TRAVELSCRIBBLES is a blog featuring travel reports, advice, and idea sharing for those interested in both domestic and international exploration.

Roger Sauer and his wife Donna have spent years traveling the world but have many places yet to see. You can follow their past and current travels here as well as post comments and questions about places they have visited.

Roger and Donna travelled to New Zealand and Australia in September, 2013. They will be in Paris in September 2015 with a train trip to Nice and Barcelona. They will then be aboard the Disney Magic (again) for a transatlantic cruise to Miami. Follow their travels on Twitter @rsauer3473.

Donna and Roger own Disney Vacation Club memberships at Old Key West and Beach Cub resorts in Walt Disney World. They also have other timeshare interests in Maui, Cancun, Orlando, and Palm Springs.
Feel free to contact them at 503-585-3473 if you would like rent one of these properties.

Where Do You Want To Go Today?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

REVIEW: Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas

Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas actually includes two time share resorts- the original and the Westin Kaanaapali Ocean Resort Villas North built a few years later than its sister property. The resorts timeshare properties managed by the Westin and its parent organization Starwood. Each is comprised of a number of six story buildings on the beach about two miles from the main part of Kaanapali. This leads to some confusion as there is a Westin Hotel in Kaanapali and some guests assume they will be able to amble down the beachfront walkway to their resort. It will be a LONG walk.

The resort includes hundreds of studio and one bedroom units that can be combined into spacious two bedroom suites. Studios include a queen be and sofa bed in the room and the one bedroom has a separate bedroom with a king bed. Each unit has a kitchen area though the studio features a small rangetop and microwave. All units have washers and dryers which can be a godsend to families with small children. Televisions are in every living room and separate bedroom.

A significant difference between the two resorts is that the Noth property has studios with small lanais; the south resort studios have a patio door and a railing to allow fresh air but no chairs. All one bedroom units have lanais. the grounds are luxuriantly tropical with palms and other foliage that whisk in the wind.

As the resort is on the west side of Maui, guests have a beautiful view of the islands of Lanai and Molokai across the strait. There are several large pools and a kiddies' pirate ship play area. A full range of resort activities is published weekly and the resort offers free shuttle buses to Kaanapali and Lahaina- a boon as parking can be difficult in these tourist meccas. Snorkeling is exceptional here as there are schools of tropical fish as well as a number of green sea turtles.

The resort has several restaurants and bars as well a a spa in the North property. There is a business Center and free WiFi for guests.

During holiday seasons and Spring Breaks the resort is apt to be crowded and getting a poolside lounge chair can be a challenge.

This is not an inexpensive resort- studios range from $300 to $450 per night depending on view to $500-$700 for a one bedroom. Units can be rented through the Westin or Starwood's SPG.com website though you might find better buys on sites like VRBO.com where owners (like us) rent their units out to others.

Room Tip: Upper floors are best as is ocean view. Island view rooms in the South property may face a parking lot and highway. In the North property all units face the ocean or pool/garden area.

REVIEW: Westin Desert Willow Resort

We were guests at this resort from August 21-28 when the heat was absolutely sizzling. Our party of eight were in a two bedroom unit that we reserved as timeshare owners with Westin. For three days prior to this stay a smaller group in our party were in a smaller standard one bedroom. The first room was in Building 6 near the new construction. The unit was on the first floor of the three story building with all windows and the lanai facing a parking lot or dusty construction. Avoid building 6 until construction is completed in 2012. The two bedroom was in building 1 on the second floor. A short walk from the pool area and lobby building.

The two bedroom is comprised of two separate one bedroom units- a smaller unit with kitchenette, living area, standard bath, and queen bedroom; a second larger one bedroom with full kitchen oversized bath with whirlpool and shower and a king bedroom. Despite the redundancy of two kitchen areas, the extra space allowed our four adults and four teens some modicum of private space. The rooms are well appointed with earth tones and desert themed art. Kitchen areas are well equipped and guests have access to several well-maintained and clean gas barbecues on adjacent patio areas on the ground floor.

Due to the heat much time was spent near the pool area that includes a waterside pool, an activity pool, child's pool, and larger pool on a upper level of the pool deck. There is no specific adult pool which is regrettable as adults often had to avoid splashing young ones in the larger pool area. Besides a plethora of umbrellas, there are a few cabanas for rent and large pavilions with sofas and tables where one can escape the direct sun if not the heat.

A small deli/gift shop was open only 7-11 AM during our stay. The Agave restaurant is near the lobby building though we used the barbecues for our dining. Concierge services are available for Palm Springs activities. The resort has a sales office for Starwood Vacation ownership. The concierge desk can arrange discounted excursions if you attend a timeshare sales presentation. Be forewarned; your vacation time is precious.

Retail costs for the resort are discounted during the summer and higher during the Spring and summer. Check out www.spg.com for current rates. Parking for guests who are not owners and staying on their ownership time is $15 per night.

TRAVEL TIP: Disney's Paradise Pier Resort

My son and two grandsons spent three nights here during the D23 Expo, a Dismey fan convention. We had a 10th floor city view room with a nice view of Anaheim, pool area, and parking. The room was very spacious with room for five as there is a fold down sleeper sof- along with two queen beds.
The bathroom is large and there is plenty of storage.

Guests have early theme park access and, while we were there we were given FastPasses for Disney park attractions.

We have previously stayed at Disney's Gramd Californian hotel and find these rooms more spacious and as well appointed, though without the easy access to Downtown Disney.
We stayed at the resort using our Disney Vacation Club ownership point; real rates for our stay would have been about $220 per night plus taxes and parking.

REVIEW: Disney's Old Key West Resort

We have stayed at Old Key West since 1994 as we are Disney Vacation members who own there. and we have stayed at at least half of the Disney hotels in Disney World over the past 20 years. Old Key West continues to provide rooms superior to most other Disney hotels.
In our most recent stay we were in a second floor one bedroom unit in building 46 adjacent to the river leading to Downtown Disney. The room features a large living area with kitchen. The sofa is a sleeper ad the easy chair fold out into a smaller twin bed large enough for a teen. A flat screen tv is hidden in the kitchen island. Off the living area is a large patio with table and four chairs. The mast bedroom has a king bed, tv, and an adjacent spa tub and sink. The bathroom proper offers a large sink and counter and a spacious shower. There is ample storage. The one bedroom has a fill size washer and dryer. Studio units do not have these and guests can use units adjacent to the pools areas of which there are four including a large pool with sandcastle themed water slide and small children's pool. All pool areas including the three smaller ones in different areas of the resort have spas and ample towels for guests.

Recently renovated the units in OKW feature pastels with tile accents and tropical prints. Furniture is designed for durability rather than comfort as the cushions and fabrics are a bit
hard. The fully equipped kitchen is great for cooking though there are no outdoor barbecues

other than rustic campground types that require briquets and appear in need of cleaning. Disney could take a lesson from Westin/Starwood time shares that offer clean well - maintained gas barbecues. Of course, Disney has lots of restaurants they would love you to visit.

The resort has a gift shop near the check in building as well as a restaurant Olivia's and a smaller walk up grab-and-go counter and. Small outdoor bar. Prices are comparable to other Disney eateries and offer children"s menus.

The resort is spread out in 46 buildings with the most distant at the south end of the
property being a half mile from the main building. All buildings have rooms accessible from the outside not through hallways. The resort is on the Lake Buena Vista golf course and many rooms feature golf views. Lanes with palm trees and lush landscaping add to the tropical feel. While there is Disney bus service to parks and within the resort, a car is a MUST to fully enjoy this resort and to travel around the square miles of Disney World. Even if you use Disney's Magical Express to and from the Orlando airport, we advise guests to rent a car. Once at the resort you can get picked up by Alamo, Enterprise, and National and be taken to a rental car office near the Magic Kingdom if you need a car for a few days. Rates are competitive.

While we are Vacation Club members and do not pay rack rates, one bedroom units a can run over $400 per night depending on season. In shoulder seasons Disney often offers free dining programs for guests paying full rack rates. Experts online have suggested this is not a good buy as rooms discounts for these large units can exceed the cost of free meals.

Room Tip: If you do not nave a car, request a room near the Registration Building and restaurant. We like rooms at the south end which has a nice smaller pool. Second floor rooms are quieter but there are no elevators in buildings we have stayed. Avoid buildings that run parallel to Bonnet Creek Parkway (19-22 and 38-42).

REVIEW: Sheraton Suites Orlando Airport

We have stayed at this hotel near Orlando International Airport several times most recently in May. Coming from the West Coast, we generally get into the Orlando area in the late afternoon or, more likely, late evening. The Sheraton Suites offers transportation to the hotel, so we sometimes do not even rent a car until the next day when the hotel returns us to the airport where car rentals are cheaper. We have also been shuttled back to get Disney's Magical Express transportation to Disney World resorts.

The hotel is a large rectangle surrounding a pool garden area. There are three floors, though elevators are difficult to find. We have had to walk a couple of times to one in the back corner of the hote as the front elevator was being used by workmen.

Rooms are two rooms with a living area with sleeper sofa, TV and desk and a bedroom with either one king or two queen beds.

There is a small restaurant with Starbucks cafe, though we have used neither. A few computers are in the lobby for customer use and their is a slow WiFi service.

Getting late into MCO? Try this place for a night. For a longer stay? There are better places.

Monday, February 21, 2011


 By Roger Sauer, Salem, OR

With tourism levels on the rise, more people are traveling to Europe and, these trips often include Rome. While summers can be very hot and humid and winters cool or cold, Rome remains a favorite destination for its history and beauty with both cultural and religious significances. And few excursions to Rome can be more breathtaking than a day or two at Vatican City with its St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican Museum, and Sistine Chapel. But did you know that, depending on the time of year that you go, you can arrange tickets for one of the Pope's weekly audiences? If you plan ahead, this can easily be folded into your Roman itinerary.

These audiences are not private affairs for small groups but for the general public who have arranged tickets in advance. Summer visitors may be out of luck as the Pope is usually away from the Vatican during these warm months. A schedule of the audiences will be found on the Vatican website or the website for the American Catholic Church in Rome, the Church of Santa Susanna. For Americans tickets can be obtained before traveling at Santa Susanna. Its website is www.santasusanna.org. This church, beautiful in its own right, is a distance from the Vatican, across the Tiber and closer to the Villa Borghese park and Trevi Fountain. The address and contact information is:

The Church of Santa Susanna
Via Venti Settembre 15

00187, Roma, Italia

Tel: 06,4201.4554 Fax: 06.474.0236

(from the USA: 011-3906-4201-4554)

FAX: 06.4201.4328

When you request tickets online, you will be sent a confirming email. Tickets can then be picked up at the church (not the Vatican) no earlier than the afternoon prior to the audiences which are always held on Wednesdays. Tickets are FREE though a modest donation to the Church of Santa Susanna is requested. You will need to bring your confirming email with you. Though we are not Catholic, we were told that American Catholic travelers can make ticket arrangements through their local parish or archdiocese.

The audiences themselves are held in a cavernous though modern facility adjacent to St. Peter's Basilica (to the left and behind the colonnades if you are facing the basilica). This is the Aula dell'Udienza. While the events do not begin until 10:30 AM, it is the early bird who gets the better seats. We were advised when we picked up tickets to arrive before 8:00 AM at the security gate near the Aula. This meant taking the subway full of commuters early to the St. Peter's station and walking about half a mile down a street, across St. Peter's Square to the colonnade. There were several hundred people waiting for access through the metal detectors and the crowd grew minute by minute. Our audience was the first in the fall after Pope Benedict's summer recess at Castel Gandolfo so the crowds may have been larger for this reason.

Of course, standing in a somewhat disorganized crowd can get tiring especially when we were not sure of the entrance procedure. As we faced the gates it was clear that the entrance was to our left and the building multitude gradually was migrating forward and left. There were many tour and church groups with similar coats or bandanas and their leaders carried banners or flags. Visitors should not expect politeness from these groups. Once the gates were opened at about 9:00 AM we filed rough the security devices and walked briskly to the Aula. Inside the Aula is arranged with row upon row of fixed wooden seats. The facility designed by Pier Luigi Nervi seats 6,300. There was an overflow crowd when we attended.

The space is divided with a central aisle and a perpendicular barrier between the twenty or so front rows for special guests and the rest of us. The special guests included in our audience students from a Polish seminary, a number of Catholic schools from around the world and, in the very front, some couples in wedding regalia eager to have the pontiff bless their unions. On the stage seats for the Pope and other dignitaries were in front of a massive twenty meter wide bronze and brass sculpture, The Resurrection.

The audience is a scripted event but not without moments of spontaneity. The Pope read a long statement in Italian, then clerical representatives of different linguistic/national groups (French, English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Polish, Italian) made statements to the Pope and audience largely acknowledging various groups in attendance. This was when the crowd became more like a pep rally as some contingents cheered when recognized. The Polish seminary group sang and held up a very long banner and cheered. A delegation from Mexico sang the Mexican national anthem. During our visit Pope Benedict was very animated and seemed to gain energy from that of the gathered attendees. At the end of the event those in attendance were able to join in the Lord's Prayer in Latin before the Pope gave his blessing.

Guests were invited to remain for special blessings by the pontiff at the end of the service.

The event was over by 11:30 AM and there was ample time to have lunch and take a tour of the Vatican Museums including the Sistine Chapel during the afternoon.

Visitors who have a cruise stop in Civitavecchia as the Magic does on its Mediterranean cruises can arrange a day trip to Rome and the Vatican. However the timing of the audiences and the need for an early start might make such plans difficult.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

European Trip and Transatlantic Cruise Part 1

OVER THE ATLANTIC, August 29-30, 2010
The flight from Orlando was long and a real challenge. Sleep was near impossible despite purchasing an upgrade to Comfort Class, the best description of which is "uncomfortable." yes, we had a glass of wine and some Bailey's, but the flight was rough. Believe it or not, the captain of the plane was introduced as Captain America and I found out his first name was Roger. The five hours in Amsterdam that followed was even worse. We were half asleep and exhausted. Once we were on the plane to Venice, it went very well. Our seatmate was a gentleman from Norway on his way with his wife he add to Venice and a Mediterranean cruise.

Once we landed we chose to take the water bus or vaporetto to our hotel rather than the more expensive water taxi- this saved us about $80 but took over an hour. After getting off the boat we were able to find our hotel easily though the entrance was down a couple of very narrow alleys off a main street.

VENICE-August 31, 2010
Today we woke late after 12 hours of sleep interrupted by waking at about 1:00 AM. When we got up, we had only an hour and a half to get ready for our Venice walking tour that we'd arranged at home.
Our hotel is on the Grand Canal, a peek of which we can see from our window. We are on the third floor, or the fourth if you consider the ground floor is floor 0 according to the elevator.

The room is older with some modern updates such as a flat screen tv. No Internet without paying a fee and then it is only available on the first floor.

We walked to St. Mark's Plaza for the tour. Our guide was Rita, a Venice native. We were in a large tour group. We learned a lot of Venetian history as well as touring St. Mark's basilica, a very Byzantine church as it was built under the aegis of the Eastern Roman Catholic church. Rather than frescos, the interior of the vault and the upper walls are gold leaf mosaic with scenes from the Bible and church history.

After the church we walked through the narrow streets through the city ending up near the Rialto bridge. Then Donna and I left and sojourned south of the Rialto Bridge near a market and some very narrow streets along which were many small shops, restaurants, and little markets. While walking we ate our lunch of an open face Italian sandwich and a Coke. At a little storefront near our hotel we picked up wine and some snacks for later.

VENICE-September 1, 2010
As I write this we are watching CNN International- The World during Ramadan. Fascinating viewing. The German and Italian channels were bleaker and I was afraid the Bloomberg channel would let me know we are broke and cannot get home. As for the AlJazeera channel, we did not watch it much.
Today involved a great amount of walking- first to the public market near the Rialto where we viewed the vegetable and fish markets. There were bunches of small peppers wrapped like flowers and very colorful if unusual fish items. One of these was the seppe, or cuttlefish that is a cephalopod, like squid, but larger in general and mostly black.

In the afternoon we had a chance to see a seppe as a glass artwork on the island of Murano. This island includes most of the famed glass artisans in Venice. Like the island of Venice, Murano is made up of a close set of islands connected by bridges. We saw some glass being blown- a goblet made of two colors. It took two craftsmen to do the task.

Facing the many canals are restaurants and many glass shops. Some of these had large expensive pieces of beautiful execution while other shops had smaller figures, plates, and tourist-oriented items. Donna picked up a small plate in one of the shops. Rather than eat there we took the return vaporetto to St. Mark's Plaza then grabbed some items for a dinner in our room.

VENICE-September 2, 2010
Today the good news is that we were able to go on the vaporetto to Lido where we visited the site of the 2010 Venice International Film Festival. The bad news is that neither Donna nor I were discovered as the next big movie stars. Lido is the beach island for Venice and is seven miles long and about 1 mile wide. Unlike the city of Venice it has cars and buses. We took a ride to the west point of Alberino after stopping by the Film Festival site. We had a short snack at the festival and walked around the exhibition which surrounds the casino and movie theater. George Clooney was visible on a jumbotron display but we did not see him in person. Most people were wearing ID tags that allowed them to sign up for the movie previews. Security was very high and we did not see much. The movie that seemed to have the greatest visibility as determined by signs was "The Town" with Ben Affleck. Ben Affleck!?!?

The island is much more residential than Venice proper. We even found a small grocery store where we picked up some things. We ate at a sidewalk cafe and had our first real "Italian" food, lasagna and gnocchi. Later we took the boat back to Venice where we discovered our room permeated with a lacquer smell due to construction in a nearby room. I complained about the smell getting stronger, so we were moved to another room in the Europa wing (this hotel managed by Westin is comprised of two older hotels the Regina and the Europa). While it had no appreciable view, it was a gorgeous suite with a sitting area, large bathroom, and king bed. Cool.

After the big move we headed to that Venetian tradition, the Hard Rock Cafe, where Donna picked up a shirt for Caidin. Then we explored an area of the city we had not seen. Through the labyrinthine streets we looked for a restaurant recommended by a girl who sold us a Venice print yesterday. We finally found it, but it was closed. Many businesses are closed from about 2 PM till late afternoon. We headed back to the hotel and even found a Disney store on one of them.

Back in our room we had plenty of room, a glass of wine, some good bread, and CNN.

VENICE-September 3, 2010
We are sure you have been glued to your televisions regarding the important news about the Pakistan Cricket team. There has been little else on the tube over here. Imagine those guys cheating!

Anyway, today was our official "Get on a boat and see where it goes" Day! We had not seen the entire Grand Canal so we hopped on a Number 1 vaporetto and headed west toward the rail station where we will get on our train to Rome tomorrow. The station seemed simple enough. So we then waited for the next boat that happened to be a direct boat to Murano, the glassmakers island, where we had been two days ago. It was a quick trip and it gave Donna a chance to look again at some glassware gifts. During our stay the clouds thickened and darkened and we were caught in a downpour and would have been drenched had it not been for some strategically placed awnings.
We missed the direct boat to Lido so we took a circuitous route ending up near the hospital on the north side of the island.

As we had not been in that particular area, we jumped of and tried to find our way back to our hotel near San Marco place. There are yellow signs on walls at key intersecting streets or "calles" indicating major areas of interest such as Sam Marco or Rialto. Occasionally, the signs are missing or confusing, so we saw many new parts of town. Once we dropped things off at the hotel and snacked, we headed back to Lido and the film festival to get a couple more copies of the Venice Film Festival program. Our original one had gotten wet. And we did a little more shopping at the Billa store for dinner- some salads and more bread.

Tonight there is some packing to do as we want to be on our way to the train station by 9 AM or so as it takes an hour to get there by boat and our train leaves at 11:27.

European Trip and Transatlantic Cruise Part 2

ON THE TRAIN TO ROME- September 4, 2010
Arriving at the train station after a boat ride up the Grand Canal we met a nice couple from Vancouver who had just debarked from a cruise. We waited for our train to arrive a while and talked with the two. Our train was an Alta Veloce or high speed train like the one we rode in Japan. We got on the train and went to the place we were told our tickets were reserved for the seats were facing each other with a table in between. An Italian couple and their son sat next to us by the aisle.

It was two stops later hen a new set of people got on that we discovered that our tickets were for first class in another car. We grabbed our carry-ons and trekked to the other car. Our proper seating was two seats facing by themselves by the window with a small folding table. There were four seats across the aisle. Of, course our large bags were still three cars away and at the stop in Florence I walked back and retrieved them, took them off the train and more easily carted them down the walkway and pulled them back onto our car. Of course, all the time I imagined the train leaving while I was off the train. But I made it. We also found out we had free beverage service in first class.

The scenery as we approached Rome was beautiful with gentle rolling hills with. Villas atop and either rows of grapes or olive trees cascading down the slopes. The soil when visible looked like sand. This made a nice contrast to the green foliage and red tile roofs.

We disembarked the train easily enough then looked for a cab. We were approached by a man asking our destination and we told him Westin Excelsior. It was a 25 euro fixed price ride. Another man took Donna's bag and we headed toward a parking lot. It was then I noticed the official taxi stands down the driveway. Donna asked it this was a real cab and he assured us in Italian, yes, yes. We got to a Mercedes van, he loaded the bags and we were off. At the hotel we paid him and went inside to register. Later I found out that the regular fare ought to have been 12 to 25 euros not counting bags and tips, so I figured we were taken for 6 to 9 euros. On the other hand, we were in our hotel room in less than half an hour.

Our room is very nice with 10 foot ceilings, a large chandelier, and a pink marble bath. We had the twin beds remade into a king bed. The room attendant, Abdullah, was very friendly. Donna stayed in the room while I ventured out for a light take away dinner. I found a small shop, picked up some pasta and a piece of pizza and headed back.

ROME- September 5, 2005
Our first full day in Rome. We finally figured out that, since the hotel does not have coffee pots in rooms, they provide free hot water for all the instant coffee and tea we have.

We had already purchased vouchers for the "hop on-hop-off" tour buses here. So we walked down to a nearest stop at the Spanish Steps to catch it. Unfortunately, the bus stops a few blocks away- a fact we discovered after consulting a tour guide. When we caught the bus we were able sit on the top level for a better view. Deciding to take the full route in order to get our bearings in the city, we stayed in the bus until we arrived near our hotel. We looked for a small grocery but could not find one until Donna saw a man carrying a Carrefours bag. This is a large European food chain where we had shopped in Belgium. We went down two sets of escalators through a subway access tunnel and found the store where we picked up some bread, cheese, and wine. The goal cost was €23, about half the cost of a single American Breakfast in our hotel.

After eating we ventures to the underground swimming pool area to swim. It is in a Roman bath type enclosure and is small but not crowded. I swam, Donna did not.

As it was too early for dinner we decided to walk to the Trevi fountain about a mile away.
This led us past many shops and restaurants including the Rome Hard Rock Cafe. The fountain itself is huge and the area surrounding it and the streets nearby were extremely crowded. We found a little restaurant and had some pasta and bread for dinner. It was very good.

Going back to our hotel was harder as it was all uphill. Back in the room we read and watched most of Transformers 2. We could have watched Star Wars in Italian. Or CSI with Arabic subtitles. But most of the time I watch CNN.

ROME: September 6, 2010
The Roman Forum and the Coliseum were our touring targets today. We walked to one of the tour bus stops then headed over to the Forum area. Despite many requests, we were never able to find the start of the tour area until later in the morning, but we walked along a walkway above the ancient ruins and took many pictures. The temperature was very high and walking along the floor of the forum held little appeal. We signed up for a guided tour of the Coliseum and were able to learn a lot through the presentation of the guide, a native Roman who asked that we behave like proper Romans going through the structure. The edifice was huge and we were able to see how the thousands of ancient Romans could enter and leave the place. Much of the Coliseum collapsed in an earthquake in the 15th century and much of the marble and columns hauled off to build the Vatican.

We could have continued later with a tour of the Forum but decided to head back to our hotel due to the heat.

After cooling off and having lunch in our room, we walked back to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain where we picked up a couple of dinner pastries.

ROME - September 7, 2008
After we got up we walked up to the Villa Borghese, a renaissance estate given to the city. Besides a gallery there were acres of paths and roads.

We experimented with the public bus system today by going to the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona and Campo dei Fiori. The Pantheon is the oldest bolding surviving from ancient Rome though it has taken on many aspects of the church and a service was about to begin while we were there. Unlike the coliseum which had been stripped of most of its marble this building had marble and porphyry in abundance. The dome is open at an oculus through which the sun streamed.

The Piazza Navona extended for blocks and contained many restaurants around the perimeter and three fountains within. The smaller Field of Flowers was an open air market with some restaurants. We ate lunch at one of these called the Magnolia. Great pasta and bruschetta.

Getting home was more difficult as we misread the map or the instructions to the bus stop were unclear. After a half hour of walking under the hot sun we found the stop or fermata.

After we rested and read a while we walked to the Church of Santa Susanna where we picked up our tickets to Wednesday's Papal Audience. Our concierge suggested we take a cab to the Vatican, so we got some money out of the ATM.

ROME - September 8, 2010
A very exciting, yet tiring, day. We left our hotel at 7 AM so we could take the subway to the Vatican for the Papal Audience. The subway was crowded and the queue near the Vatican was crazy- individuals and school and tour groups all vied to get near the security scanners and there was lots of pushing and shoving. Donna let one guy in a tour group know he was not getting past her. At one time different groups of people
(all identified by either similar shirts, bandanas, or hats) broke into song. We were not sure what they sang but it may have been something like, "Please let us innnnn, or we'll alllll become Lutherans!!" or maybe not.

Finally we were able to get through the screening and bag scanners and headed toward the Aula della Udienze. It is a modern facility to the left of the main Basilica and, once filled, must have held over 5,000 people. We were within about 100 feet of the stage where the Pope entered at 10:30 AM. By this time we had been sitting in hard wooden chairs for about one and a half hours.

The audience is a scripted event but not without moments of spontaneity. The Pope read a long statement in Italian, then clerical representatives of different linguistic/national groups (French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Italian) made statements to the Pope and audience largely acknowledging various groups in attendance. This is when the crowd became more like a pep rally as some contingents cheered when recognized while some sang a song or, in the case of a Polish seminary group, sang and held up a very long banner and cheered.

At the end of the event those in attendance were able to join in the Lord's Prayer in Latin before the Pope gave his blessing. Overall this was a very interesting event.

When we left in the huge crowd exiting the hall, we considered doing the Vatican tour, but the line extended more than half way around the circular Piazza of St. Peter. So we walked across the Tiber River to the same restaurant we visited yesterday. I am getting better at my Italian. I can easily ask, "Dov'e la Piazza dei Funghi e Cervelli?" and be told that, sorry, there is no piazza of mushrooms and brains. Later, our trip back to the Vatican was made easier because we took a bus.

We opted to do a guided tour in which we have radio headsets and the leader has a transmitter. Traveling from the south side of the Vatican where we got oriented to the Vatican Museum on the north side of a distant building took a while. When we got to the start of the museum tour, we were already tired. The Museums are comprised of artifacts owned or acquired by various popes. The range of Roman and Greek statuary and the sheer size of the collections were staggering. We saw some famous statues such as the Laocoon as well as Nero's red porphyry bathtub. I especially enjoyed seeing Raphael's The School of Athens. The highlight was the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo's ceiling and Last Judgment.

After the tour ended we walked through the main Basilica of the church in which many of the popes are interred. The size of the church and the splendor of the various artworks were truly overwhelming.

Taking the subway back to the hotel, we were both tired and excited by our very full day.

European Trip and Transatlantic Cruise Part 3

ON THE WAY TO VOULIAGMENI - September 9, 2010
A taxi ride at 140 kph got us to the airport near the coast in record time. We flew Aegean Airlines to Athens and we cannot say enough about the flight. Even though it was only we had a two hour flight, we had a meal, wine and coffee served and we were in spacious exit rows with an extra seat in our row. Looking forward to our flight to Barcelona on Tuesday.

We deplaned and got our luggage and then took a bus rather than a cab to help us get to Vouliagmeni, about 20 miles away. There had been a warning given to us by the stewardess to avoid cab drivers at the airport. The bus was crowded and of course we were carrying four bags. We were told to get of at a specific stop and then transfer to the town we needed then take a cab. Arriving in a little town at the stop indicated- a small dusty village with traffic, but also with a McDonald's, we tried to get directions to the next bus. No one spoke English or spoke it very well. And we do not know Greek.

We dragged our bags to the next stop where we again asked about getting to Vouliagmeni. No help. Fortunately a cab came by and a young man flagged it for us. We managed to get everything into the cab (one large bag riding shotgun up front). Twelve euros later we arrived at the Westin Astir Palace on the Saronic Gulf. Cool digs.
After getting our things arranged (this includes using our convenient Maytag-in-a-sink for some quick laundry, we walked to the pool, a huge one next to the sea. The water is filtered heated salt water, though there are docks where one can swim into the open sea. There are hardly any people here as the holiday season is over. I also found out that there is wifi here, so communication including Skype should be easier.

There was a complimentary shuttle to the town of Glyfada, so we took it to have some dinner and do some shopping. We had a great Greek dinner of fresh salad, grilled meats, bread and sauces and a kebob. After eating, we looked for a grocery we asked the waiter where one was, but after half a mile of walking up a heavily congested tourist-filled street, we gave up. An older gentleman walked by on a side street we had taken and, when asked, simply said, "Follow me."

The course we had just taken was reversed and we ended up at a little mini market near our restaurant. It was very, very mini. Not much there. But we picked up some Coke, a bottle of wine, cheese and crackers. Enough to get us through a few days of lunches.
After catching our shuttle on the main thoroughfare at 9:30 PM (11:30 AM your time) we drove back to our hotel, at the southern tip of a peninsula.

VOULIAGMENI - September 10, 2010
A lazy day by the sea. After getting up and eating our pastries from Starbucks that we purchased last night, we walked down to the huge pool and sat out in the sun. As the pool is salt water, it is not as refreshing as a regular pool, but it is nice to cool off. I tried my skills at swimming in the sea which is on another side of the large expansive surround of the pool. The swells were about at 2 feet so getting on and off the ladder was a challenge. Donna took a picture of me out in the water.

We had a small lunch then decided to walk towards town to pick up some things at a deli we had seen last night. The walk went past a large marina and two crowded swimming beaches. (Our hotels are on a private gated road and security is high).
It got pretty warm on our walk to and from the deli so, when we returned to the hotel, it was off to the pool again.

There are two conventions being held at the Westin and its sister property, the Arion, next door. One is for the European football union which means soccer, and at our hotel is the China ING (financial stuff) convention. At our pool in the afternoon one would assume this hotel was in Beijing or Shanghai as there were many Chinese families at the facility. Very interesting and a real cultural mix.

In the evening we took the shuttle back to Glyfada for dinner- Greek salad and souvlaki. Very good.

We watched some TV which means CNN. The only news from the US tends to be about the crazy guy who wants to burn Korans.

ATHENS- September 11, 2010
The hotel's shuttle bus took about 30 minutes to get to central Athens. We expected to see the Acropolis towering above the city, but we did not. After getting off the bus, we followed the map down a small street lined with restaurants toward where the Acropolis was supposed to be. The close quarters of the streets/pedestrian walks obscured the views till we reached the end of Kydathineon Street where we met the lofty height of the Acropolis walls. We purchased tickets to enter and began a long trek up the hill. We were fortunate in that we had entered a minor entrance on the east side. Most of the big tour groups off cruise ships docked in Piraeus came in the main western egress point.

So up we climbed past the Theater of Dionysus and rows of tumbled marble columns. It was very warm despite its being mid-morning. The trail was steep at times though the rocky path helped us from slipping. As we turned toward the west side, we came upon the larger tour groups and a line that zig-sagged up toward the summit. The crowd was large and, as there were no railings, we had to be careful moving forward.

Ascending the hill we became more aware of the immense size of the city of Athens. On other peaks around the city were other ruins and what I assumed was a church. Nearing the top of the hill we encountered earlier visitors trying to descend the path that was now comprised of marble steps and large outcroppings of red porphyry marble.

The largest temple, the Parthenon, had a great deal of machinery within it and around it as the Greeks have been in the process of restoring the site since 1992. However the best temple in my opinion was the Erechtheion that had a series of stone maidens or caryatids supporting the roof.

We took many pictures and helped other tourists take pictures as well. After about half and hour we descended and made our way to the new Acropolis Museum built atop an excavated ruin visible through thick glass floors in the entryway and open spaces with surrounding walkways. Donna chose to read outside while I toured the four floors. The pieces included everything from pottery to huge bas-reliefs taken from the Acropolis to artistic reconstructions of the Acropolis and its buildings.

I picked up a few things in the gift shop then we retraced our route back to Kydathineon Street for lunch. tourism must be down because we were approached at many cafes by waiters urging to dine their establishments. One such waiter lured us to his place that proved to be very good. Donna had moussaka and I had calamari (tentacles and all).

We then shopped a little for souvenirs before heading to Hard Rock Cafe to check things out. A few souvenirs later we walked toward our bus stop as it began to rain. We were to have been picked up by 5:30 PM by the Amelia Hotel, so we escaped the rain there and read for two hours waiting for the shuttle while it thundered and flashed lightening. Too bad we could not see the storm from the Acropolis- it would have been awesome.

The shuttle came in the form of a huge tour bus that carried only six of us back to the hotel. We struck up a conversation with a lady from the US who was Greek and had friends here. She had been here for a month and she recommended a restaurant down the hill from the Westin.

Not much on television in the evening: CNN repeats, AlJazeera in Arabic, China news, German movies, and Japanese game shows. Right now the top news stories include the labor protests here in Greece, the threat of Koran burning, the Pakistani cricket team scandal, and the fate of the Roma (we call them "Gypsies") throughout Europe.

European Trip and Transatlantic Cruise Part 4

VOULIAGMENI - September 12, 2010
A lazy day at the hotel. After some obligatory laundry in our sink, we splurged some Starpoints on a breakfast buffet, our first such meal in Europe. There were hits and misses: Donna loved the Greek pastries, while the smoked salmon and fruits were devoured eagerly by me. We should have avoided the eggs and meats as they were cold as was the non-attentive service. I had to get a manager to get a coffee refill.

The next six hours were spent digesting our meal by the pool under cloudy then sunny weather. I tried my swim goggles off the dock into the sea and saw many small fish- nothing interesting like in Hawaii.

We had music accompanying us as there was a large wedding underway on the fifth floor. This one floor below the lobby and all floors cascade down the hill; we are on the third floor on the south wing.

Donna has been spending time looking at our Barcelona guidebook checking out restaurants and activities. It appears we will have good sunny weather there through Thursday, then have a chance of rain on Friday. As we leave on the cruise Saturday, we can handle this.
VOULIAGMENI- September 13, 2010
Our last day in Greece began with a walk down into town to the deli for a few snacks. We also stopped by a bakery and checked out a menu for a restaurant recommended by the lady we spoke to yesterday. We also stopped by the adjacent hotel to get some cash out of the ATM for the cab ride and other expenses.

Later we sat by the pool and read and swam. I tried the sea again but the water had a lot of small debris in it carried in by the currents. I was able to see a very large jellyfish however floating near the surface. As there are warnings out about Portuguese man o'war jellyfish, I kept my distance.

We ate lunch in our room, began packing our bags, and relaxed in the late afternoon before a final glass of wine in Greece and a light dinner. As we need to catch an 8:50 AM flight, we need to be up at 5 AM to get ready. We have decided to take the Aerobus into Barcelona from its airport.

ON THE WAY TO BARCELONA - September 14, 2010
Strictly adhering to the international code of taxi operators, our driver got us to the Athens airport in record time traveling 85 MPH. The flight on Aegean was fine and we were served breakfast, wine, and coffee. Barcelona Airport is modern and huge and it seemed we walked miles to the luggage pickup.

The most efficient way to get to our hotel in the center of the city was to take the Aerobus which had ample room for both people and luggage. It took about 40 minutes to get to our stop at Placa de Catalunya. We dragged our bags though the busy square down Las Ramblas, the main pedestrian mall where our hotel, the Le Meridien, was located. A very modern hotel, the service was slow and, of course, our room was not ready. (It was about 12:15 PM).

Fortunately there was a Carrefours in the same building, so we set about shopping for lunchtime snacks. We returned to the hotel and waited until 2 PM for our room.
Our room on the 3rd floor is very much like an Aloft room, very modern, though not as spacious as that in Greece. after putting our things away, we headed for Las Ramblas where flower stalls, small snack carts, and performance artists hold forth on the pedestrian mall while a variety of restaurants and shops line the perimeter. Donna picked up a few things at a shop called Uissos. We also went to Hard Rock Cafe to look around.

Our hotel does not have a pool but rather a lovely rooftop patio/sunbathing area on the 6th floor. We checked it out and thought it might be a nice place to have a glass of wine in the evening.

We ate a light dinner in our room then went out to check out more of Las Ramblas. We stopped in the large public market called La Bouqueria. The stalls were filled with fish, candies, baked goods, and fruits.

BARCELONA - September 15, 2010
Our first full day in Barcelona began with a stroll through the La Bouqueria market. We then walked the alleyways of the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter). The streets are very narrow, much like those in Venice. As it was early, not many shops were open yet. One that was open was a shop called Caelum (heaven in Latin) that sells food and craft products made by nuns and monks.

We came upon a square with a large cathedral under construction then arrived at a major thoroughfare. Donna was looking for a couple of shops she had read about. We found some but, again, most were closed.As it was near lunchtime and we were over a mile from the hotel, we stopped at the market and picked up lunch. After eating we climbed up to the 6th floor to sit out on the rooftop patio.

Later we reemerged on the street and walked further down Las Ramblas. There ware many colorful and imaginative street performers. We found an authentic Irish bar, Flaherty's, down one street so we stopped and each had a beer and shared an order of cheesy fries.

A few more shops were visited and we found a wooden toy for Caidin at one.
Traveling toward Placa De Catalunya we got a schedule and map for the tour bus we will take on Thursday. Back at the hotel we climbed the stairs to the patio again and had a glass of wine. We spoke with a couple from Houston about our travels.

The photo above was taken from our roof patio.

BARCELONA- September 16, 2010
We had a busy day as we took tour buses around the city. The first bus took us down to the port and then over to Montjuic, a large hill to the west where there are museums and the site of the 1992 Olympics. We also saw two buildings designed by the Barcelona artist Gaudi.

The city was originally like many Mediterranean cities a Roman outpost during the reign of Augustus in the years before Christ.

The city was largely improved after it held it's 1929 World's Fair and the 1992 Olympics.

After lunch we took the eastern route that took us by the beaches on the Mediterranean and to Gaudi's unfinished cathedral Sagrada Familia. It is a tall and lofty church in a style that appears very modern despite its being designed in the 1920's.

Though these descriptions are brief, the art we saw was magnificent.

European Trip and Transatlantic Cruise Parts 5 and 6

BARCELONA - September 17, 2010
The rain last night turned into a real storm in some nearby towns with some flooding and avalanches of hail sliding down into streets and garages. Fortunately we were in our room all cozy.

The Disney crew was setting up in the lobby by 9 AM, so I went down to the lobby to get us registered. It was a simple process, though I had to call Donna to bring down our passports because the cruise line actually checks people in at the hotel for their cruise. The clerk gave us our keys cards, silver status lanyards, and other information. We spent some time packing and only went out for a little window shopping. Donna really liked a store we have seen in other places but here there are several under the brand Desigual (but with the s reversed). Very bold, colorful clothes. At a bookstore nearby we picked up two books to read. I considered, but rejected buying a book, We the Drowned, given our destination the next day.

We had lunch at the hotel's restaurant called CentOnze (111 in Catalan, the address). The food was very good. Donna had cod and I had lamb chops. This was the most reasonably priced hotel food on our trip- €16 each.

Later we watched the awful Spanish television for a while as it had begun to rain again.

ONTO THE MAGIC- September 18, 2010
Our last day in Barcelona began with our getting our bags packed and set by the door so the staff could pick them up to take to the ship. I ran over to the Carrefours store to get a bottle of Bailey's and wine for the ship. We had to wait until about 12:30 PM to get on the bus, but before that we had the chance to meet some others who would be on the cruise as well.

The trip to the port did not take very long and, as we had already checked in, all we had to do was go through security, show our key cards, and walk the gangway into the ship where we were announced to the staff. We went up lot Topsides for lunch. I may have been wrong, but this ship does not seem very full and there are very few. Children and fewer teenagers. Our room was ready by 1:30 PM so we walked down to deck 5 aft where it was located. Very nice room. Some Castaway Club gifts as well.

Without our luggage, we did not have much to do, so we walked around a bit and settled in near the Cove Cafe after reviewing its lending library. We endured the mandatory emergency procedure muster at 4 PM by which time our luggage began to appear. Our bag with souvenirs and books was missing but was eventually found next to another room. There was a party of sorts on deck 9 to celebrate our departure though the ship did not leave until 9:30 PM. We were given little streamers on a stick to shake around. We met some folks from Eugene there.

Our first dinner was in Animator's Palette. We were seated at a table for six but there was only another couple there with us. They are retired from Vancouver, Canada, and have been traveling in Europe since May.
After dinner we walked around, did some shopping in the stores on board, and eventually went back topside to we the ship leave by actually turning 180 degrees around narrowly moving past a larger Royal Caribbean liner behind us then heading out to sea. It was after 10 PM before we got to bed, much later than the past few weeks. We read a little: Donna read her new Spanish cookbook purchased earlier (at 50% off as the ship was discounting its 2010 Mediterranean merchandise) and I read the Navigator for the next day's activities.

AT SEA- September 19, 2010
Last evening Donna took an anti- seasick pill so as to avoid nausea on our first night. Unfortunately, the seas were calm and Donna had a bad reaction with some dizziness and sleepiness all day. I brought a few items from the breakfast buffet early hoping it might make her feel better then headed for the full buffet later.

We attended a DVC presentation with too many people in too small a space. A mimosa later, we left with two more DVC hats putting our totals DVC hat inventory into double digits. Then we went to lunch then I swam while Donna laid in the sun. Donna wanted to take a nap, so I went down to the art auction here few people bid on the pieces and there was a drawing for a painting. Donna was still sleeping when I came back to the room, so I read and took a nap, too.

When we got up, dinner had already started so we figured we would go to the buffet on deck 9. However, the dress for the evening was formal and even the buffet had spruced itself up and offered a menu dinner, not the regular buffet. So we went back to our room and did room service. Cool. And we watched a movie.

GIBRALTAR - September 20, 2010
Donna was feeling better today and we were up before 6 AM. I could see the Rock of Gibraltar and the lights of the city.  Swarms of seagulls fly around the side of the ship and the smaller boats could be seen below.

We ate breakfast then waited until the announcement was made about the process to leave the ship. We had been told about the possibility of rain and naturally as soon as we cleared the dock area it began raining but only briefly. We walked into town past tall apartments and small store fronts. Many shops were closed and most featured alcohol, jewelry, or electronics. The main street was both pedestrian walkway and delivery lane for trucks.

Intending to try the cable car that went to the top of the monolith, we walked along the street and finally we reached the cable car station. Then a young man approached us and told us the cable car was closed due to wind and that we should take his van up to the summit for only €50. We declined and started walking back via another path closer to the water.

The aim of our walk was basically to return to the ship via Morrison's, a large supermarket near the docks that used to be a Safeway. In fact, some of the tour buses show Safeway as one of their stops. Once at the store, we picked up some wine then carried it back to the ship. It had just rained so it was warm and very steamy. A nice shower was in store once we returned.

We had lunch at Topsiders then went to the adult pool area where I used the pool and Donna read. Of course, by this time the sun had broken through and the cable cars were moving up and down the mountain. Then we walked around and went back to the room where we had a glass of wine and watched Leap Year. Cute movie.

Dinner was at Lumiere's; the dress was cruise casual and the menu was French. Our table mates of the first evening were absent and we found out that they were not there last night. (Of course, neither were we!) On Tuesday we found out they has opted for a later dinner session at 8:30 PM.  We asked to be at another table after that night as it was awkward to be the only two at a table for six. The maitre'd said he would arrange it. Following dinner was a Beatles tribute band playing in the big Walt Disney Theater forward. It was very festive and loud, but both of us were tired from our day and we returned to our room and read for a while right after it was over.

IN THE EASTERN ATLANTIC- September 21, 2010
We actually slept in this morning which could have been difficult given that we turned our clocks back one hour. For a day or two we will be 8 hours ahead of Oregon time. This is a day at sea and tomorrow we will be in Madeira, a Portuguese island where we will spend our last 20 euros. We made a reservation to go on a bus tour through part of the island.

Later we spent time by the pool and up on deck 10 o get some sun. After lunch we checked on our reservation for a couple's massage. I am glad I called as it was scheduled for later that afternoon. Before we went to the spa we sat out on a deck and read.

I decided it was time to do the email, so we headed to the Cove Cafe to set up the wireless. If you get this message, it means I was successful.

No luck. Well, the connections was so slow, I decided to try to find a wifi area in Madeira tomorrow.

We went to the Vista Spa for our couples massage early and waited for a while in separate lounging areas. Two girls, Lauren (Ireland) and Juan Mare (South Africa) met us and took us to the couples massage area. The treatment was for 50 minutes and we expected to get out in time for dinner, but we did not. However, we both felt the experience was wonderful. At the end of the massage, while our eyes were still covered with some sort of scented material, the girls put our hands together and rang a little bell. Nice touch. We spoke to them later and asked about their backgrounds. They were looking forward to their time in Florida, but apparently staff are used to help clean and work on the ship when it is in for its dry dock period.

Having missed our regular dinner service, we had a glass of wine and watched some CNN, then proceeded upstairs to the Topsider buffet.

Meanwhile the ship that had been gently rocking in calm waters is now sailing through waters best described as a lake. Very calm and glassy.

MADEIRA -September 22, 2010
Even though the wake up call service failed to operate we were able to get up, eat, and get to our meeting place for our Views and Parks tour. Packed into a long touring bus we left the port and maneuvered through the narrow streets of Funchal and up to the top of a high promontory overlooking the sea. The area is under construction and the bus and car parking left little room for movement. Eventually there will be a glass floored walkway out over the cliff. Right now there is a cobblestone path bordered with souvenir peddlers.

Back down the mountain that was lined with terraces and gardens filled with grapes and banana trees, we visited Camera de Lobos, a fishing village where we tasted a sample of Madeira Poncha, a punch made from rum, lemon juice, and honey. Very sweet and tart. We later found out we had been given a variant version of the drink with passion fruit.

Around the small bay where we were was a restaurant named after Winston Churchill who liked to come to this island and paint in the 1950's. Our guide also provided is with a wooden pestle to be used in smashing the lemons for the drink. She also gave us a recipe for the poncha.

We then went to downtown Funchal where our ship is berthed. We looked for a post office to mail postcards. Then we met up with our group again at the wine shop where they were doing a tasting that we had passed on.

Back on the ship we had the buffet lunch up on deck 9 then decided to do some laundry. This was our second attempt at doing this and the first time someone had taken our clothes out of the dryer and taken over our machine. This time we stayed in the cramped room until things were done. We then went for a walk on deck 10 ( three laps is about a mile). The weather had gotten cloudy but it was still warm and humid. The town of Funchal is very beautiful with its red roofed houses cascading down the steep slopes of the island. Madeira is much like Maui with its plant life- many plumeria, palms, and even Norfolk pines like those around Kapalua. We would not mind coming here again.

Our dinner was in Parrot Cay at 6 PM and we were with a nice couple from Colorado. The ship left port during our dinner and by the time we were done eating the ship was really rocking. The captain left the port earlier than scheduled as there is a growing storm in the Atlantic, Lisa, and he wanted to avoid it.

Deciding not to go to the magician show, we stopped by one of the shops and Donna bought some pressure bands to avoid sea sickness. Many others also had the same idea; there was a real crowd. By the time we left the ship was in what appeared to be rough water. We went up to deck 10 to see. The western sky was beautiful and we could see the bow of the ship bobbing up and down in contrast to the crimson horizon.
We spoke to an officer who told us that the ship would avoid the storm.

The bands we bought seem to work because, either we would not get sea sick in any case, or they eliminated the symptoms. However, as both of us woke up in the night a few times, the rolling did not cease. And dawn showed the sea to be relatively calm (no whitecaps) despite the swells.

The boat is rocking in all three dimensions due to our being in the remnants of Hurricane Igor, now near the east coast of the U.S. The Captain announced at his daily loudspeaker report that tomorrow could be rough. I noticed last night that the attendants had placed ample supplies of stomach distress bags in the restrooms adjacent to the restaurants. (Is this a comment about the weather or the food?)

We chose to have a sit-down breakfast in Lumiere's this morning. Better than carrying a buffet tray around deck 9. We met our evening waiters there and they were very entertaining. One of them took a menu and folded it so it looked like a tulip on a stem. There was still a gentle rolling of the ship, both side to side and back to front so the pools were sloshing a lot of water. I took some video of the sight and later swam in the forward pool as its water level rose and dipped about a foot as the ship encountered the larger swells.

Reading out on the top deck in the breezy but warm weather took up our after breakfast time then we went to a culinary demonstration of saffron risotto by the supervising chef of Disney Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Downtown Disney. He made it look easy and the samples distributed were tasty.

Lunch was at Parrot Cay with an oriental buffet and then I tried my luck swimming in the sloshing pools. At about 2:30 PM we went to the art auction but did not bid on anything, nor did we win the drawing like we did in 2007.

Reading and watching TV in the room came next. (Just call us Mr. And Mrs. Excitement!) Donna finished a book and I returned it to the Cove Cafe and got another from the lending library.

European Trip and Transatlantic Cruise Part 7

ABOARD THE MAGIC IN THE ATLANTIC - September 23, 2010 (Continued)
Our dinner was in Lumiere's and we had six at our table as two people from England who had been at Palo the previous night joined us. The theme for the evening was Villains Tonight and the waiters had special black/purple outfits with really cool tie pins that looked like skulls. After dinner we went to the show that had the same theme. It was based on Hades possible losing his title as most evil in the world. So he has to get all his other evil Disney villains to help him keep his claim to fame.

As we turned back our clocks another hour last night, we are now 6 hours ahead of Pacific time. Even though we were warned about some possibly stormy weather, the morning was beautiful and I was able to take a photo of sunrise. We were up early so we opted to have breakfast at the Topsider Buffet on deck 9.

After that we just sat up in a prime spot on deck 10; Donna read her book by Anita Shreve and I listened on my iPod to an audio book, The Ascent of Money, by economist Niall Ferguson. The sun was warm and the skies were blue with some billowy clouds.
We went again to the chef presentation where he made a desert too complicated to prepare for me- fruit with saboyan ( an egg based sauce).
There was another DVC gathering at 1 PM! So we chose not to go to lunch as snacks and drinks were offered. There were many people and as a mixer the staff had us do a bingo type game that had us meet other members. When we were done, we chose a gift- a DVC passport holder. We were also given several Blue Hawaiians and Mimosas.

Not being to fill from the snacks we had, we stopped by Pluto's Dog House for a lighter lunch- taco and hot dog. Donna sat under the cover near the coffee shop. I hit the adult pool where the water was still sloshing side to side and left to right. After a while one of the recreation staff announced there was going to be a golf contest for free drinks: golfers had three chances to chip a nerf ball into a hoop in the center of the pool. Each contestant had to register under a golf name. I was Weasel Woods. Some better names were Bent Shaft and Long Puts. After about 15 contestants and only 2 winners, it was my turn. On my first chip it went out over the water and bounced into the ring- a winner!
My prize was another Blue Hawaiian!

My golf exploits behind me, we went to our room and watched some TV which was pretty dull considering news channels and regular broadcast shows do not work well out here in the middle of the Atlantic. There is one interesting show that is repeated incessantly showing a recent two week overhaul of the ship we are on. There are also movies and we have seen bits of several including Avatar, Last Airbender.

Dinner was in Animator's Palate and our entire table was filled. I had osso bucco, veal shanks braised with a tomato based sauce. Very good. Donna had flank steak.
All this eating may be putting back the pounds our simpler European diets took off. We enjoy one of our waiters, Edward, who is from England.

Another time zone change and waking up at 4 AM makes Roger a grumpy boy.
We had breakfast in Topsider but tried to limit our trips to the buffet.
Sitting up on deck 10 occupied the bulk of the morning though we did get into the Disney chef's presentation of osso bucco, the dish I had had the previous night. Unfortunately, when mine came it still had a membrane around the shank and with only a fork and the plate resting on my lap, it was impossible to cut, let alone eat. Donna's was okay, but mine and two ladies to my left were struggling to eat it. One of them mentioned a knife was in order, but the clueless waiters did not seem to get the idea. Moreover, we were sitting in the very front row and those behind us could see us wielding our entrees on the end of our forks. Finally Chef Peythout picked theirs up and gave them to the stall to fix. I already gave my entire portion back to the server grumpily saying it was inedible. A while later I wrote a note to the Art of Entertainment staff describing the situation.

See, I told you I was grumpy.

We had lunch in Parrot Cay where Edward our evening server placed us next to a big window. Donna then needed to get her outfit ready for tonight as it was a formal night. Laundry is a challenge here: about 20 washers and dryers for 2,000 people. While there is a laundry service, it can be expensive.

Largely because of our server we canceled our Palo reservation in order to eat at Parrot Cay for lobster with our other table mates; the couple from Colorado has been on 8 Disney cruises, the English couple 13.

As this is written, we are sitting on deck 9 near the Cove Cafe where Donna is almost done with the book I got her two days ago. I have read one book and listened to an audiobook.

Time passes......we had dinner in Parrot Cay, the lobster was great. Then we event to the Buena Vista Theater to watch Toy Story 3 in 3-D. Very good movie.

It was time to turn our clocks back yet again so we went to bed.

Of course, because of the time zone change, we were awake before 4 AM. We made it back to sleep and I got up at 6 AM and let Donna sleep. Per my usual routine, I proceeded to deck 9 to get coffee at the beverage station then returned to the room where I read our Personal Navigator outlining the activities for the day- OH NO!! We turn our clocks back again tonight!

It was brighter this morning and the air is much warmer as we are sailing into tropical waters on our way to the Caribbean Sea.

European Trip and Transatlantic Cruise Part 8

ABOARD THE MAGIC IN THE ATLANTIC - September 26, 2010 (Continued)
The morning was very warm so after an hour out on the deck, we went inside to a presentation about Disney innovations in parks and resorts. We were to come up with 10 Disney innovations then these were compared to the presenter's list. I got most of them though mine were more specific; I specified monorails and the official answer was innovative transportation.

We had lunch in Lumiere's then went back out to read and be by the pool. The adult pool was very full and with the water not sloshing as much as yesterday, all the people in it resembled so many fleshy marshmallows in a cocktail. The water was much warmer than in the morning when Donna got in the pool, this was her first pool experience on the cruise.

Dinner was in Lumiere's and the theme was Caribbean. Colorful outfits and the food was good, too. Donna had seafood fettucine and I had a ribeye steak. As I had gotten up very early in the morning, we decided to head back to the cabin and Donna read and I went to sleep.

The only problem with going to bed early when you turn your clock back an hour is that you wake up very early (again). This is our last sea day before St. Maarten so I go up and took three laps around deck 9. The sunrise was beautiful despite the rain that fell intermittently.

I brought coffee back to the room and then walked to the guest services to get our room bill to see how much damage had been inflicted on our credit card. We had been given a $224 room credit at the start of the voyage as our payment (in DVC points) had included a fuel surcharge when oil prices were high. Oil went down so we were refunded the amount.

Every day in the ship's daily Navigator is a game in which a portion of a picture or design on the ship is printed. Readers are challenged to identify the location of the piece so Donna and I tried to find today's. No luck; after breakfast we looked all over and could not find what appeared to me to be a carpet pattern.

Up to deck 10 we went to sit in the sun and cool off in the pool. It was expected to be in the 80's as we sailed into the Caribbean.

In the afternoon we attended a presentation by Don "Ducky" Williams, a Disney illustrator responsible for much of the artwork done for Disney advertising and merchandise. He discussed his history at Disney while drawing 24 large drawings of Disney characters with crayon. These were given out later through a drawing. We came within one number of wining one. After this was another art auction featuring his paintings including an original oil that went for $7,000.

We went back to our stateroom and decided while watching a movie to stay in our room for the evening. We ordered some cheese and crackers through room service and I went up to Pinocchio's and got some fresh fruit. We drank some wine while we ate.
Another big meal is not what we needed.

Unfortunately, the television is still pretty bad as we have seen most of the movies we might have been interested in and CNN is still not available. We are now only. Three hours earlier than Salem.

European Trip and Transatlantic Cruise Part 9

ST. MAARTEN- September 28, 2010
We arrived in St. Maarten at about 7 AM and were berthed next to the Norwegian Epic. No, not the story of Eric the Red and his search for the lost ice jewels of Ayafjotlajokutl. This was a huge ship that towered over the Magic and resembled a big apartment building from the vantage point of our veranda. It did not even look like a cruise ship but rather a barge onto which were piled more and more boxes until the end result seemed likely to tip over into the harbor of this Dutch/French island.

After breakfast we walked around deck 10 to get our bearings and look at the port and our fellow cruise vessel. It was hot and humid but we left the ship with the intent to taking a water taxi to go downtown. As there was a small shopping area near the dock, we never left sight of the ship given the oppressive heat. After about an hour we walked back to our ship and its air conditioning. Within ten minutes we had on our suits and were next to the pool which was nearly empty of cruisers as most had left for the St. Maarten hinterlands.

Lunch options included the Topsider which we visited and ate with Mary and Larry our dinner time table mates. They had been on a tour of the island that we had gone on with Colin and Caitlin nine years ago.

As I had gotten up early again in the morning, I took a nap for a while and was later joined by Donna who had been reading. The big Pirates in the Caribbean dinner and party was to be held that evening with a concert by Jodi Benson, voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

During our stay at St. Maarten our ship was being refueled. After nap time we sat on the deck near the Cove Cafe and watched the process. The fueling is done through a large barge brought next to the ship. No smoking was allowed on the ship during the process. When it had finished, the barge was pulled away by two tugboats.

But the big news of the day, of the week, is that by the time we returned to our stateroom we had CNN.

After our Pirate dinner in Parrot Cay we attended the Jodi Benson concert in the Walt Disney Theater. She sang for an hour and talked some about her career. Later near the shop area she signed autographs. Up topside the Pirates in the Caribbean Party was going on with lots of dancing and music. And the finale was a brief but impressive fireworks show of which we had a great view from the starboard side of deck 10. There was a late night buffet that we passed on, but it featured barbecue and turkey legs!

TORTOLA - September 29, 2010
We arrived at this island about 7 AM. The port is much smaller than those previously visited on this trip; the "pier" extends as a relatively narrow concrete strip on our side of the ship. We had been told there was not much in Road Town, the capitol of the British Virgin Islands. Others we had spoken to planned on taking a tour, but after breakfast we just walked into town, previous home to Captain Kidd and Blackbeard.

The town is small and on the way into the center of the village we were accosted by many taxi drivers seeking our use of their cabs for a drive around the island. We just ventured into a couple of grocery stores and a jewelry store where Donna looked around and I got a good wifi signal and was able to call Deirdre before she went to work.

Back on the ship we stayed out by the pool as there were few people around. As there was some cloud cover, the temperature was not as high as in St. Maarten, but still humid. Lunch was in Topsiders and was a Mexican buffet.

After lunch we tried the "find the photo" contest and looked all around the ship for a decorative detail that looked like a carved pirate with a big hat holding something. No luck again though we looked everywhere. (Later we found out it was on a bottle behind the bar in Rockin' Bar D.)

The ship left port at about 4 PM so we went to the top deck to see the ship back up, turn a 360 degree circle and head out to sea. We have a day at sea tomorrow and we arrive at Castaway Cay on Friday mid-morning.

During the evening announcements we found out that Donna had won yesterday's hidden picture drawing. she won a $10 card for the arcade. Whoopie-Doo!

After dinner at Lumiere's there was pin trading with officers in the atrium. Donna got a couple and was also given two parts of a Disney Cruise Ship by a salesclerk in one of the shops.

ON THE WAY TO CASTAWAY CAY- September 30, 2010
Up at 6 AM we watched television for a while then had breakfast at Topsiders. Despite our being lumped into the same category, many people here have had a few too many cruises and are still carrying them around in their bulk. In short, many fat people.

As this is our last sea day, we went up to the adult pool. It was very humid and the captain indicated there are storms in the area with some heavy rain. Later we wandered around the ship and its shops where guests are picking up last minute souvenirs. There was a seafood buffet with all the sushi you can eat. Donna tried the sushi, I did not.

By the time we got to our room after luck the skies were very cloudy and the humidity was high. Later it was raining during the art auction where we did not win anything. I did, however, bid on and bought a print- a lithograph of the Luxo Jr. Lamp featured at the start of the Pixar cartoons. It was drawn and signed by John Lasseter, the head of Pixar, and director of Toy Story. There are only 86 of them since Pixar was started in 1986.
Cool. I had been eyeing the piece all during the cruise since it was first offered at last week's auction. No one bid on it then and I was the only bidder today. It should look cool in the den.

After the auction we went down to deck 4 and sat outside on the adirondack lounge chairs (where I am writing this paragraph).

Dinner tonight is in Animator's Palette. We have filled out our tip envelopes for our service staff; tips for a 14 night voyage run a little over $300.

After dinner we went to a comedy show where a guy entertained with balloons. Kids in the audience loved it.

European Trip and Transatlantic Cruise Part 10

CASTAWAY CAY- October 1, 2010
We arrived at Castaway Cay at about 9 AM and the captain sharply turned the ship 180 degrees and backed right in. Outside our veranda is the Flying Dutchman sailing ship that appears to be steadily deteriorating in the hot, humid Caribbean weather.

After breakfast we left the ship and walked the long pathway to the first main beach area. As there were few children on the cruise, the beach had many empty chairs. I swam in the snorkeling area, tough to do without swim fins and all I had were the goggles I bought in Greece (three weeks ago?) and an inflatable vest required of snorkelers. I found the statue of Mickey underwater as well as a small boat and one of the discarded and partially dismantled Nautilus subs from the old 20,000 leagues ride at Disney World. It took a long time as I lacked flippers and Donna notified the lifeguard that I was gone too long. I made it back after about a half mile of swimming.

Castaway Cay has been expanded since our last visit due to the newest larger Disney ship, the Dream, coming in January. There is a large swimming slide out in another lagoon and there are new shops and food venues to accommodate more guests.

Donna and I had lunch on the island and went in the water together, but we returned to the ship at about 2 PM to relax by the pool and read.

Dinner was in Parrot Cay, a great place for a final dinner. And then we watched a final theatrical production in the Walt Disney Theater.

Most of our bags are packed and they must be out in the hallway by 10:30 PM tonight.
We are scheduled to be in port by 4 AM, then we will be ready for breakfast at 8 AM them be off to the airport. Unless we get an earlier flight, we do not leave until 5 PM.