Sunday, December 18, 2011

True Confessions: Our Disney Cruise

** There has been some clamoring for our Summer holiday report.  I am doing a very detailed account of our trip, with a blog post for each day of our holiday, which may stretch far beyond your interest in someone else's vacation photos.  It's just that I've just come to realize that I'm not making photo albums anymore, so this sorry blog might be it as far as family records go.  Feel free to disregard at your leisure.

So this summer I decided to squander the last remaining shreds of my hipster credibility, and go on a Disney cruise.  I don't know if this is dorkier than participating in the World Quizzing Championships which I also did this summer, but I sure know it's not cool.   Ah well, it's kind of liberating to finally be free of the shackles of hipsterdom.  At least now I don't have to expend any more precious energy pretending not to like Nikki Minaj.  But I have to tell you, ask me about my ideal holiday and there will be nary a rodent in a tuxedo to be had. But having a three-year old changes a lot of things, and the manner in which one can pleasantly travel is one of them.

So while neither Shane nor I were really Disney fanatics growing up, we had been Disney Cruise Curious ever since our friends the James' went on one and came back raving about how nice everything was.  Then our friend Liz came back from another cruise with tales of how while you sat down for your lovely four-course meal every night, kids' clubs employees would come and spirit your children away and then entertain them mightily.  You had us at hello, Disney Cruise Line. The only hitch was your kid doesn't qualify as a kid until they are toilet-trained, and our THREE-YEAR OLD wasn't even close. So thinking we would go on a cruise out of Florida and combine it with a trip to DisneyWorld, I decided to bribe motivate Declan with the promise that once he was out of diapers we would go on a trip to where Mickey Mouse lives. Declan was tremendously excited by the prospect.  I later figured out that he thought Mickey Mouse lives at the Chuck E. Cheese's on Rodney Parham. 

There's a big rat on the sign, and I guess Declan's rodent identification skills aren't that refined yet, so he had somehow drawn the conclusion that all the wonders of Disneyland must reside there behind that humble storefront.  I'd never taken him there because it's first Google review is entitled "Call the Health Inspector".  I realized that this misunderstanding created for us the opportunity to make good on our DisneyWorld promise very, very cheaply, but I was averse to the prospect of Chuck E. Cheese.  So I show Declan a picture of Cinderella's castle and tell him that's where we are going.  The castle looks so darn magical that Declan really gets fired up to get potty-trained and get on over there.

But then I actually looked at the Disney cruise schedule and saw they had an option to cruise the Mediterranean, and that looked a little more exciting than DisneyWorld, so I was stuck again.  Declan was expecting to go to Cinderella's castle as his reward for potty training.  So we decided we'd take him to Barcelona and tell him that Mickey Mouse lives in the Sagrada Familias -  eh close enough. Before you get all indignant about us cheating him out of his promised reward, in our defense I say, he's really not that good at using the potty either so we'll call it even.

Cinderella's Castle, Disneyland

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

So with that bit of fraud settled, we moved onto planning our trip, which largely consisted of training Declan to Euro Kiss.  He learned quickly, but thinks it's called "Your Own Kiss".  Here are some stills of the Your Own Kiss in action.  Pretty cute.  Ask him for one next time you see him. 

 Declan also got to pick out a ride-on Trunki suitcase to use a carryon. It was great for pulling him through the airports and garnered him lots of smiles from passersby.  I filled it full of gift-wrapped dollar store toys and crayons etc to keep him occupied on our 17 hour journey.  It worked very well and he loved riding it.

A couple weeks before we left, Declan received a phone call from Mickey Mouse to invite him on the cruise. I love Declan's reaction to Mickey's invitation. There's no jumping down or any foolishness. Just a quietly stated demand directed at me that we had better follow through on this holiday plan. Some threats are best left unspoken.

So that is how we ended up with our holiday plan of 3 days in Barcelona, and a week-long cruise to ports in France, Italy and Spain.  Declan was very good on the plane, with the minor exception of when we landed in Atlanta for our connecting flight to Barcelona, and he began to loudly announce to everyone that we had arrived in China.  Over and over again.  "We're in China!" "That's China out there!"   Geography is not his strong suit.  And then in the Atlanta airport Declan had a major meltdown in the bookstore, when I refused to buy him a copy of "Women's Health" magazine.   It made me really doubt the wisdom of dragging someone so fundamentally unreasonable half way around the world. I had fear in my heart in that bookstore, but really that was the last trouble we had for the entire trip.  There was one minor timeout in Mallorca, but that was it.  We were all having so much fun all the time there was no misbehaviour to speak of.

So Declan was an angel on the flight, but he only slept a couple of hours, which meant I only slept for an hour, and Shane didn't sleep at all.  We arrived in Barcelona at 9 in the morning, and when we got to our hotel, the Hotel Arts, they didn't have a room ready. This is where we all started to decompensate.  We badly wanted some quiet rest, and so they sent us up to the pool side, which sounds very lovely and under other circumstances it would have been but we all felt very zombie-esque. I was feeling terrible, and was strangely unable to regulate my body temperature.  I confess, I had a little bit of a "I can't deal" moment there trying to look after Declan in the pool while feeling horribly jetlagged. So the second official meltdown of EuroCrash 2011 was had by me.  We had lunch at the poolside, and finally around 3 pm we got into our hotel room.  It was gorgeous.  We had booked through my new favourite thing- American Express' Finer Hotels program, where they somehow manage to get you a cheaper rate than you can get online, plus they package up a bunch of benefits with your room, and give you a free category upgrade.  So we booked our regular standard room, and ended up in a 3,000 Euro a night suite with 150 Euros in food and beverage credits for our troubles.  Sweet.  If you're into hotel rooms, here's a tour of ours.  This video proves I've got the palsy. 

We dubbed it the General Franco suite.  Everything was great from the moment we crossed its threshold. We all took a nap for a couple of hours and woke up feeling human again.  We went for a very pleasant stroll along the beachfront boardwalk. Barcelona has a really great energy, and we all took to it right away. 

Declan at a playground on the beach in Barcelona, with the Hotel Arts in the background.

Meeting the local perros.  Being spaniel people, we enjoyed seeing how many spaniels there actually were in Spain. I don't know why I had never really thought about it before, but that is where they come from.   In the background you can see some Speedos.  Lots of Speedos and Spaniels- my day one insightful cultural observation.

Now we had great dining plans for Barcelona, as there are some world-famous restaurants there, and Spain as a whole is really the global culinary power nowadays.  We couldn't get a reservation anywhere on our list for love or money, and believe me I tried.  Me, the woman who came up with a same-day two-top at Alinea in Chicago.  Me, who came up with a next day two-top at Per Se in New York.  Barcelona Reservation Fail.  A country with 25% unemployment, and dozens of restaurants were booked out for six months and more.  Ay caramba.  So for dinner that night we got a recommendation from the concierge, and ended up having a wonderfully delicious meal of tapas at a little bistro called Bar-Mud a few miles away from Hotel Arts.  We got a reservation for 8.30 which I thought was very continental, but it turned out we were the first table there.  They eat late in Spain.  We sat at a tiny table out on the sidewalk,  and were served grilled lobster, the best fig and spinach salad I've ever had, lagostinas with dry vermicilli noodles served in a sauce made from peanuts and the red oil of chorizo sausage, then steak and foie gras.  In my travel journal I wrote "Foie gras feels like vacation."   I just don't fry up foie at home, yanno?  For Declan we ordered was this crazy dish of french fries with fried egg on top that was unexpectedly to die for.  How could it be so good, I don't know but it was.  All washed down with the obligatory red wine of course.   It was the perfect end to our first day of travels, and we returned home to the General Franco suite in high spirits.


  1. wow. I just finished day one and I am officially clamoring for more. You guys really know how to travel. If only I could look at blogs at work, I would have the rest of my day planned. Alas, i will have to finish later. Can't wait. Loved seeing you last night. xo

  2. Hi. I know this is an old post but just came across your blog - we are doing a Disney Med cruise this summer so I'm reading other people's experiences in the ports as we plan out what we want to see and do. I'm enjoying this.