Friday, May 31, 2013

So what exactly is on your stateroom account?

A nice thing about cruising is that cruise ships are generally a cash-free environment with all of your expenses charged to your onboard account.  You don’t have to carry cash or a credit card around with you for the shops, specialty restaurants, or even to pay for your ship-sponsored excursions.  A frequently asked question is what charges can one expect to find on their stateroom account?

In no particular order:

1.       Gratuities for specific ship crew members. Typically the stateroom host, dining room server, assistant dining room server, and head waiter receive a tip based on a recommended amount per day per passenger.  For DCL, this is $12 per day: $4 for the cabin attendant, $4 for the main server, $3 for the assistant server, and $1 for the head waiter of that section of the dining room.  These gratuities can be pre-paid or you can bring cash for them, but most people just have the amounts added to their stateroom account which they settle at the end of the cruise.

2.       Souvenirs from the ship shops.  In addition to cruise line and port specific gear, onboard shops sell a variety of goods such as jewelry, clothing, and perfume.  Some ships have extensive stores, sometimes competing with your local mall!  On the Disney Magic, there are two main gift shops, one that is mostly Disney themed items and the other is higher-end clothing, perfume, jewelry, and such.

3.       Photos.  If you don’t see a ship photographer, wait a minute and one will show up! Whether they are taking your picture as you board for the first time, before dinner with the characters, during dinner with a mouthful of food, or up on the sun deck, you can count on having your photo made. And they count on you liking them enough to buy some!  Disney Cruise Line sells the photos one at a time or you can buy a package or even a CD.  They use facial recognition to place all the photos they take of your party onto a CD for one (not low) price.

4.       Excursion fares.  Some cruise lines require pre-payment for excursions when you book them, but one thing we particularly like about DCL is that they don’t require payment until you board; then they add your excursion fares to your stateroom account.

5.       Laundry services.  Whether you use the self-service laundry or send your items out for pressing service, the cost will be added to your stateroom account.  If you use the self-service machines, on the Disney ships, you use your “Key to the World” card rather than coins to operate the equipment, and sometimes you might have a double-swipe show up on your account. It’s a good idea to check your account after you’ve done your laundry to be sure that you have been billed for only the number of swipes you used.

6.       Specialty restaurants, coffees, and bars.  If you go to any of the specialty restaurants on a ship, there is typically an extra fee for this, but by most accounts, the meal is extraordinary and the service impeccable.  Many ships have a specialty coffee cafĂ© where you can get high-end coffee, and of course any alcoholic beverages you have to pay extra for.  You can also get smoothies and other frozen drinks at the bars as well.

7.       Room service.  While most items on the room service menu are complimentary, some have an upcharge. And of course you’ll want to tip the person who delivers it to your room, so you can add the tip to your account or do what many people do which is keep a stack of $1 bills on hand.

A common joke among cruise directors giving their disembarking talk is that you’ll know how much fun you’ve had on your cruise by the sound of the thud as your stateroom account is left outside your cabin door on the last night, or by the number of pages it takes to print your bill.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cash and currency exchange

When traveling abroad, you have to consider how you’re going to pay for things.  While you may be able to use your credit or debit card for many of your purchases, you’ll still need some local currency, whether it’s for food, tickets, or transportation.

It’s a good idea to have some local currency when you arrive, particularly if you’re planning to take a taxi to your hotel.  While most airports will have ATMs or currency exchange offices, you don’t want to risk the machines being out of cash or service or the exchange office being closed.  So if you have enough cash to get you to your hotel, that should get you where someone can help you get the currency you need for your stay.

No one wants to risk carrying too much cash, though, so you want to carefully consider how much cash you want to have on you, whether it’s for when you arrive or as you go from day to day on your vacation.  You will want to check with your local bank for any limits to ATM withdrawals as well as any associated fees, and you want to be careful about using your credit card for cash as there are hefty rates associated with cash advances. It’s fine to use it to pay for things; call the company to find out what foreign transaction fees may be incurred (typically 3%, but some cards offer lower rates).

Our cruise ship offers currency exchange on board; we’ve used it before in our overseas travels.  The way it works on DCL is that you can exchange your dollars (or whatever your own local currency is) for the currency you need at a set, posted exchange rate. This exchange rate is based on what the ship was able to exchange for and in our experience has been comparable to what we could exchange for via ATM or otherwise.  When you make the exchange, DCL provides you with a receipt that shows how much you exchanged and what the rate was.  Then, if you find you have some foreign currency leftover and want to exchange it back, as long as you have your receipt, you may return the foreign currency for your own local currency at the same rate you made the original transaction.  We have sometimes used this service when we weren’t sure if we’d gotten enough cash from other methods and wanted to have some extra, just in case.

The Disney ships will accept cash, checks (up to limited amounts), and travelers checks for currency exchange.  You cannot charge a currency exchange to your stateroom account.  So in order to use the onboard currency exchange, one needs to have something to exchange.  We have taken cash before but never quite feel comfortable with having “that much” cash in hand on the way to the ship, so this time we have decided to use the old-fashioned traveler’s check.  Our bank offers them with no additional fees, so we can get the amount we want, and because they have a guaranteed replacement should they be lost or stolen, we will take the necessary precautions and steps to have the information needed in the unlikely, unfortunate event of their loss.  We also figure that if we have any left over that we don’t exchange for local currency, we will just apply that to our stateroom account (more about that in another blog post).


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

If we don't know about it by now...

Our teenagers have exams this week as the school year is winding down.  There isn't much studying (maybe not any) going on in our house; they seem to ascribe to the "if I don't know it by now, I won't learn it by morning" philosophy. 

That's about where I am regarding our trip planning; if it's not already scheduled, booked, reserved, pre-ticketed, listed, or in the to-be-packed-pile, it's not going to happen. We've done thorough reading and web-searching, interviewed everyone we know who has been to any of the ports where we'll be, and we have a full itinerary scheduled. 

So for the next 13 days, we'll concentrate on the getting ready to go part of vacation - two more days of school; eight more days of work; clean out the refrigerator; pack the suitcases; and oh yeah, somehow I agreed to participate in a neighborhood yard sale!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Got Questions?

We’ll be on our way in just over two weeks, so we’re putting out the call now that if anyone has particular things they want to know about, please let us know and we’ll be glad to search out the answers for you while we’re on our adventure.  Whether it’s ship-related, port-related, or excursion-related, leave your question in the comments or contact us otherwise and we’ll do our best to find out for you.  We have had so many questions pre-cruise that it’s been nice to find the answers when we can, so we’d like to return the favor!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

In memory of the men and women who gave their lives for our freedom.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A little more about Athens and Ephesus

One thing about booking ship-sponsored excursions is that once you've decided which one to reserve, you don't have to think much about where you'll be or what you'll be doing; it's all planned for you!  As evidenced by previous posts on our blog, we haven't done much research or additional reading and planning for the ports we have booked through the cruise line, but as our departure nears, I want to do a little more prep, particularly for ports we've not been to before.

The first one is the port of Piraeus, which is in Greece and is the jumping off point for Athens.  We have booked an excursion to take us to the Acropolis and the Archaeological Museum and includes a lunch in the Plaka.  Here is a good website that has more information about Athens.

Another one is Kusadasi which is about 30 km from the ancient city of Ephesus, which used to be a port city in its heydey.  While many of the websites I could find were sponsored by tour guides, I found that they have good pictures and blurbs about the different sites in Ephesus and the surrounding area. It's a great preview of what we'll be looking at with our own eyes before too many more days!

Of course after we have been to each of these ports, we'll be able to offer our own thoughts and experiences about these places and hopefully answer any questions that other travelers might have.

Friday, May 24, 2013


The last days of school are upon us.  Which means a full day on Tuesday, followed by three days of exams. But that means the kids get out earlier in the day which gives us time to do some cruise-related errands during the week.

The most important one I have for them is to go by the eyeglass shop that we use to have them check our glasses for fit and adjustment, replacing nose pads and tightening screws.  We don't want someone's glasses falling apart or being askew while on vacation.

It's a good idea to take a back-up pair of eyeglasses, even if the prescription is out-dated because if your glasses break beyond repair, then you'll at least be able to see something, even if it's all fuzzy.  We take an eyeglass repair kit, too, which you can find at many drugstores or mass merchandisers. They come with a screwdriver and some pre-loaded tiny screws that will have your glasses fixed up in a jiffy.

Hopefully we won't need the repair kit nor the spare glasses.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

(Yes) More packing thoughts

We leave in less than 3 weeks now and I keep having random things pop into my head that we need to pack that haven’t made it onto the main list yet.  I thought I’d share some of them here in case they are helpful for others who are packing-list fiends like me.

In no particular order, here are some recent additions:

1.       Retainer and case
2.       Braces rubber bands
3.       Braces care: wax, brushes
4.       Eyeglass repair kit
5.       Small mending kit (needle, thread for sewing on buttons, etc.)

And of course I have found packing lists online that have lots of ideas. Here is one from the DIS that is specifically for a Disney Cruise:  And here’s one from Cruise Critic: 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Packing your carry-on

I recently read an article that addressed ways to make getting through TSA security a bit easier on you, your traveling companions and the TSA agents. That got me to thinking about how important it is to give some thought to not only what goes into the carry-ons, but how it is put into the bag. After all, if your carry-on is a jumbled mess, that makes it harder for the TSA agents to see what is in the backpack they are screening, so they are more likely to pull it, and you, for further inspection. 

 The first thing you should do is lay out what needs to go in your carry-on.  In our case, we are each checking a bag, so we want to minimize what we have to schlep for half a day at the airport before boarding, but we must include those things we need.  These things can be travel documents, cash, car keys, ID, necessary medicine, electronic entertainment devices, snacks, gum, and a change of clothes. There may be other valuables or small sized toiletries that one would want to carry on board. Anything you absolutely must have when you get to your destination should go with you as long as it doesn't contradict the OK list that the TSA makes available. 

 Once you have laid out everything to pack into your carry-on, think about what you may need easy access to versus those items you don't. You will want to put  those things in where you can get to them without having to take everything out. 

 Then load it up! Place things in neatly, following your thoughts about what you need and don't. If you have liquids or laptops, keep those where you can pull them out for separate screening without having to dig through your bag.  It's really easy when you are finishing your main packing to take anything that doesn't fit in your checked bag and shove it in your carry-on.  If you find yourself needing to do this, if you have packed your carry-on neatly, you should be able to take a moment to find a way to include it neatly, too.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pressing pause

We pause in our vacation planning to extend our thoughts and prayers to the people who lost loved ones and their homes and businesses in Oklahoma this week as a result of the tornadoes. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Getting the $$ in order

An important "to do" before traveling, particularly overseas, is to make sure your finances are in order.  These are some things we consider:

  1. Schedule bill payment for those accounts that must be paid during the time of travel. Any that can be set up to auto-pay should be handled so that you don't have to find wifi to send a payment or worry about connecting via an unsecured network.  Look ahead to what is due when and sort it out before you leave.
  2. Notify your bank and credit card companies that you'll be traveling overseas and include the dates and locations that you'll be. This will keep them from blocking access to your accounts when you are legitimately using them to access cash or purchase that only-found-in-Italy item that you absolutely must buy. 
  3. Write down your account numbers and the contact information for your credit card and bank should you need to call them from overseas.  Most have a "call collect from anywhere else" in addition to their toll-free US number.
  4. Ask about foreign transaction fees.  Some credit cards have none, but most charge 3% regardless of the currency that they purchase is made in. So if you're in France and the merchant will charge you $US rather than Euro, you will still pay the foreign transaction fee.  These fees are generally added to your account at the end of each billing cycle, so if you have a small credit line available, be sure to keep track of that extra fee so it doesn't cause overdraft or over-the-limit issues for you.
  5. Ask about ATM withdrawal limits per day / month, particularly if you aren't already a regular ATM user.  Some banks limit the number of transactions per month before charging hefty fees, others limit the amount of cash per withdrawal. Some charge fees in addition to what fees are charged by the bank whose ATM you are using, so you want to watch out for those double-dippers.
  6. Take enough cash to get you where you are going and then some. You don't want to arrive in a foreign country without some cash, and if you can have some local currency, that's even better. Sure, you can hit up the ATM when you get to the airport, but what if your ATM card doesn't work there or if it's all out of cash at the end of the day?  It's better to have at least enough to get you a cab to your hotel where the concierge or clerk can help you or direct you to another ATM.  We had an issue in Canada where our bank-issued ATM wouldn't work; there was apparently some restriction on the use of them in Canada, but our bank failed to inform us of this even when we notified them of our travel plans. Thankfully we had some $US on us and were in Vancouver where pretty much everywhere accepted it.  We had planned to get $Canadian after arrival so as to avoid the foreign transaction fees from using a credit card for purchases, but we were foiled.  We called our bank from Canada to find out what was going on; that's when we learned that Canada and the US had some weird thing that kept us from using our ATM there.  When we returned, we saw that our bank had put up new signs asking customers to let them know when they would be traveling overseas so they could find out if their ATM cards would work.  We like to think that our experience led to the bank better informing their customers.
I'm sure there are other things related to finances that need to be taken care of before traveling, but these few things should get things started.  Don't wait until the last minute to take care of these because you might find that you want to order a newer credit card that has a chip in it for use in Europe, or you might want to order some foreign currency, or something completely different.  Whatever you do, don't neglect to consider the best way for you to handle your money and your transactions both at home and away so you can relax and enjoy your vacation.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Unusual items on the packing list

As our packing list becomes more complete, I noticed a few things on it that might seem odd to take, but I know we will find them to be useful, so I thought I would share them here.

Up first is the cardboard drink carrier that we got from Chick-Fil-A last summer when my brother and I went out for milkshakes for everyone.  I saved the two carriers specifically for our cruises this summer because I thought they would be handy for carrying drinks back to the cabin.  You see, on Disney ships, the soda is free and there are self-serve drink stations on one of the upper decks (on Deck 9 on the Magic where we'll be next month).  They have paper cups, plastic lids, and straws available.  So what often happens is that one of us will head out to get a drink and someone else in the cabin will ask if you would one back for them.  Not a problem, but it does fill up both hands and can make re-entering the cabin a bit more difficult because you need one hand to insert your cabin key and open the door while balancing an extra drink.  Solution? The cardboard drink carrier, used as designed, will allow a free hand for negotiating the cabin door.  In addition, the Disney ships have soft-serve ice cream stations located near the drink station, so a trip to get a drink may also result in a cup of ice cream coming back as well.  No problem with the drink carrier, though - just put your cup of ice cream in an empty spot and you're good to go!

Another item is the plastic hanger with clips. You know, the kind you get when you buy shorts or a skirt at a store like Walmart or Target.  We'll bring 4-6 of these, depending on space, to use during the trip for several things.  For one, they will be great to hang DH's running clothes on after he's soaked them with sweat.  We can then hang them out on the verandah to dry when we are in port; they will hang nicely from the back of the deck chairs and get some fresh air on them.  They are also good for hanging damp swimsuits to dry, and are easy to move from one place to another as needed; it's a pain when you want to take a shower and the tub area is full of clothes thrown over the clothesline.  We can use them for hanging clothing on that we want to spray with Downy Wrinkle Release or want to have in the bathroom to get steamed while someone is showering.  Sure, there are hangers provided by the cruiseline, but they are wooden and not as easy to move around, plus we usually have them full of clothes; after all, there are four of us sharing a closet!

So what are some unusual things you take on vacation, and what do you use them for?  Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Like a tourist vs. Like a local

Whenever we travel somewhere new, we like to research the places we are going and whenever possible, we like to talk to people who know the area well.  One common question we have ask is "When we go home and tell people we went to (insert location here), what's the one thing they'll ask if we saw or did?"  After hearing about the "must see" or "icon" of the area, we then follow-up with another question, "What is the one thing YOU think we should see or do?"  The answers to that question usually lead us to fun, interesting, and time-worthy exploration we would not have discovered from our pre-travel research. And when we get home, we make sure to share those ideas and suggestions with others who want to explore beyond the tourist areas of various locations.

Some areas we visit have spent a lot of effort on tourism and revitalization of areas where tourists typically go.  For cruise ports, there is usually a place near the port so that ship passengers can easily walk or take a shuttle bus to do some shopping, dining, spend money on one thing or another. Or there are guided tours available to take them to areas that are not as easily accessible, or maybe they offer a city tour via a bus or "train" tram.  We like to take these to see around the city to get an overview of what they want you to see, but the real treasures are those areas where the tourists might not go on their own. 

When we are in Dubrovnik, we have a local guide who will take us to see some of the touristy things, but he has promised that we will see Dubrovnik through the eyes of a local person and that he will take us to the non-touristy areas so we can get a better sense of what Dubrovnik is like.  When we were in Helsinki a few years ago, my third-cousin met us at the ship and took us on a walking tour of his city including a place for lunch that is a favorite for his family. It was delightful and such an enjoyable day.  Several years ago when I was in San Francisco, a friend picked me and a coworker up for the afternoon and took us to her local haunts; it was better than any tour we could have booked through the local tour companies.

Here's to seeing what the port cities want us to see, and to seeing places as they really are.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Double set of cruise docs

Our second set of cruise documents arrived today. This is something we have never had before - two sets of cruise documents! Departure day is nearing.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Extra Credit," said the Latin teacher

As the school year is winding down, our calendar is filling up with end-of-the-year activities, and tonight was no exception.  The boys are taking Latin for their foreign language requirements, and the younger one has been involved with the high school Latin club, the Lincoln Troiani.  Their year-end banquet was tonight.  While there, we had a moment to catch up with their Latin teacher who had hoped to put together a student trip to go to Italy this summer, but unfortunately there wasn't enough interest, but she's excited for the opportunity that we have to visit both Italy and Greece.

The school uses the Cambridge Latin Course, and the first level is set in Pompeii.  The boys remember being at Pompeii in 2007, but it was the second half of an all day tour so there is much that could bear repeating. In fact, they both said they would like to do a tour of Pompeii this summer as long as that's all we did on the tour, so that's what we're going to do!  The Latin teacher said tonight that she has told her students that if they do any traveling in Italy or Greece this summer, they are welcome to put together a power-point presentation to share with their class for extra credit next year, so we will be taking photos with that in mind!

VII more school days plus III days of exams.... not that anyone is counting. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What's VAT?

As part of our travel plans, we must consider the VAT or value added tax that will be part of our costs for goods and services we buy while in Europe.  The VAT is a consumption tax that ranges between 15– 25 percent depending on which country one makes a purchase in and what one buys.  The VAT is already included in the cost of the items rather than being added on at the time of purchase as a sales tax.  For goods that are not used before leaving and are being taken out of Europe, the buyer may be entitled to a refund of the VAT if they meet specific requirements.  What this means for a traveler is that while the Venetian mask or artwork from Florence may initially include payment of the VAT, they may receive that cash back.

There are specific minimum purchase requirements to qualify for a VAT refund which vary from country to country.  For our trip, the minimum costs by country are: Italy  - € 154,95 including VAT, same shop, same day; Spain - € 90,15; France - € 175; and Malta  - € 55 per invoice, € 315 total.
In some countries, there is the opportunity to combine purchases into one request for VAT refund, while for other countries, the value is for a single, same merchant purchase which could be made of several items that add up to the value or a single, more expensive item.  There are some shops that sell items VAT-free, similar to Duty-free shopping that many travelers are familiary with.  Inside airports one might find VAT-free shops for those last minute souvenirs.
To receive a refund, you must present the unused items to Customs when departing from the EU along with the VAT refund documents and, sometimes, the original receipts.  The VAT documents are normally prepared by the merchant from whom the goods have been purchased, and the refund is made directly by the merchant.  But there are services such as Global Blue that act as a refunder and make it easier to submit your refund request.  The refunds can be made directly to your credit card if you used one to purchase your items.  Many travelers report that it takes up to three months before they see the refund.  It’s important to know that you can’t claim a VAT refund for the matching t-shirts that you bought in Spain that your family is wearing home.

The European Commission on Taxation and Customs has information specific to travelers addressing arrival and departure restrictions and requirements and what qualifies and in what amounts for a refund of the VAT.  This information can change so while it is accurate of this day, be sure to check for any updates for your own travels.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Deck 4

I love this photo of Mickey and Minnie strolling around the deck. DH and I will often take a stroll around Deck 4 mid morning on a sea day or after dinner on a busy port day. Sometimes we will stop and sit in one of the lounge chairs and watch the horizon and the sea. Sometimes I fall asleep there, but I'm not the only one. Deck 4 is usually quiet unless there is a rowdy game of shuffleboard happening, usually involving Goofy!

Deck 4 on the Magic is the deck that you can walk all the way around the ship on, so it is popular with joggers and walkers. And on the starboard side, a bit aft, there is a small porthole you can look into and see what's happening in one of the galleys.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Gardens at the Monte Carlo Casino

Today is Mother's Day, and then next month, on Father's Day we will be in Monaco and get to see the gardens outside the Casino of Monte Carlo.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Synchronize your watches

When on vacation, you might think "who cares?" when considering what time it is.  After all, you've been a bit of a slave to a clock for the weeks (or in our case, months) leading up to some well-deserved time off.  But for some vacations, it is important to not only know what time it is, but to know what time is the right time!

When cruising, there is what is known as "local time" and "ship time" and it's important to know if there is a distinction.  Some cruise ships, particularly those that sail in the Caribbean, don't adjust their clocks as they criss-cross time zones every week, while others may have you adjusting your timepieces every day by an hour or more. 

Ship time is the time that the ship considers its official time. That's the time that the ship will use when calling for all aboard when leaving a port. That's the time passengers will use to know when to go to dinner or to attend a performance in the main theater.  That's the time the passengers will use when setting curfews for their teens and tweens to be back from the youth program activities.

Local time is the time that you'll find in the ports, so when you're out all day and ask someone on the street for the time, local time is what time they'll tell you it is.  It's important to know if your ship adjusts to local time or if they maintain their own time so that you'll know how much time you have before you risk missing the ship.

In our experience on ships that adjust their times to coincide with the ports, our stateroom host will leave us a notecard each evening telling us to turn our clocks forward or backwards and by how many hours.  We can set our clocks and watches so that when we wake in the morning, we're on current port time. The tv in the stateroom has a channel that gives information from the bridge including the current time that the ship is using so we can synchronize our watches.  And before we disembark for the day, we verify the time to be back on board so we aren't an hour late.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Photos from the road

Whenever we travel somewhere new, we take so many pictures. We are not photographers beyond “point and shoot” but thankfully these types of cameras make it easy for novices to still come  home from vacation with good photos.

We love having a digital camera because it makes it nice to take as many pictures as the memory stick will hold.  We end up passing the camera back and forth between us as we each want our own perspective on what we’re looking at, or because one of us is sitting on the side of the bus without the glare on the window.  This year we got a sweet deal of the day from Amazon so we have a second camera so we don’t have to pass the camera back and forth as much.

Another thing that we added to our travel accessories is the Camera Connection Kit that goes with the iPad.  This makes it easy to transfer photos from the camera’s memory stick to the iPad for easier viewing, but doesn’t remove the photo from the camera unless you specifically tell it to.  The iPad then makes it easy to upload photos to Photobucket or social media sites, or even send by email – which means I can update our blog with photos from the road (as long as we get some wifi occasionally).

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A different perspective of Venice's Grand Canal

This photo shows a different perspective of the Grand Canal in Venice. I have been learning the map, but seeing this aerial view brings it all together for me. I have my bearings; cruise port on the west, not too far from the train station. Rialto Bridge a bit east of the center, about the halfway point of the canal. San Marco Square and the Doge's Palace in the southeast quadrant. And so much to see and absorb between.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

(Necessary) Things for a day at sea

Ten things necessary for a day at sea:


1.       Sunglasses

2.      Reading material

3.      Something to drink

4.      Something to eat

5.      Pillow for a nap

6.      Deck chair

7.      Navigator (in case you want to actually do something)

8.      Sunscreen

9.      Music

10.   The company of family and friends


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Taxi in Naples

Since we were thinking about what we did during our visit to the Amalfi Coast in 2007, today we are putting together the logistics for the afternoon we’ll have in Naples after our Half-Day Pompeii excursion.
We’ve mentioned previously that we want to try some pizza from an authentic pizzeria and have identified the Pizzeria da Gaetano based on reviews from TripAdvisor.  A few other DISers are planning to head there for pizza as well.  We used the “contact us” feature on TripAdvisor to ask for directions from the port to the Pizzeria; the response: Take a taxi and let them lead to VIA CASANOVA n.109 near PORTA CAPUANA. With the taxi arrived in less than 15 minutes (3.3 km away).
So the next order of business is to figure out the taxi service in Naples. We have been cautioned when traveling by taxi in some of the areas to be sure to negotiate a price before entering the vehicle, and to use due care.  We also know that in some of the ports, such as Barcelona, the four of us will not fit into a single taxi.  However, it seems that in Naples, there is a pretty standard fare established by the city by which taxi drivers must heed.  The City of Naples makes their “Ordinary urban tariff and map (in English)” available for visitors to have for reference.  This document is useful to have because we can gauge the expected cost to get to the pizzeria and back, and as there is a line for a “per passenger” for when there are more than 4 passengers, this leads me to believe that we will be able to go in just one.  A base fare of 3.00 Euro and another 3+ Euro for the distance looks like we can get to the pizzeria and back for less than 15 Euro.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Capri and Sorrento (2007)

A fellow traveler was asking today about excursions from Naples to Capri, Sorrento, and Pompeii.  We did one in 2007, so in my response, I dug through our photobucket account to find a few pictures from our day.
We took the hydrofoil from the port of Naples over to the Isle of Capri in the morning, had a boat tour around the island and then had a little free time for souvenir shopping before reboarding the hydrofoil to go over to Sorrento for lunch.  After lunch we visited a shop where they make inlay wooden items like boxes and tables – beautiful work.  We then took a bus ride to Pompeii, spent about 2 hours in Pompeii, and then rode the bus ride back to Naples.  We got back in time for all aboard but not by much – it was definitely a full day. The heat in the afternoon was difficult for the kids; I wish we’d had the excursion in the reverse order.  The lunch in Sorrento was our favorite lunch that cruise, and we loved seeing so much of the countryside. The olive groves were fascinating to see with the netting underneath the branches to catch the olives and keep them from bruising on the ground.
Some pictures from Capri and Sorrento:
The port area in Capri
Rock formation in Capri

My favorite shop in all of Italy (Cindy - LOL)

Lunch in Sorrento

Sorrento, with our Mickey shaped tour guide paddle


Olive Trees


Sunday, May 5, 2013

(Our) Top Ten Useful Travel Sites

When I started this blog, I wanted it to be a place to gather information about the places we’ll go, the things we’d like to do, and the logistics for making it all come together.  I wanted it to be a place where others might find information to help them with their own planning for Mediterranean cruises or travel, or at least find pointers to sites with detailed information they can use.  So with that in mind, today’s post is our Top Ten Useful and Informative Internet Sites for planning our trip of a lifetime.
1.     Cruise Critic – a source of information about the cruise ports that we will visit
2.     DISBoards – a source of information and community about the Disney ship we’ll be sailing on, including an online “meet and greet” with fellow DISers who will be sailing with us
3.     TripAdvisor – a source of information about sites specifically in each port including restaurants and attraction reviews.  Includes links to their websites when available.
4.     Essence of Dubrovnik – a blog by DubrovnikLady that I met on CruiseCritic who shares her life in Dubrovnik. She also helped us secure a tour guide for our day in port.
5.     Rome in Limo – our tour guide for our day in Rome; in addition to being able to book our tour with them, they have information about the city and suggestions for building our itinerary for the day.
6.     Bus Turistic in Barcelona – a city tour for Barcelona that includes lists of sites that are recommended for tourists, but also leads you to others off the beaten path
7.     Pinterest and Google Images – to actually see the places we are going beforehand
8.     Public Library – for checking out books, both physical and electronic to read about the places we will visit. We can request books online to have the delivered to our local branch for pick-up, or electronically delivered to our e-reader devices.
9.     Rick Steves – there’s much to be said for turning to the experts, and Rick Steves is considered among the best. Not only does his website have information about the places we will go, he offers travel advice and packing tips to make one’s experience better.
10. Real and virtual friends – these are people that we know in real life or have known for a period of time via activities on the internet who have gone to the cities and places we will be visiting.  Reading their trip reports, asking questions, and seeking their opinions and advice has proven to be an invaluable resource for our travel preparation.
We hope that as our blog continues, both during the planning and preparation phase, and the actual travel itself, that it will be a source of information that others will find useful and enjoyable.  Thanks for reading these last few months – the p&p portion will be over before too much longer! 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Doing the document dance

We received our cruise documents in the mail today including our luggage tags. That is a marker in time that says its time to get serious about plans and preparation if you haven't started. It's traditional among online cruisers to do a "document dance" when the mailman delivers these.

And a DISBoards member shared this image with us. I think I will post it on my office door for while we are away.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Italian shoe-venir??

I’m not a shoe hound, really I’m not.  Finding shoes that fit comfortably and are durable, however, is sometimes more of a challenge than I like.  So as we’re preparing for our trip, I’ve been considering what shoes to take.

We’ll be traveling by air, so I want footwear that can slip on and off easily for the airport, and since it’s a 9 hour flight, I’ll definitely not want to have my shoes on for the whole flight.  And when we arrive, we may or may not have access to our hotel room (early morning arrival) so there may not be a chance to switch shoes for a morning of touring because I certainly don’t want to be digging through our luggage in the middle of the hotel lobby.

There will be plenty of port days that will require shoes that are comfortable and supportive for walking long distances and standing for great lengths of time as we listen to our tour guides explain what we’re seeing.  There will be days at sea where I’ll want shoes that are non-slip so I won’t fall on a wet deck or slick restaurant floor.  I’ll want shoes that don’t require socks so my feet can breathe.

And then there are the shoes I’ll want for wearing with cruise casual outfits for dinners in the main dining rooms, and if I decide to pack something a bit more dressy, well, that requires a different shoe than the others already identified.

Some friends introduced me to Merrell shoes.  We’ve had a Designer Shoe Warehouse open near us where I found a cute and comfortable pair of sandals.  They will definitely be going with us.


I’ve had a pair of Easy Spirit walking shoes that held up well and have given me good support, so I bought a new pair of those for the trip.  Because once I do find a pair of shoes that I like, it’s best to get another pair!


So I’ve got the casual shoes and the walking / touring shoes figured out, but not the dress shoes.  Dress shoes have always been the hardest, and I’ve often wished I could just go somewhere and have someone make a pair just for me.  Well guess what?  We’re going to Italy; they’re famous for their Italian hand-made shoes, right?  My mind is whirling, my calculator is clicking as I think about whether, just maybe, a pair of hand-made Italian shoes might be in my future…  A Google search for Italian shoes in Venice led me to Giovanna Zanella – and we have a day and a half in Venice… I wonder if that’s enough time to get an order placed?!


Thursday, May 2, 2013

How many days?

When asked how many days until vacation, it depends on who is asking and in what context they are asking as to what answer we give.

If it's work related, we just tell them when our last day in the office will be. For family and friends, it's the number of weeks until we leave home. For fellow travelers, it's all about when we board the ship.

The most important one for the boys is 20 days... As in 17 days of school plus 3 days of exams. Days which cannot pass fast enough.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Plan B for Naples

One disadvantage to having such a long time to plan a trip is that there comes a point when you think you have your plans pretty much set, but then something else presents itself as an appealing option. We had this happen today when we were in Bible class and looking at photos of things related to Alexander the Great that are found at the National Museum in Naples.

Before we knew that the cruise line offered a half day excursion to Pompeii, we had considered spending a half day at the National Museum and then getting some pizza. But once we booked the Pompeii excursion, we thought there would not be enough time to see the museum, so we thought we would just plan a pizza run for the afternoon.

But after learning more about the Greek Empire and seeing images of artifacts on display at the National Museum, we have a decision to make; rush a bit to see something of the museum and skip the pizza, or skip the museum. Decisions, decisions.

In 2007 I wished we had had time to see something of Naples and to try some local pizza. But we enjoy history and museums when we can see them at our own pace. I think the decision will rest on what our port departure time will be. In the meanwhile, I will prepare our afternoon itinerary including maps and directions for Plan A (pizza) and Plan B (museum). You will have to check back in several weeks to see which Plan we end up following.