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May 3, 2013

Disney Magic's "Splashtacular" Enhancements

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The biggest news from last week's "Monstrous Summer" media event was the announcement that the Disney Magic would be undergoing some significant changes when it goes into dry dock this coming September.


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Changes to the ship, the oldest in Disney's fleet, include a redesigned atrium entry, the incorporation of Marvel Comics into the kids' clubs with the addition of the Avengers Academy, new dining experiences and a revamped adult nightclub area. To read more about these enhancements, see the official press release HERE.

Imagineer Joe Lanzisero walked the audience through all of these changes, but seemed most excited by what's planned for the upper deck water play area of the ship.

For kids ages 3 and up, there will be a new AquaLab, an interactive water playground with pop jets, geysers and bubblers in an 1,800-square-foot space. There will also be a new Twist n' Spout water slide with more than 250 feet of loops and turns for guests between 38 and 64 inches tall.


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The littlest cruisers (up to age 3) can play in the new Nephews' Splash Zone, an interactive space with pop jets that features Donald Duck's nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie.

While Disney Cruise Line's newest ships, the Dream and the Fantasy, have the "water coaster" known as the AquaDuck, the Magic will be getting a significantly different water feature. Known as the AquaDunk, this is basically a high-speed water slide that drops its brave visitors three stories through a translucent tube that juts out about 20 feet beyond the side of the ship.


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Here's Lanzisero outlining the "splastacular" water feature changes coming to the Magic, including a short video of the AquaDunk experience:



And here's Imagineer Peter Ricci giving a few more details of the AquaDunk from The Disney Parks Blog:



The Magic will go into dry dock in Cadiz, Spain, on September 7. In spite of all the enhancements planned, the ship is expected to be completely transformed by the time it is due to leave dry dock on October 10.


December 7, 2012

Disney Shares What's Happening "Around Our World" at Press Event

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The final day of the New Fantasyland press event began over at Downtown Disney's AMC 24 Theatre with Disney's presentation to update everyone on what's happening "Around Our World."

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Before the show there was much speculation as to whether any significant revelations would be made -- many were thinking (wishfully) that speaker Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering, would announce that a version of California Adventure's Carsland would be coming to Walt Disney World.

Let me tell you right off, the answer to that is...no. At least, there was no announcement to that effect. Instead the biggest news we heard, at least in my opinion, is that the previously announced Avatar Land, a new area in Animal Kingdom to be themed after the successful James Cameron film and its upcoming sequels, is definitely proceeding. (Rumors have circulated that perhaps the project was dead, since there hasn't been much news about it since it was originally announced.) According to the Vaughn, development of the new fantastical land is "still on track" and something that they're "very excited" about.

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Aside from that tidbit, the rest of the presentation served as a recap of what's been happening at Disney Parks and around the Disney universe most recently.

Meg Crofton, President, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, United States and France (to give her full title), introduced the program by sharing a few bits of trivia about the New Fantasyland and Test Track attractions, now that they're officially open to the public.

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She revealed, for example, that there is a Hidden Mickey in the new Little Mermaid attraction that will only be visible once a year, on November 18 -- Mickey Mouse's birthday. She also pointed out this subtle tribute to the original Epcot attraction World of Motion -- it's the logo for the old ride, which originally occupied Test Track's site.

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In addition to his confirmation of the Avatar project, Vaughn also spoke at length about other recent developments around the Disney Parks.

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Vaughn of course highlighted the New Fantasyland and its many features, calling the Audio Animatronic Lumiere, found in the Enchanted Tales with Belle experience, the most advanced that Disney has at the moment. He also talked about the non-queue queue at the revamped Dumbo attraction, hinting that the "queue lounge" is something we might be seeing more of. Vaughn also talked briefly about the Princess Fairy Tale Hall, which will open in New Fantasyland next year, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, not due to be finished until 2014. Vaughn said the train's thrill level will rank somewhere just below Big Thunder Mountain Railroad's, and added that the representations of the dwarfs themselves in the attraction will be "unique."

Vaughn also took the opportunity to announce the addition of a new gallery in Epcot, to be housed in the American Adventure. The Bernard and Shirley Kinsey Collection will be made up of 40 pieces of art, artifacts, books and documents from the Kinseys' personal collection of African-American art and history. The gallery will hold previews during African-American heritage month in February 2013, an will officially open in March.

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After recapping the new attractions at Disneyland Resort -- primarily Cars Land and the new Buena Vista Street -- Vaughn turned the program over to Karl Holz, President, New Vacation Operations and Disney Cruise Line.

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Holz also gave an overview of the latest news relating to his areas of responsibility, the Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney. Future itineraries for both have already been announced -- the one item that was news to me was Holz's mention of a special princess event to be held in the Doges Palace in Venice, as part of the DCL's sailing in the Mediterranean next year.

Crofton concluded the presentation by giving a fuller explanation of Limited Time Magic, a program announced several weeks ago.

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The idea behind Limited Time Magic is to "give guests an extra dash of pixie dust" by providing themed weekly surprises that will create special memories. Crofton offered as examples of upcoming Limited Time Magic themes a week dedicated to pirates and a "love" week around Valentine's Day.

The presentation ended with the audience receiving its very own Limited Time Magic treat -- a selection from the "original boy band," the barbershop quartet known as the Dapper Dans. The foursome departed from their usual standards and delighted us with a medley of hits from recent REAL boy bands like Backstreet Boys, N Sync, and One Direction. If all Limited Time Magic offerings are as whimsical as this was, I'm excited for the program to start.

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DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Walt Disney World at the New Fantasyland Press Event.

May 12, 2012

Disney Fantasy - Dining Overview

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Yes, I'm still writing about the Disney Fantasy! There was so much to tell about this ship, as you can imagine, it's taken a while to process it all -- I'm not sure when I'll ever catch up. But for those of you gearing up for the AllEars.Net Fantasy Cruise that commences on May 19, I wanted to make sure to get this very important aspect of the cruise experience online before you set sail!

As you might expect, there's a wide range of dining experiences aboard the Disney Fantasy to accommodate every taste, from fast food to fine cuisine. I had the opportunity to chat with Christine Weissman, manager of food standards and menu development for the entire Disney Cruise Line fleet, when I was on the Fantasy media preview cruise a few weeks ago. She spoke about what's different about dining on the Fantasy vs its sister ship, the Disney Dream, as well as some of the challenges of keeping the ship's larders stocked with something for everyone:

As Weissman indicates, the Fantasy has restaurants ranging from the fast-food Flo's V-8 Cafe, to a casual buffet, to more formal table service spots. Unfortunately, I didn't get to dine at either of the so-called "adult" dining spots, the upscale Remy and Palo, during the media preview cruise. Bad luck for me -- next time! And I didn't try any of the pizza or burgers at Flo's. But I did dine at the other eateries, and have some thoughts and lots of photos to share.

Cabanas

Cabanas has a split personality. A well-endowed buffet for breakfast and lunch, Cabanas goes table service for dinner. The space is bright and airy, with beautiful mosaics that feature scenes from Finding Nemo and that film's seagulls overseeing the activity.


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A bit noisy and cafeteria-like at breakfast, I found this the least satisfying meal offered here, even though everything is presented beautifully.


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The chocolate Mickey waffle was fun, but rather heavy, the muffins so dry and crumbly they were nearly impossible to eat, the sausage was extremely fatty, and the scrambled eggs had a consistency that made them unpleasant. No, breakfast was not good.

Lunch, however, was much better. The buffet features an assortment of hot and cold foods, as well as a stunning fresh seafood display and an impressive sushi table.


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I sampled the peppered shrimp and polenta cakes -- both rated a thumbs up.


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The salad bar was loaded with an assortment of dishes that were all very fresh-looking and fresh-tasting, like cucumbers in sour cream with dill, and pasta salads with a variety of vegetables. I could have just eaten from the salads alone.

Enchanted Garden

My first table service experience aboard the Fantasy was at the welcome buffet presented in the beautiful Enchanted Garden.


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The decor in Enchanted Garden is inspired by the gardens of the French palace of Versailles, with trellis-covered walls, floral landscapes and an airy, almost conservatory-like feel. Custom flower-shaped light fixtures start the day closed, then gradually "bloom" as the day progresses, while the ceiling changes from a daytime blue to an evening sky dotted with stars.


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We also dined one evening in the Enchanted Garden and had the chance to see it change over the course of an hour.

Our meal that evening started with appetizers:

I really enjoyed the tiny Thyme and Garlic Brioche, although I could have used a bit more of the filling, which was lobster, morels and porcini mushrooms and Leek Stew in a light buttermilk cream.


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The Cucumber Garden Roll, filled with delicate strips of carrots, bell peppers and zucchini, had a hint of cilantro and was dressed with lightly tart and lemony dressing.


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The asparagus soup was a little uninspired, relying too much on flour as its thickening agent.


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After a couple days of eating like there was no tomorrow, I asked our server if I could have a smaller portion of an entree. He obliged and brought me a scaled down version of the Caramelized Sea Scallops. Just four small scallops cooked perfectly on a bed of savory pearl pasta and sweet sundries tomatoes.


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Since I had been "good" about my main course, I decided a small dessert was in order as my reward. Faulty logic, I know, but the Steamed Lemon Buttermilk Pudding, which came with a dab of citrus reduction, was light and fresh and helped me to continue to delude myself into thinking that I wasn't overeating.


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Animator's Palate

While the star of the dining experience at Animator's Palate is undoubtedly the new show, Animation Magic (click HERE for a full description), the food at this restaurant runs a close second. Influenced by California's light style of cooking, there's an emphasis on freshness and creativity that mirrors the restaurant's artistic surroundings.

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Passengers on the regular seven-night Fantasy cruises will have the chance to dine at this restaurant twice, and will see a different menu each night. The night I dined here, however, the menu featured a sampler of appetizers -- Marinated Garlic and Herb Shrimp with zesty lemon aioli; Prosciutto with Melon; and Sesame-crusted Tuna Sashimi. All three morsels were well-prepared -- the shrimp was just tender and not overly seasoned, the tuna very fresh, but I wish the melon had been a bit riper.


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I opted to dine vegetarian, and had a hard time deciding between the two choices offered. In the end my decision didn't matter -- after our server realized he had brought me the wrong entree, he brought out the other as well, so I had the chance to sample both. Both were winners! The rich Farro stew with garlic roasted green beans, shallots, hazelnuts and shredded red radishes was a perfect mix of textures and tastes, while the Green Pea and Fava Bean Risotto drizzled with pesto sauce and toasted pine nuts was cooked perfectly and full of sweet pea flavor. I could easily have eaten both dishes in their entirety!


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Dessert was also a trio sampler plate, this time consisting of small tastes of a little apple tart, banana creme brulee, and lemon-infused cheesecake. The creme brulee was a little too sweet for me, but the tart was very good, and the cheesecake -- well, it reminded me of my mother's, with it's cream-cheesy top layer and lighter bottom. I wouldn't have minded more of that!


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Between the entertaining new show, and the wonderful food, this meal was easily my favorite of the cruise.


Royal Court

The most elegant of the family restaurants, the Royal Court simply drips of opulence, with exquisitely detailed mosaics, gilt-trimmed fixtures and crystal chandeliers that all incorporate touches of the royal Disney characters: glass slippers, apples, roses and tiaras.


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For example, Cinderella's coach is represented not only in the light fixtures around the room, but in the whimsical bread baskets placed on the table that are filled with a savory warm herb brioche accompanied by an olive spread.


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All this elegance is meant to take this dining experience a step beyond that of the equivalent restaurant on the Disney Dream, the Royal Palace. I'd say that it succeeds -- make that EXCEEDS -- on at least the physical level, if not on a culinary one.

As at Royal Palace, Royal Court, treats you to elegant, continental French cuisine, beginning with your starters.

My tablemate opted for the Double Baked Spinach and Cheese Souffle coated with a three-cheese cream -- she was glad that they skimped on the spinach as it's not her fave, but I think they could have used a bit more.



She also tried the Avocado-Citrus Salad with Iceberg and radicchio leaves and orange vinaigrette, while I decided on a classic Royal Market Green Salad with cherry tomato, cucumbers, peppered goat cheese, and a raspberry vinaigrette. Loved the generous portion of goat cheese!


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For dinner, I selected the Aged Angus Grilled Beef Tenderloin topped with garlic shrimp and served with sauteed snow peas and marquis potatoes with a cognac reduction. My beef was a shade overdone, and didn't quite live up to the "tender" portion of its name. My tablemate, who had requested the Double Cut Rack of Lamb with a Dijon Crust had an opposite problem -- even though she had been warned it would be prepared rare, she felt the lamb was too underdone.


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For dessert, I decided to indulge in the Grand Marnier Souffle infused with fresh orange zest and served with creme Anglaise, thinking that it would take some time to prepare and would allow me a few moments to digest a bit. But, no! Our server whisked the souffle out to me within just minutes after I had ordered -- guess they had them all made up and waiting to pop into the oven in the back. Despite this, the souffle was airy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and the vanilla sauce rich and not-too-sweet. My only complaint? A little on the small side. I wanted more!


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So there you have it -- my take on the array of family dining experiences on the Fantasy. Having not ever cruised on any non-Disney ships, I can't say how the fare compares with, say, Norwegian Cruise Lines or Royal Caribbean. I will say, though, that most everything (save for the breakfast at Cabanas) ranges from perfectly adequate to very, very good. So you might want to try to drop a few pounds before you set sail on the Fantasy -- or at the very least bring some very loose clothing, and forget about the belt-tightening while you're enjoying eating your way around the ship!

And if you want to read more about dining on the Fantasy, you might also be interested in Laura Gilbreath's food blogs from her experiences on the Fantasy's maiden voyage.


DISCLOSURE: As an invited media guest, AllEars.Net's cruise expenses for the Disney Fantasy Media Preview Cruise were paid by the The Walt Disney Company. Opinions expressed herein are solely mine, however, and do not reflect the opinions or policies of The Walt Disney Company or its affiliates.

March 30, 2012

What's New on the Disney Fantasy: Europa

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This is another in AllEars.Net's blog series examining what makes the new Disney Fantasy different from its sister ship, the Disney Dream. Deb Wills and I have been writing about those differences this week, as we recap our experiences from our three-night media preview cruise on the Fantasy.

One of my favorite spots on the new ship is the adult nightclub area. Not that I am any kind of lounge lizard -- it's just that it was a really cool, well thought-ought place.

On the Dream, the adult nightspot area is called The District. I didn't really have the chance to spend much time there when I sailed the Dream preview cruise last year. In fact, aside from the champagne bar, Pink, and the changing scenery in the Skyline Lounge, I don't remember much about The District at all.

On the Fantasy, though, the nightclub area is themed around various cities of Europe. I've traveled to a number of European capitals, and really enjoy exploring the "Old World," so when I read about this, I thought it would be right up my alley. Oh yeah, I was right.

Dubbed Europa, the area features a central location, La Piazza, that acts as a hub (or the central square), with four other clubs branching off: O'Gills, a sports-bar/Irish pub; The Tube, a London-themed dance club with an electrified dance floor; Ooh La La, a boudoir-inspired Parisian champagne bar; and the Skyline lounge, which, like its Disney Dream counterpart, sports a cityscape backdrop that changes every 10 or so minutes.

The Europa theme hits you from the moment you step off the elevator at Deck 4 Aft.

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La Piazza

If you enter Europa from this direction, the first spot you'll encounter is La Piazza, which features Italian accents like Venetian masks from Carnevale, and Vespa motor bikes, and elaborate glasswork you might find in Venice's neighbor, Murano.

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La Piazza is brightly lit, with lots of seating and a very well-stocked bar patterned after an old-fashioned carousel. It's clearly meant as a hub for all the night-life activity -- it has the feeling of a central gathering spot, much like the squares you'll find in European cities, and sometimes features a live combo, which just adds to its vitality.

The Tube

Leading out of La Piazza is a curving pathway with images of the face of Big Ben and other familiar British icons projected onto the walls. You hit a button, a door swings open, and you find yourself immersed in the sights and sounds of London.


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When I spoke to Walt Disney Imagineering's Mike Davie, who was responsible for development of the Europa spaces, he said he was particularly proud of Europa's details, like the portals that led into each space. I have to agree -- seeing what was behind the door before upon my first entry into The Tube was definitely an "Aha!" moment for me.

I absolutely LOVED The Tube, and tip my hat to whoever was responsible for choosing the decor. Benches on one wall are upholstered to resemble British Rail and London Underground tickets -- there are even poles and straps like those you might cling onto whilst traveling on London's efficient subway system. The carpeting is dotted with British colloquialisms like "Jolly Good," and "Cheers!"


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Different seating areas feature different English themes -- one area is designated for the Crown Jewels, with shiny gold leather overstuffed seats, another has benches painted with the Union Jack. Behind the illuminated dance floor, there are old-style red telephone boxes, while the music of British artists of yesterday and today is pumped out of the DJ booth.


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I understand that once the Fantasy starts its regular seven-night sailings The Tube will also feature a live show with dancers, and a trivia game on pop culture. I could have definitely spent more time in The Tube!

Skyline Lounge

Despite how much I enjoyed the vibe of The Tube, I think that the Skyline was my favorite of the clubs on the Fantasy. As I mentioned earlier, the "gimmick" of this nightspot is the changing skyline shown on a 65-inch LCD screen behind the bar. At any given moment, you may be gazing on the serenity of a night in Paris, London, Athens, St. Petersburg, Budapest, Barcelona, or Florence. But it's not just a static image that you're seeing. Oh no. It's a video! Look closely and you'll see the taxis speeding along the street, and silhouettes of residents moving around in their apartments. Be sure to have one of the bartenders show you the little Disney touch that is hidden in every city scene -- so much fun to find. I'll start you out with one, revealed to me by bartender Adriano -- somewhere in the London scene, you'll find Mickey Mouse waving at you from one of the buildings!


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Dark and atmospheric, the Skyline Lounge has cozy corners and comfy seating that you can really sink into. The soft background music represents the city on display, and the drink menu (which changes throughout the evening) features specials with names inspired by the locales, like the gin-based "Londinium" or the "Aphrodite" from Athens. The Skyline was quieter than the other clubs, and I think that may remain the case, as I can foresee O'Gills and Ooh La La being more popular with most cruisers. Still, I enjoyed my time in the Skyline, and would have stayed there longer if I could have.


O'Gills

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Part sports bar, part Irish pub, O'Gills seems destined to become THE destination for many aboard the Disney Fantasy. With three big-screen TVs (103, 70 and 50 inches respectively) scattered around the pub, and three smaller monitors behind the bar, there are plenty of chances for visitors to catch their favorite sports match-ups. Rich leather seating areas, and gorgeous vaulted wooden ceilings, really lend an Old World feel to the pub, which, of course, has both Guinness and Murphy's Irish Stout on tap, as well as Stella Artois and a red lager draft (called, funnily enough, O'Gills) made especially for the pub.

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When I spoke to him about O'Gills, Imagineering's Davie confirmed what I had suspected: that the pub's name was taken from the 1959 Disney film "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," which featured a very young Sean Connery in one of his first major movie roles (and he SINGS in it!). You have to love the way Disney weaves little touches like that into everything it does.


Ooh La La

The final club in Europa is undoubtedly the prettiest. Inspired by the seductive look of a French boudoir, Ooh La La is home to opulent, plush chaises, velvet-tufted walls and ornate mirrors. This club is a place that beckons you to relax and indulge. Like Pink, the Disney Dream's champagne bar, Ooh La La offers a limited edition, private label champagne by Taittinger -- Ooh La La's features Jessica Rabbit from the classic film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit Roger?" on the bottle.

The nights we were aboard the Fantasy, Ooh La La seemed to be very popular, drawing big crowds eager to sip some champagne and sink into the almost decadently appointed room.


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The Restrooms

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The Restrooms? Is that another nightclub? No, seriously, I want to talk about the restrooms in Europa. In fact, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention them. Why? Because these are some of the most beautiful restrooms I have ever seen anywhere, ever. Inspired by Spanish matadors and senoritas, the restrooms are covered in gorgeous mosaics. You have to see them to believe them, so I'll let the photos speak for themselves. One other note -- this is one of the few places on the ship where I found accessible restrooms... and they were just as beautiful as their regular counterparts.

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DISCLOSURE: As an invited media guest, AllEars.Net's cruise expenses for the Disney Fantasy Media Preview Cruise were paid by the Disney company. Opinions expressed herein are solely mine, however, and do not reflect the opinions or policies of the Walt Disney Company or its affiliates.

What's New on the Disney Fantasy: Animation Magic

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Curious as to what's so special about Disney's newest cruise ship, the Fantasy? Deb Wills and I have been sharing what we found to be the major differences between the Fantasy and its sister ship the Disney Dream over the last week, as we recap our experiences from our three-night media preview cruise on the Fantasy.

While every ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet has a restaurant called Animator's Palate, the "show" performed during dinner varies. The restaurant on the classic ships, the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, simply features a change in the decor and atmosphere during the course of the meal. Everything starts off in black and white -- the paintings on the walls, even the servers' attire -- but ends in an explosion of color. On the Disney Dream, diners are treated to an interactive conversation with Crush, the sea turtle featured in the film Finding Nemo, using technology similar to that of the Epcot attraction "Turtle Talk with Crush."

The Disney Fantasy also offers an evening with Crush, but more importantly it is the home of an all-new, technically ingenius show called "Animation Magic."

The basic premise of the show is fairly straightforward: diners draw their own character on a placemat provided to them, and then through "Animation Magic" that character is brought to life on screens scattered around the restaurant.

Now, you can read that description and think you have a reasonably clear understanding of what is going to happen. But the truth is you have no idea how absolutely delightful this show is until you see it for yourself.

I don't want to spoil the fun too much for you, so you won't find any video of the actual show here. But I will share a few stills, along with a few personal observations.

The decor of the restaurant really sets the tone for what you are about to see. Details like preliminary sketches for many of your favorite cartoons, and the Pixar lamp Luxo, adorn the walls. The table settings are based on artists' tools, and even the lenticular menu is animated.


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Your server and your placemat provide very basic, easy-to-understand instructions about how to draw your character.


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Don't worry if you think you have limited artistic talent. I barely know which end of the pencil to hold, yet was able to come up with something usable. (See below.) The key thing to remember is to not draw on the blue outlines when creating your character. You're only given a choice of one color of marker (although that may change in the future) to help speed the drawing process along, then your placemat is collected and you enjoy your dinner.

We were fortunate enough to be seated directly in front of a screen -- we were almost a little TOO close -- so we had a front-row view of the gorgeous animated sequences from classic and current Disney (and Pixar) films that played out during our appetizers and main courses. I noticed that the cartoons began with scenes of gathering food, like the ants from "It's a Bug's Life" harvesting for the winter. Eventually the scenes graduated to preparing food, and finally eating and celebrating with food. (I felt a little smug when an Imagineer confirmed what I had discovered on my own!) The collection of clips shown is a treat in itself, especially for someone of my generation. Many snippets are from classic Disney cartoons that are seldom seen these days, including Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and the ORIGINAL Winnie-the-Pooh.


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Periodically throughout dinner, Sorcerer Mickey appears on-screen to tease you with what's ahead. Finally, sometime after you're through with your entree, maybe already starting on dessert, the main event begins with Lumiere, the candlestick from Beauty and the Beast, inviting everyone to "Be Our Guest."

I can't explain to you the excitement that rippled through the room as adults and children alike began to spot their drawings tripping across the screens before their eyes. Squeals of "There's mine! There's mine!" and a rumble of laughter filled the room. I confess, when I spotted my lame attempt at drawing dancing among the other figures, I couldn't help shouting out as well.

This is my masterpiece (you can see why I'm a writer and not an artist by trade!):


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And here's what it looked like once animated for the big screen:


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The show progresses for several minutes, and you wish it would go on longer. It is so cleverly done -- and just when you think it can't get any better, familiar Disney characters are interspersed with the audience's hand-drawn ones, adding another level of excitement. The show concludes with rolling credits, listing the names of all the evening's artist-diners.


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Truly, this was an unexpected highlight of the Fantasy cruise for me. I only wish I could have seen the show again -- I think the repeatability factor for this one is very high.

And oh, by the way, my dinner was exceptionally good this evening, too, but I'll have more on that when I get around to writing about the Fantasy's food.


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I had the opportunity to speak at length with Imagineer Bob Zalk, who is Senior Show Producer for the new Animation Magic presentation. He told me of the numerous challenges the Imagineers faced in bringing this new show to life, from deciding what sort of placemat should be used to designing entertainment that would not interfere with the service of a meal.

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It was no surprise to me that he called this one of the coolest projects he'd ever worked on. Again, as I said earlier, no video spoilers of the actual Animation Magic show here --in my opinion, it is really something magical that you should experience in person for yourself.


DISCLOSURE: As an invited media guest, AllEars.Net's cruise expenses for the Disney Fantasy Media Preview Cruise were paid by the Disney company. Opinions expressed herein are solely mine, however, and do not reflect the opinions or policies of the Walt Disney Company or its affiliates.

March 28, 2012

What's New on the Disney Fantasy: Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

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We know a lot of you are wondering what's so special about Disney's newest cruise ship, the Fantasy -- what's new about it, and what makes it different from its sister ship, the Disney Dream? Deb Wills and I will be writing about those differences for the next several days, as we try to recap our experiences from our three-night media preview cruise on the Fantasy.

One of the things that is totally new for the Disney Cruise Line is the addition of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a special beauty salon that transforms little girls into elegant princesses. Extremely popular on land, at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, the installation of the Boutique on the Fantasy is sure to prove a perfect fit.

As you approach the Boutique, which is located on Deck 5 Midship, you'll note that there are medallions on the exterior wall depicting a variety of Disney Princesses and Princes.


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Like its landlubber counterpart, the Boutique is a very regally appointed setting, with rich-looking marble floors and lots of pretty pink and glittery gold accents. It's staffed by Fairy Godmothers-in-Training, who will beautify little princesses with new hairdos, shiny nails, and elegant makeup.


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There are plenty of princess gowns, shoes, wands, tiaras, and other royal accountrements for purchase. And if you'd rather emulate your favorite mice, there are costumes for Princess Minnie, First Mate Minnie, and even Captain Mickey Mouse.

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The Boutique offers a variety of packages, some similar to those offered on land, others exclusive to the Fantasy.

Coach: choice of one hairstyle, shimmering makeup, face gem, cinch sack, and princess sash. Cost = $54.95

Crown: all elements of Coach PLUS nail polish. Cost = $59.95

Castle: all elements of Crown PLUS your choice of costume and coordinating wand, tiara, and shoes. Cost = $184.95

The Fantasy (exclusive to the Disney Fantasy): all elements of Crown PLUS tutu, sparkly t-shirt, and head band. Cost = $119.95

Under the Sea (exclusive to the Disney Fantasy): This package turns a little girl into a Little Mermaid, and includes a choice of swimsuit and cover-up, vibrant sun block application, Del Sol floral clip that changes colors in the sun, necklace, and nail polish. Cost = $99.95

And if you want to go all out, the Boutique offers the Royal Sea Package, which it says is "dedicated to every true Princess who ever dreamed her sneakers were glass slippers, and to girls who believe it's better to twirl than to walk, sing than talk and that everything goes better with sparkles!" The deluxe Royal Sea package comes complete with a Princess Royal Rolling Trunk created exclusively for the package, and also includes three makeover experiences: 1 Castle, 1 Under the Sea, and 1 Pirate package, PLUS a boutique frame with a photo of the Fairy Godmother, PLUS a special invitation with a glass slipper ribbon necklace, and a keepsake glass slipper from Cinderella's helpers. Cost for this deluxe package = $595.

Children must be between the ages of 3 and 12 to take advantage of the Boutique's services -- no adults, I was told, because after you reach a certain age you are no longer a princess... you are a Queen!
I guess that's the nicest way anyone has ever told me I was too old for something!

A unique aspect of the Fantasy's Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is that it even transforms itself! Every sailing has a designated Pirate Night, and on these days, the Boutique magically becomes The Pirates League, the place to go to "get your pirate on!"

Here, Disney's attention to detail really shines. On Pirate Day, burlap sacks bearing the Pirates League logo and the Jolly Roger cover the pretty salon chairs, and the sparkly princess outfits are replaced by buccaneer garb. Fairy Godmothers-in-Training become Pirate Lasses... and Lads! (But beware of the Jack Sparrow sound-alike there -- he'll propose marriage to any female who happens by! The scoundrel!)


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Nearly every trace of "princess-ness" is erased -- even those medallions on the exterior of the Boutique that I mentioned before show pirates instead of princesses!


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The basic pirate makeover costs $34.95, and will give you your own special pirate look and name. You'll also learn how to swashbuckle, and the Official Pirate League Oath. The First Mate package for boys also includes a bandanna, scars, fake teeth, eyepatch, and sword. For girls, the Empress package has shimmering makeup, face gem, nail polish, earring, eye patch, and sword. If you want to add a special pirate costume to either package, you'll pay $99.95.

Unlike the princess makeover, anyone over the age of 3 can be a pirate. Our time on the Fantasy was short, so we didn't have the chance to try it out, but AllEars.Net's Deb Wills is planning a Pirate Makeover for herself next week when she's sailing on the ship's Maiden Voyage -- so stay tuned!

Reservations for both Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and The Pirates League are strongly recommended -- and if these makeovers become as popular on the ship as they are in the theme parks, you will need them! You can make reservations online before you sail at www.disneycruise.com. Click "Planning Center" and choose "My Cruise Activities." Once on the ship, visit the Boutique in person or call ext. 9438. (NOTE: A $10 cancellation fee will be charged for all no-shows or cancellations with 24 hours of appointment.)

DISCLOSURE: As an invited media guest, AllEars.Net's cruise expenses for the Disney Fantasy Media Preview Cruise were paid by the Disney company. Opinions expressed herein are solely mine, however, and do not reflect the opinions or policies of the Walt Disney Company or its affiliates.

March 23, 2012

Fantasy Preview Cruise, Day 1

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Wow, what an exhausting and exciting Day 1 of the three-night Disney Fantasy preview cruise has been.

Because tomorrow is our day at sea, and I'm not at all confident that we'll have internet available to us, I thought I'd give you all a few highlights of the day and share some photos.

If you're familiar with the Disney Dream, the Fantasy's sister, you'll already know what a beautiful ship she is. I was impressed all over again at not only the size, but the grandeur of this ship -- from the sweeping staircases to the twinkling crystal chandeliers, everything about the Fantasy is BIG.


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We ate lunch at the buffet in the Enchanted Garden, which to the best of my memory, is identical to the restaurant of the same name on the Disney Dream.


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After lunch, I explored all the kids' areas on the ship. The "it's a small world" nursery was essentially the same as the nursery on the Dream, a very cozy place for the littlest voyagers (3 months to 3 years old). The Oceaneer's Club and Lab were also very similar to those on the Dream, but I really did enjoy Andy's Room there, featuring a grumpy looking Mr. Potato Head.


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I also made sure to check out the Edge, the area specially designed for "tweens" agse 10-14, and the Vibe, for older teens 14-17. I have to admit, I so enjoyed the "vibe" of the latter, that I almost didn't want to leave... but they told me that being a teenager at heart didn't count, so I out had to go! But look how cool it is:


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After our muster drill, we went up on deck to watch the Sail Away Party. Disney's Karl Holz was on hand to toast us as we finally set sail.


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Our dinner tonight was at the Animator's Palate, which I had really been looking forward to. If you've
read about the new technology in play here, you'll know that diners are asked to create their own character, which is then magically transformed into a cartoon before your eyes. I don't want to give up too many spoilers here, but I will say that it was an absolutely delightful presentation. I'm no artist, I guarantee you, but you can see my little red creation on the right here:


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So cute, really. And the food was pretty good, to boot. In fact, I had both of the vegetarian dishes (slight ordering mix-up -- the waitstaff is still working out the kinks!) and they were outstanding. Worth special mention was the Farro Stew, which also featured hazelnuts, green beans and radish, and a hint of lemon juice.


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We closed out the evening with a viewing of Wishes, a brand new show. Sorry no photos allowed.

Well, seems like it's taking longer and longer to load photos, and I keep getting disconnected and error messages, so I'm going to publish this now and hope you can see it. If you want to see more photos, you can take a look at those I posted earlier today to my Twitter account HERE. And be sure to follow Deb Wills and me, and the AllEars.Net Twitter acounts -- we'll be posting more whenever we're able to:

@AllEarsDeb = http://twitter.com/AllEarsDeb
@dcdeb_allears = http://twitter.com/dcdeb_allears
@AllEarsNet = http://twitter.com/AllEarsNet

I promise you that we have lots more photos and facts to share in the coming days, if the internet gods smile on us and keep us connected. Otherwise, it'll have to be after we're home! Ciao for now!

February 15, 2011

Dad's Look at the Disney Dream Kid's Clubs

by AllEars® Team Member Fred Bock

As a father of 2 girls ages 6 and 10 who have been on the Disney Wonder 5 times I was interested in seeing some of the changes that Disney had made with the Dream.

As I walked on the ship for the first time I couldn't get a number of things out of my head. As an adult, it's hard for me to admit that I wanted to see the kids room probably more than anything else. During the cruise I had some time to wander about and see all of the many thing the ship had to offer.

Let me preface by saying that gone are the age groups that used to split the kids into different areas depending on their age. Disney has decided to blend the area for all kids aged 3 to 10. I would imagine that this came from them listening to feedback from parents with multiple children who may not want to be separated. I know that my younger daughter has some separation issues so we always had a problem dropping her off at the kids club unless they would allow her to go with her older sister. That's no longer an issue. I was also advised that this is the case on the Disney Wonder and Magic now.

The first place I would go to is the Oceaneers Lab. Located on Deck 5 midship, this area is for kids on the older side of the 3 to 10 range and has a lot to offer including video games that allow kids to interact with each other and flat surfaced tables with touch sensitive games. There's even a place where they can make their own hand drawn or computer animation.

Upon entering you are greeted with smiling faces of cast members in yellow shirts. After signing your child in, the first assignment is to wash your hands. Now we aren't talking about handing out a washcloth or pumping some hand sanitizer into your hands here. This is an experience all itself. Disney has new hand washing machines that automatically do the deed for you.

Before you is a box with two holes in it. You stick your arms in and wait a second for the process to automatically start. Before you know it, warm water jets start spinning around your hands. After about a minute or so it stops and you then take your hands out and dry them with a paper towel. I'm told there is also hand sanitizer mixed in with the water so you can rest assured your hands are really clean. My only confusion is that you dry your hands with paper towels. I would have expected to see a machine that did that for you too and wouldn't be surprised if we saw that coming soon. The best part of this is that it was fun and easy. So much so that kids actually comeback to use the machines again throughout their time in the area. Can I take one home with me?

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Then when entering you walk into a colorfully themed area with lots of activities to keep even the oldest child busy for hours. (Yes me included!) The first thing I saw was bean bag chairs! I remember having one of those when i was a kid. Wow they were big and looked super comfy! Too bad all were taken by kids watching a movie on the 103 inch plasma or I would have had to try one on for size. (Errr make that take one home with me.)

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In the center of the room there is a lit up dance floor but not with just ordinary lights, there are televisions in the floor making it possible for animations beneath your feet.

Then there is the wheelhouse. Here kids of all ages can drive any vehicle type they want including a ship (yes a Disney Ship!!) submarine, an airplane and more. Not sure how interested my kids would be here as the wait seemed long and there weren't that many terminals so I saw a lot of kids run off to do something else. Graphics were wonderful though and the game play sure seemed to satisfy.

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In the Animator's studio I saw kids making their own comic books and character story scenes similar to a sticker book but here you drag and drop items onto your scene. I also saw a child working on his own comic book story which allows him to drag characters and items into each cell and also decide what text will go in the bubbles. Very cool!

What really caught my eye was the fact that you could also sit at the table and draw on this circular disc of paper similar in size to a cd or DVD. In each of the cells on this pallet you would draw a similar items but make slight changes to each drawing to create your own animation. Then you would put the paper into a device like a a classic ViewMaster but with a wheel that spins with mirrors in it. When you look through the viewfinder you see your animation right before your eyes. Again, the room was full or I would have taken a turn at making something.

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Outside of the animation room I saw several table top games but there were no moving parts or pieces to lose. Here these games used touch kinda like big touch sensitive tv screens built into a table. I was told that the games can change and there are many to choose from.

One of the most interesting parts of this area was a place where kids can play games against each other in real time. Here you have a number of computer terminals with a stool and in front there are several large screen televisions. I'm told that there are games here based on the movie Pirates of the Caribbean where they split the players into two different ships and they battle against each other. The social aspect of these games is anther wonderful way that kids can make friends here.

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I did confirm that there are no places in the kids area where internet access is available so parents can rest assured knowing that the games they play are safe and for certain supervised.

There were also areas where kids can make music of their own and an arts and crafts area where kids can go back to simple craft and creation. There were lots of supplies from what I could see and the room was filled with children and one cast member. Mind you, most of the kids in their are young girls so I'm certain my kids would love this. This is a great place if the technology and video games are not for you. There is literally something for everyone to do. I even saw a mom getting in on the action.

I should note that parents are allowed to participate with their children. I can also say that security is taken very seriously. Cast members advise you that you should not be taking pictures of other children that aren't your own and technically no adults are allowed in the kids area unless they have their one children in there.

One other point to add is that there are also activities that are held outside of the kids area and around various parts of the ship. One game is done in D-Lounge and it's called Mirror Mirror and is controlled by a game host, and they also do a Kim Possible style game.

Right about now I am walking through a interactive classroom style area that leads to the younger kids portion of the kids club. Here kids make things like flubber and do other scientific experiments. Then right next door there is a cooking class style area where kids make and decorate their own cookies and cupcakes. Fear not parents, there are no ovens to be found here. When it's time to bake, the items are taken to another part of the ship to be baked then returned to the kids area when completed. That's when the decorating part comes into play and the kids love it. (I didn't notice anyone saving their cookies and cupcakes for parents. Shucks.) This is another fun activity area that I am sure would be enjoyable for my own kids.

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As I venture into the next area I am greeted by what looks like a submarine and inside there are banks of computers with colorful keyboards. On the screens there are games like Disney's Dumbo, Daisy's Fireworks, Disney racers, Air hockey, Smoothy sailing, and lots more. The keyboards are color coordinated which I think makes it easier for kids to learn how to interact with the computers. I found out the colors stand for different areas of the keyboard. Numbers are red, vowels are orange, consonants are yellow, and all computer function keys like enter and space bar are green.

Moving into the pixie hollow area there are more games and appear to be targeted towards girls. There are games to dress your own princess and adventure and roaming games. The area is very well themed with leaves coming out of the ceiling and seats that look like mushrooms growing out of the ground. There are also arts and crafts being done in this area including coloring and painting.

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In the monster academy there is a jungle Jim style play area for those kids that want to run around a bit but there are also more computer terminals here with games. The area is themed from the Monsters Incorporated movie and again looks amazing in detail.

Lastly there is a room devoted to Toy Story where your child can go into Andy's room and be toy size. Everything here is life sized and makes you feel like you are the same size as the other toys from the movies. You can sit on Rex and go through Slinky Dog like a tunnel. There are a few toy boxes with lots of toys to play with and even a large drawing pad attached to the wall in case you feel like coloring and drawing. This area appeared to be very popular.


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Lunch and dinner is served in the lab as are snacks and beverages throughout the day.

Overall I feel that Disney has done it again. Taken a great idea and plussed it up while providing educational experiences along with the vast amounts of fun that are to be had. You wouldn't believe how much space they devoted to the kids area. It's really big! You can run, sit, play, watch TV, create, and pretend. I certainly can't wait for the day that I bring my own kids aboard and let them have it at. As I said, there is something for everyone to do from ages from 3 to 10. Heck, my wife may have a hard time getting me out too!

Fred Block never went to Disney World until his honeymoon in 1998. Since then, he's been there countless times and has sailed on the Disney Wonder over 5 times and most recently on the Disney Dream. He's best known for being the man behind the plan for MagicMeets Disney Fan Gatherings but is also a technology geek through and through. He and his family live in New Jersey.

January 20, 2011

First Photos from the Disney Dream

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Well, here we are at Castaway Cay! It's a gorgeous day, and we've been so busy -- there is so much to see! The ship is immense, and we're taking photos like crazy, but this is the first time we've been able to get online. I'm just going to share some random photos for you to whet your appetite... we'll have much, much more tomorrow!

Entering Ship

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Our State Room

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Oceaneer's Club

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Nemo's Pod (Kid's Play area)

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Lounge at The District

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Wild Boar at Royal Palace Restaurant

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June 6, 2007

Glo and Gary Cruising the Med - Almost the End of the Journey

Almost the End of the Journey

Today (Tuesday) we slept in and then went for a light lunch at Lumiere's. In just a bit we are going to pack our bags so we can put them in the hallway for pick-up before we go to dinner this evening. Packing will be challenging since we were within a pound of the maximum weight limit on both of our large bags. Fortunately, we really didn't purchase any souvenirs at all "so, if you were expecting a gift, forget it ;-) Seriously, I bought three Donald pins for my collection and a Med Cruise Christmas ornament and that's it. Gary bought a small bag of candy to take to work, but I didn't even do that. I'm confident we'll be ok on the bag weight limits.

So, we have just a couple more hours to relax and then it's the hustle of packing, last night dinner with our friends, what will probably be a bit restless of a night's sleep, then off the ship and back to Miami via Atlanta.

Our cruise is virtually over. I'm so glad we did it and it has really met or exceeded our expectations, but I'm ready to be back in the US and home.


June 5, 2007

Glo and Gary Photos from France

French Greeting Party at the Port

French Greeting Party at the Port


The Grand Casino in Monte Carlo

<strong>The Grand Casino in Monte Carlo </strong>

Eze - One of the Narrow Streets

Eze - One of the Narrow Streets


Eze - Door to Private Residence


Eze - Door to Private Residence

Glo and Gary in Southern France

If I had to choose only one place for a return visit, Villafranche would win the prize. It is a beautiful, warm and welcoming city. As we exited the tenders from the ship, we were greeted by a trio of French musicians and as we left the port that night, we were treated to a beautiful fireworks display as a gift from the port of Villafranche.

Not only that, the beautiful Magic dominated the harbor. Celebrity's Millennium was docked behind us, but you could only see the Magic from the main part of the port.

One thing I want to interject here is that at the two ports where we had to take tenders from the ship to the shore, it was a painless, smooth process, nothing like what I had feared.

In this port we took the Monaco, Monte Carlo and Eze excursion and it began with a beautiful drive into Monaco. Gary was excited to recognize some of the Grand Prix course and pointed out a number of skid marks where cars had obviously run into the barriers on the opposite side of the road from where they should have been. Some of the scaffolding from the stands was still in place. Too bad we couldn't have been there last week!

We saw Princess Stephanie's and Princess Caroline's homes and then proceeded to the church where Prince Ranier and Princess Grace (Kelly) are buried. The line snaked by their graves and we snaked by right along with them. From there we went to the Royal Palace of Monaco and took an audio tour of a few of the public rooms. I would have rather spent the time exploring the little city, but we did a quick (Can you say "fast forward!") tour and after that we had a little time in the town square before we headed on to Monte Carlo and the opulent Grand Casino.

Lunch was a part of our tour and we had a delightful al fresco lunch at the famous (to everyone but me!) Café de Paris. From there some folks shopped and others of us visited the Grand Casino. We debated whether or not to go in, but decided since our admission was already pre-paid with the shore excursion, we'd go ahead and take a peek. It was definitely grand, but somehow, not quite as grand as I had expected. We didn't gamble, but it was lots of fun to watch the roulette tables and the Chemin de Fer tables. Of course, it was the slot machines that attracted the crowds.

After the casino, we walked around the city square and strolled part of the city gardens where the highlight was a Mama duck and her six little ducklings swimming in a small pond.

"and the best was last, the little Medieval village of Eze. This little town (2400 inhabitants) sits on top of a mountain and the village was built right into the side of the hillside. The streets are very narrow and they wind around in all directions like an ant maze. Now the city is pretty much a tourist area with tiny little shops built right into the stone walls of the village, but if you wander off the beaten path, you'll find the private residences and even the military cemetery. There was also an old church with the most beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary I think I've ever seen.

At the end of the excursion, we headed back to the ship along the Bas Corniche (low road), a very scenic drive with panoramic views of the port with the Magic right in the middle.

June 3, 2007

Glo's La Spezia and Florence

La Spezia and the Tender Boat

Today was Firenze (Florence) and the beautiful David "and he really is magnificent! ...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The weather forecast was a 90% chance of rain, but we ended up with beautiful weather in the city. It rained a bit on the way into the city and we needed the umbrellas when we got off the bus to board the tender back to the ship. Despite all the negatives I'd heard about La Spezia and tendering, it was probably the prettiest port area we visited and the tendering didn't prove to be any problem at all.

Because June 2 is a holiday for Italy, Florence was extremely crowded, even more crowded than Rome. We went directly to the Galleria del Accademia where Michaelangelo's original David stands. Our guide gave us a brief introduction to Michaelangelo as a sculptor before we went to view the 15 feet high statue for our allotted few minutes.

From there we went to see the beautiful church of Santa Maria del Fiore (religious center of Florence) with its beautiful Duomo and on to the Piazza della Signoria (political center) and the area outside the Uffizi Gallery. Just a very short walk away was the old, old Ponte Vecchio with all its shops, but the crowds were so thick that, with 50 in our group, it was virtually impossible to go very far, so we headed in another direction toward the church of Santa Croce.

In the Piazza della Signoria, there is a copy of the statue of David, and the piazza was the original location of the original statue before it was moved to the Galleria del Accademia.

After visiting the Church of Santa Croce (where Michaelangelo and others are buried), we went for lunch at the Borghese Palace. Now, one thing we have learned is that the Italians really make great use of the word "palace." Basically, they apply it to any very large residence where someone of importance lives/lived, in this case the Borghese Family. Three hundred and fifty Disney excursion guests had lunch there that day, so you can imagine the size of the place! "and it was beautiful with its old paintings and old baroque furniture, mirrors and chandeliers..

After a 5 or 6 course lunch, we had just enough time for a small gelato in the Piazza di San Croce, then back on the bus for a quick tour through the "high rent" residential areas of Florence along and on the other side of the Arno River.

I slept the whole way home! The 2+ hour bus ride seemed like only minutes to me ;-)

June 1, 2007

Glo visits Sardinia, Rome and Sea Day

Friday, June 1, 2007

Wednesday - Olbia, Sardinia


Well, I have a big job to do in order to bring you up-to-date. Of all the ports, Olbia was the one that I thought might be a bust. Was I ever wrong! When we woke up on Wednesday and looked off our verandah, you could see two big tents set up with cheeses, wines, breads and various salamis. In addition there were men and women in traditional Sardinian garb (looks very much like Polish/Russian national costumes) ready to dance for us and play music. Unfortunately, Gary and I had one of the earliest tours and only heard the first notes of the music as we headed the other direction to our tour bus.


We toured Costa Smerelda and visited Porto Cervo (pronounced Chairvo), the area bought and developed by the Aga Kahn as a playground and vacation resort and vacation home for his rich and famous friends. The landscape was absolutely stunning, the water as clear and blue as any swimming pool you've ever seen "and, of course it was fun seeing the seaside hotel where Princess Di and Dodi Fayed spent the 20 days previous to their fateful return to Paris. Oh yes, and the cheapest accommodations at one of the hotels (Can't remember which one!) is $25,000 a night. I assume it's more than just a room LOLK


Porto Cervo is the most expensive area of Costa Smerelda and the shopping area is lined with expensive shops, Cartier, Gucci, Versace, Roberto Cavelli and others I've never even heard of, but all off-the-wall expensive. It was fun pretending you could actually buy something there other than a gelato.


Since our tour was only ½ day, we had time in the afternoon to see the new Pirates movie (Don't shoot us, but neither of us liked it.), part of the lecture on historical Rome and one of the new shows (The Art of he Story) which was pretty good.


One thing I noticed at dinner was that everyone is ordering less food than at the beginning of the trip. I think we are all getting tired of "fine dining" every night. Imagine!


Thursday - Rome


We're on the "water" side of the ship in this port (Civitavecchia) and is it ever beautiful!! "but the drive into Rome leaves something to be desired. It wasn't that pretty at all, typical urban highway scenery, complete with service plazas and McDonald's.


We weren't sure if our excursion was ever going to get on its way because our van got held up in traffic as, after waiting half an hour, they pulled another van (privately hired but no one was there yet), put us on it and finally away we went.


Traffic getting into Rome was awful. There is a taxi drivers strike so many folks drove into the city. In addition, taxi drivers from other cities came in to support the striking drivers causing lots of problems.


Our first ancient site was part of the ancient city walls of Rome and a gate to the city. We saw the ruins of Nero's palace and then on to the Colosseum "From there to Trevi Fountain where our tour guide dropped us for a little over 2 hours of unguided time on our own. I may not have done my homework on most of the ports of call, but I studied the map of Rome and knew just where I wanted to go. In those two hours we saw the Pantheon, the best example of Roman architecture, the Piazza Navona with its beautiful Bernini fountains, baroque Gesu church (where a friend's choir came to sing last year), the Palazzo Venezia, Forum of Caesar, Trajan's Market, and then back to Trevi to meet up with our group for the private Vatican tour.


Half an hour later we were entering Vatican City and the Vatican Museums. With our VIP tour guide, we had no wait at all and within minutes we were viewing the beautiful spiral staircase with the crests of all the popes carved around the inner edge of the spiral. Without totally boring you, let's just say that our Vatican tour was extremely worthwhile and interesting "especially some of the areas not open to the general public. Highlights: the Bramante staircase, the crypt beneath St. Peter's where we saw the burial sites of many popes including John Paul II who was much loved by the faithful and, of course, the interior of St. Peter's, the Bernini canopy and the serenely beautiful Pieta.


Then it was back on the bus for our drive back to Civitavecchia. (I slept the whole way!)


Friday - At Sea


The highlight of this day was brunch at Palo in the private dining room courtesy of Beci from Mouse Fan Travel. All I can say is that it was scrumptious!! We plan on relaxing the rest of the day because we have three days in a row coming up with day-long excursions.

Brunch was awesome! We are relaxing for the afternoon and will do nothing more exciting that going to see the new show "Twice Charmed" (An original twist on the Cinderella story) and gong to dinner. (Needless to say, after the brunch, we skipped lunch, so we should be hungry again by 8:30 PM.

I can't seem to get any pictures to load. I'll try again later. Rotten internet connections on the ship, for sure!


May 30, 2007

Glo's Amalfi/Naples Entry

Amalfi Coast (Naples)

Monday evening was a pretty rough day at sea. There were light gale force winds blowing directly across the ship causing it to gently (and sometimes not to gently) rock back and forth like a cradle. When we went to dinner in the private dining room at Palo a few folks didn't show up due to "mal de mar" or however you say that in Italian. Then when the first course was served, one gal cancelled her entrée order because she couldn't even eat a bite of the appetizer. Then before the entrees were served, two more people left the table. So our group of 14 eventually dwindled to 7.

Believe it or not, Mr. K was not one of the sick ones. Before we left Miami I had read on one the "boards" that Hyland's Motion Sickness Remedy was really good. I don't put a whole lot of store in homeopathic medicines, but whether it was psychological or actual, the stuff worked like a charm and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinners (albeit they were just a tad lighter than we might have had otherwise; taking no chances).

Today we were one of the first ones off the boat to meet our private driver for an all-day tour of the Amalfi Coast. A few months ago one of our group asked if someone wanted to share a private car and I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately his wife was one of the folks who was sea sick and decided not to accompany us. Fortunately, we still had an absolutely wonderful day.

Our tour guide (Carmine Ussano of Benvenuto Tours) was an outstanding and charming guide "and an expert driver which is extremely important given the narrowness of some of the roads. (Let me stress how narrow the roads are! Sometimes there was no more than two or three inches between us and a tour bus or us and a scooter or us and the car parked on the side of the road in the opposite direction.)

On the way out of the city we got a great view of Mt. Vesuvius with clouds surrounding the top. It really is exciting to see these locations you have heard about as a child.

I cannot begin to tell you how beautiful the drive was, some of the most magnificent scenery I've ever seen "and the lemons growing on trees in terraced gardens up and down an impossible mountainside were amazing. Unlike Palermo yesterday (bustling city), the villages along the Amalfi Coast are small, some having as few as 1000 inhabitants. We did not go into the largest city (Sorrento, not considered to actually be on the Amalfi Coast) which has about 16,000 people, but we visited the next city, Positano) with its beautiful town square and marketplace. Next stop was the city of Amalfi where we had no more than exited the car than we ran into Deb and Linda (dinner mates) who were on one of the Disney bus tours. We chatted for a minute or two and then went our own ways. The last city was Ravello whose claim to fame is its Lemoncello production.

We dodged a couple of showers during the day, but all-in-all it was a wonderful day with pastries and coffee in Positano and lunch of fresh fish in Amalfi.

Driver Carmine took an alternate route back into Naples and showed us many more little villages that were not so much "tourist" locations. Whether tourist or not, the whole area was amazingly beautiful with lemon trees, bougainvillea, oleanders and many other flowers all over the place. We also got a quick peek at two columns and an archway from the Pompeii archeological site "but when I say a quick peek, I mean about 2 seconds, if that, before it was hidden back behind the trees that have now grown all over the area.

Glo from Miami

Glo's Palermo Blog - 5/28/07

Palermo, Sicily

Palermo, the most conquered city in the world. First settled by the Greeks, then overtaken by the Phoenicians and overtaken again by at least 8 other civilizations before becoming part of Italy.
..........
It's Monday; it must be Palermo! In Barcelona, I never really felt like I was in Europe for some strange reason. In Palermo, you know you're in a different part of the world! Most everything is old and decaying "and even what's relatively new (like maybe 50 to 100 years old) still looks a bit run down.

I'm also not used to seeing laundry hanging from balconies, but with so many people crowded into buildings on very narrow streets, it actually looked sort of normal. Just to beautify things a bit, almost every balcony has some sort of flowers, plants or trailing vines. Just beautiful! "and I finally saw a Jacaranda tree. Actually, I think I've seen them before but never knew what they were. (Beautiful purple flowers!)

On a morning bus tour of the old city this morning, saw a couple of churches, had a light snack of local foods at a small restaurant and then went to Ballero Market, the oldest open air market in Sicily. The produce, meats and fish looked lovely, but minimal (in some cases none!) refrigeration for the seafood ands meats and lots of flies "and none of the vendors looked all that clean either Many locals were buying, of course, but I wouldn't have eaten any of it for a $1000. Very interesting, but give me a Publix and a nice shopping mall.

The traffic in the city is awful. There are very few traffic signals, a zillion little cars and two zillion little scooters that zip in and out. It makes pedestrian travel very hazardous. And it appears that people park just about anyplace they can find a spot ...on the sidewalks, double parked in the streets, behind buildings blocking in other cars. It was just unbelievably crowded.

We returned to the ship about 1 PM and headed to the buffet for a bit of lunch and now it's time to be like a real Italian and take a nap.

It's almost 7 PM now and we have departed Palermo.

Dinner is at 8:45 in the Palo private dining room courtesy of Beci from Mouse Fan Travel. Somehow she was able to pull some strings at get us dinner tonight and brunch on Friday. Sometimes it's good to have friends in high places. Thank you, Beci!

Tomorrow we dock in Napoli. We're sharing a car with one other couple and plan to visit a number of little villages along the Amalfi Coast. It should be a spectacular day. I'll see you again when it's all over.


Glo

May 28, 2007

Glo's Sea Day Entry - 5/27/07

Incredibly slow internet

It's taken me almost half an hour to get connected to the blog site just to post today's notes. I must tell you, I'm not sure I'm even going to keep trying. We'll see....

Anyway, here are my notes from today.

Well, it wasn't the sunny, warm Mediterranean today (Sunday). It was cloudy and overcast most of the day and even drizzled just a bit. No matter, we are enjoying ourselves thoroughly. We slept in a bit late, went to breakfast, walked around the ship for a while and visited the two small gift shops onboard.

After lunch we watched an art auction for a while "amazing what people will spend on a piece of art! "but they actually weren't selling to many. Hardly seems like it's worth the effort for the gallery, but I guess it must be since almost all cruise ships have auctions.

Tonight is formal night and we have to get all gussied up for dinner. Should be fun.

Nothing exciting to tell you tonight. Dinner was great! ...but for a "formal" night there were still lots of folks in casual clothes. Gary looked really good in his tux and I had fun dressing up in sparkles. Unfortunately we didn't even have time to get our picture taken :-( ...but you know what we look like, rigfht?

Tomorrow is our first port of call (Palermo) and we have to be ready to leave the ship at 8:15, so I'd better get some sleep. More tomorrow.

Linda's Embarkation Day Entry - 5/26/07

We finally made it on board! What a day. It started off at 6:00 AM. We were up, showered and re-packed our suitcases. They were getting picked up at 8:00 AM and we wanted them ready to go! We met Sandy and Sharon for breakfast and had a nice leisurely breakfast. Deb, Sandy and Sharon decide to take a walk to the nearby beach and I opted to go back to the room and do some catch up with e-mail and see if I could transfer money to my checking account. Well"that is when the fun began!

I started by checking e-mail. Got through the normal family stuff and then tried to get in my work e-mail and had no luck. So, I went to another e-mail account I use for my clients. I had saw there was one from Debbie in my office. When I read her message, I was laughing hysterically! It seems when I recorded my voice mail message for my cell number, the 1-800 number should have been a 1-877 number. Fortunately I also gave an emergency contact number. My customer called the 1-800 number thinking he was going to get my company's customer service department. Instead to his surprise he received a sex line phone number! He of course called the emergency number and my co-worker alerted Debbie who e-mailed me to change the voice mail message if I could! Like I said, I was laughing uncontrollably! I then picked up the global cell phone I had rented and began to dial my voice mail. The whole time thinking, this just paid for the rental!

Once that task was complete, I decided to transfer funds into my checking account so I could use my bank debit card to purchase Euros. Because I was on a new computer and not the one at home, I had to answer three privacy questions to verify my identity. Well, I guess I don't know the answers I originally gave because after three times I was locked out of the account. I then decided to call the 1-800 number and speak with a bank representative. All the while forgetting about the time change 4:30 AM at home and it is a Holiday weekend. Of course, I had no luck!

Deb has now returned to the room. Seeing the frustration on my face she now sits at the computer to see what she can do about getting a pin number for her AMEX card. She finds the 1-800 number, calls and finds she needs to associate her AMEX with her checking account and she will need her checking account number and routing number. Well, you guessed it no routing number. Since we are paying cell phone international rates, she hung up the phone to figure out how to find a bank routing number. After going to her bank on line and another resource, I suggested that she "Google" bank routing numbers. Because we are in Spain, Google comes up in Spanish. We both chuckle and then try Yahoo. Another 15 minutes Viola! Now armed with a bank routing number we call AMEX back.

Deb gives the agent the two numbers and is now transferred to another agent where she has to answer three security questions.

1. What year was your home built?
2. What are your annual property taxes for your home?
3. What make, model and year is the automobile you drive.
She passes the test and gets a temporary pin number that can be used one time for a maximum of $500. With the Euro exchange rate, we will not get a full $500 but we will have money!

As we walk across the street and down the block to the neighboring hotel to use the ATM in the lobby, we both are laughing at our morning. We both have plenty of cash in the bank and having one heck of a time getting to it! Arriving at the ATM we now have success!

So what is the lesson here? Let me make one of my lists:

1. Make sure you have cash in your checking account.
2. Have a pin number for your Debit Card and Credit Card (a pin was required for our credit card at the ATM and the train station to purchase a ticket)
3. Just in case, you might want to have your checking and bank routing number with you.
4. To avoid the above, make sure you have enough Euros.
5. Consider bringing a global cell phone.
6. Also, when leaving a voice mail make sure your phone numbers are to the correct persons!

Next stop Disney Magic!

Linda

May 27, 2007

Glo and Gary's Med Cruise

All Ears Team Member Glo from Miami is also on the Med cruise with us....

Here's our blog entries.....

May 26, 2007

It's approaching midnight and we are waiting for room service to deliver Mickey bars, oatmeal cookies and decaf coffee. We skipped dessert at dinner so we could be up on the open deck for the "sail away" party "so we're sacrificing ;-)

So far this trip has gone like clockwork and we are looking forward to our "at sea" day tomorrow just to relax. We met up with Deb and Linda for a drink earlier in the afternoon and shared a few stories and then went back to our room to get cleaned up for dinner.

We have 14 folks at out table. Deb is the only one who knows all of them, but they are a great group of fun people and I know we are going to enjoy sharing our dinners with them. (Much better than eating with strangers!)

This morning (another gorgeous day!) we left the hotel a little after 8 AM and went to the Antonin Gaudi designed church La Sagrada Familia. It's really something to see, although definitely not something I'd want down the block from my house. It's just a bit over the top! "but the interesting thing is, it was started back in the late 1890's and still isn't finished. Probably has another 100 years to go ;-) I'm also including a picture of Casa Batlo, a private residence (now a museum) designed by Gaudi. Again, very strange. I guess he refused to use a straight line in any of his designs (quite obvious LOL).

Then on the way back to the hotel we stopped at a local "boqueria" (farmers' market) where they had the most beautiful fruit, vegetables and fresh seafoods you've ever seen. The only other places I've seen anything near to these places were Pike Place in Seattle and on the Embarcadero insane Francisco. I'm guessing there might be other places in the US, but I've sure never seen them.

More tomorrow, but since it's an "at sea" day, there probably won't be a whole lot of interest to tell you.

* * * * * * *

May 25, 2007

Friday in Barcelona
We're on our way to Barcelona! The flight from Miami to Paris was interesting to say the least. We hit turbulence just about 2 hours into the flight which lasted a good 45 minutes. I talked to a woman who was sitting next to a stewardess and she said the stewardess was very frightened, that she'd never seen turbulence so bad. Gary did really well! Maybe I'll get him on a rollercoaster yet. It wouldn't be any worse. The guy in the seat next to me (a dermatologist from Naples, FL) was about ready to jump out of his skin. Now I know what the term "white knuckles" really means ;-)

In spite of that, we arrived Paris safe, sound and well-fed. Our plane was scheduled to land at 8:10 AM and the flight to Barcelona departed at 10:05 AM. 2 hours "plenty of time, right? Wrong! We made the flight with about 5 minutes to spare. No one told me that at many of the European airports they don't have jetways. Here's the drill"

"land in Paris
"wait on plan at least ½ an hour to de-plane
"walk down steps to the tarmac on legs that had hardly moved for 8 hours previous
"wait for a shuttle bus
"take the bus to the terminal
"go through Customs (just to show your passport)
"walk forever to find your gate, down one escalator; up another
"check in at the gate
"walk down more stairs and
"you guessed it! board another shuttle
"ride 10 miles (Well, it felt like 10 miles!) to the plane
"get off the shuttle, climb more stairs into the plane.

There obviously no "disabilities act" in the European Union because a person with any sort of mobile limitation couldn't handle all the stairs and the hustling.

Gary, in direct defiance of everyone saying "Do not nap!" to avoid jet lag, is sound asleep in the seat next to me. I'm a bit tired, but I haven't "hit the wall" yet. I set my watch to Barcelona time when we were waiting in the terminal in Miami. So, when the sun came up this morning about 6 AM (midnight Miami time), it really did seem like 6 AM. It's a bit after 11 AM now (5 AM Miami time) and I can tell you I don't do % AM's, so it must be 11 AM for sure.

Snacks are arriving so I'm going to sign off and may way on my tray table for water and Chex mix Ooo la la!

Later the same day"

All of our luggage arrived safely and we had no trouble at all finding the Disney representative who directed us to a bus where we were whisked off to our hotel. On the way to the hotel we got a peak at our ship (The Disney Magic) docked at Port Vell. I can't tell you how exciting it is to see those big red smokestacks with the big white Mickey icons. We checked into the hotel. Checked with the Disney Courtesy desk in the hotel lobby and were able to complete our cruise check in. That was really convenient!

We both took a shower and headed off to Las Ramblas for the afternoon. Las Ramblas is the equivalent of South Beach, Rodeo Drive and Harvard Square all rolled into one. There are lots of little street cafes, all sorts of street musicians, entertainers, jugglers "well, you name it and it was there, including a mime all in white complete with his white porcelain "throne" and the most wonderful marketplace called the Boqueria. Never in my life have I seen such beautiful fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses and breads, but most interesting was the seafoods, many of them still alive and squirming around, many of them I had never seen before.

We ate "off the beaten path" at a place called Plaza Riall/Plaza Real. It was recommended by one of the cast members at the courtesy desk who said it was less "touristy" than the places on Las Ramblas. We also wandered for a while in the Bari Gotic (Gothic Quarter) with its warren of narrow streets (no cars! Just pedestrians) and tiny little shops. It is so unlike anything I've ever seen in the US.

I had hoped to get to Gaudi's Sagrada Familia church and Park Guell, but there just wasn't time. We have a taxi ordered for 8:15 tomorrow morning to take us there before we have to be back at the hotel to board the shuttle to the ship.

Oh, and I must share with you our scare for the day. Before the trip I ordered a "pouch" to hold my passport, credit cards and money from Magellen's. You wear the pouch on a cord around your neck and tuck it in under your shirt to thwart pickpockets.

So, we've been walking Las Ramblas for a couple of hours and sit down to eat. At the end of the meal, I reach for my pouch. For some reason, it's hanging out the bottom of my shirt, but jet-lagged me, I just figure that's because I'm sitting down. Then I stand up and the darn thing falls right to the ground! The cord had become detached on one side!! Obviously, God loves me because if we'd have walked a few feet farther, it would have slipped right off my neck, onto the ground and I would never have known it until it was way too late. I have to tell you, when I realized how close I came to losing everything, I actually has to sit down I was shaking so bad.

But my guardian angel was with me, so all is well. I even had a sewing kit in my bags so I could sew the cord back on (and secure the other side, just in case).

OK, It's to bed for me. It's 8 PM (2 AM Miami time) and I have to be up and dressed early in the morning. More adventures tomorrow.


* * * * * * *

Thursday, May 24, 2007
We're on our Way!
It's about half an hour until we board our plane. Getting through security was a breeze. Our suitcases weighed in just under the 50 pounds limit. No room for many souvenirs on the return trip for sure!

We made the mistake of checking the location of our seats on seatguru.com and unfortunately, we're right across from the galley. For some reason they changed our seats from row 25 to 41 ...but I think the gate agent might have been doing us a favor since there's also a "caution" on the row 25 seats too ...close to the lavatories :-( I think I'd prefer to be close to the galley than close to the lavs, for sure.

We're flying on a wide-body 747; holds 440 or so passengers. We start boarding 55 minutes before take-off time. I guess it takes a LONG time to board 400+ people.

Just about time to power down the laptop and head for our gate. I'll check in with you again as soon as I can.

May 23, 2007

Packing for the Trip

One would think that if you travel as often as we do, you'd know what to pack and what your itinerary would be"not! Deb travels to WDW on average six times a year and then there is the occasional weekend getaway, business trip, and then the really big vacation. After all these years it is still a struggle for us to pack and prepare for these trips. It just does not get any easier.

So, what did we do to help us out? We devised a plan. I am the ultimate list person! There is a list for everything! Both of our brains go in 100 different directions, and without a game plan we would rarely accomplish anything. I will share with you what we have done and then you can modify to your needs or just throw it out the window and say those two are crazy!

The first thing we did was take a file drawer and create pocket folders for each of our trips. On the front of the folder we attached a form that gives information regarding the trip and a check off list as items are completed:

a. Name of the trip and date
b. Airline reservations
c. Boarding pass
d. Hotel reservations
e. Transportation to and from the airport at home and at our destination
f. Rental car information
g. Special reservations or tickets, i.e., a show, dinner, etc
h. Itinerary
i. Tip envelopes
j. Traveler's checks
k. Payment receipts (copies of credit card bills, checks, etc)
l. Anything else that might be pertinent to that trip

As we accumulate this information, it is then placed inside the folders. We now have an idea of what needs to be done at any given time for each trip. As we approach our travel date, everything is in one place to check.

The other thing Deb does, is create an itinerary spreadsheet. This will tell us what our scheduled plans are for the entire trip. Each of us has a copy and it lists:

a. The dates of the trip
b. What plans we have for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner for each day
c. Flight information
d. Transportation information
e. Check in times at hotel, cruise ship, etc
f. Excursions or special reservations
g. Room/Cabin numbers of travel companions
h. Cell phone numbers of travel companions

This has worked well for us. We both know what the scheduled plan is and we know where we are supposed to be. Lest you think we plan every moment of every trip, we don't! But we do like to keep the important stuff written in one place, like those elusive LeCellier Reservations!

After many trips and always saying, "oh, I forgot whatever" I decided to create a packing list. I started writing out this really long list and realized no, this won't do. It was too long. I then decided to break it down into categories.

a. Paperwork
b. Electronics
c. Toiletries
d. Clothing
e. Miscellaneous
f. Things to do at Home
g. Medical supplies (Deb is a Type 1 Diabetic, lots of stuff)

Within each of the categories I listed everything we could possibly want or need for a trip. It doesn't mean we bring everything (although our travel companions often THINK we do) , but it is listed for us to consider.

As you view the list, you may ask why a toothbrush, well, I have forgotten it on occasion. Or why is a passport listed when we all know we need one to travel outside of the country. Well Deb forgot hers once -- thank goodness we remembered before pulling away from our home. If I try and trust my brain to remember everything, it just won't. Plus, I can't sleep at night thinking of things I need to pack. Once I write it down, I can move on to something else.

Here's our Packing List in a Microsoft WORD document -- if it helps, GREAT! If not, that's ok -- at least you got a chuckle hearing about two people trying to make traveling a little easier! Have items to add? Let us know!

Next stop, Barcelona!

Linda

May 21, 2007

Getting Ready for the Mediterranean Cruise

Hello Everyone!

As many of you have read, Deb and I have been planning our trip to the Mediterranean. It has been a real experience getting everything together.

LindaEckwerth


We have divided our tasks to help keep our sanity! Deb usually handles all the booking and planning and travel details. I, on the other hand, take care of the behind the scenes stuff. You might ask what that would be...well...let's see:

1. Packing list, 3 pages long. I'll write more about that next time.

2. I take care of the on line registration with Disney Cruise Line.

3. Making copies of all our important paperwork. I make four copies of everything front and back:
a. Passports
b. Drivers Liscense
c. Medical Insurance cards
d. All Credit Cards we are taking
e. Letter from Deb's doctor stating she needs all the diabetic supplies she is going to carry on the plane. (this was recommended by the agent from British Airways).
I made sure a close friend had a copy of all this and we have three copies to carry with us.

4. Just in case a piece of luggage doesn't make it to our destination at the same time we do, I will make sure there is a sheet of information in each suitcase. What will be on it:
a. Our name and phone numbers, US cell numbers and Global cell numbers
b. Home address
c. Hotel where we are staying and length of stay
d. Disney Cruise Line, Magic and length of cruise
e. Hotel where we are staying when returning from cruise and length of stay

5. Doing research and renting Global phones. Once the phones arrive, reading instructions on how to use the phones and programming the most important phone numbers in the phones. Then of course, a brief lesson for Deb.

6. Making sure all the monthly bills are paid and in the mail. (Don't want any late notices!)

7. Calling the credit card companies to alert them we will be traveling overseas.

8. Double checking with our medical insurance that we will have health care coverage on our trip, God forbid anything happens.

Next time I will give more details about the packing list and how I decided on the phone rental.

Next stop, Barcelona!

Linda

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