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Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World?

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com

So, you're thinking about going to Disney World! One of the biggest decisions that you'll have to make while planning your trip will be whether you'll stay on-property at one of the Disney-owned hotels or off-property at one of the many, many, many hotels elsewhere in the Orlando/ Lake Buena Vista area.

Which one is better? How do you know which is worth the money? As someone who's visited Walt Disney World more times than I can count--and someone who's stayed all over Orlando--I have a few tips to help you decide the best location to call home while you're staying in the most magical place on Earth!


Disney hotels are extremely convenient to everything else on the Disney property. Topographically speaking, Walt Disney World isn't that big, so by staying on property, you're just a few minutes from all four parks, Downtown Disney, and the other Disney hotels. Because of their proximity to the fun stuff, you'll spend more time on vacation and less time stuck in traffic along I-4.

Transportation to and from the parks is free. I don't know about you, but when I'm at Disney World, I prefer to park my car and immerse myself in the magic. By staying on Disney property, you've got complimentary access to the fleet of Disney buses. The buses are timely and arrive every 20 minutes at each hotel. Through the bus system, you can make your way to the parks, the other hotels, the water parks, and Downtown Disney. 

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com

Transportation to and from the Orlando (MCO) airport is free. If you're flying into Orlando for the sole reason of going to Disney World, there's no need to rent a car. Just hop on the Magical Express, and you'll be shuttled to your hotel's front door along with your luggage. 

Your hotel stay comes with free parking and no resort fee. I hate when hotels have added fees tacked onto the nightly cost. When you stay on property, Disney makes things easy: the price you see when you're browsing the site is the price you pay. 

Each hotel is sprinkled with the trademark Disney magic. Whether you're staying at the Victorian-themed Grand Floridian, the larger-than-life themed Pop Century, or the Louisiana-themed Port Orleans, you're sure to be happy with the fun, inventive decor. 

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com
Mickey towels, characters on the bedding, and collages on the walls: Pop Century's fun rooms

All on-property guests get to take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours. Of all the benefits to staying on property, this is my favorite. Each day, one of the four parks offers additional time in the park to on-property guests only. That means that for a few hours in the morning or late evening, the crowds are greatly reduced, and on-property guests have the run of the place. In the past, I've been able to accomplish amazing things--like getting a jump start on the 4 Parks/1 Day Challenge--during Extra Magic Hours, which leaves the rest of the day free to meet characters, see the parades and shows, and have dining reservations. 


Disney hotels aren't always the most cost-effective options. Though there are multiple tiers of Disney hotels (Value, Moderate, and Deluxe), even the lowest tier can top $150 a night for a basic room with two double beds, a small bath, and mini-fridge. If you're just looking for a simple room without any Disney frills, you're better off looking elsewhere for a room.

Only a handful of the rooms offered include a kitchenette and suites. Yes, they do exist (in the new Art of Animation hotel, the Treehouse Villas, some of the Disney Vacation Club properties, and the new Polynesian villas, among others), but you can find much more affordable suite and apartment-style properties offsite. Especially if you're traveling with multiple families or friends, it's far more economical to rent one of the suites or vacation homes off-site.

You can find a much wider range of prices. If you watch Travelzoo and Groupon Getaways like a super nerd (ahem, like myself), you'll find that there are always great deals on hotels and resorts throughout the Orlando area. These deals pretty much always beat out the standard price on Disney hotels when you compare the amenities and room sizes.

There are more centrally located options if you're not just going to Disney World.  Not everyone goes to Orlando to just go to Disney World. Universal Studios and Sea World are just the beginning of what the Orlando area has: there are museums, historical attractions, the new Orlando Eye, and more. If you're planning to pack more into your central Florida vacation than just Disney, it might be a good idea to consider staying somewhere off-property.

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com

There are some non-Disney hotels that are still super, super close to Disney World. If you're looking for a deal, but aren't sold on any of the Disney properties, there's a happy medium: the Downtown Disney area hotels. These are just a few minutes walk to the restaurants and shops of Downtown Disney, but usually offer great deals since they're not Disney owned. Some, like the Buena Vista Palace and the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, even have character breakfasts onsite. Just note that the buses that cater to these properties are very slow (and not always punctual), and the bus pick-up area has no shade (not great when you visit in the heat of the summer).

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com
Lake Buena Vista hotel
Off-property guests have to pay for parking at the Disney parks. While paid parking isn't a huge expense, it can add up over the course of your vacation. Each day, you can expect to pay upwards of $15 per car to park. Add that to the daily parking fee at your hotel (which can easily top $20 in some places), and you're looking at $30+ in parking alone.

Staying off-property means you're at the mercy of the Orlando traffic. Sometimes it's okay, but most of the time, it's awful. The stretch of I-4 between International Boulevard and the Disney exits is home to a ton of restaurants and hotels, parks, a convention center, and apartment buildings. Traffic is guaranteed, and who wants to spend more time battling other park goers on the interstate?

You lose the Disney magic illusion. Personally, if I'm going on a Disney vacation, I want to stay in the magic for as long as I can. I've stayed elsewhere in Orlando for mixed park trips (Disney, Orlando, and Sea World), and I'm fine with an off-property hotel in those cases since I'm indulging in a mixture of park experiences. However, if I'm only going to Disney World on a trip, staying off property means there's a clear division between the magic and where I'm sleeping, which is a killjoy for a Disney nerd like me.

Which do you prefer: on- or off-property hotels? What's the most important thing that you look forward to in a hotel when booking?

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The Journey I Never Intended to Take

This post was supposed to be about my recent trip to Walt Disney World. I was going to share cute pictures of my daughter dressed as Princess Anna (who's practically another family member at this point), discuss my feelings on going to Magic Kingdom mid-August, and review the off-site hotel where we stayed.

I did go to Walt Disney World with my mom and my daughter. But the experience turned out to be devastating, and I'm just now figuring out how to process it all.

Walt Disney World wasn't the cause of the problem--it was just the setting. In what is supposed to be the most magical place on Earth, I had to experience the most difficult thing I've done thus far.

I lost the sweet baby I was carrying.

I was 17 weeks along and feeling great. The morning sickness had long passed, I had lots of energy, and I was just starting to pull out my maternity clothes.

For the first day we were in the Magic Kingdom (Thursday, August 20), I felt great. Britton, my mom, and I hopped from ride to ride, ate brunch with Pooh Bear, and watched a few of the shows. Even when we headed back to the hotel around 3 for Britton's nap, I was pain-free and in great spirits.

It was only after I woke up from my nap that I started to feel poorly. My stomach felt as if it was in a vice grip. The feeling was nothing like labor pains, but rather as if someone had put a vice grip on my abdomen and wouldn't release the pressure. I figured I had pulled a muscle or two from all of the walking--or perhaps I hadn't had enough water that day. Despite being in a tremendous amount of pain, I decided to head back to the park with my mom and Britton.

We ended up in the Contemporary resort after a horrible storm made us rethink walking around in the park: we had dinner there as we attempted to wait out the thunderstorm, but around 8 p.m., it was still pouring and we decided to head back to our hotel. I was still in a considerable amount of pain, so I wasn't too upset.

When I woke up on Friday, the abdominal pain wasn't as bad, but I discovered I had started bleeding. This scared me far more than the pulled-muscle feeling, so I called my obstetrician here in Charleston, and she recommended that I go to the ER to get checked out.

I was poked, prodded, examined, and sent for an ultrasound. And after several hours in the ER, the doctor came and told me those two horrible words: fetal demise. My heart fell into a million pieces at that moment, and I still haven't even tried to put it back together.

I was rushed up to the labor and delivery ward, which seemed so horrible. Women normally go there to have fat, healthy babies. People are happy there. Instead, I was devastated and in a great amount of pain. As soon as he heard, Landon rushed down from South Carolina to Orlando, and the nurses had agreed to wait to induce me until he arrived. My mom and Britton were there, but I knew that I didn't want Britton in the room when it was time.

In the end, my body had other plans, and I went into labor at 6:30 that Friday night. Landon was still an hour and a half out from the hospital, so the nurses helped me through the experience. I really didn't want to do it by myself, and the nurses were absolutely wonderful to me. I did get to see our baby--a little boy!--after I had delivered him, and those few moments are all that I have of his tiny life. He was so small, but absolutely perfect.

I ended up losing a significant amount of blood and had to be rushed into the OR immediately after delivery. Because of the blood loss, I had to stay in the hospital until late Saturday night to finish my blood transfusion and medication. We made the long, quiet, sad trip back to Charleston that Sunday.

Today marks two weeks since the miscarriage, and I'm no closer to understanding it than I was when I first found out. Landon and I were so excited about this upcoming baby, and, now that I'm not pregnant anymore, the world seems to have shifted in this strange and horrible way.

We named our son August Gibson--August for his birth month and for Landon's grandfather, who was named Augustus, and Gibson for my mom (it was her maiden name). He seems so tangible to me still, and the worst part of all of this the the sudden realization that comes just after the moments when I forget that I'm not carrying him anymore.

We're still taking things one hour at a time. Everyone tells me that the pain will eventually become more bearable, and I take comfort in that.

But I still miss him.

What's Next?: Slowing Down A Little and Our Next Big Adventure

Things around here on Cosmos Mariners have been quiet lately.

And, believe it or not, it has been completely by choice.

I absolutely adore this website. In the five years that I've written about my life and my travels, I have learned incredible things about blogging, marketing, and writing, and I've met some wonderful, wonderful people.

I adore it, and I always will. I wouldn't change anything.

However, after many, many talks with my husband, I've decided to slow down on blogging. Why?

1) Time with family
If you've read this blog for any length of time, you'll know that I have a very enthusiastic and adventurous toddler. When she was a baby--and stayed where I put her--updating the blog was fairly easy. She'd kick on her playmat while I wrote, and we were both happy.

However, she can now climb, open doors, throw things, and generally wreak havoc if I stop watching her for more than a second or two. Since she's so much more active now, the time that I had to work on the blog dwindled to her naptime and whatever time I had between her bedtime and mine.

Those few precious hours had to be divided between blogging, my husband (who most of the time got ignored while I worked), marketing the blog, finding new places to travel, and my freelance writing.

Since taking a break from the blog, I've had time to breathe, talk to my husband (oh, hey, there!), take my kid to the playground after dinner, and generally enjoy the summer. I can't say I hate the extra time.

2) My freelance writing
While blogging is my first writing love, freelance writing is what brings home the bacon for me. While I could absolutely make money off this blog (in amounts that exceeded my freelance writing), I just don't have the time or energy to devote to making that process happen right now (see reason #1). At least for now, I'm focusing my extra time on my freelance writing, and blogging will take a backseat.

3) Travel demands
Running a travel blog requires that you travel (duh). Preferably a lot. In the 18 months since I became a travel blogger, I have done an incredible amount of traveling, considering that I had an infant-to-toddler in tow, and I had to work around the schedules of my full-time-working family members. I'm not a full-time traveler: I can't be, and I honestly am not interested in that lifestyle. It definitely works for other people--and I LOVE reading about their adventures--but leaving my house and life here in Charleston wasn't ever in the plans.

I traveled when I had the time and the budget, and I'm quickly discovering that the budget for travel shrinks exponentially as your kid gets older. Which brings me to reason #4....

4) My daughter
Parenting news flash: if you feed your kid, she'll get bigger. I know--mind blown.

Now that Britton is moving and grooving (and telling us about it every minute of the way), she needs more stuff. She needs lots of shoes and clothes and all that, but there's more to it than that.

She's starting preschool this year (my baby! Cue Mom sobbing.), so my time with my favorite little travel buddy has just gotten much more restricted. She needs to be with other kids her age right now, and traveling solo with a toddler is far more difficult than it was when she was smaller.

Plus, there's the whole preschool tuition thing. The majority of our travel money is now going towards the Britton Education Fund.

5) My new baby (!!!!)
Ah, to save the best for last.

Yes, our family will welcome the newest little Cosmos Mariner in early 2016. I've been crazy exhausted and sick throughout my first trimester, and I've had no inclination to travel or write...or really do anything than take a nap. I've actually canceled two trips because of how I felt recently, something I had to do with a sad heart. But you've got to do what you've got to do.

We're incredibly excited to meet our new little one, but that addition means even less time for my blogging and traveling. I'm the kids' primary caregiver since my freelance writing is far more flexible than my husband's finance job, so what the two of them need supersedes what I want to do.

Traveling, marketing, maintaining a blog, and keeping up with my freelance writing career with one small kid is tough but doable. Doing all of the above with two under the age of three is going to be nearly impossible.

One thing that I did with Britton as an infant that really set me up for disappointment was my desire to do everything. I quickly realized that I couldn't--no one is Super Parent--and that was an incredibly hard time in my life.

This time around, I'm streamlining my life, and I'm getting help. Unfortunately, "streamlining" in this case means taking the focus away from my blog and putting it elsewhere, but my family is worth a little bit of short term sacrifice.


So, what does this mean for the blog?

I'm not totally sure yet. It's not going away--you'll have to pry the computer out of my cold, dead hands to get me to give it up completely--but it will be slowing down. 

I do have a few bigger trips coming up later this fall now that I feel a bit better, and I'm looking forward to those. I'll definitely be sharing those on the blog and my social media, as well as any smaller or day trips that we take before the little one comes next year. 

I won't be posting three times a week anymore as I have done in the past. It's just too much on me right now. 

As my family and life evolve, so too will the blog. I thank each and every one of my readers for accompanying me on this journey, and I hope that you'll stick with me as I traverse this new and uncharted territory!

A First Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Over its 450 years of existence, St. Augustine has had to reinvent itself many times to stay relevant and to continue thriving. The modern day city is no exception, and St. Augustine has found new life in reworked classic attractions, daring chefs, and upfitted shops and streets. It might have plenty of history, but St. Augustine, Florida, is anything but old and stuffy.

In my first time guide to St. Augustine, Florida, I'll give you my best recommendations on every part of your visit: from my favorite hotels to where to eat. All you have to do is book your St Augustine hotel and hit the road!

Edisto Island Serpentarium, South Carolina

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Just after I'd gotten back from St. Augustine, Florida, I repacked my suitcase and headed to Edisto Island, South Carolina, for a week with my husband and his side of the family. It's a tradition to spend a week at the beach there, relaxing and catching up with everyone. While Edisto has a fairly quiet beach and beautiful sunsets, there are some hidden surprises tucked amongst the huge live oak trees--one of which is the Edisto Serpentarium.

Unlike other beach locales (I'm looking at you, Myrtle Beach), Edisto Island is completely devoid of Ripley's Believe or Not museums, Medieval Times restaurants, and neon lights. The fact that there's a reptile exhibit at all on this out-of-the-way stretch of Carolina coast is surprising on its own. But what's even more unexpected is how well done the Serpentarium is.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island

The first stop on our fifth anniversary cruise, Labadee, Haiti, didn't begin with a lot of promise.

After a medical emergency with one of the fellow passengers caused us to return to Cape Canaveral several hours after we'd set sail. Because of that, the captain had to make up 10 hours of lost sailing time during our first day at sea. Since we were so behind on our schedule, we'd been told that we were losing all but 5 hours on Labadee.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com

And on top of that, we'd heard from a few people back home (and from a bunch of internet reviews) that Labadee was dirty and not even worth getting off the boat to see.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com

Since we didn't have any shore excursions, we debated about whether we were even going to wander around on the island.

After shaking off the lazy, we headed down into Labadee. And I'm so glad that we did.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com

Once we'd made it past the front gate, we meandered along the path nearest the coast while several local steel drum bands brought the sounds of the tropics to us.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com

About halfway to the main beach area, we heard a young man with a megaphone talking about a cultural show. My ears perked up immediately, and our trajectory changed so we could locate the ampitheatre.

Once we found it, a very friendly young Haitian led us around to the back of the ampitheatre where there were some picnic tables in the shade. Landon almost immediately left again to find something to drink since it was so warm out there. I made friends with two women from Iowa who were also waiting for the show to start.

After 15 minutes, Landon finally showed back up--he'd found something to drink, but he'd learned the hard way that the Haitian vendors were very aggressive. A vendor led him to the drinks area, but then pressured him into purchasing two bracelets for his services. (I absolutely adore the bracelets, so the hard sell tactics ended up being worth the hassle.)

Just after he came back to the ampitheatre, the show started. It was a pretty casual affair with a live band (mostly trumpets with a drummer and a singer), a dance troupe, and a few gymnasts. Even though there was a fairly small audience (20 people or so), the MC was quite lively and kept all of us excited about each act.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com

It was so fun to see the cultural dances performed by the dance troupe--their colorful costumes and enthusiastic attitude for their art was contagious, and the audience was clapping along in no time.

After the dance troupe had their time on stage, three gymnasts came up. They were awesome! Unlike an American performance, they didn't have any floor pads or safety equipment, but that didn't stop them from bouncing all over the place. Their accuracy and flexibility made me feel completely lazy for sitting back and watching them.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com

For the rest of the time on the island, we grabbed lunch at the Royal Caribbean buffet area, then hung out by the beach for a while.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com

We loved the fact that the ship was docked onsite so we didn't have to wait for a tender boat when we were ready to head back in for the day.

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com

We might have only had a few hours on the island, but I'm so glad that we decided to experience Labadee for ourselves and not listen to the naysayers! It just goes to show that travel--and each destination--is an incredibly personal experience. Always try things out for yourself!

Labadee, Haiti: Royal Caribbean's Private Caribbean Island | CosmosMariners.com

Know before you go:

  • Be prepared to haggle if you decide to purchase from the local vendors or artists. Of all of our stops, the Haitian vendors were the most aggressive and really pushed for a sell. Be firm, know your final price, and be prepared to walk away if they don't bargain with you. 
  • If you attend the cultural show, it is free. However, they will pass around a box for tips after both the dance routines and the gymnastics routine. If you enjoyed both acts, divide your money and give both times. 
  • There are lots of activities to do on Labadee, but most (in my opinion) are seriously overpriced. There's a really long zipline for $100 per person, and a rollercoaster for $30 per person per ride. You can also take your kids on a bouncy inflatable area. From others we talked to on the boat, the rollercoaster and the bouncy area weren't worth the money. We heard that the zipline was great, but I'm far too cheap to pay that much money for 25 seconds on a ride. Hang out by the beach, listen to the bands, and go to the cultural show for an inexpensive way to experience Labadee.
Have you been to Labadee? What's been your favorite port of call on the cruises you've experienced?

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Eating Your Way Through St. Augustine, Florida

Eating Your Way Through St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

St. Augustine, Florida, is well-known for its vast array of historical offerings and beautiful beaches. What most people don't know is that the city has some incredible culinary options. While you're in town, explore these local favorites and discover the tasty side of St. Augustine!