…are Steve & Renee now?


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

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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.

All Aboard!

Friday was a fun and busy day but nothing spectacular.  Now it’s Saturday and time to board the Disney Magic for 11 nights in the Mediterranean.  Repack-repack-repack… Turned in the bags to Disney (they have a service at this hotel and will deliver our luggage to our stateroom later in the afternoon.  So we’ve packed our backpacks and headed for the Port of Barcelona.

IMG_1591A number of other cruise companies are in port with folks sailing out for various week-long cruises, so we are issued our Disney stickers to make sure we get on the right transport.

Here’ the Magic next to the monstrous Liberty of the Seas… we look like a toy boatIMG_1594 Smile


The first two Disney boats were designed to look very similar to the classic ocean-going liners of the 1930s with twin stacks (only one is needed in modern liners… the second one is a club for teens on these boats).  They gave it a sharp bow (a ‘cruiser bow’) and lots of railings.


These pics were shot with my iPhone through the glass of the transport bus from the hotel so they have a rather green cast.  Renee could clean up and correct this… but she’s not doing this travelblog

Open-mouthed smile

So after processing through the Port authority and getting our Keys to the World(electronic passes that unlock your door, allow you to charge stuff to your account and are required to enter and leave the ship in the various ports), we headed aboard to our stateroom.

We’re on Deck 8, starboard.  If you look at the picture above our cabin is just below where the first ‘long bulge’ juts out above the round portholes.  That area is where the Vista Spa & Salon is located.. convenient!







When cruise ships leave port, they traditionally sound their distinctive horn a couple times.  Often when a ship prepare to leave and sounds her horn others will announce their presence with authority, with the ‘horn war’ going to the loudest(generally acknowledge by it being the last one to sound). Although the Disney ship is not as large as some of the others in port, she does her best to keep up with the ‘big boys’.  In this short video clip we were standing on our veranda when the Disney Magic and RCL Liberty of the Seas decided to duke it out.

Disney Magic vs. RCL Liberty of the Seas

5:00PM Port of Barcelona sail-away

Europe2011 009Captain John! Master of the Disney Magic prepares to navigate away from the Port.
This shot is from our veranda looking forward. The Captain is looking aft from the starboard wing bridge (yes, there’s one on the port side as well…)ensuring all is well as the harbor pilot drives his ship out to clear waters.  Captain John was Master of the Disney Wonder a number of years ago when we cruised for the first time on a Disney ship.


I was absolutely amazed at the incredible blue-ness of the Mediterranean Sea.  This un-retouched shot is about an hour away from the Port of Barcelona, taken from the veranda of our room.  It looked like this everywhere we went.

Our first full day day out was a ‘Day At Sea’, spent enjoying the relaxations aboard ship.  Renee went off to a few hours in the Sessions Spa, first a hot stone massage and then off the the ‘Rainforest relaxation room’ where they have heated tile beds to soak the cares away.  Renee rejoined me in the mid afternoon.

Tonight is our ‘formal night’ so we are off to dress for the big Broadway-style stage performance of “Twice Charmed” and then off to our 8:30pm dinner seating at Lumiere’s, one of four restaurants aboard.

More about the restaurants next time HERE: https://witw2011.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/magical-dining/

Barcelona–Day 2

Wow!  What an amazing day we had Thursday!!

WARNING!!!  Wayyy long post follows…Surprised smile

We attempted to start out early and found that Barcelona doesn’t wake up much before 10am!

Hooray for Starbucks!  photo7

Interestingly they have no ‘coffee’ machine as we are used to in the States, rather they have extra espresso dispensers and, of all things, a fresh orange juicer (no picture handy).  This thing takes whole oranges and simply crushes them; peels, seeds and all; with juices coming out of the bottom.  It’s about 50% more expensive than a latte, but very popular based on our visits.  If you want coffee the way we think of it, it’s “Americano”.

So today we went in search of some “Hannibal” (watch the video here) badges left behind by our favorite close-up magician.  photo5Hannibal was in Barcelona a few months ago supporting a tech company at convention.  We exchanged some messages and he left us some cryptic clues (natch!)

Link to his site here: http://www.chrishannibal.com/

So we have searched and searched… and we think we have been thwarted by the diligent cleaning crews around Barcelona.




We knew that the likely location of the arena mentioned is the former bullfighting arena (not a very popular sport in the Catalan capital) that has been converted to shopping in recent years.  We were not very near to this site so we looked to Clue #2…

Museo de CeraWe located clue number 2 here at the Museo De Cera De Barcelona.

Searching and searching, we still found no sign of Hannibal having been ‘close to wax’ so we moved on to the next locale…



Hmmm… across the street from “The Snail” gads!

So it turns out that there is an old, famous restaurant called “Los Caracoles” Caracoles street badgethat must be just the place.. 

photo4It’s a lovely, out-of-the-way place with beautiful etched glass windows.  We searched valiantly in the adjoining streets, in the little bits & bobs shops across the lane from here…. 


















We even checked out the shop just across the street from Los Caracolessexshop.















::::::::::::::::::: An hour later ::::::::::::::::::::::::

Okay, so no Hannibal marker found anywhere, despite the fun of the search Open-mouthed smile

We were hungry and thirsty by this point so we went in search of a Tapas bar Renee had read about before we arrived, SagardiBagardi Tapas

They had all kinds of unique and original creations.  You collect a plate and pick the various tapas you want to have.  In the end they ‘count the toothpicks’ and you pay based on the number.  Some folks are fairly ignorant and ‘accidentally’ drop toothpicks before paying… we really hate this kind of thing but otherwise we really enjoyed the great variety and fun of the place.  They were constantly bringing new plates full of tapas from the back room.  There was one that looked like there was shaved coconut on it… but it turned out to be some rally awesome cheese,

We tried their signature ‘cider’ but neither of us found it to be to our taste.  When we came iup to have our toothpicks counted, they noticed we had a fair bit of the cider left in both cups, asked if we liked it, and then didn’t charge us for it… class!

BTW:  We are amazed at how multilingual service is here in Barcelona.  Not only English but we heard Italian and French and lots of German as well.  This is supposedly ‘The’ destination for Europeans on holiday… we see why !




So after the Tapas we stopped in at a place we’d visited in the afternoon the day before… “Mi Burrito y Yo”


Those of you who may recall our little trip to the US Virgin Islands last year may recall the “Donkey Diner” episode… this place just warmed the cockles of our hearts as a result.  Sitting outside, drinking wine, enjoying local food and entertainment

Pan Pipes on the Plaza outside Mi Burrito y Yo in Barcelona



Soooooooooooooo… Now what?

It’s about 11:00pm and we’re not tired so we happen to find an amazing Irish Pub along the way (I know, right?)

Imagine that?

photoGuinness on tap makes up for no breakfast in Barcelona in the mornings (somewhat) so we settled in.  I HAD to buy a hat they had (kinda Perry the Platypus-like don’tcha think?)

Dooby Dooby Doby,

Dooby Dooby Do-wah!!!

1:30am we found our way back to the AC Diplomatic, our base of operations for the pre-cruise…

Renee has some additional incriminating pictures I think…

Barcelona Cathedral

Renee has some spectacular pictures (natch!) but here’s a glimpse from my iPhone


Who Needs ’em?

There’s an entire store for this

Don’t need ’em!