Where Fireworks Freaks Go On Independence Day

Independence Day
Adam Baker/Flickr

As America prepares to celebrate its Independence Day this week, thoughts might turn to picnics, barbecues, an extra day off work and a patriotic display of fireworks. Look up after dark on the Fourth of July at just about any city or town in the United States and colorful displays will fill the sky. Some Americans plan their own displays where permitted while others seek out traditional fireworks celebrations that have been held annually for decades. Not sure where to go for the best of the best in fireworks? We checked in with a variety of sources and experts in their respective fields of travel for ideas. One of these places should work just fine for the fireworks freak inside you.

The Travel Channel ranks everything from the best beaches to the best bike cities in the U.S. On their list of Best U.S. Fireworks Displays, they like “America’s biggest birthday party” under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Kaboom Town in Addison, TX, the largest fireworks display in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Navy Pier in Chicago, with regular fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday night as some of their top places to go.

Hotel search engine Room 77 knows about more than 200,000 hotels worldwide and has a list of the Top 10 Hotels with the Highest “Boom Factor,” offering the best vantage points from pools and rooftop bars to balconies, beaches and even bathtubs. They like the Hyatt Regency Austin, one of the few hotels in the city that overlook the water; the Mandarin Oriental New York, where some rooms in the 54-story hotel have marble soaking tub views of the river and fireworks; and the W Washington DC where the rooftop bar offers a premiere vantage point for viewing the fireworks over the mall, one of the most spectacular Fourth of July celebrations in the entire country.At Disney Parks and on Disney Cruise Line ships, nightly fireworks displays are a big part of the experience every day of the year but especially on July Fourth. What fireworks freaks know that many fans of the Disney displays do not is that the colorful, timed explosions are not actually “blown” off the ground at all.

The Walt Disney Company is the largest user of fireworks in the world and coordinates aerial displays with microsecond accuracy to coincide with music or live action performances. They have been doing that using compressed air rather than gunpowder since 1999, making display shells explode in the air using an electronic timer. The result is a reduction of fumes, greater accuracy in height and timing and a surprise effect unmatched by gunpowder-driven pyrotechnics.

To see one of the reasons why Disney Cruise Line ranks consistently high in customer satisfaction, take a look at their Buccaneer Blast display, held at sea:

Disney Cruise Line Tops All Others In Satisfaction Survey

Disney Cruise LIne
Chris Owen

Ranking cruise lines in a variety of critical areas, Disney Cruise Line came out on top in JD Powers 2013 Cruise Line Satisfaction Report, released today. In spite of recent negative press reports affecting cruise line satisfaction across the board, the survey revealed some surprising trends and priorities. The study also verified some long-held beliefs about cruise travel.

“Many cruise lines in the report have very high levels of passenger satisfaction, well above the report average; however, for more than a year, the overall industry has been dealing with a lot of negative news affecting customer perceptions, expectations and trust,” said Ramez Faza, senior account manager of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power in a MarineLog report.

Top three cruise lines on a scale of 1000 gave Disney Cruise Line (871) a commanding lead over second place Royal Caribbean International (838) followed by Holland America Line (835). Noted as a big problem for cruise lines, all of which scored high on customer satisfaction, nearly one in five cruise passengers reported having a problem on their sailing.”To raise the bar, the industry must focus on meeting the needs of the nearly 20 percent of passengers who experience a problem with their cruise line experience,” notes Faza. “Cruise lines need to understand the causes of customer dissatisfaction and determine what will motivate them to come back.”

Confirming what many cruise travelers already know, price was rated as the primary reason for choosing a particular cruise line (53 percent), with the average fare paid a reported $1628 per person.

The report of 3,003 cruise travelers in the past 12 months measured cruise line customer satisfaction based on service, stateroom, food, embarkation/debarkation, entertainment, cost, and excursions.

In the February edition of Condé Nast Traveler, Disney Cruise Line also found plenty to be proud of as three of their four ships ranked in the top three places in the large cruise ship category.

Disney Cruise Liner's Floating Water Park

Relaunched Cruise Ships Bring Sunshine and Magic

Disney Cruise Line

In the world of cruise travel, the big story is often about the latest, greatest, biggest cruise ships to be launched and what they have to offer travelers. Those new floating resorts often command the highest fares as cruise travel fans line up to book passage and be one of the first to sail. But while major cruise lines build new ships with the best of what they have to offer, they have not forgotten about their existing fleets. Older ships, relaunched with major updates, can often be one of the best cruise travel values available.

Disney Cruise Line is proud of new Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream, the two new ships that more than doubled their fleet capacity. But Disney Magic, first launched in 1998, is not forgotten. The ship has been kept up to date with periodic dry dock maintenance but after living with new features rolled out with Fantasy and Dream, Disney imagineers have taken another look at Disney Magic. The result of that look is an extensive remodel that will bring a host of new reasons to sail the ship.

Disney Cruise Line

Headlining the new features on Disney Magic is The AquaDunk, a 37-foot body slide that starts by taking riders down three decks from Deck 13 to Deck 10 through a translucent tube. That tube extends 20 feet over the side of the ship above the ocean that is over 100 feet below.

We have always been committed to reinvesting in our fleet and continuously making shipboard enhancements that elevate the guest experience,” said Karl L. Holz, president of Disney Cruise Line in an Orlando Sentinel article. Marvel comics is now a part of the Disney family of brands, so the Super Hero icons of Marvel have been introduced on Disney Magic as a new space for children. Marvel’s Avengers Academy will be a big part of Disney’s Oceaneer Club as young crime-fighters are transported to a high-tech command post used by The Avengers for special mission.Dining venues are also getting an update with Animator’s Palate getting all-new, larger high-definition flat-screens for better views of the animation magic that takes place all around. “Drawn to Magic” is a new dinner celebration where the black and white “blank canvas” of the Animator’s Palate turns full color, as Disney and Disney-Pixar characters come to life throughout the dinner event.

Carioca’s is a new restaurant tapping the current cruise industry trend to make public spaces multi-use areas. By day the area (which replaces the current Topsider buffet) is a fun quick lunch venue. By night, the now air-conditioned area is an elegant dinner place.

Disney has also added a bigger, better Spa area with a barber shop and more redesigned areas for adults only. Staterooms will get more room, storage and bathing space too. This new Disney video gives full details of all the re-imagined features to be on board Disney Magic:

Disney Magic will be taken out of service on September 10, 2013, returning with all of the above and more on October 8, 2013. But cruise travelers will not have to wait that long to see the result of Carnival Cruise Line’s new Carnival Sunshine, sailing right now after a $155 million refit.

Formerly launched in 1996 as Carnival Destiny, Carnival Cruise Lines took that popular ship, gutted it, and added back all the best features from all their ships and then some. As the first ship in the Carnival fleet to incorporate all of the dining, bar and entertainment options that are part of Carnival Cruise Line’s refreshing Fun Ship 2.0 enhancement program, this one is far more than a pit stop dry dock overhaul.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival is adding new, branded onboard dining and programming elements like Guy’s Burger Joint designed by the Food Network’s Guy Fieri, comedian George Lopez’s Punchliner Comedy Club & Brunch and an assortment of games, music and activities through partnerships with names like Hasbro, EA Sports and Miami Heat celebrity DJ Erie.

New on Carnival Sunshine will be:

  • WaterWorks, a racing-themed water park featuring the line’s longest water slide
  • Havana Bar, by day a Cuban coffee and finger foods place and by night a Cuban-themed bar
  • Shake Spot, which will offer classic milkshakes and floats, as well as tropical fruit shakes and adult shakes and floats
  • JavaBlue Café, which will have sweet and frothy cappuccinos, lattes, espressos and other caffeinated favorites
  • Pizzeria del Capitano, an expansion of the line’s popular Cucina del Capitano family-style Italian restaurant

For both Disney and Carnival, the name of the game is being relevant. Much of what worked for cruise lines 10 or 15 years ago does not work today. Today’s cruise travelers are inundated by more ships, with more features every year. But that one new ship for any given line – the one that is the newest, best ship in the fleet – is a small percentage of the line’s capacity and not everyone can sail on it. Reworking older ships to bring relevant features is becoming more of a must-do item all the time and these two ships are great examples of the magic and sunshine that can come as a result.

Cruise Line Takes Sustainability From Sea To Shore, Wins Award

cruise lineSustainable Travel International (STI) is a global non-profit charged to help destinations, businesses and travelers protect the environment, adapt to climate change, preserve cultural heritage and more. This week, STI awarded their first-ever, Gold-Level Eco-Certification to a cruise line, honoring Royal Caribbean International for attractions and tour operations at their island in the Bahamas, CocoCay.

Encouraging green travel, STI awards certification for businesses that are engaged in responsible travel practices that focus on economic, socio-cultural and environmental sustainability.

CocoCay is the first operation of its kind to receive the certification, which rates on-island tours, island operations, workplace practices, guest communications and environmental management policies. Rated by an expert third-party, independent of Sustainable Travel International and Royal Caribbean, the CocoCay operation demonstrated an ability to successfully apply its at-sea sustainability initiatives to its on-shore operations.But Royal Caribbean did not just get lucky. Winning the award took a global focus, much like we saw when sailing to their private destination of Labadee in Haiti, just after the major earthquake of a few years ago. Then, Royal Caribbean was self-charged to deliver thousands of pounds of food and supplies to the devastated island, which was also home to resident Royal Caribbean employees who work at Labadee when ships come calling.

“Royal Caribbean developed a very thorough, attainable action plan, designed to implement higher levels of sustainability over time,” said Robert Chappell, Sustainable Travel International’s Senior Director of Standards and Certification in a press release.

Will more cruise lines follow Royal Caribbean and work to get their own private islands certified green and sustainable? Probably. Other cruise lines as well have been working to make a green impact. By recycling cooking oil used on ships as fuel for vehicles on Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line is making a difference.

Princess Cruises shore power program made history debuting in environmentally sensitive Juneau, Alaska, in 2001, expanding to Seattle in 2005, and then to Vancouver in 2009. Currently nine of the line’s ships have the capability to “plug in” to a shore-side power source, representing an investment for Princess of nearly $7 million in equipment.

“I’m excited to see them expand their action plan while developing innovative new solutions that are leading the way in the cruise industry,” added Chappell.

STEP is among the first global standards to be formally recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay is the first cruise line private island to receive the certification.

Want to know more about Sustainable Travel International? Check this video:



[Photo Credit – Flickr user kuddlyteddybear2004]

Disney Cruise Line Takes Top Three In World’s Best Ships Poll

When Condé Nast comes out with a readers’ poll, cruise travelers worldwide take notice. To be mentioned near the top of their list is a sought-after award worth bragging about. In the February edition of Condé Nast Traveler, Disney Cruise Line found plenty to be proud of as three of their four ships ranked in the top three places in the large cruise ship category.

Beating out Celebrity Eclipse and Celebrity Equinox to round out the top five, classic Disney Cruise ships Disney Magic and Disney Wonder took the first and second spots, respectively, followed by 2011’s Disney Dream in third place.

“With four ships in our fleet, more families than ever before can set sail on a Disney Cruise Line vacation filled with imaginative fun for the kids and exciting family time for all,” said Karl Holz, president of Disney Cruise Line in a SILive report. “We’re thrilled that the experiences our cast and crew members deliver at sea continue to be recognized as outstanding by our guests.”

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It was all a part of Condé Nast’s 100 Best Cruise Ships In the World, a reader poll ranking travel experiences with categories of small ships, medium ships, large ships and river cruise ships.

Interestingly, it was Disney Cruise Line’s two older ships, Disney Magic and Disney Wonder that took top honors followed closely by 2011’s Disney Dream with the latest, greatest version of what Disney does at sea, Disney Fantasy trailing in eighth place. Not that eight place is bad mind you – just not quite as magical.

Here are all top ten in the large ship category. Click on any of them for more information from Condé Nast.

89.9 Disney Magic

89.6 Disney Wonder

89.5 Disney Dream

88.6 Celebrity Eclipse

88.2 Celebrity Equinox

87.0 Queen Mary 2

86.2 Celebrity Solstice

84.8 Disney Fantasy

83.7 Oasis of the Seas

82.7 Liberty of the Seas

Disney Fantasy Cruise Ship Docks in NYC


[Photo credit- Chris Owen]