UPDATED! 24 April 2010 - Mediterranean Adventures of an Aussie family! Trip Report
This is my very first pre-trip report! So here goes…
Me – a 33 year old clinically retired medic who sold her soul to work part time for the pharmaceutical industry so that she can be a better mother and wife.
DH – The workhorse making my Disney dreams come true! A true gentleman and a little boy at heart!
DS 6- Our little boy genius who is already taking in as much information as he can find out about the various places that we will be visiting.
DD 4- Our dearest darling daughter who really believes that every single day will be different/special on the cruise because there is “magic”. If only we could all be 4 again!
DS 1- The baby of the family and the worst behaved! He who grunts and points, and demands to be carried…
DM and DF – Veteran cruisers who have sailed on nearly every cruiseline but have never been on DCL! (About to leave to go on the Oasis of the Seas) I occasionally wonder if they’ll enjoy being on a Disney ship. However, seeing as my dear parents jumped at the chance to travel with their grandchildren, somehow I don’t think that the actual ship will really matter for them. It’s all about the grandchildren. Lucky us!!!
Although both DH and I absolutely love Disney, we only just discovered DCL existed a few months ago! As hard as it may be to believe, hardly anyone in Australia knows of DCL. We came upon it by chance whilst doing research to take the children on their very first trip to WDW in Dec 2010. The plan was to tack a Caribbean cruise at the end of our WDW stay. And then…the kids sail free offer came up. DH decided to “try before we buy”. Yep, my arm was twisted. I just “had” to take the family to Europe. How else would we know if we would enjoy a Disney cruise…And so we booked ourselves an 11 night Mediterranean cruise on the Disney Magic. What a great way to introduce Europe to the children! No packing and unpacking, no rushing to catch the next train/train and automobile. Just sleep and voila! You’re at your next destination. We’re determined to keep it simple and not feel pressured to see “everything”. It is after all, just a sampler of what Europe has to offer. We’ve decided to adopt the “less is more” approach. After all, we do want to enjoy our cruise! There is no point dragging cranky overtired children somewhere just for the sake not wanting to “miss out”.
Taking inspiration from a very clever fellow DISer (you know who you are!), I am going to “reserve” the next few posts so that it is easier to fill-in/read my trip report down the track. Time will tell how well the actual trip correlates with my plan! Seeing as we will be the first Mediterranean cruise in 2010, hopefully my report will also help fellow med cruisers down the line.
The Journey Begins...
The flights are booked. We’ll be flying Singapore airlines on the new A380 to Singapore with their lovely 10” personal screens (woohoo!) before catching a connecting flight that will take us to Barcelona with a refueling stop in Milan. We’ll arrive at Barcelona at 0905 in the morning ready to hit the town. Total flight time = 22hr 45mn (25hr 40min with connections). Don’t remind me about the cost. Hopefully only the 1 plane change at the super-efficient-run-like-a-swiss-watch Changi Airport will minimize the chance of us losing our luggage.
W've also scrapped our DCL transfers and booked our transfers in Barcelona with a2b transfers instead. It work out more or less the same or cheaper than 2 taxis after you take into consideration all the surcharges! For 7 of us, we managed to arrange a minibus for:
Airport to apartment: €56.40
Apartment to port: €33.60
Port to airport: €41.60
That's a total savings of AU$185 compard to having transfers with DCL and DCL's price doesn't include the price of transport from apartment to port as we didn't book accomoodation via DCL!
You can plan for all things except for a volcano erupting in Iceland! Who would have thought that something like that could have caused so much havoc. We went from flying with Singapore airlines to Barcelona, to planning to fly in to other cities including Rome, Athens, Casablanca, Tunis, Malta, to grabbing available flights to Madrid with Aerolineas Argentinas, and then back to flying with Singapore airlines again. We ended up arriving in Barcelona early as we bypassed Milan.
A2b transfers came to pick us up in a clean and comfortable minivan. We tipped with the change we had after buying coffee at the airport and the driver seemed really happy and truly grateful. For those planning to catch a taxi, my parents took one from the airport to our apartment off Las Ramblas in the heart of the city and it cost them 26 Euro.
At Barcelona airport waiting for our transfer!
Spend 3 days exploring the city and getting over jetlag! Details not finalized (gasp!) but accommodation booked at a lovely 3 bedroom apartment over looking the Placa Reial near Las Ramblas. At a bargain price of 690 Euro for 3 nights, I am sure the kitchen and laundry facilities will come in handy for a family travelling with 3 young children. http://www.habitatapartments.com/en/...t/view/art.htm
The apartment thankfully turned out to be as advertised! A picture is worth a thousand words so here are some of the apartment.
The apartment building
Some more thoughts on the apartment now that we've been here for some days. The apartment itself and the location are definitely BIG pros. We have found the kitchen and laundry facilities priceless. The face that it had 2 complete bathrooms is also great. The free wifi is an added bonus. It is SO easy to get around from the apartment and everything you need is only a short walk away. Having said that location can also be one of the cons. Because it is near the busy part of the city, nightlife is well and truly bustling. Noise can be an issue until the early hours of the morning. DH and I haven't really noticed it but we've been jetlagged and I'm a good sleeper! My parents on the other hand have already acclimatised to the time difference and are light sleepers. They've found the noise has woken them up. Another small con is that the street the apartment is on is small and so has no car access. The walk to access is very short but nevertheless still a walk with luggage.
The flight from Singapore to Barcelona was LONG. We were fortunate enough to be grouped together at the last minute in a pair and triple 3 rows apart. The flight was absolutely full. It arrived in Barcelona eariler than planned and by 730 we were at the carousel picking up our luggage. We bumped into a fellow DISboarder at the airport and hopefully we'll get to meet the rest of the group come the 24th.
It was only a surprisingly short drive to our apartment. The driver made us nervous when he said that the street was too small for the minivan and that we'd have to walk in the rest of the way. He dropped us off on Las Ramblas and off we went shuttled into a small alleyway. We were rewarded with a spectacular view of Placa Reial and turned into a quaint and charming little street where the apartment building was. It was as good as, if not more than what I expected
My parents flight thankfully went ahead with the reopening of Schiphol Airport just only yesterday. So as we waited for their arrival to the apartment, we wandered downstairs to find some lunch for the children. Our first meal in Spain turned our to be an organic-microwave yourself variety. For only 6.95 Euro we got ourselves 2 meals, a dessert, a drink and a bread roll which was enough to feed all five of us. Best of all, it was only literally at the bottom of our apartment building.
When my parents came, we wondered down Las Ramblas enjoying the buzz and the street performers whilst clutching our belongings with paranoia. Malcolm and I decided to hit the sightseeing hard today to try to re-adjust our bodyclock as soon as possible. We stopped at the La Boqueria markets for an afternoon snack before continueing past Placa Catalunya to Passeig De Gracia. We then hopped on a metro to take in the sights of La Sagrada Familia. This was followed by another metro ride to Park Guell. The walk up the hill was punishing. I really wished I was Jonah being pushed up the hill in a stroller! Park Guell itself was surprisingly relaxing. It was nice to sit and watch the children run around with the sights of Barcelona city in the background and beautiful mosaics all around you.
By this stage though, everyone was tired and so we took a taxi home. Thank goodness for parents. Mine stopped to get drinks and dinner (we had to have 2 taxis). The children were then quickly bathed and are now sound asleep. They have coped surprisingly well and it bodes well for many happy travels in the future! If we/they can handle this, then the world is our oyster! I'm going to bed in preparation for another busy day tomorrow. I still can't believe I'm here!!!
A 2:30am start to the day was not on the agenda. However, that was the time Jonah chose to wake up and refused to go back to sleep. He was followed shortly by Lara and then Elliot. We acknowledged a lost battle and by 430am the whole family had finished breakfast.
So on to Montserrat we went as planned, trying to catch the 736 am train from Placa Espanya. Although the instructions to get there obtained from the DISboards and cruisecritic was nearly 2 pages long and was explicit with details, we still managed to get it wrong. We somehow missed the underground link from the metro at Placa Espanya to the FGC section and so had to figure it out above ground. Travelling with a stroller didn't help. We had planned to get the funicular (rack rail) up as it opened earlier and then catch the aeri (cable car) down if we felt like it at the end of the day. In the chaos and confusion of the moment, we bought the wrong tickets. But we did make the train! The doors closed just as we entered.
As we got to Montserrat-Aeri station, we unfortunately had to wait an hour in the cold for the cable car to open. Malcolm and Elliot set off on a walking track and the rest of us waited it out in front of the station. Thankfully the attendant didn't take too much longer to open it up. We trooped in to escape the chill and treated ourselves to hot drinks from the vending machine. Before long we were up, up and away!
The view once we got to the top was spectacular. We certainly didn't regret making an effort to come here early. There were relatively few people about and we were able to go straight to the Basilica and see the Black Madonna without having to line up. We spent the rest of the morning exploring, taking the Sant Joan funicular to the very top. Again, I can't believe how steep the rail is! By the time we had lunch, we were exhausted and started to make our way back home.
On the train, the whole family decided that we'd forgo Poble Espanyol and go shopping instead! So we stopped at Placa Catalunya and shopped from 3pm to 6pm, slowly making our way back to our apartment. We had a brief stop for afternoon tea at the cafeteria atop Cortes Ingles which boasted a lovely view of the city. I was excited to find my Zara store and promptly purchased myself a new top and coat. We had a dinner of tapas at Placa Reial. The Sangria tasted so much better than the ones we've had at home. And I don't what they put it in, but the Spanish version of aioli is amazing. Potato chips have never tasted better!
We asked the children what the highlight of their day was, and we were humbled by their answer. Elliot's was finding a sparrow's nest whilst on the walk with Malcolm and Lara's was simply being allowed to buy a hot chocolate from the vending machine. It just reminded us that often its the simplest thing that children appreciate and that it needn't be expensive.
I go to bed exhausted yet again but very happy and satisfied. I'm looking forward to the sight of the Magic tomorrow as we plan to visit the Harbour front, and sincerely hoping that the children will wake up later!
My first mission today was to have myself some churros and hot chocolate. Thankfully the children woke up at a decent time today! We set out to the little cafe which we knew opened early. The churros and hot chocolate certainly didn't disappoint. I was in heaven! The whole plate was demolished in minutes and before long we were on our way down to Port Vell at the Harbour front.
The walk to the Telefericos de Barcelona was a little longer than expected...but we soon found the San Sebastia station of the cable car which would take us across the Harbour and up to Montjuic Park. And as I hoped, we saw the Magic docked down below!
Upon arrival at Montjuic, we decided to go to Poble Espanol as we didn't make it there yesterday. It turned out to be a fantastic decision. There was something for everyone there and we had a fantastic time! The highlight had to be the "treasure hunt" they had for children/families. We were loaned a kit complete with tools and a book with clues. Using that we had to find landmarks to keep moving around the complex. It fun, and not too easy or too hard. Most importantly, it had a cheat sheet so parents can help! Elliot was in his element. My parents really enjoyed their shopping time in the various craft shops. The setting was beautiful. We also got to see real life glass blowing in action which was a treat. Before we knew it, we had spent 3.5 hours there!
We decided to head home for some rest and enjoy the sights of all the books and roses aplenty for Saint Jordi Day. The jetlag and 3 big days in a row must have caught up with me because I fell asleep after putting the kids to bed and slept past the Magic Fountain meet! I am writing now at 230am in the morning too excited to go back to sleep at the thought of boarding the Magic later on today. I just realised that in the chaos leading up to our trip, I never did complete my FE, nor have I finished printing my door magnets or putting together the FE gifts. Will just have to cobble something together tomorrow.
The day did not start off magically at all. The transfer that we had organised for 10am did not turn up. The ground contact staff was already driving a minivan full of passengers to the port. At 11am he finally turned up and hailed 2 taxis for us and paid on our behalf. By the time we arrived at the port, we were behind a few bus loads of people. I was not impressed. But I was very excited to see the ship! Having never been on Disney cruise lines, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Initial impressions were not so good. The hall was stuffy and chaotic, the lines were long and check-in took a long time. The whole process compared to other cruise lines seemed disorganised. One of the pros of arriving late was that by the time check-in was completed, we could board straight away and have some lunch. We were herded to Parrot Cay for a buffet. The food wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good either. The theming though was lovely. Jonah enjoyed looking at the parrots on the ceiling lights and Lara was delighted to see Sebastien from The Little Mermaid on the wall light. Elliot was simply excited to be allowed to get his own food.
Things fortunately continued to improve throughout the day. We had just enough time to register all three children for their respective kids clubs. It was nice to see their faces light up at the sight of the facilities, and I must say, we were impressed. We had to drag them out of the doors to go our rooms which were ready by this stage. The staterooms were nice and spacious compared to other lines.
I trotted off the Promenade Lounge for our DISmeet. It was nice to be able to put faces to names which have become so familiar, especially over the recent volcano kerfuffle. I had to hurry back to the room as Malcolm was being fitted for a jacket. Once again, it was nice for things to just fall in place. He had visited Guest Services to organise a tux hire. We had only entered our rooms for seconds before we heard a knock on our door with someone helping measure Malcolm for his suit. Our luggage came soon after and we were able to unpack and settle in. Before long, it was time for the emergency drill when we had to drag the children away from the Disney movies playing on the TV. And this is when we had our moment of the day...Jonah was not impressed with his life romper.
After the drill, we hurried to the lobby for a photo op with Pluto and just had enough time to explore the ship before dinner started at Lumiere’s. And here’s when the Disney difference really showed through. Crayons and the kids menu were all ready at the table. The kids menu had activities on them which occupied the children while we waited for our meals. We didn’t have to wait very long at all before our meals turned up. The children were given their drinks in cute cups which were practical. Jonah unfortunately, fell asleep at the table. It was nice to be able to wheel a stroller in freely so he can sleep in the dining room while we finished our dinner. The staff were very perceptive and noticed that my hands were full and kindly offered to help Elliot cut up his food . All these things made for very happy parents! The waiters were friendly and the food delicious. A big step up from lunch.
Elliot spotted Donald Duck and desperately wanted a photo so we dashed out and managed to beat the lines. He then excitedly took his Oma and Opa up to Shutters where our embarkation photo was displayed. He returned to the room delighted to see a swan towelgami complete with chocolates. With barely enough time to go to the loo, he dashed off again to watch the show. He is also seemingly determined to stay up for the sail away party.
Meanwhile, I am here in the room with Lara and Jonah who are both dead to the world. I am exhausted from yet another busy day but content as I managed to sneak in a quick shopping expedition on the way back to the room! I couldn’t resist buying the Mediterranean DCL pin as well as the Mickey star wars pin. I have my eyes set on the Dooney & Burke bag but that will have to wait for another day. How could any say that they get bored on a cruise?!?! All we planned for today was to go for a swim and we never got there...
Click for more photos from Barcelona
Click here for more photos on the Magic
We could hold the children back no longer. After an early breakfast by the pool at Goofy’s Galley, the children went for a swim. Funny how the cold that was so horrible at breakfast suddenly didn’t matter! Jonah was off to Flounder’s nursery so we could have brunch at Palo with the group from the DISboards. It was nice to have time to chat for real with people whom we’ve been chatting to online for the past few months.
Brunch really was an exercise in excessive eating. The choice and amount of food offered was astounding. The quality of food was also wonderful. Unfortunately, the want and the ability to eat didn’t quite match up! We rolled out the door relunctantly to try and retrieve some children.
Jonah came willingly. It was a relief that he adjusted well and didn’t seem to be too distressed. As for Lara and Elliot, they chose to remain at Oceaneer’s Club and Lab respectively. It was infinitely more fun than hanging around with their parents. The next few hours flew quickly as both Jonah and I napped for the afternoon. I really have no awareness of what the rest of family got up to. We finally managed to drag the children back to the room just in time to get dressed for formal night.
Lara was very excited to be watching her first show, Twice Charmed, an alternative ending to the story of Cinderella. She sat transfixed by the great production. I have no idea once again how the day went past so quickly. So much for planning to scrapbook and go to trivia.
Private Tour with Touring Malta.
0900hrs pickup direct from cruise ship
0915hra - 1115hrs Valletta (visit Barraka Gardens, Triq Repbulikka and St. John's Co. Cathedral)
1145hrs - 1230hrs Blue Grotto (with time to the optional boat trip)
1259hrs - 1400hrs Marsaxlokk Fishing Village and Lunch Break
1430hrs - 1545hrs Mdina Medieval City
1630hrs/1645hrs return to ship
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...0/DSC_0419.JPGThe Grand Harbour
Malta was one of the ports that we were most looking forward to and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...0/DSC_0437.JPGThe port of Valetta
We had another early start so we could see the ship pull into the Grand Harbour which was magnificent. The ship ran to time like clockwork. As announced, we reached Malta at 730am, docked by 815am and we were allowed on shore at 830am. We were greeted by a brass band which made us feel rather important!
Our tour guide, Flora, from Touring Malta, was waiting for us. We had initially planned to DIY Malta but we’re certainly glad that we went for the private tour instead. We probably otherwise would not have seen as much, learnt as much, nor beat the big Disney tour buses at the various locations. Flora and Charles, our driver, spoke English well (as do all the Maltese) and were warm, friendly and knowledgeable.
Malta really is a beautiful island with a long and rich history. The English signs and driving on the left hand side of the road also brought us feelings of comfort! We started off with a drive, then a wander around Valetta, including a short trip to the Barakka gardens where we had a glorious view of the Grand Harbour with the Magic docked down below. The highlight of the city would have to St John’s Co-Cathedral.
Malcolm’s uncle had traced his ancestry back to Malta and discovered living descendents. One particular one we know work at the Office of Tourism and Culture. When we walked past the building, Flora kindly walked in and made enquiries. Lo and behold we found Frances Albani! He came down to say hello. The resemblance to Malcolm's family was uncanny. We walked away with a photo for Malcolm’s dad.
Lunch was at the Fishing village of Marsaxlokk. It was a simple fare of grilled fish with chips and salad, but the fish was fresh and cooked to perfection. After a quick wander, we moved on to the Blue Grotto where we took the boat ride out to the grotto itself. The colour of the water and the rocks in the caves were spectacular and surprisingly vivid!
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...0/DSC_0504.JPGTypical Maltese boat with 2 "eyes" at the front.
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...0/DSC_0505.JPGThere was even one with my name on it...oops sorry can't spell.
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...0/DSC_0510.JPGArial view of the Blue Grotto
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...0/DSC_0518.JPGOn the boat to the Blue Grotto
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...0/DSC_0526.JPGVery blue indeed...
We stopped for a quick ice-cream and playground break outside the Mdina medieval city. With the children now satisfied we were able to wander the narrow streets and admire the beautiful old buildings in peace. 4pm came around too quickly and it was time to head back to the ship. In commemoration of Disney Cruise Line’s first visit to Valetta, the city farewelled the ship with a canon salute. It was a truly magnificent way to end our day at Valetta.
It was, however, not the end to our day on the ship. We had a dinner reservation at Palo. Lara and Elliot were only to happy to be told that they had to go the kids clubs. Jonah despite screaming when he was dropped off, thankfully settled in less than a minute and went to sleep with no problems.
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...0/DSC_0531.JPGEntrance to the Mdina
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...0/DSC_0536.JPGThe Maltese cross evident everywhere
The day was so full of beautiful sites and images. It really is a pity that I am not able to post photos at the time of writing because of the internet speeds. The purchase of the internet package would have to be one of my only regrets. For the premium price that we are paying, the service is poor. I understand speed limitations, but to have to take up to 10 minutes every single time to log on and off is not acceptable. Use the internet 10 times and it would be 100 minutes which is already 20% of the internet time that I purchased!
To end on a happy note, it is off to Africa tomorrow. Can't wait!
Click here for more photos of Malta
We’ve booked a private tour with a local company. The plan is:
** Drive to Carthage and the charming village of Sidi Bou Saïd
** Drive to Tunis itself: Sightseeing of the modern part of the city, then a pedestrian walk in the old city " the Medina " a stroll in the souks to have an idea about the local handicraft and for shopping!
** Lunch at authenticTunisian restaurant. Coffee/tea at a local Tunisian coffeshop
Total cost: US$300
We have intentionally left out the Bardo Museum as it will probably be too much for the children. We shall just have to come back when we do the Tunis Star Wars tour…
I am sitting here on our balcony typing while waiting for our ship to sail away from Tunis. What a wonderful day we’ve had!
We arrived in La Goulette Harbour earlier today to the fanfare of a brass band as well as a welcome with a local troupe of musicians, dancers, camels and horses! We met up with Ben, our private tour guide, and started our day by visiting Carthage.
I have to be honest here and say that Carthage was not what I expected it to be. I had imagined in my mind that it was the ruins of a complete city. It is in fact a collection of little pockets of ruins that had been preserved amongst residential areas! However, with Ben’s explanation of the history of the site, I was able to appreciate the reasons for it being so. This doesn’t take away from the wonder of the technology and skills of the time, which was evident from the display of excavated artefacts displayed at the museum itself. Ben also took us around to see the remains of the Roman baths, the aquaduct system and the old harbour.
Next up was Sidi Bou Said, a picturesque little town of white and blue on top of a hill. Being in a minivan, we were fortunate enough to be able to drive right up, rather than having to walk up the hill from where the other Disney buses were. We were also taken around the back route to avoid the crowds and appreciate the beauty of the town at our own pace. We stopped for a quick break of local coffee and mint tea before heading back to downtown Tunis.
http://lh6.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0636.JPGThe blue and white of Sidi Bou Said
http://lh6.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0629.JPGPlates for sale
http://lh4.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0649.JPGOnly 1 out of 2 doors in town which are not blue!
http://lh6.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0661.JPGAre we in Africa or Europe?
We had a quick drive around for the highlights and then got off for a walk. Tunis is interesting as a city. The French influence is apparent, with tree lined avenues, European lamp posts and buildings. At the end of the main avenue, you suddenly come to the entrance of the souks of the Medina where the feel and atmosphere is completely different with narrow streets and colourful stalls. We weaved our way in and onto a mosque built in the 8th century. We were then taken past the perfume “section” and the “chechias” section. The chechias is the traditional head dress of Tunisia. At one of the shops, the shopkeeper kindly showed us how the chechias was made and even let us try one on for photos.
At this point, Lara desperately needed to go the toilet, and once again, we were able to go to the toilets at one of the shops without any pressure to buy any goods. All thanks to Ben. We were initially sceptical about organising a private tour with Ben as he was not with a “big” company. However, we have not regretted choosing to go with Ben at all. As a small group, we were able to move quickly and often overtook the big tour groups. We never felt unsafe at any stage. We were never hassled by any stall owners at the Medina nor at Sidi Bou Said. We did get invites to look at their goods but a friendly no sufficed for a return smile and a goodbye wave. Ben was professional and extremely knowledgeable. He spoke English very well and his passion for tourism was apparent. It was lovely to chat with him about his background during a lunch of local Tunisian cuisine. Thankfully the children loved “brick”, a local dish of pastry stuffed with egg and tuna then deep fried. It didn’t last for more than a minute before it was wolfed down. The restaurant only accepted local currency and so Ben again kindly went to the nearby back to exchange some money for us while we ate. The minivan has seen better days but it did just fine for our purposes. It was clean and had air-conditioning.
http://lh5.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0685.JPGCoca-cola in arabic?
We returned to the ship exhausted once again! The children have gone for another swim and I can’t wait to lie down and sleep! Cruising certainly makes travelling with young children so much easier. I couldn’t imagine having to pack and unpack every so often, handling airports, trains or driving in unfamiliar territory on top of the sightseeing. We’ve certainly enjoyed simply waking up at a new port the next day. We feel that having only 1 day at each is only small sacrifice in the big scheme of things. There is always time to come back to our favourite ports of call when the children are older and more independent!
Well it appears that we are running late because a few of the Disney tours are late. Makes me happy that we came back on time!
Click here to see more photos of Tunis
We’ve booked a private excursion with Rome Connection to see the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Positano and Pompeii.
Ah...Italy! On the itinerary today was Pompeii, Sorrento and Positano. We docked right at the heart of the Naples in front of castle built more than 800 years ago. Again, we have chosen to go with a private tour because of the number of people that we have in our party as well as the fact that we had 3 young children. We wanted to be able to control the pace of our tour, as well as the timing of our lunch and snack breaks.
We went to Pompeii first to beat the crowds and the heat. Rafael, our guide at Pompeii , was very skilful at manoeuvring us around the many big tour groups. He informed us that it would only get worse throughout the day. After Carthage, Pompeii seemed endless! It had the advantage of the city as a whole being buried in volcanic ash and thus preserved, rather than being looted and then being built on. The amount of information about the lifestyle and way of life of the time gleaned from the ruins really was amazing. We were surprised to find the 2 hours that had been allocated flying past.
We set off for Positano driving along the spectacular Amalfi Coast. Lunch was atop the hill overlooking the village. The view was second to none. We discovered that Mozarella was a specialty in Sorrento along with limoncello. I’ve never tasted ricotta and Mozarella that good before! Seasonal vegetables from the garden and fresh home-made pasta completed with southern Italian desserts and limoncello made for a big and wonderful meal. All this food was in preparation for a walk down to the beach in Positano itself. The stairs down and up again with a stroller helped burn some of the calories. The town was pretty but the beach itself was a little disappointing.
http://lh3.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0756.JPGThe Amalfi Coast
http://lh6.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0761.JPGStopping the minivan in the middle of a narrow winding road just to take a photo? "No problem!" Says Paolo...
http://lh3.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0787.JPGThe beauftiful streets of Positano
http://lh5.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0789.JPGMalcolm not too impressed with beach at Positano
Next up is Sorrento. We stopped for gelato and proceeded to for some much anticipated shopping when we discovered that Elliot had lost his Key To The World card. So the next half an hour was spent back-tracking and searching the minivan to no avail. Fortunately at the port, he managed to somehow slip through the first check with the Italian authorities. Once we got to the ship, it was simply a matter of going to Guest services and another card was re-issued before we could say please.
The day was filled with warm Italian hospitality and amazing views. I only hope the photos will do them justice.
Click here for more photos in Naples
Again, we’ve booked a private excursion with Rome Connection to catch the highlights of Rome. This way, we can chop and change accordingly depending on how the children are going and we won’t be wasting time on an action packed day. We really loved Rome the last time we came and can't wait to go there with the children!
Another day, another Italian port. This time its Civitavecchia, the port for Roma, the Eternal City. We have been blessed with 4 sunny days in a row with temperatures in the low 20s, perfect weather for sightseeing. We met up with our guide, Frederico, and set off for the 1 hour drive to Rome.
I must admit I was a little anxious about Rome as I knew it involved long drives there and back, as well as having a long list of “to-sees”. I was not sure how the children would cope. I needn’t have worried as today turned out to be so enjoyable. The decision to cut out a few things helped tremendously. As difficult as it was at the time, we chose not to go into the Vatican Museum and St Peter’s Basilica where the longest lines were and chose instead to visit attractions with little or no lines. The day turned out well. Frederico managed to get a parking spot just around the corner from most of the attractions and seemed to know many back streets. We didn’t get stuck in any traffic. Elliot started paying attention at the Pantheon when he discovered that one of the “ninja turtles”, Rafael, was buried there. Thank goodness the Pantheon was one of the first monuments we visited.
We started with a stop for espressos and cappuccinos at a cafe outside the Senate building frequented by the Italian Prime Minister. It was reputed to make the best coffee in Rome. And the coffee was GOOD...The children were happy because they got to choose an Italian pastry of their choice for morning tea. We saw many well known must-sees including the Spanish steps, the Trevi Fountain, St Peter’s Square, the Catacombs of San Callisto, the Pantheon, the many Obelisks, and decided to only drive past the Forum Romanum and Colosseum.
We also saw a few not so well-known things. One of which is a little peep hole in the door of a convent on Avantino Hill, through which you see a view of t Cupola of St Peter’s Basilica framed by beautiful gardens. The sight was quite incredible. Other than our minivan, there was no other tourist in sight. Another place where there was no other tourist in sight was the restaurant where we had lunch. Frederico ordered on our behalf a simple lunch of pastas that Rome is famous for. Once again, the food was plentiful and delicious. The best parts of the day though was simply soaking up the atmosphere of Rome at the many Piazzas. The children loved eating bubblegum flavoured gelato in front of the fountain at Piazza Navona and running around chasing the pigeons.
http://lh6.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0881.JPGThe all important business of eating gelato
http://lh6.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0863.JPGThe Trevi Fountain
http://lh3.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0903.JPGIt seemed the drain was a lot more interesting that St Peter's itself
We headed back to ship exhausted and slept on the drive back. Although we didn’t quite click with Frederico as we did with Paolo, we remain truly grateful to him for helping us make our day in Rome so memorable.
Click here for more photos of Rome
La Spezia, Italy
After 2 busy days, we didn’t want to subject anyone to another long drive. So we have opted to visit Cinque Terre instead of the popular Florence. As much as we love Florence, we feel that it is a city best seen when you have a little bit more time, especially with young children.
Cinque Terre is very close to La Spezia. We have hired a local guide from the official tourist office of the Cinque Terre National Park who will meet us at the port and take us through the Villages taking a combination of trains and ferry. We will go by foot to the train station, walking through the main street of La Spezia ( 15 minutes ). We’ll then catch the train ( 6 minutes ) to Riomaggiore. Walk through the Via dell'amore and visit Manarola. Catch the train to Vernazza, catch the train to Monterosso before taking a ferry back to la Spezia harbour.
The best part is that it only cost a bargain price of 360 Euro for all of us including transport costs! As we will there on Friday, there will also be a local market in La Spezia that we can visit.
We tendered in La Spezia on yet another beautiful day with sunny blue skies. Again, we had to make a difficult decision and opted to go to Cinque Terre instead of Pisa and Florence. Once we made it off the tender, it was off to catch the first ferry of the day to the Cinque Terre.
http://lh4.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0930.JPGGeorgio Armani's boat
It was a relaxing 2 hour ferry ride on calm, nearly flat seas. We had great views, going past Portovenere and the first four villages of the Cinque Terre. We alighted at Monterosso and worked our way back toward La Spezia via train. The next stop was Vernazza, one of the prettiest village out of the five, where we had lunch. We had the specialties of the area which included trofie with pesto, ravioli with walnut sauce and a scrumptious seafood spaghetti. We hadn’t quite stuffed ourselves so we ordered two more rounds of ravioli and seafood spaghetti . And of course, we couldn’t have a day in Italy without the obligatory gelato.
http://lh6.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0969.JPGThe church at Monterroso
http://lh6.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_0994.JPGLunch at Vernazza
Next up was Manarola, from which we walked along Via Dell’Amore to Riomaggiore. Unfortunately we weren’t feeling too amorous after lugging Jonah along the cliffside cobblestones, but we could still enjoy the beautiful view. From there, it was another train ride to La Spezia. By the time we arrived at the station, my legs had had enough of walking! The last 20 minute walk back to the harbour to return to the ship was an effort. I was glad that the next day would be a day at sea! All plans to watch the magician got abandoned once I put Jonah down for bed after dinner. I was too exhausted. I later discovered that Elliot was chosen to go on stage and was the star of the show. He was so chuffed! The magic set that he was given also helped. He is now famous on the ship. One American kid came up to him and, in an accent straight from TMNTs, said “Elliot you rock! That was awesome dude!”
I can’t believe I completely forgot to write our experience at Palo 4 days ago! So many people rave about it and some think that its over-rated. Most of the reviews are by Americans. Not really knowing the difference between the American palate and the Australian, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Having now been to Palo myself for brunch and dinner, I can say that I am in the camp for Palo being worth going to. The food was definitely much better than the meal served at the regular dining table. Our server was cheeky and cheerful without being overbearing or in our face. I tried the famous chocolate soufflé. Although it was delicious, dare I say that I think the Max Brenner chocolate soufflé is better...
All in all, we really enjoyed our dining experience at Palo and would definitely go back on our next cruise. My challenge now is to figure out how to make reservations for a party of 9...
Click here for more photos of the Cinque Terre
This will be much needed after so many busy days!
First on the menu today...Character breakfast! The children were super excited. We had photo opportunities with Mickey, Mickey, Pluto, Goofy, Chip and Dale throughout breakfast. Jonah loved waving hello and goodbye from afar but shrieked as soon as they got too close. We still have not managed to get a photo of him with any character.
We dropped all three children at their respective “clubs” to finally be able to spend some time together on the ship! We sorted out flights, gratuities, rebookings and got the final amount of onboard credit left. We browsed through our photos at Shutters and decided against purchasing the $399 photo CD. This meant that we had to do some serious shopping for Disney Merchandise. We bought Elliot the Goofy hat he desperately wanted, Lara her bracelet with Disney charms and myself the Dooney and Burke bag.
We attempted to pick the children up for lunch so we could go to Disney Trivia as a family. Unfortunately, we got rejected. The only child who still loved us more than the kids clubs was Jonah who came with a smile for a lunch of hot dogs by the pool, finished off with some soft serve ice-cream.
I finally managed to get some time to relax on the balcony with brownies and a cup of tea during Jonah’s afternoon nap. It was bliss. However, there was little time to waste. We had to hurry to an art auction for a chance to win $1000 worth of Disney art. We sat through the auction in eager anticipation of the draw. Our raffle numbers were 44306 and 44307. The announcer called “And the winning number is..... 4...4...3...0...5! Arggghhh!!!! Close but no cigar.
We received another big stash of FE gift deliveries today. The children have enjoyed looking for and finding little surprises in the bag. The gifts have been wonderful, little personalised mousemats, pencils, sweets, drink holders, charms. The list goes on. They were all well thought out and packed beautifully. I was somewhat ashamed of my effort. I had chocolates with Australian animals on them as well as badges of the Australian flag. However, all grand notions of cute, personalised Disney packaging never came to fruition in the chaos leading up to the trip. It is something that we’re definitely keen to participate in again if the numbers are small. We only had small groups of 12 for this cruise, and I thought that worked well. Not too much to carry but enough to have fun.
After dinner, we all went to watch Villains Tonight, a new production which premiered on the previous cruise. Many reviews slammed the show but I enjoyed it. Perhaps it was because I had nothing to compare it to. I just realised today that in our hectic schedule, I have not been to a single karaoke session! How could this be?!?!?! Meanwhile my parents have been to lecture series, cooking classes, napkin folding, scrapbooking. They have even befriended our head waiter, who is also Indonesian, and managed to arranged nasi goreng complete with sambal for tomorrow night. Apparently, the chef at Parrot Cay is also Indonesian.
We’re off to Corsica, France, tomorrow. I’m relieved that we’re simply pottering around town. At the moment, I need another holiday to recover from this one...
Exploring on our own. A little worried about what will be open as we will be in port on a Sunday. Details to come!
The man himself
The good weather finally came to an end. Today was the first cold, cloudy and rainy day. After a leisurely breakfast at Lumiere’s we headed to port. The little train of Ajaccio was easy to find and we settle for the 45 minute ride for 7 Euro per adult and 3 Euro per child. The train gave us the highlights of the city but wasn’t really set up for more detailed information.
http://lh6.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_1098.JPGThe little train of Ajaccio
Plans to visit various attractions and the beach were abandoned because of the rain. Many cruisers obviously had the same thoughts as there was a steady stream of passengers reboarding the ship by 1030 in the morning. We took the opportunity of doing a load of washing while the ship was half full. A few days ago, Malcolm had already committed the cardinal onboard sin of being 3 minutes late to pick up our laundry much to the disgust of 2 middle aged American ladies. Having met so many lovely people, we were surprised at how nasty people were to each other over laundry. We wanted to be sure not to make the same mistake again.
Jonah has been practising “ciao” every day for the past 3 days and I can proudly announce that it is now officially part of his limited vocabulary of words which are understandable to the adult ear. As are the words “boat” and “eat”.
Speaking of eating, the dining room staff delivered on the promise of satay and nasi goreng Indonesian style complete with sambal. I didn’t realise how much I missed Asian food. The whole family gobbled down the food gratefully. As an indication of just how much I have stuffed myself throughout the whole cruise, I was NOT able to eat dessert. I NEVER pass on dessert. My shameless parents then requested deep fried banana with sticky rice Thai style from our Thai server. They seem to be having too much fun on the ship. They have decided to go on a Disney Port Adventure by themselves at Villefranche tomorrow.
http://lh6.ggpht.com/_6IGdqOKbHKc/S-...0/DSC_1119.JPGPirom, our server, with the all important sambal
I have to make a special note of the wonderful service that we have received all throughout the cruise. Every single encounter we’ve had that has involved direct interaction with a Disney staff onboard has been faultless. The onboard staff would have to be DCL’s best asset. They were friendly yet efficient, competent and professional. Any problems encountered were fixed quickly and with a smile. DCL only has to fix some systemic problems (eg internet and plumbing!) as well as their pre-cruise operations to make their cruises a truly magical experience, and ones that would be hard to beat.
Oh and I finally made it to a trivia session today. Woohoo!!!
Click here for more photos of Ajaccio
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...57.JPG" borderThe beach at Nice
We awoke to the beautiful view of the Cote D’Azur from our balcony. Other than heading toward Nice, we had no firm plans for the day. Luckily we bumped into Team Skoi and Team Auntlynne from the DISboards who so happened to be heading to Nice as well. We decided to tag along as they seemed to know what they were doing!
The station was easy to find and the train ride to Nice only took 7 minutes. Our first stop was the Inglese Russe. I had never seen one before and this particular one built in 1865 was beautiful. We then headed down to the famous Promenade by the sea in search of lunch and toilets.
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...0/DSC_1151.JPGOur not so succesful attempt to take an artistic shot
On our way back to the station, we stumbled upon a double decker merry-go-round. Everyone bar Julie and I went on (designated photographers). It was one of the longest merry-go-round rides I’ve ever witnessed and definitely well worth the 10 Euros for all 7 tickets.
A short tram ride later, we were back at the train station and before long, on the tender back to the ship. It was such a simple and relaxing day but so much fun with new friends. It really was an enjoyable last port of call.
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...0/DSC_1161.JPGJonah on the double decker merry-go-round
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_6IGdqOKbHK...0/DSC_1196.JPGTrying to figure out how to buy tram tickets
Before I forget, we managed another achievement tonight...Jonah finally had a photo with a character! The honours go to Chip and Dale!
The moral of the day is not to leave the things you want to do until the last day as it may not happen! The seas were rough with big swells. Alas for Malcolm that means no watching of movies on the big screen from the hot tub. For me it means I have to go home without trying the cheeseburger from Pluto’s Doghouse. The open decks were all closed for safety reasons and many activities cancelled including the art auction (and thus the raffle). No free Disney art for us...We did manage to get to the Princess Gathering this time much to Lara's delight. We got photos with Tiana, Cinderella, Snow White, Belle and Aurora. The character photo opportunities on the cruise has been phenomenal.
The good news was that the whole family survived without vomiting. And the seas were one of the roughest that I've ever been in. The children did not seem to be affected at all. They went about their busy ways at the kids club as per usual. With early flights tomorrow, we’ve got breakfast scheduled at 530am and need to be ready to debark at 6am. So DCL had a plan after all for those with flights before 1230pm. I don’t know why they couldn’t tell us this beforehand.
We’re now packed and ready to sleep for an early start tomorrow. I can’t believe the cruise is coming to an end. It has been a fabulous 11 days. Panama Canal, here we come!
Back to Barcelona
We received our Mickey Mouse wake-up call at 5am. The ship by this time had docked at the port. Those with flights earlier than 1030 were asked to show guest services their tickets and then were given special instructions for disembarkation.
I thought I’d include the details to help those on future cruises with early flights. We were given special luggage tags for our suitcases which had to be outside our stateroom doors on the last night by 10pm. Breakfast was at topsiders at 530am. We were instructed to take all our handcarry with us to breakfast as we would need to proceed straight to Rockin Bar D by 6am. At 610am, we were given clearance to leave the ship. By 620am we had collected all our luggage and were outside the port terminal awaiting our transfer. All the suitcases for early flights were together at the far end of the terminal closest to the exit. All in all, it was a smooth and quick process. There would have been at least over 100 people with flights before 1030. Delta also had a check-in counter set up at the port terminal. Here’s to hoping that the same arrangement will exist at LAX come the Panama Canal Cruise
After the debacle of our non-transport to the port, I emailed several times out of paranoia to ensure our transport arrived at 645 as planned. While waiting, we saw the first DCL bus leave at 630am. There were taxis a plenty and there was no line. We left the port at about 650. The taxi ride to the airport took no more than 20 minutes. There was hardly any traffic. By 0800, we had checked in, cleared security and immigration and were walking to our departure gate.
The flight to Singapore was empty with only 80 passengers! This was great as most of us got a whole row of 3 to lie down. Unfortunately, Jonah chose not to sleep...
I can't wait to hear all the details on your excursions!! I wish we could get live updates while you're on the ship to help us change our plans to suit! :) Ah! Another thing we have in common, I worked in pharmaceutical sales for almost 10 years! Loved it! :) It afforded me the opportunity to quit and be home...and I met some amazing people along the way! Some of my favorite memories were sharing with all the patients I met! :)
Have a GREAT trip!!!
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