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Showing posts with label Grand Cayman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Grand Cayman. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

stopher's stuff - WONDERful Memories, Fun & More

Wonderful is truly the best word that I can use for my experience on board the Disney Wonder last week.  The sailing was smooth, the food very good, and the service was once again exemplary.  Disney Cruise Line has certainly earned the various accolades from within the cruise industry that they have received. Regardless of how much I spent on my cruise, which was a lot less than the average guest since I was on board for educational and research purposes – the service provided not only met my expectations, but exceeded it. 

I was able to participate in an Agent Education Program, or AEP, where the host line brings travel professionals onboard in order to experience a particular ship for themselves, and then be able to better share the ship and the line with clients and potential clients, making recommendations where appropriate. Being onboard with nearly 90 other travel advisors and agents might make one think that we were receiving special treatment, but I can gladly say that I observed time and time again the same or better service being provided to the full fare-paying guests. 

Some of the many AEP participants from Cruise Planners,
 inside Diversions, one of the adult spaces on board,
following the first class session
Throughout the week, as a group, we were in seminars for 2 to 3 hours each morning.  It was a great experience to be able to meet so many fine people, who like me, enjoy putting together remarkable vacations for their clients, helping them to create memories to last a lifetime.  And through it all, I have made several new friends for a lifetime.  We enjoyed sharing best practices with each other, learning tips and new ideas for sharing the magic of the Disney brand with our clients and potential clients, and got to have some fun together as well. This AEP was put on by the good folks at Disney Destinations, and included three great presenters, one of which has been with Disney for 24 years.  (She certainly knows her stuff!)  Following the morning seminars, we were free to enjoy the ship (or ports of call when appropriate) until show time in the evening.  Then we had the shows, a few informal meet & greets, and second seating dinner after that.  Both were on our agendas, and we were expected to partake of them all, though a couple of times during the week the presenters said attendance at the shows was optional. 

Though our group did have a few pairs of husband and wife, the vast majority of the participants in this AEP were traveling solo.  All of the single travelers had a roommate – some we knew from previous experiences – and others who were meeting for the very first time.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I already knew my roommate, and we’d been planning for this trip for the week or two leading up to the sailing.  It was fun to further cement that friendship, while also meeting new friends along the way.   
Just as the families and friends sailing together onboard do, we ate at the same table each night with assigned table mates, and enjoyed the rotational dining program in each of the beautiful dining rooms on the ship. Just because it was a special program, didn’t mean we received special treatment.  (On this cruise, my favorite meal came from Parrot Cay, unlike when I sailed on the Disney Magic with my lovely bride in October – where my favorite meal came from Animator’s Palette).   Many fun conversations and much laughter came during our dinner conversations.  Table 7 certainly had some fun times together. 

Here I am, in Cozumel, with some rain clouds in the background
In each of our ports of call – Grand Cayman and Cozumel – a number of the agents went off to enjoy and explore the ports together, while others did so solo.  I enjoyed both ports on a solo basis, and then later enjoyed hearing of my various compatriot’s tales about their experiences in both ports.  I will share more about my personal experiences in another entry yet to come. 

The weather on our sailing was mostly superb.  We did get some rain on and off throughout the day we were in Cozumel, and our last at-sea day was windy – very windy – not just the regular breezes you feel as sailing along either – but very windy, which did produce a little more wave action.  Even though I didn’t, a few members of our group were feeling a bit nauseous for the first time all week as a result of the stronger winds.  The sunshine and warmth was a welcome sight after dark grey clouds and rain in Cozumel.   

College of Disney Knowledge sling backpack,
Disney Parks branded pedometer, small tin of DCL logo
bookclips, Graduation Certificate, 3 pins & lanyard, our
choice of one onboard photo, and the training manual
Exclusive AEP Graduate Pin
I will say though, that even though we didn’t receive any special treatment throughout the week, we were given a small tchotchke at the conclusion of each seminar, and at the end of the week treated to a nice reception / graduation ceremony on the final afternoon of our cruise.  It was a nice cocktail reception, and we each received our completion certificate and a special pin.  Here’s a photo of the few things that we received.  Other than these things just mentioned, nothing special was done or provided.  Will these things by themselves help me to promote the Disney Cruise Line over any other line?  

Absolutely not – but – the experience and additional knowledge gained about the ship itself and the rest of the DCL fleet – will help me to recommend DCL whenever appropriate.  There is such a perception out there that DCL is just for families, and that is certainly just not true.  When working with clients, I always want to make sure that I am recommending the best experience for their individual needs and desires.  I want to make sure that my clients have the best possible time and get the best value for their hard-earned money.  Many times that will include DCL in my recommendations, but there are times that it just won’t.  Bringing home a couple of pins, a certificate and the like won’t change that.  After all – it’s their vacation at stake, not mine.  The best value and experience to one client will not be identical to another client – so being able to match them up with the best possible experiences is critical.  And AEPs such as this one that I just completed help those of us who sell travel to be able to speak from experience – not just be items to select from on a nameless, faceless website.  I like to treat each client with friendly, personable and professional one-on-one service.  I don’t just view my clients as another number or sale.  I appreciate each and every one, and at the end of the day, want to know that the recommendations that I make truly are the best for each client.  So these types of familiarization trips are not only nice, but necessary. 

So with that, I will bid you adieu for now, or as they say on board… til we meet again, 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Magical Port Adventures - part 1

Like so many other 7-night cruises out there, our sailing on the Disney Magic through the Western Caribbean included stops in ports of call.  Our itinerary included stops in Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel.   This entry will share some information about our stop in Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman is the largest of the three islands that make up the Cayman Islands, which is still a British territory.  

Geographically, it is south of the western end of Cuba, approximately 1,092 miles southeast of Galveston, TX.  The island itself is about 22 miles long, and about 8 miles wide at its’ widest point.  It goes no higher than 60 feet above sea level. 

Yet, Grand Cayman, is home to hell on earth… literally – there is a place called Hell, on the island.  It is a place about the size of half of a soccer field, filled with black limestone formations.  It is ugly, yes, but nothing too exciting, though it certainly is a highlight of many tours, with a post office right onsite where guests can send cards or letters home “from hell.” 
Our tour took us to the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm, which raises turtles for meat, as well as introduction into the wild.  We were able to each hold a turtle, and touch several others.  It was a fun, yet sad place too.  We did get to see a hatchling working its’ way up out of the dirt in the glassed-enclosure hatchery.  That was pretty neat by itself. 

The island is surrounded by some beautifully pristine waters, with such incredibly beautiful hues.  Surrounding the island are many wonderful places for scuba diving and snorkeling.  We took a tour on a boat out to “Stingray City”, which was about a 15-20 minute boat ride out to the area, made up of 3-5 foot sandbars where there is an abundance of southern stingrays that guests can interact with.  

We had a very nice time playing with the stingrays, and getting some cool underwater photos of each other.  The waters were so beautiful, and so very comfortable.  The temperatures were fabulous – my lovely bride was initially afraid that they might be too cold to swim in at that time of year. 

Overall, neither of us were terribly impressed by Grand Cayman.  It has some lovely areas, and to be sure, some gorgeous beaches and ocean panoramas, but the port was dirty and ugly, and left a bad impression from beginning to end.  The people there were very friendly, but the overall experience just wasn’t what we had hoped it might be.  Perhaps if we go to Grand Cayman again on a future cruise, we will simply enjoy the beach instead of attempting a “port adventure” tour. 

Next time when we look at our port adventures – Costa Maya, Mexico.

Until next time,

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Magical Overview

Sailing with Disney Cruise Line has been a dream of mine for many years, and last week it came true.  My lovely bride and I set sail out of the port of Galveston, Texas on a Western Caribbean cruise itinerary on the Disney Magic, the original ship in their fleet.  It was a 7-night itinerary sailing south through the Gulf of Mexico to the largest of the Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman – then on to Costa Maya, Mexico, followed by Cozumel, Mexico before returning once again to Galveston.  The sailing included two full at-sea days, then three port days, and finally another at-sea day.  I know many of you readers have sailed with Disney before - but we hadn't - so bear with me as I go through and share all about OUR voyage and some of the experiences we had, and memories that we made.  For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of sailing with Disney Cruise Line - or this particular itinerary or ship - hopefully it will be of some benefit to you.  And of course, again, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a travel professional, and would be more than happy to help you get booked onto the Disney Magic (or one of their other ships) if you are interested in sailing with them in the future.  But aside from that comment, the rest of these DISNEY MAGIC entries will simply be our experiences and memories - with some personal opinion thrown in from time to time.  And, my lovely bride has even consented to provide a guest feature with her own view of the voyage.  So be sure to watch for the female point of view in the days to come.   

The Disney Magic originally set sail at the end of July 1998, and has been sailing all over the world in the 14 years since she first set sail.  Just as Disneyland, Walt’s original park, was a proving ground for theme parks yet to be built in the years and decades following his death, the Disney Magic has been just that for the fleet of Disney ships.  It certainly has some great things going for it, as well as some flaws /drawbacks that have been modified or improved on the Wonder, Dream & Fantasy.  But for a first time sailing with Disney Cruise Line, we were very pleased to begin our DCL career onboard the beautiful Magic. As my lovely bride stated on Facebook to a friend asking about our trip, “Disney’s ship lived up to its’ name…Magic.”  

There are just so many things to talk about regarding the cruise, I simply cannot do it all in writing.  So I will be breaking it down into various categories – food (yes, I've even got a whole lot of "food porn" - we got pictures at just about every meal), entertainment, port adventures, transportation, shipboard amenities, fellow passengers, deck parties, Fireworks at Sea, the ship itself and more.  We took well over 1,500 pictures during the week, and I will be sharing a good number of them, but of course not all of them.  We had such a good time, and cannot wait to be able to return to the sea and sail once again with Disney.

During our sailing, we enjoyed the food and their legendary service; we really enjoyed their stage productions; the spa; the adults-only areas including the pool, hot tub and after-dinner entertainment in Rockin' Bar D.  They provide a wide array of port adventures, and the crew does an absolutely amazing job with entertainment for both kids and adults alike.  For too long I've heard from friends and clients alike that Disney Cruise Line is really only for families traveling with kids - but - that is hands-down, absolutely NOT TRUE.  We sailed without our kids - and had a simply marvelous time.  There are so many terrific things/areas just for the adults, which totally debunk the myth that Disney is just for kids.  I'll share more about that soon.   

Until next time,

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The MAGIC Begins NOW

It has been a LOOOOOONG 55 days since I was first able to book my sailing on the Disney Magic leaving out of Galveston, TX for a 7-night Western Caribbean itinerary – but the day has finally come!!!  My lovely bride and I are currently in Houston, TX, getting ready to head back over to the airport to catch our bus down to Galveston.  We’ll soon be going through the boarding process, and then heading across that gangway onto the beautiful Disney Magic, the first vessel in their fleet.  How fitting that this, our first Disney cruise, is aboard their first ship.  Just as our first Disney theme park experiences were in the original Magic Kingdom – Disneyland. 

© Disney 
Full disclosure, of course, I am a travel professional selling through my franchisor, CRUISE PLANNERS, and from time to time do include information about my services in my blog posts.  This is a business research and building trip.  It is a FAM, or familiarization trip, offered to travel professionals so that we might experience first-hand the ships & itineraries for ourselves, so that we can then have a better understanding of what we sell – and of course, to be able to sell even more of it.  But beyond the deeply discounted price, there are no special perks that I’m receiving as a result of going on this voyage. With all that said, I am so very excited about this sailing.  I have expectations certainly, but am excited to watch and see how the stories I’ve been told; the research I’ve done; and yes, even the information that I’ve shared with my clients ) comes to life for my lovely bride and me.  So I’m trying to put off any pre-conceived notions or ideas about the legendary service, the food, the accommodations, etc, etc and just see how it all plays out for us.  

Our western Caribbean itinerary includes stops in Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel.  We’ve picked out some fun-sounding port adventures, and we are excited to get out and explore a part of the world that we haven’t personally been to yet.  The best part is that we’re doing it together.  (The last adventures I went on were solo, so it will be nice to share this with her as well).  Another fun thing is that we are – gasp – NOT taking the kids along.   What with school schedules and all, we just had to leave them at home.  Ah the joys of being a travel professional and having to work on a cruise ship! ;-)

So, I will be sharing about this experience in the week ahead, but really not until AFTER we return home again.  I will be taking lots of pictures, and documenting our journey.  Lots of information will be coming here in stopher’s stuff.  I’ve pre-loaded several items to broadcast throughout the week while we’re on board.  Hopefully you’ll enjoy those, and then return to read more about our MAGICal adventure thereafter.  I do try to include a variety of  information on this page.  Yes, it’s heavily Disney, but there are other nuggets about cruising, and other destinations as well.  So thank you, stopher’s stuff readers for stopping by and checking out what I have to share.  I know that some of it won’t appeal to all of you, but hopefully most of you will find something appealing and then tell your friends about me as well. 

In the meantime, I'd love it if you would like my Facebook page, or follow me on Pinterest, or on Twitter, or circle me on Google+ or simply check out my websites:  and  

October is National Cruise Vacation Month!  The cruise lines are offering some of the BEST deals of the year throughout the month, but the absolute best deals will be offered between October 21-27 - National Cruise Vacation Week!   You can learn more about that here. As a member of CLIA (Cruise Line International Association), I have access to all of the different lines and their specials.  So if you'd like to go somewhere in the months ahead and need some help with it all, I'd be delighted to help you out.  

Until next time,