Early or Late? Which Disney Cruise Dinner Seating is for You?

wow. How did I forget to post a link to this on my own blog! I wrote this for Magical Distractions. Please check it out and enjoy!

Early or Late? Which Disney Cruise Dinner Seating is for You?


Locked in a Room in Charlotte for a Fun Family Night Out

Back in August, I wrote about a unique experience in the Czech Republic, Trap Prague, an “escape the room game.” That hour spent searching for clues and solving puzzles to make our way out of a Communist-era apartment before the Russian spy returned was a surprise highlight of our trip. We were thrilled to discover that this type of activity had finally reached our hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Exit Strategy is located in an unassuming commercial area off of I-77. We reserved our spot the week prior. Up to eight people can participate at each time, so we invited another family to join us. Our two families included two high school girls and two middle school boys. We arrived rather early, but our room was available so we were welcomed to begin right away. We chose “The Cabin in the Woods” room, a dark night in an abandoned cabin. I don’t want to give away anything else about the room, but I will say our heart was racing for an hour as we worked together to escape. Our experience in Prague guided us a bit regarding the types of things to consider, but Exit Strategy definitely provided a challenge that was enjoyed by all.

Escape the room games are hugely popular in Europe and Asia and are catching on in the US. Have you participated in something similar anywhere in the world? Share it with us in the comments.

ABD Central Europe Trip Report Part 4: Enjoying a Day in Prague on Our Own

After a comfortable night’s sleep, we enjoyed a convenient breakfast at the Marriott’s Executive Lounge. The offerings included scrambled and hard cooked eggs, sausage and bacon, a variety of cheeses and cold cuts, fruit, and various pastries. There is also an amazing espresso/ cappuccino machine. We then set off to find Trap Prague, one of the most unique experiences I have ever had. The host welcomed us and explained the process of being locked into a Communist Apartment for one hour. We had so much fun and excitement searching for clues and trying to solve the puzzles so that we could escape before the spy returned home!  The host will occasionally call to provide a clue, and you can call her as well. My kids were fascinated with the rotary phone.

Time to phone a friend at Trap Prague!
Time to phone a friend at Trap Prague!

All four of us contributed in some way during the hour. We laughed, bickered and fretted as the clock counted down. We had the final puzzle completed but ran out of time! Luckily, we survived to return to our hotel. We relaxed for a short while and then greeted my in-laws who arrived in the late morning. Their room was not ready, so they freshened up in our room and we set out for lunch. We took a short walk around the corner from the hotel to  Kolkovna Celnice for beer, wine, and great local food. We sat outside on the shady deck. IMG_2017 I had the potato gnocchi with apple code and beer reductions, walnuts and radicchio. It was delicious! The ribs were great too but far too much for my son to eat alone. And once again everyone loved the sausages! IMG_2021 IMG_2020 IMG_2019 After lunch, we returned to the hotel to meet our private guide for our tour of the Jewish Quarter…

ABD Central Europe Trip Report Part 3: Exploring Prague

After a refreshing nap in our hotel, we ventured out to explore Prague on our own. I picked Adventures by Disney because navigating through a foreign country can often be stressful on my marriage, but I planned a bit so that the time before the trip would be well spent and relatively stress free. We purchased tram tickets from the concierge and reviewed directions about finding the tram stop and the transfer to get to the Prague Castle.  Needless to say, we immediately got turned around just trying to find the tram stop (within a block of the hotel), and we got off the tram too soon!  We did manage to regroup quickly and without squabbling and found ourselves at the summit of the Prague Castle. We realized that we were hungry and decided to stop at the first restaurant along the way. I was a bit hesitant as I knew nothing about it and couldn’t access my notes, but we took a chance anyway and were not disappointed! Restaurant U Sevce Matouse had sidewalk seating and a traditional Czech menu. My husband had the first of many, many beers on this trip.



I still am not sure why baked goat cheese salad is so popular in Prague, but I saw it on many menus. The goat cheese was delicious but the rest of the salad was lackluster. My son loved his dumplings filled with chopped smoked meat; my husband enjoyed the boar dish. The highlight was my daughter’s sausage plate with mustard and horseradish. We became sausage, mustard and horseradish connoisseurs over the week!

IMG_1947 IMG_1950IMG_1948IMG_1946

We continued on foot to the Prague Castle where we first encountered its beauty in the quiet of evening after the buildings had closed.

IMG_1988 IMG_1980IMG_1968

We continued to the base of the castle and wandered over to the Charles Bridge (see photo at top of blog) and eventually made our way back to the Marriott , the end of our first day in Prague.

Next up: Trap Prague! and Tour of the Jewish Quarter

ABD Central Europe Trip Report Part 2: The Prague Marriott

For once, I didn’t procrastinate. I booked two nights at the Prague Marriott back in September 2013 using Marriott Reward points. As is typical of most European hotels, the Marriott did not allow 4 guests per room. We were lucky to have plenty of points to book two rooms for two nights at 30,000 points per night per room. Several months later, the hotel was changed from Category 6 to 7 and the  cost per room went up to 35,000, but our original room rate was honored.

We arrived mid-morning and were happy to hear that one of our two connecting rooms was available.  Since it was the room with the two double beds, we were able to all comfortably nap for a bit before heading out to explore Prague a bit on our own.  We were able to check into our adjoining king room a bit later. Both rooms were clean, new and spacious. We definitely could have slept four comfortably in the double room but enjoyed the extra space, bathroom and privacy of the two rooms. We were also excited to find a 110 voltage outlet on the desk in each room. As a family of four with numerous electronic devices, this was a great feature.

King Room in the Prague Marriott
King Room in the Prague Marriott


As Marriott Gold members, we were also provided free internet and access to the Executive Lounge which was a great perk since breakfast was not included with our reward stay nights. The two story lounge served a hot, full breakfast, had an amazing coffee/ espresso machine, and was stocked with water, juices and soft drinks throughout the day. Heavy appetizers, desserts, beer and wine were also available later in the day.

The Marriott’s location was fantastic for walking throughout Prague and convenient to the tram stop. The staff members were quite responsive to emails prior to our trip and friendly throughout our stay. They arranged for us to stay in our rooms once our reservation switched over to Adventures by Disney, but we maintained our Gold benefits including internet and lounge access.  More info about our ABD Welcome Dinner and full breakfasts in the hotel restaurant will be posted later, but everything was delicious and plentiful.

Guests of the Prague Marriott have access to the health club below the lobby. There is an indoor pool and hot tub that we enjoyed one evening. It was rather simple, but the kids had a great time.

Prague Marriott Pool
Junior Adventurers at the Prague Marriott Pool

Unfortunately, others using the hot tub did not appreciate the exuberance of the children and glared at all of us.


Adventures by Disney Central Europe Trip Report! Part 1

I was so fortunate to travel with Adventures by Disney (ABD) on their Central Europe itinerary this July. I first discovered ABD reading trip reports on the DISBoards about two years ago and dreamed about it ever since. When the 2014 itineraries were announced last May, we decided to take the plunge and book the Central Europe trip with our 2 children (ages 15 and 11) and my in laws.

ABD’s are undeniably expensive, but we were able to save a bit in several  ways. First, we booked through Costco Travel. For each reservation, we will receive a Costco Gift Card for about $700 shortly after our return home. Because we had 3 reservations for the 6 of us, this definitely adds up. Also, we were able to purchase the four round trip tickets to Europe for my immediate family using frequent flyer miles. Tickets seems to be about $1400 each so this was another substantial savings. Finally, we used hotel points to book our pre and post night stays.

My family loves to cruise. We weren’t sure how a land tour would go, and I was a bit concerned about packing for 12 days away from home and repacking for several hotels. I purchased four sets of packing cubes from ebags.com. I can’t believe I have taken a dozen cruises and countless other trips without packing cubes! They definitely helped us stay organized and helped with packing and repacking.

Our family invested in the Global Entry program before our trip. This is a trusted traveler program through TSA. With Global Entry, you are directed to the quicker TSA PreCheck line so you can keep your shoes on, and you don’t have to take liquids or electronics out of your bag. More importantly, re-entry into the USA is a breeze as you simply put some info into a kiosk and you are on your way, avoiding the hundreds of people in line with customs and immigration. Our Global Entry is good for five years, and was already well worth it.

We began our trip with an overnight flight to Frankfurt from Charlotte on US Air. None of us slept very well, but the flight was fairly comfortable and we enjoyed the wide range of audio and video entertainment at our seats. Once in Frankfurt, we had to gather our baggage and recheck it on Czech Air as that leg was booked separately (using Chase Sapphire Reward points!). All went smoothly and we landed in Prague about 9:30am.

I had reserved transportation from the airport to hotel with Prague Airport Transfers based on recommendations from TripAdvisor. Our driver was waiting as we left the baggage claim area and helped us load our luggage into a clean, comfortable van. I think we may have had the smartest driver in Prague- a young man working on his Master’s Degree in Economics. It was only his third day as a driver, a job he took to work on his English. He was informative and friendly on the 45 minute drive to the Prague Marriott. It was a great welcome to a beautiful city.

Stay tuned for more about the Prague Marriott and how we spent our days prior to starting the Adventures by Disney tour!


Showing Our Disney Side @Home!

I was so fortunate to be selected by the great folks at MomSelect and Disney Parks to host the Disney Side @Home Celebration! In the last several months, I have connected with other Disney fans around the globe through social media. The Disney Side @Home Celebration was a way of connecting with my friends and neighbors right in my own living room!

When I received my Disney Side @Home Celebration kit, it seemed like the contents were handpicked for me, a travel loving, Disney foodie! I was shocked and pleased to receive the American Tourister DeLite carry on rolling suitcase. It is super lightweight, rolls like a dream and is a gorgeous purple color. I can’t wait to use it on our Disney Cruise in April!


The other party items gave me inspiration for planning a Disney Side Ladies Night Out. It is so easy to connect with other moms when Disney is part of the conversation!

On our last trip to Walt Disney World, we purchased a bottle of Fairy Tale Cuvee, a sparkling wine that is made exclusively for Disney Parks. We first enjoyed it on a Disney Cruise and wanted to take some home for a special occasion. The Craisins also provided in the Celebration kit inspired the idea to have a champagne cocktail with some craisins to provide extra bubbles!

I also made homemade Dole Whips which were served with an optional topper of Whipped Vodka. What a delicious combination!

Friends, greeted at the door by Tinkerbell, came wearing tiaras, Disney pin lanyards, and other Disney wear. We all had fun playing the “Who Am I Game.” Our favorite Disney songs were playing including the best songs from Frozen! We also had the Disney Parks Vacation Planning DVD playing throughout the party and we all shared our upcoming Disney vacations, favorite Disney memories, or Disney “bucket list” dreams. We ended the night with Disney trivia. My guests won door prizes including the HP Photo Card Packs and the gorgeous Disney lithographs.

DisneySide collage

I received free products in order to host the Disney Side @Home Celebration but of course, the opinions I expressed here are my own!

New Year’s Eve Eve in Magic Kingdom

When I was planning my family’s New Year’s trip to Walt Disney World, I faced a real dilemma. How should we spend New Year’s Eve? Magic Kingdom is my favorite park, and my heart was pulling me there to ring in 2014. But my head was telling me that it would be too crowded for my family, transportation back to Beach Club would be a nightmare, and my husband and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy an adult toast to the New Year.

The solution became clear when I confirmed that Magic Kingdom would once again present Festival in the Sky, their New Year’s Eve fireworks complete with a countdown on December 30th as well as the 31st. Extra Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom until 3:00am that night sealed the deal!

Our day was filled with pixie dust from a late lunch at Be Our Guest (deserving of its own review in a separate post) to an unexpected meet up with friends we hadn’t seen in a decade. Thanks to Fast Pass+, we were able to enjoy our favorite attractions without long lines even on that busy day.

Watching Holiday Wishes with my family, I reflected on the joy and love of the season and got a bit emotional.

But the true highlight was watching Fantasy in the Sky from Fantasyland. As the fireworks surrounded me, soaring and spiraling into the clear, night sky, I felt exhilaration and hope for a year of dreams coming true. It was a day early but it’s never too soon to chase your dreams.


Traveling through Life Disney Style