Niagara Falls Weekend With CAA Blogger Shopping Challenge

It’s Week #4 of the CAA Blogger Shopping Challenge where Extreme Couponing Mom and I are each using a CAA No-Fee MasterCard with a limit of $2500 to shop at the CAA partner stores and blog about our experiences. The first blogger to save enough money with their CAA membership to cover the cost of a new CAA Plus membership + Plus Associate membership (totaling $209.05) will receive an East Side Mario’s OR Husky Gift Certificate worth $100!

caa Blogger challenge

For those who may have missed my previous 2 updates you can catch up on the amazing savings my CAA membership has allowed me at Payless ShoeSource, The Gap Factory Store and Banana Republic Factory store by following the link HERE for Payless and HERE for The Gap and Banana Republic Factory Stores.

In case you haven’t been following along for the past 3 weeks, you can read all about my shopping adventures at Payless ShoeSource, Gap Factory Store, Banana Republic Factory Store, East Side Mario’s and Petro Canada HERE.

Saving in Niagara Falls with My CAA Membership

When I received notice that I was one of the two bloggers chosen for this challenge I knew our little family simply had to take advantage of the hotel Partner Savings, so I planned a weekend away at Niagara Falls.

After doing a bit of research I decided we would stay at the Marriott Niagara Falls Gateway on the Falls Hotel. As we drove into the parking lot at the hotel we were amazed at the sight! We were quite literally right on the cusp of the Falls.

CAA Marriott

The Marriott Niagara Falls Gateway on the Falls Hotel offers over 230 first-class Fallsview rooms and suites and is 31 floors high. Check in went very smoothly, although there was one hiccup. We had chosen to visit Niagara Falls on the American Memorial Day weekend and the hotel was sold out which meant that CAA membership discounts weren’t offered. They did say that I should have been advised of this at booking but I wasn’t concerned because I had obtained a fantastic rate.

In the event that I had chosen a weekend on which the CAA membership savings was available, I would have saved up to 15% off of our stay.

Within minutes we had our Breakfast Vouchers and $25 Milestone’s Gift Certificate in hand and we were directed to our elevator. The look on our daughters faces when they saw that we were heading to the second highest floor was hilarious, I’m not sure if the lit up #30 was exciting or frightening to them.

CAA Blogger Challenge Marriott

A Room With A View

Walking into the room I knew that we were staying in the Superior Fallsview Guest room in their high floor category so I expected a good view of the Falls. I had NO idea how overwhelming the view would actually be!

 CAA Mariott Gateway View

It was breathtaking, all four of us stood at that huge wall of window in silence for a few moments before the excited “look at this” began. We really enjoyed our first half hour in our room, just standing and sharing the moment with one another.

The room itself was lovely, with 2 Queen beds each child chose a parent to sleep with (insert sarcastic yippee) a spacious bathroom and the fridge we would need for our snacks.

 CAA Marriott room

After relaxing in our room for a bit we decided to head to Cliffton Hill to check out the action.

If you’ve never been to Cliffton Hill in Niagara Falls, you may not quite understand when I say its a hilly, winding street jammed with the buzz of excitement. With Casinos, wax museums, arcades and tourist shops the energy on Cliffton Hill is a bit overwhelming.

Eats at Hard Rock Cafe

Soon enough we all found we were too tired to really enjoy Cliffton Hill so we decided to head to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner before heading to the hotel pool.

The Hard Rock Cafe is a fun place, we’ve been to their Toronto location but this was our first visit to this location. It’s a very cool atmosphere and we were so grateful for the comfy booth at this stage. We chilled out, unwound with the music  and enjoyed searching the walls to see whose memorabilia we’d find.

CAA Hard Rock Cafe

The food was delicious, I enjoyed a HUGE Ceasar salad while my daughters chose chicken fingers (eye roll, hope this stage ends soon) and my hubby had fish & chips. We also enjoyed some divine desserts and they even had a Mocktail for me!

Our Total for dinner was $84.01 before taxes and with our CAA membership we saved 10% ($8.40) making it $75.61 before tax.

Following dinner we went for a quick dip in the hotel pool then made our way back to our room, got into pjs and sat once again at the window watching the magic of the Falls. At night the view is spectacular, there is lighting on the Falls which turn them colours to the delight of the children. We had the added bonus of a fireworks show over the Falls for Memorial Day.

Fireworks over falls

Day #2 In Niagara Falls

This was my view when I woke in the morning, it was so peaceful sitting with a cup of coffee in the silence while my family slept. It didn’t last long, soon enough everyone woke eager to get the day going.

Morning view

Breakfast at Milestones within the hotel was gorgeous, it was a buffet which was sure to fit anyone’s tastebuds. With choices like dry cereals, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, porridge, fresh juices, baked goods, sausage and even an omelette bar everyone was happy.

CAA Marriott Breakfast

 

Cliffton Hill FUN

We decided to use our CAA Membership to buy a Cliffton Hill pass to enjoy for the day. We purchased 5 passes for the girls to the BIG FUN package and 3 for each adult. This allowed us to enjoy 5 of the 6 available attractions which are: Guinness World Records, Mystery Get Lost Maze, The Fun House, Bronto’s Adventure Playland, Brick City and The Haunted House.

CAA Cliffton Hill

I purchased the passes using the CAA online option and found out quickly that you cannot open multiple tabs without double-checking to makes sure you didn’t enter too many passes into your card. Thankfully the fine support staff corrected my errors, we printed our passes and off we went!

When we arrived we realized we had forgotten our passes in the car so my darling husband went back to get them while the girls enjoyed the games outside of Bronto’s Adventure Playland. As I stood waiting I noticed a young couple looking distressed near a car. It didn’t take me long to realize they had locked their keys in the car.

I know how awful this feels, and so like the forward person I am I approached them and offered to use my CAA membership to get a tech out to open their car. They were overwhelmed but it was no big deal because I have a number of services available for the year. Within 20 minutes of us calling the CAA mobile arrived to the rescue! They were unlocked and on their way in no time, just another example of the benefits of my CAA membership.

CAA Cliffton Hill FUN

The Cliffton Hill Big Fun Value Passes are a great deal:

IMG_6097

  • Regular price for 3 Pack Adult Pass is $31.61, they give Savings of $11.33 which made them $20.28 each.
  • Regular price for 5 Pack Child Pass (4-17) is $41.33, they give Savings of $19.79 which made them $22.54 each. 
  • I saved $62.24
  • I earned $1.67 CAA Dollars

CAA Members Save At Husky

On the way home we stopped for gas at Husky and I was please to see they had a HUGE sign welcoming us as CAA members!

CAA Husky

We bought $77 worth of gas (groan!) and the attendant told us we would see our CAA dollars on our monthly statement because we were using our CAA Mastercard so I’ll have to see my total then.

This Week’s Progress Report

As of today, by using my CAA membership card at CAA Partners in TOTAL I’ve saved $180.90 and have spent $1,90.22 of the $2500.

Disclosure: As a chosen blogger for the CAA Blogger Challenge I am being compensated for participating. All opinions and experiences are my own.

 

Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain – Serenity Abounds

Life for so many of us is busy and rarely do we take time to rest and recharge. As a mother of 2 living in such busy times I was very excited when I was presented the opportunity to attend Scandinave Spa at Blue Mountain in Collingwood, Ontario to review their services.

The award-winning Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain is renowned for the outdoor Scandinavian Baths experience. Guests spend hours soaking whilst enjoying the serenity of the surrounding natural environment. Minutes from Collingwood & Blue Mountain Resort, the year-round experience offers Registered Massages, Getaway Packages & a delicious Bistro. Open daily from 10am-9pm.

For quite some time I’ve heard my friends gush about the amenities and peace they’ve found at Scandinave Spa and of course I’d seen the beautiful photos on their website but I don’t think I was quite prepared for the deep sense of serenity which I found while there.

Even as I drove onto the property I was struck by the nature which surrounds the facility, they’ve managed to utilize the existing landscape to their advantage.

scandinave spa driveway Between the snow gently falling and the rustic feel of the place, it felt like I was entering a different world.

Once I arrived, I met my good friend Christine from MommyMatter.com in the parking lot and we slowly made our way into the retreat, chatting away. The Lobby is lovely, it continues with the rustic feel and the staff are warm and welcoming.

We were checked in and given our robes, water bottles, coupons for lunch at the Bistro and a brief tour of the facility from the HUGE windows overlooking the baths.

There are a few rules while at Scandinave Spa, guests are asked to be quiet (who knew that would be difficult for Christine and I?) and not to use cell phones or pdas(we were exempt for review purposes).

Scandinave Spa Robe

After changing into our swimsuits we threw on our robes, filled our water bottles and headed outside…brr!

Scandinave Spa is renowned for their Finnish Sauna, Eucalyptus Steam Room, Thermal & Nordic Waterfalls, Hot Baths, Cold Plunges & relaxation areas.

Scandinave Spa Cold Bath

This is the sight that greeted us as we stepped outside, we were eager to jump in until we realized that this is actually the Nordic Waterfall which definitely would have to wait until we’d been somewhere hot.

There is a process which we were to follow if we wanted to maximize the health benefits of the baths. Essentially we were to enter a hot bath or facility for 15 minutes to dilate blood vessels on the surface of the skin, allowing for perspiration to expel toxins and then immediately follow with a cold one to close the pores. Then we were instructed to head to one of the relaxation areas to allow the body to regulate.

Scandinave Spa Eucalyptus Steam Room

This may be my new favorite place on Earth! I had never experience anything like this, it’s simply blissful.

Scandinave Spa Sober JulieChristine and I joked that we couldn’t possibly honor the Absolute Silence rule but as soon as I opened the door to the steam room I knew it wouldn’t be a problem. The eucalyptus scent seemed to sweep over my body as I was coated in mist, taking a step into the room it was like a dream.

I couldn’t see very far in front of me but realized that the round room had three levels of tiled seating. We chose a spot close to the door, at first we were quite tense but slowly as we breathed in the scent of the steam relaxation truly overcame us. Fifteen minutes felt like it flew by and too soon we left the cocoon of tranquility.

Both Christine and I agreed, this was an experience that touched us deeply and we could easily picture spending time meditating in the Eucalyptus Steam Room.

Scandinave Spa Cold Bath

As I said, the next stage was to be a cold experience but I have to admit we didn’t indulge. Between my migraines and back spasms we felt that stepping out into the freezing winter temperatures were enough cold for that day, instead we enjoyed some time quietly chatting by a fire outside.

Scandinave Spa paths

Scandinave Spa Relaxation Room

We headed into the beautiful relaxation room which overlooks the baths and allowed us to see the surrounding landscape. There were comfy loungers, magazines or simple solitude in the silent environment.

Scandinave Spa Tranquility

Scandinave Spa Relax Room

I can honestly say that the fine folks at Scandinave Spa have thought of everything to make your time here beneficial for unwinding. When I first learned of the silence rules I thought I’d have issues with it but quite the opposite was true. The atmosphere is conducive to relaxation and turning within to reflect.

Scandinave Spa Hot BathBetween these gorgeous views, the effects of the hot and cold amenities I was truly relaxed when we headed into the Bistro for lunch.

Scandinave Spa LunchI enjoyed a ham & cheese sandwich on a pretzel bun with a delicious homemade mushroom soup. The bistro serves healthy, delicious foods made from fresh ingredients and is well worth it.

If you’re looking for a way to rest and recharge you really must look up the Scandinave Spa! You can connect with them on Facebook or Twitter or via their website.

All of This Snow Has Me Planning a Family Vacation

We are snowed under here in Southern Ontario and I’m dreaming of warmer weather. Spring always feels far away during these months but to combat that I settle into planning our family’s activities for the warmer months.
Living with so much snow in the Winters we dream of time spent in cottage country and our quick shopping trips across the border to the United States or March Break holidays on beaches.family vacation
By February many of us are fed up and we decide it’s time to plan a family vacation. We check the rates for travel, scouring the internet for the best deals, we cross-check schedules, make lists and do it all over again until we finally sigh and book the ultimate family retreat.
If you are one of these folks who are considering making plans for your family’s vacations I just want to give you a heads up on two plans that we’ve found useful in the past.
CAA offers annual plans which provide travel medical insurance coverage you can access quickly. This plan is perfect for single trips outside of Canada, or outside your province or territory.Whether you’re taking a day trip across the border, a trip out west or an extended vacation overseas your family is covered. If you’re like me and don’t know how many days you’ll vacation over the next year you can choose to buy 15 days which can be used year-round on sporadic trips as you need them.
We’ve chosen the annual plan in the past and will again, if only because I hate to worry. It just plain makes sense to cross one concern off of my list when I’d rather focus on which beach we’ll be enjoying or what activity the kids want to experience.
Our family values protection when we travel and the cost of protecting ourselves is far lower than what we would experience if one of us got sick while away. I know it’s not the most attractive aspect of family travel planning, but your family is worth protecting and hey, you’ll enjoy your vacation more knowing you’ve taken care of this.
This post is sponsored by CAA but opinions and experiences are my own. 

Hollywood Studios Attractions We Love

Hollywood StudiosHollywood Studios is one of my favourite places on Earth. It feels funny saying that, frankly I’d much rather be raving about my time in Fiji or hanging with the locals in some exotic location but it is what it is. I adore Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World.

I was first introduced to Hollywood Studios two years ago and had been expecting to feel as I do at most amusement parks. Little did I know that I’d be pulled into the old Hollywood magic within minutes.

Disney has really hit the ball out of the park with this park, the retro feel combined with today’s technology hits the mark with me and my family each time we visit.

This year once again we planned our trip with a CAA Magical Planner. I cannot recommend this enough, she really took our dreams and made them come true. Honestly, it was amazing how she was able to take our list of wishes and organize it all into a well planned out holiday at Walt Disney World. Every detail was taken care of, right down to planning the schedule around Hollywood Studios so we avoided the busiest places and had rest areas available.

Star Tours

Hollywood Studios Star Tours

Photo: www.wdwnews.com

Please don’t tell anyone but I have a new favourite ride at Walt Disney World!! Star Tours was AMAZING.

Living in a house with a Star Wars loving husband I have to admit it was hilarious to see the excitement on his face as we approached this attraction. Sydney and my husband were chattering away about the new Star Wars feature when their attention was caught by something which was apparently “AWESOME”…..and a photo op took place immediately!

Hollywood Studios Star Tours Photo

Star Tours took us on a ride in Starspeeder 1000 (which meant nothing to me but had hubby all jazzed up) with C3Po as our pilot. As we strapped into the simulator R2D2 appeared on screen to inform us that there is a spy onboard whom the enemy is determined to capture. On the same screen an image of the “spy” appeared and it was our daughter!!! Who knew?

The ride reached past my doubts and pulled me into the realm of childhood appreciation. Using brilliant 3d technology, sound and gentle movements I felt like I was genuinely streaking through space avoiding the enemy chasing us. This ride is now my favourite and I wish I could go on it again!!

Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror

Photo: www.wdwnews.com

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

If you’re looking for a thrill ride, Tower of Terror is for you! I was unable to go on this ride because of my physical condition but my husband and daughter were seen to be running across the park to get their Fast-Passes for this one.

The story is that Hollywood stars loved to go to the beautiful Hollywood Hotel to rest and relax. But rest and relaxation were the last thing that 5 unlucky souls found one fateful Halloween in 1939.

On that night these 5 people were riding down the Hotel’s maintenance service elevator when a violent storm struck the building… and they were never seen again. Black scorch marks still scar The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror facade where lightning left its autograph.

The ride itself takes you on that freight elevator, past the eerie boiler room in the hotel basement could be down, then up, or maybe down again, or up and up—every experience is different and randomly selected by the Tower itself. There’s no way of knowing which direction you’ll go on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

My husband and daughter agree, this is their favourite thrill ride of all time!

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

This was our first time seeing Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and I wasn’t sure it would appeal to our littlest princess who normally prefers more “girlie” attractions. Boy was I wrong!

We were seated in a covered viewing area for this 30 minute show that had us on the edge of our seats. It was an interactive experience; at the beginning a Casting Director came out and asked for volunteers. You know I was sitting on my hands sighing with relief as he chose people who helped as extras during the show.

Hollywood Studios Indiana Jones

The show opened with a live scene which could have come directly from an Indiana Jones film. Indy was jumping fires, whipping snakes and running from a huge rolling boulder right before our eyes. After making it to safety and retrieving the golden idol a director appeared and explained in detail how each of the stunts was performed.

Hollywood Studios Indiana Jones Scene

I won’t ruin it for you at this point by telling all but there were more intense scenes, explosions, motorcycles, airplanes and more. This is one attraction that is packed with energy and information.

Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun Parade

When planning our day at Hollywood Studios our CAA Magical Planner recommended we make time to watch the Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun Parade. I was hesitant, after all what could be different with this parade but in the end I’m glad we did make the time to see it.

We were close to the front gates watching Sydney (8) play some games with Disney staff when parade time rolled around. This ended up being the right spot at the right time because the Disney staff person chose us as their VIP family and we were placed in a prime location to view the parade!

The parade opened with one of our favourite characters, Mr Incredible!

Hollywood Studios Parade

The parade was wonderful, lively and full of characters our family has enjoyed over the years.

Hollywood Studios Parade 2

Hollywood Studios Parade 3

It was wonderful to see Sully in the parade but I must admit I was getting more amusement from the skywriter above!

Hollywood Studios Parade 4

I have so many beautiful shots of the parade but I’ll leave you with the ones above and just say that you won’t be disappointed!

Sci-Fi Dine In Theatre

This was one restaurant which hadn’t made my list until our CAA Magical Planner suggested it. I had no interest in sitting in a car watching old movies on a big screen while struggling to see my food. Once again I was proven wrong!

hollywood studios sci fi

Photo: www.wdwnews.com

After a day of excitement at Hollywood Studios I was shocked to find the lovely dim, quite atmosphere that greeted us. Something had come over our rowdy children, they somehow knew to hush and take it all in. I’m not joking, my husband and I looked at each other in disbelief as our bodies began to relax while being led to our car/table.

The food was delicious, the movies brought my husband and I back to our childhood and the girls were surprised when the waiter brought over special desserts to celebrate their December birthdays at the request of our CAA Magical Planner.

  Hollywood Studios Dine In theater copy

 There are far too many attractions at Hollywood Studios to list them all but I’d love to hear which ones you have enjoyed.

 

Top Attractions at Animal Kingdom

Walking into Animal Kingdom is amazing, we were instantly brought into another world with a Tree of Life waiting for us smack in the middle of the action. As people milled about I was struck by the lush greenery and signs of nature everywhere. This is a refreshing sight for a country girl like myself.

Our CAA Magical Planner had given us a list of attractions to visit at Animal Kingdom. Very wisely she didn’t plan our journey through Animal Kingdom by times, she listed the attractions we wanted to see in the most logical order in case we got side-tracked instead.

This made it very simple for us, each attraction was listed by location in the park and historical crowd information. Once again our CAA Magical Planner proved invaluable to us as we avoided confusion in locating rides or time wasted criss-crossing the park to get to attractions. We simply followed her list and each attraction led to the next.

The Tree of Life

Anyone who enters Animal Kingdom is greeted by the sight of this man-made tree; it’s a sculpted 14-story (145-foot tall) and 50-foot wide tree.

Tree of Life Animal Kingdom

There are paths which meander around the Tree of Life, they’re known as the Discovery Island Trail. As we walked along the path we were exported to a magical spot where we found hidden animals in the foliage, carved into the branches of the tree and information on each animal.

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The girls loved the challenge of spotting animals and learning new information about each one. I probably should say this but we did find a Hidden Mickey!!

Killimanjaro Safaris Expedition

This is a very cool attraction, we waited in a large line up but honestly it was so worth the wait! We were led onto a safari bus that had open sides and was much like the vehicles we see on televisions in African safaris. If you have any physical issues, be aware the ride is quite bumpy but it’s slow moving and the sights are incredible.

Animal Kingdom Safari

We were taken around the animal reserve and got to see elephants, lions, antelope, flamingo, black rhinos and more. The driver was fabulous, he instructed us where to look and managed to know when to stop and wait…..just as I was about to be impatient he’d yell “there” and an animal would come out of the brush.

 Animal Kingdom

Elephant at Animal Kingdom

Tigers at Animal Kingdom

Our girls adored this ride and we’ll be back for sure, if you’re going make sure you have your camera ready!

Kali River Rapids

Kali River Rapids Animal Kingdom

Photo: wdwnews.com

Unfortunately I was unable to do this ride because of back/neck issues but my family LOVED it! Kali River Rapids is a river rafting ride that exhilarated them from beginning to end. The raft is curricular and holds 12 people.

My husband and 2 daughters were taken 90 feet up into the jungle, with sights of beautiful waterfalls and foliage surrounding them. Then they hit rough water, the entire landscape changed to one of a dangerous nature.

The story goes that some illegal loggers had fled the area, leaving debris along the riverbanks. There were fires blazing along the landscape and frightening wildlife waiting for you to fall out of the raft.

The kids were terrified, but they managed to escape by plummeting down a 30-foot waterfall to safety. Their faces as they ran towards me were hilarious, to say they were jazzed is the understatement of the year!

 

Expedition Everest

Disney Animal Kingdom Expedition Everest

Photo: wdwnews.com

This was one roller coaster my husband and eldest daughter were looking forward to! While waiting in line my two adventurers were heard to be yelling Yeti, Yeti, Yeti!!!

The ride had them climb aboard a railway car that took them high up a mountain with some twists and turns where the view was spectacular. Just as they were getting comfy looking around they were plunged into darkness that took their breath away. Suddenly they were in the light again only to find the track their railway car is on has been twisted and it’s a dead end!

Howls greeted their ears and then……well I can’t tell you everything can I? Suffice it to say it was an experience of gut-wrenching drops, turns and yes maybe even a Yeti!

Finding Nemo the Musical

Finding Nemo

Photo: wdwnews.com

Oh my goodness this show is spectacular! Please, if you’re going to Animal Kingdom mark this as a must see.

Located in Dinoland USA this is a 30 minute Broadway-style show that will have you and your family fully absorbed throughout the entire production. Disney really hit it out of the park with this, I was instantly brought back to the underwater world of Nemo and once again falling in love with my favourite character of all time: Dory,

The theatre darkens and the stage comes alive with colours I didn’t imagine anywhere but underwater. Disney’s innovation with props, lighting, sounds and special effect overwhelmed my senses and I was enchanted. The puppets became life like, as they swayed in authentic fish like movements. The voices were straight out of the film and the songs peaked my memories. Oh yes I fell in love again.

Animal Kingdom is an amazing experience for all ages, surrounded by exotic animals, vegetation and information we had an enlightening day which we couldn’t elsewhere.

 

Epcot Must See Attractions

If you’re heading to Epcot you really should do your best to take the Monorail there. The Monorail is a complimentary transit system. Originally conceived as a public transport for the future, the Walt Disney World Monorail System has three separate beams that travel throughout Walt Disney World Resort and allow you to see everything from above.

Epcot Family Photo

Space Ship Earth

You can’t miss Space Ship Earth as you enter Epcot, it’s an impressive dome that seems to draw you in. This is a slow-moving ride that I was able to join in on. This is a very interesting inter-active ride that takes you through the ages from the beginning of time into the future.

Throughout the ride you are asked a series of multiple choice questions which add up to a prediction of what my life will be like in the future. This certainly encouraged me to think more GREEN.

CAA Exclusive Story Time

If you book your Disney Vacation with CAA you are entitled to some extra benefits. The Exclusive Story Time is one that is a truly wonderful experience. Set in the Innovations West Building nobody even realizes this intimate experience is available.

The day of the Story Time we had no idea who would be reading and so we were really excited. There was an usher who treated each child like royalty as he led them into what felt like a secret inner sanctum. After a few moments he announced Snow White into the room!

Epcot CAA Story Time

Oh it was so sweet, the kids were super excited to see Snow White and she greeted each little person individually. She read a wonderful story which of course I cannot remember because I was too busy snapping photos then Snow White led the children around the room in a parade.

As you can see from the photos it was an intimate experience where the kids really got to spend some time with Snow White.

Epcot CAA Story Time Snow White

Then the children lined up and took turns getting Snow White’s autograph and we took photos. It was an amazing experience that I’m sure our Chelsea will never forget. Just one more reason why I’d suggest folks book their Disney vacations with a CAA Magical Planner.

Soarin

Soarin is located in The Land Pavilion and is my FAVORITE ride at Walt Disney World! This is one that didn’t hurt me at all, it was smooth as silk and had me laughing out loud. It’s a multi-sensory attraction which simulates a smooth hang-gliding tour of California.

We were lifted 40 feet into the air and swooped and swayed into believing we were actually hang-gliding. To top off  the amazing views, Disney even provided us with the spray of water on our faces, the scents of the oranges growing below and wind blowing through our hair. It’s simply AMAZING!

Mission Space

From our previous visit 2 years ago this was my husband and daughters favourite ride. They were dying to go and once again they weren’t disappointed by this simulated flight mission to Mars.

As you are going onto the ride there are 4 seats in each pod. You are assigned a title for the mission and have unique tasks you have to complete.  This ride has you rocketing around the moon, experiencing a brief period of simulated hyper sleep and landing on Mars before returning to Earth.

For this ride Disney advises that people with back or neck problems may find their issues aggravated by the ride so I wasn’t able to partake but I did enjoy seeing the excitement on their faces as they disembarked. Poor little Chesea was frightened out of her mind, nobody is allowed to say the “SM” word around her……if your child is frightened of the dark perhaps it’s best for them to bypass this ride.

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Once again our CAA Magical Planner astounded me when she told me she had managed to get us a seating at this character meal! Generally speaking this is a favourite for visitors to Walt Disney World and it’s recommended to book 180 days before your trip.

Not only did our CAA Magical Planner manage to get us seats, she secured it for the day we had the girls makeovers. What a treat it was to be in the Medieval themed castle with a princess and a pirate!

We were greeted by Belle and had the opportunity to get a photo with her.

Akershus Belle

The food was incredible and the event well planned out . We began with an appetizer buffet and the princesses began coming to tables just as we were finishing. Part way through we were served our dinner (seriously delicious) and the princesses timed their visits so as not to interrupt our eating.

Akershus ArielAkershus Princess

Once we finished eating the princesses led the children around the restaurant in a parade. Even our doubtful pirate joined in!!

I’d recommend Akershus to everyone going to Epcot, the food quality is much higher than most character meals.

Rose & Crowne Pub & Dining Room

My parents would be impressed with this British pub! It’s located in the United Kingdom Pavilion and hits the mark with authenticity. The decor and food are typical British and yes I can attest to that after being raised by two Brits!Epcot Rose and Crown

Although I bypassed the pints my husband enjoyed one and I joined in the sing along, belting out the lyrics that surrounded my childhood. We really enjoyed the Rose and Crown, after all the character meals it’s refreshing to find quality British food in a relaxed, welcoming environment.

United Kingdom Pavilion

As a child I had the pleasure of visiting my parents families in England every few years. The United Kingdom Pavilion has really brought me back to those trips. With the authentic phone boxes, the Bobbies, cobblestones under my feet, fantastic pubs and the maze for the kids, my Mum and Dad would feel at home here.

Epcot UK PavillionEpcot UK Pavillion CottageEpcot UK Pavillion Square

This is my favourite pavilion for sure, it could be because I feel at home here but Disney goes above and beyond when it comes to details. At each pavilion over Christmas there is a reenactment of a cultural tale, we found Father Christmas telling the tale of Scrooge in the UK.

Epcot UK Pavillion Father Christmas

Canada Pavilion

As Canadians visiting how could we not go and check out the Canada Pavilion to see what folks think of our culture. We were greeted by a celtic band, Off Kilter who were hilarious as they performed in their kilts. These guys are a must see, they get everyone moving and grooving.

 

Epcot Canada

It was a kick to see the different Canadian items they were selling, from beaver hats to maple syrup to Goofy Mountie shirts….we were amused.

Epcot Canada hats

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth

As the day came to an end we were tired and there was some bickering going on. Many of us parents would give in at this point, opting to call it a night and return to a cozy hotel room. My husband just isn’t this parent; instead he found us a great spot to watch IllumiNations.

To say the spectacular fireworks show took our breaths away isn’t praise enough. Epcot has officially become my favourite park for fireworks. This is a journey across the world and history, with scenes appearing on top of the water it’s simply beautiful and a MUST see.

Magic Kingdom Must See Attractions

We are HERE at Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World where it truly is MAGICAL!

magic kingdom

After much anticipation we arrived and stared in wonder as we approached the front gate. It’s a very impressive sight! With the Castle looming in behind the crowds a train can be heard approaching the area. Above the gates we were waiting to enter is a railway where the Disney Train rolls to a stop. Out jumps a cast of characters who gaily sing “Good morning. Good morning. It’s great to stay up late. Good morning. Good morning to you, and you and you and you.”

It’s well worth being an early riser to catch the opening show!

magic kingdom christmas tree

Just before we went through the gates into Magic Kingdom we stopped in at Guest Services and rented a wheelchair for the day. Our CAA Magical Planner made this easy for us by providing us with a specialized map identifying the rental location and the entrances at each ride for people with wheelchairs. It costs $12 a day and I certainly couldn’t spend time here without it.

Making our way down Main Street USA we could feel the palpable energy of excitement. Our senses were alive with sounds of happy people, smells of delicious foods and the colours of the characters, balloons and sights to see.

Magic Kingdom Christmas Main Street

Magic Kingdom Christmas Main St USA

Knowing it would be a SUPER busy time of year our CAA Magical Planner took time to plan our route for us to ensure we got to enjoy the attractions we listed.

Bibbity Bobbity Boo

For any little girl or boy this makeover is a dream come true! Our newly 7 year old daughter was in awe as we entered the castle and found the salon. We were treated like royalty as we checked in, Chelsea was given special attention with curtseys and the title “Princess” being used often.

We chose the Coach Package which includes choice of hairstyling, shimmering makeup, princess sash, face gem and princess cinch bag—$54.95 plus tax. Chelsea had 3 choices of hairstyles to choose from and she went with the Fairytale Princess to no surprise.

The salon itself is just adorable, fully kitted out in typical magical style!

The Pirate League

There was NO way Sydney was going to have a Princess makeover but when she heard she could get a Pirate makeover we couldn’t hold her back. At The Pirates League Sydney got to select her pirate style (I may have tried to encourage a bit of pink). The she went ahead and got her makeover which I give her credit for…she was patient. Next came the League’s training, this is given by some very seasoned pirates.

Magic Kingdom Pirate League makeover

Once this was done Sydney became someone else, she got her new name and insisted we refer to her as this the entire day! Our new Sydney has learned some swashbuckling moves, taken the official Pirate League Oath and walked in the pirate parade!

Celebrate A Dream Come True Parade

Parade times are worthy of paying attention to, we followed our plan and made it to the spot where people in wheelchairs have a viewing area in time for the action. The characters really did come alive as they dazzled us all, singing and dancing down the street.

Space Mountain

Space Mountain is a classic ride in Tomorrow Land that my husband loves! He and the girls had a blast as they boarded one of 2 rocket-shaped, 3-seater vehicles and shot off to space and sped around the universe.

Once they got off the ride they went onto a moving runway that took them past scenes of life in the future and got to see themselves on TV monitors as they went.

It’s common to see Chip & Dale right outside of this ride.

Fantasy Land

We’ve been very excited to see Fantasy Land….and we weren’t disappointed! Specifically we loved Under The Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid. Beast’s castle looms above Fantasyland, where you’re immersed in the stories. We couldn’t secure a seating at Be Our Guest Restaurant, apparently this is booked for almost all of 2013 but we did enjoy the rest of this new expansion.

Magic Kingdom Fantasy Land

Magic Kingdom Fantasy Land Belle Castle

 Magic Kingdom Fantasy Land

Fantasy Land

 magic kingdom ariel

Haunted Mansion

I am a serious lover of all things scary and the Haunted Mansion had me at Hello! We walked into the ride through a graveyard where tombstones howled at us and crypts played music as the instruments chiseled on them were touched.

The super creepy ride attendants herded bunches of us into a room “the portrait chamber” where the walls slid shut behind us and there was NO way out!! As an eerie voice generously pointed out there were no windows or doors but if we looked up we saw someone hanging above us…..it was creepy as all get out! I won’t say much more because I want it to be a surprise but if you dig being scared, this is a fab choice for you.

Pirates of The Caribbean

Of course we had to hit Pirates of The Caribbean, how could we not when Sydney cut such a dashing figure in her Pirate gear?

This ride has you on a boat that takes you up and down waterfalls, through a town where Jack Sparrow is hiding and the kids love looking for him. This is one for pirate lovers, they’re sure to fall in love with the life of a pirate!

We are really enjoying ourselves, watch here for more info on attractions and the shows we see!

 

Thomas Cook Kids First Family Vacations Giveaway #TCKF

Recently I was given the opportunity to review the Thomas Cook Kids First Family Vacations Package. Well, as you can imagine I was all over this.

Kids First Family Vacations is a “kid reviewed, parent approved” vacation program which promises vacations filled with fun at the guaranteed lowest prices.

Thomas Cook has partnered with Sunquest, Transat Holidays, Holiday House and WestJet Vacations to offer resorts which are focused upon family travel. These resorts offer services such as kid friendly dining, medial assistance nearby or on the resort, mini-fridges in the rooms, kids programs and can accommodate larger families.

Thomas Cook sent me the Thomas Cook Kids First Vacations package which is sent to everyone who books a vacation.

Thomas Cook Kids First Family Vacations

This is a fabulous package!

The total value is $500 but judging by the excitement of my daughters the value is much higher. They loved the activity book which features Oliver & Olivia, the greatest travel bloggers this side of the Atlantic. Receiving the package seemed to stimulate their imaginations and love for travelling. We ended up dreaming of beach vacations around the world.

From my perspective the Gift cards are just plain smart! Right away I thought of a use for each one;  I’d keep the $50 Visa card on hand for emergencies, the $25 Indigo card for activities and books to use for entertainment on the plane and the $25 Shoppers Drug Mart card for the essentials such as toiletries, band aids and medicines.

Being able to choose our seats in advance is always a worry, who wants to end up sitting far away from their children on a flight? And the airport lounge pass? Yeah there’s a dream.

All in all this is a fabulous package.

You can keep in touch with all that is happening with Thomas Cook Kids First Vacations on Facebook or Twitter.

WIN Kids First Family Vacation Package

The fine folks at Thomas Cook have given me 1 Kids First Family Vacation Package to giveaway to one of my Canadian readers. Enter by filling in the Rafflecopter form below, winner will be drawn on January 7th and have 48 hours to respond.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

In return for this review I received the Thomas Cook Kids Family First Vacations package, these opinions are my own.

Our Disney Vacation – Thankful We Have Travel Insurance!

The countdown is on my friends!! It’s only 4 days until we leave to spend our family Christmas at Walt Disney World.
Walt Disney Christmas
4 Days!!!

As you can imagine we are planning and preparing. Once again this is where our amazing CAA Magical Planner has saved us tons of effort, she’s prepared a detailed itinerary for us for every day of our trip. Believe me when I say this saves time; among other things she’s studied which parks will be the least crowded based upon historical numbers and has taken the burden off of us.

Last night at the dinner table the discussion turned to our trip, the kids wanted to know the low down on our plans. As we chatted about what we will see and do our 8 year old daughter, Sydney was becoming agitated.

Sydney isn’t one to share her emotions so we waited until she was ready to ask the question that was bothering her, pushing this child to open up just doesn’t ever work.

“What if we get sick when we’re there, like what if I break my leg? Will I have to live there forever?”

Oh the mind of a child, who could imagine that hers would go there right in the middle of discussing the most magical place on earth?

Her concern was real, she was genuinely worried that one of us would get sick and we’d have no way to get home. My heart broke for my little worrry-wart and I was glad I actually had a solution for her worry this time. So often in the past Sydney’s worries are ones that I can’t relieve, random life things that we all suffer through….but this once I had an answer that would set her at ease.

I told Sydney about the CAA Travel Insurance we have. I assured her that we are covered if any of us did need medical attention. After listening intently as I did my best to explain the details on an 8 year old’s level Syd simply nodded her head and asked if she could get a pirate makeover while we were at Magic Kingdom. Just like that her worry was gone.

That’s how CAA Travel Insurance works, it takes the worries off us while we’re vacationing. In the past I didn’t purchase this coverage but after hearing about people being stuck in their vacation cities with medical bills piling up the purchase price seemed worth it.

I really want to urge everyone to use travel insurance, the CAA coverage is a solid package at a reasonable price. They have choices for people who are travelling one time or for those folks who travel multiple times a year.

Wouldn’t it be horrible to be one of those people you hear about whose lives are forever changed because they got sick or had an accident while on holiday because they didn’t have travel insurance?

CAA Protection on Road Trips #CAASCO

Road TripWith Christmas plans well underway many of us will be taking road trips to visit friends and family. If you’re like me you plan ahead for the road trips your family takes. I do my best to plan the shortest route, pit stops and games to keep the children occupied before the boredom drives us all crazy.

Here in South Central Ontario taking road trips in December often means driving in poor weather conditions which is a whole other aspect of planning. We pack extra warm clothing, blankets, food, vehicle emergency kit, make sure the vehicle has had it’s maintenance and make sure our CAA memberships are up to date.

It may sound like we over plan but when you’re stuck on the side of the road during a winter storm things become frightening very quickly.

CAA has helped us plan our road trips in many ways over the years, they offer services which many people Road Trip CAAdon’t even realize they have:

  • TripTik –  route planners to help you take the scenic route or get there quickly.
  • CAA Tourbooks – online TourBooks, printed TourBooks, eBook TourBooks all help plan the route including any stops along the way. The TourBooks outline the best hotels, restaurants, destinations, attractions and events throughout Canada and the United States.
  • Roadside Service – when we call, CAA will arrive on scene and make every effort to get our vehicle into drivable condition. If that cannot be done, they will tow our vehicle for us. Services include:
    • Battery Service
    • Vehicle Lock-out Service
    • Emergency Gas Delivery Service
    • Tire Service
    • Extrication/Winching Service
    • Roadside Mechanical Service

With some planning our road trips have been safe and filled with memories. It may seem that all of this planning is overkill but with CAA we know we’ll always be safe when our family is on the road and this is invaluable to us.

If you’re planning a Christmas road trip head over to the CAA website and see what they offer or connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.

I am participating in the CAA program by ShesConnected. I received compensation in exchange for my participation in this campaign. The opinions on this blog are my own