Archive for The Saga of the Mouse & Queen

Another incredible sunset

Since we have fast Internet for a few hours in Southampton, I thought I’d upload some more photos from The Mouse. This was a spectacular sunset over the North Sea. We’re wondering if the dust from the Icelandic volcano is the cause of these beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

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At a lovely pub in Southampton known as the Grapes

Cheers! Our five-hour drive from Dover to Southampton is complete, with no hair-raising incidents. Steve did a great job, easily jumping into the scary world of right-hand drive (his first time since 1988); we had a little Mercedes diesel compact, which was crammed with our stuff. Our Hilton hotel is north of the Southampton city center. We did the scenic route, driving from Dover through Hastings and a few other coastal towns. We are now relaxing in a pub, which has free and fast wireless (huzzah!).

The Mouse cruise was quite enjoyable, but not without its major annoyances, which was a first for a Disney cruise. Apparently, all four of the Baltic cruises are seriously undersold and it is unlikely they will repeat this itinerary soon. As long-time Disney fans, we know that the downside of devotion is the fact that everything authentically Disney is certainly not cheap. This cruise was very expensive and the economy surely factored into the reality that our cruise was at 60% capacity, which made the delays on getting our room changed on the first day all that much more aggravating. The food quality was wildly variable and often quite disappointing. The shore excursion staff was genuinely clueless at times about the content of the excursions and accessibility. We also noticed that the Magic looks a bit worn out, although it was supposedly in dry dock last year. Knowing Disney, they will take any and all criticism very seriously.

On the upside, the bar staff was excellent, drink prices were reasonable, we enjoyed the characters and their antics, we had a few good conversations with other passengers, and the ports were totally fascinating. Our shipboard account was not as bad as expected, which was a relief. Our weather was fantastic, with smooth seas throughout the entire cruise, except for the first day. We also watched Toy Story 3 twice, just loving the story.

Well, tomorrow we begin the Queen part of the saga. We will enter the world of fancy-schmancy, afternoon teas, an authentic pub at sea, three thousand passengers and a labyrinth of decks and activities. We will probably have terrible Internet service again, but will keep you posted.

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Sailing under the Great Belt East Bridge

Incredible! This bridge was completed in 1998 and features an incredibly thin steel structure held up by huge concrete pillars that are 254 meters (833 feet high).

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A couple of lazy days at sea

We’re well on our way back to Dover right now. We dock at about 6 AM tomorrow, get off the ship at about 9 AM, and then we’re picking up a rental car for the drive to Southampton. Barb and I want to take the country roads as much as possible so we can enjoy the beautiful English countryside.

We hope to arrive in Southampton before 6 PM, turn in the car, and then take a taxi to a good pub. The next day, we get to laze around before boarding the Queen Mary 2 for the long sail to New York.

So what are we doing on our two days at sea on the way to Dover? Relaxing. We slept in both days, saw Toy Story 3 in Digital 3D yesterday (this is a Disney ship…) and may see it again today. We finished our heavy packing a little while ago, so we really have nothing to do but burn up our remaining Internet minutes and have some drinks.

One of the highlights of the cruise yesterday was our passage under the Great Belt Bridge, the second-longest suspension bridge in the world. It connects the Danish island on which Copenhagen is located with the Danish mainland of Jutland. Many of us were on deck for the passage, which was exciting to the two engineers who have been writing this blog!

While this has been a great cruise with some of the best port destinations that we’ve ever visited, we thought the service and the ship were a little “off”. Nothing much, but there were just some things that could have been handled better. The meals were good, but not spectacular as they were on the Oceania Regatta earlier this year. Still, The Mouse does an outstanding job - you just have to realize that this is our 16th cruise and we expect absolute perfection. We’ll be critical of Cunard if they don’t meet our expectations.

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Winding down on the Mouse

We’re relaxing now on our second-to-last day on our Disney Magic cruise. We slept in this morning, waking up to the sound of the ship’s foghorn. It has now cleared up, with sunny skies and a very chilly wind. Our weather has been fantastic on this trip, with very little rain and decent temperatures for latitudes near 60 degrees north.

Later this evening we pass under a huge bridge between two Danish islands. We missed seeing the Great Belt bridge, which was finished in 1998 and is the second largest suspension bridge in the world, on our way into the Baltic (we went to bed about 15 minutes before we passed under the bridge after we left Copenhagen, not realizing that we were that close) but we are hopeful we will get to experience it on the return trip. Apparently, the clearance for the Mouse is pretty tight because of the height of the stacks. The Oasis of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, passed under this bridge after it left the shipyard in Finland heading to the Caribbean to go into service. From what I understand, the Oasis crew removed and lowered top deck superstructures, maximized the ballast load, and went at top speed to sink lower into the water, clearing the bridge by two feet! Royal Caribbean will have to repeat this stunt when Allure of the Seas (same size as Oasis, at 212,000 tons) goes into service next year. I guess they are not planning any Baltic cruises with those ships and hopefully they have contracted with another company for dry dock work.

Our plans for today include seeing “Toy Story 3″ at 2:00 pm, doing some shopping and trying not to eat too much after our huge dinner at Palo last night.

Tomorrow is packing day, which is always a treat! I cannot figure out why dirty clothes seem to expand in volume; it would make for a fascinating experiment (or maybe not) to determine the changes in the material properties of soiled socks. Perhaps dirty socks really do become radioactive.

I guess the pesky volcanoes in Iceland are still being quiet, so our precautionary transatlantic cruise on the QM2 was unnecessary, but it will be an interesting experience. We will both weigh about 400 pounds after stuffing our faces for three weeks.

Tomorrow I plan to post a quick summary of our experience on the Mouse.

Go USA - beat Algeria!

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The Vasa

One of the highlights of Stockholm was visiting the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was a huge wooden warship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was raised to the surface more or less intact in 1961.

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Last Night was submarine night in the Baltic

We saw two subs near our ship last night. This was the second, at about 10:30 PM, while the first was near us at about 6 PM.

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Stockholm, Sweden

Barb took this excellent shot of the center of old Stockholm. It’s a beautiful city.

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A whirlwind tour of Stockholm, other things of interest

Greetings! We just finished cruising through the vast, winding archipelago of islands (is that redundant?) that protect Stockholm, Sweden from the Baltic Sea. We sailed at 1:00 pm today due to concerns for the tides in Dover on Thursday when we arrive to disembark; an alternative explanation that we have heard is that Disney Cruise Lines is concerned about having enough time to turn the ship around for the next cruise if we are delayed by rough seas in the North Sea.

Anyway, we had our last shore excursion today, which included a tour of the city and plenty of time at the Vasa ship museum. Stockholm is a beautiful place, scattered across many hilly islands, and full of historic old buildings sitting next to new architectural marvels. The Crown Princess of Sweden was married two days ago in a celebration that rivaled the marriage of Prince Charles to the late Princess Diana in Great Britain many years ago; the city was still full of decorations in honor of this event.

The Vasa museum opened in 1990 to showcase the restored Swedish warship Vasa. This tremendous oak-hulled war ship, over 226 feet long and displacing 1210 tons and covered with elaborate carvings, was commissioned by King Gustavus II Adolphus in 1625. When construction was completed in 1628, the Vasa left on its maiden voyage into Stockholm harbor and promptly capsized and sank into the depths of the harbor (obviously not a good thing with thousands of people watching). The ship design was too top-heavy with huge sails and guns and the ballast was not adequate for even light wind loads. An inquiry was held but no liability could be determined, so the Vasa vanished into history. Now we fast forward to the 1950s: An engineer named Anders Franzen, who was an expert on sunken vessels in the Baltic Sea, searched for the Vasa for many years and was successful in raising the vehicle to the surface in 1961. Over the next twenty years the ship was painstakingly restored and moved into the museum. The Baltic Sea is brackish water (low salt content), so sunken ships are remarkably preserved. The Vasa and its museum were definitely worth seeing!

Steve didn’t mention it in his writeup for Helsinki yesterday, but I really enjoyed seeing a little part of the ancestral home of my Mom’s family. My great-grandparents on my Mom’s side of the family were immigrants to America from Finland, settling in the upper peninsula of Michigan. My great-grandfather actually traveled to Colorado in the early 1900′s to work at the Tomboy silver mine in Telluride, then returned to the UP. He never learned to speak much English. I felt a little sad visiting Helsinki & the nearby countryside yesterday because I miss my Mom, who passed away in early 2007. She visited Finland twice with my Dad.

One other interesting experience from last evening: the Mouse was followed by two different Russian subs! The first sub was off the starboard side around 6:00 pm; the second emerged on the same side of the ship around 11:00 pm (near sunset); both were accompanied by a support vessel. Maybe they wanted Mickey Mouse merchandise or wanted to join the pirates party.

We will send photos soon. The Internet is HORRIBLE today, so please have patience. We had dinner in Palo tonight (the adults-only specialty restaurant); it was an awesome experience!! We both had the beef tenderloin, which was cooked to perfection. I’m stuffed…

We’ll send updates tomorrow on our day at sea.

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The Helsinki Cathedral

Lutherans rule!

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