Thursday, May 29, 2014

Vacation Recap & Review: DCL and AKL

For my 30th birthday, I was blessed enough to get to experience an amazing surprise vacation: a three day Disney cruise followed by two days at Walt Disney World (WDW). Usually when we vacation, we take the cheap affordable option. But for this trip, we decided to splurge. It was definitely a different type of vacation, especially since we almost exclusively stay at the value resorts at WDW (the All-Stars, Pop Century, Art of Animation). This post will briefly recap and review both parts of the trip.

Disney Cruise Line (DCL)
Let me say this before we even get started, if you know Disney than you know that almost everything Disney does is larger than life. This is no different with DCL. From the minute you are welcomed onto the ship (they announce each family as they board) until the minute you are disembarking (and shaking hands with the captain), you feel like you are royalty. The service aboard DCL is unlike anything I've ever experienced- each and every cast member is friendly, polite, and will go miles out of their way to keep you happy. Hands down, DCL has the best customer service I've ever experienced.

Cheesin it up with the captain!

Another feature that sets DCL apart is their rotational dining. You and your party rotate to different restaurants each night and your service team rotates along with you. For our cruise, Mauricio and Rachelle were our servers and they did an incredible job. Every day, they would ask us about our day- they really got to know us over the course of three short days. I actually cried the morning we left when I realized we wouldn't be eating dinner with them again!

Our Disney Dream "Breakfast Club":-)

Speaking of food, it is absolutely excellent. The buffet that you eat for breakfast and lunch is expansive- we were able to find healthy and yummy options at every meal. The sit-down meals in the restaurants are absolutely incredible. You can also order as much food as you want and if you don't like your dinner- send it back! The sit-down dinners are all-you-can-eat! DCL also offers a sit-down breakfast the morning you leave the ship which was a really nice way to leave the cruise.

In addition to the service and food, the actual ship (the Disney Dream) is simply gorgeous. The restaurants, theatres, even the lobby is beautiful. We booked a stateroom on the sixth deck with a veranda- completely worth the extra cost. You can see more pictures of our room here.

The only thing that we didn't love about the cruise was the amount of "selling" happening on board the first day. All along deck 11, where the food and pools were located, cast members were really pushing alcoholic drinks hard. It seemed like there was a cast member every three feet trying to sell you the drink of the day. Honestly, it was really annoying and turned us off a little from the cruise. Luckily, they didn't do this at all on the second or third days.

Overall, we loved our experience with DCL and can't wait to do it again!

Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL)
The only thing that made getting off the ship bearable was a two day trip to WDW! For the second leg of our vacation, we stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Matthew selected this resort because I have always wanted to stay there- on our first Disney trip (November 2011), we ate at Jiko- the restaurant in the lobby- and I fell in love with how beautiful the resort was. But the most unique part of AKL is that there is an actual wildlife preserve at the resort! How cool is that?!

We had a room on the fourth floor overlooking the Sunset Savannah. The room itself was gorgeous and much bigger than a value resort. We had two sinks, a coffee maker, and a full dresser- none of this is available in a value resort. Neither is this amazing view:

Two giraffes and a baby!

The first day we arrived at AKL (Sunday), we enjoyed the resort- napped at the pool, enjoyed the hot tub, walked around getting pictures of the lobby and different animals on the preserve. Then we ate at Sanaa (fabulous Indian/African food!) and went shopping at Downtown Disney.

These flamingos were so loud! It was awesome.

Wild donkey and some kind of antelope.
Dessert at Sanaa.

Does this even need a caption?

Queen beds and lots of room in the deluxe resorts!

Beautiful pool area.

Aerial view of the lobby- taken from the bridge you can walk across :-)

After a successful and relaxing day, we headed to the parks on Monday. As you might recall, Matthew (because he's awesome!) had already booked our fast passes to meet princesses in Magic Kingdom (MK) that afternoon and made a reservation for Be Our Guest restaurant for dinner. But we had the morning free- so we headed to Animal Kingdom (AK) just as the park opened at 8 am.

We went straight to Expedition Everest, waited about three minutes, and got to ride in the very front of the train! It was so awesome! After we conquered the Yeti, we decided to head over to Epcot to be there just as the park opened at 9 am. We rode Test Track and Soarin' (less than 15 minutes wait for each) and got pictures with some of our favorite characters- Goofy loved Matthew's Goofy New Balances! Then we took a quick lap around World Showcase, ate lunch in Mexico, and hopped on the Monorail to go to MK.

One of my favorite rides in all of WDW!

Whoa! Front row!!

Goofy "dusting off" Matthew's Goofy shoes.
The main mouse.

One of my favorite gals!

Spaceship Earth- view from Italy.

Though the Flower and Garden show was over, most of the flowers and sculptures were still out- so pretty!

Once at MK, we got to meet Anna and Elsa, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Cinderella, and Rapunzel. All with no lines! I think each princess visit took less than 10 minutes. At one point, the wait for Anna and Elsa was 300 minutes long- that's five hours!!!! Crazy. By the way, we got a little tidbit from one of our bus drivers: Maelstrom, the Norway boat ride, will be replaced by a "Frozen"-themed ride within the next year! We also got to watch the new Fantasy day parade- truly magical. I just don't even know how they come up with this stuff!

This was the coolest.

Sleeping Beauty aka Aurora.

Yuckin it up with my favorite mermaid, Ariel.

Princess float in the Fantasy parade.

The "ruffians" swung back and forth on the axes- super cool.

There she is again!

This fire was so hot! You could feel it from 20 feet away!

Reminds me of "Joseph!"

"See Ya Real Soon!"


I don't know why I'm compelled to pop my knee when standing next to a princess.

At the end of the day, we had our reservation at Be Our Guest Restaurant. We have been trying to eat here for MONTHS! We were seated in the Rose Gallery room- there are two additional rooms: the Ballroom and The West Wing. While the restaurant itself was very impressive, the food was just ok. We did get wine- this is the only place in the MK that serves alcohol- however, at $9 and $16 a glass, this ended up a pretty expensive dinner even though we were on the dining plan. While we are glad we went for the experience, I don't think we need to do it again.

Entrance into Be Our Guest.

The napkins were roses :-)

Scandalous! Drinking in the Magic Kingdom!

Pictures with the Beast in his study before we left the castle.

After dinner, we had all intentions of either staying to watch the fireworks or heading over to Hollywood Studios to catch the 10:30 showing of Fantasmic. However, we were SO tired that we ended up going back to the room and crashing. It was a great day :-)

On Tuesday, we were able to sleep in as our flight didn't leave until the afternoon. We sipped our coffee as we looked out over the savannah- there was a beautiful group of zebras that were hanging out right near our balcony. After breakfast at BOMA (the buffet in our hotel), we sadly headed back home.

While we loved our stay at AKL, I don't think we'll be doing it again anytime soon. For just two nights, it actually cost more than the three night cruise. And I think we got more for our money with DCL. It's hard to justify a deluxe resort in WDW unless you are going to be spending a lot of time at the actual resort. Also, I have to say that the service at AKL and WDW paled in comparison to what we saw on DCL. It wasn't bad, just not as great as it was on the ship. I wonder if we would have felt differently had we done the few days at WDW before the cruise.

Overall, this was an absolutely amazing trip full of wonderful and unique memories. Turning 30 isn't so bad when you get to do it in the happiest place on earth with the most awesome person you know :-) Here's to the next 30 years!

QOTD: What's your favorite place to vacation? Have you ever celebrated a birthday with a trip?


  1. Sounds like an AMAZING vacation! You look adorable in all of these pics - your weight loss efforts are really paying off. I am super impressed that y'all hit 3 parks and got to hit some highlights at each. I've never spent a Birthday in Disney, but I will this fall when we head down for ToT :) -C

    1. It really was fun! And thank you! Let me tell you, 3 parks in one day is more exhausting than the marathon- that's how I know I'm getting old :-) And ToT sounds like a great way to spend a birthday- WDW is awesome all decorated for Halloween :-)

  2. I've never taken a trip for a birthday. I don't have a man to indulge me in that kind of thing! Wish I did! He's a keeper. You look like you had a lot of fun.
    Agree on the resort. Disney is just not the kind of place where you spend a lot of time in the room, so going overboard is kind of wasteful on a regular basis, but certainly fun for a special occasion!

    1. He is definitely a keeper. And yes, we will probably still book at the value resorts unless it's a special occasion.

  3. DISNEY WORLD TAKE ALL MY MONEY!!! I'm so happy you had an amazing trip! I keep seeing commercials and want to go back so badly!

    1. Ugh, I know! I hate leaving- I cry at the airport every time!

  4. Yay you got your birthday pin! (I still have mine from when I was in Disney for my 24th!) I would SO love to go on a Disney cruise.. cruises in general are fabulous.. so I can imagine how much MORE fabulous a Disney cruise is! One day. Glad you had an amazing birthday!!

    1. Yes, that pin was awesome! Lots of love from cast members :-) And yes, DCL is just awesome- you have to get to one someday!

  5. What a fantastic way to celebrate turning 30!!! Love the pics and the recap!!! And I agree with other comments, you look fabulous Sarah! Your hard work has clearly paid off!!! Keep it up, lady! Also, what shoes are you wearing in the pics? They look super cute :)

    1. Thank you, Morgan! I am wearing my New Balance Minnie shoes! Aren't they the cutest! They sell them exclusively at runDisney events- so you'll just have to sign up for another race at WDW and get some! :-)

  6. Looks and sounds like you had a fantastic time! What a fabulous way to bring in your 30s. I've yet to muster up the courage to ride Expedition Everest, but plan on giving it a go in November during Wine & Dine weekend ;)

    My husband and I went on a Mediterranean Cruise to celebrate my 30th birthday. It was amazing and I dream of having the chance to go again! It was even better because two other couple friends were able to join us. I don't think I can pick a favorite place to vacation – I've loved everywhere I've had a chance to visit :)

    1. That does sound like an awesome birthday/vacation trip! I hope we can go on more cruises in the future. And yes, you must ride Expedition Everest! It is so much fun!!

      We will have to meet up during Wine and Dine!! :-)

  7. Looks like you had a great trip! Animal Kingdom Lodge is definitely a bucket-list resort for me. I don't usually travel for my birthday, but we took my mother to Yosemite National Park for her birthday once and it was absolutely beautiful! Glad you got to start your 30's out with a little of that Disney magic :)

    1. Thanks, Haley! AKL was on my bucket list too :-)

      I've never been to Yosemite before, sounds like fun!