Disney’s Magic – Sailing Away to Norway

Copenhagen-Shopping-DistrictFinally, the day had arrived!  Two years of anticipation, endless research, packing angst, jet lag, the exploration of Copenhagen – which (incredibly) went precisely as planned – WE WERE READY!  We’d agreed before turning in the night before that we had enough time in the morning (before our bus to the port left) to get ready, enjoy the Tivoli Hotel’s breakfast buffet (very impressive, by the way) and walk to Copenhagen’s pedestrian shopping district.  We really wanted to check out the local Disney Store!

Outside-Disney-Store-CopenhagenThe weather was great and we walked briskly, timing how long it took to arrive at our destination – we did NOT want to miss our ride back at the hotel.  We had enough time, once we reached the shopping district (after a brief pause to listen to…wait for it…the Salvation Army Band play) to not only browse the tiny Disney Store but also check out some Danish versions of familiar stores like H&M (Megan picked up a pair of Sunglasses).  Disney-Store-CopenhagenWhen time was up, we reversed our route and hurried back so we could…

WAIT!  UGH!  Luggage at our side, we waited (and waited) outside the hotel’s lobby for the busses to the port to arrive – poised for action, we did manage to be among the first guests to board the, again, impressively plush and well appointed motor coach.  Off we went!  Before long, we could see her from the window – the Disney Magic!!!  Disney-Magic-in-CopenhagenOff the bus and right into the line, it seemed to take no time at all and we were walking onto the ship.  We boarded on a lower deck, rather than into the main atrium, and without fanfare, but we didn’t mind a bit.  We were finally back aboard one of our most favorite vacation vessels.  That’s the beauty of Disney Cruise Line for us – we love the ships, which allow us to travel in the Disney bubble while we’re seeing the world.Disney-Captain-Mickey-Statue

Lunch first, in Carioca’s, while waiting for our stateroom to be ready…check!  Stateroom located, carryon luggage stored, door magnets in place…check!Disney-Magic-Stateroom-Detail Disney-Magic-Stateroom-Sitting-AreaDisney-Norway-Cruise-Stateroom-Door-MagnetsIt was time for the Facebook group meet-up (we could only stay briefly, but made new friends), then the mandatory lifeboat drill – which we have found we actually enjoy.  Disney-Magic-Lifeboat-Drill-CM

Lifeboat Drill Lineup

Lifeboat Drill Lineup

I mean it IS mandatory, so we might as well stir up some fun while we’re at it, right?  And, finally, the sail away party.  I don’t know what was more fun – watching the party on deck or the people on shore who came to wave us bon voyage.Disney-Magic-Sailaway-Party

Post sail-away bash, we had time to unpack (luggage arrived earlier than expected), meet our stateroom host, Kenneth, unwind, and get ready to meet our dining room servers (April and Andres) at Animator’s Palate (the first restaurant in our dining rotation).  April We would spend this cruise with six other table-mates each evening:  A retired couple from California enjoying (I think they said) their 36th Disney Cruise, and another family – mom, dad, and young adult son and daughter.  We enjoyed visiting with our co-diners every evening to find out what adventures everyone had been on each day.  Meg&Joe-Animator's-PalateOur precious angels were so well behaved at the dinner table!

Disney Cruise Line shows are the best & we caught two that night (don’t ask me how we stayed awake, I have no idea) – Let the Magic Begin followed by the Irish trio, Runa, in O’Gill’s Pub.Let-the-Magic-BeginFinally, we called it a night and it felt good knowing we could sleep in the next day if we wanted to since it would be a day at sea.  After that, things were going to get a lot busier!Towel-Snake

Coming up – A day at sea followed by one of the most challenging adventures we’ve ever had!

Thanks for following along…Lisa

Links to other posts from this trip:


Disney Cruising in Norway

I have so much to tell you about the Disney Cruise vacation we just took through the fjords of Norway!  I’m virtually overflowing with experiences to share, food to discuss, adventures to describe – so much happened in such a short time, I can scarcely decide how and where to begin.  I know there’s no way you’ll be as excited to hear about our vacation as I’ll be telling you about it, but I figured that by offering you some of the trip’s highlights, it might give you the big picture about what you can expect in more detail over the days and weeks to come.

Disney Cruising in Norway – 33 Favorite (Random) Moments!

The excitement began long before we landed in Copenhagen, Denmark where we would board the Disney Magic.RM-View-From-the-PlaneJetlag could only be beat by making great plans that kept us moving forward!  First, a Segway tour of Copenhagen where we saw some amazing sights and learned a lot about the Kingdom of Denmark.RM-Segway-Tour-Copenhagen RM-Segway-CopenhagenThen, a much anticipated visit to Tivoli Gardens – the amusement park (originally opened in 1843) that  was an inspiration for Walt Disney in planning Disneyland.RM-Tivoli-Gardens-ArchWe were thrilled to find some awesome rides, an interesting and beautiful aquarium, and…RM-Tivoli-Octopus-Ride Tivoli-OctopusRM-Tivoli-Gardens-Big-Beerthat they serve very large beers with dinner.

At the port in Copenhagen, the Disney Magic was waiting – as beautiful as ever.RM-Disney-Magic-Stack RM-Disney-Magic-DeckThe Disney service and wonderful Cast Members made us feel pampered.  April and Andres were our servers – the best we’ve had in a long, long time.RM-Disney-CM-AprilWe tried new foods and enjoyed some old favorites.RM-DCL-Lunch-Lumiere's RM-DCL-Mickey-BarWe learned about Mixology in Keys and enjoyed incredible Irish music in O’Gills.RM-Mixology-Keys RM-Runa-O'GillsOf course, our stateroom host, Kenneth, was a towel-animal artist of exceptional talent!RM-Towel-Elephant-DCLI got to meet Commodore Tom, the Magic’s captain, who is from Norway and was beyond excited to take the Magic’s passengers on this inaugural voyage through his homeland.RM-Meeting-Commodore-TomMegan and Joseph were busy meeting new people, too!RM-Meeting-Captain-AmericaIn every port, we enjoyed incredible, amazing adventures – the likes of which we’d never experienced before!  In Stavanger, we took an extraordinary hike to Pulpit Rock – I really cannot wait to tell you all about this particular excursion.RM-Pulpit-Rock-MapIt was a LOT of hard work walking uphill for such a long way, but then?  I was sitting on top of the world.RM-Pulpit-Rock-SelfieAlesund, the next port we visited, was a perfect place to explore by kayak.RM-Alesund-Sea-Kayaking RM-Alesund-NorwayGeirangerfjord was better seen by bicycle.  I’m not going to lie – it was very cold with sleet and rain, but SO worth the effort.RM-GeirangerfjordRM-Geirangerfjord-Snow RM-Geirangerfjord-Bicycles  In our last port, Bergen, we learned the most about Norwegian history.  We discovered the meaning of this statue…RM-Bergen-Fish-StatueExplored one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited…RM-Bergen-Museum RM-Bergen-Norway

And found out what everyone’s favorite Norway Pavilion snack in Epcot tastes like in its natural setting!RM-Skolebrod

We celebrated…RM-Joseph's Birthday RM-Cheers!We Froze the Night Away…RM-Freezing-the-Night-Away-PartyWe enjoyed breathtaking views…RM-Geirangerfjord-Waterfall RM-DCL-Norway

And we had the most amazing time!

Come back soon for the entire trip report, excursion details, food and beverage reviews, and tips for taking your own European Disney adventure.  If there’s anything in particular you’d be interested in knowing more about or if you have any questions, leave me a comment here or over on Facebook.  Thanks for reading!!!

Magical Memories – The Magic Store in Downtown Disney

Magic Masters in Downtown DisneyGone but not forgotten!  The magic store (Magic Masters) in Downtown Disney was, hands down, one of our top must-do’s on every Walt Disney World vacation.  Easy to find along the West Side shopping district, the giant top hat and magic wand on the store’s front were iconic.  When we heard that the store would not be renewing their lease and would leave forever in September, 2011, we were crushed.  Oh, the fun times we’d had in that store!

Designed to look like the library one might find in a magician’s home (Houdini’s to be exact) – complete with fireplace and bookcases, and enchanted tools of the trade, this store was…well…magical.  No matter when we visited, a magician was on hand to demonstrate sleight of hand.  Those magicians were true showmen.  Not only would they flawlessly amaze and astound onlookers with their magic, they were true performers…drawing audience members into their show skillfully and cleverly until Magic Masters in Downtown Disney 3every single person in that tiny, crowded space was breathlessly hanging onto the magician’s every word and gesture.  Then…presto!  The line at the cash register would form…as if by magic!

So many tricks and tools of the trade could be purchased in the confines of that enchanted store!  We never, ever left empty-handed.  The beauty of the whole setup was that you could see a real magician perform a trick flawlessly – then learn the secret!  When you purchased tricks, you received coaching right then and there on exactly how to get it right.  With a little practice at home, friends and family would be genuinely impressed by your skills in prestidigitation.

Magic Masters in Downtown Disney 2After TEN years, Magic Masters in Downtown Disney closed its doors.  Of all the things that have come and gone at Walt Disney World, this one shop, which had meant so much to our family during each of our visits, was one that had a huge impact on us.  We miss it still and will certainly reminisce about the happy times we had there for many years to come.

Do you remember Magic Masters?  What former Walt Disney World store or attraction is the one you miss the most? 

Cruising Disney’s Magic in the Med – Pisa and Florence

DSCN3133This is Part 5 of the trip report for our 2013 Cruise aboard the Disney Magic in the Mediterranean.  See the end of this post for links to the report’s other parts.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013.  We have arrived in Italy and this day would be a BIG deal!  Courtesy of Rick Steves’ advice, I’d contacted Florence Tours and arranged for guide Paola Migliorini to meet us at the cruise port in La Spezia to take us to both Pisa and Florence.  Paola would show and teach us as much as possible, then have us back to the Magic on time.  Kind of a challenging plan.  Rather than the closer and more popular port of Livorno, Disney has DSCN3136chosen La Spezia – a two hour drive from Florence!  Again, having only one day meant we had to prioritize, so we were basically just planning to make a very short stop at Pisa’s famous tower before jumping right back into the van to spend as much time in Florence as possible.

The first obstacle – getting off the ship!  Once again we were up, dressed and ready to go – only to find ourselves in a holding pattern with all the other non-Disney excursion families waiting to take a tender to shore.  Finally, we were able to leave the ship and, once we reached the port on the tender, we dashed along the waterfront to find Paola holding our name sign and looking a bit worried about how much of the DSCN3138day had been wasted.  She’d been able to park very close so we jumped in the van – I rode shotgun – and hit the road.  I kind of felt sorry for Paola at this point – she put on her microphone so she could make a presentation about everything we were seeing in the Tuscan countryside and Raymond and I were the only one’s awake and listening.  I could tell she was not angry really, but puzzled about Megan, Grant, Joseph, and Jason falling asleep so quickly!  I did my best to explain how much we’d packed into our trip so far and hoped that made her feel better.

First stop:  Pisa’s Leaning Tower.  Looked just like we expected it to and we quickly started snapping pictures.  Walking around we noticed “keep off the grass” signs all around a grassy area – filled with tourists!  Finally a lone policeman with a loud whistle came around and shooed everyone off theDSCN3146 lawn – it was hilarious watching people try to quickly pose for pictures before the angry whistle-blowing cop got to them.  Back in the van, Paola took us for a quick tour around Pisa – pointing out the gorgeous architecture and beautiful bridges over the river Arno.  We learned that the shutters on all the buildings must be painted with only certain colors (green, brown, tan) in keeping with the town’s history.  Had there only been more time, we would have loved to see and do more here.

A bit about packing for day tours in Italy.  I studied quite a lot (shocking, I know) about how to dress appropriately, how best to blend in and not to stand out too much as a tourist (pick my pocket, please), and, most importantly, how to dress properly for entering cathedrals in Europe.  I ended up asking everyone in our group to avoid shorts, jeans, graphic tees, and tennis shoes/sneakers.  Important:  Shoulders DSCN3161and knees must be covered to enter cathedrals and there are “fashion police” at church entrances checking for this!  Improperly dressed visitors are either not permitted to enter (what a shame to come all that way and not get to see everything!) or are required to wear a cover-up of sorts – I referred to as the “blue poncho of shame”.  I’m guessing these must be available for purchase somewhere near each cathedral – we sure saw a bunch of them.  While it was August and pretty warm, we were all happy to be nicely and properly attired for our sightseeing adventures.

IMG_5855On the way to Florence, Paola once again pointed out places of interest from hilltop castles to leather processing centers.  Much of the Tuscan countryside was beautiful.  There were also, just like in the U.S., some abandoned and rundown homes and buildings.  Everything we saw and learned was interesting as Paola tried to make the most of an unfortunately long drive.

Raymond and I had both made a point of reading Dan Brown’s Inferno earlier in the summer.  Most of that book (it’s great, we highly recommend it!) takes place in Florence as the main character, Robert Langdon, visits all of the DSCN3199city’s most famous sites as he tries to solve a mystery.  We had visions of these places from the story and couldn’t wait to see how the book compared with reality.  We had no idea that Florence actually restricts vehicle access in the city’s center – unless you live in the heart of Florence, you are not allowed to drive your car anywhere near the museums and cathedrals.  This was why having Paola as our guide was so fantastic – she does live in Florence and skillfully navigated the narrow, crowded streets – getting us right to each attraction on our schedule – in air-conditioned DSCN3201comfort!

First item on the agenda?  The Academia to see David!  Seriously, until you are standing next to this 17-foot-tall masterpiece, you can’t really imagine how spectacular he is.  First Paola guided us through a few of the rooms full of incredible works of art from various eras.  We only had time to see a very few things before we entered the room full of  Michelangelo’s sculptures.  The fact that we couldn’t see it all was the only disappointment of the day.  David stood at the far end of the room – which was absolutely packed with tourists!  As we made our way closer to David, Paola taught us about the other Michelangelo works in the room.  Finally – there we were – gazing up at the most amazing, incredible, enormous, beautiful statue in the world.  Paola was very patient and encouraged us to walk all the way around and view David from every angle.  She pointed out how realistic Michelangelo had tried to be with David’s musculature, but how the statue’s head and hands are disproportionately large – possibly because David may have originally been DSCN3212intended to adorn a building’s rooftop.

A few minutes later and we were off again.  I’d requested only two things from Paola that day and otherwise left the touring plans up to her.  One was that we not waste time in a sit-down restaurant for lunch – I asked for a quick grab-and-go meal so we could keep touring.  The second request I made was to squeeze in a DSCN3217visit to a local wine store sometime during the day so we could continue what we’d started in Barcelona – buying a local wine to enjoy back on the ship.  Paola was very accommodating.  For lunch we bought pizza by the slice in the tiniest pizzeria I’d ever seen!  Delicious!  Paola guided us to a gelato stand for dessert and gave us a lesson on how to tell if the gelato is made on site (or manufactured in a factory and shipped in).  Pizza and gelato in Florence, Italy.  We were in heaven!

DSCN3287Before we moved on to the Duomo, the Santa Croce convent,  the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Ponte Vecchio – Paolo took us for a gorgeous drive to an overlook above the city so we could see the beauty of Florence from a distance and take pictures.  The rest of the day was wonderful and absolutely flew by.  Paola demonstrated some keen driving skills as she directed the van down a narrow street completely packed with tourists and gypsies performing with drums.  We were also treated to an amazing demonstration of the modern artists studying in Florence – they displayed their talents with chalk paintings on the street.DSCN3249

Our last site to visit would be the Ponte Vecchio (bridge over the Arno) lined with shops.  We walked along the bridge window shopping the many different shops until a jewelry store with reproduction silver coins that could be worn on a necklace caught our eye.  Megan, Joseph and I chose the coin we all liked best and bought three just alike – for which I asked the merchant if we would get a discount for buying “bulk” and he said, “of course”!

Very close to the bridge was a wine store Paola recommended and when we arrived we were delighted to discover that she had called ahead and arranged a wine tasting for our group with the shop’s owner, Tony.  This was a completely unexpected treat – Tony actually turned away some patrons that came in after us and asked them to return in 30 minutes because we IMG_5930had an appointment!  The wine was delicious, Tony was a gracious and charming host, and we could think of no better way to end an absolutely perfect day.

I felt sorry for Paola on the long drive back to La Spezia.  I could tell she was really tired so I tried to keep a conversation going to keep her from getting too sleepy – like everyone in the back of the van.  Back at the port we exchanged European double-cheek-kisses and bid farewell to Paola, who was luckily spending the night nearby with a girlfriend.  Paola’s husband is also a licensed guide in Florence and specializes in walking tours of the city.  We DSCN3231would love to return to Florence and see all the things we missed this time around.

Of course, we wished we’d had more time to explore Pisa and Florence, but instead of focusing on all that we hadn’t seen that day, I thought about every incredible, fantastic, wonderful moment.  As we rode the tender back to the Magic, we marveled over the fact that we were in Italy and we’d walked the streets of Florence where the Medici family had ruled and the world’s most famous artists had lived and worked.  There is absolutely DSCN3252nothing I would change about this perfect day.

Up next:  Dinner at Palo and more adventures in Italy!

To read more about this trip, please follow these links: