How Universal!

What a UNIVERSAL Destination… 

I am excited about this newsletter because this is the first time I am writing about something that has changed so much since I had previously been there.  As with all high school band students, the trip to Walt Disney World® to showcase your talents was something I really looked forward to doing.  On my 1994 band trip, our group also had a chance to head over to Universal Studios® for the day.  At that time It was not a large park by any means, but the rides were thrilling.

When an opportunity to attend a travel agent conference at Universal Orlando® came up, I quickly took the opportunity and booked my room at the on-property Loews Royal Pacific Resort.  It took all of two seconds to convince my husband to come down with me for a few days so we could run around the parks like teenagers.  But I will get to that a bit later.

Since my band adventures 23 years ago, Universal Orlando® is now a destination.  With five on-property hotels, two theme parks, and CityWalk™, shopping, restaurants, and activities, there is so much to keep you occupied that it is hard figuring out where to start.  They are also opening their own waterpark, Volcano Bay™ next week, and building another hotel, Adventura set to open soon.   Again, it is no longer just a theme park, it is a destination.

Seeing all of this “destination” while pulling up to our resort was confusing for me, but the moment we stepped out of our transfer from the airport, the Loews Royal Pacific Resort made us feel like we stepped into the French Polynesia.  Lush greens, waterfalls, blue water, tiki torches, and animal totems.  Everyone says “aloha,” and the lobby and check-in are very welcoming with all the natural light that floods in.  Our room was exceptional clean, and large for two people.  Since we were staying at this particular property, we had access to the Unlimited Express Pass for the parks, and boat transportation to take us to the parks and CityWalk™. 



The resort offered plenty of dining options from burgers and salads at Jake’s American Bar to top notch cuisine at the Emeril’s restaurant, Tchoup Chop.  The pool area was much larger than I expected.  The main pool itself was long and curvy, with a separate kid splash area. There were plenty of chairs around the pool area so you didn’t feel like you had to claim your space.  Seeing a state of art fitness center was something that I had not seen before at any resort I have stayed.  When I say state of the art, I mean several treadmills, elliptical machines, weights, etc, and you they had an attendant on hand to make sure the equipment was clean.  For a rainy day with the kids, the game room would be able to keep them occupied for a few hours. 



My overall impression of the resort was that it was quite large, but when I was attending the conference, it felt even larger.  The conference space that our travel agent group was in took up an entire wing, and there were two other conferences going on while we were there.  I didn’t venture to see where they were meeting, but I imagine that area was quite large also.   

Being that I was extremely curious how the other resorts faired in comparison to the Loews Royal Pacific, I checked out each resort.  I loved them all for different reasons, but one thing they all had in common was that they will not disappoint.  They all offered a different vacationing experience, and depending on the needs of your family, I can say with confidence that I will be able to pair the hotel perfectly for your family’s Universal Orlando® vacation needs. 

Stay tuned for my next article where I will get into the difference in the theme parks since 23 years ago, until then, remember…Life is Better Traveling.

Loews Portofino Bay


Hard Rock Hotel


Loews Saffire Falls


Cabana Bay

When you book your vacation with a member of the Life is Better Traveling Team, you are supporting local families and business.  Thank you to everyone who has supported us over the past 4 years, we have become an AMAZING travel agency due to your support!

All Photos in this article taken by Mary Yohannan


Are the Disney Dining Plans Worth Your Money?

Disney easily comes up in conversations with random people I meet, but when they find out I am a travel consultant they always ask20160515_191819 me if the Disney Dining Plan is worth the money.  I have read so many different opinions on various Disney blogs, Facebook pages, and travel agent outlets about people’s views on this subject matter.  It seems like people are split, some love it and some say it is a waste of money.  Well, we recently went to Disney and I decided to add the Disney Dining Plan to our package so I could see if it is worth it. 

Before I go into if is it worth or not, I must explain that there are several dining plans available through Disney.  Because of the variety, I am wondering if those who feel that the Dining Plan is not worth the money may have been talked into the wrong Dining Plan for their family, see chart below for quick reference.  Why so many options?  It is easy to understand, there are many cultures and different types of families that go to Disney so they are really catering to everyone.  One family may say that a particular plan has too many meals for their family while another may say this is the perfect amount for us.  I will tell you, that no matter which plan you choose for your family, it will be perfect. 

For my family we choose the Disney Dining Plan which includes 1 quick service, 1 table service, and, new for 2017, 2 snacks per person per night of stay and 1 resort refillable mug.  The refillable mug can be used at your resort.  You cannot use this mug in the parks to get refills, but I will tell you that we did take our mugs along with us to the parks and asked for ice water, which is free.  We then transferred our ice water into the mugs.  With each table service meal, we were able to choose one entrée from the menu, one dessert, and one non-alcoholic beverage.  When you choose an entrée you are not limited to a select menu specifically for those on the dining plan.  You receive the same menu that everyone receives and get to choose any of the entrées including steak or salmon.  Dessert at Disney is fantastic!  It is gourmet and no matter what you choose it will not disappoint. 

However, having dessert every day could be a lot for some people, as it was for me.  There is a little known fact that isn’t shared by the wait staff, but some restaurants now allow you to substitute your dessert for an appetizer.  You have to ask your server when you sit down if this is one of the participating restaurants and which appetizers are included, but you may have an option of a salad instead of the that rich chocolate cake. 

Quick service meals are just like the combo meals that you get at any of your local fast food places, and snacks include a variety of foods including popcorn, cookies, cupcakes, a banana, or the famous Mickey Mouse ice cream bar. 

When you purchase a dining plan that has several table services with it, you must make your reservations in advance.  You can start to make your dining reservations up to 180 days prior to your arrival date for the entire length of your day, but not to exceed 10 days of stay.  What this really means is on the 179th day you can call to make your reservations.  I would recommend calling to make your reservations.  It is much faster and you will also be able to make any additional reservations such as Pirate’s League or any tours, all with one phone call.  If you don’t make a reservation in advance, you could be told that the restaurant is full for the day or you may have a two-hour wait.  A two-hour wait with hungry children is not fun for anyone!

So are you ready to find out if the dining plan is worth the money?  For a family of four going to Disney for seven nights, who elect the Disney Dining plan, it is a little over $1000.  (Now that is just for the Dining plan, not including park tickets or resort stay.)  For four people on this seven day Disney vacation, it comes to between $33 to $40 per person per day.   One character meal is around this same cost, so if you do one character meal you have paid for your entire day right there!  Even if you are doing non character meals, your meal cost with entrée, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage can easily reach the $40 to $50 range per person.  When you look at the numbers you really see that you are paying for table service but getting a quick service meal and snack for free.  I, personally, find that the dining plan is worth the money and saves me time when we are there.  My meals are planned out, they are paid for, and everyone is happy because the food is so good. 

Now, one thing you must know is that tip/gratuity is not included.  The suggested tip is based on your total meal cost prior to deducting your plan.  It is up to you, how much you want to tip unless you are a party of six or more than 18% is automatically added to your bill.  When you receive your bill it will tell you how many of that service you have left.  So if you had six table services to start and just finished eating, then your bill will show that you have five remaining.  You can always get your entire amount of allotted meals from the concierge or guest services area at your hotel.  It is important to note that meals do not roll over after your stay.  If you don’t use them up you will lose them so I highly recommend planning out your meals for each day you are at Disney.  Also, the meals are to be used at your discretion.  If you want two table service meals on one day and two quick service meals another day, it is up to you how you use them, but again, use them up!


P.S. Call me this year to plan your AMAZING Disney vacation.  I always recommend to start planning your Walt Disney World vacation 8 to 12 months in advance so we can start planning everything out for you.     

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Traveling to Charleston with Kids!

Charleston, South Carolina

If you haven’t been, why you must go!

 Our family recently took a family vacation to Charleston, South Carolina.  The last time my husband and I were in Charleston we didn’t have any children and we enjoyed the pleasures of Down Home Southern Cooking.  We walked around the romantic waterfront and sat in front of the iconic Pineapple fountain while watching the sunset project beautiful hues of pink and purple onto the bay.  We walked around the entire historic district taking in the sights of various mansions, quaint alleyways, and hearing ghost tales of years that have gone by.   One thing about Charleston is that the historic district remains the same, not much had changed in the past 10 years since we were there last.  Except, this time we had two little ones with us. 

We didn’t have much time at the Pineapple fountain before one of the children had a meltdown and didn’t want to get a picture as a family, but we tried anyway.  The meltdown probably came from a long day of excitement, playfulness, and good food as there is a lot of amazing things to do in Charleston with children.  Every day the kids were exhausted, ate well, and couldn’t wait to get out of the hotel the next day to see where we were going next.  One thing to make sure of when you travel to Charleston with the kids is to make sure they get a good, hearty breakfast.  There are so many amazing breakfast places in the historic district and we found them by simply asking our concierge where to eat.  There is an amazing place on Meeting Street called Toast that has homemade biscuits the size of my hand.  They may be large but they are not heavy. We visited Toast on several occasions as they had some interesting breakfast items that we wanted to try, and the food was consistently good.

Anywhere we travel, if there is an aquarium or zoo, it is a must stop on our itinerary.  It had been 10 years since I was last at the Charleston Aquarium so I didn’t recall exactly what was there.  Our first stop was to the outdoor enclosure which was a nice surprise.  It was a large pool containing several rays.  If the rays come close to the surface of the pool you can actually touch them.  Now if you have recently seen Finding Dory, there is a part in the movie where the animals in the “touch pool” don’t really liked to be “touched” and when the kids put their hands in the water they all start to find hiding places.  I felt like this scene played out when we were at this pool as the rays clearly didn’t want us to touch them because they all stayed at the bottom!  There were two windows on the bottom of the pool that you could look in and see the rays swimming around happily and that kept the kids occupied for some time. 

Inside the aquarium they have several great exhibits including their large tank with a sea turtle that is my size in height.  They put on various educational seminars about every half hour at various exhibits throughout the aquarium and these seminars really kept the interest of the kids.  One seminar was about alligators and crocodiles, and at the end of the seminar our children actually had the opportunity to pet an alligator, which was a huge excitement for a 5-year-old.  After talking with another employee about what fish and rays eat, she gave each of us a small cup with uncooked shrimp.  The kids put the shrimp on the end of a rod and then they feed the rays.  This was a interesting experience because the rays come up to the glass and use the glass as guidance to find the food.  They are quite aggressive when it comes to food and the large rays would push the smaller rays to the side to get the food.  Again, pure excitement for the kids!  I would highly recommend a half-day to do the aquarium, and try to schedule it so you can see the seminars.

The Children’s Museum of Charleston is another must when visiting Charleston with the kids.  It is all one floor and there are seven large rooms each with a different theme.  I personally like the castle themed room, but the pirate ship was a huge hit with the kids.  The seven rooms are: the arts and crafts room, the castle room, water play room, large building blocks room, pirate ship room, the baby play area, and grocery shopping room.  Each room was designed to have the kids engaged in some type of activity and they were able to dress up in various characters in some of the rooms.  It was fun to see the kids dressed up like pirates and running around a pirate ship yelling at each.  I also enjoyed thegrocery store because the kids have a shopping list and then they must go around and pick up the items.  Once they have retrieved all of the items they bring them to the kids sized check-out line and the parents can scan their items.  The kids pay with fake money and they can bag their own items.   

If you have little ones under the age of two, there is a whole area that is enclosed so the kids can’t get out.  They have soft pillows, slides, climbing stairs, and big foam blocks for the little ones to play.  The time flew by so fast when we were here that we didn’t get to go outside to ride the big fire truck or do any of the other outdoor activities.  I would highly recommend the Children’s Museum for either a half-day or if the weather is nice and you can play outside, a good 6 hours. 






Check out next week’s ezine when I talk about how to survive at a plantation with kids!

Click Here to check out the Life is Better Traveling Team!


Congratulations to Mary! 

She recently earned the distinguished Certified Travel Associate (CTA) designation from the Travel Institute, the travel industry’s oldest education organization.  She completed a comprehensive exam-based training program that demonstrates extensive industry knowledge and experience, and she must continue to fulfill stringent education credit requirements each year. 


Have a Great Week!




Best Exhibit Ever!!!

This is by far the BEST exhibit I have been to in a long time!

This is for all ages so please read.

We have been the to the Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh on several occasions since we moved to Pittsburgh two years ago.  The museum is three floors of activities for children of all ages, and even adults are seen playing around, including myself.  I have several favorite areas in this museum, but my utmost favorite is on the first floor where kids and adults can do hands on activities such as watercolor painting, using chalk and crayons to make masterpieces, model clay into fabulous bowls, and screen printing.  The screen printing is quite unique as you cut out an object(s), letter(s), or anything your creativity can come up with, out of newspaper.  You take the newspaper pieces to the screen, paint over your cut out, and what is left behind is a painted outline.  The best part is that the little kids think it is magic.

Even with the painting, a water floor, and sand area, the Children’s museum always goes above and beyond with their special exhibits.  On this particular visit the special exhibit was a childhood favorite for all ages, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.  The Children’s museum does not spare any expense when it comes to their special exhibits whether they are big or small, and this exhibit was no different.  I actually felt like I had stepped into the TV and was on the set of Daniel Tiger. 

The exhibit was cleverly planned in that all the houses, school room, chairs, toys and characters were child size.  As an adult it made me feel like a very tall person, but for the kids, everything was at their height level.  All the characters were child size so my children could play with them and even try to hug them.  Daniel Tiger’s hut was just big enough for the children, and so was the school room.  There was plenty of activities at each area for the kids to do including learning how to deliver mail like Mister McFeely.  They even had several wheeled mail pouches you could use to deliver the mail.  Daniel and friends have wearable fire trucks, ambulances, and trucks so they recreated them here out of heavy duty card board.  The kids loved them and you could hear several kids making the sounds of their respective vehicle. 

If you know Mister Roger’s neighborhood or have watched Daniel Tiger with your family, you know that there are many positive messages and they usually come in the form of a song.  Various stations around the exhibit asked that you write something down that made you feel good about yourself or leaving behind a positive emotion.  One station had green leaves and asked that you write down a thank you for someone who has done something nice for you.  Of course, if a child was having trouble with considering who this would be, there was a song that you can sing to help.  Once you had filled out the leaf, you would simply place it onto the tree and the tree started to resemble the tree where Katerina Kittycat and O the Owl live.

The Daniel Tiger exhibit will be at the Children’s museum until January 17, 2017, so if you live in the Pittsburgh area or find yourself out this way, make sure to stop in and see this amazing exhibit.  Children and adults of all ages will surly enjoy it.






Click Here to check out the Life is Better Traveling Team!

Congratulations to Mary! 

She recently earned the distinguished Certified Travel Associate (CTA) designation from the Travel Institute, the travel industry’s oldest education organization.  She completed a comprehensive exam-based training program that demonstrates extensive industry knowledge and experience, and she must continue to fulfill stringent education credit requirements each year. 

Have a Great Week!

All photos, rights reserved by those who produced them, and Yohannan family.