Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Meeting the Characters

One of the things we did on our Disney cruise was to meet and take pictures with many of the characters on the ship. It was fun to interact with them, and it's much easier to do than at the parks. There are still lines, but they're not as long, and there aren't nearly as many people on a cruise ship as there are at Disneyworld! The ship's photographers take good pictures, and they'll also use your camera to take them if you want. I was impressed with the level of interaction that the characters were able to have with us since they can't say anything or change their facial expression or anything like that. I kept wondering about the person under the mask: What did they look like? How were they feeling? It must get tiresome having that big head on!

We met Minnie Mouse before we boarded the ship. This was Sam's first close-up character encounter and he got upset, as you can see in the picture below! There are no pictures of just Sam with any of the characters or of just the boys with any of them because Sam refused to be photographed with them without me, so I'm (unfortunately!) in many of these pictures. He quickly got over his "character anxiety" and enjoyed meeting them during the week, but I still had to hold him every time!

Here's John and I with Minnie on Formal Night. I liked how her peacock headband matched the grand lobby's peacock-themed decor. That mouse knows how to dress!

With Mickey Mouse on Pirate Night. I wish I'd been wearing my cool pirate bandanna in these pictures!

With Captain Mickey on Formal Night.

Donald Duck

Daisy Duck was really cute. I liked her dress, gloves, and bracelet (this was on Formal Night) and she played the role of fashionista duck perfectly, pointing out my jewelry that she liked and managing to be exuberant and fun without a voice and without being able to change her facial expression. There was a good actress in there!

With Goofy in a tux on Formal Night (we met a lot of the characters on Formal Night, as you can see!).

John and Pluto

Chip and Dale. They're too cute!

Captain Hook and Smee

Phineas and Ferb


In the picture above, Lilo is signing John's autograph book. He collected many autographs that week. 
What a great souvenir!  

John and his book had a comfortable, scenic place to rest while we waited in line for Phineas and Ferb. Lucky kid. Meanwhile I held Sam for 20 minutes!

The characters were very kind and attentive to each and every child or person they met. 
It was all part of the Disney magic and famous Disney hospitality!

There were a lot of other characters that made appearances during the week, but we just chose our favorites to meet at times that were convenient for us. Next time we'll meet some new ones!

P.S. In case you're disappointed that there are no princesses here, don't worry. I will be indulging my inner little girl by paying tribute to the Disney princesses who were on board in my next post!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Five Things for Friday

1. This week I watched the PBS Masterpiece Classic movies Wuthering Heights and Great Expecations, which have been hanging out in my DVR waiting to be watched. They both blew me away! These British actors and their movies, they kill me. I think about the stories and the characters and the actors who play them for days afterward. It's almost, almost as good as reading the books. I don't even like Wuthering Heights very much (I find it too depressing and frustrating), but I was bewitched by the movie!

Could this actor who plays Pip have a more beautiful face? Apparently not...he also models for Burberry!

2. The Wall Street Journal (which I enjoy reading and is the namesake for this blog) posted a list this week of the best and worst jobs of 2013. The headline of the article is "Dust Off Your Math Skills: Actuary is the Best Job of 2013." That's pretty awesome because my husband is an actuary! In the nearly 11 years that he's been one, I've found that many people don't know what an actuary is or does (read the article to find out!), but it really is a good job if you're a math/business person. The rankings are based on five criteria: physical demands, work environment, income, stress, and hiring outlook. I think it's pretty funny that newspaper reporter is ranked #200, dead last. Poor WSJ reporters! I'm surprised by that ranking actually--I think journalism would be a fun career to go into.

3. I saw this on Facebook this week, and I think it's so funny and so true! It is exactly what I've thought for pretty much my whole life. Why must the bed feel so uncomfortable at night when you're having trouble getting to sleep but so perfect, like the most comfy bed in the world, in the morning when it's time to get up? It is one of the cruel ironies of life!

4. This week People magazine rated Gwyneth Paltrow as the most beautiful woman in the world. It's true that she is very beautiful and I think her looks are classic and timeless, like the cover says.

One of the kindest compliments anyone ever gave me that still helps me feel better on my ugly days was when I was at a fancy party in Philadelphia my freshman year of college with the creme de la creme of Philadelphia society (my roommate's father was one of them; that's why I was there), and a server came up to me and said, "Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Gwyneth Paltrow?" and pretended to snap my picture. And he really meant it! Or seemed to anyway. I must say that I think I did look really good that night (other than my shoes, which were hideous, but I was having an extraordinarily good hair day and my dress was cute and fit me perfectly). It's true that I was 18 at the time and probably near the peak of good looks in my life, but still, that meant, and still means, so much to me. Never underestimate the power of giving or receiving a seemingly random compliment!

5. This has been a weird week for me. My focus and motivation haven't been as high as they usually are and I've felt scatterbrained, almost like I have ADD. This happens sometimes for a few days at a time and I don't know why. I've also been having almost daily headaches and painful neck and shoulder aches. I'm getting a massage tomorrow so that should help relieve my physical kinks, and hopefully my focus will be restored over the weekend. Oh these lovely crazy bodies of ours! One minute I feel completely in control of mine and the next, I feel like I'm at its mercy!

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Personal Connection with the Boston Marathon

For the past 24 hours I've been so upset by what happened at the Boston Marathon yesterday. I literally couldn't believe it when I found out what had happened. This felt personal and it hit home, literally. My hometown of Hopkinton, Massachusetts is where the Marathon begins. Growing up, I loved Patriots Day in Massachusetts because of the Marathon and the celebration and community togetherness it provided. It was such a fun day! It was exciting to be out in my backyard and to hear and see the helicopters overhead. The runners would gather in the Athletes' Village at my high-school. We'd walk from our house down to Main Street to watch the race begin. One time I saw Al Roker on the town green doing coverage for NBC. Another time, in 1996 when I was in 10th grade, I got a really good spot right near the Start line and the woman who went on to win the Marathon that day for the females (a German named Uta Pippig) set her water bottle down right in front of me before the race began. After she walked away, I picked it up and kept it for years, hoping it might be a good luck charm for my own athletic pursuits in high-school. 

I'm always amazed that so many people fit in our little downtown area at the same time!
I loved watching all of the runners go by. It took at least 30 minutes for the thousands of them to cross the Start line. Some of them wore the funniest get-ups. They were all inspiring, from the most elite runners to the "bandit runners" (unregistered runners who didn't qualify) at the back. The most inspiring to me were Dick Hoyt and his son Rick, who is a quadriplegic. His father pushes him in his wheelchair as he runs the entire race. I looked for them every time I was there on race day. Monday was their 31st time running the Boston Marathon. When I thought of them yesterday I burst into tears. I found out later that they were a mile away from the Finish line when the bombs went off so they were okay. Just that day a statue of them had been unveiled on the common in Hopkinton. They are truly heroes. I'm looking forward to visiting the statue when I'm back home this summer.

Three years ago when we were living in Connecticut a friend of ours ran in the Marathon. We went home to Hopkinton that weekend and were able to cheer him on before the race. When I found out about the bombings, I thought of him and his family, and found out on Facebook that fortunately he wasn't running the Marathon this year.

So this all feels very personal to me. I am devastated that a person or people of evil inflicted the damage that they did on a wonderful, historic event in my community and in our nation. I feel so sad for all of the victims who were killed, maimed, or injured in any way, and I can hardly think of the 8-year-old boy who died without tears coming to my eyes. But Boston is strong and will recover from this. Those who did this wicked, cowardly act will be caught and brought to justice. And I bet that next year there will be more runners than ever. Because that's the way my fellow New Englanders roll.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Room with a View...of the Sea!

I really liked our stateroom on the Disney Fantasy. We had room 9662, which was on the ninth deck, starboard side (the right side), in the aft (back of the ship). It was a great little room, and very well-designed. We decided not to get a room with a verandah because of Sam's tendency to throw objects, and I had horrible visions of the kids trying to climb the verandah wall and falling to their deaths into the sea below. (It turns out that that is very difficult to do, but still, I didn't want to worry about it!) So we got a room with a big porthole window, and we were happy with that. For our next cruise, we'll be ready for a verandah!

Those heavy drapes on both sides of the window blocked out the light really well in the morning, which was important since we were going to bed late every night.

There was enough space to store all of our things, which was pretty impressive because I over-packed and everything still fit in the drawers, closet, and shelf space. There was plenty of room for our suitcases and bags to go under the bed. And do you see that blue-and-white striped curtain in the picture above? It was genius, and I wish every hotel room had one of these. At night you pull it across the room and it effectively creates two bedrooms. So when the kids were in bed, we didn't have to go to bed at the same time or hide out in the bathroom reading by the light of our cell phones. I loved that curtain!

You may be thinking, there's only one bed--where did the kids sleep? In the bunk beds of course! But where are they? That was pretty genius too. Every evening the room attendant came in and turned the couch into a twin bed, and pulled another twin bed down from the ceiling, creating bunk beds. He took care of the blankets, sheets, and pillows and everything was perfectly turned down and ready for the kids (and us) to hop into bed each night. In the morning when we left, he put everything away and made the bed and cleaned everything up. He kept our room and bathrooms so clean and neat. I wanted to take him home with me. The Disney employees and the quality of their work are amazing!

Couch by day...

Beds by night!

   Our bed was so soft and comfortable. I liked feeling the very slight, gentle rocking of the ship as I lay in bed at night. It was nice to literally be rocked to sleep. I guess I've missed that since my baby days.

A perfect decorative pillow for the bed, Disney-style.
Do you see the monkey towel hanging from the drapes in the picture with the bunk beds above? The room attendant left us a different towel-animal creation each evening. They were so cool! I got pictures of the monkey, swan, and elephant. There were also a cute dog and a lobster that he made but the kids were too fast for me and flattened them out before I got pictures of them.

We really liked the way Disney designed the stateroom bathroom. Or bathrooms, I should say, because there are two of them. One has the toilet and a sink, and the other one has the shower (which also contains a little round bathtub for young kiddos) and another sink. It was such an efficient way of using the space in a family-friendly, very practical way.

And the free bath products, like the soap, shampoo, and conditioner, were really nice! They're from the ~H2O+ brand so they were high-quality and they worked well. I may have taken a few extras home with me! 

When the room attendant turned down the room in the evenings, he'd leave a copy of the Navigator for the next day, which was full of really helpful information, describing all of the activities, showtimes, character appearances, information about the island we'd be visiting, food and dining information, time changes, etc. for the next day. It was our daily guide and it was essential for helping us to plan and organize what we wanted to do each day. And the copyeditor in me didn't find one grammatical or spelling error in any of the Navigators. Now THAT is impressive!  

He also left yummy chocolates for each of us every night, which I enjoyed very much...probably too much since I was the one who ate most of them! 

When we just wanted to chill out and relax in our room, we enjoyed the On-Demand shows and movies on TV. Especially Sam, who got to watch his favorite episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

This was the little hallway to the door out to the hall. The two doors on the right are the bathroom doors. Opposite them were two spacious closets.

This is what it looked like in the hallway. I always wondered what the hallways looked like on cruise ships. They're not super-long corridors like I was imagining. Actually, they are, but there are twists and turns, so you can't stand at one end of the hall and see all the way to the other end. They were bright, warm, and homey, not strictly utilitarian like I'd imagined. 

I really liked the window seat. I stretched out on it and read my book, and the view of the ocean was about as unobstructed and perfect as you can get.

The room also had a mini-fridge which was great for keeping our many bottles of water cold--perfect for the excursions to Grand Cayman and Mexico, where it was very hot. More to come about the excursions later!

See the top row of circular windows towards the back of the ship? Our room was the second circle in from the left. 

 Our room was the perfect room for a family of four, or three. Most of the families on board seemed to have two kids, and many had three or one. Only a few had four kids and I didn't see any families with more than that. I'm not sure what the rooms are like for families with more than four people, but I'm sure they're bigger (and more expensive) to accommodate another bed (or two). We fit the bill for what I believe is the Disney ideal of a family of four. We would have totally fit it if we had one boy and one girl, but close enough!

There really isn't anything I would have changed about our stateroom! It was the perfect little home away from home.

Next cruise post: Some of my favorite places and sights around the ship. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Five Things for Friday

1. I saw the coolest thing in the woods behind our backyard yesterday. There was a little deer running fast through the brush, which was odd because usually they meander around kind of slowly. Then about three seconds later, I saw why it was running. It was being chased by what I believe was a white coyote! I only caught a quick glimpse of it before they both disappeared from view. I've only ever seen things like that on TV documentaries. It was so neat to see it in real life! Those things really do happen! I hope the little deer got away. I think its chances of escape were good; deer are faster than coyotes, aren't they?

2. Tomorrow a friend of ours from college is getting married in Philadelphia at Penn's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (he, me, and Peter are all Penn alumni). It's the first black tie wedding we've ever been invited to. I wanted to go so much! I'd love to be back at Penn in the springtime with Peter and go to a fancy wedding and see some old friends. But the kids made it difficult to make the trip, so we had to decline. So tomorrow my heart will be in Philadelphia. Or wishing it were there, anyway, all dressed up in a lovely black-tie dress.

3.  There are no pictures in this post yet, so here's one.

I bought these flats for the cruise. Their nautical-type stripes inspired me. Aren't they cute!?

4. After eating most of my Easter candy over the last ten days, I've come to the rather sad realization that sometimes I eat too much sugar. I want to stop doing that. Overall I have good nutrition habits: I try to limit meat consumption to 2-3 times a week, I don't buy a lot of processed foods, I rarely drink soda, I buy organic produce. But sugar, particularly chocolate, is my Achilles heel. Too much is not good for me. Sometimes it gives me headaches. Sometimes it makes me tired. I'm afraid it's going to turn on my cancer genes. (Maybe my dad got to me after all. That and common sense. And the PBS shows about health and nutrition that I've been watching.) I'm not going to cut sugar out of my diet completely (never!) but I'm going to start limiting my daily treats a lot more. I've got to learn to snack on fruits and vegetables and nuts more. I'm a healthy person but I know that I'd be healthier if I did this. So I'm going to do it. And I'm gonna like it!!

5. The weather turned cold and rainy this week. The rain I don't mind so much, but the cold temperatures are just not funny anymore! This kind of weather makes me want to curl up and take a nap every afternoon. At least the grass is getting greener and buds are starting to pop up out of the ground...as long as the cold doesn't kill them first!

I hope you have a great weekend! I hope I do too, even though I'll be in Iowa and not Philadelphia. :-)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

All Aboard! Setting Sail on the Disney Fantasy

Saturday, March 16th was the day that we'd been waiting for for months. It was finally time to go on our first cruise! We had a car service take us from Orlando to Port Canaveral, which is about an hour's ride. When the ship came into view as it waited in the port, it was pretty exciting. I couldn't believe how massive it was! 

The picture below is the first picture I took of the Disney Fantasy, after we'd dropped our luggage off and were making our way inside a building to go through Customs and security. All of these processes, by the way, were very quick and easy. This was our first taste of Disney's impressive skills when it comes to organization, efficiency, and friendliness. A guy who was in line with us said he'd been on many different cruise lines and this was his first time doing a Disney cruise and that he could already tell that it was much better organized than the boarding processes of other cruise lines. (Ahem, Carnival?)

The ship is so big that it almost looked more like a building than a ship!

After we got through Customs and security we went up an escalator to get signed in and registered before we boarded the ship, and we ran right into Mickey Mouse! He was leaving to take a break, but Minnie was taking his place, so we got our first character picture with her (the first of many that week!). Sam was excited about this until it was time to actually meet her, and then he got anxious and slapped her hand when she tried to shake it. That kid. Sometimes I think it's his mission in life to embarrass me!

Look at Sam's face!

Right before we boarded the ship, they took this picture of us. It was used for our ID cards (a.k.a. "Key to the World" cards) that were swiped at all of the ports we stopped at so that our identities could be verified.

When we boarded the ship, an employee announced our arrival us by shouting something like "Let's give a big welcome to the Carlson family!" and a line of employees applauded as we walked into the grand lobby. They did this for every family that boarded the ship that day (the ship accommodates about 4,000 passengers. That's a lot of people to cheer for!). It was nice to be recognized in a special way like that. The Disney magic had officially begun!

The interior of the ship was gorgeous. I loved its design and style. It's Disney's newest ship and it just started sailing a year ago. It's in immaculate condition and has many beautiful features. I'll post pictures about it in another blog post soon.

We went to the "Sail Away" deck party up on the pool deck that afternoon when the ship left the port and sailed away. Disney sure does know how to celebrate!

This is a huge movie screen that's positioned above one of the pools so that you can watch movies while you're swimming or lounging by the pool. This was one of Peter's favorite things to do at night when the pools weren't crowded and the night breeze off the Caribbean felt so nice. 

There's John in front of me, living it up!

I knew that one of my biggest challenges on this cruise was going to be finding my way around the ship. I'm a directionally challenged person, and not to be redundant or anything, but this ship was huge! I went on a walking tour of the ship on Sunday and that helped me to get my bearings. (I was the youngest person in the group. I make a good 32-year-old elderly person!) It took me pretty much the whole week to figure out the fore, aft, starboard, and port sides of the ship and to be able to determine which side we were on at any given moment. I was pretty proud of myself when I did get it all figured out. But then on our last full day I realized that what I'd thought was the front of the ship was really the back! How could I have gotten that wrong? So confusing! Oh well. These are my blonde moments and I freely confess to them. 

Here's the FRONT of the ship, also known as the fore.

This is the BACK of the ship, otherwise known as the aft. It's Dumbo who brings up the rear. If only I'd realized that from the beginning, maybe I wouldn't have been such a dumbo myself!

  And here's everything in between! At least from the outside.

The next cruise-related post will be about our stateroom (which was "practically perfect in every way"!) and I'll give you my own little walking tour of some of the cool things on board.