Jon Arthur, Owner, Big Dreams Travel
Over the holiday season my family and I were able to sneak away on a Royal Caribbean cruise on Adventure of the Seas and had a great time in both of our ports of call. This cruise marked our first visit to Costa Maya, Mexico and a return visit to the always popular Cozumel. Here are a few notes about the fun times we had in each port.
Cozumel is a cruise port we have been to several times and in all of those trips we've experienced different things Cozumel has to offer, but this trip was the first time we were going to try Nachi Cocom Beach Club. Nachi Cocom is an all inclusive day resort that is mainly used by cruise ship passengers. The cost for us was around $60 for adults and $25 for our kids, which is actually on the lower end price wise compared to other all inclusive day resorts in Cozumel.
For that price guests are able to enjoy all the food you want off of their menu as well as all inclusive drinks (alcoholic and non alcoholic). In addition to the all you can enjoy food and drinks, guests are also guaranteed a palapa (umbrella) on the beach with beach chairs included. These aren't typically guaranteed at most daytime beach resorts and the reason why Nachi can deliver on this is that they limit their capacity each day to a certain number of guests. The last big benefit I will mention to this place is the limited number of guests they allow onsite. The resort has an extremely laid back atmosphere and we never felt crowded throughout the day. The pool wasn't crowded, the restaurant wasn't crowded, and the beach wasn't crowded.
With that said, there are a few drawbacks to Nachi Cocom. First, their atmosphere is one of relaxation and so if you are after loud music, rowdy pool areas, and beach toys, this place may not be for you. They don't have all of the activities of some other all inclusive day resorts such as Mr. Sanchos or Playa Mia, but that isn't the clientele Nachi is after. This place is pure relaxation! The only negative we had on our visit was that the service was a little less than we expected. We had been at Playa Mia on our previous trip to Cozumel and the service from our waiter and the staff was off the charts. At Nachi the service was good, but we would like to have seen the waiter a little more frequently. Overall, the food was good (try the chicken wings!), the beach was beautiful, and the place wasn't crowded. All of those things are at the top of our list of things we want in an all inclusive day resort.
Costa Maya, Mexico
Our other port of call on this sailing was a first time port for us, Costa Maya. This is a cruise port, built more recently just as a way to add more ships into the Mexico cruise market. It is definitely not as well known of a cruise port right now, but we were pleasantly surprised with what was offered here. We didn't have plans for a major excursion in Costa Maya, but instead wanted to check out the port area and enjoy the large FREE swimming pool there. Of course Costa Maya has several great excursion options and this is a great cruise port if you are interested in seeing the Mayan Ruins there on the mainland of Mexico, but we just wanted to enjoy some pool time with the kids!
The port area here was very nice and you can tell it is a relatively new port. We got to see the flyer's do there show in the courtyard area of the port and it was definitely a nice thing to watch and give you a little Mayan history in the process. We walked on through the port a little ways and came to the large pool on the left hand side of the walkway and went to find us some beach chairs. They have a lot of beach chairs here and although the pool is free you do have to purchase food or drinks from the waitstaff to use the chairs.
The pool is very large, includes a swim up bar, and they even have some dancers that come out to get the party going throughout the day. So, the atmosphere here was the complete opposite of what we experience in Cozumel! This place was more of a party atmosphere with music and a lot of fun to be had. The area was very crowded on this day with three ships in port and so it was a little bit crazy in the area around the pool. We had a great time though and all things considered the pool area entertained our kids and allowed us to enjoy some time relaxing on the beach chairs. After about two hours at the pool we packed up, paid for our drinks, and went to do a little shopping in the port area before heading back to the ship.
Overall, we had a great time in both of these ports along the coast of Mexico and would recommend both experiences to any of our travelers at Big Dreams Travel. If you want to book a cruise to Mexico or anywhere else in the world be sure and CONTACT US. We take care of all of the details, while you enjoy your dream vacation!
Jon Arthur, Owner, Big Dreams Travel
After three of the strangest years in the history of travel and tourism 2023 is finally upon us and things may finally be getting back to normal! I was able to get back on a cruise a few weeks ago with my whole family for the first time since COVID disrupted travel around the world and it was fantastic. The ship, the beach, the cruise staff, all of it was fantastic! As I laid on the beach in Cozumel one day of the cruise I jotted down a list of the top trips for families in 2023.
1) Universal Orlando Resort - Are you surprised that my top spot is not a Disney Destination...I know, I am too! But, Universal's game is strong right now and it is a place that has become better and better for families. I still would mainly recommend for a family where most of the kids are 42 inches tall or taller so they can ride most of the rides, but if that's you, Universal is a great way to go! They have several excellent hotels options for families that are very affordable. They have some of the best new attractions in the theme park industry in their theme parks, and their entertainment is second to none! If you've got a family, I promise you, Universal Orlando is worth a visit!
2) Cruising the Caribbean with Royal Caribbean or Disney - After my cruise of a few weeks ago I am still a huge fan of cruising because it is a great option for families. There is so much to do on the new cruise ships today for everyone in the family and when in the Caribbean you can't beat a relaxing day at the beach. Just take the ship I was on last week, there was an ice skating rink onboard...an ice skating rink! Royal Caribbean has just brought one of the biggest ships in the world, the Allure of the Seas to a new homeport in Galveston, TX if you are in the south central part of the country like me. Or if you are a Disney fan the luxury and service of a Disney Cruise Line vacation cannot be beat. Spending a day at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay will make you want to never go home!
3) Visit a Family Friendly All Inclusive Resort like Beaches Resorts - If relaxation is what you're after and a beautiful beach is what you love, then you should definitely consider finding an All Inclusive Family Friendly Resort for your next vacation. Picking the perfect all inclusive resort is definitely one of the things you would want a great travel agent for, and our Dream Designers at Big Dreams Travel can certainly help you find the perfect resort for your family. Beaches Resorts are just one awesome option that we recommend for families. The amenities that they have will cater to each and every member of the family; amazing beaches, relaxing pools, fun kids camps, spectacular dining, and thrilling water slides. The relaxation you feel at an all inclusive resort can't be beat!
So, there you have it. My three picks for things to do with your family in 2023 and at Big Dreams Travel we can help you plan the perfect experience, wherever it may be. Visit us at www.bigdreamstravelusa.com or email email@example.com to get started.
Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen - A Hidden Treasure at Magic Kingdom
A couple of weeks ago I was trying to decide what to do one evening when I was on a work trip at Disney World. I know, I know a "work trip at Disney World", it's a tough life! Anyways, I was walking through Epcot and with all of the construction in future world there isn't a lot of dining available. It was also the opening night of the Festival of the Arts over in World Showcase, which also meant wall to wall people and 60 minute waits for a plate with three bites on it. So, I just did a quick search on the My Disney Experience App and a reservation at Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen popped up for a couple of hours later. Now, I had been to Skipper Canteen before with my family and we really enjoy the food, so I jumped at this chance to go again.
After finalizing my reservations I said my goodbye's to Spaceship Earth and hopped on the monorail to head back over to the Magic Kingdom Area. By the time I made it into the park I had about an hour before my reservation, which gave me just enough time to see the updated Hall of Presidents show. It was down for updates on our last family trip. I loved the show, which is normal for me, but I'm a sucker for a good patriotic show such as this or The American Adventure at Epcot. Once I got out it was time to head over to Skipper Canteen for my reservation!
I had checked in on my phone and hadn't received the text that my table was ready yet, so I went to sit down at one of the chairs by the outdoor check in area. The hostess saw me and said, "Are you Mr. Arthur?" I said I was and she said they just about had my table ready. She also struck up a conversation with me about whether it was my first time to eat there and how my trip was going. She was great and before too long another cast member came to take me to my table. As if the first hostess wasn't enough of a great start, this lady who took me to my table was a Disney Cast Member Gem! She was super excited to be doing her job and we talked for two or three minutes after she sat me down about my trip, about the restaurant, and other things. This same lady also stopped by a couple of times during my meal just to see how everything was going! It is always so nice to see that Cast Member Magic is still happening around Disney World.
My server arrived after a few minutes and it was a chilly night in the Magic Kingdom in January and coffee just sounded good, so I got going on that. I will say though, as good as the two hostesses were, my server left a little to be desired. She wasn't super attentive or quick, even though the restaurant was barely half full at this time. Speaking of the time it was at about this point I could hear the 8:00 Enchantment Fireworks going off outside.
Now, to decided what I wanted to eat! It was a little late for dinner and I wasn't just super hungry so I decided to just try two appetizers as I find some of those super delicious at Skipper Canteen. I was going to try the Cachapas, which is one of my favorites, and then something new to me, the Shrimp Fried Rice. Unfortunately, my server informed me they hadn't been able to get any shrimp that day, supply chain issues, so the Fried Rice wasn't available. So, I ended up ordering another favorite of mine, the Falafel, to round out my meal.
The first item I had is definitely a favorite of mine, the Falls Family Falafel - A secret recipe of chickpeas, garlic, onions, lemon juice and herbs with white bean dip and tomato-cucumber salad.
This time around for the Falafel appetizer was just as good as in the past for me. The warm Falafel balls were fried perfectly and the white bean dip that goes with them on the plate is awesome as well. The light sauce that goes with the dish is also really good. The one part of the description that confuses me a little is the "tomato-cucumber salad". I assume this is part of the greens and sauce that is on the dish, which is tasty, but I'm not sure that description is the best. Despite that one strange part of the description this dish is excellent and was a great addition to my meal, but it's also a great appetizer if you are wanting to share with a larger party.
The second item I tried was another one that I have loved here in the past, Orinoco Ida's Cachapas - house made corn pancakes, beer-braised pork, roasted corn, Fresno pepper salsa, and avocada cream.
Now, let me tell you, this is one of my favorite appetizer dishes in all of Disney World. The corn pancakes that are the base are light, flaky, and delicious. The beer braised pork on top is good along with the corn, but to me the star of the show is the Fresno Pepper Salsa. It's what we call salsa verde in my neck of the woods. I'm not really a foodie per say and I've never heard of a Fresno Pepper, but whatever it is I know it makes a great salsa! The avocado cream also adds a nice texture to the dish, but the salsa is definitely the thing that takes it up a notch and puts it as one of my favorite Disney dishes.
As my meal drew to a close I was considering finishing things off with some Kungaloosh! for dessert, but ended up deciding on a Dole Whip Float instead. Yes, it was cold outside, but it's never too cold for a Dole Whip! Overall, I was super happy that I picked up this last minute reservation for Skipper Canteen. This restaurant is not one you hear about a lot in the Magic Kingdom, but I think it's a true hidden gem. Our family has had some of the entrees over the years and have enjoyed them as well, in fact my wife is a big fan of the steak. The final thing that makes this a great experience all around is the fun I experienced with the two hostesses. They were truly excited about making Disney Magic for guests and that is what it's all about!
If you need help planning a Disney Trip or any type of trip make sure and let us know and we can set you up with one of our fantastic Dream Designers who are experts in planning Disney World vacations. Email us your trip "Dreams" at firstname.lastname@example.org to be matched with your perfect Dream Designer.
Jon Arthur and Lysa Thornton, the owners of Big Dreams Travel, sat down the other day and had a discussion about the ability to still travel during the current pandemic. They discussed Disney, Universal, cruising, all inclusive resorts, airline travel and other destinations. Watch the full discussion below and as always, if you are thinking about any type of travel contact us at email@example.com. Our services are free!
What will travel look like in 2021 and Beyond? Well, that is the million dollar question and it's a question no one has an answer to at this point. With that said there are some things that we do know about what travel may look like in the future and we have some ideas about other things that may be on the horizon. At Big Dreams Travel, we realize the current worldwide pandemic has hurt many industries and the travel industry is no different, but rest assured we will travel again. Personally, we have had two major family vacations cancelled at this point and later this summer we have new plans that we hope can happen and I know many of you are in the same boat. So at this point, let's just keep dreaming of our future travels and know that travel will be back and hopefully it will be better and safer than ever.
One of the biggest changes I hope we see is the implementation of better cleaning and sanitizing practices by the travel industry around the world. Certainly hotels, airplanes, cruise lines, theme parks, and other travel destinations are cleaning better now than ever in the past, but I would hope that standard becomes normal as we head into 2021 and beyond. I think everyone would love to see airplanes continue to get cleaned like they are now into the future. I think everyone would love to see enhanced cleaning practices in their hotel rooms or cruise ship staterooms. I think everyone would love to see hand sanitizer readily available after an attraction at Disney World, Six Flags, or other entertainment venues. So, if a positive can come from this pandemic, let's hope it means everywhere we may travel in the future will be cleaned better.
Another change I think we might see is how travel suppliers are going to implement technology to assist in a guest's visit. You have seen technology enhancements in recent years with the use of phone apps, planning websites, and RFID devices such as MagicBands at Disney World. We have already seen as these venues re-open that they appear as though they are going to use technology for even more in the future and I would not be surprised at all if those changes stayed around long after this pandemic. This may include online room check in, online food ordering, and in places such as theme parks online reservations for which day you want to visit which park. Of course, as processes change I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this is a great time to have a travel advisor, like Big Dreams Travel, on your side to help guide you through all of the changes so you have the best travel experience possible.
Finally, one final change I think we will see is in the area of food service. While I think buffet style restaurants will be seriously modified in the coming months as destinations reopen I do think we will have buffet dining options again at some point in the future. With that said, I also think we may see some major changes to how buffets operate on cruise ships or at resort destinations. For instance, we might see that as you move down a food line all food is served to you by an employee after you tell them what you want, or I can see that if you do get to serve yourself they have employees cleaning the utensils and serving area extremely often. Whichever of these changes happen I'm sure most of us would welcome the effort to keep the food service area cleaner than it ever has been in the past.
Those are just a few of my personal thoughts on how travel might change as we start planning vacations again later this year and into 2021, but if you are like me I know you will just be happy to travel again and experience those fantastic destinations you have come to know and love. Best wishes to everyone and happy travels whenever they may come!
Why Family Travel is Important
As someone who works in the travel industry it is no secret that I believe travel is extremely important. With that said I want to lay out some of my reasons for this belief, specifically the belief that family travel is important. I read an article the other day about the amount of money that is spent on toys, games, and other things for kids in our society and the numbers were staggering. We spend a huge amount of money on these things and in many cases the things we purchase are not truly needed or wanted by the kids, not to mention they contribute to the clutter in our homes. Well, that last part may just be in my home, but some people can probably relate. Anyways, as children grow into young adults and then become adults themselves I think as parents and grandparents we should be filling them up on memories and experiences more so than filling them up on material possessions. So, here are a few reasons I think family travel is an extremely important part of the development of children and of the family as a whole.
Travel Brings Families Closer Together
No matter how you look at it, when you travel as a family you are forced to spend time as a family. Now, some of you may be turned off right there...just kidding! When you travel you are with each other and if you’re lucky you may be without internet access...even better! These are the times when families are forced to come together. I know for my family, both growing up and now that I have a family of my own, when we travel we converse more so than we do at home. Just that fact alone is going to be extremely important in causing different family members to become closer to each other. Travel can also cause some hardships whether it be a travel delay or an argument over where to eat dinner, but these are often times when you end up making the best of a bad situation and that in itself can add some positive family dynamics and experiences that you may always remember.
Travel Is an Educational Experience
No matter where you travel just the process of traveling itself is an educational experience. Give your young children a certain amount of spending money and have them create a budget for souvenirs, how about that real world application from math class. Or take a day out of your trip to discover the history and heritage of the area you are visiting. Or taking some time to visit the local science or art museum. Really, any destination can have an educational aspect and when you do it as a family everyone is learning. Just the travel process in general is a real world learning experience. When you travel kids learn how to go through security at an airport, how to rent a car, how to check into a hotel or a multitude of other things. All of those things are things they’ll need to do at a later point in their life, and that sounds like a learning experience to me. And, in the the process of learning on vacation you are still bringing your family closer together which I’ve already mentioned is a positive byproduct of traveling.
Travel Creates Lifelong Memories
One of the most important reasons that I am a huge fan of traveling with my family is the lifelong memories we are creating. I can honestly say I don’t have a meaningful memory about a toy, video game, or anything else like that from my childhood. But I can remember like it was yesterday the time my family spent together in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee going to Dollywood and driving a convertible around because our car broke down on the way back from the east coast. I have great memories of when we went to Southern California with my family, including my grandparents, and visited Knott’s Berry Farm and ate seafood on the California coast. I can remember in my childhood going with my grandparents for a week one summer to San Antonio, TX and visiting all of the missions on the Mission Trail, ending at the Alamo. I could go on and on with other memories and that is the reason I travel with my family and my kids. The memories we are creating as a family will not go away for me or for them.
Now, don’t get me wrong as you read this article. I’m not saying to stop celebrating the holidays or birthdays or to quit giving gifts, but just think for yourself all of the positives that come from traveling with your family. What are some ways you and your family may can find a happy medium between those two areas? I know for my family we have found a way to travel with our kids and it is the most satisfying part of my life. We took our oldest son to Disney World when he was 18 months old. Many people said, “He’s not going to remember that, why are you wasting your money and time?” Well now I tell those people this story. When we went back to Disney the next year we were watching the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show. As the show started our son started pointing off to the right of the train station and saying “Choo Choo”. You see about five minutes into the show a train comes in from the right and Mickey and his friends get off. It was at that moment I realized, my wife or I hadn’t said anything about a train, he remembered that from the year before. And sure enough in five minutes when the train rolled in he had a look on his face that I’ll never forget.
That is why we travel with our family, and why I think you should too.
By: Jon Arthur, Owner of Big Dreams Travel
As I work with clients on planning the perfect vacation for them and their families one area that people are often a bit apprehensive is when I mention a cruise vacation. I’m not sure where the apprehension comes from though. Maybe it is the small room, maybe it is leaving the country, maybe it is the fear of getting seasickness, or maybe it is just not being on dry land. Whatever the case may be cruising can come with fear or apprehension and with that in mind I’m going to give you five reasons why cruising may just be the vacation you’ve been waiting for. Keep your mind open and maybe, just maybe this list will put to rest some of the objections you or someone in your family has towards cruising.
By: Lysa Thornton, Agent at Big Dreams Travel
Try as I may, there’s really no way to successfully argue that the Disney World crowds during peak seasons are not that big of a deal. They’re a big deal. No doubt that traveling to the most magical of destinations during the summer, the ever-increasingly-popular Fall (with Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party) or Christmas/New Years can cause your stress levels to rise just at the mere thought of it. However, those are some of the best times to make memories! Pools and waterparks, trick or treating at Magic Kingdom, scrumptious food and wine festivities and the fairy tale world of Christmastime--these are times that should not be ruled out just because there are several more thousand crazy mouse lovers there with you!
While it can be tricky, navigating these popular times is absolutely doable and magical! Check out the following list of helpful hints and tips!
Stay on property
Although I believe that staying in a Disney resort is always the best idea, there are occasions where families will rent condos, stay with friends or try a discount hotel to save money. Peak season is not the time for that! The travel time to and from property wastes valuable minutes, not to mention the extra parking fees and the chance you could always get lost! The Disney transportation system, whether by bus, monorail or boat, takes you right to the heart of the action!
Utilize Extra Magic Hours
Those early morning or late night hours for Disney guests can provide guests opportunities to knock out several attractions! Sleeping in and enjoying easy mornings are wonderful if you’re on a cruise or at the beach. When you’re at Disney during peak seasons, it’s all about rising and heading to the parks! Grab a granola bar and arrive at the parks about 30 minutes before the Magic Hour opening. You could quite possibly ride 3-4 rides in an hour! Now, by the time lunchtime hits, the park that had the Extra Magic Hour will probably be extra crowded, so head home. Eat at your resort, take a nap, swim and then head back to a park. You could even leave one park and head straight to another that didn’t have Extra Magic Hour. Chances are that park won’t be as crowded. Don’t forget the late Extra Magic Hours! You can knock out several attractions that last hour after fireworks when people start to head home!
I am not always a fan of park hopping, but during the busy seasons, it can be a life saver! Utilizing parks just for their Extra Magic Hour and then hopping to another park can prove very efficient to your conquering of the parks!
Use those Fast Passes! Select those Fast Passes 60 days out! Do not wait until the car is packed and you’re heading east on I-10 to make those selections. Get to the parks at opening, and ride, ride, ride. Crowds are smallest in the morning, so no need to use Fast Passes before noon! Make your Fast Passes for early afternoon when things begin to get crazy. Then, once those initial 3 are used, use Fast Passes on every ride you can! Why wouldn’t you??
Ride Instead of Watch
People flock to the streets to line up for parades and fireworks. Take advantage of that and hit some attractions. If you want to watch parades or evening shows, always choose the latest times.
Have a Plan
I picture my dad in socks and sandals, pulling out a map in the middle of Main Street pondering which direction we should point ourselves. Um, not these days! You must go with a plan! Websites, My Disney Experience, blogs, experienced friends and Authorized Dsiney Vacation Planners (like me!) can help you design a plan of attack for your vacation during these times.
Ok, now that you have a plan, be flexible enough to stray from it just a bit! It is so essential to tour Disney with a plan, yet it is even more crucial to not be locked into that plan. Sometimes things don’t work out according to plan. A ride will break down. Cranky pants will needs nap to save everyone’s sanity. Dad loses his glasses on Space Mountain and must search now for them. Or the crowds will just be too much. Be willing to bend for the sake of everyone’s emjoyment and your ultimate success of your vacation. Magic happens in the World, but sometimes you must work for it and give just a little.
Use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner
Hey, we love what we do! Planning vacations aren’t overwhelming to us, it’s fun! Each family is unique and your vacation plans should be tailored to the personalities in your family. Our services are free and we are committed to you having the very best Disney experience possible!
By: Jon Arthur, Owner of Big Dreams Travel
As someone who loves working with clients to create the perfect vacation or getaway I am often faced with the task of booking one of these trips with just two or three months to spare or less. I enjoy every part of helping people in this area, but would like to present just a few of the reasons why I think it is important to book your vacations in advance if at all possible.
First, booking vacation packages or cruises in advance gives you access to the best prices and deals possible. This is especially true with cruise lines as they work off of tiered pricing structures. The prices for specific cruises will usually creep higher and higher as the sail date approaches. This certainly may not be the case in all situations, such as land vacations, but when working with a travel agent like myself you should almost always get a package that can be modified. Meaning that if a better rate, deal, or price comes out after you have made a deposit on your trip or cruise your agent can get that applied for you and get the price of your trip to come down. So, you are in a win-win situation. If you book early and the price never gets lower, you win. If you book early and the price goes down at some point, you still win as your agent can modify your package!
Second, the hesitation by many to book early is they do not yet have the funds saved or ready. Well, when working with a travel agent almost all of the packages or cruises we book only require a deposit and final payment is not due until a date that is usually between 30 and 75 days in advance of the trip. So, you are getting to book your vacation for the lowest possible rate because you book early and you do not have to pay in full until later. You are getting the best of both worlds. It is also important to note that vacation package or cruise deposits are refundable in almost every case up until that final payment date. So if something unexpected comes up you can get back the amount you paid as a deposit or move your trip to a different date in the future.
A final reason that I always recommend booking early is that you have plenty of time to plan the activities that go along with your vacation. This factor is more important with some destinations than others. When cruising for instance many cruise lines are going to advance reservations for things such as specialty dining, spa services, and activities on-board and some are even giving a discount by booking and paying for these in advance. If you do not have a reservation well in advance you may miss out on certain experiences, restaurants, or the times you want for these events or meals. Another great example of trips we book all the time are families traveling to Disney World. Disney opens dining reservations 180 days prior to that date, so it is very important to have your trip planned by this point. With the popularity of dining at Disney and specifically the Disney Dining Plan many restaurants book a large amount of their times at that six month mark, leaving someone booking late in a tough spot. Now, as your agent we would do everything we can to watch and find a reservation, but planning in advance is a much easier and less stressful way of getting those important reservations.
You see there are many great reasons and advantages to booking your vacation early. We realize this is not always possible in every situation and as an agency we will work with you regardless, but booking in advance has some great perks and if you've never tried it, contact us today and let's start on something for 2017.
We are a full service travel agency located in the Oklahoma City Metropolitan area, but we have great agents and clients all over the country and would love to serve you! Visit the Contact Us page for help with your next vacation.