I spent 72 hours at Disney, and didn’t go to a main theme park!

by Kerri Ness

Recently I was able to make a 72 hour pit stop in Walt Disney World, and never saw Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, or Hollywood Studios. I know to some this is a tragic experience; how could one be there and not enter into a theme a park? Truth be told, we had a blast. 

Walt Disney World is comprised of so much more than theme parks. Disney is home to world class eating, pools, spas, mini golf, movies under the stars, and a plethora of outdoor recreational activities.  Often times as travel professionals we are asked if a day off is advised. If you have time in your schedule and budget, then this is always a big YES! 

We spent our time as a family staying at Disney Beach Club resort. This is a deluxe resort located in the Epcot area, with access to the Skyliner. Knowing we were not going into any parks, I chose my hotel carefully, as the pool here is amazing. We were also within walking distance to other hotels that have activities. While this hotel may not always be budget friendly, if you are going and taking days off from the parks, it’s important to consider the area you are in so that you have easier access to activities. There are several hotels in this area with a range of pricing. 

On our arrival day we checked in, and enjoyed all the resort had to offer. We swam, enjoyed some fruity drinks, and had a fun dinner. Because the Skyliner was located near our resort, we made reservations at Topolino’s Terrace. This is a signature restaurant located on the 12th floor of the Riviera Resort with stunning views. We all got dressed up, rode the Skyliner, and had a great family meal.  

The main parks were not on the list this trip, but on day two we did visit Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park. This was only 1.2 miles from the hotel, and we opted to drive over. We spent the entire day there and had a blast (more on this in a later post)! That night, water logged and sun beat, we watched a movie under the stars at the resort. The night air was cool, the stars were out, and it was a great free activity. 

The following morning we were greeted by spectacular weather. The pool at the resort doesn’t open until 10:00, so we slept in, grabbed breakfast, and utilized the grounds to get a little baseball practice in.

We swam, ate lunch by the pool, then walked over to Fantasia Gardens for Mini Golf. This is an 18 hole course located behind Disney’s Swan Hotel. You can see Hollywood Studios from here, and the course is themed around the classic film Fantasia. We made an advanced reservation, but this is not necessary. Because we were able to walk there, we stopped at The Swan & Dolphin and utilized their outdoor games. The family had a blast and did this well into the night!

For more practically perfect tips, please reach out to Kerri at Kerri.JollyHoliday@gmail.com.

Busch Garden {Agent Review}

Our family was excited to escape the cold of Maine and hit the beaches of Anna Maria Island for our first vacation since–well you know–forever.. Our beach retreat was only a short drive to Tampa, so we knew immediately that Busch Gardens was going to be on the agenda. There are two main draws to Busch Gardens– roller coasters and animals. I will say that we spent most of our day on the coasters, as now that Charlie is almost twelve and Rosalind is ten, they have officially hit an age where they are wanting to try bigger rides. We had extended family that joined us and some were very into the thrill rides and others were not at all. 

We pulled up to our preferred parking spot a little before 10:00 AM which is when the park opened. This allowed us to park close to the entrance and not have to take a trolly, which for the extra five bucks felt worth it to us. Entering the park was easy and quick, and right away everyone was anxious to make our way to Cheetah Hunt, our first roller coaster and the first upside down coaster for Rosalind.The entrance to the park felt a bit crowded at first, but quickly thinned as people headed in different directions. It had been awhile since I had been to Busch Gardens, so it took me a minute to familiarize myself again and figure out the layout of the park. Paper maps have become the victims of COVID and environmental changes(probably for the best) so we had to follow the digital map on our phones which took a minute to get used to. Eventually we realized the park mostly followed a giant circle and off we went.

On the way to Cheetah Hunt, we checked out crocodiles, turtles, and exotic birds who seemed to easily share space without conflict, and of course we saw–cheetahs! Most of our animal sightings that day would take place on the way to another roller coaster which made our walks enjoyable and interesting. Cheetah Hunt did not disappoint; it was the perfect ride to get our day started. It was smooth, my brain stayed inside my head, and it was just plain fun! Next, we braved Cobra’s Curse which we all liked, despite the fact that it’s a roller coaster with spinning carts which will taunt those that are prone to motion sickness. Next was a big one– our first real test of our nerves–Montu. I had ridden Montu many times before, but I still felt a nervous energy. Unfortunately, there were technical difficulties, and we decided to try again at the end of the day. Technical difficulties happened a few times during the day, and as nerve racking as that sounds, we often noticed that they were mostly testing the rides with empty carts, and, overall, we felt very safe.

The largest waits of day seemed to be for the non thrill rides like the Serengeti Express which is the safari tour, Congo River Rapids, and Stanley Falls Flume. We skipped most of the rides with a long wait as the sun was hot, and we wanted to utilize the time we had. We did wait for Congo River Rapids which was a short, but fun river ride. This was a ride that non thrill riders could do, so we took the opportunity to do this as a family. The park hours were short, 10-6, which meant we really had to plan what we wanted to do. I think it would have been nice to spend two days at the park as we could have spent more time on the animal excursions; although, some of them were closed like the sloth experience. We did run into friends from Maine while we were there, and they were spending their day checking out the animals and riding family rides. They booked the Serengeti Tour which gave them the opportunity to feed giraffes, something we were able to witness as we were walking through the park. They bought tickets that morning and the experience was sold out by 11:30 AM. They had wonderful things to say about the tour and said they loved the up close experience of feeding and interacting with the giraffes. There were other tours offered that were running, and if someone were looking for a day without the thrills, they could find things to do, but the live shows were not yet running, and it did feel as if the park was not fully open still.

Before lunch we jumped on Kumba which was the most intense roller coaster we rode all day. This one will take your breath away and shake your insides. My children got off begging for another ride, and the adults took a moment to collect themselves before muttering, “No way”. 

Mid-day we took a lunch break at the Dragon Fire Grill and Pub which was a food court experience in a large theater. This appeared to be Busch Gardens’ way of spreading people out to eat. The food was typical theme park food with a pizza station, burger station, and stir fry station. The real treat came later when we took another break for funnel cakes that we bought at SheiKra’s Sweet Treats. 

The rest of the day flew by as we debated what we had the stomach and nerves to tackle in the last bits of the day. Some of us kept the thrills going with SheiKra and Tigris while others took a slower pace toward the end of the park and took the time to check out the flamingos and other wildlife. We did walk by the Sesame Street area of the park, and it did not look busy, but there appeared to be fun rides for the preschool aged kids. 

Most of our group, including the kids, were able to close out the day with Montu.  Rozzie and Charlie were the most nervous for this ride, but it ended up being the favorite of the day, and if we had more time, I could see them running to get back on.

We closed out the day by letting the kids spend their sourniver money in the gift shops, and then, with tired feet and excited chatter, we loaded up the van and headed back to our beach retreat. Overall, it was an exciting and fun day and the kids can’t wait to go back. As Busch Gardens is home to six major roller coasters, and an intense drop ride, it is a haven for thrill seekers. Right now it feels like that is mostly what is open at Busch Gardens; although, you can spend a significant amount of time looking at the animals. My hope is that we will soon have the opportunity to do more of the animal experiences. What is convenient and wonderful about Busch Gardens is that you can easily combine it with a beach vacation and as part of a vacation where your family can spend time visiting many of Tampa’s area attractions.

For more practically perfect tips, you can reach Michelle at MichelleM.JollyHoliday@gmail.com.

Hawks Cay Resort – A Florida Keys Resort & Marina {Review}

As a child, my family took 2 vacations a year… one to my Granny’s house at Christmas and a summer vacation to a timeshare in the Keys. So in late November when an ad that highlighted the emerald waters of the Keys with the banner “2020 #1 Family Resort by USA Today” popped up on my Facebook page, I booked our Spring Break trip without any knowledge of the resort known as Hawks Cay. Between the nostalgia and a new adventure for my family, I couldn’t wait to head south!

We started our journey with flights to Fort Lauderdale Airport and renting a car. With all the craziness of South Florida, there is an ease and calmness about this airport. It’s modern, clean, and easy to navigate, even with 2 young children. The rental car area shot us straight onto the interstate to start our journey.

Before getting to the Keys, we wanted to take advantage of one of the jewels of South Florida that the chain of Key islands protect the Florida Everglades. As soon as we got off the exit in Florida City, the kids instantly noticed the changing scenery; the lush, overgrown trees are a reminder of how this area can be untamed. We continued about 10 minutes off the interstate to stop at an exotic fruit stand famous for their fresh fruit smoothies and milkshakes called Robert is Here. I would encourage everyone to read the history on this South Florida staple because there might be a chance that Robert will check you out and give you personal recommendations on your fruit purchases. In addition to our coconut and mango smoothies, we ordered boiled peanuts and Cuban sandwiches. All were absolutely delicious. While we ate, the kids ran to and from the little animal petting zoo. Once I purchased my fruit for our hotel room, we continued a little further down the road to the Everglades Alligator Farm for a surprise airboat ride. Being from Tennessee, my kids had no clue what to expect from an airboat and alligators. Much to my kid’s disappointment all alligators and wildlife remained outside of the boat. The airboat whipped us around the Everglades, over marshy areas and alongside alligators in the wild. For kids from Tennessee, this was the ultimate excitement. So much so, that when we stopped my daughter declared, “This is the best vacation ever!”

After the airboat ride, we explored the rest of the alligator park, watched alligator wrestling, and saw 100+ alligators get fed in their pond. My girls were in awe! It was fun to see them enjoy things I enjoyed as a child. Now with our belly’s full and adrenaline overload, it was time to load back in the car and keep heading to Mile Marker 61.
About an hour later, we finished going over bridges and beautiful water and turned off to our destination, Hawks Cay. For some background, this resort is located on Duck Key, which is about half way between Key Largo and Key West. It is the only resort on this island and everything you need is right here. There are a variety of accommodations offered: rooms and suites are available at the hotel and 2, 3, and 4 room villas are available at different locations around the property. We chose a hotel room with a lanai which gave us direct access to the main pool from our back door. This proved to be the perfect decision for our family as the lanai had lounge chairs and provided a great place to eat and relax while staying close to the pool. We also didn’t have to do the morning pool chair hustle to guarantee great spots next to the pool and there was no lugging pool gear through the hotel.
There are also two other pools on property. The first being an adult only pool that unfortunately we did not get to frequent because of our kids. It was gorgeously placed next to the ocean and had an adult only bar. At the other end of the spectrum was the kids only pool {which was much less busy than the main pool}, and oh my goodness, this was a phenomenal place. It’s not just a pool but an entire kids’ sporting complex and activities center.

As you walk into the kids area, there are two rooms where daily activities happen {you receive a calendar of events at check in.} As you walk out of the building and into the kids’ outdoor area, you are greeted with a basketball court, sand volleyball court, Ping pong tables, a play ground, a small sided soccer field, an 18 hole putt putt course, the pool, and the crown jewel… a pirate ship splash pad that a pirate frequents throughout the day! We were able to watch the pirate put together a sword {pool noodle} fightwith all willing participates at the kids’ pool. The joy and laughter on their faces as they got different limbs “cut off” and were forced continue fighting while handicapped was hysterical. All sporting equipment can be rented from the kids’ activity rooms area. Along with the pirate, there is also a mermaid who joins in on the kids activities. This is also the location of the nightly kids’ club. Each night is a theme and our children chose Glow Night to try it out. Our 7 year old had the best time dancing with glow sticks and doing other glowy activities. My 4 year old was scared because it was so dark. In hindsight, we probably should have stuck with a slime night for her. This kids club was an additional fee, but completely worth the money. They attendants did a great job keeping them entertained with activities inside and outside throughout the night.

In addition to the 3 pools, there is also a salt water lagoon a stones throw from the main pool. It is completely enclosed, so there are no unknown creatures in the water, which was very important to my kids. It’s a place for the kids to dig in the sand and there are paddle boards to go around the lagoon it. This will forever be known as the place my daughter first tried {unsuccessfully} to snorkel. The lagoon provided a nice calm water area for her to dip her fins in.

Since we had a car, we packed up and headed to swim with the dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center a few miles down the road the next day. I will pause here to say swimming with the dolphins was also available at the resort, and it looked like a great option. As a family, we wanted to do a submerged platform dolphin experience, which wasn’t offered at the hotel. Our kids are 4 and 7, so this was the best for us. We met our dolphin, Cayo, and had about 30 minutes in the water with her. The trainer was so patient with our nervous child and allowed Cayo to do extra passes for her to get a truly magical experience. We got the touch, talk, get splashed by and dance with Cayo. It truly was an activity to remember. After our adventure we had locally made-down the street Paletas at the cafe which capped off this time.
While swimming with the dolphins, a couple suggested we head a little farther down the street to Aquarium Encounters. There are huge signs for this aquarium, but it is one of those places I had always thought of as a tourist trap and we just drove by. How good could it be really?? Let me tell you how wrong I was! First thing we did was follow a staff member to the causeway as she threw fish into the water and multiple sharks came straight up. Talk about two girls have eyes the size of saucers! Then we made our way back through the aquariums. Stingray feeding started rough for us but to watch your child be scared of doing something and then grow in confidence in such a short period of time is wonderful. They truly would have fed stingrays all day. There was also a stingray experience that allowed people to get into the enclosure… maybe next time! You could also chose to feed tarpon, fresh water turtles, lobster, or the lagoon residents. This, along with the numerous touch tanks, was a real winner for our family. As a side note, there is a little cafe at the aquarium with outdoor seating and one of the prettiest views that makes it worth getting something to soak it all in. After exploring these two places it was back to the lanai to hang out by the pool.

When I said everything was available on site, this also includes water sport activities. Kayaks, paddle boards, fishing equipment, access to fishing boats, snorkeling expeditions or in our case, a sand bar experience were all available for an additional fee. We ended up on a sand bar expedition because the water was too choppy for reef snorkeling… yay for us! We took a 20 boat ride to our sand bar destination and the captain put out a large floating mat behind the boat for the kids to jump and ride the waves on. We were also able to explore the sand bar and have plenty of fun family time in the ocean! Then it was back to the pool for some more relaxing!

Our last off site activity was going to the beach. If you are not familiar with the Keys, I will let you know that it is not known for its beaches. It’s more rocky than sandy. So when we heard that Sombrero Beach was a sandy beach just a little ways down the highway, we couldn’t wait to check it out! We got there around 9:30 before it got too busy with locals and found a spot to set up shop. This area had a great kids area. There was a beautifully done playground and clean restrooms, so you really could spend an entire day here if you were prepared with food and snacks. This area allowed the kids to splash through the waves and dig moats to protect the sand castles from the crashing waves, which is probably the one thing missing at Hawks Cay. After 3 hours at the beach we wanted to hit a place we had frequented before as a family, Robbies, to feed tarpon! If you haven’t fed tarpon, I would highly recommend it. Tarpon have huge mouths and to watch that mouth come towards a fish you are holding, will make your heart skip a beat! Just beware of the Pelicans who will attack you for your fish bucket, just ask my oldest how that is.

After a few more trips to the lagoon and kids’ pool, is was time to pack up and head back to the airport. We probably could have happily stayed for an additional week and not gotten bored. This truly was a vacation like no other in that it was relaxing and refreshing without being exhausting. All of us headed home sad but planning our next trip down to Hawks Cay. With any luck this will become a place my kids’ can become nostalgic with and bring their own families when they get older.

For more practically perfect tips, contact Kassia Ford at Kassia at Kassia.JollyHoliday@gmail.com.

Colonial Williamsburg {Review}

Every year the fifth graders at my daughter’s school take a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. Or I should say ALMOST every year. Because of the pandemic, there was no way the school trip could take place this year. In order toensure that our curious and energetic daughter didn’t miss out on this experience, we decided to travel to Colonial Williamsburg as a family. However, we wanted to make sure that the trip was both educational for our daughters and fun for all of us. That took some planning and some research, but in the end it worked out great!

We left Columbia, South Carolina by car on the Monday morning that our daughters’ Spring Break began and made the five and a half hour drive to the famous Jamestown Ferry. Well, it’s famous to me because of the Tanya Tucker song. Our daughter Lucy thought riding in a car on a boat made the whole trip worth it already. 

Our next stop was the Williamsburg Winery. It has an amazing origin story: 

In 1606, the newly-formed Virginia Company sent three ships westward to the New World to settle a permanent English colony. Led by Bartholomew Gosnold, with Gabriel Archer second in command, the expedition sailed up the James River and came upon a point of land on a protected tributary. The ground was high, easily defended, and the soil was excellent – which foretold of the land’s later usage. Archer insisted that the expedition look no further, but he was outvoted despite his considerable experience in such matters. The expedition continued on the James River and moved on to a less hospitable spot the following day, May 13, 1607. The place was Jamestown and became the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

More importantly has delicious wines that can be tasted by the flight, and great food.

After a lovely outdoor meal, we proceeded to check in at the Williamsburg Lodge. The rooms were spacious enough for all four of us, but nothing fancy. The real attraction to staying at the lodge is that it is directly across the street from Colonial Williamsburg. We took a quick walk back in time and then came back to have a late dinner at the Lodge, where we were glad they had fire pits, because it gets a little chilly in Virginia in March.

The next day we spent walking through Colonial Williamsburg and learning what life was like in a pre-Revolutionary War American colony. We toured historic buildings, attended walking tours and we learned a great deal. While the educational aspects did reach our daughters, our youngest was most excited to dress the part:

That evening we had dinner at the Precarious Beer Project, continuing a family tradition: visiting breweries while we travel to try local beers that we may never have the chance to try again. Breweries are always so laid back and fun, no matter what part of the Country or the world they may be located in, that we love to try out new ones whenever we travel. Our daughters are still years away from being able to try any of the beers, but they love the food and oftentimes the videogames that they have there. Precarious Beer Project had the added bonus of being within walking distance of the Williamsburg Lodge in Merchant’s Square – a commercial area between the historic area and William and Mary. There was also a great grilled cheese-focused restaurant in that area where we had lunch that day.

The next day disaster struck – twice! But thankfully we were able to handle both. The first disaster was that it rained all day. We managed that by doing a driving tour of the Yorktown battle site (with brief trips out of the car to see the really important stuff, like the fort that Alexander Hamilton led the attack against as described in Yorktown from the musical Hamilton. Seeing that was worth braving the rain!

We also spent part of the day at the Colonial Williamsburg art museum, which was a great rainy day activity, but is not something I would consider a “must-see” if you are visiting. 

The second disaster struck as we completed our driving tour of the Yorktown battlefield as we punctured a tire. Perhaps the ghost of a British soldier was getting some very delayed revenge for their defeat there! Either way, while my husband went to get it patched up my daughters and I spent a fun (if soggy) afternoon at Berret’s Seafood Restaurant & Taphouse. I don’t eat seafood, but the two seafood experts I was with that day assured me that theirs was terrific.

We finished the day at the second brewery of our trip, Alewerks

The atmosphere was great, and if you ever have a chance to try their Strawberry Blond Ale, don’t miss it!

Speaking of things not to miss, the next day we toured Historic Jamestowne. This was very different than Colonial Williamsburg because it is a functioning archeological dig. 

There is so much to be learned there, and my husband only asked the archaeologists where their fedora and whips were three times (insert eye-rolling emoji). Speaking of things that make you roll your eyes, I also thought that my family’s reenactment of the teenage girl who the other colonists ate during “the starving time” was a bit much.

We took a lunch break from our tour of Historic Jamestown and just happened upon our third brewery of the trip – Billsburg Brewery – because it was so close by, but it would be worth it to plan a visit there just for the view, and the food from the Hungry Pug food truck didn’t hurt either. 

That evening we went on one of the highlights of our trip, a ghost tour! A fun and spooky time was had by all.

We went through one final walk in Colonial Williamsburg on our last day, complete with an impromptu recreation of a colonial ball:

Then it was time to drive back home, this time skipping the Jamestown Ferry in order to shave 30 minutes or so off the drive (sorry Tanya!).

All in all it was a great trip. We spent a great deal of it outside, our daughters learned a lot, we spent some amazing family time together, and we had fun. We have so much incredible history as Americans, and Colonial Williamsburg is a great way to bring that history to life. A family vacation doesn’t have to be boring just because it is somewhat educational. With the right attitude, and the proper planning, you can have a blast and learn something at the same time. 

I would love to help you plan a trip to Williamsburg, or anywhere else you might be thinking of going. Call me and lets get started!

For more practically perfect tips, contact Caitlin at Caitlin.JollyHoliday@gmail.com.

Art of Animation {Review}

Are you looking for the MOST Disney-themed Walt Disney World Resort?! If so, you will not want to miss Disney’s Art of Animation (AoA) Resort. Not only are there nods to Disney animation throughout the lobby, gift shop and food court, AoA features 4 main room areas themed after The Little MermaidCarsThe Lion King and Finding Nemo.

Photo by Marlee Marsh

This resort falls into the Value Resort category. The rooms, outdoor areas and pools are heavily themed with larger-than-lifestatues of some of your favorite movie characters! Dining options at AoA include a food court (Landscape of Flavors) and the Drop Off (pool bar) at the Big Blue pool.

Landscape of Flavors &The Drop Off

Photo from: Disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/art-of-animation-resort/ 

Big Blue Pool

Photo from: Disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/art-of-animation-resort/ 

Transportation to the parks and Disney Springs is provided complimentary to all on-site guests. A huge perk of staying at AoA is that this resort is on the Disney SkyLiner. The SkyLiner will take guests via gondola to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Large Disney buses are available to take guests to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Disney Springs. 

Disney Skyliner

Photo from: Disneyworld.disney.go.com/es-mx/skyliner/

Art of Animation resort offers two room types- standard rooms and family suites. All standard rooms are in the Little Mermaid area. The rooms are recently refurbished and include 2 queen beds with lots of room for storage. The Little Mermaid area of the resort is the furthest away from the main building (5 to 8-minute walk) but is has its own pool- Flippin’ Fins!

Little Mermaid Rooms

Photos by Marlee Marsh

Little Mermaid Area of the Resort

Photo from: Disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/art-of-animation-resort/ 

Family suites are found closer to the lobby and buses, and as mentioned, are themed from Disney classics such as The Lion King, Cars and Finding Nemo. These suites sleep up to 6 guests and have a lot of room to spread out! The suites include a bedroom with one queen bed and a full bathroom, a large living area with a second full bathroom, sleeper sofa, kitchenette, and dining area where the table turns into a murphy bed! 

The Finding Nemo suites are located closest to the food court and transportation.

Finding Nemo Family Suite

Photos by Marlee Marsh

The Cars area celebrates your favorite characters from Radiator Springs. It even has its own Cozy Cone pool. 

Cars area & Cozy Cone Pool

Outer photos by Marlee Marsh, middle photo by Disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/art-of-animation-resort/

The Lion King area has a fun play area- the Elephant Graveyard- and you will find Rafiki, Mufasa, Timon, Pumba and Simba, and yes, even Scar.

Lion King area

Photos by Marlee Marsh

The Big Blue Pool is in the center of the Finding Nemo area and is the largest pool at the resort. It even plays music underwater! The Drop Off (pool bar) is here, and you can walk up to grab some light bites and drinks. There is a great splash pad for the littlest fish here too. While you are in the Finding Nemo area, look out for Dude Crush, Nemo & Dori, and listen out for the sound of waves crashing and some pesky seagulls (“Mine! Mine!”).

Big Blue Pool Splash Area

Photo by Marlee Marsh

I have stayed at this resort multiple times – in both the Little Mermaid rooms and family suites. I highly recommend staying here with your family! Let your favorite Jolly Holiday Vacation agent book you at Art of Animation for your next trip, and you won’t regret it!

A Weekend Away at the Ponte Vedra Inn {Jacksonville Beach, FL}

Nested in the heart of Jacksonville Beach is a lovely throwback to olden beach days, The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club. The Inn is located 10 miles south of Jacksonville and boasts plenty of family friendly options and activities. The Inn & Club itself is comprised of several buildings, in the heart of Ponte Vedra’s upscale neighborhood. While this club has both members from the neighboring community, and guests, there are choices for food and activities for all. 

The Inn & Club comprises several buildings, spread 1.5 miles apart. The Lodge offers all ocean view rooms, pools, and has a more intimate setting. The Lodge is the smaller of the two sides and has two on site restaurants and bars, as well as beach chairs/umbrellas, a pool with a slide, and locker rooms. 

The Inn houses the Pro Shop, 15 tennis courts, two 18 hole golf courses, and has both fine and casual dining options.  The newly renovated Peyton House is located at the Inn and is nestled right on the ocean, with sprawling rooms for two to five people, including suites. Both sides have access to the kids club, fitness center with free classes, four pools, and beach rentals. Located in the middle of the two properties is the Spa at Ponte Vedra which offers a wide variety of services. 

Jacksonville Beach is known for its powder white sand, wide beaches, and laid back feel. The Ponte Vedra Inn & Club offers the perfect place to stay for families, couples, and girls weekends. 

For more Practically Perfect Tips, contact Kerri at Kerri.JollyHoliday@gmail.com.


The other day I had a telephone call from a client inquiring about the American Girl Experience! Gosh, I haven’t heard those words lately… American Girl Doll! I remember the days of my little ones relishing the moment we told them we were headed to the Queen city of Charlotte to make their American Girl Doll purchases, make an appointment at the American Girl Hair Salon and have lunch at the Bistro! Such fun memories!


I quickly grabbed a pen and paper and jotted down all details of this dynamic mother/daughter duo and went to work. There are several amazing hotels situated close to South Park Mall, where the American Girl Store is located. I really like a lot of them…The Charlotte Marriott at South Park, The Hilton Garden Inn, The DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Charlotte, but none of these offer the American Girl Packages like The RENAISSANCE CHARLOTTE SOUTH PARK HOTEL! This hotel offers two different packages for the conisiuer of American Girl Dolls in your family.

Package #1 The American Girl Package includes:

  • UNSUPPORTED: UnsupportedElementincludes Grab and Go breakfast for 2 adults and 1 child daily
  • One American Girl Doll Bed
  • Cookies & Milk welcome amenity

Package #2 The American Girl Package – EVERYTHING PINK includes:

  • includes Grab and Go breakfast for 2 adults and 1 child daily
  • 1 AG Doll Bed
  • Robe & Slippers
  • Cookies & Milk welcome amenity

Pricing for both packages are pretty reasonable, but the features of each package are only for ONE child. If you are visiting with more than one child, we will need to contact the hotel, have them add extra American Girl options onto your package and there will be an upcharge for each additional child.

The American Girl Store is really fascinating! You can select the perfect doll, each one comes from a different background, and era with different features and style. They also offer a “Just like me” version of the dolls, where your child can select a doll with similar features to herself, with clothes and accessories to match (clothes and accessories are an additional cost.) It really is fun! There are so many things to see…furniture options, pets, hobbies and a gazillion outfits to select from. You can also make an appointment at the Hair Salon for your doll. I would recommend calling ahead of time and making an appointment because they tend to book up fast. This also allows you flexibility if you want to plan other activities while in Charlotte.


This was such a fun vacation to work on, we discussed restaurant options outside the Bistro for lunch on their arrival day and what else they would like to do while in Charlotte. The Renaissance is within walking distance to and from South Park Mall, which is nice for sure. I have found that parking on the weekends can be a little hectic, so being able to leave your car at your hotel and head to South Park on foot is really nice and super accommodating.


Depending on what time of year you plan to visit, we loved the option of taking the Dads and coordinating with the Carolina Panthers schedule, so they could watch an NFL game while the girls shopped! If you live within driving distance Charlotte is a wonderful destination for a one night stay, or a long weekend escape, with so many different things to do!

Message Jolly Holiday TODAY to book your American Girl Experience!


Today…we are Caymanians!

Today I wanted to share with you one of my favorite destinations… The Cayman Islands! There are three islands, Grand Cayman and two other smaller islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. The Caymans are a British territory, so their native language is English and its shortest distance from the United States is 1505 miles. It is a vacation paradise and I loved vacationing here in the summers with my family!

The Capital, Georgetown is located on Grand Cayman and is a port for several of the major cruise lines, as well as the British Royal Navy. It offers elegant dining, upscale duty- free shopping, and native vendors and craftsman. Its a short bus ride from most of the resorts.

Grand Cayman is home to Seven Mile Beach, a beautiful award winning, crescent shaped beach with white sand and azure blue water! If you looking for rest and relaxation, you’ve come to the right place. This beach is a tropical paradise! Seven Mile is host to the Ritz Carlton, Westin, and Marriott resorts, along with several other smaller properties and a plethora of villa rentals.

If you’re looking for something to do… the North Sound features Stingray City. Jump on a snorkel charter and venture out where you can be up close and personal with beautiful stingrays. There are plenty of local tour operators you can arrange this adventure with, some of which can be found in the lobby areas of the larger resorts. If you want to do a little sight seeing, check out Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park or The Turtle Centre. You can see the famous Blue Iguanas or learn about the history of the sea turtles and the ongoing conservation efforts to help save them.

Grand Cayman is also one of the top destinations for scuba diving, with over 365 sights marked with moorings and over 40 operators, they can satisfy any divers thirst for adventure! You can dive the wall or explore the reef beachside. The visibility is some of the best and makes the diving experience phenomenal for even the most novice scuba enthusiast. Its absolutely amazing to see the reef and all the creatures that call it home!

The restaurants are everything you could imagine on Grand Cayman. They have it all, from The Wharf, where you can hand feed the Tarpon, to Paradise Grill, a local ocean front seafood shack! The choices are endless!!

I cannot say enough about this island, it has everything! You can reside at 5-star resort with luxury amenities or rent an island villa, and never leave your private beach. When you visit Grand Cayman, you will never want to leave!

For more information, contact your local Jolly Holiday agent!

Welcome {Safely} Back to Walt Disney World!

A few weeks ago, our agents had “boots on the ground” at Walt Disney World and learned quite a bit about the new measures the Walt Disney World parks and resorts have implemented to make guests and cast members feel safe. As you know, Walt Disney World closed on March 16, 2020, making it only the 7th time in 50 years that the parks have closed. During the 117 days the parks were closed, the Walt Disney World team was working tirelessly to find a way to reopen while at the same time making certain all the returning guests would feel safe and have zero reservation about the “MAGIC” they were known for providing.


When our team made the decision to see and experience firsthand all the new implementations, there was never any hesitation. We booked rooms and dining electronically as usual, and then used the “now required” mobile check in to receive our room number and to eliminate contact with the front desk. It is a seamless process.  Upon arrival, at our resort, we noticed all cast members with face coverings on, multiple hand sanitizer stations throughout the lobby, gift stores, hallways etc. It was very refreshing to see other guests being so compliant.

As we took the elevator to our room, we noticed they only allowed one party per elevator, which was nice and made everyone feel comfortable. Inside the resort rooms, Disney has implemented new housekeeping practices, “Enchanted Cleaning.” You will see remote controls covered with a plastic sleeve and marked “clean,” as well as the shampoo, conditioner, and body wash dispensers in the showers also. They have limited housekeeping services due to new “contactless” cleaning, meaning you will need to request clean towels and linens if needed and this can easily be done with a quick phone call down to the front desk.


Dining was fairly easy as well, if you are interested in visiting the outdoor pool or bar area, depending on your resort, you will find tables spaced 6 feet apart or in some restaurant areas, they have placed signs on the tables indicating which ones are available for seating, to keep within the 6 ft of required social distance. The servers and bartenders all adorn face coverings as well as face shields. We also noticed that the waiter would only bring one parties beverages or food at a time. It seemed to work well. They do allow you to remove your face covering while you are seated within the restaurant, but if you leave the table for any reason, you will be required to put you face covering back on. Several restaurants had the wait staff bring us the scan code, which enabled us to view the menus on our mobile devices and other restaurants had them on the tables when we were seated.  We felt very safe and this was even the first time several of us had experienced dining in a restaurant, since March.


If you are interested in using a quick service meal option, they will require mobile dining. This program has been active for a while, but it was never required. Now that it is, we found it to be an easy process and very efficient. When you place our order with Mobile Dining, you are required to wait outside the restaurant until you receive a notification that your meal is ready. Once you receive this, you proceed to the entrance, where a cast member checks your notification, verifies it on his tablet and then directs you to the numbered bay to pick up your meal. All meals are bagged and stapled with your name on the outside. There was a friendly cast member behind the table that greets all guests with a smile as they match you with your order. Once you have picked up your bag, you proceed to the dining area, whether that be inside or outside and find a table that is available. Again, all tables adhere to the social distance guidelines. After you and your party have finished, a cast member will ask you to please leave all trash, trays etc. on the table and they will clean up. I would assume this is because the table needs to be cleaned and made ready for the next guest.

If you want to visit the International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, we found they will require you to be stationary while eating and drinking.  This allows you to eat and drink, and take your face covering off. It was not any less enjoyable and because there were plenty of areas to sit, and no fast passes or fireworks to rush off to, we genuinely enjoyed sitting, eating, drinking, and talking with each other.


We visited all four parks at Walt Disney World and experienced all the modes of transportation offered. We took the Skyliner gondolas to Hollywood Studios, the monorail to Magic Kingdom, the bus to Animal Kingdom and walked to Epcot. Currently the monorail is not travelling to Epcot, so depending on your resort, you may walk, or a bus is provided.


Every single encounter we had with the transportation was first class. There were markings on the ground indicating where each party needed to stand, so you were exactly 6 ft apart while waiting to board the monorail and gondolas. We felt that everyone was very compliant, and the traffic was heavier in the mornings than in the afternoon, but it was exceptionally smooth. All guests must have face coverings on and above their noses at all time, except for, certain aged children. As we approached our vehicle, we saw several hand sanitizer stations and cast members constantly cleaning railing, trash cans and any other physical things you could touch. The cast members once again wore face coverings and face shields for their protection and ours.


The bus transportation was a little different than normal, when we approached our designated area to wait for the bus, we noticed each party social distancing and when the bus arrived the bus driver departed the bus and asked who was there first. He then counted the number in each party, directed them to which end of the bus to enter and gave them a number. Each seat is labeled with a number, our party was all told to sit in the seats labeled with a “2.” There were exactly four in our party and we noticed there were only four seats with the number “2.” The bus had several partitions installed between seats and they did not take up any additional room and allowed parties to sit next to other parties and be separated at the same time. I found this to be awesome! I like the partitions, and its so nice on the bus, I would love to see them keep these when the parks are at full capacity. There were a lot of positives about social distancing in Walt Disney World!



Each park entrance worked the same way, you were directed towards a tent, where a medical staff took your temperature. Depending on the direction of the sun, they either scanned your forehead or the area behind your ear, this went quick and then you were off to bag check if you brought one. Again, all the medical and security staff were wearing face coverings, face shields and gloves. The security staff did not physically inspect your bags, like pre covid. They now asked that you take anything metal, such as umbrellas, phone chargers, bracelets, keys etc. out of the bag, place the bag in a bin and carry the other items through the metal detectors. Animal Kingdom has a brand-new contactless system that is now open, and you simply walk through an opening like a metal detector and that is it. Super easy!


After the bag check, we scanned our magic bands and noticed the bio metric fingerprint scanner is no longer there, it has been covered so no one can use it. It was all a very quick process.

Cast members still wave to you as you enter the park, now with face coverings and face shields, but always happy! Park maps are still available, but you will not see the traditional “Times Guide” because the parades, shows and fireworks have all been suspended. They do have spontaneous cavalcades and characters out and about, but no designated time or area to avoid people gathering.



Each retail store offered hand sanitizers at each entrance, exit, checkout line and throughout the store. They did direct guests to enter through one door and exit through another to avoid any congestion. Depending on the size of the retail establishment, they did have cast members counting guests as they entered and there were a few times they made you wait outside until another guest exited, only allowing a certain number inside at one time.


The attractions were amazing, low wait times, fast passes have been suspended for now, and each attraction has the social distancing markers on the ground, throughout the queues. Several queues spaced out the lines, avoiding the switchbacks altogether if they had the room to do so. Others simply installed glass partitions between each switchback, so lines could move as normal, but you would have no contact with other guests as you passed them in line. The glass was marked with several stickers that said, “No touching.” This is another safety feature that I could see Disney keeping in the future. Attractions were very enjoyable, depending on the type of attraction, social distance guidelines were adhered to, whether that meant your party enjoyed “It’s a Small World,” in their own boat or parties were seated on every other row, car, cart or train. It was nice to see all guests being compliant and everyone having a good time!


We spent five days and six nights at two different Walt Disney World resorts and visited all four parks without feeling unsafe in any way.  We experienced all the WDW transportation, attractions, a signature dining, quick service and the food and wine festival without an issue. It was truly an enjoyable trip and we were able to learn a lot by experiencing all the new guidelines in person. I would tell everyone that if this is your first time to Walt Disney World, maybe wait until some of the special character interactions are back. I know there are a lot of little girls and boys wanting to hug those special characters or visit the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and so I encourage you to wait. But for everyone else, I say… “What are you waiting for? Now’s the time to ride Flight of Passage back to back without waiting more than 20 to 30 minutes total, or Seven Dwarf Mine Train with a less than 30 minute wait. Heck Ride it all and have time to spare!” I can honestly say that the MAGIC is still alive and kicking at Walt Disney World and we cannot wait to help you plan your next trip!!

How To Make Your Spring Break A Little More Magical!

We know that for many of you this was not the Spring Break that you had originally planned but don’t worry!

Jolly Holiday Vacations wants to share our tips and tricks for helping to make your Spring Break stay-cation a little more magical.


Follow along on on social media pages for our Virtual Spring Break.  Last week and this week, we will be virtually traveling to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, on a Disney Cruise and exploring different countries with Adventures by Disney.  We will be posting in “real time” as we go on our various adventures.

Jolly Holiday Vacations on Facebook

Jolly Holiday Vacations on Instagram 



Make Mickey Mouse Tie Dye Shirts

We found a great step-by-step tutorial from KidsActivities.com as well as lots more wonderful activities for your kiddos! Follow that tutorial by clicking HERE.

HERE is the tie-dye kit that we found on Instagram.



Host a Disney Movie Night in Your Own Backyard

There are lots of movies releasing early to entertain you while you are at home!  Why not host a spectacular Disney movie night from the privacy of your own backyard!

Check out this amazing giant blow-up screen!


You could even add a little more magic to movie night by recycling your old Disney popcorn buckets like Jolly Holiday’s Anne Marie Wienkamp and her family!



There is so much nostalgic, fun, and educational programming on Disney+.  Here are some of the favorites from the Jolly Holiday Vacations agents and their families.

The Mandalorian (recommended by Meredith Trobaugh)

The Imagineering Story  (recommended by Marlee Marsh)

Monkey Kingdom and Elephant by Disneynature (recommended by Misty Jordan)

La Luna, The Princess Diaries, and Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings (recommended by Laura Endera)

Be Our Chef (recommended by Gina Rodriguez)



Kennedy Space Center has launched science lessons on Facebook Live.



If you’re looking for a fun, creative way to add some Disney magic to your day, Disney’s sharing something special – a complete series of how-to tutorials on drawing Mickey Mouse through the years…from a Disney Parks Artist!  Click HERE.



Our very own Gina Rodriguez (who is also a teacher in New Mexico) and her boys started homeschooling like many of you. They whistled while they worked by listening to Disney tunes and especially enjoyed their favorites from Epcot. Tune into DParkRadio in your own home for a little of that Disney magic. It can be found via Amazon Alexa and more.  Click HERE to enjoy the music for yourself.


Experience Disney Magic at home with the free Disney Now app!
Not only can you stream some Disney Channel content for free you can also stream some of your favorite Disney Parks shows! Just go to Disney channel and scroll down to the Experience Disney Magic button!  “We especially love Happily Ever After,” exclaimed Jolly Holiday’s Meredith Trobaugh.



Have a Disney-centric breakfast for dinner!  Our very own Rebecca Lander made Mickey pancakes for her family and they reminisced about their favorite memories and rides! You could also create a little Mickey out of bananas for a fresh treat.  Cute!!!



Imagineering fans, get ready! If you’ve ever been one of many guests who’s visited a Disney theme park and found yourself inspired to dream, build and create, there’s a new online program you just can’t miss!

Imagineering in a Box’ is a free online program that brings together the diverse talents of Disney Imagineers around the world for a one-of-a-kind learning experience and is part of Disney’s commitment to helping today’s youth create the future they imagine.

The series offers 32 videos in which Imagineers share how they use a wide range of skills – from story development and conceptual design, to math, physics and engineering – to create immersive experiences. The online curriculum aims to ignite curiosity, inspire creativity, and encourage innovation in the minds of students and teachers alike, while creating fun and engaging opportunities to explore new concepts. (courtesy of DisneyParksBlog.com)



Check out the Disney Parks channel on YouTube.com for virtual viewing of all of the magic of the Disney Parks such as the newest parade from Disneyland.  Perfect for rainy day fun!

“We’re all looking for ways to bring a little joy, a little fun and, yes, a little magic into our lives right now. So to help make that happen, we’re bringing you the newest Disneyland Park parade, Magic Happens. Don’t worry though, you won’t need to move the furniture, rope off a parade route, or stake out your favorite spot. This is a virtual viewing direct from The Happiest Place on Earth. Sit back, relax and watch from the comfort of your couch as some of the most awe-inspiring moments from classic Disney stories unfold right before your eyes and ears—all set to an unforgettable score co-composed by singer-songwriter Todrick Hall. Make sure to check back often, because there are many more #DisneyMagicMoments like this one still to come!” (courtesy of Disney Parks)



You may have noticed some new notifications and featurettes in the Disneyland or My Disney Experience mobile apps recently – like Disney Parks Artist Studio or Magic Moments in History, where you can learn how to draw your favorite Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, discover fun facts about Disney Parks, or play games and trivia through the Play Disney Parks mobile app.  We’re excited to share that there’s even more to come from these series and others within the Disneyland or My Disney Experience app – and they can all be enjoyed from home!

From fun recipes inspired by Disney Parks foods and animated stories, to highlights from your favorite shows and parades, PhotoPass wallpapers and more, there are videos, games and fun facts on the way, bringing some Disney Parks magic to you. In the coming weeks, you’ll even be able to enjoy the Jungle Cruise joke-of-the-day or experience Wilderness Explorers at home through a series of short-form videos, too. (courtesy of the DisneyParksBlog.com)



Harry Potter fans!  J.K. Rowling launches Harry Potter at Home.

“Welcome to the Harry Potter At Home hub where you’ll find all the latest magical treats to keep you occupied – including special contributions from Bloomsbury and Scholastic, nifty magical craft videos (teach your friends how to draw a Niffler!), fun articles, quizzes, puzzles and plenty more for first-time readers, as well as those already familiar with the wizarding world. We’re casting a Banishing Charm on boredom!” (courtesy of HarryPotteratHome.com)

“Parents, teachers and carers working to keep children amused and interested while we’re on lockdown might need a bit of magic,” Rowling said on Twitter.

Check out more information on Harry Potter at Home here.

We also encourage you to participate in Jolly Holiday Vacation’s Harry Potter Challenge.  Read more HERE.



‘Frozen’ actor, Josh Gad is reading children’s books to his fans daily via his Twitter account.  



When you can’t go to the parks, the parks can come to you!  Take a virtual spin on some of the most popular and amazing rides at all of the Disney Parks around the globe.  Click HERE to experience Test Track and to find more amazing videos.


We hope that these ideas bring a little magic to your Spring Break stay-cations.

When it is time to book your next vacation, Jolly Holiday Vacations will be here for you!

Please share your ideas below!