Cruising with Disney

Disney Fantasy

We’re back from our seven-day Bahama cruise on the Disney Fantasy™ and while the kids seem to have rejoined the Real World without a hitch—though with some magnificent tan lines*—my husband and I are still staggering around on sea legs humming “Be Our Guest”.

And doing loads and loads of laundry.

As many of you know, I approached this vacation with a high amount of anxiety about what we would need and what we would do and how I would handle the possibility that my family wouldn’t let me escape the experience without wearing a swimsuit.  In public.

But for the most part, it was a blast—a relaxing blast—and it was comforting to know that we were surrounded by families who understood about random pre-teen surliness and the low boredom thresholds of small fry in formal restaurant settings.  When I noticed a fellow passenger standing in a corner and lecturing their child through gritted teeth, I knew that these were my people.

The staff was terrific, the staterooms were comfortable, the showers were pure heaven, and the food was wonderful.  There were little touches, like towel animals and pillow chocolates and wait staff with impressive memories for preferences and a good supply of riddles and brain twisters.**

The Disneyness of the place, while obviously a fundamental theme, wasn’t oppressive at all.  Some people dove in head first and Lived the Disney Experience™ but the rest of us just skimmed the surface of our personal nostalgia, avoided the Princess Photo Op Corral, and/or took advantage of the company’s rights to the Marvel movies to see Ant-Man once or twice.  Three times tops.

My husband and I are already plotting to take another cruise, though next time, I’ll be referring back to this list of things I wish I’d known before we sailed:


1. Decent walking shoes are essential

 Sandals and flip-flops are usually good enough on board*** but don’t let packing space or weird tan lines prevent you from wearing decent arch support when you go ashore.

I brought my sturdy pair of walking sandals, but my mother’s quest for “that one shop” she remembered on Cozumel^ still nearly did my poor feet in—you know you aren’t doing well when the hawkers stop telling you about the bargains in their shops and start luring you with benches and band-aids.




2. Go off the grid

I decided to leave my laptop at home, figuring I’d write longhand and pay the minimum to connect to the ship’s WiFi through my phone to check my e-mail,^^ but I only tried once or twice with no joy—my phone couldn’t detect the signal.  My husband ended up borrowing a ship laptop to check in on my MIL, but the connection was very slow and intermittent, and ultimately wasn’t worth the bother.

Good thing we paid by the meg and not the minute!

And barring a bit of blog and texting withdrawal, I didn’t miss being plugged in at all.  My phone did come in handy for on board photo ops and to entertain Sunny on the nights when we were assigned to the boringest most formal restaurant, but I kept it in Airplane Mode the whole time.


Towel Baby!

Towel Baby!

3. Don’t care about the hair

You know how your hair reacts to your hometown humidity, but in equatorial, oceanic humidity, cowlicks go gleeful.  Arguing about this with styling implements, smoothing products, and bad language doesn’t help.

I gave up by day three—I’m stubborn—and generally wore my sunglasses as a headband indoors to keep the whole mess back.   By the time we reached Jamaica, I was able to walk through the windtunnel of Falmouth without care—and when the nice young lady trying to sell me a $2000 pendant told me she loved my hair, I thanked her instead of laughing in her face.^^^


Towel Rhino

Towel Rhino with nose blurr!

4. All body types are welcome

This ain’t the Love Boat—this is parents and grandparents and kids who are all too busy having fun to give a hoot how you look in your swimsuit.

Assuming you know what strangers are thinking about your body is defeatist and damaging . . . unless you’re focusing on all the strangers of your general size and shape who aren’t letting anything get in the way of their fun.  You can totally assume that these people think you’re fabulous and would like you to leave your towels and cover-ups behind as you stroll to the water, so they can check out the adorableness of your swim-shorts.


Towel Monkey!

Towel Monkey!

 3. Sunscreen. Sunscreen. Sunscreen.

At all times you are emerging into the open air, even if you’re only going to the buffet by the pools.  Reapply twice as often as you think you should.§

I had sunburned knees from sitting in the surf, even though the stuff we use was rated waterproof for 80 minutes, and I wasn’t in there that long.  I would think that the waters near public beaches would be 30% sunscreen anyway, but it apparently doesn’t work like that.§§


Towel Bear!

Towel Bear!

4. Save your receipts—there will be a quiz afterward!

The last full day of your cruise, your steward will deliver a copy of Declaration Form 6059B, courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection.  THis form will ask you which foreign ports your household members visited and how much they spent there, itemized by general category.

I saved my receipts because I do that, but my husband had to go through a few bags to jog his memory.  It was a blessing that the nine pounds of beach shells Sunny brought back, not to mention all the hitchhiking sand, didn’t count.

Of course, if you really want to be prepared, you can check the list of Things That Custom Agents Frown On before you go shopping . . . but what’s life without a little risk?

 Towel Monkey Again! We like Towel Monkey!

Towel Monkey Again!
Because we love  Towel Monkey!

4. Check every single drawer after you pack to go home, even if you remember doing it.

Because you might remember packing all your clean underwear and good bras from the upper drawer of the cabinet to the left of the connecting door . . . but  if you don’t make absolutely certain, it will become evident that you did not and tragically so, if you aren’t traveling directly home after disembarking.§§§


Snorkel Sunny!

Snorkel Sunny!

5. You aren’t actually obligated to do anything.

This is your vacation, too.

You can spend time with your whole family, part of your family, or enjoy some Me Time.

You can go swimming all day, every day, or never go near the pool.

Pirate Buffet!

Pirate Buffet!

You can eat at your assigned restaurant every night or skip it in favor of the buffet or a poolside food stall—or even room service.¤

You can see all the shows or none.

You can spend the whole day in the movie theater or never go at all.

You can stay in your room the whole trip and watch Disney stuff on television (or never turn it on after the suggested Shipwide PSA feature).

Princess Corral!

Princess Corral!

You can stand in line to get a photo taken with various Disney characters or avoid that noise altogether.

You can dance, play, write, nap, party, work Sudoku, take towel-folding classes, shop . . . or not.

You are paying the Disney Cruise Line to entertain, feed, and clean up after your family—let them take care of you, too.



*Sunny’s skin went brown and her hair went platinum.  She looks like a walking photo negative.

**Joseph, our amazing assistant server, managed to stump the whole family twice—we still maintain that our answer to that one about making four triangles out of two by moving one crayon was perfectly right.  So there.

***Though it’s a bigger ship than you think and most of it, oddly, is inside, away from the pools.  So you don’t actually need ventilated, water-friendly footwear all the time.  And unless you become addicted to Elevator Roulette (I did, at one point, for the sheer challenge of it all), you’ll be taking the stairs out of sheer frustration.

^I’m not sure we ever found it, but the ones we did find were well worth the blisters, if not the walk back.  At one point, I was seriously considering hiring a taxi to take me the remaining six blocks to the port entrance.  Guh.

^^On advice, I was careful to shut down the automatic updates on my apps the day before we left; the last thing I wanted was to waste all my allotted megs accidentally updating Fruit Ninja.

^^^I’ll admit that I might have been stunned by the price of the pendant at the time.  I managed to extract myself with relative dignity and bought a nice, kitchy, CZ frog necklace at the duty-free for . . . somewhat less.

CZ Froggie

CZ Froggie

§ Especially if your idea of setting a base tan is to glance briefly at the Midwestern sun as you scurry from your air-conditioned library workplace to your air-conditioned car.

§§ Except for Sunny, who never had so much as a pinkish blotch on her.  Though we still squirted SPF50 in her direction whenever she gamboled past.

§§§Thanks again for running that emergency load for me us, Dad!

¤But if you go on the Fantasy™, try the Animator’s Palate at least once—it featured interactive shows guaranteed to make 8-year olds abandon Tetris.  According to the aforementioned 8-year old, they also have the funnest desserts.

Mickey Cupcake!

Mickey Cupcake!


Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to Cruise I go . . .

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I hate traveling.  I like being places, but getting there, for me, is never half the fun, especially if it involves airports.

disney-cruises-logoBut Mom and Dad wanted to take the kids on a Disney cruise and invited my husband and I along for the ride—and I may be a travel curmudgeon with a serious hate-on for how certain airlines treat their passengers, but I’m not passing up a free week on a floating amusement park that exists solely to take over the entertainment needs of my high maintenance offspring.

So on Thursday, we’re driving the seven hours to my parent’s house, then flying out to Port Canaveral the next day,  to catch the boat the day after that.  Nice and easy—and plenty of time for Plan B, C, and even D, in case cars break down and planes are missed and luggage is lost.

So this time, the big problem is getting ready to get there.

Since my only experience with an ocean cruise thus far has been reruns of The Love Boat (I love me some Bernie Kopell), I’ve been spending the last few days spinning in panicked circles wondering what to pack and what  not to pack, reminding myself that the Disney Fantasy c. 2015 is not the Pacific Princess c. 1979,* reading every article about Disney cruises I can, all of which have differing ideas of what to pack and what not to pack.

But I’ve made a list of things to take (Sunscreen, extra contacts, Jane’s inhaler, manuscript, PASSPORTS), and another of things that need to get done before we go.  It’s not that bad, really; all I have to do is pack for me, assemble boredom bags for the car ride, clean the whole house, pack for the kids (one of whom wants to take everything and the other of whom has a decidedly minimalist/grunge approach), get Jane’s hair trimmed, write out instructions for pet care, get to the bank, sort out my purse, buy toothbrushes and sunscreen, and return that butt-ugly dress I bought in a panic over “formal dress night”.  And maybe a few other things . . .

WiFi may or may not be affordable, so you may not hear much from me for a week or two, until I come back with a sunburn and pics—and maybe even a manageable sleep deficit.

Disney is supposed to be all about making dreams come true, right?


Ever taken a Disney Cruise?  Any advice?

Who was YOUR favorite Love Boat crew member?


* I will not, for example, be meeting Isaac, however much I might need him, nor will I be on the prowl for anything other than an empty lounge chair and a nap.

Post Called on Account of Chi-Town

I’m leaving work early this afternoon and heading for the Amtrak station to catch a train to Chicago, where I will be spending not nearly enough time with friends before heading back way too early Wednesday morning.*

In the morning, I’ll be taking a boat tour with a friend from Germany, whom I met online when she commented on one of my online stories and I commented back—we’ve been e-mailing each other for almost five years and though she’s visited the States before, she’s touching down for a day close enough for us to meet. I can’t wait!

I’ll be meeting Lyra (You all know Lyra, right? Why not?) in the early evening—if she can swing it—for an hour or so somewhere between her office and the last train out to her neighborhood, if she can swing it.  I hope she can—we’ve been talking almost as long and it’s ridiculous that we live this close and haven’t met.

In between?  I’m thinking pizza and shopping but I’m willing to be persuaded into visiting a museum and shopping, or maybe catching a show and shopping.  Or just shopping.

Regardless, the trip should be a lot of fun and absolutely nothing like this:

At all.


*I thought about taking a later train, but there’s a Schlep Your Stuff Back to School Luau that evening that I really shouldn’t miss, because making my kids haul all their school supplies in by themselves on the first morning of school would be as cruel as flipping baby box turtles. If funnier.

16,060 and Counting . . .


As of yesterday, this blog is four years old.

That’s 1,219 posts, including this one, many of which involve poetry, science, kids, rants, superheroes, music, food, and my apparent inability to reliably chew gum and walk at the same time.  Or invent an original metaphor.

Thank you all for reading, commenting, snickering, arguing, sympathizing, and sending me weird stuff for Thursdays, anyway.

Tomorrow, I will be forty-four years old.

That’s 16,060 days, including this one, many of which included Learning Experiences™ of various types.*

Thank you all for humoring me while I whined about the majority of them.

To celebrate both milestones, I’m taking the week off from posting. **  A gift, from me to you.

I’m hoping to make some leeway on a couple of projects and also take a little time to examine my priorities and shuffle ’em around.

Adults do that, or so I’m told.***

See you Sunday.

Aging Angst



* If I collect enough of those, I may turn into a Real Adult someday. There’s an incentive . . .

**I will also be celebrating at the lunch buffet at my favorite Indian restaurant until  my husband has to lead me to the car and put an extension on the seat belt.  Because Real Adults set obtainable goals.

***I will also be visiting the dentist, which I’ve been told Real Adults do far more frequently than I.  The way I figure it, I made the appointment on my own behalf, even though my teeth and gums don’t hurt, which is a huge step in my maturation process, right there.  So nyah.






Field (Museum) Trip!

On Friday, Watson and I picked up the kids from school a little early and drove the three hours to Chicago in the not-quite-freezing rain in a car that was packed with sleeping bags, pillows, backpacks, and flashlights.

We had a date to sleep with the dinosaurs at the Field Museum—a Christmas gift from my MIL.
Dozin with Dinos

For those of you who haven’t heard of or been to the Chicago Field Museum . . . you’re missing out.  And if you haven’t thought of sleeping there overnight . . . do.

It’s a blast.

My MIL had opted for the premium package, which included a tour of part of the Zoology Section in the lower level of the Collections Resource Center, the place where ninety percent of the collections are kept and the scientists do their things—the Field Museum is an active research facility, emphasis on active.

About fifteen of us, kids and adults, piled into an enormous elevator with our Museum guide and our scientist, Kevin the “Fish Guy”, to visit the underground Fish Lab.

Field CRC

It immediately became clear that ichthyologists have a sense of humor:

Finding Nemo

I looked, but Nemo’s mugshot wasn’t there—probably because they already had him in a jar,  carefully arranged by his geography and Latin name.  Somewhere:

Oceans in Bottles

I’m pretty sure that Kevin, our ichthyologist, picked up a clownfish jar to show the kids, but I was too busy looking around at the other residents.

There were old fish, like this one, which dates back to 1934.  I forgot to write down the name, but Sunny told me this morning that it’s a Gulper fish:


There were flat fish, like this sting ray, whom I could identify without help, thank you:


There were gorgeous blue and silver fish, which didn’t photograph as brilliantly as I’d hoped—this one is a Goby, or so Sunny says:


There were evil-looking fish, like this angler and her parasitic little husband on the tray.  We had quite the discussion about their sex life, in term scientific enough to earn a general audience rating.


There were skeletal fish, too, like this piranha, which had been stripped down by the Museum’s own collection of flesh-eating beetles, that  most of us were glad were housed in another part of the CRC:


And there were brains in boxes.  I didn’t ask why—at that point, my own brain was stuffed so full of fish facts, I had to depend on my kids to carry on as I nodded and snapped pictures (or asked Jane to do it, to cut down on the number of thumbs and blurs).

Fiiiiishhhhh Braaaiiiiins

Luckily, Sunny was on the case.  In fact, you couldn’t take a picture of Kevin without getting a curly-headed, six-year-old pre-ichthyologist somewhere in frame, spouting random  facts about every single fish on the table.


By the end of the tour, I wasn’t sure whether I should research an ichthyology program at a University that offered after-class day care, or send in an application to Junior Jeopardy.  One of the parents suggested we send her on Jeopardy to pay for college.  That works.

Her older sister was the only one who wasn’t impressed:  “She’s getting all this from Octonauts, you know.”

But Jane had her moment, when she asked to see a Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa—which she’d heard about last year while her class was studying the pacific states—and completely stumped Kevin, whose expertise was in colder waters.  He had her repeat it several times, and even called over a colleague, who had heard of the thing, but wasn’t sure where its jar would be at that time of night.

Jane was very proud.

Kevin managed to stump us, though, or at least knock us back, with the ugliest fish we’ve ever seen.  It’s a rock fish—thanks, Sunny—kept in an old-fashioned brain jar, which I thought was fitting, since that’s what the front end looked like to me:

Ugly Fish

The back end of this thing looked a lot like a turkey.  It jiggled when Kevin shook the jar.  UGH.

Ugly Fish Got Back

There was also a blowfish lurking on a shelf, newly returned from a display upstairs. It was puffed up, but did not seem much impressed with us.


The tour was over way too soon, at least for us visitors, though Kevin, who was an engaging tour guide with unlimited patience, seemed to be having a good time, too . . . at least until Sunny’s parting shot:  “Thank you!  When I come back, I’m taking your job!”*

Watson said he seemed more puzzled than insulted, so she could probably risk an internship application in sixteen years time.

After that, we crawled all over the public areas of the museum, looking at a little bit of everything.  Including a saber-toothed deer:

Vampire Deer

Sure, the sign said it was a musk deer, but who are they trying to kid?

Another highlight was the ladies room—no, really—which won an award in 2011.  It was a very nice ladies room, with a special set of low sinks and commodes for the younger visitors and murals on the ceiling so everyone had something lovely to stare at during the process, as it were.  Sunny especially loved the hairdryers hand dryers.

World's Coolest Hand Dryer

Jane found a scientific artist, who asked her if she would like to try her hand at drawing a clam.

She would, for a solid hour.

Jane Draws

After a flashlight journey through the Egyptian tomb, which was amazing for three of us—Sunny wasn’t pleased with the dark, the mummies, or the boys who were more interested in flashlight fun and screaming than history—we wandered through a few more exhibits and called it very sore feet a day about eleven thirty.

We brushed our teeth, changed into our jammies, claimed a patch of carpeted undersea ground in the Cretaceous period, and rolled out our sleeping bags.


It would have been a peaceful spot, if it hadn’t been for the Parasaurolophus, also known as the trumpeting dinosaur, who, as we all known from Dinosaur Train, hooted through his headpiece.

The museum helpfully provided an interactive version, not fifteen feet away from where Sunny and I were trying to sleep.


This thing was irresistible to every single male human who came into the room, and so delighted were they with this example of bioengineering, that they could not stop at one Hroot!if they’d tried.  And you know they didn’t.

Hroot!  Hroot!  Hroot!  Hroot! “Hey, Jamie, come try this!” Hroot!  Hroot!  Hroot!  Hroot!

At one point, an exhausted Sunny rolled over and said, “Mommy?  Why are boys so mean?”

But the lights went out at midnight and—after the requisite screams and flashlight fun—everyone settled in for a comfortable night’s sleep.  Except for me, because I am not built for sleeping on hard floors without more padding than even Mother Nature, a ground pad, and a thick L.L. Bean comforter provided.  Also, Sunny stole all the covers and the pillow within the first ten minutes.

I ended up dozing upright for a few hours, leaning against the wall with Sunny’s head in my lap and the pillow cushioning my back.  It was peaceful . . . but not particularly REMful.

The next morning, after we were all packed and I’d had an early breakfast of Advil, we adopted two dinosaurs, Hot Dog (who is not a Brontosaurus, Mommy,  possibly for the same reason Pluto isn’t a planet anymore)  and Fluffy (who is still a T-Rex, because no one’s would dare mess with those bad boys).  I don’t have photos of them because I was too tired to find the camera.

But as I was paying their nominal adoption fee, I suggested to the staff that renting out air mattresses  would be a great additional fundraiser for the Museum on these overnights—I myself would have paid anything they asked around 2am, and I know we weren’t the only ones who hadn’t bothered to bring ours.

We then headed out for breakfast and an outlet for my phone, which had died around 1:48 am.  Ask me how I know.**

Recharged in more ways than one, we then headed downtown to Water Tower Place.

First stop: the American Girl Store—Sunny, who had never been to this Mecca of Historically Based Consumerism before, had been promised a Christmas doll and I’d also promised Jane that her beloved Penelope could have a good cleaning and de-thatching spa treatment:

Doll Spa

Penelope is in the chair, Jane is sporting the purple pack, Sunny is holding her own mini-me, and that shopping bag is holding more AG stuff than I had originally anticipated, because I am a sucker. 

We also did the LEGO store for Watson, Godiva—to pick up something for my MIL, as a thank you—and Teavana, where I sort of overbought, because tea.

I amLEGOman

My only regret is that I didn’t plan my vacation for the week after this trip, instead of the week before.  And that I hopped on my new exercise bike Sunday morning, thus turning what was left of my lower body into jello-filled manicotti.

Rookie mistake.

Next time—and there will be one—I’ll be ready.

I’ll have a car charger, an air mattress, noise-cancelling headphones, an eye mask . . . and an Out of Order sign for You-Know-Hroot.

Let’s get a group together!  Who’s with me?


*One of the older kids, who lives in Chicago and clearly knew his stuff from sources other than cartoons, was given some information about volunteering at the Museum.  Jane grabbed my arm and said, “MOM.  WE HAVE TO MOVE.”

**As Watson later said, “See?  I knew we should’ve bunked down under the Giant Tree Sloth—there’s an outlet in there.”