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August 1, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part 5

by Alice McNutt Miller

Day 9-Helsinki

Since we did not need to meet for today's DCL excursion--"Porvoo and Helsinki Highlights" -until 9:45 a.m. today, we got to sleep in a bit. After breakfast in Topsider's, we headed to the Walt Disney Theatre, and met up with a couple of our tablemates for the excursion. After boarding the bus, we made our first stop at Helsinki's Rock Church. This was a beautiful, contemporary church built-as the name implies-with native rocks in the side of a hill. The entrance to the church is rather "unimpressive" (the words of our lovely guide), but the inside was quite striking. The most interesting architectural element was the fact that the domed ceiling was covered with a spiral of copper "wire."

The next stop after the Rock Church was the Sibelius Monument. Jean Sibelius was Finland's most famous composer. He lived from 1865 to 1957 and his most famous composition is "Finlandia." The Monument was designed by Finnish architect Eila Hiltunen and was quite controversial when it was built in1967. The monument looks like a series of huge organ pipes, and is quite impressive. The thing that amazed me was that not only could visitors get very close to the monument; you can also touch it and get inside of it.


From the Sibelius Monument, we loaded back onto the bus, and drove about an hour outside of Helsinki to the village of Porvoo, the second-oldest village in Finland. We stopped just outside of Porvoo at a farm where we had our lunch in an old converted distillery.

The old town of Porvoo was delightful.


We had a bit of time on our own to see the old church, do some shopping and eat some ice cream. Our guide told us that the Finns have the highest annual consumption of ice cream in the world, and you could tell, as there were ice cream stands everywhere.

On the way back to Helsinki we stopped briefly at another old church, which looked very similar to the one in Porvoo. One interesting thing about these churches is that they each have a "church boat," which is a small model of a ship hanging from the ceiling, which is meant to symbolize Christianity. I don't think that I have ever seen one of these in any other country that I have been to (although it is quite possible that I have missed them!).


In Helsinki, we got off the bus in the Senate Square (beautiful!), and walked down to the open-air market on the waterfront.


There, we bought (and ate) some of the most luscious strawberries that I have ever eaten.


Back to the bus, and back to the ship.

That evening after the Pirates dinner


we saw a magic show put on by Jason Bishop in the Walt Disney Theatre. He was amazing, and the show was top notch.

Then it was time for the "Pirates IN the Caribbean" deck party. It was a great party, but since we weren't IN the Caribbean, my own opinion was that they should have done the party in some kind of Viking theme. Oh well, it was a lot of fun!


Day 10-StockholmWe woke up early this morning, and had breakfast in Lumiere's before we headed to the Walt Disney Theatre to meet for today's excursion: "City Hall, Royal Palace and Old Town" in Stockholm, Sweden. I had originally planned to do this port on our own, but because of changes in the tide, we had to leave port at 2:45 instead of the originally-scheduled 4:30, so I decided to do another Disney excursion instead.

The first stop on our tour was the Stockholm City Hall. The City Hall was built around the turn of the 20th century, and is a beautiful, imposing building. It is used as the administrative offices for the City of Stockholm, and is also the venue for the awarding of all of the Nobel prizes except the Peace Prize, which is awarded in Oslo, Norway. The room with the gold mosaics was particularly impressive.


From the City Hall, we headed to Gamla Stan-Stockholm's old city. The Royal Palace is located there. The Royal Palace was occupied by the Swedish Royal Family until the 1980s, when the King and Queen decided to move to the suburbs so that their children could take advantage of a public education. The Palace was the venue for the recent wedding of the Crown Princess, and our tour guide was full of helpful information like: "This is where they had the ceremony," and "this is where they cut the cake." Evidently, the wedding was a cause for great celebration in Sweden.


After we left the Palace, the rest of the tour group moved on to the Cathedral, but we decided that we had had enough of palaces and churches, and were more interested in the pursuit of the Baltic's best ice cream. We may have found it in Stockholm. Thank goodness we avoided the Ben and Jerry's and found a great local place.

After the ice cream, we walked back out of Gamla Stan to find some lunch. (Yes, I know, technically the ice cream should have come AFTER lunch, but oh well, we are on vacation after all.) We stumbled upon a very cool restaurant behind the Grand Hotel called "B.A.R." and had an amazing lunch of assorted shellfish, cold cuts, duck liver pate (the best I have EVER had!) and steamed artichoke. Fantastic! If you are ever in Stockholm, I highly recommend this place.

We caught the shuttle back to the ship, and Rob and I headed to the pool. The sail away through the Swedish archipelago was stunning. More bingo this afternoon (we didn't get a bingo, but we were lucky enough to win a cool photo album during the raffle).

After tonight's dinner "Taste of Scandinavia," Rob and I met some of our table mates in the Walt Disney Theatre for tonight's show "Walt Disney: The Dream Goes On." Nice show. We really enjoyed it. After the show, Rob and I headed to the promenade lounge and met up with a couple of other cruise friends for "Trevor's Ultimate Disney Trivia." I thought I was a Disney fan, but this stuff was HARD!!! After the trivia, we went to Rockin' Bar D for an ABBA tribute. We were tired, though, and didn't last very long.

It was a great day, and we LOVED Stockholm. What an amazing and beautiful city. Rob and I definitely plan to go back.

August 2, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part 6

by Alice McNutt Miller

Days 11 and 12-At Sea

Our last two days at sea went by in a breeze, and I can hardly remember what we did. Before the cruise, Rob was not very happy to know that the last two days would be at sea. He couldn't imagine what we would do, and thought that we would be bored out of our skulls. In reality, it was great to have some time to relax after all of the tiring days ashore. We slept in a bit, played more bingo, sat by the pool (at least on the first day, on the second day the weather turned for the worse; it was chillier, and there was a dramatic thunderstorm) and sat in on a couple of very interesting multimedia presentations on Disney Innovations in Animation and Theme Parks (Trevor, the cast member presenting, was great!). I also ventured to the spa for the first time on the last day for a pedicure. I'm not a huge spa goer, but I did enjoy it, and now my toes look great!

Dinner at Parrot Cay on the first sea night was semi-formal. We all dressed up a bit, and were slightly disappointed when no photographers were to be found to document the event. A bit strange, since they had been all over the place on formal night. After dinner, the kids ran off to their events (included a dance for the teenagers that ran until 2:00 a.m.), and Rob and I went to take in the show, "Disney Dreams: An Enchanted Classic." We had seen this show on the only other Disney cruise we have ever taken, seven years ago, but still enjoyed it. After the show, we changed clothes and went back to the Walt Disney Theatre for the Movie Prem-Ear of the brand-new Disney movie: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." I really wanted to like this movie, but unfortunately, it fell flat (and I fell asleep!).

Dinner at Lumiere's on our final night was a bittersweet occasion for us and our tablemates, who had become newfound friends. We traded e-mail addresses, and they kept up the pressure to join them on the various cruises that they had planned for next summer (book onboard and get a 10% discount!!). That night was "Remember the Magic: A Final Farewell" in the Walt Disney Theatre. We enjoyed the show, and then moved on to Rockin' Bar D for "Pub Night," which included a hilarious skit by the Cruise Staff.

After breakfast the next morning, we said our goodbyes and left the ship to go to the train station. I have absolutely no idea what this sign we saw near the train station meant, but I had to take a picture of it anyway.


At the station we ran into the great family that we met on the train coming back from Berlin a few days earlier, and we extended the fun of the cruise for another hour together on the train back to London.

All in all, this was an amazing trip. We saw some beautiful cities, ate some great food, enjoyed superb Disney entertainment and met some amazing fellow cruisers. Will we do it again? Absolutely, but we don't want to "jinx" the experience, so I think we will wait awhile (sorry, tablemates!). Cheers!

August 3, 2010

New Via Napoli "Soft Opens" Early

by John Kurowksi


The landscape of the Italy pavilion in Epcot dramatically changed recently as construction scrims and scaffolding came down to reveal the new, highly anticipated restaurant, Via Napoli.

Italy, as both a nation and a World Showcase pavilion, features some of the most beautiful architecture, people, and vistas found anywhere. But for many, the true key to embrace Italian culture lies within its rich and flavorful food. The popularity of the former Alfredo's, and the current Tutto Italia prove that many Walt Disney World guests crave Italian fare while visiting and lucky for them, they now have a new offering. Via Napoli specializes in pizza with some pasta dishes and salads on the menu.


The decor lends itself to the story that Disney Imagineers concocted for the new eatery. The son of a wealthy Italian family that owned a large and thriving parcel of land in their community returned home and transformed his parents' estate into this 400-seat trattoria. Tutto Italia, found right next door, serves as the family's former home and Via Napoli sits on the former site of the family's villa, shop, and stables. In fact, this new restaurant matches Tutto Italia in terms of design and architecture.

Guests enter into the restaurant's foyer, the former villa. Three glass walls separate the foyer from the rest of Via Napoli. In the center sits a very ornate chandelier decorated with glass fruit. The glass fruit actually arrived the morning of our visit. As of right now, because of the small size of this room, and the constant opening and closing of the automatic sliding glass door, the outside temperature controls the temperature of this room. One circular air conditioning vent sits in the center with the chandelier underneath it.


Via Napoli houses a giant open kitchen with three very unique wood pizza ovens, named Stromboli, Vesuvio, and Etna.
All named after volcanoes in Italy, three Roman god-like faces outline the ovens with the appearance of flames in their mouths.


Aspiring chefs will love to have a view of the bustling kitchen to watch these chefs do their work as they dine, while others will take in the charm of the murals, paintings, and decorative light fixtures throughout the restaurant. There is also a large wooden table in the center of the room. This table is for large groups as well as extra seating for other small parties. Like the tables at the Biergarten or Teppan Edo, guests seated at this table may find themselves sitting with other parties.

The section of the restaurant that simulates the former stables features a 79-seat outdoor area, separated from the rest of the restaurant by two glass doors. Being outdoors, this seating area faces the elements, but this section will soon be covered in sliding glass doors that will remain open during fair weather, but will be closed off in extreme cold and hot weather in order to be heated or air conditioned.

The Patina Group, the operators of the restaurant, wanted to make the pizza served in Via Napoli to taste as authentic to the pizza found in Naples, Italy as possible. Many pizza chefs say the trick in making a good pizza dough is in the water, so to overcome the differences in the Orlando water, Via Napoli actually imports their water from an undisclosed spring in Pennsylvania with some extra minerals added to be an authentic match to the water from Italy. The flour comes from Naples, Italy directly and the tomatoes come from Murano, Italy. The pizza comes in three sizes: small, which is billed as individual; Large, which can serve two-three; and 1/2 Meter, which is 12"x18" of pizza.


Our server recommended the margherita pizza, with fresh, handmade mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil. We were in the mood for some pepperoni so we asked if they could make one half margherita, and the other half pepperoni. She said that the only size they can do that with is the 1/2 Meter so that is what we ordered. The crust is very thin and charred. We found on the margherita pizza the charred crust overpowered the taste, but the kick the pepperoni gave on the other side balanced out the strong crust.

The restaurant also offers an extensive wine and cocktail list. While entering the main dining room three glass coolers are prominently featured containing the restaurant's unique non-alcoholic offering, Aqua Fresca. This is available in three flavors: Limonata, Blood Orange, and Strawberry. These are a tad pricier than other soft drinks available and come in a smaller glass than the typical Coke products the restaurant serves. The Aqua Fresca does not come with free refills. The restaurant also features two imported Italian beers: Moretti, a light beer that is currently available throughout the Italy pavilion, and La Rossi, a darker amber lager available only at Via Napoli.


Decadent describes the desserts on the menu. The tiramisu, our server's favorite, is very similar to the one offered at Tutto Italia. The Copa di Brutti Ma Buoni (Ugly But Good) was our favorite: a cherry and vanilla gelato sundae with "ugly but good" cookies. But the most popular dessert seemed to be the Zeppole di Caterina. These are ricotta cheese filled fried dough fritters (they look like Dunkin' Donuts' Munchkins) with whipped cream and chocolate dipping sauces.

The restaurant is in soft-open phase until August 5, when they will have the official ribbon cutting ceremony. The ceremony will be done fairly early in the day and is by invite only. The restaurant will open at 3:30 that day to the public. From now until September 10, the restaurant will only take walk-ups. Starting August 5, guests will be able to make reservations for dates after September 10. They do accept Tables in Wonderland and will take one Table Service Dining Credit on the Disney Dining Plan. This is a great time to check out the restaurant as it is fairly easy to get into and the food is quite tasty.

August 17, 2010

Tower of Terror Passholder Event


by Coleen Bolton

Wow! Summer flew by way too fast! It seems like only yesterday I was at the Passholder preview for Disney's Electrical Parade and new Summer Nightastic! Fireworks in the Magic Kingdom. Now it's already time for the Summer Nightastic! to come to an end.

For us here in Central Florida is was fitting that this weekend was the last weekend for Summer Nightastic! since school started Monday. Lucky Passholders like me who were in the area on Friday the 13th were treated to some extra time to enjoy the special effects added to the Tower of Terror before they disappeared.

From 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday the 13th, Hollywood Studios was open just for Passholders to enjoy both Tower of Terror and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. It did sort of feel like I had stepped into the Twilight Zone to be able to go back and forth between both attractions with no wait. I really enjoyed this Passholder event since you did get the feeling that you were being treated special, having the park to yourself. I hope that Disney will do more Passholder events like this one.




Thank you to all the Cast Members who put in the extra hours so that we Passholders could say goodbye to summer in such a wonderful way!

P.S. For anyone who wasn't able to get to the Magic Kingdom this summer to catch Disney's Electrical Parade, don't worry! That part of the Summer Nightastic! has been extended!

August 25, 2010

Wilderness Lodge Birthday Trip Photo Blog


I recently spent a long weekend at one of my favorite Walt Disney World resorts, the Wilderness Lodge. I was there to celebrate my birthday and what better way to do that than with a trip to the World?

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the Lodge is the sense of tranquility and seclusion that it offers, as well as theme of the Great Northwest which is carried out to perfection here. These factors immediately come into place as soon as you pass under the giant archway serving as an entrance to the resort.



Watch for bears crossing the road as you approach the Lodge.



In addition to the Canadian goose topiary at the entryway of the resort, another magnificent creation is on display as you approach the Lodge from the parking lot or drop-off areas - a pair of buffalo. These are mainstays of the resort and are true works of art.


I always feel like I am close to the magic as soon as I enter the spectacular lobby of the hotel.


This stay at the Lodge was a bit different for me in that my room was on the Concierge level. I have been fortunate enough to have stayed at several of Disney's resorts, but never experienced their Concierge service.

"So how does staying on the Concierge level differ from the lobby Concierge?" you may be asking yourself. If you are booked on the Concierge level at one of the deluxe resorts, you will receive a phone call within a few days of your departure. The Cast Member will inquire as to whether your group will need assistance in making any special dining reservations or planning to celebrate any special occasions. Staying Concierge can also provide exclusive access to special tours, such as the Wildlife Discovery Excursion at Disney's Animal Kingdom park.

Concierge service at the Wilderness Lodge is located on the 7th floor and can be accessed by way of key-card in the elevators. The Concierge desk is located just to the right just as you are exiting the elevators.



A Cast Member is there to assist guests beginning at 7:00 a.m. each morning. They can answer any questions you might have and assist with the booking of tickets to the Cirque du Soleil, Hoop Dee Do Revue, and Spirit of Aloha Luau shows too.

The folks that I encountered behind the Concierge desk were very friendly and more than willing to help out in any way they could. I was in need of a Pharmacy while I was there. Rather than giving me driving directions to a local drug store, the cast member recommended a local service that delivers medicines for a nominal fee. I thought this was great service, especially since it would save me the time of having to drive to the drug store during my precious few days in Disney.

Directly across the hall from the Concierge desk is the main entrance to the Old Faithful Club lounge, which is where snacks and beverages are served throughout the day.



Just around the corner is another entrance by the seating area.


Tables and Chairs are in abundance if you decide to kick back and relax by the lounge area. They surround the entire balcony area of the 7th floor, and I found it peaceful and relaxing to look out over the cavernous lobby each morning while having breakfast. Kiddy-sized tables are on hand for children and a huge flat screen TV is on display if you decide to kick-back in the common area.



Different offerings are presented at different times of the day, generally in 2-hour intervals. From 7:00 - 9:00, a light "Continental" breakfast is served. This includes large bottles of chilled Spring Water, Juice, Coffee, Cappuccino, Espresso, Cereal, Bagels, Croissants, Muffins, Pastry, and Fresh Fruit (Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Pineapple, Grapes, and Melon). Monin flavored syrups are also available for your coffee or hot tea.







Light snacks such as Pretzels, Goldfish, Gummy Bears, Cookies, and Trail Mix are offered in the Lounge at lunchtime and throughout the afternoon. There also is a refrigerator where canned beverages and Yoplait Yogurt are kept on hand. Coca-Cola, Sprite, Diet Coke, and Minute Maid Apple-juice boxes were stocked in the fridge. I found this to be most convenient when heading out to one of the parks or coming in from a long, hot day. It's so much easier to swing by the lounge and grab a drink rather than having to head all the way up the room, grab the refillable mug, and venture down to the food court.




From 5:00 - 7:00, finger foods are served. This was definitely the busiest time of the day in the lounge, and there was actually a line of folks waiting to fill their plates. Different hors d'oeuvres are presented depending on the night, but a sampling of the offerings included: Chicken Satay, Cheese & Veggies, Skewered Meats, Chicken Salad, Venison Meatballs, and Crackers/Pita Chips. Different dips were on hand for the crackers such as a Red Pepper hummus and Goat Cheese with Garlic spread, which I found to be very tasty.



From 8:00 - 10:00, dessert is presented. This included warm Berry Cobbler, "Magic" Bars (granola with chocolate chips), Cookies, Brownies with icing, and various cordials such as Kahlua and Courvoisier. Bottled Beer (Heineken among them) and Wine (Merlot, Chardonnay) are also made available. Perhaps you don't wish to venture down to the Territory Lounge for an evening cocktail. This is a convenient alternative for those wishing to have a nightcap before bed.

No stay at the Lodge would be complete for me without a meal at Artist Point, the resort's fine dining restaurant. I had reservations to dine there during my stay and was careful not to overindulge in the snacks on the evening of my visit. I didn't want to spoil the meal. Artist Point is one of my favorite WDW restaurants, and has never disappointed! I decided to deviate from my usual order (of the Pacific King Salmon) and try a vegetarian dish this time - the House-made Gnocchi.

Artist Point is a participant in the Disney dining plan, with a 2-credit requirement.



I stayed in room #7114, and it was very conveniently located just around the corner from the Concierge lounge. I couldn't notice any difference in the layout of my room vs. Standard rooms I have stayed in at the Lodge. I was on the top floor and this was a dormer room, meaning the ceiling is vaulted and on an incline at one end of the room.



I also had a Woods view, which was scenic and overlooked the DVC Villas.




If you should decide to stay Concierge at Wilderness Lodge, there are a few additional room amenities: Bath Robes in the closet (for borrowing only) and nightly turndown service, which is provided automatically.


Housekeeping will also run a spot check on your room each evening to ensure that additional toiletries and towels are not needed.

I enjoyed trying something new and experiencing Disney's Concierge service. If money were no object, I'm sure I would make use of this service often. I think that families traveling with children will get more value from this service than Couples since there are more people per room making use of the food and beverages offered. While I found the breakfast offerings to be sufficient and satisfying, the other meals are intended to serve as a snack and not substitutions for regular meals. That said the money saved on breakfast each morning could certainly be used towards the additional cost of the room. The benefit of having someone to assist in Dining Reservations, Show and Park tickets could also be a substantial perk for travel booked at the last minute.

Would I spend the extra money to stay on the Concierge level again? Absolutely - the extra assistance with Advance Dining Reservations and personalized service made me feel truly pampered. I also enjoyed having access to light snacks at those times when I wasn't craving a full meal or dessert. The Concierge Cast Members really went out of their way to make sure that any special request was met to the best of their ability. Those little touches made this a birthday to remember.

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About August 2010

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in August 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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