Friday, 30 April 2010

La Spezia

We tendered in La Spezia on yet another beautiful day with sunny blue skies. Again, we had to make a difficult decision and opted to go to Cinque Terre instead of Pisa and Florence. Once we made it off the tender, it was off to catch the first ferry of the day to the Cinque Terre.

Giorgio Armani's boat

It was a relaxing 2 hour ferry ride on calm, nearly flat seas. We had great views, going past Portovenere and the first four villages of the Cinque Terre. We alighted at Monterosso and worked our way back toward La Spezia via train. The next stop was Vernazza, one of the prettiest village out of the five, where we had lunch. We had the specialties of the area which included trofie with pesto, ravioli with walnut sauce and a scrumptious seafood spaghetti. We hadn’t quite stuffed ourselves so we ordered two more rounds of ravioli and seafood spaghetti . And of course, we couldn’t have a day in Italy without the obligatory gelato.
The church at Monterroso
Vernazza, where we had lunch
Next up was Manarola, from which we walked along Via Dell’Amore to Riomaggiore. Unfortunately we weren’t feeling too amorous after lugging Jonah along the cliffside cobblestones, but we could still enjoy the beautiful view. From there, it was another train ride to La Spezia. By the time we arrived at the station, my legs had had enough of walking! The last 20 minute walk back to the harbour to return to the ship was an effort. I was glad that the next day would be a day at sea! All plans to watch the magician got abandoned once I put Jonah down for bed after dinner. I was too exhausted. I later discovered that Elliot was chosen to go on stage and was the star of the show. He was so chuffed! The magic set that he was given also helped. He is now famous on the ship. One American kid came up to him and, in an accent straight from TMNTs, said “Elliot you rock! That was awesome dude!”

I can’t believe I completely forgot to write our experience at Palo 4 days ago! So many people rave about it and some think that its over-rated. Most of the reviews are by Americans. Not really knowing the difference between the American palate and the Australian, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Having now been to Palo myself for brunch and dinner, I can say that I am in the camp for Palo being worth going to. The food was definitely much better than the meal served at the regular dining table. Our server was cheeky and cheerful without being overbearing or in our face. I tried the famous chocolate soufflé. Although it was delicious, dare I say that I think the Max Brenner chocolate soufflé is better...

All in all, we really enjoyed our dining experience at Palo and would definitely go back on our next cruise. My challenge now is to figure out how to make reservations for a party of 9...

Thursday, 29 April 2010


Another day, another Italian port. This time its Civitavecchia, the port for Roma, the Eternal City. We have been blessed with 4 sunny days in a row with temperatures in the low 20s, perfect weather for sightseeing. We met up with our guide, Frederico, and set off for the 1 hour drive to Rome.

I must admit I was a little anxious about Rome as I knew it involved long drives there and back, as well as having a long list of “to-sees”. I was not sure how the children would cope. I needn’t have worried as today turned out to be so enjoyable. The decision to cut out a few things helped tremendously. As difficult as it was at the time, we chose not to go into the Vatican Museum and St Peter’s Basilica where the longest lines were and chose instead to visit attractions with little or no lines. The day turned out well. Frederico managed to get a parking spot just around the corner from most of the attractions and seemed to know many back streets. We didn’t get stuck in any traffic. Elliot started paying attention at the Pantheon when he discovered that one of the “ninja turtles”, Rafael, was buried there. Thank goodness the Pantheon was one of the first monuments we visited.
The Pantheon

We started with a stop for espressos and cappuccinos at a cafe outside the Senate building frequented by the Italian Prime Minister. It was reputed to make the best coffee in Rome. And the coffee was GOOD...The children were happy because they got to choose an Italian pastry of their choice for morning tea. We saw many well known must-sees including the Spanish steps, the Trevi Fountain, St Peter’s Square, the Catacombs of San Callisto, the Pantheon, the many Obelisks, and decided to only drive past the Forum Romanum and Colosseum.
The Colossuem
We also saw a few not so well-known things. One of which is a little peep hole in the door of a convent on Avantino Hill, through which you see a view of the Cupola of St Peter’s Basilica framed by beautiful gardens. The sight was quite incredible. Other than our minivan, there was no other tourist in sight. Another place where there was no other tourist in sight was the restaurant where we had lunch. Frederico ordered on our behalf a simple lunch of pastas that Rome is famous for. Once again, the food was plentiful and delicious. The best parts of the day though was simply soaking up the atmosphere of Rome at the many Piazzas. The children loved eating bubblegum flavoured gelato in front of the fountain at Piazza Navona and running around chasing the pigeons.

The all important business of eating gelato

The Trevi Fountain

It seemed the drain was a lot more interesting that St Peter's itself

We headed back to ship exhausted and slept on the drive back. Although we didn’t quite click with Frederico as we did with Paolo, we remain truly grateful to him for helping us make our day in Rome so memorable.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


Ah...Italy! On the itinerary today was Pompeii, Sorrento and Positano. We docked right at the heart of the Naples in front of castle built more than 800 years ago. Again, we have chosen to go with a private tour because of the number of people that we have in our party as well as the fact that we had 3 young children. We wanted to be able to control the pace of our tour, as well as the timing of our lunch and snack breaks.

Detailed street signs

We went to Pompeii first to beat the crowds and the heat. Rafael, our guide at Pompeii , was very skilful at manoeuvring us around the many big tour groups. He informed us that it would only get worse throughout the day. After Carthage, Pompeii seemed endless! It had the advantage of the city as a whole being buried in volcanic ash and thus preserved, rather than being looted and then being built on. The amount of information about the lifestyle and way of life of the time gleaned from the ruins really was amazing. We were surprised to find the 2 hours that had been allocated flying past.

We set off for Positano driving along the spectacular Amalfi Coast. Lunch was atop the hill overlooking the village. The view was second to none. We discovered that Mozarella was a specialty in Sorrento along with limoncello. I’ve never tasted ricotta and Mozarella that good before! Seasonal vegetables from the garden and fresh home-made pasta completed with southern Italian desserts and limoncello made for a big and wonderful meal. All this food was in preparation for a walk down to the beach in Positano itself. The stairs down and up again with a stroller helped burn some of the calories. The town was pretty but the beach itself was a little disappointing.

The Amalfi Coast

Stopping the minivan in the middle of a narrow winding road just to take a photo? "No problem!" Says Paolo...
The beauftiful streets of Positano
Malcolm not too impressed with beach at Positano
Next up is Sorrento. We stopped for gelato and proceeded to for some much anticipated shopping when we discovered that Elliot had lost his Key To The World card. So the next half an hour was spent back-tracking and searching the minivan to no avail. Fortunately at the port, he managed to somehow slip through the first check with the Italian authorities. Once we got to the ship, it was simply a matter of going to Guest services and another card was re-issued before we could say please.

The day was filled with warm Italian hospitality and amazing views. I only hope the photos will do them justice.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010


I am sitting here on our balcony typing while waiting for our ship to sail away from Tunis. What a wonderful day we’ve had!

We arrived in La Goulette Harbour earlier today to the fanfare of a brass band as well as a welcome with a local troupe of musicians, dancers, camels and horses! We met up with Ben, our private tour guide, and started our day by visiting Carthage.

I have to be honest here and say that Carthage was not what I expected it to be. I had imagined in my mind that it was the ruins of a complete city. It is in fact a collection of little pockets of ruins that had been preserved amongst residential areas! However, with Ben’s explanation of the history of the site, I was able to appreciate the reasons for it being so. This doesn’t take away from the wonder of the technology and skills of the time, which was evident from the display of excavated artefacts displayed at the museum itself. Ben also took us around to see the remains of the Roman baths, the aquaduct system and the old harbour.

Next up was Sidi Bou Said, a picturesque little town of white and blue on top of a hill. Being in a minivan, we were fortunate enough to be able to drive right up, rather than having to walk up the hill from where the other Disney buses were. We were also taken around the back route to avoid the crowds and appreciate the beauty of the town at our own pace. We stopped for a quick break of local coffee and mint tea before heading back to downtown Tunis.

The blue and white of Sidi Bou Said

Plates for sale

Only 1 out of 2 doors in town which are not blue!

Are we in Africa or Europe?

We had a quick drive around for the highlights and then got off for a walk. Tunis is interesting as a city. The French influence is apparent, with tree lined avenues, European lamp posts and buildings. At the end of the main avenue, you suddenly come to the entrance of the souks of the Medina where the feel and atmosphere is completely different with narrow streets and colourful stalls. We weaved our way in and onto a mosque built in the 8th century. We were then taken past the perfume “section” and the “chechias” section. The chechias is the traditional head dress of Tunisia. At one of the shops, the shopkeeper kindly showed us how the chechias was made and even let us try one on for photos.

At this point, Lara desperately needed to go the toilet, and once again, we were able to go to the toilets at one of the shops without any pressure to buy any goods. All thanks to Ben. We were initially sceptical about organising a private tour with Ben as he was not with a “big” company. However, we have not regretted choosing to go with Ben at all. As a small group, we were able to move quickly and often overtook the big tour groups. We never felt unsafe at any stage. We were never hassled by any stall owners at the Medina nor at Sidi Bou Said. We did get invites to look at their goods but a friendly no sufficed for a return smile and a goodbye wave. Ben was professional and extremely knowledgeable. He spoke English very well and his passion for tourism was apparent. It was lovely to chat with him about his background during a lunch of local Tunisian cuisine. Thankfully the children loved “brick”, a local dish of pastry stuffed with egg and tuna then deep fried. It didn’t last for more than a minute before it was wolfed down. The restaurant only accepted local currency and so Ben again kindly went to the nearby back to exchange some money for us while we ate. The minivan has seen better days but it did just fine for our purposes. It was clean and had air-conditioning.

Coca-cola in arabic?

We returned to the ship exhausted once again! The children have gone for another swim and I can’t wait to lie down and sleep! Cruising certainly makes travelling with young children so much easier. I couldn’t imagine having to pack and unpack every so often, handling airports, trains or driving in unfamiliar territory on top of the sightseeing. We’ve certainly enjoyed simply waking up at a new port the next day. We feel that having only 1 day at each is only small sacrifice in the big scheme of things. There is always time to come back to our favourite ports of call when the children are older and more independent!
Well it appears that we are running late because a few of the Disney tours are late. Makes me happy that we came back on time!

Monday, 26 April 2010


The Grand Harbour

Malta was one of the ports that we were most looking forward to and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

The port of Valetta

We had another early start so we could see the ship pull into the Grand Harbour which was magnificent. The ship ran to time like clockwork. As announced, we reached Malta at 730am, docked by 815am and we were allowed on shore at 830am. We were greeted by a brass band which made us feel rather important!
Our tour guide, Flora, from Touring Malta, was waiting for us. We had initially planned to DIY Malta but we’re certainly glad that we went for the private tour instead. We probably otherwise would not have seen as much, learnt as much, nor beat the big Disney tour buses at the various locations. Flora and Charles, our driver, spoke English well (as do all the Maltese) and were warm, friendly and knowledgeable.

Malta really is a beautiful island with a long and rich history. The English signs and driving on the left hand side of the road also brought us feelings of comfort! We started off with a drive, then a wander around Valetta, including a short trip to the Barakka gardens where we had a glorious view of the Grand Harbour with the Magic docked down below. The highlight of the city would have to St John’s Co-Cathedral.

Malcolm’s uncle had traced his ancestry back to Malta and discovered living descendents. One particular one we know work at the Office of Tourism and Culture. When we walked past the building, Flora kindly walked in and made enquiries. Lo and behold we found Frances Albani! He came down to say hello. The resemblance to Malcolm's family was uncanny. We walked away with a photo for Malcolm’s dad.

Frances Albani

Lunch was at the Fishing village of Marsaxlokk. It was a simple fare of grilled fish with chips and salad, but the fish was fresh and cooked to perfection. After a quick wander, we moved on to the Blue Grotto where we took the boat ride out to the grotto itself. The colour of the water and the rocks in the caves were spectacular and surprisingly vivid!

Typical Maltese boat with 2 "eyes" at the front.

There was even one with my name on it...oops sorry can't spell.
Arial view of the Blue Grotto

On the boat to the Blue Grotto

Very blue indeed...

We stopped for a quick ice-cream and playground break outside the Mdina medieval city. With the children now satisfied we were able to wander the narrow streets and admire the beautiful old buildings in peace. 4pm came around too quickly and it was time to head back to the ship. In commemoration of Disney Cruise Line’s first visit to Valetta, the city farewelled the ship with a canon salute. It was a truly magnificent way to end our day at Valetta.
It was, however, not the end to our day on the ship. We had a dinner reservation at Palo. Lara and Elliot were only to happy to be told that they had to go the kids clubs. Jonah despite screaming when he was dropped off, thankfully settled in less than a minute and went to sleep with no problems.

Entrance to the Mdina
The Maltese cross evident everywhere

Ancient streets

The day was so full of beautiful sites and images. It really is a pity that I am not able to post photos at the time of writing because of the internet speeds. The purchase of the internet package would have to be one of my only regrets. For the premium price that we are paying, the service is poor. I understand speed limitations, but to have to take up to 10 minutes every single time to log on and off is not acceptable. Use the internet 10 times and it would be 100 minutes which is already 20% of the internet time that I purchased!

To end on a happy note, it is off to Africa tomorrow. Can't wait!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Our first sea day

We could hold the children back no longer. After an early breakfast by the pool at Goofy’s Galley, the children went for a swim. Funny how the cold that was so horrible at breakfast suddenly didn’t matter! Jonah was off to Flounder’s nursery so we could have brunch at Palo with the group from the DISboards. It was nice to have time to chat for real with people whom we’ve been chatting to online for the past few months.

Brunch really was an exercise in excessive eating. The choice and amount of food offered was astounding. The quality of food was also wonderful. Unfortunately, the want and the ability to eat didn’t quite match up! We rolled out the door relunctantly to try and retrieve some children.

Jonah came willingly. It was a relief that he adjusted well and didn’t seem to be too distressed. As for Lara and Elliot, they chose to remain at Oceaneer’s Club and Lab respectively. It was infinitely more fun than hanging around with their parents. The next few hours flew quickly as both Jonah and I napped for the afternoon. I really have no awareness of what the rest of family got up to. We finally managed to drag the children back to the room just in time to get dressed for formal night.

Lara was very excited to be watching her first show, Twice Charmed, an alternative ending to the story of Cinderella. She sat transfixed by the great production. I have no idea once again how the day went past so quickly. So much for planning to scrapbook and go to trivia.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Let the Magic Begin

The day did not start off magically at all. The transfer that we had organised for 10am did not turn up. The ground contact staff was already driving a minivan full of passengers to the port. At 11am he finally turned up and hailed 2 taxis for us and paid on our behalf. By the time we arrived at the port, we were behind a few bus loads of people. I was not impressed. But I was very excited to see the ship! Having never been on Disney cruise lines, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Initial impressions were not so good. The hall was stuffy and chaotic, the lines were long and check-in took a long time. The whole process compared to other cruise lines seemed disorganised. One of the pros of arriving late was that by the time check-in was completed, we could board straight away and have some lunch. We were herded to Parrot Cay for a buffet. The food wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good either. The theming though was lovely. Jonah enjoyed looking at the parrots on the ceiling lights and Lara was delighted to see Sebastien from The Little Mermaid on the wall light. Elliot was simply excited to be allowed to get his own food.

Things fortunately continued to improve throughout the day. We had just enough time to register all three children for their respective kids clubs. It was nice to see their faces light up at the sight of the facilities, and I must say, we were impressed. We had to drag them out of the doors to go our rooms which were ready by this stage. The staterooms were nice and spacious compared to other lines.

I trotted off the Promenade Lounge for our DISmeet. It was nice to be able to put faces to names which have become so familiar, especially over the recent volcano kerfuffle. I had to hurry back to the room as Malcolm was being fitted for a jacket. Once again, it was nice for things to just fall in place. He had visited Guest Services to organise a tux hire. We had only entered our rooms for seconds before we heard a knock on our door with someone helping measure Malcolm for his suit. Our luggage came soon after and we were able to unpack and settle in. Before long, it was time for the emergency drill when we had to drag the children away from the Disney movies playing on the TV. And this is when we had our moment of the day...Jonah was not impressed with his life romper.

Aww mum! Do I really have to wear this?!?!?

After the drill, we hurried to the lobby for a photo op with Pluto and just had enough time to explore the ship before dinner started at Lumiere’s. And here’s when the Disney difference really showed through. Crayons and the kids menu were all ready at the table. The kids menu had activities on them which occupied the children while we waited for our meals. We didn’t have to wait very long at all before our meals turned up. The children were given their drinks in cute cups which were practical. Jonah unfortunately, fell asleep at the table. It was nice to be able to wheel a stroller in freely so he can sleep in the dining room while we finished our dinner. The staff were very perceptive and noticed that my hands were full and kindly offered to help Elliot cut up his food . All these things made for very happy parents! The waiters were friendly and the food delicious. A big step up from lunch.

Elliot spotted Donald Duck and desperately wanted a photo so we dashed out and managed to beat the lines. He then excitedly took his Oma and Opa up to Shutters where our embarkation photo was displayed. He returned to the room delighted to see a swan towelgami complete with chocolates. With barely enough time to go to the loo, he dashed off again to watch the show. He is also seemingly determined to stay up for the sail away party.

Meanwhile, I am here in the room with Lara and Jonah who are both dead to the world. I am exhausted from yet another busy day but content as I managed to sneak in a quick shopping expedition on the way back to the room! I couldn’t resist buying the Mediterranean DCL pin as well as the Mickey star wars pin. I have my eyes set on the Dooney & Burke bag but that will have to wait for another day. How could any say that they get bored on a cruise?!?! All we planned for today was to go for a swim and we never got there...


Glorious Churros!!!
My first mission today was to have myself some churros and hot chocolate. Thankfully the children woke up at a decent time today! We set out to the little cafe which we knew opened early. The churros and hot chocolate certainly didn't disappoint. I was in heaven! The whole plate was demolished in minutes and before long we were on our way down to Port Vell at the Harbour front.

The children waiting for permission to start eating while I was taking photos

Port Vell

The walk to the Telefericos de Barcelona was a little longer than expected...but we soon found the San Sebastia station of the cable car which would take us across the Harbour and up to Montjuic Park. And as I hoped, we saw the Magic docked down below!

The Magic! Hazy day and dirty glass is not a good combo...

Upon arrival at Montjuic, we decided to go to Poble Espanol as we didn't make it there yesterday. It turned out to be a fantastic decisions. There was something for everyone there and we had a fantastic time! The highlight had to be the "treasure hunt" they had for children/families. We were loaned a kit complete with tools and a book with clues. Using that we had to find landmarks to keep moving around the complex. It fun, and not too easy or too hard. Most importantly, it had a cheat sheet so parents can help! Elliot was in his element. My parents really enjoyed their shopping time in the various craft shops. The setting was beautiful. We also got to see real life glass blowing in action which was a treat. Before we knew it, we had spent 3.5 there!
Poble Espanol

Elliot checking out treasure hunt kit...
following the clues...

and finding one of the landmarks!

We decided to head home for some rest and enjoy the sights of all the book and roses aplenty for Saint Jordi Day. The jetlag and 3 big days in a row must have caught up with me because I fell asleep after putting the kids to bed and slept past the Magic Fountain meet! I am writing now at 230am in the morning too excited to go back to sleep at the thought of boarding the Magic later on today. I just realised that in the chaos leading up to our trip, I never did complete my FE, nor have I finished printing my door magnets or putting together the FE gifts. Will just have to cobble something together tomorrow.