Sunday, June 15, 2008

Another Day at Sea

Just to finish the cruise blog up (better later than never right?) here are some photos from our Palo brunch and Galley Tour on our final day of the cruise.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Friday The 13th - Day at Sea

Hello again, Jeff here. It’s Saturday afternoon on the ship and it is once again VERY COOL outside. Every sea day has been overcast, windy and temperatures have hovered in the 60’s. I’ve got about 20 minutes before we go on the kitchen tour so I’ll try to summarize what we did yesterday.

In the morning, we spent time doing a backstage tour of the Walt Disney Theatre called “Stageworks”. The presentation was done by the theatre and costume technicians. The presentation consisted of some prepared video clips, talks by the production personnel and a demonstration of how scene changes are done. At the end, guests were invited up on stage to talk one on one with the technicians and staff. This activity was limited to guests 18 and older.

This was followed by a “Behind the Scenes” look at the ABC Television network operations, including its affiliate ESPN, provided by Executive Vice President Jeff Bader. Jeff had a nice presentation and answered a lot of the questions average viewers have about why TV programming is the way it is.

Susan and I then went to the Sessions Lounge we were participated in our second wine tasting of the cruise. These tastings are offered on each Sea Day and different wines are used each time. Our favorite surprisingly was a Merlot – neither Susan or I are Merlot fans but the Smoking Loon (a relatively cheap wine) was good; so good we ordered a bottle later in the evening with our dinner.

Susan and Katy then participated in the Origami Animals class in the Promenade Lounge. Katy now makes a wicked Origami Crane. I stayed in the stateroom and took the time to update the blog on our Puerto Vallarta tour. Next, after showers and donning our semi-formal apparel, we made our way to the Disney Theatre for “Disney Dreams: An Enchanted Classic”. This show was rated the #1 show in the entire cruise line business and is an impressive production.

We then went to the family cabaret show of musician/comedian John Charles. John is a long time favorite on the Disney Magic and he was again thoroughly entertaining.

Dinner was in Lumiere’s, my favorite restaurant. The other guests at our table didn’t make it to dinner so it was just the three of us and that made dinner more leisurely. Jonathan, our assistant server entertained us with a number of tricks and brain teasers involving crayons on the table. Katy also showed Jonathan her new-found Origami skills and taught him how to make the Crane.

We finished out the night with the Dessert Buffet. Unfortunately, given we’d just finished dinner less than an hour earlier, we really couldn’t do it justice. We did have fun just looking at the artistry of the cakes, pastries, chocolate fountains and other goodies the chefs created.

This will be my last post onboard – I’ve used up my 250 internet minutes. I’ll post the activities of our final day at sea, debarkation, and (hopefully) time at Disneyland / California Adventure when I get internet access again. Adios from the Magic!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Puerto Vallarta & City and Tequila Tour

Hello again, Jeff here to tell you about our day in Puerto Vallarta, hereafter known as PV for short. Like our day in Mazatlan on Wednesday, Thursday was overcast but still comfortably warm and we had no rain – which was good. I’d start off with a little history of PV; however, I didn’t pick up one of the little cheat sheets as we were leaving the ship so I have nothing from which to copy. For those reading the blog that are future cruisers on Disney’s Mexican Riviera cruise this summer note that you lose an hour of sleep (i.e., you set your clocks forward 1 hour) on both Tuesday night and Wednesday night so the Magic keeps ship time equal to local time.

I’d arranged a 4 hour tour of the city and tequila tasting (through Mazatlan Frank) with his friend Fernando Alfredo as our guide. The cost of the tour was $35/person. We were to meet Alfredo at 10 am at the Hospitality Tent just as we departed the ship. As it turned out, Alfredo was doing a tour with passengers on the Vision of the Sea and had asked Bernardo to handle our tour. Bernardo asked if we’d mind waiting a few minutes while he tried to get another couple to join us. We didn’t mind – in fact Frank had mentioned this to us yesterday during his tour of Mazatlan so we were expecting it.

After only a few minutes Bernardo came walking up with Gene and Carmen, an older couple and fellow cruisers on the Magic. Soon we were off in Bernardo’s sparkling clean, comfortable 12 passenger van heading south on the main road through Puerto Vallarta. Bernardo shared with us quite a few facts including that PV depends almost entirely on the tourism industry for its economy. Despite being located on a bay, it has a very small fishing industry – most of what is done is geared to the sport/tourist fisherman. PV’s official population is on the order of 250,000; however, it is one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico so its actual population is larger. The growth is apparent in all the building that we saw along our tour. Numerous hotel and condominium complexes were being built in addition to the many already there. Also, PV was more modern looking to me…from the Sam’s Club and Super Walmart you see just across from the pier to the Home Depot just down the road.

Things changed though the farther south we went. Soon we transitioned from smooth roads to cobblestone roads that were rough. The streets became much narrower and the buildings much older and modest. After passing the Boardwalk area we entered the older part of the city. Here Bernardo took us into the areas where the locals go to shop, get their hair cut, buy clothes and shoes. It was really interesting. We finally ended up at the southern end of the city in an area where there is an off shore underwater sanctuary that is a popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. Just a bit further down was the area where they shot the movie “Night of the Iguana” in the 1960s.

Next, we made our way to Mama Lucia's Tequila Distillery. Actually, Mama Lucia was the great, great grandmother of the current operator. Once there, one of the family members explained to us each step of the tequila harvesting, preparation and distillation process and answered our questions. Then came the good stuff - yes, that's right the tequila tasting. Mama Lucia's offered the traditional white, reposado (golden color - aged in oak barrels for a few months) and anejo (aged in oak barrels for a minimum of one year) as well as flavored tequilas (orange, almond and chocolate). We sampled the white, reposado and all three flavored tequilas. All were very good.

It was now about lunchtime, so Bernardo backtracked a bit and we went off-road to a restaurant called El Nogalito. Nogalito apparently is a type of walnut tree. The restaurant turned out to be fantastic. The area was very lush with all types of flowers and vegetation. The dining area was covered but still out in the open air. Their were macaws around as well as birds and even an iguana. Dinner was excellent and we enjoyed getting to know Gene and Carmen better as we dined. On the way back to the ship, we stopped at the PV church, which was well adorned. Our four hour tour turned into more like 5 hours but it seemed much shorter since we had such a good time. Bernardo was an excellent tour guide. His knowledge of PV, his personable nature and his love for his home town made him one of the very best guides we’ve ever had. I would not hesitate to use him again or to recommend him to anyone.

Once back on the ship, I took the opportunity to catch up on the blog while Susan and Katy did what? Want to guess? No, they didn’t nap but you’re close. They both went and got a massage. After taking our showers, Susan and I went and relaxed in the Sessions piano bar with some drinks and a cheese plate. Katy doesn’t like Sessions – she says they only play “old people” music so she stayed in the stateroom and watched TV. We met up at 8:15 and made our way to dinner in Parrot Cay – which tonight was Pirate themed as tonight was “Pirate Night”. Waiting for us on the table were pirate bandanas to put on our heads. Actually, I was the only one to put it on my head, the girls didn’t want to mess up their hair. I captured this photo of our two servers (Pema and Jonathan) and the head server (Ciao Romano – no I’m not kidding) with Susan and Katy. We finished off the evening by attending the “Pirates in the Caribbean” deck party and fireworks show. Tomorrow and Saturday are Sea Days.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mazatlan & City and Colonial Tour

Hello, Jeff here. We’ve just returned from our tour of Puerto Vallarta and Tequila “factory”. We’ve got another 4 hours in port so I have time to add a description and photos to the Cabo entry for our dinner at Palo and to catch up on what we did yesterday in Mazatlan. First some history.

Mazatlan was first settled by Totorames and Xiximes, who are believed to have given the city its name, which means “place of the deer.” At one time, herds of deer wandered throughout the area. Today, in their memory, a large statue of a deer stands proudly on the waterfront and is also included on the city’s coat of arms. Founded in 1531, the city served as a port for Spanish galleons loading up on gold and silver from the Sierra Madre Oriental. Pirates who preyed on the treasure-rich ships, including the infamous Sir Francis Drake, also frequented the region, and rumors of gold and silver buried here endure to this day.

After incorporation in 1792, Mazatlan was officially established as a municipality in 1837. Shortly thereafter, the city enjoyed a surge of growth when a large group of German immigrants arrived. They established strong trade ties. The port has remained active and vital to the region, and today it is Mexico’s main commercial port on the west coast. One of Mazatlan’s largest exports is shrimp; approximately 40 million pounds are shipped abroad annually. The city also has an interesting military history. In 1847, the US Navy blockaded the port and the French bombarded it in 1864. After the American Civil War, a group of defeated Confederate loyalists attempted to establish a community in Mazatlan. Mazatlan was also the second city in the world to be aerially bombed, attacked in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution.

Mazatlan differs from other well known tourist resorts with its dual personality. Though tourism accounts for half of the city’s economic importance, the other half includes shrimp and tuna fishing, freezing and canning plants, commerce and port activities. These two aspects meld to form the city’s distinct personality.

Our tour of Mazatlan was with Mazatlan Frank, who I’d heard about on forums. Frank has been doing tours of Mazatlan, his home city, for many years and his attention to detail, demeanor, pride in his city and personality make him an excellent tour guide. We met Frank just outside the cruise terminal where we also met up with the rest of our tour group from the Magic – a couple from San Francisco and a family of 5 from Houston. We fit comfortably in a 12 passenger, air-conditioned van. The weather for the day was cloudy, with rain showers possible. We took our rain jackets just in case but we were fortunate as it only sprinkled a couple of times.

Our first stop was a brick “factory” which was basically a one-man operation. The man would shovel the clay soil into a wheel barrow, mix it with grass, straw and manure. He’d then shovel the mixture into a wood rack laying on the ground and smooth off the top. The ground was sanded so the wet bricks didn’t stick. After drying on the ground, the bricks would then be assembled into a kiln structure. A hardwood fire would be started inside and it burn for about two days before the bricks were fired properly. The man could make about 2000 bricks a day, which equated to about $20. This was better than minimum wage, which in Mazatlan is about $5 per 8 hour day.

Our next stop was Malpica, a quaint little town of about 1,400 people. Here we visited an old fashioned bakery that used a wood burning oven to make some of the best bread and pastries I’ve ever had. Just the smell was worth paying for. We bought two pastries for $1. Next we watched a man make colored tiles using a 100+ year old hand press. Very interesting and they were beautiful tiles.

A furniture “factory” was our next stop. Here about a half dozen men made custom furniture by hand with basic woodworking tools. The “factory” was actually an open air shed that provided protection from rain but still allowed the workers to have fresh air and a breeze in which to work. Adjacent to the factory was a ceramic “factory” where they made all types of figurines, plates, bowls, cups, wind chimes, tiles – you name it, and they made it. They also had some leather goods and jewelry. We browsed here before moving on to Concordia.

Concordia was a much bigger town than Malpica. There was a town square, a nice old church and plenty of open air arts and crafts shops. After spending about 20 minutes here we were on the road again back to Mazatlan. Frank had this touring thing down. As we were driving back into town, he passed out a menu for a restaurant called Tony’s on the Beach. Frank took our order and while we were shopping in the “Golden Zone” (read high priced tourist area) Frank called in our orders so they would be ready for us when we arrived. Is that service or what?

Tony’s turned out to be a nice, open-air restaurant right on the beach. Since Mazatlan is known for shrimp, I ordered the jumbo garlic shrimp and they were yummy! I also had a concoction whose name I’ve forgotten but basically you put lime juice and ice in a glass and then top it off with beer (Pacifico) and salt on the rim. Very refreshing. Susan and Katy had the Mexican plates which included lots of traditional food. We were also treated to complimentary tequila and Sprite shots after lunch.

We waddled out to the van and continued our tour by visiting an exclusive area called El Cid. Homes start at $250,000 and go up into the millions. It reminded me a lot of driving around on the Gulf Coast of Florida or down in the West Palm Beach area. We noticed quite a few license plates on the cars were from the United States. We also drove along the coastal road and were able to see a rock diver make a 45 foot dive into water only 5-6 feet deep. I was amazed how far out the guy had to jump – it had to be at least 20 feet! Tough way to make a living.

We finished the tour off by visiting the old part of Mazatlan. I really enjoy getting to see the areas away from the touristy parts of town and this fit the bill quite nicely. You can see from the photo that there was a lovely square here with nice sidewalk restaurants and gathering areas for the locals. Frank made one final stop at an overlook so we could photograph the Magic back at the port. All told, the tour was 7 hours long and we all came away quite pleased that we were able to see as much of Mazatlan and its people and culture as we did. I would highly recommend Mazatlan Frank to any tourist looking for a good tour guide.

Once back on the ship, the girls napped while I worked on the blog. After showering, we then caught the 6:15 showing of “Twice Charmed” an interesting twist on the Cinderella story. We then went to the 7:30 cabaret show of John Charles. John plays guitar and does comedy and he does both extremely well. Any guy that can play the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana one minute and Queen and Lynard Skynard the next has some talent. We also enjoyed some margaritas. After dinner, Susan and I went to the adult comedy show of Heath Hyche. From what I remember, he was pretty good. Unfortunately, I think I slept through most of it as I didn’t get a nap earlier like the girls.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cabo San Lucas & 4 x 4 Desert Safari Tour

To wet your appetite, I’m going to post some pictures of our day in Cabo yesterday. As forecast, the weather turned out to be amazing – bright, clear but best of all WARM (in the 80’s). Our tour was the 4 x 4 Desert Safari with Cabo Adventures. I’d heard about this tour on and tried to book it myself; however, when I called them I found out that Disney had already booked all their spots. Of course Disney added another $20/person to the tour price but I booked it anyway since it had gotten such rave reviews. We were not disappointed. Our tour guide Jose Luis was excellent and the ride into the desert in the Mercedes Unimog trucks was truly an adventure. I’ll write more about the tour later when I’ve got more time. I’ve got to jump in the shower and get ready for tonight’s show – Twice Charmed and dinner afterwards.

Let’s begin with a little history lesson. Cabo San Lucas lies in the Baja California peninsula in the state of Baja California Sur (south). It has the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Sea of Cortez on the other side. Its population is approximately 41,000. For centuries the Baja peninsula was inhabited by Cochimi Indians. In the 16th century, lured by rumors of Aztec gold, the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortez sent ships to explore the area. The first ships landed in what is now La Paz, where many crew members were slain by Chochimis. Though the survivors found no gold, they did discover a bounty in pearls. Aside from the pearl trade, the Baja Peninsula held no wealth for the Spaniards. In the 17th century, the Jesuits arrived and founded the first mission in Loreto in 1697. In all, 30 missions were founded by the Jesuits and later by Franciscans and Dominicans. By the 1850s, as disease depopulated the peninsula, all were abandoned.

In 1834, US President Polk sided with Texans who were tired of paying taxes to Mexican generals. Troops marched on La Paz and San Jose del Cabo. At the bargaining table, Americans conceded they didn’t need any more desert than they already had. Baja was thus left to the Mexicans. Today, Cabo San Lucas is unspoiled and is one of the world’s best fishing areas. It remains Los Cabos’ primary tourist attraction with beautiful white sand beaches, great shopping and a large American retiree population. Last year, 550,000 visitors arrived by air, car and cruise ships.

We began our tour at the Cabo Adventures Dolphin park, which was a short walk from the pier where we tendered in. Cabo is a tender port, meaning the ship actually anchors out in the bay and small tender boats transport passengers to and from the port. We were split up into groups and loaded into our Mercedes Unimog trucks to begin our adventure. Our truck made it about two blocks before the engine quit right in the middle of the road. The driver was able to coast backwards down the hill out of traffic. Our tour guide called and we had another truck there to pick us up in minutes. Better to break down 2 blocks from headquarters than in the middle of the desert!

The entire tour is 72 kilometers or about 43 miles. Given we made a loop (roughly speaking) we drove about 21 miles into the wilderness. The first few miles were on paved road but we were soon on sand and dirt and I was glad we were in a 4 x 4. After a couple of more miles civilization disappeared – I mean there was nothing but the occasional “ranch”. These ranches were modest at best and their cattle were allowed to freely roam to search for whatever food they could find. By the looks of some of the cows, they weren’t finding much. Jose Luis gave us a running commentary on the flora and fauna as we rode. He also told us about the history of Cabo and the surrounding region. At one point, we stopped and got out of the trucks so we could see up close some of the species of cactus, trees. He even showed us the amazing echo one could achieve in the valley by yelling really loud – though the echo did sound more like our driver Ivan than Jose.

After awhile we arrived at the ranch where we had our lunch. There were nice, clean restroom facilities there as well. First though we had the opportunity to feed some of the baby goats there corn tortillas. We “Frisbee” tossed the tortillas over the fence, much to the delight of the goats. Next up was the tequila tasting. We were all given small little ceramic tasting cups on a ribbon that fit around our neck (our souvenirs). We taste white and gold tequila, both made from 100% blue agave and mescale tequila, which is made from green agave. I liked them all and was ready for more. We also got to try blue agave syrup, which was excellent…lighter than honey. Jose compared it to maple syrup.

We then moved over to another area where Jose Luis showed us how the natives used to grind corn hominy and made tortillas. He worked up a pretty good sweat raking and crushing the hominy until he had a nice ball of corn “dough”, which he patted out into a tortilla. Our final activity at the ranch was lunch and it was yummy. We had chicken mole, seasoned beef, refried beans, cactus salad, soft drinks, beer and some other stuff that I’m forgetting. Excellent! We finished off the tour by taking the quick route back…first through the backcountry and then on to the highway. Once we hit the pavement, Jose Luis opened up the “bar” in the back and we had one final toast to our fellow tourists and to our tour guide and driver. A fitting end to a wonderful tour.

Once back onboard, we took advantage of the nice, warm weather and sunned up on Deck 10 and then snuck in a nap afterwards. The highlight of the evening was a marriage proposal during the Ron Pearson (comedian) show. The groom had arranged to be picked out of the audience by Ron and put on the spot to ask his girlfriend of 2.5 years to marry him. After offering him $21.29 out of his pocket, a Disney cap and bottle of champagne from backstage and various and sundry items donated by the audience, the guy finally said he didn’t have a ring. Ron then pulled the ring out of his pocket and handed it to the guy. He proposed and I’m pretty sure she accepted. This was Virgil’s (WVMD from the DIS Board) son, I believe.

Next was dinner at Palo, the exclusive adult-only restaurant on the Magic. Katy has really been looking forward to dining here since she's turned 18. Our server was Toni (he was a guy) and he did a good job of tending to our every request. Susan and I stuck with our usual filet mignon and Katy had the lobster ravioli. For dessert, we all had the chocolate souffle and then thought about the dessert we promised to eat for Brian so we got these. We're thinking of you son! Tomorrow, is Mazatlan!