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July 6, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Final Entry

Emerald Isle - day 8 - Erin Go Braugh & Slan

We have an 8:45 am Aer Lingus flight out of the Shannon Airport which is about 30 minute drive from Dromoland Castle. Breakfast is normally included on this final day, but because our departure is so early, they have provided a small continental breakfast for us in the lobby. And believe me" a cup of coffee was a must at 6:30 am when the van arrived.

Shannon isn't the most convenient airport to fly out of in terms of flexible schedules. We used frequent flyer miles which made it necessary to fly back to London to catch our British flight back to Seattle. However it also required us to spend one more night in London to get the first class seats on the non stop flight home.

After our 1 hour and ten minute flight back to Heathrow, we reclaimed our bags and went in search of our hotel.

The Hilton London Heathrow is conveniently located at terminal 4. If you land at a different terminal, no worries. The underground train system will get you there in no time and it's a free ride between terminals.

There is a very curious path from the terminal to the hotel" well more of a habitrail really. It's fully enclosed with no window and no doors except the beginning and the end of the tube and is about a 6 minute walk at a leisurely pace.

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Anyway, we checked into the hotel and settled in for our overnight stay. We considered riding the tube into the city, but decided instead to enjoy the amenities of the hotel and catch the finale of "Britains Got Talent". (loved Diversity - that awesome dance crew deserved it!)

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No windows" no doors... OH!

That reminds me! I forgot to tell you my one and only haunted encounter of the trip! Its not much really" not like anything flew across the room, or some dashing knight rode down the hallway. But since my husband is the worlds greatest skeptic, refuses to admit there is a possibility that ghosts may be hanging out watching us, and he wanted to prove his point so much he jokingly dressed up for the occasion and I caught it on film, its worth posting.

One of my bucket list items is to stay in a haunted castle so I was very excited to hear about the castle stay on the itinerary. But alas, when we arrived for the welcome reception at Dromoland the host told us a little history but did make it a point to say it was not haunted. (insert groan of disappointment here")

But" When we moved rooms and settled in 229, Chris and I were standing together in the middle of the room and the TV came on all by itself as if to welcome us to the room. I felt a cold chill and looked at Chris" he looked at me as if to see if I had grabbed the remote and quickly concealed it, but it was sitting across the room on the table and he had to concede, there was no way either of us could have turned it on without the other one seeing it.

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He could tell I was about to go into my "see?? Ghosts do exist" routine" so he immediately began thinking of all the ways that could have happened - scientifically of course. (insert Beci rolling eyes here") I quickly grabbed a camera and snapped a few photos" just in case. J

On our last night, as we were packing I brought up the fact that the tv hadn't done anything strange since the first incident, and he decided to dress for the occasion.

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Next he's going to tell me there is no Santa Clause, Tooth Fairy, or Mickey Mouse. Geezzzz"..


Erin Go Braugh

An Irish phrase that means "Ireland Forever" or "Long Live Ireland"

I think I mentioned at the beginning that honestly Ireland was not my first choice of itineraries. But it was my hubby's turn to pick this time and I gotta say" I am sure glad he did.

My initial thoughts was it would be all about beer and leprechauns, but you may have noticed I haven't really spoken much about the little shoe cobblers that are masters at their art". and a good practical joke! Honestly there was so much richness and depth in the land and its people that I put pots of gold and rainbows we think of so often in the back of my thoughts almost immediately.

This is a land that at one time had a strict code of hospitality to friends and strangers alike, ensuring that if someone needed a meal or a roof over their head for the night, someone was there to lend a hand and provide it. Without a doubt it has been passed down generation to generation as evidenced by the warmth of the Irish people we encountered along the way.

It's also fitting that Disney has chosen this itinerary to share with its guests as Jennae and Francesc reflect that same spirit. Not only are they great people to hang with and chat with but they are master story tellers and entertainers. They were frequently the cause of the uncontrollable laughter and made sure our trip was truly magical

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I hope you get a chance to experience this wonderful itinerary and if you do here are a few tips for you:

Think about extending your trip. My biggest regret is not spending more time in Dublin and I would have loved to have an extra day at Dromoland Castle to enjoy all of the amenities they have to offer. I would advise that you consider arriving a day or two early and/or leaving a day or day after the trip concludes.

Prepare for all kinds of weather. Try to pack light but keep in mind the weather can change so I suggest packing for rain and shine, just in case.

Check your airlines baggage rules before you pack. Keep in mind if you travel on more than one airline, there will be more than one set of rules.

Keep your pins in a safe place! Everyday of the journey you will be awarded a special pin that's themed for the day and only given to guests on a particular Adventure By Disney itinerary.

Prone to motion issues? Pack some over the counter motion sickness meds - Dramamine, Bonine etc. Or check with your doctor for advice. It will come in handy if needed on the boat ride, or if you are near the back of the coach during the twisty and curvy portions of the road trip.

Be prepared to tip your guides on the last night. That is always confusing since all other tips like bell staff, drivers, etc are included. The guidelines for the guides are $5 - $9 usd per guest, per guide, per day. So an 8 day adventure will range from $40-$72 per guest per guide. They will accept US dollars or the local currency. But if you aren't carrying cash your last opportunity to find a cash machine is on day 6 in Adare, so plan accordingly.

Get involved and get to know your fellow travelers as early in the trip as possible to maximize your fun. There are lots of crazy photo ops and group silliness to partake in and they make for magical memories after the return home. Oh! And make sure you have brushed up on your limerick skills!

40 million Americans can claim some level of Irish ancestry so check your family tree before you leave.. Tiffany & Tina knew they had family roots not too far from the beaten track of the tour, so one day they rented a car to see if they could find an old family farm and they were successful! This lead me to check into some of my family roots when I returned and sure enough! My father's family can be traced back to the Richardson, Lewis and Holland clans all in the Killarney and Cashel area. So for my family it's not all that far to Tipperary after all - and I wish I had known that before I left.

To test the theory of the lazy cow - before you leave pay attention to how many US cows are standing vs laying down in various fields. (I couldn't resist that one)

Lastly - for a touch of Ireland in your own home" open a Guinness and make scones.
All you need is: 3 cups all-purpose flour / 1 tablespoon baking powder / 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter - at room temp / ¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons sugar / 3 large eggs / 1/3 cup buttermilk / ½ cup raisins OR currants. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the flour ad baking powder - in separate bowl beat the butter until creamy and add ¼ cup sugar, beating until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time then add flour mixture and buttermilk. Sprinkle the raisins over dough and fold in. using an ice cream scoop place mounds of dough on sheet and sprinkle on remaining sugar. Bake for 20 minutes. (Don't forget to dawn the appropriate attire which may be easier after you down the Guinness" or two.)

My eyes have truly been opened to the beauty, lore and history of this breathtaking country. And to experience it with such a fantastic group of people makes it all that much better!

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Thank you all for making my first trip to Ireland a wonderful, fun, entertaining and magical experience!

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Erin Go Braugh and until the next trip" Slan!

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Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

July 5, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 12

Emerald Isle - day 7 - Ever-Moher (part 3 of 3)

Rathbaun Scones and Sheep Herding

One of the unique things about an Adventure by Disney is they look for opportunities to immerse the guests in the local culture, well beyond the common tourist traps. Today a visit to Rathbaun farm provided such an experience.

We exited the coach and were shown to a room filled with picnic tables with various baking goodies on them. Basically if we were going to have traditional scones" by gosh we would have to make them ourselves!

So we were divided into groups and given our way happening and trend setting attire: a blue plastic apron, rubber gloves and a hair net. (this will be all the rage" I'm telling ya!)

Luckily I snagged the "official photographer" role for our group and Chris was elected captain. (i.e.: the one who would be in most of the shots) - While Tiffany and Tina were the official supervisors making sure Chris got the recipe just right. (Which I will be sure to include in my summary of the trip!)

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Once the mixture was complete and the scones lovingly cut and placed on baking sheets numbered for our table, we were led outside to explore the grounds, meet the animals and view demonstrations of sheep herding and sheering.

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One very special corner of the farm had an enclosure for a miniature pony and her 12 week only baby. Everyone was immediately drawn to this little sweetheart.

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Soon the smell of freshly baked scones filled the air and we called back to the gathering place to enjoy the fruits.. err scones of our labor. Topped with clotted cream and/or jam".. YUMMY!

We were very lucky to get to know Tiffany and her mom Tina over the course of our trip. As a matter of fact, Tiffany was the America's Funniest Home Videos online winner. Her prize was a choice of several Adventures By Disney itineraries, but I am sure glad she choose ours.

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As the day began to wind down, we boarded the coach to head back to the hotel. They have a falconry school on property and Ruby was ready and waiting for her next batch of students. In the meantime, they were collecting money for a local charity and offering the chance to hold her for a donation. You know me" I can never resist a good charitable effort and combined with an opportunity to hold such a majestic creature? Sign me up!

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And Now it's Time to Say Slan

We returned to our room to get ahead of the task of packing and freshen up for our final dinner together being held at Dromoland Castle. The room was bathed in the early evening sun that still shines around 8 pm, as well as the sounds of the live music provided by a vocalist quietly playing a guitar. This provided a magical atmosphere for the evening.

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The farewell dinners are always something very special. It's a time to reflect on the trip and reminisce about the adventures you have had together.

But first.. there's food!

The castle kitchen provided a wonderful menu including fillet of beef or a fish main course, and a dessert featuring white chocolate with Irish whiskey and ginger ice cream. Dare I say it again".. YUMMY!

The fun thing was when they served each table, the plates were covered as they set the plate down, then lifted off simultaneously to create a very dramatic reveal.

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The food was fantastic, the company was outstanding, but unfortunately it also came with the task of saying goodbye to our new friends. The guides had worked very hard during the trip to document our journey and we all enjoyed watching a slide show to relive the past week's shenanigans. (That has to be Irish for "very good time" right?)

After the presentation concluded, Francesc was kind enough to trace our journey on the maps that were given to us at the beginning. That will serve as a wonderful keepsake of this one of a kind adventure.

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It was time to say a final goodbye, farewell and slan to our new friends. We called it a night to get ready for our early pick up so we can make our flight back to London and our return stateside.

Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

July 4, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 11

Emerald Isle - Day 7 - Ever-Moher (part 2 of 3)

On the Road to Monk's Pub

We climbed back on the coach en-route to our next important destination " Lunch.

Along the way we were treated to yet another natural wonder that Ireland has to offer. It's hard to explain but as we drove away from the cliffs, we saw the ocean as it snuggled up against the rocks and the greenery that we have become accustomed to over the past few days. And of course this pocket of the map has some fascinating random ruins as well.

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As the miles past behind us, the lush green began to give way to a more rugged and rocky terrain that seemed to provide the perfect environment for the resident wildlife.

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At points in the journey it almost seemed that you were transported to a alien planet with nothing but rocks covering the ground. Then just a few minutes and a couple of bends later, the green returned to the landscape.

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I love the picture of the cow enjoying the day. **Warning: Possible Irish lore approaching" ** (they really should have a sign for THAT!)

It may not be very apparent, but a cow standing is seemingly a rare site. It was pointed out to us early in the trip that for some reason, Irish cows are just not very high strung. Some even say they are lazy cause more often then not, you will find them lying around in the pasture. At first we laughed it off, but as we passed pasture after pasture and field after field, cows were hanging out enjoying the sun with their legs comfortably tucked underneath them. Personally I think it's the fact they are pretty smart and figured out a way to tap into the Guinness reserves. Now that's a happy cow!

A curious thing happened on the way to lunch. The road does tend to narrow a bit in this area and when two tour busses meet at a narrow patch, a fun little Irish gig on wheels ensues. A few times in reverse and forward again then repeat and the master bus wranglers manage to squeak past each other without a scratch! We waved at the people as they went by who seemed to enjoy the spectacle as much as we did.

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We arrived at our destination. Monk's Pub located along side the pier at Ballyvaughan. Reportedly its a fairly famous eatery in Ireland, known especially for is Seafood chowder.

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After lunch we spent a few minutes stretching our legs and walking out onto the pier to take in the scenery. There were a few vibrant purple jelly fish hanging out in the water enjoying the sun as we were.

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And in case you were wondering - what would happen if you decided to drive off the edge? Here is a nice illustration:

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To be continued......

Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

July 3, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 10

Emerald Isle - Day 7 - Ever-Moher (part 1 of 3)

Today's word" Slan. - Pronounced slawn - it is Irish for goodbye or farewell.

We have one full day left of this adventure and the first item on the agenda is one that I have eagerly been looking forward and dreading all at the same time" the majestic Cliffs of Moher.

But first thing is first - FOOD!

The morning started with a wonderful breakfast at the Earl of Thomond Restaurant located in the main building of the hotel. As with all of the other days, except the arrival day, the cost was included in the cost of the trip. They had a breakfast buffet with a variety of bread, fruit, cheese, and cereal available for your starter then you had the option of ordering your hot meal from the menu.

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After breakfast we headed out to the coach to begin our last day of touring.

Journey to" not off" the Cliffs of Moher

Ok... lets just get the icky part out of the way. The dread comes from this very strange and unexplainable fear of heights I have as it relates to someone (that isn't me") driving a vehicle along the edge of a cliff. That includes my parents, my husband, and of course random bus drivers. Ok.. maybe not totally unexplainable.. I'm thinking its likely due to a car accident back in high school that ended in a roll down an embankment caused by a driver I know today only as 'Highway to Hell' - and now I have a case of "I must control the steering wheel". But that's a story for another time.

Anyhoo".. knowing we were going to the edge of something, I packed my trusty i-pod so just in case I needed a distraction, I could slip into my podcast world and forget about the possible 200 ft drop outside the window.

But the luck of the Irish was truly with me this day. I was pleasantly surprised that the journey to the cliffs was mainly flat and provided extraordinarily scenery. Offering many more opportunities to enjoy my new favorite pastime" finding new and exciting random ruins!

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The coach slowly crept up a hill until it finally came to stop in a parking area. Looking around there didn't seem to be any buildings or other human markings you would normally see at a major tourist attraction. I was pleasantly surprised to learn the visitor's center is actually built into the hill side to avoid damaging the natural beauty that surrounds the area, yet still provide a place where folks can learn more about the cliffs, the wildlife and the history.

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We walked past the structure for now and made our way up the path to the edge of the cliffs that rise from 394 ft to as high as 720 feet in some spots above the Atlantic ocean. If you look closely at the steps you can see traces of the fossils in the stone.

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The morning greeted us with the infamous Ireland mist and the edge was windy enough that you could lean into it and it would support your weight. Even with the clouds, the view was stunning.

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Its comforting to know that danger can be communicated easily even without the benefit of an interpreter. These signs can be found dotted all around the area.

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In reality I think it's these people the sign folks are trying to get a strong message across to. It's a picture that is on display inside the visitor's center showing the wackiest of all tea parties, this side of Wonderland of course.

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If you look really closely you can not only tell that the wind was calm that day". either that or they made really good hat pins in those days. But you can see a faint line from the top of the left hand corner leading down. While it doesn't show up to well in this retake, it appears to be a pulley system to move things.. likely insane people" from one side to the other. With ancestors doing crazy stuff like that, no wonder we wear bike helmets and protective padding at every opportunity.

...to be continued.

Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

July 2, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 9

Emerald Isle - Day 6 - Ring around the Kenmare - Continued

Storming the Castle

As we pulled up to Dromoland Castle and saw several members of the castle staff standing in formation outside to greet us, it was obvious we were going to be staying in a place that is beyond extraordinary.

There is a lot of history here. They believe the first structures on property were built in the 15th or 16th century including a tower house. Over time there were as many as three different houses on the site occupied by local Gaelic families; the Obriens and the Mclnermys.

The castle is now owned by an American and has been turned into a luxury resort, spa and golf course. President George W. Bush stayed here in 2004 to attend the EU-US summit that was held at the castle.

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A reception was waiting for us when we arrived. Staff was on hand to serve us a beverage and provide an official welcome. We were escorted to the lobby to obtain our room keys, settle in and freshen up before dinner that night.

Chris and I had a short walk to our room and once we got in we discovered the first drawback of castle life.

Luckily we do have plumbing and running water" whew!

But unfortunately - No air-conditioning. And the position of the windows in the room faced a small courtyard that wasn't getting much air coming in naturally through the open windows. Those of you who know me have already had that "oh boy.. that's not good" thought flashing through your mind - for those who don't know me all that well, since I was a kid I seem to have a personal, built in space heater making any 80 degree day simply uncomfortable. A ceiling fan in the middle of winter is not uncommon.

I went to the front desk and asked about the possibility of moving rooms and I was very open to a paid upgrade if one was available. The gal at the front desk was more then accommodating and placed us in a room in one of the newer wings with a nice view of the main building.

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Not all rooms are alike, which is refreshing and unique. We loved the décor here in 229. The sitting area was a nice touch and the bathrooms were spacious featuring a double sink and separate bath and shower.

I also asked about the different room categories there and while there wasn't too much in terms of availability due to large wedding party checking in, she was kind enough to show me around. The most impressive I was able to see was room 501 in the main tower - and it has got to be a bell services nightmare.

There are no lifts in the tower and the only way to reach it is via a very narrow winding staircase, 3 floors up. It's quite a hike but once you get there it is very impressive. The only thing it was lacking was an abundance of windows which would have been needed on this very warm day. In that particular room you would get a a taste of how Rapunzel or Princess Fiona may have felt. I hope to go back someday during a little cooler time so I can try staying in the tower! I will be sure to bring a lot of tip money for the poor guy who carries the luggage up those steps.

I was told that usually the weather is not as nice as it has been the past few days, making air conditioning about as useful as an ice maker on a glacier. So if you visit just be prepared to ask for a fan if you are lucky enough to see the clear skies and warm weather we have been blessed with during this trip.

After we settled in, Chris and I walked around the grounds a bit to take in the beauty of the place. The ducks pretty much own the place. They get right of way as the golf carts roll through the grounds.

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Traditional Irish Night

Dinner and a show was on tap for the evening. We met in the lobby and boarded our coach for a 15 minute trip down the highway to the Corn Barn at Bunratty Castle. As we entered we were greeted by the 'Fear an T' (Irish for man of the house) and offered a welcome drink of Irish liqueur or Mead - or honey wine a favorite to the area.

The venue is cozy with large tables packed as close to each other as possible. Tip: if you think you might want to get up and move around during dinner, sit on the end. They served a four course meal including salad, choice of Irish stew, a veggie dish or salmon, boiled potatoes and apple pie for dessert.

Between courses and following dinner, Irish dancers and singers take the stage.

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After dinner we went back to the hotel to get some much needed rest to prepare for tomorrow and a visit to the great cliffs of Moher.

Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

July 1, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 8

Emerald Isle - Day 6 - Ring around the Kenmare

It was 6 am when the alarm went off telling me to get out of bed and get ready for the final moving day of the adventure. Our next home away from home is a real castle " and I cannot tell you how excited I am about that!

But first there is breakfast at the hotel and a long drive and a lot of things to experience in front of us.

I crown thee, King Puck

One thing I learned" the Irish love their livestock. And not just for their wool. As we traveled through the little town of Killorglin we learned about an annual ritual where they actually crown a goat, King Puck. No.. really.

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August 10th marks the beginning of a 3 day festival where a wild goat is crowned King Puck and is treated like royalty for the duration of the celebration that attracts up to 100,000 visitors. The festivities include music, drinking, a fair, a little more drinking, and dancing - with a side of drinking.

There are several theories about the origins but the tradition but one says it started back in the 1600s and its theorized that a goat alerted the town to the advancing military of pillager Oliver Cromwell. (never mind that Cromwell was likely never made it that far west". But that's not the point my friend. Pour those guys another Guinness!)

Surfing" In Ireland?

Really! Our first stop was Inch Beach. A 2 mile stretch of sand on the Dingle Peninsula where the tide can actually recede up to a mile out at low tide. The coach pulled up to a restaurant with a coffee bar so we grabbed a mocha and made our way out to beach.

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Adare

Just 10 miles from Limerick City, featuring thatched roof buildings and home to a major golf course, Adare is renowned as one of Irelands prettiest villages.

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We were on our own to explore a little and find a spot for lunch. There were many places to choose from and we ended up at a corner pub. They had a nice selection of sandwiches, fish and chips, etc. And those who prefer liquid lunch, they seem to be really well stocked with Guinness.

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Random Ruin Alert!

After some time exploring the picturesque town, we climbed back on board for the coach for the last leg of the drive to Dromoland Castle.

One of the great things about traveling on a coach is that you are free to let your eyes wander and take in the beauty of this land. I must say, it's astonishing to see the number of random ruins along the journey. Of course we have seen many historical structures on this trip and you would expect to see these as a tourist attraction, or off limits due to safety issues, etc.

But it's amazing to see these incredible pieces of history, many dating back before the US was a twinkle in anyone imagination, just standing there. In the middle of a field, next to a river, or even next to a modern house.

Some out on the horizon and others just yards off the main road. What happened in these structures? If walls could talk - what a tale they would tell huh? Here are a couple we spotted today.

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Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

June 30, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 7

Emerald Isle - Day 5 - Ring around the Kenmare

Have I got a word for you: Muckanaghederdauhaulia

I'm not kidding.. really. Say that ten times fast! (or even once")

It's the word for the day and is Irish for "Over the hill and the dale." And is the longest village name in Ireland.

And I have trouble with the names back home like - Snoqualmie or Stillaguamish. Yeesh..

Today we woke up to the first really overcast, cold and misty day we have encountered since the beginning of the trip. Up until now the sunny skies and mid to upper 70's temps had us lulled into a false sense of security that all the tales we heard about cold days and rainy weather was nothing more then Irish lore. For a while I had regrets about packing the heavier shirts and jacket but today has seemingly justified the action.

I must admit, I was feeling a little lazy today, so the weather offered the perfect excuse to sleep in a bit. However we did miss the optional serenity walk offered by the guides which by the sound of it would have been more then worth the loss of a little sleep.

We did manage to get ourselves up and to breakfast with plenty of time to make the meeting time in the lobby.

Kenmare Bay Eco-Cruise

We enjoyed a nice drive through the country to Kenmare Bay where we would board a small boat to experience an eco cruise around the bay.

On the lower of the two levels, was a covered seating area and small beverage bar serving up hot chocolate on this chilly day. The upper level was an open deck to take advantage of the view we did have through the fog and mist. Of course, take a bunch of adults on an adults trip (aka.. free of child supervision) and what do they do right after the introductory talk? Head right to the top deck rain for an hour of windblown fun!

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I think Francesc is doing his best reaction to the statement -"Oh My Gosh".. I'm on the SS Minnow?" or "Ice berg right ahead!" More likely he is holding on for dear life as the wind nearly knocking everyone around a bit.

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Of course there is a great pic of me doing my best South Park Kenny impression on the trip photo cd but since Photopass wont allow an immediate download, I will have to post it later when the CD arrives. Someone be sure to remind me ok? J

The Town of Kenmare
Back on dry land, we made our way to the small town of Kenmare which translates to 'Little Nest". With a population of just under 2000 the name is very appropriate.

The area was actually granted to an English scientist by good old rampage and pillager Oliver Cromwell, for the completion of mapping Ireland in 1656.

However, evidence of history going back to the bronze age (2200-500 BC) in the form of one of the largest Stone Circles in Ireland. These are believed to have been created for ritual and ceremonial purposes and were often oriented on lunar and solar events.

This circle is actually egg shaped and is comprised of 15 very heavy boulders with a seven ton capstone in the middle. Its suspected the center is a boulder dolmen, marking the grave of someone very important. So I have no idea why each couple decided they should try and move the dang thing. (With the encouragement of the guides of course!) No idea what could be unleashed around here - but I do love a good story.

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After giving up on the possibility of moving anything, we were set loose to explore the town and find lunch.

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The guides provided a few suggestions but it was made quite clear that one of the best opportunities for fish and chips on the entire itinerary could be found here in Kenmare. We were warned they do tend sell out, so several of us walked up the street in hopes of finding out just how good they are.

When we arrived we found the tiny shop was closed and there were many groans of disappointment. Chris was on a mission for the fish and chips and was not about to give up easily. He peered in the windows till he spotted a gal who indicted they would indeed be opening in about 15 minutes. (And the hungry peasants rejoiced!!)

We walked around the town window shopping a bit until we saw the door being propped open. The portions were very generous so Chris and I split a lunch serving and indeed they were terrific and reasonably priced as well.

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After lunch we explored the town and having a little time before the bus was set to depart. We stopped in a pub and enjoyed an Irish coffee which was conveniently poured in a to-go cup when we realized we didn't have much time before we needed to be back.

How Many Shades of Green are There?
The old song says there are only 40 but I think I passed that number and stopped counting days ago.

The drive back to Killarney was breathtaking. Beautiful, lush countryside and pockets of green everywhere you turn. Curiously placed stone walls set by families long long ago to mark their land and provide protected areas for their grazing sheep - and they still stand today.

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And even a hidden mickey " on its side". kinda.

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On the way the coach stopped at an overlook called 'Ladies View', named by the Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting on their visit to the area in 1861. And what do you see in forefront of that very majestic view?

Why.. ladies waiting of course! (on the men in their lives - no doubt) J

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Ok.. ok.. to be fair the guys had a chance to ham it up too!

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Upon returning to the hotel, we decided to relax a bit and spend some quality time together napping. (wow .. all that waiting must of really tired us out!)

Others in the group relaxed or attended a demonstration of Irish dance right there at the hotel.

Bags were set to be picked up in the morning as we will be headed to our final hotel. Is it really going on Day 6 already?

Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

June 29, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 6

Emerald Isle - day 4 - Cycle of Kings and Queens - Continued

Journey to Torc Waterfall

Many of the Adventures By Disney trips I have taken have incorporated an opportunity to get some exercise on two wheels and I am very happy to say Emerald Isle is one of them. Some of our best memories on the itineraries have been the hour or so spent on bikes pedaling around like 10 year olds.

After we left the Muckross house, the group was given the option explore the grounds or hop on a bike and journey the primarily flat route to the trail head leading to the Torc Waterfall.

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Francesc lead the group as we parked our bikes and started the short hike up the well maintained trail.

Have you ever been to the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest? If not, have you seen 'Twilight" - when they were showing the green forests near the Forks, WA area? Either way, I would think I was there if I didn't know for a fact I was in Ireland.

It was amazing to walk alongside a babbling brook with a canopy of green overhead to the waterfall. And of course we had to have a little fun with it!

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A hearty lunch at the Muckross Gardens Restaurant was included in today's itinerary. They had a private area reserved for us so when we made our way through the maze of choices at the cafeteria we had a spot ready and waiting for us. You could choose salads, sandwiches, fish & chips, sheppard's pie, roast beef, mashed potatoes. I'm telling ya. These people take food pretty seriously" Yummy!!

After lunch we were given some time to explore the grounds and gardens or wander the shops on our own before hopping back on our bus to explore the next ruin on the agenda.

Ross Castle - Courtesy of the O'Donoghue clan

Standing on the edge of the lake is Ross Castle. Built in the 1400's by the O'Donoghues' it changed ownership several times and was actually among the last to surrender to Oliver Cromwell's advances through the country.

The castle is surrounded by Irish lore including the legend that O'Donogue Mor leaped out of the window at the top of the castle and disappeared into the waters of the lake where he now sleeps. But every seven years, on the first morning of May, he rises from the water on his white horse and circles the lake. Anyone lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him is assured good fortune.

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Here is where we also hear the story of the Children of Lir. A sad story really but legends and lore do tend to have an abundance of that don't they? Basically its about the anger of a stepmother who was jealous of the love her husband had for his children from a previous marriage She took it upon herself to turn his children into swans and lie to him about the fate of his offspring. Eventually he learns of the plot and banishes her from his land. However the children must endure 900 years of paddling around until they hear the bell of a new god in their land. There are several endings to the story, but I like the one where thanks in part to St Patrick bringing a new faith to Ireland, the spell is broken and they lived happily ever after.

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After our visit to Ross castle, we were given the option to hop the bus, or take the 10 minute walk back to the hotel. We choose the faster route so I could get back and do a few things like catch up on email, blog a bit etc.

The afternoon and evening were free to explore the town that is right at the doorstep of the hotel. Lots of great pubs, shopping and eateries. Not to mention the temptation of a second visit to Murphy's for ice cream. Maybe I'll try Chocolate whiskey this time.

Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!


June 28, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 5

Emerald Isle - day 4 - Cycle of Kings and Queens

The official word of the day is coill, pronounced quill, which is Irish for forest. This is very fitting because the first item on the agenda is to explore the beauty of Ireland's first national park, Killarney National Park.

But we weren't going to pull up in any old tour bus. No. Disney had a nice surprise waiting for us. After breakfast in the hotel restaurant we walked across the street to our awaiting chariots.

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Each of the horse drawn jaunting cars could accommodate seven guests or so and featured a driver who doubled as a tour guide as we slowly traveled out of town and through the gates of the Killarney National Park. Along the way we were treated to the beautiful scenery of the park - lakes, trees, flowers, the green fields and even some random ruins, including an abbey dating back the mid 1400s.

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Muckross House

As the end of the trail stands the Muckcross house. Built in 1843, the 65 room Tudor style mansion played host to Queen Victoria, after 6 years of redecoration and improvements especially for her visit. (wouldn't it be nice to have that kind of advanced warning to prep for house guests?) It was purchased by an American in 1910 and given to his daughter Maud as a wedding present. When she died the family donated the house and surrounding estate to the Irish government who in turn passed the Bourn Vincent Memorial park act, and later creating the National park we see today. The interiors are stunning as many of the rooms have been restored to the original Victorian opulence. Lead glass chandeliers, beautifully carved woodwork and period art provide a glimpse into life in the 19th century.

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Traveling with a group has many advantages. You have a unique opportunity to meet some really great people and forge life long friendships. The guides take care of many of the little annoyances of travel so you can enjoy.

Case in point .. You want a really cool pic with all of your new friends on your camera and everyone else does too? The guides double as your own personal Photo Sherpa's! The really good ones can even take two pics at a time! Here's Jennae taking the pic above. (You go girl!)

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Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

June 27, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 4

Emerald Isle - Day 3 - Celtic Kingdoms - Continued

You just visited a 12th century castle, now what are you going to do?

Why, eat lunch of course!

We hopped back on the coach and traveled into the town of Cashel where we were free to scatter and find our own little slice of Irish foodie heaven.

Ok.. I must admit, my first thought when it came to this particular adventure itinerary was that I wasn't going for any real culinary experiences. I mean, when you think if Ireland you don't exactly think too far beyond potatoes and sheppard's pie. However, we have found the dining selections have been far beyond our expectations especially when you find a small local spot that really takes pride in its heritage and community. In Cashel, we found such a place.

As we pulled into town the guides pointed out a few of their favorite spots. They are very knowledgeable and will go out of their way to suggest a spot that will fit your taste and budget.

There were lots of options but several of us ended up at Henry's Fine Foods. It's a small storefront with plenty of seating in the back. They offer soup, sandwiches and very generous portions of fish and chips. Both Chris and I ordered the club sandwich which was terrific.

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Tip: Be sure to have a fair amount of euro handy by stopping at an ATM every once in a while. Many of the smaller shops do not accept credit cards. If you are not sure, be sure to ask before you order.

After lunch we had some time to wander through the shops and explore the area a bit.

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Even finding a map of the local area including a town specifically named for South Park fans. (ok only part of that is true)

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Killareny Plaza Hotel

We arrived in Killarney about an hour later and pulled right up to the front of our hotel. Our home for the next two nights is the Killarney Plaza Hotel right in the heart of town and within steps of shopping, pubs and Murphy's. (I'm getting to it Jennae.. I promise)

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We entered the lobby and our room keys were laid out on the center table and we received a very warm welcome from the town crier.

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The next stop was our room to settle in a bit and then head back down to the lobby for an optional meet meant for those of us with an overactive sweet tooth. (just one more paragraph and I will get to Murphy's.)

Being in the travel biz, I spend a lot of time in hotels, and I can say this one isn't exactly what I would expect for an upscale property. Its true that European standards and star ratings are much more generous then the US equivalent, but this particular hotel was more of a moderate then deluxe in terms of the room amenity quality.

It did offer some welcomed amenities like a flat screen tv, in-room tea maker, and a partial view of the Killarney National Park. But the mattresses were very hard and the bedding could definitely stand a heavenly bed upgrade. Maybe a pillow top, duvet and 600 count sheets would be a nice improvement.

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But on the flip side, you can't beat the location. This is a situation I have seen with other adventures in the past. Sometimes they will forgo a resort that might be considered more upscale for a primo location. And this one certainly fits the bill for convenience.

Ok.. Now on to Murphy's. Our guide Jennae had been talking about what was reported to be THE BEST ice cream spot in Ireland. And Chris and I were just curious enough to see if she could prove it. A group of us walked the block and a half to the small shop that features several unique choices including: Guinness (was there a question?), caramel/honeycomb, chocolate whisky truffle, and pink champagne. I tried the Baileys (yummm!) and Chris went with the chocolate whiskey.

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The schedule gave us a couple of hours off before dinner, so we returned to the hotel to unpack and relax a bit before the group dinner that night in the hotel.

After dinner, Chris and I called it an early night for some much needed rest to prepare for tomorrow and exploring Killarney National Park.

Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

June 26, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 3

Emerald Isle - Day 3 - Celtic Kingdoms

Its moving day and we are about to embark on a journey to the land of the Celtic Kingdoms. Today began with an early alarm and the reality of having to have the bags packed and ready for pick up by the hotel bell staff. One of the nice benefits of going on an Adventure By Disney is you do not have to lug your bags around. Luggage handling and tips for bell staff is included in the package so all we had to do is pack them up and have them ready by the door. The next time we'll see them is at our hotel in Killarney.

A little off topic here, but the moment we began talking about going to Killarney I got a song stuck on my head and as I write this my subconscious is signing along with such a fervor that I feel the need to mention it so it will happen to you as as well. (I like to share.)

Anyone heard of an old song "Christmas in Killarney"?
I remember it well from my youth. My dad loved many types of music from Billy Holiday to the Beatles.. and yes - even the Irish Rovers - who sang this little song about a traditional Irish Christmas. Thankfully in the age to the internet all you have to do is go to YouTube and type in "Irish Rovers Killarney" and you too can share so I'm not the only one humming it. Funny, I never really understood why my dad had such a love for these guys but I've learned a lot during this trip and now I think Im starting get it. More on that later.

Speaking of musical ties to the land we are roaming around - As a matter of fact is IS a long way to Tipperary - a town and county to the southwest of us - and we are about to hop on the bus and see just how long it truly is. Not sure where the musical tie is there? it's a famous WW1 British anthem that can also be found on YouTube.

But I digress.

We met in the lobby after another wonderful breakfast at the Exchange. Our guides confirmed the head and luggage count , we boarded the bus and were on our way.

When you travel abroad, you get a chance to experience things we take for granted in the US, simple things like what side to drive on, or what direction to look at when you cross the street. Watching street signs and other warnings becomes a game as you travel a cross a country on a bus and this time was no exception.

Today's tongue in cheek snippet is in honor of Star Wars weekend as I didn't realize there was any part of the planet where TIE fighters were actually prohibited. Or is it no more then 5 on any given day? Things that make you go - hmmmmmm

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A spot of tea anyone?

A great way to start the day is with a jolt of caffeine, or tea.. or really good hot chocolate.

About an hour and a half outside of the city of Dublin the bus pulled up to a nice little roadside hotel and we were lead to a café that served some yummy drinks and traditional scones. I couldn't decide between the call of chocolate and the need for caffeine so I went for the best of both worlds - a mocha!

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The Rock of Cashel

After another hour on the bus, listening to Jennae and Francesc weave tales of Irish lore, we began to climb up the side of a hill and turned a corner to get our first view of the Rock of Cashel.

Warning, the picture and most others just does not do it the true justice it deserves.

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The legendary origin of the site goes back to 432 AD. It's reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St Patrick and has been a center of royal and religious power.

When we first entered the main museum and visitors center we met a local expert who provided a tour of the interior of the vicars choral which featured beautiful tapestry and furnishings. From there she took us on a walking tour of the ruins and grounds.

The current buildings on the site date back to 12th and 13th centuries and its hard to explain but there is something truly magical there. You can really feel the energy and connect to the history as you explore the buildings and the surrounding grounds.

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The grounds are covered on three sides with graves with many marked with high crosses that look out over the valley below. These markers are exposed to the elements and are very hard to read.

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The beautiful scenery made the perfect backdrop to document the trip. Our guides were busy snapping pics of each couple including one of us.

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Built in 1127 by King Cormac, Cormac's Chapel is one of the oldest and best preserved structures. It is Romanesque in design and you can still see shapes and forms on the walls that at one time would have filled the chapel in color.

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The entrance has a strange form at the top of the door which looks more like a hippopotamus then anything. Al thought hippos aren't exactly running wild in Ireland.

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One of the most famous items on the site is St. Patrick's Cross. A concrete replica stands outside to mark the site where the Kings of Cashel and Munster were inaugurated. It is said that the cross has healing powers, particularly dental ailments, and if you are able to reach around the cross and touch your fingers, you will benefit from its powers. With encouragement from the guides the guys HAD to give it a try. But as I always say.. Adventures are always better with friends!

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The 12th century original is housed in the main visitor building and you can walk right up and have your picture taken next to the legend.

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Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

June 25, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 2

Emerald Isle - Day 2 - Life on the Liffey Continued

Dublin Castle

On the highest ground in the area, which is more of a slope overlooking the river, stands Dublin Castle. Evidence that a Viking fortress stood on the site dates back to the 930s and other archaeological finds suggests a wooden and stone castle was likely built around the time the Nomans came to town around 1169.

Over time various structures were added or rebuilt and the site has served as a prison, the seat of British power, a home for the dignitaries of the day, and even now plays host to European Unions Presidents, Heads of State as well as leaders of business and government. It is also a favorite among the Hollywood crowd appearing in numerous films including, Becoming Jane, The Medallion, and was the stand in as the Vatican in the pilot of Showtime's, The Tudors.

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Once inside our group was treated to a private tour of the State Apartments which are used for several government functions including the Presidential inauguration every seven years.

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The castle features several treasures including fabulous art and unique furniture including the throne built for the visit of King George IV in 1821 .

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One of the best conversation pieces was this 'courting couch'. This was a very useful piece of furniture in its day as the courting couple would sit at the opposite ends and an official chaperone or two could sit in the middle to ensure there was an appropriate amount of distance between the two. My how times have changed.

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It's Time for Liquid Lunch!!

We left the castle grounds and bus was waiting to take us to our next destination. Lunch!
But this wasn't just any café or pub along the way. We were heading to the Guinness Storehouse. Yes beer lovers, THAT Guinness.

In 1759 Arthur Guinness actually signed a 9000 year lease on the St James gate brewery for an annual rent of what would be equal to $72 usd today. (wonder how much of the brew was tapped before that negotiation, smart guy!)

The outside of the brick building looks like what one would expect for a former production facility then add in the herd of tourists that you would expect at a major attraction and you have a very busy place. It was bustling with people and I found it interesting that almost everyone we ran into in elevators, etc were Americans. (we love our beer!)

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The visitor's center is a modern marvel shaped in the form of a pint glass with escalators and glass everywhere you look. A men's chorus was performing in the ground floor atrium and the acoustics were perfect for carrying their tones through out the structure.

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We were lead to a private room where a buffet lunch was being served which of course included a pint of you guessed it... Guinness! They did provide other choices included pasta, chicken, fish salads, potatoes and dessert.

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After lunch we joined a Guinness tour guide who provided the history of the brewery as well as a walk through of the brewing process. We even had the privilege to see the backside of water!

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We also had an opportunity to get up close and personal with the various ingredients.

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After the tour we were given some time on our own to explore, so we decided to check out the 'Gravity Bar' on the 7th floor which offers a 360º view of the city of Dublin.

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We left Guiness and headed back to the hotel. The official events were over for the day leaving the group to scatter and explore on their own. However there were some optional activities for those who wanted to partake.

A tour of Trinity college which houses the "Book of Kells" which includes four Gospels of the New Testament transcribed by monks in the 6th though 9th centuries. Regarded as Irelands finest national treasure, it certainly is a masterwork of Western calligraphy.

This was an adults only adventure which offered another unique opportunity to attend a literary pub crawl that evening. We decided to return to the hotel and enjoy the resort amenities so we didn't not join in the fun, but the group who did said it was highly recommended!

The day will start early tomorrow as we need to pack and get ready for a road trip to our next destination. Killarney here we come!

Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!


June 24, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 2

Emerald Isle - Day 2 - Life on the Liffey

The theme for the day is - Life on the Liffey which means "an life" in Irish, is the river that runs right through the center of city of Dublin. Our first full day in Dublin showed all off the rich history of this city as well as a taste of what Dublin offers the modern world.

The morning began with breakfast in the Exchange Restaurant in the hotel. They had a nice selection of fruits, cheeses, meats and cereal from a well appointed buffet as well as offerings from a hot breakfast menu. I must admit, it takes a moment to get used to the European version of bacon as its not the regular strips we used to in the US but very good nonetheless. And they are very serious about their croissants- they are huge! Breakfast was included in our package so we just walked in at our leisure, provided our room number so they could check us off the list and show us to a table and we helped ourselves. After breakfast, we gathered all of the items needed for the day, camera, light jacket, backpack, etc and met the group in the lobby and boarded our bus to begin our day of touring.

Dublin is a beautiful city with lots of architectural eye candy around every corner.

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The Vikings Came to Town

Our first stop was Dublinia. A heritage center at the heart of the medieval part of the city that features interactive exhibits of what life was like when the Vikings raided the city in 820-830 and traces history up to the reign of King Henry the VIII's Reformation. Our private tour was hosted by a guide in period costume who provides lots of detail of what life was like in those days.

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We learned how people got through the everyday basics of life from feeding their families, to creating currency to how to deal criminals who required punishment. Some prisoners took it more seriously then others.

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But on a less serious note, they also offered the opportunity to dress up, sorta. Check out my knight in shining chainmail!

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Christ Church Cathedral

Just a few steps out the door of the exhibit and we found ourselves standing in front of the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral. Its one of Dublins oldest and most recognized landmarks that dates back to 1030 when it was founded by Sitriuc, King of the Dublin Norseman. The current shape dates back to 1186 when it was reconstructed. Sunday services were in full swing so we learned of its history from the local expert and admired the architecture from outside on the grounds. For fans of the Showtime series "The Tudors" the cathedral was used as the backdrop for the wedding of King Henry VIII to his most beloved third wife, Jane Seymour.

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Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!


June 23, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Part 1

Emerald Isle Day 1 Meeting the Clan

Today I woke up to the now familiar English buzz of the hotel wake up call. It's time to pack up and head to Heathrow airport to catch our flight to Dublin. Unfortunately ABD was unable to book our London to Dublin flights so we were left to our own devices. I must say I was a little surprised at the lack of direct flights that did not require waking up at the crack of dawn to get to Dublin while meeting the required arrival time... and even more so from Shannon which will be our return point after the adventure ends. Of course there are the usual array of low cost airlines to Dublin which have very heavy restrictions on not only the bags you check, but the bags and weight you carry on as well. More on that in a bit.

Eventually we found a flight on Aer Lingus that would fit the timing needs and had booked it about 8 months before the trip. Word of warning" like many of the low cost airlines, you are nickel and dimed a a few times between buying your ticket and your flight. You pay additional to check bags, select seats, food and even beverages onboard. They also seem to have a love for changing your flight time and numbers and not proactively letting you know, so it's important to check and double check your itinerary online so you have access to the latest info. The reason I am tossing this out is I went in to our reservation record approx twice a week before we traveled and then 3 days before I noticed our flight number and departure time putting us in Dublin just 30 mins later then ABD requested as the latest arrival. Of course we just needed to notify them by way of the handy dandy emergency in route number and we were assured all was well.

TIP: Be sure to carry the information booklet with you in your hand carried luggage so you have the emergency contact info handy if needed.

The transfer company arrived at our hotel approx 3.5 hours before our flight giving us plenty of time to go through all of the airport red tape that comes with the check in process. We flew out of terminal one which is rumored to be the least busy and on this day it lived up to its reputation We had enough time grab a bite of lunch, stroll through some of the shops, and make our way to our gate. It's important to note that some of the processes may be a bit different the airports in the states. For example, some airlines will not have an assigned gate until just minutes before boarding however they do give you a range so you know the general area and you keep your eye on one of the many electronic displays to know when was has been posted.

TIP: Pay close attention to your surroundings in an unfamiliar airport before you estmate how much time you have to board your flight

Once we passed through security we entered into a large common area with shops and dining that have hallways that lead off to the different gate locations. These gates may be close, or in our case a 10 minute walk and another passport control check queue stood between us and the next passageway to the gate. Then I experienced the most interesting yet possibly ineffective process ever at an airport in terms of people control. It may be hard to follow without a map, but each gate has a series of sliding glass doors that can be pulled across when a plane lands so the passengers can get off the plane on to their next destination with relative ease since it directly connects to another glass enclosed walkway leading to baggage reclaim. Problem is, it also cuts off those waiting for another plane to move from gate to gate until the plane is empty. I found myself in an interesting dilemma when I was on one side of the walkway and the ladies room was on the other. If you really gotta go, it seems to take forever to unload a medium sized plane. I feel most sorry for those who want to take a quick restroom break just before they board their plane and when they come out, they find they are now cut off by the glass hallway and have that feeling they may not make it back to the gate before their own plane departs. Luckily that didn't end being me.

Aer Lingus takes the baggage thing very seriously. For checked bags you pay a fee and the bag is expected to be less than 44 pounds. Carry ons are restricted to the normal carry on size limits, but they also require them not to be over 13 pounds. If you carry a laptop and other necessities, you can hit that limit quite quickly.

TIP: Many of the hotels provide generously sized scales in the bathrooms. While many of us cringe at the thought of getting on one, they make handy tools for weighing luggage.

As you queue up to board, there are gates agents who comb the crowd looking for violators of the size and or weight rules and if anything is in question, they quickly grab it from you and ask you to follow then while they tag it and make it ready for the cargo hold. Once you are at that point, there is no discussion" they hand you the tag and you return to your spot in line feeling like a scolded puppy. Again" we managed to escape that fate but it made for interesting people watching while we waited to board.

Bad news part two" Apparently the airline had experienced several delays that day so the plane boarded about 45 minutes late. Once onboard the aircraft, we made our way to our seats in row 13 which luckily were exit row seats offering a little extra legroom. Unlike the US airlines, they would not allow us to put anything under the seat in front of us in this row, so they actually post a flight attendant there to guard the overhead bins for those in the exit row. Once seated, we were settled in for our 1 hour flight to Dublin.

It was a little rough crossing the channel by air, so the fasten seatbelt sign was on most of the way. As we crossed over the coastline we began to see the rolling mountains and green fields of Ireland. We landed approx 1.5 hours later than the original plan and almost two hours after we cleared through passport control and found our way to our bags. We emerged into the main arrival area of the airport and immediately began looking for the familiar Adventures By Disney plaque with our name on it. Sadly" nothing.

We found a place to put everything down and Chris went through checking all the drivers with their signs just in case we had missed each other". But with no result. Having been on several of the AbD trips I knew this was certainly not the norm, so I called the emergency number which reached the call center in the states. They wanted to be sure we were in the right place, but at the time they asked several questions thinking there must be some mistake and we simply had to be in the wrong place. After a few minutes of assuring them we weren't in the terminal, we weren't at baggage claim, and we were indeed in the place we should be, they connected us to one of our guides, Jennae, who said she would contact the driver and try to connect us. Quite honestly I am not sure what the problem was" but the original driver left the airport and they sent out a new one at the speed of light to retrieve us.

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After an hour wait at the arrivals area, we were united with the transfer coach and on our way to our home for the next two nights" The Westin Dublin.

On day one of an Adventure By Disney they hold a welcome reception and dinner to make introductions and allow the group to get to know their traveling companions for the next few days. The party had already started by the time we arrived to the hotel, but Jennae was waiting at the door to greet us. With room key in hand she instructed bell services to get our bags to our room and offered us a few minutes to freshen up then she would escort us to meet the rest of the clan.

We checked into room 314. The room was small but standard for a European hotel.

It also had an energy savings feature that requires you to slide your key into a slot just inside the door which enables you to turn on lights and activate plugs. The room had a queen sized bed, bathroom with separate shower and tub, nice sized dressing and storage area as well as a comfy desk and sitting area. In-room coffee maker and mini bar was also available and always a plus for those of us who enjoy the convenience when stuck in the room working or if you are me and crave a coffee fix the moment you get out of bed.

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Westin Dublin

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We tossed some water on our faces, changed clothes and made our way down the lift to meet the group. We were escorted into a banquet room and introduced to the 22 other faces who would be our companions for the tour. This is an adults only tour, and the age range varied from middle aged couples to moms and daughters traveling together for some mum and kid bonding.

We were seated at one of the rounds of 8 and pointed into the directions of the buffet that had all kinds of selections. Salads, pasta, shrimp, beef, fish and some very yummy mashed potatoes. (we're in Ireland there HAS to be mashed spuds!) They also featured live entertainment in the form of a lovely lady playing a harp in the corner of the room. Unfortunately we missed the traditional ice breaking games and most of the harp performance due to the airport snag, but we did get "dessert! Lots of yummy sweetness to get things started on a sugar high!


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From the moment I met them, our guides were everything I have come to expect from a Disney cast member. Happy, smiling, warm and welcoming. Jennae & Francesc made sure everyone had everything they needed and the info we needed to feel right at home. They both have extensive experience at different departments in the Disney family ranging from WDW guest services to DCL to the entertainment group. It's so wonderful to chat with them both to learn about how their career paths and love for the guest experiences brought them to this wonderful adventure.

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After chatting in the lobby for a bit and realizing we all have mutual friends around the wonderful world of Disney, we retired to the room for the night to get settled and prepare for our first full day of exploring Dublin.

Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

June 22, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Pre-Adventure Day 3

London - Day Three

One more day of kings, queens and England before we work our way to the Emerald Isle. We started the day with a few items from the continental breakfast bar and yes, Starbucks coffee dispensers with to-go cups waiting by the door. Our guide arrived in his nicely decked out Land Rover made for touring and we set off for the 45 minute drive to Hampton Court.

Hampton Court Palace

In case you haven't been watching the Tudors, here is a little history for you. Originally a monastery, Hampton Court was purchased by Cardinal Wolsey and turned into one of his many palaces. It was later taken over by Henry VIII and expanded to be one of his favorite palaces (he owned more than 50). It was here that he went on his honeymoon (six times).

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The complex is huge and would take a couple of days to touch more then just the surface and explore each public area. We were able to take in many of the greatest hits including the Tudor kitchens, the great hall where the King held court, Wolseys quarters, and the gallery hall where it's said after Queen Catherine heard of her upcoming date with the executioner, she broke away from the guards and ran down the hall to the closed door of the Kings private chapel. She banged on the door, pleading for her life but the guards took her to the tower anyway. Many believe they have seen her ghost in that hallway, begging for her life. Bummer! I didn't see her. That would have made for a great blog!

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One of the exhibits for the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII at Hampton Court, shows a set of 10 tapestries that Henry commissioned displaying the story of Abraham. These are considered by many to be the most valuable set of tapestries in the world, and one of them has been moved to a separate room where a special projector is used to display the original colors of the tapestry onto the now very faded fabric. The difference is amazing. Once you see what the original colors were you can understand why people paid huge sums to have these works of art created for their halls. The threads were wrapped with fine gold and silver wire that would have reflected the light, and all the dies would have been vibrant originally. Now they appear, like most tapestries, to be maroon, rust brown, and grey.

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Windsor Castle

It was approaching lunch time so we decided to begin our trek for Windsor. We had lunch in the former home of the great architect Christopher Wren before embarking on our private walking tour of Windsor Castle.

The quaint town full of shops and pubs sits right outside the gates of the castle complex. We found it interesting to find an American embassy, errr strike, a McDonalds within a few yard of the main gate, but I guess eve a queen might have a craving for fries every now and then. We did find this cute little crooked house that I couldn't resist taking a photo of.

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Inside we were able to tour several rooms and see incredible art as well as view St George's Chapel that houses the final resting places of several kings and queens including Queen Mary 1 , King Henry VIII and his most beloved wife of the 6 - Queen Jane Seymour.

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Tip: Check a few days ahead to confirm you visit to Windsor Castle as it is a working residence for the queen and special events or state visits may cause you to change your plans. It's good to have a plan B ready just in case.

Tomorrow: It's a flight to Dublin and meeting up with our fellow adventurers!

Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

June 21, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Pre-Adventure Day 2

London - Day Two

The next morning we were out front of our hotel at 9:00 am to meet the guide we hired for the next two days. If you go to London and take a tour with anybody other than a Blue Badge guide, you're surely missing out. They are walking encyclopedias of all things having to do with the UK. The Blue Badge is "awarded by the Institute of Tourist Guiding, and is the highest guiding qualification in Britain. The training is detailed and comprehensive, the examinations rigorous and registration an achievement. It is possible that your guide has a university degree in guiding. These guides are highly suggested and were used during the London portion of the Adventures By Disney - Cities of Knights & Lights tour we took a few years ago.

Our guide, Russell, showed up right on time with one of the famous London black taxis to serve as our transport for the day, and we headed off for our first stop, Westminster Abby. When we arrived we learned that it was unexpectedly closed for the morning for a special service that hadn't been announced ahead of time. Our guide did some quick thinking, and suggested we do a quick walk around the local area. He gave us tons of information on everything in the area, including the history of Whitehall Palace. The structure used to occupy all of the ground currently along Whitehall Street, and was one of Henry VIII's many palaces. We also learned of the more recent history of many of the government buildings in the area, including 10 Downing Street (the residence of the Prime Minister- hence the ton of security in the pic below) and the War Department. Chris had loads of questions for him about World War II and Guy Fawkes and the Russell was just the guy to have around to answer them.

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Parliament

Once we finished our circle tour we were able to move up our visit to Parliament. This was a particular treat because the company we used to contract Russell to guide us was able to use their contacts to get us in the back door (literally). We went thru the metal detectors and thru a few doors and found ourselves just outside the House of Lords room where we watched the procession pass thru carrying the Queen's mace into the chambers. We then went up to the gallery where we were able to sit and watch the lords debate a number of issues of the day. From there we crossed over to the House of Commons side of the building and went into their chambers and watched them debate the matter of citizenship for members and families of the Brigade of Gurkhas .

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Parliament is not in fact a building, but rather a body. The building is correctly known as the Palace of Westminster. Although it looks like it was built at the same time as Westminster Abby, it was in fact only built in the 1800s and designed to look like the Abby across the street. Between the street and the new building is Westminster Hall, which survived the fire which destroyed most of the original palace back in 1834. Westminster Hall is notable for being the place where in 23 August 1305 William Wallace was accused, tried, and dragged outside to be executed for treason against a country of which he was not a citizen. Unfortunately for Wallace, small details like citizenship were not of concern to King Edward.

Other trials that took place in the Hall include King Charles I at the end of the English Civil War, Sir Thomas More, and Guy Fawkes ("Remember, remember the fifth of November; The gunpowder, treason and plot"), a Catholic mercenary from York who tried to blow up the parliament, most of the Aristocracy, and King James I all in one revolutionary moment. Fawkes was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, quartered, pressed, starched, etc. He leapt from the hangman's platform with the rope around his neck and broke his neck, avoiding the slow strangulation and disemboweling of his sentence. Smart guy.


Westminster Abby

By the time we finished with our parliamentary tour Westminster Abby had opened again. Unfortunately there are no pictures from within the Abby and to describe everything that is within would take weeks of writing and cost the lives of many digital trees. Suffice it to say that you can't turn around without stepping on the grave of somebody famous, or bumping into the tomb of a king. Elizabeth I is buried right on top of her half sister Mary and you can reach out and touch history right in front of you. A long list of other Kings and Queens ended their tours here as well. In Poets corner rest the tombs of a veritable who's who of English literature. If you ever visit here, plan to spend some time, and do a little research beforehand to so you don't miss anything in this vast structure.

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Lunch in a Pub

We left Westminster and headed for the Tower of London, but stopped first for lunch at the Lamb and Thistle pub. This is one of those great London finds hidden at the end of a no-cars lane. On the ground floor was a non-descript bar, but thru that and up a narrow stairway that I would never have found without our guide. It was another part of the pub where they also served a fantastic lunch - truly a hidden gem. After downing a plentiful serving of fish, chips, and mushy peas we continued on our way to the Tower.

Tower of London

The tower is still a working royal palace. It houses the crown jewels, and was used as a prison as late as during WWII. There is a common misconception that there were many executions at the tower, but in fact there were very few. Most of the people held at the tower who were executed were taken to the hill above the tower and executed in public. Only those of great privilege had the good fortune to be executed in private, within the walls of the tower. This includes two of Henry VIII's wives (Anne and Catherine) who were both escorted onto the grounds by way of traitors gate.

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Thanks to Showtime's series The Tudors, I managed to catch the Henry VIII bug and really wanted to immerse myself in the real places where history was made, and of course the day did not disappoint. The Tower of London and other noteworthy sites are celebrating the 500Th Anniversary of the Kings accession to the throne, and this location had a vast array or Henry's armor in the White Tower. This is one of the oldest buildings in the walls and is the location where they found the remains of the two murdered princes .

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After the Tower visit we returned to our hotel to relax a bit before another full day tomorrow outside of the city.

Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

June 20, 2009

Adventures by Disney - Emerald Isle - Pre-Adventure Day 1

MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken is back with another Adventure by Disney blog series.
To date she is a veteran of 4 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 50 cruises including 18 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney. Here is her blog on the Backstage Magic Adventure!

This time, she and her husband Chris travel to Ireland on "The Emerald Isle" Adventure.

This 7 night Adventures by Disney begins in Dublin before it crosses the Emerald Isle with stops in Killarney and Shannon. Experience the mirth and magic along the sweeping coastal cliffs, over the verdant rolling hills and among the ruins of ancient castles.

My Journey to the Emerald Isle

Even vacation planners need a vacation every now and then to recharge. I enjoy experiencing new destinations and all they have to offer. A few years ago I was able to try an Adventures By Disney trip and found it was just the right combination of structure and "me time" so I have gravitated towards them for my own R&R. This is my fourth ABD trip and my husband Chris was the deciding factor on where to go this time - The Emerald Isle. Most likely for the Guinness, but I'm sure there must be other reasons for the choice and I'm looking forward to seeing all Ireland has to offer.

Of course you can't fly half way round the globe without a stop in one of my favorite cities - London. So twist my arm, we decided to go three days early in hopes of easing the pain of flying eight time zones East.

Flight Dynamics

Friends have said that flying to London isn't too bad when they're leaving from New York or Washington DC, but from Seattle it takes slightly over nine hours, and packing into a tiny seat with no leg room is not the most relaxing way to travel. So to increase the odds of showing up refreshed and ready to go, we cashed in a chunk of frequent flyer miles and treated ourselves first class on British Airways. Nine hours in my own personal relaxation pod that is truly a wonder of multitasking design. The pod provides a seat that allows for a few feet of private space, features a pop up TV and the ability to seat two for dinner by way of a slide out table. When you are ready for a bit of rest, it converts to a lay flat bed and British provides comfy PJs and slippers to take home.

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After about an hour in the air, dinner was served. Not the peanuts and chips bags, but a nice selections of appetizers including a lobster salad and mushroom risotto, followed by beef, fish or chicken entrees. If you ever get a chance to fly international first class, take it. Even if you're just going to turn around and fly home, it's worth it because the flight experience becomes a destination in its own right. It's great to know you can actually use frequent flier miles for something useful, but the trick is to book as soon as the date is available

London - Day One

We arrived in London late Wednesday morning and after passport control and baggage reclaim, we were met by our driver who took us straight to our hotel. Knowing we only had a couple of days I looked for a hotel that was within walking distance to some of the spots I wanted to see. I found one located right around the corner from the front gates of Buckingham Palace. It was a very interesting boutique hotel called 41. You enter and are escorted by the staff up to the 5th floor of the hotel where you are seated at the check in desk and provided with a complementary drink of your choice while the staff checks you in and introduces you to the amenities in the lobby-common room-sitting area. By the time we had finished the check-in process and made it two doors down to our room, our luggage was waiting for us in our unique loft room.

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The room was like a small apartment with a sitting area, desk and fireplace on the first floor and a staircase leading to the bedroom and bathroom. The hotel offers a continental breakfast and honor bar during the day that turns into a 'raid the pantry' theme at night where they set out snacks and goodies to munch on before you retire for the night. Yummy!

They say the best way to beat jet lag is to get out and walk a bit for to exercise your legs while staying awake until the local bed time, so we headed out to do just that. First stop, of course, was just round the corner to Buckingham Palace. I'm never sure if it's more fun to watch the other people there or the limited action of the guards as they do their out and backs while tending to their duty until they are relieved. This time we lucked out as a small group of guards came out and marched in perfect order to the main gate where they each picked up what was obviously a very heavy music stand. Not quite the changing of the guard, but it was nice to see them doing some tidying up around the place. The Queen was in residence that day after all.

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From there we decided that we would stroll over and see the other neighborhood palace at Kensington, so we headed off across Hyde Park. A bit more than half way into what is an incredibly long city park is the Prince Albert Memorial. This incredible structure was put up by Queen Victoria when her husband, Prince Albert died. It's a beautiful memorial from a woman who was obviously devastated by the loss of her Prince and an interesting stepping stone on the way to Kensington Palace where Victoria grew up. She was very nearly a prisoner of her mother and step-father. Quite a fascinating and very true story - ya just can't make this stuff up!

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The palace was the home of many of the Kings and Queens of England, including King George III, the last King of America. Kensington was also the home of Princess Diana and the two princes before her death in 1997.

By the time we finished Kensington it was just past 9:00 AM pacific time, we had been up all night long, and we were really starting to really feel the jet lag. We decided to head over to Piccadilly Square to get some dinner so we joined the eastbound rush hour commute and crammed ourselves into a train full of people on their way home. Five stops later we were above ground and looking for some dinner. Piccadilly and the theater district are great fun and a highly suggested place to go for an evening.

TIP: The London Underground, or Tube, is a wonderful way to get around the city and seeing the sites for a very reasonable cost. Less time spent in the city traffic is more time to soak in the sites!

Missed an entry? Here's the link to the entire Emerald Isle Blog to date!

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About The Emerald Isle

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in the The Emerald Isle category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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