Best Value for Disney World Accommodations

To experience Disney World at its finest, choosing the right accommodation means everything. You might be asking yourself: “Why does it matter what hotel I get if I’m spending most of the day at Disney World?” Your “home away from home” can make your vacation more fulfilling and allow the magic of Disney to continue even after you leave the park. There are two types of hotel options when it comes to staying at Walt Disney World: First, you have the Disney area hotels that are close to Disney World but not on Disney property. Second, there are the Disney owned and operated on site hotels that get you right in the action day and night.

Briefly consider Disney area hotels. We know that Disney World sits on 47 square miles of land and has 4 theme parks and 2 water parks. You could be close to Disney World by staying off site but still be 45 minutes from the Disney theme park of your choice. While these hotels are wonderful, you end up losing precious Disney time just trying to get to certain parks. I prefer Disney on site hotels as they offer free transfers between the airport and hotel, free access to Disney transportation to get you from one park to another, and extra magical hours where, for resort guest’s, one theme park opens 1 hour early and another stays open up to 3 hours after park closing time.

Disney offers 4 different types of hotel experiences on site and choosing the best selection for your family helps make the trip much more exciting.

Value Resorts:
These are wonderful properties which I would equate to a Holiday Inn type hotel. They offer 1 king or 2 double beds. They have several swimming pools and a large food court. These hotels work well if you plan on spending the majority of time away from the hotel. Two of the value hotels offer family suites that will sleep up to 6 people, but you can usually get 2 rooms with connecting doors for less money than the family suite.

Moderate Resorts:
These resorts offer 2 queen beds and some have a trundle bed that can sleep a fifth person. The rooms are larger than the value resorts and they have more pools and food options.

Deluxe Resorts:
These resorts are the best of the bunch, rated 5 stars and have several transportation options (three are on the monorail system). They also have 2 queen beds and most rooms will sleep up to 5 people. They offer fine dining as well as the quick service food court. These rooms are very large.

Disney Vacation Club Resorts:
The Disney Vacation Club has condominium type accommodations. They offer a full kitchen, living room areas and are 1-3 bedrooms in size. You can have food delivered to your condo but there are no grocery stores on Disney property. These are the most expensive accommodations, but are the best suited for larger families. You do not need to be a member of the Disney Vacation Club to stay at the condos.
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The Best Cruise Lines

Ever wonder which cruise line is best? Each cruise line has certain things that they do best. Cruise Critic has unveiled its editors’ picks for the best cruise line in certain categories. Whether you’re looking for ocean or river cruises from family to adventure, you’ll see which cruise lines are doing best in this year’s Cruise Critic Awards. Click here to see results.

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The Getaway Guru’s Favorite European Destinations

There are over fifty countries to choose from when planning your European Vacation. That can make planning a little overwhelming when deciding where to go! The Getaway Guru (who is always here to help) has chosen the top twenty cities that you MUST check out on your next trip to Europe. Check out the infographic for his top picks, as well as his favorite things to do in each city!

Top 20 European Cities (3)

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Disneyland vs. Disney World Price Comparison

A vacation to a Disney Park creates memories that last a lifetime.  We have compared side by side the differences of visiting both Disneyland and Disney World using on site (Disney owned) and off site hotels and resorts.  We compared several hotels both on site and off site and averaged the prices for high, low and mid-season rates.  The infographic below shows our comparison of the different ways you can visit Disney parks for a family of four staying 4 nights and departing from Salt Lake City.

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It is interesting to note that the on site hotels (Disney owned) are some of the best vacation values. Only the Disneyland off site option has a lower average cost. Disneyland is a closer destination and has lower airfare costs, but when you want the full Disney vacation experience an on site hotel at Walt Disney World vacation may be the best overall value.

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Data was taken using vacation packages sold through Funjet Vacations and Southwest Vacations.

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Jamaica – A Caribbean Paradise!

There are generally two different perceptions of Jamaica based on “how you visit” Jamaica. Many people visit Jamaica as a port of call on a cruise ship, while others take a land vacation and stay for a few days.  Most people that visit on a cruise ship sometimes state they would not like to go back, while those that take a land based vacations rank it among their top travel destinations.  Why is there such a big difference of opinion?

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Visiting by Cruise Ship:

People generally remember the first 30 minutes and the last 30 minutes in port.  Unfortunately, this first and last impression is generally not a good one for Jamaica. While most people report that they enjoyed the destination and activities, most only remember the swarm of vendors as they get on and off the ship and at some points on certain tours.  Many that visit Jamaica on a cruise ship would not care to go back.  The port of call experience that many have does not accurately represent the great destination of Jamaica.

Visiting by Land:

When you choose to visit Jamaica on vacation your impression can be totally different than those that visit by cruise ship.  In Jamaica, you have friendly people, good food, amazing beaches, fun activities and some of the best all-inclusive resort hotels in the world.  Many that visit Jamaica on vacation would chose the destination again and again and it usually is one of their top vacation destinations.

My Experience:

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I have been fortunate to visit Jamaica by both methods above.  The first five times I visited by cruise ship.  If you had asked me a year ago (before I visited on an actual vacation) about Jamaica I would have told you that  Jamaica is one of the most beautiful tropical destinations I have ever visited, but I would never choose to vacation there.

Now, I have taken two land based vacations to Jamaica in the last 6 months.  My view of the destination is 100% different now.  I received some of the most attentive and friendly service by hotel staff I have ever experienced at the Sandals Montego Bay and Hyatt Ziva/Zolara hotel resorts, along with some of the best food anywhere in the world!  If you have not had authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken you are missing out on a great meal.  The activities available are some of the best of any destination in the world.  I personally enjoy the Jamaican Bobsled Experience and Bamboo Rafting.

Jamaica is similar to Hawaii in that the flight time is about that same,  there are great beaches, a good selection of activities and excellent food.  One major difference is although the price points are similar to Hawaii, in Jamaica you get an all-inclusive experience where all of your meals, drinks and some water sports (at resort) are included.

My Top Jamaica Hotel Recommendations:

1 – Hyatt Ziva/ Zolara: 5 star (my rating) all-inclusive with a family section (Ziva) and a adults only section (Zolara)

2 – Royalton White Sands: 5 star (my rating) all-inclusive that is perfect for a family vacation

3 – Sandals Royal Caribbean: 4.5 star (my rating) – Sandals can be a little pricy but you won’t find better service anywhere in the Caribbean or Mexico.

4 – Riu Ocho Rios: 4 star (my rating) –  This is a big resort with a great beach and close to many of the activities on the island.

5 – Holiday Inn Montego Bay: 3.5 star (my rating) – This is a basic all-inclusive hotel without the bells and whistles of the above hotels but perfect for the value minded traveler.

My Favorite Jamaica Activities:

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1 – Jamaican Bob Sled Experience: A fun rollercoaster type experience through a tropical rain forest

2 – Bamboo Rafting: A leisurely float on a bamboo raft – perfect for couples

3 – Dunn’s River Falls: Probably the most popular activity on the island. There are some pushy vendors here, but the Falls them self are beautiful and fun to climb.

4 – Rose Hall Great House/ Haunted Night Tour:  Learn about Annie Palmer and why the house is said to be haunted.

5 – Spirit of Reggae Tour: Visit Bob Marley’s home town of Nine Mile.

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Jamaica is a Caribbean island paradise that I hope to visit many, many more times.

By Mark Faldmo, Jr
Contributing – Rayleen Myers
Columbus Travel

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Orlando Trip Planning Aids

It all started with Walt Disney World, but today there’s a lot more to do and see in Orlando.  Yes, there are theme parks galore:  four in Disney World alone; plus Universal Studios features two theme parks; then there’s Sea World; and also Legoland.  In addition, you can visit the Kennedy Space Center, and on May 4th the Orlando Eye opens.  A handy tool in planning an Orlando stay can be found at the website visitorlando.com – a great source of information.  It also has discounts available for restaurants, hotels and several attractions.

Walt Disney World:

Four magnificent theme parks on 48-square miles of land – Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  On property are also 23 Disney resort hotels, two water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon).  Whereas Disneyland in California is a weekend getaway, Disney World will require at least a full week.

Lasts year, Disney started a new program at the Walt Disney World Resort called “My Magic Plus,” which will enable you to plan your entire vacation before leaving home.  You can reserve your free “fast-pass” options 30-days in advance of your vacation.  Fast-pass lets you reserve a time for up to three rides – show up without waiting in line.  If you are staying at a Disney on site hotel, you can start reserving 60-days prior to travel.  You can reserve three fast-passes per person per day.  After you use your three fast passes, you can reserve three more at any of the fast pass kiosk’s located throughout the parks.

Guests staying at a Walt Disney Resort hotel will receive a “magic band.”  The magic band is programmed to contain your room key, Disney admission pass, your fast-passes and your dinner reservations.  You can actually set up your “magic band” to charge all your purchases if you would like.

Get the ball rolling by registering at startyourdisneyexperience.com.  From this website you can select the color for each family member’s “magic band” and have them sent to your home prior to your vacation.  You can also sign up for your fast-passes, make dinner reservations and, for select hotels, pre-register and bypass the front desk by going straight to your room.  Your magic band will be your room key.

You can also get an app for your smart phone that will show you your fast-pass reservations, wait times and the different attractions.

Universal Studios Orlando:

Here you will find two parks:  “Universal’s Islands of Adventure” and “Universal Studios Florida,” of which the former is home to “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”

Add a second week to your vacation and get an “Orlando FLEXTICKET,” which will give you park to park admissions at Universal, as well as “Wet n’ Wild,” “Seaworld” and “Aquatica.”  Purchase a ‘FLEXTICKET PLUS” and you can add Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay (about two hours away).

Kennedy Space Center:

Located about an hour outside of Orlando, but well worth the drive, the space center offers several tour options, as well as astronaut experiences.  Also on display is the space shuttle Atlantis.

The Orlando Eye:

This will be a 400-foot tall observation wheel (like a giant ferris wheel, but with enclosed gondolas) similar to the London Eye and the Las Vegas High Roller.

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The Getaway Guru’s Favorite San Francisco Eateries

Many people love San Francisco, including The Getaway Guru, and lot’s of folks know he came from the city by the bay, visits it as often as he can, and loves to eat in its myriad of great restaurants.  Here’s a list of The Guru’s favorites.

SEAFOOD:  

Tadich Grill at 240 California Street is a nostalgic “old-school” seafood restaurant with high ceiling, surly waiters, but great food.  It opened in 1849 with the absolute best Cioppino (seafood stew) in the world.  Other favorites include Petrale Sole (what doesn’t taste good sauteed in herbed butter?), Sand Dabs, and Oysters Rockefeller.   No reservations.

Anchor Oyster Bar is at 579 Castro Street.  Since 1977, diners have been coming to this nautically themed eatery for fresh fish.  They are especially noted for Crab and Oysters.

Scoma’s Pier 47 is actually on Pier 1 between Fisherman’s Wharf  and Ghiradelli Square and boasts “the freshest seafood.”  Yeah, it’s a bit touristy, but pretty solid delivery of the best seafood in the Wharf area.

ITALIAN & PIZZA: 

Delfina Italian  is at 3621 18th Street and it’s not your “mom and pop” spaghetti joint, but offers a modern interpretation to Italian cuisine.  Review the menu before going.  Delfina Pizzeria is next door.

Cotogna Italian at 490 Pacific Avenue is a popular, rustic-modern eatery serving wood-fired pizzas, housemade pasta, and familiar and inventive Italian classics.

Tony’s Pizzeria Napoletana at 1570 Stockton Street in the heart of San Francisco’s “Little Italy” is the home of 11-time “World Pizza Champion” Tony Gemignani.  They have a large variety of pizzas, including Tony’s famous Margherita.  And, by the way, he only will cook 73 Margheritas each day!  Expect wait lines at busy times.

CHINESE:

Ton Kiang at 5821 Geary Boulevard is a bustling mainstay serving dim sum all day plus Hakka staples such as Salt-Baked Chicken at dinner.  Good seafood and one of the best dim sum restaurants.

R & G Lounge at 631 Kearny Street in Chinatown offers classic Cantonese cuisine downstairs in a basic area and more formal dining upstairs.

Mission Chinese Food, 2234 Mission Street, is nothing fancy, but a neighborhood favorite serving up good homestyle food.

House of Nanking, 919 Kearny St., is a local favorite serving familiar Chinese dishes in a cozy atmosphere. Lines out the door often form during busy times. Located in Chinatown.

THAI:

Marnee Thai at 2225 Irving Street south of Golden Gate Park is a small, family owned restaurant offering classic Thai cuisine.  Ask for their daily specials.

INDIAN: 

Amber India, 25 Yerba Buena Lane, has a diverse, high-end menu of modern and regional Indian dishes plus a lunch buffet in a polished space.  Good variety.

COMFORT FOOD: 

Max’s Opera House Café at 601 Van Ness features a “Cheesecake Factory” type menu.  The food is good, but the waiters are great.  Tell them it’s your birthday and the servers, all whom are opera singers and music students, will serenade you!

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How Hotel Ratings Work!

I find hotel descriptions written by hotels themselves amusing, sometimes bordering hysterical.  How do you know what to expect when you book a hotel.  We often hear hotels advertise “5-star” and “4-star” and so on.  What do these terms mean?  There is no common standard or regulation when it comes to rating a hotel.  Listed below, however, is a general guide to help you.

5-Star: deluxe, luxury hotel with exceptional accommodations, superior service, and a full range of amenities and services.  This is where you want to stay!

4-Star: first class, very good accommodations, good service; generally a place you would be pleased to stay in.

3-Star: superior tourist class with pleasant accommodations, good service with limited amenities and service.

2-Star: tourist class, modest accommodations with some service and amenities. Find out something about the location and neighborhood.

1-Star: basic, simple accommodations with limited services and amenities.  Be cautious.

What about TripAdvisor and other web sites that rate hotels?  There are both professional and guest reviews that can be helpful.  TripAdvisor and other similar online sites invite anyone and everyone to rate a hotel.  These reviews can be helpful, but can also be manipulated by the hotel owner or someone who has a grudge against the hotel.  Professional and guest reviews can be very different.  For example, the Maile Sky Court Hotel in Honolulu is rated 1-1/2 stars by travel professionals, but 3-1/2 stars by TripAdvisor.

One of the best online sites to review featured hotels is our own Columbus Travel web site.  Here’s what to do:

  1. Go to www.columbusvacations.com
  2. Click on “Vacations” near the top middle of the home page
  3. You will see “Search Vacations.”  Enter your departure city, destination, number of nights,  travel dates, and number of travelers.
  4. Now, click on “Search vacations” in the lower right corner
  5. A list of hotels will appear. You can sort them by price, location, name, and location
  6. Notice the star rating under the hotel name. This is a travel professional rating.
  7. Look to the right and you will see on most hotels a TripAdvisor star rating.

Have some fun and spend some time reviewing your hotel choices, especially if you are traveling as a family.  Then, call your Columbus Travel professional and book travel memories.

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Pluto’s Tips For Making The Most Of Your Disneyland Vacation!

1- Arrive at the park a few minutes before opening. The first 3 hours the park is open are the least busy hours of the day. It is amazing how many rides you can do during this time.

2 -Take the train to New Orleans Square for Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Big Thunder Mountain. It is quicker than walking up Main Street.

3 – Start at the back of the park and work towards the front, most people do the opposite.

4 – Utilize the free Fast Pass system to make reservations for future ride times. The most popular rides that run out of fast passes first are Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Radiator Springs Racers and Soaring Over California. These rides will also have the longest lines later in the day. You can have your fastest walker take everyone’s park pass to get the fast passes, while the rest of your group holds space in line for the next ride.

5 – People start leaving the park to go home after the fireworks. If you stay from the end of the fireworks until closing you will have shorter lines.

6 – There are smart phone apps that show the current wait times for the most popular rides. There is also a board to the top and left of Main Street that has the current wait times as well. For the California Adventure Park the board is straight ahead as you walk towards Paradise Pier.
Normally the least busy times to visit Disneyland are Jan 5-March 10, April 27-May 20 and September 8-Sep 30.

You are entering a magical place so relax and enjoy every minute of it!

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