Northern European Capitals Archives

August 2, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part 6

by Alice McNutt Miller

Days 11 and 12-At Sea

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

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

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

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


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

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

August 1, 2010

Northern European Capitals Disney Cruise, Part 5

by Alice McNutt Miller

Day 9-Helsinki

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

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


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

The old town of Porvoo was delightful.


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

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


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


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


Back to the bus, and back to the ship.

That evening after the Pirates dinner


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.


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.



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.



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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


(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.


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.


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.


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.


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.]


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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!


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.


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!


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.


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!?).


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


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


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.

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About Northern European Capitals

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

Mediterranean Cruise 2007 is the previous category.

Panama Canal EB 2008 is the next category.

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