Adventures by Disney Northern European Cruise (Part 2)

If you missed part one, you might want to go back and read that first.  Or don’t.  This is your world, you do you.

Day 3 – Tallinn, Estonia

Our first day in port!  I have to admit, I knew NOTHING about Estonia, and though I should have done some research beforehand, I didn’t.  So this was definitely an educational stop.

We started out at Kadorig Palace, which was built for Russian Empress Catherine I.  The Estonians were very proud of this.  (We learned later she visited once, was unimpressed by the small palace, and never visited again.  I know I was impressed, but it was only the second palace of my trip.  I would soon understand her feelings.)  It has since been turned into a museum.

Then we met Old Thomas, the guardian of Tallinn.  I have to admit, I thought this would be corny, but it was really fun.  We got to meet some great characters, have some live entertainment, and play a bunch of games.  Honestly, I think it was even more fun without kids in the group, because it meant the adults got to play all the games.

We ate lunch at a local restaurant, and this was likely my least favorite meal.  We had a sausage dish, which was good, but this day was the last blast of the heat wave hitting the area, and the place was unairconditioned, so it was just warm and uncomfortable.  But it was nice to sit and chat with some of our other tour mates.

Finally, we were able to walk through Tallinn on a guided tour, then had time on our own.  It was really impressive to see the old blended with the new, which I know is the norm in Europe, but is still always impressive to someone who lives in a country as young as the U.S.

Day 4 – St. Petersburg, Russia

This was the day that so many of us were looking forward to.  Russia isn’t the easiest place to get to. Plus, if you didn’t have an official tour with Disney Cruise Line or a personally obtained tourist visa (which I heard aren’t the easiest to get, but I can’t personally verify that), you weren’t allowed off the ship.  Russian customs is serious business.

This was also going to be a long day, and I think we were all wondering how it would go.  We met at 7:45, got off the ship pretty much right away, and weren’t going to be back until 9:30 at night.

Our first adventure of the day was customs.  We had been warned and warned again about Russian customs officials.  Don’t smile.  Don’t chat.  Just hand them your paperwork and go through.  They warned us that previous groups had taken up to 90 minutes to get through customs, and there was nothing that could be done to speed it up.  We were basically told that this was the least “Disney” our trip would be.

Somehow, we lucked out. Our group made it through in 15 minutes.  It was amazing.  It was intense – the customs agent just stared at me for what was probably only 20 seconds but felt like forever.  She looked at my passport under various lighting and examined it with a magnifying glass.  Of course, I had nothing to hide (except a terrible passport photo), so it wasn’t too bad.

Our first stop was Peterhof Palace, which was built by Peter the Great.

The whole space was just incredibly ornate, but this was definitely a place where we felt the difference from being in Estonia and being in Russia.  The stares of the people working in the museum were intense.  Of course, we were trying to be as polite as possible, but it was still unnerving.

Peterhof is known for its crazy fountains that start up every day at 11 with a musical show.  The crowd was amazing – tour groups from all around the world.

Of course, we wedged in for some group photos.

Lunch was Beef Stroganoff, which in Russia, is served with potatoes, not noodles.  It was delicious.  We also had borscht, which I wasn’t sure about, but it was the lightest, tastiest vegetable soup.  It was perfect on a chilly, rainy day.  Of course, the meal also included vodka. When in Russia…

Next, we went to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.  This was built by Tsar Alexander III and dedicated to his father, Alexander II, who was murdered on the site in 1881.  It is located right along a canal.  As the story goes, Alexander II was in a carriage along the canal when a grenade was thrown at him. He got out of the carriage and was attacked and collapsed up against the fence along the canal, and died a few hours later.

It seems weird to write that paragraph and then post a smiley photo, but here we are.

To create the church, the canal was narrowed so that the exact spot where Alexander II was attacked could be enclosed within the church.  You can see the old cobblestones and the fence still on the spot.  The church is filled with mosaics and is absolutely gorgeous and really has to be experienced rather than seen in photographs.

This was the only time on our entire trip where we had any rain.  It absolutely poured for a very short period of time.  Then it was done.  We really lucked out with this weather, because this could have been a long and cold day.

Next, it was time for a boat ride through St. Petersburg, where we were treated to some local musical entertainment.  I have to say, even though Russian customs was intense, the people we met in Russia were amazing.  Our tour guides were two lovely young women, and the three musicians on this boat ride were so friendly.  Apparently, the one singer started learning English when Adventures by Disney started hiring them for this tour, as she is so proud to be working with Disney and wants to be able to better talk with the people who are visiting.

We took another snack break that afternoon for blinis and tea.  We had both sweet and savory, and the only way I can describe the savory blinis is to say that one was filled with Bolognese sauce and one was like a crepe egg roll.  Both were delicious.  The sweet one was served with jam.  And I ate it all.

Finally, we were off to the Hermitage museum.  We had been told that we were getting a private tour of the Hermitage, but I didn’t believe it.  The Hermitage is one of those places where you’re usually shoulder to shoulder with people, shuffling your way through.  I figured that maybe the evening hours were just for tour groups and that it would still be crowded, but less crowded.

I was wrong.

When they said private, they meant private.  Only Disney tours were there.  And we only saw people from our ABD tour and the other ABD tour, so maybe a total of 90 people.  It was insane.  Of course, we were still guided through and watched like crazy, but it was insane to get to see so much.  The museum is huge and we only got to see a tiny part of it, but it was still amazing.

This is a peacock clock. That’s one way to wake up.

Because the setting itself was so amazing, it was easy to forget that the museum holds some amazing works of art, including this unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo entitled Crouching Boy. We also saw pieces by Van Gogh, Renoir, Rembrandt, Titian, and so many other renowned artists that you only read about in books.  It was honestly overwhelming to be surrounded by so many beautiful works.

The collection was all started by Catherine the Great in 1764.  She bought entire collections of work from other collectors, so she amassed a huge number of items.  According to one source, Catherine acquired 4,000 paintings from the old masters, 38,000 books, 10,000 engraved gems, 10,000 drawings, 16,000 coins and medals and a natural history collection during her lifetime.   And we got to see a tiny piece of it, which was completely overwhelming.

Finally, it was back to the ship for very late dinner and sleep.

In the next part, I sleep in, and then go to Finland!



Trip Report – Adventures by Disney Magic of Northern Europe Cruise (Part 1)

I am just back from the most amazing trip and it’s going to take me a few days to get out a trip report.  My cousins, my sister, and I went on a 7 night Magic of Northern Europe Disney Cruise with the Adventures By Disney add-on.  We departed from Copenhagen, traveled to Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, and Stockholm before returning to Copenhagen.  It was worth every single penny spent.  I knew the trip would be amazing, because my Disney cruises have been incredible, but I am now officially an Adventures by Disney convert as well and can’t wait to plan my next trip.

I wanted to do a really detailed recap, not only to have somewhere to put all of my memories, but also because when I was looking for reviews of this trip, I struggled to find any.  If you found this site looking for reviews before booking, stop reading now, go book your trip, then come back. I’m that convinced you will love it.

We booked this cruise very early, then decided to add the Adventures by Disney package.  It wasn’t cheap, but after looking at the destinations and the excursion options, we realized that the best way to maximize our experience in these cities was to do ABD.  The day in St. Petersburg alone made it worth it.

I loved the personal touch to Adventures by Disney.  Our group had 43 people in it and two guides.  It was nice to spend the excursions with the same group and get to know some of the other people.  Our guides were phenomenal, and each day we were joined by local experts.  An extra perk was that the two guides carried around cameras and took all sorts of photos, posed family photos and group shots as well as candids.  There were literally hundreds of photos to go through when I got home, and lots of incredible shots of us in front of some phenomenal landmarks.  It wasn’t something I considered when booking but the added value is honestly priceless.

Plus with Adventures by Disney, you get a pin of the day.  Who doesn’t want that?

Getting to Copenhagen

I’m very lucky that I live in a major metropolitan area, so I could get a direct flight from DC to Copenhagen.  Not surprisingly, with four of us traveling from four different cities, there were some flight issues.  My cousin Liz and I made it on time.  My sister Caitlin was about half a day delayed, but her luggage went on an adventure and just barely made it to the ship (talk about stressful).  My cousin Annie’s flight was cancelled and she arrived a day late, but in plenty of time to get on the ship.

My flight left at 5pm.  It’s an 8 hour flight.  Copenhagen is 6 hours later than DC, so not an insignificant time difference.  Of course, that meant that I arrived at 7am Copenhagen time, and my brain thought it was 1am.  While an 8 hour flight should mean a decent amount of sleep, trying to fall asleep at 5pm just wasn’t going to happen.  I may have gotten 2-3 hours of interrupted sleep.  Nevermind that, I was on vacation!

Day in Copenhagen, Denmark

Liz arrived the day before me, so when I got to the hotel, she already had a room.  This was huge, as it meant I could just drop my bags with her, change and get cleaned up from the flight.  She and I then went on an excursion through the city.

Copenhagen had a lot of options for “hop on, hop off” bus tours, but since we knew we would be doing a lot of city tours, we decided to just explore.  We ended up walking to Christensborg Palace to explore.  Christensborg isn’t only a palace, it’s also the seat of Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court.  Being used to US security, I was amazed at how easy it was to walk around.

Oh, you know, just some royal thrones.

I was super impressed by the ruins found below the castle.  They date back to the 1100’s!  It’s pretty impressive how many times this castle was destroyed (often by fire – this place seems cursed) and rebuilt.

This very old tile has cat footprints on it, proving that cats have been jerks for centuries

For dinner, we grabbed something near Tivoli Gardens and waited for Caitlin to arrive.  Which she did, sans luggage.  But all was not lost.

Day 1 – Welcome Onboard!

First thing Thursday morning, Caitlin went back to the airport and procured her suitcase, which had gone on a grand adventure without her.  This was a huge sense of relief for everyone.  My cousin Annie had made all of her connections and was taking a shuttle straight from the airport to the port, so Liz, Caitlin, and I boarded a bus to head to the Disney Magic.

Since we were doing Adventures by Disney, we had to do the normal cruiseline check-in, then check-in at the Adventures by Disney desk, where we met our guides for the trip, Pamm and James.  They double-checked any food allergies and for the days that we would be eating in the various countries, asked us our meal preferences.  Basically, in each country, we got the local option or a chicken dish.  While I went for the traditional dish in each place, it was nice to have the option.

We also got our first pin of the day for the trip!  This was a surprise to me and I was really excited to learn that Adventures By Disney trips include pins of the day.

Yes, I am that tired.

We boarded the ship, grabbed lunch, Annie arrived, and the fabulous foursome were off!

At dinner that night, we met our table mates, who were also on the Adventures by Disney tour.  We actually came to learn that we were surrounded by people on our tour.  In this instance, it was a good thing, because we came to know each other and enjoy each others’ company, but I can see where this might grate on people if they’re stuck with people they don’t like (though for dinners on the ship, the cruise line staff will move you if you’re unhappy with the people you’re sitting with).

Day 2 – Day at Sea

Struggling with jet lag, we dragged ourselves out of bed for a 10am meet and greet with our Adventure Guides and group.  We got to meet the other people on our tour and learned a bit about how the days would work.  There were two ABD groups on the ship – we were the “adult” group, ages 18-82.  The other group had the kids.  I’m not against a trip with kids, but I did like that they split things up for this trip.  It also meant that we adults got to do more of the fun kid things!

That afternoon, we went to see Christopher Robin (adorable) and spent some time exploring the ship (and the food) and went to see the evening show.

I also went to the gym, which was ambitious. But did help with the jet lag.

To be continued in the next post, where we arrive in Estonia!

Post-Vacation Link Love

I am back from an AMAZING vacation and still recovering, going through a myriad of photos, and working on a super long trip recap, mostly for me, but I’m going to share it with you as well.

But while I’m working on that, I thought I would bring you some links I’ve saved over the past few months.  I always intend to post these monthly, then never do. So as you can see, some of these are much older than others.


Training & Racing

Writing and the Internet


Fun Things

Useful Things

Mid-Year Goals Check-In

So even though it’s well past mid-year, I thought I would go back and look at the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t given them any thought.  Which is not how goals are supposed to work.  You’re supposed to set them and then work towards meeting them, not ignore them and hope things go okay.  However, 2018 went completely off the rails for me so it’s no surprise I wasn’t focused on my initial goals.

Finish my 70.3

Well, this clearly didn’t happen.  I didn’t even start the 70.3 or really get heavily into training for it once my labral tear was diagnosed.  And while not being able to race was a disappointment, I still consider 70.3 Chattanooga a huge win.  I got to cheer on so many of my Coeur teammates and sherpa for them at the race.  I had so much fun, and it was absolutely worth being there.  I worried I would be disappointed that I wasn’t racing, but instead I was just glad to be there, and feeling lucky that I would be able to race later.

Get Healthy

This was focusing on my lingering injuries, and I definitely am doing well on this one.  Labral tear diagnosed and causing way less pain.  Ovarian cyst diagnosed and removed.  My labral tear will never be healed, but the strength work I’ve been doing to support my hip is doing wonders.  I have to keep up the strength work but all in all, I’m really happy with how this goal is going.


Well, I’m still working to clean up my diet.  Surgery kind of threw me for a loop, to be honest.  Because I wasn’t hungry post-surgery, I kind of let myself eat whatever I wanted, because I just wasn’t eating much.  That wasn’t a trend I should have started.  I’m doing better, but my diet is still way too sugar heavy.  I crave it when things get stressful, and I need to learn to conquer those cravings.


You know what isn’t good for a budget?  Medical expenses.  With surgery and scans on my hip and physical therapy, I have spent thousands of dollars on medical expenses.  And I am lucky to have amazing insurance.  Also, my air conditioner died and had to be replaced.  So my budget is definitely hurting right now and I need to keep tightening the purse strings.  (Which should be very easy since I’m headed on vacation this month.)  I’m not digging myself into debt or anything, but I would like to beef up my savings and start putting away money for some big projects I want to do on my house.  (Fun projects, not things like getting a new air conditioner – which was, of course, worth every penny.)

So the goals this year have been pretty hit or miss, but there are five months left in the year for me to get things into shape.  I already have a plan to straighten out my budget, and I think more meal planning will help my diet as well as my budget.  And of course, I am going to keep doing my PT work and continue to slowly get back into shape.

July Mileage Update

July.  It’s the month I’ve been aiming for since my hip injury was diagnosed.  And all the recovery time was totally worth it.  I’m still far from being back to full form, but I’m getting to race and workout without pain, and it’s been amazing.

July Totals
Swim – 8 miles
Bike – 163 miles
Run – 27 miles

Lower numbers than June, which is to be expected, with a post-race recovery week in there.  Near the end of the month, I also did something that sent my back muscles into spasm and two weeks later, I’m still feeling a bit of tightness in that spot.  Because of that, I took a few days off and even still am cutting my swims short.  Getting old, man.  It’s a beast.

Still, I’m really pleased with the direction I’m going.  I do have to start picking up my running if I want to be able to do the Army Ten Miler in October, but I’m not too worried about it.  I’ll get there.  My only goal is to beat the time cutoffs, and I should be okay there.

2018 Totals
Swim – 37.4 miles
Bike – 1137 miles
Run – 70 miles