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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Get on the Bone Marrow Registry - Help a 6 Year Old Boy

A call for potential bone marrow donors - get tested! A Bay Area preschool boy named Kyle is fighting aplastic anemia - his body doesn't produce enough new blood cells. He needs a bone marrow transplant or he could die within 6 months. Because he is half Caucasian, half Chinese, there would be a better likelihood of a match from donors with the same background. You can read more about Kyle's story here and get tested here.  It involves a saliva/cheek swab sample. That's it! For the record, my husband and I are both on the registry. This is an important thing to do.

You can follow Kyle's cause on Facebook and twitter as well.

Free Kindle Book Today

I was just about to put this in a link page to list later, but realized that the book is FREE today. It's written by a family travel blogger colleague, Jessie Voights. As someone who is a big believer that traveling broadening kids' horizons (as well as our own), it looks good. The book is Bringing the World Home: a Resource Guide to Raising Intercultural Kids.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Coming Up: Opening of Stickwork Installation at BADM - free

Go to the Bay Area Discovery Museum to see the cool new willow stickwork installation by artist Patrick Dougherty (and lots of volunteers).

The grand opening is from 2-4 p.m. on Friday, January 27 - and includes free museum admission. The kids can play IN the sculpture - how cool is that? If you miss the grand opening, the sculpture will be around for awhile. It replaces the current Dougherty sculpture, Haywire.

Learn more about Patrick Dougherty and his artwork here. His next projects will be in France, Kentucky, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Australia.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Angry Birds Cake

Want to look like a hero by making an Angry Birds cake for your kid's birthday? Check out the cake my neighbor made:

She made two cakes to make it large enough. The birds are unbaked! She used crushed up Oreos and cream cheese. Her son made them into balls and they were dipped in the (colored) frosting. The eyes? Purchased.

Want to know how to make chocolate words? Melt some chocolate and squeeze it out of a pastry bag (or Ziploc-type bag with a tiny corner cut out of the corner. Write the words on waxed paper and let it dry/cool off.

The platform is made of Twix bars.

The slingshot is a Rice Krispie treat covered in chocolate.

Like this cake? Check out all the cakes on Frisco Kids, including:
-Ben 10 cake
-Castle birthday cake
-Flower cupcakes and pink castle cake
-Easy race track cake

Friday, January 20, 2012

Coming Up: Lunar New Year at Habitot

Habitot in Berkeley is celebrating the lunar new year, with dancers from the Huong Viet community. They'll perform a traditional Lion Dance, to scare away evil spirits and summon luck and fortune. From 11:45-12:15, the dancers will introduce the dance, perform, and let the kids meet the "lion." Bring your camera! In the art studio, kids will decorate dragons and make paper lanterns.

When: January 23 from 9:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m.
Where: Habitot in Berkeley
Cost: free with admission

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Get 'Yer Tickets: Pinkalicious the Musical

Pinkalicious, a gem of a musical, is coming to Berkeley, thanks to the Bay Area Children's Theater. It's about a girl who eats too many pink cupcakes and develops a rare disease turning her pink. She must eat green foods to return to normal. It's based on the Pinkalicious book.

When: opening Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 2 p.m., and playing Saturdays and Sundays at 11 & 2 through March 4.
Where: Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison Street, Berkeley
Tickets: $20/adult, $17/senior, $15/kids, $12/groups

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Coming Up: Amelia Lives - Performance

Learn more about Amelia Earhart with a live performance of Amelia Lives at Hiller Aviation Museum. The show runs this week only! The story is told through stories, quotes, letters and events.

From the producers: Amelia was 39 when she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937, while trying to navigate the globe. The set for Amelia Lives is in the basic shape of an airplane, in which Emily Greco as Amelia moves about and pulls out hidden props to create new environments on stage. She transforms Amelia into a 6-year-old child, a teenager, a young woman, and finally, the pilot on her last flight. This one woman play dresses Emily in period costumes that resemble clothing Amelia wore for her last flight, a checkered shirt and khaki pants. 

What: Amelia Lives
When: Thursday, January 19 and Friday, January 20 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos
Tickets: $15/adult, $11/child (member prices are less). More here.
Doors open at 6 and include museum admission as well.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy MLK Day!

The world is a better place because of Martin Luther King, Jr. Thank you for all  you did and for what you continue to inspire!

If you're looking for MLK activities today, check the Frisco Kids MLK post.

Photo copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Link Love - What I'm reading

Sex, Travel, Writing and Parenting - by Travel Savvy Mom. This is a Q&A with writer and blogger Kayt Sukel (who happens to be a friend and colleague). She wrote this book that's come out to critical acclaim, which is sitting on my nightstand waiting for me to read it (I have two books ahead of it in the queue). The book is called Dirty Minds: How our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationships. She's a science (and travel) writer who has written for the Atlantic Monthly, USA Today, the Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, and many other impressive publications.

The Penis Mom - do I really need to give you more than that to get you to click? I didn't think so.

My annual war on Hanukkah - a very funny take on Hanukkah. Even though it's over.

Over Achieving Elf on the Shelf Mommies - yes, I know the holidays are over. Relive it here. This one made the viral rounds, but it's so funny I thought I'd pass it along in case you missed it. It's by People I Want to Punch in the Throat.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Coming Up: Keller Williams Plays for Kids

If you're a Keller Williams fan, he's coming to the Great American Music Hall on January 21 for a Keller Plays for Kids show. The shows are supposed to be very fun, with balloons and confetti, interactive drum circles and more - and the parents love it too.  

WhenSaturday, January 21 at 2:30
WhereGreat American Music Hall (859 O'Farrell Street, SF)
Tickets: $15 in advance, $18 at the door. 
Who: all ages
More info: 415-885-0750 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Consider becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister

I realize that time is in short supply for those of us with kids, but I want to pass along this message because I think it's important. If it doesn't work for you, please consider forwarding it to someone who can serve as a mentor. There's also donation information at the bottom, if you'd like to support them that way.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area (BBBSBA) is launching an aggressive campaign to recruit 75 new mentors and initiate a new call for donations to support mentoring matches in 2012. The kick-off of the campaign coincides with National Mentoring Month and is designed to immediately begin serving children waiting for mentoring support.


BBBSBA serves children who are at risk -- 85 percent live in low income housing, 21 percent are in foster care   and 19 percent have at least one parent in prison. There are currently 750 at risk children on the BBBSBA waiting list, 80 percent of which are boys. Even with these many wait-listed youth, BBBSBA currently has fewer than 20 volunteers applying to become mentors in cities like Oakland and San Jose.  Wait listed children by county, include:
  • 227 in Alameda
  • 152 in Contra Costa
  • 109 in San Francisco
  • 111 in San Mateo
  • 153 in Santa Clara

BBBSBA’s mentoring services have a measurable impact on at-risk youth.  Recent studies show youths matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister for 18 months or more are:
·         46 percent less likely to begin using drugs
·         50 percent less likely to skip class
·         32 percent less likely to use violence than non-mentored peers

To make a difference, volunteer to be a mentor and support local children who need this funding, please visit then online or  Facebook. You can donate via mobile phone by texting the word “DONATE” to 40579 to make a $5 donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Coming Up: The Sing-Along Muppet Movie

If your kids know Rainbow Connection, you'll want to take them to the Singalong version of the Muppet Movie, at the Retro Dome.

When: Saturday, January 28 at 4 p.m.
Where: Retro Dome in San Jose
Cost: $15

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Coming Up: Very First Concerts (for kids) - FREE

San Francisco Chamber Concerts presents Very First Concerts - a 20 minute (free) concert designed with little ones in mind. Plus, you don't have to sit still. They want you get get up and dance. They're geared toward ages 0-7. One concert coming up at Crowden Music Center in Berkeley (1475 Rose Street):

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 16, 2012

Repeat performances at 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.

Clocks, footsteps, cadences of speech, the rhythms of daily life are all around us. Come explore these and more in a special musical presentation featuring the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra’s own amazing rhythm section, the percussionists.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Coming Up: Education Expo at Hillsdale Mall

Hillsdale Mall is hosting a 2012 Preschool to Prep School Education Expo. It's free, and representatives from various local public and private preschools, elementary and high schools will be on hand to discuss their schools with you.

When: Saturday, January 14 from 11-3
Where: Hillsdale Mall - 60 31st Avenue, San Mateo

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Coming Up: Make it at MOCFA

Make It @ MOCFA in January: solar power fuels art making. Taking inspiration directly from Randy Colosky’s sun-exposed piece, Oxidation and Reduction, as you create one-of-a-kind solar contact prints with photographic paper and objects. Guest artist Stan Peterson and MOCFA educators will assist you in this unique photographic technique. Bring your own objects (leaves, flowers, toys, etc.) or use objects provided by the Museum! 

WhenJanuary 14, 2012 from 2 – 4 pm
Where: MOCFA (51 Yerba Buena Lane, SF)
Who: ages 5+
Cost: Admission of $5 includes all materials.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Coming Up: MLK Day of Service and Events

Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and celebration comes up this weekend. Learn more about his life and how you can teach your kids his values, with resources from the Bay Area Discovery Museum's site. Monday is also a day of service, so do something with your kids to help them give back to the community.

The Yerba Buena area has a lot planned! In addition to museum events, there's a children's reading festival all day Monday, January 16th, a march/parade starting at 11 a.m., and a Mind, Body & Soul Festival. Here's info on the museums:

Museum of the Africa Diaspora (MOAD) has a family day on Saturday, January 15th from noon to 4. You and the kids can create crafts, listen to folktales, do a family history workshop, or participate in the day of service. 

Also get in free to MOAD on Monday, January 16th.

Golden Gate Parks National Conservancy has a day of service - January 16 - in several locations. Bring the kids and come volunteer!

Events (and swimming) at the MLK pool in SF. Events are from 11-1:30, including performances (swimming related) plus choir singing and a philharmonic performance. Then family swim from 1:30-2:30 and free swim from 2:30-4. The MLK Swimming Pool is at 5701 Third Street. Cost is $5/adult, $/kid. Call (415) 822-2807 for more info.

Playland not-at-the-Beach is celebrating MLK's birthday all weekend, January 14-16, with games, special events and even learning - all weekend. Playland not-at-the-Beach is in El Cerrito. Fee applies.

Volunteer in the East Bay Regional Parks as part of the Day of Service.

The Bay Area Discovery Museum has a celebration on Monday, January 17th from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. You can create a self-portrait to add to their Freedom Bus, listen to a special story time, and learn from his quotes, posted around the museum. Their webpage also has ideas on how you can teach MLK's values to your kids.

It's free National Park entrance weekend January 14-16th at 100 National Parks. Get the full list here. If you don't want to go too far, you can try Yosemite, Muir Woods, Pinnacles or San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Coming Up: Jamaroo Kids Open House

If you've been thinking of checking out Jamaroo Kids in SF, now's the time. They have a free open house coming up (by the way, the link points to the new SF location, but the January open house info isn't on there - it's from the October grand opening). Jamaroo Kids offers all kinds of kids' classes, including dance, music, yoga, story time, art, parties enc.

Where: 2001 Pine Street, SF
When: January 13 from 3-6 p.m.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Coming Up: Free film screening of "Including Samuel"

This Sunday, see the film screening of Including Samuel, which chronicles the Habib family's efforts to include their son Samuel in all parts of their lives. Samuel has cerebral palsy. There's a Q&A with Dan Habib, as well.

When: Tuesday, January 10 from 6-9 p.m. Refreshments are at 6, movie starts at 6:30
Where: Bay Theater at Aquarium of the Bay, Pier 39
Cost: Free
Who: open to the public
More info: here
RSVP: here

Friday, January 6, 2012

Hidden Mickeys on the Disney Cruise Ship

This is 3rd in a series of 3 posts about the Disney Wonder Cruise to the Mexican Riviera. Part 1 is an overview. Part 2 is a very in depth review of all aspects of ship life (kids' clubs, food, pools, spa, staterooms, etc.)

While on board the Disney Wonder, we had fun trying to find Hidden Mickeys. I didn't even look to see if there was any mention online until writing this post. Turns out there are a few Hidden Mickeys on the Disney Wonder (we even found 2 official ones, and one posted here - the stained glass). If you're not familiar with Hidden Mickeys, they're mouse shaped ears hidden in the design of things at Disney parks. If nothing else, it kept us entertained as we walked around. 

The gingerbread house up for the holidays was teeming with them.

Lots of Mickeys on the gingerbread house. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Coming Up: Free Museums on Us this weekend

Bank of America's Museums on Us program runs this weekend, giving B of A cardholders (credit or debit) one free admission per card at participating museums. We've used this program and love it! It's this weekend, January 7-8 (some museums are only one day). The website won't let me give you an individual list of cities to click, so just check the main website and look for California in the pull-down menu.

Participating museums in San Francisco:
·         Children's Creativity Museum (formerly Zeum)
·         Chabot Space & Science Center
·         Contemporary Jewish Museum
·         de Young Museum
·         Legion of Honor

Camp Mather Registration Starts Tomorrow

For San Francisco residents - Camp Mather registration begins tomorrow (1/6/12)! Camp Mather is in the High Sierras, and offers family camp that looks so awesome!

You'll need a SF Rec and Park Family Account to register. If you're applied in the last 3 years to Camp Mather, you will already have an account, but just need to renew your proof of residency, which you have to submit by 2/5/12 to apply for the SF resident lottery. Do so by mailing or emailing an Oct/Nov 2011 copy of your home utility bill or a 2011 copy of your secured SF property tax bill to:
Camp Mather Residency Renewal, McLaren Lodge, 501 Stanyan Street, SF 94117 or email, and include your phone number. Residents have to live in or own SF property.

Questions: Contact or call 415-831-2715.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review: Disney Cruise to Mexican Riviera - part 2

As mentioned in the last post, this part 2 in a 3-part series on the Disney Cruise. Read on for very extensive details about the cruise. Part 1 was an overview of the Disney cruise. Part 3 is special Hidden Mickey photos from the Disney cruise. Here I break the cruise into categories. If you've taken a Disney Cruise, please post about your experiences!

Glad we didn't need one of these. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Embarcation – the check-in process was handled well. First timers go in a separate line than “Castaway Cay” members (experienced Disney cruisers). They’ll take your photo and give you a Key to the World card, which is all you need on the ship for just about everything. You go through security and then you can get the perfunctory group photo taken. When you enter the ship, the crew member asks for your family name, and then announces, “WELCOME TO THE (YOUR NAME) FAMILY!” Other cast members are standing on either side clapping and cheering, like paparazzi on the red carpet. We were cracking up. You’ll get approached with foofy alcoholic drinks – these cost money (though a reasonable $7.50). It was much lower pressure than the other cruise we went on!

The Disney Wonder lobby decked out for Christmas. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
First Hours – Since your cabin likely won’t be ready, go for lunch (ask a cast member about options) and look around the ship. The kids’ clubs won’t be open yet (though they have an open house in the late afternoon). As you walk around, they’ll try to upsell you (like on a case of bottled water for your room, or wine packages for meals).

The foghorns blast "when you wish upon a star" - Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Kids Club – Disney has several kids’ clubs which were adorable and well-staffed – and included in the price. It’s very crowded when it opens the first day. Sign them up online to avoid some of the paperwork there. Each kid gets a bracelet with a GPS monitor on it. Don’t lose it or you have to pay them $50. This GPS is swiped every time they go in or out of the room. As for activities, there’s a full list of activities on the Navigator, but there’s always Wii, board games and computer. Plus lots of tournaments, crafts and special activities.

The computer terminals surround the Toy Story characters at the Oceaneer Lab. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
The kids can eat lunch and dinner there (no fee). The two times my son ate there, he said he didn’t get enough to eat, and that the selection was too narrow. However I also heard of counselors bringing pizza in for a kid, so perhaps my son didn’t ask the counselor for more (or different) food. You can elect whether your child can sign him/herself in and out of the club without an adult (and you can change this by the day if you want). And you can specify which adults are allowed to pick the child up (you tell them your “code” word – and they need to swipe their Key to the World card at exit, so the system knows who took them out). The clubs are often open past midnight, so you can catch an adult show or get a drink without worrying about the kids.

The entrance tot he Oceaneer Lab. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Flounder’s Reef Nursery - for kids 3 months to 3 years, the nursery does cost extra (unlike the other kids’ clubs, but it’s a reasonable $6/hour).

The Oceaneer Club  is for kids ages 3-10, and usually open past midnight. My kids are 8 and 10, and we took one look in the club and realized they’d not be stepping foot in it again. It’s very cute, but for the younger set. They have computers, movies, dancing, games, TV, a slide and climbing area. And the princesses visit there.

The Oceaneer Club. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
The Oceaneer Lab  is for kids ages 3-10 (and they can go back and forth between the Club and the Lab – on the same floor). They do science experiments, bake cookies, watch movies, play computer, play games, do art, dance and more. My 8 year old LOVED going to the Lab, and spent a lot of time there. My 10 year old daughter hated it, probably because she didn’t make any friends there. She thought it was too babyish.

The Edge is for kids 11 to 13 (or a month or two shy of 11). They have computers, Wii, karaoke, arts/crafts, pizza making, scavenger hunts and more. If your child is not old enough for the Edge, but is very close (like my daughter) there are some Edge events (‘out and about’) open to them.

The Oceaneer Club stage. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

The Vibe -preteens and teens (14-17). Includes video games, board games, TV, music, dance parties, karaoke. Also know there’s a sports area on the top deck (basketball) with foosball and table tennis. Open noon to 2 a.m.

Teens/Tweens - I'm getting a lot of questions about whether a Disney cruise is appropriate for teens/tweens, or is too babyish. I do think that teens/tweens will love it - if they make friends. We saw a lot of kids in that age range running around in packs on the ship, having a great time. Sure, they won't necessarily want their photos with the princesses, but no one forces them to do this. They have their own hang-out space, can leave the clubs at will, and have the freedom they want. My advice is to get them to the Vibe or the Edge at the beginning, so they can meet friends quickly. 

Communication - Each stateroom comes with two "wave" phones, which is like your personal cell phone for the cruise, so you can call the other people from your room if you're separated, call your stateroom, or call others you're meeting up with on the ship. Oddly, there is only one charger, though. Your wave phone works all over the ship (and on Castaway Cay if touring the Bahamas). It works in short distance of the ship as well.

Entertainment – Every night you get a Navigator (schedule) for the next day, with the entertainment schedules. There is usually one big live show per night (and sometimes in the afternoon). It’s in the Walt Disney Theater, and is a professional quality show. Some involve princesses, some are a little hokey. Some have entertainers brought in, like magicians and comedians, who were terrific (you can see family and adult versions of the show – though even the adult versions are PG rated). The singing and dancing is great, and the production value is huge. This was confirmed by two in our party who work in Hollywood. The staging is amazing. The theater opens 30 minutes prior to seating, and we never had a problem getting seats, even on the busy Thanksgiving week.

The Golden Mickeys show. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Movies – Since Disney owns so many movies, they show first run movies and older movies. We saw the premier of The Muppets  on the same day it opened in all other theaters, along with a prelude by the ship's version of Statler and Waldorf. And then the kids could see it again the next day (for free!). There’s a dedicated movie theater that shows several movies a day, like Disney Nature, African Cats, Toy Story 3, Real Steel, the Help, Cars 2 and Disney classics. They show several movies a day outdoors at one of the pools. And you can see tons of movies on your TV screen in your stateroom (Transformers, Cowboys & Aliens, Pirates of the Caribbean, Judy Moody, the Smurfs, Green Lantern, Harry Potter and more).

Movies by the pool. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Activities – there are tons of classes, games and game shows open to the family. We played a rockin’ game of Family Feud and 80s music trivia, and enjoyed the Generations game. My daughter and I went to the towel folding class (fancy animals, not regular folding), which was really fun, as was the animation class. For a fee, they have alcohol tastings (wine, tequila, etc.) for the adults.

Get ready...for the Family Feud! Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

Characters – you will see characters everywhere – mostly for photos. They list the character appearances on the Navigator, and if you run into one in the hallway (like below), they’ll stop and let you take photos. There are 2 princess events, where 5 princesses come out at the same time. You’ll wait an hour in line one way or the other – get there early, or wait later. It’s a zoo. Mickey and Minnie come out daily in various costumes depending on the day. You can take your own pictures or just let the ship photographers do it.

Someday my prince will come. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
You’re also booked for a character breakfast, which you shouldn’t miss. You’ll get photos with probably 6 characters, and your server will make fun napkin hats for you. You’ll pay upwards of $60/person for this at Disneyland or Disney World. Here it’s included. Bring your camera – they don’t have a ship photographer.

Photos – If you’re the type who likes to get professional photos from cruises, just get the $250 package, which includes a CD of all photos the photographer takes. Then get in every single photo line and go crazy. There are many, many photo opportunities: with characters, with your family on formal night (several settings), with the captain, at meals, at embarkation, on pirate night, at the adult Palo restaurant, etc. They do a very nice job with the photos.

Food – the cruise uses a rotational dining system, where you have a set time (5:45 or 8:15) for dinner, and you switch restaurants (Triton’s, Parrot Cay or Animator’s Palate) every night. Your staff stays the same, however. They also book you an included character breakfast. Otherwise you’re on your own for breakfast and lunch (Triton’s has a la carte (menu) service, and the other restaurants, including Beach Blanket Buffet are buffet).

I thought the food was very good, as was service. You have a waiter and assistant waiter (who is in charge of your drinks). When we arrived for our first dinner, the kids already had cups with their names on them at the table, which impressed us all. After that first meal, we had nonalcoholic drinks brought to us without us even asking (the assistant server took note of what we ordered the first night). You can order wine or cocktails at dinner for a fee. The staff has all kinds of napkin and crayon tricks they’ll do with you for fun, and they paid special attention to the kids, bringing their food out early.

Our awesome waiter Jack. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
The head waiter made himself known, and was delightful. When he found out we liked Indian food, he made sure we got 2 large plates (with rice and naan) every night, following our regular meal. The food was awesome. They can sometimes do Thai food and maybe other cuisines – something worth asking if you’re interested in.

The Indian food we got every night AFTER our regular meal! Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
The buffets had a good variety of food (including Krispy Kremes for breakfast!). You can order room service – a tip is expected. We did this for breakfast one morning when we wanted to disembark early for a shore day.

There are several fast-food places on the 9th deck near all the pools. They’re free (though smoothies and alcoholic drinks are not). Here you’ll also find the ship’s only self-serve soda and coffee area – open 24 hours a day. That’s free too. Goofy’s Galley serves fruit and premade sandwiches. They looked really good. Pluto’s Dog House serves hot dogs, chicken fingers, French fries, and a few other unhealthier options. And the favorite of my son: Pinocchio’s Pizzeria. That was mediocre, but the kids were happy. Also, there are 2 self-serve soft ice cream machines we took advantage of.

The Mickey pool. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Pools – The ship had 3 public pools on the same deck (deck 9), one of them adults-only. Surprisingly there was no lifeguard at any of them. Maybe it’s a liability thing. The pools were pretty small. The Mickey pool was shallow, and had a cute slide my kids thought was too slow. The Wonder is not the same as the Dream, which has the awesome looking tunnel slide you go on with a raft, that goes over the side of the ship. The Goofy pool is deeper, but also small, and has the movie screen. The Goofy pool and adult pool have hot tubs (not hot enough for my liking).

A stateroom with verandah. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Staterooms – We initially booked an inside room, but were able to upgrade closer to cruise time, for a porthole room (no charge), or verandah (balcony room) for $200. It was a no brainer and we got the verandah. The outside rooms are more spacious than the inside rooms (we peeked in – the inside rooms are 184-214 sf). The porthole rooms are also 214, whereas the verandah rooms start at 268 sf. The inside staterooms have one bathroom, where as the others all have a split bathroom (toilet/sink in one, shower/sink in the other). In all, the couch turns into a bed, with a bunk bed coming down from the ceiling. From experience: if your child feels nauseous, have him/her sleep on the bottom bunk. No matter which room you have, there’s a curtain separating the big bed from the bunk beds. We found there was enough drawer and closet space for the 4 of us.  The rooms have a cooler, which is not supposed to be as cold as a mini fridge, but it worked that way for us.

Not a bad view! Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Alcohol – You can bring alcohol on board a Disney cruise. You’re supposed to carry it on. The Disney site doesn’t have a very detailed listing of how much you can bring on. Some sources say 2 bottles an adult. Some say unlimited. You can only drink your own alcohol in your state room, though if you happen to transfer it to a water bottle and pour it into your cup on deck, who would notice? They have a duty free liquor store (and can deliver to your room), and I’d recommend if you’re buying hard alcohol, just do it on the ship. The prices were good – we paid almost the same price for a smaller bottle of rum from Trader Joes than we would have gotten on board. The poured drink prices were also very reasonable – like $7.50 for cocktails and $7-10 for a glass of wine. If you bring your own wine, do bring a wine opener or screw top bottles. You can bring your own wine to dinner for a $20 corkage fee.

My survival kit. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Formal night – For a 7 night cruise, the ship has one formal night, several semi-formal nights and several casual nights. You don’t have to dress up. Some women are in ball gowns, some are in cocktail dresses, some are in pants. Up to you.

Pirate Night – I didn’t expect Pirate Night to be so fun. The servers and characters were all decked out in great costumes. Some guests got decked out as well. At dinner, they gave out Mickey bandanas. That night, they have a pirate party (late) with dancing and music. Deck 10 is less crowded, by the way. If you want to be at the main party on deck 9, get there early. Spoiler alert: during the party, Mickey ziplines down to the stage (I seriously didn’t see that coming – it was as good as Tinkerbell coming from the castle during the park fireworks). Then they have fireworks. Awesome!!! Granted, for Disney, the fireworks are NOT on par with the park shows. They weren’t coordinated to music and there weren’t any special displays. But still, you’re on a cruise ship with your own firework show! Then they have a dessert buffet and a savory buffet (giant turkey leg anyone?).

The Pirate Party. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Dessert Buffet - In addition to the Pirate Night dessert buffet, there's a chocolate buffet toward the end of the cruise. I went to look, not eat. Personally, I think the cruise desserts weren't all that great (especially the chocolate ones), so I saved on a few calories by avoiding some desserts (the pies/tarts and creme brulee was good, however). The chocolate buffet was fun to look at, with some great chocolate sculptures, but few really tempted me. And I do love dessert. They have a chocolate fountain with fruits to dip.

Spa – the Spa has specials on the first day (and specials most other days, especially port days). I recommend touring on the first day. It’s a beautiful spa and gym, which is in the spa area (as is the salon). Don’t let them sell you the exclusive package that allows you to use the sauna/steam/relaxation room 24 hours a day. A member of our group bought the package and said that spa employees never check ID, so anyone can go in there unless it’s really busy. So they paid $200 a couple, for something you can get for free. Everyone in our group (except my hubby and me) got massages, which were quite nice. Highly recommended is the Thai massage and the herbal ball massage, which one member raved about.

One of the spa treatment rooms. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Our family member who used the spa daily said the spa showers are more comfortable (taller) than the cabin showers, but they water down the shampoo. They have lockers there, and you can shower there after the gym as well as spa services.

The gym I INTENDED to use. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Sea Sickness – I’m a barfer, and not so good with boat motion. Fortunately our cruise was smooth until the second to last night. While I felt fine (more on that later), several in our party felt sick. And my son got sick that night. That’s when it’s great to have HOUSEKEEPING! Note – if you get sick on a Disney cruise, don’t call housekeeping – call guest services and tell them someone got sick. They’ll send someone with a hazard bag (no kidding) wearing a hazard space suit and gloves, to take away your puke-filled sheets and towels. They’ll offer to remake the bed (we declined). It was nice to have a verandah for the fresh air (the room stunk). They will give you free medicine (Bonine) – though if you’re already sick, it probably won’t help. They’ll call you the next day to see how you’re doing.

We had to dismantle the dog to clean up the mess. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
I brought Dramamine, Bonine and the prescription “transdermal patch.” The patch lasts for three days and will make you incredibly thirsty (my sister, a nurse, said they use these in the hospital to dry out patients who have too many secretions – you’ve been warned). But I didn’t get sick. If you tend to get sick, take your medication a few hours before getting on the ship, and keep taking it for a day or so after, because you can get effects lasting after the trip. And remember, I’m not a doctor and this doesn’t constitute medical advice.

Internet - they offer several packages of internet service. You pay 75 cents a minute, or $55 for 100 minutes, You can get 250 minutes for $100 or 500 minutes for $150. Use your own computer or use their internet cafĂ©. Internet is slower on board than on land.

Annoying – They make announcements several times a day, mainly about activities listed on your Navigator. These are preceded by the bell that rings in the “when you wish upon a star” sound, which is a song I now HATE. You won’t hear the announcements in the state room (you’ll have to open the door to hear), but you will hear that chime.

Excursions – these were well organized. You get your tickets in your stateroom at boarding, and meet in the spot they say on board. They give you stickers (color and character coded) so they can track you (and you can make sure you’re with the right people), and they lead you out with Mickey shaped paddles. The two excursions we went on were both excellent (snorkeling in Cabo and dolphin adventure in Puerto Vallarta). One advantage to booking with the cruise is that if there’s a problem, you go back to Disney to complain and handle it. You’ll pay more booking excursions with them, but if you’re late and miss the excursion (as some people missed their early dolphin spot in Cabo), you’ll get a full refund. We also found the snorkeling excursion to have excellent service.

When in Cabo, you can find plenty of people at the dock who can take you out in a boat snorkeling. We did try booking some of the dolphin things on our own, but when they found out we were with a cruise, they said we had to book through the cruise.

Ports – We found the excursions desk staff useless when it came to asking about a meeting spot in Puerto Vallarta. Our group was splitting up for the morning but wanted to meet up in town. The excursions staff had absolutely no clue where we could meet up in town, and kept suggesting Starbucks across the busy street from the port. They also couldn’t tell us how much we should pay for a taxi. “It isn’t much,” is just not helpful.

Found a great candy store in Puerto Vallarta. Sugar skulls! Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Disembarcation – this was the worst part of the Disney Cruise experience. The night before you leave, you get luggage tags with a color and character. Not only is that a sign for where you’ll find your luggage later (you leave it in the hall the night before, so they can take it off quickly the next day), but they call you in groups by the tag, to leave the ship. If you have an early flight (they’ll tell you whether you qualify), you leave first. Everyone else eats a sit-down breakfast at a specified time, then tries to find space in a lounge to hang out. This is where the chaos begins. You bring your carry-on luggage with you (which means lots of roller board suitcases in narrow spaces) to breakfast. Then you fight the crowds trying to find an available lounge. Which is supposed to have entertainment, but instead had nothing – not even staff members. In fact, we didn’t see any staff members anywhere (aside from those setting up for lunch, those selling photos, and those swiping your cards as you got off the boat).

When they called our tag, we made our way downstairs to the exit line. Which stretched from midship (where we exited), to the back of the boat in the restaurant. It was crazy and very stressful. Not Disney-like at all. There was no organization in the exit area, with no staff members directing people off the ship. People stopped to take photos by the Christmas trees in the lobby, so the entire line was waiting for them, rather than someone directing traffic. Not a good way to end the cruise.

Future Mexican Riviera Cruises: Disney cancelled four of its December Mexican Riviera 2012 cruises, so it's not yet clear what the 2013 future is for this itinerary.

 All photos are copyrighted and may not be used in any form without written permission from Deborah Abrams Kaplan.