Magic with Shan: Why Book a Travel Agent?

Photo by Julia Fay
I'll be honest, I've never even researched using a travel agent for myself before I decided to specialize in Disney travel planning for others with 101 Vacations. For one, I always just assumed their services came with a fee, which I preferred to not use as a part of my vacation budgeting. I learned that isn't always true. An experienced travel professional can take all the stress out of planning your vacation so you can relax from the beginning and enjoy your time away, all without costing you a penny extra!

Here are 5 reasons I learned booking a travel agent is a great idea:

  1. Most agencies/agents are paid directly by the resorts, hotels, cruises and theme parks to work with you. A travel agent's service is already built into the price you are paying, and by not using one, those commission prices just go straight back to the resort, hotel, cruise line or theme park. You are actually throwing away a service you already paid for! If you really enjoy planning yourself, this isn't a big deal. But if you are one that would love to save the time spent trying to figure everything out yourself for no additional cost, you have this opportunity already paid for. 
  2. Not only can you use the services of many travel agents with no additional fees, but you will also have the benefit of their access to the best deals and sometimes even special perks to make sure you're getting the most for the money you are spending. 
  3. Two words - human connection ... with connections. When was the last time an internet search engine or websites knew your preferences, your needs, your personality? When you book a travel agent, you're creating an invaluable relationship to make sure all of those things are addressed when it comes to planning your vacation. And if they haven't personally been where you want to go, chances are they know someone who has and can get you the answers you are looking for that aren't from a faceless comment on an internet forum from 15 years ago. 
  4. Unparalleled peace of mind before, during and after your trip. In the event something does go wrong, your agent is there to help as best as they can. 
  5. Avoiding those online deals that seem too good to be true and many are. Working with an agent will ensure you are not being scammed or deceived. 

There's much more to it than this, but these are a great starting point to learning about the benefits of using a travel agent. I am so excited for this journey and being able to share my passion for Disney with others. I can't wait to help create your magical memories! 

Now Introducing: Magic With Shan!

Photo by Julia Fay 
Have you ever felt so deeply connected to something, but you never really knew what to do with that bond or how to incorporate that connection into your daily life? That is exactly how I felt about the magic of Disney, until now.

I was born in Orlando, Florida and lived there until I was 9 years old. I feel lucky to say that Walt Disney World was practically my backyard, and a large part of my family history involves Disney in some way. My mom's father was in the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association and was invited to the grand opening day of Magic Kingdom, so she was able to experience that when she was a child. I can't even begin to imagine how amazing that must have been. My parents both worked various jobs there during their late high school and early college years. They would do things like parade participation, serve up Orange Julius at the Sunshine Tree Terrace juice counter in Adventureland, perform on stage, and handle guest relations at a few resorts. It was only natural that once they had children, they would share that magic with us.

Photo by Julia Fay
My greatest memories come from those magical moments throughout our childhood. Moments like walking through the Rainbow Corridor (which no longer exists, sadly) in the Imagination Pavillion at Epcot, eating holiday meals with visits from Mickey and Minnie and other friends on the Empress Lily (paddle-wheeler style restaurant now known as Paddlefish) , seeing Cinderella's castle decorated as a giant pink cake for the 25th anniversary, and so much more. It was even more special when my grandparents and extended family would come along with us to join the fun. We all loved spending time together by walking, shopping and eating our way through Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs) and playing games at the interactive indoor theme park Disney Quest, which was permanently closed down more recently in July of 2017.

In the past 2 years, our family has had a lot of loss including my grandfather, my uncle and my grandmother. After the loss of my last living grandparent in February, I felt an incredible sense of appreciation for the memories I have and the passion we have always had for the wonder of Disney. It occurred to me now more than ever, that nothing stays the same forever, not even Disney. If collecting memories with the ones you love is of any importance to you, do it while you still have time, before the opportunity is no longer there. Nothing in life is promised, especially time.

Photo by Julia Fay
This is why today, on my 34th birthday,  I am so thrilled to share that I have joined the team at 101 Vacations travel agency, have completed the Disney College of Knowledge, and am now offering services as a Disney specialized travel agent! I want to help YOU create special memories of your own with your loved ones and experience the magic of Disney that I believe is for everyone of every age. Children or no children, it matters not. To me, Disney is not just a place to go, it's a feeling.

If you're considering the idea of a Disney vacation of any kind (family, honeymoon, birthday, just because, etc.) or have booked a trip already less than 30 days ago, I would love the opportunity to be your personal travel agent and help you plan at NO additional cost to you! Your memories are waiting!

Sincerely,
Shannon

Photo by Julia Fay
Here's where to find me for your travel needs:

agency website:   www.101-vacations.com
email:  shannon@101-vacations.com
facebook: /shanmccauley101vacations
instagram: @magicwithshan

Ultimate Guide to Eating Gluten & Dairy-Free on the Norwegian Epic Cruise Ship


We just returned home last weekend from our very first cruise ever. We took a 7-day trip to the Eastern Carribean on the Norwegian Epic and had an amazing time. I'm not going to lie, with this being our first one, I was honestly extremely nervous leading up to it. Not only was I concerned with how my body would respond (seasickness is terrifying, am I right?) but I was also worried about catching sickness from other people, mishaps with the ship or bad weather, and most importantly what would I eat the entire time? When making the reservation, you alert them of your dietary restrictions, but it's still an unsettling feeling to put trust in strangers when it comes to your food preparation. Should I pack my own snacks/food to be safe? Will they be able to accommodate a food allergy diet with that many people to feed? Living with anxiety, I tend to get wrapped up in the fear of the unknown. I knew this was meant to be a relaxing and fun vacation, so I tried not to let it consume me. As the days to departure crept closer, my excitement grew and the nerves actually started to disappear on their own. I was ready!

When we boarded the first day, the first place we went to was the "Waves" pool deck bar with a beautiful outside dining area for the Garden Cafe buffet. I had read many things about how scary the buffet could be for cross-contamination, but I believe if you know your body and the things that will or won't set off your symptoms, you can use your best judgment for this.


 I started with a simple salad with romaine lettuce, Roma tomatoes, mushrooms, shredded carrots, red onion, green and red bell peppers, cucumbers and balsamic dressing. Everything was super fresh and I definitely had this more than a couple of times! I'll be showing you more buffet options soon, but first:

I am going to share with you how to make your trip care-free when it comes to dining with food allergies. If you are very concerned and have strict restrictions to follow, I recommend pre-ordering all meals. Here's how! 


  • Go straight to the main complimentary dining room host stand
  • Ask to speak with the dietary specialist.  (The lady who helped me was May and she was the greatest.
  • They ask your cabin number and confirm restrictions
  • Ask for the current day and following day's main dining menus so you know your options - it doesn't have to be just the main dining rooms either, you can do this with any of the complimentary menus on the ship! (TIP: When exploring the ship on the first day, snap a photo of each restaurant's menu! This way they are right at your fingertips when pre-ordering each day!
  • Don't see anything you like on the main menu? Just ask for something you do like! (Chances are, if they have the ingredients, they may be able to whip it up for you. It's worth asking!)  
  • The best part is? It doesn't matter which restaurant on the ship you and your group plan to eat at. No matter where you eat, they will deliver your pre-ordered meal. (This way you don't have to miss out on dining where everyone else wants to, even if you can't eat any of the items on the menu they are ordering from.)
Regardless if you pre-order your meals or not, if you alerted your dietary restrictions on your reservation, this will show up anytime you check into any of the restaurants on the ship. You check in with the hostess by giving them your cabin number which flags them of your needs. When you are seated, the server is handed a ticket by the hostess showing them the alert and the server can help you order from there. The entire process was so easy and by day one I felt safe in the hands of Norwegian. When I am at home, in addition to gluten and dairy-free for intolerance/allergy reasons, I also eat like 99% meat-free out of preference. For this trip, I didn't want to create more restrictions for myself than there already were, so I did eat some meat while on board. Plus, I wanted to be able to share more with you all so that you could get a better idea for things you can order! Without further ado, here are the gluten and dairy-free menu items I ate on Norwegian Epic! 

BREAKFAST

Fresh Fruit Plate (sans cottage cheese) Included items like Kiwi, Watermelon, Pineapple, Blackberries, Raspberries, Honeydew Melon, Cantaloupe, Strawberries, Blueberries, and Orange Slices!) 

Hashbrowns & Gluten-Free French Toast with Maple Syrup 
Fresh Peaches and Blueberries in Ginger Syrup sprinkled with Cinnamon 
Gluten-Free Toast with Strawberry Jam and Half Grapefruit with Orange Segments 
Gluten-Free Waffles with Fresh Berries and Maple Syrup
Custom Omelet (I got Peppers, Tomatoes & Mushrooms) Bacon and Hashbrowns 
I ordered the french toast twice it was so good, and if we went to the buffet for a quick and easy breakfast, I would typically have freshly fried eggs with hashbrowns and bacon. There's complimentary drip coffee, and they have multiple non-dairy options for creamer (Rice milk, Soy milk, Almond Milk, etc.) you just have to ask! I always had a glass of either orange juice or tomato juice with my breakfasts, too!

LUNCH 

Pineapple & Grapefruit with Agave and Basil Vinaigrette Starter 
Tuna Salad on Gluten-Free Bread

This was actually the only lunch I pre-ordered to eat in a dining room, and it was very good! The rest of the time we ate at the buffet because it was on the pool deck and just easy/fast so you could spend more time outside and less time on the crowded elevators that took forever to wait for. I would often eat things like shoestring french fries, a salad,  hot dog with gluten-free bun, or my personal favorite gluten-free pizza with veggies (sans cheese).



When you enter the Garden Cafe Buffet, there are multiple stations lining the entire seating area. Some are a specialty culture, some deli, some salad, some burgers and dogs, some pizza and pasta, etc. One of the pizza stations specifically is where you ask for the gluten-free crust and they make it for you separately. It takes 5-10 minutes so while they prepare your custom pie, walk around and gather any other items you'd like to eat or drink. This crust is the perfect soft/chewy texture, the marinara was flavorful, and the veggies were so fresh! I probably got this 3 times! I wish I could buy this pizza crust at home, it was just so good! 

While lounging on the pool deck, the crew would also pass around fruit kabobs and fruit slushie treats! We thought that was a nice touch. 


DINNER

Chicago Style Hot Dog (tomatoes, white onions, yellow mustard, sweet relish, and pickled peppers) with Gluten-Free Bun + The Pub Hot Dog (sauerkraut and crispy bacon) with Gluten-Free Bun at O'Sheehan's 24-hour Bar & Grill
These buns were incredibly soft and chewy for being gluten-free! I actually ate both of these hot dogs myself! 
Rice Noodles + Chicken & Vegetables Noodle Bowl at Shanghai's 
I was really just craving a veggie and noodle broth during this meal, so I shared the shredded chicken topper with the table and they really liked it! The dish had a great lemongrass flavor to it.  
Tomato Salad with Greens
Sirloin Kabob with Steamed Vegetables and Plain Baked Potato 
Gluten-Free Pasta with Marinara Sauce 
This was another one of my favorite dishes. The pasta had great texture and the marinara had so much flavor! 
Lime & Dill Shrimp Appetizer - This was a cold dish served on a bed of potatoes and was very good!
Mixed Garden Salad with Greens, Seasonal Vegetables and Herbs with a Vinaigrette 
Grilled NY Strip Steak (sans Peppercorn Sauce) with Grilled Asparagus and a Plain Baked Potato
Boston & Red Leaf Lettuce Salad with Candied Walnuts, Pear & Champagne Vinaigrette 

DESSERT

Lemon Sorbet 
The Lemon Sorbet was the one dessert I was able to indulge in, and for me, it was the perfect ending to every meal! Light, refreshing, and palate cleansing! 

I hope this post gives you a good insight as to the many meal options you may have as you cruise on the Norwegian Epic or any Norwegian ship for that matter. They are extremely accommodating, and for my first experience, I have to say I was pleasantly shocked. I hope to enjoy more of these vacations in the future, especially now that I know this is one thing I will not have to worry about! 

Have you ever cruised with dietary restrictions before? Feel free to share your experience and any advice or tips you may have in the comments!