November 12, 2019 Sea Day

Cheese Tasting

Disney Character

Disney Character

Mrs. Incredible

A Toy Story Character

After brunch in the main Triton’s dining room, Sandy and I attended a cooking class with chef Georg Paulussen. Chef Paulussen is now the executive chef at the Disney Polynesian Resort.

The recipe for the day was an Avocado Crab and Lobster Salad. The presentation was of most interest to us. The chef cut the base of an avocado off, and using a spoon, easily removed the pit. Once the pit was removed he stuffed the avocado with the crab and lobster salad before peeling the avocado and rolling it in pistachio nuts. The plate was garnished with an edamame puree and served with tomatoes, thinly sliced cucumbers and fresh edible flowers. We enjoyed a small sampler dish accompanied with a small wine tasting.

Our next stop was a lecture by Captain Ken Puckett on the US Construction of a Canal Across Panama. He showed many photographs about the building of the canal, as well as a couple of videos of ships transiting the canal.

Sandy, Kent and I then attended a cheese seminar in the Animator’s Palate restaurant. There we learned a little about cheddar, muenster, brie and gouda cheeses. Cheese is filled with protein but can also have a lot of calories.

By 1:00pm it was time for lunch in the Cabanas Restaurant on deck nine. This buffet style restaurant offers all sorts of cuisines daily including the popular seafood station where they serve shrimp and crab. They have a large salad bar and a dessert bar, as well as multiple drink stations including complimentary soft drinks.

Later in the afternoon there was a Pixar Pals Party in the lobby. About a dozen Pixar movie characters appeared with the ships singers and dancers accompanying them. They all danced and sang songs with the passengers. Cell phones and cameras were everywhere although I found it difficult to get clear photos with the characters constantly moving.

Next, we stopped into the French Quarter Lounge where The Brace Boys were performing jazz hits. This is the same trio as was performing at Tiana’s Place dining room a couple of nights previously. They were excellent and had a standing room only crowd.

The evening’s entertainment was a ventriloquist by the name of Lynn Trefzger. She had a small boy, a bear and a camel dummy that she worked with. She was very funny and her act was very entertaining.

After Lynn’s show and before dinner we enjoyed a pianist by the name of Bongi Maestro who performs in the Cadillac lounge. On this night he was playing and singing Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles songs. He was very good.

For dinner we were back in Tiana’s Place followed by a late show in the main theater with John Charles. John had performed the evening before using a guitar but for this show he only played Beatles songs that were written to be played on the piano.

November 11, 2019 Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta from the Ship

Puerto Vallarta Beach

Day of the Dead Skeleton

Men Spinning from a Pole on the Beach

View from La Palapa Restaurant

Puerto Vallarta is a Mexican beach resort city and is an international tourist destination. By the 1950’s Puerto Vallarta had begun attracting American writers and artists in search of a retreat from the era of Eisenhower and McCarthy. By 1962 a new airport connected Los Angeles with Puerto Vallarta via a stop in Mazatlán. In 1964 John Huston filmed his movie “The Night of the Iguana” nearby and provided extensive coverage in the US media about the affair of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. This helped put Puerto Vallarta on the map for US tourists.

By 1970 the first harbor was inaugurated making it accessible to cruise ships. Also, in 1970 Richard Nixon met with the Mexican president Gustavo Diaz Ordaz in Puerto Vallarta for treaty negotiations.

The average daily temperature ranges from 70 to 86 degrees with 75% humidity making it a tropical paradise. Today, Puerto Vallarta has become a popular retirement destination for US and Canadian retirees. The population has grown from about 10,000 in the 1950’s to nearly 200,000 today, while the surrounding urban area now totals over 500,000.

For breakfast, Claire, Kent, Sandy and I went to Triton’s restaurant for what they were calling brunch. Brunch meant that you could order breakfast items like the Mickey Mouse shaped waffles or lunch items like sandwiches. While we were there about six staff members came to check on our waiter’s service and the food as Mark had made some comments about the food over the last couple of days. They even had one of the chefs come out and speak with Mark. It was embarrassing how many people came and asked us the same things about the service and the food. I just hope that I have not gotten any of the staff in trouble with my comments about the food and service.

Kent and I took the local city ($1.00 for two) bus from the port into the central district along the Malecon or waterfront. There were still many “Day of the Dead” skeletons along the waterfront set up by local hotels, businesses and organizations. There were also four men doing an unusual performance from a tall pole with four men spinning around the pole on cables as they played the flute.

The weather was very warm and very humid, but along the coast there was a bit of a cool breeze that made it tolerable. We walked south along the waterfront until we reached one of our favorite beach side restaurants called La Palapa Restaurant and Bar. The palapa is a large thatched roof-covered restaurant along the water with many umbrellas, covered tables and chairs out front. We enjoyed the indoor area under the palapa where they have ceiling fans that keep the gentle breeze going. For lunch we enjoyed guacamole and chips, fish tacos on homemade tortillas and a chicken quesadilla. Everything was very tasty and the staff was very attentive.

The evening’s entertainment was titled The Music and Comedy of John Charles. John wandered the audience interacting with the guests about their favorite music. From there he would tell funny antics while he formulated what song he was going to sing. He would then start playing his guitar and singing the song of the guest’s choice. He has a huge range of songs that he knows the words to and has a good voice. He often impersonates the artist, male or female and can sing in a wide range of keys.

For dinner, we were back in the Animator’s Palate Restaurant where the frames on the wall were filled with moving sketches. You can watch the screens as a Disney character is drawn from start to finish. We all had the beef tenderloin which was very good, but the rest of the meal was a bit forgettable.

After dinner we attended a show in the Azure lounge with a comedian by the name of Heath Hyche. Heath is a bit crazy and does a lot of physical comedy running all over the stage, acting out characters and telling stories. Not really my cup of tea but a lot of people in the audience seemed to enjoy him.

November 10, 2019 Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

San Juan del Cabo Mission

San Juan del Cabo Mission Interior

Katarina from the Day of the Dead Festival

San Juan del Cabo Art

Santa’s Winter Wonderland Ball

Santa’s Winter Wonderland Ball

Cabo San Lucas, or Cabo, is a resort city at the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula. The population of Cabo San Lucas is approximately 82,000 although with the adjoining San Jose del Cabo they have a population of over 300,000. Cabo is one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations and is known for its beaches and scuba diving.

Cabo is a fairly new city begun as a fishing village. In 1917, an American company built a floating platform to catch tuna. In 1974 the federal government completed the Mexican Federal Highway 1 and developed infrastructure to turn Cabo into a major tourist center. Today the area sees nearly three million visitors a year.

This was a tender port, meaning that we had to board small tender boats (about 50 passengers) to ferry us from the ship, which was anchored off shore, into the harbor. From the harbor Kent and I took a tour called San Jose City Tour where we were taken in an air-conditioned bus about 30 minutes south from Cabo San Lucas to the town of San Jose del Cabo.

San Jose del Cabo has a new-looking central square with concrete pavers stretching a couple of blocks. Newly planted trees have not yet grown enough to provide much shade but there are many park benches waiting for the shade. There is a bandstand and a stage for regular performances for the locals and visitors alike.
From the square you have a great view of the San Jose Mission Church across the street. The interior of the mission is very plain with minimal ornamentation.

The streets surrounding the main square offer numerous restaurants and many souvenir shops and art galleries. Silver jewelry is very popular as are animal forms covered with small colorful beads. Pottery and wooden bowls can also be found in most shops. The town offers American stores like Costco, Walmart, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, McDonalds and more.

Our tour concluded about 2:00pm and we decided to head back to the ship via tender as it was warm and humid and not much new to see. We have been in Cabo several times previously and have explored many of the local shops.

In the afternoon we watched the film the Lion King in 3D in a theater onboard called the Buena Vista Theater. We had not seen the movie before although we seemed to know most of the music from the movie. It was a very sweet movie even though nature is not the kindest.

The evening’s entertainment was a magician by the name of Eric Jones from Philadelphia. Eric was on America’s Got Talent, has performed with Penn and Teller and others. He does mostly sleight of hand magic using cards, coins and wedding rings. Eric is a talented magician and the audience seemed to enjoy his show.

For dinner we dined in Triton’s Restaurant which has a very traditional classic décor. The meal included French traditional dishes like escargot, shrimp cocktail, French onion soup, roasted leg of lamb, Chateaubriand, Crème Brule and so much more.

After dinner we attended the Santa’s Winter Wonderland Ball with the singers and dancers, Disney Characters and Mr. and Mrs. Claus. They sang a few holiday songs and snow fell from the ceiling of the lobby. It was a festive occasion.

November 9, 2019 Sea Day

Pluto Drawing

Kent, Claire and Sandy at Dinner

Trio at Tiana’s Place Dinner

This was a day at sea as we made our way south towards our first port of call, Cabo San Lucas. We also turned our clocks forward one hour as we are also moving east along the Baja California coastline. As we traveled south the air temperature was rising as well.

The Wonder has a series called the Animator where you can learn to draw different Disney characters. On this day they were showing us how to draw Pluto and so Mark gave it a try. It is done one step at a time starting with a circle and then adding one line at a time. See the results of Mark’s efforts above.

We attended a morning lecture with Captain Ken Puckett who spoke about the history of the years prior to the building of the Panama Canal. Captain Puckett served in the US Navy and the US Army before serving for 16 years as a Senior Panama Canal Pilot. During his career he piloted over 1,440 merchant and military vessels through the Panama Canal, so he is very familiar with its workings. He has quite a sense of humor and will be giving several lectures over the coming week.

There is a Disney Company employee who is the Director of Corporate Communications onboard by the name of Jeffrey Epstein. He gave a presentation about what is happening with Disney. Jeffrey works to provide consistent messaging to the media, employees, and guests. He also oversees the Disney archives, the Disney Fan Club, the D23 Expo, publications, website and social media. Many of the things Jeffrey spoke of were foreign to us as we are not as big Disney fans as many of the guests onboard and knew very little about Disney activities.

There was a Captain’s Welcome Reception in the lobby where they served drinks and had many photographers taking photos of the guests. It was a formal night and many of the guests were dressed beautifully whole others could be found wearing t-shirts and jeans. Many of the guests, particularly the women, wear Minnie Mouse ears and bows on their heads at all times. They come in all colors from black and white plaid to sequin covered and everything in between. Many of the children are dressed in princess dresses and Disney logo clothes are seen everywhere.

Before dinner we attended the Golden Mickeys, a theatrical show featuring songs and vignettes of many Disney musical shows and characters. There is a cast of singers and dancers onboard who performed in the vignettes and many of the most loved Disney characters made appearances, including Mickey.

For dinner, we ate tonight in Tiana’s Place dining room, which is a New Orleans themed restaurant with a small stage to one side. A trio played a variety of music from the south during dinner and Tiana greeted us at the door and came around to each table to meet the guests. The food has a New Orleans theme like spicy crab dip, Louisiana style chicken, etc. We went right to the cabin after dinner to sleep.

November 8, 2019 San Diego, California

Sail-A-Wave Party

Water Slide

Tree Lighting Ceremony

Tree Lighting Ceremony

Gingerbread House

Midday, we boarded the Disney Wonder cruise ship operated by the Disney Cruise Line. The ship with its 11 decks was completed in 1999 and is decorated in the Art Deco style. There are 875 staterooms accommodating 2,400 passengers and has a crew of 950. On this particular re-positioning cruise there are about 1,800 passengers onboard and only about 275 children. On a typical cruise they usually have nearly 1,000 children.

We traveled with our dear friend, Sandy–otherwise known as Ms. P., and her mother, Claire, who lives in Florida. Claire is 92 and just keeps on going. Good for her.

The ship is very nicely appointed and all of the artwork onboard is related to Disney. We explored the ship’s public rooms which are all beautifully decorated. The ship includes many spaces specially designed for children’s activities, including a large water slide on the top deck of the ship.

After our mandatory life-boat drill, there was a festive sail-a-wave party on the upper deck. Most of the guests attended, singing songs, dancing, drinking and enjoying all of the Disney characters who attended.

The evening’s main stage entertainment was a Filipino acapella group of five young men called Filharmonic. They had been semi-finalists in NBC’s hit musical competition called The Sing Off. They also were featured in Pitch Perfect 2 before becoming a viral sensation after their Late, Late Show appearance. They have wonderful voices and blend well together. The sounds they can make come out of their mouths is amazing.

When we arrived, there was a team of people decorating the public spaces for Christmas. They added many artificial trees and garlands as well as fresh red poinsettias. In the lobby there is a very tall Christmas tree next to an almost life-sized gingerbread house. We attended the tree lighting ceremony where Mickey, Minnie and several other characters came to sing carols and light the tree.

Before dinner we enjoyed a drink in French Quarter Lounge where a duo called the NOLA Duo performed. The man played the trumpet, bass and violin while the young woman with a wonderful voice sang a variety of vintage melodies. At different times of the evening they perform different types of music from the blues to the top hits.

For dining, Disney uses a dining rotation between three main restaurants each with a different theme. Our dinner on this night was in the dining room called the Animator’s Palate. The restaurant walls are covered with pencil sketches of Disney characters and stories in black and white. The ceiling has painting palates with colored lights used as the paint colors. The columns in the room are shaped like paint brushes and the walls are covered with framed television screens. Throughout the evening the light colors change around the room and the television screens project altering photos of black and white pencil sketches to full color renderings and photographs of everything Disney. We went to bed shortly after dinner.

August 28, 2019 Munich to San Diego

Our flight home departed Munich at 11:55am bound for San Francisco, arriving about 2:30pm (11.5 hours with the time change). We then had a three-hour layover before catching a flight to San Diego at 5:45pm and arriving about 7:15pm.

It was a great trip filled with new experiences, plenty of food and wine and many memories.

August 27, 2019 Oberbozen to Munich

Elaina, Ralf and Martha from the Hotel Regina

The Dolomites

Memories of Ice Cream

Weinhaus Schneider Restaurant

Weinhaus Schneider Restaurant Interior

Kent’s Cheese Galette

We departed our hotel in Oberbozen at 10:00am bound for the Hilton Hotel at the Munich Airport. The journey took us about five hours with a comfort stop, ice cream and traffic.

After checking into the hotel for a quick freshening up we boarded a train for the 45-minute ride into the center of Munich at the Marienplatz stop. There we had a couple of hours to explore the town before meeting up for dinner.

Kent and I headed out to Maximillian Road to see the Rodeo Drive of Munich. All of the top designers have exclusive shops along this street. The majority of the clientele appeared to either be Asian or Middle Eastern. I suppose these are the people with all of the money to spend.

For dinner, we met up with the group at the Weinhaus Schneider Restaurant. There we started the evening with a glass of a sweet wine followed by endless bottles of red and white wine. Everyone ordered what they wanted from the menu including dishes like pork ribs, veal ribs, fondue dishes and Weiner Schnitzel. For dessert we all had a plate with chocolate cake, apple strudel and large platters of fresh fruit with a chocolate fondue. It was all very good but once again, too much to eat. Our former student, Marc Fritz, was able to join our group for dinner. It was good to see him again before leaving Germany.

As a little thank you gift to our tour leaders Kent and Christine, one of our fellow travelers, Linda White, wrote a song. The tune was to the song Deep in the Heart of Texas and the words are as follows. The whole group got up and did their best to serenade Kent and Christine with it. The dots represented four claps.

We get quite fit
And the schnapps won’t quit ••••
When we’re with Kent and Christine

The cows come home
The beers will foam ••••
When we’re with Kent and Christine

Kent talks a lot
We can believe it. Or not••••
When we’re with Kent and Christine

Just one more mile
And always smile••••
When we’re with Kent and Christine

They’re always there
With lots to share••••
When we’re with Kent and Christine

So here are toasts
To our great hosts••••
We thank you Kent and Christine.

After dinner we all headed back to our hotel via the train for our flights home the following morning.

August 26, 2019

Kent and Mark on the Freud Trail

River through Merano

Mark with Elizabeth

Kent and his Pizza

The Palace Hotel

Merano Architecture

This being our last day in Oberbozen and a free day to explore whatever we wanted on our own. We chose to take the Gondola down to Bolzano where we caught a train back to the town of Merano. We wandered the beautiful old town pedestrian streets with shops and restaurants of all sorts. The river meanders through the center of town with pedestrian and bike paths on both sides. Many hotels, restaurants and gelato shops line the riverfront.

We stopped in at the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, first mentioned in the year 1220 before expanding and taking its final shape in 1465. The architecture of the church is gothic with well-preserved stained-glass windows and a large rose window. Next to the church stands a tall clock tower with a sundial. We also explored a smaller chapel behind the church called St. Barbara’s Chapel.

Across the river from the old town is the Empress Elizabeth Park with a statue of Empress Elizabeth (SiSi) of Austria, Queen of Hungary. It was Elizabeth who made frequent visits to Merano for its wonderful microclimate and waters. She helped turn the town into a popular spa for the aristocracy, which contributed to the growth of the town. The park has a seated, life-size statue of Elizabeth hewn out of Laas marble by sculptor Hermann Klotz in 1903. The Laas marble is very white, is quarried near here and was also used in the rebuilding of the ground zero subway station in New York City.

Kent attempted to sneak into the Palace Hotel to use the rest room, but was quickly asked to leave when they found that he was not a guest. This lovely looking hotel opened in 1906 on what was once the Maur Castle dating back to 1676. The luxury hotel with 100 rooms, including 29 suites, is known for its health and beauty treatments including Detox programs.

We had lunch on the main street in old town at an historic Italian restaurant called the Flora-Trattoria which dates back to the year 1400. We sat outside at a table where we enjoyed eggplant parmigiana, pizza and a fruit smoothie.

By midafternoon we walked back to the train station where we boarded a train back to Bolzano. From Bolzano we took the Gondola back up the mountain to Oberbozen where our hotel is located. There Kent had the afternoon cake and we visited with fellow guests before heading to our room for a rest and packing.

For dinner we had a special awards dinner in a small private dining room in the hotel lobby. Kent and Christine handed out awards (think wine, maps, hats, chocolate) for all types of silly things that have happened during the last couple of weeks. Mark got an award for wearing the best hiking shoes (not) and falling on the trail while Kent got an award for always being fun and pleasant. It was a great dinner with plenty of wine, delicious food and lots of laughs.

August 25, 2019

Park Hotel Holzner

Kent on his way to town

Kitchen Tour

Lichtenstern Ice Cream

Farmhouse Museum

Beekeeping Museum

Bread Made for Winter

This was a fairly quiet day in comparison to some we had in the past couple of weeks. In the morning we had a kitchen tour to see how the chef and his staff prepare the daily breakfast and dinners for thirty guest rooms. He also prepares meals for the staff and the family that run the hotel. The kitchen is a decent size with a large pantry, wine storage area, dishwashing area, walk-in refrigerator and freezers and a large family dining table for the staff. They prepare many things from scratch in the kitchen, e.g., the cakes and strudel and pasta. They also make their own preserves each year and can them.

We walked over near the Gondola to visit a local hotel called the Park Hotel Holzner which has been here since 1908. Four generations of the Holzner family have run the hotel during the past 100 plus years. The hotel is quite beautiful today having obviously been remodeled and expanded over the years. It has tennis courts, indoor/outdoor swimming pool, spa, children’s areas and lush green lawns overlooking the valleys vineyards.

At noon we set out on the train to the town of Klobenstein where we walked through the town to take the Sigmund Freud walking trail. This promenade reminds people of the 150th birthday of Sigmund Freud which was celebrated March 6, 2016. Freud spent his holidays here in the summer of 1911 at the Hotel Post at Collalbo. The trail takes about 90 minutes to walk from one end to the other and has historical markers along the way depicting things about Freud and his time here.

Along the way we stopped at the Hotel Lichtenstern where Kent and Christine treated everyone to beers, water and ice cream. This hotel is known for its variety of home-made ice cream sundaes. Some of the sundaes feature chopped fruit, some chocolate, others warm raspberry sauce and then there was the amaretto laced sundae. Everyone enjoyed the stop.

From there we walked about 20 minutes to a beekeeping museum housed in the historic Plattnerhof Farm. This is one of the Renon’s (a province of South Tyrol) oldest farmhouses dating back to the early 1400’s. Two sisters had owned the home until 1978 and lived there without electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. It was restored in the 1980’s and now houses the region’s largest collection of beekeeping tools and machinery. You can also see some of the furnishings left in the house and how the two women lived, including a straw bed, wood burning stoves for heat and an outhouse built on to the side of the house. The roof is made of eight tons of rye grass woven together. There were several glass sided bee hives where you can see the bees at work.

When we were leaving the beekeeping museum it began to rain so we decided to take the train the remainder of way back to our hotel. Unfortunately, everyone else who was out had the same idea and the trains were completely packed with people. After about a 45-minute wait, we were able to push our way onto a train for the short ride back to the hotel.

August 24, 2019

Local Traditional Dress

Half Lingers Horses

Oompah Band


Earthen Pyramids

Earthen Pyramids

When cattle in the alpine summer grazing pastures are moved to the valley for the fall it is a widely celebrated festival. They say that 2,100 alpine farms are nestled in the Dolomites with 110,000 head of cattle, 70,000 sheep, 5,500 goats and 2,000 horses. This was the day that they celebrate the moving of the cattle.

We left our hotel by taxi and headed for Pemmern where we began a one mile walk up the mountain to a spot where the cattle drive could be seen. Along the way we learned that the locals start out early in the morning walking towards the festivities stopping at local bars for beer. The locals are all dressed in their traditional dresses and lederhosen with plaid shirts. We shared the path with hundreds of locals also making their way up the hillside.

Once we arrived at the festivities, we found an Oompah band playing local tunes and thousands of locals eating sausages and drinking beer. Many had brought blankets and found a spot on the rolling hills to settle in for the morning. The Alpine horn players arrived to play the horns.

Also, of interest were the local cowboys or cattle handlers who carried very long braided whips. They would crack the whips which would make such loud noises you would think that they had caps or some type of explosive in the whips. Some of the cowboys would stand on top of their horses and crack their whips while balancing.

About noon, the cowboys would herd the cattle down the trail past the crowds using the whips to move the cattle. There were also many beautiful horses called Half Lingers that were also being moved. This cattle run and festivities dates back to 1927 and the proceeds of the refreshment stands benefit the Oompah band.

After the cattle were herded past us, they were corralled into a large enclosure where you could wander out and see the horses and cattle up close. Historically this would have been a time when the cattle would have been bought, sold and traded.

We then began our journey back down the hillside to our starting point where there was another festival set up similar to the festival for Assumption Day. There were hundreds of picnic tables and benches where you could order beer, sausage, half chickens, French fries and desserts. Strolling musicians wandered around performing for the crowds. Several vendors had tents set up selling local handmade wood carvings, food items, desserts and more.

Once we had a bite to eat, we headed down the mountain to the town of Klobenstein where we walked about 30-minutes to the town of Longomoso to see the earth pyramids. These pyramids are natural earth formations that are constantly evolving because of constant erosion. The pyramids are created when rain and weather conditions erode the soil around rocks on the surface of the ground over time. The soil continues to erode around the rocks until the rock is standing high above the ground on a thin pyramid. Over time the pyramids continue to grow taller and thinner until the rock on the top finally falls off the top. Once this happens the earth pyramid begins to slowly erode until it is completely dissolved into the soil. It is a very interesting thing to see and there are many places around this area where you can find the earthen pyramids.

We took the train back to Oberbozen. After a rest, we had dinner with our group and retired to our room for the night.