Med Cruise with Greece and Turkey July 2013 - We Are Disney Sheep - updated 4/3/14
Now when I say that we are Disney sheep, I should probably clarify that we have never actually been to Disney World. We did visit Disneyland twice when the kids were really little (we lived out west back then). And we have visited Orlando twice since the kids became teenagers, but those visits were to Universal Studios - ooh , the dark side :).
Our 'sheep-like' tendencies relate to the fact that not only was this our 7th Disney cruise since 2004, but on this trip we booked all of our excursions through Disney, as well as our hotel in Barcelona, the Hilton Diagonal Mar, and our transfers to and from the port. And that would be despite all of the excellent advice gleaned from this board on how to do everything on your own. So yes, we would be Disney sheep, because it worked out easier for our family that way.
After we did the Baltic cruise in July 2010, we really wanted to do a Disney Med cruise, and we happily booked this July 2013 cruise shortly after the Med itineraries were released in 2012 while we were sailing the Dream for the first time. Although my DH and I have each visited the Med separately in the past, my experience was as a teenager on a high school cruise (anyone remember the SS Uganda?), while my DH did a land based trip with friends back in his single days :). Travelling with kids, even when they are teenagers, is a whole different ballgame from our perspective.
On the Baltic cruise we did mainly Disney excursions and had been happy with them - especially when the train broke down at the end of the day on our trip to Berlin and we didn't have to worry about getting left behind. If that hadn't been a Disney excursion, we would have been sweating more than the 40 degree Celsius temps due to the heatwave that day! As an aside, my kids still remember the unbelievably long day of the Berlin excursion as one of the best ports on the Baltic cruise, go figure. But that says a lot for our past Disney excursion experiences.
So, the 'we' for this trip includes me, DH, DD (16), and DS (14). Travel is our main 'vice', however since the kids and I are Celiacs, (which means we can't eat wheat, barley, rye etc ) we often have issues finding food we can safely eat. And yes, this also means that we will often avoid eating in places where we can't speak the language. Cruising is therefore an ideal option for us, and Disney is definitely in our comfort zone.
When choosing excursions, we searched for a balance between my desire to see all of the Greek and Roman ruins I could find :), activities that would interest all of us, and the fact that this was a vacation, not a route march! In the end we mixed full day excursions with half days and three quarter day excursions. When all is said and done we felt that we 'mostly' made good choices. And honestly, the excursions that we enjoyed less than the other ones were linked to how we felt about the tour guides we were assigned to...and that would have been the same even if we had booked private tours.
So, 12 days plus 2 in the Med with the Mouse! Let the Disney 'herding' begin!
Day 1.5 - The really really long Travel day
Our travel day started with us up early for a very full, very wild day that was a blur of organizing, packing and cleaning to get ready to leave for the airport to catch a 1930 hrs Air Canada flight that would eventually land us in Barcelona, Spain. Emphasis here on the eventually, as Air Canada cancelled the direct flight we originally booked (on our own, not thru Disney) almost a year in advance and instead routed us through to Frankfurt, Germany. The real problem, beyond us now being scheduled to arrive in Spain closer to lunch time than to morning, was that they only left us 40 minutes layover in Germany. Note, this was not enough time to even make it into the airport from the tarmac as we were required to take a shuttle bus (which waits for the last person off the plane, you know, those that they advise to please stay in your seats if you require assistance and they will help you disembark). So yeah, we got to the main terminal drop off just as our plane was taking off somewhere fairly far away in the airport.
Logistically this meant that we could now not even be booked on the 1100 hrs flight to Barcelona because it was already full, and instead we had to wait for the 1315 hrs flight that left late because it was already so full! On the positive side, DS was able to catch a catnap in the airport, since he had not slept during our o/n 7.5 hr flight.
And, even though we were originally all split up into middle seats in four separate rows, it just worked out that people wanted to trade, and DH, DS and DD ended up all next to each other, with me behind them. We arrived in Barcelona at roughly 1535 hrs local time.
Surprisingly, Lufthansa actually managed to find our luggage and put it on our plane. So, with our 4 suitcases and 4 backpacks loaded onto a cart (one man one kit concept i.e. we only bring what we can individually carry) we easily followed the signs through the airport into the well organized taxi line, were assigned a taxi and made it to our hotel, roughly 20 minutes later for a total cost of approx 31 euros, plus tip.
Since it was now late afternoon, the Hilton Diagonal Mar hotel was able to give us one room immediately. We could have had our second room right away, however we wanted the kids to be on the same floor with us and preferably close by, so we chose to give the hotel time to work that option for us. Our room(s) both had two single beds very close together, which was great for the kids. We had the option of upgrading to a king bed for 20 euros per night, but we decided to 'rough it' and let housekeeping simply push our two beds together and arrange the linen as if it was just one bed.
Since we arrived later than planned, at roughly 1700 hrs by the time we checked in and dropped our luggage in our room, our Plan B was to hit the hotel pool. Well, it seems that just after we walked in to the hotel, the skies opened and it not only poured, but there was a sound and lights show of thunder and lightening! So, on to Plan C. We hit the Diagonal Mar shopping centre across the street. Now, since both kids and I are Celiacs and can't eat gluten, it had been a rough travel day from a food perspective. And that made the decision to eat salads at Subway way too easy . It was also relatively cost effective, at roughly 20 euros for 3 salads, a sandwich ( for DH the Evil Wheat eater :) and three Pepsi (I am a coke drinker and therefore a snob when it comes to Pepsi :).
We really enjoyed our meal together. This was our first chance all day to just kick back and relax with each other. We are lucky and really do enjoy meal time conversations with our kids. We followed up our Subway feast with gelato. And since we can't have cones, the small cup option meant that we could choose 2 different flavours each :). It was very delicious, and definitely worth the 12.80 euro for our 4 gelatos.
Since we are celiacs, DH got to eat all four pieces of waffle cone.
The Diagonal Mar mall is a fairly large mall, and since it was still raining out, we wandered. My kids were intrigued to check out a Toys R Us and see that the most recent Call of Duty Xbox game would cost $100 US roughly. They are definitely glad we live in Canada :).
There were a couple of other more specialized toy stores that we wandered through, but a neat option we discovered was a huge department type store called Alcampo on one of the lower floors, that has a grocery store in it. Fruits, veggies, milk, yogurt etc, but most importantly , an aisle devoted to foods for specialty diets. Yes, they had chocolate covered digestive biscuits that are gluten free!! Woo hoo. And score. And yes, we bought skim milk too, to wash down the cookies (the hotel room had a bar fridge, oh, and a room safe).
Back at the hotel, we fought sleep and headed to the lobby with our iPads in order to take advantage of the free WiFi (8 hours during your stay, code available at the front desk).
Awesome, another Med Report! We're like Disney sheep too, We were on the Magic 2 cruises before you. I have my trip report link in my signature if you're interested. I'm sure going to be reading yours! :thumbsup2
Day 2 - Barcelona
It felt very decadent to wake up in a hotel room without our kids :). Realistically they were just two doors away and as teenagers they were ok with this. And the fact that they each had their own beds was a bonus, because although DD has mastered the 'bundling board' concept (using pillows and or blankets to divide a bed in two), DS 's rapidy growing limbs always manage to spread out!
We had slept well, but were awake reasonably early. We happily headed downstairs to partake of the buffet breakfast that was included in the cost of the room. And although the two rooms cost roughly $200 US each per night through Disney (since we had booked them early), realistically the included breakfast would have cost 24 ¨ each, i.e. 96 ¨ for the 4 of us each day if we had gone that route. Luckily this way we did not have to decide - And we were happy that it was a good hot buffet breakfast.
Happily full, we got directions to the Metro station and a map at the front desk and headed off. It was only a short distance to the nearby Metro station, but since I can be directionally challenged I was very content to just follow my DH the couple of blocks. The Metro itself was clean and fairly well marked. We bought a T-10 card (for roughly 10¨) to share through the kiosk machine using our Visa and then followed the signs to the subway platform. There are clocks on the ceilings that countdown to the arrival of the next train which was only a couple of minutes away.
Since our objective was the Jaume metro station, we were on the subway for about 7 stops. Again, it was well signed and we found ourselves in the square near Plaza Sant Jaume just after 1030 hrs, which worked well as the first Fat Tire Bike Tour ride of the day was scheduled for 11 am. At first we couldn't see any signs for the Fat Tire Bike Tour, so I asked people who worked in the square. My DD was amused that although the only Spanish we know we can thank Dora and Boots for :), we managed to get by with whatever English the locals knew, the similarities between French and Spanish, and some hand signs and showing people the piece of paper with the Fat Tire name on it.
Luckily right about then as we headed in the direction we were pointed, a couple of guys on bikes with Fat Tire t-shirts showed up in the square. Even though we did not have reservations, once we approached them we were rapidly assigned to a group of roughly 16 people, told that we could pay at the end of the tour and set up with bikes, the kind where you sit upright and peddle, with brakes on the handlebars.
The bike did have 3 gears, but I never felt the need to move mine out of first :). Our tour guide was Adam from Calgary, Canada, who gave us a short safety briefing and then we headed out en masse.
Now getting to the first two stops, Plaza del Rei and La Catedral were a little challenging, since it was summer in Barcelona and tourist season.
Somehow no one hit anyone, and conversely no one got hit by anyone. By our third stop, Palau de la Musica Catalana, we broke away from the crowded downtown core and got to enjoy the cooling effects of the wind generated by bike travel :).
The tour itself was great, we got to see many of the culturally important, historically significant and architecturally impressive sights in Barcelona. And more importantly in some ways, Adam made the sights and the bike ride interesting and fun. And mostly historically accurate... I say mostly, since although I am pretty sure that Columbus and Queen Isabella probably did engage in a personal relationship that might have been part of the impetus behind Spain funding Columbus' trip, I highly doubt that the common people of the time were referring to them as Isa-lumbus :). On the other hand, my teenagers remembered Adam's commentary almost two weeks later as we drove through Barcelona to the airport (-is the hand of the Columbus statue pointing to somewhere in Africa rather than the Americas? Probably :).
The total time for the bike tour took over 4 hours, but the actual biking was easy and only covered about 11 km. We stopped at the Arc de Triomphe
(apparently M. Eiffel had submitted a proposal for its design but was not the winner of that contract), and at the Parc de la Ciutadella and both were really interesting to hear about and get to photograph up close and personal.
At Sagrada Familia after a brief description by Adam we had time to get a little closer and to take pictures. Realistically this was more than a little challenging and would have been no matter how you visit that site in the summer in high tourist season. There were crowds of people every where.
On a positive note, the other members of the tour were around to snap a photo of you with your camera, so you didn't have to worry about them stealing your camera :).
Most of our last hour was spent having lunch at the beach, where you could have wandered off for a swim if you chose, or had a drink, a meal and a dessert from choices on a set lunchtime menu for 12 ¨ Per person. DS chose calamari and DH chose the burger. DD and I chose to only have a pop and ice cream each - although DH did not really get to enjoy his fries since DD and I decided to 'help' him to eat those :). Our total bill for lunch was 36¨ in cash.
Our teenagers were probably the youngest members of our group, but there were other Fat Tire groups out at the same time, and I noted that there were younger kids on some of those tours. We also had a flat tire on our tour when one of the group decided to attempt to jump a curb and it didn't work out as he planned. Fortunately not only did Adam handle the problem efficiently, our stop happened very close to a convenience store where a lot of us used the opportunity to buy extra water and fresh fruit very inexpensively.
One last stop was at the square with the monument where the last truly Catalan soldiers were executed. Although Adam is neither Spanish nor of Catalan descent, he successfully managed to impart the feelings of the local Catalan people.
Back at the Fat Tire Bike Tour shop, we ended up having to pay in cash as their darn Visa machine was not working. Grrr. Total cost was 92 ¨, plus a well deserved tip.
Wandering away through the downtown touristy core, we only had to check out a few souvenir stores before I found a highly cheesy ceramic 'touristic' picture frame, my personal souvenir of choice :). My DS even found an Assasins Creed t-shirt which made him very happy, and my DH picked up a soccer shirt for the daughter of a work friend. Since it was half the cost of the same shirt in the official brand store we recognized that it was probably a knock off, but realistically the friend will probably appreciate saving the 50 or 60 ¨ and the daughter probably wont care all that much. All in all, a very successful adventure.
At that point we should have just headed back to the hotel, instead since we had lost our previous day in Barcelona thanks to Air Canada, we headed to the subway to head to Park Guell. Getting to the correct stop was easy enough, and we still had our T-10 card for the ride. Luckily we don't mind climbing stairs, because there were a heck of a lot of them, although my DH may have compared the ascent to climbing Mt Everest. There were also escalators on the main route to the top as an option. Once we arrived at the park, we took the left hand path which took us to a really high outlook for a great view of Barcelona.
The park itself however was in the other direction, so we had to climb down to go to the park <doh>.
And I already mentioned that it was summer time, and therefore high tourist season in Barcelona right? And it was hot. By this late in the afternoon it was also just crazy crowded with people everywhere. Which meant that although we got to look around, actually getting to see and enjoy the area was tough. And trying to get photos without lots and lots of other people in them involved a waiting game, which I lost patience for fairly quickly, and which my family lost patience for even more quickly. It didn't take long before our 'fun meter was pegged' and we began the long trek down over the hill.
Arriving at the subway station, we only had two rides left on our T-10 card, and decided to purchase two individual tickets, which were 2¨ each. Luckily we had cash with us, since the kiosk would not accept our credit card this time.The trip back to the hotel was managed in short order as there seem to be lots of subway trains running on a regular basis. The subway at this time of day was a lot more crowded than it had been earlier. Getting off the subway we realized that we could get out of the heat by walking back to the hotel through the Diagonal Mar shopping centre.
Back at the hotel we changed into swim suits as quickly as we could and headed to the pool.
Not only did we need to immerse ourselves in the pool to cool off, we were aware that the pool closed at 8 pm which didn't leave us a whole lot of time. The kids had a lot of fun, and swam until the lifeguard kicked everyone out. After our initial dip however, DH and I chose to rest on the deck lounge chairs. And unfortunately there was no hot tub. Oh well.
We finished our evening by heading back to the Diagonal Mar shopping centre for supper at a steak house. I was surprised to discover that I not only enjoyed the food, but that the atmosphere was neat too. No, it had pretty much nothing to do with Barcelona, but the two man band who were probably from the USA were doing a great job on an eclectic mix of oldies music, and DH and I got to sing along and embarrass our kids :). A filling dinner for the four of us, with pop that included free refills cost approx 55¨. And we once again enjoyed gelato on our way out of the mall. After all, we were on vacation so the calories don't count right?
Back at the hotel DH and I headed to the lobby with our iPads, while the kids checked out the tv channels in the room. They found the Disney channel, with the shows in English and the commercials in Spanish. And they also found a kids channel with Dora the Explorer in Spanish. Apparently Dora teaches Spanish speaking kids English words :).
So pleased to see another Med trip report! We leave one week today for some holiday time pre-cruise and then we will be on the Magic from 17th August. Reading trip reports like yours and disprincess4ever's get me so excited for our family time away!
Day 3 - Embarkation Day
Since we were out touring Barcelona all day the day before, we almost missed the Disney reps in the hotel lobby (they were officially done at 5 pm), but they were late leaving and we were able to get their information letter at 6 pm as we arrived back at the hotel at the end of the day. The letter told us our bus to the port transfer time was 11:30 am. We also had to have our suitcases packed and ready for pickup in our hotel room by 8 am.
The night before we had left almost everything packed, except for essentials and hanging up our dressier clothes etc, and had our clothes for the day already laid out. Since Disney wanted to pick up our luggage from one room only, the kids had transferred their luggage into our room the night before. All of this preparation turned out to be a good thing, as just after 8 am, there was a knock on the door and we had to scramble to toss the last couple of items into the bags. DH and I have learned in the past that Disney 'protocal' wrt bag pick up is to start on the upper floors of the hotel and to work their way down, and sure enough, we were on an 'upper' floor. Since the luggage was gone before 8:15 am, DH and I went back to bed until 930 am.:goodvibes
Although the hotel handled it well, breakfast this morning was a bit of a zoo. Not only were we later to the restaurant than the day before, but a lot of the guests were apparently heading out early on a Disney cruise ;). After breakfast we headed to the lobby to enjoy the comfy chairs and the free internet access. Of course, we discovered right away that our Wifi code was no longer valid, but the desk staff were very kind and gave me the new code as soon as I asked, even though we had just checked out. I must admit that I fully enjoyed the pleasant surroundings of the lobby, especially the comfy chairs and getting to surf the internet instead of waiting at the port terminal.
Our bus loaded up and headed off close to on time. Once at the terminal there were a couple of line ups, but they went very smoothly. Note that since we were using Disney transport we did not get to choose a PAT and we were surprised to discover that we had been assigned boarding group 2 which had been called already. We passed by the long line up for Captain Mickey photos and headed to the ship, pausing only long enough for our embarkation photo. Before we knew it we heard our family name announced welcoming us back onto the Disney Magic :goodvibes.
We were directed to Parrot Cay for a buffet lunch, spent a little time on deck 9 enjoying tea and people watching, and in no time it seemed, our cabin was ready. And now was the time for our culture shock. The last few times we have cruised, we cruised in a verandah room. This trip I had only booked an inside cabin mid ship on deck 7, and boy was it small. Ok, the fact that the kids are now both taller than me, which realistically meant four adult sized people in a smaller cabin than we are used to, made the first day a little challenging. Not only did we not have a steamer trunk for storage in this cabin, we also did not have a split bathroom. Yikes.
Luckily we had prepared a little in advance. First, we pared down our clothing as much as we could. Yes we brought dressy clothes for dinner, because that is part of the experience for us, but we made sure that we had only 'just enough' of everything, rather than choices and spares etc. We also brought 4 small ziplock bags of laundry detergent in order to do up to 4 loads of laundry if necessary. Next, we had brought lots of hangers, the plastic kind like clothes come on at the store as much as possible, as they travel light and you feel little remorse about throwing them out if you need the room at the end of the trip. Yes, There are some wooden hangers in the closet, but no where near enough for all of our dresses/shirts etc. Most of our clothes were hung in the closet, and we used the four small drawers in the desk for socks and underwear. We put DS's clothes on the shelves in the closet since if he can't see something, he probably can't find it...
And finally, although we took four 'suitcases' with us, two of them were duffle bags and two of the bags were Eddie Bauer bags, with one hard side and one soft side. This meant that we could empty out the duffles, roll them up and shove them under the bed in the harder to reach spot, and then share the other two mostly emptied suitcases and roll them under the end of the bed for easy access, i.e. they functioned as rolling drawers. And more importantly with that soft side, they fit under the bed! Note: It was mentioned during the Gold/Platinum Castaway Club function that the beds will be raised when the Magic goes in to refit, which will help a lot, however 4 full sized suitcases would still not fit under the bed.
DS griped a little about his bed being too short for him this trip, but he was soon informed that his only real option was to sleep on the floor. He chose the bed. Getting ready for dinner was our biggest challenge, but we simply handled that in shifts. We definitely missed the split bathroom. Interestingly enough, although the verandah would have been nice, we were ok with an inside cabin. We just spent a lot more time on decks 9 or 4, which ever was the quietest - or closest to the tea and ice cream, depending on our mood :). And when we really wanted to 'see' the outside while in the cabin, we turned the TV on to the channel that showed the front of the ship camera... Instant window.
Just after we arrived at our stateroom, DH's bag arrived and the unpacking process began. We settled in with tea from deck 9. The kids decided to watch a movie in the cabin and well, I napped. On the one hand I couldn't believe that I just slept like that, and on the other hand I was surprised that I lasted as long as I did.
And then it was time for the lifeboat drill. As always it was relatively efficient and over fairly quickly. Granted this time I was at the front of the family line as I am now the shortest member of my family, and my kids had a lot of fun teasing me about it. We headed upstairs to deck 9 to find tea (our personal vice) and stayed for the Sail Away party, scoring a reasonable front and centre spot on deck 10, but without my camera since we did not go back to the room after the drill. They handed out the blue Greece bandanas to wave in the air, they were dated June 2013, but no one seemed to object to the free souvenir.
And then it was time to get ready for dinner since we had the early seating. We did not get dressed up for this meal as we were still in the process of unpacking and getting accustomed to not having a split bathroom. We had a four top table next to two other families of four, one on either side. The tables were close, which worked very well as we all had our privacy, and yet we enjoyed seeing each other and chatting back and forth between tables every night without feeling like we had to socialize.
Our head server was Cedomir, our server was Bennett (Strawberry), and our assistant server was Aris. They all worked very well together and were able to accommodate the issues the kids and I have with being Celiacs (I.e. no wheat, barley, rye, etc). Each night we received the menu for the next night and placed our orders in advance. Side note: The Magic does not have as many food choices for Celiacs as the Fantasy does, as we could not order gluten free pizza at Pinocchios. Humph. This was mostly an issue for the kids when they hung out at the Vibe and would go with their friends when the friends went for pizza, but our kids could not eat pizza themselves.
After dinner we headed to the lobby to get pictures with the characters in their Spanish dress, tonight we scored Minnie, Mickey, Goofy and Pluto.
In case you are wondering, Pluto wears a different 'dog tag' for each port when he 'dresses up'. In honour of Barcelona, Pluto wore a Sagrada Familia tag. The kids headed to the show, All Aboard - The Magic Begins, while DH and I headed up to deck 9 for tea and then did several laps around deck 4 both for the exercise and to 'get our steps in' as we each wear a Fitbit... we are geeks that way :). After that it was back to the cabin to finish unpacking and to get ready for our first port day!
Day 4 - Monaco, Monte Carlo, Eze (Villefranche)
For our first port we signed up for the Disney excursion of Monaco, Monte Carlo and Eze. Since we had to be in the Walt Disney theatre at 8:30 am, we set the alarm for 7:00 am in order to get up and get to breakfast at Topsiders by approx 7:30 am. Our timings worked well, and we managed to beat the rush and get a full breakfast (my favourite meal of the day) and make it to the theatre with tea and time to spare. As always, DH had all 4 KTTW cards, the 4 excursion tickets and our two drivers licenses, i.e. photo id for adults, prepared like a hand of cards, for inspection at the door. Once we received our number stickers and were seated in our assigned row, we put our stickers on our shoulders - on the side. It is a minor thing, but it means that although the guide can see our numbers as required, the stickers are not in every picture we take! And yes I know the numbers can be photoshopped out if I really want them gone, but this is just so much easier.
The tendering process at Villefranche took a while. Everything went much better than reports from earlier cruises, but we still had a 25 minute or so delay to our start. As we got off the tender boat, there were a couple of Disney photographers taking pictures for anyone who wanted them to, and it was a relatively quick process so we stopped for the photo op.
Once through the port building we were herded to our tour bus and met our guide, Alejandra I believe. She was very knowledgeable and very efficient. I think some of the people on our tour were a little afraid of her since it was pretty clear from the beginning that you didn't mess with her. At one point during the day she used her Mickey paddle to block some other tourists who were trying to push their way ahead of us. Alrighty then. I am not sure how I felt about her since her approach meant that we were well informed and everyone met their timings and the bus did not have to wait for anyone. Perhaps she was just a little too efficient? My DH admitted that at one point he started to tune her out, so yes, perhaps she was too efficient. She definitely was missing the fun factor.
We headed first for Monaco, well once we made it out of the bus parking area which was very tight and very restricted at the base of a fairly steep embankment and surrounded by high old/ancient city walls that challenged all of the bus drivers skills. We were amused that French in France uses such a liberal smattering of English words, such as Stopper rather than arÍter and parking rather than stationmment and this was on the parking signs on said very ancient city walls.
As we drove out of Villefranche I freely admit that I looked very longingly at the public beach that was in walking distance from the ship and the people already happily swimming in the Mediterranean, however ours was an all day tour and I knew we would not get to visit this beach this day. Perhaps next time?
Once in Monaco we parked in an underground parking garage and then took elevators and escalators to rise to the surface. Our guide really emphasized where and when we should meet. Repeatedly. I must admit that the comments by another poster in a trip report (Lilpooh ?) about someone in their group getting left behind surfaced in my brain each time that our guide repeated her instructions.
Our tour started by the yellow submarine (come on, channel the Beatles with me... I did ... At least in my head each time we saw it or someone mentioned it). The submarine was related to and in front of the Oceanographic Museum.
We walked together past the Monaco Cathedral (not 'open' to tourists until after noon on Sundays I believe) and towards the Prince's Palace, arriving in time for the changing of the guard ceremony. The actual changing of the guard ceremony was ok, but really, just your basic formal handover ceremony.
It did amuse our family when a little 5 year old girl next to us said: "Look Daddy, just like Mr. Bean!"
Disney photographers were floating around at this point and we got a couple of pictures taken with the palace and then the city as a backdrop.
Next we met our guide at the entrance to the Palace for our tour inside. We received individual machines with a recorded tour on it. Inside the palace, when you entered a room you pressed a number and listened to a spiel about the history of that room. I actually forgot that we had even done a tour of the palace, since we weren't allowed to take pictures inside, and because it just was not that thrilling an activity. Overall, our kids commented that people in the old days must have been really short based on the very small beds. Further, the layout of the palace meant that you could only get to the farthest room by going through all of the others! Presumably this was only done as a result of the building being open to the public for viewing, but we really weren't sure!
At that point our guide gave us instructions about meeting back at the yellow submarine at the correct time, and then she cut us loose for free time. We then checked out the souvenir stores that lined the square and I scored my cheesy touristic picture frame :).
And at that point we decided to head back towards the meeting spot through the winding alleys, checking out stores etc on the way along.
Since we couldn't eat most of the food options due to gluten issues, we chose to buy a couple of orders of French fries to take out. It took longer than I thought it should for just French fries, but less time than if we had tried to stop and eat at a cafe. With French fries in hand we enjoyed our walk through the narrow cobblestone streets (only encountering a vehicle once thank goodness since the sidewalks were really really narrow - think plaster yourself to the wall) back to the yellow submarine and found a spot out of the way, just off a nearby set of stairs and devoured our picnic lunch.
We were soon herded back onto the bus and we drove along the Grand Prix circuit to a parking area near the base of the 'rock' and climbed up the winding streets (think switchbacks) to reach the Grand Casino at the top. Our guide once again gave very clear and really specific directions about our meeting place and timings before she cut us loose for free time again. As we had no inclination to go in to the casino, we wandered around the square at first. Can I just say that the items in those shops are priced outlandishly and in my opinion unreasonably. Happily I already had my cheesy picture frame, so we wandered around taking pictures with and of the casino.
My DS was also really intrigued by the fancy sports cars. Apparently testosterone rules in this area.
It was really hot at this point and we were starting to feel the heat a lot, so we wandered into the nearby gardens and found a spot on the grass in some shade (the benches were already full) and we vegged out for a little while. DD re-filled her water bottle at an available fountain in the park.
After this short break we decided to head back down to the parking garage/meeting spot. On the way down the hill I deliberately lagged behind my DH and the kids since I like capturing photos of their interactions when we travel. And at about this point three cars sped by at a high speed. Twin Lamborghinis, Aventadors apparently, in white, along with a black corvette.
My son was intrigued by them to say the least. And even more intrigued to discover that I had a picture of him with them...sort of. Testosterone yes?
Since we still had some time before we had to meet at the bus, we headed to the Japanese gardens on the top of the parking garage (only in Monte Carlo right) that our guide had suggested as a place to wait for anyone who did not wish to walk up over the hill to the casino square. It was actually a really neat place to pass the time but not somewhere I would personally go out of my way to visit.
Back on the bus we headed to Eze. Of all of today's itinerary I most looked forward to Eze. Really, I prefer ancient ruins to cars and shopping, but in this case historically significant and architecturally impressive would have to do :). Once again our guide provided an extensive briefing on the history of Eze as we followed her through the town before she gave us free time and specific instructions about meeting places/timings.
I enjoyed Eze as a photographic backdrop, but honestly most of the buildings there are now occupied by expensive artisans selling their wears. Really, their workmanship was beautiful, but I wasn't interested in buying anything.
Eventually we made our way back to the area near the bus parking lot and found a small convenience store. While I collect cheesy touristic picture frames from each country/city/port that we visit, my DS was on a mission to collect a coke can or coke bottle from each country. Don't worry, he was more than willing to empty it immediately and just bring home the empty can so that I wouldn't get to complain about extra weight. Really? Yep, but hey it was a small thing and it made him happy. We also bought some chocolate covered marshmallow treats to share along with our cans of pop, and we found a quiet spot on a wall where we could people watch, both tourists and locals alike.
By the time that we arrived back at the port, we really did not have any extra time to wander around and pretty much headed straight for the tender and back to the ship. At that point there was no time to change for dinner, so we headed straight to the dining room. But then again, so did many other people.
After dinner in my efforts to collect the characters in their many outfits representing the countries we were visiting, we scored pictures with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Chip and Dale, Donald and Daisy, all in their French orders of dress.
At first we thought Daisy was going for the 'French poodle' look, until DD realized that it was a ballerina fashion style. Glad we didn't actually make any poodle comments to her! And as for Donald? We are still not sure...even after we saw it. It was all purple and pink to match Daisy with a hat that resembled a dunce hat. And there were pink Pom poms on his outfit. Really. (DD says *insert "whipped" noise here*)
Although we enjoyed the Villians Tonight show, the first time we saw it (on the Baltic cruise maybe) is still the best. DD has suggested that the show could be improved by a cameo role for Darth Vader - now that Disney has acquired Lucas Film. Darth could walk onstage, pause while the Evilometer goes through the roof, then declare wrong room and walk out. It definitely has potential. Anyway, in our opinion, Hades works best with a really good Jay Leno impersonator.
Last thoughts on the Monaco, Monte Carlo, Eze excursion: this was not personally one of my favourites, but then I hadn't expected it to be. We chose this excursion because my DS was interested in the cars and my DD wanted to 'collect' another country for her list, and we were successful on both counts. If we go back to Villefranche on another cruise, we will probably check out Nice as a half day excursion and then visit the beach in Villefranche.
Day 5 - Pisa Climb the Tower (La Spezia)
We were very excited about La Spezia as we had chosen Pisa, climb the tower a half day excursion where we would get to climb the tower! We chose the early excursion time and had to be in the Promenade Lounge for 8 am.
Everything went very smoothly this morning. The fact that we docked at La Spezia instead of tendering probably helped a lot with that. We were once again herded onto our tour bus after dutifully following the Mickey paddle. In our tour bus we met our first tour guide of the day, Angela. Angela was a local - sort of... She was actually from Lucca, however she teased us not to tell anyone in Pisa that our tour guide was from Lucca since there is apparently a rather extensive rivalry between Pisa and Lucca, that included but was not limited to football :).
Angela kept us very well informed during our drive to Pisa, pointing out the 'snow' topped mountains, i.e. what looked like snow was actually the same marble that was used in the Tower of Pisa,
however once we arrived we took the small tschu tschu train from the parking lot to the Campo dei Miracoli where we met up with Roberto, our official Pisa tour guide, and another local - as in don't talk to me about Florence!! It would seem that Pisa also has a rivalry with Florence! It is a scrappy little town it would seem. Roberto spoke 9 languages fluently apparently and flipped back and forth between three or four just during our brief half day.
Initially Roberto toured us around the main buildings of the Baptistry, the Duomo and the bell tower itself, explaining the history including how all of the buildings are actually leaning. We did not however go inside any of the buildings. Eventually we were divided into two groups since there is a limit on the number of people who can climb the tower at one time. At this point our guides showed us where to store backpacks etc since you cannot bring anything up into the tower with you except for your camera.
Since we were in the second group, we had free time first and we used it to get goofy photos of us holding up the Leaning Tower :).
http://i1295.photobucket.com/albums/...psd2d58f55.jpg http://i1295.photobucket.com/albums/...ps592dba4b.jpg http://i1295.photobucket.com/albums/...ps5d20817e.jpg
We had also seen a couple of Disney photographers on site earlier, but when we went to look for them we couldn't find them before it was time to go back to climb the tower.
As a side note, there is a water fountain near the road in front of the tower of Pisa where DD got a drink, but you could just as easily re-fill your water bottle.
There is also a monument of Lupa the she wolf of Romulus and Remus fame in the square which Percy Jackson/Rick Riordan fans will be interested in.
Realistically, climbing the tower is just climbing up 294 steps, but this is the leaning tower of Pisa :cool1: and in our family we enjoy climbing things in general and famous landmarks in particular :). As an example, every time we see Trafalgar Square or the fountain in front of Buckingham Palace we call out: Been there, climbed that! So we were raring to climb the Tower of Pisa.
Roberto had us all join him up at the front of the line where he and Angela waited for us. We were let in on time and then after a short briefing about the history of the tower, we were cleared to climb. The climb didn't take very long, however not only are you climbing on an angle because the the whole building is leaning, you are climbing in a circle, which means that the angle of the climb continuously changes, and you are also climbing on very slippery steps that have gotten smoother over time. I did not find the climb challenging, but I did find it interesting.
And just when you think you have reached the top, the Pisa Tower guides (essentially pillar police :) at the top re-direct you to another short flight of stairs. When we were finally at the top we took a couple of quick family photos, and then DD and DS and I felt like mischievous little kids roaming around the top of the tower. The kids snagged our small camera and took selfies :), while I tried to figure out how I could get photos around the chicken wire type fence and manage to not lose my dslr. I do enjoy a challenge.
Meanwhile, DH who is not fond of heights but doesn't let that stop him from climbing stuff with us, was checking out the bells inside the bell tower. And then the pillar police spotted DS and DH and told them it was time to climb back down. What I realized later was that DD heard their direction, but when she came to tell me, I kind of lead her astray without realizing it... Hey DD did you see this, hey look over there, did you see that etc, so we ended up being the last two off the tower in our group :). It was great.
DH and DS were waiting for us when we finally appeared, and we had to rush to meet everyone at the bus. And as we rushed away from the base of the tower of Pisa, we saw the Disney photographer approaching, and so we stopped him and had a quick photo op, it was very fortuitous. Unfortunately as we had spent so much time goofing and exploring, we had not actually shopped for my cheesy picture frame and people were starting to be herded into the Tschu Tschu train to go back to the bus. Luckily for me, someone from our group was in the bathroom and I took the opportunity (after telling Angela our guide what I was doing) to run into a nearby souvenir shop and score the one and only picture frame that met my requirements of being cheesy, ceramic and touristic :). And I still beat the person using the bathroom back to the train, close, but not last.
Our return trip to La Spezia was uneventful, and before we knew it we were back on the Magic. One of the crew in charge of Topsiders saw our bus arrive, and Topsiders even stayed open in order to feed us. While the kids next headed for the Goofy pool, DH and I headed for the adult pool and ice cream. We also had lots of cups of tea and diet coke, in order to replace all of the fluids we lost during the very hot excursion.
That evening we finally got to dress up/clean up a little for supper, and we did photo ops with Italian Mickey and Minnie,
before heading out onto deck 4 to wander around and watch as we sailed away from La Spezia. And it was magical. The sun was setting as a blazing ball of orange sinking toward the sea, and DH and I channeled our inner teenagers and took selfies on deck. Romantical selfies too, which are even better :).
We also couldn't seem to stop taking photos of the shoreline with the sun setting behind Cinque Terre.
Yes, The Lady and the Tramp soundtrack for Bella Notte was playing in my head :).
Last Thoughts on Pisa Climbing the Tower Excursion - overall, this was one of our favourite excursions. We were way too happy to actually climb the tower, rather than just see the tower. It totally made our day. As well, our guides, both Angela and Roberto were truly excellent, we felt like we were seeing Pisa with people who were not only knowledgeable and efficient at their jobs, but they were also passionate about what they were doing, and they brought the fun factor ... Roberto commenting to a security guard as approx 30 of us trailed behind him, excuse us please, it is just me and my family coming through :).
On the down side, I felt that Disney charged too much for this experience, as wonderful as it was. And, I would have liked a little more time to wander around Pisa.
If we go to La Spezia again, we will probably go to either Florence or Cinque Terre. Granted, if I could climb the tower again without it costing so much I would probably do it in a heartbeat.
I am really enjoying your trip report:goodvibes I love to read gluten free reports, since I have celiac too. It sounds like a great trip so far.
As Celiacs go we are fairly lucky in that we don't usually get the 'classic' Celiac symptoms, so we don't have to worry about cross contamination, but we still have to be careful not to actually eat gluten directly. Not to give anything away, but Rome was great from a food perspective on this trip :)
I am enjoying your report. Thanks for writing.
You have me curious - I want to see photos of the picture frames :-)
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