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February 26, 2017

The Big Red Boat

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Way back in the mists of time, in the long lost days of yore, before there was a Disney Cruise Line, avid Disney fans sailed with a cast of Disney characters on The Big Red Boat!

The Big Red Boat

Premier Cruise Lines, which operated the Big Red Boat, was formed in 1983 by two veterans in the cruise industry. These two men were mavericks who had a vision; they wanted to create a new niche market – Family Cruising. Until that time cruise ships had been opulent floating palaces catering to well-heeled older patrons who wanted a luxurious vacation experience. The two entrepreneurs behind Premier Cruise Lines thought that some of these patrons might like to bring children or grandchildren along with them and that was the niche market they were hoping to capture.

They raised more than a few eyebrows in the rather stodgy cruise industry when they bought the Oceanic and refurbished it in a “not-so-luxurious” fashion to accommodate the needs of cruising families.

At the same time the Walt Disney Corporation was looking for ways to add some variety to their theme park vacations. It wasn’t long before Premier and Disney signed an agreement and began jointly marketing Disney vacations with a “land and sea” option. When it was re-launched after refurbishment the Oceanic was christened by none other than Minnie Mouse!

Big Red Boat Ad 1990
Click on the image above to see a larger version

In 1985 Disney characters began appearing on the Big Red Boat; special Disney themed ship-board activities were offered for children and on-board entertainment was family oriented. The ship had a staff of more than 30 youth counselors on-board and programs for the children were divided by age group. They even had a special menu for children and provided free onboard babysitting. This approach to family cruising was an instant success!

Big Red Boat Ad 1992
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Disney fans just loved the idea of three or four days at sea followed by three or four days at the theme parks! By 1988 family cruising was so popular that two more ships, the Majestic and the Atlantic, joined the Premier Cruise Lines fleet. The hulls were painted bright red and all three were marketed as “The Big Red Boat”

Magic Kingdom Club Membership Guide 1993
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The three and four day cruises sailed from Port Canaveral and offered several different itineraries. Ports of call included Freeport, Nassau and Salt Cay, a small island just a few miles from Nassau.

Carol and I didn’t sail with Disney until 2007, but a few people have shared their experiences on the Big Red Boat with us.

Karen O. from Illinois told me, “We took a cruise in March 1992. My husband Rudy, son Greg and I boarded the Majestic in Port Canaveral. We really enjoyed the package that included a three day cruise followed by four days at Walt Disney World. One of the highlights was anchoring off of Abaco Island in the Bahamas. It's almost hard to say what was our favourite thing because everything was great. Of course we loved the food, the service, and the activities; but we especially loved the snorkeling. Our son Greg even got to swim with the dolphins. He was a year-round swim competitor, and at the time was eight years old. It was a very special trip and vacation for us.”

Greg and the Server

Greg at Abacos

Rob R. from Virginia described his experience for me; “My wife Kathy and I honeymooned on the Big Red Boat in September 1993. We boarded about 2:00 p.m. and sailed away from Port Canaveral at about 5:30. There was a Bon Voyage party on the main pool deck; we were all given streamers and confetti to throw, there was a live band playing and Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto were interacting with guests as we left port. That was the last time I remember seeing the characters on board but I'm sure they were around for later functions. The movie theater was showing Disney movies.”

“Our ports of call were Nassau and Freeport. At Nassau we could go to the straw market, take an excursion to Atlantis to go to the casino, take an excursion to Salt Cay, a nearby private island to snorkel or rest on net hammocks. Salt Cay was used in the opening credit shots for Gilligan's Island . . . that was neat. Kathy and I enjoyed the snorkeling and then walked around the straw market”

“In Freeport Kathy and I went parasailing. It was fantastic! Flying high above the crystal clear water was wonderful. From up that high, you could see the coral reef, some of the colourful fish and the ocean bottom. I wish I had taken a camera up with me to take pictures of how clear things were.”

Rob and Kathy must have sailed on one of the last of the Disney themed cruises since the deal between Premier and Disney ended in late 1993 and was not renewed. Disney reportedly had discussions with both Carnival and Royal Caribbean lines, hoping they could replace Premier, but neither seemed to be interested. On May 3, 1994 Disney announced that they would be starting their own cruise line.

Premier soon negotiated a deal with Warner Brothers and before long Bugs Bunny and many of the other Looney Tunes characters were interacting with vacationers on the Big Red Boats.

Looney Tunes Party Animals

It was during the Looney Tunes era that AllEars.net Photo Blogger Scott Thomas and his family sailed. “We sailed just after Disney had announced they were building their own ships and pulled out of the Big Red Boat. All the Looney Tunes characters were on the ship. The weather during our cruise was terrible, so bad that we didn’t go on a single excursion. The kid’s programs were very strange; they allowed our daughters, aged 6 and 9 at the time, to leave unescorted and roam the ship looking for us. We didn't like that at all; the girls found us each time but it certainly did not give us a good feeling!”

“The boat was old and small, everything seemed very cramped. The food and the service were okay. They only had one dining hall which I believe was the norm on ships back then, but nothing about the cruise was as well done as we have since experienced on Disney Cruise Line.”

Most of you know the rest of the story. In 1996 Disney purchased Gorda Cay and spent 25 million dollars transforming it into Castaway Cay. The Disney Magic began sailing July 30, 1998 and was joined by the Disney Wonder about a year later. The Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy followed in 2011 and 2012. Two new ships are now under construction and both should join the Disney fleet within 6 years.

As for Premier, they struggled after Disney pulled out. Their fleet was old and the smaller ships had a hard time meeting the needs of more demanding consumers. The company was bankrupt by September 2000 and almost all of their ships have since been sold for scrap.

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It’s a sad ending for Premier Cruise Lines, a company that helped incubate the Disney Cruise Line. There is no doubt in my mind that those 8 years when Disney fans sailed on the Big Red Boat gave the Imagineers a wonderful model to use when they began to design the ships, the children’s programs, the ship-board entertainment and the shore excursions that we all enjoy today.

How about you? Do you have any fond memories of the Big Red Boat?

February 20, 2017

The Castaway Cay 5-kilometer run ... and some unfinished business

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After several missed opportunities, the author took part in the Castaway Cay 5-kilometer run earlier this month.

Call it unfinished business.

Back in 2012, and again in 2015, I was registered to take part in the Castaway Cay five-kilometer run around Disney Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas. The Castaway Cay 5-k is sanctioned by runDisney and, as such, is a "real" race: You get a race number, support along the course and a medal when you cross the finish line. It's the only runDisney event that doesn't charge an entrance fee ... although one might argue that the cost of the cruise itself ends up making the race the most expensive on the planet.

In 2012, there was a hurricane lurking in the Carribean and the waters off Castaway were abnormally rough. It took the captain of our ship [the Disney Dream] several hours to dock the boat, forcing the race, as well as other off-ship activities, to be canceled.

In 2015, we were on the last leg of a trans-Atlantic voyage on the Disney Magic. I was registered to run and had spent about 45 minutes each day in the ship's gym going stride-for-stride with my wife Janet in preparation. But a nagging [and painful] hip injury, as well as the prospects of a sunny, hot and humid day, forced me make the prudent decision of not taking part.

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This wooden sign marks the starting line for the Castaway Cay 5-k.

Which brings us to our most recent DCL cruise, aboard the Disney Fantasy, earlier this month.

We boarded the massive ocean liner on Feb. 4 and I was the first person to sign up for the race. At 67, I also was among the oldest. Our friend Julian, a national-class race-walker back in the day in his native England, was the second to register. It turns out, there were more than 350 people who'd be toeing the starting line less than a week later.

The Fantasy left Port Canaveral at 4 p.m. on Saturday. With the race scheduled to be run on Friday, Feb. 10, Janet and I again made it a point to hit the treadmills almost every day of the cruise ... me to prep for the race; her to work off some of the delicious meals we enjoyed during the week.

Race day dawned windy and comfortable [not nearly as humid as previous visits]. At 8 a.m., I mistakenly went to the D Lounge for the registration; with so many people taking part, check-in was moved to the Walt Disney Theatre [clearly noted on my event ticket]. Although I was the first person to sign up, I was among the last to receive a race bib.

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A map of the Castaway Cay 5-k. The race starts and finishes near the bike rental shack. The out-and-back course features time on an airplane landing strip and a loop on a secluded trail.

After listening to about 20 minutes of corny jokes from well-meaning cast members, the ship was cleared by Bahamian officials. Julian and I and the rest of the participants began the long trek from Deck 4 of the ship, down the stairs to the gangway and then about a one-mile walk to the starting line, which is rather nondescript ... and narrow.

The start is located near the bike rental hut. There's a small wooden sign that says "5k start" and the official race clock was set up on a tripod to the right. Unlike other runDisney events, there are no fireworks, no loud music and no Disney characters milling about. Pretty much no-frills racing. It was simply "ready, set ... go!" and we were off.

It took about 30 seconds to reach the starting line, but by then, Julian had broken out into his arms-held-high, heel-toe-heel-toe race-walking gait. When I spoke to him about the race during the cruise, he said he was hoping to break 45 minutes. The way he started, I knew he'd do much better than that. As for me, the hip injury that had precluded my participation in the Castaway Cay 5k in 2015 had persisted through much of 2016. It wasn't until November that I began the long, arduous task of getting myself back into some kind of respectable shape.

My goal was to finish in around 40 minutes, using a combination of speed walking and jogging. My plan was to walk for seven minutes, run for three minutes, walk for seven, run three, etc., and then see how I felt over the last mile or so.

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Runners leave the start area and head out toward the main section of the course.

As you might expect, the Castaway out-and-back course is flat, but that's not to suggest it's easy. After leaving the start area, you wind your way out onto an abandoned - and sun-splashed - airplane landing strip. A few minutes later, you make a right turn onto a narrow, thickly-wooded loop. While the vegetation did keep the sun at bay, it also blocked most of the wind, which made it seem hotter than it actually was.

The loop takes you to the island's observation tower, where you bear left and head back toward the airstrip. There's a water stop at the end of the loop, which competitors end up passing four times during the event. Once out onto the airstrip, the sun felt noticeably stronger. A turnaround arrow is located at the end of the strip, near the adult beach area, which means you've reached the halfway point. During my trek toward the arrow, I spotted Julian - still looking strong - on his way back to the loop and we exchanged greetings.

By now, the field was beginning to thin out and those competitors near me seemed to be following a similar course of action ... walking, jogging, walking, shuffling ...

I exited the loop, made a left turn and decided to jog the rest of the way to the finish line in hopes of breaking 40 minutes.

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Runners hit the sun-splashed airstrip section of the course.

At the finish - 40:10 according to my watch - was a cast member handing out finisher's medals [actually, they're rubbery, not metallic]. I reunited with Julian, who finished in around 37 minutes, and we made our way back to the ship to meet up with our wives and enjoy breakfast before heading out to the island again for a day of relaxation.

It had been nine years since I last took part in a runDisney event ... the 2008 Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World. Although I have continued to lead an active lifestyle, I've had to clear a lot of medical hurdles along the way to keep going. Exactly one month after completing the Goofy Challenge, I had prostate cancer surgery. In the years that followed, I also had rotator cuff surgery and a procedure to relieve trigger finger ... not to mention that annoying hip injury.

So, although 3.1 miles pales in comparison to the 39.3 miles over two days needed to complete the Goofy Challenge, I was quite proud to have set a goal, trained to reach that goal, and then go out and achieve it.

Unfinished business no longer.

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A sight for sore eyes ... and legs ... is the simple finish line sign for the Castaway Cay 5-k run.

RELATED LINK:

** Kristin's Castaway 5K Just 11 weeks after Total Knee Replacement!

April 3, 2016

Disney Scrapbooking

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Carol loves to create scrapbooks filled with all of our special Disney memories . . . or does she?

Every time we take a Disney trip she picks up a blank scrapbook, a package or two of “scrapping accessories” and gathers every bit of paper she can find. By the time we get home she has brochures, maps, ticket stubs, colourful paper, Disney themed picture frames, bags of embellishments and many other little bits and pieces which will showcase our magnificent story.

All of this stuff is packed into a bag or a folder and then stored in a big plastic bin . . . waiting until she starts the scrapbook.

That’s where the problem arises . . . the starting! You see, scrapbooking moves up and down on Carol's priority list, but it never hits the top of the list!

We now have two big tote-bins full of those carefully saved memories. In those two bins are more than thirty bags and folders, possibly as many as fifty.

Bags and folders full of paper

I'm afraid that counting the "un-scrapped" trips wouldn't motivate her . . . she just cannot find the right time to start scrapping!

The last scrapbook she completed covered our Panama Canal cruise on the Disney Wonder in January 2011. My sweet scrapper is seriously behind and each year she loses more ground!

It has become a running joke with us, I tease her quite a bit about her “someday I’ll scrap” bags . . . but of course I dutifully pick up every bit of paper I can find . . . everything in duplicate in case she has to cut one of them up!

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The scrapbooks on the bottom shelf are all empty . . . waiting to be filled!

Yes, we’re both retired and we have all the time in the world, but the time for scrapping just never seems to be there. Other priorities seem to pop up!

Then, just a month or two ago, fate intervened. Our friend Carrie also loves Disney and she's a die-hard scrapper. She and Carol decided it was time for a weekend scrap-a-thon! On the appointed day Carrie loaded up her car, bright and early, and drove east for two hours. She pulled in at 9:30 and started unpacking her trunk.

Wow! This girl has a load of “stuff”! She brought a Cricut, a die cutter, boxes and bins full of paper, embellishments, knives, pens, adhesives and a partridge in a pear tree.

Cricut and Die cutter
Carrie's Cricut and Die Cutter

Embellishments
Embellishments

Paper stock

Tool carousel
A carousel full of tools

The scrap-a-ganza took place in Carol’s Disney room! We set up two tables . . . there wasn’t enough room . . . so we set up a few folding TV tables . . . still not enough. The materials overflowed, filling the coffee table, TV stand, couch, love-seat and a few chairs!

Then they spent an hour strategizing . . . I thought it was just another stall tactic, but they explained to me how important it is to get that first page “just right”!

By 10:30 Carrie and Carol were both in action . . . working on an April 2011 cruise on the Disney Wonder. The ship was re-positioning from Los Angeles to Vancouver and it remains one of our favourite cruises ever!

The empty books
The book on the left is filled with our Panama cruise pictures.
The middle book is waiting for the re-positioning cruise.
The book on the right will eventually showcase our Alaska cruise.

They had that first page pretty much finished when I called them for lunch, then they scurried off to get right back at it. They were determined; they were inspired!

The first page

I poked my head in a few times during the afternoon to see what was going on. I was astounded as I watched the Cricut work, moving the paper back and forth again and again as it cut out little letters on coloured paper. It’s an interesting piece of technology and it sure does a nice job!

A finished page

At one point I said, “Hey, what’s going on? Those are the same pictures you were working with two hours ago!” I was invited to leave!

They took a break for dinner then quickly re-immersed themselves . . . vicariously reliving our fabulous two-day stop in San Francisco. I watched some TV, then popped in to say goodnight at 11:00 p.m. The ladies laboured on into the wee small hours!

Sunday morning we all lingered over a pot of coffee and a few muffins, then Carrie and Carol dove in again! Victoria, British Columbia and Butchart Gardens were on the morning’s agenda and they couldn’t wait to get started! Carol loves flowers and she had plenty of great photos from our stop at that world famous destination!

Busy hands

By the time they broke for lunch the ladies had finished documenting our shore excursion on Vancouver Island and our ship was steaming toward the mainland!

The re-positioning cruise was at an end when the Disney Wonder reached the cruise terminal in Vancouver. Even though we were staying aboard to do a back-to-back cruise to Alaska we left the ship for a few hours and took a self-guided tour at Stanley Park. Not long after lunch the pictures from that excursion were framed, embellished and finding their way onto the pages!

Stanley Park

By 2:30 Sunday afternoon it was Fait Accompli . . . the scrapbook was finished. Here are some sample pages; don’t you think they did a magnificent job?

Sample pages
(Click on the image to see a larger version)

It was a very productive weekend . . . but there are still plenty of trips left un-scrapbooked!

Will Carol find the motivation to finish them on her own . . . or will Carrie have to come back and crack her whip a few more times?

January 22, 2016

Star Wars Day at Sea Cruise

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By Guest Blogger Denise Preskitt


Nearly one year ago, Disney Cruise Line announced a new experience for 8 sailings this year on the Disney Fantasy: Star Wars Day at Sea. Held from January 9th through April 16th, 2016 on Western Caribbean cruises, many benefits were touted. Those benefits included character meet and greets, special food offerings, and celebrity insiders and autograph sessions.

This was never meant to be a full Star Wars cruise, which is one thing I have been asked quite a bit about. It was replacing one port stop on the itinerary. We booked the cruise immediately and sailed on the first one, January 9th.

Much of what was promised was a part of the experience. However, one thing that everyone seemed to be looking forward to was completely lacking: celebrity insiders and autograph sessions. Considering how well Disney has been able to add celebrities to Star Wars Weekends, it was quite a surprise that they couldn't find anybody for the first cruise (there was a new Imagineer, who couldn't answer many questions). That said, it was actually a fun day.

The Disney Fantasy was full for the first sailing, there was even a sign telling guests not to ask for upgrades because they'd not be available due to that. There was a large photo backdrop in the atrium, which was the first real sign of the cruise to come. This backdrop was there until almost the end of the cruise, so there was actually no need to have a photo in front of it right away. There was almost no other Star Wars décor the whole cruise – really, none.

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Two elements of the cruise did include Star Wars the entire time. Star Wars films were shown each day, including “Star Wars: A Force Awakens” (non-Star Wars films were shown as well).

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And Star Wars Day at Sea merchandise was available from the second day through most of the sailing – I believe it was put away the last night.

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When we boarded, we were told that there would be an interactive meet and greet and that we needed to choose – by Sunday – which one we were interested in by filling out paperwork in the room. The paper wasn't there, eventually the room steward came and was a little confused about what he was supposed to bring, but it was in one of his hands and we were able to figure it out. I think that should be smoother in future sailings. The meet and greet locations available to choose from were Bespin, Tatooine and the Dark Side. It seems that one is guaranteed, but everyone we knew was given two experiences.

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The next morning, Disney had a queue for guests who wanted to purchase Star Wars Day at Sea merchandise. This was the first full day at sea. We didn't wait in the queue, opting instead to go later in the day. Everything seemed to be there for the whole cruise. Prior to sailing, we had filled out an RSP form for merchandise – both of us chose the limited edition pin #1. Each sailing was to receive one special limited edition pin. However, the first pin never arrived. We were given pins for our trouble, and pins from later cruises were set out (and pin #1 will be shipped, maybe in spring). I'm not sure what will happen with Limited Edition pins for later cruises.

Fast forward to Star Wars Day at Sea.

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We had received our tickets for the meet and greets the previous evening. The way this was handled was very organized, as were the meets themselves. The Personal Navigator for the day included everything guests needed to know, and the app had almost everything. Star Wars music played throughout the hallways and atrium.

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While we had two meet and greets, a friend of ours also had one that his family chose not to attend with him. It did allow us to experience all three locations, although not all the characters.

Guests began congregating in the atrium at about 8:30 a.m., waiting for the walk-around characters. That started at about 9:00 a.m., as Stormtroopers and Tusken Raiders could be seen above. This was an 11 hour experience, with characters roaming until 8:00 p.m. It seemed to get less busy by mid afternoon.

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In addition to the official characters on board, there were many guests dressed head to toe in fantastic costumes. From Jabba the Hutt to Kylo Ren and so many other characters (including face masks and everything else), this was one of my favorite parts of the cruise. Kylo Ren was not meeting on board, but I could still get a picture of him thanks to a well costumed guest.

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We didn't make it to some of the offerings, like Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple and the Padawan Mind Challenge. There actually was quite a bit to do on board, and not enough time to do everything we had planned. (Editor's Note: I spoke with a family who had been on this same cruise. They said out of the 1500 kids on board only a small amount were able to be part of the Jedi Training because it was only offered on a limited basis. Let's hope that is a future change.)

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Outside, the Disney Fantasy was skirting the beautiful coastline of Cuba all day. From what I was told, it had to do with the weather being not optimum elsewhere. The cruise otherwise had quite a lot of rain, and we didn't make it to Castaway Cay due to weather. Seeing Cuba was one of my favorite parts of the day and of the cruise.

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Stormtroopers could be found out on the jogging deck (deck 4) and during “Pool Patrol”. Pool Patrol was shown as a few little blips in the schedule, but it was fun to see them at the pool area. Perhaps it wouldn't have been as fun if I was wanting to be in the pool, but it was a nice little addition to the day. Boba Fett occasionally would be above the crowd, taunting.

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The ship horn also played the Imperial March several times during the day, only on Star Wars Day at Sea.

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Counter service food items were available with a Star Wars theme. I'm not really sure what made the Death Star Pizza themed to the Death Star, but the Darth Vader Bantha Burger was similar to what you will find in the parks, black bun and all.

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On to the interactive meet and greets. These were meet and greets like you'd find at Disney's Hollywood Studios, where guests form an orderly line and meet a character. Each meet and greet alternated with 2 different characters. Darth Vader alternated with Captain Phasma at the Dark Side. Chewbacca and Boba Fett were at Bespin. And Tattoine included R2-D2 with C-3PO and Darth Maul.

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2 of 3 meet and greets we visited did not allow choosing of the character. While in line for Darth Vader and Captain Phasma, we wanted to meet the latter (since she was new), and the guest behind us did not know who she was and wanted to meet Darth Vader. In the Droid/Darth Maul location, they did allow anyone who wanted to wait for R2-D2 and C-3PO to do so. It'd be nice if this was always the case, especially since the meet and greets weren't that busy. Darth Maul was alone for a while, everyone could have met him and still continued to wait (and even if not, it was a very nice bonus to be able to choose). Our last meet and greet was in the morning on the next day.

Activities on board included a Star Wars Costume Celebration. This was enjoyable to watch, with a wide array of guest costumes. It was not a contest, as nobody won anything.

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Characters were still roaming the atrium on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors – but eventually the evening entertainment arrived, replacing Star Wars music. Country songs and other music filled the air while the characters walked about. It would have been good if there wasn't that break in continuity.


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Star Wars Day at Sea in many ways replaces the Pirate Night events. Fireworks and the late buffet are on Star Wars Day at Sea, not both. From what I understand, the Pirate Night menu was not available, but we were in Palo that evening. Some activities still go on, but much is moved to Star Wars night.

A special menu was offered for the evening, but the best part about it was the menu itself. Everyone at the table wanted one, even if we could have purchased it. The food itself was named after different characters, but there wasn't anything special when the items arrived at the table. My Qui-Gon's Crisp Chicken was sort of like a Shake and Bake meal. This was overall my least favorite Disney cruise over the years in food and service (the latter was remedied the last few nights).

Desserts included Calrissian Velvet Cake, which was a crunchy red velvet cake. I didn't finish it. There are numerous other choices as well, one guest at the table ordered a Mickey Bar instead.


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The last events of the day were the Summon the Force show, fireworks, and then the dinner buffet.

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The Summon the Force show featured mostly characters we'd seen during the day, and celebrated all the films. I have been asked many times about Disney characters in Star Wars costumes, and from what I understand, those aren't coming back. It is too bad, since that was my favorite part of Star Wars Weekends.

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The Summon the Force show included Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and many others. I recommend leaving dinner early if you are at the second seating to secure a spot. I arrived late, and did manage to snag an upper level spot right behind someone that left me with a tiny bit of photo room.

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The Summon the Force Fireworks were similar to Buccaneer Blast, but Star Wars themed. It is the only fireworks show at sea, and shouldn't be missed. There was also a dance party.

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If you've seen the Pirate late buffet, this wasn't too different. Items from the shops and refreshment stand, like BB-8 sippers, were used as decorations. If you are looking to buy a BB-8 sipper or Tie-Fighter popcorn bucket, it is much cheaper on board than in the parks. Watermelons at the buffet showcased Star Wars.

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The next morning, we met Chewbacca and that was the end of Star Wars Day at Sea. We did receive a “The Force is Strong with this Ship” window cling, but it disappeared the next day (it was thrown out) and we had to ask for another one.

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When the Disney Cruise Line announced the sailing, it said also that, “In the evening, adults entering the night club will feel like they stepped into the Mos Eisley cantina scene. Characters and cantina music set the mood as Star Wars-themed specialty cocktails are served.” I didn't see anything like that. There were two Star Wars themed drinks – one with alcohol and one without.

All in all, it was still a fun time. But there was a major disconnect with some of the announced offerings versus what materialized for the first cruise. Having Star Wars “celebrities and insiders” would not have only fulfilled what was announced, but it would have given great guest satisfaction. Some decorations would have been nice. It didn't feel like the event had been worked on for nearly a full year. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was shown quite a few times, including in the Walt Disney Theater (in place of the show that night). There was trivia and some activities for the kids. It wasn't that there wasn't anything to do, because the schedule was pretty full. But it isn't Star Wars Weekends, not nearly – so keep expectations at a minimum, and I hope Disney will pull a few tricks out of its hat for future cruises.


May 16, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 7

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Carol had ordered room service coffee for 7:00 a.m. so we were up and moving at 6:50. It was so calm and quiet that I thought we must be docked at Castaway Cay. Carol stepped out on the veranda and told me we were still at sea, sailing slowly. There was no sign of the Disney island from our verandah.

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By the time our coffee arrived at 7:10 we had spotted land and before we knew it the bridge had activated the thrusters to spin the ship around and back us into our berth. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable spinning something this big and backing it up.

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Backing_in

Backing_in

Carol left before we were moored, she was heading to D Lounge to meet with the early debarkation group. Those who have signed up for the 5K run/walk get off first and are escorted to the 5K course. I stayed behind and spent some time preparing and uploading the daily blog for AllEars.net.

Castaway_Cay

About 9:00 a.m. I headed up to Deck 11 and had breakfast at Cabanas, then wandered the ship taking a few more pictures. A sea gull photo-bombed me. Do you see the gull below?

Castaway_Cay

Before I knew it, it was 10:30, time to go ashore to meet Carol. As I stepped off the elevator on Deck 1, I met Brenda. She was heading out to connect with her husband Dave who also did the 5K. As Brenda and I made our way toward the tram we met Barrie. The three of us rode the tram to Serenity Bay.

Brenda_and_Daisy

The_Airstrip

Carol and Audrey were sitting with their toes in the Caribbean when we arrived. That's Fran and Carol out in the water.

Relaxing_on_the_shore

We sat along the shore, with the waves lapping at our feet as Carol told me about the 5K course she had walked in the heat and humidity. She walked with friends Nancy, Karen and Susan and they all gave each other some moral support as they did their best to cope with the heat. Carol has been walking at home as much as possible, trying to get ready for the Castaway Cay 5K. She takes our Shetland Sheepdog Blue for a fast paced circuit of 2 1/2 kilometers on the walking trails near our home. Blue will be very proud of his Mommy!

At 11:30 we made our way over to Cookies II where our AllEars.net cruisers were meeting for lunch. There was a good turnout and we had a nice meal. The only downside was the downpour that happened just after Carol and I went through the line and picked up our lunch.

Line_for_lunch

We were thankful to be seated under and umbrella when the skies opened up . . . even then we got wet, but not nearly as wet as those standing out in the open. It rained hard for about 10 minutes and then the rain cloud passed.

Janice_and_Randy

Carol heard the tram approach at about 12:45 and we dashed off to catch it for a return trip to the Fantasy. Naturally Carol had to stop and take pictures of all the flowers along the way!

Flowers

Flowers

Flowers

Of course we had to stop at Mount Rustmore.

Mount_Rustmore

The_Fantasy

Just before we boarded we snapped a picture of Carol with her new 5K bling as she stood at a scenic spot with the Disney Fantasy in the background!

Bling

Then we spotted Olaf, he was appearing at the Post Office.

Olaf

We were back aboard at 1:15, still hot and sticky. We changed into our bathing suits and headed to Deck 11 for a soak in the adult pool in front of the Cove Café. The water was quite warm, in the mid to high 80's, but when we got out the breeze felt nice and cool. Carol was smiling as she showed me her goose bumps!

We headed back to our Stateroom shortly after 2:00 p.m. I napped while Carol did some more packing. By 3:45 we had showered and made our way to Shutters to finish selecting our pictures. We quickly settled on the 10 images we wanted to purchase, paid for them and Carol took them to the stateroom.

When she came back to the atrium we noticed a lot of blue shirts . . . that means characters are coming! I asked one of the blue shirts what was going on. He said, "It's the Farewell Party, all of the characters are coming in about 5 minutes." Carol had mentioned earlier in the day that we had no pictures with Pluto or Daisy. I asked him, "Where will Pluto be?" He told me exactly where to stand and we were first in line when the characters appeared.

Pluto

Pluto

Then we found Daisy.

Daisy

Daisy

Chip and Dale were an unexpected bonus!

Chip_and_Dale

Then it was time to head for D Lounge on Deck 4 for the AllEars Farewell Party. This was our last get-together, the wrap-up of our group cruise. We mingled and chatted over hors d'oeuvres and wine for a few minutes before the function was called to order.

AllEars_Farewell_Reception

Deb Wills had contributed an amazing table full of Disney paraphernalia as raffle prizes. Prizes were handed out for the Door Decorating Contest, the Trivia Challenge, the first to acquire a full set of AllEars Trading Cards, and a few other "spoof" awards. Then the raffle began. Those in our group received a raffle ticket for each and every meet they attended and those tickets were drawn randomly for prizes. As it turned out, there was a prize for everyone and everyone was a winner!

Prize_table

Carol was a big winner, she won a $100 Gift Card provided by our good friends at Mouse Fan Travel. The Grand Prize, also courtesy of Mouse Fan Travel was a there day stay at a Disney resort, including park hopper tickets and the dining plan.

I'd like to extend a big thank you, from Carol and I, to everyone who made this trip such a resounding success. Deb, Linda, Melanie and Barrie from the AllEars team took care of the social aspects of the trip.

Deb_and_Melanie

Mouse Fan Travel took care of all the travel arrangements and had four representatives onboard, Beci, Annette, Colleen and Sandy, who worked with Disney Cruise Line to ensure that out trip was filled with magic. Thanks to one and all!

The_Mouse_Fan_Travel_Team

The Farewell Party concluded at 5:45 and we all hustled off to Animator's Palate for our final dinner aboard the Fantasy. This was the night when we all drew characters on our placemats and then saw them come to life and dance later in the evening.

Animator's_Palate

Animator's_Palate

Animator's_Palate

The dining room is filled with some awesome technology. Not only do the paintings on the walls come to life from time to time, showing classic scenes from Disney movies. Then, all those sketches on our place mats come to life and dance, boogie and skate across the screens. The new generation of Animator's Palate is a unique experience. It's still amazing after the third time we've seen it!

After dinner we said our bittersweet farewells. We're ready to go home, we're missing our dogs . . . but it's tough to say goodbye to friends. Of course, we'll see many of them again at some other AllEars function.

Have you enjoyed traveling along with us? I hope so!

May 15, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 6

Gary Cruise banner

This morning we woke at 7:15. Cuba was visible through the haze on the western horizon and Haiti was just out of sight beyond the eastern horizon. I brought coffee back from Deck 11 and we enjoyed it on our veranda as we watched the Caribbean, and a few container ships, roll past. What a nice way to begin the day!

Container_ship

Deb Wills was hosting Cawfee Tawk at the Cove Café, It has become a tradition for AllEars cruisers to meet for coffee on "sea days". We stood and yakked for an hour and a quarter.

Cawfee_tawk

Cawfee_tawk

Carol and I, along with a few others, enjoyed looking through the wonderful "memory books" Deb and Linda brought along. One described their Adventures By Disney trip to Scotland last year and the other covered their beautiful wedding in Hawaii just a few months ago. It was a real treat to leaf through the photo journals and share such sweet memories with two wonderful women.

At 10:00 we headed aft on Deck 11 to Cabanas where Carol had orange juice and a light snack while I had breakfast.

Cabanas

Cabanas

Back at our cabin Carol changed into her bathing suit and struck out to Satellite Falls, I stayed behind to write and publish another day of the blog for AllEars.

I joined Carol on Deck 13 just before noon and we alternated dunking and scorching for a few hours.

Satellite_Falls

Carol had lunch at Cabanas and brought me back a nice snack from Flo's V/8 Café. I ate at poolside.

By 2:00 p.m. we were both hot and tired; we headed home where I napped. Once Carol was cooled down she headed off shopping. She bought a new Dooney purse and checked our pictures at Shutters before she came home to do her final preparations for the afternoon Pin Trading session.

We left at 3:15 and headed to The Tube on Deck 4 Aft. Deb Wills had provided about 100 pins and Carol was running the trading board for the hour long event.

Barrie_directs_traffic

All the pins were displayed on a cork board and traders lined up for the opportunity to trade two pins.

The_Pin_board

There was an initial flurry of trading for the first 15 minutes, followed by sporadic trading for the rest of the hour.

Trading_pins

Trading those popular AllEars Trading Cards was the really popular activity.

Trading_cards

Tables full of cards were scattered throughout the lounge and traders wandered from table to table striking deals as they tried to complete their sets.

Trading_Cards

Trading_Cards

Trading_Cards

At about 4:45 we headed home to change for dinner. It was semi-formal night at Royal Court. I put on long pants for the occasion!

With_Goofy

Dinner was great, at least mine was. I ordered parmesan crusted chicken with fettuccini, Carol ordered lobster. Her lobster was OK . . . not great, just OK. I couldn't finish all of my chicken and she was quick to gobble up the leftovers.

Royal_Court_dinner

Back in the stateroom after dinner we discovered some new towel art - the best one of this cruise!

Towel_art

I relaxed while Carol started to pack. Yes, unfortunately our adventure was drawing to a close. The following day we would be at Castaway Cay and the next day we would disembark and head home. Boo - Hiss!

At 9:15 we struck out for La Piazza on Deck 4 Aft; the AllEars cruisers were meeting for cocktails. There was plenty of chatter and laughter, I even saw a few AllEars Trading Cards change hands!

La_Piazza

La_Piazza

La_Piazza

La_Piazza

La_Piazza

La_Piazza

Shortly after 10:00 p.m. many of us made our way next door to The Tube where Buckets 'N Boards were scheduled to play at 10:30.

Buckets_'N_Boards

We had seen this pair a few times on previous cruises and were looking forward to their show. They didn't disappoint.

Tom_and_Margaret

This talented duo use various sizes of plastic buckets as drums, they tap dance, they sing, they play ukuleles, they play propane cylinders . . . and they do it all with a huge amount of energy and plenty of humor. It was hilarious!

Buckets_'N_Boards

Buckets_'N_Boards

Buckets_'N_Boards

Once again our ribs were sore as we headed to bed at 12:15.

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 5

Gary Cruise banner

We finally slept until our normal 7:00 a.m. Everything was peaceful and quiet; we were docked at Falmouth, Jamaica.

Carol went to Deck 11 and picked up coffee which we enjoyed on our veranda as we looked out over this scenic town on the north shore of the island.

Falmouth_Jamaica

As soon as the ship docks the crew scurries to start routine maintenance jobs. In the photo below you see a lifeboat lowered on its davits for maintenance while a worker hangs in a basket overhead spraying rust protection on susceptible areas.

Routine_maintenance

We had a nice breakfast at Cabanas and then strolled the upper decks snapping pictures of our surroundings. A Royal Caribbean ship, the Freedom of the Seas, arrived soon after we awoke, turned around in front of us and backed into the other side of the wharf.

Falmouth_Jamaica

The sun and humidity drove us indoors where we spent some time walking the halls completing our group trivia quiz. James, one of our fellow cruisers, developed a very challenging list of Disney Cruise Line trivia questions to help keep us busy all week!

Soon it was time to disembark so we headed to D Lounge on Deck 4 Midship. Our 11:15 departure group met there and we were led onshore right on time. It appears to be a brand new port area, everything is fresh and new, but of course it features the same jewelry shops seen in all other Caribbean ports!

The_port_at_Falmouth

After a short walk through the port area Carol, Nancy and I boarded our bus and began the short trip into the mountains to the Good Hope Estate.

The_bus_ride

A tour guide on the bus pointed out some of the highlights along the way, such as the school for tour guides and the water filtration plant!

Good_Hope

The Good Hope Estate is very picturesque and has an interesting history. The Great House was built in 1755 as a wedding gift for the 19-year old woman who was marrying the owner's son. The bride only lived 7 years and was buried inside the house. There are many activities at Good Hope, including zip lines, carriage rides, rafting, tubing, a playground for children and of course, the high tea we had signed up for.

Carriage_ride

Zip_line

We toured the property, dodging brief rain showers.

Flowers

Veranda

Drawing_room

Blue_room

Then Carol snapped pictures of some amazing long-tailed hummingbirds before we were seated for high tea.

Good_Hope_buildings

Sitting_for_tea

Having_tea

The service was good, but the food was disappointing; the scenery made up for any disappointment though. During the meal Carol kept darting outside to capture pictures of flowers and more hummingbirds.

Beautiful_vista

Hummingbird

Hummingbird

We caught a 2:00 p.m. shuttle bus back to the port where I spotted this unusual sign. Look very closely at that arrow!

Tours_this_way

Disney cruisers must be smarter than those on other cruise lines . . . Disney doesn't use this sort of sign to tell guests they're going the wrong way!

Back_at_the_port

I relaxed with a frosty Red Stripe beer while Nancy and Carol caroused the shops.

Red_Stripe

We were back aboard the ship at 2:45. After a hot and sticky time ashore in Jamaica, Satellite Falls sounded like the best place to be, so we dropped everything in our cabin and headed up for a relaxing soak! Aaaah!

At dinner the previous night, Brenda from Maryland dreamed up a great little fundraising idea to support Deb Wills' charity, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Brenda volunteered Melanie for hair-braiding. Those of us in the AllEars Cruise group were given the opportunity to contribute and Melanie would get one braid for every $5.00 contributed. We pretty quickly kicked in enough to buy 51 braids. Isn't that great team spirit? We were on Deck 11 at 3:30 p.m. as Melanie sat down in the chair to begin!

First_braids

After a few braids were completed we headed to our stateroom to cool off, it was a steamy day out! After a refreshing nap we headed back to Deck 11 and returned just in time to watch as the last few braids were completed. After 44 braids Melanie had run out of hair! The finished product look great and the process raised $300.00 . . . isn't Melanie a good sport?

Braiding_is_finished

Once the braiding was done, shortly after 5:00 p.m., Carol and I hurried back to our cabin to dress for dinner. We had been invited by Beci from Mouse Fan Travel to join her for dinner in the private dining area at Palo. The group included Beci and Annette, Deb and Linda, Janine and her mother Shirley, Colin and Richard, Dave and Brenda and Carol and I. There is just no better combination than good friends, good food and good drink. When this combination comes together in opulent surroundings such as Palo, magic sometimes happens. This was one of those magical times! Our server, Cindy from England, joined in the revelry with us and by the end of the evening we all had sore ribs - brought on by all the laughter.

Chocolate_Soufle

Panna_cota

What a wonderful time! Thanks to Beci for inviting us, and thanks to all for sharing so much laughter with us!

We tore ourselves away from Palo at 10:30 and decided to head to Deck 12 where the Pirate Night party was in full swing. We met Masayo and Gail and watched the stage show and fireworks with them, then stayed, leaning on the top rail as we watched the dance party below us on Deck 10.

Masayo_and_Gail

Deck_12

Captain_Jack_Sparrow

2014_May_Fireworks

It was 11:30 when we headed below deck to our stateroom. We turned our clocks ahead one hour, making it 12:30 a.m., and fell into bed!

May 14, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 4

Gary Cruise banner

It was a wasted day. A gloriously wasted day. This was exactly the kind of day we hope to have during a cruise!

For Carol and I, the cruise is not about the ports of call and the excursions. For us, it's all about the ship-board experience. It's about being pampered . . . it's all about the people we are cruising with. We enjoy cruising with friends or as part of a group. And we especially enjoy having the ship almost to ourselves when everyone else goes ashore in the ports. This was one of those very quiet days when everyone else was off enjoying some sort of shore adventure.

I awoke at 6:00 a.m. but Carol showed no inclination to get out of bed. I grabbed the camera and headed up to Decks 12 and 13 to take some pictures before other passengers began to stir.

Here's what I saw:

Adult_pool
The adult pool on Deck 11, in front of the Cove Café.

Small_Adult_pool
The small adult pool on Deck 12 above the Cove Café.

Satellite_Falls
Satellite Falls on Deck 13 Forward. Notice the shaded area full of deck chairs on the right. There are more deck chairs in full sunlight on the left.

Rain_clouds
There were very dark clouds on the northern horizon at 6:25, and two visible storm cells where it was raining heavily.

Aqua_Duck
This photo shows the area where the Aqua Duck water slide takes riders out beyond the ship's rails and over the ocean!

Donald_in_the_stack
Donald seems to have had a mishap beside the spot where the Aqua Duck passes through the forward stack.

Children's_slide
The children's slide beside the Mickey pool.

Family_pools
The family pools on Deck 11 with the Funnel Vision screen in the background.

Aqua_Lab
The Aqua Lab splash zone on Deck 12.

I moved indoors for a few minutes. Here is a sample of the decor in the main atrium at Midship.

Atrium_chandelier
The chandelier highlights the peacock theme.

Peacock_tail_feathers
The peacock theme continues with the spray of tail feathers at the bottom of the grand staircase.

Peacock_in_grille-work
Even the metal grille-work features peacocks!

Shutters
The photo studio, Shutters, is on Deck 4 Midship. There are a number of racks like the one pictured. The racks contain folders, one folder per cabin, and all photos taken by Disney photographers magically appear in the correct folder.

Running_track
Deck 4 is the promenade deck, with a walking/running track. Two and a half laps equals one mile!

It was almost 7:00 a.m. and I knew my princess would be stirring and looking for her coffee. I picked up some java on Deck 11 and headed back home. We savored coffee on our veranda and soon decided to head to Cabanas for breakfast. None of our playmates were there. We thought that was odd! It wasn't until later in the day that we were reminded - all of our friends from Tagrel.com had met for breakfast at The Royal Court. We were supposed to be there but we completely forgot! We're both very sorry Karen, chalk it up to a "senior's moment".

Heading_to_Grand_Cayman
Grand Cayman was a faint dark line on the horizon as we toured the upper decks, snapping photos on our way to Satellite Falls.

Carol_at_the_Rail

Grand_Cayman_on_the_horizon

I settled in a shaded chair at 9:15 and spent over 5 hours alternately soaking in Satellite Falls and relaxing with my book. Carol stayed a few minutes then headed off to Senses for her spa treatment.

Anchored_beside_us

Grand_Cayman

Grand_Cayman

We were anchored at Grand Cayman by 10:00 a.m. and it wasn't long before tenders arrived to shuttle passengers back and forth to the island. I continued to relax on Deck 13.

Tenders

Tender

Carol enjoyed the Bliss Treatment which lasted 75 minutes and included a Hot Stone Back Massage, a Foot and Ankle Massage, a Scalp Massage and a Hydrating Facial. She said the name was appropriate, it really was bliss!

Carol rejoined me at about 11:00; it wasn't long before Nancy, Pam and Susan arrived to remind us we missed breakfast. Dang!

We grazed around the food counters near the pools on Deck 11, chicken fingers and tuna wraps were the favorites!

It was close to 2:00 p.m. when we decided we had about all the heat we could stand. We stopped along the way for another plunge on the Aqua Duck. There was no line - absolutely no one in front of us.

Mulan_on_Tunnel_Vision

We marched straight up the stairs, flopped into our tubes and slipped and slid to our splash-downs on deck 12.

Aqua_Duck

Aqua_Duck

I had a nice snooze while Carol did some laundry. Before we knew it, it was time for dinner so we headed out in search of characters. There weren't many out and the lines were long so we settled for a picture of my princess on her throne.

Royalty

Dinner was once again in the Enchanted Garden, in the same booth seat we shared Saturday evening.

Enchanted_Garden

After dinner we headed back to the stateroom for a half hour, then went searching for some playmates to have a drink before the 10:30 show in The Tube Lounge. We encountered Donald Duck along the way!

Carol_and_Gary_with_Donald

Dave and Brenda, from Maryland, were not too far behind us in the line for a picture with Donald!

Dave_and_Brenda_with_Donald

On our way back to the Tube, Dave, Brenda, Carol and I bumped into Fran and Carol. We all headed to Skylines for a cocktail. When we arrived, there were Deb, Linda, James & Linda, so we joined them.

After a quick drink and a few laughs it was time to head to The Tube for the comedy and ventriloquism of Kevin Johnson. We have seen his show before . . . as we left I decided to be gracious and said to Carol, "He was OK but . . . " She said, "No he was not OK- it was bad!" She was right, it was a poor show.

We were back to our cabin by 11:30 and soon nodded off to sleep!

May 12, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 2

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Carol and I have found that we never sleep past 7:00 a.m. while we're cruising, so she always orders room service coffee for 7:00 a.m. It arrived on time, as always, and this time she included a few small pastries. We were booked for brunch at Palo and the pastries were intended to tide me over until noon. The strategy worked well, by noon I was ravenous!

I headed up to the Cove Café on Deck 11 at 7:45 for the AllEars.net Cawfee Tawk meet scheduled for 8:00; Carol followed about a half hour later. We stood, sipped coffee and yakked, renewing acquaintances, for over an hour. There were plenty of familiar faces from past cruises and some newcomers as well. It's really quite easy to mix and mingle when we all share a love of all things Disney.

The_Cove_Cafe

The_Cove_Cafe

Carol and I left at about 9:20 and went back to our stateroom for a few minutes before heading down to The Tube, a lounge on Deck 4 Aft, for the Castaway Club Reception for Gold and Platinum members.

Castaway_Club_Reception

There were complimentary cocktails and finger foods; Cruise Director Ray thanked us for our continued loyalty to Disney Cruise Lines, then the guest of honor arrived - Captain Mickey. He posed for pictures with everyone as all the senior crew members mingled with Castaway Club members.

Carol_and_I_with_Mickey

Masayo_with_Mickey

Milton_and_Michelle_with_Mickey

After the reception we scurried back to our cabin to get dressed for our brunch at Palo. On our way to brunch we met Minnie!

Minnie

We really enjoy this upscale dining experience at Palo. There is a wonderful array of Mediterranean cuisine and the service is always outstanding. Our server, Jessyca from Peru, was superb. We had a very enjoyable experience. The food and the service were top notch! It was 2:00 p.m. when we finished.

At_Palo

We changed back into more casual clothes for the 2:30 p.m. Ice Cream Social on Deck 11. Ice Cream Social has become a bit of a misnomer.

Nancy_and_Mary_Jean_with_ice_cream

While everyone spends a few minutes enjoying ice cream, most folks spend far more time trading those highly coveted AllEars Trading Cards. There is a series of 66 different cards, each with a Disney themed picture and story. Each cruiser received a packet of 66 cards with their welcome gift, but the 66 cards were not the complete set, they were multiples of only a few cards in the set. In order to get a complete set, they had to find other cruisers in our group, compare cards and trade to fill blanks in each collection. The Ice Cream Social quickly became a spirited trading session!

Trading_AllEars_cards

Trading_AllEars_cards

How spirited was it? A certain gentleman from Ohio stole the entire collection of a lady from Maryland. Don't feel too bad for her, the collection was recovered and returned to her . . . and I have reason to believe that the gent from Ohio may have been framed!

Cuba passed by on our Port side as trading continued until 3:45, when the heat and humidity finally drove us indoors. Once again we were worn out and we took a well earned nap!

We were up and dressed for dinner by 4:45. It was formal night and there were plenty of photographers set up in the Atrium, so we struck out to stalk some characters. Yikes - the lines were huge! We managed to find Goofy at Preludes and his line was relatively short.

Two_Goofy_guys

Our dinner was in the Royal Court, Deck 3 Midship. It was very nice, I enjoyed baked brie, French onion soup, lobster macaroni while Carol had a lobster and shrimp appetizer, French onion soup and Chateaubriand. We both had creme brulee for dessert. Every dish was outstanding. This was probably the best meal we have ever had in the regular dining rotation.

Photo-bombed_by_Deb

There was plenty to talk about during the meal. Carol and Gail began to compare their Disney collections. One would say, "I have quite a few Disney Classic Collection pieces." The other would reply, "Me too!" Or, "I collect Disney buttons." "Me too. I have them all organized displayed in frames." It went on and on and on. There two ladies certainly have similar interests!

We sat talking for so long that we were among the very last to leave the dining room. Cast members were setting up tables for the 8:15 seating and began flashing the lights to urge us to leave. It worked!

We went back to our cabin and changed into more casual clothes before heading down to Deck 4 Aft. AllEars cruisers were meeting at La Piazza for cocktails at 9:15. A good number of our group were there and we had a very nice time chatting over drinks. We left the camera behind, so there are no incriminating pictures.

Carol and I rushed away at 11:00 to catch the adult show in the Walt Disney Theatre. It was a hilarious hypnosis show by Ricky Kalman. He used about a dozen volunteers from the audience to keep us in stitches. The highlight of the performance was cruiser Craig who thought he was the world's foremost hand puppet performer. He was convinced that each of his hands held a puppet and he sang a stirring rendition of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody as the puppets mimed the words! We roared with laughter.

It was midnight when we returned to our stateroom and hit the sack after a fun filled day at sea.

May 11, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 1

Gary Cruise banner

I was too excited to sleep this morning. I tossed and turned for a while, trying to fall back asleep, but finally surrendered at 6:15. I tried to be quiet so Carol could sleep - that meant that the banging and clattering was subdued, but of course there was still too much banging and clattering. Soon she was up too and we enjoyed a few cups of coffee in our room at Port Orleans French Quarter.

I had a quick breakfast at the Sassagoula Float Works food court and by 8:15 we were on the road headed to Port Canaveral. Saturday morning traffic was very light and we made terrific time across Route 528.

Port_Canaveral_Road_Sign

There is a special thrill as you climb a small rise, about two miles inland, when you get that first brief glimpse of the ship off in the distance. There it was! Just a minute later there was another hill and we had a much better view.

Disney_Fantasy

By 9:30 I had parked, unloaded the luggage, and left Carol and the baggage behind while I returned our rental car just a few miles down the highway. The terminal was bustling with activity as the returning cruisers disembarked to begin their trip home and the embarking cruisers checked in their luggage.

Mickey_Clock

The Avis shuttle bus had me back at the terminal by 10:15 and it was time to say hello to some friends we had not seen in a while. There were so many familiar faces, people from previous AllEars cruises and people from Disney internet communities. We kept quite busy mingling and chatting until check-in opened at 10:45.

Meeting_goof_friends

We entered the terminal, quickly cleared through the security check point and rode up the escalator to the main concourse. Once we arrived on the third floor we were among the first to check-in and get our Key to the World cards.

The_embarkation_door

There were even a few Disney celebrities who dropped by to give us all a photo-op.

Olaf

Captain_Mickey

Minnie

Before we knew it was 11:30 and our boarding group was called to the loading bridge. Once aboard we made our way directly to The Enchanted Garden dining room on Deck 2 for lunch. We were joined by Dave and Brenda from Maryland, Masayo from Japan and Gail from Nevada.

Carol_Masayo_and_Gail

Lunch_group

After a nice lunch we all caught the elevator to Deck 4 and checked in at D Lounge where both AllEars and Mouse Fan Travel had reception desks set up. Once we had all of our information, credentials and swag,

Linda_and_Melanie

Carol and I headed up to Deck 9 to find our stateroom. It was ready and our bags were sitting directly outside the door. Carol got right to work unpacking and getting us settled in for the week while I set up our internet connection. As Carol was decorating our stateroom door our Cabin Steward, Ekarat from Thailand, stopped to introduce himself and see if there was anything we needed. Service is always first-class on Disney ships!

On_the_verandah

Before we knew it the emergency whistles sounded announcing the compulsory lifeboat drill. We headed to our assembly point, the Buena Vista Theatre on Deck 5 and joined the assembled throng as they demonstrated how to don your lifejacket. Soon the mandatory ritual was over and we headed to Deck 12 where we joined the AllEars.net group for the spirited and lively Sail-Away Party.

Carol_waves_the_AllEars_sign

We watched from the rail on Deck 12 as families below us on Deck 11 danced and sang along with Disney characters and cast members.

Singing_and_dancing

James_and_Linda

Deck_party

Richard_Colin_and_Beci

It's always a fun-filled time . . . but tonight, when the ship whistle sounded "When You Wish Upon A Star" at about 4:45 we were still at the dock. It was about 5:20 when we pushed away from the pier and began our journey.

Many had already left the upper decks when Carol and I unfurled the Canadian flag and held it against the rail for our family who were watching at home on the Port Canaveral webcam. Most of the people in our group were texting friends who were watching the webcam, saying, "I'm beside the Canadian flag!" As we passed the camera at Fish Lips Bar & Grill some of them started receiving pictures of the ship on their cell phones - there we were with the flag! Cool!

We stayed at the rail until we reached the end of the jetty where AllEars blogger Kristin Ford and her two children were waving frantically. We were equally frantic as we waved back!

Kristen


By the time we had left the harbour it was dinner time. We all rushed down to Deck 2 for our 5:45 dinner at Enchanted Garden. Our dinner-mates are Masayo from Japan and Gail from Nevada. We had known them both from previous Disney trips and previous cruises. It was nice to catch up with them over a delicious meal. Our server is Tanapong (Tana) from Thailand and our assistant server is Jelena from Serbia.

Dinner_group

After dinner we visited with some of the surrounding tables of AllEars cruisers before heading up to our stateroom. Before long Masayo called and dropped off some very special items she had brought us from Tokyo Disneyland! Thanks Masayo! The three of us headed off to the Walt Disney Theatre to watch the "Fantasy Come True" stage production. We have seen this particular show several times, but it never gets old . . . talented cast members and lively Disney characters combine to deliver an engaging story. The song and dance numbers and the broadway-style staging are professional quality and, of course, it's all geared for the entire family!

It was another day of travel, followed by plenty of activity in the sun and fresh air. After the show the three of us headed back to our staterooms for a quiet night.

Tomorrow we will have a relaxing day at sea . . . come on back and see what we've been up to!

May 10, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - The Prequel

Gary Cruise banner

Carol and I are very excited to be joining some old friends, and some friends we have yet to meet, as we board the Disney Fantasy and sail the western Caribbean on the 2014 AllEars Group Cruise. We board the Fantasy Saturday May 10th for a seven day adventure.

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This will be our 10th Disney Cruise and our 4th AllEars Group Cruise. We really enjoy cruising and it's fun to enjoy the experience as part of a group who share so many of our interests.

2014_May_Cruise_Itinerary

If you have ever wondered if Disney cruising might be right for you, or if you wondered what a group cruise would be like - come along and join us as we sail. I will be blogging daily to report on our activities and would love to have you along for the ride!

Here's a bit of a teaser to whet your appetite - a few highlights from our stay at Walt Disney World before we set sail!

Flower_&_Garden

Boat_to_Fort_Wilderness

Buzz_Lightyear

Malificent

Mother_Nature

Kermit_&_Miss_Piggy

Sunset_at_EPCOT

Tune in every day to see what we've been up to on our cruise!

February 23, 2014

A Taste of Northern Italy on the High Seas at Palo

Andrew Rossi

The Disney Cruise Line delivers the same high quality, service, and entertainment that you would expect at one of the Disney theme parks to help create a truly magical experience at sea. Although the Magic, Wonder, Dream, and Fantasy share some common traits, they each have their own unique style and charm and offer different experiences for their Guests. Being newer and larger ships, the Dream and Fantasy were able to improve and expand upon many of the features of the Magic and the Wonder.

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Having just recently cruised aboard the Dream, I am continually amazed by the sheer size of the ship and yet attention is still paid to the tiniest of details. Whether it is the staterooms, shops, clubs, or restaurants, everywhere there are examples of the great theming and storytelling that make cruising with Disney so special.

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Of course, no cruise would be complete without food and the Disney Dream offers plenty of options to choose from. One of the unique features of Disney Cruise Line is the concept of rotational dining. Rather than having just one main dining room, aboard the Disney ships each night offers something different as you move between three completely distinct dining experiences. Aboard the Disney Dream, the first of these restaurants is Royal Palace, which draws its inspiration from classic Disney films such as Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast, and offers diners a French-inspired fare.

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Next is Enchanted Garden, which takes its cue from the beautiful gardens of Versailles and features a menu of continental European cuisine in a setting that magically transforms from day to night throughout the course of the meal.

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Finally there is Animator's Palette, which may provide the most unique dining experience of them all. Unlike its sister ships, the Magic and Wonder, Animator's Palette aboard the Dream does not transform from black and white to color during the course of dinner. Instead, the dining room is magically submerged under water and throughout the meal Guests have the opportunity to interact with Crush the sea turtle from Pixar's Finding Nemo all while enjoying a menu of Pacific Rim cuisine.

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If you are looking for something a little more special, however, the Disney Dream also offers two additional dining experiences for an extra cost. While Palo (an additional $25 per person) highlights the elegance of northern Italian cuisine, Remy (an additional $75 per person) provides diners with an array of gourmet French-inspired dishes. Both of these restaurants are the equivalent of a Signature restaurant at Walt Disney World, providing unparalleled service in an upscale atmosphere with beautifully-presented dishes made with the freshest ingredients. While I have yet to try Remy, Palo is an absolute must-do whenever I am on a Disney cruise.

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Atmosphere:
Located high above the sea on deck twelve, Palo offers tremendous ocean views in an elegant setting. The name Palo actually refers to the long poles used by gondoliers in Venice and it is easy to see this Venetian influence throughout the restaurant.

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The dining room features a warm color palette of gold and red highlighted with subtle touches of blue and green.

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As soon as you enter the restaurant your eyes cannot help but be drawn to the magnificent light fixture hanging overhead, which has a look reminiscent of the iconic glass creations of Murano (a small island less than a mile north of Venice).

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One of the most distinctive features of Palo are the beautiful paintings of Venice that adorn the walls, all of which were custom-made for the restaurant.

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The painting help add a splash of brighter colors that really make them pop against the more subdued tones throughout the rest of the dining room.

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The low-light of the dining room combine with the richly upholstered furniture, lush carpeting, and warm dark wooden paneled walls to create a very upscale and romantic setting. Although larger than its counterparts on the Magic and Wonder, Palo aboard the Dream still has a limited seating capacity with tables that are spread out to make for a quiet and more intimate dining experience. On a cruise ship that certainly caters to families and children, Palo proves that it can appeal to adults as well.

One feature on Palo aboard the Dream that is not found on the Magic and Wonder is a private dining room that even includes a window into the restaurant's kitchen.

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Of course, one of the aspects of Palo that the restaurant is best known for is its tremendous ocean views. Throughout the dining room, every table has tremendous view. This is thanks not only to the floor-to-ceiling windows, but also tiered seating that places diners at the back of the dining room on a higher level than those closer to the windows.

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No other dining location aboard the Dream, save for Remy, can match the majestic vistas offered at Palo. This setting alone really helps set the tone for a truly memorable dining experience.

The Menu:
Palo specializes in fine northern Italian cuisine, featuring classic dishes presented with a bit of a contemporary twist. There is certainly no shortage of options on Palo's menu. In fact, the most difficult decision you will have to make is which of the delectable dishes you want to order. This starts with the appetizers which include Tuna Carpaccio brushed with the chef's special lemon olive oil, Mozzarella and Plum Tomatoes topped with balsamic dressing, Sicilian Pesto Marinated Grilled Shrimp served atop a mussel, crab and cherry tomato ragu, Grilled Portobello Mushroom served over polenta and topped with a roasted shallot sauce, Fritto di Calamari served with deep fried cherry peppers, a Fresh Arugula Salad with choice of Palo's dressings, Tuscan White Bean Soup with prosciutto and parmesan cheese, and Cioppino, a traditional Italian tomato fish stew with calamari, clams, shrimp, and halibut.

The next course is the pasta dishes as well as risottos. First is the Risotto di Mare featuring a saffron risotto served with fried zucchini, shrimp, mussels, and clams. There is also the Wild Mushroom Risotto topped with freshly-shaved parmesan and a chianti reduction. For pasta there is the Lobster and Mascarpone Ravioli with a light white truffle sauce, Chianti Braised Beef Ravioli tossed in a rich red wine reduction, Gnocchi con Gorgonzola e Asparagi served with gorgonzola sauce and asparagus, Pappardelle con Aragosta featuring lobster, parsley, and fennel with chili and a fresh tomato sauce, and Penne Arrabbiatta with a spicy fresh tomato and basil sauce topped with grilled shrimp.

Then, after all this, come the entrees. For Pesce (seafood) dishes there are the Grilled Sea Scallops accompanied by borlotti beans and pancetta topped with a tomato sauce, Rombo al Finocchio, a pan seared turbot served with fingerling potatoes, porcini, pancetta and fennel with walnut butter, Branzino in Cartoccio featuring sea bass with spaghetti-cut vegetables and a ginger-orange glaze, and Grilled Tuna Piemonte atop a truffle-infused potato risotto with garlic marinated artichokes. The Carne (meat) offerings include Pan-Seared Calves Liver served on a polenta cake with caramelized apples and onions, Fagotti di Petto di Pollo, a baked chicken breast filled with ricotta, basil, and red peppers served with a pinot grigio reduction, Osso Buco, a slow roasted center-cut veal shank with risotto Milanese, Oregano and Parmesan Crusted Rack of Lamb with roasted shallots, baked Roma tomatoes, potato pave, and herb jus, and the Beef Tenderloin Palo topped with either melted gorgonzola cheese or Palo's signature red wine sauce (or with both served on the side).

With all this food you might find it difficult to save room for dessert, but you definitely want to make sure that you do in order to try Palo's signature dessert, the Chocolate Soufflé. In addition to this, other desserts include Palo's Homemade Tiramisù, Panna Cotta with strawberry-basil sorbet, Pistachio Cake with amaretto cream and hazelnut meringue, Layered Chiffon Cake glazed with ganache, and Zabaglione with berries.

For my meal I chose to start with the Cioppino. With so much food to come, this fish stew was a nice lighter option to start the meal. Although Italian in name, this dish actually originated in San Francisco. It was the creation of an Italian immigrant fisherman who made it from whatever seafood was leftover when the boats returned from sea. The presentation of the dish was absolutely stunning and the amount of seafood very impressive. The stew included shrimp, calamari, halibut, clams, and mussels. It was not a stew in a traditional sense, but rather more like seafood garnished with a light broth. The broth itself was tomato-based, its flavor enhanced with garlic and basil. Although light in consistency, it provided a tremendous amount of flavor that paired perfectly with the fresh seafood.

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The next course was the pasta dish, for which my server highly recommended the Chianti-Braised Beef Ravioli. I decided to go with his recommendation and I was certainly not disappointed. Whereas the Cioppino was served in a very light broth, the ravioli came in a rich red wine reduction; this is what absolutely made the dish. This pasta dish was just the perfect size since it was a far heartier offering than the fish stew. The ravioli themselves were cooked perfectly al dente and the beef was very tender and flavorful. The red wine reduction stole the show with a rich flavor that really popped, but at the same time still complimented the beef very well. This is a perfect example of how Palo can take a common dish like beef ravioli and give it a completely unique and contemporary spin.

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When it came to the main course I was torn between so many options, but I finally settled on the Osso Buco since it is a dish that I had never tried before. Osso Buco is Italian for "bone with a hole," a reference to the marrow hole at the center of a cross-cut veal shank. The distinguishing feature of this dish was its incredible flavor. The veal shank is slow roasted in white wine and broth so that it absorbs a tremendous amount of flavor. Extremely juicy and tender, the veal literally fell apart at the touch of a fork. The veal was then topped with a tomato sauce that added even more flavor to the dish. Accompanying the veal was a rich and creamy risotto. Risotto Milanese is prepared with beef stock, cheese, and then colored with saffron and its creamy cheesiness was a nice contrast to the veal, but it was also very filling. The hardest part was not eating too much in order to save room for dessert.

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The reason for pacing yourself throughout the meal and saving room for dessert is Palo's signature dessert (if not its signature dish), the Chocolate Soufflé. If you are dining at Palo, this is one dish that you absolutely cannot miss. It is no stretch to say that this is one of the best desserts that I have had in any restaurant anywhere. Upon being seated at your table, you are asked if you will be ordering the soufflé for dessert since each are cooked to order and take the duration of your meal to prepare. Presentation is a major component of this dessert as, at the table, your server will puncture a hole at the top of the soufflé and then pour in the chocolate and vanilla sauces. There is nothing not to like about this dessert. Served piping hot, this is extremely rich and decadent and comes served alongside a scoop of vanilla gelato, which provides a light and refreshing contrast. Even after all the food you have throughout the course of your meal, you cannot help but eat this entire dessert.

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Service:
This is yet another area in which Palo excels. To be fair, no matter where you are dining aboard the Disney Dream the service is tremendous but Palo takes this service to an entirely different level. Your server is always there for you, the smaller size of the restaurant meaning that each server has fewer tables to wait upon. This also means that each server can really take their time to get to know you and get a sense of what types of dishes you would like to try. In the times that I have dined at Palo, I have had multiple servers bring out additional dishes that I did not even order because they thought that it would be something I might like to try. One time I even had a server who said, "Just let me take care of you" and proceeded to bring out dish after dish without me even choosing anything from the menu. Another quality of the service at Palo is that they really allow you to take your time and enjoy your meal at a relaxed pace. It is not uncommon for a dinner here to last anywhere from two and a half to three hours, so be sure to plan accordingly. Dinner at Palo is more than just a meal, it is meant to be an experience and the service and pace of the meal both contribute to allowing you to enjoy every dish and drink to the fullest extent.

The Overall Experience:
With the meals on a cruise included in the price, some might question whether paying the extra $25 to dine at Palo is worth it. My answer to this is absolutely yes. While Royal Palace, Enchanted Garden, and Animator's Palette are all very good in their own right, Palo is at an entirely different level. Everything about the dining experience, from the elegant atmosphere to the northern Italian-inspired cuisine to the attentive service, is of the highest quality. With a prime location on deck twelve, the views are unmatched by any of the other dining locations aboard the ship. Meanwhile, its smaller size makes for a much quieter and more intimate dining experience. If you are looking for a romantic night out or for a little alone time away from the kids, there are few better places to go aboard the Disney Dream. It is unquestionably one of the best dining experiences I have had at anywhere on land or on sea.

See past restaurant reviews by guest blogger Andrew Rossi.

Check out Reader Reviews of the Disney Dream's Palo and post your own too!

May 31, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 7

Gary Cruise banner
May 26, 2013

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

Victoria

Victoria

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

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

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

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

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

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

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Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

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

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Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

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Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

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

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

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

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Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

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

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

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

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

Victoria

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

Victoria

Victoria

Victoria

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

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

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

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

Vancouver_Island_Sunset

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

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

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

We hope you have enjoyed travelling along with us!

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

May 30, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 6

Gary Cruise banner
May 25, 2013

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

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

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

Character_Breakfast

Character_Breakfast

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

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

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

Carol_Gary_and_Pluto

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

Palo

Palo

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

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

Rainbow

Pacific_Sunset

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

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

May 29, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 5

Gary Cruise banner
May 24, 2013

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

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

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

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

Outlook_Cafe

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

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

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

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

Trivia

Trivia

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

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

Ariel_Gary_and_Carol

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

Pixar_Party

Pixar_Party

Pixar_Party

Pixar_Party

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

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

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

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

Deck_Party

Deck_Party

Deck_Party

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

May 28, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 4

Gary Cruise banner
May 23, 2013

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

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

Golden_Gate_Bridge

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

Golden_Gate_Bridge

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

Sausalito

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

Sausalito

Sausalito

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

Alcatraz_Tour

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

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

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Alcatraz_Tour

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

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Alcatraz_Tour

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

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Alcatraz_Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 27, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 3

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May 22, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

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

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Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 26, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 2

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May 21, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Palo

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

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Palo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 25, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 1

Gary Cruise banner
May 20, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donna


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

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

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

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

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Buckets_N_Boards

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

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

June 10, 2012

Group Cruising

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Have you ever wondered what it's like to cruise with a group? Well I can tell you based on our experience that it's fun!

Carol and I have cruised once on our own; we've cruised with a few friends twice and we've cruised as part of a large group four times. Our experience has been that the group adds a new dimension to the cruise experience. We really like it!

A group cruise is simply a cruise vacation which is organized by a person or company and is then offered to people with common interests. The organizer often arranges group activities which individuals can elect to participate in if they wish. There is no pressure to participate, it is purely voluntary.

What are the advantages of a group cruise?
• Well, an obvious advantage is price. The organizer can sometimes negotiate very favourable pricing by committing to a number of staterooms.
• Another is the diversity of the group. Carol and I enjoy the opportunity to mix and mingle with old friends we see on the ship and we like to meet new people as well. The group cruise gives us this opportunity.
• You can be as involved and active as you like or you can just kick back, relax and ignore all the group activities. There is no truant officer!

So what are some of these group activities? Let me give you some examples from our latest adventure.

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We sailed on the AllEars Disney Fantasy Cruise which took place May 19 - 26, 2012. The bookings were all taken care of by our good friends at MouseFan Travel and the group activities were all arranged by AllEars and MouseFan Travel. There were 125 cruisers in our group and we occupied 52 staterooms on a seven day eastern Caribbean cruise.

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On Saturday we boarded the Fantasy and one of the first stops was the AllEars registration desk where we registered, picked up our AllEars Navigator (schedule of events) and our scavenger hunt questionnaire.

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We also received our "Welcome Gift" . . . a backpack full of a variety of swag! Disney Cruise Line gives some pretty nice swag to returning cruisers, members of the Castaway Club, but not nearly as nice as the AllEars swag we received. It was a high quality AllEars backpack full of trinkets and treasures. In the pack we found a handy little first-aid kit, chap stick, hand sanitizer, a sewing kit, a small cooler bag from David's Vacation Club Rentals, a pen from All Star Vacation Homes, an AllEars lanyard and a MouseFan Travel cell phone pouch but the highlight was the AllEars Trading Cards Build-A-Set.

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Since May 2010 AllEars has been creating a unique Trading Card for each event they hold. When we sailed there were 52 cards in the series and the Build-A-Set in each backpack contained ten copies of five of those cards. The challenge was to connect with fellow cruisers and trade cards until your set was complete. The trading was fast and furious! There were two more cards released during the cruise and by the time we debarked most people had managed to acquire a complete set of all 54 cards. This was a terrific way to meet a lot of new people!

MouseFan Travel had a table at the registration area as well to help with any last minute arrangements, group booking for a special Palo brunch, etc.

After settling into our stateroom and attending the mandatory lifeboat drill we headed up to deck #12 for the sail-away party. This was our first chance to mix and mingle with others in the group.

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There was a scavenger hunt which required cruisers to answer some very challenging trivia questions about the Disney Fantasy. The door decorating contest ensured that some of the stateroom doors were quickly transformed into lavish art displays!

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Each of the three "sea days" AllEars founder Deb Wills invited everyone to join her at 8:00 a.m. for coffee and chatter at the Cove Café. These meets were always well attended . . . another opportunity to trade those AllEars Cards! The trading even attracted my wife Carol who is not normally a "morning person".

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Sunday afternoon there was an Ice Cream Social. We met at Eye Scream Treats on deck #11 and everyone helped themselves to a self-serve ice cream treat. Yum! Everyone enjoyed it!

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Some people really enjoyed it!

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And of course they traded cards!

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Sunday evening we met for cocktails in La Piazza on deck #4, a few impromptu photo-ops ensued!

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Monday morning, after coffee with Deb in the Cove Café, we gathered in The Tube on deck #4 for some pin trading. Carol was busy manning the pin board for the full 90 minutes and answered a lot of questions for some newcomers to pin trading.

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Once folks had done a pin trade (or two or three) out came the AllEars cards and the traders spread out all over The Tube.

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While we had great weather, a brief rain Monday afternoon dampened plans for the Mini Golf meet on deck #13, Goofy's Sport Deck. Maybe next time . . .

Most of our group selected the early dining option and we were all seated in close proximity in the dining rooms. This gave yet another opportunity to see the new people we met and was especially fun on Pirate Night when we got to see everyone's costumes! Argggh!

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Thursday morning, after coffee with Deb in the Cove Café, we gathered in the atrium on deck #3 for a photo-walk. Barrie Brewer was our leader and expert photographer. She explained what a photo walk was all about, then we broke into two groups and got started. We simply walked around the ship taking pictures. I led one group which stayed in the atrium and did our best to capture some interesting images there. Barrie Brewer and Linda Eckwerth took the other group and headed to Europa, the adult entertainment area on deck #4. My group rejoined them there and the larger group swarmed Europa taking pictures. The mosaic murals of toreadors and flamenco dancers in the restrooms were an extremely popular subject!

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Friday at Castaway Cay many of us convened for a group lunch at the Serenity Bay barbecue. It's funny but even with all the fine dining available on the ship, this barbecue on Castaway Cay is always one of my favourite meals!

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Then came the grand finale! The AllEars farewell party on Friday afternoon. The cruise was coming to an end, we debark tomorrow. Dang! We met in The Tube on deck #4. A slide show of pictures from many of our meets was playing on three large screens behind the stage and we were treated to complementary beverages and snacks!

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Deb Wills thanked us all for joining her on the cruise and for participating in so many on-board events. These events were scrolling behind her in the slide show so we relived them as she spoke.

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Soon the prizes were handed out for the scavenger hunt and the door decorating contest. Then the raffle tickets were drawn. Every time you attended any of the events or meets during the cruise you were given a raffle ticket. There were over a dozen prizes and some very happy winners.

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None of us were happier than Karilynn who won the grand prize donated by MouseFan Travel, a seven-night stay at a Deluxe Resort at WDW, including dining! Wow!

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After the prizes were all awarded we had a surprise visitor, Captain Mickey came and posed for pictures with all of us! What a treat!

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So that's what a group cruise is all about. There is always a nice variety of activities which you can elect to participate in but they do not interfere with other things you want to do. We attended almost all the group activities but we were still able to see every show in the Walt Disney Theatre. We spent plenty of time lounging around the pool, enjoyed shore adventures and did all the other things we like to do while cruising. The bonus was we met some very nice people and made some new friends while we were doing it!

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So if you think a group cruise might appeal to you keep your eyes on AllEars.net - Deb was hinting about another AllEars cruise in 2014. I hope we'll see you there!

April 24, 2012

Take a peek at new Disney Dooney & Bourke bags and find a deal

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Dooney & Bourke Retro collection

In the last few years, some Disney fans have found a new, high-end souvenir to collect. Who wants to bring home more scrapbooks and T-shirts when you can choose an unusual, well-made handbag? Combining the whimsical designs of Disney with the well-known quality of the Dooney & Bourke brand, these stylish bags have become increasingly popular.

Disney Dooneys, as they are fondly called, are introduced in several new patterns each year. West Coast collectors are eagerly awaiting the release of two new collections on May 12 -- just in time for Mother's Day! The Retro collection with a unique color palette depicts traditional graphics and logos of the various lands inside Disneyland. This new line will be available in a variety of silhouettes including a wristlet, mini barrel, tassel tote, satchel and letter carrier as well as an iPad case, which is a first. Prices range from $78 to $268. On the release day, Ian Ray, creative director for Dooney & Bourke, will be signing the new Disney Dooneys from 2 to 5 p.m. at Disney Vault 28.

The second collection, called Buttons, is being kept under wraps until closer to its debut on May 12. Disneyland and Walt Disney World guests will be able to purchase the Buttons collection on its release date. Disney World guests will find the Buttons collection at TrenD at Downtown Disney West Side.

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Dooney & Bourke Disney Cruise Line Fantasy Inaugural Voyages collection

A new Disney Cruise Line Dooney & Bourke collection debuted on the maiden voyage of the Disney Fantasy cruise ship earlier this month, and the bags feature more muted colors than most of the Disney Dooney bags we've seen so far. The design incorporates names and icons of all the ships on a blue-gray background.

"To make the new collection even more enticing for Disney Fantasy guests, the select collection silhouettes on the Disney Fantasy will feature leather embossed luggage tags that showcase they were part of the Inaugural Disney Fantasy Voyages," said Laura Caszatt, product developer for Accessories.

The new DCL collection includes a variety of shapes, including a wristlet, mini barrel, Susanna tote, satchel and travel duffle, and prices range from $55 to $395. These bags are exclusive to the Fantasy until this summer, when they will be available on all the DCL ships.

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Upcoming Dooney & Bourke Disney Cruise Line collection

Another cruise collection will debut later in 2012 on Hawaiian itineraries. Disney offered a sneak peek at the striped, nautical satchel, which will cost $235. It, too, will have widespread availability on the ships later in the summer.

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Dooney & Bourke Sketch collection Crossbody bags

Some of the most popular DIsney Dooney & Bourke bags both on land and at sea are from the Sketch Collection, said Erin Catalano, merchandise communication specialist at Walt Disney World Resort. The bags in the Sketch Collection show various colorful icons from the ships or Disneyland or Disney World.

Looking for a deal on these expensive bags? A few discounts can be yours for the asking. Stores on Disney World property that sell Dooney & Bourke bags will honor the 10 percent discount for annual passholders and 20 percent discount for premium annual passholders. Or, Disney Visa cardholders can get a 10 percent discount for any purchase over $50 at Disney World.

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Dooney & Bourke Princess collection bucket bag

To find a deal on Disney Dooney & Bourke bags off Disney World property, visit the Dooney & Bourke outlet stores. There is one in Orlando Premium Outlets on Vineland Avenue (near Downtown Disney) and one in Orlando Premium Outlets at the end of International Drive. Both locations usually carry a small selection of Disney Dooneys and sell them at a 40 percent discount. Currently, the Vineland Avenue location has the Princess bucket bag for $99. (It originally sold for $165.) At the International Drive location, shoppers will find the Princess bucket bag, plus the Princess satchel with black background for $132. (It originally sold for $220.) That location also has several of the 2011 Disney Dream Inaugural Voyages Crossbody Bag for $74. (It originally sold for $165.) If you wished you had purchased one last year, now is your chance!

If you're not on vacation, you can still purchase Disney Dooney & Bourke bags. DisneyStore.com carries most of the bags you will find at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and occasionally even offers Disney Cruise Line bags. Currently, there are 27 bags for sale, and two of those are 2011 Disney Dream Inaugural Voyages bags, which have been marked down 40 percent. The website also has the Disney Sketch Crossbody Bag in four colors marked down 24 percent. Plus, any Dooney & Bourke purchase allows you to buy a Sketch credit card holder/keychain for $15. The one drawback with ordering online is that you cannot choose the pattern placement. For bags with a uniform pattern, such as the Minnie Mouse bows, this is irrelevant, but for patterns such as the popular Sketch collections, it can make a difference.

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Dooney & Bourke Princess collection satchel


March 31, 2012

Disney author Ridley Pearson shares what's coming next in 'Kingdom Keepers' series

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Author Ridley Pearson debuted his new 'Kingdom Keepers V: Shell Game' at Downtown Disney on March 29.

"This is Ridley Pearson, Ace Detective, Kingdom Keeper, currently hiding out somewhere in Walt Disney World with a suspicious-looking woman with a long, long pen and a piece of paper."

So began my interview this week with author Ridley Pearson, who was at Walt Disney World for pre-release book events for the fifth installment in his popular Kingdom Keepers series for young adults.

Pearson's love of mysteries -- he readily shared that he enjoyed The Hardy Boys series as a young teen -- made me wish we could duck into a utilidor or, at the very least, find a secret room. But, instead, our sunglasses, my 9-year-old son and a friendly publicist had to throw any villains off our trail.

Copies of Kingdom Keepers V: Shell Game were on sale Thursday at Once Upon A Toy store at Downtown DIsney and Friday at The Writer's Stop at Disney's Hollywood Studios. After purchasing books, hundreds of fans queued up at Downtown Disney on Thursday to meet Pearson and get his autograph. (KK5 goes on sale nationally on April 3.)

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Fans waited hours for the opportunity to buy 'KK5' before its release date and to meet Pearson.

Kingdom Keepers V: Shell Game is set onboard Disney Cruise Line's Disney Dream, but the author had just stepped off back-to-back preview cruises on the newest ship, Disney Fantasy, so, of course, I had to ask him for a comparison of the two ships.

"The Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy are two of the most amazing cruise ships to work the sea. They are sister ships so I would never pick one sister over the other for fear the other would club me over the head with her umbrella," Pearson said. "They both are just sensational. They aren't even ships; they are experiences. I've been on both ships for over a week at a time, and you want to be on them for 3 or 4 weeks. And still, I don't think you would have had every experience you can have. Part of their attraction is this infinity of experience."

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Pearson's 'Kingdom Keepers V: Shell Game' is promoted on the Disney Dream, where it takes place.


Still, after being pressed, he will admit a certain fondness for the Dream because of the incredible access he was given while researching KK5 and KK6. (Yes, the sixth installment of the series also is set onboard the ship.)

"I have been places that even some crew members have never seen. I've been down in the engine room. I've been inside the galleys. I've been in the broadcast center. I've been in the security offices. I was very, very privileged. As a reader, you get to experience these things as I did."

Readers also will take a trip to Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private island in the Bahamas. Pearson teased fans by saying an airplane makes a mysterious landing on the tropical paradise in KK5, but I wanted to know more.

"I was just so surprised to see this giant runway. It's not even that Disney uses it very often, but I immediately, upon seeing, it said, 'That's got to find its way into my story,' as well as a tower that is set off in sort of the brushy area. All of a sudden, the story threads came into a single thread and I realized that the Overtakers were going to be bringing something really funky and smuggling it onto the ship, and the only place they could possibly do that was Castaway Cay. So that ends up a big part of Books 5 and 6.

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'Kingdom Keepers' books were in high demand before the book signing.

"The other thing is that the story of the Kingdom Keepers, the Overtakers, is growing darker and more complex, and this book is really the breakaway for all of that. Things are about to get very heavy in Book 6, and Book 5 is sort of the gangway to that."

It's a loosely kept secret that Pearson relies on his teen daughters for input on his young adult books. Not only do they read the books, but he says, "A lot of what the Kingdom Keepers go through emotionally in my books is based on the lives of my kids. So the Kingdom Keepers continually get older in the series because my kids are getting older and dealing with boyfriends (or "louts" as he jokingly calls them). I see them go through this torture, and I put into my books."

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Emma Smith's shirt displays the entries in a contest for a logo for Pearson's upcoming book tour.

Pearson's writing obviously resonates with his young, passionate readers. In line for the book signing Thursday, one teen fan was thrilled that the timing of her Disney World vacation would allow her to meet Pearson, her favorite author. Emma Smith, 13, of Tipp City, Ohio, entered a recent contest on the author's website, ridleypearson.com. The challenge was to design a T-shirt for the KK5 book tour, and then fans were able to vote on their favorites. In addition, they could purchase shirts that showcase all the images or just one in particular.

"I love drawing and I like his books a lot, so I thought it would be fun to enter," she said.

Fans should check the website often for other contests and book tour information for Pearson.

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Emma's 'KK5' design is among those featured on her T-shirt.

So what's next for the author? He's in the process of writing Kingdom Keepers VI, which will be followed by the seventh and final book in the series. Pearson won't reveal the backdrop for that book, except to say, "You'll have to stay tuned, but the ZIP code will change." The books are due out on the first Tuesday of April in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

"We would sure hope to be back in Walt Disney World, releasing ahead of time. This is to me, the best of all fans, and if we can give them an advantage by letting them get the book before the rest of the country, that's all the better," he said.

In the meantime, his next trip back to The Most Magical Place on Earth is at the end of April, when he will be a speaker at the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration.

March 22, 2012

Public can view Disney Fantasy from Jetty Park and join Sail-A-Bration

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The Disney Dream sails past Jetty Park in Brevard County.

Disney Cruise Line's newest ship is sailing out on preview cruises this week, and Disney fans can catch a glimpse of the Disney Fantasy without being onboard. Jetty Park, which is adjacent to Port Canaveral, overlooks the channel where the cruise ships enter the port in the mornings and head out to sea in the afternoons.

If you want to watch the cruise ships, head north to the park's 1,200-foot fishing pier. The ships pass so close to land that those watching on shore can see the passengers wave and hear the horn play its classic Disney songs. The Fantasy played "New York, New York" when it arrived in New York City last month. Wonder what it will play in Florida?

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Jetty Park's Pier is a 24-hour fishing spot and the best place to watch Port Canaveral's cruise ships pass through the channel.

The parade begins about 4:30 p.m. as the ships make their way down the channel. It's slow progress, which is great for those taking photos, and, if you're lucky, spotting the dolphins that sometimes frolic around the ships. During the many times my family has watched the ships from the pier, the DIsney ships were always last. The Fantasy is next scheduled to leave on Friday, March 23, Monday, March 26 and Saturday, March 31. (Get the inside scoop on the Fantasy from Deb Wills and Deb Koma, who will be onboard beginning March 23. Follow them on Twitter @allearsnet , on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AllEars.net or on the website at allears.net)

Port Canaveral is now home to the Disney Dream, which sails shorter Caribbean cruises, and the Disney Fantasy, which will travel on weeklong Caribbean voyages. (See the Fantasy's arrival at Port Canaveral at http://land.allears.net/blogs/dnews/2012/03/disney_fantasy_arrival_at_port_1.html)

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A view of Jetty Park Beach from the open deck of a Disney Cruise Line ship.

On Saturday, March 31, the Canaveral Port Authority will be hosting a Sail-A-Bration at Jetty Park for the maiden voyage of the Fantasy. The public is invited to come out and bid 'Bon Voyage' to the passengers and crew during a party from 4 to 6 p.m. Radio Disney and Disney characters are expected to entertain the crowd, and prizes such as theme park tickets will be given away.

Last January, attendees were given white Mickey Mouse glove signs to wave from the pier when the Disney Dream passed by on her maiden voyage shortly after 5 p.m.

Free shuttle rides will be available, beginning at 3:30 p.m. from event parking. Visitors are asked to bring a non-perishable food item to donate to the Central Brevard Sharing Center and their lawn chairs. Last year's event was well-attended.

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A Disney Cruise Line ship heads out to sea after passing by Jetty Park.

And if cruise ships are not the main draw for some visitors to this sprawling public park, the Brevard County site offers a wide variety of fun things for families to do.

Jetty Park is a 35-acre public park that includes a family beach with year-round lifeguards, a 24-hour lighted fishing pier with fish-cleaning tables and wheelchair access, a renovated campground for tents and RVs, an air-conditioned refreshment center, a tackle shop, a playground and outdoor showers and changing rooms.

Cars are not allowed to drive on the beach, which has a wide expanse of sand and a long shallow ocean bottom. In addition, the beach is clean and not noisy. There is a vendor that rents chairs, umbrellas, kayaks, paddle boards and boogie boards. Plus, it's a great place to see rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center and to spot submarines in the waters offshore.

Jetty Park has made a number of improvements in preparation for the 2012 summer season. Among them are new beach initiatives, such as Surf School and better sand-cleaning equipment, and renovated campgrounds with WiFi and its first cabins.

There are fees for day parking and camping at Jetty Park. For cars, day parking is $5 for Brevard residents and $10 for those from other counties. Camping fees range from $18 to $47, depending on the utilities included and the season. For campground or picnic pavilion reservations, call 321-783-7111.

March 11, 2012

Disney Cruise Line Without Kids

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My wife Carol and I were anxious to sail with Disney Cruise Line. Time at sea and all those wonderful ports of call just sounded so appealing! We're avid Disney fans; we like virtually everything Disney and it just seemed like something we had to try!

There was just one thing holding us back. What about all those children? Won't there be kids everywhere?

Don't get me wrong, we like kids. We enjoy seeing children having fun wherever they are, particularly at Walt Disney World! But we are empty nesters and we have been for quite a few years. We have come to relish the quiet home life we lead. I like to think that we've earned the right to savour our preferred lifestyle. (Savouring my preferred lifestyle - it sounds so much nicer than admitting that I'm a grumpy old geezer!)

Every time we spoke about cruising with Disney I would start imagining . . . there I am relaxing in the hot tub, eyes closed and totally relaxed. Suddenly I'm cannon-balled by an unsupervised little munchkin! Sound far-fetched? It isn't. That has really happened to me at a Disney resort. I've had kids in the hot tub, fully equipped with flippers, masks and snorkels as they examined my toes at the bottom of the spa. This sort of thing disturbs me. That's not what hot tubs are for but how do you escape it with all those kids around?

When we vacation we try to have a nice, quiet sit-down meal at the end of the day. Disney parks and resorts offer some wonderful dining opportunities and we like to take advantage of them. So what about the dining rooms on the Disney ships? Will there be screaming children at our table or the table next to us? Will they follow us from dining room to dining room as we rotate through the ship's beautiful venues?

These were the sort of fears which held us back. Many of our friends told us we were being too cautious, the kids weren't that bad. Others said that they had hardly seen any children aboard and assured us that Disney cast members did such a good job with activities for the children that they were not a problem.

We waffled for several years before we finally took the plunge, so to speak, and booked our first Disney Cruise. We decided to "dip our toes in" with a quick four-day cruise. If we didn't enjoy it, well, it would just be a short ordeal.

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So off we went in January 2007 on a Bahamas cruise. To quickly end your suspense - we just loved it! Our friends were right, there were simply no grounds for all those fears we had suffered. It was amazing how much fun we had, and how little we saw of the children. Oh, there were plenty of kids and they were having just as much fun as we were but we hardly saw them and we were able to fully savour that lifestyle we prefer.

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As I write this article we have enjoyed six Disney cruises and we are booked on two more in the future. We really like it! So far all of our cruising has been on the Wonder and the Magic but we will sail on the new Disney Fantasy in just a few months.

How does Disney do it? How do they manage to create an environment where a crusty old coot like me can have a blast at the same time all those kids are having the time of their lives? It's pretty simple really, they just do two things, but they do them extremely well.

First they engage the children with an amazing array of activities and second they set aside lots of "adult only" space. That's it, plain and simple, but it works surprisingly well.

How do they engage the children? A special corps of well trained and highly motivated cast members greet kids in some wonderfully crafted "kid-friendly" places. These are amazing facilities for several specific age groups. Infants from three months to three years can go to a "day care" type facility called Flounder's Reef where they are expertly cared for. Kids from three to ten are welcomed at both the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab where a variety of toys, games and activities await them. Tweens have their own space called the Edge and teens go to Vibe. All these spaces have been designed by Disney Imagineers to capture the imagination of the targeted age group and all are chock full of things which appeal to the children and also captivate them. The kids are safe, secure and well supervised at all times.

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Friends of ours who have cruised with children are astounded at how much their kids have enjoyed it. Disney ships were built to entertain guests of all ages and they do it very well. The most frequent complaint we hear from parents is that they so seldom see their children. Many of the kids do not want to leave their friends to join their parents for dinner. Now that's a sign that the cast members are able to relate to the kids!

Now, what is there for the adults? Plenty. There are some great "adult only" spaces too.

We occasionally like to watch the wee ones and their parents swim in the Mickey Pool or watch the older kids frolic in the Goofy Pool, but when we're ready for some peace and quiet we head to the Quiet Cove Pool, in the adult only area on deck 9. We spend lots of time here.

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The pool is flanked by two hot tubs and there is no risk of cannon-balls or scuba divers in these spas. The sun deck is open to the elements with lots of loungers but it's also sheltered from the wind. Carol likes to bask in the sun while I stretch out in the shade with a book. This is the life!

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Next to the pool is the Cove Café, another adult space where you can just sit and relax or enjoy a specialty coffee or cocktail. On the Disney Wonder above the Cove Café, on deck 10 and overlooking the pool is the Outlook Café. This is a great spot to meet for cocktails before dinner. If you sail on the Wonder you may see me here in the afternoon reading my book!

The Vista Spa on deck 9 beside the Quiet Cove Pool is also for those 18 or older. Carol has enjoyed the spa a few times but I have not made it there yet. They have a variety of ways to pamper guests and all of our friends who have been indulged there speak very highly of the place so I'm confident Carol will coax me into Vista soon!

Our favourite adult-only place is Palo, the upscale dining room on deck 10 aft. You pay a small premium to dine at Palo and reservations are taken up quickly but it is oh-so worth it! There is a dress code but it's not onerous. No shorts, no tees, jackets for dinner and you pay a fee of $20 per person for brunch or dinner and $15.00 for "High Tea". Dinner is served every day while brunch and tea are only served on "sea days". You simply must dine at Palo!

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For the regular dining rotation we have always opted for the late seating. I think this gives us an older crowd. Most families with younger children select the early dining option and we have never had any issues with children in the dining room. The food and the service are always first class!

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One of the less obvious advantages of the way children are engaged by Disney Cruise Line cast members is the fact that they are seldom seen in some areas of the ship which are not restricted to adults. Sure, you will always find them at the Mickey Pool, the Goofy Pool and the deck 9 soda machine but there are plenty of areas where you hardly ever see kids. An example is the sun deck on deck 4, the Promenade Deck. This is another great spot to stretch out in the sun on a lounge or in a deck chair and enjoy sunshine, tropical breezes and salt air. Keep an eye out and you might find me here with my book! There are always plenty of joggers and walkers circumnavigating the ship, but very few children.

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The shows? They are great . . . not second-rate comedians and magicians. Disney has some amazing shows; Broadway style song and dance shows and of course some wonderful shows featuring Disney characters. Yes, there are children at the shows but you'll be having so much fun being a kid again that you may not notice!

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What about night clubs? Yes, there are sports bars, piano bars and pool side bars. It's all there folks and you don't have to worry about being swarmed by children.

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Of course I have to mention Castaway Cay, it's spectacular. Imagine a desert island where the Disney Imagineers were allowed to play . . . that's exactly what they did! This Disney-owned island in the Bahamas was re-done to perfection. It still looks deserted but it's covered in amazingly lush and beautiful tropical plants and flowers. Look around and you will find relics from older times; there are sunken ships, abandoned aircraft beside a run-down old air strip, a sunken statue of Mickey Mouse and many other unique sights along the wonderful white sand beaches. Of course there are activities for all ages but our favourite place is Serenity Bay, the adult only beach. It's blissful! We board a shuttle and pass the family beach and the teen beach on our way to pure Serenity! Aaaah! As I stretch out in a hammock under the shade of a palm tree and close my eyes my thoughts drift to Gilligan, the Skipper and . . . my heart-throb, Ginger. Castaway Cay reminds me a lot of that island paradise.

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Conveniently located just behind my favourite hammock is the Castaway Air Bar where they serve a nice selection of adult beverages and immediately behind the bar is Serenity Bay BBQ where a wonderful buffet lunch is served. The hot barbecue fare and fresh fruit tastes so much better when you are sitting under shady palm trees! This is heaven!

Many ports of call have adult only excursions too. There are plenty of tour options, enough to suit all tastes and age groups and since they are all selected by Disney you can rest assured they will be high quality tours.

So if you're shying away from a Disney cruise, like we did, because they may be too "kid-friendly" forget about that fear. It just isn't so!

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We tried it and we really like it! So jump in and give Disney cruising a try.

Come on in, the water's fine!

NOTE: All Disney Cruise Photos are from the Disney Wonder or Magic ships.

March 2, 2012

Disney Fantasy Christening March 1, 2012

Disney Fantasy Christening

Disney Fantasy Christening

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Disney Fantasy Christening

Disney Fantasy Christening


Photos courtesy of Beci Mahnken, MEI and MouseFanTravel.com

February 26, 2011

Art of the Disney Dream

Andrew Rossi

Guest blogger Andrew Rossi returns to take a look at the artwork found aboard the new Disney Dream.

The Disney Dream is a ship that has an air of sophistication and refinement, much more so than the Magic and the Wonder. That is not saying that the two other ships are not beautiful in their own right, but the Dream takes it to the next level. The great strength of the Dream lies in its attention to detail. Wherever you turn, there is evidence of the tremendous skill and craftsmanship that went into constructing such a massive ship. The same level of quality that you would expect when visiting any Disney theme park can be found aboard the Dream. Its stunning beauty makes it truly unlike any other ship that I have been on.

One of the things which impressed me the most about the detail and theming of the Dream was the wide array of artwork found throughout the ship. Art can sometimes be overlooked by many or taken for granted, but it really helps lend to the overall sense of luxury and elegance aboard the ship. Not only does the Dream have more artwork than the Magic or Wonder, but I also found the quality of art to be far superior as well.

No matter where you are aboard the ship, you are almost always in sight of some piece of art, be it painting, portrait, or photograph. It is this artwork that helps to add little Disney touches throughout the ship, but it does so in a way that is both mature and not overwhelming. Here is a look at some of the art that can be found aboard the Dream:

The beauty of the Disney Dream is evident as soon as you enter the magnificent atrium and one's eye cannot help but be drawn to the massive chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The chandelier's Art Deco design sets the tone of elegance and luxury for the rest of the ship. If you look carefully you might even be able to spot Mickey.

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Like the Magic and Wonder, the Dream features a statue at the base of the atrium's grand staircase. While Mickey holds the honor on the Magic and Ariel on the Wonder, on the Dream it is Admiral Donald.

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While in the atrium also take notice of the gold trim along the edges of the fourth and fifth decks above. From a distance it may not appear to be anything special, but if you look closely you will see that it features the images of many Disney characters.

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The atrium also showcases two beautiful mosaics, one near the Bon Voyage bar and the other by the Guest Relations desk, paying homage to Disney princesses.

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Overlooking the atrium on deck five are various works of art paying tribute to transportation with a distinctly Disney flair.

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I found that the stairwells were a great location to spot a wide variety of art, many featuring beautiful panoramas, scenes, and even concept art and sketches from classic Disney movies.

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One thing I liked about the artwork throughout the ship is that it was often themed to go along with the areas of the ship that it is in. For example, walking down the long promenade toward Animators Palette you can encounter sketches of many popular Disney characters:

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The entrance to the Walt Disney Theater features a wide variety of photographs of Walt Disney:
Meanwhile, near the Buena Vista Theater, you can find movie posters from many classic Disney films:

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Not to be overlooked, the all the restaurants aboard the Dream also feature a wide array of beautiful artwork, such as the Royal Palace which features paintings of Cinderella, Belle, Snow White, and Aurora:

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Outside the entrance to Enchanted Garden you can find some beautifully decorated ceramic vases:

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As you enter Palo you encounter a magnificent chandelier and the dining room features many paintings of Venice:

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Likewise, Remy features images of the Parisian skyline reminiscent of scenes from Ratatouille:

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For the best collection of art aboard the ship, however, be sure to visit the Vista Gallery. This area is like a small art museum and has art available for purchase as well. The quality of the artwork here is absolutely stunning and ranges from paintings of the ship to scenes from classic Disney movies and portraits of many of you favorite Disney characters in ways you have never seen them before.

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While all the artwork found across the Dream really helps add a "Disney" touch to the décor, nothing does this more than the Enchanted Art that can be found throughout nearly every deck of the ship (twenty-two pieces in all). While these pieces of art may appear just like any other painting they are actually LCD screens and if you look at them for long enough you will find that they are unlike any other artwork you have ever seen.

You can learn even more about the Enchanted Art and even see some videos by clicking here.

This enchanted art, that literally comes to life before you eyes, is unlike anything else found aboard the other Disney ships or on any other cruise line. It is a truly unique experience that helps make cruising aboard the Dream all the more magical.

This enchanted artwork also allows for another unique, fun, interactive experience aboard the ship called the Midship Detective Agency. If you are familiar with the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure at Epcot, this is very similar. Instead of helping Kim Possible, you are now helping Mickey, Goofy, and Donald solve a mystery by finding the evil Disney villain who is stealing artwork aboard the Dream. This fun adventure takes you across the ship in search of different clues that might help you uncover the villain responsible as well as helping to recover some of the lost paintings.

Your mission begins on deck five at the Midship Detective Agency desk overlooking the atrium.

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Here you receive a map of the ship along with a list of potential suspects and a detective "badge" that you will use throughout your mission.

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You then watch the monitor and are given instructions as to what you are looking for and how the badge works. Once you begin, the mission takes you across the ship from deck two all the way up to deck ten. What I liked about it was that you could go at your own pace. Unlike Kim Possible, where you have a Kimmunicator that times-out after fifteen minutes of inactivity, if you are doing a mission for the Midship Detective Agency you can stop in the middle for a break and resume later in the day.

I decided to play straight through and the mission took me about an hour and fifteen minutes, considerable longer than a twenty to thirty minute Kim Possible Mission. The map that you receive at the start shows you different locations that you can go to throughout the ship to find clues using various pieces of enchanted art. As you approach the art you hold up your badge and this either unlocks a clue or helps recover a missing painting.

I noticed a lot of people participating in the Midship Detective Agency throughout the course of the cruise, ranging from groups of kids to families and even adults. However, there are so many different locations spread across the ship that things did not really get backed up at the various pieces of enchanted art. I had expected that I would have to wait for a bunch of other people to get their clues before I could get mine, but this was not the case.

You can see a small sample video of what you may encounter on your mission for the Midship Detective Agency by clicking here.

I think the Midship Detective Agency is a great addition to the Dream, giving kids and families additional things to do while on board, and I would love to see it implemented on the other Disney ships. It is just another example of how Disney is at the forefront of the cruise line industry always looking for new ways to enhance the experience for its guests and utilize new technology. It is something that makes cruising aboard the Disney Dream unique, just as with all the artwork found across the ship. It is this artwork that gives the Dream a distinctly Disney flair, but at the same time enhances the overall beauty and elegance of the ship.

February 16, 2011

Disney Dream - Wheelchair Access Report

By Guest Blogger Terry W.

My daughter Anne and I were passengers on the Disney Dream's first regular 4-day cruise, from January 30 to February 3rd.

We stayed in a standard inside stateroom, category 11, just as we do when we sail on the Wonder and the Magic. We were thrilled with many improvements to wheelchair access.

Here are some things people in wheelchairs will be happy to find. And a few things that still cause problems.

Staterooms

1. The staterooms for people with wheelchairs are at the elevator-end of hallways now instead of at the far end. YEA!!! you don't have to navigate past the carts every time you go back to your stateroom to use the bathroom!!!!

2. The staterooms with roll-in showers also have automatic doors now. Very cool. Allows for more independence. They open when you tap your 'key to the world' card on the entry pad from the outside and when you push the door open button from the inside. Like the other Disney ships, the Dream continues to have wide doors and room for wheelchairs to turn around once you get into the room.

3. The higher beds in all the staterooms worked well for me as a caretaker of a person who needs help dressing and transferring to the wheelchair. I didn't have to lean over so far and the strain on my back was less on the Dream. But warning for people who are used to having the beds split so they can work from both sides. The beds don't split on the Dream.

4. The roll-in showers on the Dream have better drains; they have added a center drain as well as the drain around the edge of the shower area. This will prevent overflow and soaking of the bathroom floor when the drains can't keep up with the shower flow. The bathrooms continue to be well-designed for wheelchair users to transfer to toilet and shower chairs. There is enough room for personal care assistants to help. The counter areas are bigger, which is a help for all the stuff you have to have on hand.

5. Storage in the stateroom on the Dream was less than the Magic. This is partly made up for by the higher beds, which allow you to roll your suitcases under the beds... so you can leave things in the suitcases and get to them more easily. But a person in a wheelchair will miss having storage in reach. There is one really good new feature in the closet. There is a pull down hanging rod so that a person in a wheelchair can hang up and retrieve clothes on hangers!

6. Unfixed from the Magic to the Dream: there are not enough places to plug in your equipment at night in the stateroom. It is a must to bring a plug strip with you if you have to charge a power wheelchair, a speech device, your camera, your iPad etc. over night.


Public areas:

1. Several doors from the elevator lobbies have motion sensor openings and open to let you in/out to the decks without you having to open the doors.

2. Theater seating in both theaters is VERY much better. A person in a wheelchair may now sit in the front, middle or back of the theaters. This is exciting, especially in the Walt Disney Theater, where many of the shows have stuff coming down from the ceiling. Getting to the front and middle level seats in the WD Theater does require a host to assist you; you have to go through a crew area, on special elevators, and though some water tight doors at the front of the ship. The host has to call the officer on the bridge and arrange to have the doors released when the person in the wheelchair is coming through. After the shows you have to wait for a host to come help you back out. But it is really worth it!!

3. Dining Rooms are very tight. It seems to us that a person in a wheelchair can only sit on the main aisle. For our cruise, the table assignment took this into consideration. I hope every guest in a wheelchair will book a wheelchair access room so the team that assigns tables will have the party schedule for the aisle. When you go to breakfast or lunch at one of the main dining rooms, you have to request an aisle table.

4. Cabanas, for casual dining was much easier to navigate with a wheelchair than Topsiders on the Magic, with more tables and much wider spaces around the food serving areas. The tables are packed a little tight, but the hosts can find good ones.

5. Bathrooms in the public areas have very large 'assist' cubicles within them. The size of these is excellent. However, I think the solution is not as good as the family/assist bathrooms in the public areas on the Magic and Wonder. Two drawbacks are that only the same gender person can go with the person to be assisted and to get there you have to pass through two doors rather than only one.

6. Hallways in the public areas of the Dream are much wider and do not have as many obstructions. It was always hard to get through deck 3 and 4 on the Magic and Wonder. Getting from restaurants and activity areas on the Dream was much easier.

For people in wheelchairs, any Disney resort or Disney ship is a pleasure compared to the rest of the world. It was great to see that the Dream has incorporated most of the good things from past designs and taken access even farther. We were thrilled with it and look forward to the Fantasy! Please share any of this information that you thing other people will find useful.

Best wishes from a Disney fan
Terry W

February 13, 2011

Dining Aboard the Disney Dream: Cabanas and Other Options

Andrew Rossi

Guest blogger Andrew Rossi continues to explore the dining options available aboard the Disney Dream with a look at Cabanas as well as many other locations to get something to eat or drink.

One thing about cruises, there is never a shortage of food. Not matter which way you turn, there always seems to be something to eat. This is especially true of the Disney Dream. Of course, the three restaurants that comprise the dinner rotation receive the most notoriety: Royal Palace, Enchanted Garden, and Animators Palette. In addition to these restaurants, however, there is a plethora of dining options available throughout the ship offering a wide variety of choices ranging from a quick snack to a full-course meal. Here are some of the dining locations found aboard the Dream:

Cabanas:
Cabanas can be most closely associated with the Beach Blanket Buffet on the Wonder and the Topsider Buffet on the Magic, but major improvements and enhancements have been made on the Dream.

Cabanas Sign

Located on deck eleven, the theme of the restaurant is meant to evoke images of a California beach, complete with palm trees, Adirondack-style chairs, tables topped with seashells, and decorative surf boards. The dining room has a very light, open, airy feel with large windows allowing in plenty of natural sunlight and showcases beautiful views of the ocean below.

Cabanas Indoor Seating

There are also some uniquely "Disney" touches with appearances from some of the characters from Finding Nemo.

Cabanas Nemo Characters1

Cabanas Nemo Characters2

In addition, the restaurant also has outdoor seating, allowing diners to take advantage of the warm Caribbean sun and cool ocean breezes.

Cabanas%20Outdoor%20Seating

Two really nice artistic touches in the restaurant are a 30-foot mosaic depicting a scene of a coral reef complete with characters from Finding Nemo in addition to another piece of art depicting the various Disney castles from around the world in sand.

Cabanas Mosaic

Cabanas Sand Castles

Cabanas features a buffet breakfast and lunch, but rather than being one long counter, the food selections are divided into different stations meant to resemble beachside cabanas. As opposed to the setup on the Magic and Wonder, where diners have to wait in one long line, this new design allow diners to pick and choose which sections to visit and allows them to skip past those that don't interest them.

Cabanas Station1

Cabanas Station2

Cabanas Station3

Cabanas Station4

Cabanas Desserts

It also seemed to me that this new format allows for a wider variety of food choices than what can be found at the Topsider or Beach Blanket Buffets. The various food stations offer everything from soups and salads to pizzas, pastas, sandwiches and wraps, a carving station, and delicious desserts. I also noticed the food quality on the Dream to be higher than that of the Magic and Wonder (not saying that it is poor on the other two ships) with more gourmet and refined offerings.

Another improvement is that the drink station has been moved away from the end of the food line, with multiple locations throughout the restaurant. On the Magic and Wonder the buffet line would frequently get backed up as people were pouring their drinks.

Cabanas Drink Station

Another difference with Cabanas comes at dinner where the restaurant is transformed from a buffet to a table-service dining experience where meals are cooked to order. This offers cruisers a more casual alternative to dining in the main restaurants and offers the option of being able to dine outside under the stars. The dinner menu features a full four-course meal that includes some of the signature items from the main rotational restaurants as well as some unique items that can only be found here. This is a great option for cruisers who do not necessarily want to be locked in to either an early seating or late seating dinner time, allowing them to eat at a time of their own choosing.

Flo's V-8 Café:
If you are relaxing by the pool and looking for a quick bite to eat, then Flo's V-8 Café is the place for you. It is basically the equivalent of Goofey's Galley, Pinocchio's Pizzeria, and Pluto's Doghouse from the Magic and Wonder all located in one convenient location. Themed after the movie Cars, there are three separate counters from which you can order.

Flo's Cafe Sign

Luigi's features an assortment of pizzas ordered by the slice.

Luigi's Menu

Luigi%20Counter

Tow Mater Grill has traditional favorites like hamburgers and cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, hotdogs and bratwurst, and chicken tenders.

Tow Mater Menu

Fillmore's Favorites has a lighter fare of sandwiches and wraps, freshly made paninis, and salads.

Fillmore's Menu

Fillmore's Counter

While it is convenient to have all three stands located right next to each other, and so close to the pools, I did find that this area became very crowded, especially during the afternoon lunchtime hours.

Cove Café:
One of my favorite spaces on the entire ship was the Cove Café located adjacent to the Quiet Cove Pool. Even though it is more of a place to get something to drink than something to eat, the Cove Café does have some food offerings during the course of the day with muffins, Danishes, and croissants in the morning and an assortment of pastries throughout the rest of the day, in addition to delectable chocolate covered strawberries that became on of my favorite snacks on the cruise.

Cove Cafe Sign

Cove Cafe Bar

The Café's furniture and artwork are inspired by the Art Deco era of the 1920s and 1930s, giving the interior a sense of luxury and refinement. Take time to look at some of the black and white photographs hanging on the walls as they feature many images of Walt Disney travelling with friends and family. With its comfortable chairs and couches, the Cove Café is the perfect place to relax, its quiet atmosphere great for grabbing a drink and enjoying a good book.

Cove Cafe Seating1

Cove Cafe Seating2

Bars and Lounges:
I was astonished by the number of bars and lounges to be found throughout the ship. It will be very difficult to go thirsty on this ship because wherever you are there is a bar nearby. While The District, the adults-only nightclub area, features a variety of differently themed bars and lounges, there are many others located throughout the ship. Here are just a few and where they can be found:

Located on deck 13 just above the Quiet Cove Pool, Currents offers ample outdoor seating where cruisers can enjoy the sun and a refreshing frozen drink by day or a cocktail sitting under the stars by night.

Currents Bar

One thing that really impressed me about the Dream was that the lounge chairs and other furniture out on deck was of much better quality than found on the Magic or the Wonder.

Currents Seating Area

Meridian is situated between Palo and Remy on deck 12, offering the perfect spot to enjoy a pre- or post-meal cocktail while enjoying the beautiful ocean views. Featuring both indoor and outdoor seating, Meridian's comfy leather chairs and dark-paneled walls give the lounge a feeling of luxury. In fact, the lounge actually has a dress code with a dress shirt or jacket required for men and a dress or pantsuit for women; no jeans are allowed.

arMeridian.jpg

The décor of the lounge pays tribute to world travel, specifically the early days of sea travel. There are many little details to be found here, from the navigational tools embedded in the floor, leather maps featuring passport stamps from around the world, and even a constellation map lit up with twinkling stars covering the ceiling.

Also on deck 12 is Waves, tucked just behind the aft funnel. Its location just below Goofey's Sports Deck makes it a convenient location for grabbing a cold drink after playing a game of basketball or finishing up a round of miniature golf. It is located in an out-of-the-way area, which makes it another nice quiet spot to relax.

Waves

The Quiet Cove Pool on deck 11 features the Cove Bar, which offers a Disney Cruise Line first. Cruisers are able to walk up or swim up to the bar, allowing the convenience of ordering drinks without even having to leave the pool. I noticed this to be one of the busiest bars on the ship, primarily because of its location, but Currents (located just above the Quiet Cove Pool) offers the same drinks while having less of a wait to get them.

Cove Bar

Overlooking the ship's atrium on deck 4, the Vista Café is very similar to the Cove Café, just in a less secluded setting. It still features comfy chairs and coaches and offers beautiful views of the atrium that make it a perfect place to sit and relax. In addition, its large portholes allow for great ocean views. The Café specializes in coffee drinks and also features an assortment of pastries throughout the day.

Vista Cafe Bar

Vista Cafe Seating

Just off the atrium on deck 3 is Bon Voyage. Its centralized location makes it a great place to enjoy a cocktail before dinner or prior to seeing a show in the Walt Disney Theater. The bar's Art Deco feel ties in perfectly with that of the atrium, offering a refined yet relaxing setting.

Bon Voyage

With a ship so large there are so many places to explore and things to discover. But, despite being so big, I found that the Disney Dream features many little, quiet places to sit and relax. These bars and lounges offer the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a refreshing drink. Then, if you get hungry, there are multiple dining options throughout the ship that make food readily available at nearly any hour of the day. It is safe to say that you will not go hungry or thirsty while on a Disney cruise.

February 9, 2011

Disney Dream Maiden Voyage - Heading Home

by Lori Edelman
Guest Blogger

Leaving the Dream was sad, but you have to say so-long in order to plan, anticipate, and take that next wonderful Disney cruise!

Since we had the late dinner seating, we didn't have to be out of our stateroom and at breakfast until 8:00am. Breakfast was in the same restaurant where you had dinner the evening before. In our case, that would be Animator's Palate. Narrow aisle space made it challenging to get everyone seated along with their carry-on bags.

After eating and saying goodbye to our table-mates and our servers, we attempted to make our way off the ship. What we discovered was an incredibly long line of people and bags. Apparently, it was taking longer than planned for the ship to clear customs.

Eventually we disembarked and went downstairs in the terminal to locate our checked bags. That was pretty easy and then we got in line for Customs. Despite being very long, the line moved fairly quickly. Next up we boarded one of the DCL busses headed back to the airport.

Fortunately, our flights home were pretty uneventful. On one leg I was assigned to a seat in a row that no longer existed (change of equipment), but they found me a new spot without any problem. The hardest part of the entire trip for me came at the Portland airport. Mike and I were home, but it was time to say goodbye to Aaron as he had one more short hop back to Eugene and the University of Oregon. We had such a great time with him; I didn't want it to end.

Now, we've been home for nearly a week and I can still say this was by far one of the very best Disney vacations we have ever had.

But, there is so much more to see and do!

Next trip we will take the time to play one of the "detective" games to see all that the different pieces of animated artwork can do.

Next trip we will visit more of the areas in the District. Evolution, Skyline, D Lounge.

Next trip I'd like to sneak a peek of a virtual porthole!

Next trip we will spend more time swimming in the Quiet Cove pool. In fact we will swim right up to the bar! Maybe we can warm up in one of the hot tubs on deck, too!

Next trip we will get a picture taken with Captain Mickey!

Next trip I'll take a class at the Fitness Center!

Next trip we will have dinner at Palo; maybe even brunch and high tea!

Next time. I don't know when we will get to travel again on the Disney Dream, but I do know that we will meet her sister ship, the Fantasy! We are booked on her maiden voyage scheduled to sail on March 31, 2012!!! (We will be 4 for 4 on Disney maiden voyages!)

See ya real soon! (I'm including some random photos from different days of our trip. Enjoy!)

Postscript from Michael

We're home now.

As I drove in to work this morning they were playing Southern Cross (by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) and I got a little sad. I love this song and it always makes me remember our cruises. Originally, Lori and I were planning to do back-to-back cruises for this maiden voyage and as I was driving in to work I was really wishing that I was waking up on the Dream getting ready for another day on the ship. On the other hand, instead of doing the back-to-back we took our 19 year-old son with us (who WANTED to go) and we all had a great time!

Lori and I have had a number of discussions along the lines of "what did you like best?" and "what did you like least?" and it has been difficult to answer these questions. The thing I liked the least was how when viewing the Disney Magic at Castaway Cay from the deck of the Dream, many people were referring to the Magic as old, beat up, and worse. The Disney Magic will always hold a special place in my heart and I think Disney continues to do a wonderful job in maintaining and enhancing the experience on the Magic for one and all. There is no need to belittle the older ships in order to make the newest one seem even more special. And, the Dream is special. It's Disney's first large ship and it has an elegance that no other cruise line can match. In fact, it is only matched by the Magic and Wonder.

I think my favorite restaurant is the Enchanted Garden -- it is very bright and comfortable. My least favorite is Animator's Palette which suffers from smaller aisles making it difficult for everyone to get in and out.

Cabana's was also very nice, but for some reason Disney made this one of the few ways to get to and from Meridian, Palo and Remy. Having to walk through Cabana's at a busy time to get to one of these other places can be a little frustrating.

The variety of places that make up Flo's is great and it is nice to have them all grouped together. For lunches and snacks, these little food-court-like venues can't be beat.

I really liked the variety of bars and hangouts. Meridian is a very pleasant place to have a drink and a cigar while overlooking the aft of the ship. Pink is a good place to hang with a group -- especially if you are sitting in one of the clamshells that make it easy to hear everyone in your group. We visited Evolution and other places in The District but did not have enough time to spend in all of them. Something for our "To Do List"!

I wish I would have been able to get in to Palo -- I think my son would have enjoyed it now that he is old enough. I know Lori and I would have loved it -- we have many fond memories and stories of our experiences in Palo. We heard good things about Remy, but the $75 price tag seems a little prohibitive.

The coffee in all locations on the Dream was much better than what I remember from previous cruises -a huge plus!

I wish they would have played the horn more in general and more of the new tunes. I know that the horn can be a little overpowering on the Magic and Wonder, but even sitting near the funnel on the Dream the horn was not hard on my ears. I feel fortunate that I remembered to record the medley on my iPhone!

One final note - this was a Maiden Voyage with a lot of new crew and staff. There were really very few problems but Disney has set people's expectations so high that little issues seem to be huge problems for some people. These people seemed to forget that this was a new ship with new crew and there would be mistakes and they were very vocal. Fortunately, most people seemed to understand.

Thank you for allowing us to share our experiences with you!

DCL Dream Bus

Sail away.jpg

Towel Mickey

Ships Photo

Mickey Blanket

Shutters new filing system

Kiss Goodnight

February 8, 2011

Disney Dream Maiden Voyage - Day 4 Castaway Cay

by Lori Edelman
Guest Blogger

The ship arrived and docked early at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. We chose Cabanas for breakfast before we headed ashore. They had lots of good choices including eggs benedict, omelets and corned-beef hash - a favorite of Aaron's and Michael's. When we'd had our fill, we made our way down to the gangway on deck 1. Once on the dock we had our first up-close and personal view of the ship. Wow. She is at the same time beautiful and massive.

A number of things have changed on the island. The tram stop for the family beach has moved down island closer to the new Pelican Plunge water slide. This relocation seemed to help spread out the crowds along the family beach. Right as you exit the tram is another shop very similar to She Sells Seashells. Merchandise choices seemed nearly the same. They also have Cookie's Too; a second BBQ service located at Serenity Bay, the adult beach.

Once we got to our favorite spot just beyond the Conched Out Bar, Aaron and I decided to do a little exploring. We hopped on the tram to check out the adult beach. It was quiet and peaceful, but a bit windier. Then we decided to rent bicycles. Great bargain at only $12 for two bikes! Good old, solid Schwinn with the pedal-backward style brakes. And, my bike was pink! There were a couple different paths that we took. On one loop we stopped at a look-out tower that offered spectacular views of the entire island.

After our ride we headed back to our spot where Michael had settled in with his kindle, a cigar, and a Mickey margarita. (We made up this one ourselves: tequila, club soda, and lime juice and by the time we left the cruise a number of the bar tenders and servers were using the name!) We tried dipping our toes in the water, but it was pretty cold! Even though the water was cold, the temperature outside was very pleasant: 73 and sunny.

They started serving lunch about 11:30am. Selections were about the same as we remembered from past stops at Castaway Cay. Hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled mahi mahi, BBQ ribs, chicken, a variety of salads, fresh fruit, and desserts. You will never go hungry on a Disney cruise, that's for sure!

It turned out to be a beautiful afternoon. Michael and I did not go in the water choosing instead to simply nap/read/ipad on the beach. Aaron tried to lure us all into the water and did brave it himself for a short time. He's 19. It was our perfect day in paradise.

We headed back to the ship about 3pm on foot in order to capture a few more photos of the ship. When we got back to our stateroom, I decided to start on the dreaded task of packing. It went pretty quickly even though I had, of course, brought along way more than we needed.

Aaron wanted to head to deck 12 to watch the crew throw the lines in preparation for sailing away. We sailed promptly at 5pm preceded by the lovely tones from the horn of the Dream. This afternoon we were treated to "Be Our Guest" and "When You Wish Upon a Star". A trip to Castaway Cay is bittersweet; paradise arriving and during the day, very sad to leave as it signals our trip is coming to an end.

Tonight we were treated to a brand new production in the Walt Disney Theater: Disney's Believe. I absolutely loved it! The story is about a little girl celebrating her birthday and trying to get her dad to believe in magic. I was delighted that they included many musical numbers from some older classics like Mary Poppins, the Jungle Book, and Pocahontas. The genie from Aladdin acted as host trying to convince Dad to believe.

Dinner for us on this final evening was in Animator's Palate. This restaurant is located on deck 3 just down a really long hallway from the Royal Palace. The highlight of Animator's Palate is supposed to be the show. The screens around the room transform throughout the evening coming to life with characters from Finding Nemo. Unfortunately, our table was more toward the center of the room making it difficult to see and hear. If you've ever been to the "Turtle Talk with Crush" attraction at Epcot, you would find this show somewhat familiar.

Besides the show, I loved the decor. The color scheme was primarily black and white with splashes of color here and there. The backs of our chairs were red with yellow "buttons" -- kind of like the shorts of our favorite Mouse!

This was probably our least favorite menu. Michael had tenderloin, Aaron had a shrimp pasta dish, and I had a steak salad. Good, but not great as we've come to expect. While our servers did their best to be attentive, service was just not up to par. What we later learned is that the galley for this restaurant was quite a trek for the servers. (This is a good example of Disney building a beautiful ship, but not giving enough thought to what it would really take to make some things work.)

After dinner, Aaron went exploring after getting himself packed. I met Michael at Meridian. When he finished his cigar, we headed back to Pink for one final cocktail. Also, our friend, Yelena, had left a special gift for us -- a pair of champagne flutes from two of the pre-maiden voyage cruises. We promise you will not find ours on eBay!

Just before we left, our new friends, Dottie, Donna, and Carol stopped by. Fingers crossed, we plan to all meet up again when the Disney Fantasy sails her maiden voyage next year! (We have our reservation! Do you?)

And, one final thing. Donna mentioned that she was able to order one of the new Dooney & Burke designs available only on the Dream. People snapped them up within an hour or two (maybe minutes) the day they were released. Crazy. At any rate, I was so excited! We dashed to the store, White Caps, only moments before they closed the doors at midnight. Whew. Made it! And, I placed my order! It should arrive in plenty of time before our next cruise.

We called it a night around 1pm. All too soon we will be on the airplane home.

AquaDuck 1

AquaDuck 2

AquaDuck 3

Welcome to Castaway Cay

Water is cold!

Dream 1

Dream 2

Dream 3

Dream 4

Dream 5

Sorcerer Mickey

Dad Too Busy

Dad and Daughter

Genies

Merlin

Baloo

Lion King

Fairy Godmother

Be Our Guest

Mickey I Believe!

Minnie and Mrs Potts

Finale

Animators

Animators Table

February 5, 2011

Dining on the Disney Dream: Enchanted Garden

Andrew Rossi

Andrew Rossi continues his look at the restaurants aboard the new Disney Dream with a review of Enchanted Garden.

Whenever I cruise aboard the Magic or the Wonder, I always look forward to dining at the various restaurants. I have always enjoyed the elegance of Lumiere's on the Magic and Triton's on the Wonder as well as the magical quality of Animator's Palate on both ships. Parrot Cay, however, has always been somewhat of a letdown when compared with these other restaurants. The dining room's tropical theme is somewhat generic and there is nothing about the dining experience there that makes it special or memorable; it just does not have the same Disney-quality feel as the other restaurants.

Aboard the new Disney Dream there are some similarities, but also many differences, with the dining experiences aboard the other two Disney ships. Animator's Palate has been carried over from the Magic and Wonder but given an entirely new spin to make it truly unique. In addition, while Royal Palace does have a similar look and feel to that of Triton's or Lumiere's, it far surpasses them in elegance and refinement. For the third of the rotational restaurants, rather than brining Parrot Cay aboard the new ship, I was happy to see that Disney devised an entirely new concept and one which is completely unlike anything found aboard the other ships.

Overview:
Inspired by the picturesque gardens of Versailles in France, Enchanted Garden delivers the theming, detail, and magic that you come to expect from Disney restaurants. Located on deck two, just below the ship's atrium, the dining room is open for buffet breakfast and lunch in addition to being a part of the dining rotation for dinner. The restaurant's location was actually a concern for me. I thought that, being so low in the ship, you would really be able to feel the boat rocking. These fears proved to be unfounded. The only thing I did notice about the restaurant's location was that the portholes are smaller than those found on the higher decks of the ship. However, with so much to see inside the restaurant, your eyes will be drawn to many other things besides the portholes.

Enchanted Garden Sign

Atmosphere:
Enchanted Garden is just as beautiful as Royal Palace, but in a totally different way. While Royal Palace has a very upscale and refined feel, Enchanted Garden has more of a casual elegance. With a color palette comprised of whites, light greens, light blues and light pinks the dining room has a very serene, calm, and relaxing feel that provide a stark contrast to the opulent gold, marble, and crystal found in Royal Palace.

The theme of Enchanted Garden is that you are dining in an elegant conservatory amid the foothills in France and there is a tremendous amount of detail, both large and small, throughout the restaurant that help to immerse guests into this setting. Diners enter the restaurant flanked by beautifully painted murals depicting rolling hills, colorful gardens, and bright blue skies. The floor of the entryway is a stone mosaic that stretches down the center of the restaurant while overhead the ceiling is covered with an ivy-laced trellis and open views to the sky above. All these elements really help to bring the outdoors inside the restaurant, giving it an open and airy feel. This is especially important given the restaurants small portholes.

Enchanted Garden Entrance

Enchanted Garden Center Aisle

At the center of the dining room, and the main focal point of the restaurant, is a seven foot tall cascading fountain topped by a cherub Mickey Mouse.

Enchanted Garden Fountain

Another nice detail to be found in the restaurant is the light fixtures that blossom and become bathed in color throughout the course of the day. If you go for lunch the flowers were be closed and more pale in color, but for dinner they are in full bloom.

Flower Light Fixture

One thing I found interesting about the restaurant was that the center aisle is lined by semi-circular booths. The rest of the restaurants aboard the Disney ships generally feature only standard tables and chairs.

Enchanted Garden Booth

One of the main attractions of Enchanted Garden is its ceiling, which changes throughout the course of the day. If you visit the restaurant for breakfast or lunch you will encounter a vibrant blue sky, but later in the day this will change to a golden sunset and finally a dark nighttime sky complete with twinkling stars. The previous pictures were taken earlier in the afternoon with the daytime sky, but here for comparison is the nighttime sky that greets guests at dinner:

Nightime Sky Ceiling

I absolutely love this concept and it really makes the restaurant unique and lends to the overall sense of immersion into the theme of dining in a French garden. However, if you are not sitting toward the center of the restaurant you do not really get the full effect because the main portion of the ceiling that depicts the image of the sky runs above the center aisle of the dining room.

Also, execution wise, I think it would be better if the ceiling depicted an accelerated day, changing from daytime to nighttime throughout the course of you meal. I was in the restaurant for the second seating at 8:30pm. When we were seated the ceiling was already depicting the nighttime sky and there was no real change throughout the course of the meal. Those diners at the first seating, however, would probably witness the change from dusk to night.

Despite the openness and airiness created by the restaurant's atmosphere, I found the dining room to have a very crowded feel because the tables were positioned so close to one another. I was so surprised to see the tables basically right on top of each other because it was not like this at Royal Palace. Also it gave the servers very little space to walk between tables as seen here:

Enchanted Garden Tables

Despite this fact, however, the restaurant certainly lives up to its name and provides diners with a sense of enchantment unique among the restaurants on any of the Disney ships.

The Menu:
The menu is another area where there is a stark contrast between Enchanted Garden and Royal Palace. Whereas Royal Palace feature many rich and heavier dishes, Enchanted Garden features a lighter fare of what Disney calls "market-inspired continental" cuisine. In this way, the menus really go hand-in-hand with the atmosphere in cementing the theme of each restaurant. Also, the vastly different menus allow for a totally different dining experience each night, not only in terms of location but also in taste.

Just as with Royal Palace, I was impressed by the wide selection of choices available starting with appetizers and continuing all the way through dessert. Appetizer selections included an Ahi Tuna and Avocado Tower with crispy noodles and wasabi dressing, a Golden and Red Beet Carpaccio, North Atlantic Lobster Ravioli, and a Thyme and Garlic Brioche filled with chanterelle, hedgehog, and black trumpet mushrooms.

For soups the menu featured a Duck Consommé as well as a Curried Carrot and Apple Soup while for salads there was a Romaine Wedge topped with a creamy Romano dressing and a Baby Spinach Salad served with seasonal pears, toasted pine nuts, and crumbled gorgonzola.

There were many appealing entrée selections that made it difficult to decide which one I wanted. My server noted that his two favorites were the Pan-Seared Sea Bass served with a saffron and fennel risotto and topped with a sweet chili glaze as well as the Grilled New York Strip Steak which comes accompanied by thyme roasted vegetables and a double-baked potato. Other entrees on the menu included Caramelized Sea Scallops, Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Smoked Salt, The Enchanted Garden Tuna Salad, and Marjoram Scented Organic Chicken. Also, for vegetarians, there are the Glazed Portobello Mushrooms topped with a sundried tomato cream drizzle as well as the Peal-Barley Cakes with Shallots, Leeks, and Rosemary.

Finally, the dessert choices include a Steamed Lemon Buttermilk Pudding, a "Sacher" Chocolate Torte with apricot sauce, a Banana Foster Sundae, and Esterhazy Cake featuring almond meringue soaked in maraschino liqueur and layered pastry cream. There are also two sugar free desserts, the strawberry cheesecake and silky dark chocolate mousse. For those diners having difficulty choosing just one dessert, there is the Sweet Temptations which features a trio of Esterhazy cake, strawberry cheesecake, and silky dark chocolate mousse.

For my appetizer there was no doubt with what I wanted, the North Atlantic Lobster Ravioli. I found it interesting that this was an appetizer selection since ravioli is something you would usually have as an entrée. The ravioli came topped with some additional lobster meat, roasted garlic, and sweet basil. The garlic and the basil provided some extra flavor that complimented the lobster extremely well. What really impressed me with the appetizer was the sauce. Whenever I order lobster ravioli it usually comes in some type of cream sauce, but this was a light tomato broth that really helped to accentuate the flavor of the lobster rather than being overpowering.

Lobster Ravioli

Since there was really no soup or salad that appealed to me, I decided to double-up on appetizers and ordered the Thyme and Garlic Brioche. The brioche came filled with three different types of mushrooms, chanterelle, hedgehog, and black trumpet, along with leeks and a light buttermilk cream. The mushrooms themselves all had basically the same taste, but each had a slightly different texture that added some depth and complexity to the appetizer. Not only did the mixture of mushrooms have a light and refreshing taste, but the brioche itself was also light and fluffy.

Brioche

For my entrée I decided to try the Caramelized Sea Scallops. I am not usually one to order scallops, but I like to try different things that I don't normally eat when I am on a cruise. The scallops themselves were large, but extremely tender, almost as if they could melt in your mouth. What truly made the scallops special was the caramelized leek and veal jus reduction that accompanied them. I was unsure of how the combination of scallops with a veal-based sauce would taste, but it turned out that their flavors actually complimented each other very well. The sauce was very light and had just the slightest hint of veal flavor that did not overwhelm the taste of the scallops at all. Another interesting part of the dish was the pearl pasta that came served along with the scallops, which had an almost Asian taste. This was another light accompaniment as opposed to something heavier like a potato.

Sea Scallops

With the menu composed of many lighter dishes, I actually found that I had room for dessert and was not overly full as I usually am when dining on a cruise. The dessert menu had many delectable choices, but the Banana Foster Sundae immediately jumped out at me. This was a light and refreshing way to end the meal. The sundae featured creamy vanilla ice cream and was topped with a very light and fluffy whipped cream as well as just enough caramel to add some sweetness to the dessert without being overpowering. What made the sundae really tasty were the rum-glazed bananas that were full of flavor and paired perfectly with the ice cream and caramel.

Banana Foster Sundae

It should be noted that I found the presentation of the food, both at Enchanted Garden and Royal Palace, to be very impressive. Everything from appetizers to entrees and desserts looked just as good as it tasted. The presentation definitely helped to give the dining experience a more gourmet feel than the food I have had on previous Disney cruises. This is not saying that the food on the Magic and the Wonder is bad, but the Disney Dream takes it to an entirely new level.

The Overall Experience:
Enchanted Garden has everything you would expect from a Disney restaurant, from its wonderfully themed and detailed atmosphere to its high-quality food. Disney has once again delivered a dining experience that is completely unique, unlike anything you will find from any other cruise line or aboard any of the other Disney ships. It is dining experiences like Enchanted Garden that keep me coming back to Disney cruises because you know everything is going to be of the highest quality. This attention to detail and theming that is found in Enchanted Garden is carried throughout the rest of the ship and makes cruising on the Disney Dream truly an unforgettable experience.

January 30, 2011

Dining Aboard the Disney Dream: Royal Palace

Andrew Rossi

Andrew Rossi returns with a review of the Royal Palace aboard the new Disney Dream.

I recently had the good fortune of sailing on a preview cruise of the Disney Dream and was completely blown away by the immense size, beauty, and intricate details of the new ship. I have been on Disney cruises in the past on both the Magic and Wonder and have always been impressed by everything they have to offer. For this reason, I had extremely high expectations when stepping aboard the Dream and it exceeded them in every way. Disney has truly gone above and beyond with this ship and has once again raised the bar for the cruise line industry.

Disney Dream Exterior

One of the things that struck me most about the Dream is how elegant and upscale it felt, much more so than the Magic and Wonder. The Dream's grand atrium with its opulent chandelier is truly breathtaking and sets a tone of luxury that is carried throughout the rest of the ship.

Dream Atrium

Dream Atrium Chandelier

Even with its immense size, there is still great attention to detail everywhere you look. Whether it be in the areas dedicated to kids or teens, the theaters, the shops, or the nightclubs for adults there is always more than what first meets the eye. To truly appreciate the Dream, you really need to take your time and absorb everything you see because some details may not be apparent on just a cursory glance.

The same effort, skill, and craftsmanship that Disney puts into its theme parks have gone into creating this ship. The Dream truly lives up to its name because when you see some areas of the ship you think that they can not possibly be real. Creativity and originality have always been mainstays of the Disney theme parks and this has been carried over to the Dream and is evident throughout the ship, especially evident in its restaurants.

Overview:
Like the Magic and the Wonder, the Dream has three main dining rooms, each with a different theme and menu, and like the other ships diners rotate to a different restaurant each night while their servers travel along with them. Two of the restaurants, Royal Palace and Enchanted Garden, are brand new to the Dream and the only carryover from the Magic and Wonder, Animators Palate, has been completely re-imagined. The result is three completely new dining experiences that cannot be found anywhere else at sea.

Unfortunately, being just a two-night preview cruise, I was only able to experience two out of the three restaurants: Royal Palace and Enchanted Garden. Since Royal Palace is the most visible of the ship's dining rooms, centrally located just off the ships atrium, I have decided to highlight it first.

Royal Palace Sign

Atmosphere:
The restaurants on the Dream are just as much about atmosphere as they are about food. Each dining room has its own unique theme that uses a combination of both atmosphere and food to create a truly immersive dining experience.

The Magic has Lumiere's and the Wonder has Triton's that pay homage to Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid respectively, but Royal Palace is a salute to all Disney princesses and places diners right in the middle of a fairytale setting. Like the rest of the ship, however, the Disney touches are not over-the-top or overwhelming by any means. The restaurant does feature beautiful, hand-painted portraits of various Disney princesses, such as Snow White, Aurora, Belle, and Cinderella, but the other details throughout the restaurant are far more subtle.

Princess Portraits 1

Princess Portraits 2

Royal Palace is quite possibly the most elegant restaurant on any of the Disney ships (with exception of Palo and Remy) and has the feel of dining in a grand ballroom. The fluted columns, polished marble floors, lush carpet, beautiful chandeliers, and even the circular shape of the dining room all contribute to create an air of refinement.

Royal Palace Dining Room 1

Royal Palace Dining Room 2

That being said, one should not think that this restaurant is inappropriate for little children. On the contrary, I would love to see the look on little girls' faces as they enter the restaurant and feel as though they have set foot into the castle of one of their favorite Disney princesses.

What I enjoyed most about the restaurant's atmosphere was all the little details and embellishments that really help to convey the theme of the restaurant and help to create a truly immersive dining experience. These details are evident before you even set foot inside the dining room. The entrance to the restaurant itself has a very grandiose feel and inlaid on the marble floor floor is a coat of arms with the images of a glass slipper, a tiara, a rose, and an apple symbolically representing the different princesses.

Royal Palace Entrance

Coat of Arms

Once inside the dining room you will notice these images continue throughout the restaurant's décor. The carpet features not only crowns and roses, but you might also spot Cinderella's coach, as well as the swords and shields of the various princes. Even the magnificent chandelier at the center of the restaurant is themed and accentuated by glass slippers.

Royal Palace Chandelier

The valences over the portholes have the appearance of tiaras embedded with gemstones.

Porthole Valences

And look carefully at the bread baskets. They are in the shape of Cinderella's coach.

Bread Baskets

The integration of the princess theme into the restaurant is skillfully but subtlety done; it is noticeable and yet not overpowering. The result is an atmosphere that conveys both a sense of fantasy and elegance.

One last note about the atmosphere. Because the Dream is a larger ship and has more staterooms, the dining rooms are larger and accommodate more people. I was worried that the restaurant would have a crowded feel and that it would be noisy once it was filled with people. Instead, I actually found the restaurant to be very spacious and not too loud at all. The restaurant may be grand in scale and design, but it still had an intimate and slightly romantic feel.

The Menu:
Just as the entire ship itself seemed to me to have a more elegant and upscale feel, I also felt that the food offerings throughout the ship were more gourmet and refined that the food found on the Magic and the Wonder. It also appeared as though the restaurant menus featured a wider variety of selections than those on the other ships and some of those choices were far more exotic than anything I had encountered on my other Disney cruises.

Royal Palace features a menu of French-inspired, continental cuisine and its different dishes are fit for a king, queen, prince, or princess. It is a menu offering a complete four-course meal comprised of an appetizer, soup or salad, entrée and dessert. The appetizer selections include Pomegranate Glazed Duck Breast, Double Baked Spinach Soufflé, Escargot Gratines which come topped with finely chopped mushrooms and garlic butter, and Iced Lobster and Jumbo Shrimp served with lemon-dill dressing and horseradish cream.

Soup and salads feature an Avocado-Citrus Salad topped with an orange vinaigrette, a Royal Market Green Salad with a raspberry vinaigrette, the Comtesse Du Barry's Soup (a cauliflower cream soup), and Belle's French Onion Soup.

The entrée selections are numerous and diverse. The most popular item on the menu had to be the Aged Angus Grilled Beef Tenderloin and Lobster Medallions. I noticed this dish being brought to many tables, but it appeared to me that the amount of lobster was not too big. Other entrees include an Oven-Baked Salmon Royale topped with a smoked salmon and horseradish crust, Roasted Wild Boar Tenderloin, a Grilled Farm-Raised Chicken Breast Salad, a Double Cut Rack of Lamb with a Dijon Crust, a Baked Farm-Raised Chicken Breast, Wild Mushroom Filled Pasta in a Vegetable Broth, and Pan-Seared Tofu with Roasted Zucchini, Eggplant, and Red Peppers.

Finally, the dessert offerings include a Grand Marnier Soufflé, Peanut Butter Mousse, a Strawberry Shortcake Sundae, Tahitian Vanilla Crème Brulee, Mango Cheesecake (sugar free), Chocolate Ganache (sugar free), and Sweet Temptations featuring a trio a Peanut Butter Mousse, Mango Cheesecake, and Crème Brulee.

For my appetizer I decided on the Double Baked Spinach Soufflé. I noticed a lot of people ordering the Escargots and they looked really good, but (even though I consider myself to be an adventurous eater) the thought of eating snails just does not appeal to me. However, I was not disappointed by the Spinach Soufflé. Even though the portion size appeared small, it was actually a very rich and filling appetizer. The soufflé was topped with a rich three-cheese cream sauce that paired very well with the flavor of the spinach. I likened this appetizer to a thick, heavy spinach puff.

Spinach Souffle

Next, I chose Belle's French Onion Soup, which may be the second best I have ever tasted next to Chefs de France at Epcot. This was yet another rich, filling dish and I had to control myself not to finish it all or else I would not have room for my entrée. The soup came topped with a generous helping of gruyere cheese that really helped add extra flavor to the dish. Sometimes you order French onion soup and it's just a lot of broth and not many onions, but that was not the case here. I also liked that the onions were cooked just right so that they were not mushy, which really added a nice texture to the soup in contrast to that of the cheese and bread on top.

French Onion Soup

For my entrée I went with something a little more exotic and decided to try the Roasted Wild Boar Tenderloin. I had never had wild boar before and figured that the cruise would be a perfect place to give it a try. Considering that boar is in the pig family I was expecting the flavor and texture to be similar to that of pork tenderloin, but I was surprised to find it more akin to steak. The boar did have a very distinct, gamey flavor, but it was extremely tender and I did not find the flavor to be too overwhelming. The boar came topped with a red currant reduction that provided a light and slightly sweet contrast to the stronger flavored boar. The boar was also accompanied by a carrot and onion potato cake, providing a twist on your traditional potato and vegetable side dishes; it was something different, but very tasty, and combined well with the flavor of the boar.

Wild Boar Tenderloin

Finally it was time for dessert, even though I didn't have much room left at this point to eat anything else. Regardless, I chose the Grand Marnier Soufflé. This was actually a nice, light way to end what had been a very rich and filling meal. The soufflé itself was light and fluffy with just a hint of citrus flavor (which I had been expecting to be stronger than it actually was). It came served warm and the server added in the crème anglaise right at the table. This sauce had a vanilla flavor that paired extremely well with the citrus and added some sweetness to the soufflé.

Grand Marnier Souffle

It should also be noted that in addition to being a part of the roational dining for dinner, Royal Palace also offers an al a carte menu for both breakfast and lunch that provides a nice alternative to the ship's buffet. Being just a two-night preview cruise, I did not have the opportunity to take advantage of these offerings.

The Overall Experience:
Everything about dining at Royal Palace was about elegance and refinement, from the atmosphere to the food. Any Disney princess would feel right at home dining here, with its chandeliers, polished marble, and gourmet food. For those who have been on either the Magic or the Wonder, Royal Palace is most similar to Lumiere's or Triton's, but it has exceeded them and gone to a whole new level. Not only is this true of the atmosphere, which is far more upscale, but also the food as well. While I did find the portion sizes to be a little smaller than on past Disney cruises, in terms of variety, presentation, quality, and taste the food on the Dream exceeded most of the meals I have ever had on the Magic or the Wonder. Whenever I go on a cruise one of the things that I most look forward to is the food and the Royal Palace certainly did not disappoint.

November 4, 2010

Disney Magic and Disney Wonder Cruise Ships

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Disney Magic vs. Disney Wonder

Since the Disney Cruise Line fleet will soon be expanding to include four ships, I wanted to take a moment to look back at the two ships that started it all, the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder.

Disney Cruise Line


Disney Cruise Line


These two sister ships are similar in many ways, but also incredibly unique. Unique décor gives each ship its own feel and vibe, while at the same time, honoring the great ocean liners of the past, and sprinkling in a little Disney magic. This blog is going to take a look at the differences between the two ships, both in décor and onboard facilities.

Basic Facts:

The Disney Magic first set sail in 1998, with the Disney Wonder following a year later in 1999. Both ships are registered in the Bahamas and were built by Fincantieri Shipyards in Italy. Each ship has a gross tonnage http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_tonnage) of approx. 83,000, is 964 feet long, 106 feet wide, and cruises at an average speed of 21 to 23 knots (25-28 mph or 40-44kph). Both ships hold approx. 2400 passengers in 877 staterooms and have 11 passenger decks.

Exterior:

From the outside, there are only two major differences between the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, the first being the artwork adorning the bow and stern. On the bow of the Disney Magic is Sorcerer Mickey.

Disney Cruise Line

On the bow of the Disney Wonder, you will find Steamboat Willie.

Disney Cruise Line

If you are especially observant, you might notice some of Mickey's friends hanging out in the scrollwork on the bow of both ships.

Disney Cruise Line


On the stern of the Disney Magic is Botswain Goofy.

Disney Cruise Line


On the stern of the Disney Wonder is Donald and his troublemaking nephews.


Disney Cruise Line


The second difference between the two ships is in the shape of the fake portholes of the Navigator's Verandah staterooms. These are the category 7 staterooms that have a partially enclosed verandah. As you can see below, the Disney Magic has smallish, round portholes.

Disney Cruise Line


Disney made a slight modification to the Disney Wonder to allow guests in Navigator's Verandah staterooms a better view. On the Disney Wonder, the portholes are larger and oblong.

Disney Cruise Line

General Décor:

In the tradition of the great ocean liners, the Disney Magic is decorated in the Art Deco style http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_Deco This style focuses on geometric shapes, warm tones, and elegance. In contrast to the Art Deco style of the Disney Magic, the Disney Wonder is decorated in the Art Nouveau style http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_Nouveau which focuses on soft colors and organic shapes.

The next two photos are of the guest services area on both ships. Notice the elegance and geometry of the Disney Magic in the first picture, and compare it with the softer lines and grand style of the Disney Wonder in the second picture.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line


The next two photos show the different décor as it plays out around the ship. Everything from the chairs, to the curtains, to the carpeting changes to reflect the unique style of each ship. The Disney Magic is pictured first and the Disney Wonder is pictured second.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line


Atrium:

The elegant atriums of the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder are not only the hub of much of the activity on the ship, but also a showcase of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau décor of each ship. On the Disney Magic, the atrium is centered on Helmsmen Mickey.

Disney Cruise Line

On the Disney Wonder, the atrium is centered on Ariel.

Disney Cruise Line


Each atrium exhibits the character of its ship, and, as the first part of the ship guests experience, sets the tone for the rest of the ship. Notice the classic elegance of the Disney Magic.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line


Disney Cruise Line


Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line


On the Disney Wonder, the atrium exudes the playfulness of the sea, as well as the grandeur of a great ocean liner.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line


Restaurants:

On the Disney Magic, Lumiere's is the grand dining room. This Art Deco inspired dining room features a giant Beauty and the Beast mural, domed roses, and the elegance of a day gone by.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

On the Disney Wonder, Triton's is the grand dining room. This Art Nouveau inspired dining room features a giant Little Mermaid mural, lighting that subtly transports you under the sea, and bubbles aplenty.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Also on the Disney Magic, the deck 9 buffet is known as Topsider, and boasts a nautical motif.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line


On the Disney Wonder, the deck 9 buffet is known as Beach Blanket Buffet, and has a laid-back beachside atmosphere.


Disney Cruise Line


Nightclubs:

On the Disney Magic, the adult nightclub district is known as Beat Street. This center of nightlife features a dance/show club called Rockin' Bar D, a relaxed lounge called Sessions, a duty-free store called Off Beat, and a sports pub called Diversions (identical on both ships)

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line

On the Disney Wonder, the adult nightclub district is known as Route 66. This nighttime entertainment hub features a dance/show club called Wavebands, the Cadillac Lounge for relaxing piano music, a duty-free store called Radar Trap, and a sports pub called Diversions (identical on both ships).

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line


Ocean Quest:

Found only on the Disney Magic, Ocean Quest is a space for tweens ages 11-13 and was carved out of the conference rooms on deck 2. (On the Disney Wonder, this space is still used as meeting rooms.) Also of note, the teen club on the Disney Magic is called The Stack, and the teen club on the Disney Wonder is called Aloft. Despite the difference in names, the two clubs are virtually identical.


Outlook Café:

Found only on the Disney Wonder, the Outlook Café was added during the Wonder's 2009 dry dock to add additional indoor space for the Alaskan cruises. This beautiful space is connected by a spiral staircase to the Cove Café and overlooks the Quiet Cove pool.


Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line

Well, there you have it. A photo description of the differences between the two sister ships, the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder.

Look for the 2 new ships, the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy to have similar differences.


August 2, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part 6

by Alice McNutt Miller


Days 11 and 12-At Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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


August 1, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part 5

by Alice McNutt Miller


Day 9-Helsinki

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

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

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

The old town of Porvoo was delightful.

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

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

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

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

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Back to the bus, and back to the ship.

That evening after the Pirates dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


July 31, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part 4

by Alice McNutt Miller

Day 7-St. Petersburg

Today is my birthday! What a great place to spend it in. We arrived in (sunny and hot!) St. Petersburg at about 12:30 p.m., but because our excursion was not leaving until 4:30 p.m., we took our time over lunch at Topsider's and took the opportunity to do a couple of loads of laundry. I must say here that the laundry situation on a longer cruise is a bit difficult. There are lots of guests vying for limited laundry facilities, and sometimes things become not so magical. Arggghhh!

Anyhoo, after a leisurely afternoon at the pool, we headed down to our stateroom at about 3:30 to change into our formal finery for our excursion "Royal Ball at Catherine's Palace." This was the excursion that we were most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. We met for the excursion in Rockin' Bar D, and walked down to the gangway and off of the ship to go through Russian immigration. This was the only port of the cruise where we were required to go through immigration and customs in order to enter the country. Russia also requires that every visitor has a visa, so the easiest way to do this port was through the Disney excursions, where all of the visa requirements were taken care of. We did meet lots of other folks who did their excursions through local Russian tour companies, which also took care of this detail.

After an hour and a half bus ride to the St. Petersburg suburb of Pushkin, we arrived at Catherine's Palace (to great fanfare!). The palace was built for Catherine I (not Catherine the Great) by her husband, Peter the Great. The first thing we noticed about the Palace was its intense robin's egg blue hue. Oh, and lots of gold.

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The palace was destroyed during the Second World War, when it was occupied by the Nazis, and was only recently restored for St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary in 2003. In fact, it was so extensively restored that it can almost be considered to be "new." When we arrived, we headed to one of the out buildings for some light hors d'oeuvres before heading to the palace.
After the hors d'oeuvres and a bathroom break, we walked to the entrance of the palace. It was breathtaking and spectacular.

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Then, the Princesses arrived in horse-drawn carriages. There were Belle, Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White and Tiana. The scene was truly regal, and was what everyone on the excursion was waiting for.

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After the Princesses entered the Palace, the rest of us followed in our smaller groups with our guides. We were asked to don cute blue paper booties over our shoes to protect the wood parquet floors, and were told that unlike most visitors to the palace we would be allowed to take pictures in every room, including the famed amber room.

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There were adorable Russian children playing musical instruments in each of the rooms.

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After our tour ended we were led into the Ball Room, where a small orchestra was playing. We were asked to wait until our group number was called, so that we could have our picture taken with all of the Princesses. There was a group of professional dancers dancing to the music, and also a small group of children from what looked like a local ballet school, that were leading the younger visitors out onto the floor for a dance. We all danced and had a wonderful time!

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A bit later champagne was distributed for the adults and non-alcoholic cider for the kids. "Catherine" came out with her Prince, and offered a toast (in Russian) to peace between all of our countries.

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Finally, the evening was over, and we were led back out to our waiting carriages (er, buses) to begin the journey back to the ship. It had truly been a magical evening.
After returning to the ship, Rob and I went to the Alfred and Seymour comedy show, then out to Goofy's pool at 10:15 (!) for a show featuring local Russian dancers, singers and acrobats. (Amazing that it was still light enough for a show outside at 10:15.)

Day 8-St. Petersburg

Today we had a tour to the Peterhof Palace, again, in a suburb outside of St. Petersburg, then back to St. Petersburg, itself for lunch and a tour of the Hermitage. The ride in the bus was uneventful, and we arrived at the Peterhof in less than an hour. We were struck, again (!), by the amazing color of the palace, a bright yellow. After a quick walk through a number of souvenir hawkers (Rob should have taken the time to buy the Russian Ovechkin hockey jersey, argghh!!), we entered the palace, and donned more blue booties.

The tour through the palace and the grounds was lovely, but it really made me appreciate the access to Catherine's Palace the evening before, without crowds, and with the ability to take pictures inside. (We were not allowed to take pictures in the interior of the Peterhof, and our guide explained to us later that it was for commercial reasons-i.e. they want to get you to buy their pictures. The Peterhof Palace (or "Monplaisir" ("my pleasure") was built by Peter the Great. Like Catherine's Palace, the Peterhof was severely damaged during World War II, and has been recently restored.

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We were outside of the palace in time to view the start of the Grand Cascade and other fountains outside, which really was a marvelous sight, and like many Disney attractions, set to appropriate music. After our tour, we returned to central St. Petersburg via high-speed hydrofoils. This was a much quicker way to get back into town.

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Once back in town, we boarded our bus, and went to a local "luxury" hotel (as described by our guide-it was a Radisson) for lunch. The lunch was quite good-even if the setting somewhat mundane-and included a glass each of vodka and champagne for the adults.

After lunch we went to the Hermitage. The Hermitage, in Catherine the Great's Winter Palace in the center of the city, serves today as a museum of art and Russian culture. Unlike Catherine's Palace, and the Peterhof, this palace was not destroyed in World War II, and retained many of its original features. As a result, I liked this palace much more than I did the other two. It felt much more authentic, and much less contrived.

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The museum also houses some amazing works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Matisse, and others. The art collection was originally started by Catherine, herself. I absolutely loved this museum, and would love to go back some time when I have a lot more time to explore its vast collections.

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We returned to the ship, and had dinner with our exhausted tablemates. None of us had evening excursions today, and were very glad of that fact. The kids ran off after dinner, and Rob and I went to the Walt Disney Theatre to see Toy Story 3D. We saved seeing this movie for the cruise, and loved it. I cried. I admit it. My kids are getting older, college is on the horizon, and the whole thing just struck a chord with me.

By the way, sunset was at 11:20 p.m. tonight, and it never really got dark that I could tell. Experiencing the White Nights in St. Petersburg was amazing!


July 30, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part 3

by Alice McNutt Miller


Day 4-Copenhagen

I woke up early, before the rest of the family, so I went up to Deck 9, grabbed a coffee, and watched as the ship maneuvered into its docking space in the Copenhagen harbor. The harbor was surrounded by a large offshore wind farm. It was a fascinating sight.
After breakfast in Lumiere's we headed ashore. We were greeted by what looked to be a high school marching band. What a great welcome!

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We boarded a public bus and took a 10-minute ride to the city center. We got off of the bus at Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen's largest square. It took us a few minutes to get oriented, but we finally found our way past the Christianborg Palace to the Stroget, a long, pedestrian-only (in theory anyway) shopping street. We found some great shops with cool Scandinavian design icons. We strolled all the way down Stroget, to the Radhuspladsen, a beautiful square in front of the Copenhagen City Hall (Radhus).

From the Radhuspladsen it was a very short walk to our final destination of the day, and the one that I had really been looking forward to since booking the cruise a year and a half earlier: Tivoli Gardens.

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Tivoli is a lovely old amusement park that attracts more than 4.5 million visitors a year. Walt Disney visited Tivoli, and it is said that it provided him with some of the inspiration for Disneyland. We spent the rest of our day ashore in Tivoli. It was beautiful, and absolutely charming. We strolled the gardens and rode lots of rides, some old-fashioned and quaint, and some newer, up-to-date thrill rides. My favorite was the old, cable-pulled "Roller Coaster."
A replica of the famous "Little Mermaid" statue-the original of which is usually on display in the Copenhagen harbor, but which is currently in Shanghai, China for the World's Fair there-was on display.

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(The bird would NOT leave. I guess it really wanted to be in our picture.)

Lunch was bagels for the girls and Danish-style hot dogs for me and Rob. These were very interesting. They were long, thin hot dogs served in hollowed-out rolls into which a good deal of sweet mustard was squirted by the server before inserting the hot dog. Yummy. And slightly weird.

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After a full day at Tivoli, we wandered back out to the Radhuspladsen the catch the public bus back to the pier. The bus driver was the same one that we had had earlier in the morning. He must have been tired by that time (we certainly were!). It had been a very warm day in Copenhagen, so after returning to the ship, we all donned bathing suits and headed to the pools.
Dinner tonight was in Animator's Palate, then Rob and I went to see the show "Once Upon a Song" in the Walt Disney Theatre. It was a cabaret-style show where five of the ship's performers sang a medley of Disney songs-old and new, well-known and not-so-well-known. We really enjoyed it. The girls were in The Stack, which had become their hang-out.
We were in bed relatively early tonight, as we were looking forward to and early start for our "Berlin on Your Own" excursion tomorrow.

Day 5-Berlin

We docked in Warnemunde early, and were up for breakfast in Topsider's at 6:15. We were in the second wave of shore excursions for Berlin, and made our way to Studio Sea to meet with our "Berlin on Your Own" Group in Studio Sea. Except that we were supposed to be meeting our group in Rockin' Bar D. Ooops. This is what happens when you can't read the tour ticket without your reading glasses (you know who you are!). We ran to Rockin' Bar D, checked in (right place this time, yeah!), got our stickers and followed the cast member off of the ship onto the chartered train that was waiting just outside of the docking area. We found our carriage and settled in for the 2.5 hour, un-air-conditioned, ride. Heat wave in Europe right now, which is unfortunate when you are riding for 2.5 hours from Warnemunde to Berlin. Oh well, we survived.
Once the train arrived in Berlin, we boarded buses to take us to the Gendarmenmarkt in the center ("mitte") of the eastern part of Berlin. This square is absolutely lovely, and a great place to start any tour of Berlin. I had visited Berlin 4 years ago on a business trip, and just happened to have stayed in the same hotel in front of which we were dropped, so I had some familiarity with the area.

It was about 11:30, and Claire was hungry, so we went to a "typical German" restaurant down the street, and proceeded to feast on various types of bratwurst, wienershnitzel and kartoffel salat. After lunch we walked to the Brandenburg Gate, with the intention of catching a hop-on-hop-off bus for the remainder of our tour.

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Big mistake. These buses have NO air conditioning, and did I mention that Berlin was in the middle of a heat wave? We rode the bus on the top level in the blazing sun, because believe it or not, it was cooler there in the direct sunlight than it was in the interior of the bus. Well, we rode for about an hour until we got to the Checkpoint Charlie stop, then got off and went directly to find ice cream and cold water.

After that, we found a nearby surviving section of the Berlin Wall, and a new museum outlining the German Secret Police's involvement in World War II and the Holocaust.

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It was both haunting and thought-provoking. We walked back to Checkpoint Charlie to catch the bus back to our starting point, and to get the Disney bus back to the train station for the journey home. Before boarding the bus, we stopped in an amazing chocolate shop, with very cool chocolate sculptures.

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Check out the kid's expression on the other side of the window!

We headed back for an on-time arrival at the meeting point. Except that there was a problem.
It seems that the locomotive for our chartered train had broken down, and a new one was being brought in. We unloaded the bus in front of the train station, and went across the street to a public park, where we cooled our heels for about an hour waiting for the new locomotive to be brought in. The tour company handed out water, led excursions to the bathrooms, and circulated tour guides to give guests additional information about Berlin. Did we know that the park we were sitting in was made of piles of rubble moved there after the bombing of the city? Pretty interesting, and we actually enjoyed the down time.

We were finally told that the train was ready to leave, and we went aboard. It was a long, hot, un-air-conditioned ride back to Warnemunde, but the girls found some other kids to play cards with while we chatted with their parents.

Once we were finally back on the boat, it was an amazing sail away, with seemingly the entire town out to bid us auf wiedersein with boat horns and fireworks. Beautiful!

That evening we grabbed a quick dinner at Pluto's on Deck 9, then watched some of the World Cup game in Diversions, and went to bed. I had wanted to go see the late showing of the movie "Prince of Persia," but I was too pooped to pop.

Day 6-at Sea

We lost another hour last night, and Rob and I got up around 9:00 and went to breakfast at Lumiere's. Rob had a bagel with lox and the works and I had some kind of savory pancake with eggs, spinach and tofu. It sounds a little strange, but it was pretty good.

After breakfast we went to the Buena Vista theatre to see "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," the movie that I was hoping to see last night. It was fun.

After the movie we went back to the room to see if the girls were up yet. They were not, so we got them up, then went up to Topsider's for lunch. After lunch we all went our separate ways, and I went down to Deck 4 for a half hour power walk around the ship. Then it was up to the Quiet Cove pool. The weather was really lovely today, and we wanted to take full advantage of it.

After the "Villains" theme dinner in Lumiere's, Rob and I went to see "Villains Tonight" in the Walt Disney Theatre. We really liked this show. After the show, we watched the World Cup soccer final in Diversions, and then headed to bed.


July 29, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part 2

by Alice McNutt Miller

Day 2-At SeaThis morning, we had brunch in Palo (in the small private dining room) with a group of folks that I had corresponded with before the cruise on a Disney message board. The meal was lovely, and it was great to start things off by meeting some new people!

[Just so you know, I don't usually take pictures of my food, and I can never remember what I ate, so this won't be THAT kind of blog. However, when going through the photos, I found that I had, in fact, taken two food pictures. Here is the best one, which I took during our Palo brunch.]

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After brunch, we went to a Disney Vacation Club update, another meeting with a broader group of the message board folks, and hung out at the pool. It was all very relaxing. I don't think we saw the kids all day.

That night was formal night, so we dressed up, went to the Captain's Welcome Receptions, and then joined our tablemates for dinner in Parrot Cay.

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After dinner, we stayed dressed and went to see "Twice Charmed" in the Walt Disney Theatre. This was probably our least favorite show. I'm not sure why, but I don't think we thought it was very creative.

Day 3-Oslo

We arrived to an overcast and rainy Oslo sometime very early in the morning, and the ship was docked when we got our wakeup call at 7:30. After a quick breakfast at Topsider's, we were off of the ship by about 8:45, 15 minutes after debarkation was allowed. There is a tourist information desk inside a building right next to the gangway after we got off of the ship, where we bought our Oslo Pass cards. For about $37 per adult, and $16 per kid, the pass got us entrance into nearly every museum in Oslo and a day's worth of public transportation.

We took a five-minute walk to the ferry pier, and took the public ferry to the Bygdoy peninsula, where most of the museums that we wanted to visit were located. From the first landing point, we had a short walk to our first stop of the day, the Viking Ship Museum. The museum is built around three ancient Viking ships that date back to 800 AD.

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We then walked a few blocks to the Norwegian Folk Museum, an open air collection of some 150 buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The stave church was especially beautiful.

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After a quick snack in a café at the Folk Museum, we caught a public bus to the Fram and Kon-Tiki museums, still located on the Bygdoy peninsula. The Fram Museum showcases the ship that took 19th-century explorers on trips to the South Pole and the Arctic. We really liked the fact that we were able to go inside the ship, and see how the sailors lived.

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The Kon-Tiki Museum houses the balsa-wood raft that Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed from Peru to Polynesia.

We then took the ferry back to the center of town, and found a lovely café near the Askerhus that was inside one of the oldest houses in Oslo. From there we took the subway to the Munch Museum. (I must say that we all found the public transportation in Oslo to be very easy to use. As long as you have a general sense of where you are going, and can read street and transportation maps-you know that there are some of you out there for which this is a challenge-it is very easy and inexpensive to get around. )

The Munch museum has a large collection of Edvard Munch's works-including paintings, prints and photographs. The collection includes one version (the other is in Norway's National Museum) of Munch's most famous painting, "The Scream." "The Scream" and another famous painting, "The Madonna," were both stolen from the museum in 2004, although they were retrieved several years later. As a result, security is pretty tight here, and all bags had to be checked in lockers.

After visiting the museum, and purchasing a "Scream" refrigerator magnet, we took the subway back to the center, and walked back to the ship. We arrived about 15 minutes prior to the last boarding time. The sail out of Oslo through the fjords was absolutely beautiful!
Tonight was our dinner at Palo. After brunch yesterday, we were really looking forward to it! Someone at Palo must have noted that my birthday fell during the cruise, as I was presented with this, after dessert:

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July 28, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part I

by Alice McNutt Miller

Pre-Cruise Planning, Bath and Day 1 At Sea

Well, I can't believe that we are finally on our 12 Night Northern Capitals Disney Cruise! I booked the cruise over a year and a half ago, on the first day that reservations were made available for Disney's current 2010 summer European cruises. It has been a year and a half of planning, research, making reservations, and putting together "The Spreadsheet." After the long wait for Disney to announce the shore excursions it would be offering, we had to decide whether to do any of those or whether to "DIY" ("do it yourself") it in each port. We decided at first to DIY almost all of the ports, but I changed my mind going forward, and ended up signing us up for excursions in most of the ports. Disney excursions or private excursions in St. Petersburg? Disney for that city. Too difficult otherwise. Palo reservations? Yes. Spa reservations? Maybe. London beforehand? Yes, but let's go to Bath, since we have never been there. London afterwards? Yes, don't want to worry about being late for catching that flight home. Whew!

Our departure day, Friday, July 2 arrived. Cat sitter and lawn mower adequately briefed, we headed for the airport. We had an uneventful flight, and arrived in London at about 6:00 a.m. After passing through immigration and customs, and retrieving our luggage, the first bit of my careful planning fell apart, and I discovered the magical art of "rolling with it." The bus that I had hoped to take (but did not prebook in case our flight was late) from London Heathrow to Bath was full. And so were the rest of them until late that afternoon. The kids looked exhausted. Argghhh! The nice lady at the information desk told me that we could take a bus/train combination instead, but that it would be more expensive, and that the bus would be leaving in five minutes. Sold! Off we went.

We arrived at the central train station in Bath about an hour and a half later, and took a taxi to our B&B, the Apsley House Hotel.

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The hotel is in a house that was once owed by the Duke of Wellington, and rumor has it that he had it built for his mistress. Mistress or not, the house was lovely. Our room was not ready, so we walked back into Central Bath, stopping for a few minutes at a fantastic playground on the way (our kids are 13 and 15, but they still can't pass up a cool playground).

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We walked past the Royal Crescent and stopped for lunch (unfortunately the worst meal that we had on the trip, but at least we got it over with early!). After lunch, we toured the Roman Baths for which Bath is named.

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We then took a taxi back to our hotel and took a two hour power nap, followed by dinner at a nearby pub and an early bed time.

The next day we took an organized tour to the villages of Castle Combe and Lacock and to Stonehenge. Castle Combe was a beautiful, tiny village where scenes from the original "Dr. Dolittle" (the one with Rex Harrison, not the one with Eddie Murphy) were filmed.

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We then went to Lacock, another English Heritage village, where scenes from several of the Harry Potter movies, and from "Sense and Sensibility" were filmed.

After lunch in a pub in Lacock, we drove on to the Avebury Stone Circle and to Stonehenge, both prehistoric sites involving large stones, but one much more popular than the other. I have to say that we all really enjoyed both sites, but we did feel something very special at Avebury.

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That evening, we walked back into Bath and had dinner at Jamie's Italian, a restaurant chain owned by British star chef, Jamie Oliver. It was fantastic, and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Bath.

The next morning, after a lovely breakfast at the hotel, we took a taxi to the train station, and took a train into London. After checking in to our hotel there, we had lunch in a pub and went to the Museum of Natural History. VERY cool building, oh, and the dinosaurs were pretty neat, too. We even saw a Hidden Mickey!

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We then went to Harrod's Food Halls, to pick up food for a picnic dinner, which we had in the small courtyard behind our hotel.

Then it was time for our surprise. I had bought tickets to see the musical, "Wicked," and did not tell the girls. They were thrilled once we figured out what we were doing.

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We had a Small World Moment at the show. Claire thought that she saw a girl that she had met on a Disney message board before the cruise in the crowd, and sure enough, it was her and her family. (See, I've told you that this happens to us all the time!) What a fantastic show!
The next day, we caught a cab from our hotel to St. Pancras (the girls kept referring to it as St. Pancreas) Station, and took a brand new high speed train to Dover. We were there in about an hour. At the Dover station, another cab delivered us to the pier, and to the Magic!

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We were so excited, but it was a bit early to get on the ship yet, and it had arrived late that morning, so we decided to go back into Dover to do some more sightseeing. We took a bus to Dover Castle, and had a great visit. It was beautiful, and had been recently enhanced with some interactive stuff for the guests.

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We finally went back to the pier and boarded the ship. Because we arrived so late, there were really no lines, and the process went very smoothly.

We went to our stateroom, where someone had left us a gift (I wonder who thought of that!?).

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Then there was obligatory lifeboat drill (along with the obligatory silly life jacket photo).

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We then went to the "Adventures Away" sail away dance party at Goofy's pool. It was a great way to start the cruise!

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That evening, we had dinner in Animator's Palate, and met our tablemates, two moms and their daughters (conveniently close in age to Sophia and Claire). After dinner, all of the kids ran off to their various clubs (a pattern that repeated itself each successive night), and Rob and I went to the "All Aboard: Let the Magic Begin" show, and to the Match Your Mate show. Both were good, and really got us in the mood for the rest of the cruise.


February 1, 2010

The Suite Life- Staying In Style - Disney Cruise Line

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Onboard both the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder, there are 22 suites with 18 one-bedroom suites, two two-bedroom suites, and two palatial royal suites, the Roy and Walt Disney suites. These suites take Disney Cruise Line to an enhanced level of luxury with large, well-appointed suites and exceptional concierge service.

(There can be significant differences between the concierge service on the Disney Magic and The Disney Wonder as well as between the individual concierge managers, as they rotate every few weeks. What follows was my experience, but yours may be different. Each concierge has his or her own unique way of adding magic to your cruise)

On the November 7th Eastern Caribbean cruise, my family and I had the opportunity to upgrade to a midship one-bedroom suite, 8032. If you are interested in upgrading from any category, first check in at the port and then go to the port supervisor's desk at the far end of the check-in counter closest to the ship. If there are any upgrades available, the price will be determined based on the category of stateroom you originally booked. Sometimes the upgrade price is a significant discount; other times it will be the full price difference between your category and the category to which you wish to upgrade. The upgrades can go fast so be sure to arrive at the port early.

We arrived at the port early as always and headed upstairs to check-in. We had decided to see if any upgrades were available, after hearing that many people had been having success with upgrading during the quiet hurricane season. After checking in we headed over to the port supervisor's desk and asked about upgrading to a Category 3 suite. About half of the Category 3s were still available and we decided to take the leap. At this point, I actually began leaping out of excitement! It was like a dream come true. We were assigned 8032, which we would come to learn had a slightly different arrangement than the standard one-bedroom and was one of the best Category 3 suites on the ship. Suites 8032, 8034, 8532, and 8534 all share this slightly modified arrangement.

Disney Cruise Line Terminal

Our original Key To The World (KTTW) cards were taken and we were given the concierge gold KTTW cards. Immediately, the concierge service began as we were escorted past the line for security photos straight to the next available camera. Once our photos were taken, we were brought over to Dante, who was watching over the concierge boarding area. We grabbed a table and chatted with Dante for a while before grabbing our usual pre-boarding drinks and heading out to the balcony to get some photos with the ship.


Disney Cruise Line Terminal


Boarding began around 11:45. They brought on the family of the day and then started concierge priority boarding through the back door inside the concierge waiting area. We were the 2nd family to board the Magic. The 2nd!!!! Once again I was very excited. After boarding, we headed straight to the concierge reception in Sessions where they had drinks (both alcoholic and non alcoholic) and snacks waiting for us. Linda, the concierge for the starboard side suites introduced herself and told us that Jonathan, the concierge for the port side suites, would be right with us.

Jonathan came over and introduced himself, and presented us with our current itinerary and all of the bookings we had already made online. Jonathan said that before we began, he had to apologize to us. After this cruise, he said, we would be spoiled and always want to stay in a suite! Jonathan then asked if there was anything else we needed to book. The concierge staff can assist with Palo bookings (the adults only restaurant), shore excursions, spa bookings, activities requiring reservations (galley tours, martini/beer/wine tastings, etc.), and any dining room requests you might have. Also, a youth activities staff member is on hand to assist with registering kids for the clubs.

We had been unable to book Palo online due to availability, so Jonathan booked dinner and brunch for us, as well as booking an excursion in St. Thomas and getting tickets for the galley tour. Jonathan also helped us switch to late seating for dinner, and arranged for us to have one of our favorite servers onboard, Sompong. Jonathan asked if we would like to have coffee delivered every morning, or milk and cookies before bed, but we declined. We thanked Jonathan for all of the help and headed off to get lunch and wait for our stateroom to open.

Before we knew it, 1:30 had arrived and all staterooms were ready. We headed down to deck 8, incredibly excited to see what awaited us. Before even opening the door, we noticed what a great location 8032 had - right by the midship elevator lobby and convenient to everything. (For those of you wondering, we never had any problem with noise or foot traffic being by the elevators.)

We opened the door to our suite, and instantly, our jaws dropped. I had imagined what the suites were like, but actually seeing one was beyond belief. Walking in, you find a closet to the left and a bathroom to the right with a sink, toilet, and shower.

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032


Walking into the living room you find a pull-out sofa, two large chairs, a wet bar, a pull-down bed, a table seating four and two doors out to the verandah.


Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Living Room Area

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Living Room Area

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Living Room Area

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Living Room Area

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Living Room Area

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Living Room Area

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Living Room Area

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Living Room Area

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Living Room Area

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Verandah

Across the living room is a door to the master bedroom that features a queen size bed and a large chair. Both the living room and the bedroom have large TVs with DVD players. There is also a third door to the verandah from the bedroom.

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Master Bedroom

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Master Bedroom

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Master Bedroom

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Master Bedroom

At the back of the bedroom is a door to a large desk/vanity. To the left is a walk in closet, stocked with robes, and to the right is the bathroom with a full size whirlpool tub and a shower.

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Master Bedroom

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Closet

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Master Bathroom

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Master Bathroom

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Master Bathroom

Accompanying all of this is beautiful art and woodwork and a generous amount of storage space. After exploring our room, we took a look at everything that our concierge team had provided. The suite was stocked with sodas and bottles of water, and we had a fruit basket, complements of the concierge team. A cabinet in the living room was stocked with board games and cards and there was a list of all the DVDs that we could request for in-room movies.

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Fruit Basket

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Games

All of this, however, was just the tip of the iceberg. Every day for the rest of the cruise, Jonathan would stop by once or twice a day to see if we needed anything. One day he dropped off some arcade cards for me. Another day I answered the door to find him holding Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. Still another day we came back to find popcorn for the special movie showtime in the Walt Disney Theatre.

Every night there was a different assortment of treats for us: petit fours, chocolate-covered strawberries, and the like. Jonathan also dropped off the dining room menus for each night of the cruise, as guests in suites can order from the dining room menus during a certain time period each evening. Every night we would receive the weather for the next day as well as a list of the character appearances delivered with our Personal Navigator (daily activities schedule). The concierge team was available at any time between 8am and 10pm by calling the concierge extension on the in-suite phone.

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032

Throughout the cruise, Jonathan went out of his way to make our cruise perfect. One day, we were coming back to the room and mentioned to Jonathan that we were going to get cookies from room service. He told us to just relax and he would take care of everything. Ten minutes later a huge plate of cookies showed up. The night before arriving at St. Croix, we learned that our Jeep excursion had been cancelled. A quick phone call to Jonathan and 15 minutes later tickets for a new excursion were under our door.

The concierge team also hosted a special reception during sail-away from St. Thomas. The reception was originally to be held at the outside deck of Topsider's, but due to rain earlier in the day, it was moved to Sessions on deck 3. Appetizers and free drinks were served and a special guest stopped by to say hello.

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032


Debarkation was also simplified. We were able to take care of tipping and get our stateroom account without ever standing in line at Guest Services. Jonathan handled everything. One thing to note, Disney has recently added tip envelopes for concierge gratuities; however, there is no suggested amount. Concierge gratuities are at your discretion. Our gratuity slips were delivered to our room along with a copy of our stateroom account.

Disney Wonder Category 3 Cabin #8032 Debarkation Morning Breakfast


The last night of the cruise Jonathan stopped by and gave us a magical moment certificate for sailing with him. He also gave us a DCL exclusive poster and a special card to have breakfast delivered to our suite the last morning.

After 10 cruises, I didn't think cruising could get any better, but we had our most wonderful Disney Cruise Line vacation yet. We would do it all again in a heartbeat. It truly was a Magical vacation.

Check out Mike's previous blog on the Enhancement Project at Castaway Cay.

Mike Dion is a 19 year old sophomore at the University of Florida (UF) and is pursuing a bachelors degree in International Business. Born in Grand Rapids, MI he fell in love with Walt Disney World on his family's many trips to Orlando. In 2002, he and his family moved to Orlando and have been WDW annual pass-holders ever since. Mike's favorite ride is Splash Mountain, and his favorite restaurant is Ohana. Mike took his first cruise on the Disney
Wonder in 2006 and has since taken 11 cruises with 7 on Disney Cruise Line. In 2008 Mike visited Disneyland for the first time, returning in 2009 as part of the D23 expo. During the school year Mike performs improv comedy at UF.

December 1, 2009

Castaway Cay Enhancements - Preparing for the Disney Dream

mikedionbanner.jpg

Preparing for the Disney Dream - Castaway Cay Enhancements

While onboard the November 7th Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Disney Magic, I had the opportunity to get a peek at some of the new developments on Castaway Cay. I know that some folks have expressed concerned about how the new development is affecting the island, so I will address this first.

Disney Cruise Line (DCL) is doing an excellent job of keeping the construction impact to a minimum. As of my sailing, all island facilities were open to guests. As you walk around the island there are many construction fences, but the construction is well contained inside the fences.

Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

The only significant impact to the island is in the area between the Heads Up Bar, located on the far side of the family beach, and the teen beach.

Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Portions of the lagoon are closed in this area for construction of the new Pelican's Plunge slide and for the barge/crane for Pelican's Plunge and the cabanas. The rest of the beaches, paths, and facilities are still wide open, and the island is just as beautiful as ever.

After the Magic docked at Castaway Cay, I noticed that they had begun pier enhancements for the larger ships. It looks like this process was not started too long ago. As far as I could tell, they have not started dredging the channel yet.

Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

DCL has already constructed the new tram stop for the tram running from the pier to the family beach. It has been moved across the path from the old tram stop, about 80 feet closer to the ship. This means that guests no longer have to cross the tram path to get to the tram stop, and it seemed to make the foot traffic flow better. The tram has also been extended from 3 cars to 4 moving the crowds along much faster.

Old Tram - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

New Tram - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Arriving at the family beach, I spotted the new Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure , one of the Castaway Cay shore excursions. It is now located between the boat rental area and Gil's Snorkel Rentals. The building and stingray lagoon are double in size from the original stingray area by the teen beach.

Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

The family beach area and Cookie's BBQ remain unchanged. Most of the construction is in the area surrounding the sports beach and the teen beach on the far end of the family beach. The bike rental hut has been moved closer to the Grouper Game Pavilion.

Bike Rentals - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Bike Rentals - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Bike Rentals - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

The former site for bike rentals has been leveled and will become the new Spring-a-Leak water playground.

Spring-a-Leak - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

I also noticed that the tram stop from the family beach to the Serenity Bay adult beach is being rebuilt. My guess is that they might be extending the tram route from the ship to this point, helping to move more guests to the far end of the family beach.

Serenity Bay Tram - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Next, I checked out the new Pelican's Plunge slide. It is in its permanent location and is now being prepped for its opening in summer 2010. There are two large slides, one enclosed and one unenclosed. All of the equipment is on a floating platform that will be stable, but has the ability to rise and fall with the tides. The slides are accessed by a spiral staircase and end up in the lagoon. There is also a water spray area and a large bucket that will fill with water and dump over onto the "castaways" below.

 Pelican's Plunge - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

 Pelican's Plunge - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

 Pelican's Plunge - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

 Pelican's Plunge - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

 Pelican's Plunge - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

I took a peak at the new beach cabanas and they look very fun. One of the cabanas was very close to completion, but the rest have a ways to go. Once finished, they will be in a prime location right near Pelican's Plunge.

 New Cabanas - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

 New Cabanas - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

 New Cabanas - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

 New Cabanas - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

 New Cabanas - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Behind another construction wall, the buildings for Cookies Too, the new family lunch buffet area are well under way. It is my understanding that the building in the back will be the food service building, the building to the left will be a seating area, and the Grouper Game Pavilion will be converted into a second seating area.

 Cookies Too - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

 Cookies Too - Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

A new shaded structure, In Da Shade Game Pavilion will be located near the Family Beach.

The original Castaway Ray's building is still on place, no word on the future of this structure.

 Castaway Rays- Castaway Cay - Disney Cruise Line

Serenity Bay, the adult beach, remains unchanged at this time and there is no construction in process. The only additions that have been announced are some of the new Beach Cabanas and also a few additional massage cabanas.

Castaway Cay is looking great and I think Disney Cruise Line has done a great job keeping the effects of construction to a minimum. They placed a letter in my stateroom apologizing for any inconvenience or construction noise, but I did not have any problems. I was there on a Friday, and no construction was going on, so it appears they are trying to get work done on the days when no ships are in port.

The new changes are very exciting, and it looks like when the changes are completed next summer, Castaway Cay will be more magical than ever.

Check out the Disney Cruise Line Press Release on Castaway Cay's Enhancements.

Mike Dion is a 19 year old sophomore at the University of Florida (UF) and is pursuing a bachelors degree in International Business. Born in Grand Rapids, MI he fell in love with Walt Disney World on his family's many trips to Orlando. In 2002, he and his family moved to Orlando and have been WDW annual pass-holders ever since. Mike's favorite ride is Splash Mountain, and his favorite restaurant is Ohana. Mike took his first cruise on the Disney
Wonder in 2006 and has since taken 11 cruises with 7 on Disney Cruise Line. In 2008 Mike visited Disneyland for the first time, returning in 2009 as part of the D23 expo. During the school year Mike performs improv comedy at UF.

August 16, 2008

Panama Canal Cruise EB August 2008 Disney Cruise Line

Lori & Michael's 25th Anniversary Cruise

My name is Lori and my husband, Michael, and our 16-year-old son, Aaron, live in Beaverton, OR. Travel with us as we sail from Los Angeles, CA to Port Canaveral, FL
Lori, Michael, Aaron

We made our reservations for this vacation waaaay back on 1/31/2007. Our original plans called for 4 of us to travel, but our oldest decided he wouldn't be able to make it. Disney Vacation Club and the Disney Cruise Line allowed us to drop him from the reservation in one easy phone call and they were quick to refund his fare to our credit card. (We used DVC points for two and paid cash for two.) A few months later we decided we wanted to use points for our other son and it was also very easy to convert that payment from cash to points with one simple call to DVC.

This is the first cruise where we could take advantage of online check-in and online reservations for excursions and Palo. A few days before our booking window was to open I realized that they didn't show us as Castaway Club members (i.e., repeat cruise guests). Castaway Club members are afforded several nice little perks one of which is a 90-day booking window for excursions and Palo reservations. It took a few phone calls to get to the bottom of this oversight, but I finally got it straightened out.

Early on May 19 I was online to book the couple of things we really wanted to do. One excursion was already full! I was very surprised and extremely disappointed. A call to the Cruise Line made me feel a little better. The excursions are not necessarily full and neither are the Palo or spa reservations. Many guests do not have internet access (imagine that!) and will book on embarkation day once they board the ship.

I did secure a dinner reservation at Palo, Aaron is set for the teen cruise in Puerto Vallarta, and we're lined up to snorkel in both Aruba and on Castaway Cay. In the days and weeks since May 19, I have checked back on excursion availability numerous times and have found that groups or sessions have been added to many. I was able to book myself on the zip line tour in Cabo. I seem to have grabbed the last spot available in that group, but I'm hopeful that Aaron will be able to join me.

Breaking News! Less than a week before we sail: I just checked back again and I was able to reserve a spot for Aaron! Yeah! The best part? Aaron is excited, too! I got a hug and a thank-you! (This tour is just not Michael's "cup of tea"; he may choose to explore on his own like checking out Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo or trying to find a great cigar.) We also are booked on a city and shopping tour in Cartagena; emeralds,.here I come!

So, the moral of this online reservation story is that the booking window is only slightly important, be flexible, and check back often!

Michael and I have no particular plans yet for Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco. The planner in me is really uncomfortable with this, but I'll try hard to loosen up and just go with how we feel on those days.

I know this trip is not a project per se, but I do have some goals for myself.
Number one: Relax.
This could be a challenge, but a massage on the first sea day should help get both Michael and me on our way.

Number two: Read.
I'm finally getting around to the last Harry Potter book. I'm visualizing myself on the verandah, feet up, and totally engrossed in my page-turner.

Number three: Exercise and don't overindulge.
Regular visits to one place I've never before set foot: the Disney Magic fitness center. All right, so this one may be tough. I'll make sure to wear that new bikini within the first couple of days as it may not fit too well after that!

Next up will be packing. The goal here will be to bring enough to minimize the amount of laundry we'll need to do on the ship, but not too much so that we need to purchase additional luggage to get everything home. Don't laugh. We've had to do this more than once from WDW.

Men's dress clothes can be tricky to pack not to mention taking up a lot of space. We've rented tuxes from CruiseLineFormal.com twice before and found their service to be very convenient. The boys simply visit a local tux shop for a complimentary measure. Then, we use those numbers to order online (or via an 800 phone number). On embarkation day, our room steward delivers the order and the guys are set! It's a good idea to try on everything as soon as you can to confirm proper fit; minor alterations can be accommodated if discovered early. At the end of the trip, you simply put everything back together on the hangers provided and the room steward handles the return. Easy.

Let me share another lesson that we learned the hard way. Before leaving town, contact your credit card provider notifying them that you will be traveling outside of the country. The last time we cruised, our credit card was rejected in one of the ports. Fraud protection kicked in! Of course, this is a good thing most of the time, but not when ship-to-shore phone rates run $2.50 per minute and our bank didn't want to accept an online "okay" to release the card (although eventually they did). This time we called ahead. The Disney Visa folks took my info regarding travel dates and ports noting all of this in my account. Another Visa we have through our credit union was not as accommodating. They assured us that fraud protection would kick-in and could be released with a phone call, and, no, they couldn't do anything about it ahead of time. (Maybe it's time to trade in that card".)

So, here's our schedule for the 15 nights:

· Sunday, 8/17: Port of Los Angeles

· Monday, 8/18: At Sea

· Tuesday, 8/19: Cabo San Lucas

· Wednesday, 8/20: Puerto Vallarta

· Thursday, 8/21: At Sea

· Friday, 8/22: Acapulco

· Saturday, 8/23: At Sea

· Sunday, 8/24: At Sea

· Monday, 8/25: Panama Canal

· Tuesday, 8/26: Cartagena

· Wednesday, 8/27: At Sea

· Thursday, 8/28: Aruba

· Friday, 8/29: At Sea

· Saturday, 8/30: At Sea

· Sunday, 8/31: Castaway Cay

· Monday, 9/1: Port Canaveral

Follow our journey on the Disney Magic. The call sign is C6PT7.

This link will show you in red dots where the Magic is. You can use the ZOOM in and out feature to get a better idea of where the ship is.

To see all cruise ships sailing click here. Then you can click on any area of the map to get a closer view.

Wow. This almost feels too good to be true. This trip will definitely be one from the bucket list; a trip of a lifetime.

Next installment: embarkation day!

Follow my Panama Canal Cruise Blogs. Beginning entries at the top, for most recent entries scroll down.

Follow our journey on the Disney Magic. The call sign is C6PT7

This link will show you in red dots where the Magic is. You can use the ZOOM in and out feature to get a better idea of where the ship is.

To see all cruise ships sailing click here. Then you can click on any area of the map to get a closer view.

August 11, 2008

Panama Canal Cruise EB August 2008 Disney Cruise Line

Lori & Michael's 25th Anniversary Cruise

This is my first blog with AllEars.net (actually my first blog ever). Let me introduce myself.

My name is Lori and my husband, Michael, and our 16-year-old son, Aaron, live in Beaverton, OR. We're in the 'burbs of Portland. J Michael and I both grew up in Southern California (San Fernando Valley and Ventura) with Disneyland in our backyard. We have many fond memories of family vacations and even our high school grad nights spent at the original "Happiest Place on Earth".

Lori, Michael, Aaron

Our first family trip to Walt Disney World was in 1993 when our older son, Brandon, was 7 years old (he's now 22) and Aaron was a few months shy of his second birthday! I remember wanting to stay at the Polynesian, but "settling" for a tower room facing the Magic Kingdom at the Contemporary Resort. How perfect! That was only the first of countless travels to the World; each giving our family new adventures and wonderful memories.

Unfortunately for us we didn't join Disney Vacation Club until 2000! What were we thinking??? By this time we had not only made several visits to the World, but we were lucky enough to cruise on the maiden voyages of both the Disney Magic and the Wonder. With DVC, we have had even more visits to the World, Vero Beach, Disneyland, and twp one-week cruises on the Magic.

Back in 2006, I was excited to hear about plans in 2008 for the Disney Magic to return to the west coast. We had tried unsuccessfully to get on the first Disney cruise through the Canal. This time I was determined to get a cabin on one of the Panama Canal cruises. So, January 31, 2007, at a very early hour here on the west coast, I was on the phone with DVC and snagged the perfect cabin for our family, mid-ship, Deck 8. I'm certain my shouts of joy were heard all around the neighborhood!

We've watched the countdown tick away one day at a time for over a year. Unbelievably, one week from right now we'll be onboard! We have our passports, we have our airline reservations, we have our transfers from LAX to the port and from Port Canaveral to MCO (don't want to think about that), we have a couple of excursions booked (more on that later), Michael and Aaron have reserved their tuxedos from CruiseLineFormal.com, we've made arrangements for our puppies and our house (thanks, Brandon!), and now we just have to pack. Five more days of work and then we can be on our way!

Yes, we are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. The date was actually back in May which would have been perfect for the Westbound cruise. However, Aaron would have disowned us if we didn't take him along! Originally, Brandon planned to join us, but life has taken him in other directions. He chose to stay home to hold down the fort and care for the doggies.

P.S. As you can see, we are well-prepared for "Pirates in the Caribbean" and always ready for fun!

Lori, Michael, Aaron


September 6, 2007

TransAtlantic Disney Cruise - The Crossing

August 25 - 27, 2007
Trans-Atlantic Crossing

In this report I'm going to attempt to cover the six days at sea. We're at home now back into our normal life, looking back those six days seem like one long relaxation on a deck chair. But there are lots of other highlights to tell you about.

Saturday August 25

Our first full day at sea and at 9:30 this morning we had the pleasure of seeing Don 'Ducky' Williams and hearing his remarkable story of perseverance that lead to his employment with WDW. Ducky is a character animator for the parks, he does all of the character illustration for non merchandise items in the parks such as signage, maps, ticket media, even napkins.

During his talk he does large character sketches that they raffle off at the end. I really wanted one of those sketches, but today wasn't my lucky day. Ducky was on our dining rotation so we saw him every night and many other times during the cruise, he was always gracious and willing to stop and talk to anyone who approached him.

After Ducky's talk and a little lunch we went to the Castaway Club party. Castaway Club is Disney's repeat cruiser group and there were a lot of us on this particular cruise. If you're a Castaway Club member you get a gift in your stateroom when you board the ship, even if it's just your second cruise with DCL. This trip the gift was a leather embossed travel wallet.

Since it is just our second DCL cruise I don't know if they usually use just one night club or all of Beat Street for the party, as there's rumor that there are 1300 of us they used all of Beat Street. They have a trivia contest, a raffle for Castaway Club logo items and provide cookies, Mickey rice crispy treats, soda, water and coffee. As I've already said this isn't my lucky day and I didn't win a clock which was today's giveaway. But really how unlucky can you feel when you're on the Disney Magic. Maybe I'm totally lucky.

Tonight's menu is Prince & Princess and the show tonight is Twice Charmed. A new twist on the Cinderella story Twice Charmed tells the story of how Lady Tremaine and her daughters along with an evil godfather try to sabotage Cinderella's chance at happiness with the Prince. It's a fun and entertaining stage musical that I really enjoyed.

Sunday August 26

The Ocean is like a lake, it's so completely different from what I know the eastbound passengers experienced. With one exception of 12 to 15 foot seas in the middle of one night we had beautiful calm oceans, and nice warm weather with a moderately strong breeze.

Something really cool about sitting on a DCL deck lounger...happy hour till noon! Mimosas and Bloody Mary's for $2.99. I only had about 3 the whole trip but I like the idea. Paul has a favorite drink waiter Flavio who seems to find us wherever we are, you always seem to establish a rapport with at least one crewmember, Flavio is ours this cruise.

Today's agenda included nothing more than me going to the spa for a facial and pedicure and Paul going to the Art of Entertainment. The Art of Entertainment is a series of free cooking demonstrations by Disney chefs, at the end you get to taste the featured dish usually with a wine pairing, We got a couple of good recipes over the week.

Monday August 27

Michael Jordan Sommelier for the Napa Rose Restaurant in the Grand Californian is doing a series of wine tasting that are so in depth they amount to wine classes and at $15 a session are a great value for the amount of information you get.

We've also discovered David Cunningham, a crewmember who is doing acoustic guitar shows at the Quite Cove pool stage. He does originals and has a Dave Matthews sound. We like him and caught a couple of his shows.

"When Mickey Dreams" is on tap for tonight Mickey's dreams come to life guided by cirque-like 'dream seekers' This show features amazing acrobats who are even more amazing considering they are performing on a moving ship. They is one nightmare sequence featuring Malificent. I think "When Mickey Dreams" was our favorite stage show.

On a day at sea during the first week of the cruise the show was the Golden Mickeys, an Oscar like show with Disney characters performing their movie hits. We however missed it is because we were at Palo's that night. We saw it on our last cruise and it's one of my favorites, I think it's everyone's favorite since we all know the songs from the movies.

After Palo's Paul, Vickie & I did catch Michael Harrison he's a very funny ventriloquist whom we've seen before this was his late night adult show in Rockin Bar D and he was hilarious. That was on Monday and still early in our trip, we were still able to stay up pretty late and happened by the new Ariel View Television, DCL's new LCD movie screen over the Goofy pool and they were showing Curse of the Black Pearl, so we plopped down on lounge chairs to watch the end before we turned in.

Lynn

September 3, 2007

TransAtlantic Disney Magic Cruise - Tenerife!

Lynn writes: We're home ! What a great trip ! We had mostly beautiful weather, very unlike the Eastbound trip.

As you know, I had hoped to really blog daily, but our internet connection was really bad and there were numerous problems.

So, without further delay, here is Tenerife!

August 24, 2007

Tenerife

Tenerife is our last port until Castaway Cay, 7 days from now. Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands at 790 square miles. We are docked at Santa Cruz which is the capital. Santa Cruz is not usually a vacation destination and I like that the shops and bars aren't real "touristy".

Our shore excursion today is "The Tenerife Wine Experience". Yea you've figured out the pattern to our shore experiences haven't you.

Our tour guide today is Katherine and our driver is Israel. On the way to our first stop we learned a little bit about the island and the history of it's vineyards. The center piece and highest point of Tenerife is Canadas del Tiede the third largest volcano on Earth.

Canadas del Tiede

The North side of the island is very lush and fertile the south side is desert like. Obviously all of the agriculture is on the North side. Christopher Columbus stopped here on his way to discover America and it became an important stop on the trade route to the new world. Because of a lack of disease the grapevines here have been in existence since the 16th century.

Lynn, Paul and Vickie

We have two stops today the first of which is Casa Del Vino, La Baranda a government facility and wine museum.

Casa Del Vino

Although they referred to this facility as a winery I didn't see any evidence of actual wine production. We have a great view of the volcano and surrounding village and sea, and took some great pictures.

Casa Del Vino

The building itself is built around a central courtyard and houses several tasting room, and a small banquet facility. After a visit to the museum we had a taste of three wines a white, rose, and a red. These were pretty basic wines and they ran out of the red before I got a glass, that's okay though because I had a taste of Paul's glass and it taste a lot like an ashtray. We didn't buy anything here but I did find a winery cat who was friendly enough to pose for pictures and let me pet her. This is the longest I've been away from our two kitties and I'm starting to miss them.

Casa Del Vino

Our next stop was fairly close by, a private facility where we were having tapas and wine without the history lesson. Alvaro Bodega is in a very old building right in the middle of a city block. This is a much smaller facility than the one's we visited in Barcelona and Jerez.

Alvaro Bordega

At Alvaro Bordega we were ushered into a back room with wine barrels lining the walls, and many many wine bottles lining the walls above them. The center of each table had a glass tree and several bottles of wine, so we were able to help ourselves they had the usual white, red and rose and they also had an apple wine infused with herbs and a muscatal.

tenerife9.jpg

For tapas we had the local wrinkled potatoes, which we very small potatoes baked with salt on the skin and a spicy red sauce to dip them in. Along with those we had several breads with various meats and cheeses. They later came around and poured us each a glass of sparkling cava. We had plenty of time to shop here and this is where I bought most of my souvenirs and wine to drink on the ship, I also bought my requisite bottle of rum to add to the collection at home that we never drink. I also bought a couple of things for my sister Cindy for taking care of our cats while we're gone.

On the way back to the ship we passed the local opera house it looks a lot like a ship under full sail.
Local Opera House

When we got back to the ship several of us weren't ready for the tapas tour to stop.
Eleven of us met up back out on the dock half an hour later, we had gotten directions from our tour guide to the local tapas bars, a church tower was our landmark.

We headed off through some construction and eventually found our way to a pedestrian street with several restaurant/bars. We had two people with us who spoke Spanish, and while they were interpreting the menus and asking prices we ran into David, who had been our Disney guide for our excursion. He joined us bringing our group to twelve.

tenerife11.jpg

The first place we stopped at was overwhelmed by such a large group of Americans, the waitress took about half of our drink orders and disappeared. Finally one of the Spanish speaking girls went inside to ask, they said our table was too big we needed to split up into groups of two. So we got up and went right across the street where one of our party had already talked to the bartender, she was great, seated us all at the bar made us some terrific sangria and gave us olives to munch on. Yum.

tenerife12.jpg

Our next stop was a block off the main eating area and was a tiny little place with only the owner doing all of the serving. There were two tables available and all three barstools were open (the bar was that small) One of our group jumped behind the bar with the owner and started taking drink and food orders. We had loaves of warm bread fresh out of the oven a plate of thinly sliced ham and cheese, and a salad with tomatoes, peaches, olives, onion, and bean sprouts in olive oil.

This was a fabulous meal, and the owner was glad to have us, he even gave us several free posters from the local Spring festival of the cross, Santa Cruz means holy cross. From there we found a shopping area and began to split up. Paul and I walked around, found a post office to mail some postcards, dropped into a couple of local bars, where they didn't speak English but they understood cervesa. And they're so cheap here! We had two half pints for 2.50 Euros, about $3.50.

We wanted to get back to the ship in time to see the 6:30 show, tonight it's Jim Brickman! Jim Brickman is a pianist who I became aware of a couple of years ago when he did an album of Disney music. I love his work and am very excited to get to see him. I knew he had been on the Eastbound crossing and I had my fingers crossed that he would be on this one. Disney flew him in just for this one nights shows then flew him back home again.

We got there early enough to get front row seats and it was a fantastic show, he told us a little bit about himself and his work and had a couple of vocalist from the stage shows come out and do some songs with him. I wish now I had gone back to see the second show.

Jim Brickman

After all that tapas we'd had through out the day we decided to skip dinner and went to hangout in the Rainforest Room in the Vista Spa instead. Sail away that night was really pretty with all of the lights of Tenerife along the water and up the mountainside. And ..fireworks! They were set off from a lower elevation and you could see them against the city lights.

Here's a Fuel Barge alongside the Disney Magic.

Fuel Barge alongside the Disney Magic

Tonight we set our clocks back another hour and head for home.

Lynn and Paul

Lynn

August 30, 2007

TransAtlantic Disney Cruise - At Sea

August 23, 2007

Today is our second day at sea, we have one more port before starting the crossing part of our journey. I read trip reports in preparing for this trip where people encountered unexpected rough seas in the Mediterranean but we had 3 to 5 foot seas, not any different really from the Caribbean.

Mickey at Cove Cafe

Last night we set our clock back for the first of 6 extra hours we'll get on this voyage. We slept in until about 10 then went for breakfast.

We plan to spend most of today just sitting on deck chairs getting some sun, and we've found our perfect spot -- Deck 10 above the Quiet Cove pool. There are always chairs available and even though it's not adults only on Deck 10 it's still relatively quite. We turned our chairs around to face the railing and it's nice to have a view of the calm blue ocean, that you can't see from down on Deck 9. It's close to restrooms that are just inside the elevator lobby one floor down and it's much easier to get to the soda station by walking Deck 10 to the back of the ship and taking those stairs rather than dodging the ping pong players on Deck 9. I've always wished they had a soda station in Quiet Cove.

Disney Magic Smoke Stack

One more thing Disney really does right is that they don't charge for soda, most other cruise lines you can buy a soda package, but here you just go to the station and help yourself. If you order one from a bar though it's canned soda and they do charge for that.

Just aft of this spot beside the forward stack is a staircase that goes down right behind the gazebo in the Goofy pool area, it's great when the characters do appearances there you can walk right down those stairs to take pictures of them without wading through the crowd waiting to have their pictures taken by the Disney photographers.

Max and Goofy

Back on our first day in Barcelona we were talking to a lady who was waiting for the port bus with us, turns out she's with the Dream Team, who are awarding dreams to people in the WDW parks everyday as part of the year of a million dreams. They have 4 families on this cruise who won this trip just by being in the right place at the right time. We've seen them around the ship quite a bit they have two dream team members with them, the lady we were talking to,(I never got her name) and a videographer. Today they are set up next to us doing interview with all of the winners.

Our weather has been gorgeous and we spent all of today doing mostly nothing, apparently, because I have very few notes. I did note that in the Captain's noon public address he said we were sailing just 14 miles off the coast of Morocco, but there's a low haze and we can't see it.

Tonight we saw "The Art Of the Story" stage show. This is a show they put together just for the Med cruises, they needed extra shows since these cruises were all 10 & 11 day cruises and two that were 14 day trans Atlantic, instead of the usual 7 days they do in the Caribbean. I didn't read one good review this show, none that were terrible just not anyone who loved it.

They attempt to explain show elements such as lighting and color using movie clips and live scenes from various stage shows. I expected to like it even after reading the reviews as short scenes are usually perfect for my short attention span. But I have to say the reviews were right. It was especially uninspiring for those of us who go to the parks a lot, as the live scenes were just recycled from the parks stage shows. Oh Well it was still better than a night of television at home .

Dinner tonight was in Lumiere's and Belle and Beast came in for a visit.

Beauty and the Beast

That's the end of my notes but I believe this is the night we discovered they have Port in Sessions. They rest of the bars on the ship have been out of Port The server in Sessions told us they had gotten 3 bottles in Cadiz. She says there are a lot of Port drinkers on this cruise.

Only 3 bottles?

Lynn

August 29, 2007

TransAtlantic Cruise - Cadiz

August 22, 2007

Harbor

Our original shore excursion for today was cancelled a couple of days ago because they didn't have enough people signed up. It was supposed to be Jerez & Arcos De La Frontera.

So, we chose the closest thing on the list of remaining excursions A Taste of Cadiz, Jerez. The only time available though was 12:45. We usually like to do our excursions in the morning then have the rest of the day in the port to look around and do some shopping, especially in a port we've never been to, we like to get a feel for where everything is situated during the excursion before heading our on our own.

Having extra time this morning gave us a chance to go to Parrot Cay for breakfast, this is still a buffet with an omelet station like Topsiders and has basically the same food but you have a server to bring your drinks and clear the table.

The port is in Old Town Cadiz so it's an easy walk to the shopping area. I really wish I had taken more pictures here. We walked down a tiny alley way to get to one of the main streets that was very quaint with it's different balconies. I did take some pictures of a cat asleep on the seat of a scooter parked along side the street. I'm a cat person and Paul says I have pictures of cats from every vacation.

Cadiz Cat

We walked around a bit but didn't really do any shopping, thinking we'd come back into town after our excursion. We were back onboard well before our 12:45 meet time.

Our tour guide Carmen taught us all the proper way to say Cadiz (Caadith) and we headed out on our bus for a tour of Cadiz then on to Jerez (Hadeth) to visit a bodega, that's a winery for us Americans.

Jerez, Cadiz

On the way we passed the Cadiz Cathedral, drove along the beach, saw the castle where the Havana clips of Die Another Day staring Hallie Berry and Pierce Brosnan were shot and drove along the beach. The beach here has little areas of restaurant and bars built right out on the beach, and interestingly a kindergarten, also right on the beach. Her description of the kindergarten sounds like what we would call a daycare, as you can just drop off you children there. On the way out of town we passed their soccer stadium, every European city has one.

On the drive to Jerez we passed salt ponds, where you could see mounds of salt along the sides and flamingos walking in the water. The flamingos looked white, unless they were flying, they are pink under their wings. We were also driving past rolling hills that were all empty and beige, they were the sunflower fields, had we been here in June this would have been a beautiful sight. There would occasionally be a large patch of green with a building in the center, these are the vineyards. Most grapes here grow on the ground unlike home where most of them grow on trellises. We also saw a few cotton fields along the way, interesting for a southern girl who grew up seeing cotton fields to find them in Spain.

Coming into Jerez we drove along a Moorish wall that has been here since the 12 century. Here again the streets were very small and some cars were double parked, definitely not meant for tour buses. We passed by a couple of bodegas that I recognized, Harvey's, makers of Harvey's Bristol Cream, and Sandeman makers of Port before we reached our destination Gonzales Byass makers of Tio Pepe Sherry and Lepanto brandy.

Gonzales Byass

Gonzales Byass is located on what seems to be the edge of old town Jerez our bus really had to do some maneuvering to get us to a safe location to disembark. Here again we heard the history of the bodega and how sherry is produced. We boarded a train that took us to another building on the grounds where we saw the brandy distillery.

Their facility takes up several city blocks and is house in very old brick buildings. At the brandy distillery there is a room that I fell in love with, the walls are all old stone walls and it appears that is was once a courtyard, now however the ceiling is made of grapevines. They are growing up the walls and form a very lush shady canopy. There were iron lanterns hanging overhead and what appeared to be an old well was the center piece of the room. I could imagine many parties in this room and tried to convince Paul to build me a room just like it.

Courtyard

Further in our journey we passed through rooms where barrels of wine are stored and heard about the sherry making process, many of their barrels have signatures of famous people and many are very old. They also have barrels of wine reserved for Spain's royal family and many of those have signatures on them as well.

Tio Pepe was the original winemakers 'Uncle Joe' and he had a small private cellar, it's still intact and holds about 30 barrels of wine. Next we were headed to the tasting room, to get there we walked down what used to be streets between the buildings before Gonzales Byass owned all of the buildings, now these are planted with grapevines and they also form a shady canopy over the street. This is a beautiful winery.

Streets of Cadiz

The tasting room was set up in a very large open building with what appeared to be large tents inside, the small tables were set up for 4 people each. On each table we had a half bottle of Solera 1847 oloroso dulce sherry and Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Muy Seco.

The Palomino Fino was very dry and went well with the green olives and crisps that were also on the tables. Let me pause here to say that local Spanish olives are much fresher and a lot less salty than what we get in America, I wish I had bought jars to bring back home. The sherry was what I assume is typical semi sweet sherry, we're not sherry drinkers. They also came around and poured each of us a glass of Croft Original Pale Cream Sherry, which was light and sweet.

cadiz7.jpg

They have a nice large gift shop here that I would have liked to spend more time in. Those of us who wanted to could taste the brandy here, but after all that sweet wine it just taste like alcohol to us. They also make and sell sherry vinegar, Mike & Vickie bought some and now I'm wishing I had too. We got a bottle of the 1847 sherry to drink on the ship since all of the bars onboard are out of port and I picked up a tapas cookbook. If we had more time I'm sure I could have a found lot more to buy here.

We got back to the ship around 4:30 but everything in town was closed for siesta until 6:00. Apparently I needed one too after all that sherry, and since there wasn't a 6:30 show tonight I took a nap until time to get ready for dinner.

On the nights that there is a stage show they do them both during dinner times. If you have the late dinner seating like we do you go to the first show and vice versa if you have the early dinner seating. A little different than other ships we've been on and a great set up as it allows people with late seating to see both the stage shows and late night acts.

Some nights there are deck parties and those are usually around 10:00 so that everyone can come. Tonight we were sailing at 10:00 and they had Latin Music Under the Stars. Here the Captain backed out of the port then turned after we were out in the channel. You could see people standing along the sea walls to watch the Magic leaving port, and hear her sound her very distinctive horn.

Where other ships just have one big bass horn the DCL ships have 7 that play the first 7 notes of "When You Wish Upon A Star, it's incredibly loud and always takes my breath away. When we reached the channel I could see motoring out ahead of us a 3 mast sailing ship that had been anchored across from us in the harbor. We're under way and it's time for bed.

Lynn

August 28, 2007

TransAtlantic Cruise - Gibraltar Photos

Gibraltar Mountain

Gibraltar Mountain

Along our Walking Tour (See Gibraltar Blog Entry)
Along our Walking Tour

Me at Gibraltar
Lynn at Gibraltar

Ape and Baby
Ape and Baby

Me and the Baby Ape
Lynn and the Baby Ape

Disney Magic
Disney Magic

Paul in the Tunnel (See Gibraltar Blog Entry)

Paul in the Tunnel

Side Street in Gibraltar
Side Street in Gibraltar

Sinking Ship (See Gibraltar Blog Entry)
Gibraltar9.jpg

August 27, 2007

TransAtlantic Cruise - Gibraltar

August 21, 2007

Obviously this blog hasn't been as live as I had hoped, I'm having a harder time than I had though finding time to write and wireless internet access is not always available. The wireless internet access throughout the ship is new to DCL and it's still pretty hit or miss. It is a great service though and nice to be able to use your laptop in your stateroom instead of having to use the internet café.

You may also notice that I'm skipping Monday our first day at sea. I had that report all typed up and lost it when I failed to save it. We spent most of that day by the Quite Cove pool. Quite Cove is the adult only pool and is our usual hangout; I'll have more on it on a later sea day.

I also went to the spa and had a seaweed mud wrap and massage. I think it was the deepest deep tissue massage I've ever had. If you find yourself in need of a massage on the Disney Magic ask for Ben. This was also our night to have dinner with Vickie & Mike at Palo's. I'll talk a little bit more about Palo's later on, Paul & I will be having dinner there again on the 30th.

This night we went early to have a drink at the bar before dinner. Our friends Shelly, Scott, and Dylan are on a RCCL Mediterranean cruise this week and we had set up this time to have a virtual drink with them. So "Cheers" guys we miss you this trip.

One other Palo's note PJ the head waiter at Palo's (I think that's his position) will be moving to one of the new DCL ships. He told us the Palo's on the new ships will hold 200 people and there will also be a smaller Victoria & Albert's style restaurant.

So that's yesterday in a nutshell, let's get on to today.

We woke up very early this morning to the sound of the ships foghorn. We are pulling into Gibraltar and it's so foggy you can't see the rock. Gibraltar is located on a narrow peninsular of Spain's Southern coast and has been a British colony since 1713. Most people know the rock of Gibraltar as a symbol of strength and solidity, it's actually fairly hollow with 140 and miles of tunnels in most of it's two mile area.

We started our tour today with a short bus ride to the cable car that will take us to the top of the rock. At the top there is a station with a small gift shop and snack bar, up here there are great views of Catalan Bay and the rest of the island. From here we start our walk down the mountain to St Michael's Cave, stopping along the way at different overlooks and occasionally to let a taxi pass us on the very small road. Whenever one came into view we all had to line up single file along the mountain side of the road to give it enough room to pass.

We also passed remains of fortifications, and many iron rings in the rock that cannons had been attached to. St Michael's cave has miles of cave and tunnel and we only saw a small part of it but the part we saw was spectacular, most amazing is a concert hall inside. I wish I could have gotten a good picture of the concert hall but one little camera flash just won't illuminate it, I had to buy a post card to get a good photo.

After St Michael's cave we boarded our bus and started down the mountain, on tiny roads not meant for tour buses. In the states these roads would have been single lane; here they were two way with cars parked along the side.

We stopped at one overlook where a family of Barbary apes lives. Here they believe that if the Barbary apes ever leave Gibraltar it will cease to be British. We had been told to beware of pickpocket apes and not to wear flashy jewelry and to put our sunglasses in our pockets. However we were there pretty early and they weren't very active, which was great for photography and I took lots of pictures, especially of the babies. My favorite was a little family of three, the mother was lying on her side asleep with the tiny baby cradled in her arms while the father sat next to her with a protective hand resting on her side.

Our next stop was the Great Siege Tunnels. I remember that the tunnels were dug through solid rock by hand but I can't find any dates in any of my notes or information. The ceilings were very low and Paul who is 6'2' had to watch his head. There are some cannons remaining and a few 'scenes' set up. This was the last stop on our tour and we headed back down the mountain.

Some of our drive took us through residential areas and again through very narrow streets. On the way down we passed the remains of a Moorish castle that is now the local prison. We also passed the governors house which is called the convent because it was once a convent. It was a nice red brick building right on the street with an armed guard out front. The bus dropped those of us wanting to shop off at Main Street with directions on how to get ourselves back to the port.

I had asked our tour guide about the Clipper, the pub that Passporter recommended, she said "That's in Irish town". I assumed that meant it was not close to Main St, turns out it's just one block away, but we figured that out after we had already had fish & chips in another restaurant in the Main St square. We went in and had a drink anyway, and found Vickie & Mike there having lunch.

We walked around the Main St area but I was pretty disappointed in the shopping in Gibraltar I had hoped to find a pint glass for my nephew Terry with a local pub or ale logo on it, it seems the only one's were the one's they were serving ale in. Guess I should have asked if I could buy one of those since I never found one for sale. Most of the things for sale I could buy back home. The only local craft was Gibraltar Crystal, which is still hand-blown on site. The artist had two assistants and they do every piece themselves. It was interesting to watch but too expensive to buy.

Back onboard out departure from Gibraltar was a little more exciting than our departure from Barcelona, the Captain turned the ship around in the harbor and everyone had a full view, then as we sailed out we were followed by several private yachts, guess it was a little more exciting for them as this in only the second time the Magic as been to Gibraltar. Two interesting sites as we left were a cargo ship that had been hit by another ship was half sunken right off the point of the lighthouse and you could see Morocco sticking up through the marine layer. Pretty exciting to know we were that close to Africa.

Lynn

August 25, 2007

TransAtlantic Cruise - Where in the World is Lynn?

Finally! some internet access.

We're having a wonderful time, saw Jim Brickman last night whom I love!

This morning we were fortunate enough to see Ducky Williams.

The internet service is REALLY bad! I haven't disappeared, just having problems getting online to post.

Here are a few pictures of Barcelona.....

Olympic Stadium
barc1.jpg

Barcelona Overlook
barc2.jpg


Barcelona Side Street
barc3.jpg


Columbus
barc4.jpg


Port of Barcelona
barc5.jpg


August 22, 2007

TransAtlantic Cruise - Barcelona Day 2

August 19, 2007

Barcelona & Codorniu Cellars

That wake up call is LOUD at 7:30 in the morning!! Today we're doing a bus tour of the city and then going to Codorniu Cellars for a tour and tasting. We had rain last night and today is very overcast. After breakfast we're meeting Vickie & Mike in Diversions where our tour group in assembling. It was about half full when we got there so we grabbed a table and Vickie & Mike came in right after us. Our guides got us organized, gave us stickers that identify us as a Disney tour group and we headed out to our bus.

First up was a stop at an overlook, you could see a lot of Barcelona but not too well since it was so cloudy, I didn't get any good pictures but I enjoyed walking around looking out over the city.

Our second stop on the tour was Temple de la Familia, a huge ornate temple started in 1882 that is still in progress. The statuary on the outside depicts the life of Christ on one side and his death on the other. We had about 30 minutes to look around outside and in a few shops, while we were here it started to rain pretty good. Our guide Anthony did part of his talk from inside the bus so we wouldn't get too wet.

On the rest of our drive through the city one thing that struck me is that all of the city streets are lined with trees, and the building all have rounded corners to help with airflow. We drove past Olympic park and out of the city to the vineyards in the countryside. During our 45 minute drive, we passed Montserrat but you couldn't see if for the cloud cover.
Deb's May 2007 Montsterrat Photo Blog One and Photo Blog Two.

We arrive at Codorniu Cellars to more rain but it was a short walk inside and from building to building. We hardly got wet. They have a museum where our guide told us their history; it's housed in a beautiful old red brick building, with arched brick ceilings that I loved. We saw the processing area, and then went into the cellars. They have miles of cellars and take you through on a little train. At the end of out train ride we went to the tasting room.

Codorniu Cellars makes sparkling wine called cava, which would be called champagne if it were from France. We had their Non plus Extra Brut, it was really good, light, not sweet since it's Brut but not too dry. We considered sneaking back up to the bar with the next tour group to get a second glass but opted to go to the gift shop instead. We all bought something to drink during the cruise and something to bring home. As we were leaving they gave us a three pack of single serving bottles as a gift, all right! souvenirs for people back home!

On the way back to the ship the bus offered to, drop us off at Las Ramblas Paul & I took them up on it, I wanted to pick up a pair of earrings I should have bought when I saw them the first time. On our way back to the port bus we stopped at the Take Away to have a Damm Beer, while we were in there it started to rain again, by the time we got to the bus stop it was pouring ! And the roof of the bus stop was leaking, I sure am glad Vickie insisted I take her umbrella!

The Gothic Quarter where Las Ramblas is located is very pedestrian friendly and has beautiful and ornate architecture, I took lots of pictures.

When we got back to the ship we were both freezing from being out in the rain, we heard the temperature was 72, but didn't confirm that. We decided this was the perfect time to go to the Rainforest Room at the Vista Spa, some time in the saunas and a quick snooze in a tile lounger and we were happy people. The Rainforest room is the best money you can spend on the Disney Magic.

The sail away party was moved to the Atrium because of the weather but it had stopped raining so we chose to go up to Deck 10 to watch the Magic sail out of Barcelona for the last time in 2007. I love sail away no matter what port you're in, it's too bad the rain ran the party inside. The Disney Magic slipped quietly out of Barcelona, very different from the fanfare of her arrival. I'm hoping for a great sail away party when we leave Tenerife to head back home.

After sail away we went to the Walt Disney Theater to see Illusionist Phil Keller, then to dinner at Parrot Cay the most casual of the three regular dinning rooms. Since we had eaten in Barcelona the night before instead of in the dinning room we were meeting our table companions for the first time. They are Kasey & Kevin and they're from Florida. Sometime around dessert Minnie Mouse and two dancers came in and did a song that Kasey recognized, as he had performed it at Tokyo Disneyland when he worked there as a singer.

After dinner we went to Diversions to watch the NASCAR race on ESPN but it had been rained out so we turned in early. Tomorrow is a sea day and we get to sleep in!

Lynn

August 21, 2007

TransAtlantic Cruise - Barcelona 1st Day

August 18, 2007

We ascend into Barcelona through heavy cloud cover, to rain. Pretty novel for us since we haven't had any in Atlanta for a while. Immigration was very quick thanks to Delta giving us the paperwork on the plane and the officer being on the phone. I don't think he even looked up when he stamped our passports.

While we were waiting for our luggage there was a Disney Cruise Line rep walking through the crowd who gave us stickers to wear on our shirts to identify us as DCL passengers and told us where to take our luggage. The whole luggage process went smoothly if not too quickly and our large group gathered to head outside.

The rain had stopped so we only had to dodge puddles on our way to the bus. Onboard the bus we learned our 8 mile ride to port would take about 30 minutes. On the way we passed the "Damm Brewery". Wish I had gotten a picture of that. Paul & I like to try the local beer when we travel, no matter how bad it may be.

After we got checked in, which took no time at all, we passed by an area where local dancers were performing and Mickey was watching, got a few pictures of Mickey, had our Welcome aboard picture taken and headed up the gangway. We stopped by our room where we found a bottle of champagne from our travel agent Vickie (MouseFanTravel,.com) and a leather travel wallet which was our Castaway Club gift.

We hadn't had much breakfast so we headed up to Topsiders for some lunch. After that Paul, who was suffering more from the redeye flight than jet lag, went back to the room to crash and I went to the Vista Spa to book the rainforest room for the two weeks. The Rainforest Room is a serene room in the Vista spa with heated tile loungers, 3 steam room/ sauna, and a couple of scented showers. It's one of our favorite places onboard ship.

From there I went to Palo's, DCL's private adults only dinning room to get on the waiting list for a second dinner. We're having dinner with Vickie & Mike there on Monday night but we were hoping to get a second dinner for just the two of us. I told them it was our 15th anniversary and she found us a table for two no waiting at 8:30 on the 29th. Unfortunately that is Pirates In the Caribbean night - the only night I didn't want, because we have costumes to wear. I turned it down and asked that we just be put on the waiting list. She kept looking and found us a table for two in Aug 30 th!

Additionally I checked to see if Vickie had been successful in adding us to her Palo's brunch reservation, she had!! I'm happy now. Paul was napping when I got back to the room and I tried to lie down too. I couldn't lie still, so I got up and moved to our sofa with my book, read a little bit then took a short nap. I woke up just before 5:00 and woke Paul up to do the lifeboat drill that I thought was at 5. It was at 5:30 so we had time to unpack.

After the mandatory lifeboat drill which we grabbed a snack and caught the port bus, it runs between the port and Las Ramblas a pedestrian street lined with restaurants, shops, street vendors and street performers. We walked along the harbor then checked out the street vendors. Las Ramblas is in the Gothic Quarter and there are many side streets and squares to explore, wandering down one of these we discovered an Irish Pub, Molly's Fair City, Well I'm Irish so we have to go in right? We thought this was pretty novel, an Irish pub in Barcelona, later we realized they're all over the place. While we were having our pints we asked the bartender where to eat, she gave us directions to L'Arqeutera (hope that's right I'm reading her hand writing) she said walk along the street and listen for locals, well we found it easy enough and were checking out menus when we found Taller de Tapas, which was recommended by PassPorter so of course that's where we ate. Tapas along with a pitcher of Sangria were just what we needed to get our first night of vacation off to a good start.

Lynn

August 20, 2007

TransAtlantic Cruise - Today's the day !!!!

August 17, 2007

The day is finally here ! Tomorrow we'll awake somewhere over Barcelona. Our day started when Paul's cell phone woke us up. It was his boss also know as Paul with some problem he wanted Paul to fix, Hey! Doesn't he know we're on vacation??

After fixing their problem Paul headed off to the Y to workout and I headed to my chiropractors office to get all straightened out before we leave. We met up back at home and headed off to Chili's for some lunch, when we got back the box from Amazon that we had feared wouldn't arrive in time was sitting on our front porch, Paul had ordered a Sci Fi series to read and we were beginning to think we'd have to go to Border's for books. Also in that box.........NASCAR 08 for XBox !!!!

So much for cleaning up the house before we leave, at least we have something interesting to do for the next 3 hours. Turns out there was so much time to kill, the house got clean and we had time to crash a few cars. Paul had arranged for a town car to pick us up at 4:30 for our 8:00 flight, we are using a different service this time after the last service left us stranded at the airport on our return flight. The driver turned up a few minutes early in an SUV, we always had a regular car before, we like them so far. Great driver, no traffic and our trip to the airport was quick and uneventful. Because we were early there was no line either at baggage or check in. In no time at all we were in Friday's having appetizers and drinks to start our vacation. While we were sitting there trying to chill out Paul said "you know, I'm a little sad we're not going to see Dylan......and Scott & Shelly." They are our friends we met on the last DCL cruise and have remained friend 2 years later.

We arrived at the gate before the plane, which should already be here, turns out it was at another gate. While we were sitting in the terminal I was looking in my bag for my book and realized I had forgotten my Passporter ! How could I have forgotten that! With all of the highlighting and bookmarks I've stuck in it over the last few months. I'm going to be totally lost on the ship, how am I going to know what I want to do after the planned shore excursions in the ports and HOW can I possibly write trip reports with out that important encyclopedia?

Our flight starts to board at 8:25 and we're in flight by 9:15 just 1 hr 15 mins after our original takeoff time. Since May I've read tons of travel reports and the one thing I was worried about was changing planes either in London or Paris, it just sounded like a hassle to me and I was worried about delays or our luggage not arriving when we did.

We booked our flights with our package through Disney and 30 days ago we got the good news from Vickie, we had a direct flight!! That was the best news so far! Seriously it eliminated my biggest worry. It pays to live in a hub city that is also the home of Delta. So they start to bring around dinner not long after take off, we tell them we ordered two diabetic dinners, the flight attendant tells us, "we didn't get any diabetic dinners:". Period. That's it, not what can you eat, let's see what we can do. Nothing. Well this is okay for dinner but I'm going to need more than a bagel for breakfast. She tells us she'll have her captain come by and talk to us. We never saw her.

With dinner over we watched a couple of movies, turns out we didn't need our laptop for movies, in flight movies on international flights are free. This is our first international flight so we were unaware. I watched Shrek3 and Paul watched Spiderman 3. After the movie I kept my headphones on and listened to music "Spa selections" worked nicely to try and sleep by, along with handy dandy sleep mask they give you in your little package, which I thought had aroma therapy in it. The next day it was scentless, do they pipe that stuff in? I know I didn't imagine it. If you had asked me I would have said I didn't sleep any, but I was pretty surprised when they started coming around with breakfast, there was actually light coming in and we were only an hour from landing. For breakfast they managed to get me fruit, cheese, and crackers, along with the granola bar I brought with me I would survive. Pretty soon we were landing in Barcelona!!!!

Lynn

August 18, 2007

TransAtlantic Cruise - We're on vacation!

THURSDAY AUGUST 16 TH

Yesterday as I was getting ready for work I got a text message with a picture from our friends Shelly, Scott & Dylan, who we met on our 2005 DCL Cruise. They are on a Med cruise on 'another' cruise line and were having pizza in Venice. How wonderful!

Today when I got to work, I've got an email from Vickie, and one from Deb Wills. Vickie & Mike have arrived safetly in Barcelona, and Deb reports from where ever she is enjoying her Disney Adventure that our blog is ready to go.

So how am I supposed to get through the rest of my work day with out exploding from excitement?! After all I've been waiting for this for 16 months and in about 26 hours the car will be here to pick us up ! Luckily I work for a Dentist and he only sees patient till 1:00 On Thursday. By 1:45 I had everything I had to do finished up and was on my way next door to get my nails done, with well wishes from my boss and co-workers. As my nail tech 'Son' told the lady who was doing my pedicure "She's on vacation!"

So nails done, stop at Petsmart for cat food, Kmart for perscription, and Trader Joe's for 2 1/2 buck Chuck for the wine coolers I'll be having later. Yes Folks we pay $2.49 for 2 buck Chuck in Georgia! I had just gotten home when who should arrive but Paul ! Much to the astonishment of his co-workers Cynthia & Gary who are our close friends, he left work early on a Thursday and HE was on VACATION too !!!.

Since we did most of our packing on Sunday we didn't have that much to do, just some last minute odds and ends and a full out search for the only pair of cuff links in existance, which BTW, I (if that "I" could be bigger it would be) found. Right on the shelf in his closet buried under sweatshirts that he swears he had already looked under. That's why Indiana Jones, and Hans Solo always had a girl with them, they might look good but they can't find stuff on their own.

Over the last couple of days we've debated where to have dinner tonight and decided on our favorite pizza joint Mellow Mushroom. Back home to watch a movie, Zoom, which we already had from Netflix, (mildly entertaining, but it tries hard) and I came upstairs under the pretext that I was going to shower and go to bed. How does anyone sleep on the night before vacation?

I always told my Mother, the night before Disney is far worse then the night before Christmas. So I snuck out to the livingroom to get the laptop to write down the blog that keeps playing in my head (somehow it sounds much better there) and I can hear NASCAR 07 coming from the XBox in our home theater in the basement. Paul wont' be to bed for hours!

August 17, 2007

Lynn and Paul’s 15th Anniversary cruise

Who are these people?

This is my first blog with AllEarsNet so I thought I'd introduce myself.

Lynn and Paul on the Disney Magic
My name is Lynn and my husband Paul & I met when we were both Cast members at EPCOT. We were married in 1992 and left Orlando for Atlanta in 1994. We have no children by choice. Even though I grew up in GA WDW feels like going home, and I still visit a couple of times a year. Paul visits once a year for the Food & Wine festival.

On port days during our early cruises we felt we had to 'DO' everything, and I had a need to buy lots of tacky souvenirs. Somewhere around cruise number 3 I started to realize that I could get a lot of the Caribbean 'stuff' at Wal-Mart, and my family really didn't need t-shirts from somewhere they'd never even been.

Around cruise 4 or 5 I started to buy mostly locally made products. I especially try to find local artwork or photography; frameable postcards are my favorite 'cheap' souvenir. On our last two cruises we lost the 'need' to have to do and see everything available in port, and started to appreciate the days at sea more. During our 2005 DCL cruise I remember telling Paul "This is the ship I want to do a Trans Atlantic cruise on. Well ... Lo and behold just a year later the announcement came out that DCL was taking the Magic to the Med! That meant they had to get it over there and back right ?!?! It was like Tinkerbelle had swooped over our world spewing Pixie Dust !!!!

With a mixture of excitement and apprehension that there's no way we could afford this I contacted our wonderful TA Vickie from MouseFanTravel.com, who as it turns out will be on the same cruise. On April 4, 2006 we were booked on the Westbound cruise August 18 - September 1, 2007 !!!!!

I chose the Westbound for several reasons, 1) we get the really long flight over and done with at the beginning of the trip 2) we do the active part of our journey at the beginning, then get 6 blissful days at sea 3) Best of all we get to sail back in to our own time zone, which I hope will be an easier acclimation, AND we GAIN an hour every day on the Trans Atlantic part of our voyage! Every day will be an hour longer !! WoooHoo! 4) Also a big bonus we get home on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, so we have two full days before returning to work. It wasn't until months later that I realized that our 15th Anniversary is within the same month hence the title of our blog.

I'll let Vickie & Mike introduce themselves.

The four of us Me, Paul, Vickie, and Mike will be blogging both jointly and separately, that is Mike and I will be blogging , most of Vickie's on line time will be spent working, and I expect only minor input from Paul.

Did I mention that I talk too much, usually about myself or Disney! LOL!!

Lynn Behr

June 29, 2007

Cruising the Med - Oblia by Chris

This may be the one stop on the trip that you've never heard of. Sandwiched between Naples and Rome, Olbia is a side trip to the island of Sardinia. It's the closest you'll get to a day in the country on this trip without renting your own car and driving off on your own for the day (which is possible).

We decided to take Olbia as a rest day. In retrospect, I wish I had stuck with my original decision and done the kayaking trip, but my day wandering the town was quite enjoyable none-the less.

A cruise ship with a Giant MOBY I woke up to the sight of the competition parked across the pier from us. A cruise ship with a Giant "MOBY" on the side, along with Tweety, Sylvester, Bugs, Daffy, and Taz.

Turns out that Moby is one of the large Italian Ferry companies servicing central to northern Italy. The Fantasy, (along with its 15 or so sister ships including the Moby Magic) cruises between the ports of Sardinia, Corsica, and the mainland of northern and central Itally.

Also out on the pier was a welcoming reception from the town of Olbia. They had a live band playing traditional Sardinian music and a huge tent full of local foods, all staffed by some very friendly locals. For some strange reason I didn't take a picture of that. Brain fade. Maybe I did need a break that day.

oblia2.jpg

Olbia is basically a small town. No sky-scrapers (one 14 floor apartment block), no giant cathedral, just people living and working. It is full of little shops and restaurants. Olbia feels like a small town on the island of Sardinia should feel.

oblia3.jpg

There are plenty of quaint streets and little squares in the old part of town. I wondered those for most of the day, and ended up finding - shockingly - an old wooden Indian in front of a pizzeria at one point.

Here are some more pictures from my day.

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oblia5.jpg

oblia6.jpg

oblia7.jpg

oblia8.jpg

June 10, 2007

Cruising the Med - Montserrat Monastery (Barcelona) On Your Own

Many of you have requested details on how we traveled on our own to Montserrat! The simple answer is we had Gary the Guide who had done extensive research. He was awesome! Gary has offered his notes for those of you who want to try it yourselves.

Keep in mind, this is one person's suggestion. Your experience may vary. Do the research before you go!

Montserrat Monastery (just outside Barcelona)

Do it on your own - Step by Step - by Gary the Guide

The following is my step by step guide to traveling to Montserrat Monastery on your own.

I will assume that you are staying at a hotel within walking distance of a Barcelona metro stop. If you are not, or are not comfortable with using a metro system you could take a cab to Placa Espanya. The trains run hourly to Montserrat at 36 minutes past the hour, first train is 8:36am.

1. You need to get to Placa Espanya, this is where the FGC suburban line R5 departs.

2. Barcelona metro is very easy, cheap, quick, clean. While we felt safe using it all day and into the early evening hours, use caution and be aware of pickpockets! All lines are numbered and signed in color code. For example, the 7 of us who did Montserrat on our own were all staying about 500 feet from line 4 (linea 4), yellow colored on the metro map, stop named El Maresme Forum.

3. All metro lines are signed for the direction of travel towards the ends of the line from where you are standing,

For example at el Maresme Forum - the line travels towards Trinitat Nova, or La Pau. To get towards the city we traveled in the direction of Trinitat Nova, signed as Direccio
Trinitat nova.

Link to tmb official metro site -- www.tmb.net/en_US/home.jsp

4. After arriving at Placa Espanya, look for the FGC station. This is an underground station. It is linked by a passageway from the red line (linea 1) metro stop. There is also an above ground entrance signed with a blue on white background sign that looks like an intertwined f and c.

5. Go to the information booth and ask for a ticket to monistrol de Montserrat. I would strongly recommend the TOT MONTSERRAT type of ticket. While it is the most expensive, it includes roundtrip train, rack railway, 2 funiculars, lunch in the self serve cafeteria, museum, - which is just about all there is to see in Montserrat. There is a staff person outside the booth who can assist with the automatic ticket machine, although his English was limited on our trip day. I would recommend paying with cash (EUROs) as some of our party had difficulty with
credit/debit cards. It is about 34 Euro per adult, not cheap, but still cheaper than the Disney excursion price.

Link to fgc site
www.fgc.net/accesible/eng/viatjar/oci.php

6. Take the R5 train towards Manresa. Trains are very clearly marked, and are signed with the train number. This is an end of the line station so the platforms are marked well.

7. Get off at Monistrol de Montserrat. It's about a 55 minute train ride; about half is outside the urban areas in countryside. You want the next stop after montserrat-aeri. You will see the cable car and the monastery on the left, facing direction of train travel for several minutes before this stop, it's the 12th stop from Barcelona if the train is making all the stops

8. The rack railway (cremallera de montserrat) meets the train, transfer across the platform, about 20 minute ride up to the monastery.

9. You are there! Reverse the train order to return to Barcelona. The rack trains leave the monastery about 6 minutes after the hour, and are timed to meet the Barcelona trains. I believe last train is 5:30pm so don't stay too late. Check fgc timetable for the last train back to Barcelona. Remember all trains are timetabled in military/24 hour clock style, IE: 0836, for the first train of the day

A brief word about the cable car. I made a mistake while leading our group and thought it was included in our tickets. So imagine my embarrassment when we got off at monistrol de arie, and found we had to pay another 5 euros each to take the cable car, or wait an hour for the next train to go 1 stop further. We elected to pay the euros and take the e ticket cable car. BE ADVISED, this is a European style cable car, which means it's pretty well up in the air for awhile, so anyone with a real height issues might want to skip this. I loved it because it gave me a real appreciation for the labor and commitment of the monks and craftsmen who built that far up the mountain.

Montserrat is a very spiritual place and occupies a special part of the heart of the people of Cataluña. Please respect this and do not be the ugly American tourist. Cover knees and shoulders in the basilica, and no flash photography inside either.

Monsterrat Photos from Deb's Blog Entry, Part 1
Monsterrat Photos from Deb's Blog Entry, Part 2

There are many other pictures and sites available about Montserrat via a google search of Montserrat monastery.

Gary the guide

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June 4, 2007

Disney Med Cruise - Chris and Beci at Pisa! 6/3/07

Today we took a short tour to Pisa. to visit their famous School of Architecture. But first, in case you were afraid this was all business and no fun, let me introduce you to one of our dinner mates.

We pulled into port early, as always, and with a little help from our friends Mark and Reed we proceeded to get hooked up with the smallest tour, and headed out toward Pisa.

If your goal at this port is to get a taste of Tuscany, like in Under the Tuscan Sun, don't go to Pisa. It is on the industrialized coastal plain. That's not to say that there isn't anything worth looking at on the way to and from Pisa. There are lots of quaint old villas and little villages sitting on the tops of the rolling hills. There are also some amazing quarries in the hills where most of the marble used for building and sculpting in Italy was mined. There are now hundreds of marble cutters sprinkled throughout the region, and if you've got any Italian marble in your home there is a good chance it came from this area.

Once we arrived at Pisa, we had to park the bus about a one mile walk from the town square. The last quarter of a mile is covered by hundreds of swindle-vendors. Three T-shirts for 10 Euros type, except here it's one T-shirt for 10 Euros. Or one umbrella (it was raining yesterday, off and on) for 5 euros.

The square at Pisa is lovely, and all the "keep off the grass" signs keep it from being swarmed with people around all the buildings. The tour was short, and covered the famous tower (Torre Pendente), the less famous but far more beautiful Duomo, and also the Battistero where they perform baptisms.

Once you've done the tour, you're left with being a silly tourist, and holding up the tower and such. We spent a good 45 minutes posing with Mark and Reed and muttering under our breath at the other tourists who walked into our frame. Mark has all of our good shots on his camera, and Beci has yet to get them from him (slacker).

June 1, 2007

Disney Med Cruise: Beci Mahnken - Naples -The Long & Winding Road

May 29, 2007 - Today we arrive in Naples Italy . As the 3rd largest city in Italy , its home to 1.5 million and one of the best, yet worse shore tours I have ever been on. I'll get to that in a minute.

We awoke just in time to see Mount Vesuvius on the distance and a tall masted ship in port as we worked our way into the berth. It was a beautiful day around 72 degrees in the am with a few gray rain clouds off into the distance.

Ok.. before I continue I need to be honest that the worse shore excursion part is actually from one perspective - mine. And further I must preface this to include the fact that I am not really scared of many things, but heights is a phobia I will admit to.

So, to continue. When you first get the long awaited list of available shore excursions you make a date with your significant other and/or family to figure out what you are going to do when you cruise. Chris and I did just that and normally we both find something we both want to do together. This time Naples offered us different options we both wanted to do conveniently packaged in one nifty 9.5 hour excursion.

Chris wanted to experience the Almalfi Coast and I wanted to wander the ruins of Pompeii so we opted for the Amalfi Coast Drive and Ruins of Pompeii tour. Looking at the description it sounds like it will be a peaceful drive along the coast to view the unique architecture and natural wonders along the coastline. In reality it was a very large bus winding its way over the mountains via a very tiny road that was lucky to have a straight area for more then half a football field or so at a time.

Deb & Linda joined us on this journey and we managed to add some new friends, Chuck and Tony as well. Poor guys - eerrr I mean lucky guys - just happened to be in line with us as we got our bus assignments and we talked them into sitting with us too.

First of all, hats off to the driver who was able to maneuver that 50 passenger bus as if it was a 2 seater sports car even when the road narrowed to spots where only one car could pass. (yes, when I said tiny road, I meant it).

We winded our way up the side of the mountain from the port to the top of the crossing where the Guide, Gino, announced that we were almost to the Almalfi Coast where we would see the most beautiful sites including sheer cliffs that range up to 4000 feet high. as we went over the crest of the mountain, sure enough, he wasn't kidding. My heart was beating so fast and between the sheer height , the drop offs and the winding roads , I couldn't help but think I was on a thrill ride instead of a transfer to see one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen. (If I could just open my eyes first!)

Instead of trying to interpret what I saw between my tightly clinched hands over my eyes, I will let Chris blog about the ride itself which I'm sure was breathtaking. (Further proven by listening to the gasps of people as we made our way up and down the mountains. While they warn you about possible motion sickness on this tour, I would also caution anyone who has a heights issue too.

When we arrived at Amalfi, we had about 40 minutes of free time to wander the village and we decided to tour the Cathedral of the Amalfi which has some origins back to 596 AD and also is the resting place of head and other bones of St Andrew, Jesus' first disciple. Wow"

We boarded the bus and drove another 20 minutes to a hotel where lunch was served. Including wine of course.

After lunch we were on the way back towards Naples with a stop at Pompeii . This was of great significance to me. I was a Mt St Helens survivor of sorts- while I wasn't on the Mountain itself, I was camping on the south side of Mt Rainier just north of the volcano when St Helens blew and ended up walking in ash up to my hips and stuck in the icky goo for several days. That's another story in itself.. so I digress. To continue, I have been very intrigued by Pompeii and the fate of the people who perished in the tragedy back in 79 AD. We toured the ruin and saw the streets complete with visible grooves in the stone from carts and chariots. Our guide Gino was a member of the archaeological team that helped unearth parts of the ruins back in the early 1970s so was full of information to share about the lives of the people who died here. As the rain started to fall on our out door tour, we moved a little faster through the site then I would have liked, but we did manage to see some of the original artwork and tiles that have been uncovered, along with a few of the bodies that were in the positions of their last moments and with expressions that provided an eerie glimpse into what that horrific day was like. That was truly an experience of a lifetime.

Tomorrow we arrive in Olbia, Sardinia Italy .

May 28, 2007

Chris Mahnken - Arriving in Palermo

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

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

Arrivederci!

Chris Mahnken

May 26, 2007

If this is Friday, it must be Montserrat

Guest Blogger Chris Mahnken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Mahnken

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

Beci continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And soon we were off to ours.

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

Arriving at Hotel

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

Beci's Room

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

Beci

May 23 - Part 2 - Crossing the Pond

Guest Blogger Beci Mahnken .....

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

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

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

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

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

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

chris3A.jpg

Beci

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

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

Day 1 - May 23

Europe in 4 bags or less

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

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

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

Beci

May 22, 2007

Guest Bloggers in the Mediterranean!

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

Chris and Beci Mahnken

Here is Chris's pre-trip entry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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