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May 1, 2011

Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Day 4 - San Francisco

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We both slept great without all of the creaking going on - and we
actually slept in and didn't get up until almost 8:30!!!

It was another absolutely gorgeous day in San Francisco - here's the
view from our stateroom verandah at about 8:45 this morning. And it
has ended up being a much warmer day - I was comfortable in a short
sleeve shirt most of the time, except where when we were right by
the water and the wind was blowing.

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We had breakfast at Triton's, which was nice, and headed off the
ship about 10:20. I wanted to go to Pier 39 and see the sea lions,
but that was all we really had on our agenda.

San Francisco continues to remind me of Disney California Adventure-
here's a Boudin Bakery sign.

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There's a beautiful 2-story carousel at Pier 39.

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And we saw the sea lions basking in the sun. They were a lot of fun
to watch - some of them were frolicking in the water, or knocking
each other off the platforms. It was noisy, though - lots of
barking going on. :-)

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From Pier 39 we walked up to Pioneer Park, just below Coit Tower.
We had a very nice view of the Wonder from the park.

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Then we climbed the stairs from the park up to the tower. Perched
so high up there you'd think there would be a great view, but the
trees have grown up around it and so you really can't see much,
though I suppose you can if you go up into the tower.

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In the base of the tower are a lot of colorful murals like this one depicting scenes of people working in various industries.

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From the tower we walked over to Lombard Street, and went down the
hill, and then back up the other side, where the famous one-lane
twisty road is. There were lots of cars going down and lots of
pedestrians watching them.

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We had another long downhill on Hyde Street, and then went back to
Ghirardelli Square. It was just before 1:00 in the afternoon and
not crowded at all - a big difference from yesterday afternoon! We
ordered a Cable Car - chocolate, chocolate chip, and rocky road ice
cream with hot fudge, whipped cream, almonds, and a cherry. Yummy.

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We went down to the bay and wandered by the water to the end of the
Municipal Pier - all of that area is part of the San Francisco
Maritime National Historic Park. We had this great view of two
sailboats racing each other past Alcatraz Island.

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And looking back towards the city was a nice view of Ghirardelli Square.

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It was getting close to 2:00, and we were supposed to be back on
board by 3:00 so we headed back to the ship, though stopped at Pier
39 to get some sourdough bread at Boudin.

We've had two wonderful days here. We have been so fortunate to have such great weather - lots of people of told me that it's not usually like this. :-) It's been a very pedestrian-friendly city, too and we've enjoyed walking all over - even the hills. :-) I'm not sure how much walking we did yesterday and today, but probably around 5 miles each day. Gotta work off some of those fancy dinners somehow!!!

We pulled out of port about 4:15, and it was a very nice sail out of
the bay. The fireboat was back doing its best to portray all of the
fountains in World of Color again. :-)

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And it was fun to go under the Golden Gate Bridge again.

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We had some time to relax back in our cabin before going to see Toy
Story: The Musical. That show is only on the Disney Wonder, and we
had not seen it before. It was nicely done. While relaxing in our
cabin we had actually seen the last 15 minutes or so of Toy Story,
and that helped a lot, since we'd forgotten a lot of the story.

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At the end of the show, Christiaan, our cruise director, came out
and told us that because of a medical emergency we were sailing back
to San Francisco. So, at about 7:15 we sailed under the Golden Gate
Bridge again. We were docked for maybe 15 minutes, and were
underway again at about 8:15. But we already had a LONG way to go
to reach Victoria, and so a four hour delay is going to be hard to
make up. Even the original schedule had a fairly short day in
Victoria - arrive at 10:45 and depart at 6:00. So if we're four
hours late we'll probably be too late for most of our scheduled
excursions. We'll see how it goes - I know they will do their best
to make up the time.

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It was Pirate Night, and we saw lots of people dressed in some
really elaborate pirate costumes! We didn't bring quite as much
pirate gear as we usually do, but I think we still looked pretty
good. There were quite a few photo ops available - we got out
picture taken with Pirate Stitch, so we'll see tomorrow how those
turned out.

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Our dinner was at Animator's Palate - it was the usual show dinner
and not the Pirate Night menu, though. Balwan played a trick on
Lee. :-) And he showed us a couple of puzzles, too.

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They did the pirate show and the fireworks (and these are the last
fireworks on the Wonder for several months, since they will not be
the on the Alaska cruises), but it was COLD up on deck. Lee stayed
for them but I didn't - I could kind of see them from our verandah,
but they were blocked by the overhang.

I really love tonight's towel animal - especially the monkey's
eyepatch!

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Our cabin is back to creaking again...sigh.



May 2, 2011

Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Day 5 - At Sea

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I was either tired or I'm getting used to the creaking noises, since
I slept better last night. Seas didn't seem quite as rough, either.

It's another at sea day for us - we have a lot of miles to go to get
to Victoria, though. But we're moving fast (22+ knots), so the
captain says we should arrive just about on-time tomorrow.

We started off with a beautiful sunny day but the clouds have moved
in as the day has gone on. And it's cooler - only about 52, but
we're moving so fast that there's quite a breeze on deck, so the
wind chill makes it feel a lot colder.

Deb Wills sponsored a Walk the Deck to fight Breast Cancer
walk starting at 8:00. We had quite a good turnout, especially
considering the hour and the chill in the air.

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On the way back to our room we saw Pluto coming back up the stairs
from the character breakfast at Parrot Cay. He saw me with my
camera and started coming up the stairs on all fours. Very cute. :-)

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A group of 11 of us got to expererience brunch at Palo in the
private room. Lee and I had never had brunch at Palo before, since
we'd never been able to book it, so it was a real treat for us!
There were stations with a selection of antipasto, cheeses, breads,
seafood, breakfast pastries and of course desserts. For hot entrees
our server showed us the samples of the available selections and then
we ordered them made fresh. We also each had our choice of mimosa
or sparkling wine. It was really just wonderful, both the food, and
sharing it with a fun group of people.

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After brunch I went up to the gym to ride the exercise bike for a
while, and then walked another mile around the deck.

We've had a nice quiet lazy afternoon - i've been watching classic
Disney movies like Cinderella and Dumbo, and saw most of Toy Story,
and the end of The Rescuers.

We received a phone call with some good news - we are NOT going to
have to switch cabins for the Alaska cruise! So we can just leave
everything in our cabin in Vancouver. We still have to get off the
ship that morning to go through Customs, and they'll reboard us
early.

Tonight is the Captain's Gala, and it's semi-formal night. We got
dressed up and went to the Atrium to get some formal portraits
taken. But I don't actually have any pictures taken with our
camera.

As we walked by the woman who serves drinks in the Atrium we smelled
spices - turns out that she had mulled wine in addition to other
beverages. We tried it and it was quite good.

We spoke to one of the crew members, who is the head of Food and
Beverage on-board, and asked him what will be new for the Alaska
cruise. He noticed we were drinking the mulled wine and asked how
we liked it - this is the first time they have served it other than
at Christmas time. On the Alaska cruises they will have a warm
specialty drink every night. Instead of the Pirate Night menu
there will be a Taste of Alaska menu. The Pirate Night
dessert buffet will be in Beach Blanket Buffet, like it was last
night (too cold to do it on deck!). And on the day we cruise
Tracy Arm Fjord there will be a BBQ lunch available on deck 9 - that
sounded very good.

The dinner menu tonight was Captain's Gala, which is just about my
least favorite, I think. The "signature" dish is lobster, which
neither of us like. But Carol enjoyed it - Balwan expertly pulled
the shell off for her, though as you can see she was prepared just
in case he lost control of it. :-)

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Most of our table was dining at Palo, so it was just Carol and Gary
with Lee and me. We celebrated Gary's birthday, though - they
brought out some cheesecake for him that he shared with us.

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Tonight's towel animal is a dinosaur.

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There's a chocolate buffet at 11:00 in Triton's - not sure if I will
make it until then or not. If I do I'll have photos tomorrow.



May 3, 2011

Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Day 6 - Victoria

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Victoria - this is the port I've been most looking forward to on
this cruise! The day dawned gray and rainy, though - funny, there
weren't nearly as many people out on deck for our arrival in port as
there were when we went into San Francisco! :-)

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We had another fireboat performing World of Color - Victoria. :-)

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Lee and I had separate excusions today - he was doing the Orca
Exploration Tour, and I was going to Butchart Gardens. He left 45
minutes earlier than I did, though. Unfortunately they didn't see
any whales or dolphins, but saw lots of seals and sea lions. It was
chilly and rainy for most of his tour, but he still had a good time.
(They provided parkas for the guests, which they needed.)

I had about a 40-minute bus ride to Butchart Gardens - our driver
was pretty entertaining, though I took a short nap. I'd last
visited Butchart Gardens in July 1980, so it had been quite a while!
And that was in the summer - I'd never seen it in the spring before.
I love flowers, so I was in heaven - the spring bulbs were blooming.
We don't get tulips and hyacinths and most of the others in San
Diego because it's too warm, so I really, really enjoyed them. I
could bore you with hundreds of flower photos, but I will restrain
myself! It was overcast but we didn't have any real rain - mostly
just some sprinkles early on, and then it quit entirely.

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I'd forgotten how extensive the Sunken Garden (the former quarry)
is. The Canada pavilion at Epcot has a garden that is somewhat
remiscent of this, but of course not nearly so big!

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World of Color - Butchart Gardens. (These were actually
animated moving fountains.)

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There's the Rose Carousel, which apparently is only a couple
of years old. It's got a lot of very interesting carousel animals!

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This is the Italian Garden.

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We only had two hours, which wasn't nearly enough time. I managed
to get through everything, but I was moving pretty fast. I really
needed another hour. But I enjoyed myself immensely.

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On the way back our driver took us into downtown Victoria, and told
us he would stop in case any of us wanted to get off the tour and
walk around downtown. It was just past 3:30, and we didn't have to
be back on board until 6:00, so I opted to do that. He stopped
right in front of the Empress Hotel - I think most people got off
just to take photos and then got back on, but I went over and
wandered around the hotel a little bit. This photo was actually
taken about an hour later, when the weather had taken a decided
turn for the better!

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I went back towards downtown and went into Chinatown - this is the
Gate of Heavenly Harmony, or something like that.

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Our bus driver had said it was about a 20-minute walk back to the
port from the Empress - I think that he underestimated. It took me
about that long, and I walk a lot faster than most people do. I
couldn't see the ship until I was about 5 minutes away, so I was
starting to wonder, though I'd seen a couple of tour buses go by so
I was pretty sure I was on the right track. (This is the
legislative buildings - Victoria is the capitol of British
Columbia.)

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Turns out I really didn't need to rush - I arrived back about 5:20
and there was a huge line to get back on board - it took about 35
minutes!

We pulled out of port about 6:40 - it had really turned into a
beautiful afternoon. But not too many people on deck - most were at
dinner or the show, I guess. I think it's hard to see in this
photo, but there was a full rainbow as we pulled out of port - that
was really a treat to see! I guess Victoria is the city at the end
of the rainbow.

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We only have about 84 miles to go to get to Vancouver, so we're
moving v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.

We had everyone at our table for dinner tonight - it was a hoot and
a half. Balwan showed us another trick. We should have Balwan and
Tita as our servers on the next cruise, so we didn't have to say
goodbye to them.

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Our last towel animal from Angelina - even though we are staying in
same stateroom, she is moving to the port side, and won't be taking
care of us on the next cruise. She's been very sweet - I will miss
her.

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It's so nice NOT to have to pack, and it's so wonderful that this is
NOT our final night on board!!!


May 4, 2011

Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Day 7 - Vancouver Arrival/Sailaway

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The Alaska cruise has finally begun! We're all very excited to be
on board the ship and headed for Alaska.

We woke up to a beautiful morning in Vancouver, BC. Unexpectedly
beautiful - we were expecting cloudy skies and showers.

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And it was also wonderful that we were NOT actually getting off the
ship yet, unlike most of our fellow passengers!

We went back to Triton's for breakfast - everyone else at our table
was doing something else for breakfast so we were the only ones.
Lee thought it was the best breakfast menu he'd seen all week. We
told Balwan and Tita we would see them later.

As back-to-back passengers we had the opportunity to stay on-board
longer, then exit through Customs and re-board earlier, but we
decided not to do that - that we'd head over to Stanley Park and
walk around instead. (That turned out to be the smart choice, but
more on that later.)

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Not long after we exited the port we ran into two of the other
members of our AllEars group - Masayo and Gail. That was fun to see
them.

It was about 1.5 miles to the park walking along the waterfront,
and there was lots to see - several parks and some sculptures.
Vancouver is really a beautiful city.

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The green area you see out beyond the boats is Stanley Park. It's
one of the largest urban parks in the world - even larger than
Central Park in New York City.

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We stopped at the Visitor Information booth and got a map, and the
nice lady gave us some ideas of places we could walk to. We mostly
walked on the seawall, which is right along the water. It has
separate lanes for walkers/runners, in-line skaters, and bike riders!
The first "sight" was the Totem Pole park. It was really cool -
seven totem poles in one group, and a couple of totem "gateways"
and one totem off by itself.

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We went back to the seawall and around to Brockton Point, where we
could look back to the port and see the Wonder - some of it, at
least.

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Further around was the Girl in a Wetsuit statue - which I
guess is Vancouver's version of the Little Mermaid statue in
Copenhagen. Hey, they both have fins!

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The nice lady at the information booth had told us about the garden,
and I wanted to see that. It wasn't Butchart Gardens, but it was
quite beautiful - many of the same kinds of flowering bulbs.

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I thought this magnolia tree was magnificent.

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On the way out of the park we went by the Lost Lagoon - World of Color:
Vancouver
. :-)

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The port, Canada Place, was very close to the Olympic torch plaza.

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I'm happy to report that our boarding experience in Vancouver was
NOTHING like our boarding experience in Los Angeles - we walked into
the check-in area about 1:40 and were on the ship less than 15
minutes later - we walked right up to both an immigration person and
a DCL check-in agent.

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There was this really cool ice sculpture in the atrium - the lights
changed color, even.

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We quickly left stuff in our stateroom (have I mentioned how great
it was that we didn't have to pack and unpack?) and went up to the
Cove Cafe, where the first our our AllEars Alaskan Adventure
meets was taking place. Beci and Michelle from Mousefan Travel had
already been busy leaving magnets on all of our doors, and Deb had
a special AllEars 15th anniversary fanny pack for us, filled with
lots of goodies. It was nice to meet some of the people in our
group - we'll see more of them tonight at dinner and as the week
progresses.

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Deb and Beci had stayed on board, since we'd been told that as
back-to-back cruisers we could re-board before anyone else. But
no one really seemed to know what was going on, and instead of
re-boarding at 11:00, they didn't get back on the ship until noon -
when the first of the new passengers was allowed to board. In
the meantime they stood around a lot - when they weren't getting
moved aimlessly from place-to-place. I'm VERY glad we went out to
do some sightseeing instead!

We had a beautiful day for our Sailaway Party - it was actually kind
of warm up there in the sunshine. Disney gave us the special
"Inaugural Alaska" Mickey hands to wave, and we had fun with those.

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We left port about 5:15 - got buzzed by a seaplane, since we were in
their runway as we were turning around. :-)

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We're going out the way we came in, so we went by Stanley Park -
this is Brockton Point, where we had been almost exactly 6 hours
earlier.

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We're doubling back on what we did yesterday - we'll sail by Victoria
and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Pacific again, and then
turn north and travel up the west side of Vancouver Island. It's
a day at sea tomorrow, and then on Thursday we'll tour Tracy Arm,
which is still pretty much a day at sea since there's no port
involved.

Lee stood in line at Treasure Ketch to see what they had for Alaska merchandise - but people grabbed all the t-shirts before he got in there. They have lots more, apparently, but need to find their stock. Most of the merchandise did not seem to be "Inaugural Alaska" merchandise, so there should be plenty of it.

Ok, so apparently the whole "staying in the same stateroom" thing did
not go completely smoothly - we ended up with the luggage that
belonged to the people originally scheduled to be in this room, and
also their port excursion tickets - I had to go to the Port
Adventures desk to get reprints of ours. I also can't sign up for
internet service, since it has the wrong information associated with
this stateroom (though if you are reading this, that means that problem
was resolved). We need to check with guest services to make sure
that our room charges are actually going to go against the correct
room - that could be very bad.

Fortunately the internet thing was resolved (Deb had problems too, and last I heard she still couldn't log on), so I've been able to upload this blog. We had a really fun dinner with our new tablemates and Balwan and Tita. I'll post a picture of Tigger and our first towel animal tomorrow.

At sea day tomorrow - woo hoo!



May 5, 2011

Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Day 8 - At Sea

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What day is it...what time is it? I've really lost track - it
doesn't matter very much here - well, except for being late to
dinner, I suppose. :-) We had a time change last night and we're
on Alaska time now - an hour behind Pacific time. Extra hour of
sleep last night - yay! (Or our very first "Extra Magic Hour", as
Jason, our Assistant Cruise Director, told us this morning. :-) )

Oh, and by the way, it's Wednesday.

Since some of you have asked me, I'll give the nightly stateroom
report from yesterday: slightly creaky, with occasional rattles.
I must be getting used to it since I slept better.

Here's our towel animal from last night - I wonder if the tag is the
towel animal equivalent of an earring?

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Today is cloudy and gray - it's actually gotten a little darker as
the day has gone on. Oh well, this is about what I expected, and
we had a bonus with such great weather on the repo cruise. It's
actually not as cold as I was expecting, though - at least not yet.

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Speaking of cold...thank you to the elves who left two pairs of
gloves in the fish extender outside our door - I thought it was the
Mouse Fan Travel people, but they said no. Just about every time
we've gone outside today there's been something new in it - the
gloves, AllEars trading cards, a Mickey tissue holder, a cruise
itinerary. It's fun!

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I'm looking at the "bridge report" - they have really raised the
temperature in the pools - 89 degrees! They were only 80 degrees on
the repo cruise. I've seen people in the hot tubs, but we'll see
how many are really interested in going into the pools on this trip.

The seas were only moderate this morning, but have picked up as the
day has gone on - now they are "rough" (8-12' swells) and the ship
is really rolling a lot from side-to-side. It's hard to walk in a
straight line. The pools are closed, and are actually rather
entertaining to watch, so here I give you World of Color: Disney
Wonder
. (I hope you're not all sick of the World of Color
thing!)

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I started my day by walking about 3 miles around deck 4. Not too
many people out there today! I had a jacket, but after a couple of
laps I was warm enough that I didn't need it - as I said, it doesn't
really feel that cold out there.

We had an AllEars meet in Cove Cafe at 8:00 - Deb treated those of
us who were there to a warm (non-alcoholic) beverage of our choice.
So those of you who slept in missed out! :-) I tried the Cassis
(black currant) tea - it came in my own personal press pot, and was
very good.

Lee and I went to breakfast at Beach Blanket Buffet - it wasn't very
crowded at 8:40 in the morning. We found Gail and Julian and joined
them at their table. And then all four of us went to the Alaska
Park Ranger presentation in the Walt Disney Theater: Special
Places, Special Animals
. The speaker is a former National
Forest Service ranger, who was the District Ranger for the Juneau
area before he retired. He had some interesting stories, and shared
a video on flying squirrels, which are found in the Tongass National
Forest (largest national forest in the world). He also told us
about a lone black wolf that lived in the Mendenhall valley in
Juneau for about 8 years. During that time the wolf (being a wolf)
made off with multiple small dogs, though it would occasionally
play with larger dogs. So his office had to issue multiple press
releases reminding people to keep their dogs on leash, watch out
for the wolf, etc. Well, apparently one time after this had happened,
there was an official-looking press release that was supposedly
issued by the wolf himself. He read us the real release, and then
the wolf's release - pretty funny. Some of my favorite lines from
the wolf's version:

REMEMBER:

DOGS ON LEASH: Keep pets on a leash or leave them home. It's the
law.
BE ALERT: I can be active day and night and can be anywhere. I'm
always watching you.
MAKE NOISE: Try not to startle me, make noise while barking.
Seriously, don't startle me, it ticks me off.
NEVER APPROACH: Give me a lot of space and do not approach me. I am
wild. Get it? I am WILD. I will eat you and your little dog too!

At the bottom of the real press release it says: The US Forest
Service is an equal opportunity employer. On the wolf's release it
states: The wolf is an equal opportunity predator. Love it!!!

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There were lots of people waiting in the pin line when we went into
the Walt Disney theater (we had to go through the line to get
there), but just like the repo cruise, there were still wristbands
left at the end. There's eight different pins - three with an edition
size of 2000 and five with an edition size of 1000, so that's quite
a few. There's still not much Alaska merchandise in the store,
though, but I expect as they continue to find it they'll put it out.

We had lunch at Triton's - it was pretty busy. We were seated at
12:15, and figured that would be enough time to get to the next
ranger presentation at 1:00, but I didn't even get my sandwich until
ten minutes to one. And it wasn't very good - it was supposed to be
a turkey and cheese panini, but although the bread was toasted, the
cheese and turkey were cold. And I'd also ordered it without the
thousand island dressing, but they put it on anyway.

There weren't as many people at this ranger presentation, which was
on subsistence. Apparently for many people in rural Alaska, a large
part of their food supply comes from the land (or ocean) - salmon,
berries, deer and moose.

I had a facial in the spa this afternoon, and that was very nice and
relaxing.

Tonight is Formal Night, but they canceled the Golden Mickeys show
due to "technical difficulties". Though we think the real reason is
the rolling of the ship makes it dangerous for the performers. They
have rescheduled it for tomorrow night instead.


Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Day 8 Part 2

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I didn't get a chance to finish the blog entry last night because the internet service was just awful when we got back from dinner. I gave up after a couple of minutes, but then it took me over 20 minutes to get a "log off" screen, so I wasn't sure until this morning that I actually was only charged for a few minutes on-line and not 30!

Anyway...back to yesterday.

Tonight is Formal Night, but they canceled the Golden Mickeys show
due to "technical difficulties". Though we think the real reason is
the rolling of the ship makes it dangerous for the performers. They
have rescheduled it for tomorrow night instead. (I was very
impressed that when we returned to our cabin tonight the new
Navigators for tomorrow had the updated schedule with the Golden
Mickeys as tomorrow's entertainment!)

We'd already gotten dressed by the time they made the announcement,
so that meant we still had two hours before dinner and no place to
go. Mulan had just come onto one of the movie channels, so we
watched that. :-)

We went down to the Atrium and had some more photos taken - there
was a huge line for Mickey in his tux, but we had our photo taken
with the captain.

It was another fun dinner with Balwan and Tita - don't they look
great in their black tuxes? We missed the Golden Mickeys menu on
the repo cruise because we went to Palo that night, so it was nice
to get a chance to have it tonight. (Just a reminder that I will
still be doing my food blog, but I won't get a chance to write/post
it until after we return from this cruise.)

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The towel stingray on the bed reminded me of Mr. Ray from Finding
Nemo - apparently Tigger felt the same way and is attending "school" as well. :-)

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We also had an extra surprise - Disney gave us this lithograph.
It's signed by the artist, Don "Ducky" Williams, and titled
Mickey's Great Alaskan Adventure. Limited edition of 1150. Very cool!

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I'm happy to say that the seas calmed somewhat during dinner - we're
still rocking (and our ceiling is still creaking), but it's not as
bad as it was a few hours ago.

So back to real time this morning...it's 6:35 Alaska time and we're in the Inside Passage so the seas are smoooooth and our cabin is quiet. :-) Gray skies but more light, so it appears the cloud layer maybe isn't as thick today. We hope the clouds will lift when we arrive at Tracy Arm (about 1:00 pm) so that we'll be able to see something.

Deb's Walk the Deck for Breast Cancer Awareness is at 8:00 this morning - hopefully it won't be too chilly out there today, especially since we've slowed down and there isn't so much wind.


May 6, 2011

Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Day 9 - Tracy Arm

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Tracy Arm! Our first real day IN Alaska, though we didn't set
foot on land at all. It's been a very busy, but really wonderful,
day.

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The day started off cloudy - with low clouds, so we couldn't see the
shore, but after about an hour we actually had some blue sky and
sunshine.

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I had internet service this morning, so I uploaded the blog that I
couldn't finish last night. Lee was still sleeping so I also worked
on the food blog for a while.

At 8:00 we met some of our group on deck 4 outside Animator's Palate
for the "Walk to Raise Awareness of Breast Cancer". Several of our
group were wearing pink. Most of us did two laps, and then some of
them were going for breakfast at Beach Blanket. Lee and I did
another 4 laps after that. It really wasn't as cold as I thought it
might be - though I was still wearing a jacket and pants!

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Our character breakfast was this morning at 9:45 in Parrot Cay.
Just about everyone in our group was there, and we had a lot of fun.
Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Chip and Dale came by to see us.

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Our servers made funny hats for us out of napkins, too.

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The captain announced that we were going to be able to go into Tracy
Arm a little earlier because the ship that was supposed to be there
ahead of us wasn't coming. We were the very first ship to go in
there this season. But we still weren't entering until 12:30. I
went to the gym - while I was there I saw a couple of whales!

The sea was totally flat, and very pretty. We had quite a bit more
sun and blue sky at that point, but as we moved closer to the fjord
the sky clouded over, and we actually had a small shower, but it
passed quickly. We really lucked out in that there was very little
wind. We set up "camp" at a table on deck 10, midship, starboard
side, and hung out there with Gary and Carol for most of the day.
(As you can see it eventually warmed up enough that Gary was in short
sleeves for a while! We really didn't need the heavy jackets and
gloves and hats and all of that today.)

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It was really an incredible day. I'm not sure what else to say, for
some of it you just had to be there. The views kept getting better
and better as we moved further into the fjord - and we kept seeing
more and more ice in the water. I think I'll just show some
pictures.

I brought the scarf that they gave us at the D23 Expo in 2009 when
they first announced that Disney Cruise Line would be going to
Alaska in 2011.

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Tigger wore it after I got too warm and took it off. :-)

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Some of the icebergs had unusual shapes - this one looks like an
iguana, or maybe a platypus, or even an armadillo. What do you
think?

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The characters were out on deck and dressed in special costumes -
the first time they had worn them!

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They had two barbecue areas set up - one on deck 9 forward, and the
other on deck 9 aft at the back of Beach Blanket Buffet. They were
serving steak, salmon, and halibut. Also baked potatoes and bread,
including pretzel bread (yum!).

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There were lots of waterfalls on both sides - this one was
especially tall.

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We rounded a last corner and could see the north Sawyer Glacier.
By then it was mostly cloudy, but there was a little bit of sun on
the mountain behind it.

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The view kept getting better as we got closer - and we wondered just
how close we were going to be able to get - the channel isn't that
wide, and we still needed to turn around at some point. This is
as close as we got, because there were lots of seals on the icebergs
in front of us, and the captain didn't want to disturb them. Because
of that we weren't able to go to the corner where we could see the
south glacier. And unfortunately we didn't see any glacier calving,
either.

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Here's a couple of seals that were alongside the ship after we
turned around. We also some mountain goats, but they were very far
away and hard to see. Lee has some photos, though.

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A last look at Sawyer Glacier!

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And here's the bow of the ship as we're headed back out.

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This evening we DID see the Golden Mickeys, though since we
weren't all in formal wear, the red carpet thing wasn't as
effective. I really enjoy the musical acts, but the whole "Ensign
Benson" thing is contrived and doesn't interest me. This show is
not the updated version that I saw on the Disney Dream, though it
has been updated to include Bob Iger and Anika Noni Rose. I prefer
the newer version, which got rid of one segment (Terk) that I really
didn't care for, and included the Little Mermaid and Tangled numbers.

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We made a quick stop in Treasure Ketch afterwards - they have
restocked some of the merchandise, at least pretty much everything
that is for the 2011 Alaska season - I think any "Inaugural Voyage"
stuff is gone. There seems to be two styles of adult t-shirts, and
three more that are women's shirts - one of those is a long-sleeve
front-zip sweat shirt. Adult smalls and mediums were most of what
was available tonight - good for me, but there was nothing available
for Lee.

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There's three different kids shirts (one is the same as the red
adult shirt).

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And then there's some miscellaneous things - a wooden Alaska
postcard, Alaska scrapbook kit, totem pole magnetic bottle opener,
books, shot glasses, a plate, and several plushes.

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It's almost 8:00, and there's still quite a bit of daylight outside -
we are sailing in Stephans Passage, according to "The Bridge
Report". Sunset isn't until 8:47!

We arrive in Skagway at 7:00 tomorrow, and our tour starts at 8:25.
I anticipate a pretty long day tomorrow (all aboard in Skagway is
7:30 p.m.), so I probably won't have time to write much of a blog
entry, and will be playing catch-up for a while.

I'll post tonight's towel animal photo tomorrow.



May 7, 2011

Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Day 10 - Skagway

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Another terrific port day! But it's been a very long day and I'm pretty tired - not sure how much I will get done.

The short version: It was a cloudy and overcast day in Skagway, and raining lightly when we left the ship for our Alpine Snowshoe and White Pass Railway excursion. We took a bus to Fraser, British Columbia, and then snowshoed for about 3 hours with our guides. There was LOTS of snow up there, but it was pretty soft in places. We had a little bit of snow, and a little bit of sunshine, but the mountains were for the most part in clouds - every once in a while we caught a brief glimpse. Then we took the railroad back to Skagway, going over White Pass, through a couple of tunnels and over a couple of interesting bridges. Lots of great scenery - it took about 90 minutes.

We wandered around Skagway for a couple of hours after we got back - went to the Visitor Center and saw the movie, and walked around looking at the buildings and stuff. We are the first cruise ship here this season, so a lot of the businesses still haven't opened yet.


Pacific Northwest. I went too!

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So to make up at least half of an AllEars full house, I too went on the DCL Pacific repositioning cruise from Long Beach to Vancouver. Unlike the rest of those lucky stiffs, I had to go rejoin Reality (such as it is,) before they continued on to Alaska, but it was still a great time. Since Laura, the blogging machine, is again taking care of all the details, I'll just give some random observations.

One thing I noticed: Out of all the cruises on DCL I've taken, this one seemed as though it had the most changes as to the way they traditionally do things. My feeling is that a lot of the changes have been made to standardize things between the older ships and the Dream.

The Win:
A lot of the menus on board have been updated, mostly for the better. Some of the offerings, particularly the embarkation day buffet in Beach Blanket Buffet, had been getting a little familiar, so it was pleasant to see some change-ups there.

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The shows are still very good, despite the fact that, along with Laura, I now prefer the updated version of Golden Mickeys, with the Tangled segment.

The Wavephones have made their way onto all the ships now, which continues to make communication a little easier for people now totally dependent on their phones.

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The return of the dining room parades was a nice touch, and something you miss on the Dream, due to the larger number of people occupying the dining rooms at any one time.

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The ports were few but extremely enjoyable. I visited the Walt Disney Family Museum and the Cartoon Art Museum in SF, and Butchart Gardens in Victoria.

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It was nice to have an overnight in a port for a change, so for at least one day, you didn't have to have the vague but constant worry that something would happen while you were out, and the ship would leave you.

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Victoria and Vancouver were particularly nice--clean, and filled with helpful people. We actually took the rapid transit line from the Vancouver port to the airport (not difficult at all...if you weren't dragging six days worth of luggage with you,) and people couldn't have been nicer about giving us directions or holding doors for us.

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Most people felt they would have preferred the two days in Victoria rather than SF, and I notice next year this cruise is one day longer, with an extra sea day and two days in Vancouver instead.

The Fail:
The embarkation process in Long Beach was a total flail. In the first place, unlike in Florida, there was no one to greet incoming cars or tell them where to go or what to do, so there was a great deal of slow, random driving as people tried to puzzle out the procedure. The LuggageGuys who take your luggage from the car to the ship were not outfitted in anything Disneyesque or even Port-esque, causing my family some concern that we just handed off all our stuff to random guys on the street.

Once inside, it wasn't any better. No one gave us any help finding a line to wait in--we were supposed to be in the Castaway Club line, however on a casual glance it appeared that the only choices were "Platinum/Concierge" or "Everyone Else," so we went with the latter. Subsequently, they had computer problems which caused the line to slow to a crawl, and then stop altogether when they had to reboot their computer systems. By the time we actually made it past the port, we had waited about an hour in line, surrounded by people with rapidly decompensating moods.

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In the cabins, particularly the inside cabins, it was always a problem trying to tell what time it was. The only clock they gave you was an analog propeller clock which went well with the decor but was totally unreadable either in the dark or from the bed. Now it seems, with the addition of the Wavephones, they felt everyone could just tell time from those, and removed even the one marginally functional clock they had. The best advice I can give is to bring your own light-up travel clock, along with a power strip, since they now take one of the only outlet areas for the Wavephone charger.

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The Meh:
Another thing they took from the Dream was the minimalist Navigators which still lack some of the listings--neither the Pirate Buffet nor the Dessert Buffet were written down, so if your server didn't tell you about them, you were pretty much out of luck.

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The late-night buffets are also altered--instead of setting up special tables with different offerings each night, they've switched to utilizing the already-available bar snack tables located in two of the lounges for them. The result is that there are far fewer offerings each night, which appear to be pretty uniform from night to night. This definitely seems like a downgrade.

Even the Pirate buffet, which used to be a huge, crowded event, now takes place in the Beach Blanket Buffet area. This provides people with better seating, but again, the variety of food and decorations is much smaller than previously.

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At the end of the day, though, I was finally able to track down some chocolate-covered strawberries. And really, that's what cruising is all about.

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Disembarkation was pretty simple, although it seemed to take a little longer than in Florida--understandable, since this was the first time the Wonder had been to Vancouver. They allowed people to leave by announcing the various characters on the cruise luggage tags--the latest people were called around 0930-1000, so early flights out would have been challenging. There was then a considerable line to go through Canadian customs, after which you found your bags as usual, and sought transportation to your respective destination. Disney transfers to the airport ran $25 per person, and we were told cabs would cost around $40. The rail station was about 1 1/2 blocks from the port exit, and tickets ran about $3.75 each (amounts in Canadian dollars.) The rail trip took about 20 minutes, and we actually went through US customs checking into the flight, so we didn't have to retrieve our luggage and redo the whole thing when we connected in Seattle.

On the whole, it was great fun, not the least of which was sharing the boat with all the other AllEars folk--we look forward to repeating on the Fantasy next year!


May 8, 2011

Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Day 10 - Skagway

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(I got back to the room last night after dinner and just crashed - I was too tired to write and go through the photos. So here's what I should've written yesterday about our visit to Skagway.)

I really like this whole inside passage thing - the seas have been
so calm that not a creak is to be heard in our stateroom - most of
the time it's hard to tell that we're even moving!

As I said in my very abbreviated report yesterday, it was overcast
and raining lightly in Skagway when we arrived around 7:00. The
temperature was about 49.

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Apparently lots of people had early excursions because Beach Blanket
was very busy - of course it didn't help that no one wanted to sit
outside! We spied James and Dave, two of our group, and asked if we
could join them, and enjoyed visiting with them.

Our tour met in the Walt Disney Theater, along with a number of
other groups. There were only 16 people on it, so that was very
nice. As I mentioned earlier, it was the Alpine Snowshoe and
White Pass Railway
tour - they can only do this one for the
first few weeks of the season, until the snow melts, so we were
pretty fortunate to do it. There were two departures - the first
one took the early train, and then took the bus back, whereas we
took the bus first, and then the train back. Considering the
weather, I think we probably had better viewing from the train than
they did.

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Anyway...before we left our three guides outfitted us with
waterproof overshoes - these went on over our shoes, and had a thick
rubber sole and a waterproof fabric upper that came up several
inches above the ankle. They worked really well - we need to try to
find some to use with our snowshoes! I have to say I was very
impressed with the quality and selection of the equipment they
had for us - there were rain pants and waterproof shells (which Lee
and I didn't need since we had our own), and they also had gloves,
hats, and sunglasses. There was also a large "bum bag" for
everyone, already packed with snacks and water. (Since we had our
own packs we took the snacks and water.) They were very conscientious
about making sure that everyone was warm and comfortable. And of
course they provided the snowshoes and hiking poles as well.

We had a nice 30-minute or so bus ride to Fraser, British Columbia.
One thing about this tour - it goes into Canada, so you MUST have
your passport - they checked them when we went into Canada, and
again when we returned to Skagway. Our driver was a young woman,
which is rather unusual, and she was excellent.

We reached Fraser just as the train was arriving, though we had time
for the all-important restroom stop before we boarded! Actually,
once we boarded we sat there for at least 30 minutes before the
train left. But that was ok - it gave our guides time to pass out
the rain pants and shells and bum bags, and time to set up the
"lunch bar" where we could make ourselves a sandwich or two. There
was bread, ham, turkey, and cheese, with mustard and mayo, and also
peanut butter and jelly and tabasco sauce. Dylan, who seemed to
be the one in charge (and he was really a kick - but they were all
great guys), encouraged people to make a couple of Alaskan specials -
peanut butter and tabasco and turkey and jelly. Lee did a half
sandwich of each - he said the peanut butter and tabasco was quite
good! They also had baby carrots and celery sticks for us.

Here's a view from the train stop, where the clouds had lifted
enough that we could see the top of the mountain. And those are
Canada geese out on the water.

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Everything was put away by the time the train pulled out, which was
good, because we only had about a 10 minute ride to the starting
point for our snowshoe trek. The train stopped and we got off -
there's an old boxcar there that a lot of groups use for storage.

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There was a LOT of snow up there, and it was actually snowlng
lightly at the time (but thankfully very little wind). Everyone got
their snowshoes and poles, and the guys helped most people put them
on (Lee and I have snowshoed before, so we were pretty
self-sufficient). I think Lee and I were the only ones who had
snowshoed before, but really, all you do is walk with your feet
further apart than usual.

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All of the guides were carrying large and very heavy packs, since
they were carrying food and water and extras of just about
everything in case there was some kind of problem. Dylan was
leading, and since the snow was pretty soft, there were times that
he would "posthole" and even with the snowshoes on would sink down
2-3'. Oh, and did I mention that he was wearing SHORTS???? (Native
Alaskan, born in Juneau.) Anyway...he did a good job making sure he
had a solid path for the rest of us to follow, so for the most part
we didn't posthole.

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Even though no one else in our group had been on snowshoes before
they all did very well, and everyone was having a great time. Dylan
set a steady pace, and though we got spread out a bit, everyone kept
up well. He stopped occasionally to point something out, or to let
us do something like go sliding down a big hill - since we were all
wearing slick rain pants that was fun.

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The clouds hadn't lifted like I hoped they would, but every once in
a while we could see some of the snow-covered peaks, and we had a
little bit of sunshine. It was still really a wonderful day. Not
nearly as cold as I had thought - I had to take off my heavy jacket
after a while, so I had a shirt and wool sweater on, and I was very
comfortable while I was moving. We stopped for lunch after about 90
minutes, and I had to put the jacket back on. Unfortunately the
clouds had descended by then so it wasn't a very scenic lunch.

Our guides had another surprise for us - they were all carrying
thermoses of hot water (and it was still pretty hot!), so they
offered us packets of instant hot cocoa, cider, or yes, hot Tang.
For the really adventurous (must be another Alaska thing) you could
combine the Tang and cocoa - they called it a "chocang". I'm not
sure anyone took them up on that one. Later on we stopped for some
"yellow snow" - snow with lemon Gatorade powder poured on it.
Sometimes it's ok to eat yellow snow. :-)

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We went probably about two miles in the three hours that we were
out, but we had quite a few stops. It was a much more adventurous
excursion than I was expecting - not that we did anything dangerous,
but it wasn't as tame as it could have been. There were only 16
people in our group, which was a nice number - Dylan said that's the
maximum group size they usually do. I think everyone had a wonderful,
time, and it was a good group of people. I can't say enough about
our guides - they were just awesome. Very knowledgeable, helpful,
and fun to be with. Even if they all had different ideas on which
direction we should go. :-)

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The sun was breaking through a little bit towards the end of our trek and we could see the tops of some of the peaks around us.

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We were supposed to be back at the box car for the train to pick us
up at 2:15 - but the train didn't show up until 3:05. That gave us
time for things like a group photo, though.

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And we had a wildlife sighting - a ptarmigan, which is the state
bird of Alaska. The guys called them "snow chickens", though.

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We were happy to see the train pull up!

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We had a train car just for our party, and Dylan did a great job
pointing things out as we went along. Unfortunately I didn't get
any really great photos, and it was such a gray day anyway.

Here's the flags at the border.

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And here's the old trestle bridge - we came across a newer one.

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We could go out on the platform behind the car, but it was kinda
cold out there.

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Going around a curve. At one point we could look out and see the
Wonder docked down at Skagway - but that pic didn't come out very
well.

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We got back into Skagway about 4:30, and since we didn't have to be
back onboard the ship until 7:30, that gave us time to explore the
town a little bit. Not that there was much of the town to explore -
it's pretty small. About 8 blocks in one direction and 6 in the
other. We went to the Visitor Center for the Klondike Gold Rush
National Historic Park
and saw the movie about the Klondike Gold
Rush and the Chilkoot and White Pass Trail. Yikes - those would-be
miners endured a lot!!!

We wandered around town and saw some of the old buildings - the
front of this one is all decorated with driftwood.

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Very old-fashioned looking - like something out of the old West, rather than Alaska.

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On the rocks walls next to the harbor are all of these painted rock
signs - some of them are ads for businesses, but a lot of them are
for cruise ships - apparently it's somewhat of a tradition for a
cruise ship line to paint their logo the first time they go into
port. No sign of the mouse yet, though!

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We pulled out of port about 8:00 - as you can see it was a beautiful
evening! Sunset was the latest of our entire trip - 9:07 p.m.
(It's also the furthest north we are going to go.)

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Our towel animal was a cool sea turtle.

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I'm a day behind now, but I'll tell you that we had a wonderful day
in Juneau - we had SUNSHINE for most of the day!!! The people in
Juneau thanked us for bringing the good weather. We've really been
very lucky these last 10 days! This is the Mendenhall Glacier. I'll have more about our day in Juneau tomorrow. We have a relatively short day in Ketchikan, so maybe I'll "ketch" up. :-)

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May 9, 2011

Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Day 11 - Juneau

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Ahhh...another quiet restful night in our stateroom. Beci was
telling us at dinner that she recommends Alaska Inside Passage
cruises to her clients that are afraid they'll be seasick, and I can
understand why. It's so smooth that a lot of the time I can't even
tell that we're moving!

I'm sorry that I haven't had a chance to respond to comments, but
I've been able to read most of them, so here's answers to some
questions:

Our dining rotation is Parrot Cay, Triton's, Animator's Palate. And
then lather, rinse, repeat. :-) Here's the menus and themes for
the Alaskan cruises:

Day 1: The restaurant menu (Island Dinner for Parrot Cay, French
Dinner for Triton's and Show Dinner for Animator's Palate). Dress
is Cruise Casual.

Day 2: (At Sea) Formal Night, with the Golden Mickeys menu.

Day 3: (Tracy Arm) The restaurant menu, Cruise Casual.

Day 4: (Skagway) The new Taste of Alaska Menu, Cruise Casual.

Day 5: (Juneau) Restaurant menu, Pirate Attire or Cruise Casual.

Day 6: (Ketchikan) Captain's Gala menu, Semi-Formal attire.

Day 7: (At Sea) 'Til we Meet Again menu, Cruise Casual.

The temperature inside the ship is pretty comfortable - I get cold
very easily, but I've been ok in the restaurants and public spaces
in just long pants and a shirt - usually long sleeve, but I've been
ok in short sleeves, too.

The show schedule is:

Day 1: Let the Magic Begin
Day 2: Golden Mickeys
Day 3: One of the cruise entertainers
Day 4: Movie (for us it was African Cats)
Day 5: Toy Story The Musical
Day 6: One of the cruise entertainers
Day 7: Remember the Magic

I've seen whales a couple of times - saw humpbacks from the gym on
our first at sea day, and orcas last night after we sailed out of
Juneau. The captain said we might see some very early this morning
(as we were approaching Ketchikan) but I wasn't getting up that
early. :-)

Yes, there are special Alaska pins available. Open edition pins, as
well as a limited edition set on our cruise - I don't know if there
will be other limited edition sets available on future cruises,
though.

Once we got into the Inside Passage (on day 3) there's
several changes they've made due to Alaskan maritime laws. This is
the paragraph that was in the Navigator:

"Disney Cruise Line recognizes the importance of quiet and solitude
to preserve wilderness values and marine ecology, and will minimize
vessel announcements, Funnel Vision audio and music on the open deck
while we are in our ports of call and sailing thru Tracy Arm.
Narration is at maximum levels permitted by local regulations and
may seem quiet."

What that means is that when we were in Tracy Arm the other day we
could hardly hear the narration from our naturalist. They also are
not showing very many movies on the Funnel Vision, though they did
show Pirates of the Caribbean on Pirate Night. (Of course, that
could also be because it's pretty chilly on deck, and no one is up
there watching them!)

I haven't heard them blowing the ship's horn very much since we left
Vancouver, though that might be because they reduced the volume and
we can't hear it from our stateroom. They did sound it just before
we pulled into the dock in Ketchikan this morning, though.


So back to yesterday...we arrived in Juneau pretty early - we were
docked by the time we got up about 7:00. We were really happy when
we looked outside and saw some blue sky! And it just got better as
the day went on.

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The last time I was in Juneau was in 1983, and we had to take
tenders to the port - things have changed since then and we docked
at a pier - though it's the furthest one from downtown, even though
we were the only ship in port.

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Our excursion was the Mendenhall Glacier Adventure Hike.
There were 20 of us and they put us in a converted school bus. The
bus driver, Scott, was one of our guides, and Dirk was the other.
Both very knowledgeable and nice. They also had butt bags for us,
with snacks, water, and a poncho (which they hoped we wouldn't
need!). I think just about everyone on the tour had brought their
own packs so we just swapped the supplies into them.

We drove about 20 minutes to the West Glacier trail head, on the
shore of Mendenhall Lake. The day had turned absolutely gorgeous -
sunshine, blue sky, puffy clouds, as you can see in this photo. We
were so lucky to have a day like that - especially since they told
us it had been raining the day before.

These photos were taken about 1/4 mile up the trail; the best
view we had all day even though we got closer to the glacier. The
trees blocked most of our view the rest of the time. Where's a
chainsaw when you need it?

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They had split us into two groups of 10, and we were with Dirk's
group. Really interesting guy - a native Alaskan with lots of
stories and information on the plants and animals. For example, he
pointed out this furrow in the moss, and said it was probably made
by a bear looking for food.

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And this is shelf fungus...

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And this is lettuce lung lichen.

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The trail was very nice - through the forest largely on a carpet of
moss and evergreen needles. Though in a couple of places we went up
some fairly steep rocky sections. They had cable handrails on one
of them, but the other one we had to scramble up - not too hard, and
Dirk was there to lend a hand to those who needed it.

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By the time we reached our turnaround point (about 2.25 miles in) we
had a few more clouds in the sky and not quite as much sun. Both
Lee and I were hiking in just a single layer, which I certainly had
not expected at all!

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This was the closest view we had of the Mendenhall Glacier. It's
receding - about 300' a year on average. The trees in the area we
were in were probably about 80 years old, so the glacier was there
100 or so years before.

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The sky was a bit clearer over Juneau, and back the way we came
from.

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We returned as one big group (though spread out a ways), and took a
rather steep side trail down next to a stream.

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Here's the view from the lake about 3 hours after the one I took
above - I'm glad I have the earlier photo!

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It was a fun hike, and again, a little more challenging than I was
expecting. Don't get me wrong, I LIKE challenging, and I'm very
happy to see that Disney has added some more active and interesting
choices like these last two we did to their itineraries. Our
guides were again excellent and helped us enjoy the experience even
more.

Over half of us chose to get off the bus in town rather than taking
it back to the ship. Dirk passed out maps to us and gave us a few
suggestions of places to check out. Here's the state capitol
building.

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And a totem pole outside the museum. This is a 4 story totem, and
depicts 4 Haida clan stories. It was carved in 1940 out of western
red cedar.

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And the World Famous Red Dog Saloon. We went inside - there's
sawdust on the floor! (It really hadn't changed much since I was there almost 28 years ago - though it has two gift shops now. :-) )

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Down by the waterfront was the statue of Patsy Ann. She was a white
bull terrier, and in the 1930s she was the unofficial greeter of
Juneau. She was deaf, but despite that she always knew when a ship
was coming into port and met it at the dock.

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It was "Clean Up Juneau Day", and we saw a lot of residents out with
big trash bags picking up trash. So Lee did his part, too. All of
the trashcans in Juneau are bear-resistant (I won't say bear-proof,
because bears are smart, and I don't think there's anything that's
bear-proof!), and have a latch on the lid to make it more difficult
for the bears.

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There were shuttle buses from the tram station to the ship, but we
walked back (and so did some other people - including some with
little kids - we were impressed by that). It was a longer walk than
it looked - over a half mile since we had to go around the far side
of the ship.

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We pulled out of port about 5:00 - it was still a beautiful day with
quite a bit of sunshine! Oh, that reminds me - when we were walking
downtown one of the local residents saw Lee's hat and recognized him
as being from the Disney ship and thanked him for the sunshine. :-)

They were setting up for the Pirate Night party on deck.

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We had dinner at Palo in the private dining room with 10 other
members of our group (thank you Mouse Fan Travel!). As if that
wasn't enough of a treat, we ALSO saw a pod of orcas go by, followed
by some dolphins that were following them! We forgot all about
eating for a while. It was really awesome.

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We continued to have terrific scenery throughout dinner, as we
sailed by all of those snow-capped mountains. Just beautiful - I
can't believe what a beautiful day it was for us!

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Another new towel animal tonight that I hadn't seen before - a
donkey. We still have over half of them placed around our stateroom -
I'll have to do a group photo before we leave. :-)

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It was Pirate Night. Lee actually dressed up and went on deck to
check it out. (Note the earring - one of the goodies in our fish
extender today, though he didn't wear the eyepatch that went with
it. Finding goodies in our fish extender every day has been a lot
of fun! Thank you Mouse Fan Travel, and thank you Sandy, our table
mate on the repo cruise, who made the fish extenders!)

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Lee said it wasn't as cold as during the pirate party as it was
during the repo cruise, though there weren't too many people up
there. No fireworks while we are in Alaska - that doesn't surprise
me. They now set up the pirate buffet in Beach Blanket - he said
there was food in the normal line. Where they have the omelet bar
was a crepe and ice cream sundae bar. And they had other desserts in the usual dessert place. Neither of us was interested in food after our dinner in Palo, though.

I can't believe we only have two more nights left on board - it's gone so fast!



Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Day 12 - Ketchikan

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Today was the kind of day that makes you believe that the Mouse
really DOES control everything - INCLUDING the weather. In
Ketchikan, the wettest city in the U.S., which gets rain 330 days
out of the year, we had sunshine!!! Kinda spooky! Ok, yes, there
were still lots of clouds and it wasn't sunny all day long, but
still. The weather we've had has been truly amazing.

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We've had great excursions on this cruise, but as far as sheer fun
goes, today was the best day - we went ziplining. Totally fun. But
more on that later.

So this morning, after another quiet night (have I mentioned I like
this whole Inside Passage thing), we got to sleep in - we weren't
arriving in Ketchikan until 11:45 or so. It was nice.

I worked on my Juneau blog, and got it pretty well written, then
went out for a walk on deck 4. Where I had an unexpected encounter
with Mickey in his foul weather gear - which he definitely doesn't
need today! I did my 2+ miles, though for the last couple of laps
they had the bow of the ship roped off since they were preparing to
dock, so those of us walking or running had to turn around and walk
in the opposite direction. That felt odd.

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Still lots of snow-covered mountains around us on the sail into
Ketchikan.

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And look! It's World of Color: Ketchikan! With a type of
light rarely seen here - sunlight. :-) (I love these little
fireboats!)

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Some of the houses in Ketchikan.

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Look at how steep this street is! One of the bus drivers said it
was a 20% grade. It's closed in the winter - too dangerous.

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For a change we are NOT the only cruise ship in port - there's a
Carnival ship that arrived before us. We are the first two ships of
the season. (The Disney ships are so much classier looking!)

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At about noon we got the announcement that we could go ashore. Our
ziplining tour wasn't meeting until 2:15, but we decided to stay
onboard and catch up on email and blogging and stuff like that since
we could use our own internet service.

We went to Beach Blanket for lunch - it's Mother's Day today, and
they had a very nice piece of bread art at the beginning of the
line. The food was different than what we've seen up here. There
was Cajun grouper with mango salsa, pork with apple stuffing,
scalloped potatoes and two different soups (they are doing more
soups on these cruises - they are a lot more popular for some
reason! :-) ). I didn't realize that there would be other stuff
around the corner past the end of the line - that's where the baked
potato bar and salad bar were. I would've just done that if I'd
known.

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While we were eating Lee spotted a bald eagle and pointed it out to
me. We watched it fly right over the ship!!! That was really cool -
we could see the head and the underside of the wings - it
literally went right over us.

There were 13 people on our tour - there was at least one group that
went out before us (several members of our AllEars group were on
that one), and there may have been one after us.

Our bus driver is from Orange County (California), and he told us
lots of fun stuff on our drive over to the Alaska Rainforest
Sanctuary. He pointed out the mooning eagle totem - it actually
looks pretty impressive from the front and side but when you come at
it from the back, like we did, yep, it's mooning everyone. :-)

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They had a huge windstorm last fall, with winds of 120 mph(!), that
blew over lots of trees, and they were without power and phone for a
week. We could see downed trees all over.

We had about a 20 minute ride to the Bearcreek Zipline place. And
they didn't waste any time getting us going - they loaded us into a
Unimog to take us up to where they were going to gear us up and
train us. After a bathroom break :-) they harnessed us up - lots of
straps and buckles and carabiners. We all got helmets and gloves,
too. We were allowed to take our cameras, but they had to have a
strap so we could secure them to the harness, or be small enough to
fit in a pocket with a zipper. It was cool enough that we still
needed some kind of warmer layer, but that worked fine with
everything, though we couldn't take it off once we had it on. :-)
Though we were told to bring our own raingear they actually had
jackets available, but we didn't need them today!

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They took us up to a 20' "training" zip line, which was about 12'
off the ground. One of the guys got on and showed us where to put
our hands, what position we should be in, how to turn, and most
imporantly, how to stop. :-) Most of us had not ziplined before
(neither Lee nor I had), but the guys made it look pretty easy and
not scary at all. I was a little nervous but felt a lot better
about it after the orientation and then going down the line for the
first time.

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We did 7 different zip lines - the longest was about 400', and we
were about 80' in the air. It was really fun! We were always
clipped onto a cable, even when they were moving us off one zipline
and onto the platform for the next one.

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We also did a suspension bridge. Actually I was expecting this to
be a lot scarier than it was - I thought we'd be walking on a rope,
or on a single plank, but it wasn't bad - I would have been
comfortable doing it even if I wasn't clipped on to the cable
overhead!

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Did I mention how much fun it was? :-)

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After the zip lines we had a 35' rappel down to ground level. I was
really not looking forward to that, having had a not-so-good rappel
experience years ago, but this was nothing like that at all, and
actually I was disappointed that I didn't drop faster. :-)

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They took off our harnesses (but we kept the gloves and helmet) and
the last thing we did was a slide - we got into a big burlap sack
and then went down. That was actually a little more scary than the
zip line, because they warned us that if you didn't keep your feet
up you could somersault when you hit the carpet at the end. But
that didn't happen.

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We rode the Unimog back down to (what else) the gift shop, though
that's also where all of our personal stuff that we hadn't taken
with us had ended up. They had complimentary hot coffee, cocoa, and
tea for us, as well as cookies and salmon pate.

The bus picked us up there. We had a different bus driver on the
way back, and she was really good, and told us lots of interesting
things. One thing she told us to look for is a prototype catamaran
constructed in Ketchikan for Homeland Security - it was berthed
right next to our ship. It's called the Susitna.

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She dropped over half of us in town since we wanted to walk around
before going back to the ship (it was about 5:50 by then, and all
aboard was 7:30).

We wandered down Creek Street - which used to be the red light
district, but now it's lot of shops and a couple of restaurants.

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And we saw a few more totem poles.

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Here's the eagle from the front.

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The day had gotten overcast and rather chilly because the wind had
come up down by the water. But there was still sunshine off in the
distance.

Everyone must have been back on board early because we pulled away
from the dock at 7:35.

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The captain came on with his nightly report about 8:00, and
explained (again) that the reason we had come up on the west side of
Vancouver Island on the northbound portion of our cruise rather than
coming up the Inside Passage was because anytime a new ship cruises
Alaska for the first time, it has to be certified (I don't think
that's the word he used, though), that it is able to navigate the
rather narrow passage safely. Our cruise is the only Disney Alaska
cruise that is scheduled to go north the way we did - all of the
others will cruise the Inside Passage both north and south. (Good
news for anyone who is worried about being seasick, since they
should not experience the rough seas that we had on our second day.)

It was semi-formal night, and we had dinner in Animator's Palate.
The Captain's Gala menu is my least favorite, although the chocolate
lava cake is quite good. As usual, Balwan and Tita took excellent
care of us.

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When we got back to the stateroom it looked like Christmas! Lots of
things left on our bed. The two pink and silver "coins" say "Happy
Mother's Day" - aw. And the swans were very cute.

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The biggest surprise was the box, though - there was a note with it
from the captain thanking us for cruising the Inaugural Alaska
cruise. Inside the box was a commemorative napkin set, embroidered
with the dates and some of the Disney characters. Wow, first the
lithograph, then this! No wonder people want to go on these
Inaugural cruises!

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The seas are a little bit heavier tonight, and we're moving a lot
faster - 21.5 knots. And that extra hour that we got at the
beginning of the cruise? We have to give it back tonight. Oh
well...better tonight than tomorrow night, which is the last night
of our cruise. I don't want to think about that, though.


May 10, 2011

Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Day 13- At Sea

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Our last day on the ship - it's supposed to be a relaxing at sea
day, right? Hasn't really worked out that way, though. :-)

Ok, everybody brace yourself, because I'm about to use that dreaded
four-letter word to talk about today: PACK. Sorry about that, but
really, that's what much of today was about.

We've been in the Inside Passage all day, though when we first got
up this morning we couldn't see any land to the west of us. It was
mostly overcast today, though we did get a little bit of blue sky
and sunshine.

We slept in (partly thanks to that hour we lost last night), and I
got up and went to the gym and did a couple of laps around deck 4.
Not too many people in the gym or out walking/running this morning -
other things to do the last morning of the cruise besides exercise!

After I showered we went to Palo for brunch - just Lee and me. There
weren't too many people in there yet, so I had time to walk around
and take pictures of everything before anyone had had a chance to
dig into them yet! :-) Our server was Toni, and he was very nice -
he kept the mimosas coming. :-) And he thought we weren't eating
nearly enough!

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After brunch it was time to do one last shopping trip, so we hit
Treasure Ketch. They had an Alaska t-shirt and hat set that we
hadn't seen before.

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And they had also gotten a delivery of the totem pole statues -
those were selling FAST. They are a stock item, so should be
available on future cruises.

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We also went to Shutters to see if we wanted any photos - we didn't
get as many taken on this cruise, and most of the ones we had were
only good or one or the other of us and not both.

The princesses were holding court in the Atrium - Belle, Ariel, and
Snow White. The lines were pretty long to see them.

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By the time we got back we had a little bit of time to pull out the
suitcases and start with the dreaded "p" word until I had to leave
for my hot stone massage. Ahhh...that was just wonderful!

Got back and did some more of that organizing and "p" word stuff,
and then it was time for the All Ears Farewell Party at 4:00. Beci
and Deb had gotten the Cadillac Lounge for us, and we had wine and
cheese and fruit and veggies - it was very nice.

Deb had lots of very nice prizes that she gave away in a drawing.

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At 4:30 we had a surprise guest - the Captain himself - Captain
Hook, that is. :-) He posed for pictures with everyone, and then we
got a group photo. It was great fun.

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Thank you Deb and Beci and Michelle - it was a very nice way to end
our cruise.

Remember that land that wasn't very close to us in the morning? Not
an issue in the afternoon - at times it was quite close on both
sides! And you can see how flat and calm the ocean is.

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Here's all the magnets on our door that we collected during the
trip.

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The final night dinner was very bittersweet - so hard to say goodbye
to Balwan and Tita and our tablemates: Gail, Julian, Mary, Kevin,
Timbra, and Deb. And the rest of our extended group, too - Beci,
Carol and Gary, James and Dave, and Patrice.

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Our final towel creation...

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We have an early flight out of Vancouver so we will be getting off
the ship as early as we can tomorrow - hopefully Customs will clear
the ship early so we can disembark by 8:00 or so.

It's been a fantastic couple of weeks - I can't believe how fast it
went by, and I can't imagine how it could have been any better.

I'll have some final thoughts, and of course the food blogs, after I
get back home.

Thanks for reading!


May 12, 2011

D23 Destination D: Here We Go Again...

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Hey, remember when I was blogging about Destination D, back when it happened at Disneyland, last year? Remember when I got through the first day and said I'd come back to the second day? Remember when I never did?

So now we're less than a week away from the second Destination D, out at Walt Disney World, and I thought I'd briefly recap the second day and look ahead to this week's event.

The second day at Disneyland's Destination D started with Tim O'Day and Rob Klein's discussion on Disneyland Through the Eye of Television.

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The two reviewed a lot of historical television footage, starting with the anthology series The Disneyland Story, which highlighted a different land in Disneyland each week in an attempt to pump people up about it during its construction. They continued on through the 70's and 80's, with commercials, anniversary celebrations, and those often-inadvertently hilarious variety specials that used to be so prevalent when I was little.

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This panel was followed by Disney Undiscovered, hosted by Dave Fisher.

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In this talk, Dave Fisher went through a timeline of the development and construction of Disneyland, starting from its inspiration in the Tivoli Gardens, through the original designs of "Burbank Park," the small park Walt was intending to build near his Burbank Studios, to the purchase of the land and its eventual development into the Disneyland of 1955. He also displayed slides of various rarely seen pictures and concept art.

An example of one was a painting done by Peter Ellenshaw, which was a second version of the Disneyland picture done with black light paint, so that they could visualize what it would look like lit up at night.

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Some of the never-realized concept art included the frequently mentioned "Rock Candy Mountain," the Fantasyland Crocodile Aquarium, "Gay 90's Square," the Black Cauldron Ride (which ultimately became Maelstrom,) and the Black Hole Ride (which ultimately became Buzz Lightyear.) There was also a large amount of art for a suggested attraction to fill the old Carousel of Progress building during it's fallow period...

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Clearly not all attraction concepts have an equal chance at gestation.

The last talk of the morning was Dave Smith, presenting "Disneyland: The Way We Were."

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He presented a number of rarely-seen construction photos taken as Disneyland was being built, as well as a look back at many attractions/features of Disneyland that have gone away to Yesterland.

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After the break, Tim O'Day came back to host "Disneyland: The Happiest Place in Pop Culture."

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In this talk, he first touched upon some of the many contributions Disneyland has made, not only to the field of theme park development, but to the common vocabulary as well.

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He then reviewed some of the many celebrities and dignitaries that have visited Disneyland over the years, and showed clips of various films that have used Disneyland as backdrops--from 40lbs of Trouble, with Tony Curtis, to Tom Hanks' "That Thing You Do."

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Later, he mentioned a number of singers who mentioned Disneyland in a variety of songs, and briefly touched on Disneyland's role in such societal features as the Rose Parde, Yippies, and the Smithsonian (Dumbo is the most photographed display in the museum.)

After that, Garth Kemp, Weather Anchor for ABC Eyewitness News facilitated "A Word from the President"--a loose interview with Disneyland President George Kalogridis.

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He described his personal history, from his family's history as Greek sponge fishermen, to working at Disneyland as a busboy, to his executive work at Disneyland Paris. He then answered some questions that had been sent in; one of the most popular inquired about any existing plans to bring back the Peoplemover. His response was that they could never bring it back in its old format, as new safety regulations would require stairways to be placed at regular intervals down from the track and the track itself would have to be four times wider for people to be able to walk on either side. He answered a great many other questions as well, but I couldn't hear them after that, over the sound of my own sobbing.

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Subsequently, they had short dance interludes introducing the (then) new attractions Electronica and the Disney Dance Crew.

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Steven Clark then did a sneak peek at the upcoming D23 Expo by bringing people up on stage to demonstrate how the Ultimate Disney Trivia Tournament would likely go. An impressive amount of Disney knowledge was displayed, and the winner got a golden ticket to the semifinals (among other prizes.)

After the evening break, we came back for 2 more presentations: Tony Baxter and Ed Hobelman did "The Wonderful World of Vintage Disneyland--In Color!" which was essentially the same panel they did for the Expo the year before, displaying video of Disneyland from its construction/early years; and Tim O'Day came back one more time for "Disneyland, USA Screening and Panel," which included a discussion with Jack Linquist, Tony Baxter, Ed Hobelman, Dave Smith, and Geri Bumpass (the original Disneyland Tour Guide) about some of their early memories of the park.

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One new piece of footage shown was what is believed to be the last film Walt ever shot--a lead-in to an invitation showing of "Follow Me Boys."

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...And with that, the first annual D23 event was over.

Destination D: WDW Style
Looking at the schedule for the upcoming Destination D, it's clear that many of the talks will follow similar formats, with the content shifted to emphasize WDW's history. Weird WDW, WDW The Way We Were, and the presentations on WDW as depicted in film and on television are direct analogues to the DL presentations. There is a similar musical concert with Richard Sherman, but scheduled for the evening of the second day, rather than the first. This, along with the placement of the several Disney Legend/Imagineer panels on the second day seems like a response to the feeling from many last year attendees, that the second day was something of a let-down from the first. Having most of their special guests and the concert on the first day left the second day feeling a little anti-climactic, and lacking a sense of closure.

While I was initially a little skeptical as to how they would manage to generate the same sense of excitement about WDW history as DL history, lacking the presence of Walt Disney himself for much of it, they have managed to put together a fairly compelling list of events. I am particularly looking forward to the talk on "EPCOT: Walt's Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" with the hopes of hearing new information on Walt's grand plan to revitalize the modern community.

In any case, it should be a great weekend of Disney geekery, well-suited to commemorating WDW's 40th Anniversary this year. See you there!

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May 15, 2011

Pacific Northwest and Alaska Cruise - Disembarkation, Final Thoughts

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I know, you were probably expecting to see this a few days ago - but you know how it is after you get home - and especially if you go back to work the next day! Real life is really not a lot of fun most of the time. I think I get especially spoiled on cruises, where someone asks me what I want to eat and serves it to me, does the dishes, cleans my room...

So, on Tuesday morning we arrived in Vancouver - not actually as early as I thought we would! We got up about 6:30, and the ship was just about to go under the Lions Gate Bridge, and then past Stanley Park.

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There was quite a crowd at Beach Blanket Buffet, which opened at 6:45 - apparently lots of people wanted to get off the ship early. (I never want to, but since we had an early flight, we had to get going early.)

Those of us with flights prior to 12:30 had been advised to go to the Walt Disney Theater and wait until they called us. A bunch of us lined up in the lobby instead, though. :-)

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Once the ship was cleared by customs, the first people allowed to disembark were those who were carrying ALL of their luggage off the ship themselves - those of us who had given bags to Disney (and were the first group, with Chip and Dale luggage tags) had to wait another 15 or so minutes before we could go. So, if you want to get off the ship as early as possible, you'll need to carry all of your luggage yourself.

It was about 8:20 when we got off the ship. There wasn't too much of a line at Customs yet, and they had about 6 lanes open, so that went very quickly. They'd given us the Customs forms the night before and we had already filled them out. We showed our passports and answered a couple of questions and we were done.

And then it was time to find our two bags - which were of course in the furthest row (though at least they were closer to the exit that way!). We were traveling with Deb, Beci, and Michelle to the airport, so we all met up after we'd collected our bags and walked to where the van was picking us up. Fortunately Beci knew where we were going. Apparently at Canada Place the vans/cars wait someplace else, and a dispatcher summons them when the guests who ordered them arrive. It was a pretty short wait, though. With all of our bags the back of the van was packed!

The drive to the airport was 25 minutes or so - city streets, mostly with lots of stop lights, so it took some time. But we were still doing ok on time - our flight was at 11:48, and it was a little after 9:00 when we arrived at the airport.

We had to show our passports I don't know how many times as we checked in, dropped off our checked bags, went through security, and then we went through U.S. Customs. And then we could finally put away our passports. (Each place seemed to have a person who checked the passports as we entered the line, and then another one who actually processed us.) I have to say that the Canadian version of TSA inspired a lot more confidence than the American version.

We found Beci and MIchelle waiting at a Delta gate not too far from where we were going, and since we still had about two hours until our flight we all hung out together for awhile - Deb and several other cruisers joined us there, and most of us took advantage of the free wireless internet.

Then it was one last goodbye as we went to our gate. We were on a type of plane I'd never been on before - the wings were above the fuselage.

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We had an uneventful flight to Seattle, where we had a two-hour layover, but again, we had free wi-fi access (thank you, Google!). I don't know if it made it better or worse, but this light fixture in the food court reminded me of the chandelier on the Wonder.

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The rest of our trip was uneventful - it was VERY nice not to have to fly across country, and to get home in about 5 hours instead of 8. Not to mention that whole not changing timezones thing.

So, some final thoughts and impressions in no particular order...

Before the trip I really wondered what sorts of adaptations they had made to the ship to prepare for Alaska weather - because I've been cold on the ships when we've been in the Caribbean! But I found the temperature to be quite comfortable - I normally wore pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and that was fine. A couple of times I had short sleeves and was ok, too. We did adjust the temperature in our stateroom upwards, and at times I found it a little chilly as compared to the hallway, but mostly it was fine, or I'd put on a light sweater or jacket. The public spaces, even the restaurants, were pretty good - it was only when I was right next to an exterior door that it was (not surprisingly) a lot cooler.

They have increased the water temperature in the pools to about 90 degrees. I was surprised at how many people (mostly kids, of course) were in them, even on days that were not particularly sunny. And people took a lot of advantage of the hot tubs.

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I really miss the hot water in the shower - I never get water that hot at home, and I have to wait a whole lot longer to get hot water out of the tap!

The enclosed area called the Outlook Cafe on Deck 10 (with interior staircases that connect it to the Cove Cafe below) was quite popular - especially on sea days. The bar upstairs serves specialty coffee beverages and tea, wine, and cocktails - Lee says they make a fine mocha. :-) The bar downstairs might have only coffee and other hot beverages, though they offer some with alcohol in them.

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At the front of the ship on deck 10, they have added an awning to the area that has the big plastic wind break (for some reason it reminds me of a huge sneeze shield). Sometimes the temperature on deck isn't too bad as long as you're not in the wind.

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They have also added a hot chocolate machine to the beverage station on deck 9 - that got a lot of use, and it was a lot easier than using the packets of hot chocolate mix. It was pretty decent hot chocolate, too.

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They still have Pirate Night, but there's no special menu to go with it. They still hold the Pirate Party (though the "Pirates in the Caribbean" banners really don't fit) on deck 9, and Mickey still slides down the cable, conditions permitting. But there's no fireworks, and the pirate buffet has been moved inside to Beach Blanket Buffet.

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I really enjoyed the new Taste of Alaska dinner menu that was served ship-wide the night we left Skagway. Alaskan King Crab legs were offered as one of the appetizers, and Honey Mustard Alaskan Salmon (which was excellent and is shown below) was one of the entrees. The full menu is HERE.

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The bbq lunch they served on deck 9 the day we were in Tracy Arm was very good, and a nice change. I think the people cooking it were enjoying the warmth from the bbq. :-) The salmon and halibut were good, Lee said the steak was very good, and they also had pretzel bread sticks! Those were really good. Not as good as Le Cellier, but still way better than regular bread. (We also had cheese rolls at dinner one night that were delicious!)

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I don't know if they've changed their cooking method, or if it's different on the Wonder than on the Magic, but all of the grilled foods in the dining rooms seemed a lot more grilled and flavorful than they have in the past - you can see the "char" marks on the salmon in the photo above.

Tracy Arm was beautiful, but I've been to Glacier Bay and found Tracy Arm a little disappointing in comparison - we didn't get that close to the glacier, and it just wasn't overwhelmingly huge like I remember Glacier Bay being. We also didn't see any calving going on (that's what they call it when a big chunk of ice breaks off and falls into the water). Part of that was because we were there so early in the year, but even if it had calved, we weren't close enough to see it very well. Our on-board naturalist offered some narration while we were there, but because they had turned down the sound due to Alaskan Maritime laws it was almost impossible to hear him. Frustrating.

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I would have liked to have seen a lecture or two on Alaskan history - the naturalist was an interesting speaker, but I really didn't learn much.

I enjoyed all the ports, but I think Juneau is the one I would most want to spend additional time in - I heard our group talk about several other excursions they did there that sounded very interesting. I don't think there's a whole lot more to do in Skagway other than what we did - it's pretty small. And Ketchikan just seemed really touristy - one reason we went zip lining there is that there really wasn't anything else that appealed to us. (Or appealed to us and wasn't really expensive.)

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We really enjoyed the excursions that we did, though, and both the snowshoeing and the Mendenhall hike were a lot more challenging than we've experienced on other Disney excursions (which really were too tame for us even though they were called "Active"). It was very nice to see some options like that available to those of us who want to do something more challenging and interesting.

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It was great fun to see the characters in their new Alaskan costumes! I never saw Donald Duck, but I saw Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Chip and Dale.

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We enjoyed watching the crew members - all of this was new to them, too, and they were just as excited as any of us! We saw them out taking photos and taking in the scenery as we cruised through Tracy Arm and other places, and we know they enjoyed getting into the new ports when they had the opportunity.

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While it's great to finally have a Disney ship on the west coast, we really wish that when they are in L.A. they would do something other than 7-night Mexican Riviera cruises. We simply are not interested in that - why can't they do some three and four-night cruises so that we could take advantage of a long weekend? We talked to one of the crew members who said that she was really tired of the Mexican Riviera - and that was after only three months!

One thing we always have a problem with is having enough electrical outlets to plug in our various electronic devices and chargers. There's only two outlets on the desk, but the power adapter for the Wave phones is so big that if it's plugged in there's no room for anything else! We usually bring a power strip to take care of that issue, but Lee noticed this trip that there is an available electrical outlet behind the TV, as well.

It was a lot of fun being with a group, and it was very nice that it was a reasonably-sized group. Even so I still didn't really get to hang out and talk to everyone, especially those who had the early dinner seating.

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I REALLY enjoyed the Palo brunch - twice. :-) All of those different pastries (the sticky buns were excellent) and the breads and appetizers were really good.

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The desserts looked really good, but weren't spectacular, but I could (and did) easily fill up on the pastries and fruit. (I should've had a second sticky bun for dessert!)

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It was interesting going on the Wonder after being on the Dream. The Dream is beautiful, but overall I think I prefer the smaller ships - not that I would turn down a cruise on the Dream (and we are booked for the Fantasy's Maiden Voyage). Yes, the Wonder was not as "grand", particularly the lobby, but it was still beautiful. The main thing from the Dream that I really found myself missing was the Enchanted Art - I wish they would bring that to the older ships.

The other thing I missed from the Dream was the bed - the Wonder has the same kind of bedding now (those soft sheets and the duvet and throw instead of a bedspread), but even though the mattress is supposedly the same, I didn't find it as plush and heavenly as the bed on the Dream. Maybe that's because the bed can split into two on the Wonder, I'm not sure. One thing, that duvet is VERY warm - it was even too warm for me to sleep under all night. I certainly didn't need any extra blankets!

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Clothes - I was concerned about being warm enough, so I actually ended up with too many warm clothes, and several things that I didn't wear, like my long underwear and fleece vest. We were fortunate to have really good weather, so I didn't need the rain pants except when we went snowshoeing and on Tracy Arm day, but I carried them with me on a couple of other days. Didn't really need the rain jacket to keep off the rain, but it's fleece-lined and was a great heavy and warm windbreaker, and I DID need that. I wore my fleece headband quite a bit, but didn't need the gloves much - though again, I had them with me just in case. I always layered - a long-sleeve t-shirt and a light wool sweater over that most of the time, and then an outer jacket (I had three different ones) depending on how cold it was. In hindsight, I should've just brought the light windbreaker and the heavy rain jacket - I rarely wore the midweight jacket. If we'd had windy and rainy conditions I would have been wearing just about everything, though!

As far as shoes go, I recommend taking one pair of walking shoes that are waterproof - they will be both warmer and more water-resistant than running-type shoes. I hiked, walked miles around town, and snowshoed in mine.

Since we were gone for almost two weeks with the back-to-back cruises we had to do laundry. I found Purex Complete Three-in-One Laundry Sheets at my local supermarket and they worked great - it's detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheet all in one. I tore off the fabric softener part on top since I don't like that, but otherwise used it as it - it seemed to work just fine in the washers and dryers on board ship. It's hypoallergenic, too! You'll want to store them in a ziplock type bag because the detergent makes them a little sticky, and there is a slight fragrance.

The food blogs are coming, I promise! Jeanine sent me some of her photos (from the repo cruise) and comments, too, so I will be adding those in as well.



May 19, 2011

A Dozen Helpful Hints for the Disneyland Resort

by Guest Blogger Art Gallego

I have been visiting Disneyland for nearly 40 years. For the first time in my life, I became a Disneyland Annual Pass holder in March of 2010. By no means do I consider myself a Disney or Disneyland expert. I'll admit that I know more than a lot of people do when it comes to Disneyland; but there is certainly a lot that I don't know.

With that being said, I would like to share 12 little hints that might help you the next time you visit the Disneyland Resort. Some may be obvious. Some may be trivial. I just thought I would pass on some things I've discovered over the years.

Hint #1 - Free Lockers at Grizzly River Run

So you want to go on Grizzly River Run (Disney California Adventure), but you don't want your camera, cell phone, wallet, or purse to get soaking wet. Just to the North of the ride's fast pass distribution area is a little area with lockers to store your stuff. They're just like the other lockers you'll find all over the resort, but with two exceptions: 1) They don't take money, and 2) they will automatically unlock after two hours.

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Another thing you may want to leave in the locker are your socks. Nothing is worse than doing a lot of walking in wet socks. After the ride, just carry them in your pockets until your shoes and feet dry. This happens pretty fast on hot days.

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Hint #2 - Free Coffee Refills

Coffee around the resort will run you about $3.00. If you save your receipt from the coffee you buy at the Blue Ribbon Bakery (in Disneyland on Main Street U.S.A.) you can get free refills for that day. I think there are a couple of other places that do that as well, but you can only get the free refills at the original place where the coffee was purchased.

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Hint #3 - Cool Place For Pictures

You can get some really cool pictures of the west side of Disneyland from the high vantage of Tarzan's Tree House. The landing just above the bridge you initially cross is a particularly good spot.

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Hint #4 - White Water Snacks

White Water Snacks is the snack bar by the pool at the Grand Californian Hotel. You can get breakfast, lunch or dinner there. It's rarely crowded and not too expensive compared to the rest of the resort. They have a great chili cheese dog that I usually get. My 16-year-old daughter Maggie likes the chicken tenders and my wife Tracy says their grilled cheese sandwich is the best she's ever had. The best way to get there is to exit California Adventure by Grizzly River Run into the hotel. At the end of the corridor, turn left. You'll find the snack bar at the end of the walkway. The seating indoors is cool on hot days. You can also sit outside with a view of part of the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.

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Hint #5 - Disneyland Rope-drop Shortcut

Before I tell you about the shortcut, I better tell those of you who may not know what a "rope-drop" is. At certain times, Disney will let guests partially into their parks before the official opening time. I think it happens more at some parks than at others. For instance, because they open later, I think they always let guests in early at California Adventure. Disneyland seems more hit and miss, but here's how it works there.

Let's say the park is supposed to open at 9am. At around 8:30 they start letting guests through the turnstiles. Most of the shops on Main Street are open. Guests make their way down to the North end of Main Street. Stretching from Refreshment Corner on the West to the camera shop on the East is a rope. There are also a couple of CMs there, just in case the rope itself isn't enough to deter some guests from heading to the rest of the park.

Every ten minutes there is an announcement made over the PA letting you know the park will be opening soon. By about 5 minutes to 9, Main Street is pretty packed with guests, sometimes as far back as the Emporium. At nine, the music starts and the voice on the PA welcomes everyone to the happiest place on Earth and reminds them to "walk" to wherever they're going. The Cast Members also ask the guests to "walk" as they remove the rope. At this point everyone "runs" to the left (Space Mountain) or to the right (Indiana Jones/Splash Mountain.) It can be quite chaotic.

So now, the shortcut. I like getting to Disneyland before it opens, but I don't like standing around for a half an hour. I'll look through the shops and maybe get some coffee while waiting for the park to open. At about 5 minutes before opening I'll make my way to the North end of Main Street, but not through the crowds of people. Instead, I just walk through the Blue Ribbon Bakery, ice cream parlor, and candy shop to the inside seating area of Refreshment Corner. There is a Cast Member there, making sure no one sneaks in early, and maybe one or two other guests. At 9 o'clock I just head on into Adventureland and Indiana Jones with hardly anyone in front of me.

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Hint #6 - Disney California Adventure Rope-Drop Tips

Unlike Disneyland, California Adventure has three separate areas where they set up a rope drop. The first is at the entrance to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot for those who want to ride Tower of Terror.

The second is on the path near the entrance of "a bug's land" for those trying to get to California Screamin' and Toy Story Midway Mania. The third is on the path you follow around the Grizzly Peak trail, past Grizzly River Run, between the restrooms and the soon to be open Little Mermaid ride. This is the one you want to get to if you want to ride Toy Story Midway Mania without that long of a wait.

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If you go to the "a bug's land" area the wait will already be a half hour by the time you get there. To get to the Little Mermaid/Restroom rope-drop, head to the right as you enter the park towards Soarin' Over California. A lot of the people heading this way are going to the Grizzly River Run Fastpass distribution area to get tickets for World of Color. By the way, if Toy Story Midway Mania is not today's priority, just head to Soarin' Over California. Even though the park isn't open yet, you can usually ride it anyway. Or, have the best of both worlds and get Fastpasses for Soarin' and then head to the rope-drop.

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Hint #7 - Dole Whip Shortcut

For those of you who don't know, Dole Whips are one of the most popular snacks in all of Disneyland. They are frozen soft-serve pineapple whips found at The Tiki Juice Bar near the entrance to Adventureland. They're great any time, but perfect on a hot day. On those hot days you'll often see the line going half-way into Adventureland. I often wonder if the people at the end of the queue even know what they're in line for.

Well, here is my tip: The stand that sells them is at the entrance for the Enchanted Tiki Room and they serve guests from the pre-show area of that attraction. Even when the line on the outside stretches back a mile, there are seldom more than one or two guests in line on the pre-show side. If you don't want to see the Tiki Room show once you've purchased your whip, just exit via the gate they use for guests in wheelchairs.

But hey, since you're already there, you might as well escape the heat and eat your whip while the birdies sing to you. You're allowed to bring your whip into the show. The Cast Members just ask that you take your trash with you. They sell a few other pineapple related items at the juice bar as well.

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Hint #8 - Stretch Room Short Cut

Here is a somewhat obvious tip. The Haunted Mansion has two stretch rooms as you enter the attraction. If you enter the room that's on the left, stand by the wall on the right side as you walk in. If you enter the room on the right, head to the left wall. When the room is stretched and the doors open, you will be right there at the opening, ahead of the crowd, ready to walk down the hall to your "Doom Buggy."

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Hint #9 - Critter Country Shortcut

This one isn't that much of a time-saver, but it is a nice alternative for entering and exiting Critter Country. Why take the main walkway into Critter Country when there's a much more serene way? Instead of jostling with the crowds headed for Splash Mountain on those hot summer days, head toward the seating area of the Harbour Galley where the Columbia is normally berthed.

The area resembles a little seaport and winds you around towards Critter Country along the river. There's a place where you can look over the logs that have just plummeted down Splash Mountain as well. The path deposits you near a snack stand by the stairs leading down to the canoes. Like I said, it really won't save you a lot of time, but it is a nice quiet area away from the crowds.

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Hint #10 - Buzz Lightyear Free Photo

As you exit most of the thrill rides at the Disneyland Resort you probably notice the monitors with pictures of people splashing down a mountain, soaring through space, or falling down an elevator shaft. Everyone stops to find themselves and laugh at the terrified look on Dad's face. The idea, of course, is to sell you something. A little keepsake of your visit.

Well, at the exit to Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters you will also find monitors, but these are a little different. Once you find your picture you are able to e-mail it anywhere you like. Send it to yourself, or to a loved one back home. It's not the greatest quality picture, but hey, it's free.

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Hint #11 - First Aid

Take advantage of the First Aid stations at either park. Besides band aids and other first aid-type stuff, they can also assist you if you have a headache, offering several options (Tylenol, ibuprofen, etc.,) all free of charge. Just check your park guide. There is also a first aid station in Downtown Disney located between Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen and Island Charters.

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Hint #12 - Mickey's Halloween Party

As all of you know, going to Disneyland can be quite expensive. If your family makes an annual visit to Disneyland, I suggest that you do it in October. More specifically, during one of the nights they host Mickey's Halloween Party. Why? The admission is cheaper. I'm sure the prices will change this year, but in 2010, the party tickets were $49-$59, depending on when you bought them. One day's admission to Disneyland was $76 for anyone over the age of 10, and $68 for kids ages 3-9. So even if you bought a Halloween ticket at the highest price, you still would've saved $9 - $17 per ticket.

Let's say Mom, Dad, Sally (9), and Jake (11) went to the Halloween party last year instead of on a day a month earlier. They would save at least $60. The parties don't start until the evening, so you may feel that you are not getting your dollars' worth. Fortunately, they let you in 3 hours before the party starts. On Tuesdays the parties are from 6pm to 11pm and on Fridays and Halloween night they go from 7pm until midnight. That's a full eight hours. And though it may seem crowded, the lines for the rides are pretty short.

We went on a Tuesday, so I can't say how crowded the park was on a Friday or Halloween. If you do go on a Tuesday though, you will probably be able to go on more attractions than if you spent an entire day at the park in July. A small downside is that not all of the park's eateries are open once the party starts. If that's a concern, just eat when you get there while the park is still open to the day guests. As far as snacks, don't bother. You will be collecting plenty of goodies to munch on at the candy stations. They do offer healthy snacks as well.

Incidentally, 2010 was the first time I went to a Disney Halloween party and it was a lot of fun. I had read that the candy given out in 2009 when the party was at California Adventure wasn't great. Well, that wasn't the case in 2010. They gave out lots of chocolate. Kit Kats, Almond Joys, M & M's, etc. Other reasons to go are the special Halloween fireworks, Nightmare Before Christmas Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy. Knowing what I know now, if I didn't have an annual pass, that would be the time I'd take my family for our yearly visit.

Well, those are the only hints I can come up with for now. If I think of any more, I will certainly pass them along. Please let me know of any hints you have.

May 20, 2011

Disney Wonder Pacific Northwest Cruise - The Food, Part 1

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Since one of the things that many people seem interested in is the food on-board, here's my blog about our dining experiences on the repositioning cruise. It'll be in two parts, and will include some of Jeanine's photos and comments as well.

Once we (finally) were able to board in Los Angeles, we went to Parrot Cay - they have a really nice buffet lunch available on embarkation day. Salad bar, cheese and sandwiches, hot dishes, carved prime rib, peel-and-eat-shrimp, lots of breads, and of course dessert. Some of those are pictured below, which also show off the presentation, with the edible 'flower' arrangement, the ice sculpture, and the bread sculpture.

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The desserts always look very pretty, but I'm never really too impressed with the flavor - mass-produced desserts aren't usually that good. Though the cake I had (pictured third from the bottom) was pretty good - we couldn't figure out what it was, though. It was sort of like carrot cake without the carrots, though maybe it had zucchini in it. Not overly spiced, but moist and quite tasty.

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Our dinner on the first night was in Parrot Cay - it was their regular "Island" menu. I had something that I think was new since the last time I ate here - the St. Maarten Stack. Grilled calabaza squash, zucchini, and mozzarelly with tomato and basil vinaigrette. It was yummy - the calabaza was thick and gave it some extra texture.

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Before I go any further I have to mention the awesome serving team we had - Balwan from India, and Tita from Hungary. The best we've had (though TJ and Meg on our first cruise were really good, too - since it was our first cruise we didn't realize at the time just how good they were). Our head server was Tektas from Turkey.

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Lee had the Baked Crab Dip Martinique. Lump crab baked in cheese sauce and served with a couple of tortilla and plantain chips. It all disappeared, so I think he enjoyed it.

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We both had the Parrot Cay Salad - spinach with red onions, mushrooms, bacon bits and chopped egg. It came with warm bacon dressing, which Lee said tasted like bacon, unlike when he had it last summer on the Med cruise. It was a very nice salad.

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I've been enjoying more of the vegetarian dishes on-board over my last few cruises, so I ordered the Pearl Barley Cakes with Shallots, Leeks, and Rosemary. It was served over carrots, root celery, and leeks with a saffron sauce. It was very good - I would order it again.

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Lee ordered one of our Balwan's recommendations - the Mixed Grill. It was grilled beef tenderloin, lamb chop, bacon-wrapped sausage and jumbo shrimp with mashed potatoes, asparagus and a Cabernet mushroom sauce. He said all of the meat was excellent. I had one of the shrimp and it was very good.

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Here's the Island-spiced Grilled Rib-Eye of Beef, served with corn on the cob and double-baked potato.

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And the Shrimp and Avocado Salad.

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For dessert I had the Ice Cream Sundae - cookies and cream ice cream, a "fudge bar" and chocolate sauce. It was a very sincere ice cream sundae, and pretty good, though I didn't really detect the "fudge bar".

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Lee had the French Toast Banana Bread, with coconut ice cream and caramel sauce. He loved it.

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Beci had the Sweet Temptations - creme brulee cheesecake, lemon meringue pie and chocolate s'more vanilla cake.

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Day 2 was an "At Sea" day. I did the buffet lunch at Parrot Cay - it had different selections than the day before. Two of the hot dishes were rosemary polenta and gnocchi. They also had carved turkey, but I didn't get any of that.

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Dinner that night was at Palo with Deb and Linda. It was just amazing. Palo has a fairly new menu, and they also got new dishes just before this cruise - we were the first ones to eat off the new dishes.

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Dinner began when our server, Hristos, wheeled and anti-pasto cart to our table and began plating it for us - prosciutto, thin dried beef, several kinds of olives, cheese, artichoke hearts, and peppers. It was really delicious - between that and the bread I could have easily made a meal right there!

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My appetizer was the Mozzarella and Plum Tomatoes with Balsamic Dressing. I'd forgotten how pretty they make this - it looks like a flower! And it was very good.

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Lee had the Grilled Portobello Mushroom and Polenta. I don't think it looks very appetizing, but he liked it.

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He and I also split the Tuscan White Bean Soup with Prosciutto and Parmesan Cheese. This was very good - it was mostly pureed, but thick with a nice bean flavor.

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Linda ordered the Fritto Misto di Pesce con Olie all' Ascolana, a platter with fried calamari, scallops and mussels. She loved it - cleaned her plate!

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Between courses we had a lemon sorbet aperitif. It only came with one blueberry, but for photographic purposes my tablemates decided we need to enhance it. :-)

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Deb, Linda, and Lee all wanted to try the ravioli, but no one wanted a full plate of it, so Hristos brought us both of them to sample. this is the Chianti Braised Beef Ravioli, which Deb really enjoyed.

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But according to Lee and Linda, the winner was the Lobster and Mascarpone Ravioli. Apparently it just melted in their mouths and was really good. (They didn't quite fight over it, but they did clean the dish!)

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My entree was the Rombo al Finocchio - pan seared turbot with fingerling potatoes, porcini mushrooms, pancetta and fennel. The fish was excellent - moist and very tasty.

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Lee ordered the Beef Tenderloin "Palo". It came with their Barolo red wine sauce. He always judges beef tenderloin as compared to the Tamarind Beef that California Grill used to serve - I don't know if this quite reached that level, but it was way up there.

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Deb ordered the Fagotti di Petto di Pollo con Ricotta e Basilico. I believe this is new to the Palo menu - it was chicken breast stuff with ricotta, basil and peppers. I think it
was not quite what she was expecting based on the description, but she still enjoyed it.

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Linda had the Grilled Sea Scallops with Borlotti Beans and Pancetta. As you can tell, she was on a seafood kick that evening. :-) Another wonderful dish.

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And for dessert we had, what else, the famous Palo Chocolate Souffle. As a bonus, I got to eat all of mine and most of Deb's too. (So glad I went to the gym that day!!!)

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Deb had the no sugar added dessert - Apple Crostata with Salted Caramel Sauce. Deb REALLY appreciated that Palo finally got a no-sugar added dessert. The apple bits were perfectly small complimented with with cinnamon spice and raisins -- quite tasty. The cookie on the bottom of the apples was a nice complement and the caramel sauce was on the side. The dessert was light and a great finish to a great meal.

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It was really a wonderful dinner!

Our first night dinner in San Francisco was at Triton's. This was the first time we'd ever eaten there. I think I like the decor in Lumiere's, on the Disney Magic, better, but the
undersea mural is really nice.

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My appetizer was the Chilled Jumbo Shrimp in a lemon-dill dressing. Very good.

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Lee had the Applewood Smoked Bacon and Wild Mushroom Tart.

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Jeanine is braver than we are, and went for the Escargot Gratinee.

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One of my on-board favorites is the French Onion Soup. (It's "Chef Louis' French Onion Soup on the Wonder - as I recall it's Belle's French Onion Soup on the Magic). But it was excellent - nice and hot, with plenty of cheese. That's what Lee had also.

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My entree was Triton's Seared Sea Bass - with mushroom and herb risotto, onion marmalade and a potato chip. It was very good. I think this was where I first noticed that anything on the menu that is described as "seared" or "grilled" is a lot better than it used to be - I don't know if they have changed their cooking method (since they can't use open flame), but everything I had that was prepared that way was good.

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Lee had one of Balwan's recommendations - the Three-Cheese Lobster Macaroni with gruyere and cheddar cheese sauce and penne pasta.

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For dessert I tried the No Sugar Added Chocolate Cheesecake. It was ok - not nearly as chocolatey as I was expecting, and it was pretty light - not as rich as cheesecake usually is.

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Lee had (no surprise) the Creme Brulee. He liked it, but it tasted a little bland to me.

Beci had the Sweet Temptations - creme brulee, chocolate mousse, and a praline petite choux cookie. It looked really good.

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Our second morning in San Francisco we had a nice leisurely morning and had breakfast at Triton's. We were pretty sure we would have a long day in San Francisco, so we wanted to have a good and larger breakfast than usual.

I started off with some fruit, and of course they always offer us a nice selection of yummy pastries. I had the cinnamon roll, but the chocolate croissant looked good, too.

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For an entree I ordered one of Triton's Signature Favorites - Atlantis Secret Tower. It was a stack of French toast and grilled pineapple with strawberry sauce and fruit. It was not bad, but I don't think I'd get it again.

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Lee had Sebastian's Trio - French toast, Belgian waffle, and buttermilk pancake with cinnamon butter, syrup, and bacon. It looked really good and I think he ate almost all of it.

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Jeanine had the waffles, which she said were 1000 times better than the ones on the Disney Dream.

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And here's the Eggs Benedict.

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We didn't have lunch in San Francisco, but we did go to Ghirardelli Square and share a Cable Car Sundae. :-)

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That night we left San Francisco (twice). It was Pirate Night, but there was no Pirate menu on our short cruise - we had the normal restaurant menu, which for us was the Animator's Palate Show menu. I prefer the original Animator's Palate show to the one on the Disney Dream - I like the way the restaurant and the servers get more colorful as the evening goes on. But I'd like to see them update the animation displays and put in some interactive components.

The Animator's Palate menu is one of my favorites. My absolute favorite Disney Cruise Line appetizer is on this menu - the Sesame-flavored Rock Shrimp and Caramelized Onion Cheesecake. It always looks like it's dessert when they bring it out, but it's a savory cheesecake, and not sweet at all. It's quite a good-sized serving, pretty rich, and very filling. It comes with Asian barbecue sauce and micro greens. They posted the recipe for this on
the Disney Parks Blog a couple of months ago, and I made it for Easter brunch - it was very good.

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Lee had the Wild Mushroom Risotto and Porcini Twist. It came with a parmesan/reggiano bread stick. He really enjoyed it.

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This is the Ahi Tuna Tartare, with caviar, chives, and wasabi cream.

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Our second course was the Baked Potato and Cheddar Cheese Soup, topped with bacon bits and chives. This is another favorite, though the Butternut Squash soup that's on this menu is good, too.

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My entree was another of my favorites - Black Bean Chipotle Cakes. They are served over roasted corn and brown rice. Very flavorful, but not spicy hot. Deb tasted it and really like it so, she ordered it next time it was on the menu. Clearly there was a different Chef making the chipotle cakes as it was way TOO spicy to eat - and I agreed!

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Lee had the Asian Marinated Beef Tenderloin. This is served with wasabi mashed potatoes and bok choy with tamarind bbq sauce. I don't think this was quite as good as the beef tenderloin he had at Palo two nights before, but it was right up there.

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This is the Phyllo-wrapped Salmon Fillet, with garlic cream cheese and fava beans.

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Balwan got Lee with one of his tricks. :-)

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I love this photo of Balwan and Tita. They seemed to really like each other - they certainly worked well together!

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For dessert I ordered the Double Fudge Chocolate Cake. This is not what I expected from the description, but it was pretty good.

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Lee had the Buckled Warm Apple Crumble. It was topped with vanilla ice cream.

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Deb had the No Sugar Added Chilled Lemon Souffle.

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Jeanine had the Animator's Sweet Temptations - strawberry sable, cranberry and orange cheesecake, and double-fudge chocolate cake.

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Part 2 is coming soon.






May 21, 2011

Pacific Northwest Cruise - The Food, Part 2

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We were at sea the next day, and went to Palo for brunch with some of the AllEars/Mouse Fan Travel group. Lee and I had never had brunch at Palo before, so it was a real treat for us. We were in the private dining room, with Daniel as our server.

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Daniel took those in our group (there were 2-3 other people, also) who had not been to brunch before and showed us around the different stations. Oh my...so much great food, and not nearly a big enough stomach to try enough of it! It might have been my favorite meal
of the cruise.

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Here's my "first round" plate: Bloody Mary shrimp cocktail, peeled shrimp. some kind of pastry, an olive roll, olives, roasted fingerling potatoes, melon, roasted vegetables, a cream puff,
sun-dried tomatoes, and mozzarella and tomato salad with basil. There's also a couple of piece of port wine and cheddar cheese under the melon, I think. Oh, and I see the tip of the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, too. And yes, I pretty much ate all of it.

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We were served mimosas to drink - those were yummy (we could have had sparkling wine, instead).

Lee went more artsy with his plate: roasted vegetables, proscuitto-wrapped melon, breasola, some of that port wine and cheddar cheese, a mini pizza, crab leg, shrimp, olives, green beans,
mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes.

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Daniel brought us a selection pizzas to try, though I didn't photograph any of those, but there were margarita, Gorgonzola and grape, goat cheese and sun-dried tomato, and sausage.

In addition to all of the buffet items we could also order from a selection of hot entrees. I had the vegetable fritatta. It was just ok.

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Lee had the Eggs Benedict. He'd never had that before but really enjoyed it and would order it again. They had three kinds of Eggs Benedict - one with traditional ham, one with salmon, and one with spinach.

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This is one of the pastas of the day, with shrimp and cheese sauce.

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My dessert plate - I tried everything that had chocolate in it. There's tiramisu, a sort of walnut cake bar topped with chocolate, a chocolate ganache-covered cake, chocolate cream de pot, and chocolate-covered strawberries.

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Lee's dessert plate included fresh fruit chocolate cream de pot, and a sticky bun.

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It was semi-formal night and the ship-wide menu was Captain's Gala. We were back in Parrot Cay again (third dinner there on this cruise - it was sort of an odd dining rotation on the six-night cruise).

We had the same appetizer - the Garlic and Herb Sauteed Shrimp, served on some thin-sliced vegetables. The only problem with this was that there wasn't enough of it - the shrimp was really good!

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Jeanine had the Oysters Rockefeller on the Half Shell. She said it was notable for having almost microscopic bits of oyster in it.

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My second course was the Garden Fresh Salad with tomato chips and balsamic dressing.

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Lee had the Wild Forest Mushroom Soup. This really doesn't photograph very well, but fortunately it tasted a lot better than it looked.

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I tried something quite different as my entree: Pan-Seared Venison Medallions. It came with marinated red cabbage and potato croquettes. There were three medallions - the first was a little tough but the other two were more tender and flavorful.

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Lee had the Fettuccine with Parmesan-Crusted Chicken. It had a parmesan cheese crust and a cheddar cheese sauce.

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Carol ordered the signature entree - the Baked Lobster Tail. Balwan removed the tail from the shell for her - he gently chastised her for attempting to do it herself. :-)

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As you can see it's quite an attractive dish!

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This is the Gingered Soba Noodles with eggplant and shiitake mushrooms.

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Sesame Seared Tuna Loin with bok choy, daikon, and carrots.

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It was Gary's birthday, and our head server brought us some slices of cheesecake.

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I had the No Sugar Added Chocolate Cheesecake. This was quite disappointing - it didn't have much chocolate flavor at all.

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Lee had the Warm Chocolate Lava Cake. It was covered in chocolate sauce and served with vanilla ice cream. It was warm and very good. Though Jeanine had the same thing, and she thought it was overcooked so it was just cake - nothing lava about it.

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Gary had the Banana Creme Brulee.

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Our final dinner on the repo cruise was 'Til We Meet Again in Triton's. Our napkins were in an interesting shape - Peter Pan's foot, maybe?

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Here's our most excellent table.

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Lee and I had the same first two course - great minds think alike. :-) Appetizer was the Grilled Chicken Sate. This was a generous serving for an appetizer, and the chicken had good flavor.

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Jeanine tried the Chilled Seafood Medley and thought it was very good.

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This is the Sesame-Crusted Tuna Sashimi, with wasabi and American caviar.

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We also had the Potato Leek Soup, topped with sour cream and chives. This was quite a surprise because it was way too salty. Someone got carried away with the salt shaker. :-(

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I made up my own entree - I requested the vegetable streudel with the side dishes from the beef tenderloin - Williams potatoes, asparagus spears and baby vegetables. I was hoping that the streudel wouldn't have peppers in it, but it did, so I had to kind of pick through it. I enjoyed the sides a lot, though.

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Lee had the Yachtsman Steakhouse Center Cut Grilled Beef Tenderloin.

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This is the Seafood Linguini Pasta.

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And this is the Garlic and Rosemary-Marinated Lamb Sirloin with potato gratin.

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It was time for the flaming baked Alaska parade of nations - that's always fun.

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My dessert was the Chocolate Decadence. It's actually a dessert trio, with a chocolate mousse cake topped with chocolate ganache, some whipped cream and chocolate sauce, and a chocolate meringue cookie.

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Lee had the Baked Alaska - that's what he always has. :-)

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Balwan brought Linda a very special dessert.

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It was exactly what she had ordered. :-)

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We were the only ones at our table for breakfast on the final morning, when we were back in Triton's again.

I had a fairly light breakfast - sliced fruit, tea, and Nature's Muesli. This was not what I expected from the description - I was expecting something more granola-like, but it was more like yogurt with small bits of almonds, seeds, oatmeal, and dried fruits. Not something I'll order again.

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Lee had what was his favorite breakfast of the cruise, the Route 66: scrambled eggs, bacon, and hash browns.

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So, that brings us to the end of the repositioning cruise. We had some menu items we really enjoyed, and some things that didn't appeal to us very much. You'd think that I would've learned by now that the menu descriptions (especially on dessert) don't always match up with what I think I will be getting. I'm not sure if that's because they don't get the ingredients, or the chef wants to prepare it a little differently, or both. I guess it does make for a surprise a mealtimes!

The food blogs for the Alaska cruise are coming soon.





May 22, 2011

Star Tours - The Adventures Continue - Early Departure Event

Lee Zimmerman, Laura's husband, is guest blogging this report on the Star Tours Early Entry Event at Disneyland on Friday, May 20.
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Laura had to work Friday and it was my off day, so she drafted me, typically her behind-the-scenes video guy, to attend this event in her place. Since I am a huge Star Wars fan and much more fond of motion simulator rides than Laura, I was happy to oblige. Regular readers of her blog may feel like you know me, since you've seen lots of pictures of me in her blog posts.

While the updated Star Tours attraction at Walt Disney World opened May 20th as part of the first Star Wars Weekend for the year, Star Tours at Disneyland does not officially open until June 3rd. However 1200 lucky fans, plus one guest each, selected from those that applied on the Disney Parks Blog, got a preview of the ride on May 20th during the Star Tours Early Departure Event.

Star Tours has been off-line since last year while Disney Imagineers, in concert with Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic, updated the ride to incorporate 3D and many more locations from the expanded Star Wars universe. For those who have forgotten, there have been three new Star Wars movies since the original Star Tours attraction was created. While the simulation technology and the ride vehicles are the same, everything else about the ride has been upgraded, including the queue, the "safety" video shown before boarding and all of the video and choreographed motion that make the ride what it is. The queue will remind anyone who has ever traveled via air of the airport experience, complete with security scans and luggage screening. After a funny 2-minute safety video, staring the new robot spokesperson Aly San San, guests board Flight 1401 for a 5-minute ride that can be one of over 50 different experiences based on randomly selected combinations of planets visited and characters you meet. If you want to know what happens during the ride, skip to the spoiler paragraph at the end of the story.

I arrived at the event right at 7:30AM and most of the 2000+ guests were already in line. Check-in officially started at 4:30AM and cast members told me that the first guests were actually there by 3:30AM. My media host had been checking folks in since that time and said he had checked in guests from as far away as Washington state and Wisconsin. The guests were queued up from the Disneyland front entrance all the way back around the shuttle bus drop-off area.


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These folks were towards the end of the line but they were excited to ride the new Star Tours and they were enjoying the hot beverages Disney provided for the those waiting to enter the park


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Some of the over 2000 guests waiting at 7:30AM to enter Disneyland and start their Early Departure adventure.


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This "spacy" duo was playing arrangements of Star Wars and other Tomorrowland-appropriate music to entertain the crowd while they waited.

We entered Disneyland at 8:00AM and made our way to the Star Tours queue where everyone waited for the 9:00AM park opening with a combination of patience and expectation. It was early, so it wasn't a very energetic crowd (at least on the way in, they were a LOT more energetic after the ride). I found out when I interviewed several of the first folks in line that they had been up all night - attending the 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' premiere and then this event.

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Finally, filling the actual ride queue!


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These folks were excited to get on the ride.

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A cast member showing off his new Star Tours costume.

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The mural outside Star Tours has been repainted and shows the new (old?) Starspeeder 1000's.


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Star Tours gets Fastpass, but it takes over the Buzz Lightyear Fastpass distribution so Buzz has Fastpass no more.

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A couple of the cast members were playing with lightsabers, including this one who challenged this adult guest to the Jedi Training Academy lightsaber routine.


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R2D2 and C-3PO in the updated ride queue. Photo ©Disneyland


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A sample of the new graphics - here of the Wookie planet Kashyyyk. Imagine this on a big screen, while wearing 3D glasses and the vehicle you are riding in is rocking and rolling to match the action. Photo ©Disneyland

We were able to interview the first official park guests to ride the new Star Tours, they were all very happy with the new ride. I've included pictures and quotes from the first few riders below:


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"The 3D was really good, much better than I expected. The sound was also excellent and really added to the ride."


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"Amazing! Cool!"
"We're looking forward to doing all the versions"
"I really liked the 3D effects"
"It was familiar, but updated"


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"It's better than old one - newer, revamped"


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Clearly Star Tours fans - no surprise they were towards the front of the line.


I got to ride too and have to say I agree with everyone above. On my trip we visited Kashyyyk and Naboo - flying through the jungle and going under water really highlighted just how good the new 3D movie footage is. Everything looks photorealistic and the 3D is effective without any gimmicks. I sat on the far edge of a row and I wear glasses, but the 3D effects worked just fine for me. The 3D combined with the motion of the simulator makes the ride even more realistic than the original, and at least on this first ride, the motion seemed less jerky. I liked that C3P0 and R2D2 seem more capable than Rex in the original Star Tours and this time the Starspeeders have guns!

Disney has made available a Galactic Passport on-line that you can customize with your own picture and use to track which of the many Star Tours variations you've experienced. Go to http://startourspassport.com to make and print your own Galactic Passport.


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The remodeled Star Trader shop is open and it looks very nice. There is now a (nearly?) full-size X-Wing hanging from the ceiling and design details that carry out the travel theme from the ride. For example, the moving walkway overhead and signs throughout the store. The store has an expanded selection of Star Wars merchandise - I saw some new T-shirts and a selection of hats that I think are new including Yoda, Boba Fett and R2D2 mouse ears. There were also some new Star Tours-specific shirts and hats. The old arcade is also open, but now it is part store and part arcade, with the arcade machines and a second "build your own lightsaber" station around the edges.


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The ride exits into Star Traders


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The Star Wars merchandise has expanded from just the side alcove to much of the store - so the X Wing overhead is appropriate.


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There is a moving walkway overhead where you can see the silhouettes of many interesting characters - including some familiar ones - go by.


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New Star Tours merchandise


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Photo ©Disneyland

***Spoiler Alert***
As described in the Disney Press Release for the event: "Through a series of mishaps C-3PO finds himself in the pilot's seat - and it's up to him and R2-D2 to navigate their passengers through the galaxy. However, the tyrannical Empire is out to stop the Starspeeder at all costs. C-3PO and R2-D2 take the controls and try to outwit and outrun the Imperial forces and a galactic bounty hunter hired to pursue the spaceship and its passengers. Utilizing the 50+ random story combinations, the Starspeeder then embarks on a wild trip through the galaxy, visiting several planets made famous in the Star Wars films. Among the locations that might provide haven from the Empire's pursuit are the icy planet of Hoth, the lush jungles of Kashyyyk and the underwater Gungan world of Naboo. And along the way guests may encounter Star Wars characters that offer to help (or hinder) their journey, including Yoda, Admiral Ackbar, Darth Vader and Boba Fett. 'Skytroopers,' a legion of stormtroopers created just for the Star Tours attraction story, might even join in the chase."
***Spoiler Alert***




May 23, 2011

Disney's California Adventure Construction Update

Lee Zimmerman, Laura's husband, is guest blogging this entry.

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Since I was at the Disneyland Resort on Friday to cover the Star Tours Early Departure event, Laura asked if I would also take a pass around the resort to see if there was anything new to report on. Other than the new Star Tours ride, there didn't seem to be anything of note at Disneyland. Disney California Adventure, on the other hand, is still enjoying a major construction boom with changes visible every visit.

Starting with the park entry, the Imagineers continue to remove the original structure facades and to replace them with something more appropriate to represent 1930's Los Angeles.

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The buildings on the left hand side of the entrance look a bit bare without the mural and other original embellishments


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The building on the right looks much better with its new facade - this picture almost looks like it is from the 30's


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The seating area in front of the train is gone, which really changes the look of this area of the entrance plaza


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The structure for what will be the Carthay Circle Theater is underway

Heading back towards the Paradise Pier area I passed the overlook at the Blue Sky Cellar where you can see into Cars Land.

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You can see that the Cadillac Mountain Range is progressing nicely

For those who would like to see more detail, here is a larger image

The big news for the day is that the construction walls are down from around the new Little Mermaid attraction!

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The entrance rotunda


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Looking right you see what I think is the overflow queue for Ariel's Undersea Adventure


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The ride stretches out to the left, occupying quite a bit of lake front property

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There were two cast members guarding the entrance, answering questions and, for my benefit, modeling their new costumes


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King Triton lords over the main part of the attraction building and what I think is the main guest queue goes along this side of the building


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Here is a closeup of part of the main queue - almost all of which is covered


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Here is a panoramic shot that shows the entire front exposure of the attraction as it overlooks the World of Color viewing area

Here is a larger version of the picture above


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I don't think I've ever been in the park when at least part of the World of Color show floor wasn't raised to show height. Today all three sections were at show height and, I may just be noticing for the first time, everything has been painted the same subdued color instead of the natural silver, black and other colors of the raw hardware.

Here is a larger version of the photo above, in case you haven't seen the impressive amount of hardware that makes the World of Color show.


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I had never seen the 'Disney Channel Rocks' show before, so I didn't realize they set up this stage and then tear it down every day because it's right in the front of the World of Color viewing area. It's a great place for a show, but that's a lot of work.


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The construction wall around Little Mermaid had blocked off access to Seaside Souvenirs which is now open.


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More important, for corn dog fans, is that the Corn Dog Castle is open again. (Here is the Corn Dog Castle Menu.)


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Construction continues on the food court near Goofy's Sky School (the former Mulholland Madness).


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Finally, sometimes I just like to wander and notice the care and detail Disney puts into developing the parks and attractions. This is the top of King Triton's Carousel (located near the entrance to California Screamin').




May 27, 2011

Disney Wonder Alaska Cruise - The Food, Part 1

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So here we are, back on the Disney Wonder for another week of fun and food. Or maybe that's food and fun?

Since we did back-to-back cruises, the menus started to look a little familiar. Which wasn't necessarily a bad thing - it meant there were opportunities to try things we missed the first time, as well as the chance to have some favorites one more time. There was one new menu, the Taste of Alaska dinner - but I'll talk lots more about that when we get there.

I ate a little lighter on the second cruise, since apparently the sea air had caused all of my pants to shrink and they were feeling a little tight. :-) So be aware of that shrinkage factor when you go on a cruise.

After a lovely day in Vancouver, we re-boarded the Disney Wonder around 1:30 and went to Beach Blanket Buffet for lunch. It seemed to me that the food options here were every bit as good as what was available in Parrot Cay when we boarded in Los Angeles. (No picture of my plate though, sorry.)

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Our dining rotation was similar to what we'd had on the first cruise: Parrot Cay, Triton's, Animator's Palate, Parrot Cay, Triton's, Animator's, Parrot Cay. For some reason every cruise I've been on has had that rotation, so I've eaten dinner in Parrot Cay more than any other restaurant (we ate there three times on the repo cruise!).

We were thrilled to again have Balwan and Tita as our serving team - thank you Beci (and Tektas, our head server) for arranging that. I decided I wanted to get a photo of them every night in their different costumes, and they were very obliging. So here's the photo from Parrot Cay on the first night.

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The dinner menu was the regular Island Menu. This is not one of my favorites - the entrees are good, but none of the appetizers and soups/salads particularly appeal to me. And the featured bread is banana bread with a banana spread - and I'm not a banana fan.

Parrot Cay Dinner Menu

Anyway...I didn't order anything from the appetizer list, so my first course was the Parrot Cay Salad. This was a spinach salad with onion, mushrooms, bacon, and chopped egg. I ordered the dressing on the side, which I pretty much always do! It was a very nice salad, and the spinach was fresh and tasty.

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Lee had the Baked Crab Dip Martinique. It's kind of a crab and cheese casserole. He enjoyed that.

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His second course was the West Indies Romaine Salad - it looked like a caesar salad.

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I was very disappointed in my entree - I ordered the Pan Seared Grouper with basmati rice and snow peas. I love the pan seared grouper at The Brown Derby, but this tasted really unpleasantly fishy to me - even Lee commented on it when he tried a bite. A couple of other people at our table ordered it and it seemed fine to them, though. Balwan offered to bring me something else, so I had him bring me some of the shrimp that were served on the Shrimp and Avocado Salad - Julian had ordered that and it looked really good.

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Lee had the Braised Jerk-Seasoned Pork Chop - it came with a cornmeal cake, and was quite good - moist and flavorful.

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For dessert I ordered the Chocolate S'More Vanilla Cake. This was one I didn't order on the first cruise because it really didn't sound very chocolatey. But as I discovered, this was another one of the menu items where the written description didn't reflect the reality very well at all. The written description is: "Crackling Marshmallow Crust on Vanilla Cake filled with Chocolate, served with Dulce De Leche Sauce." It was really more like a thick fudgey mousse layer on top of a thin vanilla crust - I would not call that "vanilla cake" at all. And then a roasted marshmallow layer on top of that. I really enjoyed it - it was MUCH better than the description made it out to be!

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Lee had the French Toast Banana Bread Pudding. Doesn't appeal to me, but he liked it.

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Someone else at our table at the Lemon Meringue Pie It's very pretty, but rather small.

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On our first At Sea day we had lunch at Triton's. This was my most disappointing meal of either cruise. We were seated at about 12:10, and wanted to make the 1:00 ranger talk - that should be enough time, right? Wrong...the service was very slow - it took a lot longer than it should have for us to get drinks, and then for our server to take our orders. I only ordered an entree, and in hindsight I should've asked the server to bring my entree when he brought everyone else's appetizer.

Lee ordered the Apple Walnut Salad. It was a perfectly nice salad, but I didn't take a photo of it.

They cleared the appetizer plates and then we waited, and waited, for our entrees - it was at least 10 minutes. So finally, at 12:52, I get my entree, the Turkey Melt Sandwich on Whole Grain Panini. It was pretty bad. #1, I'd asked them to leave off the Thousand Island dressing - and they didn't. #2, with a description of "panini" you'd expect it to be a hot sandwich, but no - the bread was toasted, but the inside was cold. I picked at the turkey (where it wasn't contaminated with dressing), and ate most of the potato chips, but then I was out of there to make the 1:00 talk.

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Lee ordered the Grilled Halibut, served on saffron rice. That looked pretty good, and I think he enjoyed it, but I didn't stick around to find out.

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Dinner that night was the Golden Mickeys menu, and we were in Triton's. Here are Balwan and Tita in their formal attire.

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Even our napkins were formal! :-)

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Golden Mickeys Dinner Menu

My first course was the Sangria Bisque - this was like a smoothie, only cold and not frozen, with lots of strawberries and a little red wine. It was pretty good.

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Lee had the Caramelized Bay Scallops. This was served on sun-dried tomato risotto. It was a pretty generous serving.

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I also ordered the Salad of Mixed Baby Greens. This came with sliced pears and pistachios, with apple cider vinaigrette on the side. It was a very good salad.

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Lee had the Crispy Cheese Ravioli - deep-fried ravioli and a light tomato sauce. It was quite good - several people at our table enjoyed that one.

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We both had the Oven-roasted Tom Turkey Breast - this was really good on our Med cruise last year. The turkey was good but the sweet mashed potatoes were a little odd, and the rosemary stuffing tasted like ginger - and too much ginger, at that. I enjoyed the green beans, gravy, and cranberry sauce, though.

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My dessert was (no surprise, I'm sure) The Golden Chocolate Award. I remember when this used to come with a chocolate golden ticket, but not any more. It was pretty good - a thick chocolate mousse with a chocolate cake crust and a layer of ganache on top.

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Lee had the Triple Strawberry Sundae. It included strawberry and dulce de leche ice cream, strawberry sauce, caramel sauce, and whipped cream. With a smiling chocolate Mickey on top. :-)

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On the morning we went into Tracy Arm we had our character breakfast at Parrot Cay. Almost everyone at our table attended, and it was a lot of fun.

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Breakfast itself is anti-climactic compared to the character experience. :-) It's an interesting menu -rather than entrees, this menu has all of the different breakfast items on it, and you just order what you want. I just asked for scrambled eggs, bacon, and wheat toast, but I got a hash brown potato patty anyway. The eggs were not cooked as much as I like them, so I didn't eat much of them. The bacon was good, though - nice and crisp, the way I like it.

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Lee had scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, and pancakes. I was surprised he ate all the scrambled eggs, because he dislikes undercooked eggs even more than I do.

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Our servers made all of us these really fun napkin hats.

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On Tracy Arm night we were in Animator's Palate. I enjoy the show here more than the show on the Disney Dream, and I especially enjoy the way that the restaurant and even the servers grow more colorful as the evening goes on. But, I just read the most recent Disney Cruise Line press release on the Fantasy, and it has some very exciting news about changes to Animator's Palate on board the Fantasy. This sounds MUCH more like what I was expecting, and I'm excited to see it next year!

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But back to our meal in Animator's Palate THIS year...Here are Balwan and Tita:

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Animator's Palate Dinner Menu

The Animator's Palate show dinner has some of my favorite cruise line menu items. We both again had the Sesame-flavored Rock Shrimp and Caramelized Onion Cheesecake as my appetizer. One of those "favorites I get to have again". :-) But this time, for the first time in the four times I've had it, I could actually detect little pieces of shrimp that I could even taste.

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I usually get one of the soups, but this time I had the Smoked Salmon and Trout with Goat Cheese Salad. It was another excellent salad - just about all the salads I had on this cruise were quite good.

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Lee had the Baked Potato and Cheddar Cheese Soup - I'm not sure why I didn't take a photo of this. But it looked an awful lot like this one from the first cruise. :-)

My entree has been one of my favorites in the past - the Black Bean Chipotle Cakes. Despite having the word "chipotle" in the name, it has never been spicy before. But this time...wow. They were HOT. And it wasn't even the flavor of chipotle, either. Instead it tasted like someone got way too carried away with the chili powder. I barely got through one of them. I'd ordered a glass of Syrah with dinner, but Tita brought me a little bit of a Riesling because she said it would cut the spice - and it did.

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Speaking of that - Tita was very knowledgeable about wines, and her suggestions were really good. We enjoyed everything that she recommended.

Lee was also in the Animator's rut, and also ordered what he'd had on the previous cruise - the Asian Marinated Beef Tenderloin. His was just as good as it had been on the first cruise, though. :-)

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We both had the Double Fudge Chocolate Cake. It was pretty good cake - dark and moist. The whipped cream on top didn't do much for it, though.

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And here's Balwan and Tita, looking far more "animated" than they did at the beginning of the evening. :-)

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The night we left Skagway was the menu I had been most looking forward to - the new Taste of Alaskamenu. And it did not disappoint - I wish I could have ordered off of that menu twice! Here's the menu if you want to check it out yourself.

This was the first evening the servers got to wear their new costumes!

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I tried one of the new specialty cocktails - the Cranberry and Cinnamon Spritzer This had vodka, cranberry and apple juice, cinnamon and club soda. The cinnamon gave it a very interesting flavor - it was quite good.

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I selected the Green and White Asparagus Spears with garlic-tomato aioli for my appetizer. They were good, but cold.

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Lee chose the Cheese and Carrot Souffle. There wasn't much "carrot" in it but it was really good. Warm and cheesy.

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We both had the Yellow Pea Soup, topped with sour cream and bacon bits. It was also very good - had a little bit different flavor than a green pea soup. I don't know if that was because it had different spices or a different stock, or if the peas themselves taste different.

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We also ordered the same entree - Honey-Mustard Marinated Alaskan Salmon. If you're in Alaska you have to have Alaskan salmon, right? It was awesome - I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a salmon dish so much. The honey mustard really complemented the salmon flavor. The sauteed spinach didn't do much for me but I enjoyed the new potatoes.

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I think that was the night we had cheese rolls in addition to the featured bread, which was dark rye. They were both good, but the cheese rolls were especially tasty.

The desserts let me down a bit, though. I tried the Skagway Chocolate Truffle Torte. It was not a torte, at least not by my definition, nor was it very truffle-like. Darker chocolate would have been better, and more like what I was expecting. The white chocolate decoration on top was a nice touch, though.

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Someone at the table ordered the Taste of Alaska Sweet Temptations, which included the chocolate truffle torte, poached pear hazelnut cake, and vanilla panna cotta.

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Lee ordered the Sticky Fig and Walnut Pudding, which again, I missed taking a photo of.

Several of us were intrigued by one of the no sugar added desserts - Chocolate Ganche and Mandarin Curd Tart. We all assumed this was a misspelling of ganache, but after we got it, there was nothing remotely "ganache" about it. The chocolate part was more like a sponge cake. It did come with these really bizarre pieces of "cocoa jelly", which was chocolate jell-o, I guess. It bounced and wiggled and was fun to play with. It did taste a little like chocolate. I've looked up "ganche" on the internet to see if I could find it, but all the references I found seem to be misspellings of ganache. So I still don't know what that is supposed to be.

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More coming in Part 2!




Mickey's Soundsational Parade Premieres at Disneyland

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The new Mickey's Soundsational Parade premiered at Disneyland today - and it's terrific. Wonderfully designed floats, great music, lots of characters, and full of energy. To be honest, there was SO much going on that I couldn't take it all in, but it was brilliantly done. I can't wait to see it again!

It's been a few years since Disneyland has had a traditional parade - the last one was Walt Disney's Parade of Dreams, which ended in 2008. Celebrate! A Street Party was more of a moving show with several performance stops.

Soundsational is a continuously moving parade, and you better keep your eyes on it because there's a lot to see! The floats incorporate musical instruments into the design of the float, in keeping with the musical theme of the float and the characters that go with it. It's really fun to see how the float designers have put those together. For example, the fancifully designed riverboat for the Princess and the Frog uses clarinets for its smokestacks and trombones are driving the tambourine paddlewheel.

Each float features a different musical style, from New Orleans Jazz to Calypso beats to sea chanteys and African drum rhythms. And there are lots of our favorite Disney characters in colorful costumes, both on the floats and walking alongside, as well as dancers and live musicians accompanying them.

The "Soundsational" parade theme ties them all together - but even that music is themed to each individual parade segment, and each float has its own Soundsational version.

Here's the beginning of the Soundsational Parade, featuring the terrific drumline. We had to split the video up because it was just barely too long for youtube. We recommend you actually click on the video to view it on youtube in HD.

And here's the rest of the parade:


The parade begins with a line of drummers in front of Mickey's float, a huge fanciful drum set. Mickey himself is playing the drums (and he is REALLY playing the drums!). Minnie is wearing a wonderful piano key skirt. In addition to the Soundsational theme, you'll also hear the Mickey Mouse Club March.

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Goofy rides a smaller float pushed by Chip and Dale which has a large bass drum and cymbals on it that he plays.

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The Genie-turned-wanna-be-drum-major leads out the Aladdin segment, accompanied by harem dancers with cymbals. Aladdin rides on top of a large drum with accompany music such as "Friend Like Me" and "Arabian Nights".

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A cymbal-clashing Abu follows (I thought this was adorable).

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Th Little Mermaid takes us "Under the Sea" with Sebastian and Ariel and a huge maraca-playing octopus. The dancers accompanying this float were especially colorful and mesmerizing to watch. This float had a whole lot going on with a lot of detail and a lot of motion - all in time with that Caribbean beat. It went by way too fast.

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A spinning shell-maraca-wielding hermit crab brings up the rear.

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It's time for a trip to Latin America with the Three Caballeros. Donald Duck dangles a large pinata from his position atop a drum float, while Panchito and Jose Carioca walk alongside. (The Tres Caballeros song has some great lyrics: "We sing and we samba, we shout 'Ay Caramba!'" "What means 'Ay Caramba?'" "We don't knooooooow!")

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The Disney princesses are gathered on a float featuring Rapunzel's Tower. Rapunzel, Snow White, Aurora, Cinderella, and Belle. The music is more serene and includes arrangements of "I See the Light" from Tangled, "Some Day My Prince Will Come", "Once Upon a Dream", "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes", and "Tale as Old as Time".

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African drum beats herald the arrival of the "Jungle" unit. King Louie, Terk and the monkey dancers accompany Simba, who is standing on Pride Rock in front of a golden sun bearing Mufasa's face. He roars and we hear music such as "I Wanna Be Like You" and "Circle of Life".

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The Princess and the Frog float is modeled after something that really DOES float - a Mississippi river boat! Tiana rides in front in a rowboat with Ray the firefly, and of course that trumpet-playing alligator Louis is giving it his best as they "Dig a Little Deeper" as they are "Going Down the Bayou". This was another really detailed float that I needed a lot more time to look at! I loved the dancers' Mardi Gras-themed costumes.

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It's off to Neverland with Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Mr. Smee. Tinker Bell plays the mushroom drums in her flower garden. I was expecting pixie music, but the musical theme was rollicking sea chantey versions of "You Can Fly" and "A Pirate's Life is a Wonderful Life". (Apparently Hook is not terrified of alligators - only crocodiles - since Louis was on the float just ahead of him!)

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The final float was my favorite - Mary Poppins. I hardly know where to start - there was so much happening! Chimney sweeps beating rhythms on the street with their brooms...Mary and Bert riding escaped carousel horses...the Disneyland Pearly Band playing live music...penguins riding on a whimsical carousel...the chimney sweeps on the London rooftops. And all of the great music from Mary Poppins: "Step in Time", "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", "A Spoonful of Sugar". It was just awesome.

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One of the things that Steve Davison told us afterwards is that the concept of the floats was for them to look like pop-up books. In keeping with that idea the initial float designs were done by paper sculptors Kevin Kidney and Jody Dailey. Those paper sculptures were then interpreted and built with materials that are a lot stronger than paper. I mention that because I think you really see the paper sculpture look in these next two photos.

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And that was the end of the parade. Have I mentioned how terrific it was? I watched the video a couple of times while writing this blog, and I see more details every time.

Here's a "Fun Facts" sheet provided by Disney:

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Mickey Mouse will lead a bevy of Disney characters on a musical journey that has a whole new beat this summer. "Mickey's Soundsational Parade" debuts May 27 at Disneyland park, expressing the timeless tales of Disney music in a variety of rhythms and styles.

Nine themed floats carry the characters down Main Street, U.S.A.

Characters and performers become part of the parade units in "Mickey's Soundsational Parade."

Goofy lends his musical "expertise," performing on an oversized drum.

The cymbal dancers in the Aladdin sequence create rhythm using hand cymbals.

The Three Cabarellos sequence features PiƱata dancers in folkloric-style costumes, and flower dancers costumed to look like traditional Mexican paper flowers.

The Jungle Book unit features King Louie (The Jungle Book) and Terk (Tarzan) dancing with four monkey companions.

"The Princess and the Frog" unit includes New Orleans-inspired jazz, and Tiana's riverboat is made of musical instruments including a clarinet smokestack and tambourine paddle wheel.

Tinker Bell plays the mushrooms of Pixie Hollow, part of the Never Land unit, using her wand as a drumstick.

The grand finale Mary Poppins drum unit is pulled, in part, by a giant huntsman (from the movie's Jolly Holiday sequence) pedaling a large bicycle.

The Mary Poppins drum unit also features a moving carousel complete with kites flying overhead, penguins riding carousel horses, and piano keys that appear to "play."

Eleven Mary Poppins chimney sweeps perform a dance to the song "Step In Time," using their brooms as percussive.


May 28, 2011

Disney Wonder Alaska Cruise - The Food, Part 2

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After our absolutely beautiful day in Juneau we had a wonderful dinner at Palo with 10 other members of our group. We were in the private room again, which had a gorgeous view of the sea and mountains that we were sailing by. We even saw some orcas and dolphins!

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The Palo menu is HERE.

Our server was Daniel again, but because we were such a large group, Mariana took over the beverage service. First off, Daniel served us several plates of antipasti from the Antipasti Cartello. That's yummy stuff right there!

Daniel also brought us a selection of pizzas - Margherita, Prosciutto, Quattro Formaggi.

My first course was Sicilian Pesto Marinated Grilled Shrimp. This was good, but not as good as I expected, though now I can't remember why. Maybe the shrimp was a little tough.

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Lee had the Grilled Portobello Mushroom and Polenta. Those Palo people - they can even make something that looks like mud appear appetizing! :-)

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My entree was the Branzino in Cartoccio. Even the description on that one isn't much help: "Sea Bass Papillote with spaghetti vegetables and ginger orange glaze." Though I knew from previous experience that "papillote" meant "baked in parchment paper.". It came still in the paper, but Daniel took care of that and served it up to me. It was very good - the fish was moist and flavorful. Maybe not quite as good as the turbot I had at Palo on the first cruise, but still very good.

This is what it looked like when Daniel first brought it out...

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And after he had finished plating it for me (the vegetables came separately):

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Lee ordered a half serving each of the Lobster and Mascarpone Ravioli and the Chianti Braised Beef Ravioli. The lobster ravioli wasn't as good as it was the first time (when he and Linda almost fought over it) because it didn't have as much mascarpone cheese in it. Daniel brought him a few more later that DID have more cheese, and he really enjoyed those.

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For dessert I had, what else? the Chocolate Souffle. There were a number of those served at our table!

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Here's the Apple Crostata:

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And the Panna Cotta with Strawberry-Basil Sorbet:

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We were also celebrating a couple of anniversaries...Mari and Rawleigh:

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And Carol and Gary:

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The last thing we were served was this little item - I can't remember what they called it, but it was basically a limoncello/vodka slush. Dangerous stuff - it didn't taste alcoholic at all, and it was really good - refreshing and sweet with just a little bit of tartness.

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The dinner was also notable for Mary (different Mary) and I polishing off an entire bottle of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio all by ourselves.

It was a terrific dinner with a wonderful group!

Afterwards we went to the dining room (we would have been in Triton's) to visit Balwan and Tita, and our other tablemates, only to find that Balwan had missed dinner due to an allergic reaction (fortunately he was ok), and they'd had a different server who had RUSHED them through dinner. It was Pirate Night that night - maybe she wanted to see the show?

But here's a photo I took in Triton's on our first cruise:

Disney Wonder Alaska Cruise - The Food, Part 2

And the Triton's menu is HERE.

After our day of ziplining in Ketchikan it was time to get all neat and pretty for semi-formal night - the Captain's Gala. We were back in Animator's Palate, and fortunately Balwan was fully recovered!

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The Captain's Gala menu is HERE.

Captain's Gala is probably my least favorite menu, but I tried some things that were different than what I'd ordered the first time. My first course was the Fresh Fruit Cocktail. This was quite pretty, and even though the description said it had orange blossom honey the fruit wasn't sticky sweet. I enjoyed having fruit that was something other than the watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple and grapes that is usually what I get on board.

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I tried the California Mixed Salad Leaves - aka iceberg and radicchio with strips of smoked duck and pine nuts. It was actually quite good. I don't remember what the dressing was, but it was on the side, whatever it was.

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Lee had his usual - the Wild Forest Mushroom Soup. Which I apparently didn't photograph, probably because it looks like a bowl of mud. :-)

As I said, this is not my favorite menu, so I made up my own entree, and asked for a double portion of the Garlic and Herb Shrimp (one of the appetizers) with some steamed vegetables. The shrimp were a little tough, and not as flavorful as they were on the first cruise. Oh well.

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Lee had the Panko-Breaded Pork Envelope. I remembered getting this one on the Med cruise last year and not being too impressed, but he enjoyed it a lot more than I did. It's a pork chop stuffed with ham and gruyere cheese - just too heavy for me.

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This time I went for the Warm Chocolate Lava Cake, and it was pretty good. Very chocolatey with all of the sauce. They are doing a better job of serving it while it's still warm than they used to. I also asked for a coconut macaroon on the side (that was part of the Sweet Temptations dessert), and got a bowl with three of them. Yum. Now that I think about it, I should've dipped them in some of my leftover chocolate sauce! I can't believe I didn't do that. (Lee was a copycat, and also ordered the lava cake AND the macaroons!)

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On the morning of our last full day on board (an at sea day) we had brunch at Palo, just Lee and me. We were among the very first to be seated, so I had a chance to go around and photograph all of the different food stations before anyone had served themselves, so everything looked even better than usual!

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They don't have a menu for the brunch items that you order - the pizzas and entrees - instead they have samples sitting on a counter so you can see what they look like and then tell your server what you want.

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After a last day at sea, it was time for our final dinner on board - we couldn't believe it was our last night - it went so fast! We were back in Parrot Cay for the Till We Meet Again dinner. Here's one last photo of Balwan and Tita.

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The Till We Meet Again Dinner Menu.

I did something a little different and had the Artichoke, Spinach, and Jalapeno Cheese Dip. It was mostly cheesy - I didn't taste jalapeno at all. It was supposed to come with crispy pita wedges, but they were not toasted (or even warm) at all. It was still good, though.

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Lee had the Grilled Chicken Sate again. I think he'd prefer it with peanut sauce rather than the mint-yogurt sauce. This is a pretty generous serving for an appetizer!

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We again had the Potato Leek Soup, but this time it was NOT overly salted and was very tasty.

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I tried something different and had the Till We Meet Again Chicken Salad. Wow...this was huge. It had blackened chicken, corn, tomatoes, and green onions. It came with a "zesty" dressing which I had on the side - good thing, because it mostly tasted like cilantro, which I don't like. The salad was just ok, and I really didn't eat too much of it.

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Lee had the Garlic and Rosemary-Marinated Lamb Sirloin. It was quite good, and the onion, leek, and potato gratin that came with it was very tasty, too.

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It was time for the flaming baked Alaska procession again - that's always a sight to see! We also enjoy the parade of servers, many of them carrying their country's flag. They moved too fast this time and I didn't get any good pictures.

My dessert was (what else?) the Chocolate Decadence. (If you haven't noticed a trend here, then you really haven't been paying attention! :-) ) The description of this one is really not helpful at all - it just says: "This chocolate dessert lets you experience Chocolate in all its glory." Well, not exactly. It's got a dark chocolate cake that's sort of in between mousse and ganache, which is pretty good, and then a small glass containing something which is kind of like a caramel and hot fudge sundae - without the ice cream. The meringue cookie isn't very chocolatey at all.

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Lee of course had the Baked Alaska - I guess he must really like it, since he always orders it!

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Timbra asked for a Mickey Ice Cream Bar - they made it a little more special for her!

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Deb had the No Sugar Added Cappuccino Mousse.. It was a light coffee flavor and not overwhelming.

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We disembarked in Vancouver early on Tuesday, so had a quick breakfast at Beach Blanket rather than going to our assigned restaurant.

It was a great couple of weeks on the Disney Wonder. It was interesting to be on board back-to-back and see most of the menus twice, so I could try some different things the second time around. The food was good - there were a few excellent dishes and some misses. I was impressed with the Taste of Alaska menu - the salmon was just outstanding! I missed the Pirate menu, though - if it were me I would replace the Captain's Gala with the Pirate menu. The desserts still leave a lot to be desired - even the desserts at Palo (except the chocolate souffle) weren't great. But it's also not easy to produce quality desserts in that kind of quantity.

You can all breathe a sigh of relief - I am FINALLY done blogging the Alaska cruise - unless you want to see a ton of photos? No? Ok. :-) Good timing, since things are about to become very busy at Disneyland, with Mickey's Soundsational Parade opening this week and Star Tours and The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure opening next week.

Thanks for reading!


May 31, 2011

Disneyland Hotel Updates - New Restaurants and Pool

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The Disneyland Hotel has been undergoing extensive renovation for a while now. Major facelifts to the three towers, as well as the construction of a new pool area and restaurant complex. The two new restaurants opened last week, and the pool area opened on Sunday, May 29, so I wanted to share some photos from my visit last Thursday.

There's still a lot of construction walls blocking the normal walkways, so there are signs like these directing guests to the new restaurants.

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Tangaroa Terrace is a counter service restaurant open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

-- Breakfast Menu

-- All Day Menu

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Those familiar with Captain Cook's at the Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World will recognize the order kiosks.

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In addition to foods ordered off the menu there is a grab-and-go case with items like salads, sandwiches, and yogurt parfaits, and also a self-serve pastry case. I tried the pineapple/coconut/macadamia nut muffin and it was really good. Beverages are also self-serve. Unlike Captain Cooks, there is not a Dole Whip machine at Tangaroa Terrace.

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There is some seating indoors.

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There is more seating outdoors.

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Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar opens at 11:30 and is open until after midnight. In addition the bar offerings, food is also available, things like fish tacos, wings, and flatbreads. The menu is HERE. Some of the names of the specialty beverages and their descriptions are pretty amusing.

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Seating on the patio outside Trader Sam's.

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There's a great outdoor seating area below Trader Sam's, complete with huge fireplace (which was lit and burning, even during the day).

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The decor inside Trader Sam's is somewhat reminiscent of that at the former Adventurer's Club at Walt Disney World. It's much smaller, though.

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Here's what's printed inside the menu:

"Aloha, ahoy, aha! And welcome to the mystery, romance, and adventure of Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar. Here, at the edge of civilization, a poison dart's throw from the deepest, darkest, most dangerous region where the hand of man has never step foot, my fearless friend established this happy outpost for all to enjoy!

Who is Trader Sam? Why, he's the head salesman of the jungle, the one who's always ready to trade two of his heads for just one of yours! His expertise in head-shrinking potions grew into an interest in mixology. Bitten by the bartending bug (just one of thousands he's been bitten by), Sam searched the Amazon, Congo, Polynesia, and every tropical locale in-between for magical ingredients to mix into his delectable libations. Along the way he picked up many of the trinkets and artifacts you see around you.

In the tiki bar business, it's a jungle out there. But once Trader Sam began serving his exotic elixirs to tourists, the word really spread! So welcome aboard...ashore...or wherever you are! Cheers! Drink Up! Tulleeho! Kanpai! Prost! Kungaloosh! Ooogy Wawa! And above all, enjoy the time you spend with us at the world-famous Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar.

[signed] Skip

founder, Jungle Cruise Navigational Company

P.S. Just so you know - this place isn't called 'Enchanted' for nothing.

P.P.S. If you're wearing yellow, don't act like a banana."

I didn't see any "enchanted" shenanigans going on, but I was there in the afternoon and it was pretty quiet.

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I tried one of the non-alcoholic drinks - the Schweitzer Falls. It's described as "Tropical Juices and Sam's Gorilla Grog topped with Sprite". It was good, and refreshing, but it mostly tasted like pineapple juice.

Here's one of the gates into the pool area.

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Lots of chaise lounges ready for sun-worshipers!

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Like the Grand Californian, there will also be private cabanas available to rent.

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The big slide into the pool.

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The deeper swimming pool.

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There's a splash play area under the slide.

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The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure

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The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure is a new attraction at Disney California Adventure that officially opens on Friday, June 3. It has been in soft opening for about a week, and I had the opportunity to ride it last Thursday.

Ariel's Undersea Adventure is a classic dark ride that takes us through various scenes that tell Ariel's story, very recognizable to anyone who has seen the movie. You'll also hear the original versions of songs from the film like "Part of Your World", "Under the Sea", "Poor Unfortunate Souls" and "Kiss the Girl".

The ride uses the continuously moving omnimover vehicle technology like the Haunted Mansion, except that guests ride in colorful clam shells. It's about 5 minutes and 30 seconds long.

My impressions? It's absolutely charming - cute and colorful and fun. It's not the ultimate in audio-animatronic technology, but they've still done some very nice work in bringing this wonderful animated feature to life. I think most people are going to really enjoy it. There's a short dark section with Ursula and her two hench-eels, but it's not too dark, and kids who were riding it the day I was did not seem to find it scary at all.

The attraction is fully ADA-compliant: there are two wheelchair/ECV accessible vehicles ("King Triton's Chariots") available to guests. The attraction also offers audio description and assistive listening for those using Disney's handheld device.

There's a short "downhill" section where the clamshells turn backwards as you travel under the sea, and a short uphill section when you ascend back to the surface.

After we rode, members of the media had the chance to talk to Imagineers Lisa Girolami and Larry Nikolai about their work on the attraction - things that were changed along the way, challenges they faced, how they decided what to include or not, etc.






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About May 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Salute to All Things Disney but Mostly Disneyland in May 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2011 is the previous archive.

June 2011 is the next archive.

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