In the middle of 2016, I had an epiphany that it had been too long since I'd taken a Disney cruise. The obvious reaction was to search online for 2017 cruises. In my ideal world, I would find an itinerary on one of the 2 ships that I haven't been on that included at least one new-to-me country... and it would be listed for an amazing price! Unsurprisingly there are no cruises that fit all 3 of those criteria- but I found 2 relatively reasonably priced cruises with intriguing destinations: one was a 7 night Southern Caribbean cruise in April and one was an 11 night Westbound Transatlantic Cruise in September. The Caribbean would allow me to visit 5 new islands, while the Transatlantic included Portugal, a country that has left a gaping hole on my map of visited countries in Western Europe. Both were on the Disney Magic, a ship on which I'd sailed twice. In the end, I decided that I preferred the more leisurely 6 sea days traveling across the Atlantic to the dizzying array of island stops with just one sea day. Additionally, the price was comparable so obviously the 11 night cruise provided a better value. So I booked the transatlantic to tentatively hold a room, though I still was not yet certain enough to commit to it with my full heart.
A few months later, I started researching airfares and saw to my dismay that flying one way to Barcelona was rather expensive. However, when American released their frequent flier award flights, I was able to snag one- perfect! A couple months after that, I booked a quirky hotel in Barcelona. While my plans at this point were mostly refundable, the idea of taking a long relaxing cruise kept growing on me. After some of my usual hectic trips, I daydreamed about the bliss of only needing to unpack once for 11 nights. My research had also discovered so many intriguing activities that are only offered during the longer Disney cruises- Broadway entertainers, kids' club open houses for adults... what fun!
Time passed and I grew more excited. But then, after I returned from Namibia, my enthusiasm was temporarily curtailed because that trip had been so perfect and authentic and Disney is so... mass commercialization. Ultimately, however, my love of Disney is part of who I am and so, after some time, I resumed my cruise plans with renewed gusto. In June, I paid off my balance and booked excursions and on ship activities. In July, Disney began allowing guests to pre-book alcoholic beverage tastings online so I reserved a few of them too because, frankly, it was just too damn easy! I joined a Facebook group and signed up for a couple activities through them including linked dining, which would hopefully allow me to avoid the disaster that was my 2010 Asia cruise dining assignment.
In the intervening months, I fell in love with the musical Come From Away which takes place in Gander, Newfoundland. How fortuitous that I'd already booked a cruise with a stop in Newfoundland- albeit in the city of St. John's. I was beyond excited about this port- and, in fact, my chief goal for this cruise was to be screeched in as an honorary Newoundlander! (if you don't know what that means- Google is your friend)
When describing my plans to some people I know, some of them commented with awe that I'm brave to take a cruise by myself. I never quite understand these thoughts since, to me, the only time I won't travel by myself is when I feel that safety could be an issue. I would just smile and respond that I'd done it before and had a great time. I was confident that I'd be able to meet people to converse with at various activities, especially since I would be dining with people who are also enthusiastic about Disney and traveling. There seemed to be quite a few solo travelers on my Facebook group so I figured I'd be in good company.
Exactly 4 weeks before I was due to arrive in Barcelona for a brief 2 night stay before boarding my cruise ship, a van crashed into crowds on Las Ramblas, just blocks from my hotel. Terrorism once again reared its ugly head. Other than feeling a bit like a jinx (since there were similar, though worse, circumstances 4 weeks before my recent trip to Paris in 2015) and feeling devastated for the victims, I couldn't let the situation mentally affect me. In reality, I walk through Times Square at least once a month; that's just as likely a target for terrorists than any city in Europe. I will never understand the hate that drives the terrorists, but I also will not let them deter me from following my heart.
I didn't expect this trip to be life changing or as full of discovery as some of my more exotic itineraries. But I nonetheless looked forward to exploring some new and interesting places, including the city of Barcelona which I had only visited once, way back in 1993. During my stay there, I was most looking forward to seeing examples of the whimsical Gaudi architecture that we did not have time to explore on my previous journey. At any rate, sometimes it's good to just kick back and have fun! And I figured maybe it would be nice to have some time on my own to just think about life and things.
All week I'd been envious of posts on the Facebook group for my cruise from others who had already begun their vacations. If I didn't have a 2 week limit for time off requests, I'm pretty sure I would have left over the weekend and spent some time in Disneyland Paris. As it is, I had to take a couple of extra hours to leave on Wednesday night because that was when I was able to find a flight using miles. Although I'd been wishing I could have left earlier, I was mostly excited that it was finally my turn to start my journey to Europe.
Packing for this trip had been more stressful than usual. I couldn't just rely on my typical "go to" travel clothes because I wanted to have some nice dresses and shoes to wear for dinners on the cruise. I had to move some items, including a pair of shoes, to my carry on so my suitcase wouldn't be over the weight limit of 50 lbs. I was slightly nervous as my bag sat on the scale at the airport because my cheap hand scale was obviously not calibrated exactly the same as airline equipment. When I saw the display read "49.5 lbs", I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
It was quite early, and I breezed through security. Walking through the terminal, I jokingly asked myself "Didn't I just do this?" Yep, just 12 days earlier I'd flown to Orlando; I'm not sure I've ever had 2 trips that were so close together in time.
As I wandered through the airport, I mostly felt a sense of calmness. I recalled a lyric from the musical Come From Away: "You are here, at the start of a moment" which felt quite apt as I embarked on a new journey... one which was on the threshold of being filled with a collection of new memories, which I hoped would include some treasures.
I eventually settled by the gate at a seat where I could charge my phone. The sight of the sign with my flight number made it seem even more real that I was actually heading to Europe. I'd been planning this trip for over a year and my excitement was growing. Still- part of me wished I was going back to Namibia because that trip had been so magical. I reminded myself that I hadn't expected Namibia to be quite so fabulous when I'd set out for that adventure. So it was entirely likely that, as long as I kept my mind open, my upcoming cruise would bowl me over with unexpected highlights in its own, fun way.
After enduring excruciating pain in my ear during my most recent flights on my Labor Day trip to Florida, I wanted to do anything and everything in my power to prevent any similar problems while flying to Barcelona. I knew that the medicine my doctor had prescribed should have relieved the underlying cause but I still did not want to take any chances- especially since this flight was much longer than the one to Orlando. I took a Sudafed tablet soon before boarding, and chewed some Japanese lemon gum as we took off. I was thrilled that my ears felt absolutely fine throughout the flight. Thank goodness the ear pain was proving to be a miserable exception rather than a new trend!
I was on American and I had no illusions that my in flight experience would be quite as comfortable as on some of my favorite Asian airlines. I'd originally been assigned a seat that didn't recline because award seating was extremely limited; fortunately, when I checked in, I was able to swap for a window seat that reclined. I was pleased that the seat had a USB port for charging my phone. The food service was fine; however, before deciding on the pasta, I was slightly dismayed that the flight attendant had quite a bit of trouble answering when I asked if she could be more specific about what was in the pasta dish.
The touch screen for the seatback video system was even more painfully unresponsive than the online reviews had said; it is in desperate need of an upgrade from a usability standpoint. I really only used it for the online maps, but it took forever and a day before it would respond to input. I was excited to see Gander, Newfoundland displayed on the route map; I couldn't wait to be in nearby St Johns in a week and a half!
Lately, I've come to feel that an 8 hour flight is too short, at least when it's overnight and I'd like to get some sleep. That problem was exasperated by announcements that kept waking me up when I started to drift off. One of these was an admonishment not to use the first class restroom if you were in coach. Ugh. That really should be obvious. Eventually, I managed to get some rest as I listened to one of my Japanese recordings of Elisabeth (after having of course gone through Come From Away).
All too soon, the pilot announced that we were beginning our descent into Barcelona. Noticing that I had a great view of the sprawling city, I dug out my camera to take some photos. Unfortunately, they didn't turn out quite as well as I'd hoped- probably because it was so overcast.
I was surprised when we had to get off the plane via stairs and then take a bus to the terminal; Barcelona seemed way too cosmopolitan to not deplane via a gangway. My memories of security are a blur, and by the time I arrived at the baggage carousel, my purple suitcase was already there. I'd booked a private transfer to my hotel so I wouldn't need to stress about transportation after my overnight flight. I had to scan the lineup of people waiting at the exit of the secure zone, and was eventually relieved to see a man in a suit carrying a sign with my name on it. I love seeing a sign with my name- it makes me feel so swanky.
Some of the notes I jotted during the ride to my hotel crack me up: "Car smells nice. I probably don't lol" "This is not Namibia. Then I saw a billboard for a sex supermarket" I have no actual memory of writing either of these, but they are definitely worthy of being preserved for posterity.
There was a ton of traffic as we got close to the hotel, which is to be expected in the center of a major city at around 10am on a weekday. My driver didn't speak much to me other than to complain a bit about the traffic. As we drove, I enjoyed gazing out the window at what appeared to be a nice European city. I kept hoping to see some recognizable buildings but I really didn't see any.
I'd read that taxi drivers often insist that they cannot drive directly to my hotel even though it is actually possible, so I wasn't exactly surprised when my driver stopped a couple blocks away. It was, however, enough for me to decide not to tip him. Especially since he didn't walk with me and I'm pretty sure he pointed me in the wrong direction at first. When I arrived at the hotel with all my luggage, the staff rolled their eyes knowingly and asked if my driver had not pulled up to the entrance. They pointed to a cab that was sitting out front to illustrate the fact that taxis are permitted.
From the very first moment I stepped into the hotel, I knew that I'd made an excellent choice for myself. The front desk people couldn't have been more friendly- but they never overdid the niceties or seemed fake. I felt immediately comfortable amid the slightly quirky modern decor. Someone from the hotel had personally emailed me a week or so earlier to ask my arrival time and I'm sure that was one reason why my room was available right away at 11am. The room with its dark red accents was as welcoming and stylish as the public areas. Some of the hotel rooms were divided into a bedroom area and a separate seating area across the hall, which is an arrangement that would not have worked well for me so I made sure to book a more standard accommodation type.
The hotel lobby included an area with free snacks and beverages that were available 24/7. I was thirsty so I'd brought a Lemon Fanta soda up to my room. When I decided to take a sip, I realized that it was meant to be opened with a bottle opener. I didn't feel like going back downstairs so, with some tenacity, I eventually managed to awkwardly pry it open with my scissors. I'm nothing if not resourceful.
After taking a bunch of photos of the room in its undisturbed state, I needed to take a bit of a nap. I knew that my time in the city was already limited, but venturing out without some more rest would not have been productive in the long run- especially since I planned to be out somewhat late to see a light show I'd booked. So it wasn't until around 4pm that I was actually ready to venture out. I followed the advice painted on the wall of the hallway of my 2nd floor room: "Walk down, it's healthier".
Every time I arrive in a new city, particularly on my own, I still find myself feeling some anxiety, which goes hand-in-hand with my excitement. I think I'm most nervous that I I'll be too timid to maximize my opportunities to enjoy the city. But once I start wandering, I'm in my element and my trepidations typically start floating away. And so it was in Barcelona- once I stepped out to the crowded main street of Las Ramblas, the energy of the city invigorated me to continue my explorations.
Knowing that the weather forecast called for rain the next day, I first set off for Sagrada Familia so I would ensure myself a chance of being able to admire the amazing architecture. I was planning tour the interior the next day, but I wouldn't be able to enjoy the exterior in a downpour. I could have taken the metro, but I decided I'd prefer to walk the 2 miles because it would help me feel acquainted with the city; nothing makes me feel more comfortable with a city than exploring it by foot. En route to my destination, I passed through Placa de Catalunya, a major square at the end of Las Ramblas before walking along some quieter streets. I took some time to admire and photograph anything and everything along my path that piqued my interest.
The church itself, still under perennial construction, was as impressive as I'd expected. I'm sure I'd seen it on my 1993 trip since I have photos, but I don't have any memories since it was so long ago. I can't even recall if we went inside during that trip.
My strongest memory of my previous trip to Barcelona was seeing the exterior of at least one of the uniquely quirky residences that was designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi. Not only did I take a photo of the exterior of one, but I also purchased postcards of various building he'd designed. So I made it a priority to see some of these sites including the interiors if possible.
The first stop I made was to Casa Batllo, a residence on the upscale Passeig de Gracia street. I hadn't booked a ticket in advance because I hadn't been sure what time would work best. Fortunately the queue was short- perhaps because it was drizzling. A lady managing the line encouraged me to buy a ticket online because it was cheaper, but I preferred to go to the ticket window. I am not especially keen on entering credit card details on public wifi if I don't have to.
I really enjoyed my visit, though I had some issues trying to use the handheld video guide which eventually caused me to stop even trying. Mostly, it kept randomly pausing and annoying me. Rather than focusing on the narrative information it would have provided, I concentrated on taking in the visuals of the colors and the curves that were abundant throughout the building. The visit started with ascending a grand staircase and then arriving at the so-called Noble Floor, which was the former residence of the Batllo family. After this, I climbed the stairs in a central atrium whose blue and white tiles vaguely reminded me of the sky. One of the highlights of the tour is walking on the rooftop with its famous stylized colorful chimney stacks. Unfortunately, when I reached this point, the rain started coming down a little more heavily which negatively impacted the amount of time I would spend outside (even though fortunately I had an umbrella). However, it also kept others away so I was able to take some photos with only a few people in them. All in all, I found the architecture fascinating; it was the kind of modern, whimsical design that I adore.
I'd discovered that there was a Lush Cosmetics store around the corner from Casa Battlo so naturally I had to stop there. I purchased a few bath bombs with the idea that I'd use them on my cruise, although I actually never did. The guy at the checkout counter was super friendly, and- noticing my camera- he suggested some lesser known photogenic places that were worth seeing. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I had such a short time that I couldn't even fit in everything that I already wanted to see.
By the time I left the store, it was nearing the time for my daytime ticket to Casa Mila (La Pedrera) which is another residence designed by Gaudi on Passeig de Gracia. Once I arrived at the entrance, the staff member at the door admonished me that the rooftop was closed and strongly suggested that I visit another time; she said my ticket would be good for a few days. I was disappointed especially since the rain had stopped by then. I also worried that my evening show on the rooftop might be canceled. The lady told me that the show was run by different people and that I'd have to ask later.
It was now after 7pm and I was starving! I checked the Google maps app and saw that there an Italian restaurant nearby. On the way to check it out, I stopped in my tracks when I saw a bakery window displaying the most adorable donuts that were shaped like little people. I obviously had to buy one for later. (spoiler alert- it tasted as good as it looked!) I later found out that Boldu bakery is quite well known; I'd been lucky to stumble upon it.
The little Italian restaurant seemed appealing, so I was disappointed when the guy at the door told me that all their tables were full. However, he checked and saw that a party was leaving so I only had to wait a short bit to be seated. I eagerly ordered the "Tortiglioni with Bolognese sauce, meatballs, parmesean cheese and mozzarella". It was amazingly delicious! Earlier I'd seen some intriguing signs advertising the musical Cabaret so, while I was waiting for my food, I did some online research and discovered that the show was indeed playing in Barcelona... starting the day I was leaving. Darn! It would have been really fun to see a musical during my stay.
When I was done, I wandered back to La Pedrera to check and see if the light show would be running. Yes- it was ON! It was still a bit early, but I was able to be first in line. When the appointed time came, we were led into a circular courtyard where the tour guide showed us a brief film to introduce us to the building. I was in awe of the design, with its curves and brushes of color. The visit to the evening light show bypasses an apartment that day guests can see, but I believe we saw everything else. One of the most interesting areas was an attic which consisted of a series of parallel arches jutting out from the walls and ceiling. This was where we saw a model of the building which allowed our guide to point out several features. I much preferred having a live tour guide to the glitchy handheld electronic device I'd tried to use earlier at Casa Batllo.
When we reached the rooftop, we saw The Origins show which combined music and projections to tell a story that I believe was meant to represent the origins of civilization. Or something. I mean, I was jet lagged and I was just amused by the pretty colors and nifty music. Afterwards, we were allowed to linger a bit and explore the rooftop; I took advantage of this time, enjoying both the roof itself as well as the stunning views it afforded. Then I descended the stairs and enjoyed my complimentary glass of Cava (Spanish wine) and a snack in another circular courtyard at the ground level. The experience was wonderful, even if I may not have entirely grasped the full meaning of the show; heck, just enjoying the atmosphere of being on the roof at night with only a few other people was seriously cool! It was a little expensive, but I was glad to cap the first night of my trip with a unique experience.
I'd planned to take a taxi home because I thought that would be safer and easier than walking. However, there seemed to be a decent number of people out and I had grown to feel comfortable in the city so I decided to travel by foot instead. As I enjoyed the refreshing 1.2 mile walk amid the lit up city, I cheerfully sang to myself "Somewhere in the middle of nowhere" from Come From Away. Obviously, a major European city is not "the middle of nowhere" but the song nonetheless felt like an appropriate expression of my joy and how vividly alive I was feeling: "Somewhere in between the place of life and work
and where you're going something makes you stop
and you'll notice and you're finally in the moment!"
When I arrived back at the hotel, I picked up a water from the lobby (this time being sure to use a bottle opener before bringing it up) only to discover that there was also a bottle of water left in my room. The maids had also left some music on to greet me which was a nice welcoming touch. As mentioned earlier, I enjoyed the adorable donut I'd purchased before dinner.
As I got ready for bed, I reflected upon my day and I felt so grateful for my experiences. I particularly loved having the freedom to wander and (re-)discover the city at my own pace. Barcelona truly is a wonderful city, and I wished I had more time to explore. But at least I'd already been able to visit 2 of the houses Gaudi had designed, which I'd been really wanting to do more than anything.
I had booked tickets to Park Guell for 8am the next morning but they were only $7 and I wasn't sure I wanted to get up that early, especially since it was supposed to be raining. So I decided not to set my alarm and to just play it by ear.
Not surprisingly since I hadn't set and alarm and since I'd awakened in the middle of the night for an hour, I totally overslept for my 8am ticket to Park Guell. I mean, unless I could have taken a time machine and gone back a couple hours when I finally got up at 9. I hate having to book attraction times in advance (other than at Disney World) precisely because it's hard to predict the weather, what I'll feel like doing, and how long I will want to stay at each place. I was ok being out 7 Euros because I really needed the rest; I figured that if it wasn't raining too badly, I'd try to get another ticket for later.
Namibia withdrawal symptom alert: when I went down to the lobby for breakfast, I was quite dismayed that there was no crispy bacon. Actually there was no bacon at all... which is probably the only flaw I could find with my stay.
As always, I'd researched the area around my hotel in anticipation my visit. Anyone who knows me at all would not be surprised that I'd been excited when I discovered that there was a cupcake store just a short walk away. My first order of business for the day was to find that shop and buy a treat for later. The walk was quite pleasant, mainly leading me through small side streets. It was hard to make a decision as to which flavor to buy; given my limited time, I could really only try one. I finally settled on Nutella.
After I returned to my room with my spoils, I laid down a bit. I can't recall whether I was still tired or just feeling lazy. But eventually I went online and bought a ticket to Park Guell for 1pm and set out for my next round of Barcelona exploration. I'd originally thought I might take a cab to the park, but I changed my mind and took the metro, which was extremely easy to use. When I got off at my stop I had to make my way uphill along some narrow streets to reach the park; fortunately, there were a couple places where escalators replaced the necessity of walking up steep hills. I did not take heed of the graffiti on one of the escalators which admonished "Tourist go home", although I did snap a picture of it.
Part of the park is free, but the main area of interest is not. I arrived at the entrance to the paid area about a half hour before my ticket time, so I wandered around a bit. I was quite happy that despite being very overcast, it was relatively dry out. Of course, as soon as I was allowed inside, the rain began to increase its momentum. I ended up spending about a half hour sitting in a covered alcove/cave and hiding from the showers. Fortunately, it let up after that and I was able to enjoy the park without getting soaked. The temperature remained rather chilly the entire day with a high of 61 F... but that was definitely preferable to a heat wave.
Located dramatically on a hill, Park Guell is yet another one of Gaudi's famous works in Barcelona. I could recognize many similarities in theme to the houses I'd seen yesterday- particularly in the prevalence of arches and curves. I also enjoyed the various mosaics that were quite spectacular. And, if that wasn't enough, the park offered a dramatic view over the city (one which is probably breathtaking on a day that isn't overcast). I really enjoyed wandering around taking photos as I discovered the park's colorful beauty and unique design. One of my favorite photographs is of a couple taking a selfie of themselves kissing- I'd originally been trying to wait until that area was devoid of people but then I noticed them posing and thought it might make a more interesting shot, which it did. The park was crowded but I'm sure it gets much crazier on days with better weather.
After I'd seen my fill of the amazing park (although I could probably have stayed longer if I had more time in the city), I decided to walk downhill toward the center of the city. The journey was quite pleasant; I've already mentioned that Barcelona is a joy to walk. There are also excellent signs to direct the visitor. The only blight on my path was when I saw a woman get knocked off her scooter by an approaching car. Fortunately, she was ok- but it was nerve wracking to witness.
My next stop was another architectural treat that had piqued my interest during my pre-trip research- and this one was (shock) not designed by Gaudi. The art nouveau Sant Pau Recinte Modernista is a bit of a sleeper sight in Barcelona. Because it isn't as famous as some other places, it is blissfully not crowded. But it seems like most people who take the time to visit find it well worth their while. From 1930 to 2009, this complex housed a working hospital; it had to be among the most gorgeous hospitals in the world. I was not able to take a guided tour, since those are only offered once a day, but it was a treat to be able to wander through many of the buildings and underground tunnels. As usual, I can't even find the words to describe how stunning these places were. I was blown away imagining how these gorgeous spaces had been used for a hospital for so many decades.
After my visit, I was quite hungry since it was already 5:30pm. Fortunately, I found a quick serve place called "Pans & Company" that was about a block away. I ordered a ham pizza which, amusingly to me, came with a side of french fries. Nothing says Europe like pizza and fries- except no, not really. It obviously was not the best meal I've ever had, but it really hit the spot and satisfied my hunger.
Sant Pau is located at one end of Avinguda Gaudi, a short 0.5 mile avenue which runs diagonal to the main grid of city streets. At the other end sits perhaps Barcelona's most iconic sight, the Sagrada Familia church. Earlier in the day, I'd seen people on my cruise group posting that it was tickets were going quickly so I'd scooped one up for 6:15pm. I had decided not to tour either of the towers because I'm not keen on heights or closed-in places. But, in the end, it really didn't matter since they were closed due to the weather so I wouldn't have been able to visit, anyway.
I'm not sure what can be said about Sagrada Familia which hasn't already been written, probably more eloquently. The church was originally designed by Gaudi but he died before it was completed. In fact, the building is still not finished; the most recent estimate is that it will be completed in 2026. I believe the current construction is inspired by Gaudi's original designs but obviously it cannot be 100% attributed to him.
The first thing you notice upon approaching the church are its epic facades, which give way to amazing details as you examine them more closely. Then you enter and find yourself in a grand sanctuary which extends as high as 150 feet tall. Photographs simply cannot capture the grandness or scale of the chapel with its incredibly nuanced magnificent vaulted ceiling and walls lined with colorful stained glass windows. I'm not religious, but I felt a spiritual air permeating the site and demanding respect and awe. Despite the fact that it was crowded, it still felt peaceful.
I've visited plenty of historic churches, as has anyone who has traveled through Europe. Sagrada Familia is not at all like any other house of worship; it's quite special and deserves its reputation as a "not to miss" site. The design feels both modern and classic at the same time- and, as with any Gaudi design, it is bursting with interesting curvatures and nuances. Despite its grandness, it felt more approachable than some of the more ornate old fashioned churches that are typical of Europe. This is probably due to the fact that Gaudi drew inspiration from nature.
I spent well over an hour taking in the interior and exterior details before leaving to take the metro back to the stop by my hotel. But I wasn't ready to go back to my room just yet- I wanted to stop at the nearby Disney Store first. It was a small shop but I loved how its walls were decorated with Barcelona sites mixed with Disney characters. For instance, one wall depicted a couple of the houses on Passeig de Gracia with the house from "Up" floating above them, and a silhouette of Kevin (the bird from "Up") in front. I found the most adorable Tangled themed children's plate and silverware set... and justified purchasing it by realizing that I could make use of it for eating my cupcake later.
I wasn't hungry for a huge dinner so I went into the Carrefour on Las Ramblas in hopes that they would have something small. I quickly spotted a section with packaged sushi which perfectly fit my needs; after some deliberations, I picked up a California Roll with Cheese. And then I got into the longest line I ever recall seeing in a supermarket! It extended well into the expansive produce section and I could barely see the registers from the end of the queue. Fortunately, it moved surprisingly quickly.
I left the store around 8:45 and I decided to spend the rest of the night relaxing in my room. I enjoyed a long, luxurious waterfall shower before slipping into the cozy robe in the closet and feating on my sushi. My nutella cupcake provided a perfectly sweet end to a wonderful day.
As I got ready for bed, I couldn't believe that the next night, I would be sleeping in my cabin on the Disney Magic! I was excited to finally be going on the cruise I'd been dreaming about for over a year. But first, I wanted to explore some of the areas around my hotel. So I set my alarm for an early start.
When my alarm went off at 7am, I awoke quickly, full of excitement. Today was the day I'd board the Disney Magic cruise ship for the 1st time in 5+ years! My plan was to explore some of the areas surrounding my hotel before checking out and heading to the ship. I grabbed a quick breakfast of some chocolate flavored cereal and then set off.
When researching my trip, I'd Googled cats in Barcelona. Among other sights (one of which I'll get to later), the results revealed that there was a cat statue just a half mile from my hotel. Obviously, I considered this quirky site a "must see". En route, I couldn't help but notice how peaceful the city side streets were at 8am. Many of the doorways of shops that weren't yet opened were painted with colorful graffiti/street art which was interesting to see.
After taking some photos of the cat statue, I strolled along the main street of Las Ramblas. Typically bustling with energy and crowds, it was amazingly quiet in the morning. I would definitely recommend visiting both in the afternoon/evening and during the early hours of the day so as to experience the vast contrast between the 2.
I walked all the way down to the water, passing a monument that I only later realized was to Christopher Columbus. I'd been hoping to catch a glimpse of the Magic, but unfortunately the ship wasn't visible. I did, however, see some people who had obviously just disembarked who were heading into the city; they were immediately recognizable by their luggage tags and Castaway Club bags. Just seeing their Disney Cruise gear was exciting!
Walking back up Las Ramblas away from the waterfront, I took in various places of interest- including a Dunkin Donuts that featured flavors such as Chips Ahoy, Oreo, and Kit Kat- the latter had a candy stick sitting across its top! Why don't we have Kit Kat donuts in the US?!? Unfortunately, I wasn't hungry enough to try one.
I made a small detour to see the Palau Guell, a mansion designed by Gaudi. I'd hoped to be able to see the interior and the rooftop that was decorated with whimsical chimney accents. But it wasn't open yet and I didn't have time, so I had to settle viewing the exterior which only provided a glimpse of the roof. This was the only place on my list of sights I wanted to see that I didn't end up visiting, so that's not too bad.
I was determined to find "El Jardinet dels Gats", the "little garden of cats" that is home to a bunch of rescue cats which had also come up on my search for feline sites in the city. But I hadn't been able to find a specific address that I could plug into Google maps- the best clue I could find was that it was behind La Boqueria, a major marketplace. So an unexpected benefit of my quest was paying a visit to the market. Then I walked around and around searching- until finally my heart leapt at the sight of my destination! Unfortunately, the garden was behind a fence that made it prohibitively difficult to take good photos. So you'll mainly just have to imagine the bliss I felt spending 20+ minutes watching the kitties as they roamed through an environment adorably decorated with cat designs. Some of the items they had out for the cats were ridiculously cute, such as a child size slide. While I didn't see any felines attempt to descend from it, they did seem to enjoy sitting at its top.
Pleased that I'd managed to find both of the cat sites I'd wanted to see, I decided to head across Las Ramblas to wander a bit through the Gothic section of the city. If I ever return, I'd love to take a walking tour through this area to learn more about its history and to see some of the less obvious highlights. I was glad to at least have a chance for a cursory look around at the area, including the exterior of the famous Cathedral.
The streets were getting more crowded and I was getting anxious to get to the ship so I headed back to the hotel and asked the front desk to order me a cab for 11am, which was 20 minutes later. By the time I came down with my luggage, the taxi was waiting- and, it was right in front of the door despite my airport driver saying that wasn't possible. HA!
It was just a short ride to the port (about 15 minutes) and it cost about 20 Euro. As I got out of the vehicle and saw the Disney Cruise Line flags, I was teary with joy. It was finally happening!
The Barcelona cruise terminal is not nearly as nice or swanky as the one in Port Canaveral or even NYC. The main waiting area is a big warehouse of a room with rows of folding chairs, all of which were occupied by the time I arrived. But I was able to sit on something in a corner. On the plus side, lines were short and I was easily able to get my photo taken with Captain Mickey. As I waited in line, I met a lovely couple from my Facebook group- Kathy and Paul. It was fun to share my excitement with them. Later, as I sat in my corner, I met up with another friendly lady named Emma.
When you check in for a Disney cruise they hand you a boarding number among other things. I had boarding number 9. So once boarding commenced there was a short wait before my number was finally called at around 12:15. I was excited to be able to leave the boring warehouse to head onto the glamorous cruise ship. But first I had to get my Cermonial Boarding picture taken in front of a backdrop of the ship. Since I'd pre-ordered the photo package, I wanted to take advantage of every. photo. possible.
As you board a Disney Cruise Ship, a cast member announces you as if you are royalty while you make a grand entrance through an atrium lined with applauding cast members. Typically they welcome you as "The [x] family" Since I was not a family, I wanted to be introduced as "Princess Faith". However, they told me they weren't allowed to introduce any guests with the title of "princess". Bah. So I was just Faith as I embarked onto my floating home for the next 11 nights.
My first order of business was to get some lunch so I headed up to Cabanas buffet on deck 9. I expected it to be crowded, but after I made my selections I had no problem finding somewhere to sit. I particularly enjoyed the chicken fingers and the oreo cheesecake. As I ate, I could still hardly believe the cruise was real.
I wandered around on deck a bit when I was done eating because I still had some time to kill before the guest rooms opened at 1:30. It was a glorious sunny day and the ship afforded an especially lovely view of nearby Montjuic, a hill by the harbour.
When I got to my room, my first order of business was to decorate the door. Disney cruise doors are metal and many guests enjoy creating custom magnets which help the corridors look festive. It also makes it ridiculously easy to recognize your door whenever you return to your room. I'd created some sparkly purple accents to go along with various Disney themed creations including princesses and a couple magnets that intermingled Disney cats with felines from my family. But my favorite magnets were probably 3 from "Come From Away"; I figured that since we would be visiting Newfoundland, it was completely appropriate to display them on my door. I had to play around a bit until I found a layout that I liked.
Once I was satisfied with the appearance of my door, I unpacked my suitcases. It felt amazing to know that I wouldn't need to pack up again for 11 days! Most of my trips are high energy with a couple days here and there... so this was a rare treat for me. The room had plenty of storage space, and I was able to slide my bags under the bed. I relaxed a bit out on my veranda to enjoy the view of the city where I'd spent a couple wonderful days.
After watching a bit of Enchanted on one of several channels on my TV that played Disney movies 24/7, I headed down to Fathoms for the meet and greet for my Facebook group. I talked to a couple people but I'm really shy so I ended up sitting by myself before finally leaving.
At 4:30, I headed on deck for the Obligatory Guest Assembly Drill of boredom. Yeah it's important to know where to go for an emergency.... and yeah thankfully guests no longer need to wear life vests... and at least it was a pleasant temperature so I didn't feel like I was going to faint... (reference cruise from Singapore) But it was still rather annoying, even though I understand the necessity.
But once that chore was over, it was time to head up to deck 9 for the Adventures Away sail away party! I managed to find a halfway decent place to stand- on the edge of one of the hot tubs, so at least I was elevated above the crowd. Finally it was time for FUN! The show featured Disney characters dancing to a catchy song and seemed geared to getting everyone pumped up even more than we already were. I admit to tearing up a little again- I was so excited.
Afterwards, I snagged a cone of chocolate soft serve ice cream because I could. Also because my 8:30pm dinner time was still a few hours away.
I wasn't able to be on deck when the ship pulled away from the pier because we were behind schedule and still hadn't left when it was time to head down to the theatre for the evening's show. Tonight's offering was "Be Our Guest - Welcome Abroad Show" which probably sounds way more exciting than it actually was. Basically, it was a teaser for some of the entertainment options that would be offered during the following 10 nights- both excerpts of original shows as well as guest performers. At least they performed the song "Be Our Guest" at the end. Also, it was interesting to hear a list of top countries represented by guests on the cruise.
Even though I was going to be seated with others who had signed up for linked dining, I was still nervous as I headed to Lumiere's for dinner. I knew it would have to be better than my horrific dining assignment on my 2010 cruise through Asia... but what if it still felt awkward?
Well, I'm pleased to report that I had the privilege to dine with one of the best tables in the history of cruise dining tables. At least it was in my completely biased opinion. All of us having taken previous Disney cruises, we ranged in age from 21 to retired, residing all over the world. Sarah from Great Britain and Andreah from Memphis were both single women traveling alone- it was awesome that I didn't feel like I stuck out as the only party of 1. Brenda and James were traveling from Colorado with their youngest daughter, Cady, who was taking her first cruise as a full fledged adult (age 21). Liesbeth and her adult son, Paul, came from the Netherlands. Our table was completed with Carol and Bob who were retired and lived in California. It sounds like a real crazy assortment- but we got along so fabulously that our servers were genuinely surprised when we later told them that none of us had known each other before the cruise! I really loved my dinner mates and looked forward to seeing them every night to exchange stories of our individual days... as well as whatever else we could find to laugh about! (and no, I'm not just saying such nice things because they may see this- *waves hi to any of you who bothered to read this entry*)
For dinner, I had smoked salmon, clam chowder, and pasta and then finished with Kahlua Creme Brulee. I thought everything was quite good, but I am not a fancy eater so don't necessarily trust my reviews. As with most nights, we were in the dining room enjoying our conversation until we noticed some not-so-subtle signs that the staff kinda really wanted everyone out.
And yet, as wonderful as the meal time was... part of me still yearned for dinners in Namibia under the stars... I knew I needed to start planning my 2018 travels once I returned, and I'd been thinking that perhaps a return to Africa would be in order. A big test for me was to see if Africa would still hold its allure once I was in the middle of a newer adventure, one which took me in an entirely different direction. So far, it still seemed like a wonderful idea.
I was pretty exhausted after leaving the dining room at 10:30 so I just took a quick walk through the stores (which hadn't been open until we were at sea) and then headed back to my cabin and got ready for bed. I glanced at the Navigator which listed the next day's activities and I was excited at the possibilities. I already had a bunch of things planned, but there was still plenty of time for new experiences.
Although it was a sea day, I didn't have the luxury of being able to sleep in. But since I went to bed relatively early, I was quite well rested when my alarm went off at 8am. Also, the gentle waves of the ocean were so soothing that for the entire length of the cruise, I enjoyed some of the best quality sleep I've ever had.
I began my day with 2 free photo opportunities that I'd signed up for online. I'd considered rescheduling them after I found out that my group Palo brunch was scheduled for 10am because I thought it might be too hectic. But actually, it ended up working out nicely because I'd dressed up a bit for the meal so I looked spiffier in the photos.
My first activity was the 9am Frozen Meet and Greet which was held in the Animator's Palate restaurant, where the walls were decorated with Frozen themed electronic signs. There was only a short queue before I was able to meet Anna, Elsa and Olaf; I'd never previously taken a photo with Olaf so I was quite excited that he was included. I had no idea until much later that the CM to whom I'd given my cell phone also took some video of me hugging Olaf! (I would hand CM's my cell phone so they could take photos I could post relatively promptly on social media; these pictures also served as protection in case the professional photographer pictures didn't turn out).
Before my next appointment, I had time to sneak in a photo op with Princess Minnie who was wearing an adorable pink outfit. The Princess Gathering, which I had scheduled at 9:30am, allowed guests to take photos in the atrium with Tiana, Belle, Cinderella and Rapunzel. It would have been really cool to get a group shot with all of them, but alas they each posed individually. As I waited in another short queue (which I was allowed to enter a few minutes early), I was charmed by some adorable toddlers in front of me. Their interactions were so sweet!
I always feel a bit awkward conversing with face characters, but I like getting my photo taken with them in spite of this. A friend of mine mentioned that she had met this Tiana on the Fantasy last year, so when I met with her, I asked her if she'd been on the Fantasy; she seemed to remember me on a subsequent occasion when I posed with her.
As mentioned, I'd had some concern that my morning might be too crunched, but I actually had plenty of time for a leisurely walk around the pool deck before making my way to Palo, the adult only restaurant on the Disney Magic. I had been unsuccessful making a brunch reservation myself even though I went online the minute my booking window opened. But fortunately, I was able to sign up for a group brunch through my Facebook group and I'm sure that was more fun than it would have been to dine alone, anyway. Especially since I was seated with a bunch of fabulous and friendly people - 5 of them were also at my dinner table, plus we were joined by 2 solo cruisers and a mom who was traveling with her children. We all got along splendidly, and conversation was always lively.
I'd heard a lot of good things about brunch at Palo and it lived up to the hype. It's an interesting meal because it's a hybrid of a series of buffets plus a sit down menu with choices ranging from eggs and waffles to heartier choices like pasta. One of the waiters guided us through a buffet that consisted mainly of breads, meat/fish and cheeses, and offered his recommendations. As he did so, I couldn't help but be distracted by the array of beautiful desserts we passed. Oooh, shiny! But those were for later.
From the menu, I ordered the Parmesan Crusted Chicken Breast, which was highly recommended. The waiter also brought some extra flatbread pizzas for the table to share. And, since it was included, I couldn't pass up ordering a mimosa. Everything was delicious- though I was careful to only eat small samples so I wouldn't feel stuffed. In all, I felt that the brunch was worth the $30 charge (+ tip).
After a little break enjoying my room, I decided to head over to an activity I'd that had intrigued me when I'd seen it listed in the daily Navigator (the printed flyer with each day's activities): "Improv 101" As a kid, I loved being onstage... but I dreaded having to do any improvisation. I'm a lot more confident in myself than I was then, so I thought it was worth giving it a try. Usually my travels provide me opportunities to explore different landscapes and cultures, but an Improv class would require me to seek out something new within myself. Challenge, accepted!
There were definitely times during the 45 minute session in Fathoms nightclub where I felt slightly terrified, but I left feeling great. It was so much fun! The instructor, Greg, who works with cast members on the ship, was wonderful- he was full of positive energy and he was very sensitive to how intimidating improv could be; he wanted to help us expand our comfort zones without ever making anyone feel poorly about themselves.
After discussing words we associated with improvisation, we formed a circle and started playing some very simple improv games. First, we played with imaginary balls and threw them at each other- the goal being to engage another person in a very simple way. Then we had to add our names... except I thought we had to make up names. So I tossed the imaginary ball while announcing some random name that clearly wasn't mine. Greg paused the game and at first I wanted to crawl into the floor and die of stupidity- but somehow he used my mistake as a lesson and I stopped feeling like a total idiot. Well, until we got to the next game where we had to toss the ball at someone while calling out their name. I suck at names! Luckily there was a CM with a name tag- ha ha! One of the final games had us tossing the imaginary ball at someone while stating our first impression of that person. Whoever threw it at me used either "unique" or "original" which I took as a high compliment.
Greg told us that we'd have a chance to actually perform on the ship if we wanted to. Like, in front of real guests. That was insane... so I immediately knew I'd have to go for it. Even if I sucked, I couldn't resist the urge to be onstage for the first time in decades.
Improv let out just in time for me to head over to Mixology class at the nearby Keys lounge. I'd heard so many raves about Mixology that I had to sign up for it. I ended up sitting with a couple women from my Facebook group, Sarah and Donna, who were from Newfoundland, so that was really cool. One of them gave me her number to call if I needed anything at all during our stop at St. Johns. They seemed thrilled at how excited I was for my upcoming visit to Newfoundland.
Anyway, the point of the class was to try 5 mixed drinks. On the newer ships, passengers can go behind the bar to actively participate in making them. But for the most part, we were just served and then told about each beverage:
I was so excited to try the first drink which was a gorgeous shade of deep aqua blue that matched my shirt. Unfortunately, the Blue Margarita, made with tequila and blue curacao, looked better than it tasted. We all agreed that it was our least favorite of the bunch.
We were able to help making the next drink, an Irish Mojito. Well, we were able to muddle some mint leaves which meant crushing them up with a pestle like tool. This drink, which also included irish whiskey, lime, and apple juice was quite good- a definite improvement on the first.
I was a little dubious about trying the Limoncello Raspberry Prosecco because I've tried Limoncello before and... it hadn't appealed to me at all. However, the addition of the prosecco (sparkling wine) apparently did something amazing as I thought this beverage was really good!
One of the more unusual drinks was a Peanut Butter and Jelly Martini, which was made with Chambord (liquor with a raspberry flavor), Frangelico (which has a hazelnut flavor) and vanilla vodka. I think this was my favorite- it was awesome!
The final drink was a B-52, a layered drink made with Baileys, Kahlua, and Grand Mariner. I really enjoyed this one, too. They had some women drink a version that had whipped cream on top without using their hands.
All in all, Mixology was good fun- and 4/5 of the drinks were a hit with me. I only had a little of the Blue Margarita but I think I imbibed most, if not all, of the others. I definitely felt the effects of the alcohol, but just in a way that felt good; I didn't feel like I'd had more than I could handle. When we were done, I joined Sarah and Donna at the Promenade lounge to play some trivia. Our score was... not anything to write about... but I enjoyed hanging around with them a little longer and meeting their family.
I finally had a pocket of free time so I changed into my bathing suit to get acquainted with the hot tub. You might think I'd go to the adults only pool, but then you'd be wrong. On this cruise, the over 21 pool area was always the most crowded so I instead headed to the family pool. A bonus reason to lounge in the family area is that you can watch Disney movies on Funnelvision from the comfort of the hot tub; they were showing Tangled while I was there. For most of the time, I was the only person in the tub- occasionally a couple kids would come in for a bit, but they were well behaved.
I took a short break to try the AquaDunk, the new enclosed waterslide that had been added to the Magic since my last cruise because I could see that it had no line whatsoever. After ascending a bunch of stairs, I was directed to enter a clear vertical tube which closed off around me; eventually, the operator hit a button and the floor dropped out from under me causing me to slide down the tube, spiraling out over the sea, before finally reaching the end. This all probably sounds way more fun than it actually was. Sure, the initial moments were a fun kind of scary as I thought "OMG the floor is going to drop why did I think this was a good idea?" But after the initial kick of excitement, I spent the remainder of the short ride trying to avoid the water that was assaulting my eyes and nose. I quickly closed my eyes but I couldn't hold my nose because I'd annoyingly had to take off my (waterproof) watch and hold it in my hands. So I was unfortunately completely unaware of when I was looping over the water. I decided that once was definitely enough for this slide. The AquaDuck on the Dream may be less thrilling, but it was a lot more enjoyable and had a high repeat value.
After a shower, I headed off to the evening show which was "The Percussion & Comedy of Junnk" This show consisted of 4 performers who used what seemed like junk to make music, while clowning around a bit. I thought it was OK, but it's not something I'd need to see again. People seem a bit divided on their opinions of this group, as well as some of the others I was to see later on.
It was formal night, so I was decked out my favorite little black dress. I'd bought it for my college graduation and, because it doesn't have a fitted waist, it still fits nicely; I feel awesome when I wear it. Of course, I had to pose for some photos to show off my fancy look. The Disney characters were also dressed in their finest attire; even Pluto was wearing a swanky dog tag. I regret not getting in line for a photo with the ship's captain, but the queue had seemed discouragingly long. However, I don't regret not taking advantage of the free champagne they were serving in the atrium; I'd definitely had more than enough adult beverages for the day!
On Disney ships, you rotate through 3 different restaurants for your evening meals. This night was our first in Animator's Palate and we had the standard rotational menu. (there is one standard menu for each restaurant; on the other nights, everyone on the ship orders from the same menu regardless of where they are dining) I ordered the Smoked Salmon Tartar, Baked Potato and Cheddar Cheese Soup and the Pennete Bolognese. Again, I enjoyed all of my choices- though the soup could have been thicker. For dessert, I had the Cookies and Cream sundae which was decorated with an adorable Mickey face. When the servers brought out the spoon for dessert, it was really warm, like it had just come out of a heated dishwasher... so I let it sit in my water glass sto cool it off before using it for ice cream.
Once again, I had a great time conversing with the other people at my table. I am so glad they took a group photo that night; they took one another night as well but I don't think everyone was present for the 2nd photo. Because it was our rotational night, the restaurant started in black and white but by the end, everything was in vivid color. Before dessert, there was a cute little show with Sorcerer Mickey and the waiters.
After dinner, I headed over to Fathoms to check out the "Match Your Mate" show. By the time I got there, the venue was jam packed so I had to find a place to stand in the back. This show is a variation on the standard dating show where the partner of each sex is asked a question without the other partner present, and the couple who can get the most matches wins. The first couple, who ended up winning, were newlyweds. The second couple, who had been married for something like 40 years, were the epitome of class and grace; everyone "aww"ed when the husband came back in (to try to match the wife's answers) and graciously handed his wife the drink he was carrying. And then there was the couple in the middle- OMG, they were hysterical! Especially the woman- she was a hoot especially when describing how she'd met her husband when he had originally been interested in her friend. All in all, it was a lot of fun!
As I got ready for bed, I felt like I was beginning to get more in the swing of things with cruise life. I'm not going to lie- even at its best, it still couldn't come close to equaling the amazing times I'd had in Namibia... but you have to keep moving forwards in life. I was glad that I'd been able to take part in so many diverse activities which had all been a lot of fun. And I looked forward to arriving in our first port the next morning- Cadiz, Spain.
When my alarm went off at 7:20, it was still dark out. As always, the first thing I did was to peek outside. We were docked at Cadiz which looked... not very thrilling at all. However, after I went up on deck, I had a better vantage point (and better light) and the city's charms were more apparent.
For breakfast, I hit the buffet at Cabanas. Mickey Waffles were a must. I somehow couldn't find the maple syrup... which gave me a good excuse to douse my waffles in chocolate and caramel sauces instead. I was delighted to see that not only did the buffet have bacon, but they had bacon that was specifically labeled as "Crispy Bacon." (I will never hear those 2 words without smiling at the thought of ordering my daily breakfasts in Namibia)
I booked tours through Disney Cruise Line for all of my ports. With the limited time we had in most of them, I felt most comfortable as a solo traveler taking a tour to both maximize the quality of my time and also to assure that I wouldn't miss the boat. When doing some research on Cadiz, I'd discovered that most of the town's highlights were within a small area in the center of town, so I booked a walking tour which I felt would be the best way to discover the city. There were some tours that ventured as far out as Seville but, even though that destination might be more interesting, it didn't seem worth spending an inordinate amount of time on a bus.
All the Disney tours were well organized, meeting at a designated spot on the ship where you signed in and then debarked with your group when the signal was clear. I quickly met a couple people who were also on their own during the tour (one was traveling with family who took a different tour) so I didn't feel alone. Our guide was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable and we spent about 3 hours touring the city.
One of the most interesting factoids I learned about the city was uncovered at our very first stop, the Monument to the Constitution of 1812. This statue included a depiction of Hercules who is said to have founded the city. I'd never have guessed that Cadiz had a connection to Hercules
I couldn't have asked for better weather for touring a city full of quaint cobblestone streets lined with colorful facades- the sun was shining and the temperature hit a pleasant high of 75 degrees. For the most part, we followed the guide as she told us about the city highlights. However, we had a chance to explore on our own briefly when we stopped by the Central Market; although it might have been nice to stop for a refreshing drink, I made use of my precious free time wandering and taking photos.... which should shock no one who knows me.
We only went inside one building, the Tavira Tower. Our first stop was a dark room that housed a camera obscura, which could project live views of the neighboring streets. It could be repositioned to show different angles. That was pretty cool, even if I didn't quite understand how it worked. Then we climbed to the roof where we were treated to lovely panoramic views of Cadiz. The tower is one of the tallest building in the city, so it allowed for an unobstructed view of the entire area.
At the end of the tour, the guide gave us the option of staying longer on our own or heading back to the ship. Although we had 4+ hours until we had to be onboard, I went back with the group. The city was quite charming and part of me wishes I'd wandered a bit more so I could take some photos at a more leisurely pace. But at the time, I was quite content with what I'd already seen. After talking with other people later, I think the walking tour I took was one of the better offerings, and a very good value for the price.
Once on the ship, I went up to the pool deck to scope out the available options for lunch. I decided to have 2 slices of pizza (BBQ and cheese) from Pinocchio's, followed eventually by mint chocolate chip ice cream and a chocolate chip cookie from Cabanas. Even after I finished eating, I enjoyed staying out on deck where Hunchback of Notre Dame was showing on Funnelvision. But eventually I felt chilly so I headed back to the cabin for a bit.
In the mid-afternoon, I went down to the Promenade lounge to take a stab at another round of trivia. I didn't see anyone I knew, so I filled out the answer sheet by myself. I was thrilled when 2 of the questions could be answered just by knowing the lyrics to Hamilton (who wrote Common Sense, and who was George Washington's VP) I did quite well, scoring 21/25 correct. Unfortunately, a couple people did even better including the winner who answered an impressive 24 questions right.
At 5pm, I went to a Chip and Dale character meet and was thrilled when I saw that they were dressed in Spanish costumes. This led me on a massive quest to get photos with all the characters in their Spanish attire. There were a bunch of other similarly minded people that I saw while migrating from one character to the next. Eventually, I started conversing with some of the familar faces; I'd contine to see them throughout the trip. The lines for characters weren't long, but whenever I could chat with others, they seemed even shorter.
While waiting for Minnie Mouse, I noticed that the pianist was playing music from "La La Land". This reminded me how every time I flipped through the TV stations in my room, that movie seemed to be on one of them. Sometimes, you just can't escape La La Land.
The evening entertainment was an acappella group from Orlando called The Edge Effect. It was mind boggling how they could produce some really amazing percussive sounds using only their voices. The 5 men in the group were very talented, and not bad to look at either. They were a crowd favorite, and I'd see them again if given a chance.
Dinner was at Carioca's, the vaguely South American themed rotational restaurant. The consensus among our group was that it offered the weakest menu. It also seemed to have the least interesting visual theme; I didn't feel that it was an improvement on its previous incarnation when it was known as Parrot Cay. I wasn't going to order a soup or salad until Sarah asked if she could have the French Onion soup from Lumiere's and I stole her idea. I also ordered the Beef Empanadas and the Pan Seared Sea Bass. For dessert, I had the Torte de Chocolate which wasn't very thrilling. Because it was our rotational night, there was a quick little show with Spanish Minnie Mouse.
After dinner, I was excited because there was an adult exclusive activity in the Oceaneer Club, one of the clubs that typically is for children. I'd been dying to be able to participate in the kids club activities- and now I had my first chance! I quickly ran to my room to change from my dress into pants, which proved to be an excellent decision. Most of my table mates also were going to the club so I was able to hang with them. The first thing we had to do upon entering the club was wash our hands. Well, it was possible to use boring wipes... but they had these amazing machines which had 2 holes and once you placed your hands inside them, you were treated to a pretty nifty hand massage. You had to bend down a bit to use them since they were designed for little kids, but they were a big hit with all of us!
Tonight's activity was "Toy Story Boot Camp" and not even the more experienced cruisers had any idea what it entailed. Well, once we got there a Green Army Man came out to train us as cadets. He never broke character which made the evening a total riot! First we had to divide ourselves into 2 lines, one of which was Team Woody and the other (mine) was Team Rex. Each group was given a response to utter together whenever we were called. Some people decided to hang back and not join either line because they mainly wanted to watch, but our Green Army Man wasn't having any of that; he dubbed them Team Jessie and they had to yodel whenever they were called. On subsequent days, I insisted on arriving promptly to any adult open houses because I didn't want to be a Jessie.
Our first activity was to fill out name tags and get 2 stripes painted on our face. I think we were supposed to do more than that, because after we switched, we saw the other team playing with a parachute. Oh, well. Our 2nd activity was a type of Simon Says led by the Green Army Man. One of the things he kept making us do, much to our chagrin, was lay on our stomachs on the floor- this is why I was so glad I'd had the foresight to change out of my dress. We'd always groan a bit at that command. At the end, we all had a bit of a graduation ceremony and were able to pose for photos with Green Army Man. The whole evening was a total hoot! Lots of laughs, and probably one of my favorite memories from the ship.
After taking some photos of the empty club, I hung out in the hallway for a little while chatting with Sarah, Liesbeth and Paul. We discussed many interesting topics ranging from Disneyland Paris to 9/11. Then I went back to my room to get ready for bed. This was the first of 6 nights where we would be turning the clock back an hour before ultimately being on US Eastern time when we arrived in NYC- I loved getting extra rest, especially when I slept so soundly.
When the alarm went off at 7:15, I drew back the curtains and was greeted with a purply orange sky. The ship was still making its way towards the port of Lisbon, Portugal. I was excited because this would be my first visit ever to Portugal; My post-college bus tour through Europe had not taken me further west on the continent than Barcelona, and I also never made it there during my extensive Eurail adventure the following year.
After I got ready and headed up on deck, the sun was continuing its rise as the hills of Lisbon drew closer. After admiring the scenery and taking a bunch of photos, I enjoyed breakfast at Cabanas which was once again highlighted by Mickey waffles.
When I'd originally booked my excursions, I'd selected a bus tour of city highlights. However, as the trip drew nearer, I changed to an Eco Tuk tour instead because I thought I'd enjoy the city more when riding in a small intimate vehicle than on a massive bus. I'm not a huge fan of bus tours in general, but sometimes they are easier than other methods so I grudgingly deal with them. Also, it didn't hurt that the Eco Tuk tour mentioned getting to sample a local pastry; I'm always up for trying some local sweets!
After checking in at the table at DLounge, I looked around to see if I could spot anyone I recognized in my tour group. I was thrilled when I saw Kathy and Paul, whom I'd met when I checked in at the Barcelona cruise terminal. I kneeled on the floor to chat with them. It was fun catching up on what they'd been doing.
An Eco Tuk is a small, open air 3-wheeled vehicle; it's basically an environmentally friendly version of a Tuk Tuk. A fleet of them was waiting in a lot outside the ship, and each was meant to carry 4 people (and could theoretically fit 6). As we debarked with the group, Kathy and Paul made sure I was with them and we ended up being the only 3 in ours.
Annoyingly, everyone was sitting and waiting idly in their vehicles for what seemed like a really long time. I was itching to see some new sights beyond the port! Finally we were off... and I was a bit chilled by the breeze hitting the open air vehicle as we traveled. The temperature was probably still in the 60's and I wished I'd brought a jacket. Fortunately, it warmed up to a comfortable 75 so I wasn't cold for long. We were very fortunate to enjoy another day with picture perfect weather.
Our vehicle was driven by a woman- which I thought was pretty kick ass. We were impressed with her skills later when she maneuvered a smooth 3 point u-turn on a very narrow street. She was a wonderful guide- very friendly and eager to share her city with us.
The first part of our trip was on a flat road along the shore of the Tagus River. I was enchanted both by the blue water on my left as well as the colorful old buildings on my right. I quickly discovered another advantage of riding in an open vehicle- I was able to snap better quality photos than if I'd had to take them through the window of a bus.
We stopped in a parking lot while one of the other drivers went into Pasteis de Belem to get our pastries. While waiting, I did some power walking and tried to take as many photos as I could manage. The famous Jeronimos Monastery was nearby, though unfortunately portions of its impressive gothic facade were under scaffolding. Of lesser note, I was amused to see a McDonald's that was housed in a quaint pinkish building.
While walking through Belem park, I was amazed to stumble upon a little Thai pagoda, which I later found out was a 2012 gift from the Thai government to celebrate 500 years since Portuguese arrived in Siam. I'm not used to thinking of Portugal as a world power, but there are constant reminders, particularly around the Belem area, of the country's proud history of exploration in the 15th century.
I returned to the vehicle once and the pastries still weren't there so I walked around some more. On my 2nd trip back, I received a custard tart along with packets of sugar and cinnamon. After taking the obligatory photo, I doused the pastry in the 2 powders... which I later realized to my horror also covered my shirt, bag, and even my camera; It was worse than glitter! But it was a delicious little pastry and I'm very glad I got to sample one. I also got a Coke Zero to drink since I wasn't interested in coffee.
To this point, the tour had felt really disorganized; even our driver, who generally worked with a different company than most of the others, seemed frustrated. All the vehicles were meant to travel together throughout the day, but she got the OK to go rogue along with another Eco Tuk that we eventually realized was driven by her fiance. That was the best decision! Other than requesting a stop at the Hard Rock Cafe, we told her that we trusted her to show us the best sites. From this point onward, the tour was absolutely stellar! It was much better traveling in a group of 2 vehicles than an entire caravan, and I feel that we covered as much territory as possible in our very limited time- enough to feel the flavor of the city, albeit obviously on a surfacey level.
We stayed in Belem for a bit, making a couple of short stops to view the exteriors of the Belem Tower and Monument to the Discoveries, both of which were along the shore of the river. We were told that there was a Mappa Mundi (an old world map) at the latter, and I was puzzled trying to find it until I realized a flock of tourists were standing on top of most of it. My attempts at sending psychic vibes to tell them to get off the world were futile. So I was only able to see a few details in person, but I was glad that one of those sections depicted the Southern portion of Africa including where Namibia is now located. The map honors the age of exploration and includes the dates when Portuguese reached each region. I've subsequently seen photos of the entire map online and it's quite gorgeous.
After leaving Belem, we headed to a hilly area that comprises the heart of the city... and that's where the fun really began! It's almost impossible to describe the visceral joy of riding an Eco Tuk as it zips downhill along tiny, bumpy, cobblestone streets. We were laughing as we compared the experience favorably to Big Thunder Mountain (a mild Disney roller coaster). Navigating the twists and hills was definitely much easier in a small vehicle than it would have been in a tour bus; I'm sure we got to see way more of the city that way. I also felt closer to my surroundings than I would have if I'd seen the city filtered through a tour bus window high above the street.
Our driver obviously pointed out many famous sites and monuments... but I was more taken by the maze of small cobblestone passageways lined by a faded kaleidoscope of anonymous old facades and further colored by a fair amount of graffiti, street art, and murals. I don't know what I expected of the city, but Lisbon was definitely the most pleasant surprise of my stops on this trip. It was a really quaint jewel of a city, and I'd love to return for a more lengthy stay at some point if time allows. (Kathy and Paul were already talking to our driver about making plans to return)
When we stopped at the Hard Rock cafe so some others could go in and buy some trinkets, I took advantage of the free time to walk around and explore the immediate area. I was glad to be able to backtrack a bit to take a photo of the elaborate facade of the Rossio Train Station; I'd been annoyed that I hadn't been able to manage even a halfway decent angle when we'd driven past.
The pinnacle of our tour, quite literally, was at Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, an overlook which offered breathtaking, expansive views of the entire city- from the 25 de April Bridge, which is a twin of the Golden Gate, to Sao Jorge castle. As we lingered a bit in this peaceful and not too crowded area, we each tried some Ginja liquor at the recommendation of our guides; at 2 euros a shot, it wasn't much of a risk. Life feels oh-so-good when you are contentedly sipping delicious cherry flavored alcohol while gazing out at the splendour of a magnificent old European city.
All too soon we were back at the ship saying our goodbyes to our guides- but not before taking photos with them so we could always remember our tour, which had been a ton of fun. Kathy and Paul were awesome company, and- once our driver was able to veer off from the main group- we got a good introduction to the city and its various highlights. I talked later with other people on the ship who'd taken other tours and most of them seemed to feel only lukewarm about their experiences. I feel like I made an excellent choice- the tour was quite expensive (our driver cringed when we told her how much we'd each paid; it's much less to book privately) but it was worth it.
I was very hungry when I boarded the ship at 2:30pm so I headed up on deck to order some chicken fingers and fries. I had a slight problem getting catsup for my fries- the pump on one side was empty so I headed to the other... and had to stop someone from taking away the dispenser there. It was hard to find a seat because a lot of people were also eating lunch after returning from their tours.
After showering and relaxing in my room, it was time for my now typical late afternoon carousel of character and backdrop photos. Today, a few characters were wearing Nordic costumes in honor of the Frozen themed activities which would culminate later in a deck show. While in line, I chatted with some of the same people I'd met the previous day. A cpuple of them mentioned that some photos had been missing from their accounts, so I later wrote down a comprehensive inventory of every photo I'd taken so I could double check that all mine were accounted for. I continued maintaining this master list throughout the cruise and it helped me discover that several pictures needed to be located manually. Also, there were some photos of other families- and inexplicably of the carpet- that I was happy to rid from my account.
I also wandered around the ship filling out the form for "Anna's Chocolate Chase Scavenger Hunt" which promised a surprise the next day for anyone who correctly filled in all the answers. The hunt consisted of 9 clues pointing to different areas of the ship; after identifying the location, you had to go there and find a sign nearby with an icon related to Frozen. Some of the pictures were really hard to find which led to not a small amount of frustration on my part. I literally passed a couple of them at least 3 times before actually seeing the image; one required looking up at the ceiling. When I passed by the Oceaneer Club during my search, one of the cast members called at me excitedly to tell me that they were planning some additional adult activities! Yay! She also helped me a bit with a clue I'd been struggling with. I managed to finish the scavenger hunt, and was rewarded the next day with a chocolate bar.
Someone announced on the loudspeaker when the ship was passing Belem so I went out on deck to view of the sights I'd seen earlier from a different angle. I also went out later to enjoy a lovely sunset. It was getting chilly, but the cold never kept me from trying to capture scenic photographic moments, anyway.
I considered skipping the evening's entertainment, which was "The Juggling and Comedy of Pete Matthews." I mean, juggling and comedy? Sounds totally corny. But he ended up being my favorite of the guest entertainers on the cruise! I was dying of laughter watching his manic, and often unpredictable, antics- one of which involved calling up 4 strong men from the audience to hold up a unicycle. His impressive juggling skills were no joke- but it was the zany humor and his winning personality which totally made the evening for me. I would probably pay to see him again- that's how much I enjoyed the show.
Tonight was our rotational meal at Lumiere's, which is my sentimental favorite of the 3 ship restaurants because it's themed to Beauty and the Beast. As such, the evening's little pre-dessert show featured Belle dancing with the Beast; it was really adorable. For dinner, I had Deep Fried Brie, French Onion Soup, Conchiglie Pasta with lobster, and Grand Mariner souffle. All except my entree were fabulous; the pasta was good, but it wasn't anything spectacular and it could have used some more lobster. I continued to enjoy my awesome table companions; they always made dinner time a highlight of my day.
After eating, I went up on deck for the Freezing the Night Away party. It was already packed, but I found a decent place to stand behind a spotlight on deck 10. Even though Frozen is way overdone in the theme parks, I'm happy with any excuse for a character themed deck party on a cruise. And the song "Let It Go" will always remind me of my bold decision to travel to Antarctica in 2014. It was a nice touch that everyone received illuminated snowflakes that we could wear around our necks to get more into the spirit of the party. Of course, I wore a Frozen themed shirt... and it was a golden opportunity to don the Olaf and Sven hoop earrings I'd purchased in Japan; no one noticed them but they made me happy.
Afterwards, I headed down to Fathoms night club and caught an encore performance of Edge Effect which was fun; most of the performers did a more intimate late night show there the day after their mainstage performance. I was glad I'd managed to get to the venue so quickly- the room was packed! I stayed for the Club Frozen after party with high hopes that it would a fun way to end my night. But the event turned out to be disappointingly lame- just some dancing with trivia questions to earn free drinks. I didn't see anyone I knew and I left pretty quickly. It was much more enjoyable to wind down my night watching some Disney movies, including Frozen and Princess and the Frog, on my stateroom TV.
After waking up to my alarm at 7:30am, I stepped outside onto my veranda to take in the gentle colors of the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean. I took a few moments to enjoy the beauty of the nascent day before returning inside to get ready.
One of the free activities I'd reserved in advance was the VIP Character Breakfast which I had scheduled for 8:15am. Sarah, from my dinner table, also had scheduled the same breakfast for a little later so when I checked in at Animator's Palate, I asked if she'd arrived. She hadn't, but when she did a few minutes later, she was escorted to the table where I'd been seated with 2 couples.
"Mickey Waffles and Crispy Bacon" was turning out to be the Disney Cruise alternative to my "scrambled eggs and crispy bacon" breakfasts in Namibia. The food came super quickly, and was followed in short turn by Minnie, Goofy and Mickey. It was quite possibly the speediest character breakfast in the history of Disney character breakfasts. I found the overall experience slightly disappointing, and was surprised that they didn't even have professional photographers available. But since it was free, it was certainly worth the price and a nice change of pace.
Since we were done so quickly, we decided to head over to "Good Morning Disney Magic" which is the ship's version of a morning TV talk show that was hosted by Cruise Director Lesley and Assistant Cruise Director Lee. Held with a live audience at Fathoms, the show was also broadcast on stateroom TV's both live and then throughout the day. I was excited that Pete Matthews, the juggler/comedian from the previous night's show, appeared as a guest. He was even more zany in this completely unscripted platform than he'd been on his mainstage show; at one point, Lesley jokingly mouthed "help" because he was so out of control. I wonder what he's like in real life- if he's one of those guys who is really more sedate, or even sad, when not in front of an audience.
I noticed that signs were already up for the Snuggly Duckling takeover of O'Gills so I headed over to the bar to take advantage of the early hour to photograph the decorations without having people in the way. For those who may not be experts in their Disney movies- The Snuggly Duckling is a pub that is featured in the animated feature, Tangled. To continue the theme of the Tangled stage show that would be performed at night, the ship also re-did one of the pubs like the Snuggly Duckling for the day. I thought the touches were really cute, and looked forward to returning later at night.
At 11am, I attended another "Improv 101" class. As soon as I arrived, Greg (the instructor) mentioned that a mutual friend had messaged him and told him she knew me. I guess he knew that she did improv at home so he asked me if I did, too. It should have been super apparent that NO, I have NEVER done improv anywhere. But I suppose it's possible he thought I was just the world's worst ever improv performer. In any case, I laughed and set him straight.
There were some new people at this improv session, so we started off by recapping our discussion of improv and repeating some of the games that involved tossing an imaginary ball. But then we went on to some new games, one of which was called "What are you doing?" In this game, you would mime an activity; the next person would ask what you were doing and you'd have to tell them something completely different which they would then act out. It was fun to be a little more physical. I still had moments of fear and wondering why the heck I'd signed up for it, but the group continued to be supportive and it was a highlight of my day once again. Sometimes it's good to stretch yourself in a different direction.
My busy day continued with a 12:15pm Champagne Tasting. I'd signed up for it with high hopes of becoming super cultured and knowledgeable about all things bubbly. But I couldn't tell you a damn thing more now than I knew going in. Sure, I took notes about how one was supposed to be "floral/ creamy/ sweet" and another had "raspberries and a floral note" but if I'd been quizzed afterwards, I'd have totally failed. The bottom line is that I tried 5 different champagnes and enjoyed 4 of them enough to finish the glass. Cheers! Also I think this was the tasting where I sat with someone I'd met at my Palo brunch, which was cool.
What do you do at 1pm after you've had 4.5 glasses of champagne? You head up to deck 9 to get some more of the addictively yummy chicken nuggets and fries from Pete's Boiler Bites. I also watched some of Lilo and Stitch on Funnelvision. It felt good to finally have a couple hours to just relax and not do anything bloggable.
At 3pm, I headed down to the lobby for a "Mickey & Friends" character meet. I didn't know what exactly to expect, but I had nothing better to do. And, hey, I'd already paid for the full package of photos. My head almost exploded when I saw 6 characters come downstairs in the Spanish outfits they'd worn 2 days earlier; they were all posing together for the photo! What made the moment even more amazing is that the background music was playing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"; there is no other song which could have fit my state of mind more perfectly. I thought of my friend Heather who loves Disney characters and wished she could have been there.
Giddy with happiness over my unusual photo opportunity, I walked 2 laps around deck 4 to get some exercise. Then I went into the shops and bought a few things I'd been eyeing; I'd waited a couple days just to be sure I really wanted them.
Since the evening was themed to Tangled, I decided to wear an orange accented purple dress which I felt in some ways evoked the spirit of Rapunzel. I only remember wearing it once previously to a wedding, about 10 years earlier; I hadn't thought it looked that great on me but it surprisingly still fit so I brought it along. I'm not sure what the deal was the first time I wore it, but I was so glad I'd taken a chance on packing it because I loved how flattering it was now! It was possibly my favorite outfit of the entire cruise; it made me feel feminine and attractive and just generally seemed to suit my personality. I enjoyed feeling glam for my usual late afternoon photo sessions, which included Minnie and Daisy in Bavarian/German costumes in honor of Tangled.
As mentioned, the evening's entertainment was "Tangled: The Musical" which replaced "Villains Tonight!" (a favorite of my nieces) in 2015. It was my first time seeing the show and I really enjoyed it. The show featured some new songs in addition to the ones from the movie.
Afterwards I headed to O'Gills for the Snuggly Duckling takeover. I didn't see anyone I knew so I sat by myself and was later joined by 4 Germans who were friendly, but who really didn't talk much to me. I wanted to get a drink and, after much deliberation, I decided on the Chilled Leprechaun which was described as "O'Gills Irish Cream Liqueur, Kahlua Coffee Liqueur, Ketel One Vodka and Vanilla Ice Cream". It was super yummy, but obviously not for people who aren't fond of sweet drinks.
I went to the early/family version of the Snuggly Duckling takeover because I had other plans after dinner. I'm not sure if the later one was any better, but I was a bit disappointed in the one I attended which was shorter than the half hour that had been advertised. The event started out with a game of "Thug-o" which is basically Bingo with different letters at the top of the board, and character pictures instead of numbers. Sarah apparently won but she said the prize was super lame- a scratch off tattoo. The game was followed by a couple sing-a-longs- "I've Got a Dream" (from Tangled) and "Thug-o was his name-o" (takeoff on the Bingo song). And... that was it. The implementation of the visual theme was way more impressive to me than the actual activity.
For dinner, we headed to Animator's Palate and ordered off the "Transatlantic" Menu. I selected the Warm Cheddar Cheese and Applewood Smoked Bacon Tartlet, Cold Avocado Corn Soup, and Palo's Grilled Salmon- all of which were very good. For dessert, I had the White Chocolate Panna Cotta which was not thrilling.
A bunch of my tablemates and I were excited because kids clubs were again open for an adult exclusive activity after dinner. This time we were in the Oceaneer Lab (as opposed to the Oceaneer Club) which also had a nifty hand washing machine for our enjoyment and cleanliness. We were painting animation cells and we had a choice of either tracing them ourselves or using pre-made outlines; all of the people sitting near me decided on the latter because otherwise it was too much work. Also, we all opted to wear disposable aprons just to be prudent.
It should be no surprise that I chose Belle for my animation cell. The people sitting near me and I had a lot of fun laughing about things like the baby poop colored paint, and cracking jokes about how they should be serving wine. But I also felt a little stressed about trying to focus on staying in the lines, getting the colors right, and finishing in time. It was a great time but it was probably my least favorite of my activities in the kids clubs because it simply wasn't as entertaining as the other options. Not that I'm complaining- I appreciated the rare opportunity to sit in the kids clubs and paint animation cells.
As I got ready for bed (and turned my clocks back an hour... although I eventually realized I didn't actually save the camera time. D'oh.), I contemplated how I'd been so busy that I couldn't fit in everything I wanted to do; for example, I still had not been able to take a photo with Stitch- the only time he was out that day was when I was busy painting animation cells. I also had to miss the encore performance of Pete Matthews for the same reason.
I'd reached the mid-point of my vacation, with one week left to go. I was excited for the next day's stop at the Azores, for some more sea days... and of course for the day in St. Johns, Newoundland which drew ever nearer. I had big plans for St Johns, to stay off the ship as long as possible and, one way or another, participate in a Screech In ceremony. I told myself that this trip may not be as meaningful as Namibia, but it was cool in a different way.
When I awoke to my 7am alarm, the ship was pulling into the port of Ponta Delgada on the São Miguel island of the Azores. For those who are geographically challenged: the Azores are a group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that are considered to be an autonomous region of Portugal. Gazing out from my veranda, I saw the inviting view of a cute town backed by a dramatic cascade of green hills.
As usual, I went up to deck 9 to take more photos and to enjoy a breakfast of Mickey waffles. The sun was rising on another beautiful day and I was excited to check in for my tour. Next to St. John's, this was the port I'd most eagerly anticipated. I just wished we could stayed later than our scheduled 2pm departure.
I'd had a difficult time deciding on my Azores tour. I'd originally booked an excursion called Best of West with Wine and Cheese, which promised some beautiful views. But, after much deliberation and angst, I ended up changing it to Highlights of the Ribeira Grande. The latter tour also offered wine and cheese (even though they were not included in the title), so refreshments had no factor in my decision. I think in the end, I chose my tour because it was just a tad longer and was labeled "moderate" activity rather than "mild". It also seemed to offer a more diverse experience- In addition to some beautiful views of a different area of the island, the itinerary also included visiting a town and a Lusitano horse farm.
I was excited to see Emma and Scott in my tour group. Emma was one of the people I'd met while waiting to board the ship, but I hadn't seen her much since then. I'd also enjoyed some of her Facebook posts on the group page before the trip. I sat in front of them on the bus, and it was fun to chat a bit throughout the day.
I've mentioned before that I don't like the herd mentality of bus tours, so I did not have the highest expectations. But it ended up being a pretty great experience overall... I feel like the Azores are so beautiful that it would be really hard not to enjoy a day there. After leaving the pier, our bus weaved its way up beautifully lush green mountains on a small road that was peppered with hydrangeas, cows, and other such quaint sights. Our tour guide remarked how lucky we were to have such beautiful weather since usually the island is uncharacteristically overcast whenever cruise ships are in port.
We made 2 brief stops at one of the highest points of the island which overlooked Fogo Lake, a huge crater lake that was breathtaking. The lighting wasn't ideal but I did my best to capture the natural beauty. Opposite the lake were some amazing views of the island below; you could even see our ship as a tiny dot in the distance. I would have loved to have been able to spend more time hiking around the lake, but that obviously wasn't possible given our time constraints.
After a short drive, our second stop was Caldeira Velha, a beautiful little geopark famous for its hot springs. Unfortunately we didn't have time to submerge ourselves in the warm waters, but I enjoyed walking around and observing the beautiful little area. It was interesting seeing one pool of water where the signs cautioned that the water was boiling; obviously, no one was allowed to enter that one.
Our 3rd stop brought us to the town of Ribeira Grande, the 2nd largest city on the island. After a guided visit inside the Nossa Senhora da Estelha church, we had free time on our own. This was my favorite part of the tour because I was able to wander streets that were lined with colorful little buildings, and to search out the most photogenic angles. I got so caught up in exploring that I ended up panicking a bit when I realized I should have already been heading back to the bus. On my rush back, which was naturally punctuated by quick stops to shoot photos, I ran into Liesbeth. I could barely say hi because I was in such a hurry. I wasn't that late but, nonetheless, I was the very last person back to the bus and they were waiting for me. It felt awful to be that person who delays the whole group; I've never been in that position before. But I don't regret any of the moments I stole to enjoy my walk around the town.
Finally, we headed to Quinta Pico da Cruz, a farm where Lusitano horses were bred. We visited the stable where the family who owned the farm told us about the horses. After a short visit, we walked across the pathway to a small cottage where we were greeted with a lovely display of wines and cheeses. I tried all 5 of the cheeses, and also brought glasses of each of the 3 wines (red/ white/ rose) to the table. It felt funny to be carrying 3 glasses of wine, but I wanted to try all of them. I think my favorite cheeses were the one with herbs, garlic and parsley as well as the spreadable soft cheese. It was a tasty and relaxing way to cap off the tour.
As we finished eating, 2 of the family's sons showed off a couple of the horses in a small area just outside. I totally regretted giving up my initial window seat when I returned with my food. Ah, well. It was cool seeing the horses outside; they almost seemed to dance to some of the music that was playing. And I totally got figure skating vibes when a couple of them pranced to the tune of Nessun Dorma. At the end, one of the riders came back with his toddler son seated in front of him on a horse- so cute! Hopefully the little boy will want to continue the family tradition; otherwise he may be in for a challenging life.
After a pleasant drive that included seeing a bit of the port town of Ponta Delgada, we were back at the dock around 1:35pm. The line to get back on the ship was scary long; all of the excursions must have wrapped up at around the same time. By the time I got onboard, I just barely made it to deck 9 in time to grab a vanilla/chocolate soft serve ice cream cone before the 2pm Sail Away Party. I was excited to be sailing across the Atlantic- next stop in Newfoundland in just 3 short days!
The deck show featured dancing and characters and everyone having fun partying. And then suddenly, the music ceased and the voice of God- or at least Captain Marco- was broadcast over the loudspeakers. As I recall, those "onstage" didn't seem to know exactly what to do.
I listened intently and curiously. Why would the show be interrupted? Something about hurricanes- but weren't they further south? No, he couldn't be saying that they were canceling the stop in St. John's, Newfoundland. That just couldn't be right. I mean, the Magic skipped Newfoundland the last time they were scheduled to go there- it couldn't happen again. I had to get screeched in!
As the music and character dancing resumed, the Captain's words sunk in and I felt numb. My dream of visiting Newfoundland and getting screeched in as an honorary Newfoundlander, in a fun ceremony as is depicted in my current favorite musical "Come From Away", would not be coming true that week. Instead, we were going to have 4 straight days at sea before spending our last night docked in NYC. I went through the motions of taking photos of the show but only because I needed to do something while trying to mentally process the unfortunate plot twist facing me.
Once I was able to finally accept the news, I wished that we could have stayed an extra day in beautiful Ponta Delgada... or maybe stopped somewhere in Maine... almost anything that would be new and fun would have been preferable. An extra day in NYC may have been great for people who live far away, but it wasn't anything special for someone like me who goes there all the time. Even if I hadn't had my heart set so strongly on Newfoundland, I would have been disappointed in that itinerary change. It felt a bit like I was wasting my precious vacation time on 6 more days which wouldn't take me anywhere new. All my exploration was suddenly behind me. On a more practical note, I'd planned to get most people presents from Newfoundland so now I'd be returning empty handed.
I want to be 100% clear that even though my heart sunk with disappointment, I trusted that the captain made the best decision he could for the safety of the passengers. I had no thought of second guessing him or of complaining to Disney. I won't pretend that it didn't flat out suck for me... but I realized that no one was at fault. Sometimes, no matter how much we may commit our full hearts to wanting something, it just isn't meant to be. Once the initial sting started to wear off, I wanted to make the best of the predicament and to enjoy the new itinerary as much as possible.
After the party, I retreated to my room where I'm sure some tears were shed. But eventually I dressed up for the evening and for my daily late afternoon character photos. When I saw that Daisy Duck was posing in her tropical costume, I felt like my pink dress clashed with her attire. So I went back to my room for a quick change before the next photo session. Apparently this was my life- obsessing over trying to get the perfect character photos. An added benefit of my afternoon photo sessions was that I found it therapeutic to hug the characters; after the day's disappointment, I needed to feel some warm embraces and I couldn't exactly go up to random people asking for one.
The evening's show was AbbaFab, an Abba tribute band featuring a mother/son pair. I was pleased when they actually encouraged the audience to take photos; typically, they were forbidden. Objectively speaking, they were great. Unfortunately, I just wasn't in the mood to fully commit to upbeat entertainment just yet. But I did manage to smile when I noticed a violinist in the atrium playing Star Wars music before dinner.
For dinner, we were back in Carioca's, this time ordering off of the "Vista" menu. I started out with the Handmade California Roll which was a large circumference sushi roll that just didn't appeal to me; I should have known better than ordering mass produced sushi. The Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Whole Wheat Linguine with Cod were much better. But the real star of the meal was the bread service: San Francisco Sourdough Loaf with a delicious Sun-dried Tomato Dip. None of the offerings on dessert menu enticed me so I ordered ice cream. I was hoping I could get Mint Chocolate Chip since it's available in Cabanas but I had to settle on Chocolate. And now apparently chocolate ice cream is my official ice cream of travel days gone wrong. (see Namibia blog for another example)
After dinner I headed up to deck 9 for the Atlantic Pool Party; this was the only occasion when I spent any appreciable time in the adult pool area. In essence, the idea of the party was for as many ship staff as possible to end up in the pool fully clothed. There was a silly game involving guests... that resulted in staffers having to jump into the pool. Crew members also lip synced and danced... and ended up in the pool. Some jumped in the pool voluntarily, others were thrown in. It was pretty fun to watch- the kind of silly entertainment that was perfectly suited to cheer me up. Part of me wanted to join the guests who were splashing around in the pool with the crew, but I was still wearing a nice dress and holding my DSLR camera so it wasn't practical.
For the 2nd straight day, we turned out clocks back an hour before going to sleep. I went to bed trying not to obsess on the disappointment of missing Newfoundland, and hoping to enjoy the upcoming 4 consecutive sea days. Moping around and dwelling on the itinerary change wouldn't bring me any closer to Canada; it would just make me miserable. The shock was lessening and it was time to move on as best as possible.
For a change, I didn't set an alarm but I nonetheless ended up waking up at an early 6:30am. I lazed in bed until around 8am thinking about travel and life. Mostly, I pondered how my trip to Namibia may have ruined me because everything I've done subsequently seems to pale in comparison. I'd been trying so hard to love this vacation as much as my previous one... but even the strongest, most positive determination that this would be the best trip ever could not truly make it so. When the St. John's stop was canceled, it really sealed the fact that this trip could never come close to approaching the apex of Namibia for me.
Still, I'd been having a great time and there was still a lot of fun to be had in the coming days. I didn't want to dwell on negatives. I decided to wear my "Come From Away" t-shirt since I no longer needed to save it for Newfoundland. I love the show, and the shirt, and figured it would make me feel happy to be wearing it.
I had breakfast at Cabanas at around 8:30am- Mickey Waffles, of course. Then I went to Fathoms for another episode of "Good Morning Disney Magic" and I was happy to run into Sarah. Each day on the cruise, there was a challenge to correctly identify the location on the ship of a bunch of photos. On the show, they would draw a winner from all the correct entries that had been submitted. Assistant Cruise Director Lee decided to ask a young girl in the front row to select the winning entry sheet. Well... he startled that girl and made her cry, which ended up being a running joke for the rest of the cruise. I am sure he felt awful! The guests this morning included the members AbbaFab, who had performed the previous night. The youngest of them was proudly sporting a very unique Ironman suit; obviously, he was not the kind of person who wanted to fade into a crowd.
After someone online had suggested it to me, I went to the Internet desk and asked if I could get more data on my package. Because of the change in itinerary, I'd been spending a lot of time online to research what to do in NYC... including searching unsuccessfully for "Come From Away" tickets.... many times. They were kind enough to add some more time to my package, though it still didn't end up being enough to cover the rest of the cruise.
At 12:15, I had a reservation for another beverage tasting seminar: "Stem-to-Stern Wine Tasting." As soon as I arrived in Keys Lounge, I spotted a couple people I knew but the cast member steered me away from their table because the other 2 spots were reserved. Fortunately, before I could feel disappointed, my friends saw me and told the cast member that I was one of the people for whom they'd been saving seats! It was fun sitting with Sarah, Peter, and Liesbeth. I didn't even make a charade of taking notes- all you really need to know is wine + good people = awesome. Also, it was a nice touch that we were each presented with a little pin to commemorate the tasting.
The wine seminar was done in time to head to the 1pm session of "Improv 101". At one point, we went around the circle doing word association. When I received the word "antlers", I didn't miss a beat and responded with "Gaston"; I mean, he uses antlers in all of his decorating. I got some laughs, and Greg paused the activity to remark that only on a Disney cruise would anyone give such a response. Except I probably would have said the same regardless of the crowd... Especially when I'd just imbibed 5 (small) glasses of wine. It was another fun session, and I tentatively signed up for the class performance in a couple days... despite part of me wondering why on earth I was doing so.
Due to my activities, I had a bit of a late lunch again. I decided on more comfort food: chicken tenders with fries. It was a bit rainy out, so I brought the meal back from the pool deck to my room.
At 2:30, there was a "Mickey & Friends" character session in the atrium. After the amazing experience at the previous one, there was no way I was going to miss this- even though I hadn't quite finished my lunch. I left some of my food for later and went downstairs to get in line. Today the characters were in their pirate costumes! Unfortunately, I still was not dressed in my pirate-y outfit which would have made the photo even cuter. Ah well.
Speaking of my attire... I'd decided about 2 days before I left that an old black and white dress would be a cool outfit for pirate night.... except I felt that it needed some kind of red scarf accent for my hair. I set out for the mall the night before I left and thankfully found an accessory which was useable. I added my Beauty and the Beast red rose earrings... because they matched and why not. I admired my look in the mirror and took some selfies; I was pleased that I looked like a super cute pirate wench.
Feeling sassy, I set off to take photos with as many characters and backdrops as I could. I loved how so many of my fellow guests were dressed up too; our cruise was full of veteran cruisers and quite a lot of people got into the theme of the night. And I was thrilled to finally get a photo with Stitch, who I also later saw dancing in the atrium.
The evening entertainment was "The Music and Comedy of John Charles". Unfortunately, this was a huge miss with me... it was the only show I kinda regret seeing. He was a likable guy, and he was pleasant enough when he'd been on the morning show earlier. But it seemed like he mainly walked around the audience with his guitar asking for suggestions, only some of which he went with. I regret to say that I didn't find much humor in the evening.
When the show was mercifully over, I quickly headed up for my dinner at Palo. I'd had a great meal there with my mom in 1998 and I was eagerly looking forward to an encore... especially to the famously delicious soufflé!
Everything started out great, although I felt a little weird being one of the only guests there who was dressed for pirate night. Noticing that my waiter was from South Africa, I gushed about how much I'd enjoyed my 2012 trip to his home country. He seemed a little phony in the way he was over-ingratiating himself to me but I don't need to become BFF's with my servers or anything. After I ordered, he brought out an anipasti cart from which I selected a variety of delicious meats and cheeses.
And then... fate took a cruel twist. All of a sudden, I felt motion sickness begin to overcome me. Because I wasn't feeling so well, nothing seemed very appetizing. What made things worse is that I'd felt fine when I'd placed my order... and the items I ordered, such as Calamari and Butternut Agnolotti, were rather heavy and couldn't have been more unsuited to eating when your stomach is feeling a bit off. I could barely manage to pick at the plates of gorgeous food that were presented to me. I felt even worse knowing that I was wasting my opportunity to dine at Palo, not to mention the $30 cover charge.
Over the course of the evening, I told several cast members that I wasn't feeling well. My server brought me some ginger ale but I felt overall that he was surprisingly poorly equipped to deal with my problem; I can't have been the first person to feel seasick in the venue and I'm sure I won't be the last. One of the head waiters came over and offered to let me come back another time- but I really preferred having dinner with my tablemates; dining alone, I found that I acutely missed their company. Plus, he made no mention of any discount and I certainly didn't want to spend another $30 to return. It was only later that I wondered why no one offered to have the chef make me something simpler, like pasta and butter. At the time, I wasn't thinking very logically... I didn't even think of running down to my cabin to get a Dramamine.
When I heard a violinist play the song "Memory" which felt oh-so-cheesy, I decided that I must be trapped in a really bad comedy sketch. I felt like I didn't belong at a meal that should have been a highlight of my trip... rather than a lowlight. Everyone else, including Cruise Director Lesley, seemed to be having a much better time. My server remained over-the-top in all of his interactions which increasingly grated on my nerves. The biggest tragedy of the night- if not the entire cruise- is that I could barely even touch my much anticipated chocolate soufflé. Somehow, I managed to (very slowly) finish my Bellini over the course of the evening; I was very determined that I should not pay $12 for a cocktail in vain.
I was hoping that since I'd literally only eaten about a dozen bites of food (not counting the antipasti) that maybe they'd offer to take off some, if not all, of the $30 up-charge for the meal. But no. After I grudgingly signed my check, the sweetest older couple came over and offered to help walk me to my room. I guess they'd overheard me talking to the waiter about not feeling well. I assured them that I'd be fine, but I was really touched that they offered more genuine concern than any of the Palo staff.
I'd scheduled my dinner so that it would be done in time for the Pirates in the Caribbean deck party which I always enjoy. I mean, who doesn't like seeing fireworks... especially from a cruise ship? But when I got back to my room at around 9:40, I was done. After taking a Dramamine, I just wanted to lie down and not move. So unfortunately, after going through all the trouble to dress in a cute, vaguely pirate-esque costume, I missed the main activity. Instead, I turned my clock back and went to sleep early. At least I'll always have some cute photos.
Once again, I didn't set an alarm. However, I was rather rudely awakened at 7 by an annoying beeping sound from a Wave phone, one of the small phones Disney provides for families to keep in touch. I never used them, and the phone appeared to be fully charged so I called Guest Services to report the problem. They just told me to take out the battery, and never did anything further with it. The battery sat idly on the desk for the rest of the cruise.
I took a Dramamine as a preventive measure. I felt better, but I still wasn't hungry so I skipped breakfast. Instead, I went to a character greeting with Minnie and Daisy.
When I passed by my stateroom host in the hall and he asked me how I was (as he always did), I mentioned the Wave phone as well as the previous night's dinner. I get the distinct feeling that cast members on the ship are highly trained on inquiring about how a guest is doing, but receive little training on how to respond if the guest doesn't offer a positive reply. I mean, he seemed sympathetic... just thrown off by my answer.
By now, "Good Morning Disney Magic" had become entrenched as part of my daily routine for days at sea. Today, Assistant Cruise Director Lee brought a stuffed Mickey Mouse for the girl he'd made cry the previous day. Greg, who teaches improv, was one of the guests. It was fun to hear more about Greg's job which includes overseeing the entertainment on the Disney ships. When he was asked about new offerings, he quipped that they'd be starting a new program called Scaring Small Children with Lee. Captain Marco was also a guest- he was there to discuss the updated itinerary.
I finally started to feel hungry at 10:45, after I'd attended a couple more character meets including another one with Stitch. I decided to order chicken fingers and chocolate chip cookies as an early lunch from room service. I was amazed that my food was delivered in only 15 minutes. Room service was free on the ship, although added what I felt was a generous tip.
At 12:15, I had the last of my alcoholic beverage seminars, "Chocolate & Liquor Tasting"... which could have more accurately been called "Cheese and Chocolate Paired With Wine"- usually they have a tad more variety in the beverages that are served. I took some sketchy notes, but I'm not going to even bother with them. Let's leave it as chocolate and wine are 2 great things so they are even more fun together... and the touch of parmigiano reggiano cheese was yummy too. Also, I was so glad that I felt so much better so that I could enjoy the event.
Another sea day... another 1pm improv session. I started to get lazy about taking notes after the Azores, so I can't remember too many details. I am pretty certain that I played a game of Jeopardy, where 3 people would each choose from 3 occupations suggested by the audience and then create questions in character after the audience shouted out answers. I think I was an engineer or inventor, and my take on the character was that she was a serious overachieving feminist know-it-all... the latter part would have been more convincing if I'd tried to respond to all the clues, but we'll ignore that fact. The final category (for which everyone created a question just like on the TV show) was 2017 films with the answer being "Beauty and the Beast"; my question was something along the lines of "What movie didn't I take my kids to see because I was too busy working?" Greg gave me some good feedback that I should focus more on how I physically carry myself. I'd actually tried to do that, but clearly had not succeeded. Have I mentioned that I kinda am not-so-good at Improv?
The end of the class including the moment of truth when we could commit to performing in front of actual guests the following night. Despite my obvious lack of talent, I signed up to do "What are you doing?" And also "Jeopardy". Why not totally embarrass myself twice? Actually, I had a lot of fun with the class and just getting up on stage would be a triumph. Some of the participants had more performing/ improv experience, but I tried not to compare myself to them.
In the late afternoon, I changed into the pink dress that I'd quickly abandoned a couple nights earlier when I'd felt it clashed with the characters' tropical outfits. Thankfully, it worked fine with the today's characters, including a few princesses. I was surprised when I reviewed my phone and discovered that a character handler had taken video of me dancing with Goofy and Pluto.
I was excited to see the evening show "Twice Charmed: An original twist on the Cinderella story" because it was the one offering that hadn't been presented on the 2 night Magic cruise I took with my nieces in 2012. The premise of the show is that a Wicked Fairy Godfather named Franco, at the urging of Lady Tremaine, turns time back to before Cinderella fit into the slipper and got her happy ending. I thought it was cute and very entertaining.
Our dinner was at Animator's Palate and I was excited to find out that, on longer cruises, the restaurant now features a 2nd show where you could draw your own character and then see it come to life. I knew they had this show on the Fantasy, and it was a wonderful surprise to be able to enjoy it on my cruise! When we arrived, each place was set with a paper showing an empty outline that you were supposed to fill with a drawing of your own creation. After giving us time to complete our artworks, the servers collected all the sketches and, before dessert, we were treated to a really nifty show on one of the screens that used the drawings from our section of the room. It was adorable to see groups of hand-drawn characters dancing and frolicking with each other (and with Disney characters) to music including the Sorcerer's Apprentice and Friend Like Me. Touches like this charming show are what make a Disney cruise so special.
Dinner used the "World of Flavour" menu. Usually nights with Draw Your Own character offer a more limited menu with a single appetizer plate given to all; I guess this is to save time. However, we had a full menu- possibly because they had to juggle the days when our itinerary change. I ordered the Norwegian Trio of Salmon, the Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup, and English Cod Bristol. Obviously, I had to get the cod because of my obsession with "Come From Away." For dessert, I tried the Irish Warm Guinness Pudding which, like many of the desserts, didn't thrill me.
After dinner, a bunch of us went up to the Oceaneer Lab for another adult exclusive. This time, the theme was Super Sloppy Science. A green haired woman named Professor Make-O-Mess led us in a fun-filled evening of making flubber, which is a gelatinous substance that is sort of like stretchy, gooey play-doh. As with Toy Story Boot Camp, we were treated like children which added to the fun. The end of the night included a pledge which in which lines such as those promising not to put the flubber in mom and dad's stuff were quickly replaced with more suitable alternatives.
We didn't get to measure out the ingredients (including glue and borax) ourselves, so it wasn't our faults when none of our flubber... came out quite right. The staff made new flubber for anyone who wanted it. But unfortunately the one they gave me was way too sticky. So I passed on bringing any home with me. Despite the fact that I didn't return with a souvenir, the activity was super fun and well worth the time.
It was another night of setting the clock back an hour... I wish we could do that in real life more than once a year. 25 hour days are really awesome.
This was the day that was supposed to be the highlight of my trip, when we were supposed to be docked in St John's, Newfoundland. Instead, I awoke at 7:45am to a beautiful, warm day surrounded by calm seas that extended infinitely into the distance. Since we hadn't headed on a Northernly route to Newfoundland, I ended up not needing any of the heavier clothing I'd packed. That was the one and only perk of our itinerary change.
I think I skipped breakfast again which means the first thing I did was head to "Good Morning Disney Magic" Today the show featured the head of HR and it was surprisingly interesting to hear about his job. He was from PA and got a applause from some of the audience every time he mentioned places from his background. When he talked about having worked at Sesame Place, I just had to clap even though I was the only one. Yeah, I've only been there once many years ago... but I pass by it all the time and it was freaking cool to hear a local place get a shout out.
I tried to get a photo with Max Goof but unfortunately, the app had inaccurate information so I ended up with another shot with Pluto. This would be a good time to finally mention that there is a Disney Cruise Line app that you can use on the ship without incurring any data charges. The app includes all sorts of great things; the most useful to me were the schedule of events and the restaurant menus, but there were other interesting features including a way to send textual messages to your travel mates- with cute Disney emoticons, of course. This was my first Disney cruise since the app was available and it was pretty great- though it might have been fun if you could were able to use it to get some information in advance of your cruise. At any rate, it was usually accurate- the glaring exception being times for Max to meet.
At 10:15, I decided to attend an Anyone Can Cook seminar since I'd heard good things about them. Unfortunately, I probably didn't pick the greatest one to try... the chef was demonstrating how to craft beautiful table decorations out of sugar and marzipan so there weren't any samples or anything practical that I could learn. (not that I really cook anyway) Also, there were a couple kids there despite the event being labeled Adults Only so the cast members had to kindly tell them to leave. It was interesting to see how the chef crafted the decorations, though.
At 11:30, I attended a Mainstage Q & A in O'Gills. This event included a number of cast members who perform in the Disney stage shows, such as Tangled and Twice Charmed. They talked a little about themselves and their background, and answered questions. However, they were not allowed to answer which specific roles they each played. As someone who loves theatre, I really enjoyed hearing about their experiences. Although I kinda wish they had something similar with backstage/tech people because that could potentially be useful since I have 2 nieces who love working on shows.
Take 3 guesses what I had for lunch today.... yup, chicken tenders and fries once again! I sat on deck, enjoying the lovely day, as I ate them. Muppet Treasure Island was on the Funnelvision though I wasn't paying close attention.
Today's Mickey & Friends photo opportunity featured the characters in their nautical costumes. Once again, it was amazing to have the chance to get photos with so many characters at once. Plus, I kept getting tons of compliments all day on my Up t-shirt, which was super fun. I felt like I was in some alternate reality where I was a fashionista; at home, I don't dress up much and I'm not used to getting attention for my clothes... at least, not since Junior High, although then it was mostly negative attention.
At 3, I headed back to O'Gills for a session about Disney Theme Parks Innovations. The presentation was primarily focused on how Disneyland was innovative for its time and, disappointingly, not on the latest technology. But it was still cool, and I especially enjoyed the vintage photos and video. The topics discussed included: Single Entrance, The Berm, Hub and Spoke layout, Forced Perspective, Presentation Innovation, Ride Vehicle Innovation, Transportation Innovations, Audio-Animatronics, and Destination Resort (this was obviously about WDW).
Then I went up on deck to get a small cone of chocolate soft serve... basically because I could. A little later, I headed to the evening's main performance which was a concert by Drew Seeley as part of the "Stars Set Sail" series. I've seen articles about many past Disney cruises that featured amazing performers I'd seen on Broadway and had hoped I'd get a chance to enjoy a great theatrtical talent on my cruise. Though he's been in a couple Broadway shows, I'd never seen Drew perform and was curious what he would bring to the stage. It was an entertaining show, but I found him a little generic.
And then, at 7:45pm, it was suddenly time for my first Improv performance of the cruise. This one was open to both children and adults. I hadn't dressed up for the night because I thought that pants would give me more flexibility to move during my performance, and Greg had told us to wear bright colors. I was really nervous, but I was touched to see that so many of my tablemates turned out to watch me make a fool of myself... err, to support me. My fellow performers and I huddled together to go over the plan, and Greg provided a comforting presence.
My first sketch of the night was the "What are you doing?" game that I'd described in one of our classes. I have absolutely no recollection of what I did or said for this, although I seem to remember being disappointed in my choices. Ah, well.
Our second game was Jeopardy. The occupations that the audience selected for us were Veterinarian, something else (car dealer?), Professional Quilter, and Undersea Basket Weaver. There was a youngish girl in our group so of course we let her choose first and she picked Veterinarian. A guy picked the profession I can't remember. So it was up to me and another woman to choose between the latter 2 options, neither of which were particularly appealing. I went with Quilter; the other woman wasn't too happy with what she was left with, but she has more improv experience than me. Anyway, I started out lamely miming sewing because of course someone would be making a quilt while on a game show... except not really. My best moment was in Final Jeopardy. I have no idea the clue (maybe it was Wonder Woman?)... all I remember is that I replied with "What is the theme of my most recent quilt?" then paused for a good beat and added with the biggest fake smile I could muster "...now on sale for $19.99 on [ebay or etsy or some such venue]" I was pronounced the winner, which shocked me.
And then it was over. I had fun, and enjoyed being on stage although I know I could have done better. I don't think I'm being too overly self critical by saying that; it's really tough to be great at something the very first time you try it so obviously there was plenty of room for growth. Greg said he was proud of us- or at least I think he did; if he didn't, I'll just live with my alternate memory. We had a chance to perform again the next night, which would be adults only. I decided to change things up and sign up for the interview show, which I'd never had a chance to attempt in class... because why not try a new thing in front of actual live people?
At dinner, which was at Carioca's, I really needed a drink. Fortunately, the "Prince and Princess" menu offered an alcoholic beverage called "Enchanted" which would probably have appealed to me for its name alone. Described as "Absolut Vanilla, Orange-Passion Juice, fresh Lemon and Grapefruit Juice", it definitely hit the spot. I also ordered the Royal Marinated Salmon appetizer which was very good. None of the main entrees appealed to me, so I decided to order off the children's menu for the first time of the cruise. Yes, I ordered an adult beverage with a kids' meal- maybe it averaged out? Anyway, I was quite pleased with the pasta with turkey Bolognese sauce- definitely not fancy, but solid comfort food. I think they gave me an adult sized portion which was nice. For dessert, I had Prince Charming's Flourless Chocolate Cake which, as usual for the desserts, was just ok.
Tonight there was another adult open house, but it once again was Animation Cells, which none of us wanted to repeat. We went up to the Oceaneer Lab with vague hopes that maybe they'd let us make volcanoes or something, but of course they didn't. There seemed to be a good crowd for painting the cells so I guess it makes sense that they offered it again.
I went back to my cabin and sat out on the veranda enjoying the glorious night and listening to "Come From Away." I enjoyed having some quiet time to myself and the weather couldn't have been more ideal for sitting outside and jamming to my favorite musical. It wasn't the day I'd dreamt of for months when planning my cruise, but I was grateful for the moment that was.... enjoying the refreshing sea air on a beautiful night. Once again, we turned the clocks back before going to sleep- whee!
The last of 4 consecutive days at sea couldn't come soon enough; even though I'd tried to change things around, days were beginning to fall into a too comfortable routine. Although I wasn't excited about NYC, I was going to be glad for a change of scenery and more options.
Meanwhile, on today's episode of Cruising Gone Wrong, my toilet would not flush. I tried and tried and... it did nothing. So I called down to Guest Services and they promised to send someone up. As I was sitting and waiting, I suddenly heard a noise- yep, the toilet flushed itself about 5 minutes after I'd tried to flush it. Spooky! Maintenance came by shortly thereafter and informed me that they'd fixed a problem in the engine room.
It was a bittersweet attending "Good Morning Disney Magic" and knowing it was the last time to be seeing the show; they do not have one on port days. One of the highlights of the day's show was a hilarious video in which entertainment host David was "learning" how to be a cabin attendant and doing all sorts of ridiculous things. Drew Seeley was another guest and he seemed to be a decent guy who genuinely liked Disney. But I wasn't interested in him enough to attend his Q&A/ autograph session later.
There was another Mickey & Friends meet on the schedule so of course I made it a priority to attend. I was disappointed when I discovered that this meet did not include a group photo- just separate photos with Chip & Dale, Goofy, Pluto, and Mickey & Minnie. It worked just like the princess meet, where you would go down the line of 4 photo spots in the lobby atrium to meet each character (or, in some cases, pair of characters).
I spent a little time on deck watching some of "Muppets Most Wanted." Having once again skipped breakfast, I quickly became hungry for an early lunch. I decided to change things up and eat at the buffet in Cabanas. The food wasn't all that thrilling; I had no regrets about spending so many previous lunches eating chicken tenders. But the dessert was great- not only did they have Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream... but I finally figured out that you could put toppings on your ice cream, which made my dessert even better.
I spent a lot of the day just lounging around and relaxing. I also took one last sweep through the onboard shops since I knew they wouldn't be open the next day. I tried once again to get a photo with Max Goof, which would have been excellent since my purple and red shirt would have matched well with his costume. But unfortunately, the app was wrong again about his meet time; I'm not sure what was up with that. So I ended up meeting Captain Hook instead.
Fortunately, I still had one more nice dress to wear for semi-formal night. I donned a teal floral dress that I rarely get a chance to wear at home. It was fun to have an excuse to dress up and feel pretty every night, even if it was a pain for packing. Every night, there had been different backdrops in the atrium for posing for pictures. I thought it was really cool that they had a couple NYC themed ones in honor of docking there the next day.
The change in port schedule also resulted in juggling of some of the programming. As such, the Disney Dreams stage show was shown tonight instead of the last night of the cruise. This show has been running on the Magic ever since its maiden season so I'd already seen it twice. I therefore wasn't all that excited to see it again... but I'm so glad I didn't skip it! The show was really magical, and truly touched my heart. Plus, there had been some changes since I'd last seen it, including the addition of a new scene from Frozen. Somehow, even though it feels overdone in the parks, Frozen works for me on the cruise. I don't understand the logic but there you go.
My absolute favorite scene was the "Circle of Life." On its own merits, it's a wonderful song with strong staging (if obviously not as breathtaking as the Broadway production). But it touched me more deeply because it reminded me of my travels, and specifically the last 2 amazing trips I'd taken: I'd seen Lion King when I visited Shanghai Disneyland in fall 2016, and there was a moment on my favorite day of my Namibia trip when I spent some time gazing at a water hole and singing this song to myself. Truly, there is "more to see than can ever be seen" in this wondrous world... and I never forget how fortunate I am to be able to have seen as much as I have so far. And of course there are still countless places I am dying to visit!
Before dinner, there was an Officers' Ball in the lobby. After each dance, designated officers would give their dance partner a card that could be traded for a free bottle of wine. Well, obviously I wanted to get in on that! So I stood at the side of the dance floor... trying to look like a cool dance partner but more likely looking pathetic. I was shocked that someone actually asked me to dance... unfortunately, he had really sweaty hands and it felt awkward... and I didn't get any wine for it. I later danced with a younger entertainment guy who was probably gay but he was super fun to talk to about theatre and stuff. No wine from him either, alas.
This was our last dinner at Lumiere's. Bob wasn't there because he wasn't feeling well, but we got another dinner table photo taken with everyone else. I guess they only take table photos on formal and semi-formal nights. The menu tonight was "Captain's Gala" and it was probably my favorite overall of the special (non rotation) menus. I ordered aged prosciutto, white onion soup, and fettuccine with parmesan crusted chicken. For a change, dessert was fabulous- I devoured the chocolate lava cake; you can never lose with that.
After dinner, I ran up to my room to quickly change back to my t-shirt and pants and then headed back down to Fathoms for another Improv performance. This was an adults only performance, and we were opening for a Billy Joel tribute by AbbaFab. At this show, I was scheduled to be part of the Interview show; as you may recall, I had never had a chance to try it before. This game starts with the audience choosing a topic, and then each performer creates a persona they will use to answer questions from the audience on that topic. I put in some thought beforehand for possible characters that might work for a variety of themes. My favorite idea was a person who had just graduated from Anger Management and was now a Yoga Instructor; such a persona would allow for some fun mood changes, and would easily lend itself to physical work.
It was a great idea, but then we were given the topic of "Robotics"; as soon as I heard it, I panicked a bit because it didn't seem like a good fit for my chosen character. (although in retrospect, I suppose the character's former career could have been in something robot related) So I decided that I would actually be a robot named Lisa. I was relieved that the person who introduced himself before me did not also choose to be a robot because that would have been awkward. I'm not thrilled with all of my responses- especially when I said "Does not compute" when I couldn't figure out a witty answer to a query about who invented robots. But I'm pleased that I was able to come up with a unique persona on the spur of the moment, and that I tried to do something with my physical interpretation by moving with jerky motions. At any rate, I didn't stammer or run off screaming at either show, so I consider that to be a huge success!
Afterwards, I needed some chill time so I didn't stay around for the AbbaFab show. I chatted with Greg a bit and then with 2 younger members of the class who had more experience at improv. And then I wandered over to the Promenade Lounge to break one of my Life Rules- namely, my general insistence that I should not drink alone. Hey, all rules are meant to be broken... and the Godiva Chocolate Martini was totally calling my name! It was delicious, probably even better than the martini I'd recently enjoyed in Hershey, PA (although the latter featured a surprise Hershey Kiss at the bottom). I was absolutely the only person in the lounge... and it was blissful to sip my decadently sweet drink in peaceful solitude. Sometimes, quiet moments are the greatest treasures.
When I finally got back to my room, I noticed that it was foggy outside. I could periodically hear a horn sounding; probably because of the fog. Thank goodness I always travel with ear plugs! I was planning to get up early to go up on deck and watch the scenery as the ship sailed into NYC. I looked forward to seeing land once again!