Monday, May 31, 2010

Disney Cruise - Day Five: Naples & Pompeii

I woke up a little earlier the day we were arriving in Naples and was rewarded with a beautiful view from our room just shortly before we pulled into the harbor.

We had an afternoon excursion, so Tommy and I had reserved babysitting at Flounder's Reef, the nursery on board. We had a two hour block so we could hit the gym. After about an hour, I felt that I had worked out enough. Tommy stayed in the gym and hit the treadmill pretty hard.

I, on the other hand, went back to the room after my workout and suddenly realized I had the room all to myself for an hour. So I ordered a warm chocolate chip cookie and a cocktail from room service! I sat out on the verandah with my cookie and cocktail and read a book for a while. It was amazing! I wish I could do that every day!

Our afternoon excursion took us to Pompeii. We drove through Naples on the way. Naples had to be the ugliest port we stopped in. I found myself looking at the buildings in Naples and wondering, When do dilapidated and run down old buildings become classified as ruins? I mean, really. At some point, places like the Coliseum must have just been an eye sore as it began to fall to ruin. And then, magically, at some point it became a historical ruin people come to visit from all over the world. At some point will the ugly port of Naples be ruins?
Of course, Pompeii is a little different, since its ruins were buried for nearly 1600 years after
Mt Vesuvius exploded it's guts all over the city.
This, by the way, is the best picture I could get of Mt Vesuvius. Not stellar, I'll grant you. But it's as good as I got on the bus ride.

Pompeii was crowded and hot. And crowded. It was hard to get around in some parts. We had little radio receivers we wore around our necks with single ear buds so we could hear our particular tour guide. 'Cause there were tons of tour guides. Some waving large Mickey Mouse lollipop-style signs for their tourists to follow (like our guide did), some waiving umbrellas or scarves or just their hand. If it weren't for the number on our Mickey, I would have totally lost our group.

Seeing Pompeii was pretty cool. Having been in Europe for a while now, we've seen our share of ruins, but never an entire city like this.

Of course, there were rocks and dirt and climbing to be done, so Caleb was pretty happy. Pompeii was super dusty. (It gives whole new meaning to the volcanic ash discussions we've had in England as a result of the Icelandic volcano eruption that disrupted European travel recently.) By the end of the afternoon, Caleb was filthy.

It was cool to walk through the houses. Many of them had these little white stones embedded in the floors. Our tour guide said that this was to help reflect the torch light at night to give a little more light to the houses. Clever!

Many of the houses had remains of the original frescoes still partially in tact.

In addition to public areas like the forums and private houses, there were also businesses. We passed what used to be bakery.

This little corner store was a snack shop, according to our tour guide. Notice the ever-present Mickey lollipop? He's serving us up a pizza or some such thing!

Of course, the real reason you visit Pompeii is to see the preserved people! Ruins? You can find those anywhere. Preserved people? Bring it on!

Unfortunately, the lines around the cases of preserved people were thick, slow moving and frustrating. But we managed to make it through and snap a couple of pictures. It was creepy and strange and fascinating.

We had a bit of free time towards the end of the tour, but as was beginning to be standard, it didn't seem like enough. But we did pick up some gelato from a stand near our bus stop. I had been looking forward to having gelato again for months and was sad to see it tasted just like American ice cream. It was really disappointing. Fortunately, gelato was able to redeem itself just a few days later in Florence! But before we get there, we had a day in Rome to get to!

Disney Cruise - Day Four: Tunisia

Our next port of call was Tunis, Tunisa. I was pretty excited to be able to say I've been to Africa after this stop. Granted, it's really, really northern Africa, but I'll take it!

Our shore excursion took us to the ruins of the baths of Carthage. We lucked out and got tons of sunshine that day. In fact, our whole cruise was charmed with tons of sun, and every tour guide told us how lucky we were because just days prior it had felt like winter. Even our cruise crew couldn't believe our luck with the weather.

Caleb loved exploring the baths. Anything that involves rocks, dirt and climbing make that kid happy.

We also stopped at an ancient amphitheater in Carthage. Caleb loved climbing to the top of the steps and back down. Anything to wear him out!

Our next stop was the town of Sidi Bou Said, which was very pretty. All of the buildings in Sidi Bou Said are painted blue and white. Our tour guide told us the white was to help keep the buildings cool in the midday sun and the blue was to keep the mosquitoes away! I wonder if the latter works.
We toured a typical Sidi house, which was crowded but pretty. I recently finished reading The Constant Princess by Phillipa Gregory, which was a fictional account of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife. Gregory's account went into a lot of detail regarding Catherine's childhood growing up in Moorish villages that her parents had conquered. Touring this house made me think of that book.

We also had a bit of free time to explore the market stalls along the road. We picked up a few ceramics, a couple of which broke on the way home to England. Nuts.

I grabbed a coke in the cafe where our tour group was meeting.

When we got back to the ship, Caleb and I took a camel ride. I was worried he'd be scared, but he really liked it!

We hit the pool later that afternoon, and Caleb got in some good splashing time. He was becoming more confident, and as one of the older non-potty-trained toddlers, I had to really watch to make sure he was too enthusiastic in his splashing around the younger kiddos. (Don't worry, mom, we SPF'd him head to toe!)

That night we ate at The Animator's Palate again. The walls, which were decorated with black and white sketches of Disney characters, were filling with color that night. There were also screens playing scenes from Disney classics, which helped to keep Caleb entertained.

We enjoyed Malta and Tunisia, but we were really looking forward to our next three stops, which were all in Italy!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Disney Cruise - Day Three: Malta

I'm skipping day two since we spent it entirely on board the ship. I'll summarize by saying we hit the gym, we ate too much, and we watched "Up" in 3-D in the Buena Vista Theater on board. There! That's about it for that day! ;)

On the third day of the cruise, we awoke to views of Valletta, Malta from our verandah. It was gorgeous!

Since our shore excursion (or "Port Adventure" in Disney speak) didn't take place until the afternoon, and since it wouldn't involve Valletta at all, we decided to do a bit of exploring of Valletta on our own. Close to the port, there was a street lined with horse drawn carriages offering tours of the city. The first carriage asked for €140 for an hour long tour. We laughed and kept walking.

By the end of the road, a guy was offering a tour for €40. We weren't going to take it until we realized how much uphill walking we had to do just to get in to town. We were on a time crunch, so we decided to take him up on the €40 tour.
Towards the end of the tour, we ended up at a huge monument overlooking the harbor. It was an amazing view.

Here's a view of the beautiful Disney Magic! We saw a handful of other cruise ships in various ports, but none of them held a candle to the Magic!

We returned to the ship for lunch, and then got off again for our afternoon tours of Mdina and Mosta.

Mdina is a medieval, fortified town. We passed through the city gates and followed our tour guide around the narrow roads. We toured a church and passed along many of the homes owned by the town's aristocracy. You'll get tired of me saying this, but it was beautiful.

In Mosta, we had a chance to tour a cathedral inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. I'm glad we had a chance to see this one, since our tour in Rome a few days later didn't include the actual Pantheon.

This church had been struck by a bomb during World War II. The bomb pierced the domed ceiling that, incredibly, did not explode. This is my little weapon of mass destruction in front of a replica of the bomb.

We also had a chance to visit a craft village that was essentially an old military base converted into various craft shops and factories. We saw a glass blowing factory and a shop where they made silver filigree.

When we returned to the ship later that afternoon, Caleb had a chance to visit the toddler splash area. Since he isn't potty trained yet, he couldn't go in the kiddie pool, but he didn't seem to mind!

This day also happened to be Tommy's birthday! Our servers brought out a huge slab of birthday cake and sang him Happy Birthday. We were dining at Lumiere's that night.

It was a great day! We didn't make it to the evening's entertainment that night, which was a comedian. To be honest, I couldn't tell you what we did after dinner that night! But overall, it was a great day!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Disney Cruise - Day One: Welcome Aboard!

We started our cruise by winding our way through the line in the terminal and having our paperwork and identification thoroughly checked. Caleb did pretty well waiting in line, and to Disney's credit, the line moved fairly quickly .

We also had our first Mickey and Minnie Mouse sighting in the terminal. Caleb was excited to see them from a distance, terrified to get up close, and then ecstatic to shout, "I LOVE YOU, MICKEY!" as we walked away. His enthusiasm and fear turned out to be a pattern for pretty much the whole cruise.

As we arrived to the terminal, porters took our luggage for us. Disney had mailed us luggage tags a couple of weeks before with our room numbers on them, so the bags were magically whisked away while we got on board. We weren't able to go to our rooms yet because they were still being prepared, so we went up to the 9th deck to grab some lunch from the Topsider Buffet. Then we got to exploring the 9th and 10th decks, which were where the pools were.

We were able to get to our rooms before too long and drop off our backpacks. For the rest of the cruise, I carried around my camera bag which included a tube of lip gloss and my Key to the World Card, which is the card that counts as cash and gets you on and off the ship while on the cruise. I really didn't need anything else on board!

We checked out our room, which was a deluxe stateroom with verandah on the seventh deck. It was nice! It really did become our home for the next eleven days. Although I'm happy to be back in my own bed, I sure to miss the views from the verandah in Room 7594!

Our luggage hadn't arrived to the room yet, but it was time for our mandatory emergency evacuation drill! So we donned our life vests and headed down to Deck 4 where the life boats were to get a briefing on what to do in case of an emergency. Caleb wasn't excited about his big, boxy vest, and it was hard to hug and console him in my own big, boxy vest, but he survived (which, I guess is the point of a life vest, so hooray!)
That afternoon, they had a deck party at the Goofy Pool on Deck 9. The cruise entertainment staff and a bunch of Disney characters showed up to welcome us aboard. It was super fun. I'm totally a kid about this kind of stuff, and I had a blast dancing along and screaming for Mickey.

See the guy in the front? That's Dave. He pretty much has my dream job.
Dave is the Get-the-Party-Started Guy. For years, I've been saying my dream job would be to go to people's wedding receptions just to get the party started. I don't want to be the DJ. I want to be the person on the dance floor pulling everyone else out, the one who isn't afraid to do the funky chicken and even the sprinkler if necessary, the one who requests Dancing Queen and the last one off the dance floor. That's pretty much what this guy did. He was everywhere on the ship! I saw him in the Rockin' Bar D - a dumb name for a bar (I don't get it?) - but they had cool comedians and magicians and bands perform there every night. He was usually the emcee there as well.

The excitement of the day was a bit much for Caleb at this point, who fell asleep on Tommy's shoulders during the deck party. At the end of the deck party, they sounded the ship's horn to signal the start of the cruise. The horn sounded like the first eight notes of "When You Wish Upon A Star." It was pretty awesome to hear that coming so loud from the ship's horn, and the whole boat pretty much went crazy when it sounded.

For dinner that night, we ate at The Animator's Palate. On board the Disney Magic, you eat on a dining rotation. There were three main restaurants - The Animator's Palate, which was kind of general dining; Parrot Cay, which focused on Caribbean-inspired food; and Lumiere's which featured fine dining with French influences.

All of them were amazing! Each night we ate at a different restaurant (on a scheduled rotation), and our serving staff came with us. By the end of the trip, Kendall and Walter knew what types of foods we liked, who were the experimental diners, and what drinks to bring without even asking. It was awesome.

We discovered our friends from base were sitting two tables away from us the first night. Caleb was very happy to see his friend Tehlaia, who is only two months older than him. Our servers noticed we were spending a fair amount of time at each others tables that first night and offered to let us move to their table permanently. It was nice to see familiar faces at the end of the days!

After dinner, we attended a live theater show in the Walt Disney Theater on Deck 4, which seats about 600 people. The show was called "Welcome Aboard; Let the Magic Begin." It featured a lot of the characters and really captured the excitement of our first day on board! The Walt Disney Theater was gorgeous! They had some sort of live performance, whether it was a play, a comedy act, a magician, or a talent show every night either before or after dinner (depending on your dining schedule.)

We were pretty wiped after that so we went back to our room to unpack and get settled in. We had only been on board since about 2 or 3 pm, but it was a full and long day, so we slept pretty well that night! We knew the next day would be a day at sea as we cruised down to our first port, so we were going to have plenty of time to explore the ship!