happy Harbor is the ride area designed for the younger set, but it seemed to be really set apart from the rest of the park. If we only had younger ones, we probably would have spent more of our day there, with water features, playgrounds, and rides. But since we had a mix of kids and adults, we saved that area until we had seen most of the other attractions in the park. By the time we rolled up to Shamu’s Happy Harbor, the little ones had fallen asleep in the stroller.
The shows were entertaining for everyone in our group, even though we were not sitting in the “wet zones”. We were only able to take in 2 shows: One Ocean and Believe. One Ocean highlights whales (Shamu!), and Believe was more of an aerial-acrobatic show mixed with dolphin tricks. The First Grader thought One Ocean was “incredible” and liked how the whales shot up into the air, and how they were able to slide across the stage. The Tween preferred Believe with all of the acrobatics, trapeze artists, and divers. The Parents and The Grandmas enjoyed both, with maybe a bit of an edge going to Believe.
While we didn’t sign up for any official animal feedings or interactions, there were a few places where we could touch some of the animals. The first stop was the Stingrays. According to The Tween, “if you don’t like touching slimy stuff, do NOT touch the stingrays”. The First Grader flat-out refused to even get near the tank! I’ll admit, they were slimier-feeling than I expected, but I was glad to have checked it out.
Next stop was the Dolphins. There were no feedings available at the time we reached their pool, but we were able to walk up and see them coming out of the water. We reached our hands out, but our arms weren’t quite long enough to touch them. It was neat to be so close though. We held The Toddler up to see, and he was ready to jump in the water with the Dolphins, which made the nearby staff member a little nervous.
We also saw the Manatees (no strollers allowed) and the Penguin Encounter (a bit smelly, and also no strollers allowed), which everyone enjoyed. The Parents and The Grandmas thought it was neat how the penguins were swimming underwater, and then literally flew up out of the water to land on the rocks again. The First Grader was more interested in making comparisons to Club Penguin, but at least now he knows that Captain Rockhopper is named for a Rockhopper Penguin.
There were also various aquarium areas (again, no strollers allowed), where you could see rays, fish, seahorses, and more. These were nice ways to get out of the hot sun and see some pretty neat creatures. The only drawback was that you couldn’t always walk through with a stroller.
I know there’s always a debate on keeping animals in captivity and putting on shows around them. Part of me did feel bad that the whales and dolphins were made to do all these “tricks” to the laughter and applause in the audience. But another part of me felt that it can be beneficial for people to see that these animals are smart and worth protecting, and SeaWorld does provide an educational experience in that regard.
Next stop in our fun-filled weekend: a surprise for the kids - a visit to Aquatica!
Many people ignore the importance of travel insurance. After all, once you’ve paid all the money for your vacation, who wants to spend MORE on something you may not ever use?
Well, the answer is simple: you’ve paid a lot of money for your vacation, and in most cases, it’s non-refundable. It only makes sense to protect your investment, and compared to what you pay for your vacation, the cost of insurance is minimal…and oftentimes, priceless!
Let’s take a look at 4 main ways that Travel Insurance can protect you:
1. Trip Cancellation. Suppose you paid thousands for your dream cruise, and then one week before the trip, you become too ill to travel, or your doctor orders important surgery? What if your destination has just faced a terrorist act or a natural disaster, and the trip is no longer feasible? What if your tour company goes out of business? What if a close family member dies just before you’re scheduled to leave, and you need to attend to family matters instead of take a vacation? As long as you cancel for a covered reason (be sure to read your policy carefully – you probably just can’t cancel because of a bad hair day!), the insurance will reimburse you for all non-refundable expenses.
2. Trip Delay. This coverage applies when your trip is delayed by strikes, natural disasters, or even stolen passports. What if you get into a car accident on the way to the airport? What if your airline goes on strike and stops flying temporarily? Suppose a major snowstorm causes your airport to close, and your flight is postponed to the next day. Did you know that your insurance could reimburse you for reasonable overnight accommodations and other traveling expenses until you are able to resume your trip?
3. Medical and Dental Expenses. If you become sick or injured while traveling, your normal health insurance will generally not cover you if you are traveling outside the United States. Some people are also surprised to learn that once you set foot on a cruise ship you are on foreign soil, as most cruise ships are generally registered to other countries. Travel insurance is added peace of mind while you are away, and you can be confident knowing that you’re covered if you get sick or hurt. And most importantly, if something major happens and you need emergency evacuation to a suitable medical facility, the insurance will cover that hefty bill as well.
4. Baggage and Personal Effects. Generally, if your baggage is lost, damaged, or stolen while traveling, insurance will cover you up to a certain amount (again, be sure to check your policy). If your bags are lost or delayed for a certain amount of time, your insurance provider may also reimburse you for the purchase of essential items until your bags catch up with you.
Also be sure to check your policy’s coverage of Pre-Existing conditions. Some policies will not cover any cancellations or delays due to a condition you already have (for example: if you have a heart condition, and then have a heart attack before your trip, you may not be covered). Some policies will cover any pre-existing conditions as long as you purchase the policy within a certain range of your deposit date. The policy I prefer allows you to purchase insurance at the time of final payment, and all pre-existing conditions will be covered.
Insurance policies differ, so be sure to request a copy of the policy you’re considering, and review it carefully. Obviously, there are a lot of “what ifs” to think about. But I can guarantee you that if you don’t have insurance and run into one of these issues while traveling (and they are all surprisingly common), you will be wishing that you had just spent a few extra dollars for the insurance!
So think twice before declining Travel Insurance on your next vacation; it could turn out to be money well spent. Feel free to contact Sunshine Travel with any questions about travel insurance, and we can work together to make sure that you choose a policy that best suits your travel needs.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to tour one of the newest Celebrity ships: the Equinox. While the ship is an amazing experience in it’s own right, I wanted to point out something interesting I learned onboard.
The Equinox has a special bar, dedicated to the enjoyment of wine. It’s called Cellarmasters. The unique thing about Cellarmasters on the Equinox is that it contains three Enomatic wine dispensers. What’s an Enomatic wine dispenser, you ask?
Well, have you ever wanted to try a $100 bottle of wine…but didn’t want to spend $100 on the entire bottle? Obviously, most restaurants and bars that serve wine by the glass would not open a very expensive bottle just to let you have a taste. Once the bottle is opened, it would need to be consumed pretty quickly, and there’s no telling when they might sell the contents of the entire bottle.
Enter the Enomatic wine dispensers. These are specially designed wine- dispensing devices that preserve the wine once the bottle is opened…for up to 30 days. There is technology integrated into the machines so you can purchase the exact portion of wine you would like poured into your glass (i.e. 2oz, 5 oz, etc.) and you would just pay for that amount. According to Celebrity, all you have to do is “choose your wine, push a button, and pour a glass. Cheers!”
So while a glass of wine from the $100 bottle will be more expensive than a regular standard glass of wine off of a menu, it’s a great value in that you’re able to experience a wine that you might not otherwise have access to!
Now consider the offering of these systems on Celebrity’s Solstice-class of ships for a minute. The first ship, the Solstice, has 2 Enomatic dispensers onboard. The second ship, the Equinox, has 3 Enomatic systems. The most recent ship, the Eclipse, which debuted in 2010, has 5 Enomatic systems. As you can see, this has been a very well received aspect of Celebrity’s Wine Experience on their ships!
What’s nice about these systems is that the bottles of wine are often changed to reflect the area where the ship is visiting. So for example, if you’re cruising to Italy, you can choose from a variety of Italian wines that you might not be able to sample elsewhere. One person on my tour mentioned a friend who is an owner of a wine shop. The wine shop owner travels the world extensively, tasting and sampling all varieties of wine. Obviously, he was familiar with the Enomatic system aboard Celebrity, but the types of wines that were being offered via the system amazed him. By impressing this wine connoisseur, it spoke volumes to me about Celebrity’s commitment to creating special experiences for their guests that they cannot find anywhere else.
You can visit Celebrity's website to find out more about Celebrity’s Wine Experiences.
Cruising with a Baby
When my first child was born, I insisted that I wasn’t going to let a baby take over my life. Unhappy about images of a house taken over by toys and baby-proofed with all sorts of locks and padded corners, I naively set out to keep all of this in check. I kept driving my convertible, with her car seat safely secured in the back. And of course, we continued to travel.
By the time she took her first cruise (at age 4 months), she had already been to Disney World and a plane trip to Vermont and Montreal to see fall foliage. She obviously doesn’t remember any of it, and it was clearly more for us than for her, but it’s just a note to all parents that just because you have a baby doesn’t mean you have to stay home! With some advance planning and knowledge of what to expect, it’s entirely possible to have a very nice family vacation with a baby.
Here are what I consider to be the top 5 points to consider before you cruise with a baby:
How important is babysitting?
If getting some mom-and-dad alone time is important to you, you’ll need to know if your cruise will offer any kind of babysitting for little ones and what the extent of it might be. Only a handful of cruises offer an actual nursery where you can leave your baby in good hands while you have a quiet meal or take part in other shipboard activities (this is a separate charge from your cruise fare, and space may be limited) . While some ships offer in-room private babysitting, they generally require children to be at least 1 year old.
If you don’t need a babysitter, keep in mind that most ships will allow you to accompany your baby into the children’s facilities to play or borrow toys (although they may not always be suitable for infants); you just can’t leave your little one there while you head out for a spa treatment. Also, some cruise lines offer parent/child playgroups for babies and organized morning stroller walks, which is a nice way to socialize with other parents onboard.
Where do you want to go on your cruise?
If you just want to sail to the Caribbean or the Bahamas, then there shouldn’t be any problems, as long as everyone in the family has proper travel documents (such as a passport). Some lines allow babies as young as 12 weeks to sail. But if you want to go somewhere more far-flung, like Hawaii, South America, or a Transatlantic crossing, babies will generally need to be at least 12 months old.
Does your baby like to swim?
Keep in mind that public health regulations prohibit babies in diapers (any kind, including swim diapers and pullups) from using the pools onboard. However, there are some ships that have specially-designated water play areas just for babies. If your baby loves the water, you may want to consider one of the ships that will accommodate your little one. And please, whatever you do, do not think that is ok for your baby to swim in the regular pools just by removing their diaper!
What is your budget?
Your budget for the trip will determine what kind of room you will reserve. Most cabins can accommodate a baby as a 3rd guest in a room, and cribs or pack-n-plays are generally available. It is important to note that you will have the pay the going rate for a 3rd guest in a room, even though your tiny traveling companion won’t be eating or taking up much space in your room.
Many families that travel with a baby prefer to choose a room with a balcony. This way, when the baby naps or goes to bed early at night, mom and dad can relax on the balcony without having to whisper in the dark. Sometimes, it can even be beneficial to opt for a mini-suite or a suite: not only do they come with extra pampering perks for mom and dad, but also the rooms are larger and they generally have a bathtub (instead of a small shower that is standard in most cruise cabins).
Do you think your baby will be happy?
An old adage in the life of a parent goes something like, “Happy Baby, Happy Parents”. Obviously, your baby isn’t going to have any idea that they are on vacation on this fabulous cruise ship. But around the age of 4-6 months, babies tend to fall into a regular routine, and with some luck, they might even be sleeping through the night. If you think you’ll be able to stick (somewhat) to your baby’s regular naptimes and feeding times, there’s no reason why you can’t take a cruise. Your baby will be coddled by all the staff on board, and will love getting rocked to sleep by the ocean waves. And best of all, you’ll be able to spend family time together, without the intrusion of having to do laundry, cook meals, and other household chores!
There are several factors involved with planning a cruise with a baby – these are just a few. Contact Sunshine Travel today so we can help you get started!