Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ephesus, Miletus, and Didyma

Another new-to-us country on this trip will be Turkey.  We are scheduled to port in Kusadasi the day after we've been to Athens.  As first time visitors, we plan to take advantage of the proximity to Ephesus and spend part of the day exploring the ancient ruins.

Our ship offers a shore excursion to Ephesus, Miletus, and Didyma.  As students of the Bible, we chose this particular excursion because it not only went to Ephesus, but also to Miletus which is mentioned in Acts 20:15-17: 15 Sailing from there, we arrived the following day opposite Chios; and the next day we crossed over to Samos; and the day following we came to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. 17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.

Having the opportunity to be in Ephesus and other places that the early Christians spent time in is so powerful and a great reminder about the enduring Word of God.  But even without this aspect, getting to see the evidence of times gone by is just amazing.  We visited Pompeii in 2007 and absolutely loved learning about life so many years ago.

Here are the highlights from the excursion we plan to take:
  • Travel approximately 30 minutes through the verdant countryside before arriving at the ancient ruins of Ephesus, considered the most important archeological site in Turkey.
  • Begin your approximate 105-minute guided walking tour of the open-air archeological museum of Ephesus and pass by the Magnesia gate, entering the administrative section of ancient Ephesus, one of the most magnificent excavations in the world.
  • See the Odeon, the Fountain of Trajan, the steam baths of Scholastika, the temple of Hadrian and the impressive library of Celsus. The library is adorned with columns and statues. The Grand Theater, where St. Paul preached, is one of the largest theaters in antiquity with a capacity of 24,000 seats.
  • Walk through the Arcadian Way, where Mark Anthony and Cleopatra once rode in procession.
  • Re-board your motorcoach and travel approximately 45 minutes to the ancient site of Miletus, once a great Ionian port with 2 lions guarding its entrance. Miletus was the native city of several philosophers and sages. Enjoy an approximate 45-minute of the great theater of the town, which is one of the only visible sites nowadays. The structure was reconstructed in the Roman period.
  • Continue with an approximate 15-minute transfer to Didyma to admire the magnificent Temple of Apollo, a great monument of antiquity, during the approximate 30-minute visit. Many times looted and burnt, the sanctuary's elegant beauty is still impressive. Some of the 120 columns that remain standing allow one to visualize the full magnificence of the structure.
  • Next, enjoy a typical lunch in the town of "Didim" at a local restaurant, overhanging the ruins of the Temple of Didyma where you can taste the delicious dishes from the Turkish cuisine.
  • Conclude your visit and re-board your transportation for the approximate 90-minute trip back to Kusadasi.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Be Safe Out There

Since I recently professed my love of Google Street View, I thought you all might appreciate this.




Be safe out there!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Athens, Greece

After our day in Rome, we will have two days at sea before arriving at the port of Piraeus, Greece.  Piraeus is the ancient name of the harbor created in the 5th century BC, and is approximately 75 minutes from the city of Athens.  Greece is a new country for us and the ability to visit Athens is why, after making our reservation for the 2nd portion of our back-to-back cruises, we opted to add this sailing to our summer plans.
While in Athens, we want to specifically see the Acropolis and its monuments.  Just as the villages of Cinque Terre are UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Acropolis shares that designation.
One of the DCL tours, Acropolis Sightseeing and Archaeological Museum with Lunch, not only will take us on a guided tour of the Acropolis, we will also have time to visit the National Archaeological Museum.
Along the way, we will pass by the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian's Arch which separates the old and the new Roman towns, and see the National Gardens, the Parliament building (formerly the Royal Palace), the Academy, the first University and the National Library of Athens.  We will also pass by the Panathenaic stadium, built in 1895, where the first Olympics was held in 1896.  (I know this because I read the excursion description.)
While in Athens, we will get to spend some time in the Plaka neighborhood for lunch and shopping.  We like excursions that allow some free time as part of the day, particularly when they are in cities that are further from the port so you can’t just go on your excursion, come back to the ship, and then pop back out for some souvenir shopping.

Getting to spend some time in another, new-to-us part of the world is very exciting, and we are glad you’re sharing it with us. What we don’t know yet is what souvenir we might be on the look-out for, so if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments! And for now, αντίο.

Monday, February 25, 2013

We tossed our coins in the Trevi Fountain for a reason...

Our second stop will be the port of Civitavecchia, the gateway to Rome.  We will be in Rome on a Tuesday, so while we expect it to be busy with locals going about their normal business and the summer tourists, we're hoping that by not being on a weekend, it won't be quite as hectic as it could be.  In fact, when we have our second day at Civitavecchia, that will be on a Sunday and we do not plan to go into Rome as not only is it on a weekend, but it's the last Sunday of the month and that means that some venues will be especially busy such as the Vatican.

When we visited Rome in 2007, we took a DCL-sponsored tour which was fabulous. We took the train from the port into the city, then were driven around on a motorcoach and dropped off at the Colosseum where we were able to have a guided tour inside.  If you ever get to Rome, do not miss the opportunity to have a tour inside; it's worth the time it takes to do it.  
In addition to the Colosseum, we hurried through the streets with our tour guide to go to the Trevi Fountain where we tossed our coins ensuring another visit to the eternal city, and then on to the Pantheon which was my favorite part of our sightseeing that day.  Having a knowledgeable guide makes a difference in what you learn about the places that you visit.

We had a lunch stop as part of the tour and then finished the afternoon at the Vatican where we got to go into St. Peter's Basilica.  The mosaics inside are absolutely beautiful, and from a distance you wouldn't even realize that's what they were.  Brilliant!  To get an idea of just how beautiful they are, Google "Mosaic Vatican" and enjoy!

So for this trip, since we've seen several of the highlights, most of which are all you get to see through this season's DCL shore excursions, we are venturing out and have hired Rome in Limo to take us on a tour for the day.   They have come highly recommended from DISBoards, TripAdvisor, and CruiseCritic members, and as we've been able to trust the recommendations from these sites and users in the past, we feel confident that we will not be disappointed.  A driver will pick us up at the port and take us to see as many of the sites in Rome that we have on our list to see before returning us to Civitavecchia with plenty of time to spare before our scheduled departure.

Our list so far has:
  • The Forum
  • Circus Maximus
  • Spanish Steps
  • Palatine Hill
  • Mamertine Prison
  • Capitoline Hill
  • Victor Emmanuel monument which reportedly has an elevator to take you to the top for the view of the city.
We are open to suggestions for other venues and sites for our time in Rome, so feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments, and as always, thanks for joining us!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What to do when Florence is closed, or a day to explore Cinque Terre

Our second port will be La Spezia, Italy, which is situated as a launch point for Florence or Pisa.  In 2007, we took a half-day excursion to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and our first stop in La Spezia this summer will be on a Monday when the Accademia Galleria is closed.  But there are plenty of other places to go from La Spezia including the five villages known as Cinque Terre, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Italian National Park.
The Cinque Terre area is easily accessible by train from La Spezia, and one can easily spend a day exploring each of the five villages.  We plan to head to the furthest point first, Monterosso, and then work our way back to Riomaggiore before heading back to our departure port. The train timetable will be useful in planning how much time to allow at each of the villages.
There is a trail that is recommended to walk between Manarola and Riomaggiore known as Via Dell'Amore, but as of this posting, the trail is still closed after heavy rains and mudslides.  Hopefully it will be reopened when we are there, but if not, that just gives us more time for something else.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Excursion selection for Villefranche (Monte Carlo and Eze)

In six days we can make our excursion reservations for the first of our two cruises. Because the more popular ship-sponsored excursions fill up quickly, it is important that we have decided what we want to do before the reservation window opens up at midnight March 2nd.

To that end, we have reviewed the options offered by the cruise line and we have considered which ports we want to explore on our own.

Villefranche-sur-mer is the first port for both itineraries. We have been to this port before, but at that time, we spent a morning in Nice, so this time we want to head east to Monaco and visit Monte Carlo.  But we also want to spend some time in Eze after having seen a travel show with Samantha Brown when she visited there.

We originally thought we would take a ship-sponsored tour to visit Monte Carlo on the first stop, and then make our way to Eze on our own during our second visit.  But DCL has an excursion that incorporates both locations, so we will leave our second day in Villefranche open for a restful, relaxing day as the following day will be a full day in Florence. 
These are the highlights from the description of the excursion:
  • Take an approximate 45-minute drive along the Lower Corniche to Monaco. 
  • Ride an escalator or elevator up the cliff and enjoy a 45-minute guided walking tour including an external visit of the Oceanographic Museum and inside visits of the Monaco Cathedral and Prince's Palace, where you will also be able to observe the changing of the guard.
  • Enjoy approximately 90 minutes of leisure time where you can enjoy lunch at one of the many cafes or browse the shops.
  • Re-board your coach for a 15-minute drive along part of the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit.
  • Arrive at the coach parking area in Monte Carlo and walk approximately 15 minutes up to Casino square, surrounded by immaculate gardens.
  • Then enjoy approximately 60 minutes of free time to shop, explore the Grand Casino  or browse the impressive range of top cars outside in Casino Square, before walking back to your coach.
  • Leaving Monaco, drive approximately 30 minutes along the Middle Corniche to the spectacular medieval village of Eze, perched on a craggy peak above the Mediterranean.
  • Enjoy a 30-minute guided walking tour through the steep cobblestone streets followed by approximately 60 minutes of free time for exploring or shopping.
It can be overwhelming at times to figure out which excursions offer what you want to do, and sometimes you end up having a bit of a compromise when the excursion has components you're not interested in.  One thing we especially wanted was to have some free time to explore and shop on our own in both Monte Carlo and Eze.  We also had looked into how to get from the port to Eze and back using public transportation, and while it is doable, it looked a bit more complicated than we wanted to figure out with the time constraints we will have.  So for us, in this port, a ship-sponsored excursion is the way to go.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Movie PremEARs

We have sailed with several cruise lines over the years, but one of the things we enjoy about Disney Cruise Line over others is the onboard movie theater.  While you might wonder why anyone would spend their time on a cruise watching movies they could see at home, sometimes there is nothing we would rather do.  Because we are repeat cruisers on DCL, we have seen most of the stage production shows in the Walt Disney Theater, most more than once, so an evening movie fills the time.  We are usually so busy at home, especially in the weeks leading up to vacation, that we don’t get to the theater to see a film, so we look forward to having the time to do so while on vacation.
For our cruises, we are excited about two movies that will be released while onboard – and while we may not see the first showing, we already have plans to see them.
The first one, Monsters University, releases on Friday, June 21st.
The second one, The Lone Ranger, stars Johnny Depp as Tonto and premiers (or premEARs, as they like to say on DCL)on Wednesday, July 3rd.
In addition to the premiers, we will check the schedule for other recently released films that we would like to see when we aren’t seeing the sea.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Venice, here we come!

My laminated Streetwise maps for Venice, Barcelona, and Rome came in the mail yesterday.  Because we’ve been to Barcelona and Rome before, I was most excited to start looking at the one for Venice.  Which really shouldn’t be called a street map, but a canal map!

In addition to getting the map, DCL posted their shore excursions for Venice today so I feel like we can finally start planning what we’d like to see and do while there.  You would think that, since Venice was the main reason we booked this cruise, we would have a good idea of where we’re going, but we really don’t.  But no worries, my friends, there’s plenty of time to plan!

Ironically, when I Googled “Top Ten Things to Do in Venice,” nearly every list included “get lost.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Crème Brûlée Cheesecake



We first sailed with Disney Cruise Line in 2005.  While DCL is not known for the best food in the cruise line industry, they are known for their rotational dining.  Unlike other cruise lines where you are assigned a table in a main dining room and that’s where you go for dinner each evening and are served by the same wait staff, DCL has three themed dining rooms on their ships and they want you to experience all of them. So you rotate through the dining rooms, a different one each night for the length of your cruise.  And your wait staff goes with you, so you get the same kind of personalized service that you’d expect on a cruise.


Because DCL has three main dining rooms that are themed differently, on three nights, they each serve a specialty menu that is unique to their restaurant, while on the other nights of the cruise, the same offerings are served  ship-wide. 


On DCL’s Magic and Wonder, the Parrot Cay restaurant serves Crème Brûlée Cheesecake as one of its dessert offerings.  This is my most favorite dessert that DCL has.  It’s a light cheesecake with a Crème Brûlée topping that is so good.  And because the restaurants serve their specialty menu three separate nights, that means that Parrot Cay has Crème Brûlée cheesecake on its menu three times throughout the cruise.  And because DCL servers are known for making guests dining experiences the best they can be, they are willing to pass through the galley to bring a dessert to one of the other restaurants that doesn’t offer said dessert.  (It should be noted that on DCL’s Magic and Wonder, two of the restaurants share a galley, so it doesn’t mean they have to go further than they already are going for serving dessert.)  The first night of themed dinners, I always let our server know that the Crème Brûlée cheesecake they serve in Parrot Cay is my favorite, and every time we have cruised, when it’s dessert time, they don’t even ask what I want – they bring it right to the table!


So here’s what I figured out. We’re doing B2B cruises. That means there will be six nights that Crème Brûlée cheesecake will be served.  Mmmmmmm…

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Currency Conversions, or How much does that really cost?

When traveling abroad, it's important to learn how to do currency conversions in your head. This is so you can figure out whether something that is priced in another currency is a good value when compared to U.S. prices.

When we honeymooned in Mexico nearly 21 years ago, we had an expensive lesson in currency conversion when we paid 150,000 pesos on the hotel's dinner buffet the first night and learned that was $50!  We quickly learned to divide a peso price by 3,000 to get the US dollar price, or, when bargaining, to fix a US price in our minds and then multiply by 3 and add some zeros to know when to stop at a good deal.

For this trip, we will mostly be buying things with Euro, although there may be opportunity for other currency in Dubrovnik.  On a cruise in the Baltics, we had several envelopes of currency as most of the countries we were visiting had their own currency rather than the Euro.  This trip will be a lot easier.

While we know that we will have to check the exchange just before we leave, we can go ahead and start thinking about how much we want to budget for private excursions and tour guide tips, souvenirs, local food and drinks based on the US-Euro rate now so we'll know how much we'll want to exchange before we travel and after we get there.

A Google search for Currency Exchange offers a calculator such as this one as the top search result.  As you can see, as of this posting, $1 is equivalent to about 0,75 Euro - or 3/4s.  And in reverse, 1 Euro is approximately $1.33.  So if something sells for 10 Euro, that's about $13.30, or if something we think is worth $10 and the price is 7,50 Euro or less, then that's an ok price to pay.  Some people find that it's handy to make a cheat-sheet with conversions written on them so you can figure your price equivalences at a glance.

(I found this image here.)
One way foreign countries get more money from US tourists is that their money seems like Monopoly money to us; it's so colorful and pretty compared to the old greenbacks we have.  Although a search of Google Images reminded me that the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing has added some color to our US dollars.  Even so, you have to be careful to not let that Monopoly-money mentality take over or you'll overspend before you realize it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Google Maps Street View

As much as I love a good street map, Google Maps Street View (GMSV) is an essential planning tool for me.  Whenever we have plans to visit a new city, I will find the hotel on Google Maps and then go into Street View to take a walk around the block.  This helps me see what's in the immediate area and get a head start on getting my bearings so that once we've arrived, I'll have some familiar landmarks to keep us going in the direction we intend.

GMSV lets us find restaurants, shops, markets, and other places we might want to check out that are within walking distance, and it also lets us know ahead of time if the area seems suitable for walking. Are there sidewalks? Crosswalks? One-way traffic?

Not only do I like GMSV for seeing what's near our hotel, I like to use it when we will be in a port that reportedly has easy access to the city.  I like to see what's within walking distance, or if there is a shuttle, where does it drop off and pick up and what landmarks will I want to remember.  We went on an Alaskan cruise in 2011, and two of the ports were such that we planned to have some free time exploring on our own - in Skagway and in Ketchikan. We were able to walk the streets ahead of time to get an idea of what was there and how far things were (or in these two cases, weren't).  Plus it's fun to get a sneak-peek of what the towns look like. Skagway was right out of a movie set.

For our trip this summer, I'm using GMSV particularly for the ports where we will explore on our own, beginning with our days in Barcelona.  While we plan to use a hop-on, hop-off (aka HOHO) bus for a day of sightseeing, we know we'll have some time to explore the city near the hotel. Plus we'll want to find where to get some food, so we can plot out the recommendations from others for restaurants, tapas bars, or the fresh food market and see what we might see.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sea Days

On port-intensive cruises like the ones we are doing, those few days at sea are always welcome.  Sea Days, as they are called, are days when the ship needs more time to get from one port to the next, or are designed to give passengers a chance to rest, relax, and enjoy the onboard entertainment and amenities.

For our trip, we will look forward to the sea days we have between:
  • Rome and Athens - This sea day comes after three port days including a stop in Rome where we will have had a very full day.  And actually, this sea day is two days which will be necessary to get us ready for Athens and Ephesus which will be two very full days in ports.
  • Mykonos and Malta - After port-heavy days in Athens and Ephesus, we expect Mykonos to be a relaxing day, so to have that followed by a sea day will give us a chance to unwind and enjoy just being on the ship.
  • Malta and Barcelona - This sea day, on both cruises, is the dreaded packing day; the next morning we arrive in Barcelona where we have to disembark. No one likes packing day. Which makes the sea day before Malta even more precious.
  • Naples and Venice - This sea day comes after not three, but four port days including stops in Florence and Naples.  We have 1 1/2 sea days until we arrive in Venice; the morning of the second sea day will be spent watching us arrive for Disney Cruise Line's inaugral stop in Venice, Italy.
  • Dubrovnik and Malta - See the note about the sea day between Mykonos and Malta.  This will be our last true sea day with nothing to do besides relax onboard!
There is so much to enjoy onboard the ship, but what our family likes the most is being able to sleep until we wake up; no early shore excursion meeting time to make!  We can catch a movie, read a book, relax on the verandah. Take a nap, take a stroll around the deck, do some onboard shopping.  It's a great day to do the laundry (see previous blog post) if we time it just right. 

I like to use Sea Days to catch up on my trip notes, look at pictures we've taken, and, for this trip, type up some reports to upload to this blog while we are in the midst of our adventure!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

How much clothing to pack

I know what you're thinking. There are still over 100 days until we leave, so why am I posting about packing?

Lots of reasons, really. When flying, one has to take into consideration the baggage restrictions by the airlines, the space limitations in both the vehicle that will get you to and from the airport, access to laundry, and whether or not you'll need to buy some different clothes than you already have for the trip.

Airlines have different baggage restrictions based on where you're going and what class of ticket you're using, so be sure to check with your airline for size and weight limits as well as fees. Delta's standard baggage allowance permits us to each take one bag no more than 62 inches in size and weighing no more than 50 lbs for free because we are traveling from the US to Europe. The problem for us is that we cannot fit four bags that size in our car along with the four of us. Plus we really don't need to haul 200 lbs worth of items to Europe!  Plus we don't have that many outfits!

Another consideration is whether you'll have the ability to do laundry while traveling. Call us crazy, but we don't mind doing a load of laundry every few days, and many times we come home from vacation with only the last day's clothes needing to be washed.  When figuring out how many sets of clothes to pack, we count the number of days from the time we leave home until the first time we can do laundry.  And then we check the rest of our itinerary to see when we could do our laundry during the rest of the trip.  The highest number of days between potential laundry stops determines how many sets of clothes we pack.

 photo laundry2.jpg Here's why we don't mind doing laundry on vacation: there is usually down time when we are just hanging out at the hotel (or in the cabin on a cruise), either early morning or late evening, so we might as well toss in a load. And we have met some wonderful people in the laundry room on the Disney cruises we have done, so we count that as bonus!

In the past it seems like our boys have hit a growth spurt just as we are ready to pack for a trip. We have everyone try on all of the clothes they are planning to take to be sure that they fit properly, they are not in need of repair, and that they can make acceptable outfits from them (no blue and orange together, please).  We don't pack formalwear for dinners, but we do bring suitable attire for the onboard dining rooms, and if there will be clothing restrictions for any of our tours, we make sure to have that as well - such as knees and shoulders covered for church building tours. 

We do know people who bring their clothes that they are ready to be rid of and wear those throughout their vacation and toss them along the way, leaving plenty of space in their luggage for souvenirs.  And others who go to the thrift store and buy $1 t-shirts and shorts so that if they do need to leave clothing behind to bring home their souvenirs, it's no big deal.

For this trip, we're figuring we'll need enough clean clothes to get us from home to the ship, so with two days travel, two days in Barcelona, and then the day we board, we'll need at least five sets of clothing. But we never travel without a spare - you never know when your Sprite might explode or another passenger might spill something on you.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Shore Excursions - through the cruise line or on your own?

Our fellow passengers who have sailed ten or more times on Disney Cruise Line were able to start booking their ship-sponsored shore excursions today.  We don't get to do that until March 2nd, but not being ones to leave things to the last minute, we've been looking at the excursions offered by the cruise line and deciding which ones we would like to do, and at which ports we will do something on our own.

When we first began sailing, we only scheduled ship-sponsored shore excursions, partly because of our inexperience, partly because the offerings were things we were interested in, and mostly to ease the anxiety of being left behind.  For most cruise lines, ship-sponsored excursions come with a guarantee that the ship will not leave you in port if your excursion is late returning to the port.  However, that's not always the case, but if you are on a ship-sponsored excursion that is late and the ship has to leave you, the cruise line will make the arrangements for you to catch up with the ship.  It is a rare occurrence for the ship to not wait for guests in this situation, but for those who are off the ship doing their own thing, well, let's just say we've seen a lot of pier runners in our day. Search YouTube for Cruise Ship Pier Runners and you'll find plenty of clips like the one below.

But sometimes the cruise line doesn't offer shore excursions that meet your interests, or perhaps, like in our case, you've been to the port before and have already seen and done what they offer.  What then?  Or perhaps you're more adventurous than we were in the beginning and want to plan your own time in port.

For this trip, we plan to use DCL's excursions for some of the ports, but for others we are going to make our own.  To do this and not worry about missing the ship, we have to carefully plan what we want to see and do, allow time for something to go wrong, and find qualified tour guides. 

Our two main resources for planning what to do on our own are Cruise Critic's Ports of Call forum and Tripadvisor.  Each of these have sub-forums that are dedicated to the specific ports that we'll be visiting.  These ports include:
  • Barcelona - we'll be here 1 1/2 days pre-cruise and another day post-cruise.
  • Venice - we will port here overnight, so we plan to do the first afternoon and evening on our own and then take a ship-sponsored excursion on the day we leave.
  • Cinque Terre - the cruiseline offers an excursion that is very much what we want to do, but we can explore this area on our own for so much less money, so we are opting to do this one on our own and save our excursion funds for another port.
  • Villefranche-sur-Mer - we stop here twice; the first visit we plan to use a ship-sponsored tour to visit Monaco, Monte Carlo and Eze.
  • Mykonos - we will be here after two busy days in Athens and Ephesus, so a nice quiet day in Mykonos sounds about right.
  • Valletta, Malta - we will be here twice as well; the first time we plan to hire a driver and guide arranged through the cruiseline, but we get to decide what we want to see and do during the time we're out.
  • Dubrovnik - this port seems like it will a wonderful place to explore on our own, but because we like to learn some things about what we're seeing, we are in contact already with someone to arrange a guided tour.

The more we travel, the more experienced we become in finding our way around new places, figuring out what we want to see and do before we get there, and making sure we're back on time!  As we get closer to departure, we'll share more details about each port.  And if you've ever been to any of these ports and have ideas or suggestions for what we should do, please leave them in the comments. We look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Combatting Jet Lag

Flying from the US to Europe often means an overnight flight, and this trip is no different.  We'll be departing late afternoon and arriving mid-morning the following day.  With a six hour time difference and the lack of good rest on the flight over, we will arrive ready for a shower and a nap.

We have reservations through the cruise line for a hotel in Barcelona and if we have any luck, at least one of the two rooms we require will be ready for us to check in upon arrival.  If that happens, we'll all be glad to get cleaned up and have a short rest before heading out to find some lunch and explore the city.

We know that dealing with jet lag immediately is important, so to prepare, we are reading up on strategies for coping.  There's an article at WebMD titled Coping with Jet Lag with tips to help us get adjusted to the new time zone so that by the time we board the ship two days later, we'll not be nodding off in our soup at dinner, unlike our fellow passengers who arrived in Spain that morning.

 photo couch.jpg

What we have found that doesn't work for us:
  • Not taking the time to rest at least 90 minutes after arrival.  It's important to lie down and stretch out our bodies after being cramped on an airplane for 9 hours.
  • Trying to see and do a lot that first afternoon.  We won't remember most of what we see or do anyway, so save the important things for another day.
  • Planning to stay up later to adjust to the later bed time. 
  • Not having somewhat of a plan for a meal that first afternoon.  This is not the time to try to figure out where to go or what to do; they need food and they need it now!

What we have found that does work for us:
  • Packing a change of clothes in our carry-on bag so we can take a quick shower without having to dig through the suitcases.
  • Setting an alarm for no more than 90 minutes after the last person gets out of the shower.
  • Having a plan for something to do for the afternoon that takes some energy but not a lot of concentration.  For example, walking to a market or outdoor venue, but not taking a bus (which could lull us to sleep).
  • Getting to bed earlier than our regular bedtime according to the clock, but setting the alarm for the next morning to wake at our regular morning time.
  • Being patient with each other for the rest of the next day and building in an afternoon rest.
Each overseas trip we take, we get better as a family in getting through the jet lag so that we can enjoy the places we're in.  We are hopeful that the lessons we have learned will help us zip right through the jet lag. 

If you have any tried and true tips for dealing with jet lag, please share them in the comments!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Three Seas

As we continue learning about the places that our cruises will take us, we find that we will not only sail through the Mediterranean, but will also sail in the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. 

The Aegean Sea is located between Greece and Turkey.

The Adriatic Sea is on the eastern side of Italy.



Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Borrowing travel books

Paging through travel books is a great way to get information about the ports and surrounding areas for a cruise.  And while you can spend a lot of time in the travel section of your local bookstore, we’ve found that borrowing books from the local library can narrow down which travel books are best suited for our adventure.

Many of the travel books at the library are out-of-date, but for most cities, the history, layout, and general information doesn’t change from year to year, so an older edition can be quite informative. However, we’ve found that the addition of e-books to our local library’s service makes the latest editions of travel books available to borrow for our e-readers.  And without a great demand for the books from other patrons, we’ve been able to check out the Fodor’s Essential series to swipe through as we are making our lists of things we’d like to see and do. 

My e-reader currently has:
If we’re lucky, these books will be available for us to take with us electronically when we travel.  And in the meanwhile, if you have any personal favorites, please leave the titles in the comments!

Monday, February 11, 2013

The departure port is still a port

          A common mistake that cruisers make is to not treat the departure port as a port.  They are so concerned with arriving in the departure city and getting to the cruise terminal on time that while they carefully plan those logistics, they skip over exploring the area and miss out on the port as a destination.
          I can write about this from experience.  Our first cruise was from Port Canaveral, Florida. We have been to this area of Florida multiple times and Port Canaveral, for us, was truly just a place to board the ship.  And having sailed several times from Port Canaveral, we still treat it that way.  But when we made our first Mediterranean cruise in 2007, we treated Barcelona in much the same way, and because of that, we missed out on the opportunity to experience much of what seems to be a beautiful city.  We had arranged our flights to arrive the morning of the day before our cruise departed thinking we would have time to see the sites from the Bus Turistic, but we hadn’t accounted for flight delays, hotel check-in delays, nor the extreme exhaustion that came with our first experience with jet-lag and an overnight, red-eye flight.  Our scheduled 9 a.m. arrival time quickly became a 3 p.m. boarding of the hop-on, hop-off bus ride that we mostly nodded off during as we were driven around Barcelona.  And our return flight was scheduled such that we went straight from the cruise terminal to the airport.  While we had fully planned each of the other ports on our itinerary, we had pretty much neglected our time in Barcelona.
          So in 2010 we flew to London three days in advance of our cruise of the Baltic, and we stayed two extra nights post-cruise. That allowed us to have not only the arrival day to rest and acclimate, but two full days pre-cruise and two more days after we disembarked to experience London (which is, quite frankly, not nearly enough time).  We found this was a perfect solution to giving us a chance to adjust our bodies to the new time zone but also rest from the overnight flight so that we could actually enjoy our site-seeing later on.  In 2011, we sailed from Vancouver to the inside passage of Alaska, and while we were traveling from east to west on that trip, we still allowed two full days to see Vancouver pre-cruise.  And it was well worth it – what a beautiful city.  However, on that trip, we scheduled our return flight for the same day which, it turned out, was a mistake because instead of being able to get a direct flight that left earlier in the day, we were on an afternoon flight that connected and resulted in flight delays that didn’t get us back to our home airport until 3 a.m.  Can you say exhausted?
          So using our experiences, our Summer 2013 plans are incorporating what we’ve learned.
  1. Plan on flight delays, hotel delays, and sheer exhaustion to make arrival day pretty useless for sight-seeing.
  2. Plan on having at least one full day in the departure city for a cruise so you can have a chance to see it (well, at least as much time as you will have in the other ports on the itinerary).
  3. Check return flight times to determine if you want to fly home the day you get off the ship or wait until the next day, thus resulting in an extra day in the departure city.
          For this adventure, we’ll be arriving in Barcelona with 1 ½ days to tour the city before boarding the ship, and when we return, we’ll have most of a day to see what else we want to see.  Our careful research of Barcelona has identified the French biscuiterie confiserie chcolaterie La Cure Gourmande as a must-stop for treats before heading for home.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The planning begins...

     In January 2012, we heard rumor that Disney Cruise Line was going to take the Disney Magic back to the Mediterranean for the Summer 2013 season and that one of the itineraries would include Venice, Italy.

Map of Venice
Google Map Image with Venice pin-pointed

     In addition to Venice, there would be several ports that would be new to us on this journey, including:
  • Piraeus, Greece (jumping off point for Athens)
  •  Kusadasi, Turkey (access to the ancient city of Ephesus)
  • Mykonos (a beautiful Greek island)
  • Valetta, Malta and
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia
     For me, planning a trip is as much fun as actually going on the journey, so having new places to explore both before and during this vacation held a great deal of appeal.  And while we have already been to Barcelona, Villefranche-sur-Mer, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, and Naples, we knew there was so much more to see and experience in each of these ports as well.

     A few days after booking our cruises, our Friday night date at Costco yielded a find for me that has become invaluable: Rick Steves' Mediterranean Cruise Portsbook. This book is full of information about each of the ports we will be visiting and includes helpful hints about getting around the area with local transportation, self-guided tours, and suggestions for restaurants, shopping, and sightseeing.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

And so we begin

This journey began with a promise several years ago when our older son was still in elementary school and we had just begun our love affair with cruising. He expressed an interest in going to Venice to see the canals. We told him then that if we had not made it to Venice before he graduated high school, we would take a cruise that included a stop in Venice for his graduation trip. He is now finishing his junior year of high school, so while this trip is a little early for high school graduation, it makes sense for us to do it now while we can sail with Disney Cruise Line (DCL) and he can still participate in their fabulous youth activities programs with his younger brother.

While other cruiselines have a single itinerary for the Aegean Sea and include Venice, Dubrovnik, Athens and other Greek Islands, DCL is offering two itineraries: one that includes Venice and Dubrovnik and one that includes Athens, Ephesus, and Mykonos. Therein lies the dilemma for us; DH (dear husband of mine) wanted to also go to Athens, so with some serious number crunching and use of our Disney Vacation Club points, we were able to reserve a cabin for both itineraries and sail back-to-back. After all, if we're paying for airfare from the US to Barcelona, we might as well stay a while, right?

So here's the itinerary for the first cruise: Barcelona, Villefranche, La Spezia (Italy), Civitavecchia (Italy), Piraeus (Athens), Kusadasi (Ephesus, Turkey), Mykonos (Greece), and Valleta (Malta).

And here's the itinerary for the second cruise: Barcelona, Villefranche, La Spezia (Italy), Civitavecchia (Italy), Naples (Italy), Venice (Italy), Dubrovnik (Croatia), and Valleta (Malta).

While several of the ports not only repeat for these two itineraries, we have been to Barcelona, Villefranche, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, and Naples before when we first cruised in the Mediterranean in 2007. But these ports are all jumping off spots for so many rich experiences and beautiful places that while the destination is the same, the experience will not be.

So welcome to our journey! We're glad to have you follow along with us as we plan and travel.