« April 2013 | Main | June 2013 »

May 2013 Archives

May 15, 2013

Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler - May 2013



If you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, you'll know that we run a little game called the Mousy Mindboggler. Sometimes it's a word game, sometimes it's a riddle, sometimes it's some other brain-teasing challenge -- but it's always fun!

Once each month, in the AllEars® Bits and Bites issue, our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design. The puzzles have some sort of Disney theme, of course, but will not be restricted to the Disney theme parks. The type of puzzle is up to James. Also up to him? The bestowing of a prize -- a collectible Disney pin from his extensive collection.

Around the middle of each month, James also Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting a puzzle in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog. Again, the subject of the puzzle will vary, and James will award the winner of the challenge a collectible Disney pin!

This Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler Puzzle is a crossword-style puzzle with a special theme: sponsors of Walt Disney World attractions, shops, restaurants and even parades, both past and present.

Here's the link to this month's puzzle:


So... Think you know Disney inside and out? Put on your thinking cap!

This month's puzzle is a little more challenging, but James has included a "word bank" to help you out with potential answers. Remember though, that not all of the words in the word bank are used in the puzzle!

Have fun with this "history lesson," as James calls it, but if you want a chance at a Disney collectible pin, arrange the letters that are circled in the puzzle to come up with the answer to the bonus question, which relates to the puzzle theme.

Send your resulting answer IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to dzneynut.puzzle@gmail.com

Send the bonus term or phrase by email no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on June 5, 2013. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog, along with a new puzzle, in mid-June.



Here is the answer key to last month's Mid-Month Mousy Mindboggler on Walt Disney World Resorts:


As you can see (and over 300 of you did!), the answer to the bonus clue was RESERVATIONS.

It's hard to believe that they ever could be completely booked, considering there are more than 30,000 resort rooms, including Disney Vacation Club units, on property!

The winner of a Disney Cruise Line Pirate Minnie pin was Robert Jacob of Easley, SC, whose entry was randomly selected from all of the correct responses.

We hope you enjoy this new version of the Mousy Mindboggler, and we welcome any comments or suggestions.

Have fun!

May 20, 2013

The "Rhythm is Gonna Get You" at Bongos Cuban Cafe

Andrew Rossi

When looking at the skyline of Downtown Disney one of the most striking, and unusual, elements is a giant pineapple located on the West Side.

Bongo's Pineapple

That pineapple belongs to Bongos Cuban Café, the creation of singer Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio. I have walked past this restaurant countless times, impressed by the building's Old Havana-style architecture, and commented that this was a restaurant that I really wanted to try. For one reason or another, however, I always seemed to pass up Bongos in favor of one of my "go to" locations when it comes to dining in Downtown Disney. Just recently I finally had the opportunity to dine at Bongos, and I went there not really knowing what to expect. Bongos certainly does not receive as much hype or publicity as some of the other restaurants in Downtown Disney and when discussing it with family and friends it seemed as though no one that I knew had ever been there. After finally dining there, the only thing I can say now is "what took me so long?"

Bongo's Signage

Bongos opened at Downtown Disney in 1997 with a second location opening in Miami three years later. The restaurant was the brainchild of Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio. Estefan is in the top 100 bestselling music artists of all time with hits like "Rhythm is Gonna Get You" and "Get On Your Feet" and has an estimated 100 million records sold worldwide. Born in Havana, Estefan's Cuban heritage is prominently featured throughout the restaurant's architecture, décor, and entertainment offerings. The latter is what really adds a sense of authenticity and excitement to the restaurant, as it takes on almost a nightclub feel on Friday and Saturday nights with live music and dancing from 11:30pm until 2:00am. With its multiple bars offering a variety of specialty cocktails, its distinctively Latin feel, and numerous indoor and outdoor seating spanning two floors, dining at Bongos will make you feel as if you have been transported to a Miami hotspot or even Havana itself.

One of the most striking aspects of Bongos is its immense size. Outside the restaurant's giant pineapple, imposing columns resembling the trunks of palm trees, and ample outdoor seating on its lower and upper balconies give the building a very impressive appearance.

Bongo's Exterior

This sense of grandeur is carried into the restaurant as well. As soon as you enter you are greeted with a spectacular view of the restaurant's high ceilings, large windows, and grand staircase leading to its upper level.

Bongo's Staircase

Bongo's High Ceilings

The restaurant's large size helps to give the dining room a very open and spacious feel, which is aided by numerous windows that let in plenty of natural light and offer great views of the lake.

Bongo's Windows

The restaurant's Cuban influence can clearly be seen in the colorful mosaics that cover the dining room walls. Highlighting tropical scenes of beaches and palm trees, Cuban flags, women in traditional Cuban garb, and Latin music, these mosaics are a clear reflection of Estefan's life and heritage.

Bongo's Mosaics

The overall Latin feel is enhanced by the large palm tree columns that are continued from outside and a motif of leaves and flowers that encircles the balcony on the upper level. The white stucco columns and ceiling present a dramatic contrast to the brightly colored mosaics on the walls.

Bongo's Columns

Bongo's Havana influence can also clearly be seen in its ample outdoor seating. The balconies on the upper and lower levels are the perfect place to dine while enjoying the beautiful Florida weather as well as the impressive views. When there is live entertainment it is also pumped out onto the balcony so diners there can enjoy the music as well.

Bongo's Outdoor Seating 1

Bongo's Outdoor Seating 2

The restaurant offers several bars outside and inside on the lower and upper levels. As soon as you enter the restaurant there is a bar immediately to your right that features brightly colored stools that resemble large drums. You can also have a drink and dine inside the giant pineapple, with bars and additional seating on both the lower and upper levels.

Bongo's Bar 1

Bongo's Bar 2

One thing that I did notice about the dining room is that as the night went on, and the restaurant became more crowded, it became very loud. I was not there to experience the live entertainment, but I can imagine that the lively Latin tunes would only add to this. I was actually seated inside the pineapple and felt that this more out-of-the-way, secluded location made for a more quiet and relaxing meal. If you enjoy dining with a lively atmosphere, Bongos is definitely the place for you. However, if you are looking for a more quiet dining experience I would probably recommend going for lunch when the restaurant is not as crowded.

The Menu:
Bongo's extensive menu is probably what impressed me most with the restaurant. This menu literally has something for everyone, from steak and seafood to chicken and pork. Featuring traditional Cuban dishes, with their names presented in both English and Spanish, you may have to spend a while deciding what you want to order. In fact, this is the area where I usually describe the menu offerings but there are far too many for me to do so. Instead, you can see the full version of Bongo's menu here and I will highlight just some of the menu items that my sever described to me as among the restaurant's most popular.

When it comes to appetizers two of the standout items are the Fried Stuffed Potatoes ($7.00) that come breaded and filled with minced beef as well as the Stuffed Plantain Cups filled with either shrimp ($9.00), shredded beef ($8.00), or minced beef ($8.00). For those who may have trouble deciding on just one appetizer there is the Bongos Combo ($23.00) that is meant to serve two or more and includes fried stuffed potatoes, pork tamale, fried pork bites, ham croquettes, and stuffed plantain cups.

For meat selections my sever highly recommended the Cuban Style Skirt Steak ($25.00) which is marinated for several hours and comes served with green plantains, white rice, and black beans. Other popular offerings are the Marinated Fried Pork Bites ($17.00) topped with grilled onions and served with sweet plantains and moro rice, Lechon Asado ($18.00) which is a slow roasted pork leg served with sweet plantains and moro rice, and the Cuban Style Breaded Steak ($16.00) which comes deep fried and served with sweet plantains and moro rice. There is also "The Cuban Tour" ($30.00) for those who might be a little indecisive. This dish includes samplings of roast pork, shredded beef, and shredded chicken, served with green plantains, white rice, and black beans.

My server commented that the restaurant's seafood offerings are the ones that are slightly spicier than the meat offerings. Among these are Fish Criolla ($20.00) featuring fish bites sautéed in a Cuban criolla sauce served with white rice and sweet plantains, Shrimp with Garlic Sauce ($25.00) served with green plantains and white rice, and the Zarzuela de Mariscos ($35.00), which is a fresh seafood medley sautéed in a Cuban criolla sauce served with white rice and green plantains.

If you are looking for a lighter fare, Bongo's does feature several sandwiches for lunch (available from 11:00am until 4:00pm). These include a traditional Cuban Sandwich ($10.00) with roasted pork, ham, cheese, pickles, and mustard on Cuban bread as well as a Midnight Sandwich ($10.00) which is prepared the same way but on sweet bread.

For an appetizer we decided on the Fried Stuffed Potatoes. While you might think this would be a very filling appetizer, the mashed potatoes were surprisingly light and fluffy, not to mention that there is more of the meat than there is potato. The potatoes came lightly fried so that they were a perfect golden brown color.

Bongo's Fried Stuffed Potatoes

The minced Cuban criolla beef inside was not overly spicy, but did have a nice flavor that gave the dish a little kick. There were three of us and I felt that one of the fried potatoes per person was the perfect serving size starting the meal.

Bongo's Fried Stuffed Potatoes Inside

For an entrée we chose the Cuban Paella. The menu lists this offering as Market Price and, due to the nature of the dish, is served for two (or three). The price for two people was $75 and $100 for three, which may seem a little expensive, but you certainly get what you pay for in terms of both quantity and quality. The paella offers a little of everything, featuring lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, fish, squid, chicken and Spanish sausage. When the paella was served I was immediately struck by two things: the presentation and the massive portion size. The paella came topped with a whole lobster and while it was the serving size for two people it could have easily fed three or four.

Bongo's Paella

The paella came chock full of meat and seafood and had an incredible flavor. The preparation time for this dish is thirty minutes, which allows the rice to fully absorb the flavors of the seafood and meat as it is cooking. Even with so many different ingredients incorporated in the dish, I felt as though all their various flavors blended well together. While it was slightly spicy it was certainly not overwhelming. This is a very rich, heavy dish and, while we completely ate our fill, it seemed as though we barely put a dent in the dish.

In case the paella was not enough food unto itself, the dish came served with a side of green plantains. I had never had plantains before and the way they were prepared gave them a consistency, texture, and taste similar to French fries. The plantains came served round, flattened, and lightly fried. While plantains closely resemble bananas in appearance, I was informed by my server that in Cuban they are as common a side dish as a potato would be to us in the United States. The plantains came with a garlic-lime sauce, but this was far too strong for my taste.

Bongo's Plantains

Overall, this was an extremely flavorful and filling meal that showcased some of the authentic tastes, ingredients, and flavors of Cuba.

This was yet another aspect of Bongos that very much impressed me. Not being a restaurant owned by Disney I was not sure what type of service we would receive, but it certainly did not disappoint. With a menu featuring such a wide variety of offerings our server took plenty of time to explain some of the restaurant's most popular dishes as well as some of her personal favorites. She even went into detail about some of the various ingredients used in preparing the dishes as well as which of the offerings were more/less spicy. This was all very useful in helping us to decide which dishes we wanted to try.

Besides being very helpful with the menu, our server was also very personable. She was easy to strike up a conversation with and was just overall pleasant and in a good mood. This type of service also extended to the bartenders who prepared our drinks as we were waiting for our table and the hostesses who checked us in and brought us to our table. Overall, the service here is the same high quality that you would find at any other restaurant in Disney World.

Dining on a Budget:
While the paella is probably not something you would order if dining on a budget, Bongo's menu does feature more economical options. In fact, there are a good number of entrées under $20 and the portion sizes of the dishes I saw at every tables were very generous. Among these options are the Cuban Style Steak seasoned with garlic, salt, and topped with onions and parsley for $19.00, Marinated Fried Pork Bites for $17.00, Lechon Asado (slow roasted pork leg) for $18.00, the Cuban Style Breaded Steak for $16.00, Pollo Asado (slow roasted half chicken marinated in a lemon juice, garlic, and white wine) for $18.00, and Pollo a la Plancha (grilled chicken breast marinated in garlic and lemon topped with grilled onions) for $18.00. If you really want to save some money you definitely want to consider dining at Bongo's for lunch. Served from 11:00am until 4:00pm, the lunch menu includes several sandwiches that range in price from $8 to $12.

Bongos is on the Disney Dining Plan and is one table service credit for both lunch and dinner. The restaurant also participates in Tables in Wonderland, offering members a 20% discount.

The Overall Experience:
Bongos Cuban Café definitely exceeded my expectations. In the countless times I have been to Downtown Disney since Bongos opened in 1997 I had never dined there, but I can now say that it will certainly not take me as long before dining there a second time. One of the greatest allures of Bongos is its extensive menu. There are just so many options, and so many that sound very appetizing, that it makes you want to keep coming back in order to try something else. Its Cuban-inspired cuisine also makes Bongos unique among Disney restaurants, offering flavors and ingredients that cannot be found elsewhere in Disney World. In addition, its nighttime entertainment makes for a fun and exciting atmosphere in which to enjoy your meal. With its distinctively Latin feel, dining at Bongos will make you feel as if you have been transported to a Miami hotspot or even Havana itself. If you are like me and have fallen into the pattern of always dining at the same handful of restaurants whenever you visit Downtown Disney, Bongos is certainly worth a try. You will probably be pleasantly surprised.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of Bongos Cuban Cafe and post your own too!

May 25, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 1

Gary Cruise banner
May 20, 2013

This will be our second time on the repositioning cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver. We enjoyed the trip two years ago so much that we just had to repeat it.

If you have been following along on our personal web site you know that we just enjoyed a 5 night stay at the beautiful Candy Cane Inn and 5 days of almost non-stop fun at the Disneyland Resort. If you have just joined us on AllEars you can read about our Disneyland adventures by clicking on this link.

Carol booked an SUV to take us from the Candy Cane Inn to nearby San Pedro where we boarded the Disney Wonder. We shared the ride with Charlene and Brittney, a mother and daughter from Louisiana who Carol connected with online.

The limousine company Carol booked, So Cal Limousine Service, did not show up for the 10:00 a.m. pick-up time and didn't answer the phone when Carol called to ask where they were. After a half hour of waiting we spoke to James who has always taken great care of us at the Candy Cane Inn front desk. He tried to contact SoCal and they still didn't answer. Within five minutes he had a van from Grand Transportation booked. They arrived in under ten minutes and whisked us to the port. Thanks James . . . you're a lifesaver!

The boarding process went very smoothly. Our baggage went directly from the Grand Transportation van to the porter's cart and within seconds we entered the terminal building. The biggest delay was waiting for Carol as she snapped a few pictures.



There was a very short line in the terminal; we were issued our "Key to the World" cards within five minutes of stepping out of the van. We were in boarding group number 7 so we sat and relaxed in the terminal for about a half hour until our group was called and then walked directly aboard, entering the grand foyer at Deck 3 Mid Ship. What a treat to hear them announce our arrival and welcome the Cruise family aboard.



Lunch was being served in two locations, Parrot Cay on Deck 3 and Beach Blanket Buffet on Deck 9. We opted for Parrot Cay and were soon seated with a couple from Victoria, BC as well as a couple and a solo traveler, all three from the San Francisco area. Seems like everyone but us booked a cruise so they can enjoy a port adventure in their home town!

We had a nice chat with everyone over lunch and then set off to reacquaint ourselves with the ship. We strolled around Deck 9 and Deck 10 snapping a few pictures of the surrounding port area and some shots of provisions being loaded on the ship. Naturally Carol had to stop for an ice cream as we passed the self-serve station!


By 1:15 our stateroom was ready and our luggage had arrived so Carol unpacked and we were soon all settled in for the next week.



At 3:00 p.m. there was a "meet and greet" session in the Promenade Lounge for a Facebook group Carol had been involved in. We said hello to some new acquaintances and recognized quite a few faces from previous cruises.

Soon it was time for the mandatory life boat drill so we mustered at Animator's Palate with the rest of our group to hear safety instructions and review emergency procedures.

By 4:20 we were on Deck 10 watching the Adventures Away party. The cruise entertainment staff and several Disney characters put on a spirited show. It was a high energy song and dance spectacular which had me sweating, even though I was sitting in a deck chair.



The ship cast off just a few minutes after 5:00 and we sailed slowly out of the Port of Los Angeles. Along the way we passed the USS Iowa, a decommissioned battleship. It sure was a powerful looking vessel!

We elected early dining for this cruise so by 5:45 we were entering the Parrot Cay Restaurant to meet our servers and our tablemates. Our service team consists of Head Server Sedat from Turkey and Assistant Server Yukiko from Japan. They will follow us from dining room to dining room as we rotate around the ship for the rest of the cruise. At our table were nine passengers, Carol and I, three American couples and Donna, a surprise Disney Cruise Line Celebrity.

Donna is a fellow Canadian, from Brampton Ontario and is currently on her 49th Disney Cruise. She boarded the Wonder a few weeks ago in Miami, transited the Panama Canal, stayed on for this cruise and once we reach Vancouver she will stay aboard again and enjoy the Alaska Cruise the following week. By the time she is done the Alaska voyage in early June she will have completed 51 Disney cruises, with another 5 already booked for 2014.

During the Panama Canal crossing she celebrated her 365th night aboard a Disney ship and to celebrate the occasion Captain Thord and his senior crew surprised her with a party and a very special cake in the Cove Café. Tonight at dinner Donna enjoyed the last piece of that cake. Here is a picture of Donna and the beautifully hand crafted chocolate Donald which decorated the cake. It almost feels like we're dining with royalty!


After dinner we visited the Future Cruise desk where Tai from Australia booked our stateroom for the 2014 AllEars group cruise sailing May 10, 2014 on the Fantasy. Hooray . . . we're booked on another. It will be our 10th Disney cruise and we thought we were doing well until we met Donna!

Carol had a few minutes to spare before the evening show in the Walt Disney Theatre so she headed to the Mickey's Mates shop where she purchased a few pins and a vinylmation. By 8:30 we were seated for the show, "Let the Magic Begin". The final act in the show was Magic Dave who conscripted four children from the audience and put on a hilarious performance of magic and ad-lib comedy. It was a great time.

On our way back to our stateroom we spotted Frano in Triton's dining room. Frano was our server when Carol and I sailed the Panama Canal crossing with friends John & Cathy, Mike & Pam in 2011. Here is a gratuitous picture of Frano.


We headed to Wavebands at 10:30 for the Buckets N Boards percussion comedy show. They were hilarious . . . they played plastic barrels and buckets as drums, strummed on guitars and ukuleles, tap danced and sang classic country and bluegrass tunes such as, "If my nose was runnin' money, I'd blow it all on you." Very high-class stuff, and very funny!



We were back in our stateroom by 11:15, tired out after a long but very enjoyable day.

We are looking forward to a relaxing day at sea tomorrow, with a brunch booked at Palo. It's our favourite dining venue on the Wonder. We'll post some pictures from Palo tomorrow.

May 26, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 2

Gary Cruise banner
May 21, 2013

What a wonderful day at sea . . . it was everything we hoped for, and less! After all those days racing around the parks it was soooo nice to veg-out!

It was overcast and the ship was rocking noticeably when we woke at 6:30 a.m. I headed to Deck 9 to pick up coffee and was shocked by the wind when I opened the door near the coffee and soft drink station. The winds across the deck were about 45 miles per hour and they stayed all day.


Later in the day the skies cleared and the sun shone brightly but it never warmed up because of the high winds. The ship rolled through 15 - 18 foot waves all day.


Room service arrived at 7:30 with more coffee, juice and a bagel. I had a very light breakfast - saving room for our 11:30 brunch at Palo.

We took advantage of some early morning quiet time to drop off some items in fish extenders for members of a Facebook group Carol was involved in. What's a fish extender you ask? In the ships hallways, beside each cabin door is an ornamental metal fish. It is actually a mail slot, whenever cast members or ship management need to leave a message, they put it in an envelope and stand it up in that metal fish, where it is obvious when you enter your room.

Years ago some imaginative cruisers started hanging small bags from the fish and leaving little gifts in the bags. Voila - the fish extender was born!


Cruisers who are part of a group can volunteer to be part of a fish extender gift exchange, leaving little gifts for others in the group and receiving gifts in your own extender. It's always fun to return to your cabin to see what has arrived; there are some very creative and imaginative gifts!

After weaving our way up and down the halls "feeding the fishes" we decided to look for a sheltered spot on Deck 9 to sit and enjoy some fresh air. Alas, there was nowhere to escape the strong winds so we sat indoors at the Outlook Café overlooking the Quiet Cove Pool. We occasionally waved at frantic people as the wind hurtled them past the windows. Carol sipped a latté while I read my book.

We left the Café by 11:00 and returned to our stateroom to dress for brunch. Palo is an upscale adult only dining venue at the rear of the ship on Deck 10. All meals aboard are included in the price you pay for your cruise but if you book a brunch or dinner at Palo you are charged a premium of $20.00 per person. It's a bargain.



The food is wonderful and the service is impeccable. We try to dine at Palo during each cruise.




Today our server was Felice from Italy and he took excellent care of us. Before we left we made sure the Felice would be our server when we return Saturday evening for dinner.


Our afternoon was also quite relaxing. We both enjoyed a nap, then took another wind-blown walk on Deck 9. Once again the winds forced us indoors, first in the Overlook Café and later in the Promenade Lounge where we chatted with a few acquaintances from the Facebook group.


It was formal night, so we changed for dinner and headed to the Atrium on Deck 3 where Mickey Mouse was posing for pictures from 5:15 to 5:45.


There was a long line but we made it just under the wire, had our picture taken and entered Triton's for dinner just five minutes after the appointed 5:45 dinner hour!


The evening show was The Golden Mickey's which we've seen several times, so we decided to skip it. Instead we headed to our stateroom, changed into casual clothes and made our way to the Buena Vista Theatre for the 8:00 showing of Wreck It Ralph. We had missed it in the theatres so we didn't want to pass up the chance to see it while we were here. It was cute and funny; not one of Disney's best, but a nice diversion for a few hours.

I was back in the stateroom by 10:00 p.m. but Carol had some shopping to do! She picked up a nice Disney Cruise Line charm for her Pandora bracelet.

We were both settled in the room by 10:30. Tomorrow we plan to be up bright and early so we can enjoy the view from the upper decks as we sail under the Golden Gate Bridge at about 6:30 a.m.

Then we will hail a cab and spend much of the day at the Walt Disney Family Museum.

May 27, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 3

Gary Cruise banner
May 22, 2013

Our plans to get up early and watch our approach to the Golden Gate Bridge didn't work out. The ship was rocking and rolling all night long and Carol didn't sleep well. Apparently the relentless drone of my snoring didn't lull her back to sleep. So this morning we were already under the bridge when Carol headed to our balcony at 6:30 and started taking pictures.


As we sailed past Pier 39 we could hear the barking of the sea lions over the rumble of the ships engines as we maneuvered into our slip at Pier 35.

We had a bite of breakfast at Beach Blanket Buffet and left the ship before 9:00 a.m. We strolled along the Embarcadero to Pier 39.



We wandered to the end of the pier for a close-up look at the sea lion colony which lives there. There were hundreds of them and they put on quite a performance.




After watching the playful creatures for almost a half hour we returned to the Embarcadero and hailed a cab to take us to the Presidio. We arrived there just a few minutes early and bought an annual membership. The membership allowed us to view the new exhibit honoring Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are. It was a special member's preview and this was the first day of the exhibit. So not only were we the newest members at the Walt Disney Family Museum, we were the first members to visit the sneak preview of the exhibit.




After a quick walk-through of the Sendak exhibit we returned to the main museum building and began exploring in earnest. This place is like Mecca for a Disney fan. The exhibits are arranged in galleries and each gallery represents a phase in the life of this amazing man. Our last trip through the exhibits, two years ago, was simply too rushed. Today we planned to take our time and enjoy every aspect of the displays.



The place is full of interactive displays, video clips, historic documents with detailed descriptions of their provenance and importance. We did our best to push every button, flip every switch and read every placard.



Since our last visit two years ago they have relaxed the "No Photographs" rule a bit. You may now take pictures anywhere in the museum, but flash photography is prohibited. It sure is nice to be able to take home permanent mementos of our visit.

One of the interesting displays involves sound synchronization. Visitors don headphones and a video clip, a short scene from Steamboat Willie, plays on a large monitor. The bottom of the monitor has a second display which prompts the guests to tap on drums, bang on a xylophone, crank a clicking noisemaker or pull a rope to make a cat yowl. These actions add the sound track to a cartoon, in much the same way animators used to do. Our effort resulted in some hilarious results which would have been left on the cutting room floor.


We had made it about half way through the museum by noon so we stopped for a quick bite in the café. Carol took a few minutes to pre-scout the gift shop . . . she wanted to devise a plan of attack for her visit later in the day!

We were back to the exhibits by 12:30 and continued our walk through the life of a truly amazing man. By 2:30 we had pushed all the buttons and flipped all the switches.





It was time to move on! Carol's pre-planning paid off; she was able to zip through the gift shop in record time and we were soon in a cab on our way to the cable car station. Along the way our driver took us down Lombard Street, that famous crooked street which appears in so many movies!


When we arrived at end of the cable car line, the turntable where they flip the cars around, there was a huge line of people waiting to board the cars. There was a homeless entrepreneur there, he handed us a guide map and explained that if we walked one block up the hill we could hop on the first cable car to come along. We said thanks and turned to leave - he demanded a tip - neither of us had anything but $20 bills so we declined. He followed across the street and finally Carol dug into her purse and gave him all the coin she had, about 76 cents. He was not happy as we carried on up the hill.

We arrived at the stop and joined the other dozen people he had sent to the same spot. After about 15 minutes a cable car arrived and took four people from our line. We waited another 15 minutes with no sign of a car. Then a Lincoln Town Car pulled up and offered a ride to Union Square for $5.00 per person. We jumped in. The driver dropped us off about a block from the Disney Store. We must have looked lost because suddenly a man with a map appeared. He pointed out where the Disney Store was and wanted a tip . . . we walked away, no tip this time. Carol remarked, "He looked just like the guy at the cable car station." I think they were probably identical cousins or something!

Carol did some shopping in the Disney Store and then we walked back to the Union Square end of the cable car line . . . once again there was a long line. We walked a block up the hill and were able to board the first car to come along. It arrived at the same time we did, no wait at all.



We were back aboard the ship just in time to freshen up for dinner. Our rotation took us back to Triton's for the second night in a row.

After dinner we took the laptop to the Outlook Café looking for a good internet connection . . . wireless internet service has been very spotty during this cruise. In fact, the service has been terrible. We could not get a connection in the Outlook Café so we headed to the Internet Café located beside the Promenade Lounge. We were finally able to get a better connection there, still very slow but at least it didn't keep cutting out.


We were back to the stateroom by 9:00 and settled in for the night. Tomorrow we meet at 9:15 for our tour of Sausalito and Alcatraz.

May 28, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 4

Gary Cruise banner
May 23, 2013

Carol slept much better while we were docked . . . the engines were shut down and the ship wasn't rocking. We were up at 7:00 and started the day slowly with coffee in the stateroom. By 8:00 we headed up to Beach Blanket Buffet for a light breakfast. Then it was time to meet for our tour.

We assembled in the Diversions Lounge on Deck 3 and at 9:15 the cruise staff led us off the ship to our waiting bus. It was about 60 degrees with sunny skies as the bus took us through San Francisco on our way to Sausalito. The tour guide pointed out highlights and points of interest as we passed and then we climbed the ramp and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and entered Marin County.


Wow, it's a big bridge! When it was built it was the world's longest suspension bridge. It has since been surpassed but it's still an engineering marvel. We stopped for a few minutes at a scenic outlook point on the north side of the bridge so everyone could snap some pictures from that perspective.


Then we were off again, heading to our morning destination, Sausalito. It's a pretty little town with a sheltered harbor on Richardson Bay and it seems to be a very exclusive suburb of San Francisco. The tour guide cracked a few jokes about Sausalito . . . apparently if you dial 911 a Porsche mechanic answers your call. Up there in Marin County BMW stands for Basic Marin Wheels.


The bus dropped us in the centre of town with an hour and a quarter to shop. I walked the shore and snapped a few pictures while Carol poked around in a few shops but after about 15 minutes we were both wishing we were on our way to Alcatraz. Sausalito was not a highlight for us!



By 11:45 we had boarded the bus again and were on our way to our second crossing of the bridge. We had another short tour of San Francisco on our way back to the pier where we boarded a ferry for our 1:30 ride across to Alcatraz. The ferry ride gave us a new perspective of the skyline and we snapped a few more photos.


After landing on the island we had a short presentation by a National Parks Guide who described the history of the island which first served as a fortress during the Civil War, then served as a military prison until the 1930's when it was transformed to a Maximum Security Federal Prison, finally closing in 1963.

After the presentation we began our upward trek. The road is a steep incline which switches back and forth several times as we climbed from the dock level to the cell block. It's equivalent to a 13 story rise between the two levels; as you ascend the rugged roadway you cross broken concrete and pavement. My new knees found it to be a challenging trek but we certainly enjoyed the tour once we arrived at the top.





It is a narrated walking tour. A headset directs you from point to point and the commentary, recorded by former guards and former inmates, describes prison life from both perspectives.





It was a fascinating afternoon, we both wished we had more time to walk the grounds and explore the gardens. Before the Civil War the island was a barren roosting area for shore birds. Over the intervening years a variety of non-indigenous plants have been introduced by soldiers, guards and prisoners. Portions of the island are now lush with colorful flowers.



We were back to the ship by 4:00 p.m. and sat soaking up some sun on Deck 9 until the ship pulled away from the dock at about 5:35. We watched the Golden Gate Bridge pass overhead from the aft overlook on Deck 7 and then rushed off for our 5:45 dinner at Animator's Palette.







Our servers, Sedat and Yukiko are doing a great job . . . we have good servers, amiable table-mates and, as always, the food is excellent.


After dinner Carol went down to the shops on Deck 4 to do some pin trading, I went back to the stateroom. It 8:15 we met outside the Walt Disney Theatre and enjoyed the comedy show of Michael Harrison.


He is a ventriloquist with a twist. He brings some unusual items to life, starting with a tennis ball, then a tennis racquet and later a simple face he draws on a page with a Sharpie pen. For his grand finale he finds a volunteer, a child from the audience, then converts them to a dummy and puts some hilarious words in their mouths. We roared with laughter!

After resting our aching ribs in the cabin for a few minutes we wandered down to the 10:30 show in the Wavebands Lounge on Deck 4. This time it was juggler Michael Holly. Like the earlier ventriloquist, the juggler was also a comic. His non-stop patter as he juggled once again kept us laughing insanely. At one point I was afraid Carol was going to pass out; she was laughing so hard that she didn't breathe for several minutes. Michael put a few twists in his juggling show too. Lots of performers eat the apple they are juggling, but Michael eats the apple while he juggles two 14 pound bowling balls along with it. Then he juggled the two bowling balls along with a peanut M & M's. Quite a difference in weight but he made it look effortless. Then he announced, while juggling, that he would eat the M & M. There was a very high risk factor since the M & M was the same color as one of the bowling balls. He managed to elude certain death and swallowed the right one! Another great show!

We wandered over to the Diversions Lounge, next to Wavebands, picked a few light snacks from the buffet and settled in at a table for a few minutes before heading off to bed. After just a few minutes some people from the Facebook group, Jamiee & Derek, Mimi & Vik all from Arizona, came in and joined us. We sat chatting until after midnight . . . way past our bed time! We tore ourselves away about 12:15 and headed off to bed.

Tomorrow will be another glorious day at sea. We have absolutely nothing to do and we want to be well rested for it!

May 29, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 5

Gary Cruise banner
May 24, 2013

We were confident we could sleep in this morning so Carol requested room service coffee at 7:30. Unfortunately Martin, who has delivered our coffee every morning at 7:00 a.m. didn't notice the change. We both awoke with his gentle rap on the door at 7:00. As always, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft a'gley. We leaped out of bed and had our coffee.

It was bright and sunny at 7:00 a.m. with 10 foot waves rolling. By the time we decided to head up to Beach Blanket Buffet for breakfast at 8:30 it had clouded over and skies remained overcast all day. It was a cool and dreary day at sea!

After breakfast we headed to the Outlook Café on Deck 10. I took the laptop and did some work on our trip report while Carol did some people watching. There were waves sloshing in the pool below us but the sun deck was empty. There were a few hearty swimmers and a steady procession of folks in and out of the hot tub, but no one stayed to bask, they all dried off and scurried away.

I almost finished preparing four days worth of trip report updates when the laptop battery ran down. I headed back to our stateroom and plugged it in to finish the last little bit and at 11:30 I headed down to the Internet Café on Deck 3. We have not been able to get a reliable connection in our stateroom this trip. Would you believe that there is nowhere in the Internet Café to plug in a laptop? Yup, it surprised me too. I dragged a table and chair from the Promenade Lounge over to a receptacle near the portholes across from the lounge and managed to get everything uploaded by noon. The folks back home must be getting frantic, some of them get quite cranky when I'm late with updates!


Shortly after noon we headed down to Parrot Cay and lined up for lunch. As we waited our dinner tablemates Loren and Linda, from California, came along and joined us. Our buddy Frano was assigning tables so he made sure we had a nice window seat looking out toward the Pacific. We had a nice leisurely lunch and a few laughs with Loren and Linda. As we were eating dessert Carol spotted a whale spouting and we were all able to turn in time to see it breach. Soon several more followed suit.

Carol dashed off to the Vista Spa where she enjoyed the Pamper Package and I took my book to the Outlook Café where I sat reading for over an hour. Soon the sandman was overpowering me so I headed back for a nap.

Carol arrived back, totally relaxed, at 3:30. She really enjoyed her spa time!

We headed to the Promenade Lounge for a trivia competition. We scored a respectable 21 out of 25 but the winner had 23.



It was a fun half hour and an interesting way to waste time until we had to dress for dinner.

Tonight's dinner was a brand new menu and this was the first night it was served. They cannot set off fireworks on the Alaska cruise so they will have a Pixar Pals Party rather than the traditional Pirates in the Caribbean Party. Tonight we sampled the new "Toy Story Dinner" menu and then dashed off to the Atrium to join the Pixar Party.


The Atrium was a madhouse. People were standing 10 or 12 rows deep and many adults had children sitting on their shoulders. The Pixar characters paraded down the staircase from the 4th floor into the 3rd floor atrium, danced in pairs near the Ariel statue in front of Triton's. Once their dance segment was over they walked into the audience and danced with the children while another Pixar pair took their place on stage.





It was so crowded and so chaotic that I went off to a corner and sat on a couch while the music rattled my grey matter. Carol fought the crowd long enough to get a few pictures, then we fled for the quiet of the Deck 4 foyer outside the Walt Disney Theatre. Carol traded a few pins while we tried to decide whether we wanted to see Michael Holly perform again.

We decided to skip the show so we headed to the stateroom, changed into our comfy clothes and went to the Promenade Deck to watch the sunset. It looked a few minutes earlier like a gap in the clouds might give us a peek at the setting sun but by the time we got to the Promenade the gap had closed - no sunset tonight! We stood out enjoying some fresh air until the chill drove us back inside.

We returned to the stateroom and Carol took advantage of a few minutes downtime to pack up one of our suitcases.

Soon we headed up to Deck 10 for the 10:15 fireworks show and dance party, the last one for a few months.




Tomorrow will be another laid-back at-sea day.

May 30, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 6

Gary Cruise banner
May 25, 2013

Today we were finally able to sleep in . . . and it was a bad thing! Carol screeched as her bleary eyes found the clock and read 8:00 a.m. We had to be at Parrot Cay for an 8:15 character breakfast. We leaped out of bed and hit the floor running.

We made it down to Deck 3 just in time to join the line waiting to enter the restaurant. As we gazed out the Deck 3 portholes we noticed that the skies were still very overcast but the seas had calmed down a great deal. There was just a slight roll, not more than a few feet. Winds had dropped off significantly during the night.

We had a pleasant breakfast with most of our dinner tablemates and the characters dropped by our table to pose for pictures. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Chip and Dale made sure to visit every table and took time to pose with adults and interact with the children.



After breakfast I picked up the computer and headed to the Internet Café to upload to our web site. Carol roamed around Deck 3 killing time until I was done. It was raining so we picked up coffee and headed to the Outlook Café where she kept an eye peeled for whales while I read my book.


At 12:15 we headed back to Parrot Cay for lunch. It was a seafood buffet and it was great. Unfortunately it was poor timing for us; we both ate sparingly because we are having dinner at Palo tonight.

It was a lazy afternoon; we had the showers we missed this morning, relaxed in the stateroom, kept our eyes open for whales and had a nice relaxing nap. I took my book to the Outlook Café and read for a while. When I returned at 5:00 p.m. Carol was all dressed for dinner so I quickly changed and we headed down to Deck 3 to get some character pictures.


Then it was time for our dinner at Palo. We were celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary three days early . . . and what a magnificent place to celebrate it. It is always a delightful dining experience. Felice was our server once again and he entertained us while providing exceptional service.



We savored our dinner until about 7:45 then headed back to our stateroom. Carol dashed off for some pin trading at Mickey's Mates. Soon she called to tell me that the mountains to the east of us were looking magnificent. We are approaching the Straight of Juan de Fuca and the setting sun, when it peeks through the odd patch of blue in the sky, is lighting up Washington's Olympic Mountains. I took my camera to the Promenade Deck but it was a bit too hazy to get good pictures. The setting sun looked great, but the mountain shots didn't capture the beauty I saw with the naked eye.

Carol returned from pin trading and we went down to the Promenade Deck once again to watch the sunset. After a few pictures there we decided to head up to Deck 9 and the balcony behind Beach Blanket Buffet. It was sheltered from the wind there and we got some glorious shots. The sun was setting behind the ship as we sailed into a cloud bank dropping a fine misty rain. The result was a glorious rainbow which reflected off the water. Then a brilliant red sunset lit up the western sky. Our only clear sunset on this cruise and it was spectacular.



After warming up in our stateroom for a few minutes we struck out to Wave Bands to see the 10:30 show by ventriloquist/comic Michael Harrison. His adult show was just as funny as the family show we saw a few nights ago.

We were back to our stateroom by 11:15 and sleep followed quickly. We have an early start tomorrow . . . we meet our tour group at 8:15. We're off to Victoria's Butchart Gardens for the day!

May 31, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 7

Gary Cruise banner
May 26, 2013

We were up bright and early this morning. We were nearing Victoria so we watched from the balcony for a while.



Temperatures were cool, skies were overcast and a constant drizzle was falling. By the time the room service coffee arrived at 7:00 a.m. I was already showered and ready to hit the road. We watched the ship dock in Victoria and at 7:30 we made our way to Deck 9 for breakfast at Beach Blanket Buffet.

Our excursion group met in Wave Bands at 8:15. The check-in process was efficient, as usual, and by 8:30 the Disney Port Adventures staff were leading us down the gangway to the waiting bus for our tour and tea at Butchart Gardens.

The bus driver/tour guide, Rolland, did an amazingly good job. We told us very informative and humorous tales about the city and its history. He related the origins of the Butchart family and how they came to develop their old and depleted limestone quarry into world famous gardens.

We debarked from the bus at 9:30 and began by exploring the sunken garden located in the former quarry. It is simply awesome.




When people think of Canada they think of ice and snow . . . but these gardens are located in a temperate rainforest. Everything is lush and green. I'll let the pictures do the talking!








We moved on past the Ross Fountain and toured the rose garden. Very few roses were in bloom this early in the season, but in a month it will be glorious.











Our tea was scheduled for 10:45 so we ran out of touring time much too soon. We had to bypass the Japanese and Italian Gardens. The tea was excellent, a nice variety of scones, sandwiches and sweets along with a pot of hot tea. It sure hit the spot after a few hours out in the cold drizzle.



We took a few more pictures as we approached the exit. A greenhouse beside the gift shop had a vivid display of orchids and begonias so we stopped for some shots of those specimens.





Naturally Carol had to detour through the gift shop and to my surprise, she came out empty handed. Wow!

We boarded our bus at 12:15 and only had to wait five minutes for the inevitable stragglers.

Rolland entertained us again on the way home, pointing out many points of interest and using amusing tales to put them all in historical perspective. All in all it was a terrific excursion - the gardens were breathtaking and Rolland brought the journey there and back to life with his enthusiastic stories. We tipped him generously; I hope everyone else did too!

We were back aboard by 1:30 and wandered the deck for a while enjoying a break in the showers. It was a real surprise, and a treat, to see the Disney Wonder flying our Canadian flag!


We admired the Victoria skyline and watched the boats and float planes navigate the harbor. There was even a floating bus, the Hippo!




We stopped at Beach Blanket Buffet for a light snack about 2:00 p.m. and then returned to the stateroom where Carol did some more packing. Alas, it all comes to an end for us tomorrow and our bags must be out in the hall for pick-up by 10:30 tonight.

Our last dinner was in Animator's Palate at 5:45. The servers put on a show, parading around the dining room waving flags of their native countries. For some strange reason our server, Sedat from Turkey, was waving the Canadian flag.

We said goodbye to our tablemates and exchanged e-mail addresses, then headed back to the stateroom to finish the last minute things and put our bags out in the hall.

I headed out for a last stroll around Deck 10, soaking in the scenery as we sailed up the Haro Straight past San Juan Island. The sun was setting over Vancouver Island.


Tomorrow we disembark in Vancouver and catch a noon flight to Toronto then drive 2 hours to our home in Kingston. If all goes well we should be able to pick up our dogs and be home by 10:00 p.m. tomorrow night.

This is the first time we have cruised on our own in about six years. Since then we have always sailed with friends or as part of a group. Before this cruise we had wondered what sort of group we would have at our table and how we would all get along. It worked out very well. There was always plenty of lively and interesting dinner conversation and we even met by chance for a few lunches.

We had a terrific time. Yes, I know what you're thinking, "But Gary, you didn't get to the pool or hot tub once during the trip." You are absolutely correct, the cruise would have been more enjoyable had the weather been a bit warmer but overall we had a wonderful time.

We hope you have enjoyed travelling along with us!

We'll sail again in October, aboard the Disney Fantasy on a 7 day Western Caribbean itinerary. Then in May 2014 we will take our 10th Disney cruise when join in the fun of the AllEars.net group cruise. To see more about that cruise follow this link.

Return to Blog Central

About May 2013

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in May 2013. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2013 is the previous archive.

June 2013 is the next archive.

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