A Final Day of Wonder

I think I’m mellowing with age. I used to hate being stuck on a ship for the entire day; I was always anxious to get out and explore. But I’ve come to realize that having an entire day to read, play games, and be passively entertained while eating meals I didn’t have to prepare is actually pretty awesome.

After a gorgeous (albeit very windy) early-morning jog on the promenade, we relaxed with some new friends by the adults-only pool, watched a really lame ventriloquist show, and lost badly at a couple rounds of trivia (how would anyone know the name of the actor who played Mini Me? Argh.) But that was all just the build-up to the coolest event of the day: dinner at Animator’s Palate, the most unique restaurant on board. Designed like a blank artist’s canvas, the walls and artwork start off as black and white, but over the course of the meal they transform into swirls of color; the artwork even changes from still pictures to fully animated graphics. The finale involves a montage of Disney films set to music, and sorceror Mickey comes dancing through the restaurant. It’s a truly spectacular experience.

The final production show tonight is a song-and-dance number celebrating the music of the more modern Disney and Pixar films, which I’m really looking forward to.

It’s been a great cruise! Home tomorrow…

Where the Waters Meet: Cabo San Lucas

There’s a reason Cabo is known as Land’s End: it’s located at the very tip of the Baja peninsula, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean. And it is a spectacularly beautiful port. This is a top destination for many snowbirds, and I can see why. With its dramatic rock formations, white sandy beaches, and picture-perfect weather, Cabo certainly makes an impression.

We took a harbor cruise to get an up-close view of the enormous rocks that line the bay, including the famous Arch of Poseidon that resulted from natural erosion. Along the way, we also saw scores of sea lions, pelicans, and even dolphins. I wasn’t sure how I’d fare on the smaller boat given my motion issues, but it all worked out all right. Very cool.

That Frozen show last night was just meh (not coincidentally, that’s also how I felt about the movie version.) Olaf the snowman was cute and the overall production was well-designed, but the storyline just doesn’t appeal to me. As part of the ship’s Halloween celebrations, there was a special costume party with all of the characters in the atrium; there’s also a special 3D screening of The Nightmare Before Christmas on the main stage tonight, but I think we’ll skip that to do some ‘80s music trivia and see the Beauty and the Beast movie we didn’t get to watch yesterday due to Chris’s nap.

One more day…

Disney Fun in the Mexican Sun

Having one foot in both the adult and kid worlds is really working for me. I love being able to hide away in the adult-only areas but also join in on the family fun when it suits us—like at the pirate party last night. We found a perch on the upper level that let us observe all the fun without being crushed by the crowd of mini swashbucklers. The characters and cruise staff danced and boogied to songs catering to a wide variety of audiences—at one point “Captain Rock” and a selected group of middle-aged guys from the audience banged along on stage to a bunch of 80s hits (one guy got so into the air guitar thing that he wound up on his knees and there was some question about whether he’d be able to get up again). For the big finale, the Mouse himself rappelled from the ship’s funnel down to the stage and an amazing series of fireworks lit up the sky. AWESOME.

I enjoyed the illusionist’s show too. He did the usual card tricks and the old cut-a-woman-in-half bit, but this being Disney, he also got the kids involved. He called a bunch of kids up on stage, then asked each of them their name and where they were from. The first little girl, who couldn’t have been more than five, announced her name was Holly…but when pressed on where she was from, she paused for a few moments before admitting with great anguish, “I forgot.” It was adorable.

After breakfast and workouts this morning (I’ve been jogging the promenade deck and Chris has been hitting the gym…yay us!) we did a special tour of the ship where the guide explained what went into the design and “imagineering” of various areas and features. Can you believe Disney was so insistent about controlling every detail of the look of their ships that they battled for six months to get authorization to use yellow-colored lifeboats instead of the standard Coast Guard-approved orange ones? (Why? Because Mickey doesn’t wear orange; his shoes are yellow.) I appreciate attention to detail when it comes to theming—the Halloween decor on board is awesome—but that’s just unreal.

We’re having drinks by the pool right now, but will shortly be heading to the movie theatre for a show before going to dinner at the Little Mermaid-themed restaurant. Tonight’s big production is a stage version of Frozen, which should be pretty cool. (Get it? Ha! I crack myself up.)

Cabo San Lucas tomorrow…

Exploring Ensenada

To be honest, we chose this cruise for the ship. The actual itinerary was only important insomuch as it involved warm and sunny places. I can’t say I was excited to come to Ensenada, but I always like to get off the ship and explore, so away we went.

Our tour started at the Riviera Del Pacifico, a former hotel-casino that in its heyday was known as the Monte Carlo of the Americas. Stars like Lucille Ball, Jack Dempsey, and Frank Sinatra used to come down here to gamble, drink, and enjoy the good life. The place closed in 1964 and barely escaped demolition; today it’s used for weddings and civic receptions. A plaque outside the bar claims the margarita was invented here, though our guide pointed out that anyone could go on Google and find out that wasn’t true. We did get free margaritas, though, so I wasn’t about to argue.

We were also taken to the main downtown shopping area, which consisted of dozens of cheesy souvenir shops interspersed with stores advertising cheap Viagra. The guide set us free to spend our money and highlighted what she considered the best deals, even mentioning that we could get a full-body massage for only $50. (Frankly, there is an extremely short list of things I might consider purchasing in Mexico, and “full-body massage” is not on it.) Instead of shopping, we spent the hour walking and chatting with a couple from Minnesota who also left their two kids at home so they could celebrate their 15th anniversary Disney-cruise style. Nice.

Back on the ship, we got our asses kicked at trivia in the British pub, then hung out by the adults-only pool. Right now I’m watching sea lions play on the rocks at the pier while the ship pulls away. Tonight is a magic show on the main stage followed by a pirate party on the pool deck. Ah, vacation.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Day at sea tomorrow…

Setting Sail From San Diego

I knew I wanted to do some kind of special getaway to celebrate our 15th anniversary this year, so when I saw that Disney was offering a five-day Mexican riviera cruise out of easy-to-get-to San Diego, I leaped at the opportunity. So yes, we’re on a Disney cruise without our kids. And it is awesome.

Sure, there are plenty of kids on board. However—and I can’t stress this point too strongly—none of them are ours, and the adult-only pool area and bars are peaceful oases where it’s easy to find both a chair and a drink. Plus we can also join in on the family fun stuff like the sail-away party featuring Mickey and friends at the main pool. For those of us adults who are really kids at heart, this is super cool.

Dinner at the New Orleans-style Tiana’s Place tonight, then a Mickey and crew production in the theatre, and then (if we can manage to stay awake) a match-your-mate game show in one of the lounges.

Ensenada tomorrow…

Airplanes and Interstates: Day 2 in Seattle

I live with geeks, so the first thing on the agenda today was a tour of the Boeing manufacturing complex to get an inside look at how some of the world’s biggest jumbo jets are put together. The building itself is, of course, enormous: it encloses 472 million cubic feet of space and is actually recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest building in the world by volume. We saw 747s and 787s in various stages of production and learned how the massive crane system moves all the pieces into place. That’s not something you see every day. (You can’t take photos in the actual factory, so I shamelessly stole a pic off the Internet to illustrate our experience. I doubt I’m the first.)

After a quick bite, we headed off for the zoo–but it turns out that Sunday afternoon of a long weekend is not the optimum time to try to find a parking spot. We drove through five jam-packed lots before finally giving up. I’m actually surprised that traffic hasn’t really been an issue before, but I guess that’s the beauty of having an interstate that doesn’t force everyone to drive straight through town (take THAT, Kelowna!)

The rest of the day shall be devoted to swimming, eating, and drinking. Home tomorrow…

Sunny Times in Seattle

Spontaneity is not my strong suit. In fact, if my family were to describe my best qualities, I’m fairly certain the words “easygoing” and “flexible” would not make the list. So they were all slightly stunned when I decided, with only five days’ notice, that we were driving to Seattle for the long weekend. Road trip!

Seattle is having uncharacteristically hot and sunny weather, and at least for now has no trace of wildfire smoke (take that, Kelowna!) so we really lucked out. The weather made our tour of the baseball stadium a real treat. We briefly considered going to an actual game, but that would cost four times more and keep Brayden’s attention for half as long, so the tour seemed like a better bet. And it was pretty cool: we got to go on the field, in the dugout, in the press box, and through a few other places the general public has no access to. We had to skip the locker room due to it being a game day, but you can’t win ’em all.

After lunch at a very neat Irish pub (which even featured a digital countdown to the next St. Patrick’s Day), we took another tour, this one of the underground passageways beneath the city. It turns out that Seattle was originally built on soggy tideflats. After a major fire leveled the city in 1889, officials decided to raise up the streets to get away from the muck: they built eight-foot retaining walls on either side of the streets and filled in the space between them, effectively raising the streets up by one storey and creating a series of hollow tunnels underneath where the buildings’ first floors used to be. Justin was a little thrown by the guide’s sense of humour (the guy kept joking about giant rats…sigh) but we all found it pretty fascinating in the end.

We’re currently debating whether to go out for dinner or take advantage of the free beer and snacks by the hotel pool. Decisions, decisions…

Getting Cozy With Cancun Crocodiles

Having held a baby crocodile in my hands on a trip to Australia many years ago, my reptile-cuddling needs have been long satisfied. But Brayden had never had such an opportunity, so today we joined up with our friends to tour Crococun Zoo, about a half hour out of Cancun.

The place is billed as an “interactive” zoo because you can actually hold a few of the animals; I’d also read that there would be wild spider monkeys swinging through the trees overhead. It was exactly the kind of place that would send Justin’s anxiety skyrocketing, but he was happy to stay at the resort by himself, so that worked out all right. (He was unusually happy to see us when we got back, but that was only because he’d managed to lock himself out of the room. Sigh.)

The guide let our group hold and/or feed everything from macaws and deer to boa constrictors and crocodiles. At one point we even walked through the crocodile enclosure, with strict instructions to walk single file and stay in the middle of the path. We were also told not to stop to take pictures, but to film as we walked. We literally passed within two feet of full-grown crocodiles, with nothing separating them and us. I still can’t believe that actually happened.

Home tomorrow…

Eco-Adventures at Xcaret

This was pretty close to a perfect family day. We spent it at Xcaret, an eco-park about an hour south of Cancun. I chose that particular park because it offered options that appealed to all four of us — not an easy feat. And we did it on a private tour where we had our own car and driver and could set our own departure and return times. Which cost a bit more, but which was totally worth it.

And it really was an excellent day. The park is beyond gorgeous, which helped us to forget that much of the rest of non-resort Mexico is dirty, decrepit and overrun with garbage. This place clearly made a big effort to protect the environment and keep things pristine. They even require you to use biodegradable sunblock so you don’t damage the ecosystem. Awesome.

We started by suiting up in lifejackets and flippers and spending 40 minutes floating through an underground river. I was more than a little surprised that Justin was willing to give that one a go (especially after Brayden loudly announced he’d seen real fish in the water), but he did great. Many sections of the river run through caves with low-hanging ceilings and absolutely no light, and he was still OK. One of his flippers fell off and he still managed to outswim most of us. Kudos, dude!

One whole section of the park is kind of a mini zoo with various animals on display. We wandered around for an hour or so and saw manatees, tapirs, jaguars, pumas, flamingoes, etc. They even had deer, which was no biggie for us as we get them in our backyard at home all the time, but we did overhear a tour guide in a heavy Spanish accent announcing “the Bambi exhibit,” which was kind of amusing.

Lunch was an excellent buffet in a spectacular setting — the boys could even watch the jaguar from our table. Brayden ordered a pina colada, his new favorite cocktail, and it showed up in the most amazing drink container ever: a full-sized pineapple that had been given eyes, ears, a nose and a mouth made out of fruit. Way cool.

After stuffing ourselves, we took a leisurely 15-minute raft ride on another river. It was billed as a way to see exotic flora and fauna without getting wet, but it didn’t actually show us anything we hadn’t already seen on the long walk down to the raft boarding dock. Live and learn.

We spent our last bit of time in the park’s aquarium, which was especially awesome for its air conditioning (ahh). Jellyfish, sharks, sea turtles…the kids loved it.

One more day!

Hunting Iguanas in the Hotel Zone

I can only take so much relaxation. We’ve never done an all-inclusive before because I do all the vacation planning and I don’t particularly enjoy sitting on a beach for a week at a time. It doesn’t matter how nice the resort (or cruise ship) is or how many activities are available. I like a change of scenery once a day, even if it’s only for an hour.

Certain other members of my family do not share this need, however, so I was having trouble organizing a family outing this morning. Chris was happy to just sit by the pool, and Justin could not be dragged from the kids club. I finally sold Brayden on the idea of checking out a small archeological site near the hotel that’s known for being overrun with iguanas. He couldn’t care less about ruined temples, but hunting lizards is totally his thing. So off we went.

The ruins were bigger than I expected and probably would have been more impressive if we hadn’t just done Chichen Itza yesterday. We counted 34 different iguanas — not too shabby for 40 minutes’ work. It wasn’t until we found the first big lizard that it dawned on us that we knew almost nothing about them: should we be worried that they keep bobbing their heads in our direction? Is that one about to charge? What do iguanas eat anyway? Huh.

After lunch and some colorful kiddie cocktails, it was back to (where else?) the beach. I swear that sand is never coming out of Justin’s hair.

To an eco-park tomorrow…