Northern Europe Trip Report: St. Petersburg

Our second port day was in St. Petersburg, Russia! I never thought I’d make it to Russia in my lifetime. Bucket list item for sure.

Tue, June 2
We were in port for about 15 hours and I wanted to make the most of our time so we booked a private guide & driver with SPB Tours. It was definitely a splurge but it was well worth it to do everything on our own time.

Upon arrival in port, we quickly inhaled our breakfast (room service bagels & coffee) and headed over to immigration. We went through relatively quickly and got new stamps in our passports. Woot!

Once outside, we easily found our tour guide V (short for a name I unfortunately can’t remember) and driver Anton. They treated us to a fantastic – but fast-paced – day! Right away they whisked us away for an approximately 45 minute drive to the Peterhof Palace. We got to see some of the residential areas on the way and my first impression was that St. Petersburg is much more European than I imagined. That was quite unexpected.

Here’s Rob at the entrance gates to the Grand Palace and the Upper Gardens. Immediately we saw the grandeur and opulence with all the gold on the exteriors.

The gorgeous exterior of the Grand Palace! Getting through that crowd of people at the entrance doors was insane. We had early entry before general admission and we had to push our way inside because no one wanted to move aside to let us in. UGH. Not to mention that we also had to go through coat check and put on shoe covers to protect the parquet floors.

Sadly, no photos are allowed inside. 🙁

V lead us through the palace and we got to see a variety of rooms (throne room, dining room, sitting room, study, etc) — all of which are incredibly lavish. We spent about an hour admiring the interiors.

Upon exiting the palace, this is the view of the Lower Gardens and the Grand Cascade, which is the iconic ensemble of fountains that runs from the northern facade of the Grand Palace all the way to the canal. It’s spectacular!

That’s us with the Grand Cascade!

The fountains are just gorgeous.
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Northern Europe Trip Report: Tallinn

From Copenhagen, we set sail on the Disney Magic for two weeks. The first week took us to the Baltics where our first port of call was…

Tallinn, Estonia!

Mon, June 1

Our view of the town while eating breakfast on deck 10. So lovely! It was super windy as we sat outside so I figured I should go back to our stateroom and get a jacket and an umbrella just in case. So of course, as soon as we went outside, the sun started to come out and it progressively got warmer as we walked. Grrr. Oh well.

Heading into the cruise, I had limited knowledge of Tallinn outside of what I read in guide books and travel blogs so to make the most of our short time in port, we scheduled a private walking tour scheduled with Andrew of Est Adventures. I love having the freedom to customize our tours and go at our own pace (as long as the price is right, ha). We did the Essential Tallinn tour, which is 3 hours and is spent walking all around the old town — both the upper and lower portions.

Andrew picked us up right at the port and we enjoyed a leisurely walk over to the town. We passed the Linnahall, which is currently a concert & sports venue and formerly hosted Olympics events when Moscow held the 1980 Summer games as Tallinn was the capital of the Estonian SSR at the time.

The edge of Old Town starts at the Fat Margaret Tower, about a ten minute walk from the port. It’s located on Pikk, which is a main arterial through the town.

Along our walk, we saw St. Olaf’s Church

The former KGB headquarters where supposedly they found a mincing machine (!!!) when it was evacuated. The building is being turned into luxury apartments now.

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Northern Europe Trip Report: Copenhagen

It’s been awhile! Life has been a whirlwind lately… Rob started a new job, we “ran” (ok, walked) our first 5k, went on an amazing Northern Europe vacation, headed down to San Diego Comic-Con, among other events.

I always love to re-live our travel so here’s the start to what will likely be a very long and drawn out Northern Europe trip report. We took two back-to-back 7-day cruises on the Disney Magic — the first week took us to the Baltics and the second week to the Norwegian fjords. I’ll start with our day in Copenhagen, which was the starting point for our adventure!

Fri, 5/29
We booked a food tour with Copenhagen Food Tours on our first morning. We did the 4-hour Culinary Experience walking tour and oh man, we ate so much!

We met our guide and the rest of our group at the Torvehallerne Market. We discovered we were the youngest ones on the tour, which pretty much became a pattern throughout our vacation. I guess we have older sensibilities. HA. (As an aside, when we were back in Copenhagen two weeks later after our cruise, we went back to Torvehallerne Market to try the fish & ships at Fiskerikajen on the recommendation of a friend — it’s THE BEST. So so good and compared to everything else in this city, it was a bargain).

We started out at the market with samples of artisan cheese to see if we could taste the difference between the same types of cheese that used ingredients from different areas of Denmark. One was more crumbly and the other was more creamy, which I preferred. I wish I could remember the name of the cheese! It also came with a blue cheese that was way too strong for me and some gooseberry jam to complement. YUM! This was paired with an amazing apple wine that I really liked. I wish we had gone back to get a bottle!

The next tasting was of Danish snack foods. We had crackers (one with preserves, the other with mustard), a piece of licorice (icky – not a licorice fan at all), white chocolate covered licorice (better because the chocolate overpowered the licorice flavor) and a super yummy and not sticky caramel. We washed all of that down with rhubarb juice and a strong shot of schnapps. WOWZERS.

From the market, we walked over to the Copenhagen Botanical Gardens where we took a quick break to relax and enjoy the beautiful (and unusually warm) weather. Here we enjoyed a couple samplings of honey — one grainy and the other more traditional and smooth. Hard to pick a favorite!

Lunch was a sampling of four open-faced sandwiches called smørrebrød, a Danish specialty. They came on rye bread with a variety of toppings — halibut, chicken salad, beef sirloin and cheese. They were AH-MAY-ZING! I loved all of them though my favorites were the halibut and chicken salad for sure.

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Paris Trip Report: Disneyland

Of all ten Disney theme parks I’ve visited so far, Disneyland Paris is the most gorgeous. The park is lush, rich in detail, and is expansive without feeling too big or losing its charm. I’d rank it as my third favorite park behind the original Disneyland in Anaheim and Tokyo DisneySea.

Random note – during the planning of this trip, I read reports online about rude cast members, maintenance problems, and issues with attractions/entertainment closures. I did notice more ride closures than usual (easily attributed to the off-season) and the parks aren’t as immaculate as their American counterparts but the cast members were nothing but friendly. Anyway.

We’re here!

Disneyland Hotel is situated above the entrance turnstiles to the park.

The park’s 20th anniversary was actually in 2012 but they were still celebrating while we visited in 2013.

You can walk down Main Street outdoors as you would normally do but as a compromise due to rainy weather, Main Street was also built with covered walkways known as arcades on either side. You can access all the stores with the advantage of shelter.

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Paris Trip Report: Walt Disney Studios Park

I pretty much spent most of January sick. UGGGHHHH. WHY?! I went to the doctor for antibiotics last week and I think I’m finally on the mend. Just in time for February.

Anyway, I think everyone knows I’m a huge Disney fan. 🙂 Visiting each of the 5 Disney resorts across the globe is on my bucket list and so far I’ve made it to 3 of the 5 (Walt Disney World in 2011, Tokyo Disneyland in 2012 and Disneyland all the time). After our Mediterranean cruise last year, Rob & I flew to Paris and checked off Disneyland Paris. !!! WOOHOO.

We spent 2.5 days at the resort, which was the perfect amount of time. I really wanted to stay at the Disneyland Hotel since it’s located at the entrance to the park but it was ridiculously expensive. So we opted for Sequoia Lodge. It’s a charming hotel that’s inspired by American national parks and I loved it because it reminded me of the Wilderness Lodge, which is where we stayed at Walt Disney World. It made a great home base for us!

The hotel exterior.

We booked a Golden Forest Club room which entitled us to a continental breakfast in the mornings and snacks in the afternoon. Guests visit the Golden Forest Lounge for these perks.

You never know who you’ll see at breakfast!

We loved coming back from a day at parks and hanging out here with snacks and coffee or soda.

It’s an easy 10-15 minute walk from Sequoia Lodge through Disney Village (basically Downtown Disney) over to the entrance to the parks.

There are two theme parks within the Paris resort — Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios Park.

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Mediterranean Trip Report: Disney Magic

I started writing this entry way back during Thanksgiving weekend. ?!? Totally forgot about it in all the craziness of the holidays.

Oh! Before I forget – my blog celebrated it’s 12th birthday on 1/17! WOWOW. Awesomesauce.

So I’ve recapped all the ports we visited while on our Mediterranean cruise and now I thought I should share some thoughts and pics from the time we spent on the ship itself.

Neither Rob nor I had ever been on a cruise before and I have to admit we were a little apprehensive. I mean, what if we hated being stuck on the ship with no other options for food and/or activities? And the recent disasters on the Costa Concordia and the Carnival Triumph were fresh on my mind. But we figured a Mediterranean itinerary would be a good way to get our feet wet since we’d be spending more time on shore and using the ship primarily as a hotel.

We had no reason to worry, though — we had a GREAT time on the cruise! I’m pretty sure we’ll go on another one just as soon as I find an interesting itinerary. 🙂 I’m also convinced that a cruise is a great vacation option for a family with young kids because accommodations and most food and beverages are included and there are tons of activities and kids clubs available on board to keep them busy.

The first sight of the Disney Magic was amazing — I got goose bumps! It’s such a beautiful ship! When our taxi driver asked us where we were going, he said “Mickey?” Haha. Then he even took a photo of the ship for his kids. Love it.

The entire security & check-in process was easy and we even lucked out and got an upgrade to a navigator’s veranda for only $340. Woohoo. When I completed our check in online, I got a port arrival time of 11am which put us in boarding group 4 but by the time we arrived and got through check-in, they were already on boarding group 25+. OOPS. Since we weren’t in a rush we got our picture taken with Minnie and then hopped in line to board.

When you get on the ship, they ask for your family name and announce you as you board. Such a fun, welcoming touch.

Random note since everyone seems to ask — I DEFINITELY felt seasick that first night after we set sail. Like an idiot, I had packed Bonine (motion sickness medicine) but forgot to take it the night before as recommended. The movement really got to me for a few hours making me feel really nauseous and just unbalanced somehow. It completely went away after a good night’s sleep (and a dose of Bonine!). Rob had no issues at all.

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Mediterranean Trip Report: Amalfi Coast

It’s been a really busy few weeks. Immediately after getting back from Turks & Caicos at the end of October, I made two trips up to San Francisco for work. I seriously don’t know how frequent travelers do it. I was tired after three weeks of traveling. Then this past week I got sick with a cold and sore throat. Just what I needed.

And now here we are with the holidays upon us. YIKES! I feel so behind at life.

Ok, continuing on with my Mediterranean trip report. Today I’m covering our day along the Amalfi Coast.

Thursday, September 5

The port was Naples, which is another one with multiple destination options. Some people visit Naples itself, Pompeii, or Capri. Rob & I chose to visit the Amalfi Coast, specifically Positano and Sorrento. We seriously considered Pompeii but I knew it would be way too hot and we’d end up being too tired for that. The Amalfi Coast seemed more scenic and relaxing, which is what we needed at this point in the trip.

We decided to use Rome in Limo again and even went with two of the same people (a hilarious mother/daughter pair) from our Rome excursion. It ended up being just the four of us (we were originally scheduled to have a group of 8 but the others bailed) making it a really intimate day.

Our driver Giovanni picked us up at the port and right away I knew it would be a good day. He was hilarious! He had that really dry, subtle Italian humor. SO GREAT.

Almost immediately after we started our drive, Mount Vesuvius came into view on our left. But the more spectacular vantage point came once we got to the other side of the Gulf of Naples.

This is the view looking towards Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. The island of Capri is just beyond this peninsula.

The stretch of coastline on the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula is the region known as the Amalfi Coast. The roads are winding but the view is so beautiful you don’t even notice.

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Mediterranean Trip Report: Rome

Rob & I just got back from a week-long trip to the island of Providenciales (aka Provo) in the Turks & Caicos Islands along with my brother-in-law and his wife. It was HEAVENLY! I’m one of those people who gets a little stir crazy at the thought of spending hours and hours at the beach but that’s pretty much what we did each day. 🙂 I’ll share some pics whenever I get around to downloading them from the camera.

In the meantime, let’s head back to the Mediterranean — this time to Rome!

Wednesday, September 4

Since we only had one day in port, we knew we wanted to go on a guided excursion to do and see as much as possible. It was my second time in Rome but Rob’s first so of course we wanted to hit the main tourist spots like the Colosseum, Vatican Museum, etc. Thanks to Cruise Critic, we not only discovered Rome in Limo but we also found a couple of other parties to share our tour costs. We had a small group of 8, an air-conditioned van, a driver (Nick) and a private guide for the Vatican Museum (Katarina). It was an awesome experience!

Nick picked us up promptly at 8am at Civitavecchia harbor and kept our van entertained the entire 45 minutes it took to get to central Rome.

Our first stop was the Pantheon.

Rob at the Fontana del Pantheon.

The exterior.

The Pantheon Dome with an opening to the sky.

So much to see inside — paintings, sculptures, the tomb of Raphael.

On the way to our next stop, we drove by the Piazza Colonna.

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Mediterranean Trip Report: Cinque Terre

I celebrated my 34th birthday last Friday. YIKES. It sure sounds old, hehe. I had a great weekend celebrating with good friends & family. 🙂

Rob’s been playing a lot of Grand Theft Auto V lately (ie. monopolizing the TV) so I have time to write the next installment of this report…

Tuesday, September 3
The second port on our cruise was La Spezia, a city and province in northern Italy. At this port, most cruisers head to either Pisa or Florence. Pisa wasn’t that interesting to me (seems like there would be nothing to see there except the tower – please correct me if I’m wrong) and while I would LOVE to visit Florence (I’ve never been), the drive is 2+ hours each way, which I thought was way too long when you’re already dealing with limited port time. Hopefully we’ll be lucky enough to make it to Florence on a land trip someday.

In the end we decided to visit the Cinque Terre, which is a collection of 5 villages located along a rugged coastline of the Italian Riviera. Like Monaco, I originally thought we would explore on our own — I especially wanted to walk along Via Dell’Amore, which is an easy trail between Riomaggiore & Manarola, the first 2 villages, where there are supposed to be beautiful views. But after recent floods, that part of the trail has been closed. I kept checking to see if it opened before our trip but no luck.

The plan was to use the train or water taxis to visit a few of the villages but I got frustrated trying to figure out all the schedules so I finally decided to let Disney hold our hand again and I signed us up for the Cinque Terre Scenic Boat Tour, which was a half day trip — this would end up being the perfect amount of time since we had to rest up for Rome the next day.

The Disney Magic anchored at the port. I adored the ship. It just looks so stately. <3

We met our group bright and early at the Walt Disney Theatre then we were led on to our boat for the day. We found a seat at the top for the best views but also lots of sun and heat!

After leaving La Spezia, we sailed past a beautiful village named Porto Venere.

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Mediterranean Trip Report: Monaco

Happy October everyone! October is my favorite month because of… birthday reasons. Hehe. 😉

Onwards with the trip report!

Monday, September 2

The first port of our Mediterranean cruise was Villefranche, which is a gorgeous village in the Côte d’Azur region of the French Riviera.

At each port, there are so many options and limited time, which is par for the course with a cruise (and is the biggest reason why overall I still prefer land vacations — though I definitely want to cruise again). In Villefranche, we were debating between Nice (to the west) and Monaco (to the east). We decided on the latter. Originally we planned to visit Monaco on our own by taking the train and then getting around to the various sites by a combination of walking or bus. But a few days before our trip, Rob’s foot started acting up (it flares up once in a while making it painful for him to walk on it a lot). So we changed our plans and decided to book an excursion through Disney Cruise LineMonaco, Monte Carlo & Eze. At least this way we’d have transportation everywhere and Rob could take it easy on his foot.

Our first look at the port of Villefranche!

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