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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 17:22:49

DISNEY CRUISE & SAN DIEGO: 1 - Cruise from July 27 to Aug 3, 2008

Marilynn flew to Canada to pick up our 10-year-old granddaughter, Samara, a few days before meeting me in Los Angeles. We have an arrangement with our grandchildren that when they reach the age of 10 we will take them for a trip anywhere in the world they would like to go. After rejecting Brazil on the grounds it would require a yellow fever vaccination, Samara settled on a 7-day Disney Cruise, which we expanded to include a week in San Diego.

On Saturday, July 19 my delayed flight from Costa Rica arrived in Houston just in time to join the last people boarding for the flight to LAX. Further cuts to service in the front cabin now include Continental's famous ice cream sundae deserts, and the stewardess says Fosters beer is on the hit list, to be replaced with a cheaper brand - two of my favourites bite the dust!

Marilynn & Samara arrived at LAX just before noon the next day. We taxied to the cruise ship terminal at a cost of $54, rejecting the Disney airport to ship bus that costs $59 each. The boarding process was the worst I have experienced. We arrived at the terminal at 12:55 and spent the next two hours in one line or another. Forms filled out on line had to be filled out again, credit card information provided on line had to be provided again, the child activities registration done on line needed to be done again (which we skipped because of the huge line), then finally the security and boarding lines. Marilynn did the registration for child activities on board, a quicker alternative suggested by kind employee, as I'd had it with waiting in line.

Our balcony cabin worked out well for the three of us. A curtain divided Samara's sofa bed from our queen-sized bed, and both were comfortable. There were two washrooms, one with a toilet and vanity sink and the other with a bathtub/shower and vanity sink. The room was serviced twice a day with fresh towels, beds were turned down at night and our room attendant was an artist with towel sculptures. Each evening we returned to the room to a different animal made from towels, often wearing my sunglasses!

The ship has most restaurants, bars, theatres & shops on decks 3-5, accommodation on decks 6-8 plus deck 2, then 3 pools, more bars and self serve food service on deck 9. Deck 10 had a couple of basketball courts and a circular walk way. Two of the small rectangular swimming pools were for children, and the other for adults on the forward part of deck 9, in an area with bars, snacks and comfortable lounge chairs.

Food on board was superb, plentiful and varied. Service was generally excellent. Seating is assigned - our tablemates for the cruise were a family of 5 who were on their sixth Disney Cruise. Our servers were from the Czech Republic and New Zealand, and our head server from Macedonia. Crew wore name badges showing which of the 60 countries represented was home. Each night our group had the same table number while rotating through four different restaurants.

The availability of alcohol in every area of the ship was a surprise on a children's cruise. Kids of different age groups had their "clubs" where they were continually entertained. Samara loved it - there was always something going on and she quickly made a lot of new friends. Events for kids went as late at 1:00 AM, and in the meantime, different bars provided a variety of entertainment for adults. Every day there were special events for singles, whether with or without kids.

Photographers were everywhere, and many events each day were staged to provide photo opportunities. Other events encouraged the purchase of costumes or accessories from onboard shops - for example the Pirates of the Caribbean night, a big party with a fireworks display held under the giant movie screen on a floor covering one of the children's pools.

A good selection of imported beer ran $5.18 per bottle and other drinks were up to about $8 each. An extensive wine list in the restaurants offered good wines from $25 per bottle up. Soft drinks and lemonade were available at no charge at self-serve dispensers on deck 9, but cost about $1.50 in other areas.

Purchases are charged on the room card, and although few people likely notice it, a 15% tip is included. What is more noticeable is the line below the total cost that says TIP above the signature line. I found out about the included tip by reading page 56 of the 354 page, advertising laden, "Directory of Services" in the cabin. It states that "For your convenience while on board, a 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all bar, beverage, wine and deck service tabs. An additional gratuity can be added by writing on the tab.". Tips are expected, but many people are unaware they are tipping up to 30%.

The same directory recommends a tip of $25.75 for the dining room server, $18.75 for the assistant server, $6.50 for the head server and $25.25 for the "stateroom hostess" per person, including children.

We travelled in company with a similar sized cruise ship, the Vision of the Seas. It was beside us in Los Angeles and then in each port of call, so we arrived with our 2,700 passengers and 1,000 crew members, plus their complement in each port, making local tour operators and vendors very happy.

Our arrival in Cabo San Lucas was delayed due to mechanical problems, so we missed a dolphin tour that had been laid on. The cost of $375 to spend 30 minutes with a dolphin (no photos allowed) was removed from our bill, and we headed off on foot. Before leaving the pier we hired a glass bottom boat for a tour of the bay, and into the sea outside of the cape. On the way back to town we were dropped on a sandy beach with crystal clear water where we had lunch. Samara had her hair braided, I had an hour massage and XX beer was on sale 3 for the price of one. After a walk though town we returned to the ship by pedal cab. It was a great day, and the total cost was less than half the dolphin refund.

Next morning we awoke in Mazatlan and at 8:45 AM headed off on the Salsa & Salsa tour. I chose a lounge chair on the beach while Marilynn & Samara chopped and diced on the patio of a beachfront hotel. After making two or three different salsas, there was a salsa dance lesson followed by a dip in the pool. At a cost of $255 it was a terrible waste of money. Transportation was laid on back to the ship, but for "security reasons" getting off anywhere along the route was not permitted, so we hired an open cab instead. The driver took us on a tour for an hour, stopping for photos and shopping where we wanted, then dropping us off at the cathedral in the quiet historic section of town.

After exploring the cathedral and walking around a little we stopped at a sidewalk restaurant facing a beautiful plaza, where they laid on a delicious plate of food we all shared. Afterwards we walked off lunch before catching another open taxi back to the ship.

The final port of call was Puerto Vallarta, where we had a free morning. A local taxi gave us a tour of the city, including a stop at a flea market, then leaving us at a downtown beach were we used the facilities of a restaurant for drinks and snacks between swims in the warm water. Another cab took us to a market for more shopping, and a third cab got us back to the ship in time for lunch.

In the afternoon we were shuttled to a travel agency where 14 of us boarded an ex-army 4 X 4 transport truck for the hour ride to a canopy tour. The ride was rough, but the tour extremely well done. We zipped along a series of ropes in our harnesses, accompanied by 5 very competent employees who continually checked our equipment and fastenings. Marilynn lit into them about charging $18 to email each photo they took - personal cameras were not permitted.

Two sea days saw us back in Los Angeles harbour. Tips were a major focus - forms were delivered to staterooms with tip amounts $3 over those shown in the Directory of Services pre-printed for each employee to be tipped - just add the number of people (including children) in your party and multiply to have it added to your stateroom account. Little envelopes were also delivered, already addressed to each recipient, with "Please accept this in recognition of the outstanding service you provided during our cruise. Sincerely, " printed on them. I take it the heavy emphasis on tips is to compensate for substandard wages.

All things being considered, the cruise was an excellent way for a family to vacation together. The stage shows were great, there was entertainment for all age groups, the food was excellent and the staff very friendly and helpful. The weather was perfect and the seas the calmest I've experienced on a cruise. For people with children or grandchildren, it is a great holiday.