Main | June 2007 »

May 2007 Archives

May 22, 2007

Guest Bloggers in the Mediterranean!

Chris and Beci Mahnken, owners of MEI Travel and MouseFanTravel.com are traveling with Deb Wills and Linda Eckwerth on Disney's First Mediterranean Cruise. Beci and Chris will be blogging along with Deb and Linda sharing their adventures.

Chris and Beci Mahnken

Here is Chris's pre-trip entry:

Pity me. I'm going on an 11 day Disney Mediterranean Cruise.

The cruise will be fantastic with great food, great friends, and great sights to see of course. A once in a lifetime sort of trip. But ...

It seems like just about every time I go overseas I end up just barely missing some really cool event. My first trip to Dublin came the week after U2 stopped playing as the house band at the bar in their hotel in Dublin. My first Trip to Paris came during le Tour de France, a yearly event that I follow religiously. The race was in the west, near Saint-Malo on the day I had free, but I couldn't get out there and back in time to see any of it.

This year we're going on the inaugural 11 day cruise of the Disney Magic in the Mediterranean. Barcelona, Palermo, Naples, Olbia, Rome, Florence, Marseilles, Monte Carlo, and back to Barcelona. So of course there will be an even nearby that I can almost get to, but not quite.

Beyond le Tour de France, one of my favorite sporting events is Formula one. Last Saturday the F1 circus was in, yes, Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix. I missed it by 11 days. Even worse, on the 27th of May, while we're at sea between Barcelona and Palermo, the Grand Prix of Monaco will take place without me. A week later on the 4th I'll be in Monte Carlo. Just in time to see the removal of the last of the grandstands and Armco barriers.

I'm going on an 11 day Disney Mediterranean Cruise. Life is hard.

May 26, 2007

May 23- Part 1 - Europe in 4 bags or less

Guest Blogger Beci Mahnken, owner of MouseFanTravel.com begins her blog....
Beci's husband Chris, has the earlier blog entry.

Day 1 - May 23

Europe in 4 bags or less

We are about to embark on 16 nights of city hopping starting in Seattle and visiting many places including London , Barcelona , Rome and Monaco . This adventure actually began 24 hours ago when the realization hit that I should actually start packing for this trip. In a mad frenzy of laundry and checking weather.com against the weather channel - who coincidentally don't seem to agree on if it will be 70 or 79 in Rome. I found myself confronted with the sad truth that I was about to break my own cardinal rule. "Never travel with more the one checked bag.

It's amazing how you begin to negotiate with yourself, when faced with such a dilemma of packing for 16 days and for almost any occasion. "This will be good for the shore excursions, this will be good for the sail away party and I can wash this in the sink if needed and this will be ok for formal night since I don't actually know anyone, let alone actually own a beaded gown myself. Then come the doubts ... but what do I do if it rains? Better take this shirt ... but what happens if the polar ice caps melt? ... better take this life preserver ... oh right ... plenty of those on board. Finally just when you think you have managed to get both what you need and want you want in one tidy suitcase, you realize its definitely over 50 pounds. Dang! Break out the 2nd bag. I felt better when Chris told me he also decided to break out bag 2.

We are on the way to Sea Tac airport in a few hours. It's a mid morning flight that will take us from Seattle , connecting in Chicago to London where we change planes yet again on the way to Barcelona . The best thing about this part of the trip is we have saved, and saved, and saved air miles to fly in first class. I am one of those people who cannot manage to sleep on a plane in a sitting position so am hoping the flat beds offer at least a few hours sleep to help avoid jet lag.

Beci

May 23 - Part 2 - Crossing the Pond

Guest Blogger Beci Mahnken .....

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time to check in at the Alaska airlines desk for our first flight to Chicago . They tell us our bags have been checked thru but unfortunately we need to check ourselves in at the British desk in Chicago for the next two flight legs. This shouldn't be a problem as we have 3 hours to make the connection and get where we need to be. Right?

The reality of the Chicago connection seemed a tad more complicated. Chris and I arrived in Chicago and worked our way thru the terminal to the shuttle leading to the international terminal where we checked in at the British airlines desk. The agent at the desk informed us that we were invited to go to the first class lounge located next to gate 11, but unfortunately they did not have a fast track line at O'Hare. Initially that was fine, until she further explained that the line was just about an hour long. (Ok.. I get it, now I know why she was apologizing.) Behind us snaked a security line that made me wonder if 3 hours for a connection with time to enjoy that wonderful lounge, was indeed enough.

And here is a confession - if you are ever with me and we are presented with a choice of lines to get into please do not allow me to choose unless of course you have time to kill and have a desire to be in the longest line. For some reason I am cosmically drawn to the line that will have some kind of issue just moments before I am the next to go. Supermarkets, drive thrus, and yes airport security. I choose the line that for the last 15 minutes has been moving at a very quick pace. Just as we approach and are now one person form the security station, here comes an army of flight crews who of course have the priority to avoid delayed flights. We are stopped for what seems like an eternity.. (ok minutes, but f you hate lines as much as I do, then you get it) about 15 minutes later we are through the screening process and on our way to find the lounge.

Once there, we are checked in and offered a wide array or beverages and snacks to prepare for our flight. We were given the choice to have dinner before or during the flight so we elected to wait. We found a window seat and watched as our Boeing 777 aircraft pulled up to the gate next door. About 30 minutes later they announced boarding for first class passengers. We made our way onto the aircraft and to our seats - errr.. beds - err pods. That may be the best description - pods. Each seat was very private with its own controls, nice sized table that lifted out of the console, and personal entertainment screen. They even provided a light weight sleep suit, slippers and a personal amenity kit with lip balm, tooth brush, toothpaste, eye shades and a pair of comfy socks for the trip. Nice touch!

Once airborne we were provided menus for dinner which provided several starter options as well as entrees. Chris had the Lobster salad with sesame chicken and I opted for the steak and mushroom pie with mashed potatoes. Dessert was New York cheese cake with berries. They also had a nice wines list with 3 reds, 3 whites and champagne as well.

After dinner the stewards came around and converted the seats to beds. Fully flat, approx 6 feet and was a very comfy way to cross the pond. I even managed to get a little sleep to prepare for the next leg of the journey that will take us to Barcelona .

chris3A.jpg

Beci

Disney Med Cruise: The British Connection 5/24/07

Beci continues:

We land in London May 24th - 10 am London time. The steward provides the landing card we need to fill out folks and a very coveted fast pass ticket that allows us to skip the regular queue and breeze right through the passport control station. What took us over an hour in our previous trip to London was just about 10 minutes. Our connection time here was a long one. Almost 7 hours. But there was a lot to keep us busy!

One thing I should mention is our arrival was met with a stairway not the auto gangway that goes right to the door. We descended the staircase and walked across the tarmac to the terminal where we were met with even more stairs. Something to be prepared for - check into arranging assistance ahead of time if needed.

We arrived in Terminal 1 and decided to check out the arrival lounge there before making our way to terminal 1 for our departure to Barcelona later that day. It seemed the air conditioning in the terminal was either not working or set for people who require 80 degree temps inside to survive. It was extremely hot in the dining room at the lounge but it would be an hour or so before we made it to terminal one so we stopped for a quick breakfast. They had fans set up in the room, but they weren't doing much good, and since the terminal backed up onto a public street they had razor wire swirling outside the window. This just didn't seem like the relaxing oasis I expected at the British flagship city, so we decided to move on to terminal one. The razor wire wasn't the only sign of security. The Brits take this very seriously and there are serious guards with serious guns at several locations thru the airport.

British provide a nice step by step guide to getting from terminal 4 to terminal one which involves a bus transfer. Against my better judgment Chris says we are heading for the trains and while that little voice was screaming "conform to the map!" I knew we had 7 hours so what the heck ... We by passed the signs for the buses and headed for the Paddington station train with the first stop being.. you guessed it .. terminal 1, 2 and 3. There is no charge for the terminal to terminal service and is highly recommended if you have the option from your arrival location. With Comfy seats and plenty of room for luggage you don't feel cramped in the least.

TIP: if you are connecting through Heathrow, or any major airline really, be sure your flight times offer some time over what they consider a "legal connection' time which is usually the bare minimum the airlines are willing to gamble will make it in time for you to reach the connecting flight. The odds begin to tip if your departure flight is late, the airport is too busy to clear your flight to land so you circle a while, and/or doesn't have a pocket (ie the Queens English for - gate) to allow the flight to pull up to. We had all three of these situations during this journey.

We arrive at terminal one and are a little lost. The ticketing area is right there but we have boarding passes, so we just need to find the arrival/departure lounge. After a little searching and asking a nice gal at British bag drop, she points us to area "R" which is a hike to the other side of the terminal through several shops and counters unlike any airport I had seen before. We follow the signs to the First/Business class check in area and are escorted to a special security line where people actually help you thru the check point. I KNOW.. I couldn't believe it either! J

The Lounge is located just beyond and here is the 2nd best part of my day - they offered us a shower. Basically they have private spacious rooms with a shower stall, sink, mirror and toilet. At the desk they will provide shampoo, conditioner, lotions, toothbrushes, razors and even shave gel. It was nice to refresh after the flight. But the best part was they also have an onsite spa service with offers complimentary services. Chris and I both signed up for neck and back massages after the shower.

After our relaxation sessions, we had about 3 hours to spend in the lounge before the next connection to Barcelona . We found a quiet pocket near the service area so we could easily refill the cappuccinos and grab snacks. One thing that I found quite entertaining in the lounges are the conversations you over hear. Government contracts, 14 million dollar lawsuits and the pros and cons of i-pods vs the Zune. That last one was courtesy of one Kurt Russell (you know...... Captain Ron, Escape from LA, etc) and his traveling companion who sat approx 20 feet away. A few minutes later Goldie Hawn joined them and off they went to catch their flight.

And soon we were off to ours.

We landed in Barcelona approx 7 pm and after collecting our bags we found a gentleman holding a sign with our name who whisked us to our unique Disney transfer - a Mercedes. The driver had to have been practicing for the Indy 500 and would probably win. It was a fast yet strangely safe feeling race through and around the city to our hotel - The Hilton Diagonal Mar.

Arriving at Hotel

Upon arrival, we checked in and were upgraded to a nice corner Jar suite for our two night stay. Two separate rooms with a large bathroom and unique corner with large windows offering a nice view of the sea and city.

Beci's Room

When we arrived we called Deb and Linda (blogging at www.allearsnet.com ) and met them for a drink to celebrate the journey!

Beci

If this is Friday, it must be Montserrat

Guest Blogger Chris Mahnken

Friday morning, after a stout 3 hours of sleep, making six hours in the past two nights, I got up early and met our crew (Deb, Linda, Sandy, & Sharon) for breakfast. After that we went to the Lobby to hook up with our informal guides (and fellow travelers) Gary and Karen. Next stop, well, the subway, but our goal was Montserrat.

Several transfers, ticket buyings, and about 90 minutes later we arrived at our stop. Montserrat - Aeri. Only it wasn't our stop. We should have stayed on the train for one additional stop to get to the rack railway station that would lead to the monastery. Instead we were at the gondola / cable car station for said cliff side religious haven. So rather than wait the hour between trains to go one stop further, we delved deep (5 euros) into our pockets for a ticket up the gondola.

One semi-terrifying ride later, we were several thousand feet up above the river valley at the famed Montserrat monastery. There are still monks in residence (I understand, I didn't see any) and there is also a small hotel.

We started by taking the Funicular up to the (near) peak of the mountain and then spent a leisurely morning walking back down the down the mountain trails to the monastery. If you're not afraid of a bit of exercise I'd encourage the walk if the weather is nice. The views were spectacular (if somewhat hazy in the morning).

By the time we got back down I was starving (no really, that distended belly is a sign of starvation, not beer). We went to the cafeteria and grabbed some lunch, and while it was not the equal of the food we'll be getting on the Magic, it was quite good.

After lunch we went up to the basilica and toured thru and got to see the black Madonna of Montserrat. The basilica is fantastic. Very well preserved and quite lovely. If you like to visit the churches of Europe, I'd be sure to add this one to your list. It's very nice.

At this point I was getting ready to take a nap on the first non-paved surface I could find, and everybody else was a bit tired also. We decided to hit the shops, and then start the long ride home. We were back to our hotel by 6:30.

Chris Mahnken

May 28, 2007

Chris Mahnken - Arriving in Palermo

We've just pulled into port at Palermo - it's 8:00 here. I've handed off my new silk jacket to the Disney cleaning crew - it was collateral damage in a flying wine war last night! One of our table mates brought his cricket bat and used it to fling a full glass of wine onto Sandy and me (mostly Sandy). Our head waiter was there in a flash with cleaning tickets on the house, so I'm we're testing the dry cleaning guys to see if they can get it done before dinner tonight. They say it will be back in our cabin by 5:00!

So now it's on to breakfast, then we're off to visit Palermo and the village of Cefalu. We'll have full reports this evening - perhaps even two, as we've got a late dinner in the private room at Palo tonight and may be able to get in a post both before and after.

Arrivederci!

Chris Mahnken

Return to Blog Central

About May 2007

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in May 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.