Fascinating Madrid, Cordoba & Seville- It’s more than flamenco and Tapas!

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Unexpected treasures beyond food, flamenco and wine await lucky travelers to Central Spain.  Madrid is a rapidly changing modern city where past and present are intertwined in the charming towns of Seville and Cordoba.  You can’t escape this region without being blown away by the history here and how it is still represented today.

 

Arriving in Madrid

When arriving to Spain from abroad, Madrid is a logical choice to begin.  My first stop here was my lovely hotel room at the luxury Villa Magna.  Newly renovated, this location is a shopping paradise with quick access to name brand designer shops.  The spa and gym at this hotel were top notch as well making it a nice choice after a long flight.

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My wonderful little welcome amenity shown below was complete with the Virtuoso logo!  It is always such a treat for our clients to receive a warm welcome in their room. The complimentary benefits they receive as a guest of a Virtuoso agency differ for each hotel.

Villa Magna Virtuoso Guest Benefits:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily complimentary gourmet breakfast for up to two per room
  • Spanish Gourmet Tapas & Wine for two in hotel lounge
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability

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Making the most of our time, a quick city tour and time at the famous Prado museum were in order to view important artwork which told the story of the history that was to unfold over the next several days.

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Art is a fundamental aspect of Spain and you can see it everywhere.  Beautiful sites abound in the city such as the famed Julia sculpture in Madrid square.img_0082

 

Luxury Madrid Hotels & Food

There is no shortage of luxury hotels and gourmet food everywhere in Spain. Another wonderful choice in Madrid is the Gran Melia Palacio De Los Duques.  The beautiful rooms, rooftop pool, central location, private courtyard, and outstanding food make it a perfect choice for families or couples.

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You can upgrade to “Red Level” rooms to receive the perks of this private lounge and patio.

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The food is fabulous at this hotel!  With multiple dining options, you will find gourmet cutting edge cuisine in the hotel, with more options right outside your door!img_0166img_0167

Fascinating Cordoba & Seville

Traveling to Cordoba & Seville is easy when coordinated with via train and private driver.  An early morning train whisked us to Cordoba.

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We began with a tour of the Alcazar (Castle) Gardens. This fortress was built as a medieval alcazar, but later became the primary residence of Isabella I and Ferdinand II of Aragon.

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Following the visit to the Alcazar we enjoyed a divine lunch and a tour at the Virtuoso property, Hotel Hospes Palacio del Bailío.  Built on top of recently discovered Roman ruins that are displayed through a glass floor while you enjoy breakfast in the courtyard, this is truly unique property.

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Perfect for a honeymoon, the picturesque garden and pool are a perfect spot for an afternoon siesta.

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And the piece of resistance was the UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site, La Mezquita, otherwise known as the Great Mosque that was created during the Moorish settlement.  Built in the eighth century, it is a part of this region’s history where the Islamic religion and Christianity changed hands throughout the centuries.

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The entrance is comprised of Islamic architecture but inside you find the most stunning cathedral.  A private guide is a must here to avoid lines and fully understand the history of this region.

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No visit to this region is complete without time in Seville, the crown jewel of Andalucia.  Just 1.5 hours from Cordoba, Seville makes a great base for exploring the region.

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Checking into the Hotel Alfonso XIII, a Virtuoso and Luxury Collection property,our lucky clients receive the following benefits when staying at this property, you are immediately immersed in the historical significance of this area.  A stunning hotel with beautiful rooms and fantastic, this property is a treat.

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After a restful night, it was off to visit The Alcázar of Seville.  This was a royal palace built for the Christian king Peter of Castile. It was built by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville.

A world heritage site, it should not be missed during a trip to Seville.  A visit arranged with a private guide will ensure avoiding long lines and provide the full context of this historical site.

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And our final stop was the Seville Cathedral, so immense that pictures cannot possibly display the massiveness of this Catholic structure.

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After enjoying a dinner of wonderful tapas and a final evening at our beautiful hotel,  we waved goodbye to Seville hoping to return again someday to this magical city.

 

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Sailing Alaska with Mickey

Every year we send many families to Alaska so we decided it was time for our family to take a turn.  There are many factors that go into choosing the right itinerary for an Alaska cruise.  For my family of 5, a combination of the itinerary, WIFI options, and family-friendly activities is why we chose the Disney Wonder 9-night sailing to Alaska from the port of Vancouver.

This is the second year that Disney has offered this 9 night sailing, and this is the only Disney sailing that includes Hubbard Glacier.  Multiple cruise lines offer Hubbard as well as Glacier Bay, so exploring your options for Alaska with a travel advisor is key to making the right choice.

Boarding

Arrival at the port in Vancouver was smooth and we were on board very quickly after our 11:00AM arrival.

Stepping on board, of course, we were greeted by Mickey!

Passengers

Disney has a diverse crowd on board compared to many other Alaskan sailings.  Multi-generational groups were common on this cruise and of course, there were lots of children.  I was however, surprised by the number of adults sailing without children.  Most adults I spoke to were extremely happy with the food and entertainment and were enjoying the adult only venus on board the Wonder.

Itinerary

Our 9-night cruise featured 4 port days at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Icy Strait Point.  In addition, there were 2 scenic cruising days to Hubbard Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord.  Shore excursion choices are very important in Alaska.  Disney offers many excursion options, but we booked our excursions privately through our trusted operator in Alaska.

Our first port was Ketchikan.  We spent our time kayaking and enjoying lunch in the town.  Other popular activities here are hiking, fishing and crab fishing.

This is the beautiful spot we kayaked to.  We were surprised to see jellyfish in the water!img_0880.jpg

After kayaking, we sat inside the boat and were treated to local salmon and hot cocoa.  

Back at the marina, the fishermen were bringing in their catch for the day.  

Our next port was Icy Strait Point.  This was a really nice spot with hiking, fishing, whale watching and more activities.  We chose fishing in the morning and whale watching that afternoon.

I loved the little town of Hoonah down the road with just 800 residents.  This is where our boat departed from and where our fishing captain lives most of the year.  It was interesting to chat with him and hear about how people live in Hoonah.  We learned that medical care is a challenge in these coastal communities and flying to Juneau is often the only choice if you need care beyond a routine doctor visit.

We got one!  This was a particularly slow day for fishing but there were a few fish caught here.  Icy Strait point is known for King Salmon and Halibut fishing.  

The ship looked beautiful from the water.  Searching for whales took some time but we found them!  Alaska has rules on how close you can get to the wildlife so binoculars are definitely recommended.

Next, we were off to Juneau which was our favorite port.  The weather was perfect which is rare in this destination.  Here we chose Helicopter Glacier Landing & Dog Sledding.  This was an amazing experience.  My husband and I loved the helicopter and of course, the kids did too.  There is a perspective from the air that you cannot get from the water.

Other popular activities in Juneau are fishing and whale watching.

Of course, the kids’ favorite experience was holding the puppies!

Skagway was the last port we visited.  It was a freezing cold day and very overcast but we still had a great day.  The other ports were more exciting for us but this town is rich in history.  The most popular activity here is the White Pass railway train.  Zip lining, hiking, scenic boat trips, scenic glacier viewing and flightseeing are also excellent choices for Skagway.

We spent the day traveling by both bus and train into the Yukon area of Canada, famous for the Alaskan gold rush.  Our guide provided expert content about the gold rush and also pointed out the historical buildings in Skagway, as we drove to Caribou Crossing and Carcross Trading Post.  This was a very long drive to this area but Mike made it interesting with his commentary.

On the return trip to Skagway, we boarded the White Pass Railway, which was completed in 1900, and has a narrow gauge track through tunnels and mountains.  The views here are beautiful but can vary greatly depending on the weather.  The train is certainly simple but the host on board did a nice job explaining the scenery as we journeyed back to Skagway.

Scenic Cruising

Hubbard Glacier was our first scenic cruising day.  Disney did a great job creating a festive environment.  Passengers were up top bundled up drinking complimentary hot chocolate and given blankets if needed.  Everyone was excited as we approached the glacier in hopes of seeing a chunk of ice crash into the water.

As we sailed closer, the naturalist onboard explained what we were seeing and pointing out anything she observed that was worth noting.  And finally, we saw a huge crash in the water as the glacier calving began.  This was a “wow” moment for sure!

Warm adult beverages were served on deck as well.  

And finally, our last scenic stop was Tracy Arm Fjord.  On the 9 night itinerary, Disney enters Tracy Arm early, turns the boat around and cruises back out.

It was beautiful to see the ice in the waters but we did not get close to the glacier and it really was a bit of a non-event other than the lovely scenery.  We spoke with guests who had previously sailed on the 7-night sailing who stated that much more time was spent closer to the glacier on that itinerary.  This would make sense since it is the only glacier the ship sails to on the 7-night program.

Sea Days & Entertainment

What did we do while we were at sea?  There is so much to do on board a Disney Cruise no matter where you are sailing.  Of course, there are the typical character greetings and live Disney theater productions.  The kids club, brand new Disney movies, the spa, gym and various activities are all great ways to spend your time.

What stood out most on this cruise were the activities unique to Alaska and the fantastic live entertainment on board.  We spent some days listening to a retired Alaskan park ranger speak about wildlife and glaciers in Alaska.  We also loved the new Frozen production show exclusive to the Wonder.  It’s the perfect tie-in for the chilly environment.

But the adult favorite was the live entertainment.  They had some fantastic musicians performing around the ship and often late night at the Piano Bar.  But best of all was a rare “Stars at Sea” event where Broadway star Kissy Simmons performed an amazing line-up of songs.  I really hope Disney continues to bring these stars on board for special events.  Kissy’s performance was a huge “wow” as it’s rare to hear a Broadway performer in such a small venue.

Me and Donald.  There were characters everywhere including all the most popular princesses and the Marvel characters too.  Below is a sample of just 1 day at Sea to give you an idea of the activities onboard.

Below is the show schedule for the week.  There was a separate movie schedule as well including Disney 3-D features still in theaters such as The Ant-Man and The Wasp and Incredibles 2, both Disney movies of course!  

Disney Cruise Lines is legendary for their “kids club” with 4 different experiences for children depending on age.  The Oceaneer Club & Lab (ages 3-12), Edge (11-14), Vibe (14-17) are all complimentary.  It’s a Small World Nursery cares for the littlest guests ages 6 months – 3 years.  Nursery hours are in high demand so we recommend reserving those hours before you board for best availability.

Each space is themed for the age of the children.  The photos of the Oceaneer Club below are just a few of many geared for children ages 3-12.

The adult pool below was relaxing and warm but the weather was better for the two hot tubs.  The open deck seen above the windows is for the concierge lounge only and made a great viewing area at Hubbard Glacier.  Kids pool featured a waterslide and hot tubs too.  

Cadillac Lounge is a cozy adult only venue onboard the wonder featuring live piano music each evening. A variety of wines and cocktails are offered here for a charge.

Dining

Disney followed their standard rotational dining through 3 themed venues.  If you aren’t familiar with this concept, guests rotate to one of three different dining rooms each night. Your dining team follows you to each location to provide seamless service each evening.

Tiana’s New Orleans themed restaurant, Triton’s Seafood themed dining and Animator’s Palate are the 3 dining venues on the Wonder.  Unique to the Alaskan sailings, the menus featured local fare of salmon and halibut, as well as Pacific Northeastern wine.  We loved how the Alaskan theme was incorporated throughout the sailing.

Each of the 4 Disney ships features Animator’s Palate but the experience is a bit different on each ship.  On the last night, we visited Animator’s and each guest was given a page to draw a character.  You can see below, I chose a “Bear” theme.  

All the sheets are collected and after dinner, the show begins.  TV screens are throughout the dining room and each family sees all of their drawings come to life.  See below my “bear”!

Each dining room has a unique menu which changes during the cruise.  Below is an example of our menu from our final night at Animators.

Tiana’s is another fun dining venue recently added to the Disney Wonder.  We rotated through this restaurant twice and each time enjoyed the live jazz band that played during dinner.

Baked Alaska- the perfect dessert for our cruise!

Also featured on the Wonder is the adult only “Palo” (service charge applies).  We visited twice and enjoyed the view from the top, the excellent service, food, and cocktails. For adults who want a break from the kiddos or just a lovely smaller environment, I highly recommend Palo.  They also have a small private room for small groups.

We always start with the antipasto!

A flat fee of $30 per person includes the menu below.  Wine pairing was an additional $59 per person (as of 7/9/18).

Reflecting on Our Alaska Experience

Overall this experience was better than expected.  I’m glad we chose the 9-night sailing that included Hubbard Glacier because this was a highlight for our family.  Before the cruise, I was skeptical that Disney could provide an authentic Alaskan experience but they really did a great job.  I was also surprised that the Wonder provided a quality experience similar to the newer Disney ships.  We did miss some of the adult venues featured on the Dream and Fantasy but overall it was a great ship and many guests we spoke with actually preferred the Wonder to the larger ships.

Alaska was a fantastic destination.  It’s all about selecting the ship and the excursions that is the right fit for your group of travelers.  Whether it’s a family cruise, a luxury cruise or an expedition sailing you are searching for,  please contact us and we will make sure your Alaskan Cruise is planned perfectly from start to finish!

Click here to view our website and contact us to start planning your cruise.