Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Postcards from the Med

Last year some good friends of ours went to Europe for vacation and while there, they spent a day at Disneyland Paris.  Because they know how much we love Disney, they took the time to send us a postcard from there. It hangs proudly on our refrigerator door and brings a great smile to my face when I see it.

In this digital age, postcards aren’t what they used to be. In fact, with the prevalence of smartphones and social media, the days of “wish you were here” are nearly non-existent because one can travel virtually with their family and friends.  Nearly real-time updates can be tweeted and photos shared via Instagram with a few taps on the device of your choice.

But there’s still something about sending a postcard or receiving one from someone traveling. A throwback to a different time, perhaps, when our community wasn’t quite so global and a trip to another country wasn’t as easy as driving to another state.  How many of you have ever gone through your grandparents’ papers and found where they saved a postcard or two from friends who traveled across country?

We are somewhere in the middle with regards to postcards – pen, paper and stamp, or digital?.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you’ll know that we plan to do some “from the road” updates, fully embracing the nearly-real-time ability to post thoughts and pictures from our adventures.  Thanks to the app Postale, we can use our own photos to create postcards that can be delivered digitally by email, Facebook, or Twitter. So don’t be surprised if you’re in our email address book and find a postcard from the Med.

A DISBoard designer made this postcard image which inspired this blog entry.  For information about the history of postcards, you might want to read this post from the Smithsonian.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cinque Terre plans

For our first stop at the port of La Spezia, Italy, we plan to venture to Cinque Terre to explore the five villages.  We are planning to go to the furthest village, Monterosso first, and then work our way back towards La Spezia.

There are three options for visiting Cinque Terre: 1) take the ferry, 2) take the train, or 3) book an excursion through the cruise line.  Option 3 is out for us because it’s pretty pricey compared with what we can do on our own, and while I know it comes with a guide and a guarantee “won’t be left behind” if the tour is running late, we feel like we’re experienced enough to set out on our own.

Of course we won’t really be on our own because there are quite a few people that we’ve become acquainted with on the DISBoards who are also making Cinque Terre a DIY excursion.  We are arming ourselves with the Ferry schedule and the Train schedule.  The ferry takes about two hours to go from La Spezia up to Monterosso, and it stops at each village on the way up and back except for Corniglia which doesn’t have water access.  The train takes about 25 minutes to go from La Spezia up to Monterosso.

The train schedule is such that we can spend a little more than an hour in Monterosso and Vernazza each before needing to take the train to Corniglia if we want to see anything there because mid-day there are a couple of express trains that skip stopping in Corniglia.  (Which is partly why I want to see it because it is skipped over by ferry-boat passengers and often by train passengers.) 

From Corniglia, we would head to Manarola where we can spend another hour or so, and if the Via dell'Amore happens to open within the next six weeks, we’ll be able to stroll the Lover’s Lane from Manarola to Riomaggiore.  The trail has been closed for some time due to damage from flooding and landslides that have made it unsafe for pedestrians, but we will check right up until time to go to see if it reopens as the season begins..

But if the trail isn’t open, we plan to take the train back to Riomaggiore and have a walk-about there before heading back to La Spezia either by train or by ferry, depending on weather and time.  We expect we will walk the 20 minutes or so to the train station in the morning if we’re able to get off the ship early enough.  La Spezia is a tendering port so that means the cruise line will take the passengers who are doing shore excursions booked through them to the shore first; many of them will be heading for all day adventures in Florence, Pisa, and other places.  The rest of us will have to wait for the call for everyone else to tender into port, so that can be a bit of a delay in getting ashore.  We figured we would save our cab fare for the trip from the train station back to where the tenders board at the end of the day. 


Sunday, April 28, 2013

La Sagrada Familia app

The La Sagrada Familia has an official app that will let you take a virtual tour. It includes 360-degree views and recorded information shorts that you can watch.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Let the preparation begin!

I looked at the calendar today and realized that we have fewer weekends to prepare for travel than I thought we did!  The weekdays are full of everyday scheduled things, so Saturdays and Sunday afternoons are the time I have for putting my full attention to the preparation for this trip.

What, you ask? Haven't you been doing that since before you started this blog in February? How much time do you need to get ready for a trip?  Yeah, yeah, I get it - I've been doing a lot to get ready all along, but now I'm anxious to get the suitcases out and start putting things in. I'm ready to have the travel folder divided and labeled by city and port. I'm ready to have some Euros in my hand so I'll know when we get to Barcelona I don't have to find an ATM immediately.  I want to know that the cute t-shirts I just bought will actually go with the shorts and capris I have in my closet. And those are things I have to actually do, not just think about.

But in the meantime, we also have to get through the end of the school year (May 31st can't get here fast enough!) and that means assignments, projects, AP exams, and final exams. It means band concerts and banquets. It means graduation cards and gifts for the seniors we know and love.

And we also have work projects to finish, assignments to handle, arrangements to make to have our work covered while we're gone. Which is part of why the weekdays are so full right now; trying to get those work things out of the way so we can go on vacation! I don't know about the rest of you, but it seems like we work in super-warp-speed right up until the moment we leave the office on the last day before vacation, and then we dance a little jig on the way to the parking lot to remind ourselves why we've been working so much - so we can enjoy the time off that we've looked forward to for so long.  (Note to self: the security cameras ARE operational and will catch that jig on tape.)

So here's to a day full of preparation activities; most of the planning is done but until I do some of the prep, I won't know if I've overlooked something important. Now where did I put that box???

Friday, April 26, 2013

Changes are coming to the Disney Magic

Disney Cruise Line announced today that there are major changes coming to the Disney Magic when she dry-docks this fall.  They’ll be adding water slides, re-designing the atrium, changing one of the main dining rooms, and incorporating their recently acquired Marvel Super Heroes in an Avengers Academy for the youth onboard.

And while the changes that are scheduled look to be exciting and enhancing the Disney cruise experience, we are happy to have one more opportunity to sail on the Magic before she gets her refurbishment.  The first time we sailed on the Magic after our initial cruise, I remember walking into the atrium upon boarding and saying to my family, “We’re home!”  Every time since, we’ve had the same feeling and are looking forward to spending 24 nights in our home at sea.  Now we will be making some “last time” memories, and while we don’t currently have any plans to rebook while onboard, we will definitely want to plan another trip post-drydock.

At least one thing won’t change – being greeted by Mickey and the gang!

For more information about the changes coming to the Disney Magic, check out the Disney Parks Blog.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pins and pens

Clothes pins - for hanging wet swimsuits or keeping the sun from peeking in through the curtain too early.

Safety pins - you never know when a strap or button or hem might come loose.

Disney Trading pins - collectible pins that can be traded with cast members or other guests. DCL usually has some commemorating the cruise itinerary

ATM PIN - so you can get cash for the ports

Highlighter pens - to mark the daily Navigator with what you want to do each day

Ink pens - to leave notes for each other about your whereabouts, to complete comment cards at the end of the trip, to fill out customs forms

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Stranded on Malta

We have mentioned before how one of the things that we find fascinating about the itinerary of our cruise is that we will be visiting places that are mentioned specifically in the Bible. Acts 28:1 tells us that Paul and his companions were shipwrecked on the island of Malta and that the people of Malta showed them great kindness during the three months they were stranded there.

We certainly don't want to be stranded in Malta, but from what we have seen and read of this island, we could easily spend three months getting acquainted with and exploring Malta and her people.

Our bosses, on the other hand, might not be so agreeable.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Double check your port times

It is always a good idea to double check your cruise itinerary including the port times when planning your activities. Our original port time for Dubrovnik was 1:15 PM to 7:00 PM. But today we were alerted that are part time has changed; we will now have an extra two hours because we will arrive in Dubrovnik at 11:15 AM. This is good news because we always felt like we would not have enough time to see Dubrovnik. We have contacted our private tour guide to see if he can meet as two hours earlier than originally planned. We hope so because we would like to still do the tour but also have some additional time for just sitting or walking and looking at what all there is in the city. I am glad we found out now rather then after we had sailed because once we sale it would have been harder to contact our tour guide to make adjustments to our day's plans.

While we are fortunate that our port time has lengthened there are occasions when the time in port is shortened. These changes in schedule are more important to note because if you have a tour scheduled that the times are no longer going to fit within the port time, you don't want to miss your tour or be late returning to the ship.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Pools

When embarking on a Mediterranean cruise as port intensive as most are, it is easy to consider the ship as just a means of transportation. But there are plenty of activities to enjoy on board. Here is a peek at two of the pools found on the Disney Magic: the Mickey pool, complete with slide for the younger set, and the Quiet Cove pool - adults only, please. There is a third pool, the Goofy Pool, that is sometimes covered for deck parties.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

On towel animals...

A favorite thing of ours while cruising is discovering what towel animal our stateroom host will have created for us as part of the evening turn-down service. Will it be a monkey? A swan? An elephant? Or something we may not ever figure out? And on a longer cruise, will the creations repeat, or will we have something new for each of the 12 nights aboard?

Here are a few that others have posted pictures of. And I feel quite certain that we will have pictures of our own to share. In the meanwhile, when you drop your wet towel in a heap on the bathroom floor, tell your loved ones that its not a dirty towel, but a crocodile!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Valletta, Malta

When we scheduled these back-to-back itineraries, we knew there would be some overlap between them that would have us visiting the same ports twice.  The last port for both itineraries is Valletta, Malta, and is a new port for us.  For our first stop, we have engaged a private driver and tour guide to show us around the island of Malta and to hopefully be able to have some ideas for what we might like to see and do when we are back in 12 days for our last port day.

As always, we want to learn about where we'll be and come up with some things we might like to consider.  In this case, we can present our guide and driver with a list of what we've identified as being of interest and then use their expertise to sort out the things that are further away and / or are better seen with a knowledgeable guide versus those that are suitable for a DIY visit.

We started our research at Cruise Critic, of course, which provides information about where the ship will dock, how to get into town, what currency is (or isn't) accepted (no US dollars), and even what souvenirs to look for.  But for more information about the area itself, we found the Visit Malta site to be easy to navigate as you would hope the tourist information site for an area would be. 

There is a relatively new lift that takes passengers from the pier where the ships dock up to where they can more easily go into town. For one Euro, you can take a 25-second ride to the Upper Barrakka Gardens and the city centre.  From there, you can take a taxi, a bus, or just walk.

One advantage we have is that a fellow passenger and DISBoards member has been to Malta many times and, when I asked her what she would recommend, here is her reply:

The Palace of the Grandmaster is interesting. St. John's Cathedral is breathtaking. The Grand Harbour is beautiful too, but you should be able to get a good view of it when the ship docks.

You'll want to ask the driver to take you to Mdina & Rabat. Mdina is a medieval walled city that's quite interesting to walk through. People still live there today. Slema and St. Julian's are beautiful too.

In terms of food. Definitely try a "pastizzi". These are filo wrapped pastries that you'll be able to find just about anywhere. I prefer the ricotta (tal joobon) ones to the mushy pea (tal pizzelli) variety myself. They make a great snack or quick breakfast or lunch. Ask your driver, he'll take you to his favourite spot.

You'll find the cuisine similar to Italian. Lots of seafood, rabbit stew, stuffed eggplant and zucchini, pizza etc. The baked goods are primarily almond based - so be careful if you have a nut allergy.

So you can see that we have a great opportunity ahead of us to explore a new place, and we can't wait!

Friday, April 19, 2013

An afternoon in Civitavecchia

We’ve done much of the planning for the major cities and ports we’ll be visiting, so it’s time to turn our attention to the days we’ll have a slower pace.  Because we will stop in some of the ports twice, we have interspersed our port-intense days with less-structured days to give us time to just take things as they come. But we don’t want to miss an opportunity to experience the places we’re in, so some pre-cruise research is in order.


Civitavecchia is known as the Port of Rome, and our first stop here will see us whisked away by Rome in Limo as we travel to the city to take in the sights. But our second visit will be the day after a busy visit to Florence, so we will be glad to have a low-key day.  DH and I have scheduled a shore excursion through the ship that will take us to Bracciano which is a lake area an hour or so away.  But we’ll be back to the ship by just-after-lunch, and the all aboard time is another six hours later, so we plan to spend some time in the port town itself.


A fellow Cruise Critic member suggested we try Chalet del Pincio for what she declared has the “best gelato I have ever had in my life.”  I think we may need to take her up on that suggestion.


A Google search reveals that Civitavecchia means Ancient Town and there are old town walls and medieval buildings that are available for sightseeing.  There is a 16th century fortification that still stands known as Forte Michelangelo because the middle tower was designed by Michelangelo whose famous work David we will have seen the day before in Florence. 


And just in case you have time in this port and having gelato and looking around an old fort isn’t enough to do, be sure to see what the Virtual Tourist has included on their list of Things to Do in Civitavecchia.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

We pause again...

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people effected by the plant explosion in Texas last night.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Of BluBlocker sunglasses

When traveling to the Mediterranean, it is important to not only shield your skin from the intensity of the sun, you should protect your eyes as well. DH and our older son have light colored eyes and are more sensitive to the sun than our brown-eyed younger son and I are.

Several years ago, DH tried a pair of BluBlocker sunglasses we found at Walgreens, and he was highly satisfied with the way they worked for him. So over the course of the next few years, he tried a variety of styles before settling on one that wraps around more and provides screening for peripheral vision as well as direct sight. Because these worked so well, we had our older son try them, and he was as satisfied as his dad. No more squinting, and no more bright sun related headaches!

Unfortunately, BluBlockers stopped selling their sunglasses through retail stores, so as sunglasses have needed replacement in recent times, we have tried several other brands, but none have performed as well as the BluBlockers.

As I have been gradually adding items to our pre-packing storage box, I asked everyone to check their sunglasses situation. And then I visited www.blublocker.com and ordered two pair of the Viper style so my fair-eyed guys can enjoy the Greek Isles and summer sun found only in the Med.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Smash Book

I've often been one to keep a journal when we travel to record our experiences and give us something to keep our memories straight. Even if I just make a list of what we do each day, having something to refer back to is a fun way to relive our trips.  For those of you who have known me for a while, you know how much I like to write a trip report - and if you've been following this blog, you can tell that recording travel-related planning and events is something I enjoy. 

So when another DISBoard member who is sailing with us mentioned that she was going to make a smash book, I was intrigued. I know about scrapbooking as the pile of papers, stickers, and other paraphernalia will attest, but if you look at my completed scrapbook pages, you'll see that I haven't put one together in the last ten years. In fact, the scrapbook supplies have only been used for school projects, definitely coming in handy for History Fair projects.

So what exactly is a smash book?  A smash book is a bound book that you just smash your memory stuff into: ticket stubs, scraps of notepaper, pictures, doodles, stickers - all kinds of things. And there's space to write your thoughts or scribble your memories alongside your memorabilia.  I'm looking forward to filling these!

Monday, April 15, 2013

We interrupt this blog for a moment of silence....

We interrupt this blog for a moment of silence and an offering of prayers for everyone effected by the events earlier today in Boston.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bus Turistic, Barcelona

As we are less than two months away from traveling, it's time to focus on our days in Barcelona.  We have a loose plan of arriving in the morning, checking in the hotel, grabbing some food, and then doing some sightseeing in the afternoon.  Then the next day, we have tickets for La Sagrada Familia at 11:00, but other than that, we are open for adventure.

But "open for adventure" in my book doesn't mean standing on a street corner wondering what to do.  For one thing, that's a sure way to be pickpocketed or otherwise targeted to become a victim of tourist crime.  For another thing, if you don't have any ideas at all, then why bother to arrive early?

In 2007, we used Bus Turistic as a HOHO (hop on, hop off) bus service to have a look around Barcelona.  A friend had recommended this company over the other one, so we took her advice and found it to be affordable and suitable to our needs.  So we are going with this plan again, only this time we will actually get off the bus to see the sites rather than just passing by.  Bus Turistic offers earbuds to listen to information and descriptions about the places of interest along their three routes. 

We have pre-purchased a two-consecutive-day ticket for each of us so that we can use the bus for sightseeing on both days we will be in Barcelona before boarding the cruiseship.  By purchasing online, we were able to save 10% off the cost of buying it onboard, plus it's one less time to pull out our money or credit card on the street.  You can buy your tickets onboard which is what we did last time.

The tour is split into three routes: Blue, Red, and Green.  The Blue and Red are each about two hours long if you go the whole way around without getting off.  This includes time at each stop to board other passengers.  There is part of the Blue and Red route that overlap which make it easy to change routes depending on where you want to go, and is also why we want to have a short list of places we might want to disembark along the way.  The Green route is a 40 minute side route that mostly pickes up at hotels that are off the main routes; in fact, last time we were there, we had to board the Green Route to get to the Blue and Red.

The PDF'ed map is really small to read when printed, but the interactive map on their site lets you select the places you want to see and they will build an itinerary complete with which stop to get off at.  They also have discounts for some of the entrance fees.

And as an added bonus, they have free wifi for passengers, so don't be surprised if we post a blog entry from the upper deck of the Bus Turistic!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

But Mom, the ketchup tastes weird...

Our first experience in overseas travel was our cruise in 2007. We had arrived on the redeye flight which had been delayed so we didn't land in Barcelona until noon, and by the time we got checked in the hotel and out the door for sightseeing, it was getting late in the day.  We had survived on snacks we'd brought with us in addition to the actually edible food on the plane, but after we'd slept our way around the city on the tour bus, we headed out from the hotel in search of something more substantial to eat.  At the time, our boys were 9 and 11 and neither were too keen on trying new foods, so as a matter of convenience, we had our first official meal in Spain at a local McDonalds.

If you've ever eaten at a McDonalds in another country, you already know that while the menu may look familiar, the food is not always so.  Add a language barrier, an inability to convert money in our head, and hungry children, and you'll understand why we pointed to what we thought we'd want.  As it turned out, what we ordered was similar - burgers, fries (only not the same kind as we get in the US) and of course a soft drink.  But here's the thing the boys remember the most about that meal - the ketchup was different - different to the point that they wouldn't eat their hamburgers because it made them "taste weird."

When we were in London in 2010, there was a McDonalds across the street from our hotel, and I was hoping they would have "weird ketchup" too so that the boys would be up for trying more local restaurants and less fast-food.  I got my wish!  Of course to give them credit, their palates had expanded and were willing to try a variety of food.  But the ketchup was definitely different than at home.

I occasionally use the ibotta app when shopping to pick up some change for my PayPal account, and this week I noticed a new product available:  Heinz Dip and Squeeze ketchup in a 10-pack! We had seen these packs at Chick-Fil-A and had jokingly told the boys that I should pick up a few extra packs the next time we are there to bring on the trip this summer.  But now it appears I can buy a pack myself.  As the boys have gotten older, their tastes have changed along with their willingness to try even more food, so I hope we don't end up at a McDonalds in Barcelona. But if we do, we'll be ready!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Eze, French for a charming village

Eze is a beautiful place with narrow streets and cobblestones to navigate as you take in this charming village in the French Riviera. Here is a peek at what we hope to see whole there.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Picturesque Mykonos

After two days of port-intensive touring, we will be happy to have a quiet, non-rushed day, and from the looks of it, Mykonos, Greece, is the perfect place to recover from Athens and Ephesus. We look forward to strolling around this quaint town with its blue blue sea and contrasting white buildings.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Disney Stores, Internationally

When we first went to the Med in 2007, we scheduled our return flight on the same day that we disembarked the ship which meant we had a hectic, hurried morning as we left the ship, were transported to the airport, and took care of all the administrative things we needed to do to head for home.  In a way, those moments counteracted the relaxation and enjoyment of the cruise itself.  We decided then that for future cruises that involved long flights home, we would spend an extra day before winging our way back to the US of A.

So in 2010, we took the opportunity to spend an extra day(s) in London after our Baltic tour and enjoyed an afternoon strolling through Covent Garden.  We were surprised and delighted to find a Disney Store there, so of course we had to go in!  We used to have a Disney Store in our hometown but it closed several years ago now, so whenever we're traveling, if there is a Disney Store, we like to go in, whether we buy anything or (more often) not.  In the London location, we found a Mickey Mouse with an England shirt, so we bought it for a friend at home's birthday.

That got me to thinking about whether there might be Disney Stores in any of the port cities we'll be visiting this summer.  Sure enough, there are!  Here are the locations of Disney Stores where we'll be:

Local 406, Centro Comercial Las Glorias
Barcelona, 8018

Local 2, 44-46 Centro Comercial L'illa
Barcelona, 8029

Via Calzaiuoli 69/71r
Florence, 50123

Via del Corso 165
Rome, 187

Porta Di Roma (TRU)
Unita 135, Centro Commerciale Porta Di Roma
Roma, 139

Rome Est
Centro Commerciale ROMA EST Via Collatina 858
Roma, 155

Via Toledo 129-132/ Via Stendhal
Naples, 80100

Campo San Bartolomeo 5257/58
Venice, 30124


We will definitely have some time in Barcelona and will likely seek out the Disney Store on our post-cruise day that we have, and we see that the store in Venice is a short walk from St. Marks Square and near the Grand Canal.  And yeah, we realize we'll be sailing on a Disney cruise ship surrounded by Disney merchandise for 24 days, but there's something special about finding something familiar that you can't get at home.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Occasionally I have a chance to sift through Pinterest, and lately many of the photos that I pin (or more accurately, repin) end up on my Med Cruises board. Take a look.

Monday, April 8, 2013

New friends

I know I start a lot of these blog posts with "One of my favorite things..." and this one will be no different.  One of my favorite things about cruising is getting to meet people from other places.  And with two opportunities, we'll get to meet a lot more people from a lot more places.  By participating on the DISBoards, we've become acquainted with other Disney Cruise fans who are also active members, so we have some virtual introductions already.

As I was looking over the roll call for each of our cruises, I counted people from 34 states and four other countries, and that's just people who've found their way to DISBoards.  There are over 120 families represented in these groups; that's a lot of new people to meet!  And that doesn't count the people that we'll meet standing at the Safety Drill, or on our excursions or at the next dinner table, or even in the laundry room.  Nor does it include the new friends the boys will make in the Youth programs.  The ship carries over 2,000 passengers on each voyage, and at last check there aren't many cabins available to book, so it looks like the ship will be at capacity.

At the beginning of a cruise, conversations tend to be about the adventures in getting to the ship (good and bad), and later on they turn to adventures in port and plans for the next day. But as you see the same people and talk with them, they become your community - at least for the time you're on board.  There's a difference in this experience on longer cruises like these versus the 3-4 night cruises to the Bahamas that a lot of people enjoy.  And if you're lucky, some of these new community members become your friends.  Thanks to social media, it's easy to keep in touch post-cruise and who knows? You may end up traveling on the same cruise with your fellow passengers in the future.  We've done it and it's been a blast!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Recommended sites in Italy, or where Rick Steves' guides say you should go

Yesterday, Rick Steves offered a free webcast of his European Travel seminar which I was able to watch and listen to part of online.  One part of the seminar addressed touring in Italy and came with a handout available to download that lists various points of interest throughout Italy.  I was excited to see it because it included several of the ports we'll be visiting.  I'm sharing parts of it here in this blogpost.  The red sites are ones we have plans to visit and the italicized ones are places we've been before; if you're planning a visit to Italy, be sure to check out the recommendations.

  •  Europe’s best preserved big city
  •  St Mark’s Square, Europe’s living room
  •  Rialto bridge and market
  •  Vaporetto, slow boat down Grand Canal fine intro tour
  •  Doges Palace, Bell tower, St Marks
  •  Glass blowing demo just off main square
  •  Great art – Accademia, Scuola San Rocco
  •  Gondola – expensive but worthwhile
  •  Traghetti – ferry gondolas, very cheap
  •  Wander, get lost, you’re on an island, it’s ok navigate not by streets but by landmarks and signs
  •  Flood in winter “acqua alta”
  •  Magical evenings, staying in town makes a difference
  •  Carnival, 40 days before Easter, masks
  •  Stand-up-progressive-Venetian-pub-crawl-dinner
 Nearby islands including:
  •  Burano (famous for lace and colorful houses)
  •  Murano (glass works)
  •  Torcello (oldest island settlement, mosiacs)
  •  Lido (residential core and sand beaches)

  •  Birthplace of Renaissance
  •  Duomo = cathedral, center, dome by Brunelleschi
  •  Arno River, Ponte Vecchio
  •  Bargello – best sculpture
  •  San Lorenzo and Leather Market
  •  Central Market, good for specialty foods
  •  Food in Florence is some of best in Italy
  •  Possibly best gelato is found here
  •  Uffizi Gallery – Botticelli, best Italian paintings
  •  Baptistry - Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise”
  •  David and “Prisoners” at Accademia, Michelangelo
  •  Duomo Museum – original doors, Donatello
  •  Santa Croce, burial place of famous Italians
  •  Pitti Palace, modern Italian art, park is nice for picnic
Cinque Terre
  •  5 tiny towns on Riviera between La Spezia and Genoa
  •  Vernazza is best town
  •  Wine, hiking, swimming
  •  Consider sleepy Levanto as a base
  •  Carrara, best marble quarries
  •  Colosseum, 50,000 numbered seats
  •  Forum, center of ancient city
  •  Palatine Hill
  •  Circus Maximus
  •  Capitoline Hill – city hall and great museum
  •  Victor Emmanuel Monument
  •  Pantheon – best preserved Roman building
  •  Villa Borghese, fine Baroque art museum and park
  •  Many, many churches to visit with great art - Moses by Michelangelo in St Peter in Chains church, St.Theresa in Ecstasy by Bernini at Santa Maria della Vittoria
  •  Vatican – center of Catholicism, become a temporary Catholic, climb St. Peter’s dome
  • Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel
  • Cappucchin Monastery, bones galore, off Piazza Barberini
  •  Passeggiata, or the evening stroll, Piazza del Popolo down via del Corso
  •  Trastevere – the seedy, colorful side of river
  •  Night spots, Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps=over-rated
  • Piazza Navona for tartufo gelati, dinner at Campo di Fiori, atmospheric square
Naples, Sicily and South
  •  Hairy urban jungle, 2 hours south of Rome, birthplace of pizza
  •  Best to see Naples fast and sleep in Sorrento
  •  Pompeii, stopped by Volcano Vesuvius in 79 AD
  •  Herculaneum, better preserved than Pompeii
  •  Pompeii art in Nat’l museum, Naples
  •  Sorrento – Romantic tourist town, easy base for Amalfi Coast, Paestum, islands, Vesuvius, one hour from Naples,
  •  Amalfi Coast – exciting bus ride, beautiful villages of Positano, Amalfi and Ravello
  •  Scenic tourist trap – Isle of Capri

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The many costumes of Minnie Mouse

As much as I love Mickey Mouse, Minnie is my favorite of the Fab Five Disney characters. And on a cruise, Minnie is so fun and adorable and always dressed for whatever the occasion. These are just a few of the outfits we might see her wearing.

My favorite thing to collect on a Disney cruise is a photo of Minnie in each of her costumes. When we get home, I will be sure to share that collection with our readers.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dining on the Magic

A cruise ship offers several dining venues, and the Disney Magic is no exception. These are the three main restaurants included in their famous rotational dining plan as well as two of their casual, counter service dining options.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

World Heritage Sites

I was beginning to research Malta today and see what there was we might want to see and do while in Valletta when I saw that the City of Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It caught my attention because I had noticed that designation for a couple of the other places we will be touring this summer, so I wanted to find out more.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and one of their programs is the World Heritage Center.  Quoting from their site:

"Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. Places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America make up our world’s heritage."

Visiting places that have been identified as World Heritage sites is a wonderful opportunity for our family. I've often said that our children are growing up in a global community, so taking them to see the places that they may read about in their textbooks or learn about in school broadens their interests and helps them realize that our world is shrinking, but with that comes the need to understand the culture and heritage of other places.

Some of the World Heritage sites we have on our itinerary are:

There are other World Heritage sites in the places we are visiting, but time only permits so much.  The complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites can be found on their website.

And for the days when we won't be able to travel as far away as our Mediterranean adventure is taking us, there are still plenty of sites to see right here in the good ol' USA.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

500 years is the new New

The State of Florida has designated this week as Viva Florida 500 Week in recognition of it being 500 years since Ponce de Leon landed and gave the state its name, La Florida.  The week’s activities are part of the year-long commemoration of Florida’s history and will focus on people and events throughout the last half-millennium.  More information can be found at www.vivaflorida.org.
So what does this have to do with a Mediterranean cruise, you ask? 
As I was reading about Florida’s celebration of 500 years, I thought about how the United States will celebrate her 237th birthday this summer while we will be in Europe.  And it reminded me of our tour guide in Rome in 2007 telling us about the periods of time and architecture and how anything that was built after 1400 was considered to be new.  Over 600 years old and considered new?? 
When visiting regions with storied pasts that go back over 20 centuries, you can see why the perspective on what is new might differ from somewhere that doesn’t have as far to look back.  Whenever we travel to parts of the world with long, documented histories, we stand in awe and amazement at how things have survived and wonder at how much has been lost.  I’m a voyeur by nature, so when we do get to glimpse into the past, whether by visiting ruins or traipsing through museums, I stop to consider not only what life must have been like for the people of the ages, but what we might be leaving for future generations to find.  How can we take care of the places and things that belong to our time, to our age, and preserve them for our descendants?
While cruising is a great time for fun, relaxation, and enjoying family time, it offers a way to see more of the world without the logistics of finding a place to stay, where to eat, and navigating from place to place.  These things can be intimidating, so a cruise takes them out of the equation and offers the opportunity for passengers to expand their experiences and take in places they might otherwise never be.  And as part of those experiences, if they pause even for a moment to reflect on the people who walked before them, the people who built and lived and loved in the places they stand, perhaps they will at that moment consider how they will impact the future.
Viva the World!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Hello, Please, Thank You, and Where's the toilet?

This summer we will be in seven different countries while on vacation.  We like to learn a few basic words and phrases for the areas we visit so that we can greet others, say please, thank you, and where's the toilet?  Our experience has been that even just these few phrases along with hand signs help us with language barriers in the areas we travel.  Of course we are mostly going to be in tourist areas where English is understood, we find that the shopkeepers and restaurant staff appreciate the effort to be polite in their language.

Our first country will be Spain, but because we'll be in Barcelona, the dialect is not Spanish, but Catalan.  Our phrases are: Hola, complaure, Gràcies, and On és el lavabo?

For our two stops in France, we'll want to say Bonjour, s'il vous plaît, merci, and Où sont les toilettes?

I loved listening to conversations in Italian when we visited Italy in 2007.  I particularly liked that Prego is how you say "you're welcome" in Italian; I remember that because we sometimes use that spaghetti sauce.  Our phrases in Italian are:  Ciao, per favore, grazie, and Dov'è il bagno?

I took a first level Greek class in college, but I was a much better reader of the language than conversationalist.  While in Greece, we'll want to know how to say: Γεια σας, παρακαλώ, σας ευχαριστώ, and Πού είναι η τουαλέτα;

I can't say I've ever hear the Turkish language spoken, and I'm pretty sure you don't just sound out the letters, but perhaps we can recognize it when others speak our basic phrases: Merhaba, lütfen, teşekkür ederim, and Tuvalet nerede?

Our days in Malta may find us needing to use Maltese as we'll be spending some time on our own there, so we should learn Hello, Jekk jogħġbok, Grazzi, and Fejn hi l-toilet?

And while we will have a guide for our time in Croatia, I'd like us to be able to greet him in his native language as well as say please and thank you.  And of course if we need a potty-break, being able to ask where the restroom is will be important, so we should learn these phrases in Croatian before we go: bok, molim, hvala, and Gdje je WC?