Thursday, September 29, 2011

Disney Mediterranean Cruise: Day at Sea

Ahh, a day at sea... A great day to relax and reflect... Even on a Disney ship, where there is so much to do this is possible. We were fully planning on spending a lot of time just enjoying being at sea. While we were able to take advantage of the day, it was not quite as relaxing as we hoped it would be.

Lets start off with the night before. I was up late doing some laundry, and noticed that there was a wet spot on the floor near the pull out sofa sleeper. having two small kids who tend to spill things, I didn't think much of it, until I felt a drip land on my head. even at this point I wasn't concerned, we had the temperature in the room pretty low, so it was probably just some condensation from the air conditioning. The room was dark, and didn't want to disturb anyone by investigating, so I just threw a hand towel on the floor to catch the drippings.

The next morning I noticed the sound of dripping water onto the now soaked towel. Since everyone was awake I investigated further. The water was coming from the sprinkler head in the ceiling. At this point I was starting to get a little concerned. The water was clearly dirty, as the white towel now had a distinct rust colored spot where the water was hitting. In addition a room down the hall has a major leak that required severe staff clean up the day before. Before we headed up to Palo for our first brunch experience we called guest services who assured up they would send someone down to check it out.

After returning from brunch (more on that later), and checking on the little ones in the club, it was obvious that no one had been in the room to check the situation. We called guest services again, as the leak had gotten worse. As a group we had planned to go see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides so we vacated the room hoping that the problem would be resolved.

During the movie we got a page from the club, so my wife went to see what the kids needed, and while she did that she stopped by the room to see if anyone had come by. Again no one had, so this time she spoke with a supervisor and finally after we got out of the movie, there was someone in the room checking the leak out. The crew member did not seen worried about the problem, but said that they would need to get into the ceiling to fix the problem. As you might expect the leak had gotten worse. We headed to the pool.

At some point during the next couple hours things got bad in our room. The sofa got soaked, as did a lot more of the floor. My wife spoke with the supervisor Jakob, again, who told us that he would get back to us soon. He eventually was able to get us a new room, just a few down from our current one, and he told us that he was going to be talking to headquarters about what else they would do for us.

When we got to the new room we had a little surprise waiting for us. Jakob had sent down a package with a note saying that they were sorry for the delay in responding to our requests. The package was a miniature suitcase (probably a jewelry case) that was obviously a stateroom gift for the Eastbound Transatlantic cruise, there were also Mickey and Minnie Pook-a-Looz. They also gave us a pretty nice stateroom credit to hold us over until he got word from HQ.

The room was OK, but it was obviously left empty because it was a little beat up, an not up to paying guest standards. The furniture needed some love, and there were some fixtures in disrepair, but everything was dry, so we were happy! We would be in this room for the last two days of the cruise.

Outside of that excitement we had a pretty good day! We spent some time by the pool, saw POTC 4 (the 4th time my daughter had seen it) as I mentioned before, and just enjoyed being on the ship. It was a fully booked cruise, so it was pretty crowded, but we never felt it got to crazy, except for the line at Topsider's Buffet.

Now about Palo Brunch... This is one of those things that everyone raves about! I have never heard or read a bad, or even so-so review about brunch at Palo. I really wondered how it could possibly live up to the hype. Well to be honest... IT DID! I was shocked by just how much food they had on the buffet! All of that plus made to order brnch entrees as well? It was great! I had the Chicken Parmesan, and it was the best I had ever had. It was cooked perfectly and served on top of a Parmesan Risotto... I liked it so much I have been having cravings for a month! I tried to recreate it a couple nights ago, but it wasn't close... There were two things that disappointed me though. First the Midori Champagne that I ordered wasn't as good as I hoped, and we were so full after our main course that we didn't have room for dessert! Oh well something to look forward to the next time!

So despite the headache of the leaky ceiling, we still had a great day at sea. While they were slow to react to our problem, once they did, we were taken care of. Jakob was awesome! He made it his personal mission to take care of us during the ordeal. He met us up at the Mickey Pool to give us our room keys, and frequently checked in to see how we were doing. A few days after we got back from the cruise DCL let us know that to make up for our "lost sea day" we would be getting a credit to use on a future booking. All in all I think the issue was handled well. And rest assured that we will be putting it to good use!

Friday, September 23, 2011

3 Dis Kids: Mediterranean Magic

My plan was to finish typing my trip report before I finished the actual video, but I finished the video quicker than I thought I would! I must be getting better at editing! Plus it's not going to give anything away...

So without further ado... 3 Dis Kids: Mediterranean Magic!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Avatar Coming to Animal Kingdom

We now take a break from our regularly scheduled blogging about my cruise recap to discuss the big news coming out of Walt Disney Imagineering...

In case you are not plugged in to all news Disney, there was a big announcement that James Cameron's Avatar will be coming to Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom theme park. The news came out yesterday (September 20, 2011) via a press conference at Walt Disney Imagineering in Burbank, California. Many details are not known yet, but we do know that construction is set to begin sometime in 2013.

The Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Tom Staggs, answered some email questions yesterday on the Disney Parks Blog regarding the upcoming partnership, but there was very little new information learned. He gave a possible time frame of 5 years before opening, and said that their vision includes "multiple attractions, entertainment, merchandise locations

, restaurants, and other immersive elements." He did not answer if this would be replacing specific attractions, or if it would be an entirely new land, which troubles me...
My thoughts on this have gone back and forth since I first read about it...

First, I like the idea that they are planning something big, and trying to increase the profile of Animal Kingdom. Unfairly in some respects, and spot on it others, Animal Kingdom is often described as a "half day park", and I know that we are not alone in skipping days of our vacation at Animal Kingdom to return to other parks. Bringing a new aspect to the park, and one that should be really cool if done right (and I have complete confidence that Disney will), will draw a lot of new people to the park.

Secondly, I feel that the connection between Avatar and the theme of Animal Kingdom is a bit of

a stretch. I understand the concept of all animals past, present, and mythical, but this just seems made up. The long rumored "Beastly Kingdom" was supposed to explain the dragon in the parks logo, but big blue people? I'm just not sure.

Third, I am excited to see what a partnership between Disney and James Cameron could produce. Like him or not James Cameron is an idea guy. They might not always pan out, but he has a lot of them. If he is really involved in the design and implementation of this project, I think it will be an amazing experience! The comparisons to Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter will come up, but if that is what they are looking to emulate with Avatar, it has the potential to be amazing! While I wasn't as high on the movie as others, I did think that it was amazing to look at, and technically superior to anything we had seen before. If this new land can be as innovative as the film, we are in for something really special!

Some people are saying that this is in response to the before mentioned Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I'm not sure if something that is at best, 5 years down the road can be seen as a response. Also, Avatar does not, at least at this point, have the dedicated fan base that Harry Potter has. They did say that there were at least two more films in the works, but even with those, the Avatar franchise won't reach as far as Harry Potter. I do think that Disney has seen that the model that Universal followed with Harry Potter has worked, and they want to get their hand into something similar. I also think that they have seen where Universal has fallen short in their venture, and will learn from other's mistakes. Disney has a much larger infrastructure and more experience with these types of projects, and they should be able to plan and implement procedures to avoid some of "growing pains" that Universal suffered.

So after typing out my thoughts, and really thinking this over, I think I like this new Animal Kingdow/Avatar venture, but I'm not over the moon about it. On the surface it seemed odd for them to use an outside entity, but they did it with Star Wars, and Indiana Jones to great success. I have high hopes for this, and look forward to seeing how it progresses. We'll just have to wait and see...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Disney Mediterranean Cruise: Naples, Sorrento, and Pompeii

The next stop on our jaunt around the Med is Naples, Italy. This was one of my most anticipated days of the vacation! Today we would be leaving the 3DisKis with my parents, while my wife and I set of on a Disney excursion named "Timeless Pompeii & The Flavors of Sorrento." This would be a great way for my parents to get some quality time with the grand kids, for the kids to get some quality time in the clubs, and for us to have some quiet time.

When we first started planning this vacation one of my first stops was the DIS's coverage of their Mediterranean cruise, "Magic in the Mediterranean". They had hours of content, and hundreds of photos covering their trip, and they have have always been a very trusted source for planning any Disney vacation, cruise or otherwise. While going through their abundance of videos I came across two that really peaked my interest... These were the videos that made us decide on our excursion!

We had been warned on embarkation day that we would be getting into Naples a little later than planned, and that some excursions would have later meeting and departure times. Ours was one of them, so we got to sleep about an hour longer than we originally thought we would.

As we have always experienced with Disney excursions, getting off the ship and on our way was very easy! After our day in Rome on our own, we very much appreciated the hand holding and ease that came with a booked port adventure! We boarded a large tour bus, and soon we were on our way.

Our first stop would be Sorrento, where we would have about an hour and a half of free time before heading to a local farm for lunch, and then we would finish our day with a guided tour of Pompeii.

We winded our way through the shadow of Mount Vesuvius and made our way to Sorrento. We disembarked the tour bus at a store where they specialize in making inlaid wood furniture, but it was pretty much a very large tourist trap (although a nice one) shop. I bet there were 5 or 6 cruise tours all in this place at one time. We saw a quick demonstration about how they make the furniture, and we headed for town.

We walked around town for a little bit. It was pretty, but most of what we saw were your typical shops with things geared for people on vacation, and there were tour groups everywhere! We came to the waterfront, and saw a long drive with a sign for a spa. There was a guard gate and a private property sign, but we figured that since they were advertising a spa they would allow pedestrians in. So we walked down the driveway. What we stumbled upon was an amazing boutique type hotel that had been voted one of the world's top 500 hotels by Conde Nast, The Excelsior Vittoria. we walked in and asked the concierge if there was a cafe, and he guided us out to a beautiful terrace overlooking the water! It was just us and one other couple out there. It was so quiet and restful, unlike the "outside world" just a couple hundred yards behind us! We enjoyed mineral water and a lemon soda with some mixed nuts before we headed back to the tourist trap to catch our bus. This was one of the highlights of our vacation! we were maybe there for 30 minutes, but we knew that we wanted to return in the future.

We re-boarded the bus and headed for the farm. Now being a city person, seeing the actual farm was not high on my priority list. Having a homemade lunch at the farm made from things grown fresh was! Plus I had seen the video, and the rave reviews from the DIS gang, so I was ready to see some cheese making!

Well, it turns out the we did not go to the same farm as the DIS gang... The tour was kind of interesting, but it was really just an overview to buy time while they prepared our lunch. And the lunch was a disappointment. The anti-pasta they served was pretty good and definitely fresh, but the pasta with tomato sauce and ricotta was boring and bland. The eating area was outside in the shade, but there was no air circulating so it was hot and uncomfortable. We did eat with a very nice family from New Jersey, who tried to sell us on Disney Vacation Club. It was nice to talk with fellow Disney geeks.
Now we were off to Pompeii. We we highly encouraged to take a nap on the bus ride, but we were some of the few who did not. Our tour guide woke up the sleepers about 15 minutes before we got to the site to give us some instructions, and more interesting facts about the region. She explained that this would not be the most in depth tour of Pompeii, but we would hit the important parts, and some things that she found especially interesting. i should say that our tour guide was awesome! I hate that I can't remember her name, because she was so personable, and she did such a great job with everyone.
I wasn't sure what visiting Pompeii would be like. After all, i
t is the site of one of the most famous natural disasters in the history of Earth. It was very interesting to be there. It wasn't a living history experience like I have been so used to growing up in Virginia and visiting Williamsburg, and Jamestown. There weren't people reenacting what life was like at the time of the eruption, it was just a lot of ruins. Some were in good shape, some were unrecognizable to what they used to be. This is where having a guide made all the difference. She was able to point out things that you wouldn't even look at, or know what it was if you did. One of the examples that comes to mind were "streets" of Pompeii. There were huge stone blocks going through the middle of the streets, and grooves running to each side of them. Well the stones were to cross the street without having to step in the sewage that would have been flowing down the street, and the groo
ves were actually for lining up the wheels of the chariot so you could drive over the blocks! There were several others too.
After a shot of Limoncello it was back on the bus one more time for the ride back to the ship. Despite the disappointment of the farm, the excursion was still a great success. It was really nice to have Disney handle all of the logistics for the day. We are now totally sold on doing shore excursions! At least for ports where there is a need to venture out further. I also thought that if this $150 per person excursion was this good, I can't begin to imagine how great an entire Adventures by Disney vacation must be! I definitely see one in our future, and if we do another cruise where the ABD add on is available--and all the kids are old enough-- I will seriously consider it.

As good of a day as this was, and as much as we enjoyed it, there was a downside to our excursion. Because of our late arrival, and awful scheduling by DCL we were unable to attend the Castaway Club party for Gold and Platinum members. The party was scheduled for 5:00, and we didn't get back on the ship until 6:00. Why DCL decided to schedule it on a port day is beyond me. Especially a day where so many people would be going outside of the immediate docking area for the day. I understand that these parties are usually held on sea days, and since there is only one sea day on the 7 night Mediterranean itinerary it would be a busy day, but it just seemed to me like this party had become less and less important to them. The quality of this event has gone downhill over the last few years. I had hoped that when they only opened it up to Gold and Platinum members (no offence to Silver members) they would ramp it up again, but they didn't. It is very disappointing.

Sorry for the rant... So that's it from Naples. Up next, a day at sea. Hang on, this one is about to get interesting!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Disney Mediterranean Cruise: Civitavecchia & Rome

Today was the day that I felt excited and sick. We would be doing Rome on our own. No Disney guides, no private transportation, no Rick Steeves, at least not in person... Well I guess there are some things to be thankful for... This was the port of call where I had done the planning and the research. This was the stop that we had the highest expectations for. I mean it's Rome for goodness sake! How many times had my 12 year old watched the Lizzy McGuire Movie and sang along with Hey Now, Hey Now... How many times had my father probably seen Roman Holiday or some other black and white dinosaur of a movie on TCM? We are talking the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon... And we are trying to do it by ourselves, with two kids under the age of five... We were either courageous, or delusional!

As I mentioned in a previous post, my wife had done most of the research and planning for our day in Villefranche and Monaco, so this one was mine. I read dozens of trip reports on the DIS boards, studied up at AllEars, and visited countless other websites. But then like manna from Heaven a fellow DISer posted about her website/podcast Cruize Cast I went to the site and saw that they were sharing their experiences doing ports on your own, and low and behold a couple weeks later they did an entire podcast on doing Rome on your own just for me (at least that is how I felt)! They took you through the entire day step by step, and their information was spot on! They planned out a much fuller day than we would be able to do,, but they important stuff was there! I bet I listened to it five times before we left, and at least once on the flight to Barcelona.

We planned ahead and pre-ordered breakfast from room service. We knew it would be a very full day and we wanted to get off the ship early so we never felt worried about getting back to the ship on time.

***On a bit of a side note... I heard more announcements for certain parties to call or visit guest services around departure time on this cruise than all of our 6 previous ones combined!***

We ate and got off the ship pretty early. It was nice that we didn't have to tender, but we did need to catch a shuttle bus to the entrance of the port. That was no problem and before we knew it we were walking to the Civitavecchia train station. I can't remember what time we arrived, but there was a short wait for the next train into Rome. Soon our train had come in, and we boarded. The train ride was about an hour and twenty minutes in the main station in Rome, Termini. We were lucky that we had boarded pretty early, because many people on the train did not have seats for the entire journey into Rome. From Termini we took the metro (a bit of a hike, but very well marked, and my wife was able to grab an espresso) two stops to the stop for the Colosseum, aptly named Colosseum.

Now I am a seasoned metro traveler. I've ridden the rails in Washington, New York, London, Barcelona, and some other big cities, but I have never experienced anything like stepping out of the Colosseum metro station. When you step out into the daylight you look up and there it is, what you have seen on TV and in movies so many times... The Colosseum in all her ancient glory. And what is the first thing that pops into my head?

"Wow having a metro stop this close to the Colosseum must have made it really easy to come see the gladiators!" Please hold the applause until after the post...

We were smart and pre-paid for our entrance online... we paid a little extra for the convenience, but after seeing the line it was money well spent. We buzzed by the stand by line like Fast Pass holders and soon we were in the Colosseum looking for our sons shoes... Just like Audrey Hepburn right?

Per Cruize Cast's recommendation, we had downloaded Rick Steeves' audio guide for the Colosseum an we had enough iPods for everyone ages 12 and up, but it was tough to follow because he wasn't very clear where we should start. My Mom seemed to continually be saying, "oh that is what he was talking about" throughout the tour. I never even bothered to start mine. It was really neat to be there, but when it really hit me that we were in Rome was after we came out of the Colosseum and saw the rest of the ancient city. Before my research I couldn't have told you anything about the forum, but here we were standing at the base of the Colosseum, looking at it. Just like people had said, pictures just can't do Rome justice.

Our next stop was the Trevii Fountain. I had my map, and I was ready to lead the way! I had
read that there were some good places to stop for a quick lunch near the fountain, so we planned
on eating somewhere close to there. The walk was a little longer and not as direct as I had thought, and it was a pretty hot day, but we got there eventually (probably about a half hour later). We saw signs for a McDonalds, but never saw it, so we trudged on looking for the fountain. We walked down an alley and it suddenly appeared in front of us! It wasn't as out in the open as I had thought it would be, but it did not disappoint! The gellato and Coke Zero that we got there didn't either! We all took turns fighting through the crowds to toss our coins in the fountain, and I treated everyone in ear shot to my rendition of "Three Coins in a Fountain. " As we all tossed our coins in I wondered what they would think when they found our Romanian Bani in there!
At this point we were all hot and sweaty, so rather than walk to the nearest metro stop, we decided that we would hop a cab back to Termini station. After talking our cabbie into loading all 7 of us into his Peugeot, we were on our way. He was worried about the local police seeing his full car, so he dropped us off around the corner from the station, right next to a cafe. So we stayed and enjoyed a couple of Roman pizzas in the shadow of the train station.

After eating we started our voyage back to the ship. we were able to decipher the schedule to figure out when the next train to Civitaveccia was, but figuring out which platform was more of a challenge. We found the platform just as the train arrived, and we hopped on and grabbed our seats.

We got back to the ship around 6 o'clock. It's all a blur, but I think we grabbed a snack from Pluto's Dog House, took the kids to their respective clubs, showered up, and went to dinner.

There was a real sense of accomplishment after today. We did it... To Rome and back, with two little ones. We enjoyed the day, but I on't think that any of us would say it was our favorite day of the vacation. We were so happy that we did it, and found Rome to be awesome. But I don't know if it lived up to the (maybe unfairly high) expectations...

Next stop, Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii and the kidless excursion!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Disney Mediterranean Cruise: La Spezia

Our second stop on our Mediterranean voyage brought us to La Spezia, Italy, gateway to Florence and Pisa. This is one of those Mediterranean ports where cruisers get off the ship and scatter throughout the Italian countryside. We would be doing things a little differently however...

Early on in our planning we had decided to use one of our port days as a second day at sea. The decision was made for a couple different reasons. The first was that with so many ports to visit, and only one sea day, we knew that we all, and the kids in particular, would need a take it easy day. For us, we knew that after being in a very foreign country for 6 months, and not having been on a Disney ship in over a year, we would want to spend a day taking advantage of everything the ship has to offer. La Spezia was chosen as our second sea day because it made sense to have a good day of rest before we tackled Rome, which was sure to be a tiresome day for everyone. Another reason was because that Florence was at least a 2 hour trainride from the port, and since it was Monday the museum where the statue of David is located would not be open.

We started the day very leisurely, we slept as long as the younger kids would allow, grabbed some breakfast and checked out the navigator to see what was going on and when. Today would be a good day for the kids to hang out in the Oceaneer Club, and for the adults to hang out at the Quiet Cove pool! Nobody put up a fight with this plan, but we promised the kids they would get some pool time today as well! We wanted to make sure that our daughter got to see her favorite character Stitch, so after she got some pictures with him, we dropped them off at the club.
I was a little surprised how many people stayed on the ship. I thought that we would have the place pretty much to ourselves, but apparently, our idea was not as novel as I had thought! The Quiet Cove was active, but not busy, and we were able to get a couple loungers in the sun. We nabbed a couple of decent magazines from the Cove Cafe (although my wife enjoyed her Smithsonian magazine more than my Everyday with Rachel Ray), and some sweet treats, and just relaxed. It was pretty warm in the sun so we grabbed some lunch after about an hour and a half. We grabbed the kids so they could have some pool time, and I think that is when I decided that ice cream would be a good idea!

After some pool time, we thought our oldest daughter might like to do some family crafts. Theywere making buttons in the Promenade Lounge, so we grabbed some drinks from the drink station and headed down for craft time. The crew member who was running this activity was Matthew from Canada, and for the first 15 minutes or so, we were the only people there. We got a chance to really talk to him, and he really seemed to love what hewas doing. We always appreciate Disney Cast Members, but on the ships they just seem to be the best of the best! I think that there is so much guest interaction in a smaller (than a theme park at least) setting, you have to be really good with people, and the Disney Cruise Crew Members are just great at it!
My number one thing for this day was seeing Cars 2 as a family. You might remember that I wrote this post a couple months back about Cars 2, and how I was really looking forward to taking the kids to see it. Since Cars 2 has been out for awhile now, I won't bother with a full review, but the family enjoyed it. It was a little loud for my son, but he watched intently the whole time. Our youngest daughter fell asleep (I guess she was having lots of fun in the club)! Everyone above the age of 12 really liked it too. While I didn't like the story (or felt it was up to the high standards Pixar has set), I thought it was the best looking animated film I had ever seen (we saw it in 3D)! It was also really cool to see places we were going to see very soon!

After the movie it was time to get ready and head to dinner. I have to say that the food was very good on this cruise. Every night we really enjoyed our meals. This was also the first time that I taken part in the time honored cruise tradition of ordering 2 entrees. I usually split the second one with my Dad, but it was still fun to do it! I also ate more seafood than usual on this cruise. I guess my body decided that it missed fish living in Romania! I'm usually such a steak eater on the cruise... Sometimes I surprise myself!

for the rest of the evening we followed the theme of the day, and took it easy. I think after the kids were in bed we put the grandparents in charge, and checked out some of the evening adult activities. We weren't very impressed with the piano lounge singer in Sessions, so we just strolled up on deck before we turned in.

The next stop is the eternal city of Rome. Adventure awaits!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Disney Mediterranean Cruise: Villefranche & Monaco

Our first port on our cruise was Villefracnhe, France, gateway to Monaco, Nice and Cannes. This port represented a couple of things
to me. On one hand I was very much looking forward to seeing Monaco and Monte Carlo. On the other hand I was a bit nervous about this being the first port that we would be "doing on
our own."

Our plan was well researched (mostly by my wife), and we knew pretty much how we were going to execute our plan. Our plan was to get off the ship pretty early -- but not rush as it was our first morning on the ship-- and catch a tender to the port. From there we had well described directions to the train station, and we would catch the train to Monaco, about a 15 minute ride. Once in Monaco, we were going to take a ride on their tourist train, The Little Train, and then possibly if the little ones were in good spirits check out the Royal Palace. It should have been a pretty simple day, especially compared to what we had planned for our day in Rome.

Well you know what they say about the best laid plans... The first parts went off without a hitch. We got up leisurely, had a nice breakfast, and about that time the announcement came that they had just started open tendering, meaning we didn't need to wait at a meeting point until our turn came up. So we packed up our day bags and headed for shore.

Villefranche is a picturesque little marina town. Cafes and cutsie shops line the waterfront with flower boxes in the windows. There was a small public beach that we thought might be a nice activity after we returned from Monaco. This was one of those times when the pictures we ha seen perfectly matched what we were now viewing with our own eyes!

We found the train station with little trouble. We followed the signs up the stairs to the platform heading in the direction of Monaco. It was about 10:30 in the morning at this point, and we heard that the trains came about every 20-25 minutes. When we made it up to the ticket booth there was a sign in the window saying that the next train to Monaco wouldn't be until 1:30. After
speaking with the Frenchman in the window we were not filled with confidence when he said, "it should be here at 1:30, but it is Sunday so..." Well we knew that as pretty as Villefranche was, it was not going to hold the interest of our 3 and 4 year old for three hours, and the 1:30 train
apparently wasn't a done deal either... So we decided that we would catch a taxi in Monaco. It was less cost effective, but at least our day wouldn't be ruined, and in looking back it worked out well.

The 30 minute drive into Monaco was beautiful! Driving along the French Rivera with sweeping views of the Mediterranean, and our ship anchored at sea. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get any photos of it, but you'll just have to take my word for it! The taxi driver took us exactly where we needed to go, and we got his card so we could call him for a pick up in a couple hours.

We bought our tickets for the Little Train, and we had a while until the next departure, so we ventured out to find a restroom. We had heard horror stories of disgusting public pay toilets in Europe, but we were in Monaco, the Beverly Hills of Europe, surely that wouldn't be the case here right? Wrong. Not far from the train was the restrooms. A woman sat out front with a plate full of Euro coins. I figured that the plate was for tips, and it wasn't actually a pay toilet, so I didn't add to the pile. She didn't hassle me, but apparently she hassled some other folks. I'm glad that I didn't pay because the place was dirty and almost stereo-typically, there was no seat on the toilet... You have got to be kidding me!

On the plus side there was a lovely little park across the street with even more lovely views of the water. I did get some pictures here. We had a snack and the little ones ran around for a few minutes before we headed back to the train.

The Little Train tour was everything that the Barcelona Bus Touristic was not. Interesting and only about 40 minutes. It took through Monte Carlo and by all of the major sites. Except for the cheesy background music, it reminded me a lot of the tourist train ride we took in Key West on our Western Caribbean Disney cruise a couple years earlier. After the train ride the little ones were ready to head back
to the ship for chicken and french fries from Pluto's Dog House, and some quality time in the kid's clubs, so we called our cabbie and headed back to Villefranche.

We were greeted at the tender dock with the welcome site of Disney crew members with orange and lemon flavored ice water! It was a nice touch, and you could see the envy in the eyes of other cruise ship passengers in adjacent lines!

The tender ride to and from the ship was nice. The marina in Villefranche had some really nice yachts and antique looking ships. But as always we would be boarding the most beautiful ship in the harbor!
We spent the rest of the day lounging around the pool deck while we waited to see Twice Charmed. I had missed this show on our first cruise on the Magic, so I was looking forward to finally seeing it. It did not disappoint. The show was great, probably my favorite of all the shows I have seen on Disney Cruises.

While Villefranche was not without its challenges, it was a good start to our cruise. Luckily, we would have better luck with train stations in Italy than we had in France. It wasn't as easy as a day as we had thought it would be, but it was a success. We made it where we wanted to go, and made it back! We got a taste of the "high life" in Monaco, but were more than happy to retire at the end of the day, back to our staterooms on the Magic!

Up next La Spezia...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Disney Mediterranean Cruise: Barcelona

Like most American basketball fans, I was gluedto my TV set watching the USA Dream Team dominate their opponents on their way to the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. I remember pictures of huge billboards featuring Michael Jordan, and majestic aerial shots of a church under construction that looked like a sandcastle. I was only 16 years old, and had never left my home country, but I knew that one day I wanted to visit that city...

Fast forward 15 years into the future. Now married with two children (back when it was just 2 Dis Kids), we are in the middle of experiencing what would be a life changing vacation, our first Disney Cruise! Our stateroom attendant has delivered a Disney Cruise schedule (for future booking purposes) and I learn that they don't just sail from Florida... In fact they will be sending their other ship, the Magic, to the Mediterranean for the summer of 2007, sailing out of Barcelona, Spain. That was it, I had found my dream cruise! At this point I hadn't turned into an all out cruise junkie. I didn't know that cruise lines often send ships to other parts of the world for special seasonal itineraries, I thought that Disney would always be there. I had my vision.

I began to soak up as much information about Disney Cruise Line as I could. I learned all about their sailings in the Caribbean, and that in fact their Mediterranean itinerary was only for the summer of 2007. I was disappointed that I had missed out, but hopeful that they would return because then president, Tom McAlpin had said that the season was so successful.

Luckily in May 2010 the Magic did as promised, return to the Med. And one lear later I was booked on a seven night sailing, leaving from Barcelona!

So thats a lot of lead up for the port of departure, but I wanted to give some background to why I was not just really looking forward to the cruise, but to Barcelona as well.

Luckily, our schedules worked out so we would be able to fly to Barcelona 3 days before the cruise departed, and I was really happy to be able to spend a couple of days exploring the city. I had read more trip reports, watched more vlogs, and listened to more podcasts than I could count about other people's Disney Med cruises from 2007 and 2010. My excitement grew with each one as we got closer and closer to our departure date. I had built up this vacation so much in my head, I hoped that I had not set myself up for disappointment. But as it turns out, Barcelona met and surpassed all of my expectations!

I had read and researched a lot about what to do in Barcelona, but had not really done the same for where to stay. My Mom actually found the hotel that we ended up staying at. We had originally booked a room at the Novotel Barcelona City, on the recommendation of fellow cruisers, but when my parents tried to book a room for their arrival (two days after us), there were none available. So in looking for a place close to the Novotel (it wasn't), she booked at Hotel Diagonal Zero. Not wanting to be split up at two different hotels we followed suit, and boy am I glad we did!

Diagonal Zero was a great fit for us. Modern and clean, at a reasonable price. It was very close to the subway, and there was a large shopping center across the street. It wasn't that close to the touristy parts of the city, and it wasn't as close to the port, but we figured we could make it work.

We were able to do more than make it work. We loved it. Since it was a little further from Las Ramblas and the rest of the city center it was more quiet. The hotel has a more business feel, but it was still warm and inviting fortourists. Thebeach was about a 10-15 minute walk, and the shopping center (Diagonal Mar) was very nice, and had a hypermarket where we could get stuff for in the room. And while it might net be a big selling point for most American visitors -- but it was huge for us who have been living in Bucharest, Romania for 6 months -- there was a Subway sandwich shop!

We spent our first full day in Barcelona just kind of taking it easy an stayed close to the hotel. We hit the beach, walked around, enjoyed lunch at Subway, and pretty much eased our way intovacation. Other than venturing out to visit the Magic Fountains(more later) that night we kept it pretty simple.

The beach was great! After a short walk we got there around 10:30. People (mostly locals) were just starting to stream in. It had not gotten crowded yet, so we found a good spot pretty close to the water. The water was a little cold, but refreshing. The beach was great! there were a couple of bar/tapas places right on the beach, places to shower off, and free public restrooms that were not spotless, but by American public beach restrooms standards exquisite! I did post on my Facebook status that I was concerned about the poverty in Barcelona. Apparently the women there can't afford to buy a matching top to go with their bikini bottoms... Some of what we saw was not pretty... I had been warned of this, but thought that it would only be on more rural beaches, not a public beach in the city!

That evening we had decided to head into the city center to see the Magic Fountains. I had read mixed reviews about it (DISers raved, Rick Steeves didn't), but this was one of the things I really wanted to see. The subway in Barcelona is very easy to navigate so we used it to get us there. It took us about a half hour, and when we exited the station it was a sea of people. This was the only time on the entire trip that I was worried about being pick-pocketed. We trudged our way to the fountain (which was much larger than I expected), and found a pretty good place to sit and watch. To our surprise the entire "show" was set to Disney music (in the video below it is kind of hard to hear over the crowd, but it is Circle of Life), albeit in Spanish. It was a great warm up for our cruise in two days! If you are in Barcelona over the weekend this is definitely worth seeing! Gorgeous!

The next day was going to be our big tourist day. We had pre-purchased our tickets for the Barcelona Bus Touristic, and I had high hopes. My parents were coming in to meet us that morning, and they were going to join us on the bus! There was a bus stop right by the shopping center, so after they got to the hotel and showered up, headed back to Subway and then to the bus.

This was the one disappointment in Barcelona. We have toured around on "Hop On Hop Off" buses in a couple different cites, and have always found them to be a great way to see a lot of the city. The Barcelona Bus Touristic was reviewed well, but it just didn't work for us. The bus has three routes, and there aren't enough places to switch. We went on the Blue route to see La Sagrada Familia (AWESOME!), but then we were stuck on that route for more than an hour. Then we would have had to switch to red and then to green to get back to our hotel. We abandoned ship er... bus and took the subway back. That night we walked over to the shopping center and had some "very fresh" seafood at one of the restaurants.

The next morning we boarded the Disney Magic! Originally we had planned to take the subway to the Christopher Columbus monument and catch a port bus to the ship, but since that would have required lugging our bags, and 2 train changes, we decided to take a couple taxis to the ship (25-30 euros each). We were very excited and wanted to get there as quick as possible! We'll pick up there on the next post.

I despise using the phrase "in conclusion", but, in conclusion, we loved Barcelona! from the moment we got to the hotel we felt like we were on vacation. Coming from Bucharest it really almost felt like being back in the US. The people were so nice, there was so much to experience. There is so much more of the city that we have to explore. We can't wait to go back! Maybe for a long weekend, or maybe a couple years!