13 In Family/ Travel

DNA Travel

Adventures by Kelly DNA Travel

I’ve always been interested in genealogy. Growing up, I was always interested in my 1/4 Lebanese side, hearing stories from my dad. I knew the rest was a mix of European, thinking mostly German, but It wasn’t until I’d taken a DNA test that I found out that I was roughly 40% French.

I started spending countless hours researching on various genealogy sites, tracing both my and my husband’s lineage. It was during this time that I started to read about the increase in “DNA travel” or “heritage travel”. As a travel specialist, who also loved genealogy research, I was intrigued.

Many people are now taking ancestry results one step further and arranging trips to explore the countries from their families’ past. With some DNA testing companies giving you real-world matches of relatives, some are even connecting with people across the globe with a shared family tree, like Kieron’s trip to Africa highlighted in this video.

After getting their DNA results, many people choose to travel to one of the countries their ancestors come from. Whether it is parts of Europe, South America, or even further away, that is where I can step in to help. Together, we can track down specific towns where relatives once lived (or perhaps still are), and get you there…visit an ancestral home, walk in the footsteps of relatives’ past, or connect with direct descendants from the same lineage.

On our last vacation, BC (before Covid), we traveled through parts of Eastern Europe, stopping in Bratislava, Slovakia.

My husband’s great grandparents immigrated from Slovakia in the early 1900s and he has grown up with a few stories about ‘the old country’. It was interesting to visit a place I’d heard about often from my in-laws and for my kids to experience some of their heritage as well.

Photo by cyril mazarin on Unsplash

Not really knowing much about my large French side (which actually comes from both sides of my family), I still always felt drawn to France. I loved the language, the culture. I loved visiting Paris as well as the south of France many years ago. But I’d never thought much about my fascination nor did I ever discuss it with anyone. My daughter seems to have inherited the same love. Inexplicably, she is drawn to all things French. Her school requires language classes starting in 1st grade and while we encouraged her to take Spanish, she insisted on French. Her French teacher always tells me she is a natural and has the best pronunciation. My daughter is also very desperate to visit France. After learning about my deep French roots, it seems to make more sense now and we have talked about planning our next trip to France after I do some more digging into what parts of France my relatives came from.

Is there somewhere from your DNA results you are itching to visit? Any long-lost relatives you’d like to get to know or significant sites you want to explore? Let me know how I can help you plan a trip that gets you back to your roots.

10 In Travel/ Travel Agent Tips

Top 5 Reasons to Use a Travel Agent

Chances are, you are like me. You are used to doing things yourself, particularly when it comes to looking up things on the internet, and specifically when it comes to travel. In the age of those big online travel reservation sites, the internet has made planning your own vacations and booking your own hotel rooms seem easy. As much as I thought that was the cheapest way to go and that the concept of a ‘travel agent’ was about as outdated as those old foil-covered TV dinners, I’m here to tell you, that isn’t so with this list of the top 5 reasons you should use a travel agent for your next journey.

Disney Cruise Line Adventures by Kelly Travel Agent5. Knowledge & Experience

While I am a licensed travel agent, really I am a travel specialist, specially trained in various destinations to be able to answer your questions and help you with anything. I’m constantly following the market, monitoring deals, making sure I know all the latest and greatest updates to various parks and resorts, all while keeping apprised of those hidden gems and untapped destinations. You can read more about me and all the places I’ve traveled here. I take part in extensive training from all the various travel providers so that I can answer any question. And for anything I may not know, I am privileged to be a part of a great agency where we help each other on a daily basis. So while you are working with me, you not only have my knowledge and experience but a network of agents’ knowledge and experience that I can tap into at a moment’s notice.

4. Savings

Travel, particularly when large groups are involved, can be expensive. You could spend hours scouring the internet trying to figure out what days have cheaper flights or which hotels have the best rates. Or you could let me do all the legwork to find the best deals. The best part is that as new deals are constantly released, I am able to modify your reservation, often saving you even more. For example, a recent family of 6 has a trip planned for Walt Disney World this spring. We found the best deal at the time of booking but a few months later, a promotion came out that saved them another $500. Even better, a few weeks ago, yet another new promotion was released that I was able to take advantage of, and from their initial booking to right now, I’ve been able to save them an additional $1500. Typically when people book their own vacations, they look for the best deal at the time but are unable or unaware of how to take advantage of savings that may happen after booking.

Adventures by Kelly Travel Alaska Cruise Travel Disney

3. Convenience

What always drove me crazy about booking my own vacations was having to investigate a bunch of different sources, trying to get the best deal. While I loved the research aspect, it was always so much work that often left me exhausted and at times, not even wanting to go on my trip anymore. Having to keep track of reservations for hotels, planes, rental cars, excursions, and more, all sourced from different websites, was tedious. Even during the trip, I found I was always stressing out about the plans I’d made and whether everything was confirmed. The whole point of the vacation was to relax and enjoy myself.

Now, as a travel agent, I have the inside scoop along with a multitude of resources that make it much easier to research and plan your trip than it would be for the average person. Everything can be done in a way that seamlessly integrates all of your travel plans into one perfect vacation package, leaving you with only the best parts of the vacation to enjoy. Let me do the research while you relax!

2. 100% Complimentary

One reason I never considered using a travel agent back in the day, is because I thought it was expensive. I didn’t have the luxury of being able to pay for a trip AND pay a travel agent. I was shocked to learn that it is free to use a travel agent. How is that possible? Commission. I know… commission makes you think of pushy car salesmen. I had the same thought too. In the travel world, agents receive a % commission from the different providers. For every vacation we are able to book for them, it saves them time and money in staff and advertising. Since we are doing the legwork in helping them find customers, they give us a small percentage of the sale. Unlike other jobs where you have a set salary no matter how much or little you work, this structure encourages us to work harder for you. Having a happy client means that we have hopefully earned your business in the future and that you may even share our information with your friends. Using a travel agent should never cost you anything extra, however, there are agencies that have now started charging service fees that typically range from $100-500. They use the same resources I use so they don’t have any advantages that would make their service more valuable to you. Whether you would use me or a different agent, I’d always encourage you to look for those that will not charge you any fees.

Adventures by Kelly Travel1. Peace of Mind

When the world shut down because of Covid, travel agents were there to advocate for our clients. In an uncertain time, we were the ones spending hours on the phone, working to get refunds. As restrictions and guidelines were in flux, we had to stay one step ahead, to know what was allowed in every state and country our clients were coming to and from. In many cases, we had clients that were overseas during the initial lockdown and helped to guide them back home as the world shuttered. Now, more than ever, travel agents are a vital part of ensuring that your trip goes off without a hitch. Travel planning is no longer as simple as hitting up a booking site and making a quick reservation. There are border restrictions, quarantine requirements, mask mandates, Covid testing stipulations, and so much more that are not only changing daily but vary by city, state, and even country. With me in your corner, you will have peace of mind that you are traveling safely and responsibly in a post-Covid era and that if an emergency does arrive, you will have someone to fight to resolve any issues on your behalf.

It is a crazy world right now, and travel may be forever changed but with the right help, you can still enjoy traveling. Whenever you are ready, I will be here waiting to assist you.

 

14 In Cruising/ Disney/ Family/ Travel

Disney Cruising – Embarkation Day

Disney Cruise Embarkation Day Family Travel Wonder

Read part 1 of this series here.

What to know what embarkation day is like? Read on. When we took our first Disney cruise, I tried to be as prepared as possible. I joined message boards and Facebook groups. Looked through a million blogs. Checked out books from the library. Yet, nothing really prepared us for what it was really like walking on the ship, that very first time.

Depending on your port and situation, you may arrive at the cruise terminal by Disney’s Magic Bus (only for Port Canaveral departures), by taxi, or your own car. You’ll be assigned a check-in time for the terminal and will want to be on time. When you arrive you’ll check-in and then be assigned a boarding group. This will let you know when you can actually get on the ship. At check-in they will take a photo of each person in your group for their computer system, will give you your Key to the World card and a lanyard. You can also sign your kids up for the kids club at this time as well (if you hadn’t done so online earlier). The Port Canaveral terminal is by far the nicest as it is a dedicated building just for DCL. There is just more pomp and circumstance involved and I would suggest sailing out of this port for your very first cruise with Disney, just for this experience.

Once your boarding group is called you can head towards the gangway to the ship. Anytime you go on or off the ship they will scan your KTTW card. Next, you’ll have the chance to have your family’s photo taken. Do it. It is always fun to have that moment captured. Side note… Photographers are wandering the ships all day every day. Anytime you have a chance, let them take your photo. You’ll have a chance to purchase them later (some or all) and it is worth it. Will talk more about this in an upcoming post.

Arrival

You will enter the ship into the atrium where crew members will announce your family. The first time we gave our real family name but on later cruises, we have given fun, fake names. One time we were the ‘Stroopwaffles’ (a tasty dessert by the way). Don’t judge us. We were on vacation! Now you are officially on the ship and there is no turning back. Important to note, by this point Disney will have your luggage and they will deliver it to your room. I suggest having a small backpack or day bag to carry on with you. You can’t go to your room until 1:30 so if you arrive any earlier, you’ll have time to spare, so make the most of it. A lot of people throw their bathing suits into their bag and head straight for the pool when they arrive. It may feel overwhelming but here is my list of what I’d suggest you do on embarkation day.

1. Snap a Photo. When you first enter the Atrium, soak it all in. The first thing we do is head immediately to the statue by the stairs for a family photo. There are tons of staff on board ready to snap a pic with your camera, so let them.

2. Eat. If you board the ship around lunchtime, I’d make getting food one of your top priorities. You can head up to the buffet restaurant for lunch or head to the main dining room. Both will have a lunch buffet but the dining room will probably be quieter if your kids are feeling a little overwhelmed.

3. Visit the Kids Clubs. This is one of the few times that all the kids’ clubs are open for anyone who wants to wander. You can’t drop your kids off during this time but it is a good way for everyone in your group to see what they have to offer. As a parent, it is great to know where your kids will be when you check them in so that everyone feels comfortable. Plus they are pretty darn cool and I can usually sneak in playing some games with the kiddos.

4. Walk around the Ship. Just like the Kids Clubs, everything is open. Take this time to wander around the ship. Go into all the bars, clubs, restaurants. Take photos, let the kids explore.

Advice from my 11 yr old to other kids:

Just explore the boat and get used to where everything is.

Disney Cruise Embarkation Day
Disney Cruse with Kids Alaska Wonder
Disney Cruise Cruising with Kids First Time Cruising
Disney Cruise Embarkation Day Family Travel Wonder

If you haven’t noticed, my kids like to make goofy faces! Get used to it.

 

What Comes Next

After 1:30 we head to our room to freshen up. Walking into your stateroom for the first time can be very exciting. Your luggage may still not be there yet so don’t panic. It can take a few hours. Just relax, check out the room, look out the window or go on the balcony. Enjoy!

In the afternoon on embarkation day, usually around 4 pm, you’ll have to do a mandatory muster drill. This is where everyone on the ship assembles in designated areas in case of an emergency. For someone afraid to cruise, this can seem a bit scary because the last thing you want to think about is any sort of emergency. But it can also be reassuring as well. The crew is well-rehearsed and everything is organized to ensure everyone’s safety. So if you keep this in mind, the 15 minutes or so that the drill takes, will go by in a flash.

After the drill, there is a Sail Away Celebration on the top deck. There is music, dancing, and all the Disney characters you’d expect, decked out in their sailor outfits. It can get crowded but it is fun nonetheless. The kids love it and have a blast.

By this time you’ll either be ready for dinner or your first show. When you book your cruise you can request a dinner seating; early or later. The early seating is usually 5:45 while the later seating is 8:15. While half the ship is at dinner in one of the 3 restaurants, the other half is watching one of Disney’s shows in the Walt Disney Theater. The shows are typically Broadway-style productions but also include comedy or other entertainment. Since we have always had young kids, we do the early dinner. Most people with younger kids do. The later seating tends to be mostly adults with older kids or no kids. Choose whatever works best for your family. So for us, we go to dinner at 5:45 then afterward, head to the theatre for the evening’s entertainment.

When all of this wraps up, you’ll either be ready to retire to your room for a good night’s sleep or drop the kids off in one of the clubs and wander around to some of the adult-only locations on the ship. The great thing about the cruise is that there are so many options. You simply can’t go wrong.

Part 3 coming soon. Check back soon.

Interested in booking a Disney Cruise? I’m now a licensed Disney authorized travel agent. My services are 100% complimentary and I am more than happy to help you plan your cruise. Visit my travel site Adventures by Kelly.

11 In Cruising/ Disney/ Family/ Travel

Disney Cruising for First Timers (or Those Afraid to Cruise)

Disney Cruise Castaway Cay First Time Cruising

Does the idea of a Disney Cruise overwhelm you? Are you new to cruising in general or just simply afraid to cruise? Fear not, In this multi-part series will cover all the basics so keep checking back for more posts.

Throughout the first 41 years of my existence, I never had a desire to cruise. Never. Not even a little bit. The thought of being “trapped” in the middle of the ocean was terrifying. While I didn’t think we’d end up like a scene from The Posiden Adventure, my fear was more based on just general anxiety about the unknown and the thought of being stuck with nowhere to go. I didn’t want to be stranded at sea with no working plumbing while rescue helicopters flew in pallets of spam for us to live off of. I’d heard ALL the stories!

In late 2013 my in-laws decided they wanted to go on a big family trip with their kids and grandkids. It would be a trip that ranged from age 22 months to mid 70’s so we had to do something that could accommodate a lot of different activity levels, interests, and also diets. (My husband and I along with our two kids are all vegetarians. Depending on where we go, that can be an issue at times.) Since I am a research addict, I took on the job of finding us the perfect vacation. We talked about inclusive resorts, just renting a house somewhere, taking a road trip, and then the dreaded ‘C’ word – cruising. The more this came up in conversation, the more people seemed to be leaning towards cruising. I, on the other hand, was starting to panic. When my father-in-law seemed settled on the idea of a cruise, I reluctantly started researching every cruise line I could. I looked a the food options, the itineraries, the kids’ clubs. I scoured through books and cruise-dedicated message boards. If I was going to be dragged onto a boat it was going to be the one I picked. In the end, a Disney cruise just seemed to check all the boxes for the entire group. Even though none of us were really “Disney people” at the time, it sounded like it had the best amenities for our group of 10.

Guide to first time cruising for Disney Cruises and for those afraid to cruise. Family photo on the Disney Fantasy.

We booked a 7 night Eastern Caribbean Cruise on the Disney Fantasy for June of 2014. We would leave from Port Canaveral in Florida sailing first to St. Maarten, then St. Thomas, and finally Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island) before heading back to Florida. We would also have 3 full days at sea in the mix. The first thing I did was create a spreadsheet that would outline every day, the dinner options, evening shows, and our special activities. It worked really well and I actually do this for every cruise we take now (Spoiler alert… we got hooked).

During my research, I came across A LOT of weird and confusing terms. Some I didn’t find out about until we got on the ship. So to wrap up part one of this guide, I want to introduce you to some (Disney) cruising basics.

Learn the Lingo:

It is important to know some basic terms. These will come up while booking your cruise and you’ll want to be prepared.

Cruise jargon:

  • Forward = front of ship
  • Mid = middle of ship
  • Aft = rear of ship
  • Port = left side of ship
  • Starboard = right side of ship
  • Cabin/Stateroom = your room
  • Decks = basically the different floors of the ships. So Deck 7 is essentially the 7th floor/level of the boat
  • Embark/Debark = getting on/off the ship
  • Muster Drill = a mandatory safety drill at the beginning of each cruise
  • Port of Call = one of the stops along the way
  • Veranda = a room with a balcony
  • Tender = ships aren’t able to dock at all ports. Some ports require the ship to anchor offshore and ferry people to the pier from small tender boats

Guide to first time cruising for Disney Cruises and for those afraid to cruise. Family photo on the Disney Wonder in Alaska

Disney specific terms:

  • KTTW (Key to the World) = is a card that each person carries on board. It acts as your room key, your credit card, your ID. It is the only thing you need to carry
  • Wave Phones = wireless phones in each room that you can bring with you around the ship. We prefer to use an app on our mobile phones. More on that later
  • Port Adventures = organized excursions you can go on during a stop at a port of call
  • Personal Navigator = a printed guide that is delivered nightly to your stateroom that outlines the following day’s activities. Think of it as your master schedule of everything the ship has to offer on board. There is also an app version for your phone that is very handy. I highly recommend you download it before your cruise.
  • Castaway Cay = Disney’s private island in the Bahamas
  • Castaway Club = When you take your first Disney cruise you are automatically enrolled in Castaway Club which is a repeat cruisers program with perks
  • Pirate Night = Select cruises have a themed night where cruisers transform into swashbucklers for dinner and a deck party complete with fireworks at sea. Other cruises include a Frozen night, Star Wars Day at Sea, or Marvel Day at Sea
  • Placeholder = Putting a small deposit down towards a future cruise that will grant you a discount on that trip. You have up to 18 months to book and go on the trip and if you change your mind, the placeholder is refundable.

Read part 2 to learn what happens on your first day aboard.

Interested in booking a Disney Cruise? I’m now a licensed Disney authorized travel agent. My services are 100% complimentary and I am more than happy to help you plan your cruise. Visit my travel site Adventures by Kelly.