Monday, September 03, 2007

Trip Report #58 - Transatlantic Crossing on the Disney Magic

TRANSIT AND DAY ONE
It's been a while since I've done a trip report, as lately we have been sticking to the Wonder four-day cruise. There are always new things, but I've gotten lazy. But for #58, I had to document the special experience of a transatlantic crossing on the Disney Magic. The ship had been in the Mediterranean all summer, so now it was being repositioned back to Florida. I'd be cruising for 14 days, with six days straight at sea.

Ironically, my grandparents all came to America from Europe via ships arriving at Ellis Island. Somehow I think that my Disney cruise was a far cry from what they experienced. They all died decades ago, but I suspect they would scratch their heads in wonderment at the concept of their granddaughter taking that same trip just for pleasure.

As you can see, the route I'd be taking was a little different, sailing to Florida rather than New York, but we'd still be crossing The Pond:



The most challenging part was the journey to the port. For our usual Wonder cruises, at its worst it used to be a two hour flight from Chicago. Now, it's simply an hour's drive from our house to Port Canaveral. For the repo, we would have to get to Barcelona, a complicated trip that involved three air legs. First, we'd fly from MCO to JFK on JetBlue, and then we'd pick up Aer Lingus to Dublin (six and a half hours stuffed into a flying metal tube...ugh!). Finally, we'd catch another plane from Dublin to Barcelona, where we were taking a van to the port with several other cruisers who were also on our Aer Lingus flights.

My husband managed to score an exit row on JetBlue, but on the first Aer Lingus flight we were relegated literally to the last row of the plane. At least it was two across, and according to the only map we could find it looked like there was no lavatory behind us. That was a mixed blessing; I didn't relish the idea of cross-legged fellow passengers grouped around my seat, waiting frantically for their turn, while the scent of that nasty blue liquid permeated the area. But it also meant that I would have to hike 17 rows forward to deal with my own nervous bladder. For the last leg, we were in row 7; it didn't seem to have any major pros or cons, other than quicker disembarkation due to being closer to the front.

My excitement for the trip was tempered by a fear of flying (which I planned to combat with Xanax) and sadness at leaving my kitties for two weeks. I had neighbors coming in to care for them, but I knew I'd miss those furry bodies curled up on my feet at night.

We were up late the night before, frantically trying to remember everything and to put our work to rest. I juggle a counseling practice and a travel agency, so I had a lot of loose ends to tie up. I wouldn't have phone access till Sept. 1 (we left on Aug. 17), and I knew that internet access might be spotty, so I wanted to be sure that everything was at least halfway under control.

The next morning, we did a quick review and it seemed that we had remembered everything. Something always shows up missing, but as long as it wasn't anything major we'd be happy! At 8 a.m. we piled into a Happy Limo towncar for the ride to MCO. We had allowed more than ample time just in case the lines were bad. Fortunately, JetBlue's curbside check-in was wide open, and the security line was minimal, so our first leg kicked off without any undue stress.

I stopped at the airport bookstore, as I am a major true crime buff and that store tends to have good offerings. Sure enough, I found half a dozen paperbacks to cram among the rest of my reading material. It felt good to imagine spending relaxed days at sea out at my veranda, immersed in a good gory tale. The Starbucks next door to the book shop serenaded me with its siren call, but I knew better than to indulge in a latte before getting on a plane...I made that mistake in Chicago once, and the resulting continuous potty trips taught me to resist very well.

My one worry was that my stash of empty water bottles would be confiscated by security. I have a weird psychological need for tons of water when flying... not necessarily to drink, but just to have close at hand. It all started on a particularly bad flight that involved a never-ending hold pattern due to thunderstorms in Chicago, a diversion to refuel in Rockford, and an aborted landing at Midway before FINALLY returning safety to terra firma. I had a sinus infection, and sucking on my water bottle was the only thing that kept my ears from exploding after two and a half landings and three take offs. The water was also a godsend during the hot, stuffy hours we sat on the tarmac in Rockford.

The bottles actually serve a variety of purposes; besides keeping me hydrated and providing something to suck on, they also allow me to pop Xanax at any time to quell my fears, and in the worst case I can pour water on my head if I have a panic attack (fortunately, I've never had to yet). As a cognitive therapist I know it's all in my head, but hey, whatever works. Fortunately they let me take the empty bottles through so I wouldn't have to spend a fortune at the concession stand.

Since we had a couple of hours before boarding, we set up shop at a power outlet near our gate. Hubby immersed himself in a handheld game, while I found a free internet connection and messed around with my laptop. I was looking forward to the brief luxury of an exit row, knowing that for the second leg we'd be crammed in the last row. I popped a couple of Xanax pills to get me in good spirits as I didn't want to get panicky before we even got to the transatlantic flight.

Soon our plane appeared, and once it had disgorged its current load of passengers, no doubt on their way to visit the Mouse House, we trooped on board and settled into our seats. I discovered that “exit row”on JetBlue doesn't necessarily equate to more room. There was a slight amount, but not what I am accustomed to. Oh well, it was only a two hour flight so I knew I could survive the sardine can for that brief amount of time. We had booked the window and aisle; another person was in the middle, but I offered to switch with him if he didn't mind me climbing over him when my nervous bladder kicked in. Problem was, my carry-on only fit under the aisle seat, so he opted to switch anyway and adjust his legs around the bag. Fortunately, I never actually had to get up during the flight.

JetBlue was very cool, with individual entertainment screens in every seat offering satellite television. I amused myself with “Animal Cops” and court shows(my secret vice), munching on blue Terra Chips and pistachio biscotti until we arrived at JFK. Not too bad for coach. I had hoped to catch an aerial view of the Statue of Liberty, but no such luck. It's still quite a pretty place to fly into, tho', with all the surrounding water.

Our luggage was spit out on the conveyor in a semi-reasonable amount of time, but getting to our next flight in terminal 4 was a total upchuck. We started in terminal 5, but the air train was running only one direction so we got the grand tour of every single stop, including an inexplicable 15 minute wait at one. The way people crammed in reminded me of the Japanese subway, but with the added challenge of mountains of luggage piled in the mix.

Still, we got to our terminal eventually and joined the Aer Lingus Check In Line of Eternity. While hubby waited, I ran to the ticket sales counter to see if they had any discounted first class upgrades. They did, but it was still rather pricey even though it was only a third of the regular price. The idea of being pampered as we whizzed across the Atlantic danced temptingly in my mind. I was haunted by the thought that our last-row seats wouldn't recline; I'd be trying to sleep with someone in my lap, since pretty much everyone is going to tilt back into snooze position for an overnight flight.

Even though the line was intimidating, it moved quite steadily. We ended up being able to switch to two other seats (aisle and the one next to it) in the long middle row, but somehow that just didn't appeal to me. It would be hard to sleep without anything to lean on, and I imagined being woken up periodically by fellow passengers climbing over me. More and more the idea of popping the upgrade bucks tempted me; finally, I twisted hubby's arm and we whipped out the charge card and moved ourselves uptown.

I made sure that my Xanax level was high and that I refilled my water, which I had to empty before going through security again (ah, the joys of post 9/11 flying). Then we hung out for a while until our ride showed up. It turned out to be a gorgeous new plane; even coach had individual entertainment screens. But first-class was an absolute dream...two-across seating in its own little “module” so you didn't have to worry about reclining into someone or having them do it to you. The seats would go into a full recline mode almost akin to a bed. You also got all the usual first-class accouterments, such as kit with toothbrush, socks, eye shade, etc., hot towel, pre-flight drink, and excellent dinner choices with free-flowing wine. Even with the Xanax I had to have a glass, which probably contributed to my later restful slumber.

As you can see in the photo below, I looked relatively out of it even before the plane took off:



Once aloft, we had dinner and I watched “Shrek the Third” almost to the end, but it was so abysmal compared to the other two that I shut it off in favor of constructing a comfy sleeping cocoon. I woke up once when hubby sneaked by to the lav, then went back into unconsciousness and didn't stir again until final descent. Hubby swears they served a continental breakfast, but apparently that didn't penetrate my coma and he said he didn't dare risk life and limb to wake me up for a bagel.

I had been working myself into a frenzy of fear about the flight due to my previous bad experience. I thought that knowing we were hours away from land would flash me back to the indefinite holding pattern and send me over the edge. I don't know whether it was the Xanax, cognitive techniques, or the very unplanelike first class section, but I actually...dare I say it...enjoyed the transatlantic leg.

As I laid cozy beneath my blanket, I thought about the fact that we were way out over the Atlantic, and it struck me as neat concept rather than a scary one. I think it also helped that I watched a fear-of-flying DVD that explained transatlantic safety precautions (it was made by the author of www.fearofflyinghelp.com, an excellent website for chickens like me). We did hit some turbulence, but I did as the DVD advised and imagined being on a boat going through choppy water...bumpy but safe. It ended up rocking me back to sleep rather than worrying me.

In Dublin, the customs line was somewhat long, but nothing too traumatic. Our luggage was going on ahead automatically, so we trudged off directly to security. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to empty my carefully hoarded water bottles so they confiscated all of them. Bummer! It was only a two hour flight, and I was still pretty drugged, but I still had ugly visions of panicking and needing my trusty H20. I couldn't buy any because all I had was dollars and the shops and vending machines only took euros.

The short haul plane was much different than the flying resort we'd just left. We were in row 7, window and middle, with practically non-existent legroom, but I had suspected as much. It was an older plane with no entertainment system, but I didn't care as long as it was airworthy enough to get us to Barcelona.

The flight attendant switched some people around behind us, and I cringed because my new behind-neighbor was now a toddler just warming up for a nice little screaming tantrum. I repeated my mantra “It's only two hours” and wished I had water to pop another Xanax when suddenly God smiled down on us. The FA said, “Are you two together?” When hubby and I nodded, she said, “Would you mind taking an exit row?” NO PROBLEM!!! I could have hugged her! She led us to a lovely, roomy row that very nicely capped what had been an overall decent flying experience (especially considering that we'd had three plane changes and almost 12 hours of air time).

EVERYTHING cost money on that flight, include beverages! Thankfully they accepted American money, so I bought some water as a security blanket. Since it was morning in Dublin, I also had to indulge in the breakfast, which featured black and white pudding (i.e blood sausage...sounds gross, I know, but I love it and I'd never actually had it in...or even over...Ireland before). After the chow, I sank back into my coma. I don't know if it was the build-up of Xanax, the weird time changes, or a combination, but it made for a pretty painless flying experience. Before I knew it, we were descending and the crowd was murmuring in awe as we spotted the Disney Magic waiting for us below. The dreaded flights were over, and we were almost ready for our vacation to officially begin. We whisked through Barcelona customs, collected our luggage, and were ready to head to the port.

Disney reps. took our bags, and we loaded into our van for the brief ride to the ship. Check-in lines were manageable, especially since we could use the Castaway Club line (for returning cruisers). Then we took our assigned boarding number, checked out the entertainment (dancing, characters, etc.) and trooped aboard the ship. Unlike Port Canaveral, you embarked on deck 1 and went up to 9 in groups on the elevators. There you were announced and appeared on the jumbo TV as you headed to Topsiders for lunch. I tried to convince my husband to go down and eat at Parrot Cay, since it had started raining which eliminates the outside seating upstairs. He ignored me and paid for his folly with a tongue lashing after we made three rounds of the restaurant without finding a seat.

We ended up sitting with another person who was quite interesting to talk to, and he pointed out Disney artist Don “Ducky” Williams sitting a few tables over. I was pleased because I just love attending Don's talks, and I have several of his sketches gracing my walls at home. It gave me something to look forward to on the sea days; even though I've heard his story several times, I love just watching him draw as he talks.

After lunch, we hung out in the hallway till our stateroom was ready. Actually, I don't know if it really was, but after a few minutes a big gang of people propped the fire doors open and descended on the hallway, so of course everyone else followed. We were at the butt end of deck 5, in my favorite stateroom: 5650. It's nice and peaceful, with an oversized veranda and little hallway traffic. It's practically home away from home for hubby and I, although we always notice the slight differences between the Magic and Wonder (no middle dresser drawer on the Magic, different picture over the bed, etc.).

Our stateroom host was Efren, and besides keeping me well stocked with shampoo and conditioner (I wash my hair obsessively when cruising), he was also quite talented with both towel and blanket animals, as well as combinations. One of his combo works is below:



Once in our room, I laid down to finish up the nap I had begun on the plane; reluctantly, I dragged my carcass out of bed for the safety drill, then crashed again till dinner time while hubby unpacked the bags. He had been utterly paranoid about our luggage, even to the point of standing with his nose against the glass at MCO watching for our bags to be loaded onto the first plane. It felt so good to take a hot shower and feel human again!

We ordered a water package of 24 bottles for our stateroom. Normally we just bring our own onboard, but that would NOT have been easy to stash in our luggage along with two weeks worth of clothes, toiletries, etc. It was much easier to simply purchase it on board. Disney is the only cruise line that currently offers unlimited free soda, but neither of us is a pop drinker so we prefer the water. The ship's drinking water is actually quite good, so once we run through what we bring (or purchase, in this case), we simply refill the bottles with tap water.

We met our tablemates, a couple from Arizona, and enjoyed some pleasant chatting over tasty meal. They were part of an internet group; there were actually groups from two different online forums on board, although there was some cross-over. Over the course of the cruise, it was fun meeting people we'd previously “met” online and putting faces with names.

Our first restaurant was Lumieres, and our serving team was Sanjeev and May (see below):



Pragalen as our head server. The menu theme, appropriately, was “Let The Magic Begin.” I had both the blue cheese cauliflower soup and the sangria soup, with duck and figs for dinner and a mint ice cream sundae for dessert. It was so odd to glance out the windows, see the city lights, and realize that were were thousands of miles away from Florida, on another continent. As an added bonus, there was a little Beauty and the Beast show, which apparently was something special for the Med and transatlantic cruises. Peter Pan also came running through the restaurant, crowing loudly, but that wasn't part of the show...it's just the sort of thing that happens every now and then on Disney cruises.

After the meal it was back to our stateroom, where poor hubby crashed hard. I couldn't blame him; unlike me, he didn't sleep well on the plane so he had been running for a long time. I did some reading and relaxing for a bit, then forced myself to go to sleep around 1 a.m., even though my mind clock kept trying to convince me that it was really only 7 p.m.

DAY TWO: BARCELONA
Both hubby and I slept like dead things, interrupted only when his snores woke me up enough to prod him to turn over a few times. We had debated ordering room service to wake us up in the morning, but we decided to just play it by ear. I don't know if that was bad or good, but I do know that we didn't stir till around 10 a.m. We had a shore excursion at 12:45, so we slowly joined the world of the wakeful and headed to Lumiere's for lunch at 11:30. I had a couple of appetizers (bruschetta with goat cheese and potato barley soup), but our tablemate's steak fries tempted me to replace the soup with an order of those. I had New York style cheesecake with strawberry sauce for dessert. Thus fortified, we exchanged some dollars for euros at Guest Services. We hadn't bothered to get any euros before the trip, so hubby figured we could just to it on board. The exchange rate wasn't the best, but it was very convenient and they told us they would buy back any paper euros at the end of the trip for the same rate if we didn't spend it all. Flush with our new, colorful cash, we trooped over to Rockin' Bar D for “Panoramic Drive Through Barcelona.”

It turned out to be a good choice, as the daily was quite rainy and gray. Hubby had wanted to do a bike tour, but he was glad that he didn't because the weather was not conducive. Instead, we stayed nice and dry inside our tour bus as we saw sights like La Sagrada Familia, the Olympic stadium, and the Arc de Triomf. We stopped at La Sagrada Familia, the stadium, and a high-up vantage point that offered a panoramic view of Barcelona...getting off the bus was optional, but conveniently the rain slacked off at each destination so everyone opted to see the sights up close and personal. Our tour guide was British and was quite a wealth of knowledge about the points of interest and Barcelona's culture in general. My favorite part of the trip was La Sagrada Familia. The sculptures and intricate detail are utterly amazing.

We were given coupons to redeem for drinks at a restaurant across from La Sagrada Familia, and the paellas they were serving looked absolutely mouthwatering. I wished that we had more time to explore the city, but with our jet lag there was no way that we could have dragged our carcasses out on the first day.

At the last stop, there was a little gift shop where I purchased a souvenir book with photos and descriptions of all the city's points of interest. I like to do that everywhere I travel so I have a useful memento.

Two things stood out for me about Barcelona. First was how the older buildings and works of art gave it a sense of history that is missing for the most part in America. But second was a sense of sadness at just how pervasive graffiti was. I could easily have imagined that I was in New York; it was EVERYWHERE, even on statues and artwork.

Two other general points that stood out to me were the pervasive number of scooters (and the suicidal nature of their drivers) and the fact that the accepted method of drying clothes is simply to hang them on your balcony or outside your window. I noticed that both of these things were the same in all of our ports of call.

I had heard stories of rampant pickpocketing in Barcelona, so hubby and I got hard plastic pouches to wear around our necks, which we could keep stuffed in our shirts. The only area where I felt rather uncomfortable (and where our guide warned us to watch out for thieves) was around La Sagrada Familia.

We returned to the ship around 4, and hubby logged on (poor guy had to work) while I checked out the sailaway party, which had moved inside due to the weather, and picked up my giant Mickey hand to wave to the music. Excited bodies crammed the atrium and all of the rail space on decks four and five, ready to bid farewell to Barcelona and head off to Gibraltar.

While working, hubby discovered that we could get good wireless signal right in our stateroom, although the reliability was another story. There were rare periods when the internet was stable, but we'd discover over the next two weeks that it was not something to be relied upon.

It was good that the ship stayed overnight in Barcelona, as I noticed passengers arriving very late on the first night and also when we returned from our excursion on day two. At least the overnighter left a long grace period for people who might have had delays or problems with their flights or lost luggage.

Hubby opted to go to the evening show, while I stayed in the room to do some work. Phil Keller, a comic/magician, was the entertainer for the night, and according to hubby his show was excellent.

We had dinner at Palo, since it was a regular rotation dining night (we know the regular menus very well from all our trips on the Wonder). It was so exciting to see our old friend P. J. again. Gemma was our server and took superb care of us.

To start with, there was the usual selection of bread and dipping sauces, plus olives, sun dried tomatoes and prosciutto. For my main course I had planned to have the lamb, which is always an excellent choice, but I was swayed by the special of the day: monk fish. I learned to love monk fish at Jiko before they cruelly took it off the menu. I knew that the Palo version would have to be just as good or better. Monk fish is very interesting because it is close to lobster in texture and taste. The Palo rendition was DELICIOUS! Hubby had his usual tuna, but his fork slipped over to my plate more than once.

He finished the meal with a pistachio torte, while I indulged in fresh raspberry and peanut butter gelatos. They were both good, but the peanut butter was out of this world. It's too bad they didn't have chocolate, too, as it would have been like a divine frozen Reese's.

We returned to our room to wind down for the night,and I heard a muffled P. A. system. Odd, since dinner at Animators (right below our room) had been long over. When it went on for a while, hubby slipped down the back staircase to see if he could hear what was going on. It turned out to be a wine tasting for the crew. Michael Jordan was on our cruise...not the former NBA player, but the manager of the Napa Rose restaurant at the Grand Californian and Disney's resident wine expert. We had already signed up for several of his wine tastings (each with a different theme...we signed up for Italian, German, and Russian River), and apparently he was also giving educational presentations for the crew. Resisting the temptation to try to sneak in, hubby returned to our stateroom and we crashed for the night.

DAY THREE: SEA DAY
Ah, the luxury of a day at sea! We slept as late as we wanted, then showered and headed up to Palo for brunch at 11. Sasha was our server this time around, and he took good care of us as we admired the beautiful view of the ocean and enjoyed the sinfully delicious hot and cold offerings. I had some other interesting views, too, as many people like to stroll around deck 10 and I don't think they realize that they are on display to everyone in the restaurant. Most of them are not all that exciting, but every now and then you get a doozie. My favorite was the guy in the tiny Speedo that left nothing to the imagination...and here I thought the Magic was a G-rated ship!

After dining, I did a 45 minute workout on a treadmill in the spa, followed by a refreshing shower in the locker room (they have a great “rain”-type showerhead that really beats the stateroom showers). Then I stretched out on the veranda with a book until was time to get ready for our first wine tasting.

We've done many previous tastings on our various cruises, and usually they are the same. This time around, they were much different and very special due to Michael Jordan being on board. He had chosen special selections, and as we tasted the three Italian whites and three reds, he presented a lecture complete with slides and facts about southern Italian vineyards. It was absolutely fascinating to see how and where the various grapes are grown. Hubby learned why his favorite moscato is so sweet, among other trivia. It whet our appetite for the next two tastings that we'd be attending later in the week, and we also vowed to dine at Napa Rose when we are at Disneyland and the Grand Californian in April.

Next it was off to the shops to buy transatlantic crossing t-shirts commemorating our voyage. After that, we lazed around until “Golden Mickeys” time and trooped off to the Walt Disney Theater. “Golden Mickeys” used to be my favorite show until “Twice Charmed” came along (although I'll admit that the newly enhanced “Disney Dreams” gives the others quite a run for the money). I particularly like it because of the focus on Walt and the appearance by Roy. I was glad to hear multiple warnings about “No flash photography,” but there still had to be a handful of “The rules don't apply to me” people, and of course they had those obnoxious strobe cameras for maximum blinding of the people around them. But overall it didn't impact my enjoyment too much.

Afterwards, it was back to our stateroom to catch up on work until dinnertime, which promised to be a rather surreal experience, since we'd be spending formal night in Parrot Cay. It's hard to feel dressy when you're surrounded by tropical birds. Still, hubby donned a suit while I slipped into one of my formal dresses. Everyone had a nice little gift waiting in their rooms this evening: A book about transatlantic crossings on ocean liners. I got so wrapped up in reading it that I had to tear myself away to go to restaurant. We also were amused by yet another of Efren's towel animal creations (the stateroom hosts leave a towel critter in all the rooms each night), but at this point he had started incorporating our blanket.

Tonight's menu was themed to the Golden Mickeys. I had indulged in a snack of chicken tenders and french fries earlier, so at dinnertime I opted for a light appetizer (watermelon soup) and main course (sesame seed crusted tofu). For dessert, I tried some sort of pudding with figs that was quite good. Afterwards, we crashed into bed sine we had to be up early the next morning for our adventure in Gibraltar.

DAY FOUR: GIBRALTAR
Our wake-up call came at 7 a.m., as our tour of the Rock began at 8:15. We got some breakfast from Topsiders first (oatmeal and corned beef hash), which we brought down to eat out on the veranda. The chairs were wet so we ended up retreating to eat inside with the doors open so we could still admire the view. I could tell already that I was going to be happy we stuck with our favorite stateroom, despite the excellent deal offered to people who were willing to take a category 12 guarantee. It pained me to think of how much we would have saved and how much spa time it would have translated to. But my clients who took the deal ended up down on deck one, which is not as bad as it sounds since it's an upgrade to Cat.9 and they got portholes so they will have sunlight. Even without having started the marathon six days at sea, I was already enjoying the opportunity to spend some quality veranda time.

We trooped off to Sessions, the meeting point for our shore excursion. We were going to St. Michael's Cave at the Rock and then to the area where the “Barbary apes” (actually, they're monkeys) roam free. On the way, our guide narrated the sights and we stopped at a lookout point where you can see the African coast (although most people were more interested in the sinking scrap iron ship that bobbed half-submerged near the lighthouse).

St. Michaels Cave was gorgeous, with stalactites and stalagmites enhanced by colored lighting. Inside the cave is an auditorium that takes advantage of the natural acoustics. After trekking through and admiring its beauty, I stopped at the souvenir shop to buy a little book on Gilbraltar.

Next it was off to the area where the monkeys hang out. It's strictly forbidden to feed them, but they are still quite tame and will let humans come very close. There was a mama with two babies, which made a great photo op, as did the two monkeys who jumped up onto the van and got into a mad wrestling match. One of the wrestlers came down from the van, so I stood next to him and yelled to hubby to get a photo. Then he jumped onto my back and started playing with my hair. A little disconcerting, but definitely a good photo op. But suddenly the other monkey leaped onto my back and they started wrestling and fighting again! All I could think to do was duck and cover like the old civil defense films used to advise (I did a modified standing version). I stood there, bent over and protecting my head while the simians went at it on my back. Finally they jumped off, and I hurried over to make sure that hubby had captured the mayhem on film

The irony is that, as a huge fan of “The Simpsons,” one of my favorite quotes is when Homer says, “You on land with your laws and ethics. You'll never know the simple joys of a monkey knife fight.” (According to the episode, monkey knife fighting is one of the things that can be done in international waters, along with a boxing match between Mike Tyson and Secretariat, bullfights on the deck, people marrying animals and receiving baskets of illegal fireworks as a wedding gift, and rebroadcasting Major League Baseball with only implied oral consent...it's an awesome episode!). For a while now, my avatar on one of the Disney sites I frequent has been a scene from that episode, with Homer's quote as my signature line. Now, I have a picture of a REAL monkey knife fight taking place right on my back:



No matter how many more cruises I take, I doubt any future shore excursion will top that.

After the tours, our driver offered to stop on the main street to drop off anyone who wanted to explore the town. Hubby and I took that option; we were given vouchers for a free coffee or ice cream at one of the shops, so we stopped there first for our beverages before wandering the streets. We bought t-shirts and some jewelry before making the 15 minute hike to the ship. Even though there were shops catering to tourists, Gibraltar didn't feel nearly as “touristy” as the Bahamas or Mexico (Barcelona was like that, too). For some reason, I felt safer in Gibraltar than Barcelona, although I can't really say why; we were still sure to keep our valuables tucked inside our shirts in their little neck wallets.

We has some time before our next excursion, so we stopped at Lumieres for lunch. Since we would be having high tea later, I opted for a fairly light meal of crab soup and french fries, with chocolate pudding for dessert.

Our next adventure was another driving tour followed by high tea at a shoreside hotel. It was quite similar to tea at Palo, with tea or coffee as the beverage (although the tea was served from standard silver carafes so I don't know if it was the real thing, i.e. made from leaves through a strainer), plus finger sandwiches, scones, and cake slices. Palo actually has more variety, i.e. many flavored teas to choose from, trifles, and chocolate éclairs. But still, it was wonderful to sip the tea with a view of the African coast in the background. After we ate, hubby and I took a hike out to the beach so we could say we'd touched our toes in the Mediterranean. Then we did some browsing in the hotel gift shop before heading back to the van for the ride to the ship.

I knew that I needed to exercise off some of the day's calories, but I was itching for a spa appointment. You can often get something at the last minute on port days, and there are discounts on certain treatments, so I called to see what was available. Sure enough, there was a massage appointment so I took it and headed up to the spa to have my tense muscles pampered. I was so relaxed that I fell asleep during the foot massage.

Afterwards, I really just wanted to read out on the veranda, but I knew that if I didn't exercise then, I certainly wouldn't after dinner. Thus I forced myself to don workout clothes and head to deck four. I prefer the treadmills in the spa, but we were leaving Gibraltar and I thought it would be nice to see some views of the Rock while walking the jogging track and listening to my iPod.

The jogging track on the Disney ships shares the same space as lounge chairs and shuffleboard grids, so it can be a challenge to navigate. Unfortunately today it was also jam-packed with looky-loos gathered five deep to look at the Rock as we left the port. We had spent the whole day docked within view of it, but somehow sailaway increased its excitement factor tenfold. I only managed to walk for half an hour before I quit out of fear for life and limb.

First a man taking a photo suddenly stepped backwards while doing an odd contortion, kicking me in the foot. Next, a guy in front of me decided to play “I'll run backwards as fast as I can without looking so my toddler can chase me.” As they say on South Park, he was coming right for me, and he definitely outweighed my in pounds and girth. I had nowhere to move due to the crowd of people. Survival instinct kicked in, and I held my plastic bottle neck-first in front of me and waited for the impact. A bottle cap in the spine most definitely stopped him before he slammed into me. But I had had enough, so I finally gave up and returned to my stateroom to shower and get ready for dinner.

We skipped the evening show, since it was Michael Harrison (we've seen him on many previous Disney cruises). Instead, we planned to attend the adult cabaret show later in the evening, since it was Phil Keller, the performer hubby had enjoyed so much at his earlier show.

We were in Lumieres for dinner, and it was the usual rotation menu night. However, our tablemates were vegetarian so the kitchen had prepared curry for them and some for us, too. It was phenomenal!

After our evening chow, we headed to Rockin' Bar D to see the cabaret show. We arrived early, and the band, High Frequency, was still playing. They were really good, so we enjoyed the music until it was time for the illusionist to begin (he was the same person hubby had liked so much at the previous show). He did an entirely different routine this time and was very enjoyable. He mixed comedy with magic and had the audience laughed and marveling at the same time.

When we returned to our room, I tried to get on the internet to do some work. It had been virtually useless every day, and today was no exception. I chewed up minutes staring at a “Website cannot be found screen” that stubbornly appeared no matter what site I tried to visit. Finally I logged off in frustration. I wish I could just forget business and relax while at sea, but being both a counselor and a travel agent means that I have to be accessible because emotional issues and issues with reservations are two things that do not wait.

Then it was bedtime once again, as we had a big day planned in Cadiz with another morning shore excursion.

DAY FIVE: CADIZ
Even though we didn't have to wake up quite as early as the previous day, it was still a jolt when the wake-up call startled me out of unconsciousness. This morning we were leaving for a tour of the riding school at 9:30 a.m. Since it was slated to last until 2:15, with no mention of lunch in the description, we wanted to be sure to get some breakfast into us. Then we figured we'd get some quick service snacks when we returned to tide us over until dinner.

I grabbed scrambled eggs, bacon, and oatmeal in Topsides; both hubby and I brought our food down to eat it out on the veranda. Today, the weather was perfect and we basked in the warmth of the sunshine and the promise of an exciting day.

I'd chosen a horse-related excursion (the Jerez Equestrian School) because I've owned horses for over 25 years and I've always trained my own. I am also familiar with the grace and beauty of Andalusians and was anxious to see them on their home turf. They only do a show on certain days of the week and this wasn't one of them, but after a city tour we were slated to watch a training session and then have a tour of the barns.

On the drive over, our guide pointed out various sites of interest and told us about the city's history. It was similar to Barcelona, with lots of high rises (with the ever-present drying laundry at each window) and motor scooters. However, it had many more parks than Barcelona, and some beautiful beaches.

We got to the riding school after 11...it had been over an hour and a half, and my pea-sized bladder was ready to burst! It was a 10 minute walk from the parking lot to the stables, and I kept assuring myself, “You can make it!” and using all my willpower not to break into a run.

Inside, we were taken into the arena building, which had restrooms (thank goodness!), a shop, a bar, and of course a stadium in which the horses are worked and shown. Sadly, we only had about 15 minutes to watch them before it was time for our barn tour. Even in that short time, I marveled at the equine ballet of turns on the haunches at the canter, sidepasses at the trot and canter, an extended trot that made the horses look at though they had springs in their hooves, flying lead changes every step, the flashy Spanish walk, and even some airs above the ground. Most of that is probably foreign to a non-horse person, but trust me, it is impressive and takes a bottomless well of skill and patience.

Unfortunately, photos are not allowed in the arena (or in most of the other areas we visited). I was hoping that the souvenir shop would have a book, but no such luck. Hubby did snap three bootleg shots of the training session, as we didn't know about the rule (we were quickly informed), so at least we have a brief photographic memory.

In the barns, we saw where the stallions are housed in roomy box stalls. Then we toured the world's cleanest and most well organized tack room before heading across the street to see an exhibit of carriages. Afterwards, we had a little more time to wander the grounds before returning to the bus. Of course I spent it in the arena, watching more of the training. The barns and carriages were nice, but if I had know more about the tour I would have just stayed there and watched the horses and riders. I suppose it would have been boring to those who are not horse people, but it held me absolutely rapt.

Now it was off to a winery for a very late lunch. At the beginning of the tour, we had been informed that there was a change. We wouldn't be getting the box lunch that was supposed to be included (which surprised everyone because we hadn't known there was supposed to be food in the first place), but we'd be stopping for tapas instead. My husband was thrilled to see that they were being served at a winery and that ample wine tasting was included. We sat at tables of ten laden with finger sandwiches, prosciutto, potato bread, and bread sticks. There was also bottled water, soda, and five kinds of wine to sample:



Most of them were nearly as sweet and thick as syrup, which was right up hubby's alley since he absolutely loves ice wine which is about as sweet as you can get. He chugged quite a bit of the wine...more than anyone else at our table. They must have thought I was married to a lush. It amazes me that just a few years ago he was a complete teetotaler.

Cruising was actually what led hubby into the world of wine; I dragged him to a tasting session at Palo, and it opened up a whole new world to him. He realized that a good wine can complement or even enhance a meal. He doesn't drink it at home, but he likes to have some when we're out at a good restaurant. and he definitely indulges when on a ship. He liked one of the wines so well that he purchased a bottle.

On the drive home, I could tell he was feeling no pain. He is usually the quiet one while I am usually the talkative half of the duo, but the whole way home he pointed out minutia to me: “Look, there's another high rise. So many people in Europe live in high rises. Wow, there's another ATM. They sure have a lot of ATMS...” It reminded me of the cartoon skit on “Saturday Night Live” called “The Immigrant, the Baby, and the Guy on Mushrooms” (the premise was that the title trio could be intrigued by virtually anything, no matter how common to everyone else).

As we passed over a long bridge span, I spotted the Magic off in the distance. It was beautiful! The traffic wasn't bad, and soon we were back at the ship. Tipsy hubby said, “Do you think the spa has any appointments?” It being a port day, I figured that the answer was yes. Sure enough, I was able to book a seaweed wrap for him and a back and foot massage for myself. Our appointments were at 4:30 and it was only 3, so we headed up to the workout room to get in our exercise allotment. I was tempted to attempt another deck walk, but flashbacks to the danger of the day before led me to opt for the safe zone of a treadmill.

I put in a good, sweaty 45 minutes, then hurried back to the room to shower before my appointment. Just like the day before, I drifted off in the midst of the treatment which went by much too quickly. I reminded myself that I had plenty more spa treatments coming up on the long span of days at sea.

Back in the room, I tried to log on to the internet to work but it was hopeless. By this time, hubby had returned to the stateroom (his treatment was half an hour longer than mine), so we watched a recording of the guest lectures on Gibraltar and Cadiz. They were very interesting, especially since I hadn't gotten a book about Cadiz like I did for the other ports. I knew absolutely nothing about it, so it was nice to learn some facts.

There was a game show called “On The Nose” at 7:45, but our dinner started at 8:30 and I was too lazy to hustle. Hubby went to the show while I hung out in the room. I still needed to take a shower to wash the massage oil out of my hair.

By the time I got to Animator's Palate, our restaurant for the night, hubby and our tablemates were already there. Hubby had a cute Mickey pen, as he had been on one of the winning teams (actually, one of three that had tied for second place). He said that the show was a lot of fun...sort of like “The Price is Right,” as you had to guess at numbers of things (for example, how many hairs are there on Sully's body). The audience was split into six teams, each named after one of the seven dwarves, with a representative on stage to give the answers.

It sounded like he had had a good time, and he was very proud of his prize. We all settled down at our table and perused the Mediterranean-themed menu. I chose the goat cheese appetizer, but for my main course I opted to join our vegetarian tablemates in another wonderful curry, and I tried some of the Indian appetizer, too.

Our assistant server, May, said that one of her friends who works up in Cove Cafe remembered that I am a big fan of their bananas foster martinis (indeed I am!). Being reminded of that wonderful concoction made me crave one, so I had a drink for dessert. That didn't stop me from sampling hubby's butterscotch sundae...actually, I had to sample it multiple times because the ice cream was delicious.

We headed back to our stateroom for a quiet evening of reading (me) and watching DVDs (hubby). On our way, we happened to run into Donald and Daisy Duck in flamenco costumers, as well as Snow White. Fortunately we had our camera and the lines were virtually non-existent, so we got some nice photos.

We stepped out onto the veranda for the sailaway. Even though it was dark out, there was quite a respectable little crowd of people watching us from the pier, waving and yelling as we headed out to sea. Finally we fell asleep, rocked into restful slumber by the rolling waves and looking forward to a lazy tomorrow.

DAY SIX: SEA DAY
This was the first day that we set the clock back an hour (at 2 a.m.), starting to bring the time slowly but surely in line with FL time. That meant we gained an hour,but we still slept in. It's hard to get up when the waves are rocking you like a baby in a cradle. The ocean was “moderate” (four to eight foot waves), so there was enough motion to definitely know that you were on a ship, but not enough to make most people feel queasy. I thought about how nice it would be if this was how the ocean would stay for our six days at sea.

We headed to Lumiere's for breakfast around 9 a.m. I love their eggs benedict, although I knew I shouldn't eat too much because we were scheduled for high tea at Palo at 3 p.m. and I wanted my appetite to be ready. I couldn't resist a danish in addition to the eggs, but hey, it was small!

We were seated with a couple who coincidentally lived only about a mile away, and they were also originally from Illinois just like us. We had a good time chatting and watching the waves. I saw another ship, but there was no sign of land, just the vast blue ocean as far as the eye could see.

Next up on the agenda was a couples massage seminar at the spa. We trooped upstairs and joined several other couples in one of the treatment rooms to see various techniques demonstrated on a “test subject” (one of the main stage performers, ensconced beneath towels and trying to relax amidst the narration and the many pairs of eyes glued to her back). Two of the masseuses demonstrated various techniques, and we also had a chance to try them out on the subject and on each other. It would be nice to have hubby do them to me, but then he would expect reciprocation! Instead, I figured we would just continue booking spa treatments, and now I would actually know some of the moves performed on my prone figure.

As a bonus for attending the seminar, we were told that we would get a free bottle of cellutox oil if we got a massage at the spa. Hubby and I were already booked in for treatments on the six day stretch at sea, so it was something nice to look forward to.

We left the spa and popped into the adult hot tubs to relax a bit until it was time for high tea at Palo. Ever since we got a hot tub at home, we've been neglecting what used to be a very popular pastime for us. I'd forgotten just how pleasant it is to relax in the hot, bubbly water and chat with fellow cruisers. Some people stayed in for a long time, while others flitted in and out, and we had some entertaining conversations. In talking to one person, we learned just how lucky we had been to make our flight connections so smoothly. She was supposed to be on our flight to Dublin, but her flight to JFK was delayed. She was told, “You'll still make it because everything at JFK is badly delayed due to the weather so the Dublin flight won't leave before you arrive.” Turns out that flight was one of the very last that managed to take off before the bad weather took hold. I had noticed it was raining at the time but didn't realize we had made it by the skin of our teeth. Our soak time flew by much too fast, and soon we had to hustle to get ready for tea.

High tea began at 3 p.m., and we managed to make it upstairs right on time. I've always been a tea fan, and besides a wide variety of teas to choose from, Palo also offers four kinds of finger sandwiches (prawn, salmon, chicken curry salad, and cucumber), scones with cream and jam, a selection of mini pastries, and a trifle to top it all off. Our server was Annie Marie, who has served us in the past in the group room. She kept the goodies coming, and I knew that I was going to feel the sugar rush for the rest of the afternoon! As my tea selection, I chose chamomile since it reminds me of my grandmother. She always prepared it through a strainer, which is how it is done at Palo too. No tea bags, just loose leaves steeping in the water. Bags just can't match that taste.

After tea, hubby went to work out, but I stayed in the stateroom and tried to do some work. Yet again, the internet connection was non-existent so I finally gave in and turned my attention to a book. I alternated between reading and napping as the lazy afternoon turned into evening and showtime drew nigh.

Tonight's show was “The Art of the Story,” which I had never seen before since it was only on the Med cruises and the transatlantic crossing out. I figured that the staging wouldn't be too elaborate, since it wouldn't make sense for Disney to invest a lot of money in a temporary show. But I know that a lot can be done with a little; I was remembering my trip on Viking Serenade, which had a main stage roughly the size of the stage in Rockin' Bar D. On that cruise, I had expected to be underwhelmed, but Royal Caribbean did an amazing job of staging great shows in the limited space.

With Disney, my expectations are always high, and I was not disappointed. I was right that the sets were rather lean, but the costumes were colorful and the song and dance numbers were elaborate as the show moved through several cartoons to demonstrate the elements that go into good storytelling.

There were numbers from “Hunchback,” “Mulan,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Tarzan,” and “The Lion King.” I was especially excited that the Lion King song was from the Broadway play rather than the cartoon. Each segment combined live action with scenes from the cartoons to present a very abbreviated version of the story.

Happily, the stobe flashers contained themselves...all but one (probably the same one who was doing it at “The Golden Mickeys”), but I think someone from cruise staff reprimanded them as it stopped pretty quickly. It's sad that someone can sit through multiple announcements, plus see that no one else is disobeyed the rules, and still think it's okay for them to do it.

But even the blinding stobes couldn't ruin the wonderful show. My only complaint was that it was too short (not quite 40 minutes). The pace was so quick that it was over before I knew it. I wish there would have been a matinée because I would have liked to see it twice.

Since it was a regular rotation night (i.e. a menu we were familiar with), we had booked dinner at Palo, with Gemma as our server again. I started my meal with eggplant carpaccio. It was totally different than the version I've had on the Wonder, and so delicious! As we indulged in more Palo meals throughout our cruise, I noticed that the chef, Anil, seems to enjoy incorporating fresh vegetables into his dishes in many delicious ways.

For dinner, I stuck to my guns and ordered the lamb even though the special was monk fish again. Hubby remember how good it had been when he tasted mine, so this time he ordered it all for himself. I just got half an order of lamb because I wanted to try the special pasta of the day too (a vegetable-rich creation in alfredo sauce).

For dessert, I had banana gelato with chocolate sauce. It was very good, but it still couldn't measure up to the godly peanut butter variety that I had had on the first night. The only one that I like as well is hazelnut, but I don't think they offer it anymore (or at least not on the Wonder). Still, I don't suffer with the fruit offerings.

After dinner, we changed into less formal clothes and trooped off to Rockin' Bar D for “Match Your Mate” (a game show similar to the Newlywed Game). The band High Frequency was playing beforehand, and they were very good. At the start of the game, three couples were chosen based on being married for varying amounts of years. There were newlyweds, a couple who had been married for 42 years, and then one smack dab in the middle (21 years). I don't want to give away the questions, but this was a particularly funny version. I've seen “Match Your Mate” many times, and whether it's good or not depends on the couples' responses. This time it was no holes barred, and by the end of the show my face actually hurt from laughing. The best part was the idea of the 42-year couple “christening” all of their cars (apparently they have a lot), but the newlyweds confessed to doing the same thing on their kitchen counter, and the mid-rangers had done it in a box of packing peanuts.

By the end of the show, I was ready to crash as we had an early morning ahead of us. We would be in Tenerife for our very last port of call before our six-day stretch at sea. I could hear the steady hum of the engines, which is like soothing white noise to me. Between that and the ship's gentle motion as it navigated towards the Canary Islands, I slept like a rock.

DAY SEVEN: TENERIFE
It was another day for the alarm clock to go off early, as we had arrived in the Canary Islands and were going on a shore excursion Loro Parque, something that sounded like a cross between a zoo and theme park. I love animals, so I was anxious to see the penguins, dolphins, orcas, tigers, and other critters that populate the park. I was a little worried because I'm not a big fan of most zoos; I like places like Disney's Animal Kingdom, where the animals have natural and relatively large habitats and are provided with enrichment activities, but I can't stand traditional zoos like Brookfield (near Chicago) where the poor, sad-looking creatures act out psychotic repetitive behaviors in their miserable cages and concrete enclosures. Thankfully, I needn't have been concerned as Loro Parque has lovely natural enclosures and very happy and well-cared-for animal residents.

I was also worried because it was listed as a LONG excursion (8 hours), and I wondered what we would do if we got bored. After all, you can only look at animals and orchids (they also have a garden) for so long, and then you're ready for something else. I needn't have worried about that, either. There was so much to see and do that by the end of the day I was regretting we couldn't stay longer.

We woke up bright and early at 7:30 a.m. so we'd have plenty of time to shower and grab a quick breakfast at Topsiders before heading out for the excursion at 8:45. Even though I had slept quite well due to the gentle rocking of the ship as we made our way through the ocean, I still wasn't ready for the jarring ring of the wake-up call.

I wasn't really hungry, but after hubby brought his food down to the stateroom, the inviting smells tempted me and I headed up to get a bowl of cream of wheat. Lunch was included in our excursion, so I only wanted something small to tide me over till then. It was hard to resist the scrambled eggs and bacon, though, and I closed my ears when one of the crew members mentioned the made-to-order omelet station.

Back in the stateroom, we smeared on a light coating of sun screen, packed the camera and some water bottles, and headed out for another day of fun. After checking in in Promenade Lounge, we trooped outside to our tour bus. As we passed through the town, our guide pointed out interesting sights such as the volcano looming in the distance and the beaches, which all have black volcanic sand. She told us some of the history of Loro Parque, too. It was founded by a German man in the 1970s, and at first it was very small and only featured parrots (loros). Over time, it grew by adding land and other birds and animals. The animals are captive born, and many came to the park from less than idea situations (for example, the chimps used to be used by street vendors for photos, the tigers were part of a magic act, and the gorillas were kept alone at various zoos after being expelled from their social groups).

She also warned us that because it is holiday time in Spain, the park would be VERY, VERY crowded. We got there early and were the first bus to arrive, but she warned us that the vacationing hordes wouldn't be far behind us.

On the way in, everyone paused to have a photo taken with a pair of macaws. Then it was off to the front of the park, by the koi pond, where we received our instructions for the day. People from the Disney Magic had reserved seating for three of the shows (dolphins, orcas, and sea lions), but the guide warned us to still arrive early as others have a tendency to try to take over the reserved areas as show time gets closer.

We were also told that we could upgrade to the Discovery Tour for an additional 9 euros. Besides the reserved seating, that would give us a peek at some of the backstage areas, such as the gorillas' sleeping area, the machinery that runs the pengiun habitat, and a behind-the-scenes orca area. It sounded very interesting, so hubby and I did the upgrade, as did many of our fellow Disney cruisers.

Even though we were in a Spanish area, they had multilingual guides since the park draws tourists from many areas in Europe. Thus we had a guide who was fluent in English so we would know what was going on. Most of the workers in the shops and restaurants spoke English, too...some very well, and the others at least passably enough for communication.

First we visited the gorillas, who live together in a bachelor group. As I mentioned earlier, they all came from other zoos where they had been expelled from their original groups. As males get older, they will fight for dominance, and in the wild the ones that lose leave their group and form temporary bachelor groups until they find some females and create a permanent family of their own. Unfortunately, most zoos don't maintain a bachelor group, so the poor males who get expelled must live in isolation. The lucky ones are sent to join the Loro Parque group, where they can either remain with the other males or eventually go to a zoo to live with their own troop of females.

Two of the younger gorillas were play-fighting fiercely, while the oldest was snoozing under a shady tree. After seeing their daytime exhibit quarters, we were taken in back to see their individual “bedrooms.” They are given foliage and paper towels(!) to create a nest each night, and if it's cold, they sleep on the heated floor. We also saw their food, which was quite a diverse mix of things like fruit, cereals, yogurt, and monkey chow. They get full meals, and food is also hidden or placed in enrichment devices that require some effort in order to keep them busy.

We visited the penguin area, which is home to various species. The main habitat has a snow machine that continuously dumps snowflakes. It was fun to watch the cute little black and white critters diving into the water; a line of them stood on a rock, each waiting for its turn to take the plunge. After seeing the main exhibit areas, we went down into the bowels of the machinery that keeps the habitats at the correct temperature and that filter the water continuously.

We also saw the sea lion and dolphin shows, both of which were standard theme park fare but still entertaining. I quickly saw why our guide had warned us about the reserved seating...even with big signs, other park visitors tried to shove their way in, and some got rather belligerent when the guides wouldn't let them. It didn't matter to us, as we had gotten our prime seats for each of the shows. The cutest part was in the dolphin show, where one dolphin pulled a little girl in a boat around the water while the other four followed and performed jumps behind her.

Interestingly, Loro Parque is affiliated with Sea World and has gotten many of its animals, including the orcas, from them. There is a Sea World trainer on staff who assists with the training and shows. We went into the backstage orca area after the dolphin show, and there were many photos of the transport process when the orcas were recently brought from Orlando to the Canary Islands (the orca show is a fairly new addition).

After this last backstage tour, we were released for lunch on our own (the tour included 15 euro food vouchers that could be used at any of the park's various restaurants) and were instructed to return for the 3 p.m. orca show, at which we also had reserved seats. The guide warned us to try to be there by 2:30 to ensure that our seats would be available, and after witnessing the “seat rage” at the previous two shows, I could understand why!

Hubby and I decided to go to a table service tapas restaurant. We still had a stash of euros and our charge cards, so we weren't worried about exceeding the value of our voucher. We were very excited to taste genuine Spanish tapas, since the tapas served at the winery in Cadiz was more like a cross between antipasto and high tea sandwiches.

We are used to the small portions served at American tapas restaurants like Cafe Tu Tu Tango, so we each ordered multiple items. I ordered the trio of grilled cheeses with sauces, Russian salad, and meat with sauce. Hubby ordered tuna, potatoes, mussels, and the variety plate of sausage. When the first platters of food arrived, we quickly realized our mistake. They were huge and heaping! Everything was delicious, but there was no way that we could finish it all, let alone even think about the desserts we'd been drooling over when we first read the menu.

On top of all the food, there was also wonderful crusty bread and mojo sauce. Hubby got cafe con leche to drink, while I ordered peach iced tea. It turned out to be a type of canned Nestea that I've never seen in the United States. It was very good, flavorful without being overly sweet. It was supposedly enhanced with some sort of antioxidant, but with my limited Spanish I have no idea what sort.

We ate what we could of the tapas. The biggest surprise was the potatoes; hubby had though it was some sort of potato dish, but we were served a platter stacked with whole potatoes! They were the small, red kind that you can eat with the skin, and I don't know what they were seasoned with but they were very yummy. My two favorites were my Russian salad (some sort of concoction with potatoes and tuna) and the trio of cheese, particularly the one with berry sauce. Hubby's sausage was very good, too, but I refused to try the mussels. I felt guilty for not finishing our “Spanish buffet,” but my stomach would definitely have exploded.

We decided to shop for souvenirs before the orca show, as we didn't want to worry about feeling rushed on our way out of the park. We both wanted a t-shirt, and I was hoping to find a souvenir book. We located a t-shirt shop fairly easily in a little “village” of stores, but despite seeing everything else from candy to key chains, I couldn't find a book. We figured they had to have one somewhere, so we decided to plot out our path to the orca stadium so we could see the jaguars (we had already seen the two former magician's tigers; they looked like they were having a very pleasant retirement in their wooded habitat complete with pool). The parrot show was starting, too, but we were afraid to see it because it would be cutting our timing too close if we happened to get lost on the way to the orcas.

As we trudged along in confusion, we passed a kiosk selling items for the Loro Parque foundation, and I spotted a lovely book with pictures and descriptions of every exhibit in the park. I bought it and we continued our search for the jaguars; they were nowhere to be found, but our search took us to virtually every other corner of the park, from the chimps and iguanas to the parrots, orchids, and cactus garden. I was sad that we didn't have time to stop and really appreciate all of of those things, but the minutes were ticking away and we had no idea if we were even close to the stadium (we had given up on the jaguars and were now focused solely on finding the orcas).

Eventually we made it to the stadium and settled into our seats to watch the pre-show amusement, i.e. people who were not on the tour but who tried every trick and argument in the book, and sometimes just sheer boldness and belligerence, to get into our section. Once the show started, I was glad that we were not in a splash zone, as they people sitting in those areas got SOAKED! I never realized just how much water a killer whale's tail can displace.

Along with the animals' performance, there was video footage of their travel from Orlando and a hilarious blooper reel of training mistakes. Most involved the segments in which the orcas push the trainers onto the stage and the interesting falls and collisions that can happen when they loose their balance or when there's a bit too much momentum.

Even though I live only 20 minutes away from Sea World, I've never been there yet. After seeing the dolphin and orca shows at Lora Parque and learning about the Sea World connection, I'm curious to go there soon and see if the shows are similar.

At the end of the show, we joined the crush of 3000 people all filing through two tiny exits. By this time, I had learned a major different between Americans and Europeans: In Europe (and, by extension, the Canary Islands), you've not going to get anywhere if you're not extremely pushy. Having been raised in Chicago, I can be assertive with my body when needed. With hubby clinging to the back of my shirt, we wended our way through the sea of pushing and shoving humanity.

What really freaked me out was the number of people who lit up cigarettes in the crowd, then carried them hanging down at their sides in a perfect position to burn someone else. Actually, the number of smokers in general astounded me. I've heard it's much more prevalent in Europe than the U.S., but I was stunned to see it in person. People smoke everywhere and anywhere; thank goodness it was forbidden in the arenas and the interior areas of the restaurants or I wouldn't have been able to stand it.

Even though we didn't have to be back at the bus until 4:15, I wanted to get there by 4 just to be sure. Hubby had plotted out an exit route on the map while we were waiting for the show to begin, so once we got out of the moving wall of humanity, we made a break for the exit path. On the way we passed the aquarium, so we popped in for a Cliff Notes visit. The best part was the shark tank, although I was sad that we didn't have more time to look closely at the wide variety of fish.

We got to the front of the park with time to spare, so hubby said, “Want to go look at the jaguars? I think we're close to them.” Fortunately I said no, as a later study of the map showed that we were nowhere near them, so we would have been off on another wild goose chase and would potentially have been late to the bus. My souvenir book has a nice photograph of them, so I will be content with that.

We stopped at the restrooms, then headed out to the parking lot. I was amazed at just how clean and well kept all of the restrooms in the park were, although it annoyed me that there was a tip jar outside every one (and sometimes an actual person soliciting a tip). As an American, I'm not accustomed to giving money for going potty, and if I had to do that every time, my tiny bladder would drive me to the poorhouse.

Overall, the entire park was very well kept, with a large bevy of clean-up workers and gardeners visibly manicuring the grounds. I was happy that I had chosen Loro Parque for our excursion. My only regret was that we didn't have more time to explore, as I could easily have stayed busy right up until closing time.

On the way out, I saw the parrot pictures lining the wall, but I thought it would be impossible to find ours in the endless sea. Amazingly, one of the workers found it instantly. Hubby had 6 euros left, so we purchased it as another little memory, even though both of the parrots were hiding their heads in the shot.

It was easy to find our bus, since it was in the very first slot. We had made it out before 4 p.m., so we had to wait a bit before the bus driver appeared to open the door. We collapsed into our seats, exhausted but happy with our day of adventure. As the rest of our excursion group trickled on, I flipped through the souvenir book. It really captured the essence of each exhibit. Soon we were on our way back to the ship, and I was amazed at the number of times that my ears popped due to elevation changes in the 30 minute ride.

I was sad that this was the last port of call, as we'd had such wonderful experiences with our shore excursions. Disney did a great job with choosing a wide variety and selecting excellent guides and vendors. Although Loro Parque was our favorite, we loved every one of our excursions.

We got back at 5 p.m. and hubby went to do a workout while I got a coffee from Cove Cafe and settled in to try to get online. Oddly, every time I went to Cove on this trip, there were no cakes or cookies. I always love to grab something week with my coffee, but the display case was always as barren as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. It was almost as though I was preceeded by a swarm of locusts before every visit that had cleaned out every last crumb. I never figured out why, but even though I missed my cookies my waistline is probably better off because of it.

Since the internet didn't work, I gave up and did some work on my neglected trip report. When hubby returned, we briefly debated going to the show as we both like piano music (it was a concert by pianist Jim Brickman), but visions of the hot tub won out. We trooped upstairs to the nearly deserted Quiet Cove pool area and settled into the hot, soothing water. A while later, we were joined by one of the members of the onboard band. Since they are from Hungary and I am Hungarian on my maternal side, we had an enjoyable conversation until dinnertime. I still had to shower and dry my hair (which takes half an hour using the weak wind emitted by the built-in stateroom dryers), so hubby and I had to hustle to be ready on time.

Our transatlantic-themed dinner was in Lumiere's; although there was a curry for our tablemates, which hubby opted for too, I ordered the vegetarian pasta because the selection of vegetables sounded good. For my appetizers, I got a creamy fish soup and a spinach salad, both of which were tasty. The pasta was good, too, and chock full of good things like asparagus and mushrooms, but when I tasted the curry I almost regretted my decision. It was superb! Hubby let me have some of his in exchange for some of my pasta. I wasn't too hungry for dessert but I had a craving for something sweet, so I ordered the butter pecan sundae and just ate part of it.

By this time, we had started to sail away from Tenerife, although it was so smooth that I didn't even realize we were in motion until our tablemates pointed it out. I wondered if the glass-like ocean would hold out or if we'd encounter some wicked waves later. I also marveled at the fact that this was the halfway point of the cruise. Where did the last seven days go? Would the remaining sea days fly by just as quickly?

Back in the stateroom, a nice surprises was waiting for us: a Don Williams print commemorating the western transatlantic crossing to add to the previous memento (the transatlantic book).

As we stepped out onto our veranda to watch the sailaway, I caught a whiff of cigarettes. A very, very close whiff. Up until now, I had never seen anyone on the veranda next door. Now, just when I was ready to enjoy the view of the mountains dotted with jewel-like lights, our neighbor had appeared, lit up, and was sitting right in our corner, even though the ashtray is mounted on the other side. I stayed out for as long as I could stand it, but my sinuses were already rebelling from the rampant smoke at Loro Parque, so I finally retreated to watch from indoors.

When you book a veranda as a non-smoker, it's always a crap shoot as to whether you will have a smoker next door. Smoking is allowed on verandas, so there's not much you can do if you lose the “stateroom lotto.” One good thing about 5650 is that it only has a neighbor on one side, so your chances are a little better (that works for the other end veranda rooms and the ones next door to the navigators verandas, too). Fortunately, although I did encounter our neighbor smoking a few more times over the course of our cruise, it wasn't enough to have much on an impact on my veranda enjoyment.

Hubby stayed outside, trying futilely to capture some night shots of the light-studded mountains of Tenerife. For some reason, his camera was having trouble with the image even when he had it on night vision. I managed to get on the internet for all of ten minutes before it completely died again, but at least got two emails out. Only a few dozen more to go!

Hubby headed off to the deck party, but I put myself on house arrest until I updated my trip report. It's much too easy to let one day pass...then it becomes two...then three...then suddenly the trip is over, and so much has happened that it's impossible to recall the minute details.

At bedtime, I settled into bed while hubby watched some DVDs on his laptop. For some reason I couldn't fall asleep, and the restlessness built into some sort of anxiety attack. I had no idea why; after 57 and a half cruises the ocean is like a second home to me. I popped a Xanax left over from the flight and headed down to deck 4 to burn off my excess energy with the vigorous outdoor deck walk.

It was beautiful outside, with the receding lights of the shoreline on one side and the vast, endless blackness of the Atlantic on the other. I cognitively fought my panic while the sane part of me marveled at the peace and tranquility. There were only a few people out and about, but for the most part the outside decks had wound down for the night. I decided to do a late deck walk before bed every night.

Once I had calmed down, I returned to my stateroom to analyze the cause of my anxiety. Being a doctor of psychology, I look at everything cognitively. What specific thought was I attaching my fear to? It couldn't be the idea of crossing the ocean, as I love cruising and think of the Magic as a second home and a floating resort. I don't worry about sinking or other nautical disasters, and I'm not prone to sea sickness, so what else could it be?

In talking it out with hubby, I realized that for the past week I've only been able to get on the internet long enough to see how many work emails are building, but I can only answer one or two before the connection dies. Besides being a travel agent, I am also a counselor and work with online clients. The travel agency was taken care of, but on the counseling end you can never predict when someone will have a crisis. I take my work very seriously, as people literally entrust me with their emotional well-being. If someone already has abandonment issues and their therapist suddenly “disappears,” that can cause some real problems. I had warned everyone that my availability might be spotty until Sept. 1, but it still bothered me.

I think that the knowledge of all the messages waiting and the inability to act on them was what sent me over the edge. If online access was bad near the ports, my subconscious obviously feared that would be virtually non-existent in the middle of the Atlantic.

Having figured that out, I distracted myself with a book until I could feel my eyelids dropping. Then I rolled over and let the gentle rocking and the hum of the engines lull me off to dreamland. Since I had stayed up later than planned, I was glad that we were rolling the clocks back an hour overnight because I wanted to see Don Williams' presentation at 9:30 the next morning.

DAY EIGHT: SEA DAY
Hubby prodded me away around 8 a.m. for the first day of our six sea day marathon. We showered and grabbed some breakfast at Topsiders before heading to the Walt Disney Theater to see the Don Williams presentation. Although I already know the basic story, he tells it so well that I never tired of hearing it.

The theater was packed with fellow “Ducky” groupies, and we listened to the tale of how he went from bank employee to the only remaining artist in the marketing department. He sketches as he speaks, and at the end of the talk his drawings are raffled off to attendees:



No matter how many times I see his presentation, I marvel at how quickly he can sketch out works of art. He always brings lithos as examples of his painting work, and they are amazing. My favorite is a painting that he did of Walt, with four little sepia-toned Walts around the main portrait. I love his general cruise line work, too. One of my biggest regrets is not buying his poster of Ariel watching a Disney ship, which was sold for ages in Treasure Ketch. I figured it was a standard item that would always be available, but eventually it was retired. Oh well, I am fortunate to have some other gorgeous Don Williams lithos and drawings so I can't feel too badly.

At the end of the talk, Don's sketches were raffled off. Neither hubby nor I won one, but I needn't have despaired because I did get a Stitch sketch by the end of my trip. My foyer is full of Figment and Stitch memorabilia, and I have a beloved drawing of Figment from the first time I ever saw Don on a cruise that hangs right by my front door. Now Stitch can have a place of honor right below him.

After the presentation, we grabbed a quick lunch at Lumieres before hiking over to Beat Street for the Castaway Club party. It was supposed to begin at one, but we wanted to get there early enough to get a seat in Rockin' Bar D. We knew there were something like 1600 repeaters on board, so the main bar would quickly fill and they'd send the excess to Sessions and Diversions.

Usually the doors don't open till the designated time, but this time we discovered that people were already being seated. Fortunately we were there in plenty of time to get a spot in my preferred club. They squeezed in as many bodies as they could; we ended up sharing our table with another family, as did many others. I enjoy chatting with other people, so I don't mind sharing my place, and I also like the new, more interactive format of the party. You get a sheet with questions that are meant to get you up and talking to your fellow cruisers. Sadly, for some reason most people stayed rooted to their chairs. Hubby circulated around a bit, but no one seemed particularly interested in chatting so he gave up and returned to our “base.”

There were some new Med-based queries on the questionnaire. We filled ours out and tossed them into the drawing box; everyone who attends can enter to win a cute little Castaway Club clock. Back when that first started, I wondered how many voyages it would take hubby and I to win one. I feared that it might take a long, long time since we've been trying to get the “Who Wants to be a Mousketeer” crystal for year and have never managed to get picked. But the clock only took maybe six or seven cruises, and now we have one sitting proudly in our family room among a plethora of other Disney Cruise Line merchandise. On that trip, we were at the lucky table as the family we were sitting with won one too.

During the Castaway Club party, they show several video clips. My favorite is the Wonder's christening, when they do a really cool waterfall effect with fireworks that cascade down from deck 4. They also have Tinkerbell flying around the ship via a laser effect. After seeing the difference between the Magic and the Wonder's ceremonies, I can only imagine what they'll do for the christening of the two new ships. I like the video of the shoreside team, too, and since they're in Celebration it always makes me feel at home as I pass the offices almost every day.

Captain Thord came out and made a little speech. He asked how many cruises Tony and I were up to now, but I would only commit to 57 1/2. After all, we were only halfway done and I didn't want to jinx things! I figured it would officially be #58 once we had reached Port Canaveral. We'll hit #60 on the Wonder at the end of 2007, but after this two-week voyage I don't know just how well I am going to adapt back to my typical four-day trips. Thank goodness I have the 15-day Panama Canal crossing to look forward to in 2008.

After the party, it was time for more leisure and relaxation until our next activity. Hubby and I had booked a Rasul (formerly known as the Surial) for 5 p.m. We used to do that pretty regularly, but lately we have given it up in favor of seaweed wraps, hot stone massages, and the like. Since we are usually on the Wonder, there's a limited amount of time so I focus it on spa treatments where I'm the one getting the massage vs. a do-it-yourself experience.

Basically, the Rasul consists of time in a private shower and steam room, along with an array of mud and products that tend to vary. This time around, there was lime body salt for exfoliation and a bowl of minty-smelling mud. There is also a basket of other spa products to try, such as facial creams, toners, and the like.

The Rasul has become rather infamous on the internet, as it can range anywhere from a G rating to an X. As a couples experience, it is often one of the only “alone times” that mom and dad get away from the nagging kids who might burst into the stateroom at any time. For other couples, the uniqueness of the situation can act as an aphrodisiac on its own.

That sort of thing doesn't always happen, of course. You can simply enjoy slathering your parter in mud and enjoying the detoxifying effects of the steam. Since hubby and I have done it so often, we usually stick to the G-rated version now. But take it from me, if you want to be adventurous, remember two important rules: 1) Bring LOTS of extra towels because the tile floor is very hard and you will appreciate the cushioning. 2) Don't slather yourselves with the mud before getting...uh, close. Otherwise it can get in places you don't want it to get! If you're an amorous sort but are worried about privacy, you should have plenty of time, and the attendant will give you a warning knock at the door 10 minutes before your time is up.

Being the boring fogies that we are, hubby and I smeared on the mud and spent our time baking in the steam. I could feel myself becoming limp as a noodle. I put some ultra conditioner on my hair and applied a facial mask, too, so every part of my body was getting some pampering. All too soon it was time to shower off because we know the warning knock was imminent. Even though I was ready for a nap, there was no way I could do that because it was almost showtime.

Tonight's show was “Twice Charmed,” my favorite Disney Cruise Line show, and a rare treat for me considering that it's only on the Magic. I probably won't be onboard the Magic again until next year's Panama crossing, so that means it will be a whole year before I see it again. I was very disappointed that there was no matinees on this cruise, as I would gladly have seen this show twice (and I probably would have done the same for "Disney Dreams" and "Art of the Story").

“Twice Charmed” is wonderfully staged and very operatic. With a little tweaking, I could easily imagine it as a Broadway play. I love the music and the special effects, but my favorite part is the villain, Franco Di Fortunato. The basic premise of the story is that Franco is the wicked fairy godfather of Lady Tremaine and the evil stepsisters. He turns back time to give them a chance to break both of Cinderella's slippers; then, with a little more assistance from their godfather, it's up to them to win over the prince. However, if they fail, they become Franco's permanent servants.

Flash photography was mercifully absent so I was able to enjoy my favorite production with no distractions. I was tempted to sneak down from dinner to see the second performance, but I resisted the urge.

We were eating in Animators Palate, and it was a semi-formal nice with the Prince and Princess menu. I had some sort of vegetarian paprika-based dish for dinner and rocky road ice cream for dessert, laden with chocolate chips and marshmallows.

After the meal, I decided to get some exercise down on deck 4. Unlike the previous night, my anxiety dwindled so I was able to enjoy the brisk night air and the peace of the vast black ocean. I was still worried about my clients, but I had come to realize and accept that there wasn't much I could do. No sense in wasting energy on something I am powerless over. Better to just relax and enjoy my vacation.

DAY NINE: SEA DAY
Ah, the luxury of another day at sea! The seas were calm and the weather was fabulous...sunny, with just a few puffy clouds over the horizon. Even with binoculars, all I could see was a vast blue body of water merging with the horizon. From our veranda we could see the ship's wake, which stirs up a fascinating palate of blues, from aqua to sea foam to cobalt.

Hubby decided to attend the onboard church service and do an early workout. I am not a morning person (back home, we go to church at 11 and I do my exercise in the afternoon) so I trooped upstairs to Topsiders for some oatmeal, scrambled eggs, and bacon to enjoy out on our veranda. I also brought some fruit and yogurt for hubby so he'd have a nosh when he returned.

Earlier in the cruise we had ordered a set of limited edition pins commemorating the voyage. 10 a.m. was our pickup time so I trooped down to Upbeat to get them. They go onto a cardboard “map” that I planned to have signed by Captain Thord and framed. I was looking forward to adding my memorabilia from this cruise to my already vast collection, which has spread from my master bedroom to take over most of the family room. It helps me to not feel homesick for the ships when I'm not out on the sea. Since I work at home and the family room is also my main work area, whenever I have a stressful day I can gaze at my Golden Mickey or my beloved portrait of the ship or any of the other pieces that have a great deal of sentimental value. They remind me of just what I'm working for...knowing that I'm earning funds for the vacation cache makes the stress a lot easier to take.

There was a reflexology seminar at 10:45; although we saw it listed on the spa schedule, there was a note in the navigator that it was in Promenade Lounge. Seemed strange since the massage seminar had been in the spa, but maybe they were expecting a lot of people and needed more space. We trooped down, but no one from the spa was around so we started chatting with Chuck, a fellow travel agency owner I know. I'd been wondering if he was onboard, since he likes the longer cruises. Meanwhile, someone finally showed up from the spa, but it turned out to be a weight loss seminar. Not something I want to think about on a cruise! Since the seminar had started late, we rushed up to the spa hoping that the reflexology one had, too. When we got there, they said it was over already. That surprised me, since the massage one had run a good hour. Maybe no one had actually shown up because they were all confused like we were and were down in Promenade wondering what metabolism has to do with your feet!

With my plans abruptly changed, I enjoyed the veranda till lunch time (soup and Cobb salad at Lumieres, topped off with a delicious chocolate chip cookie sundae). That inspired me to drag my lazy carcass to the treadmill, where my endless laps to nowhere were brightened by the sight of the ocean in front of me and my favorite music filling my ears via iPod.

Next up was a drawing class given by Don Williams. How often do you get instruction from the master himself?! It was down in Animators Palate, and even though we got there pretty early, the close-up seats were already taken. There was a camera so you could watch along on the screens, but unfortunately it wasn't zoomed in so I was pretty much lost when it came to any of the detail work. In theory, we were drawing Mickey Mouse. In practice, mine ended up looking rather mutant since I couldn't see exactly how we were supposed to be drawing the cheeks and chin. I gained even more respect for Don; here I was struggling with a simple drawing, as were most of the other people, and he makes it so easy! It's amazing how he whips off such beautiful sketches. He had prepared some more to raffle off, so several lucky people managed to get a sketch.

At 3:30 p.m., hubby and I both had spa appointments (seaweed wrap for him and hot stone massage for me). I like the hot stones because they feel so good and because it's longer than a standard massage. I also got my free bottle of oil for attending the massage class previously. Even on vacation, my muscles are usually tense because I still use my laptop. It felt so good to have them worked out and then to be slathered in icy-hot refreshing gel.

After the treatment, I met hubby in the hot tub for half an hour of relaxation. It had been over a week, and I was pleased that I hadn't seen any children in either Cove Cafe or the adult pool. There are plenty on board; this is Disney, so of course you see them in other areas all the time. But it's pure bliss to be able to escape to quiet “big kid” areas. I could tell the ocean was much calmer than a few days before because this time the swimming pool didn't resemble the wave pool at Typhoon Lagoon. There was another hot tubber or two, but no one was particularly chatty so we just relaxed and enjoyed the bubbles.

After the soak, I headed to Cove Cafe for some flavored iced tea. They usually have three kinds, but at the moment they only had the fruit variety. That was fine with me, and I got myself a to-go cup to enjoy back down in my stateroom while trying to log on for work.

While I struggled with the internet, hubby decided to be a glutton for punishment and subject himself to the movie “Underdog.” I am most definitely not a fan of live action animals talking digitally (“Babe” is the sole exception). That perception almost kept me from seeing “Snow Dogs” many years ago because the commercials centered on talking dogs, although that's actually just a very brief part when the main character has a hallucination. “Snow Dogs” turned out to be a cute movie that I would highly recommend. But Underdog's whole premise is based on digital canine talking, flying, etc., and even the previews make me cringe so I took a pass on the whole ordeal. Afterwards, hubby reported that it wasn't too bad, but I didn't feel that I had missed out on much.

Amazingly, the internet connection was pretty stable for more than an hour, so I was able to do a lot of catch-up. My travel business was quiet, but the counseling end of things was as busy as ever so I felt a lot better about being able to check in with those clients. Unfortunately, the improvement in the internet did not correlate to a return of ESPN, which had been unavailable for the past three days. My NASCAR-addicted husband was showing some pretty severe withdrawal symptoms. At one point we head a loud scream outside through the veranda doors and I asked, “What the heck was that?” he responded, “Some poor devil probably just jumped overboard because he couldn't take being without ESPN any longer.” Men...sigh!

It was time to shower for dinner, which was in Parrot Cay tonight with the Master Chef menu. I had cold potato and dill soup, tomato and mozzarella salad, and asparagus risotto for dinner (actually that was a side dish to another entree, but it sounded good enough to eat by itself). For dessert, I had a tough time choosing between the mint chocolate chip sundae and some sort of banana pudding. With me, ice creams always wins out, but our server brought one of the banana desserts too, so hubby and I each tried half. It was superb!

My only regret of the evening was that I had to miss the adult flubber-making class. On this cruise, Disney offered some activities to adults that are normally only for the kiddies, like making flubber or painting an animation cell. Unfortunately, they started at 9 or 9:30 p.m. Many adults (like us) are on the late dinner seating, which starts at 8:30, so there is no way they can make it. I really regretted missing the opportunity to try those activities.

Hubby decided to go see the cabaret act and the 80s party, but I wanted to catch up on my trip report and some reading. We were moving the clock back an hour, so I didn't have to worry about staying up too late because I'd regain some precious sleep time in the morning. I stayed up till hubby returned from the entertainment, and then we both curled up for another night of sleeping in the sway of the sea.

I woke up a couple of times towards morning and noticed that the ship was rocking more than usual. The next morning, Captain Thord said we had hit some pretty high swells, so that must have been what I noticed. To me it felt like a giant nautical cradle, and I quickly zoned back to sleep each time.

DAY TEN: SEA DAY
Since we had moved the clock back again, I woke up bright an early. I caught part of the sunrise before sacking out for a while more, than went upstairs for some breakfast while hubby worked on his computer. The sea had calmed down to a moderate level, and although there were some puffy clouds on the horizon, for the most part it looked like another lovely, sunny day.

We were scheduled for Palo brunch at 11, but it was only 8 so I figured that I needed something to tide me over. Up at Topsiders, I got some cream of wheat, pineapple, and an omlette to nosh on out on the balcony. The sea looked calm, but we were still rocking pretty good. I figured that it was because of our speed. The chart on the television indicated that we were able halfway to the U.S. already.

Hubby went for a workout, but I was drawn to the veranda for a morning of reading and sea gazing. It is so strange to see NOTHING...no birds, no insects, no other ships, no airplanes...just the vast, never-ending expanse of the ocean. It's a sense of peaceful isolation like nothing I have ever experienced. Between the gentle swaying on the water and the monotonous hum of the engines, it was all I could do not to not off to sleep.

Eventually it was time to get ready for Palo brunch. The pizzas had looked so delicious last time, but we hadn't had room in our bellies! This time, we committed to saving room so we could try the spicy sausage and the grape and cheese pizzas.

One of the things I enjoy about brunch (besides the dazzling array of food, of course!) is the panoramic view that you don't always get at dinnertime if you eat after sunset. What more can you ask for out of life than to sip champagne and watch the ship's wake trailing along behind you as you nibble on crab legs, sun dried tomatoes, cheeses, prosciutto, shrimp...the list could go on and on.

We made our cold food selections from the buffet and ordered our pizza. I had grabbed a sticky bun, even though that was jumping the gun to dessert, because I wanted to make sure that I didn't get too full to fit it in. The thick honeyed filling is enough to make my teeth jingle for a week!

After our pizzas, we each got a half order of eggs benedict, and hubby tried a mixture of tea prepared by Annie Marie. She blended Harmony with chamomile, resulting in a minty yet soothing blend. I had already had my dessert (I'd gone back for a second sticky bun), but hubby sought out a nice, big bowl of fresh berries to cap his meal.

With full bellies, we returned to our stateroom. Hubby was ready to crash, but I had work to do so he wrapped himself in a cocoon out on the veranda while I logged on and tended to my professional responsibilities. The internet connection was more stable than usual, but it still died before I got to the end of my work. Oh well, at least I'd been able to do most of it. My neighbor had emailed me that our cats were doing well, although two are hiding and won't come out for any social activity. The third, Stitch, loves everyone and anyone, so he's been getting lots of loving and playtime.

We didn't have a lot scheduled until showtime, so after catching up with my trip report, I debated on whether to see if the spa had any openings, to work out, or to read. I left it to chance; if the spa had an appointment available, that was obviously what I was meant to do. Unfortunately, they didn't (not that I have to feel too bad because I have a villa booked for tomorrow). Thus I decided to force my lazy, brunch-filled body upstairs to the treadmills while hubby napped in the ocean air. That way, I would earn some reading time later.

When I reached the elevators, I abruptly changed my mind and decided to brave the Obstacle Deck, also known as deck four. It was just too beautful of a day to do my exercise inside. It wasn't too bad; the biggest risk was dodging errant shuffleboard pucks and kids blindly swinging the mallets. I got in a nice 45 minute walk, and when I returned to the stateroom, hubby was still sound asleep on the veranda. He had wrapped himself in a nice little cocoon and looked so peaceful that I left him out there while I read and watched TV.

Eventually he woke up in enough time for a half-hour hot tub soak before the show. The tubs were pretty crowded, but we managed to wedge our bodies into one. Even though the ship's motion didn't feel all that severe, the adult pool's water was rolling even worse than I'd ever seen it before. A few people were bobbing among the waves, enjoying the wave pool effect. It looked like fun, but wimp girl that I am, I preferred the nice hot water to the brisker pool.

We trooped off to the show, something called “When Mickey Dreams” that I had never seen before (like “Art of the Story,” it's for the special cruises). Mickey actually wasn't featured too prominently, other than curling up for bed in the beginning and waking up at the end. After heading off to sleep he disappeared from the stage, which was taken over by white-clad performers dancing and carousing to “Tapestry of Dreams” from the old Epcot parade. I like the music, but I much prefer the original “Tapestry of Nations” version from the first parade. The show made a lot of use of the projection system, and the costumes and props were very much like something from Cirque de Soliel. They performed strange and surreal numbers, but the best part was the Chinese acrobats performing flawless moves on a ship moving over 20 knots.

Towards the end, Maleficent came out for a villains number. I had heard she was in the show and wondered if it would be at all close to Fantasmic, but it really wasn't. She did a dance with the performers, holding what appeared to be real lit candelabras (pretty impressive on a ship), but of course the good dream people defeated her.

The show received a standing ovation and hubby absolutely loved it, but I actually liked “Art of the Story” much better. It's not that it was a bad show, but it was mostly pageantry vs. something with a strong Disney link. Having Mickey briefly at the beginning and end reminded me of how they tried to tie him into the old “C'est Magique” show, which went through a few incarnations before it was totally retired. Actually I had liked “C'est Magique,” and I always figure that the problem with that one and with “Voyage of the Ghost Ship” one of the very first three shows on the Magic when it was launched in 1998. “Ghost Ship” was high on production values and operatic singing but had literally no Disney tie-in so most people didn't like it. Ironically, nowadays they would have easily tied it in with “Pirates of the Caribbean” and had a real crow-pleaser.

I guess I used to be more open-minded, but my years of sailing have geared me to expect that Disney relationship. If you removed Mickey and switched Maleficent to something more generic, “When Mickey Dreams” could just as easily have been on a Royal Caribbean ship (when we sailed on Voyager of the Seas, they actually did have something vaguely similar).

Still, it seemed to be a crowd pleaser, and I was still reeling with awe over the acrobats. They definitely did deserve a standing ovation.

On our way back to the stateroom, we bought a couple of photos that we'd had taken the other night. Then it was time to get ready for Palo, but first I paused on the veranda to admire the gorgeous sunset. Our neighbor came out to smoke (in our corner, of course, although I was hoping that the sunset would draw them to the opposite end), so I went inside and turned on the deck cam. It offered a good view, but not quite as nice as seeing it live.

The deck cam channel is a particularly good thing if you have an inside stateroom. The camera is permanently trained on the front of the ship, so if you don't have a porthole or veranda, you can leave your television set on and still have a window on the world.

In Palo, we were having dinner with several other people in the group room. In addition to the main restaurant, there is a private room that can be reserved if you have a certain number of people. I've been in it a few times before when sailing with friends, and it's a neat experience. I think it's impossible to have a bad experience in Palo, but this just adds an extra little layer of specialness.

I had the eggplant carpaccio for my appetizer and mushroom risotto for my main course. They had peanut butter gelato again, so of course I was in heaven at dessert time.

One of the group that hubby was chatting with said he had spotted a freighter earlier, but for us it had been nothing but a blue expanse of ocean joined with a blue expanse of sky. Hubby did hear a big splash when he was outside napping, but by the time he looked, whatever had made the noise was gone.

When you're sharing good food with good companions, the time really flies. Dinner ran quite late, and I couldn't believe that it was after 11 by the time we headed back to our stateroom. I was done for the night, but hubby headed down to the cabaret show. He has really been enjoying the night life on this cruise, and he's given high marks to the band and all of the cabaret performers. That's one of the things you don't really get to see/do on the Wonder; even though they offer some nighttime shows, the time goes by so fast and we're usually too tired to stay up late when we know there's more action planned for the morning. On a transatlantic crossing with six sea days, you can stay up till the wee hours and know that it's no problem to sleep in. This was another night in which the clock was set back an hour, too, so that gained us even more time.

DAY ELEVEN: SEA DAY
Due to the time change, I woke up at some ungodly hour. I think it was around 6:30 a.m., and hubby was still snoozing like a rock. I read until Topsiders opened, then slipped up the back staircase for some sunny side up eggs and a bowl of Cheerios. I am a big fan of smooshing toast into egg yolks, and by now I was bored with oatmeal and cream of wheat so I figured that cold cereal would add some variety.

Eventually hubby woke up and went off for his morning work-out. I usually prefer to exercise later in the day, so I hung out in the stateroom until he returned. He had decided to go to a cooking demonstration by Michael Jordan, but I was too lazy so we decided to meet up at the Don Williams presentation later that morning. Hubby later told me that the demo had been packed. It was supposed to be adults-only, but unfortunately there was no enforcement so children ended up taking spots that could have been taken by adults. That was one of my few annoyances on this trip. While enforcement of the adults-only areas (e.g. pool, spa, Cove Cafe) was generally good, it was non-existent at the presentations and demos. Everything tended to full, or nearly so, so I didn't think it was right that kids took adult spots. Also, it was very annoying to have a baby start screaming in the middle of one of Michael Jordan's wine seminars. I guess I shouldn't have fretted about missing the adult flubber class; turnabout is fair play, so I should have just crashed it at the kids' club!

I headed off to the Walt Disney Theater for the Don Williams presentation. No matter how many times “Ducky” speaks, I am always there to hear it. Each time he throws in some new bits of trivia, plus it's worth it just to watch him draw. I got there early, so I had a seat down front. I waited for hubby...and waited...and waited. He never showed, so I figured that he must be sitting somewhere else. Sure enough, I found him on the way out. He'd gotten there pretty late, so he didn't want to wander around the theater looking for me.

It was lunchtime, so we headed to Lumiere's. I had broccoli and cheese soup and a reuben sandwich, topped off with a blueberry muffin sundae. The restaurant was packed to the gills, which was no surprise for a sea day. Still, even with the long stretch at sea, overall the ship never seems obnoxiously crowded. Granted, it's not at capacity, but you can still see that it was built to accommodate a healthy number of people. Every time we've wanted to take a dip in the hot tub, there was been space. I've gotten plenty of snacks at the quick service restaurants with only minimal lines. The service has been quick at Cove Cafe, and finding at seat at the shows isn't a problem as long as you arrive a bit ahead of time. I haven't laid out in the cushy lounge chairs on deck 4, but every time I'm down there exercising, I see several available.

When we were done eating, hubby went out to view the art auction while I caught up my trip report. Next on our agenda was another wine tasting with Michael Jordan. Directly after, I had a spa villa booked so I knew that tasting half a dozen wines would put me in a nice, relaxed state for a hot tub, massage, and tea.

We headed to Animator's Palate for the tasting. At the first one, attendance had been somewhat light. Obviously word was getting around the ship that Michael Jordan was on board and that these events were no ordinary Disney Cruise Line wine tasting, as the crowd had expanded considerably for this one. The theme was German white wines, and we tasted six that ranged from dry to ultra sweet. The last one (#6) was an ice wine, which I usually like, but my favorites actually turned out to be #4 and #5. They were sweet without being cloying and had a wonderful bouquet on the palate (which is my fancy way of saying they were good!).

I knew that I couldn't stay for the whole presentation, since I had to get ready for my spa appointment. Fortunately, Michael started off with a Cliff Notes explanation and quick tasting of each wine before going back and giving more detail. I was able to hear the basic facts about each type as I savored it. Michael had brought the selections with him, and he explained that a couple of them are hard to come by (very limited production, only sold in certain areas, etc.).

Finally I had to tear myself away so I wouldn't be late for my spa villa. I don't have as much capacity for wine as hubby, so I had just taken a few sips from each glass (well, maybe more than a few from #4 and #5), and I left the rest in his capable hands to finish up for me. We still had a seminar on Russian wines coming up, and I wondered how it the offerings would compare. I tend to like sweeter varieties of wine, so the German ones had been very much to my liking.

I hustled up to the spa, where I had booked a massage in one of the private villas. Basically, you have a private room with a hot tub and lounging bed out on the veranda. You start off with a foot bath and then soak in the hot tub before retreating inside for your treatment. Besides a massage, you can select various other options such as wraps and facials. Once it's done, you head back outside on the lounging bed to enjoy a pot of tea and fresh fruit. It's rather pricey, but a worthwhile luxury as it's not something that you can duplicate at a spa back home. No matter how nice the surroundings might be, land-based spas can't complete with the Atlantic Ocean panorama.

I had opted for a regular massage. After the foot bath, I climbed into the hot tub and laid back to stare out at the ocean vista. The ship's movement is more prominent on the higher decks. Being up on 9, I stared at the balcony railing as a vantage point and watched the rocking motion. It was almost hypnotic, and I could feel myself drifting off. Through a supreme effort of will, I managed to remain awake until treatment time. I hated to get out of the hot, soothing water with the jets that had been massaging my back, but now I'd be enjoying a full-body massage. I lay prone on the table and drifted in and out as the masseuse worked her magic.

All too soon it was over. I quickly washed my hair in the shower out on the balcony so I could hurry to the evening show afterwards. Then I settled onto the lounger and enjoyed a cup of tea and some fruit skewers. Ah, pure bliss! I hated for it to end, but I was looking forward to the show so I hustled off to my stateroom to change into something more suitable for the theater. I don't think I would have fit in too well in my robe and swimsuit!

I made it to the theater literally two minutes before start time. Hubby was in the back row, so I settled in beside him just before the intro. Tonight it was a crew talent show, and it did indeed feature crew members from myriad departments such as housekeeping to deck workers to the art auction to children's programming who shared a variety of talents. Singing was the most common, but there were also acts such as tap dancing and juggling. In between there were “Dancing With the Officers” segments in which guests cut the rug on stage with various ships' officers. Before each of their performances, we saw a little video clip introducing the guest and showing their practice sessions. The grand finale was Don Williams performing a dance with Cruise Director Rachel.

The show was a real crowd pleaser, with lots of audience support. I had wondered if attendance would be light, but it was quite the contrary...the theater was packed to the brim. The performers were amazingly talented; my favorite was when the onboard auctioneer capped her juggling act by balancing one of the sun lounger chairs on her chin!

After it let out, we went to our stateroom hoping for some internet time, but that was as futile as usual. It's frustrating because often you can log on and it will work for a while, but then it dies and you don't even know it since it's so slow anyway. Thus, you waste 15 expensive minutes or so waiting to see if something will ever come up and then calling Guest Services to log you off. I understand that we're in the middle of the ocean, but I think that the price of the internet packages should have been reduced for the crossing to take the unreliability and slowness into consideration.

We got dressed for dinner, which was a Caribbean menu tonight even though we still have a little ways to go. It's been so odd to see no other signs of humanity for days now! I heard rumors of one freighter that was spotted earlier in the day, but I didn't see it myself. Even many of the satellite TV stations are unavailable (hubby is going through ESPN withdrawal). It's as though the rest of the world could have disappeared and we'd be totally unaware, drifting around and partying on our lovely resort ship. It's sort of like a Twilight Zone episode! But the feeling of normalcy will return all to soon once we reach Castaway Cay in three days. I love the island, but it will be sad too because it will mean that our cruise is almost over. I'm already dreading having to switch back to four-day sailings in October.

The dress code was cruise casual, so I put on a white long-sleeved shirt and khaki pants. We popped down to deck 4 and joined the line waiting to enter Animators. Just outside the door to the promenade area, we noticed a couple having one of the shipboard photographers snap their photo with the moon in the background. It was a gorgeous natural backdrop, with the moonlight reflecting on the inky black water. We slipped outside to see if we could get the same shot, too. We have many photos with a similar “fake” backdrop, so we thought it would be really cool to get an actual outside shot. I was sorry that I hadn't worn something fancier, but you never know when that sort of opportunity is going to come along.

We rejoined the line inside and made our way to good old table 7. I had some sort of cold fruit soup, plus the Indian appetizer brought out by our server. For dinner, I had some vegetable curry and a stuffed veal chop. I skipped dessert, since I'd had some sweets earlier; there are decadent mini poppyseed muffins with frosting that I've only managed to get my hands on twice, and I'd had some before the show.

After dinner, hubby headed off to see the cabaret show and 70s night. The next day, he reported to me that 70s night has been changed completely, so I'll have to make it a priority to catch it the next time I'm on the Wonder.

It was the last night to move the clock back one hour, so my body was giving out pretty early. I opted to stay in the room to do some work. Unfortunately, the typical internet problems caused me to waste more minutes before I realized that it was truly dead. I would get a teaser connection that might let me answer an email or two before it would suddenly stop. Then, just when I thought it was dead, another page would come up. Then, finally, it froze for good and Guest Services had to log me out. They need to have an Internet Logout Hotline number.

At this point in the cruise, I had made peace with being disconnected from work. I already lost some business, but why cry over spilled milk when you're on the vacation of a lifetime? I can always redouble my efforts when I return to the “real world.”

I changed my watch and curled up to sleep, wondering as I drifted off if I'd be able to sleep on land without the rocking of the waves and the soothing hum of the engine. Oh well, at least I'd have warm cat bodies and purring as a substitute once I got home.

DAY TWELVE: SEA DAY
Once again I was up early due to the time change. We were finally in synch with Florida time, so there would be more changes. I hoped my body would stay geared to early rising until the end of the cruise, as that would make getting up for disembarkation much easier. I feel sorry for the people who have to get up that morning and fly somewhere. For us, it's just a matter of an hour's drive and we're home sweet home. That was the major reason that I chose the homebound transatlantic crossing. I wanted to get the stress of the flights over with in the beginning. A vacation is for peace and relaxation, and I had no desire to shatter that with worry about making connections or having our luggage lost with precious souvenirs inside.

Hubby and I decided to have a sit-down breakfast as Lumiere's, as I had a taste for pancakes. I had been hoping for days that Topsiders would have corned beef hash again, but at this point I had lost hope so I thought banana pancakes would make a good option. Hubby noticed that the menu indicated a chef's special...he asked what it was, and lo and behold, it was corned beef hash! My craving would finally be sated. Now, the only other thing I needed to located was the mini frosted poppyseed muffins that I had become addicted to. I only managed to get my hands on some twice; there are plenty of full-sized muffins at breakfast, but without the frosting they just aren't quite as godly.

After breakfast, I debated on how to spend the day. The only official thing that we had scheduled was a Russian wine tasting at 3 p.m., although I was also planning to go to the strudel baking seminar at 10 a.m. I knew that I should do some work; even when I can't log on, I can work on my freelance writing. But instead I dialed the spa to see what appointments were available. I grabbed a facial at 11 a.m. and an aromaflex massage at 5. That will still give me enough time to go to the show, although I wasn't sure that I was going to attend.

Since the internet was once again nearly unusable, hubby went off to the strudel seminar while I lazed around and read until my appointment. I didn't think I'd have enough time to go to the cooking demo, but he returned to the room at 10:45. Fortunately, they had let him take a piece to go for me. He said that the room had been packed full of people; word must be getting around that there is always a wine pairing at the demos. It's one of the few opportunities for a free drink!

I was looking out the veranda door, and suddenly I spotted another ship! I was amazed, as I had begun to believe that we were alone in the world. It was way out in the distance, but with the help of my binoculars I was able to determine that it was blue with some sort of yellow machinery on the front. I have no idea what type of ship it was, but it was nice just to know that there was other humanity in our little corner of the Atlantic. If it weren't for the sun I would have no bearings at all, but each day's sunrise and sunset reassures me that we are heading due west.

I trooped upstairs for my facial, which was as relaxing as usual. It's a very hands-on treatment; not only do they apply the creams and mask, but they also do a head, face, and shoulder massage. Afterwards, I took my shower in the locker room to enjoy the “rain” showerhead. I hadn't showered yet for the day, so I was feeling decidedly gross. It felt good to be nice and clean again and smelling of the yummy spa shampoo.

When I returned to the stateroom, hubby was in the shower as he had just returned from his workout. Being in a rut, we went to Lumiere's for lunch (Parrot Cay and Topsiders are usually open for most meals, too). I had a tomato and mozzarella cheese salad and a steak and cheese croissant. They weren't bad, but the dessert was superior (key lime cheesecake).

Next on the agenda was our third wine tasting. We were both under the impression that we'd be tasting Russian wines. Since we'd never heard of anything but Vodka coming out of Russia, we figured it would be a unique experience.

Surprise, surprise! The wines were actually from the Russian River area of California. Fortunately, I discovered that I wasn't the only one who had made the wrong assumption; another woman at our table had the same thought as me. Still, I figured that it would be another great wine tasting experience.

There were three whites and three reds; the reds were very pricey as they were all limited productions, but since my taste tends more to sweet wine I definitely preferred the previous day's German selections. Still, it was fascinating to taste wines from a region of California that I was not familiar with. It's amazing just how many different nuances the smell and taste can have. It's great fun to hear Michael Jordan talk about the wines, too, because he has such enthusiasm for the subject. Often he starts describing a meal that would be suitable for a particular vintage, describing it in minute detail until your mouth is watering. I can't wait to eat at Napa Rose in April.

I left a little early to get ready for my next spa appointment. At the beginning of the cruise, I had promised myself that I would keep my spa addiction under control. Unfortunately, that's a virtual impossibility. The only thing that stops me is a lack of available appointments. I booked a reasonable number online before this cruise, figuring that with so many sea days it would be hard to add any more spontaneously onboard. That worked a little, but not completely as I ended up adding four additional appointments (as described earlier in this report, I cheated by doing two on port days, and I lucked out with the other two today since I was flexible with my times).

After my appointment, I debated going to the main stage show vs. some hot tub time. As far as I knew, hubby had opted for “Ratatouille.” Neither of us had seen it yet, as it wasn't something that would draw us to the movies. Normally I like Pixar films, but the idea of a rat as a chef just didn't grab me. From what I had heard of it, there was a lot of slapstick/physical comedy, which isn't really my taste. I like subtleties and even some dark humor, which is probably why “The Incredibles” and “Lilo and Stitch” are my favorite Disney movies. I figured hubby could give me his review, and then I could decide whether to catch “Ratatouille” on the Wonder if it's still there in October or to just wait for cable.

Susan Egan, the original Belle from Broadway was performing on the main stage (she was also Meg in “Hercules,”), but I wasn't really in the mood for a singing show. I actually have never seen the play “Beauty and the Beast,” although I've made up for it by seeing “Lion King” four or five times and I'm waiting with bated breath for “Mary Poppins” to come to Chicago, Tampa, or Miami. I knew that showtime would be a perfect time for the hot tub, since there would be no crowd because everyone would either be eating or in the theater.

Hubby had opted for the show, so I had a nice soak. Tonight's dinner was in Palo, so we met up after the show, donned our dress clothes, and headed up to deck 10. Gemma was our server, and she tempted me with a description of one of the night's specials: grouper. Although I like seafood, I am still somewhat of a neophyte with fish. I've only had grouper once before, but I was glad that I had it again as it was absolutely delicious. Dessert was gelato (of course!). I've always loved the gelato at Palo, but the Magic introduced me to the peanut butter flavor, so I'm hoping that they've started making that one on the Wonder, too.

Back in our stateroom, we crashed in bed to sleep off our feast, looking forward to one more day at sea before reaching Castaway Cay.

DAY THIRTEEN: SEA DAY
It was cloudy when I woke up, and water on the veranda indicated that it had rained at some point. I ran up to Topsiders for a quick bowl of oatmeal, as we had early plans. There was a talk with the Walt Disney Theater cast at 9, following by a technical presentation and theater tour at 9:30. We've toured the theater before many years ago, but not since “Twice Charmed” was added and “Disney Dreams” was changed. It's amazing to see just how much scenery and how many props are stored in a very limited space and how state-of-the-art technical feats are pulled of with the limitations of a cruise ship.

The cast talk started late; the doors finally opened at around 9:10 and we all trooped in to meet several of the current cast members. Most of them had had previous contracts with Disney, but there were a couple of newbies, too. On one person's jacket, I noticed the designation “Magic 19.” I could hardly believe that there have been 19 casts already! It doesn't seem all that long ago that I was on my first Magic cruise, but actually it's been almost exactly 9 years ago (our first sailing was on Labor Day weekend, 1998).

The audience asked many of the usual questions, such as “How does the audition process work?” and “Do you have other duties on the ship?” Technical questions were deferred until the second part of the presentation, when we were introduced to the people behind the scenes, like the sound technicians, electrical technicians, props person, etc. It's amazing to see just how many people it takes to keep the shows running smoothly.

We got to see how the final scene change takes place in “Disney Dreams.” There is a Lion King number in which a scrim is lowered, and the focus shifts to a main singer and a singing/damcing ensemble. While that is happening, the main set is switched over for the big finale. Normally, you can't see any of that because the stage is dark, but they did a lights-on run through. It was fascinating! I don't think I'll ever see the show again without appreciating the amount of frenzied activity going on beyond the audience's sight.

Then we were allowed to come on stage to view the main lift. We learned about all of the safety precautions under which the lift operates, and we saw the below-stage storage space. We learned that while land-based theaters move scenery with a system of lifts and pulleys, there isn't enough space on a cruise ship to do that. Instead, everything is done electronically.

Since there were so many people, we had to view the lift in two groups. Then we were able to wander around the stage and view many of the props and scenery pieces up close. Most of them were from “Disney Dreams,” since that was this night's production, but I saw other items like the “Friendship” blocks and the brooms and birds from “Golden Mickeys” and a hat that looked like it might be Franco's from “Twice Charmed.”

As you can see below, I got the chance to sit on Anne Marie's bed and get up close and personal with the Sebastian puppet from "Disney Dreams":



The technicians were milling around and answering questions, so I started chatting with Derek from the Philippines. He had worked on the Wonder for seven years before coming over to the Magic. He was a wealth of information on the electrical and laser effects and all of the testing and checks/rechecks that go into making a flawless show.

I was having such a good time that I didn't realize we only had 15 minutes to change our clothes and get to brunch! Fortunately hubby noticed the time, and we rushed back to our stateroom for a quick change. Outside in the distance I noticed another ship. It was only the second I had noticed so far. A quick binocular check revealed that it was a cargo ship, but we didn't have much time to study it as we had to get to deck 10.

Sasha was our server, and he gave us a quick reminder tour of the cold and hot options. The tilapia caught my eye, as it was covered with a lovely “salsa” of tomato, green pepper, and onion. As I mentioned earlier, the current Palo chef seems to have away with vegetables. After our course of cold foods, I had to try that fish and hubby opted for the veal.

The tilapia was absolutely excellent. It was actually one of the best fish dishes that I've ever had...even better than the monk fish. I wish they had an equivalent at Flying Fish on Boardwalk or one of the other Disney World restaurants.

The hollandaise sauce was particularly good, too. I had tasted it on the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, so I ordered a half-order of eggs benedict with extra sauce. Hubby got some dessert, but I didn't need any because I'd had a sticky bun with my first course. I have my priorities in order: life is short, so eat dessert first.

Back in our stateroom, hubby logged on and managed to use the internet for a while. When he was done, I logged in from my laptop but it died pretty quickly on me. My email backlog was increasing, but I managed to answer a few and at least I could comfort myself with the knowledge that in less than 48 hours I would be back on my broadband connection. I was sorry that the cruise was almost over, so at least that was one small thing that made the end feel a bit better. I know that Disney can't control the reliability of the internet, but I think they should have lowered the price to reflect the diminished level of service on the crossing. I lost innumerable minutes waiting to see whether I was still connected or whether it had died, and it routinely took over five minutes to open one email. Often, I couldn't log off and had to call Guest Services to do it while my minutes ticked away. A few times, I called to complain and get my wasted minutes credited back, but I finally gave up on that because I would literally have been calling at least once or twice a day.

Our next scheduled activity was “Til We Meet Again,” which had been moved from the last night to this afternoon. They called it something else like “Special Character Greeting,” but basically it was the same event. The characters come out and disperse in the atrium and up on deck 4. The main characters are there, as well as some from the main stage cast. The ship's photographers don't take any pictures; you bring your own camera, plus an autograph book if you are so inclined, and play “Find the Character” among the crowd. The characters are pretty well spaced out, and impromptu lines form for each. It's a loosely organized chaos, but you can get some great, less formal photo ops.

Since we've seen it so many times on the Wonder, we usually skip it unless we just happen to be in the area. Even now and then I seek out Stitch, but not every time. Most guests focus on the princesses, Mickey, Minnie, and the other “big names,” so sometimes we just stop by and focus on the main stage performers or the less sought-after characters.

But on the Magic, it is a must-do for me because Franco and the stepsisters usually come out. Since “Twice Charmed” is my favorite show and since I get to see it so rarely, I have to stalk them and get a photo whenever I am on the Magic. The first time I saw “Twice Charmed,” way back in May of 2006, I got an excellent picture with them. The second time, in December of 2006, only the stepsisters were out so I missed my favorite villain. This time I was hoping to catch all three again.

I know where they usually stand, so hubby and I staked out a spot in that area. It was interesting to watch the other guests trying to figure what was going on. They seemed to be forming a line in a couple of spots where the photo lines usually are, but when they realized that everyone else was milling around, they dispersed. The crowd grew and the clock ticked past 2:30...then 2:35...then finally the big event began. As the characters were announced, they ran down the stairs by Lumieres and out into their spots among the guests. Franco and the stepsisters were among the first. The stepsisters came over where hubby and I were standing, but Franco ran over towards the chairs opposite Guest Services.

At this point, characters were still being announced, so the major chaos hadn't started yet and people hadn't really started taking pictures. I asked the stepsisters if I could get a photo of them together with Franco, so they beckoned him over. They all liked my “Twice Charmed” t-shirt, which I was wearing especially for this photo op (Disney doesn't sell them, but hubby and I had them specially made). Hubby got a great shot, and we managed to escape the atrium just as the real mob scene was beginning:



I wanted to get back to the stateroom and pick up my Don Williams litho, as he was doing a signing for decks 2 and 5 today (in order to keep the lines manageable, each deck was assigned a particular autograph session time).

You could have two items signed, so in addition to the litho I brought a t-shirt with my favorite Don Williams print on it. It's an unusual one, given that he usually does the characters. It's a gorgeous portrait of Walt, surrounded by four smaller pictures of him. Hubby snapped a photo of the print many years ago, when we first saw Don's presentation on the Magic, and we had shirts made. Since I happened to have mine with me, I thought it would be cool to have Ducky's autograph on it. Of course, now I can never dare to wear it again because I'm afraid that the signature will wash out!

The autograph line wasn't too bad, probably because everyone was still busy with the character free-for-all, which lasts about half an hour. Soon my treasures were signed, and I met hubby back at the stateroom where he was preparing for Final Jackpot Bingo. He's much more of a gambler than me, so he'll try a game of bingo or two every now and then when we cruise. I wished him luck and settled in to work on my trip report before my last spa appointment of the trip. I had a reflexology session, and it was scheduled to end just before show time, so we planned to meet in the theater before “Disney Dreams.”

On the Wonder, I don't always go to the shows because we sail on that ship so often and I know them so well. But “Disney Dreams” has been tweaked and improved; I've seen the new version once on the Wonder already, and I was anxious to do a comparison to the Magic's version. The enhancements don't change the storyline, but they add a little extra magic. For example, Peter Pan flies more, there is more extensive use of the laser and the projection system, and Timon and Pumbaa appear in the “Lion King” section.

I found hubby in the front row, and we settled in to enjoy the show. Beforehand, Tinkerbell flies around the theater courtesy of the laser. Soon the curtain was rising and we were immersed in the story of Ann Marie and her quest to find her own magic and fly with Peter to the place where dreams come true. As I mentioned earlier, the storyline is still the same, and the numbers are still based around Aladdin, Cinderella, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Lion King. It was especially fun to watch they show as I remember just how up close and personal I had been with the props earlier in the day. As the scrim was lowered for the Lion King song/set change, I imagined the flurry of activity that was taking place out of sight.

The show was as good as ever, although the flash cameras were out in droves. Those strobe flashes could rival a thermonuclear blast. Being in the front row, it wasn't quite as bad for us but I image the people close to the cameras were viewing the show through a haze of blinding dots. Of course the front row did have its own hazard...the fog machine was working VERY well, so several times we were engulfed in a mist that brought to mind a murky moor!

The audience was oddly subdued, without as much laughing and clapping as usual. I'm not sure why, since things were pretty lively at the other shows I had attended. Maybe six straight days at sea had worn them down, but I missed the energy of an appreciative crowd. At the end, hubby and I gave an enthusiastic standing ovation, and finally the others started joining us. We were clapping for “Disney Dreams” and also for the other wonderful shows that the cast had put on throughout the cruise.

Dinner tonight was the Captain's Gala menu. Our tablemates were at Palo, so it was just the two of us. I ordered the mushroom soup as an appetizer and couldn't choose between the venison and the eggplant parmigiana, so Sanjeev ended up bringing me some of both. I followed his recommendation on the chocolate lava cake for dessert, and it was indeed a delicious choice. The filling was like yummy hot chocolate pudding.

After dinner, we crashed so we'd be ready for an early start on Castaway Cay. Before this cruise, I had envisioned being ready to kiss the ground when we arrived at the island after six days at sea. Now that the moment was at hand, I was oddly ambivalent. I'm always happy to go to Castaway Cay, but the days at sea had been so much fun that they'd whisked by as though time were in fast-forward mode. I didn't care if I saw land; I was perfectly content out at sea. This was enhanced by the fact that our weather for this cruise had been nearly perfect. The water was as smooth as glass, so half the time I forgot that I was on a ship. I could just as well have been at an isolated resort on land. Our arrival at Castaway Cay would mean that the cruise was on its last day, and although I missed my cats and my home and knew that I needed to get back to work, I wasn't quite ready for the cruise to end yet. Oh well, time waits for no one!


DAY FOURTEEN: CASTAWAY CAY
Since the weather had been close to perfect all cruise, I was almost afraid to hope that our luck would hold out for Castaway Cay, too. In the morning it looked rather cloudy, and a couple of times during the day I wondered if we were going to get rained out, but the sun won the battle and we scored yet another weather coup.

Actually, it wasn't quite perfect...the only negative was that it was beastly hot. Hubby and I made sure that we were well slathered with sun screen and had plenty of water. There are various water stations on the island, but we like to bring a couple of our own bottles just to be safe. We disembarked before 9 a.m., and it was already so warm out that we were sweating just from the relatively moderate walk from the ship to the bike rental area. There is a tram that will take you part of the way, but we prefer to hoof it. After any cruise, and especially after nearly two weeks, we know that we can use the extra exercise to combat all the rich food.

We found chairs on the beach near the bike rental stand. When we don't go to the adult beach, we like to head out to the far end of the family beach and set up base camp there. It doesn't get crowded till late in the day, and sometimes not at all. It's near restrooms and the water play structure, and the chairs aren't quite as close together as some of the other areas. All in all, it's a nice little area if you want to be close to the action but not right in the middle of it.

Hubby rented a bike, while I decided to walk. We had two-way radios to keep in touch, so he headed off to the bike path behind the adult beach while I turned off on the newer path halfway down the runway. The runway and paths have been paved since the last time we were at Castaway Cay, so no more bouncy, jouncy bike or tram ride. The original runway was getting pretty wicked due to potholes and general deterioration. I missed it a bit, since it was a piece of the original island dating back to the time before Disney, but the new paving is definitely kinder to the body.

In the middle of the newer path, there is a two-tier observation tower. If you climb to the top, you have a bird's-eye view of the ship as well as the rest of the island and the ocean that extends out past the adult beach. There are binoculars, too, in case you want to zoom in on the sights. There were a few people at the top of the tower when I arrived, so I climbed to the first tier. They left, and my radio buzzed. Hubby was on the far bike path and wanted to know if I could see him waving. I climbed to the top and easily spotted him; then he rode over and joined me at the tower. We made plans to meet up back at our chairs to do a little relaxing before lunch.

I had brought a couple of books, so I lounged in the shade and read until 11:30, when Cookie's Barbeque opened. I hadn't eaten any breakfast, so I was definitely ready for a meal. I had a hot dog, potato chips, cole slaw, and really yummy tomato salad. The apple spice cake for dessert was very good, too, although hubby scorned that for the macadamia nut cookies.

After our meal, hubby was ready for a nap. We returned to the beach, and I continued reading while he curled up on his lounge chair and drifted off to dreamland. When he finally woke up, we headed down to the boat rental area to take out kayaks. He is adventurous and paddles off as far as he can, but I am leery of deep water and paddled back and forth along the shoreline where it was shallow. When he came back, he said that he had gotten a good view of the backside of the Flying Dutchman. The boating area is pretty big, so you can get relatively close to the Dutchman and also to the Magic.

The rentals run for half an hour; when we were done, we headed back to the ship for the sad task of packing. I couldn't believe that two weeks had gone by in the blink of an eye. I had thought I would be happy to see land after six straight days of nothing but ocean, but instead it was a melancholy feeling because I knew that in less than 24 hours my transatlantic adventure would be over.

Hubby went to the farewell show, but I stayed in our stateroom to catch up on my trip report and do some work. When he returned, he was in absolute awe of the pyrotechnics. All he could talk about were the pinwheels of sparks, which he was amazed to see on a ship. He definitely gave the show a big thumbs-up.

Our farewell-themed dinner was in Animators Palate. Over the course of the cruise, there were different spreads for the bread each night, and many of them were notably delicious. The last night's spread was the best of all. It reminded me of what you'd get if you took the white spread at Palo and added sun dried tomatoes. It was all that I could do to stop myself at two pieces of bread.

For my meal, I ordered lobster and crawfish bisque and a citrus salad. Our tablemates were having curry, so I had that for my main course. I also had to try the Indian appetizer, which was a wonderful potato selection. I don't know how it was prepared, but it reminded me very much of the seasoned whole potatoes that hubby had gotten at Loro Parque. The curry was good, but very spicy. It was just at the edge of my tolerance level, but hubby tasted it and downed a red pepper with scarcely a blink. He loves blazing Cajun and Thai food, so this was nothing for him.

I had baked Alaska for dessert, and at the end of the meal Mickey, Minnie, Daisy and Donald came in for the grand finale as photos from the cruise flashed on the screens. I couldn't believe that this was the end...but then I remembered that we were booked for the Panama Canal crossing in exactly one year's time, and I remembered how quickly the time until the Atlantic crossing had passed. I had booked this cruise in early 2006, and back then it has seemed like an eternity before I would sail. Now it had come to an end, so I realized that before I knew it, I'd be winging my way to California for a 15-day oceanic adventure. At the beginning of this trip, I had wondered if I would really enjoy two weeks at sea. Sure I love cruising, but could I ever get tired of it? Now I know the answer: a resounding “No!” The show ended with a parade of chefs carrying the flaming dessert and of all the servers and assistant servers.

We said our goodbyes, handed out tip envelopes, and headed back to our stateroom to take care of any loose ends before bedtime. For some reason, I was very sleepy. I could hardly keep my eyes open long enough to fill out the comment card. Maybe it was the culmination of two six-hour time changes over the last two weeks, coupled with the excitement of vacation. Whatever the cause, I was soon sleeping soundly, sad that it was the last day I'd be rocked to sleep by the ocean.

DISEMBARKATION
Hubby was supposed to set the alarm for 6:45 a.m., but he inadvertently set it for 6:15. Since Happy Limo wasn't set to pick us up until 8 a.m., I figured that we'd be sitting in the pick-up area for a while. Oh well, I told myself that it's better to be outside early rather than potentially getting stuck in a long customs line later in the morning.

One thing that I love about Disney vs. other cruise lines is the ability to choose the time that you disembark. You are assigned a breakfast time, but you can choose to skip it and leave the ship earlier if you wish. With most other lines, you can only leave when your luggage tag color is called. They don't give you any indication of when that might be, which means you can literally be sitting crammed in a crowded lounge with hundreds of cranky people for hours since you can't wait in your stateroom. We've done four Royal Caribbean cruises, and disembarkation was the most miserable part of every one of them.

Disney prevents crowds by staggering the breakfast times. That way, people naturally disembark in manageable groups. The ones who choose to skip the meal still trickle out at different times, so that doesn't affect things much.

We always skip breakfast because at the end of a cruise we don't want to look at food any time soon! That was particularly true after a 14 day sailing. We showered, did our final packing, and headed down to deck 3. Since we were coming back from European ports, I wondered if that would have any effect on the customs process. Apparently that doesn't slow it down, as there was no line to leave at all. We joined the little trickle of people heading down the gangway and into the luggage area. We got a porter to assist with our mountain of bags, and she maneuvered them over to the customs counter.

There were only a handful of people waiting, so before I knew it we were presenting our passports and declaration form. The agent scrutinized it, asked me a few questions, and waved us through. We were now “officially” back in America after our two-week soujourn.

With our luggage stacked in the pick-up area, we waited for our ride. We had gotten out nearly half an hour early, so I enjoyed people-watching as the time slowly ticked by. Why does it move like molasses when you're waiting for something like a ride home, yet whiz by like a NASCAR champ when you are onboard the ship?

Finally 8 a.m. arrived, as did our ride. As I watched the port and the Disney Magic recede from view through the car windows, I realized that my vacation was really and truly over. It was a melancholy feeling; I missed my “home” of the past two weeks and the carefree feeling of having an array of activities to choose from, being served delicious meals, and then returning to a magically cleaned stateroom. How could I sleep tonight without candies and a towel animal on my bed?! But I was happy about being reunited with my cats, seeing my friends again, finding out the latest gossip in town, and being able to touch base with my clients on both the travel and the counseling side.

It really wasn't all that bad anyway, as I could reassure myself with the comforting thought that cruise #59 was coming up in October, and that we'd be capping the year with #60 in December. The only think I'm worried about is that after being spoiled by a two-week trip, how will I ever adapt back to my usual four-day routine?!

3 comments:

Rob said...

Great report Barb! I was also on the voyage with you.
Keep up the great report. I love your site, and your Celebration one as well.
Hopefully our Panama Cruise will be just as fun!

Rob

WExplo15 said...

I am glad to hear such a positive response from your Transatlantic experience. I was on the ship as well; as part of the "Magic 19" cast. I'm glad you enjoyed the shows. It's nice to hear.

Disney Vacation Cruise said...

I hope to be able to take my family on a Disney Cruise in 2011. Thanks for the info