I’ve been to Disneyland several times now, but none of the other visits even came close to the fun of taking my family there for the first time last year. Watching our son Logan, who had just turned four, having his mind blown by experiences like meeting Buzz Lightyear and trying his first real roller-coaster experience was truly awesome.
For starters here are specifically the experiences Logan said he enjoyed most, followed by his dad’s brief insights and perspectives. : )
- The Mickey Ferris Wheel. Hookay, I missed this one while taking part in a meeting planner FAM, but my wife Kathy told me the prominent Mickey Ferris Wheel that towers over the Paradise Pier section of California Adventure is actually a harrowing experience that involves the carriages on the wheel sliding up and down on tracks while the contraption turns. But Logan loved it apparently and repeatedly said it was the best thing at Disney.
- Room Service. See, this is what happens when you let a four-year-old take over a travel blog, but there you have it. I will say that the room service at the Disneyland Resort was fantastic and the entire property was top-notch. BTW, I had the spaghetti and meatballs and it was delicious.
- Meeting a girl. Yes, my son—freshly turned four—was already meeting girls at Disneyland. This incident reportedly took place on the approach to the Mickey Ferris Wheel, where he held hands with an older woman of around six and then went on the ride with her. Now I’m wondering if that’s why he liked the Ferris wheel so much.
- The Build-a –Bear Workshop, located in the Disney Downtown adjoining the two theme parks was a good break from the hustle and bustle (and lines) of the theme park. The entire downtown area is pretty cool and has some reasonably affordable and good food. I had never been to an ‘Earl of Sandwich’ and have to confess their food is very tasty.
- For my money the two best places for kids under 7 are probably the Toontown section of the Magic Kingdom and the Radiator Springs part of California Adventure. Logan enjoyed his first roller coaster ride at Toontown, which also has some cool attractions to explore (such as Donald Duck’s boat) when the lines get crazy long for the rides.
- Do whatever you can to arrange your lodging on-site at Disney if your budget allows, it makes it so much easier to take a break from it all, give your child a nap and so forth. And consider splurging for a dinner at the Napa Rose (within Disney’s Grand California Hotel), one of the best restaurants in Anaheim.
- This is probably obvious advice, but make sure to see the nightly parade and show up early for a good viewing spot. They have completely ramped up the parade and it’s definitely a ‘don’t-miss it’ element of Disneyland now. The fireworks are almost as dazzling but not quite.
I hope these tips come in handy, and feel free to leave some of your own for other parents to ponder!
I can’t contend to being an expert on Dubai travel, but during a whirlwind five-day FAM hosted by Visit Dubai there was plenty of takeaway for event and group trip planners to consider. Here are some suggestions for groups to ponder when visiting the UAE’s most spectacular city, based on my experiences and what really clicked for the hundreds of meeting planners and media who took part in the immersive visit.
Get out in the desert and party. I would say the highlight of the FAM for a large proportion of our contingency was an evening at Al Sahara Desert Camp, hosted about an hour outside of the city proper in and around a fortress-like structure that looked like something out of a Foreign Legion film from the 1930s. Camel rides, exotic foods, falconers, cool pop-up stores and hookah smoking added to the fun atmosphere, as did some posh tent stanchions with lush cushions and colorful tapestries.
Don’t forget the culture. Another eye-opening experience for our group was a lunchtime visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, highlighted by time-tested Arabian architecture and the presence of numerous sheikhs and a traditional mosque. During a casual group meal with countless trays loaded with exotic delicacies, we were treated to an informal lecture from an Arabian Sheikh that provided some insights from the Islamic perspective on a variety of topics, including spirituality and feminism. In a locale that has only officially existed in its present state since 1971—and is home to residents from all over the world—this is an excellent way to actually experience some of the age-old heritage of the Middle East.
Have a ‘moving’ experience. Our group explored numerous treks and tours during the FAM journey, from Segway excursions to helicopter rides out of the spectacular Atlantis The Palm resort. A personal highlight was a boat ride on the snazzy Bateaux Dubai along the Dubai Creek, which is a superb way to see some of the city’s more ancient areas in complete comfort. Also amazing was climbing aboard the most high-tech elevator you’ll ever see to reach the viewing platform a hundred stories or so high upon the towering Burj Khalifa—which is, almost unbelievably, more than twice the height of the Empire State Building.
Revel in the resorts. Regardless of where your group stays, consider taking a tour or hosting an event at one or two of the other amazing properties in Dubai. Exploring the famed sailboat hotel is a must, and a group meal at Atlantis the Palm’s Ossiano—with sharks and manta rays swimming by your tables in the floor-to-ceiling aquarium glass—is also worthwhile. For an impressive evening event, consider the Madinat Jumeirah (below) where guests can board ‘abras’ (akin to an Arabian gondola) and float through a serene canal to a courtyard alive with music, entertainment, elegant outdoor food kiosks and posh indoor spaces as well. Visit Dubai held such a celebration here for a final-night send-off, and it was simply spectacular.
It’s a rough day at Gateway Canyons Resort as I stand inside a hangar-like structure faced with one of the toughest decisions of my travel life. Do I take one of the Bentleys…the Porsche..? Maybe the Shelby Mustang GT or the Tesla Roadster?
In the end I go with the red Camaro convertible, as it’s a sunny day and it’s my kind of car—easy to drive and lots of power. And five minutes later, after the friendly folks at the resort’s Driven Experience compound have filled it with gas, I’m zipping through the canyons and bluffs thinking, this has to be the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
But then my mind flashes back to the experiences our FAM trip has packed into the weekend visit and it’s a toss-up. In two short days our group of about 10 has taken an ATV convoy into the hills, ridden horses to a luxurious cowboy cook-out deep in the woods, and taken a helicopter flight through some of the most dramatic scenery outside the Grand Canyon. That’s not to mention stargazing, poolside lounging with cool cocktails and dinosaur fossil-hunting with the on-site ’Curator of Curiosity’ by the name of Zebulon Miracle.
Oh, and did I mention one of the best massages of my life at the resort’s spa? A trip to a car museum with vintage automobiles? This is without even delving into the basic hospitality of the sprawling resort, including elegant cuisine and lodgings that include my ‘casita’—a standalone adobe beauty with high ceilings, comfortable king bed, big-screen TV and massive bathroom highlighted by a large tub and even an outdoor private shower area.
The brainchild of Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks, Gateway Canyons is about an hour south driving time from Grand Junction, Colo., and is probably best-suited for smaller groups and events, as it currently only comprises 72 lodging units and around 9,000 square feet of event space. When it comes to families, some of the outings are a bit on the grownup side, so parents with teenagers might find it a more rewarding escape than those with younger children.
But any way you slice it, this is a uniquely wonderful place—whether you’re seeking adrenaline rushes, spa-enhanced bliss, or a memorable combination of serenity and excitement.