Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Windmills of Mykonos



I love looking at travel pictures and reading trip reports, particularly when I am going to a new location.  One of those new locations for our trip was Mykonos, and one of the travel photos I saw that intrigued me was of the windmills at Mykonos.  I thought they looked so interesting and wanted to be sure we would see them ourselves.  These are distinctive and are considered an identifying landmark for Mykonos, so white against the blue sky and sea.  As we were leaving from Mykonos that afternoon, the winds were strong, so strong in fact that they were shearing off the tops of the waves and creating rainbows on the surface of the sea.

If you find yourself in strolling through Mykonos Town, take the time to walk up to the windmills. The view is spectacular.



Tuesday, July 30, 2013

ΙΧΘΥΣ - the secret symbol of Christianity

When we were preparing for our visit to Ephesus, we were told to look for a symbol of Christianity carved among the stones of the ancient city.  According to our guide, the Greek letters for the word fish (ΙΧΘΥΣ) were also an acronym for the Greek translation of Jesus Christ God's Son and Savior (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr - ΙΧΘΥΣ).  Apparently, the early Christians superimposed the letters on top of each other, creating a wheel with spokes that became recognized as a symbol to indicate where one might find fellow believers without drawing unwelcome attention from those seeking to persecute them.

This photo shows where our guide wrote the letters ΙΧΘΥΣ and then illustrated how they were written together to create the symbol.

In addition to seeing this mark in Ephesus, while we were at the Temple of Apollo in Didyma, we came across the symbol there as well.  More information about Didyma and the Temple of Apollo can be found here.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Prince Albert and the Oceanographic Museum

 While wandering through the gardens in Monaco, we came to an overlook where there is a statue of Prince Albert. Known for his love of the sea and his study of oceanography, it's only fitting that he is portrayed here in seafaring attire at the captain's helm as he gazes towards the sea forevermore.

The Musee Oceanographique (Oceanographic Museum) in Monaco is open daily except Christmas or during the Grand Prix.  While we didn't have time to explore the museum during our tour, if you plan a day in Monaco and are interested in more than aquariums, the museum should be on your list.  The museum is located just outside the car parking garage and before you enter the gardens or head toward the Palace.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Towel animals

A fun part of cruising is coming back to your cabin after dinner each evening to find what towel animal your stateroom host has created. Here are a few of ours.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Barcelona photobucket

We have been getting our photos uploaded to PhotoBucket. For those who are interested, this is the link for our Barcelona ones where you can see highlights from our Bus Turistic tour and our visit into Sagrada Familia. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Replicating the focaccia tomato sandwich - a quest


Our day in Cinque Terre began with a train ride to Monterosso, and from there we worked our way back to La Spezia.  Along the way we stopped in Vernazza and had lunch.  We had a delicious sandwich on focaccia bread that was slightly toasted and filled with fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil.  It was so yummy!  The name of the restaurant was Ananasso Bar and it was right by the water under the yellow umbrellas. 


While we were in Italy, we learned that true mozzarella cheese is made from buffalo milk, but it is so rich and fatty, that many people prefer to use cow’s milk which is also easier to obtain.


DH liked this sandwich so much that he wants to figure out how to make it locally.  I think the issue will be finding bread that is as good as this was (they say it’s the Italian water that makes it so good) and tomatoes as ripe and flavorful (they say it’s the volcanic soil that adds to their richness).  But we’re game to try.




Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Walking tour in Barcelona

We planned our last day in Spain to be one where we just rambled around, nothing specific on our agenda except to walk down La Ramblas to see what all the fuss was.  Maybe because we were there in the mid-morning, it wasn’t crowded and we had a chance to just look around.  As we were heading towards the waterfront, a side street caught our eye, so we turned and found ourselves in the Placa Reial, an open square that looked to be a gathering place with a fountain in the middle that you could sit around – perfect for a rest.


While we were in the square, I noticed some young people with green umbrellas and “free walking tour” signs.  We like to do walking tours in new cities because we find the information provided by guides sets the stage for the city and enhances our appreciation.  So I spoke to one of the green umbrella people who explained that they really do free walking tours twice a day, once at 11:00 and again at 4:30, each leaving from right where we were.  Just come a bit ahead of time to get a sticker because they only take a limited number of people per tour (but it seemed to be a large enough number that you should be able to go).  They were offering a Gaudi tour that would end up elsewhere in the city, and an Old City tour that would end about ten minutes away from Placa Reial.  We had about 20 minutes before the tour would begin, but the boys didn’t feel up to walking another 2+ hours, the length of the tour, so we took their brochure with thoughts of joining in the afternoon tour.


As it turned out, we didn’t get back to do the tour, and I haven’t been able to put my hands on the brochure, so I’d been wracking my brain to remember the name of the tour company.  Yesterday, I read a friend’s travel log from her trip to Barcelona in early June and wouldn’t you know it, but she did not one, but two tours with the company – which is Runner Bean Tours!  She was very pleased with the tours, and I know this because if she didn’t like the first one, she certainly wouldn’t have joined the second one.  And they get great reviews on TripAdvisor.


So if you find yourself in Barcelona and are interested in a free walking tour, give them a try.  If we had known about them before our last day, we would have definitely planned our day to include time and energy to do it.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Murano Glass Factory, or my favorite souvenir from Italy

On our first day in Venice, we took a tour to Murano which is an island northeast of Venice and is well-known for its glass factories and their beautiful pieces of glassware.  We toured the Ferro and Lazzarini factory (here is their Facebook page - I thought it was funny that they had a Like Us on Facebook sign in their tour entryway, but this is a great way to see some of their work) and watched a glass-blowing demonstration which was fascinating.  We've seen glass blowing before at Disney World and other places where they make tiny figurines, but the demonstration we saw began with a huge fiery blob that turned into a beautiful large vase!  And then they did another one where the glass master made a Ferrari horse in two minutes time.  Unbelievably skilled. 

After the demonstration, like all good tours, we were herded into the gift shop, only instead of being a gift shop, it was their showroom.  There were beautiful pieces everywhere - bowls, glasses, serving trays, decorative pieces, chandeliers, jewelry - anything you could imagine that a glass factory might make.  The pieces came in various sizes and colors.  We learned that the color of the glass is what drives the price among similar pieces; for example, a red colored piece gets its hue from gold, so of course it's going to cost more.  They demonstrated the durability of the glass by taking a set and banging the cup down hard on the table - it startled me but it didn't break!

I hadn't planned to buy anything specific, but the glass was so beautiful that here's what I ended up with.  The store wrapped it well so we were able to get it home in one piece. Now to find a place for it and to remember it's ok to use it - definitely not for display only.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The waving nuns of Dubrovnik

It’s the little things that you learn about a new place that often stick with you, and on our day in Dubrovnik, that held true.  We began with a drive towards the Old City. Our guide parked us several blocks from the Old City to facilitate our departure later in the day and because it gave us a scenic overview of the area around the Old City.  But before we left from the parking area, he pointed out an old church down the hill and through the greenery and told us the story of how for hundreds of years, the nuns watch and wave to ships passing by, offering a blessing to the seafaring people, and how even today they can be seen as cruise ships leave port.
We left Dubrovnik around 7:00 PM; the sun was still out but beginning to fade in the late afternoon light.  As we were sailing out, we stood on Deck 4, straining our eyes to find the church to see for ourselves.  Unfortunately, we were far enough out that our naked eyes could barely make out what appeared to be the church, but a fellow-passenger had a honking-big camera lens and was able to tell us that what we thought was a church looked like one.
After we got home, I Googled “nuns Dubrovnik” and the first result let me to the Dubrovnik Tourist Board’s post about the Bell Blessing for the Seamen of the world.  This site is full of information about the area and one I hadn’t come across before we made our trip.  If you’re planning a trip to Dubrovnik, whether by land or sea, be sure to look for the little things.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Flowers from around the Med

We took a lot of photos of buildings, but we also got some pictures of the beautiful flowers and shrubs along the way. I don't know the names of these, just that I like them.

Clockwise from top left: Spain, France, Greece, and Italy.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Magic's first arrival in Piraeus

Whenever a cruise ship arrives at a port for the first time, it's known as the inaugral visit. and not only is it a big deal for the ship and her passengers, it can be a big deal for the local area, particularly fans of cruising, ships, and such.  The passengers will often gather on the outer decks to take photos or video of the ship's arrival.

The Disney Magicarrived in Piraeus, Greece, for the first time on June 21, 2013, and someone was there onshore to capture the moment.  One of our fellow passengers shared this YouTube video with us, so I wanted to use it for today's post.  The 360-degree view of the Magic as she sails into the port of Piraeus shortly after sunrise is stunning, and I hope you'll enjoy it as much as we did.

And if for some reason the embedded video doesn't display, here is a link.

Friday, July 19, 2013


A friend gave us a copy of Dan Brown’s newest book Inferno as a travel gift before we made our trip to the Mediterranean.  DH read the book in the early part of our cruise, but I didn’t pick it up until a few days before our trip was over.  I’m glad I waited.  The book is set in Florence and Venice, and if I’d read the book before we went to these places, I would have missed the significance of the descriptions, but having been, I know exactly where his characters are standing in each of these cities.  He also makes historical references to things I didn’t know about, but having been on tours in both cities, the information shared by our guides has me in the know about Doges and the Medici.  Of course there are also things I’ve read about in the book that now I wish we’d taken the time to see!

When we were in Florence, our time there was limited and a bit hurried, and much of what we saw was from outside the museums.  There is plenty to see around without going into the museums, and the Piazza della Signoria is full of statues and other art work.  When Inferno characters are describe the setting, their thoughts mimic those we had when we were there.  When we left from Florence, I wasn’t in love with the city, but the more I’ve read since we were there, the more I think I’d like to go back for a land-based visit.

DH has re-read the book since we left from Venice and said having been in the cities enhanced his enjoyment and understanding of the book.  I finished the book tonight. 

Hot, dry, dusty days

 My kids asked me why I took a picture of the ground while we were at the Temple of Apollo in Didyma, Turkey.  It was a hot, dry, dusty day in June and the ground was literally cracked from the conditions.
We noted that many of our port excursions involved hot, dry, dusty locations.  The Forum in Rome, the Acropolis in Athens, Ephesus, Miletus, and Didyma in Turkey, and Pompeii in Italy.  That’s what is different about cruises in that part of the world versus those in the Caribbean; the places you visit are often historical in nature and as a result aren’t necessarily in the best condition.  But they are worth going to see, and there are some things you can do to make the visit more bearable.
First of all, take plenty of water for each of you to drink.  In some places we visited, it was possible to refill bottles from public fountains because the water is clear and cold and fresh – we did this at the Forum in Rome and in the Old City in Dubrovnik.  Staying hydrated is key to making it through the heat of summer days, especially when touring. 
Most of the time our guides were able to find shade for us to stand in as we listened to explanations of the sites we were touring.  But shade wasn’t always available and of course there was the open sunny spaces as you moved amidst the historical sites.  Light clothing, sunscreen, and a protective hat or umbrella can keep you from being burned by the hot, baking sun.  Sunglasses help, too, to protect your eyes not only from the sun, but in the case of high open areas that afford a breeze, they can shield your eyes from the dust blowing.  This is especially true at the Acropolis.  I saw one lady who got dust in her eyes and she was wearing contact lenses and had to be helped to the washroom to rinse her eyes.
The hot sun will sap your strength, so be sure to have a good breakfast before heading out for the day, and pack some snacks in case your tour runs past lunch.  In Pompeii, our plans were to have a late lunch when we returned to Naples, but as our tour was ending after noon, we were happy to share our Smuckers Uncrustables that we’d brought from the ship to take the edge off.  On our day in Turkey, we stopped for lunch as part of the tour around 12:45, but another group on the same tour that was behind us ended up going to the Temple of Apollo and then to lunch – so they didn’t get to lunch until nearly 2:00.
We hope our experiences will give you something to think about as you plan your next adventure.  And while several of our days were hot, dry, dusty, we had enough other days that were mild, sunny, beautiful days such as the ones we spent in Mykonos and Malta and of course our days at sea.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Map of Mykonos

One of my favorite days was the one we spent in Mykonos.  This beautiful Greek island offers so much – beaches, historical places, spectacular views, delicious food, shopping, and some of the nicest, friendliest people we’ve met.  Things are quite laid back in Mykonos and if we were to make another trip to the area, Mykonos will be on my list of places to stay a few days.  And if the other Greek isles are similar, I’d be happy to island-hop for a vacation. 

From where we ported in Mykonos, the ship provided a shuttle bus to take us to the main town area which is located at the top of the map in today’s photo.  This area is where you can get ferry boats to various places and is a central transportation hub.  There are beautiful yachts moored there, too.  From there, we walked into town passing several cafes, restaurants, and shops, stopping for souvenirs and water along the way.  There is plenty to see on the main street, but if you go, be sure to wander off the beaten path to the shops that are a block or so off.  They have a variety of local merchandise and the shops aren’t so busy. 

The You are Here marker on the left side is the end of the main area along the water, but if you continue walking around the curve, you come to what they call their Little Venice, and then walk a short distance more around and you’ll see the windmills up on the hill located at the bottom left of this map.  They have these maps posted throughout town, and with the windy little streets in the main area, you definitely need to stop and get your bearings.  One good thing was that we could nearly always see our ship from wherever we were, even though she was quite a bit off in the distance.

Here’s a better map if you want to see more of the area for yourself.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The secret keyhole on Aventine Hill

When we first began cruising, we booked all of our excursions through the cruise line, but over the years as we have gained confidence, we have become comfortable planning our own days and tours.  For our day in Roma, we used Rome in Limo to drive us to the places we wanted to visit.  After we were done with our list, we still had time before needing to head to the port, so our driver Mike took us to places a bit more off the beaten path and certainly not on our radar. 
One of those stops was Aventine Hill where there is a door to the gardens of the Priory of the Knights of Malta.  There is a keyhole where, if you look through it, you can look through the tunnel of the garden all the way to the dome of St. Peter’s at the Vatican.  You can read more about the keyhole online or find directional information so you can see for yourself. For clearer pictures of what you see as you look through the hole, use the search terms Aventine Keyhole.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sunbathing on rocks?

We knew from past experience that the beaches in the Mediterranean are different than the beaches in Florida, but we couldn’t understand why people would choose rocks to make their sunbeds on – even with a towel or blanket, it can’t be comfortable!  But we saw this in nearly every area we went to where there were beaches and rocks – people choosing to be on the rocks rather than the sand or small gravel that constitutes the shore.  Today’s photo is from Monterosso, one of the five villages comprising Cinque Terre, Italy.



Monday, July 15, 2013

Our favorite place??

Thank you all so much for following along with us these last several months while we’ve been planning our trip of a lifetime.  And for joining us as we reported live from the seas.  But just because we are back doesn’t mean it’s over!  We hope that as we continue to share more information about the places we’ve been and our experiences along the way that these posts will be helpful to others who are planning trips to these areas – whether by land or by sea! 

The most common question we’ve been asked upon our return is “what was your favorite place?”  Our answer is always the same – we can’t say!  There are things about each place that we absolutely loved. So for today, we’ll share our favorite thing about each place.

Barcelona:  We aren’t big on touring church buildings, but a visit to La Sagrada Familia is something to behold. While it seems a bit of a mess outside, the inside is beautiful and definitely a work in progress. If you go, try to get your tickets ahead of time to avoid the lines. We didn’t do a tour, just went for an inside visit, but fellow travelers said the climb of the towers was good.

French Riviera:  While we visited Monaco and Monte Carlo, I really enjoyed our stop in Eze. It’s a medieval village and so quaint to walk through. I wish we had been there earlier in the day so we wouldn’t be so tired by the time we got there, so my recommendation would be to visit there earlier in the day or not combine it with an all day tour to other areas.

Cinque Terre:  Taking the train was quite the adventure, but our favorite part of Cinque Terre was seeing each of the villages and noticing the differences among them. Our favorite was Vernazza, probably because we had the best sandwich there for lunch.

Rome:  Once we finished our list of things we wanted to see, our driver took us around Rome to see areas that he wanted to show us including going to an area where you can see vistas of Rome and the Vatican City.  Away from the throngs of people, we felt like we were overlooking the whole city.

Athens:  The Acropolis and her buildings were so amazing to look at.  Just thinking about how long they have been there and are still there for us to see was inspiring.

Ephesus:  The ancient city of Ephesus, walking the streets that the early Christians walked.

Mykonos:  What a wonderful place, so relaxing, so clean, so fresh, so beautiful.  We enjoyed meeting people who lived there as we went from shop to shop.  The views from the windmills were spectacular.

Malta:  Our panoramic drive around the island was the perfect choice for our first stop in Malta.  There is so much more to this island than just the city of Valletta where the ships dock.  Having a local guide, born and raised, gave us her perspective on life in Malta. Because it was just us on the tour, we were able to talk with her about everyday life in Malta.

Florence:  I wasn’t overly keen on Florence the day we were there, but the longer we have been away and I’ve had time to process what we saw, the more interested I am in returning some day – but only if it can be a land-based visit and we can spend several days.  Reading Dan Brown’s Inferno probably helped fuel that change of mind.

Venice:  This is the one city I definitely want to go back to! There wasn’t enough time to even feel like we got much of a taste of it, and we were there overnight!  My favorite thing was walking through the streets between San Marco Square and Rialto.

Dubrovnik:  Wandering through the Old City with our guide who was born and raised in Dubrovnik was a wonderful adventure. He was greeted by name around every corner and we met his old neighbors. He showed us Dubrovnik as he wanted us to see it – the good and the bad as we saw parts of the area that are still destroyed from the war of the early 1990s.  The area is beautiful, the Adriatic Sea so inviting. The water so fresh and clean to drink directly from the fountains.

The least favorite part of our trip was coming home.  That question was easy.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Festa Venicia 1, the Magic's atrium chandelier

The Disney Magic atrium lobby is home to a colorful chandelier designed and created by famous glass blowing artist Dale Chihouly. Made from acrylic rather than glass, the Festa Venicia 1, as the chandelier is known, has proudly hung on the Magic for 15 years. However, when the Magic undergoes dry dock later this year, the chandelier will be removed and taken to thenDisney terminal in Port Canaveral to be displayed there. So we made sure to get one last photo for our memories.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Towel birthday cake

One of the boys celebrated his birthday while on the cruise. We thought there might be a card from Mickey and the gang, but we were surprised to find our stateroom host left a birthday cake made of towels!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hand Soap for Everyone!

A fun part of cruise planning is being involved with an online community where you can meet other people who will be on the same cruise with you.  We participate in both and where we became acquainted with several of our ship mates before we even left home.


Some of the DISBoards members participate in a gift exchange.  For those that do, they bring items to give to the other participants – it can be anything, really – pencils, notepads, magnets, postcards, trinkets for Pirate night, memorabilia from a local sports team, craft items, things you might find useful on excursions, really whatever you want to bring.  Then during the cruise, you take your items around and drop them off at the other participants’ cabins. 


We participated in this exchange on both the Greece and the Venice itinerary, and among the really creative and thoughtful items we received, this Hand Soap was the the most useful!  I had never seen hand soap sheets before, so when I found it in our gift bag, I tossed it into my day bag (along with the travel t.p. I carry) in case I ever needed it.  And wouldn’t you know it, the very next day in Bracciano, the public WC, while having plenty of TP, did not have soap.  So I got to use it, and then, as other ladies from our tour were ready to wash up, I shared!  Hand Soap for everyone!


This item is now going on my “must” list for packing.


Thursday, July 11, 2013


There is only one McDonalds in Venice. We found it amusing that they needed to advertise on a garbage can.

There are none in Dubrovnik.

And we are happy to report that the only time we had McD's for the last month was when we got ice cream at the one in Barcelona a block from the hotel pre-cruise.

The paneled doors of Deck 3

When you first board the Disney Magic, it is generally through the gangway on Deck 3 and there is great fanfare as you are welcomed aboard. But once they close up the doors, you don't really notice the area as where you walked through the side of the ship even though sometimes they have photo ops set up in the area with characters or special backdrops.

It wasn't until the final night that it dawned on me that the two paneled places along the starboard side of the atrium area were those doors (top photo) even though we had used them in both Barcelona and Venice. We also used Deck 3 in Naples, but that was on the port side, and until then, I hadn't even thought about a port side exit from Deck 3 as we generally have used gangways set up on Deck 1 forward or aft rather than Deck 3 midship.

On the last morning as I was taking some pre-leaving photos of the atrium area, I noticed the opened door on Deck 3. When we left a while later, both of the doors were open to accommodate the guests who were leaving the ship.

We didn't linger in the atrium area for one last look at her. She is going to dry dock later this year and will have renovations done including the removal of the staircase in the bottom photo. It was better to just go, kind of like ripping off a bandaid... Just get it done. So we took one final step through the doorway leaving behind 24 fabulous days and nights on our beloved Disney Magic.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Shipping and luggage storage at the Port in Barcelona

Someone asked if we could take a photo of the shipping / luggage storage/transfer counter at the port in Barcelona. This company is an authorized UPS company that will ship items for you when leaving the port. They also offer a luggage storage and delivery service for people with late same day flights that want to explore Barcelona but not drag their luggage all over town.

I am not quite sure how we did it, but each of our bags makes the weight limit so we didn't need to ship anything home after all.

Monday, July 8, 2013

24 days later

Today is our 24th day on the Disney Magic. Before you think wow, that's a lot, I was talking to someone this morning who is staying on for the next four nights as well.

It's a sea day which means there are a lot of activities going on around the ship, but the most important one for me was the packing. With a 50-lb per bag weight restriction for the airlines, I had to balance out the heavier items with those lighter ones that can also act as cushions. So with an eye out the verandah door listening to the calm of the Mediterranean Sea, I got it all packed with room to spare. Not quite sure how we did that, but having come with some extra room to begin with and having gotten rid of or used up some if the things we brought, I'm not even having to leave behind an extra bottle of H2O lotion or shampoo!

We will spend one more night in Barcelona before heading home. I'm glad for that because whole the bags are packed tonight, we will have things in the morning that will need to be added. I would rather be able to do that with some space and privacy rather than in the middle of the cruise terminal or worse, in the luggage line at the airport. This will give us a chance to shift those last minute items around before we even head to the airport the next day.

And now that the packing is done, there is a chair on the verandah waiting for me to sit and read more of Inferno. So ciao for now.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Cabin location

While in Valletta, we were at the Upper Barracca Gardens and had a great view of the ship. In addition to seeing her from a higher perspective, we were able to zoom in to locate our cabin, marked by the red triangle.

We like our Deck 6 location because it is near the aft elevators without being in the direct flow of lobby traffic, and it is above the aft gangway so on port days like today, we don't have far to go for getting off or back on the ship. We can also watch the pilots as they leave the ship once she is in open waters as she leaves each port as most of the time, the pilots exit from the port side. We also like that we are above the lifeboats so there are no worries about neighbors below us if we are heavy-footed in the late evening or early morning.

For the first half of our back to back cruises, we were in the cabin just to the left of the one marked in the photo.

4th of July celebration

The afternoon of July 4th, DCL held a deck party to celebrate American Independence Day. Starting at 4:00, the DJ played patriotic songs and kids played with beach balls on the party deck of the Goofy pool while cast members passed out American flags.

The main stage cast came out to perform the National Anthem, and then Mickey and the gang were out to perform a song and dance in their patriotic finery. Daisy Duck was greeting guests on Deck 10 which is where we prefer to hang out for deck parties.

Reports from home told us that it has been raining a lot and the local Celebrate America festivities were cancelled due to inclement weather.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sea Day

Our second sea day for our second cruise has been as quiet, calm, and relaxing as this photo of the sea taken at 7:30 PM. It started about twelve hours earlier when I woke up, got some drinkable yogurt for breakfast from Goofy's Galley, and settled in at the Cove Cafe to read Inferno by Dan Brown. This was a travel gift for us from a friend before we left, so we each loaded it onto our Kindles. DH finished it during the first cruise but I had not yet had a chance to start, so today was a great day to begin.

The guys got up and out by 10:30, so we cleared out of the cabin so our stateroom host could get the bunk bed folded into the ceiling along with whatever other magic he does for us each day. We found a spot on Deck 4 starboard to read and relax until noon when it was time to get a picture with Minnie in her princess outfit. Success!

For lunch, Topsiders had grilled steak, chicken, and mahi mahi. I won't order steak in the dini g rooms any more because what they serve straight from the grill is so much better than what they have from the menu (my opinion, of course).

DH and N spent the afternoon rewatching The Lone Ranger while Z was off at the teen club, so I used my free time to organize the souvenirs and other such stuff that we have accumulated over the last 21 days. Thank goodness there is the option to ship things home from the port, although I may see what the fee is for an overweight bag and if it is comparable, then we may just do that.

Dinner tonight was semi-formal but also theme night, so the boys skipped while DH and I went to Lumiere's. We Ike their fresh grilled chicken salad they offer, and more importantly, this was my last opportunity to have creme brûlée cheesecake as once the ship goes through dry dock, Parrot Cay will no longer exist and with its demise goes the cheesecake.

There is a new variety act on board tonight performing for the main show, so I will see if before retiring early. Our last port is tomorrow when we stop in Valletta, Malta, for our second visit.

Pigeons and Rooftops

There is a saying that the more pigeons a city has, the wealthier its inhabitants, but in the case of Dubrovnik, it is more a direct correlation between the number of tourists who feed them rather than the wealth of their citizens. In fact, 70% of the population in Dubrovnik is dependent on tourism for work. As the third busiest cruise ship port in the Mediterranean, Dubrovnik certainly gets its share of visitors. We were there on a slow day with just two ships in port.

Today's photos were taken from the city walls near the Pile Gate. See the pigeons flying over the dome? But what is interesting to me about these photos is the difference between the rooftops. Most of the tourism pictures you will see are of these distinctive red rooftops. Our guide explained to us that the exterior of the houses in the old city was the same, specifically designed for equality on the outside where one cannot distinguish the wealth or lack of from the exterior of the apartments. You can see that in the bottom picture which is mostly residences in the upper levels above the shops of the main street. But the difference among the rooftops is because many were destroyed during the war in the early 1990s and the replacements, while blending with the older surviving roofs, were just different.

Friday, July 5, 2013


The Disney Magic had her inaugural visit to Dubrovnik, Croatia, making this the eighth country we have visited during our vacation.

For our time in Dubrovnik, we engaged the services of a guide to meet us at the port and take us around the city. Our guide was waiting for us by the time the ship was fully docked and being cleared for us to disembark. We saw him from our verandah and called out for him so he knew we were coming.

We started the tour by heading to the Old Town, entering at the Pile Gate and strolling down Placa before wandering through other parts of the city. Our guide lived in the Old Town for many years and was greeted personally around nearly every corner. He gave us the history and stories of Dubrovnik's past and present as well as their hope for the future.

Before leaving the old area, we went up on the city walls. It is 90 kuna for adults and 30 kuna for children under age 18. We didn't spend much time on the wall as we had other places outside the city that we wanted to see, but we were able to get an overview of the places we had walked.

From there, we drove up to where to cable car goes, stopping along the way for pictures including the one presented here. The views were spectacular and well worth going. If you are visiting Dubrovnik and have a chance to take the cable car, you should do that.

Our guide drove us to and through several of the nearby villages to get a panoramic view of the area and pointed out where the border was between Croatia and Bosnia. Instead of going to the War Museum, we drove rough areas where there is still damage visible from the war 20+ years ago. Seeing those areas firsthand was more sobering than anything the museum may have offered.

We also drove to Cavtat for a quick look around and then to the bay side of the area to see the spring where their water originates. Like we found in Rome and a few other places, the water flowing from the fountains in the city was clear, cold, and drinkable... all refreshing on a hot July afternoon.

Our day in Dubrovnik and the surrounding area has been one of the best of the trip. We saw several DCL excursion groups crowded around their guides and were a bit relieved to not be in the fray of people. Another ship was also in port, so the crowd of tourists swelled to about 6,000 people, apparently a light day for the port.

Dubrovnik is an area I would visit again if the opportunity presented itself.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

More for the Minnie collection

More for the Minnie collection! Formal night and an afternoon at sea.

The Queen of Hearts is my inner villain so of course I had to get my picture with her.

There was a deck party for American Independence Day so Minnie had on her patriotic outfit, and the Pirate party is still to come, plus she will be wearing her princess outfit on our next sea day (at 12:30, so I will plan for a late lunch that day). I have become friends with the character manager during my quest to collect photos of her outfits, so he gives me a heads up about what she will be wearing when.

Bridge of Sighs and Doge's Palace

For our morning in Venice, I had made reservations for the Secret Itinerary tour of the Doge's Palace. This tour lets you tour the palace as well as have a guided tour in areas not generally open to the public, including the torture room and Casanova's prison cells. They tell the tale of Casanova's escape with the caveat that the only record of it was written by Casanova himself.

The tour also includes information about the records and record keeping methods of the Doges over the years as well as descriptions of how the Doge, while the face of Venice, was also a bit of a prisoner because once appointed, it was a responsibility for life. We saw tiny rooms where secretaries and scribes did their day's work, and larger chambers where records were copied and stored. The governmental nerd that I am found it fascinating to imagine the work that went on there and made me thankful that while my own office space is small, I have a door, a window, and a computer!

The tour itself took about 1:15 but then we walked through the rest of the palace which took a other 40+ minutes be ause while we didn't run through, we didn't linger... It's just that big! They offer an audio guide so if you have time to spend there, it would be worth it to use the guide.

The part of the palace I was most interested to see was the Bridge of Sighs. Our tour guide the day before explained that it got its name because it is a passageway that leads from the judgement chambers to prison cells and that those persons passing through knew that the glimpse through the window would likely be their last of Venice, and they would sigh at never seeing their beautiful city again. The top left photo was taken from within the Bridge of Sighs looking toward the canal. The bottom picture is from the canal looking toward the Bridge of Sighs. The top left was taken from the window on the right.

The top right photo is from within the courtyard of the Doge's Palace.

Happy Independence Day

There was a deck party to celebrate today.

Venice, part one

Ah, Venice! Our primary reason for booking this itinerary was because there was a stop in Venice, and not just any stop, but an overnight stop!

We arrived n Venice around noon and headed off on a DCL excursion to Murano where they make glass and to Burano where they still make lace by hand. After dinner, we ventured out to see the Grand Canal and figure out how to get to San Marco Square from the cruise ship terminal. We decided the best route for us was to take the People Mover (1€) from the Stazione Maritima to the Plz Roma station. The People Mover was just over a five minute walk from the ship, and then another few minutes to arrive at the Plz Roma station where we could get to the ACTV (public transportation) and buy a pass to use while in the city. A 24-hour pass was 20€ per person, and a 12-hour pass was 18€. We got two 24-hour ones so DH and I could go into the city the first evening, and two 12-hour passes for the boys for our second day.

We took Vaporetto line 2 down the Grand Canal to San Marco. This is a faster route than Line 1 but doesn't stop at all the stops along the canal, just the main ones such as the train station, the Rialto, and the Accademia before arriving at San Marco Square. From ship to the square took about an hour including time to purchase tickets and retrace our steps once or twice.

We were able to get some photos in the twilight even as it was sprinkling rain. The Grand Canal was full of gondolas. We opted to not try to take a gondola ride as they are quite expensive, and after seeing them, we didn't change our minds, it mig be nice and romantic for a couple, but for a mom, dad, and two teenaged boys, our money would be better spent elsewhere. In fact, our ACTV tickets for the four of us were less than a gondola ride from what we had been able to figure. But that said, the gondolas were beautiful to watch. They are each hand made / tricked out after the hull is formed. We saw several gondolas out on the water during the day, not just on the grand canal but also on the side canals, some being completely functional while others were purely for entertainment. We even saw and heard one with the gondolier singling to his passengers for a truly Venetian experience.

Venice is a city that could grow on me, and is one where I would like to come back for a longer visit and stay near the square. We saw several close hotels and lots of shops and restaurants that look to be places to explore. Our port experience in Venice is a good example of what I say about cruising... There is not enough time in the port to do much more than sample what is there, but it is enough time to know whether you would want to go back for a visit. I wasn't crazy about Florence, but for Venice, it is definitely on my list of places I would return.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Our tour of Pompeii was excellent. We had visited there six years ago and there was a noticeable difference in how much more of the city we were able to explore.

Our guide set the stage for our visit by reminding us that Pompeii is not a city of ruins, but a city that was truly buried alive in 79 A.D. by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago. The bodies that are found are not petrified, but victims of the volcanic gases and fire. The earthenware that is being discovered and uncovered is not in shards, but nearly whole. The 'ruins' that you might see at Pompeii are the result of man's carelessness for the preservation of this important archaeological site in the earlier days of its discovery. In more recent years, great care has been used in the excavation to protect and preserve the walls and artifacts found here.

We chose this excursion because our boys have studied Latin in school and their first year course was set in Pompeii. As we walked through the streets, they could picture the everyday life stuff going on about the city as our guide described a typical day for the citizens of the time. We saw merchant shops, bakeries, homes with several rooms, baths, the latrine, and even the ruts made in the streets by the carts and chariots. We saw the forum and the theater. There are frescoes and mosaics preserved as well.

We only had two hours to see some highlights of Pompeii which was enough for an overview, but for anyone with an interest, you should plan a whole day. They offer an audio guide which is supposed to be pretty good. There are not many informational signs, so if you don't have an audio guide, either the one you can get at the site or perhaps one available through Rick Steve's or other travel professionals, you won't know much about what you are looking at. One of our dining servers said she went with friends for the afternoon but didn't have an audio guide and wished they had.

If you go on your own, the entrance fee is 11€ and the site opens at 8:30 AM. We would recommend going in the morning to avoid the crowds and the heat of the sun. There was enough of a breeze and some shade to help manage the day, but it was still quite warm, and we were glad to have had sunscreen on to prevent sunburned necks.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Minnie and Daisy

I am still on my quest to get a picture of Minnie Mouse in each of her outfits. While there wasn't a new outfit on our day in Naples, there was a new backdrop... Mount Vesuvius! Daisy came out to the gangway while Minnie was on her way in and it was fun to watch these two friends greet each other. This interaction is one of my favorite things about sailing with Disney Cruise Line. Another may or may not have to do with the stash of H2O shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion I have collected (see previous blog post about how much I love these products).

Sea Day tomorrow so I will be posting about our visit to Pompeii after I sort through the pictures.

Pizza in Napoli

When preparing for our trip, one of the things I wanted to do was have pizza in Naples, the birthplace of pizza. My search on TripAdvisor turned up Pizzeria da Gaetano as highly rated, so I selected this place based on the reviews there. I posted about it with a link previously, and when we return, we will be adding to the positive reviews on TripAdvisor.

We returned from our morning excursion before 1 PM so we, along with two other families from DISBoards, hailed a taxi and went to the pizzeria. We had emailed with them back in March and they still had us on the calendar for a reservation. This is a very small restaurant with seating for about twenty people upstairs and maybe eight downstairs if you don't mind sitting at the kitchen table.

The pizza is fire baked and truly representative of pizza in Napoletana (or Napoli, depending on who you talk to). We each got a margherita pizza (fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil) which was huge, but only 4,50€. Because the crust is very thin, you don't fill up with the dough so you can enjoy more of the fresh flavors. The crust is also pliable so you can roll it up to eat.

So having pizza in Naples can now be crossed off my list! We have definitely been experiencing more of the local foods and transportation on this trip than any other we have made. We used our Amazing Race skills before getting in the taxi to make sure the drivers knew where we wanted to go (we needed two taxis for the nine of us) and negotiated the fare ahead of time. As we sat in some of the lunchtime traffic, I had an eye on my watch as the pizzeria had said it should take about 15 minutes to get there, and that was just about right. But as we were creeping along, I thought about the Amazing Racers and how sometimes a cab ride can make or break their race. In our case, we were successful in completing the Naples leg because we completed our task (having local pizza) and got to the Welcome Aboard mat by 3:00 (all aboard was 5:30).