Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter eggs from Croatia

We have hired a tour guide for our day in Dubrovnik and he has been sending us bits of history and culture about Croatia in response to our interest in learning more before we arrive.  As today is Easter, I thought I would share the pictures and information he sent about "Easter eggs" from his area.  I hope you find it as interesting as we have.

Easter in Dubrovnik presents the spirit of tradition and the Catholic spirit of the people who piously attend celebrations of the Holy Week particularly the ceremonious procession under the Cross on Good Friday, and share gifts such as painted eggs, pinca (a special Easter cake).

During Holy Week eggs are painted in the old-fashioned way typical of the Dubrovnik coastline and Konavle. The painted eggs are characterized by neat and beautiful decoration, written messages and congratulatory messages which are typical of the region. Although the old egg-painting technique seems to be exceptionally complex at first, the experienced women of Primorje and Konavle maintain otherwise. They claim that the more experience you have in painting the eggs the more beautiful they look. The drawings on the raw eggs are made using melted beeswax into which one plunges a needle attached to a piece of wood, most often laurel or grapevine.

The “penica” (penitza) is used for writing the messages. In old times, when the old hearths were still used, women used to hold in their laps bowls with ashes and live coals on which the wax melted in the steady high temperature. Nowadays, the bowls are placed on the cooking stove or on a
special little device with candles that melt wax and make the work easier.

They say that at Easter the first painted egg is given as a present to the person who is dearest to you. It is thus not surprising that the main motif on many of the painted eggs is a heart. Painted eggs were mainly aimed at expressing love and affection, and such a gift often revealed a fancy for someone and hidden feelings. People thus took good care when choosing the person to whom they would present the egg. Particularly valued were eggs painted in red, which symbolized life and nature.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wrinkles be gone

I was putting some clothes away that had been in my suitcase last week and I noticed how wrinkled a few of the shirts were.  No matter how carefully you pack, clothes can still end up wrinkled after spending a few days in a suitcase.

But not to worry - Downy makes a product that can take care of those wrinkles in just minutes, and no trekking to the laundry room to use an iron!  It's the Downy Wrinkle Releaser Spray.  This product has been around for several years and we have used it successfully to help wrinkles just fall out of our clothes.  Just put your clothes on a hanger, spritz with the spray, and give the clothes a few shakes, then let them hang for a few minutes while the rest of the wrinkles fall right out.  We have used this product on multiple occasions with good results.  However, I should note that if the clothing is really wrinkled, don't expect this to take away all ironing requirements, but for those that are travel-wrinkles or packing wrinkles, this does the job!

So what about ironing on a cruise ship?  You don't want to look a mess, but the ship specifically prohibits items such as irons and steamers.  There are a couple of options, depending on the ship you're on.  Disney Cruise Line has self-service laundry rooms on each of their ships, and within each one is an iron and ironing board (or two) that are available for guests to use.  The laundry room irons get busy beginning an hour or so before main dining as people are getting ready for dinner, but early in the morning or mid-afternoon are good times to go freshen up any clothing needed for the next few days.

The other option is to take advantage of the ship's laundry service.  Most ships offer a pressing service for about half the cost of laundering.  You just lay out the items you need pressed, fill out a laundry ticket and provide the items to your stateroom host and go about your day.  Later the same day (or next if you give them later in the day), your clothes come back, neatly pressed and ready to go.  The bill for the ironing is added to your stateroom account.

Here's a YouTube about bundle-wrapping to give you some tips on how to pack without wrinkles.  Enjoy.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Mickey Rice Krispy Treats

One of my favorite snacks on Disney Cruise Line is the rice krispy treats shaped like Mickey on a stick.  Sometimes they have these available at the Castaway Club (returning cruisers) meet and greet, and sometimes they have them at other events on board.  While many people like the ones with the chocolate dip on the ears, I prefer the plain ones.  There is a rumor that you can get these from room service but that is still to be verified and to be determined if they are free from room service or one of the things they charge extra for.

For our fellow passengers, let this serve as notice that if you find yourselves in possession of any of these that you don’t want, you can drop them off at our cabin (you know the number).  We’ll be glad to take them off your hands.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pizza in Naples

The one thing I want to do in Naples is have some authentic pizza. This place is rated the #3 restaurant in Naples on TripAdvisor. I think I need to go in search of it.

Pizzeria da Gaetano

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Colloseum, Colosium, Coliseum

We bought our tickets today for the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. They are also valid for the Coliseum. Which I just today learned is the preferred way of spelling the name of this architectural wonder.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When in Rome...

We have many of our days planned out by doing excursions through the cruise line, but for our day in Rome, we have hired Rome in Limo to pick us up at the port of Civitavecchia and take us on a guided tour of the city.  Because we've seen several of the most popular sites, we have been talking to friends and family who have been to Rome as well as reading on our usual haunts: and  We have made our short list:

  • The Forum  
  • Basilica San Clemente 
  • Circus Maximus
  • Mamertine Prison
  • Palatine Hill
  • Baths of Caracalla
  • Victor Emmanuel Monument that has a lift that takes you the top to see "Rome from the sky" 
Here's a sneak peek:

Monday, March 25, 2013

La Sagrada Familia

Basilica Visit

We will arrive in Barcelona two mornings before we are scheduled to board the ship, so we have time to recuperate from traveling to Spain and still be able to do some sight-seeing.  Because I'd like us to be coherent when we see more of the city, we will do the majority of it on our full day in Barcelona.  To that end, I bought our tickets today for the Sagrada Familia.  We will be able to tour the basilica, museum, and facades of this iconic building in the center of the city.

The church of La Sagrada Família is a work in progress, being built from donations since it was begun in 1882. At the end of 1883, Gaudí carried on the work of building the church, and after his death in 1926, different architects have continued the work. The building is still going on and could be finished some time in the first third of the 21st century.
While we are not students of architecture, we do know what we like and we recognize the important influence architects have in history, their works reflecting the mood of the period, telling stories in their design and ability to withstand time.  Barcelona is very much a gallery for Gaudi's work and worth stopping to admire the longstanding mark he has left on the area.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Average Temperatures

We spent this last week on spring break visiting family in Kentucky.  While there, the temperatures dropped to the 20s at night and barely made it to the low 40s during the day. It was cold and miserable weather-wise, but we enjoyed the time with the relatives, especially as we celebrated DH's father's 90th birthday.

We had been to Kentucky for Christmas and had said then that we didn't want to go back when it was going to be so cold. We never expected it to be cold in late March, but considering our luck with weather on vacation, we shouldn't have been surprised.  In 2009, we spent a cold winter at Disneyland one week in June.  Our shorts and t-shirts had to be supplemented with hoodies and sweatshirts to keep warm. 

In 2010, we cruised in the North Sea and the Baltics.  We expected to have cooler weather for much of the trip, so we packed accordingly. Thankfully we also packed some warm-weather attire because while in St. Petersburg, Russia and Helsinki, Finland, both cities experienced 100-year record highs in the 90s!  So much for the cooler weather we were expecting compared to the heat of the southern US in the summer.

This led me to wonder about the average high temperatures for the ports we'll be visiting this summer.  It appears that the average temperatures for June and July will be mild with the more southern areas being warmer than Venice which will be the furthest north we're going.  In fact, here's what we can expect:
  • Barcelona - 77 F
  • Southern France - 70 F
  • Florence - 77 F
  • Rome - 75 F
  • Athens - 81 F
  • Mykonos - 79 F
  • Kusadasi, Turkey - 81 F
  • Malta - 79 F
  • Naples - 76 F
  • Venice - 73 F
  • Dubrovnik - 72 F
Being ones to learn from experience, we'll be packing for both warm and cooler weather.  And no matter the temperatures we face, it will have to be better than the average high of 92 F where we would be otherwise.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Magic Fountain of Montjuic

There are so many things we would like to see and do in Barcelona, and the more we read and research, the more extensive the list becomes. In order to accomplish more in the limited time we have, we plan to use the evening hours on our second night to trek over to the Magic Fountain of Montjuic. 

First created in 1929 as part of the Great Universal Exhibition, the Magic Fountain has been amazing and entertaining guests ever since. We will join others who are cruising with us for the evening spectacular before boarding our ship the next day. 

The link here is for a YouTube video of the Magic Fountain. Enjoy. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shout Out to my planner friends

We met some friends for dinner this week who like to travel as much as we do. It was fun to compare notes on places we have been in common and hear about places that are on our "to go" list. We appreciate their shared enthusiasm for our summer plans.

Planning is such a kick for me and having others to share it with makes it even more fun. The folks over on DISBoards and CruiseCritic are such a wealth of information that I don't know how much we would miss out on without their advice, suggestions and links to ticket sales and reservations. Let this blog entry serve as a recommendation for both sites for cruise and travel planning.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why blog?

When we decided to use our vacation club points for the Greece itinerary, we knew that spring break would be tough because we were foregoing our usual trip to Disney World where I always enjoy the Flower and Garden Festival. We were right, but fortunately we have plenty of friends in both real life and online who have kept our photo feeds full of pictures from the events. While it is not the same as being there ourselves, we are excited for them to experience it and happy that they have shared their time and experiences virtually.

Someone asked me why I am blogging this trip, particularly in detail before going. My answer is that I enjoy reading and researching about places and events and I know others do, too, so if our planning and preparation can help someone else, then we are glad to do it. Not only that, but I know how much I enjoy following along with others on similar journeys and learn so much from them.

I hope our virtual broadcast of this adventure brings entertainment and information to those interested.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The big enough cabin

We recently stayed in a hotel room that is larger than the cabin we will be in on our cruise this summer. There were two queen beds, a sitting area with a pull out sofa, a mini-kitchenette, and the bathroom.  There were several outlets for charging electronics, and there was free wifi.  The tv was a 32-inch flat screen with DirectTV service. 

Why does this matter? And how is this related to our Mediterranean cruise?

For people who have never cruised, they might think that a ship cabin is like a hotel room.  In a lot of ways it is, but when it comes to square footage, the ship cabins are usually smaller. In fact, our deluxe family cabin is only 268 sq ft including the space of the verandah.  

There is one bed which can be set up as two twins or made into a small king, and the sofa in the cabin flips over to make a bed the size of a twin only slightly narrower.  There is an upper berth that folds into the ceiling during the day and is let down each evening by your stateroom host. This configuration lets four people sleep in a single cabin.  Depending on your sleeping arrangement needs, it's important to check with the cruise line or your travel agent when booking a cabin to know just how the beds in different categories and on different ships can be configured to accommodate your needs. 

Another difference is that while there might not seem to be a lot of storage space in the cabin, some creative double hanging and folding can actually get most of your things put into place. That's assuming you haven't over packed.  Our experience with cruising has helped us figure where everything goes in the cabin and allows us to unpack rather than live out of suitcases like we do in hotel rooms. 

One disadvantage on a ship is that there are not many outlets to plug things in. In fact, on our ship, there are two plugs available on the desk and if you're lucky, you can pull the tv out enough to access the outlet behind it.  And while we aren't constantly using iPods, kindles, etc., we do like to keep our camera charged, too. So we work it out by taking turns and plugging each other's gadgets in when there is an available power supply. 

The tv is small, but who has time for tv while cruising? Well, we do! They broadcast port information, shore excursions, special talks, and even some of the main theater shows over the onboard tv circuit. There is an information channel with weather, ship route, and other information. There is even a channel that shows the view from the front of the ship. They show movies, too.

The part about a Disney cruise ship cabin that is different than a hotel room is the Pixie Dust... It's the pixie dust that magically makes a 268 sq ft cabin be the right size for its occupants and all their belongings. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Someone has been reading our blog...

We were at the barber shop on Saturday getting haircuts for all three of the guys.   As it happened, only one barber was in rather than the usual three, but as luck would have it, there were no other customers. So for the next 45 minutes, a member of our family was getting a haircut. 

While we were there, a woman came in with a boy about 7 years old. She was in a hurry and her boy "needed" a haircut. The barber was working on head number two in our family, and another man had come in, so he kindly told her there were two more ahead of her. 

She was heading out of town to catch a flight later that afternoon from an airport that was 4 1/2 hours away.  She went on and on about how she wanted her son to look nice for the family they would be seeing at the other end of their flight. I think she was hoping someone would let her jump ahead and get the boy's haircut, but the barber didn't even give them a chance.  She asked for recommendations of where else she could go and he suggested just wait til she got where she was going when she would have time to get it done.  He did give the boy a piece of bubblegum and two lollipops for the plane. 

My guys looked at me as if to say, "why would you wait until the last minute to get your haircut when you are heading out of town?"  

It's almost as if they have been reading my blog posts. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pre-Cruise Fitness

While a lot of planning can go into the logistics and details for a vacation such as this Mediterranean adventure, there's more to getting ready than arranging transportation, scheduling excursions, and packing.  One aspect is getting physically ready for such a port-intensive itinerary.

Our journey will include 18 days in ports and 8 days at sea.  Each day in port will have us taking a tour that involves a lot of walking and standing as we learn about the places we are visiting. Some will have more walking than others.  And the days at sea won't find us just sitting on a lounge chair; our cabin on Deck 6 is three flights above the main dining and entertainment deck and three decks below the buffet, pool, and recreation deck. That means plenty of opportunity to take the stairs every day!

It's important to train for vacation.  I always think I will do that before we go, and based on previous experiences, I know I should, but yet I never have, and I always pay the price.  The first day on board, you have so much adrenaline and determination that you'll take the stairs so as to offset the wonderful food selections, so you do just that.  But two days later, you experience the post-stair strain in your calves that make it hard to walk without a weird gait.  Or you go on an excursion that includes more walking than you expected, or perhaps it's at an incline and you find yourself falling behind the group or breathing so heavily that the tour guide wonders if you'll need an oxygen mask.

No one wants to spend their vacation hurting, so planning ahead with some vacation-focused exercise is one way to prepare for the trip.  Think about what activities you'll be doing on your vacation - walking, biking, kayaking, climbing ruins - and tailor your exercise routine to strengthen and tone your body so that these activities will be fun and enjoyable and not leave unwanted memories of how sore you were the next day.  Whether you go for a walk around the neighborhood or increase your time on the treadmill at the gym, incorporating exercise into your pre-vacation routine will benefit you and your family.

This post is mostly directed at me and my languishing membership at the local gym. We have less than three months until we fly across the big blue ocean and that's plenty of time to improve my level of fitness so I'll be able to keep up and enjoy the activities we have planned.  After all, planning is half the fun of a vacation; the actual doing is the other half!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Contingency plans

We have several friends who are cruising for Spring Break this year.  It has been fun to watch and listen to them preparing for their vacations, some for the first time on a ship. The last few days have been filled with panicked Facebook statuses about whether they will get everything packed, and once packed, will they be able to Tetris it into their cars or be under baggage weight restrictions imposed by the airlines? There has been a steady stream of photos of beds full of clothes and foyers full of luggage. But the one thing they all have is the excitement of spending a week at sea. 

Unfortunately, some of our friends have had their Spring Break plans cancelled because of issues with the ship they were to be aboard. What a disappointment for them, after weeks (and even months) of planning, and that leads me to think about what if that happened to us?  It's part of why we buy travel insurance whenever we plan a trip that costs more than we can afford to lose or involves more time off than we typically are allowed from work.  We understand that this could happen, and while we hope that our trip will go off without a hitch, we do think about contingency plans.

In this case, contingency plans will include arranging to still visit Venice and then spending some time in Florence and Paris, places we have wanted to go.  We view cruises as a sampler, giving us a chance to visit cities for a brief time and then decide if we want to go back some day for a longer, land-based visit. While we haven't been to any of these three cities before (minus DH who was in Paris as a teenager), our research for this cruise lead me to believe that several days in each city would be a suitable consolation prize. 

But here's hoping we won't have to do anything different than enjoy the itinerary we already have in place.  Where would you go if your plans changed? Leave us a message in the comments. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tips for surviving port-intensive itineraries with children

On one of the planning boards I read, someone asked about how to deal with children (of various ages) on port intensive itineraries such as the cruises we are doing.  Here's what I replied:

My advice when dealing with kids on these port intensive days is to keep them hydrated, let them sleep during transporation, bring breakfast to the cabin for them if they want so they don't have to get up quite so early. Lay their clothes out for them so it's easier to get up and dressed. Sunscreen, hat (if they'll wear one). Some portable snacks even if it's a box of cereal off the breakfast buffet - we take a lot of froot loops in our bag.

While you want them to take everything in, remember that they aren't going to be as interested as you so if they are drifting off or staring into space, don't worry about it.

We talk to our kids ahead of time about behavior and how, even when they are tired, they still need to be courteous and polite to us, to each other, to the other guests on the tour, and to the tour guide(s). And that we will be the same towards them. 

Make sure to have sunglasses, don't fret if they want to bring their handheld video game - they are likely listening to the tour guide talk even if they aren't looking out the windows. Encourage them to find a shady spot to stand if available and no worries if they do actually sit down on the ground. They'll get up.

And when you get back on ship, don't push dinner if they don't want to go - they may want to run off and play with their new friends or youth programs - after all, for most of our kids, it's more about being on a cruise ship than it is about what they'll see or do in the ports.

Try to find something fun about each excursion - maybe get gelato at each port, or have a particular souvenir to collect - that's how my boys started collecting thimbles and spoons - we started in Capri in 2007. It became a quest. Still is.

And on the sea days, let them sleep til they wake up and you absolutely HAVE to get them up so your cabin can be cleaned.  We have had to enforce a curfew on nights before early excursion times because we knew they needed to be more rested - they quickly learned that the extra time sleeping was much better than the time spent doing activities.

So what about you?  What advice do you have for dealing with children on port-intense days?  Post your tips in the comments.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

That's closed on Tuesday? Bummer! (or, why advanced planning matters)

Some friends of ours have recently returned from a cruise out of Civitavecchia and were able to spend a few days in Rome before sailing.  Before they left, I told them when they returned, I wanted to hear about what they experienced, particularly if they did things that were not quite on the beaten path.  We will have a private tour in Rome and get to lay out our itinerary, so we were hoping our friends would come back with a recommendation or two.

And they did!  The first place is Palazzo Valentini where some of the remains of ancient Rome are on permanent display. But as I'm writing this blog entry, I've discovered that they are closed on Tuesdays which is when we'll be there.  Let this be an example of exactly why I take planning our trips so seriously... there are often things we would want to do that if we waited until the last minute to try to purchase tickets or schedule tours, there would not be availability or we'd find it was closed.

Another example is in Barcelona, there is something called the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc which is a fountain display set to lights and music.  We first thought this would be something to do on our last evening in Barcelona before coming home. But it turns out that the show is only performed Thursday through Sunday, and since our last night in Barcelona is a Tuesday night, we'd be out of luck.  However, because we'll be arriving in Barcelona on a Thursday morning and not heading out until Saturday afternoon on the ship, we have time to see this magic fountain before boarding the Disney Magic.  (See what I just did there? Magic - Magic?)  If we hadn't looked at the time schedule, we would have just planned to see it at the end and been disappointed, especially since we have time and opportunity on the front end of the trip.

So on to the next site in Rome, the Basilica San Clemente - home to magnificent frescoes and a 12th century mosaic.  It appears that this is a self-guided tour and they are open only specific hours, in this case in the mornings until 12:30 and then opening up for the afternoon at 3 p.m., so we have to plan to see this in the morning that we will be in Rome because of travel time back to the port.

So you can see that it does pay to do research while planning a trip such as this one; but even when planning things in great detail, we leave room for unexpected opportunities to open up. It takes experience to "let go" of the best laid plans and just go with the flow, but having a plan is a lot better than wasting time when no one can decide where to go next.  Our vacation time is limited and we cherish each moment.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

So What's in Your Travel Medicine Bag?

My husband often reminds me that when we're on a cruise ship, it's not like we're going to a third world country without access to modern day marvels like ibuprofen and cough syrup. But the planner and preparer that I am, I don't leave home for an extended trip without either.  I know I could find both onboard the ship or from a local drug store in any of the ports we visit, but when it's late (or super early) and someone has a headache or beginning of a cough, you don't want to wait to be able to buy what you need.

That doesn't mean I pack the whole medicine cabinet to bring with us.  In fact, here's what you'll find in our medicine bag:
  • Bonine - this product is our go-to for motion sickness. We find it's best to take it around sailaway party time and it's in effect by the time dinner rolls around. While we didn't feel the sea much in the Med in 2007, others have reported some summer storms can toss the ship about, so it's better to be prepared than not. I found these to be good when whale-watching in Alaska, too.
  • Ibuprofen
  • Junior Strength Tylenol (chewable) - for those members of our traveling party who don't do so well at swallowing pills
  • Benadryl - You never know when you might have an allergic reaction to something
  • Liquid cough medicine - that tickle in your throat might be more.
  • Pepto-Bismol (chewable) - Travel-tummy, enough said?
  • Tums - Too much rich food.
  • Hydrocortisone cream - perfect for those mysterious bug bites or itches
In addition, we take a small first aid kit complete with bandaids of various sizes, cleansing wipes, and some antibiotic ointment.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Celebrating a birthday at sea

It’s always fun to celebrate your birthday, but what if you can do it while on a cruise ship?


This summer, our older son will turn 17 during our cruise. This won’t be his first birthday on a cruise ship; in 2011 he turned 15 while sailing through the inside passage of Alaska.  He isn’t one for a lot of fuss; in fact, he prefers we not mention it at all.  But we can’t let a birthday go uncelebrated, so we decorate our cabin door with a party hat, and Mickey and the gang will send a card with some confetti at some point during the day.  He has already ordered his birthday present because he wanted it for the trip – the new Nintendo 3DS. 


But what about those of you who do want to celebrate onboard?  Cruise lines offer a variety of celebration packages including decorations for the cabin and a special cake to be delivered to your cabin or dining table.  Of course these come with a price, so you do-it-yourselfers might want to bring your own party decorations.  Just remember to not hang anything from the fire sprinkler nor over the balcony railing, and please, no lighting the candles (safety first).  Treat yourself to a spa appointment or personal training session in the gym; take an onboard class like towel folding or mixology; let the entertainers at the pre-dinner music sets know it’s your birthday and they’ll sing for you.


However you decide to celebrate your birthday or a loved one’s, may it be a special day full of enchanting memories.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

So what about gratuities?

First-time cruisers often ask about gratuities for the ship's crew that serve their meals, clean their cabins, and generally look after your needs whether onboard for a few days or over a week.  These crew members work hard around the clock to make sure that the cabin is clean, with fresh towels, emptied trash cans, and beds made up during the day and turned down invitingly in the evenings, often with a towel folded into the shape of an animal. They make sure there is hot, fresh food ready no matter the time of day so when you're hungry, there's something to eat.  They place napkins in your lap, remember your preferred beverages, and serve your dinner with a smile. They will go out of their way to bring your favorite dessert (see Crème Brûlée Cheesecake post) even if it's served in another dining location.

Tipping is handled differently on each cruise line, but generally guests pay their gratuities all together, a specified amount for each crew member based on the job that was performed. On Disney Cruise Line, the recommended tipping is $12 per day per person in a stateroom, split up like this:  $4 for the cabin steward, $4 for the main dining server, $3 for the assistant dining server, and $1 for the dining room head waiter.  That's about $4/day for someone to clean up after you in your room, and $8/day for meals - which if you normally tip 15% of your bill, that's about $53 worth of dining out per day. 

You can pre-pay your gratuities before sailing, or you can have the gratuities added to your stateroom account before the end of the cruise. If you choose either of these methods, the gratuities are automatically processed and added to the crew member's account, so no money need exchange hands. Cruise lines encourage this as part of their cashless environment.  But as a guest, you are welcome to give cash to the crew members in whatever amount you want. Some people like to pre-pay their gratuities and then, for a job well done, will add some extra cash to their tip envelope.  One thing that some cruise lines offer is a set of envelopes for you to give to the crew members who have served you during your vacation.  For pre-paid or tips charged to your stateroom, they will leave a ticket for you to include in the envelope that you can hand to the crew member directly.

However you decide to take care of gratuities, the one thing to remember is Don't Forget!  Many crew members are working for very minimal wages and the gratuities they receive make up a large portion of their wages.  Here's an article with more information from Cruise Critic.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Few things on our Packing List

Packing for a month-long vacation sounds like it could be a daunting task, but when we rely on our experience, particularly from cruising, it's really not as much as it seems.  I've blogged before about figuring out how many outfits to take, whether to do laundry or not (yes, a must for us), and thinking of the other things you want to take with you.  So for this post, we'll share some of the things we've found to be essential and some we've found nice to have along when cruising.

The first item is a collapsible laundry hamper with handles.  Or in our case, three of these.  We set them up in the closet of the cabin and have one for light clothes, one for darks, and one for socks and underwear.  This separates the clothes when they are ready to be laundered and make it easy to grab a full hamper to take to the laundry room.  And even when we don't do laundry on vacation, we've found these hampers to be handy for packing the dirty clothes for the trip home so that once we are ready to wash clothes, they are already sorted.   The ones we have are the Mainstays Basic Pop Up Hamper from Walmart; they run about $5 each and come in basic colors like red, white, black, and navy blue.

Another item we have found useful on a cruise is the over-the-door shoe holder, but not for holding shoes.  We hang this up over the bathroom door and fill its many pockets with items that we want easy access to but don't want to clutter the very limited counter space in the bathrooms, such as toothbrushes, combs, and deoderant.  Some people like to use these on the outside of the bathroom door to place keys, sunglasses, sunscreen, and such so they are in one place.

When traveling, particularly by air, taking laundry detergent with you can be a bit tricky. You don't want to take a heavy bottle of liquid detergent nor worry about smaller bottles leaking and ruining your luggage. And you don't want to pack powdered detergent and have it be examined by the TSA.  Of course you can always buy some when you get where you're going, but on a cruise ship, that's going to cost you at least $1 per load, assuming the ship hasn't run out of it by the time you're ready to use it.  We discovered a perfect solution a few years ago, the Purex 3-in-1 laundry sheets. Now we understand that these are getting harder to find, so if you have travel plans, you might want to stock up on them before they go away. 

These are just a few of our tried-and-true items that we pack for every cruise. If you have something you can't travel without, share it with us in the comments.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pre-Travel To-Do's

I am forever making lists of things to do before leaving for vacation.  I know I'm not the only one who does this because there are many apps for that.  In fact, CNN posted an article with the 50 Ultimate Travel Apps back in September 2012, and while some of them may be outdated, others are tried-and-true and have survived the ever-changing app market.  AppCraver has a Travel Apps section for iOS.

Each app has specific features that aid in travel planning and trip preparation.  There are so many to choose from that it can be overwhelming, so I recommend downloading a few and trying them out. See if they can do the things you want to do.  Some folks like just a general idea of what they need to do when traveling, while others (guilty!) want a check-list down to the minutest detail.  Some require access to the internet while others are untethered, and, in my opinion, better suited for travel planning.

In case you like to just keep your pre-travel to-do list in your head, here's a poem for you.

Stop the mail, stop the news.
Check the fit of each one's shoes.
Board the pets, check the meds.
Cut the hair on each one's head.
Confirm the tickets, charge the phone
Pay the lights, and pay the loans.
Clean out the frig, take out the trash
Go to the bank and get some cash.

Feel free to add your own to-do couplet in the comments.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

In Search of David...

By this time next week, we will have been able to book our excursions for the 2nd portion of our back-to-back cruises.  The most important one for us is the Florence and Michelangelo excursion that is offered only on this cruise and not the one before because it goes to the Accademia Museum which is closed on Mondays; the 2nd itinerary will port in La Spezia on a Saturday.

The tour description from DCL is:

  • Take a scenic 2.5-hour drive (approximate) through Tuscany to Florence.
  • Take a 2.5-hour walking tour including Piazza Santa Croce with its classic Franciscan Basilica and Piazza della Signoria, dominated by the crenellated towers of the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery (external visit only).
  • Stroll across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge with its built-in shops and reach the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, the iconic cathedral, famous for its Brunelleschi cupola known as "Il Duomo" and its ornate bronze doors called "The Gates of Paradise."
  • Enter the Accademia di Belle Arti Museum with its multitude of priceless works. On one floor find the original plaster model for the "Ratto delle Sabine" by Giambologna. In a separate hall, observe incomplete works by Michelangelo, which give invaluable insight into the artist's process, and experience the masterpiece, "David."
  • Have approximately 2 hours of free time for shopping, independent sightseeing and lunch on your own.
  • Take the approximate 2.5-hour drive back to the pier.

We didn't make the trip to Florence in 2007 because we were in Rome for a full day just before our stop in La Spezia and we knew we would be exhausted at that point.  But I always said if we were ever to cruise in the Mediterranean again, I wanted to spend some time in Florence.  This excursion is a full day but I am looking forward to not only seeing the sites included, but having some free time as well.  Because Florence is 2 1/2 hours away from La Spezia, we feel like it's better for us to use a ship-sponsored tour than going it on our own.  Rome is quite a bit closer to Civitavecchia so we are more comfortable with a private excursion there.

When we were in Copenhagen in 2010, we saw a replica of David outside the city on the edge of the waterway.  I told DH then that I wanted to see the real deal, so if all goes according to plan, that will happen for us this summer.

As an aside, when I googled for an image of The David to use for this blog post, this was one of the top images.

Gratuitous Photo of David Beckam
Ladies, you're welcome!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

H2O Plus Products on Disney Cruise Line

One of my favorite things about Disney Cruise Line is their line of shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion.  Part of the H2O Plus line of bath and body products, the Sea Marine shampoo and conditioner works well and smells wonderfully fresh.  The hydrating body butter (lotion) is thick and creamy and really hydrates skin that has been out in the sun and wind.  I like that these products are provided in sizes where you can actually get more than one head of hair washed, and you aren't squeezing the last of the lotion out in just one day. 
The first time we sailed, I learned that if you ask, your cabin steward will provide you with an extra set to take home; and after several sailings, I learned that if you let your cabin steward know early on how much you love the products, if he is able, he will hook you up with enough to last for a couple of weeks after you get home.  I probably shouldn't tell you about the time we had to shift the contents of our luggage to distribute the weight of the extra lotion we brought home!*  It makes a great gift for family and friends! 
We do ration out the shampoo once we are home because we want to have it last as long as possible but still enjoy using it.  There are times when things are crazy-busy at home and no vacation in the near future that just using the products can help us escape, even if just for a short while.
* DH has already said he's not going to carry on an extra bag for our return trip this summer just so I can pack extra shampoo, conditioner, and lotion to tide me over until our next DCL cruise.  Probably a good thing since we don't have our sights set on another DCL at this point.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

100 días hasta Barcelona... or 100 days until Barcelona

The countdown can really begin now that we are 100 days from our arrival in Barcelona!
That is all.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Daylight Saving Time and Sunsets

Daylight Saving Time is approaching this weekend. The first few days are particularly tough as it will be dark again when we head out for our day, but the extra bit of daylight after work and school activities will be welcomed.  Our son found this YouTube video that does a good job of explaining how Daylight Saving Time came to be.

We particularly enjoy the benefit of the later sunset while on vacation.  The extra daylight hours mean more time to enjoy the new cities we are visiting, and while cruising, we are more likely to be able to enjoy a sunset that doesn't come in the middle of dinner.
When we leave from home, the sunset will be at 8:39 PM local time.  According to, we can expect sunset to occur later than home in many of our ports.
9:26 PM
9:15 PM
Italy – Florence and Rome
8:48 PM
8:51 PM
8:40 PM
8:22 PM
Italy – Venice
9:15 PM
8:49 PM

As an aside, when we were on a Baltic cruise in 2010, we had an overnight stop in St. Petersburg, Russia.  One of the shore excursions was an evening boat tour on the river. I was very excited to get to see St. Petersburg at night, but what I hadn't accounted for was how very far north we were and that it never truly got dark!  Our evening boat ride was ending right around sunset - well after 10 PM!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Getting Around Venice

Spending time in Venice is one of the highlights of our trip, so we want to maximize our visit without wasting time or money in getting around. We know that traveling on the canals is part of the adventure of Venice, but we do have some scheduled activities that we need to be on time for and we certainly don't want to be late for the ship's departure!

There are several options for getting from the cruise terminal in Venice to where the main action is, Piazza San Marco, aka St. Marks Square.  We found a site that outlines the possibilities from walking (most time, least money) to water taxis (most expensive) and combinations in between.  The cruise line will provide transportation for any excursions booked through them, and they have an option of just transportation to and from St. Marks Square for $49 a piece, or we can get a 24-hour Vaporetto ticket for 18 Euro each.  The Vaporetto is Venice's water bus system, and their routes take you all over the Venice waterways.  We think we'll skip the gondola rides at about 80 euro per gondola, but we read that you can sometimes get a gondola to ferry you across the canal for 1 euro each, so we may look for that as a way to still get to experience a gondola. 

Once we're out of the cruise terminal area, many of the sites that tourists are interested in can be reached on foot.  We are planning to go over to Murano to see the glass makers on the first afternoon as part of a DCL sponsored excursion, but we have tickets to tour Doge's Palace and participate in their Secret Itinerary tour on the morning of our second day, so we have to figure out how to get there from the ship on our own.

We've had friends who have recently been to Venice share their tips for getting around, but if you have some to offer, please leave them in the comments!

Saturday, March 2, 2013


A few years after DH and I were married, I got my first passport. Even though I had traveled out of the U.S. before this, I'd only used my driver's license and birth certificate.  In 1985, I went to Canada during spring break, and in 1987 I spent a week in Trinidad.  In 1992 we honeymooned in Mexico.  We knew we wanted to travel, not only in the U.S., but internationally, so I needed to get a passport.

The first ten years went by and my passport expired with me having been nowhere beyond the borders of the U.S.; it was stamp-free and in pristine condition.  How sad is that?  During those ten years, we'd had two children and it wasn't until 2003 that we began to seriously consider traveling out of the U.S. again.  My first trip using my renewed passport was in 2005 when we sailed on a Disney Cruise to the Western Caribbean. Even then we could have used a birth certificate / driver's license combination, but having the passport was easier to deal with. Our children got their passports then as well.

Laws and requirements have changed so much in recent years that it's best to consult the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs before traveling to be sure that you know what you'll need for exiting and entering the U.S.  If you don't have a passport already, you can obtain one in less than a month's time generally, but it's recommended that you do it 3-4 months in advance of your travel dates.  Also it is currently required for entrance into some countries that your U.S. passport be valid for 6 months or more after your scheduled date of return.

Passports for youth are valid for half the time as adult passports, so we've had to renew our sons' passports already. At least they had used theirs unlike my first one.  We have learned that when traveling via cruise ship, it's not often that you'll get a stamp in your passport, but you can find government officials at various port terminals who are willing to inspect your documents and stamp your passport.  For some ports, you are required to go through Immigration at the port before leaving the cruise ship area or have your passport inspected upon return.  We found this to be the case in both St. Petersburg, Russia, and Stockholm, Sweden when we cruised in the Baltic in 2010.  In 2011, our Alaskan cruise left from Vancouver, so we collected stamps pre-sailing there.

For our trip this summer, we have not found that our passports will be inspected except upon arrival and departure in Barcelona. However, we've learned that we can look for a stamper while in Monte Carlo to add the Principality of Monaco to our passport stamp collection.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Excursion booking night

We booked this trip so many months ago, and now we are ready to book our excursions. This might not seem like a big deal, but for the Disney Cruise Line community, it is!

DCL uses a tier system for allowing guests the ability to book their shore excursions that are sponsored by the cruise line.  Platinum members of the Castaway Club, those who have more than 10 sailings with DCL, can do their online check-in and excursion reservations at 120 days prior to sailing; those with 6-10 sailings get to book at 105 days, and those with 1 - 5 sailings get to book at 90 days out. First time cruisers with DCL have to wait until it's just 75 days before sailing and hope there is something left for them to reserve.

We are gold level members having six DCL cruises under our belts.  Our reservation window opens at midnight tonight, so we, along with our DISBoard friends, are going to make those reservations for our excursions.  The people on the west coast are lucky because they can start booking at 9 p.m. since the midnight is Eastern time.  Of course they aren't so lucky when it's time to fly to Barcelona because it will take them about 4 hours longer to go and to get back home.

We settled on our excursions for the Greece itinerary fairly early; you've read about our plans for the ports in previous posts except for Mykonos and Malta.  In Mykonos, we plan to explore the island and town on our own, and in Malta, we plan to hire a driver and guide through the cruiseline for a tour.

DCL handles their excursion bookings differently than other cruise lines we have sailed with. On other cruise lines, when you make your reservation for an excursion, you have to pay for it right then; with DCL, you aren't charged for your shore excursion until you are onboard the ship. There are advantages to that, the main one being that you can change your mind about what you want to do up until just a few days before you sail without things getting complicated about paying in advance. The disadvantage is that the more popular excursions will have all of the space reserved by people who may not end up taking the excursion but because they have made a reservation, there's not one left for people who really do want to take the tour.  We have learned that if the excursion we want to do has no availability, we should continue to check because as people finalize their plans, space opens up. Or perhaps additional space is added by the tour company and DCL to accommodate the number of guests who want to do a particular activity.

The bottom line is that I have to stay up late tonight so I can be sure to get a reservation for the excursions we want on our first sailing; Monaco, Monte Carlo and Eze, Athens Acropolis Sightseeing and Archaeologlical Museum, and Ephesus, Miletus and Didyma. Plus the driver and guide for Malta.  But no worries - you don't have to stay up with me!  Get some sleep - it's the weekend!