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Old 08-09-2013, 05:34 PM   #31
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 151

Day 9 - Athens on Your Own

We were very excited to visit Athens. DH and I had both visited before, albeit briefly, and we wanted to share this adventure with our kids.

Our kids are big Percy Jackson/Rick Riordan fans, so they were happy to visit sites that were relevant to the book series.

On this trip we chose to do the Athens on your own excursion through Disney. I need to clarify up front that in preparation for our trip we had purchased/ downloaded a video course by Dr John Hale from The Great Courses company about travelling through Greece and Turkey. NOTE: do NOT pay full price for this course if you check it out, they put their courses on sale every couple of weeks. The lectures were an excellent source of research. We also copied the relevant episodes related to Athens, Mykonos and Ephesus to my iPad for reference, though we were pretty much too busy to watch them during the trip.

When we checked out the Disney excursions available they did not have an excursion that covered all of the sites that we wanted to see. Based on the two 30 minute videos on Athens by Prof Hale, we felt very comfortable checking out the sites in Athens that we wanted to see on our own.

It was another early morning start and we had to meet in the Walt Disney Theatre at 8:15 am. We were herded to the bus very efficiently, and perhaps even ahead of time as everyone was there nice and early. The tour company provided a guide for the relatively short bus ride, and he provided us with maps, water bottles and a running commentary on our surroundings. The bus dropped us off at the Arch of Hadrian in Athens shortly after 9:00 am, and we had to return there by 2 pm. We quickly walked the short distance to the Acropolis and bought our tickets to get in. Tickets for adults cost 12¬ each, and tickets for kids cost 6¬ each, but we had to show their student IDs, not just the kids, in order to get the reduced price! These tickets then gave you access to the majority of the sites around the 'rock'.

The queue for tickets was long but moved fast (and was a separate line to the left of the entrance queue). We also chose to divide and conquer, and while DH and DS bought the tickets, DD and I lined up in the entrance queue. And the entrance queue was a massive choke point of people, mostly tour groups at this hour, as Rick Steves describes in his guidebook.

We amused ourselves while we waited by watching stray dogs that seem to be everywhere in Athens.

We managed to actually make it through the line up and through the main entrance gate by 10 am (roughly) and then we viewed (when I say viewed I usually mean took pictures of) the Odeon of Herodes Atticus on our way up the hill.

Once finally through the Propylaea (another choke point), the view you get of the Parthenon is actually the back of it, and right now it is under heavy scaffolding and re-construction, the 'postcard' view that you probably want is around the other side, near the base on the left as you look at it (which is probably where Mickey was standing in Disney's Greece publicity photos).

After viewing the Parthenon from the entry, we headed left towards the temple of Athena, i.e. the small building with the Erectheion and the Porch of the Caryatids.

We wandered around the buildings and checked out the view of Athens, including the long distance views of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Arch of Hadrian and the Temple of Hephaestus from high above,

from near the huge flag of Greece,

we took our postcard family pictures of the Parthenon and then headed back down off the 'rock'.

Two things to note, first, up on the Acropolis it is extremely windy and dusty, and second, leaving the Acropolis takes about as long as climbing up, again due to the choke point at the Propylaea.

Last edited by Scraptographer; 08-29-2013 at 09:03 PM.
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Old 08-09-2013, 05:36 PM   #32
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 151

Day 9 - Athens on Your Own Part II

Once we broke free of the crowds, we turned right at the bottom of the hill and headed for the Agora. Our tickets from the Acropolis also got us in here as well as at the rest of the sites I will mention. Our main goal was the Temple of Hephaestus, but we also saw the rebuilt Stoa of Attalos

and the remaining statues that are all that is left of the Odeum of Agrippa.

Note, at the entrance to the Agora there is a water fountain where you can refill your water bottles that you probably drank at the Acropolis, so don't throw the bottles away. Also, when you are required to show your tickets to gain entrance at the sites, pick up a brochure, because although the brochures look alike from a distance, they are each site specific.

Most of the rest of the Agora is pretty much rubble, very ancient rubble that the 'pillar police' will yell at you if you sit on etc (we saw a couple of girls who were using the broken columns for a seat get informed that the columns were history, not props for a photo shoot . View of the Acropolis from the Agora.

Next it was on to the Roman Forum to view the Temple of the Winds, a very cool structure with a water clock in it.

And yes, when I said I wanted to go to the Roman Forum, my DS took the opportunity to tell me that I was the wrong country for the Roman Forum. Wiener, those conquering Romans built forums where ever they went and stayed for a while, not just in Rome! At that point we took a pass on the Kerameikos and the Acropolis museum as we headed through the Plaka along Adrianous, a street that headed us diagonally toward the monument of Lysicrates.

We really enjoyed the Plaka, and the shop keepers were friendly and helpful. A couple even showed me other stores to shop at when they didn't have a 'cheesy' enough 'touristic' picture frame for me to buy .

Once we hit the end of that long street (and the Lysicrates monument) we headed for the nearby Theatre of Dyonisos, where we could actually climb around and sit on the seats etc.

Next we headed to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus to see it from a closer vantage point, although if you are short on time you can skip this as you can't actually get in to the odeon as it is still a working theatre.

Heading back toward the main pedestrian street we bought a few bags of nuts that the street vendors sell

and then headed to check out the Arch of Hadrian

and the Temple of Olympian Zeus up close and personal.

The nuts by the way always get special mention from our kids when we ask what they liked about Athens, something about the peanuts with sesame seeds and honey must have really appealed to them, even more than the spicy nuts we sampled . The kids also enjoyed the freedom to roam around , and yes to goof around a little, more than on an official excursion.

Overall, we did not spend anytime inside museums because we were having too much fun just feasting our eyes on everything there was to see and experience on our 'walk around the rock'. And this worked very well for us because my DH and I had watched the John Hale videos a couple of times. As well, with my kids being big Percy Jackson/Rick Riordan fans, they had a point of reference for most of the Greek gods related to the sites we saw. And although Athens around the Acropolis was very easy to navigate, my DH does have an amazing sense of direction , unlike his DW .

Another family we spoke to on this excursion had done only the Acropolis and the Plaka, including a relaxing lunch in Athens, but they also really enjoyed themselves. Overall, everyone made their timings and the bus did not have to wait for anyone.

Something else to consider is purchasing a flip book, sold at most souvenir shops in Athens, for around 10¬ (I think). The book we bought at the end of our day is called, Athens The Monuments with Reconstructions, and includes pictures of the major sites as they are today with transparencies that flip over top of the pictures and show how the site looked 'back in the day', as well as a brief history/description of that site. It would have been neat to have with us at the sites, but we probably would not have had time to read it on the go.

By mid-afternoon we were happily back on the ship and cooling off in the pools, the Goofy pool for the kids while we enjoyed the adult pool. Athens had been an amazing experience, but it had also been really dusty and getting to relax back on the Magic was just the icing on the cake.

Eventually we got cleaned up for supper, and collected a photo with Greek Mickey. Disappointingly, none of the other characters had special Greek costumes, so Mickey had numerous photo ops that evening, and on Mykonos night.

The kids went to the Walt Disney the Dream Goes On show, and returned raving about the show and in particular the dancers. Apparently near the end there is a dance set to I Can Go The Distance from Hercules, and one of the male dancers in particular was spectacular. I was definitely sorry that I had missed it.

Last Thoughts on Explore Athens On Your Own excursion - we loved Athens and we were extremely happy that we had chosen to explore it the way we did. Although we could probably have just caught a taxi both ways on our own (and managed to arrive at the Acropolis earlier than the numerous tour groups), and, that option would have allowed us to stay longer, we don't regret anything about our day... Except maybe not buying more nuts to take back to the ship - they were that good. We felt that we left at just the right time, before our 'fun meter ' got pegged, and that if we had stayed longer we would have just gotten too hot and too tired. This was DH's favourite excursion, and a close second for the DS. DD and I had this one at a tie with Rome and Pisa .

If we visit Athens again, we will probably consider an excursion that includes the Acropolis (because it is there, it is iconic, and really, it makes a trip to Athens from our point of view) combined with a beach excursion, since it would be hard to duplicate the enjoyment of this trip.

Last edited by Scraptographer; 08-20-2013 at 08:37 PM.
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Old 08-10-2013, 07:52 PM   #33
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 151

Day 10 - Kusadasi (Ephesus, Turkey) Part I

Day 10 - Kusadasi (Ephesus, Turkey)

Our excursion today was Ephesus and Aquapark and required an 8 am start in the Promenade Lounge. Since this was Day 10 of our trip and Day 8 of our cruise on a port intensive trip, we decided that although we wanted to visit Ephesus ( bring on those ancient Roman ruins-yeah), we wanted to take this opportunity to give our kids a break at a water park.

After picking up towels provided by Disney cast members and following the Mickey paddle off the ship, we were herded aboard our bus.

In each seat there was a bottle of water and a paper bag that contained a small clay/ceramic circle with 'theatrical masks' on it and a 'business card' that explained this was a souvenir for us, a reproduction of a 'tablet ticket' that would have allowed spectators in ancient times to enter the grand theatre. There was also a string that could be strung through the clay circle to use it as a necklace. As well, there was also a tiny safety pin with a dangling 'protective eye'.

At that point we met our tour guide. She introduced herself as Chi... and then some other letters. Chi was very knowledgeable and professional, but she was almost too concentrated on making sure she passed on her extensive knowledge. Afterwards we commented that she reminded us of the main character in the movie My Life in Ruins, before that character found her 'Kefi'.

The drive to Ephesus seemed to be a fairly short 30 minutes as Chi told us about Kusadasi, and the first thing we noted was that she pronounced it as Cush - a - doe -c, much different than I imagined. As we drove up to the site Chi told us how this had once been a port city, that the area we were driving through had once been a great port filled with ships, but that the harbour had silted up and eventually turned into a marsh, and that the city itself had simply been abandoned. DH spent his time trying to determine where the water level had originally been and tried to imagine the port that used to be there.

We had to line up at the gate to receive tickets in order to enter. There were souvenir stands in this area, but we were discouraged from visiting them. Once inside the gates we moved over near the first really recognizable structure, an Odeon. We briefly paused under a few shade trees ( probably the only shade trees on the site) and Chi lectured us about the Agora and the Odeon.

The Odeon was quite impressive and lots of people were visiting it (climbing all over it), but Chi rapidly moved us along.

As a matter of fact, Chi rapidly moved us past most of the sites, all while describing them in reasonable detail, giving us maybe a few moments to take pictures, and then she kept us moving.

The ancient city itself looked absolutely amazing and had so many possibilities. Unfortunately we had two or three major issues. First, it was crowded that day. How crowded was it? Well, we were one of at least three cruise ships in port and it felt like everyone was at Ephesus! Honestly, on the half mile of main road, which is where the major ancient structures were, the crowd level was similar to a Disney park during high season. Really.

And this lead to the second problem, although our guide definitely showed us the highlights, it was difficult to actually see what she was pointing out sometimes due to the mass of people milling and meandering everywhere. Sites we passed included the Odeon, the Prytaneion (columns where city hall used to be), the Temple of Domitian,

the pharmacy,

the Fountain of Trajan,

the Temple of Hadrian (him, again? Really, he had been everywhere back in his day and left his mark),

all leading to the impressive Library of Celsus.

And yes, we also got to see the ancient communal latrines .

Our third problem was that our guide's agenda was to get us through to see all of these amazing sites despite the crowds, which meant that we didn't really get to actually enjoy Ephesus until after the Library. That meant we got to enjoy the Grand Theatre which is pretty much all that was left. But that was ok because once we broke free of the crowds, we took the opportunity to enjoy ourselves. After climbing all over and exploring, DD was at the bottom of the Grand Theatre, testing out the acoustics by giving us direction which we looked pretty goofy following high up in the seats , but we could hear her just fine.

As we continued along we saw the end of a dramatization put on by the tour company, of Antony and Cleopatra arriving on the sacred way. It was more than a little hokey, but short and neat in a way.

As a side note, once again there were stray cats all over Ephesus, and for a lot of people they were a highlight of the excursion.

As we approached the lower gate, there was a line up of souvenir stores, and our tour guide directed us to use specific shops. Which of course we didn't. The local shopkeepers were definitely a little aggressive. In one store as I was looking for my cheesy touristic ceramic picture frame, DD and I both immediately started to leave when a lady quoted us a price of 20¬, and she followed us out of the store calling Hey Lady, Hey Lady how much you want to pay!

Last edited by Scraptographer; 08-20-2013 at 08:24 PM.
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Old 08-10-2013, 07:54 PM   #34
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Day 10 - Kusadasi (Ephesus and Aquapark) - Part II

Back on board the bus it was a short ride back towards the port to the Aquapark.

At the gate we were each handed a plastic entry card and a wristband to wear and then given one locker key (on an elastic band) per family, along with direction to be back at the front gate in 4 hours. First though, since cash and credit cards would not be accepted within the park, we used our credit card at the front cash to place a credit on one of the plastic cards we were issued for entry, we were able to use it to buy food etc in the park and then any unspent credit was returned when we left.

After that we were directed towards the change rooms where we got into our bathing suits before placing all of our stuff and valuables into our locker and heading off to find some lounge chairs. This was probably the point where we missed the direction about Disney guests having their own separate section of chairs off in one area of the park. All four of us headed to the lazy river, picking up inner tubes along the way. The water did not appear to be heated, but was ok temperature wise, especially on such a hot day.

DH and I headed for the lounge chairs, and our teenagers headed straight for the slides. Eventually we did a walk around to scope out what our options were for food and found that there was a food court of sorts . We noted that the prices were in Turkish lire, so we had to figure out what the exchange rate was relative to Euros. This was also the point where we saw the sign saying Disney guests this way. Although we were relatively comfortable where we were, a few people were smoking in this area but not close to us, however we had to wait for the kids to find us again before we could even consider moving. And wait we did, the kids came back after about two hours, having completely lost track of the time because they were having so much fun on the slides.

We did choose to move at that point since a rather large Serbian contingent were having a really really good time over by the main pool/bar area and the Disney section was quieter . Seriously, although the party was not in our area and did not bother us, the DJ was way too excited to announce that the Serbians had returned and the party was on! And then he asked the ladies to come forward for the sexy dance contest! Since we weren't in the bar area, we did not see any of this, but we did hear some of the DJs announcements . The DJ was actually pretty amazing and fluently slipped between about 5 languages.

Anyway, we moved 'back to the herd' of Disney. The music was also lower over in the Disney area, and no smokers either. Searching out food, DH, DD and I chose to snack on fries and pops. DS decided on a chicken breast platter. And then the kids headed back to the slides to enjoy their last hour in the park. We really should have made a better plan for meeting up though since the kids were cutting it way too close for our liking, and we just lucked in to catching them before they tried for 'just one more slide'!

Arranging to get our 'credit' refunded was simple. We were also required to return all four of the plastic entry cards we had been issued, as they had to be swiped as we left the park. Back on the bus it was perhaps a 15 to 20 minute ride back to the port. We stopped very near the port terminal at a carpet store. We chose to walk away immediately, which was one of the options suggested by our tour guide. The short walk back to the port gave us the opportunity to find a cheesy picture frame, it was actually the same one we walked away from before, but this time when we asked the price we were informed that it was '8 euros, but I make you a good deal of 7 euros'. It was still over priced given the quality, but hey our options were non-existent pretty much at this point, and I wasn't interested in bargaining.

Back on the ship we followed our normal pattern of cooling off through a dip in the pool, followed by ice cream, fresh fruit, tea and diet coke, and relaxing on loungers. Dinner after we cleaned up was at Animators Palate where they had the show dinner with Sorcerer Mickey.

The evening show was Mysteries of Anatolia, a production put on by a local group based on dances and music reflective of different areas of Turkey. Although the concept was interesting and had potential, the performance was closer to off off off Broadway than the Broadway stylized shows that are normally performed as a Disney evening show. And realistically, we had no point of reference with respect to whether this truly reflected the culture of the local area. The two numbers that we really enjoyed both involved humour and the concept did not need to be based on Turkish culture to work, i.e. the dance involving a camel, and the 'belly dancing' inspired 'love story' .

Last thoughts on Ephesus and Aquapark excursion - overall we enjoyed our day. The Ephesus excursion would have been so much better if the crowd level had been more reasonable and we could have explored a little more freely, like we did in the Grand Theatre. As for the water park our kids had a really great time on the slides and swimming. As a matter of fact, they have both declared they would like to go back if the opportunity arises . Next time however, I would take a book with me since although I enjoyed the lazy river, I just wasn't into the slides and reading or journaling would have been a good thing.

Last edited by Scraptographer; 08-20-2013 at 08:24 PM.
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Old 08-12-2013, 06:24 AM   #35
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 151

Day 11 - Mykonos (Delos Island) Part I

For today's Delos Island excursion we had to be at the theatre at 7:45 am. In almost no time we were stickered, organized, and following the Mickey paddle off the ship, across the dock and onto a smaller ferry boat. Note: although there were other ships at Mykonos, we were lucky to be the ship that got to dock, the other ships had to tender in. The boat itself was actually reasonably large and had outdoor seating on an upper deck as well as indoor seating in an area similar to a bar or cafeteria, i.e. with tables and benches and a bar at one end.

We had been warned that the Mykonos area was windy and those reports were accurate, the wind was wild. We spent most of the 30 minute boat trip trying to tame DD's long curly hair into a French braid. Tying it off took some 'engineering' on DH's part as we only had one bobby pin with us and no elastics etc.

Our guide was again named Angela. She was very knowledgeable and reasonably efficient, however she reminded us of a history professor who was teaching a subject they weren't all that excited about. Arriving on the island we were lead up to an entry building where we all had to wait while tickets were obtained. Our kids were asked how old they were and their tickets indicated their entry cost was different. We were also told that the only toilets available would be at the museum at the end of the tour. And that is when a man took his little boy to the side of the ocean and well, nature happened. Ok, moving on.

Our guide lead us towards the right side of the site, towards a series of square and rectangular stone foundations that indicate where the houses of the town used to be.

The number of foundations is quite extensive, but essentially they resemble basements of houses, made of rocks stacked like bricks. There are a couple of bigger 'houses' with a lot more of the structure remaining or recreated, such as the house of Dionysos and the house of the trident that have columns and mosaics on the floor.

It is truly amazing that the mosaics have stood up against time and the elements as well as they have.

Not to give anything away about today's excursion, but to paraphrase an expression, one man's amazing ancient ruins are another man's rubble heap - and today for my DH this was leaning towards the rubble heap . As DH put it when I called him on not really being into the tour, his imagination just wasn't working. And this site needs a lot of imagination to make it come alive. On the positive side, DH was impressed by the ancient city planning, describing the layout of the town as very systematic.

I also realized pretty quickly that we were all being polite tourists, and attempting to follow the tour guide in a single line. In those narrow confines, we seemed to be getting no where fast. Eventually people, including my kids and I started to spread out a little and look around in places that were not roped off, but we were not necessarily in follow the leader (guide) mode. This however lead us to discover that the whisper audio system did not work very well if there was a wall of any kind between you and the guide.

We did enjoy the theatre, at least what was left of it, as my kids and I climbed to the top of the hill and got great views of the surrounding area.

My DS commented that all of the plants were very prickly and very dry, and similar to stinger nettles as plants go. Angela had pointed out numerous cisterns or stone wells everywhere to collect the rain water as the island has no natural source of water.

Moving next to the 'religious sanctuary' side of the site, we found essentially more of the same. There were numerous bits and pieces of columns and stones that used to be part of 'something' everywhere. Angela pointed out lots of areas or chunks of stone and told us what they used to be. The agora, the synagogue, the base of the statue of Apollo.

There were two really large boulders that are parts of a really large statue of Apollo. Apparently some ancient entrepreneurs (pirates?) had cut the statue up into pieces in an attempt to steal it, but had left these pieces by the waters edge. Apollo's hand is apparently located in the museum.

Near the end of our tour we reached the statues of the Naxos lions, or rather the copies of the Naxos lions, as the real ones that are left have been placed in the museum. One of the lions was taken by the Venetians for their arsenal in Venice a long time ago. Apparently they liked to collect things, as we heard in several places that things went missing in ancient times after the Venetians had visited! Such are the spoils of war and invasion.

After viewing the lions, our guide gave us free time and a timing to meet back at the boat dock. Most people headed straight to the museum, along a path that looked like it went through the 'sacred lake' . The sacred lake was the spot where Leto is said to have given birth to Artemis and then Apollo. The lake no longer exists, but the archeologists have outlined an area with a low stone wall, and planted a tree in the middle to represent the tree that Leto held onto while giving birth to Apollo.

DH beat a hasty path around the far side of the 'lake' towards the museum. As we followed DS and DD felt the need to bring the fun factor back and started to goof around and give each other piggy back rides and simply get silly. At this point we were on a small cart path, and not near any ruins etc.

We gave the museum a pass and instead enjoyed cokes at the small store and then headed with haste towards the boat as we saw it come in.

Last edited by Scraptographer; 08-20-2013 at 08:27 PM.
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Old 08-12-2013, 06:29 AM   #36
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Day 11 - Mykonos (Delos Island) - Part II

Back at Mykonos, the boat let us off downtown rather than back near the ship. The guides pointed out where the shuttle bus back to the ship was located and how to get there, and at that point we headed in completely the opposite direction . We had two main objectives, first we wanted to see the island's windmills, and second I wanted to purchase a cheesy ceramic picture frame .

We first saw that often photographed small white church with its bright blue roof right by the waters edge.

Next we spotted the island's just as famous church that combines 5 church annexes into one. After that we had to wander a little more to make our way to the windmills, but they were not hard to find and our goal was simply to get some photos with them.

We then made our way back through the maze of cobblestone streets, taking photos and checking out souvenir shops along the way.

It did not take long before I found not one but two picture frames with the right amount of cheese, and then I noticed some cute little ceramic figures of pigs and frogs and turtles, that were salt and pepper shakers. Upon looking a little closer I realized that they were x-rated salt and pepper shakers! Colour me pink, but I giggled and continued on my way.

Everywhere in Mykonos as we wandered we spotted stray cats. All of the cats seemed very well cared for, very domesticated and used to people, they just did not seem to be anyone's pets. Outside of one shop we watched as a fairly young cat decided to play with a statue that had a fish statue by its feet. The cat just kept swatting at that fish. It was very amusing and we watched it for a while.

Rounding another corner we came upon a pelican wandering through the streets. We had heard that there was a tame pelican in Mykonos, but we had also been warned that it was unlikely that we would actually see it. Apparently the pelican had decided to honour us with its presence.

By this time we decided to head back to the ship via a gelato shop on the waterfront (near the church with the blue roof), and then we headed to the really small beachfront sandwiched on a busy corner of the harbour where many people were swimming. Our kids were happy to take the opportunity to wade in the Mediterranean and I was happy to use the opportunity to take pictures.

After a couple of shots I asked the kids to move back a step so I could get the town in the background. And that's when it happened. The sand gave way underneath DS's feet and in less than a second he face planted in the Med!

Luckily DD managed to escape a soaking . We dried DS off to the best of our ability and headed straight to the shuttle bus and were back on the Magic in very short order.

As usual three of us headed directly for deck 9 in search of ice cream, diet coke, tea and food! DS headed straight for the shower . And then after a quick change into our swim suits, DH and I headed to the Quiet Cove pool to cool off and the kids headed to the Goofy pool and to the hot tub.

Dinner that night was in Parrot Cay and it was the show dinner. Along with dessert , Minnie in her flamenco dress and with two other flamenco dancers, showed up to entertain us.

Mickey Mouse was also available for photo ops in his Greek attire, but the real entertainment that evening was the Disney show, Once Upon a Song. In some ways this production is very understated, with only 5 singers performing classic Disney songs, but they all brought it this evening. I can honestly say that this performance was one of my favourite shows.

Last thoughts Delos Island excursion - although we loved the town of Mykonos and just wandering around on our own, and the logistics of the excursion to Delos were organized fairly well, the actual site of Delos just did not hold our interest. We did appreciate however that it was a very systematically ordered rock grouping . If we go back, we will consider an excursion to a beach, but we will definitely make time to spend in the town of Mykonos.

Last edited by Scraptographer; 08-20-2013 at 08:28 PM.
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Old 08-12-2013, 07:53 PM   #37
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Update posted

Photos now added to Kusadasi and Mykonos
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Old 08-13-2013, 05:09 PM   #38
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Day 12 - Third Sea Day

The thing about waking up pretty much every day of our vacation early for excursions and other fun stuff, meant that even on a day when we could have and/or should have slept in, we didn't manage to sleep in. Once again, we were up really early and DH and I headed out for a 5 km walk on deck 4. It was nice to walk at this hour of the day since it meant that there were fewer people to have to pass, and conversely, there were fewer runners out to pass us.

Since our teenagers were still sleeping when we finished our walk, we decided to enjoy breakfast for two outside on deck at Topsiders . Again, very few people were up and about so it was a relatively peaceful breakfast. At that point we figured that the best way to wake up the kids was to tempt them with food, so we picked up breakfast for the kids, including omelettes and brought the kids back breakfast in bed. They were definitely surprised, but as we expected, the tempting scent of food woke them up quickly enough .

A little later after getting cleaned up and changed etc, since DD had not yet seen the Lone Ranger, all four of us headed to the theatre to watch the movie again. It was so cold in the theatre that I ran back to the cabin and got a blanket to bring back to the theatre for us to cuddle under. DD definitely enjoyed it, Hi Ho Silver Away!!

After the movie the kids decided to desert us to hang out by the pool and/or at the Vibe. DH and I used the opportunity to walk around deck 4 a little more, before settling in on the comfy loungers on the shady side of the ship to read on our Kobos. Occasionally DH or I would forage for tea, ice cream, fruit or pop (or all of the above from deck 9. And deck 9 was looney toons since it was a sea day, so the peace and quiet of deck 4 was greatly appreciated.

At some point during the day the kids went to a couple of animation classes together, and DH and I also headed to Shutters to purchase the CD as well as all of the photos. Although we knew from the beginning that we would probably purchase a CD and therefore took advantage of as many family portrait opportunities as we could as well as a few opportunities in port that presented themselves and character shots when the characters wore special clothing representative of the countries we visited, we held off on actually purchasing the cd until we knew that our price per photo ratio was reasonable. In the end we had a CD with 232 photos.

Dinner menu tonight was the Pirates in the Caribbean menu, which really did not excite us.

And as for dressing up, we only brought bandanas/Goofy and Mickey ears, but we did get into the spirit of the evening, especially when we got a picture with Pirate Stitch. In the old days when DS was shorter than Stitch, he took every opportunity to see him, and Stitch would always misbehave, and cover DS 's eyes etc. Now Stitch can't even reach DS 's eyes, but he manages to find other ways to misbehave instead.

After dinner the kids went to see the performance by Junk in the theatre and they really enjoyed it. DH and I wandered the ship, checking out the tea (drink) station and the stores.

We actually managed to stay up to watch the fireworks on this trip, which is probably a record for us, i.e. for all of us to watch them at the same time . DS and I even stopped by the late night buffet since supper had not been great for us.

Last edited by Scraptographer; 08-20-2013 at 08:19 PM.
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Old 08-14-2013, 04:56 PM   #39
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 151

Day 13 Malta (Blue Grotto Boat Trip and Fishing Village)

Day 13 - Malta

We had finally reached the last port of our trip, and a busy port intensive trip at that. Happily we caught a break today in two ways, as first, we 'found' the hour that we had lost near the beginning of the cruise thanks to the time change overnight, and second, our excursion did not start until 8:45. Our Malta excursion was a Blue Grotto Boat Trip and Fishing Village visit.

In some ways we felt like we almost had too much time in the morning since we were used to rushing to make our timings. And then, because I finally had the opportunity to sleep in a little, I took it and did not get up to head out on deck to watch our arrival into port. Instead, DH and I were slugs and simply turned the TV on to the front of the ship camera, which was definitely not the same thing. This is the one port for me that I really wished that I had a verandah. I think though that I should have just followed my normal routine and gotten up early and done my walk around deck 4. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.

We did try to get a couple of photos from deck 4 after breakfast as we headed to the Walt Disney Theatre, but when we took pictures with us in them with the port buildings as a backdrop, the contrast between the brightness of the light on the 'sand castle' buildings, and us on the deck was just too much for the cameras automatic settings or for my brain to overcome at that hour of the day. DH got a couple of quick shots of just the buildings with our small Nikon, but we decided to try again later.

We were once again efficiently processed and stickered by the bright and perky Disney Port Adventure shepherds. Once we were herded off the ship and onto the tour bus, we met our tour guide for the day, Daz. Daz was a transplanted (sort of) native, as his family had moved to Canada for awhile and then moved back to Malta when they could no longer handle the cold winters .

As we headed the short distance to the Blue Grotto, Daz gave us a brief history of the area, including the facts about Malta being the most bombed island during WWII, which earned the island the distinction of being awarded the King George cross. Not to be confused with the much older Maltese cross associated with the Knights Hospitallier or the Knights of Malta. And, we learned among other things that the Maltese native language is similar in some ways to Lebanese thanks to some of the earliest conquerers. Daz kept us occupied with many more interesting facts and figures and the trip to the Blue Grotto seemed very short. Well, it probably really was short since the island is so small . Daz explained that geographically Malta is the world's 11th smallest country.

When we stopped at the Blue Grotto overlook, we got off the bus and wandered down a stone pathway to get a better view. On the walkway I noticed that there was a Maltese cross on one of the stone panels.

Although it is easy enough to get a photo of the arch from the path, it is really difficult to get a family postcard style photo with the arch, although DH did his best to take a selfie for us using his superior height . Although Daz did not rush us, he did suggest at one point that if we were ready to go now, we could be the first Disney bus to reach the Grotto boats and therefore avoid a long queue. We were all back on board our bus very efficiently.

We parked at the top of a hill in a parking lot surrounded by small shops, and then we walked down over a fairly steep narrow road, past other shops, to the boat launch.

There seemed to be a line up of boats ready for us, so in almost no time at all, we were loaded into a boat with another family of four and skimming over the waves out to the caves at the base of the cliffs.

The boat captain in charge of our boat headed us out towards the 6 (7?) caves worn into the cliffs by time and tide that form the Blue Grotto. Clearly a local, our captain was very energetic and knowledgeable, pointing out specific things to look for in the caves such as the bright colour of the coral,

the shape of the openings,

where the water was the most startling shade of blue,

where the stalagmites were, when to look for specific shapes in the domes of the caves etc. As well, he had a name for each cave, such as the window cave or the domed cave etc.

Realistically though, we only had a short time in each area as the boat was pretty much continually moving, so from a photography perspective you had to shoot fast. And there wasn't really any ideal opportunity fora 'postcard 'family photo. I did manage to snap a photo for the other family, and they returned the favour, but we didn't really get anything spectacular in the background. If that is important to you, you should probably talk to your boat captain on the way out to the caves as there will be practically no time once he starts through the caves.

We really really enjoyed our boat ride and wished it was longer. Was it stunning or awe inspiring? Maybe not exactly, but we would happily do it again as it was just such a neat experience. As we got out of the boat we once again noticed people swimming near the boat dock. Daz commented later that some of our group had also taken the opportunity to swim as well. Our boat captain had suggested that we feel the water during our tour, so we knew that the water was warm and the kids and I were definitely a little sad that we had not brought swim suits etc in order to take advantage of the opportunity. Granted as DH pointed out to us, I am not sure where we could have changed into dry clothes afterwards, but I would have been willing to manage something.

As we climbed back up the hill towards the parking area, we had free time to explore the local stores. As always, I was focused on finding my cheesy touristic picture frame which I did in the first store. Woo hoo, I had now managed at least one picture frame in each port, cheesy though they may have been . As I looked around at other souvenirs, I noticed an upright bottle opener that looked kind of like a person with a Superman insignia on his shirt. When I commented hey, look at that 'church key', they must like Superman here in Malta, my DH made a sort of strangled sound as he shook his head and headed out of the store. I was then schooled by my teenaged DS to: Just walk away Mom. Really, how do I not notice that these things are x-rated?

When we reached the parking lot, the tour company had arranged refreshments for us at a local restaurant. DH tasted a few of the items from the plate of food they handed him, but the kids and I stuck with pop. DS did however try the Kinnie, which is a local drink that they refer to as an acquired taste. Afterwards we still had a little time before we left the area, so we bought some gelato which was very yummy.

Last edited by Scraptographer; 08-29-2013 at 09:10 PM.
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Old 08-14-2013, 05:07 PM   #40
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 151

Malta (Blue Grotto Boat Trip and Fishing Village Excursion) Part II

Back on the bus, it was a relatively short drive to a local fishing village of Marsaxlokk. We were given lots of free time to wander and look around, but realistically there was the waterfront with the boats and then a local open air market or bazaar, mostly under awnings, along the waterfront to explore. Most of the wares were tablecloths and knick knacks, but I did end up finding a straw hat that I purchased that was made in Malta according to its label.

We enjoyed wandering the waterfront to take pictures of the colourful boats, but by this time of the day (which was still very early) it was starting to get really really hot. Apparently Malta was having a heat wave when we visited, so we tried to stay in shade the best we could. Heading back to Valetta, Daz informed us that the bus driver would stop near the centre of town to let those who wanted to visit the city proper off before taking everyone else back to the ship. We chose to check out Valetta and got off at the first stop.

It was interesting to walk around the touristy shopping district in the city centre as well as to check out the former palace, now the President' s office and seat of Parliament and see the cathedral, but it was so hot that we did not last very long before we all started to droop. The walk down over the hill to the ship was not difficult, and the buildings across from the ship (the buildings with the colourful windows etc) are now mostly stores. We explored a couple and bought DS a can of coke to complete his collection , and then headed for the ship via the underground passageway that is the only way to cross the street in that area.

Just before we boarded the ship we were able to walk to the back of the Magic and take a picture of the four of us with the Goofy figure visible, as in the end of the ship, and The End of our cruise (sort of).

It is a tradition of ours from all of our cruises, and given how hot, sweaty and tired we all were at this point, I knew that my family were being really kind to me to agree to this, even if it only took a few minutes. It was that hot at that point.

Happily back on the Magic, we followed our usual pattern of a quick change into swimsuits, followed by a refreshing dip into the pools on deck 9, followed by fruit, tea, pop, and ice cream! It was glorious. We then settled in for a relaxing afternoon on deck 9. And this is where I made a minor strategic error, since I found out later that the Disney photographers had been out on deck 4 taking pictures for people using the port buildings as a backdrop, by staying on deck 9, we missed them. Oh well, or so I thought.

Since it was semi formal night and I wanted to get photos with the port buildings as a background, we all headed back to the cabin to change just a little earlier than usual. DH and I managed to get down on deck 4 with a little time to spare and we took a couple of photos while waiting for the kiddos to show up. I could tell that we were still have some problems with the contrast, so I adjusted my settings. And it was sweltering hot out on the deck, so we stepped inside to wait, and texted the kids to hurry up.

Inside we ran in to Donald and Daisy and they were enjoying an evening stroll on deck 4. It was very casual and a lot of fun, especially as they were in no hurry. Donald was 'explaining' to me how much he loved Daisy and showed me a bracelet that he had given her. The mischievous side of me could not resist, and I told him that as Beyonce said, if you like it then you should have put a ring on it! Well, apparently that is a sore subject with these two, and as Daisy vehemently agreed with me, Donald started to hit his head against the wall in dismay. And yes, all of this time I was taking photos of these two having fun. Interactions with the characters on this cruise were great.

Just after D&D left, our kids finally showed up and we rushed out onto the deck as the Magic started to sail way from Malta at only 5:30 pm. We were now out of time and we rushed to snap a few family pictures with the port as a background rapidly slipping away. And that was strategic error number two. I had shifted my settings once too often and did not check my photos, and well my pictures ended up all blown out. Yes, I was disappointed. However as we like to say, life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react. So I think this just means that we need to go back to Malta to try again.

Coincidentally just after dinner, as DH and I walked along deck 4, the cruise re-booking desk just happened to not have a line up, and we took it as a sign and booked the 14 July 14 Med cruise . Realistically, we may end up rebooking and moving this cruise after we see the 2015 itineraries, but for now I can dream big.

The show this night was by Paul Bogaev. When Peter introduced him, he promised that Paul was not only extremely talented as a musician, director and composer, but funny and entertaining as well. In my opinion Peter had understated how good Paul was! As an example Paul managed to get the entire audience singing 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' in two parts, and we sounded pretty good, even with someone like me participating!

I was enthralled pretty much for the whole show. Afterwards though the first thing my son said to me was: I was kind of disappointed tonight... And I knew what he was about to say . On the screen they had shown several of the movie/album covers related to songs/music that Paul has been involved with. One of the CDs was for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat... And Paul did not sing or play anything from that soundtrack. DS could tell how much i enjoyed the show, heck, how much we all enjoyed the show, and knew that I would have loved to hear the Joseph soundtrack music. But I really couldn't complain, as the show had been awesome.

Last thoughts on Malta and our Blue Grotto and Fishing Village excursion. We definitely enjoyed both the boat ride at the Blue Grotto and our time at the fishing village. It was not exactly exciting, but I would be happy to go back to the Blue Grotto, simply because it was over too fast. If there is a do over, I would want to try to get a swim in there somehow.

Hopefully if we go back some time, Malta would not be so meltingly hot, and ideally next time we could explore the Haggar Qim temple, and maybe more of the city of Valletta.

Last edited by Scraptographer; 08-20-2013 at 08:13 PM.
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Old 08-16-2013, 06:30 AM   #41
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 151

Fourth and Final Sea Day

The last day of any cruise is always tough since you know that most of the really fun stuff is over and you have to fit all of your personal possessions back into your luggage, including your newly acquired souvenirs! And there are lots of loose ends to tie up.

Once we woke up, our first objective , as always, was for food. Since they did not seem to change up the menu at Lumieres, we headed to Topsiders where we had a nice breakfast together. And after breakfast the togetherness ended as both kids deserted us and headed for deck 9/the Vibe. Apparently DD had signed up for an 'assassins' styled game of Gotcha which started at 10 am and kept going pretty much all day long. DS on the other hand hung out with the guys swimming and eating and hot tubbing it from what we could tell.

Since Shutters had left us a Mickey message over night telling us that we needed to confirm by noon that our photo cd had all of our photos on it that we expected to be there, DH and I headed to Shutters as our first stop of the morning to compare our hard copies of photos with the digital photos on our cd file. This was much easier said than done as Shutters was an absolute zoo and line ups for the kiosks were wildly long. Fortunately we easily organized our hard copy photos into 11 folders (one for each day) and then DH scored a kiosk on deck 3 rather than deck 4.

DH and I took the opportunity to get our 5k in on Deck 4.

And then later while DH was taking care of some last minute stuff at the customer service desk, I popped into Lumieres and asked for a 6 pack of GF donuts for me and the kids, which I put into the fridge in our cabin. DH and I then decided to head to the Buena Vista theatre to watch Monsters University (since there was no way in heck we were going near deck 9 pools on a sea day). The movie was cute and we enjoyed it.

Back in the cabin we realized that the kids had been through there at some point, since the donuts were disappearing - yes, we had left a note. And finally we could no longer put it off, it was time to start to pack. I say start, because my job is to help sort and organize, and then to get the heck out of the way and let DH take over.

Eventually we reached a point where we decided to call an 'operational pause' and head to Parrot Cay for dinner.

And yes, it had been a little challenging to find the kids and get them to come back to the room since they were having so much fun, but we knew this was really the last opportunity to see our servers, since the last morning they are often crazy busy.

Once dinner was done, we got a couple of last photos with Minnie in her red blazer outfit and then the kids and I enjoyed the Dreams show and left DH happily packing. By the time we got back from the show, we threw one or two last items into our suitcases and put them out by the door to 'magically' disappear with their Goofy tags on them.

DH and I headed to bed fairly early, while the kids headed off to Vibe for the last time this trip. Apparently there was a slide presentation played with pictures that the Vibe CMs had taken in the Vibe or at Vibe activities all cruise long. And that is also how DD found out that she won the Gotcha game - for most points anyway,

another girl won for most kills. I believe that 'You Go Girls' would be accurate here .

Last edited by Scraptographer; 08-30-2013 at 04:40 PM.
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Old 08-19-2013, 07:02 AM   #42
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 151

Day 15 - Disembarkation and the Really Really Long Trip Home

Since we had the main or early seating for dinner on this cruise, that also meant that we had the early breakfast timing on disembarkation day, and we did not see anything that indicated that Topsiders was open, so we planned on breakfast in the main dining room. We were therefore up way too early to clear out of our cabin to head to breakfast. And everything about breakfast was just a little too rushed, but that seems to be the way the final morning goes. As a matter of fact, we ended up being mostly served by other 'additional' servers since there was a limited time for turnaround before the next breakfast crowd was due to arrive.

Leaving the ship, finding our luggage in the Goofy aisle, and finding our bus to the airport was all very simple and straightforward.

We did see a long line up for taxis as we left, however we had no idea how fast it moved. It was a very short drive to the airport, and that's where the long waits began. Even without rushing, we made it to the airport by 9 am. Checking in at the Lufthansa counter there was a really long line as very few of us were eligible to use the kiosks - perhaps due to the connecting flight issues of international travel? In any case, Lufthansa were very efficient about adding extra staff and before 10 am we were through both check in and security.

And this had essentially been a hurry up and wait game as our flight to Frankfurt was not until about 1 o'clock ...due to Air Canada cancelling our direct flight. In Air Canada's defence, they did offer us a flight with fewer connecting legs ... It just didn't leave until the next day! And when we checked with Disney way back when we first found out about the flight change, by that time the Diagonal Mar would have been $800 for one night ( for two rooms mind you but still)! And once you combined the doubled cost with our desire to just get home, it made the decision to head home ASAP despite the length of the trip, fairly easy.

Eventually at Frankfurt we found ourselves in the same lounge area from two weeks before, and DD immediately commented on how surreal this felt. DD even stated that in a novel, at this point we would realize that we had fallen asleep and dreamed the whole trip!! Nope, and I have the cheesy ceramic picture frames and pictures to prove it .

Frankfurt operates on a system that assigns you to a terminal where there are reasonably comfortable (for an airport that is) lounges to wait in. And then just before your flight is due to load, they flash your gate number up on a monitor. We took the opportunity to find salads and nuts etc as snacks and to use our 30 minutes of free WiFi, and then several hours later we were boarded on an Air Canada plane and headed for Toronto. At least the airplane had individual monitors with movies etc for each seat.

Once in Toronto we again had a few hours to wait before our next flight, but at least we now had Timmies coffee - step away from the dark side and back into the light .

And as an added benefit, as the signs in the toilets at Pearson International say: We have free WiFi every where, even here .

Eventually we made it home, about 24 hours after our very long day had started in Barcelona. Winding down and getting to sleep at that point was another thing, but eventually we did. After all, we had unpacking, laundry and grocery shopping to look forward to now that we were back in the real world .

Last edited by Scraptographer; 08-20-2013 at 08:09 PM.
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Old 08-19-2013, 11:56 AM   #43
Join Date: May 2013
Location: Minneapolis
Posts: 76

Great review! Thank you so much for sharing. I did a similar (non Disney) cruise in 2003 and it your review brought back great memories of my trip. I hope you go again sooner vs later, so I can read more!
On Deck: Disney Magic June 2015 (Norwegian Fjords)
Disney Fantasy March 2014 (Eastern Caribbean)
HAL Maasdam July 2012 (Canada/New England)
Island Princess June 2011 (Alaska)
Louis Cruises Aquamarine July 2008 (Greek Islands)

Tahitian Princess February 2005 (Tahiti honeymoon)
Golden Princess May 2003 (Mediterranean)
Golden Princess January 2002 (Eastern Caribbean)
Sea Princess March 2001 (Western Caribbean)
Carnival Inspiration March 1997 (Southern Caribbean)
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Old 08-19-2013, 12:29 PM   #44
Oh man, I checked out the website only to discover that I am Older than Peeps!
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Great review but I have to ask again - are we going to see pictures of the picture frames? I am dying of curosity
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Old 08-19-2013, 09:51 PM   #45
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 151

Originally Posted by JCinMN View Post
Great review! Thank you so much for sharing. I did a similar (non Disney) cruise in 2003 and it your review brought back great memories of my trip. I hope you go again sooner vs later, so I can read more!
Thank you for reading along and for your kind comments. We really enjoy travel and Disney cruises, so our kids are already lobbying hard for another trip, our problem right now is their high school schedule and our preferred Disney itineraries seem to be pulling in opposite directions for us. I am glad that my report triggered some great memories for you.
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