Category Archives: USA

“The (Re)Imagineered Disney Wonder”

By Andrew Butler 

I admit that I have always loved all things Disney.  My friends and I would role-play as Todd and Copper when I was a kid.  I would daydream that I was the red fox version of Robin Hood, fighting the Sheriff’s men to save the vixen Maid Marion.  As I got older, my tastes didn’t change: my wife and I went to Disney World at least once per year before we had kids, and now that we do have kids they endure us dragging them along at least that often.  Alas, I digress.  But all pieces to the puzzle, my friends, because as a Professional Travel Advisor I love to share my love for Disney with my clients.

I recently had the opportunity to inspect the Disney Wonder, two weeks after it left dry dock with some spiffy new upgrades.  My family and I had sailed on the Wonder in the Summer of 2015 on an Alaska itinerary and loved it.  The ship itself was and is lovely and well cared-for, the staterooms are among the largest in the market, the dining and entertainment is excellent, and the service is unmistakably Disney.  I was very excited to see what updates and changes had been made.

When walking into the atrium lobby from the gangplank, the first change that was evident were the holiday decorations!  Every November and December, the four ships in the Disney fleet are decorated for the holidays, and the Very Merrytime sailings as they are called feature a lot of special holiday extras.

Guests at the Walt Disney resorts will be familiar with the gingerbread houses that typically decorate the lobbies of the resorts at this time of year.  Not to be outdone, the Disney vessels also feature gingerbread houses in the lobbies!

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One of the most impressive holiday features has to be the chandelier.  During November and December, the venerable Dale Chihuly chandelier that typically decorates the atrium lobby ceiling is carefully removed and replaced with a piece that compliments the seasonal decor.

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Proceeding from the lobby, we first had the opportunity to tour several of the staterooms from different categories. Staterooms are one of the selling points for Disney over other cruise lines; the rooms are among the largest in the industry, and contain thoughtful touches to maximize space and guest comfort as well as decor that reflects the golden age of ocean travel with a Disney touch.

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Standard staterooms typically contain a queen-sized bed as well as a sleeper sofa.  Most staterooms also contain a pull-down upper berth that is purely Disney magic — during the day this bed disappears as it stows flush with the ceiling; at night it pulls down to form an upper bunk with the sleeper sofa; a ladder is added, and there is a railing on the upper berth to prevent sleep-movement misadventures! Some staterooms also feature a wall pull-down bed to sleep another family member. One of the other Disney touches in the standard stateroom is the split configuration bathroom.  Most bathrooms are actually split into two areas with separate doors and walls, one containing a toilet and a sink, the other containing a shower/tub and another sink.  This allows one multiple guests access to bathroom facilities at the same time — a real plus for those families with kiddos (and adults) that like to linger longer in the shower!

Standard staterooms include inside staterooms and outside staterooms, as well as staterooms featuring a veranda (balcony).

Concierge level rooms include some verandah staterooms as well as one- and two-bedroom suites and Royal suites.  These rooms come at a premium, but are well-appointed, and suites are large with living rooms, larger bathrooms with jetted tubs. and large balconies.  Concierge level rooms also have access to the concierge lounge with a daily selection of complimentary hors d’ oeuvres and drinks, and concierge guests have first dibs on booking shore excursions and onboard activities well in advance of other guests.

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We moved on in our tour to view the dining areas aboard the Disney Wonder.  The Disney Wonder features three main restaurants — Tritons, Animator’s Palate, and the new Tiana’s.  Diners rotate through each of the restaurants at least once during each cruise, with the same (if any) tablemates joining each night. Diners in each of the three main restaurants are also joined each night by their Dining Room Server and Assistant Server — another part of the Disney Cruise difference.  These individuals are outstanding and bring a real face to the Disney Cruise experience.  They will take great care of you and your family, and get to know you individually, along with your preferences. Tiana’s is the newest addition to the Disney Wonder main dining rotation.  Tiana’s replaces Parrot Cay, with ambience reminiscent of  New Orleans in the roaring 1920s — the setting of the Princess and the Frog in which Princess Tiana was introduced.

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Tiana’s features live music nightly on stage, and guests are reportedly visited at times by Princess Tiana herself!

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Triton’s retains it’s more formal, under-the-sea ambiance, while Animator’s Palate has undergone some updates.

Diners if possible should not miss the Animation Magic dinner at the Animator’s Palate — this typically occurs on the second night that you rotate through Animator’s Palate, but be sure to check with your dining team to confirm this. There are additional casual dining options onboard for those who want an alternative to the Main Dining rooms.  Cabanas features a bountiful buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Palo is the adult-exclusive, fine dining option on board the Disney Wonder which is available for brunch and dinner at an additional fee.  Brunch especially tends to book up well in advance — don’t miss it!

While many of the larger cruise liners feature a central casino, Disney takes this space and instead offers extensive child-care facilities.  The child care aboard the Disney Wonder is fantastic.  Options are available according to age group; care is available for the youngest guests in the It’s A Small World Nursery, which exclusively caters to guests aged 6 months to 3 years.

Children ages 3 to 12 have the envious opportunity to hang out at the Oceaneer Lab and Oceaneer Club.  The two facilities are interconnected by a back hallway, and children can move freely from one to another without having to leave the monitored area.  Children are either dropped off or check themselves in by Magic Band; they can then be located by staff anywhere in the two areas.  Once inside, children have a myriad of options available to them, including games, crafts, movies, themed play areas, and character encounters and parties.

New additions to the Oceaneer Club include the Marvel Avenger’s Academy, Frozen Adventures, Andy’s Room and the Disney Junior area featuring Doc McStuffins! For tweens and teenagers there are areas as well: Edge caters to those aged 11-14, while Vibe is an exclusive space for those aged 14-17.

Also new to the Disney Wonder is a space that Disney Parks fans will know and love – the Bibbidi Boppidi Boutique! This is where young princesses, princes, pirates, and future ship captians can come to receive the latest fashions in costumes and makeovers.

For adults wanting a space of their own, the Disney Wonder features a newly renovated After Hours area, featuring a lounge/nightclub, a piano bar, and a classic British Pub. Azure, the lounge/nightclub, features adult-exclusive entertainment, shows, and games in the evenings, followed some evenings by a DJ and dance club atmosphere. The Cadillac Lounge is a classically re-imagined piano bar playing homage to classic cars. The Crown and Fin Pub promises to provide the atmosphere of an authentic British Pub.

We also had the chance to tour the refreshed and updated Senses Spa. The Spa is a beautiful, aroma-therapeutic space that offers traditional treatments in treatment rooms as well as Spa Villas designed for couples.  Some Spa villas include a balcony space with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the water with seating and a hot tub — I know where I am going on my next Disney Cruise! The salon overlooks the ocean and looks like a wonderful place for a pedicure! There is also the Chill Spa for teens aged 13-17 featuring exclusive treatments and services.

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Guests can obtain passes good for either one day or the duration of their stay, which grants access to the relaxation area featuring experience showers and steam room. There is also a well equipped gym facing the front of the ship, featuring a range of cardio equipment, circuit training and free weights.

The pool decks have undergone some changes as well.  Still present are the adult-exclusive Quiet Cove pool area. There is also the main “Goofy” pool.

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Aft is newly re-imagined Aqua Lab water area.  This features a new twisty water slide, as well as a water play area where Huey, Dewey and Louie have concocted a series of water “experiments” where the whole family can play:

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A side note for Disney Cruise aficionados: Conspicuously absent are the second Aqua Duck or Dunk water slides featured on the other Disney ships. Another great new addition is Dory’s Reef, a new covered and shaded splash pad area dedicated to infants and toddlers 3 years of age and younger.

Unfortunately after our whirlwind tour, we had to depart the ship to allow guests to embark on their Disney Wonder cruise adventure; I felt a bit jealous and wistful as I walked down the gangplank and saw families walking onto the ship, oohing and aahing as they entered the lobby area and were greeted by the crew; they were off to have a grand adventure. See ya real soon!

Disneyland California

Written by Caitlin Fisher

In May, I had the opportunity to attend an Agent Education Program at Disneyland Resort in California. Through the program, I was able to experience the resorts, parks, and all of the special events surrounding the spectacular Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration.

Resorts

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

This beautiful resort was my home away from home for two nights, and it put me right in the middle of the action. It has the relaxing, homey atmosphere of a mountain lodge, yet it is steps away from the parks; in fact, it has its very own entrance directly into the middle of Disney California Adventure!

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I stayed in a Standard View room with a queen bed and a bunk bed. My balcony provided a lovely, quiet view of the courtyard below, and to my surprise, a nice view of the fireworks at night!

As a mother of three children, I am always on the lookout for rooms that easily accommodate five people. This room would have been perfect for my entire family: not only was there a bunk bed, but there was a trundle underneath the bunks as well!

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This resort is just a few minutes walk away from the parks, and it is the resort that felt the most “Disney” to me. With separate towers for Adventureland, Fantasyland and Frontierland, you feel fully immersed in the theming through amazing artwork and fun touches.

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The monorail pool is amazing as well, and who can turn down an evening at Trader Sam’s, with live music and a tropical atmosphere.

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We toured the E-Ticket Lounge, which is the resort’s concierge lounge, and discovered a gorgeous panoramic view of the entire Disneyland Resort.  If you are planning on spending time away from the parks and relaxing at the resort, this is the perfect choice.

Disney Heritage

All Disney parks are full of endless opportunities for fun and entertainment, but there is something unique about Disneyland Park in California. It is the park that Walt Disney himself built, where he walked and where his influence and vision can still be felt today. I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a Heritage Tour, where we visited Walt’s apartment above the Fire Station on Main Street as well as the Dream Suite.

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Walt used his tiny apartment as a place where he could stay to oversee his park. From his window, he could watch all of the people coming into the park, ready to start their adventure. The lamp that you can see in the window above the fire station is a tribute to Walt. When he was alive, the light was on as a signal to park employees that he was there. Now, it stays on 24 hours a day as a reminder of his legacy.

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The Dream Suite is an incredibly beautiful apartment situated above Pirates of the Carribbean in New Orleans Square. Originally designed to be used for the Disney family, it is now used as accomodations for special contest winners. It has incredibly themed rooms based off of original designs from Lillian Disney, all with special magical touches throughout. What an incredible sight to see each room come alive with Disney magic!

Diamond Celebration

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As part of the 60th anniversary Diamond Celebration, the nighttime shows were reimagined, and they are spectactular! Paint the Night Parade is full of vibrant, beautiful floats full of favorite Disney characters and memorable music.

Disneyland Forever, the nighttime fireworks in Disneyland Park, now includes amazing projections not just on the castle, but down main street, onto the Matterhorn, and on It’s a Small World. It’s a different experience depending on where you are in the park, and you need to see it to believe how beautiful it is.

Last but not least is World of Color. This incredible water projection show has even more impressive effects and new content, including added scenes from Star Wars and Frozen. It is the perfect end to an evening at California Adventure Park.

Overall Experience

I have been an avid Disney fan for a long time, and love vacationing at Walt Disney World in Florida. However, this was my first opportunity to experience Disneyland Resort in California. It did not disappoint! While the overall resort is much smaller than its east coast counterpart, it manages to still fit in all of the Disney magic and fun into the smaller space. It feels easy to navigate and intimate. I found service from the cast members to generally be excellent, and could sense their pride and commitment to honoring the heritage of the original Disney park. A visit to Disneyland Resort is a must do for families, or adults who are big kids at heart.

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The Resort at Paws Up – My Kind of Camping!

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Submitted by Cristina Buaas

Have you ever wanted to do something new and different for your next vacation, like visit a working ranch, but been unwilling to sacrifice beautiful accommodations and delicious food that you would find at a typical luxury resort? Well, The Resort at Paws Up is the perfect solution! With gourmet food, a great selection of wines and spirits, top-notch accommodations, and a decadent spa, this ranch-style resort provides a unique experience with its various ranch activities without losing the luxurious feel of a resort. From fly fishing to skeet shooting to ATV driving to white water rafting and more, the activities offered at Paws Up are perfect for the adventurous family or couple that loves the outdoors. Additionally, since it was a working ranch before a resort, you have the opportunity to interact with real cowboys, horses, and cattle during activities like cattle drives and roping! Regarding accommodations, with both Big Timber Homes ranging from 2 to 4 bedrooms and luxury 1 and 2 bedroom tents spread among 5 campsites, couples and families will have a hard time deciding where to stay. Furthermore, for children, Paws Up offers a youth program for children ages 0 to 17 that keeps them happy and busy with activities like visiting the petting zoo, talent shows, float trips on Blackfoot River (for the older kids), and more. Thus, from hiking trails and equestrian lessons to an incredible massage and luxurious accommodations, The Resort at Paws up truly provides a unique, action-filled vacation for families or couples that want an unforgettable outdoors experience.

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Sea Island, GA September 2014 submitted by Katie Boydston

For generations, families have gathered at Sea Island to embrace the longstanding tradition, relaxation, and beautiful scenery of coastal Georgia. This luxury destination offers endless family fun and five-star southern hospitality!

I enjoyed the last few days of summer at Sea Island over Labor Day weekend. This destination is an ideal place to disconnect, and connect, as the island tends to be very social. Head to the Cloister’s River Bar and order the “Grace” to properly cheer the start of your vacation as you watch the stunning sunset over the marsh.

There is truly something for everyone at Sea Island. Take a stroll down the moss covered oak streets or five miles of private beach front, relax in the serenity of their Forbes Five-Star Spa, play 18-holes of golf on a championship course at The Lodge, try a variety of outdoor and nature activities while the kids enjoy Camp Cloister.

With casual to five star dining options both on island and off property, you will satisfy your taste buds with regional flavors from freshly caught seafood to southern hushpuppies! You cannot miss Billy Bingo “Rattle the Sack” whether it is your first time playing Bingo or your fiftieth year. You will immediately enjoy the roar of the audience during this game night tradition.

Get away and refresh the spirit in elegance at one of my favorite beach resorts!

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A Desert Spa for Fitness and Fun

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Miraval July 2014 submitted by Cristina Buaas

 

This past weekend, my daughter and I enjoyed a fun and fit few days at Miraval Resort and Spa in Arizona. With the Catalina Mountains surrounding two sides of the property, the views and hikes are spectacular: you are truly surrounded by the beauty of the desert as well as the mountains. Just make sure if you go during the summer to be prepared for some serious heat! Nevertheless, the spa offers a plethora of classes focusing on either exercise, such as spinning, cardio drumming (who knew!!), and Pilates or on increasing mindfulness, such as mindful stress management or mindful eating. The instructors were all top notch- very enthusiastic and invested in what they were teaching- which made the classes all the more enjoyable and fun for us as participants. Although we did not get a chance to try them, Miraval is also known for its equine activities which are said to be eye-opening and memorable. Additionally, while some spas are very strict about portion control, Miraval offers an a la carte menu as well as a buffet for breakfast and lunch, both of which include healthful foods and calorie counts as well as a small dessert option for lunch. Also, they serve alcohol at Miraval (an additional charge) for those who are interested in celebrating a special event or having a glass of wine with dinner. Furthermore, the Spa at Miraval was beautiful and features three different pools (one reflexology pool!) as well as a relaxation room, sauna, Jacuzzi, and various indoor and outdoor treatment rooms where guests (including myself!) could receive one of many different treatments offered. A weekend at Miraval would be a great idea for a couple, family with teenagers or older, group of friends, or individual that loves fitness, does not want to be as restricted with regards to food and drink, and appreciates the unique beauty of this desert location. My daughter and I truly enjoyed our time at Miraval and would love to return in the future!

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A Texas Spa Getaway!

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Travaasa Austin – June 2014 submitted by Cristina Buaas

Need a weekend away from the kids, but don’t want to travel too far away? Journey to Travaasa Austin to get your fill of relaxation, fitness, and enjoyment.  With a minimum age of 16, Travaasa Austin is best described as a camp for adults! Each day the activities vary, so every guest can find an activity or class that they will enjoy. Ranging from trail rides, hikes, mat Pilates, yoga, dancing, farm tours, and mountain biking to Travaasa’s signature challenge course, a guest at Travaasa will never be bored! For me, a must do was this signature challenge course. Picture this: climbing up a rope net four stories in the air and then being harnessed in to a line overhead that secures you while you walk across a shaky bridge, a pole, and a tightrope holding on to nothing other than the rope secured to your harness! While it was scary, it was an exhilarating experience and I am so proud to say that I did it! In addition, for those who want a day of relaxation instead of active classes, there is a beautiful infinity pool as well as a full service spa where a guest can enjoy steam saunas, whirlpools, as well as all sorts of massages. In addition to the wonderful classes and spa, Travaasa also offers delicious farm-to-table cuisine as well as desserts and drinks, so it is not a diehard spa in that regard. All in all, this weekend trip was easy as well as fun.  I would highly recommend Travaasa Austin for anyone’s next weekend getaway.

 

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Have a Long Weekend?

Do you need an easy but fun and exciting domestic vacation? The travel specialists at CSB Travel can help you plan your perfect domestic vacation for a long weekend or the summer! Here are a couple of our suggestions.

Bal Harbour/South Beach in Miami, Florida submitted by Cristina Buaas – a fabulous domestic beach getaway! Enjoy beautiful beaches and delicious food from restaurants such as Carpaccio and Makoto in the Bal Harbour Mall right across the street from the sophisticated and elegant St. Regis Bal Harbour. Bike or walk down the beach while basking in the sun and enjoying the beautiful water or just relax in beach chairs and enjoy your down time as the beach butlers serve your lunch, like this delicious veggie burger!  Quiet Bal Harbour is only 15 minutes from the excitement of Miami and South Beach, so you can enjoy those destinations during this vacation as well!  If you prefer to stay in the heart of the South Beach action consider The Ritz Carlton South Beach or the brand new Metropolitan by COMO.  The Canyon Ranch Hotel and Spa in north Miami Beach is the perfect combination of a five star hotel coupled with all of the fitness and health classes and full service spa offerings you would expect from Canyon Ranch. When reserved through CSB travel, our clients receive complimentary amenities at all of the properties mentioned above!

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Nashville, TN submitted by Cristina Buaas   What better way to enjoy Music City than with a visit to the Grand Ole Opry, where you can take a backstage tour and even stand on the “sacred” circle of wood moved from the Ryman Auditorium that the performers, such as Blake Shelton, Dolly Parton, and more stand on when they sing!  While there, make sure to embrace your country side and feast on some delicious fried chicken, biscuits, and homemade jam from the famous Loveless Café. If you’re looking for a more sophisticated meal, then you are in the right place as well! With multiple famous chefs opening restaurants throughout this vibrant city, your palette will thank you after visits to restaurants like Husk, Silly Goose, and dessert stops at Jeni’s Ice Cream or Hot and Cold. At night, be sure to take a walk down Broadway to take in the sights and sounds of the live musicians playing in the neon-lit bars dotting the street, or stop in at Wild Horse Saloon with a family to learn how to Line Dance!

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Unexpected Orlando

Orlando 2014 Submitted by Susan Lindstrom

Whenever I hear the destination Orlando, I always think of Mickey Mouse.  I am a true Disney fan and visit the parks quite often, but this past week I had a great opportunity to see some unexpected sites and adventures in Orlando.  Of course I did visit Disney, but I also had a wonderful time at other amazing locations.  Perhaps the next time you visit Orlando you might want to check out these places too!

The first day, I got to experience iFly Orlando.  This is something I have never done before.  Ifly is a simulator that allows you to sky dive indoors.  It was truly amazing and an unforgettable activity!!

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Day 2: Universal.  We toured the Loews Portofino Resort (which reminds me of Venice, Italy), Hard Rock Hotel and the newest Resort: Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach.  What a day!!  I was thoroughly impressed with Lowes Portofino.  The property was beautiful and the rooms were very spacious.  They even have little scooters on the property to make it look authentic.  There is also a spa on the property if you want to relax.  The Cabana Bay is a great resort for families of 5 or 6.  All the rooms are suites and the decor is vintage 70s.

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Day 3: we toured Nickelodeon Suites, which is definitely a resort for families with younger children.  We had a character breakfast with Spongebob and all his friends.  After the tour, we headed to SeaWorld where we saw the new Antarctica exhibit with penguins, Shamu, and polar bears. Additionally, The Manta, a roller coaster where you lie on your stomach the whole time, is a thrilling ride that you will not want to miss! That evening we enjoyed Cirque Du Soliel which is a must see at Downtown Disney.

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Day 4: Today, we journeyed to Gatorland, which first opened in 1949.  We got to see lots of gators, including some wrestling, as well as experience the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line Adventure. This is a thrilling zip line with 5 different platforms that lets you fly over some of the gators!!

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Day 5: We finally made our way to Disney! We ate breakfast at Cape May and then toured the Beach Club, which is my absolute favorite Disney property. After that, we toured Port Orleans Riverside, which is a great value and has wonderful “Royal rooms” that are decorated perfectly for little princesses.  Next on our list was the newest Disney property: Art of Animation. This imaginative resort makes you feel like you are actually standing in Radiator Springs, from Cars, journeying through the oceans with Nemo and friends, and includes other themes from various Disney films as well. After the tour, we were able to go to the parks, so I headed to Epcot to see the Flower and Garden Festival. This was a special treat to see all the Disney Topiaries. We then hopped over to Magic Kingdom to see the new Festival Fantasy Parade, which features colorful floats featuring many beloved characters from old as well as newer Disney movies such as Tangled and Brave.

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The last day we experienced parasailing with Sammy Duvall Watersports.  What a treat!!  If you have never parasailed, this is the place to do it.  It is located at Disney’s Contemporary Resort where they have a private section of the lake.  Our guides were very professional and took us up 400 feet where you could see all of Disney property.  I wish I had had my camera up there to get some great aerial shots.

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As you can see there are lots of unexpected adventures to experience in Orlando.  If you are a Disney or a Universal junkie and want to add some extra fun to your next trip, you might want to consider one of these unexpected adventures. Contact Susan Lindstrom or another CSB Travel advisor to start planning your next unexpected Orlando vacation!

Words and Pictures by Susan Lindstrom