Tag: travel

back again, a cruise, and dizzy

Last year turning into this one has been interesting for me, to say the least. It was sometimes amazingly wonderful, to say the best, and sometimes pretty lousy, to say the worst. I had a re-occurrence of back issues, followed by an amazing Disney cruise, followed by a bizarre (but familiar to me) case of dizzyness I’m still shaking off the dregs of now. So that was ouch, yay, and ugh, for anyone keeping score.

I had back surgery in 2012. It was, well, mostly successful, but not completely so. An oft-repeated mantra I’ve had to accept is that “the purpose of back surgery is not to fix your back, but to make it better than it was”. You rarely fix backs. Sometimes you make them better. Sometimes you don’t even do that. I’ve had a couple of bad back pain incidents since the surgery, and each one scared the bejeezus out of me. This one made it impossible to sit comfortably — that’s not hard on anyone’s life, right? (Anyone else ever have sciatica? Cringe with me now.) Luckily, I found a great new doctor, a physiatrist who helped me get past the pain and back on my feet, with some drugs, some physical therapy, and some patience. I also got a brand-new MRI that at the very least assured me there’s nothing terribly wrong with my back, just the usual bulges and whatnot everyone has — in other words, this time when a doctor looked at my MRI he didn’t say, “Oh dear god this is terrible”, so that was a step in the right direction.

Back pain Public Service Announcement: we were somewhat startled to realize that each time my back has been bad, since the surgery, it’s been the end of November/beginning of December. Like clockwork. My doctor says this is actually quite common — fall, and the change of seasons, is his busiest time. Moral of this story: go south.

As luck would have it, we had plans to go south, to the Caribbean, to be specific, for a wonderful cruise on the Disney Fantasy — back after having a terrific time on our honeymoon. I can’t say enough good things about the Fantasy. The rooms are spacious, the service is impeccable, the fun is everywhere to be had. A short glimpse of our trip:

The warm weather got my back feeling a thousand percent better on just the first day alone. (The jacuzzi helped too.) We had a terrific time.

But… the moment the cruise was over and we got back on land, something I dreaded happened. After the last cruise I found myself stuck with my sea legs. As the days and weeks went by, I still felt like I was on the ship, swaying back and forth, sometimes almost violently. It wasn’t a pleasant rocking. It wasn’t something that went away after a few days. Several different medicines and several different specialist visits later, we learned I had something called Mal de Débarquement syndrome. It’s super rare. It stinks. There’s no treatment. You just have to wait for it to hopefully subside. Luckily, that time, it did, after a miserable month. (Some people have it a lot longer. Like, even for years.)

Why did I cruise again, if this had happened to me before? Eh, I don’t know. I thought I hadn’t taken the right seasickness meds, I thought it was a fluke, I thought it wouldn’t happen again. But I did everything I could, this time, and it didn’t matter. They don’t know what causes this, but it tends to happen to women in their 40s who get migraines (raises hand) more than anyone else, so apparently I’m the poster child for MdDS. And this time it was worse. We came back from the cruise on January 9. This time it took closer to two months for my symptoms to fade, and they were stronger. Two really miserable months, and I didn’t want to talk about it, or the cruise, or anything much else for most of that time.

Today, though, I’m pretty close to being completely better. I feel like I’m just getting off the ship, in more ways than one. My back is in better shape, the world isn’t tilting precariously, and the snow is melting. So, it’s good to be back, finally. Land ho!

the happiest place on earth

PhotoPass_Visiting_Magic_Kingdom_Park_7472505237Last week Dave took me to Disney World for my very first visit. It really is the happiest place on earth, though in full disclosure, it’s also one of the busiest, most hectic and somewhat expensive places out there too. We had a magical time, but Disney World is a marathon of a vacation, and not for the faint of heart.

We took a Disney cruise for our honeymoon and loved it, but the ships are relaxing — there’s a limit of how much running around you can do, that limit being the ship itself. Disney World, on the other hand, is enormous. It’s the size of San Francisco (not quite as fabulous, but it tries). Twice the size of Manhattan. It’s 25,000 acres and 40 square miles. I think we walked all of them in the four days we were there.

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It’ll always look like a giant golf ball to me. I’m surprised Dave didn’t run screaming.

As an aside, we rented a car instead of relying on Disney transportation. This was a last-minute decision based on me coming down with a thankfully-not-appendicitis abdominal infection two weeks before the trip. The Disney transportation system of buses, monorails and ferry boats is impressive, and I think mostly works well. But we weren’t sure I’d be up to waiting even a short amount of time, when I needed to get out of Dodge. I did okay — just one or two rough patches — but better safe than sorry. We still used transport to get to the Magic Kingdom from the parking area, since you have to. Mostly we used the ferry, which is a nice way to float up to the park, Cinderella’s castle looming into view.

PhotoPass_Visiting_Epcot_7465377710Because I’m a geek, I had as good a time planning our vacation as I did going on it. We made our food plans — ADRs, Advanced Dining Reservations — right away, 180 days out. We didn’t get every restaurant we wanted right away, so I spent the next few months stalking out that elusive Be Our Guest dinner and the pre-park opening breakfast at Crystal Palace until we had everything just right. Then at 60 days out you get your FastPass+ selections — we were able to get one for everything we wanted since we’re not big thrill-riders. And then I found a fantastic group on Facebook for people visiting Disney in September. With slightly over 1600 members, the group was an amazing resource for shopping tips (disposable ponchos are at Dollar Tree! The new Disney Vans are out!), advice about getting around the parks, and trading hard-to-get reservations. I bought a pair of Cleo Crocs on a recommendation from the group, and wore them every day of the trip. Walked about 35 miles in those shoes in 4 days, and no blisters, no pain, no problems.

I was proud of how well I did walking. A couple of years ago, after my back surgery, I couldn’t walk around the block without terrible pain for days. But I’ve been swimming and exercising and getting stronger, and I did okay. For me the hard part is standing, not walking. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of standing (in line) at Disney World. I had some bad moments. But I made it!

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The view outside our room at dawn.

The trip was great. We stayed at the Port Orleans – French Quarter resort, which is small, quiet, and quaint. We liked the pool and we liked our room, but we felt a little too “away from it all”. Next time we’ll probably stay at one of the popular Value resorts. You don’t spend that much time in your room regardless, and the resorts all have great pools when you want to take a break and cool off. (I don’t know how people afford the Deluxe resorts, which look awesome — but some of those places are $500 a night. We’re not poor, but sheesh!)

We went to Rope Drop at the Magic Kingdom on our first day. Just before the park opens, the train arrives carrying Mickey and his friends. Along with Disney Cast Members (CMs) they give a welcome show and the park opens. You have to get up really early to get there (it’s crowded) but I’d heard a lot about it and I wanted to see it at least once. I didn’t know that they sing the “Good Morning” song from “Singing in the Rain”. Well, I lost it. My mother used to sing that to wake me up on special days — birthdays, picnics, field trips at school. I was all blubbery. I so wished I could call her at that moment, but it was a happy moment because of it.

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The “Tree of Life” in Animal Kingdom.

We were in the Magic Kingdom every day, but we also visited Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. I loved the Magic Kingdom, of course, but also really enjoyed Hollywood Studios. Toy Story Midway Mania is a blast, and Star Tours more fun than I could have imagined. The safari ride in Animal Kingdom was a lot of fun, as well as the Kali River Rapids ride — we got soaked! I wasn’t a huge fan of Epcot, though Soarin’ alone was worth visiting and I can’t say enough good things about Nine Dragons, a terrific Chinese restaurant in the World Showcase. All in all, I think we used our time really well — all that pre-planning helped. Dave will agree that for a girl on her first visit to Disney, by the time our trip took place I had our four days planned to pretty-near perfection, and we made the most of a short visit.

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It was so humid I was seriously envying that snow cloud.

We purchased the Memory Maker package and got a lot of great pictures. They have PhotoPass photographers throughout the parks and you walk up and have your picture taken. Sometimes there’s a little extra magic in the finished shot. 🙂 You can buy the photos online individually for $15 each, or you can buy the package for $199 ($169 in advance) and get all of them. We ended up with a couple hundred photographs, about 75 of which we definitely would have wanted — so it was worth it.

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Later he kissed my hand and I blushed. I love Sulley.

We met a lot of characters — having my picture taken with Sulley from Monsters, Inc. was a Disney bucket-list item for me.  I have a thing where I don’t really like meeting “face” characters. I mean, the princesses and all. I can’t get over the fact that I’m a grown woman and this is another grown woman pretending to be Sleeping Beauty. But Sulley, Pooh or Donald Duck? That’s totally different.

EPCOT_CHRCON2_7465493566The characters were great on the whole. Minnie and Daisy Duck make kissy noises when they hug you. Buzz challenged Dave and then danced an impromptu rumba with me. Goofy took one look at Dave’s Goofy shirt and then tried to quit work for the day, figuring this guy had his costume on and could take over. A lot of people think Disney’s just for kids, but it’s not true. We’re grown-ups, but we still love Disney, and we still wanted to have fun and goof around. The characters all understood that.

We shopped a lot. A LOT. The beauty of going to Disney with no kids and not being broke is that when you want things you get them, without worrying about whether you should or not. I got a new Pandora bracelet and charms, we cleaned up at Bonjour Village Gifts (for Beauty & the Beast fans) and Dave got very into pin collecting.

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Hidden Mickeys in the fireworks!

All good things come to an end, though. Eventually it was time to leave. In the moment we were so wiped out, we didn’t think we’d mind. But it didn’t take long for Disney Depression to set in. No one takes our Magic Bands as payment. No one’s told me to “Have a Magical Day” all week. And there are no FastPasses for skipping long lines anywhere. It’s sad.

Good thing our next cruise is in 94 days. 🙂


sea ya real soon

I cried when we left for our honeymoon (I hate leaving the cats). I cried when it was over. Apparently, I cry at endings and goodbyes of any kind. And ending our honeymoon was sad, because it was really wonderful.

IMG_0038I’ve never been on a cruise ship of any kind before, or been to the Caribbean, or even been to Florida. This trip would’ve been a big deal for all of those “firsts”, but this was the honeymoon we’d been planning for over a year, cruising on the Disney Fantasy to the Eastern Caribbean islands. Dave and I were so excited. We flew down the day before and stayed at the Hyatt at the Orlando Airport, which is weird but convenient. In the morning we took the Magical Express to the cruise terminal, and soon we were off.

My cousin Lori gave us Bride Minnie and Groom Mickey hats for a shower gift and we wore these on the first day of the cruise… and it felt like EVERYONE on the boat knew us, as a result. People were so nice and congratulated us all week long, and the crew, of course, made sure we got special treatment and enjoyed every minute of our honeymoon. And hey, a couple we met even got engaged on the cruise (congrats, Brittany & Doug!), so there must have been something romantic in the air all around.

DSCN5531Our stateroom was terrific. Pretty roomy for a cruise ship, comfortable, a veranda to look out, and a nice stateroom attendant to tidy everything up twice a day. I didn’t make a bed, do laundry, cook or wash a dish all week. It was so relaxing. And as for the food, the entire week was fine dining every night. Disney does something called rotational dining, so you eat in different onboard restaurants every night, but your servers go with you. Our servers were Sasa and Gede. Dave warned me that by the end of the week you feel sad having to leave them, and he’s right — I got all weepy. They take such good care of you and make it all a little home away from home. I’m never good with hotels — I get creeped out even in nice ones, thinking about all the people who’ve stayed there, some sad and alone, it gets me depressed. But the ship was warm and friendly and just like living in our own little floating neighborhood.

DCL1My favorite restaurant on the Fantasy is “Enchanted Garden”. Ever since we started planning the trip, I wanted to sit in one of the few banquette “teacups” in the front of the room. I assume these are usually reserved for VIPs or concierge-level guests, but Dave had put in a request for one since it was our honeymoon, and Disney accommodated us — so we got to sit in our “teacup” every time we dined there. So nice! I also liked “Royal Court”, and especially because our night there happened to coincide with the ship’s formal night. Any reason to wear my wedding tiara again is much appreciated.

There was a lot to do on the ship. We saw characters — princesses, Donald, Mickey and Woody from Toy Story:

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I hugged him and told him I’d seen all his movies.

We went to a drawing lesson, saw several live shows, went to the movies, watched football in the sports pub. Disney Cruise Line has the only fireworks at sea, and we had a great seat for the show on Pirate Night. Dave rode the Aquaduck:

and we did very little shopping, aside from a souvenir or two, but we had fun window-shopping in the stores. I did break my “no more stuffed animals” rule, but just this once. It was a special occasion, after all.

IMG_1946We spent a lot of time at the pool. The “Quiet Cove” adult pool was always heated and comfortable and never really too crowded; it’s empty in this picture but some days, especially the at-sea ones, were a lot busier, but it was always friendly and fun. I confess I may have enjoyed it more than some for another reason: the center area was 5 feet, 5 inches deep… too much for a lot of folks to linger in, but just fine for 5’10” me. Being tall sometimes helps.

IMG_1955We also very much enjoyed our stop at St. Thomas. We took an excursion on a catamaran sail to the aptly-named Honeymoon Beach on St. John, and it was a lot of fun. The weather was perfect and the sailing was every bit as fun as I hoped it would be. The beach was clean and blue and white. Dave snorkeled and I played in the waves until it was time to sail back to the ship. Beautiful day.

All in all it was everything we could have possibly wished for in a honeymoon. At the end of the week, I was thrilled to be going back home to my kitties, but sadder than I could have imagined to say goodbye to our new floating home. Mickey doesn’t say good-bye, though: he just says “Sea Ya Real Soon”, so that’s how we’ll leave it… until our next cruise, whenever that is. (Next time, Alaska!)