…are Steve & Renee now?

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This site is dedicated to capturing some of the fun and excitement of our "Magic in the Med" European holiday.


Camera Pr0n OR Packing It In For Our Mediterranean Trip

And as promised earlier, all about the camera gear she was toting… a Guest Blog by Renée


First, a confession: I am an unrepentant certified, chronic over-packer. I want to make sure that I have “stuff” to cover all of the myriad possibilities of what might happen. I can’t count how many times I have returned home from vacation with a suitcase half full of clean clothes that I never needed.

I’m no different when packing the photography gear. So why should this trip be any different? The only thing that kept me from taking EVERYTHING is that I had to fit all the critical bits into my carry-ons. (All the breakables into a backpack but some of the little stuff like cables, extra batteries, and such– those could go into my other rolly bag along with my extra shoes and undies!)

So here is the “stuff” that needs to go into the pack:

  • PinkPC – Too small for major post-processing work but OK for minor LR adjustments and for backing up the cards.
  • CameraNikon D700 (Considered taking a backup but didn’t think I would have the room. Did pack my little Canon Point & Shoot as a “just in case”.)
  • Lenses – Nikon 14-24mm; 70-200mm; 24-70mm; 50mm. That should pretty much cover it.
  • Flash – The pop-up on the D700 is pretty useless other than as a Commander. Figured I would take the SB-400 for “snapshots” and then pack the SB-800 in case I wanted something a bit more powerful. Oh yeah, will try to fit in a LumiQuest softbox as well – another “just in case”. Hmm… what about remote triggers or a flash cord? Probably overkill.
  • Misc “Stuff” – Lens cleaner. Card reader and cables. Wireless mouse. Battery charger. Power supplies. PacSafe55L to secure the backpack. SunSniper camera strap. Regular camera strap. Quick Release plates. Lots of CF Cards. Extra batteries. Monopod? That one can go into the checked luggage.


So let the creative packing begin!

The backpack is a basic Targus – a big main compartment with a laptop sleeve and some smaller zippered sections front and side.

Laptop slides into the back. Slip in LumiQuest. Then 70-200mm and the 14-24mm lenses share a neoprene laptop sleeve (a freebee from BestBuy!). Shove the longer lens into the bottom, fold, add the 14-24mm and we save space and offer a bit of bump protection. SB-800 in its case sidles up next to that. 50mm in a little pouch goes in next then the camera with 24-70 attached slips in with a bit of padding around that. Shove PacSafe into a side pocket for easy access, stuff all the little stuff in the other outer pockets and throw a couple of ball bungees in the top so that I can secure the backpack to my small roll-on luggage bag. The pack is now stuffed with no room to spare and I have a 22 lb weight attached to my back. UGH!

The Verdict

So after packing all of this gear, I suppose you might wonder what actually got used.

Well, the laptop was a definite must so glad that I had it. Even if I didn’t do any post processing work, it was nice to be able to look at the pics on something larger than the LCD of the camera. Not to mention, that I felt much better knowing that I had file backups of everything.

As you might have already guessed, the 24-70mm lens was the most used. It is certainly the work horse of the bunch. This was followed closely by the 70-200mm. On the tours, it was “Spray, pray and move on to the next place!” That didn’t leave much time for exchanging lenses.

The least used lens was the 14-24mm. I had just gotten this before the trip and had not had much of a chance to work with it yet. I did do some shooting around the ship with it though. Here’s one just for fun:

@ 14 mm - Tone Mapped in Photomatix

Had a bit of fun with the 50mm too (f1.4 @ 1/50th sec). Here’s a shot from the midnight dessert buffet. (I was tempted but took the picture not the brownie!)

Dessert Anyone?

Completely forgot that I had the Canon P&S. Wish I had thought to take it to Sorrento in the rain but oh well , guess we’ll have to go back!

Minnie and UsFlashes were overkill. I popped the SB-400 on for our character breakfast pics but that was about it.

The SunSniper strap got used about half of the trip. I made the ultimate mistake of using an un-modified quick release plate as the connector instead of the swivel screw from SunSniper. Walking through Topsiders Buffet, the ring came off. (GASP!) But I had rigged a “safety strap” so all was not a disaster. Of course, without pliers, I couldn’t unscrew the QR plate and had to fall back on my Optech strap.

NEVER touched the monopod.

I have to say that for my first foray in Europe, I learned a lot!

  • I will NEVER again tote all of my camera gear in a backpack. It was heavy, hard to stuff under the seat and didn’t really have enough padding for protection. (Before we even got home, Steve had ordered the Pelican 1510 for me. It was waiting by the front door when we arrived! )
  • Tours and shore excursions are a great way to get a flavor for a place especially if you are not a seasoned traveller. BUT, the pacing is fast and it can be difficult to get unique shots. Now I have a good idea of where to go next and how to plan more shooting time.
  • I WILL carry the P&S camera with me at all times – even if I never use it. “Just in case”.

And most important….We WILL go back!

And for more pictures – Mediterranean Cruise Gallery


Port of Call – Civitavecchia


It is the middle of the trip and we have a very early morning as you can tell from the “Ship’s Time” above.  Most people aboard are getting ready to visit ROME., but not us.  I had looked at this months ago and was already a bit put off by the 1 1/2 – 2 hours EACH WAY to get back and forth.  There is no question about wanting to experience Rome, but a few hours on a tour bus, crammed between hours on a bus or train ride both ways wasn’t “blowing my skirt up” (and I can say that… please see “Formal Night” with any questions).  We’ll come back and give Rome a few days some other time.

Roman Countryside and Olive Oil Tour 042

Here’s another reason… It Unification Day.. their 150th… and it’s a pretty big deal.  I’m told it is similar in importance to our (USA) Independence Day (Fourth of July).  Later on we heard from some folks that went it that it made for easier transportation since it wasn’t a ‘regular’ business day.  With officials from many countries coming to Rome for the celebration (US Vice President Joe Biden for instance) I just didn’t feel like rolling those dice.





…So we opted to go the other way (see map below).  We decided to take the”Italian Countryside and Olive Oil” tour to the medieval town of Tarquinia and then off to the Tuscany region to visit an olive oil farm and enjoy fresh olives, extra virgin olive oil, bruschetta and other local foods for lunch.  This should put us back aboard the Magic by mid-afternoon instead of 8PM…


This is the local map of the historical district of this medieval, walled city.  I would have liked to see the painted tombs of the Etruscans from the 7th century BCE but unfortunately they are not open to general public at this time.  They were recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Here’s more information on that… check the very few gallery pictures: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1158/

Roman Countryside and Olive Oil Tour 004

The shot below here is by one of the seven entrances to the walled city and it right by the “You Are Here” portion of the site map above.

Roman Countryside and Olive Oil Tour 002

…and this is actually where we got off the buss… it’s right where the very tiny blue P for parking is. It gives you a sense of just how large this place is.

Roman Countryside and Olive Oil Tour 001

Our guide today is actually a resident of this town.  With it being Unification Day, many things are not operating normally… lot’s of people have gone to the town hall to hear the mayor speak and there’s a parade due to go though later.  Our guide asked if we’d like to see a few things ‘not on the regular tour’ as a result.
”Yes Please!”
So she went up a set of stone steps stuck on the outside of a building and knocked on a small wooden door.  A bit of conversation later and a gentleman came out with her and we wen to the side door of this church.

Roman Countryside and Olive Oil Tour 018

We are told that this is no longer actually a consecrated church, but is used for many celebrations and receptions and the like.

Roman Countryside and Olive Oil Tour 026

After spending some time in here we are offered an additional opportunity to see something ‘not on the tour’ and climb up a very narrow stairway up the back of the far wall of the city and emerge on top of the city walls, looking out at what you see below…
This picture that took a bit of doing to assemble. This is a panoramic shot was actually 5 separate photos I took and then ‘stitched’ together using a photo compositing tool from Microsoft called ICE. I’ve uploaded the full resolution photo at 10,570 x 2,437 so if you click on the thumbnail below you can get the full-size picture (11MB) and visit some of the beautiful details of the this picturesque landscape… rather breathtaking I thought

If you look closely in the wide shot above on the far left you can just make out the lens hood from Renée’s camera.
I think this picture is just as breathtaking!

Roman Countryside and Olive Oil Tour 013

As a final perspective, we were able to climb one more level up a curving, narrow staircase inside a round tower on the wall to the very top.  Here’s a picture, looking down through one of the crenellations onto the plaza and the church we visited earlier:

Roman Countryside and Olive Oil Tour 033

A more modern church in the main square.  There’s an engraving indicating it was restored in 1930 and is dedicated to Saint Margarita

Roman Countryside and Olive Oil Tour 038

A bit more time and then it’s off to the “Canino” region of Olive Oil country and our yummy early afternoon luncheon


Another classy photo through the bus window as we turned off to the farm


Our hostess at Cerrosughero Olive Farm.  She explains how the trees are developed and the olives harvested.  It not in the video but I hear for the first time that green olives and black olives come from the same olive tree, just a different times of the year. 
Cerrosughero Olive Oil Tour
This place was mostly about the awesome, fresh food served for our lunch.  Indescribably delicious!!
I have no other photos of worth for the olive farm and Renée is still sifting through many thousands, so if she has some worthy one to post I’ll place an update.
We heartily recommend this tour for anyone not going to Rome.
We had such a relaxed and enjoyable day, saw unexpected sights, enjoyed each others company, and spent the last few hours before dinner sprawled on the deck by the pool with a nice chianti.
No port tomorrow… it’s a day floating ‘at sea’ between here and La Spezia

Port of Call – NAPLES/Pompeii

When we last left our heroes, the were leaving Sorrento in the rain, hoping that they had gotten their 30% chance out of the way…
No Such Luck!  The intrepid ‘Family’ of  Tour Guide Julia, popped their umbrellas, and donned the very stylish and fashionable ‘Purple Trenchcoat’ that is all the rage of the Pompeii circuit… at least according to the street vendors at the facility entrance.  These lovely 5-Euro items are designed as the ultimate in biodegradable wear, as they immediately begin to shred as soon as they are worn.


The ruins of this Roman city from 79AD are rather spectacular.  I’d expected something with columns and some buildings and such, but this places SPRAWLS over a large territory.  As Julia tells it, the city was actually a port town on the Mediterranean.  As you may have noticed from the prior map, it’s now about 5 kilometers inland.  This is not due to the seas sinking but rather the huge volume of volcanic ash and material that settled over the area in a few days and raised the land well above the sea where it remains today.
It’s raining pretty steadily here so most of the time Renée had her camera safely Ziploc-ed away.  Most of these photos I captured with the camera on my trusty iPhone4, so please excuse the rather poor quality.
Here, to open the section of photos, is one that Renée captured during a brief respite in the rain:


The approach to the small gladiatorial stadium, seen in the offing:




Here we are standing in the center of the stadium.  The seating has been renovated for actual use in years past, but not any longer.  At the lowest levels, where the wealthiest would sit, you can still see the carved marble seats and steps.  And guess what?  It’s still raining!!


This is a close-up of one of the main entry streets.  It lead down to the harbor.  These streets were open gutters/sewers that carried the city waste out and down to the sea.  These raised stones are at the level of the walkways on either side of the ‘street’ so people could walk across without having to step in the muck.  The spacing of the stones was designed to easily allow chariots and carts to pass up and down to the port.  You an clearly see the worn groove of those iron-shod wheels from 2,000 years ago.  Cool!!


Guess what this building below used to be for?


If you said ‘bakery’ you win a prize!  Sure, sure, it just *looks* like they had large, brick ovens.  How do they *know* it was a bakery?
Unlike most ruins, this one spent 1,900 years buried in volcanic ash.  When they dug the place out they founds THOUSANDS of loaves of bread in this and other bakeries around the city.  They were more ‘toast’ than bread, but there was no doubt about it… I wonder if they made pizzas here on weekends?
This was one of the people on our tour group.  As you can see he also had donned one of the “PURPLE TRENCHCOATS”.  He was shooting pics with his Nikon and trying to keep it under cover in-between… brave soul!
BTW:  The inscription on the wall is not part of the original building but was placed there in past years.  It reads (if my Latin is any good at all…) “House built in the second year of Augustus”… or something similar.
Looks like in-town accommodations were rather small


More pictures along the way…



…still raining


As this was the ‘Adults Only’ tour, our guide took us to one of the more unusual areas of the city.  Just off the main port road we saw earlier was a series of smallish rooms like this one pictured below.  Here you can see a local neighborhood German Shepherd has spotted a likely location out of the rain for a nap.  This was one of a number of pups we saw during our travels.  They were all collared and tagged and evidently belonged to folks that lived near the ruins.
So the archeologists weren’t certain what these rooms with a rather permanent bed-looking area were..


…until they started cleaning up the frescos that were still painted on the walls above the doors…



It turns out this was the the city’s brothel area, conveniently located near the harbor.  Since this was an extremely busy port that served many different cultures, there were many different languages spoken by the sailors and merchants.  The frescos made it easy to select what… ummmm… services you wanted.  It was kind of like going into a McDonalds in another country,  just point at the picture of the Big Mac and you knew what you were buying.


It was a busy street!


By the way, notice what looks like a pipe revealed in the stone to the right of the street scene above?  This is actually a water pipe ‘main’ that server water to the homes throughout the city.  When archeologists first examined these pipes, the found they were made of LEAD. Egads!  They speculated that this might have been the cause of many of the dead in the city before they knew more about the actual history.  On further examination, it was found that the water was so ‘hard’ that it coated the inner portion of the lead pipes with a solid wall of calcium, completely insulating the water from the lead and making it quite safe.  Talk about lucky!



This mosaic floor is at the entrance to one home, I really liked it and didn’t see something similar elsewhere as we walked through the city.


Every once in awhile, you get lucky. 
This is an iPhone4 picture I shot of part of the central plazas of Pompeii.  It’s still raining, but it’s finally letting up a bit.
The mountain you see in the background just breaking free of the clouds is Vesuvius… imagine what it looked like.. THREE TIMES HIGHER than today!


One of the casts made of the many found in the ash 20 feet deep.  They died from inhaling the poison gas from the volcano and were covered up in less than 4 days to a depth of 20 feet or more.  This is not an actual ‘body’  The heat and corrosive environment of the ash incinerated the bodies after they were trapped, leaving cavities in the cooling mass in the exact form of the person or animal.  Once this was realized, they poured a casting material into the cavities to create these impressions of the people who perished.



This was one on many of the wall frescos that are still in place throughout the city (outside the brothel).



This is one of a number of storehouses and restoration shops thy discovered as the city was uncovered.  As they learned more and more about the history of Pompeii they realized why places like this were found, and why so many were found dead here.  A couple years before the eruption in 79AD there was a sever earthquake that caused a lot of damage to the city.  Many of the residents relocated to other villas they had elsewhere and left the rebuilding and repair and renovation of Pompeii to slaves and artisans.  …and those were the people that were there when the mountain blew up.
The second picture is of a dog, restored in a similar fashion the way the person was earlier.  I flipped the picture over to make it a bit easier to see the shape of the dog.


A couple final parting shots as we exit Pompeii and the rain lessens further…




One final picture from Renée of a section from the central plaza of Pompeii.  It provides a sense of the huge scale of the place… look carefully (try clicking on the pic to get it in a viewer where you can zoom in) under the archway and you’ll see a few umbrellas and one of the lovely purple trenchcoats.


As we climb aboard the #19 bus to take us back to the ship, I’m still stunned at the scope and… reality… of Pompeii.  Even in the rain it was an awesome adventure!!
As we ride back towards ‘home’ it… stops… raining, and the sun comes out!
I then look at my watch and realize I’ve missed the start of Captain Jack in the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie already.  It’s showing in the Walt Disney Theater in 3D.  There’s another showing late tonight but I don’t want to disturb the other patrons by snoring loudly through the back half of the film.



One final photo from Renée that she captured as we sailed away from Napoli… what a beauty shot!



Clean up, dinner, perhaps a nightcap and then

Tomorrow is Civitavecchia… and another busy, exciting day

But we’re *not* doing Rome!   

Tune in then!

Port of Call–NAPLES / Sorrento

Early in the morning as we approach the Port of Naples, the remains of Mt. Vesuvius dominates the horizon as I look eastward from the veranda of our room:



It’s 8:00am now… we have visited the COVE CAFÉ (or at least *I* have) and brought back a large latte for Renée and I am enjoying a triple-shot Americano.  We have a cloudy day and about 72 degrees expected for a high temperature.  The weather forecast from the bridge is a little uncertain for today with a bit of a chance for rain.  IMG_1652
















We have a double tour today, first we are off to the lovely city of Sorrento near the Amalfi Coast and then to the ruins of Pompeii.  Although we didn’t know it at the time, here’s what the geography of the trip looked like.  We would leave from the port at 8:30, drive around the foothills of Mt. Vesuvius, past Pompeii and along the coastal highway until we reached the city of Sorrento.  After lunch, we would return the way we came and go to Pompeii for the afternoon and return to the ship late in the day


Here’s the scale of this picture courtesy of Google Maps


Driving directions to Piazza Tasso (Central Sorrento)

1 hour 9 mins         A3 and SS145       51.6 km

                                                                                                 …something to keep in mind, often nothing is close to the ports!


Since Renee is carrying some really expensive photography gear and my DSLR camera is not very weather-resistant, I’m toting my KATA R-103 backpack which is fitted out with sectioned, padded areas for cameras, lenses, etc.  It’s moderately weather resistant and has an additional rain-proof sleeve that can be used if needed.  Better safe than sorry.  These are stock shots to give you an idea…


Occasionally you’ll get to see some really superior photos.  I’ll call them out when they appear.  These are taken by Renée with some pretty sweet equipment. 

I’ll have a special posting of camera pr0n when my Kung Fu is better…later on


Here’s a shot of Vesuvius I took through the bus window as we drove past it towards Sorrento.  Things are looking a bit ominous!

Napels The Slopes of Vesuvius

As we neared Sorrento, our lovely tour guide ‘Julia’ arranged for us to pull off the winding two-lane road that was working down the cliff-side towards the city.  It offered some interesting shots, which I did a lousy job of capturing.  Renée’s will be much better… but they aren’t ‘ready’ yet (smack!) ow!!

Napels 024


















The Hotel Mega MareNapels 029 was off to the right of this little look-out



















…and this was below it.  It seemed somebody had a bad idea for this location, whatever it was supposed to be.

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Renée caught this rather spectacular vision of that hotel hanging off the cliff-side:

Villa on the Cliff

It’s just starting to spatter some rain, so it’s back into the bus and head down the road to Sorrento:Napels 032

Hotel TramontanoJulia, our tour guide, calls us ‘her family’ and gathers us all together as we get off the bus to make sure we know where and when to meet.  This is an ‘on your own’ tour, which we like.  The service gets us reliably back a forth to the destinations, but doesn’t clutter up our time for soaking up the local flavor.  She offers to walk us down to the beach entrance so we can see the Mediterranean from here.  This is an awesome shot Renée took, looking back at the cliff-side we stopped on above.  It’s about halfway up the slope and off to the left of the hill you see in the offing. 

As you can see it’s already raining back where we came from and looking a bit threatening here.

After a bit of gawking about, Julia points out the way to the center of the town and then we were off…

IMG_2100…just as it started pouring-down rain!  The skies opened up on us at this point.  I’d already secured my less durable camera in the KATA and stopped to wrap it’s ‘raincoat’ onto the backpack.  Renée has planned ahead and brought a large Ziploc bag in her shoulder bag, so she shoves her Nikon into it.  She had also thought to bring a Totes umbrella, clever girl!

A few vendors saw an opportunity and stuck small boxes of little, collapsible umbrellas out.  3 later I am the proud owner of a floppy, but rather serviceable, rainbow umbrella.




IMG_1662Things started getting a bit too wet even for Rene’s camera!

So now we were off to see the town.  Due to the rain, there’s little evidence of this part of the trip, but we had a fun time walking through this picturesque place filled with folks going about their regular midday lives.

We decided to find a place to grab some lunch.  We knew we had about an hour and it was starting to rain even more with a rumble of thunder in the offing.  Renée navigated us to the city square and spotted a little pizzeria with outdoor seating tucked under an awning.  We dove across the street and slid into a seat.  Unfortunately the seam for the awning was right where I sat down and it kept squirting me in the back every once in awhile.  Not that I wasn’t already pretty wet, but still…  Our server came by and we asked if there was a drier seat available and he offered us a snug place towards the back.

Piazza Tasso courtesy of Street view on Google Maps.  This would be standing at the square looking back towards Pizzeria Aurora where we had just been seated.  We ate just under the awning a couple table behind the maître d’image

We knew we were staying for a leisurely lunch and have learned not to be in a rush when eating in most places in Europe.  I saw more people spoil either a pleasant atmosphere or an otherwise great meal by being pushy and impatient.  Slow down a bit, relax, enjoy your holiday! 

…and if you can’t, please stop following me around
Open-mouthed smile

We asked our server for a bottle of a local red and thoroughly enjoyed this one:IMG_1671

In the meantime, Renée ordered a small Margherita pizza, a specialty of the house at Pizzeria Aurora http://www.pizzeriaaurora.com/en/

I had a slice and wished I’d ordered a pie for myself.  Thin, but not crunchy-crispy crust, olive oil, basil, the ‘sauce’ was nobody’s paste from a jar.  It smelled and tasted like crushed, fresh tomatoes… just… tomatoes, and finally the most delicious buffalo mozzarella in small slabs, just melted enough.


So while we are drooling over the pizza and sipping this nice local wine, it’s still pouring down rain.  By this point there’s thunder and lightning and WOW!  I glance over to my right were a couple has just stepped under the awning awaiting a table and become very envious of this great umbrella this guy is carrying. 

“Renée!  Check out this really nice golf umbrella.  This white one with a Disney Cruise Lines logo on it.  I wonder if I can get one aboard ship?”

She got that impish look on here face I know so well…“Ummm, maybe… maybe not… check who’s carrying it.”

I look up just as the server is coming to seat them… and it’s Captain John!!!, Master of the Disney Magic along with his wife who is sailing with him on this first trip in the Med for him.  Egads!  We greeted him and he recalled us from the formal night, as I was apparently the only one in a kilt aboard this entire ship, imagine that!  We chatted for just a minute and then let them head in to their table. With all the places to go to, they decided to come an hour and a half out from the ship to this little restaurant. Guess we picked the right place to eat!
I hope they had a bit of anonymity to enjoy a meal ashore.  And I still want an umbrella like his!

Exploring Sorrento

It was lovely, but we had to make our way back to the meeting place for the bus ride to Pompeii.  The rain had eased up a tad but was still coming down as we walked back.  On our way back, Renée caught this nice shot from under the umbrellas:



Here I take a pause… We’re off to see the ruins of Pompeii next.

… in the rain


Our Servers

Our fun, exciting, most EXCELLENT serving staff for 11 nights…

JASON – Our Head Server.
He took care of our dinner orders and food. He is from the Philippines.

GABRIEL – Our Assistant Server
He handled our wine and beverages. He is from India.

They were brilliant as far as we were concerned!

Port of Call–Sicily

Our second port of call, this was a replacement for Tunis, Tunisia following the turmoil in that region in the early part of 2011.  I was still disappointed though we understood the reasons.  I had really looked forward to seeing the historic ruins of Carthage as well as stepping onto the continent of Africa… rats!

Misc-1We planned to do a whole lot of nothing today.  There was not much that excited us to hop on a bus and go off to see and the weather was spectacular (75F/24C and Sunny) 













Renee did get off long enough to shoot some pictures near our berth in the port of Palermo, Misc-3


There are. perhaps, more points of interest on the eastern shore of Sicily but this location was too far to visit Etna for instance..

Here’s a couple links that may be of interest to those on upcoming Mediterranean cruises:

Palermo, Sicily: http://www.cruisecritic.com/ports/newport.cfm?ID=159

Private Tours:

All-in-all this was the ugliest, most industrial port I recall being in during the trip. We berthed next to a monstrous grain (I think) storage facility.

Palermo-6I really enjoy the smarty-pants humor Renee has.

She spotted the fact that the Disney Magic had berthed in a no-parking zone with 24-hour towing

Surprised smile























Here, we can see that they need to get a bigger tow-truck.  I think they were trying to put a boot on the anchor until they could find one…

Rolling on the floor laughingPalermo-5






















Since that didn’t seem to be working………







At about Noon, Captain John had to come on the public-address system to advise his crew that they needed to be prepared to remain aboard for safety inspections (that went over well <sarcasm>).  We heard from some sources later that this was very unusual to have to announce it publicly.  It turned out that the Italian authorities had popped a surprise safety drill on the ship and were requiring all the port-side lifeboats to be run out and for the crew to actually lower a couple away, crew them, drive them about and recover them!  While they have the authority to do this, it’s really rare to call for it in such a fashion.  We think the tow-truck incident played a role…




“Downtown Palermo off the Port bow!”Palermo-1


Finally, late in the day as we departed, Renée did capture a couple very nice city scenes…

She does a lot of cool photography work with growing commercial success. 
f you’ want to follow her work, become a friend of Renée Peoples Photography here:


“Do you have a Renée?”

Palermo PanPalermo Pan 2

As we sail away from the island, I say “Sorry” to those who may have wanted more info about Palermo, Sicily.

If you have done any Port Adventures here before (or since) or you have visited near Palermo recently, please post up a response or three… we’d love to hear about your experiences, good or bad.

We’re off to the Italian mainland and the next Port of Call… NAPLES!! Sweet!

Maltese Magic Escape

Disney Magic makes a rapid departure from the Malta Port

Okay, so I had a little fun with this one.  This is about 18 minutes of footage crammed into 2.  Just a little frivolity!

PS:  Now you know what the second stack is REALLY for

Winking smile

Malta–First Port of Call

I was*so* excited to visit this location.  The place has an amazing history that dates back before the pyramids at least 5,200BC!

Here’s a rather nice write-up on the islands: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malta

I liked this picture of a prehistoric pygmy elephant (oxymoron)

Malta is a part of the European Union since 2003 and Maltese and English are both national languages.  As our guide told us on the way to see the Blue Grotto “93% of all Maltese people speak English, the other 7% are foreigners

Open-mouthed smile

Approaching the ‘Big Island’ of Malta 7:00am and hazy

Europe2011 071

Map picture


Here’s a map of the spectacularly huge port area.  The red pin shows where we docked, it’s quite a site as we entered and exited the port.








The Port of Malta seen from the aft/starboard side of the Disney Magic.















Here we are in port and stopped at 8:10am local ship’s time on Monday May 30th.  This is provided on the in-room ship’s position monitor: IMG_1623

This is displayed 24hrs a day on one of the TV channels in each room.  I tried to remember and capture a shot each day as we arrived in port.

There’s Tunis off to the left, our ‘lost port’… sad not to see the ruins of Carthage.  We we close enough to it overnight that my mobile phone picked up the service from the mainland for awhile.









Today’s Port Adventure is a trip to the Blue Grotto and then off to a ‘typical fishing village’ (Adult Only Departure)
I should mention here that Renee and I have been going to Disney World ‘as adults’ for 10 years and we really love it.  We are fortunate enough to live about 9 hours driving distance and went down the ‘slippery slope’ of DVC (Disney Vacation Club) back in 2003.  This cruise was paid for with 1 1/2 years of vacation points so that’s pretty awesome!  We have taken some friends with us to the parks “as adults” who have young kids and they agree it’s a whole different experience!  One of the joys we have found aboard the ship is that if you don’t want to be around kids… you won’t be hardly at all.  The Adult-Only areas of the ship are great and the ability to isolate sound from one part of the boat to another is nothing short of amazing.  Most of the kids are off having fun all day in the Oceanears Club.  We’ve spoken to many parents aboard that tell us the kids check in there in the morning and they don’t see ‘em again until dinner/Showtime and then they go right back.

So, we booked ‘Adult Only Departures’ wherever possible and we did not have to contend with strollers keeping up.

After about 30 minutes of bus ride, we arrive at a scenic overlook near Wied iz-Zurrieq, allowing us to look down on part of the Blue Grotto area.  There’s also a sign advising “TODAY THE BOATS ARE RUNNING” 

Europe2011 084Be advised! These are open, outboard motor boats that seat 8 people max.  If the seas are running, the boats will not be.  Be prepared to be disappointed if you take this tour as it sounds as though it’s a 50/50 proposition… our native guide was happily surprised to find the boats running!!










While standing at the overlook, I was able to shoot this itty bitty island off on the horizon since the day was so clear.  Shot with an effective 300mm lens, this is the smallest island of the Malta group.

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The overlook itself:


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And what we could see from it:

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Then it was off to the town and access to the protected cove to load up the boats and adventure out to see the caves carved out by the sea:

Here’s a three-step zoom-view from the water back up to the overlook (double-click the pics to see them zoomed up to full size):

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Here’s a quick bit ‘o video at one of the six grottos… it doesn’t do justice to the experience… strongly recommended!!

The Blue Grotto Sneak Peak


So we thoroughly enjoyed that adventures, climbed out of the boats, walked up a steep hill where I captured this candid photo:

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Europe2011 141While we caught a (provided) bite to eat and a welcome drink, I spotted this salty dog and his spotty dog





















So now it’s off to the second half of our day in the fishing village of Marsaxlokk with a whopping 3,200 +/- people

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What a great little slice of life.  Renee and I really enjoy going to the smaller, less travelled locales.  There’s so much to see and a lot of culture to soak up.

I particularly appreciated the local banking hours:Europe2011 150










Marsaxlokk, Malta in late May 2011 during a Disney Magic cruise

Here’s a brief pan of the picturesque waterfront of Marsaxlokk.  Notice (once the clicking of a certain person’s massive camera stops) how wonderfully quiet it is.  I particularly like the fisherman repairing his net right at the end.








After about an hour touring the town, we head back to our floating hotel…



Disney Magic, seen through the buildings near the Port in Malta as we returned from the day’s adventuresIMG_1624:























Sessions_VodkaEnd of the day and we settled into Sessions for some mellow tunes and vodka on the rocks as we sail away to our next Port of Call – Sicily… good night!

Formal Night

Tonight is the evening of our first ‘Day at Sea’.  We’re enroute to the beautiful island of Malta. 



Tonight’s towel animal:



We would get different ones every evening with the turndown service, a briefing on our port of call in the morning (if there is one) and a few chocolates.  Notice which of the Seven Dwarves is on the chocolate (hint: it’s NOT Dopey)















Since it was ‘dress up time’ there were pictures to be taken with the Master of the Magic, Captain John:


…and the Master of Ceremonies


Some of us just HAD to ham it up a bit!

This little item arrived during the dessert portion of the meal, it was cute!


Magical Dining

Dining aboard Disney Cruise Lines is a different experience than aboard most cruise ships.  Many cruise lines have a single large dining facility where people are scheduled for certain times each day to help stagger the service times for the kitchen to accommodate . This works rather well however the visual experience tends to be the same each day, particularly if you also take a breakfast or lunch meal at the usual buffet served in the same facility.  Disney decided to take a radical approach when they launched DCL a dozen years ago with ‘rotational dining’.  They have 3 smaller, separately themed dining areas aboard with a fourth ‘adults only’ upscale facility.  You have the same table number and dining time (‘early’ at 5:30 or ‘late’ at 8:30) each evening however you move from one dining facility to another each evening.  In a pleasurable twist, your serving staff moves with you each evening.  By the second or third night out they know if you want a cocktail before your meal and what type of wine you prefer with your food plus any other ‘special needs’ you may have.  This provides for a friendly and engaging experience with your serving staff while providing a completely different dining experience each evening with the additional benefit of smaller groups of people eating at the same place and time.  Where you are dining is printed on your ‘Key to the World’ mentioned earlier.

RestaurantsOnBoard-3Our dining began at Lumiere’s, a French cuisine restaurant inspired and themed from the movie/Broadway production Beauty and the Beast (it’s named after the French-speaking candelabra character in the film).  It very lavish with lots of gilding, heavy draperies, high ceilings and elegant entry platform area.  There are huge chandeliers down the centerline of the entrance each with a crystal red rose.

RestaurantsOnBoardThe next restaurant in our rotation is perhaps our favorite; Animator’s Palate.  This place rather defies description… but I’ll try.  Aside from a great menu of diverse dishes, the environment is a large part of the attraction.  Scattered around the restaurant are sketches and drawings of animation through 100 years of Disney art.  Many are the ‘wallpaper’ while others are being displayed on various digital screens on the wall.  Large paintbrushes act as columns to hold up the roof.  The brush portion of the columns are in color and change over time with subtle shifts in accent lighting.  Our serving staff has shifted outfits from last night’s traditional garb for a 4-star facility to a white shirt/black vest with more animation art stitched out on it.  Just about desert time, the entire place transforms… the walls suddenly are color versions of the the black and white sketches taking on a depth and richness not seen previously as well as all the black and white movies and pictures become color.  When the staff comes out to deliver the desert menus their outfits have also transformed to full color versions of the artwork that decorated their vests and shirts.  the wall trick is rather fascinating to see.  When you get close to the wall you realize its perforated with thousands of holes.  When the transformation happens they fade down the lights illuminating the walls and there’s an entire color version of the walls BEHIND the perforations that are then lit… so that’s what you see… very cool magic
Thumbs up
Parrot Cay iphoneThe final restaurant is Parrot Cay (pronounced “Key” for those not up on their island-speak, mon)  This is a bright, casual, laid-back bit of Jamaican foodie-fest, ideal for the more common Caribbean cruising this ship is generally doing.  The menu is spicy and exciting and the servers have moved to loud, colorful shirts and crew pants and it’s easy to imagine you are no longer in the Mediterranean.  The fare is a nice switch-up from the heavier eating at the other two venues.  There is still a robust variety of foods with all the locations offering vegetarian fare standard as well as beef, poultry and fish.  Every meal comes with starters, soup or salad, main course and signature desserts.

You may notice some of the photos look significantly better than others on this page… all courtesy of Renee Peoples Photography… she captured some very cool shots of all the restaurants, with my iPhone pic of Parrot Cay being the jarring exception… though it kinda fits the slightly whacky joint!

RestaurantsOnBoard-2Finally, there is the ‘plus’ restaurant that many cruise ship have aboard.  On the Disney Magic this is PALO, a southern French cuisine venue located on the upper deck in the aft portion of the ship.  It sports width-of-the-ship curved widow-wall presenting a gorgeous view off the fantail of the ship and requires prior booking reservations.  The restaurant charges an additional $20./person rather than being ‘all included’ as all the other eating aboard cruise ships.  Prior to sailing each person is permitted only one reservation during a sailing at Palo’s and some of the most popular times are booked out quickly by concierge guests and others with priority privileges.  Invariably, the restaurant has some additional capacity and you can attempt to book additional seating opportunities each day if you desire.  This is a dress-up environment, though not formal.  The other regular restaurants are ‘cruise casual’ but Palo’s expect men to bring a jacket (no tie required!) and ladies usually out-dress us guys anyway.  The menu does not disappoint!  Our regular tablemates (we sit at a table for four and share it with another couple) are originally from Belgium and have lived in the Provence region of France for a number of years.  They owned and operated a successful restaurant specializing in regional cuisine and are on this cruise celebrating the sale of the property.  They are immensely pleased with the Palo selection, preparation and level of service as well as the great tasting foods.  It’s a big meal as far as we are concerned but cannot argue with the quality and attention to details!

Other fun places to eat around the ship include:

IMG_1793Pinocchio’s Pizzeria:

Pizza’s made to order… and a full bar… excellent!!






IMG_1797Pluto’s Dog House: Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, Fries (and a partial bar!)

IMG_1801Goofy’s Galley: Sandwich fare and deli-like stuff… this place is always busy, and no bar (shrug)

IMG_1803Topsider Buffet: Yep!  There’s always a buffet somewhere… This is where the early breakfast buffet takes place for folks wanting a bit to eat before heading ashore for the day.  They generally open at 7:00am or earlier if we make port early.  Nothing surprising with a typical cafeteria-style speed and convenience except they have an omelet bar at the back that makes pretty good made-to-order stuff.