What could be better that Northern Italy in the fall? Right now, nothing comes to mind, which is a good thing, because that’s where we will be for 19 glorious days.
We arrive in Milan 4 days before our OAT trip starts. How in the world did it happen that one of the least fashion savvy women on this planet will be in Milan during fashion week? I imagine the streets will be loaded with even more beautiful people than usual, wearing exquisite clothes. Will that change my determination to travel with only a carry on and backpack? The answer to that question is “not a chance”. Initially the plan was for us to exit the plane and head for the train without a detour to baggage claim, but then we got a call from our trip leader. She reminded us that although it will be warm in Milan and Tirano, temperatures will drop during our visits to the Swiss Alps and the Dolomites. So, that means we will need bulkier items. I was able to fit everything into my trusty Eagle Creek carry on, but Mike’s clothes are considerably larger than mine. So, one of us will be checking luggage. That’s okay. I’ll get a chance to see whether international flights are as picky as domestic ones about carry on size. On our last domestic flight, I discovered that United has changed the dimensions for allowable carry ons to 9″ x 15″ x 21″. My trusty Eagle Creek bag is 10″ x 13″ x 22″, or 2,860 cubic inches, versus an allowable 2,835 cubic inches. Really? Will the gate person play hard ball? Because we will be waiting at baggage claim anyway, it doesn’t really matter. I’m determined to pack light regardless, because after our first night in Milan, Mike and I will be going our separate ways, and I will be traveling solo by train, bus and boat.
Mike is heading off to Stradavari’s old stomping grounds –Cremona–to hang out with his violin making buddies. While he’s there, I’ll be in Tremezzo, on Lake Como. Wonder if George and Amal will need a baby sitter for the twins? And will I have packed the proper outfit?
Ah yes, packing. I did my usual clothes “auditioning”. It didn’t take long for me to realize I needed to amp up my quick drying wardrobe.
For my last “one bag” trip, I used a laundry service midway, because I spent half of the trip in just one place–Beja, Portugal. This trip, however, I will wash as I go, because over 19 days, we will be staying in 8 different hotels. This also took some serious retooling of my laundry aids. The expandable clothes line I packed last time was pretty worthless when I couldn’t find two suitable attachment points that would also allow me use of the bathroom (thus the need for laundry service).
What I had never done before is something that bloggers Terri and James of Gallivance recommend: try living out of the bag for a week. Of course, they were preparing for an around the world trip lasting several months, while I’m just going to one country for less than three weeks, so I didn’t feel the need to literally live out of my bag. Instead, what I HAVE been doing is limiting myself to the clothes that I plan on taking and washing them out in the sink. So far so good. My LL Bean travel pants have been drying in less than 8 hours!
Some travelers swear by packing cubes. In the past, I relied on my jumbo zip lock bags instead and they have served me well, but this time I decided to give a packing cube a try. This cube opens on both sides, and is divided into two compartments–perfect for stashing things that I will be using on a daily basis. To my surprise, I was able to fit pajamas, underwear, toiletry bag and laundry supplies, plus a few small items–jewelry and scarves. So, I can pull this out in every hotel, and I have the equivalent of two bureau drawers. Take a look.
Best of all, it fits nicely into my carry on, leaving just enough room for everything else. If you are interested in what I was able to jam into my bag, here’s a link to the Google spreadsheet.
Of course, this list could come in handy in the event that my luggage is lost. (Which it was, briefly, on my trip to Portugal and Spain earlier this year.)
I suspect the reason I haven’t used packing cubes was my carry on is already divided into neat sections. As for whether I folded or rolled, the answer is, I did both.
Okay, so enough with the packing. Full disclosure, although I sincerely hope that what I share is helpful to others, I REALLY have recorded it to help me, because I tend to forget what I took, what worked, what didn’t, if I have’t written it down. Yes, a mind is a terrible thing to lose, or waste, or whatever is going on with that empty space atop my shoulders.
On to the other preparations. I got tickets for the train from the airport to our first hotel, from this very helpful website. There are others, but I found Trainline easy to use. Who wants to deal with unfamiliar ticket machines, in another language, while jet lagged? Not me. Being a bit obsessive compulsive, I also got tickets for when I’m traveling solo to lower my anxiety level. From the Como train station, I have a choice of taking either a ferry or a bus to my hotel in Tremezzo. Thanks to the internet, I have the schedules for both, and can decide which option is most appealing once I get there.
What a difference from my travel days in my early 20’s, when I got on a plane to Colorado without any reservations, with very little money, and only a vague idea of where I was going and what I was going to do when I arrived. With google maps, trip advisor and the internet’s search options, I can be somewhat spontaneous, while limiting the risk of bad decisions. (The thought that a bad decision was possible never crossed my mind in my younger days!)
If you don’t, you will have to download from the internet when you are aboard and accessing the internet can be costly. Better to plan ahead to get it for free while at home.
The app is about the only thing that works on Disney’s free wifi. Why is it such a great thing to have? Well, the app allows you to text — an easy way to find other members of your group. If you drop kids off at the Oceaneer’s Club (more on that later), staff will text YOU when/if your kid wants to be picked up. To me, it was much easier to use the app to text from my iPhone than to have to learn how to use the “WAVE” phones in our cabin (there are two), remember to carry one more thing with me, and remember to charge it every night.
Another great feature of the Navigator App is the daily events schedule can be accessed right from your phone, and trust me–there is always LOTS going on. You DO receive a paper schedule of the next day’s events every evening, but like my sunglasses and keys, it was never where I remembered putting it.
After booking, you will be told the earliest date that you will be allowed to make reservations for spa appointments, character meetings and specialty restaurants. Pay attention to it, and don’t dilly dally. Things DO get booked up. The web site instructs you to visit the customer service desk on your first day, if you want to make changes or additional reservations. What do you think THAT line looks like? LOOONG doesn’t begin to describe it.
Depending on your status, (and as a lowly first time Disney cruiser in a non-suite, we had NO status), you will be allowed to book a certain number of dinner reservations in the specialty restaurant. Disney Magic, the oldest and smallest ship, has only one specialty restaurant–the larger ships have two. For our four night cruise, we were allowed to book one night, plus a second night if we were willing to dine there on the first night.
I had thought that we would each receive lanyards to keep our room keys up close and personal. Nope. First time cruisers are the only ones that don’t get lanyards. Had I known that, I would have brought one from trips I had taken with other travel companies. Does Disney think lanyards are an effective inducement to book future trips? And can you tell from my distress at not having a lanyard that I have a tendency to misplace things?
Be sure you have all of the necessary legal documents for EVERY member of the party. See my earlier post for more on this topic.
Which Cruise to Choose?
Living in new Jersey, with family members coming from Massachusetts made the choice easy for us. Departing from New York meant that we didn’t have to worry about flight arrangements, security screening, potential delays, missing baggage — all those things that can go wrong when you fly, especially when traveling with 3 and 4 year olds.
We also opted for the shorter cruise. Not only was it less expensive, but we also weren’t sure how well the girls would adjust to sleeping on a ship. (They were fine).
The length of the cruise turned out to be just right for us: one day getting aboard, three full days on the ship, and one morning getting off.
We chose an October cruise, figuring it would be less crowded (it was) because kids would be in school (many weren’t). Another bonus–all October cruises are considered “Halloween on the High Seas”, giving some an opportunity to don costumes.
The down side of an October cruise? You probably won’t be able to take advantage of all the water attractions. The water wasn’t even turned on for these outdoor showers.
This is obviously a matter of personal preference and budget. Rather than struggle with deck plans to try to figure out where we might be happiest, we had Lauren at Small World Vacations offer guidance.
She got us connecting ocean view cabins on the 7th deck, in the front of the ship. This worked out really well for us–we were close, but not too close to the elevators and stairs.
The pools and spa are on the 9th deck, and best of all, THIS section is also in the front of the ship–just two flights up.
Our cabin was surprisingly quiet, considering the number of children aboard. Another plus for being in the front—we didn’t feel any vibration from the propeller.
The Cabin Layout
This ship was definitely designed with families in mind. The upper bunk drops down at night, so 4 can comfortably sleep in one cabin.
There is a curtain separating the bunk area from the king sized bed, so privacy is somewhat possible. Unlike other cruises, the king sized bed can not be reconfigured into two twins. Not a problem; it was not the first time my sister and I have shared a bed.
There was sufficient storage space, especially if one chooses to pack light–something I highly recommend.
The bathroom is split in two–with a tub/shower combo and sink in one and a toilet sink combo in the other area. Great idea! The toilet/sink combo has a crappy wall hair dryer but there is also a regular dryer in the desk.
Our connecting ocean view rooms worked great. A balcony wasn’t important to us, because there was so much going on, we were rarely in our cabins. We also didn’t have to worry about the younger one, who is a climber, trying to balance on the balcony’s railing.
For those that aren’t claustrophobic, an interior cabin would be kind to your budget.
Disney DOES do a wonderful job getting everyone aboard with a minimum of hassle, however it still is a lot of stimulation for young kids. For the first night, my niece wisely opted for room service. I never cracked open the room service menu, so I’m no authority on its contents, but knowing the culinary preferences of the young ladies in question, I can say with confidence that hamburgers, pizza and mac & cheese were most definitely available.
I, on the other hand, along with my sister (the REAL grandmother–I’m just pretending) opted to spend our first night dining in the specialty restaurant, which allowed us to dine there a second time. For our “bonus” reservation, we opted for the LAST night.
Let me tell you, dinner was well worth the extra $30 per person. Excellent service, fantastic food, great ambiance.
The brunch was also amazing, especially if you are a seafood lover, and my sister clearly IS. A Bellini (or if you prefer, a mimosa) is included in the $30 surcharge.
You can opt for made to order omelets, waffles, eggs Benedict etc, but why fill up on that when the desserts were so delectable?
Although the food was plentiful in the other restaurants, it was clearly designed with kids in mind. I’ll admit to being spoiled by Oceania and Viking cruise lines. This restaurant food was on a par with those lines’ every day cuisine. The food at the other three restaurants and buffet was more like what you would get at a theme park.
I had never been on a large cruise ship before, so this was the first time I had a set dining schedule. Disney rotates its guests through the other three restaurants, but you have to choose either a 5:45 or an 8:15 seating. For the specialty restaurant, you choose your time when you make the reservation.
You can request a certain sequence of restaurants–which is why a travel agent can be so very helpful. The Animator’s Palate has a wonderful show that should not be missed, so if you plan on dining in the specialty restaurant, make sure your reservation is not on your Animator Palate night. We requested the rotation that had the second and third nights in the Animator’s Palate, just to make sure we didn’t miss the show. It was breathtaking.
The Cast of Characters
As a newbie, I had no idea what I was signing the girls up for when I reserved a 9:45 appointment to meet Disney princesses. So here’s what it means: your ticket allows you to get in line for a photo op with the characters that show their OWN faces. Although Disney has their photographers snapping away, there is no pressure to purchase photos, and you are free to take your own, which I did.
For this photo op, the kids got to meet THREE princesses. Rapunzel was the star of the show, Tangled, featuredon night #3.
Okay, I identified Rapunzel and Cinderella, but I have NO idea who the third princess (the one in the white dress) was.
If you didn’t get tickets, don’t despair. You still can get character shots with the ones that DON’T show their own faces, no tickets necessary– you simply get in line.
Many of the kids brought their autograph books, but these girls were too young for that concept.
Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab
So, THIS feature is the reason I think a cruise is preferable to a theme park for families with young children. FREE babysitting, for as many times as you want!
Not only that, but the kids LOVE this place. In fact, when my niece went to fetch the girls around 10 PM, they refused to leave. She had to return at midnight–closing time.
The kids are given a bracelet that operates like the ankle bracelets prisoners on house arrest wear. It is also a “key” that gets them into the area, and it is a homing device that allows the staff to know EXACTLY where each child is.
When Bonnie couldn’t find her sister, a staff member looked up Katherine’s location on the computer, then summoned another staff member to bring Bonnie to Katherine. Pretty impressive. As mentioned before, the staff will text or call you (or any other authorized member of your party) should a child want to leave. When you board the ship, your photo is taken so the staff member is always able to verify that you are who you say you are.
Another plus–your room is only an elevator ride away when it becomes clear that one or more of the kids is in dire need of a nap. Even if you are staying in the theme park, you still have to ride the monorail to get to your lodging.
So what might you be doing while your kids are having a great time at the Oceaneer Club? You can choose from a full array of spa services, or you can opt for a day pass to the Rainforest Room. This room includes a couple of steam rooms, a sauna, showers, plus your day pass entitles you to a complimentary jar of scented body scrub.
Those that are watching their spending (and on a cruise, the extras can mount up fast) can still use the locker room, which has a free sauna, shower, dressing room and storage bins, PLUS bathrobes and slippers. (You don’t get bathrobes in your room, but no one stops you from taking one from the free locker room, in the spa area. These are not the luxury robes that you get on more upscale cruises, but they are quite sufficient.)
You have to walk through the spa, to the very front of the 9th deck, to reach the exercise room, which is equipped with treadmills, bikes, weights, and machines.
The adult only area on the 9th deck has a heated pool and two hot tubs. The weather was a bit too cool for the heated pool, but the hot tubs got a lot of use.
Living in New Jersey, I’ve seen my fair share of Broadway shows, and Tangled was definitely on par with those on the Great White Way. Although there are shows every night, we only saw two. The shows were a bit long for the three year old. On both nights, she was “done” before the shows were. In my opinion, three is just about the youngest age to maximize enjoyment for a cruise like this. (But then, my experience is limited to this cruise and these two kids.)
There are two “BIG” shows per night: at 6:30 and 8:30, to accommodate the late and early dinner schedules.
Showtime is not limited to the Disney extravaganzas. No indeed. Every evening the audience gets to participate in contests and game shows. Fortified by copious amounts of “fire water”, some fellow cruisers were induced to exhibit some very “unDisney-like” behavior.
And yes, that is a bra on one of those fine fellows heads. And yes, the owners of those bras were indeed in that same lounge. And no, they were not part of our group.
Apparently every cruise includes one Pirate Night, and it should not be missed. Pirate Night was the second night of our cruise.
The waiters were all dressed in pirate costumes, and after the meal was finished, they led the kids around the dining room, marching, dancing and singing “yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.”
At 7 PM there was a musical show on the 9th deck, that had these little girls rocking. Although I was able to get them right up to the stage, by asking the adults if they could squeeze through (surprisingly there were a lot of adults on this cruise traveling without kids), I think a better choice would have been on the balcony of the 10th deck. The grand finale? Mickey zip lines from the top of the ship, down to the stage. Pretty exciting stuff when you are three or four.
What a night! First the pirates on deck, then ANOTHER show in the theater. And if THAT’s not enough, you can watch movies in the kid pool area–sorta like being at the drive in, but instead of sitting in a car, you can climb into the hot tub.
Was our cruise wonderful and magical? Yes, indeed, because to me, it was all about the kids. What a wonderful opportunity for family bonding,
and for experiencing wonder through the eyes of a child.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. My family’s nom de plume is Murphy. That law that you’ve heard about? We live it on a daily basis, and this day was no exception.
I won’t bore you with the details. Instead, I will share some helpful hints so that YOUR embarcation goes more smoothly than ours.
Parking at the port was easy. We arrived a little after noon, drove to the terminal (entrance is on 55th and 12th Ave– the ship was berthed about another block or two south of the entrance) where porters were waiting to help unload the luggage.
If by any chance you have forgotten the preprinted luggage tags Disney sent out with your cruise package, not to worry. The porters had extra and quickly solved the problem.
Dad parked the car, while mom, the girls and aunt (that would be me) made our way inside to a terminal that was not crowded at all. Cruise parking at the Manhattan terminal is $40 per 24 hours, payable in advance.
Two other members of our group (my sister/girls’ grandmother, my nephew/ girls’ uncle) who drove from Massachusetts, reserved off site parking that charged half as much as the port. The best part–their service included driving you to the terminal in your own car, and helping unload luggage. Good thing too, because between more than one stretch of bumper to bumper traffic and getting lost, they almost missed the boat. They had no time to spare, to look for a space in the Port parking lot, park the car and high tail it back to the embarcation area. There’s a lot to be said for arriving the day before departure.
IF you arrive around 12:30 PM, with proper documentation, you could probably be on the ship by 1:00 PM. If, however, you happen to be missing a legal document, such as an official birth certificate for a child, you CAN have someone either fax or photograph it and email or text it to you. See if you can figure out how I know this.
By the time some of us were on board, (2:15 PM) our rooms were ready. Checked luggage arrived around 5 PM.
All’s well that ends well, with everyone checked in and aboard by 4 PM. The wonder and glory of sailing out of NYC might have been lost on the smallest member of our group, who was far more interested in her burger, but the rest of us loved watching the city’s skyline and Lady Liberty roll by.
About those Fish Extenders (FEs) that I mentioned in a previous post? This is what they
look like. Notice the metal fish above the room number? That’s where the name came from. The idea is that group members leave little surprises for each others’ children in their FEs.
Wanna know how great some of the other passengers were? My niece discovered the Facebook group (and FEs) about a week before departure–too late for her to create or purchase surprises for other group members. Despite her inability to reciprocate, people STILL left gifts for her girls. The white board was one of the gifts–another was stuck inside the fish. No extender necessary.
Lots of VERY kind, considerate shipmates were aboard!