Cruising on the Disney Magic in the Mediterranean – Last Chapter

The Disney Cruise Line's Magic in the MediterraneanThis is the last installment of the trip report for our August, 2013 Mediterranean cruise aboard the Disney Magic.  Links to all previous posts are at the very bottom of this page.

To wrap things up, I’m going to mash up all the observations and tips I can offer you in this last installment – if you’re reading this, maybe you’re considering a Mediterranean cruise in the future.  I hope I can help in some small way. 

Wow!  What a vacation!  August 17th dawned exactly like the previous days of our vacation in Europe – sunny and warm.  We’d read many sources that listed reasons to avoid Europe in August; one of them being the weather.  We live in Louisiana where the summers can be brutal!  The sunny weather with temperatures in high 80’s we experienced on this trip was a refreshing break from the heat and humidity at home.  The Mediterranean Sea was so calm, Grant The Shorline of Italy as seen from the Disney Magiccommented that he was actually a little bit disappointed.  Since it was his first cruise, he was looking forward to gaining his “sea legs”, but the water was so calm, he often forgot he was on a cruise.  The weather could not have been more perfect.  On the day we headed home, we were off the ship bright and early, toting our own luggage to catch Disney transportation straight to the airport.

Research paid off big-time!  We were certainly at an advantage with knowing how to dress appropriately for touring cathedrals, knowing how to avoid pickpockets and gypsy scams, and knowing how to speak at least basic phrases in Spanish, French, and Italian.  By researching our options (and not just limiting ourselves to Disney excursions), we were able to feel confident about our private tours – knowing that we were dealing with reputable companies and Florence, Italy on our 2013 Disney Cruisepaying fair prices.

Do NOT underestimate the effects of jet lag.  I researched tips for dealing with jet lag, but ignored them to my detriment!  I knew I was supposed to drink lots of water and get up and move around the plane as much as possible.  I sat like a lump watching movie after movie.  A couple (few?) of the complimentary glasses of wine did not help with hydration.  The result?  Tired, crabby, and puffy!  My swollen feet didn’t recouperate until after the vacation was over!  You want to avoid this at all costs so you can enjoy all the activities and adventures available on a Mediterranean cruise without the distraction of sore feet!

Remember to book onboard activities at the earliest possible time.  We gave spa treatmentsTouring in Italy on a Disney Cruise as gifts during the months leading up to the cruise.  Grant (and Megan) got a couple’s massage – we made up and printed up our own gift certificate for Grant’s birthday and did the same for Joseph and Jason’s graduation gifts – for individual massages.  In order for this to work, we needed to pre-book those spa treatments early to get the best times on “at sea” days.  Same thing with our Palo dining reservations.  By the time we were able to book, Palo dinner on our first at-sea day was completely unavailable, but we managed to get a dinner reservation that would still work.  We were lucky to score brunch for Megan’s birthday on the last day of the cruise (also a day at sea).  If we had been unable to get days/times that we liked, I would have gone straight to Touring Florence, Italy on our Disney Mediterranean Cruisethe Palo reservation line as soon as we boarded the ship – I’ve done that before (Alaskan cruise on the Wonder) and was able to get a last-minute reservation at a decent time.

Disney lets you bring your own beverages – take advantage of this special perk and save money!  We were able to bring wine and water on board in Barcelona, then purchased additional bottles of wine at each cruise port.  This allowed us to have Happy Hour in our cabin each afternoon before dinner and we didn’t have to pay the expensive prices on board.  Raymond and I polished off any leftover wine during late evenings on our veranda – enjoyed with the chocolates left by the cabin steward.  Gazing at the stars Disney's Mediterranean Cruise - Touring Romein the clear Mediterranean sky while listening to the sound of the ship gliding through the water… the perfect way to wrap up the day and just be in the moment.

This Disney cruise was the most expensive vacation we’d ever taken and being the epic, world class worrier that I am, I imagined a million things that could have gone wrong from illness to injury to missing flights or the ship!  I worried about pickpockets, bad tour guides and seasickness.  I worried about whether or not everyone would enjoy every activity.  Once we were underway, though, all those worries melted away.  We were all able to fully enjoy and appreciate the tremendous investment of time, money, and effort that went into getting the six of us on this particular cruise – This trip was absolutely, without a doubt worth every single bit of worry and preparation; worth every penny of expense.  Would we do it again?  In a heartbeat.

The Mediterranean Sunset - Viewed from our Balcony on the Disney MagicThank you so much for following along!  I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip report.  If you were looking for tips and helpful information, I hope you found what you needed.  If you have any questions, post them in a comment and I’ll do my best.  Tomorrow, Disney Cruise Line will announce their 2015 late spring and summer itineraries.  We took advantage of the rebooking offer while on board the Magic and booked a placeholder cruise – so tomorrow we’ll transfer that reservation to a new date and begin the whole process again.  Stay tuned to find out where we’ll be headed next!

Links to all the other parts of the trip report:






Go Disney! FastPass+ Reminders via Snail Mail

FastPass+ Mailer EnvelopeWell, I’ve got to hand it to the folks at Disney.  They are doing absolutely everything imaginable to make sure people are well-informed about MyMagic+, My Disney Experience, and most importantly today, FastPass+.  One week shy of the date we’ll be able to begin making our FastPass+ selections, we received a reminder in the mail….snail mail.  Not a postcard, not a letter, but a snazzy little booklet delivered in (continuing the Incredibles theme) a Dash-adorned envelope.

We’ve already received the box with the booklet, magnet, and flash-drive – all those components working together to thoroughly explain every aspect of Disney’s new park-touring system.  The magnet was for posting important date reminders – 60 days out, we can make FastPass+ selections and begin online check-in.  The magnet even (nope, not kidding) gives the date of our first vacation day with a reminder to “Start your incredible vacation!”  We FastPass+ Reminder by Mailwatched the video on the flash-drive tell us how to use the My Disney Experience site and what to expect with Magic Bands.  We followed the directions for downloading the mobile app and combined all members of our travel party.

This latest redundant and costly mailing perplexes me.  I don’t understand why we couldn’t just be reminded via email like we are when we sail with Disney Cruise Line.  I’ve been hearing over and over about the expense of the entire MyMagic+/Magic Band program – this snail mail seems like overkill.  Expensive overkill.  If I’m not capable of receiving and reading email reminders, it’s highly doubtful I’ll be able to navigate aspects of the new system well since it’s very dependent on my ability to use technology successfully.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort, but honestly, I’m starting to wonder if the Disney Company has doubts about the average American’s ability to use a computer, a smart phone, or the internet.  They seem overly concerned that we might not be able to remind ourselves of important pre-vacation planning dates on our calendars.  Are so many guests arriving FastPass+ Reminder Bookletunprepared and uninformed?  Are the numbers of guests that could have (should have) booked FastPass+ in advance of their arrival, but did not do so, in such unanticipated volume that there really are large numbers of needlessly unhappy visitors?  This worries me quite a bit.  I’m still hearing reports from the parks of very long lines at the FP+ kiosks – are those all off-site visitors or are there people in those lines who should have made those FP+ selections in advance?  That would certainly explain the reminder overkill.

What do you think?  If you’ve recently visited Walt Disney World, did you make your FP+ choices in advance (the way Disney wants you to)?  Or did you find yourself in standby lines because you didn’t know how the system was supposed to work?  If you’re planning a trip this year, do you know about the important scheduling dates for your vacation?  Do you want/need continuously mailed reminders to keep you on your toes?  Am I being too critical?  I believe I’d rather see the money spent on new rides and attractions instead of on printing and mailing fancy booklets to tell me information I completely understood the first time.


Muppets Most Wanted – Mostly Great!

Muppets Most Wanted Movie PosterAfter all the many previews over the months (years?) leading up to the theatrical release of Muppets Most Wanted, it’d be pretty hard to write a review that contains many, if any, spoilers.  All the previews pretty much show what the movie is all about.  I couldn’t wait to see it anyway.  So we caught a Sunday matinee – The Fam plus Meg’s boyfriend, Grant.  Personally, the movie was what I expected.  No more, no less.  A little longer than necessary with a superfluous musical number thrown in here and there, Muppets Most Wanted was exactly as promised – a sequel maybe not as good as the first.  IF the “first” we’re talking about is the original movie debut of the Muppets way back in the 70’s and not the gang’s 2011 picture.

The original (epic, fantastic, classic), 1979 The Muppet Movie, created the perfect mix of humor, sentimentality, music, and the very best in cameo appearances – all in precise balance Muppets Most Wanted Ticket Stubbetween Muppet and human characters.  At 95 minutes, The Muppet Movie told a very basic story about how the actual movie itself came into existence.  By contrast, Muppets Most Wanted, which also tells an excellent story and makes even better use (to me) of cameo appearances, is a little less precise in accomplishing the same goal – using humor, sentimentality, and music less effectively during its 112 minute runtime.  The balance between Muppet and human characters is as perfect as can be, though.

The plot involving the double characters of Kermit and Constantine works very well – Constantine’s selfishness and ego are in perfect opposition to Kermit’s generosity and humility.  The heart of each character from Piggy to Scooter, Walter, and Gonzo (and the rest) remains true to previous movies and TV shows.  They act the way we expect them to in the manner we’ve grown to love over the years.  Surprisingly, many of the original, early Muppets are nearly left out completely, which I found disappointing.  Perhaps this was necessary in order to beef up the cameos – in that case, it was worth it.

Fozzie the Bear Disney PinTo sum it all up – I thought Muppets Most Wanted was entertaining and true to the heart and soul of previous Muppet movies.  I liked it a little more than The Muppets (2011) and a lot less than The Muppet Movie (1979).  There are some clever, wonderfully unforgettable scenes in this newest installment in the Muppet movie lineup.  I can’t help but feel that if the director had tightened it up by dropping a couple of unnecessary scenes and musical numbers, it would have been perfection.  No, it’s not doing well at the box office, but I don’t care.  I’m a Muppet fan like I’m a Disney fan and that means I’m loyal no matter what.

Did you see Muppets Most Wanted this weekend?  What did you think?



Five Disney Planning Resources – Books

Disney Resources 2014 - BooksI did an earlier post about Disney resources available online, detailing websites that I believe are excellent for researching all manner of Disney travel information – specifically Walt Disney World trip planning tidbits.  Today I want to talk about some of my favorite Disney resources of the old-school variety – the ones you can carry around with you, the ones that have pages you can touch and turn.  Ones that you can enjoy for hours and they will never give you a “low battery” warning.  Strange as it may seem in this day and age of technology, I still love books and find them invaluable as Disney vacation planning resources.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, although I do possess mad internet searching skills, wicked Pinterest pinning prowess, and ingenious Instagram involvement.  I think books are still useful and important to my everyday happiness.  I currently have in my Disney planning arsenal three excellent, hot off the presses, up to date Walt Disney World informational books…but I promised you FIVE Disney resources and I’ll deliver, but the last two are less travel planning info and more trivia, stories, and historical information-type books that I believe are excellent entertainment.

Here we go:

1.  Birnbaum Guides 2014 Official Guide to Walt Disney World – “Expert Advice from the Inside Source” (for Kingdom Keepers fans, this book has tie-ins to that book series).  With only 275 pages, this Official Guide has some good, well-organized information – all will be 100% positive.  The glossy pages and beautiful pictures bring Walt Disney World to life in your hands.  Looking for balanced feedback?  Look someplace else.  Just the happy facts here, but the information on Birnbaum's WDW 2014things like budgeting, vacation planning (6+ month plan), sample park schedules (one-day and half-day versions), transportation and dining is excellent and well presented.  In each park’s section, there’s a “Park Primer” page that consolidates useful information like the location of baby facilities, disability information, lost and found, ATMs and more. The resort-finder matrix pages allow resort comparisons at a glance and the book’s color-coded easy to navigate sections are really packed with excellent, useful information at a very reasonable price.  MSRP $17.99 U.S.

2. The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2014, by Bob Sehlinger & Len Testa – Before the Appendix and Index, this baby packs a whopping 774 pages with mostly Disney information.  No glossy pages or colorful photographs here (only the occasional map or cartoon), this book is 100% information and does make an effort to provide balanced feedback.  The section on “How to Evaluate a Walt Disney World Travel Package” gives the lowdown on how to get the most for your money.  The Unofficial Guide to WDW 2014Disney property hotel section is very thorough and also (like book #1) has comparison tables for quick reference.  Extensive park touring plans, feedback/reviews from “real” vacationers (both positive and not-so-positive) and a section called “The Ecstasy and the Agony” gives sincere and helpful advice on the reality of vacationing at Walt Disney World with children – Let’s face it, those Disney commercials make Walt Disney World look like such a magical vacation spot that everyone is happy and having fun 100% of the time – tips and tricks for managing expectations (and helping children and parents have a great vacation) are what make this particular book super helpful.  For research purposes, this book gets a double thumbs up – be prepared for NO pictures, no frills.  You can also find tips/details on hotels and restaurants (and even some rides) outside the Disney bubble.  MSRP $19.99 U.S.

3. Cross book #1 and book #2 and you get PassPorter’s Walt Disney World by Jennifer Marx, Dave Marx, and Alexander Marx.  292 pages before the index (plus post-index bonus features), this book does have glossy pages and lovely photographs plus some very unique features not to be found anywhere else.  I must confess, I did receive a review (free) copy of this book, however, if you’ve read previous posts you’ll know that I, a) have an abundance of opinions and am not afraid to share them and b) tend to be…well…brutally honest.  The wear and tear on my 2009 edition of PassPorter’s WDW can attest to how much I’ve relied on this tome in the past for assistance with trip planning.  The fact that I didn’t pay for this year’s version won’t keep me from telling you how I really feel.  Back to the book review:  In addition to the well-organized, easy to read information, this book has fold-out maps (plus mini maps of each resort), and pockets in the back for organizing/storing paperwork, maps, tickets,Passporter's WDW 2014 reservation information, etc.  These pockets allow space for 10+ individual days-worth of documents AND on the outside of each pocket, provides places to makes notes, plans, record reservation numbers, travel time schedules, and more.  The book’s cover folds out to encompass the contents and has its own attached elastic strap to hold it all together…pretty darned NIFTY!  The sections are easy to navigate and each restaurant, attraction, show, etc. is given a rating by three different reviewers (on a scale of 10) – so, yes, an attempt is made to provide balanced reviews.  However, please DO NOT rely heavily on these ratings – they’re the reviewers’ opinions – I like to form my own opinions on things and encourage you to do the same.  For example, the book’s ratings for the Columbia Harbour House restaurant in the Magic Kingdom were a 5 and two 6’s.  We LOVE Columbia Harbour House and eat there at least once every time we visit Walt Disney World – our ratings would be much higher.  The book’s reviewers gave Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios scores of 7, 8, and 8 – we thought that show was just so-so (or maybe not even that good) and wished we hadn’t wasted the time…our scores would have been considerably lower.  Don’t let the ratings in the book keep you from trying something you’re really interested in.  In the “Planning” and “Getting There” sections, PassPorter’s offers excellent money-saving, budgeting, and packing tips, and resources.  MSRP $24.95 U.S.

4. The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World by Susan Veness – “Over 600 Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom” – Raymond picket up this little book for me as a birthday gift back in November.  While, after many visits and much pod-cast listening and blog-reading, I was familiar with many of the magical facts and trivia the author shares in this book, there were plenty of new/unusual things to discover.  It’s an easy, fun read, I could see how sharing the bits and pieces of Disney magic pre-vacation or while traveling to Walt Disney World would be a great way to pass time and get everyone excited to see it all!

5. The Revised Vault of Walt by Jim Korkis (forward by Diane Disney Miller) – This little book is jam-packed full of short stories about Walt Disney, Disney movies, Disney parks and more.  There are even recipes for some of Walt Disney’s favorite foods!  If you’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to Mr. Korkis talk about anything/everything Disney-related, you’ll know how passionate, sincere, and fascinating he can be.  This book gives readers new insight on the man behind the theme parks, movies, TV shows, and characters that we grew up with and have loved all our lives.

Now it’s your turn!  What are your favorite Disney books for travel planning or just plain fun?