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Archive for September 2014

Travel: Halloween on the High Seas with Disney

We spent an October weekend at Walt Disney World several years ago, and every year around this time  I wish we were back. Fall is a great time to visit Disney World or Disneyland, and it’s especially fun if you are in the park after-hours for Mickey’s Not-so-scary Halloween celebration. 

    So the introduction of Disney Cruise Line’s Halloween on the High Seas was too good to resist and we booked a 3-day cruise over a late-September weekend.

    

    I love nothing better than being on a big ship. It’s the best way to sail away from the stresses of work and everyday life. It’s also the perfect way to enjoy time with the family.

    

    After summer has come and gone, fall is a great time to travel. But finding a good time to get away, especially if you want to gather up far-flung family members for a mini-reunion, can be complicated. Thanksgiving is the busiest travel weekend of the year but flights are expensive and oversold and airports are jammed. The weather can also be a bit tricky. The weeks before and after the Christmas holiday season are filled with parties, recitals, final exams. Airfare and room rates are back up to peak.

 

    Disney Cruise Line’s Halloween on the High Seas is perfect. 

 

    The 3-day itinerary—sailing out on Thursday and returning on Sunday—was ideal for us. Just enough time away without interfering too much in work and school demands.

 

    We met our 19-year-old daughter, a college sophomore who flew in from her campus, in the terminal at Port Canaveral and checked in together. We settled into our balcony stateroom on the Disney Dream and from that point on it was everyone for themselves. (My first act may have been to check on the location and selection of the soft-serve ice-cream machine.)

 

    During the cruise the 19-year-old caught up on her rest and shut out all thoughts of college classes and upcoming exams. My husband and I turned off our phones, got lost in books and soaked up the sunshine knowing the gray Northwest winter is only weeks away. We met each evening for dinner and the evening’s entertainment.

 

    We all had a great time watching tiny princesses in gauzy dresses and tiaras line up to meet their idols, and little boys in pirate gear chase one another around the deck, but what many people still don’t realize is that just because it’s a Disney cruise doesn’t mean it’s all about the kids. 

    Sure there are plenty of ways to amuse any member of the family, with separate hangouts for babies to teens, but thanks to Disney’s attention to detail and famed customer service, there is no better way for adults to cruise. With adults-only decks, restaurants, lounges and events, it’s possible to spend a romantic week at sea on the world’s happiest ship.

 

 

Stateroom re-imagineered

    I wish every cruise line would adopt Disney’s stateroom design philosophy. Their separate shower and toilet compartments are the most practical for families. There is a lavatory in each compartment so while Dad’s in the shower the kids can brush their teeth or Mom can put on her makeup. With foldout bunks, more storage than you could possibly use and a small refrigerator, the staterooms make it easy to spend time together without getting on one another’s nerves.

 

 

Food and Wine

 

    “Hello, I am Corinne from France. I will be your server tonight.” 

Our server’s elegant accent and knowledge of wine and cuisine only added to our date-night in Palo, one of the Disney Dream’s two premium dining options. We watched the sun set while sipping excellent wine and the meal was outstanding. From the antipasti platter prepared by our server to the grand finish, a chocolate soufflé that will live on in my dreams, Palo equaled any fine dining experience on shore.

 

An Island in the Sun

 

    Disney always does it right. The three-night itinerary put us on Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, on Saturday and a fine time was had by all. 

    Clean, uncrowded and stocked with plenty of ways to enjoy the day, Castaway Cay is reason enough to take a Disney cruise any time of year. From biking island trails to the water slide to snorkeling, there’s plenty to do. We opted for the adults-only beach for a quiet day reading and relaxing in the sun. The teenager spent hours snorkeling around the shore observing underwater creatures and spotting shells.

 

 

Pumpkin pleasures

    Halloween on the High Seas offered plenty of seasonal entertainment options. We put on our pirate gear and joined Mickey’s Mousequerade Party and watched spooky movies in the Buena Vista theater.

There are adults-only options, of course, including costume parties and a “Creepy Cabaret.”

 

 

For more information about Halloween on the High Seas cruises go to

disneycruise.com

 

Remembrance: Gold Star Mother’s Day

 

    His story was not uncommon but that only increases its bittersweet quality.

 

    In late September, 1918, just weeks before the end of the Great War that had decimated parts of France and Belgium and effectively destroyed an entire generation of men in Europe, Sergeant Headley Williams, a young man from Lebanon, Missouri, did as he’d been trained.

 

    As a runner in Company C’s 129th machine gun battalion, he carried messages between commanders and artillery, and on September 28, according to the document awarding him the Silver Star, after penetrating enemy lines and securing important messages, Williams was killed by a high-explosive shell in the Argonne woods. 

 

    At that moment, a world away, although she would not know it for some time, Jessie Williams became a Gold Star Mother. The blue star on the banner she would have hung from the window to signify the family had a son in the war, would be covered by a gold star to signify his death. 

 

    Later, she would receive several photos. One showed two simple wood crosses in a muddy field, one of which marked her son’s grave, and another was of a man, by accounts her son’s commanding officer, kneeling before

the two graves. 

 

    Williams, who lived to be 100, was only one of so many mothers who lost a son to a war somewhere in

France.  After the war the families of those who’d died were asked whether they wanted their dead returned or

to be buried in a dedicated American cemetery in Europe. The majority requested the return of their loved ones

but more than 30,000 were left in the land where they fell. 

 

    The world moved on, but something interesting happened. In 1928, a decade after the war’s end, Gold Star

Mothers across the United States organized and became a solid, and in some ways fierce, lobbying group.

They began to demand the government take them to the battlefields where their sons had fallen. The women mobilized and effectively turned what had been such a powerful tool of motivation and domestic propaganda

into a demand: You’ve told us there is no bond like that of a mother and a son, no sacrifice like the loss of a

son, they lobbied. Now, take us over there.

 

     Eventually the U. S. government capitulated and by 1933 more than 6,000 women— Gold Star mothers who

fit the narrowly-defined criteria —were taken to the American cemeteries in Europe on all-expenses-paid

pilgrimages to see the last resting place of their sons.  That was only a fraction of the number who lost sons

(and daughters) to the war, but even the pilgrimages provide a window into American culture at the time.

African American mothers were also eligible but their tours were segregated. The white mothers traveled on

liners, the black mothers on freighters.

 

    At American cemeteries in Europe, comfortable rooms, essentially parlors with comfortable furniture and a

homey decor, were created for the visiting women. In March, when President Barak Obama addressed the press on a trip to Belgium, he did so from the Gold Star room at the WWI Flanders Fields American Cemetery. I stood

in that room a few years ago and found it impossible not to think of the women who’d been there and the war

that had taken their sons.

 

    In 1936, by presidential decree, the last Sunday in September would from that time on be known as Gold Star Mother’s Day. And today is that day.

 

    Of course, the war that was to end all wars didn’t. Each year more women still become Gold Star Mothers because men and women still go into service and lose their lives. But in an age where every day is dedicated to something—Chocolate Chip Cookie day, Pet Your Dog Day, National Coffee Day— Gold Star Mother’s Day gets lost, a forgotten monument to a forgotten war. 

 

    So today, National Strawberry Cream Pie Day, by the way, maybe we should take a minute to think about something that isn’t sweet. About soldiers who went over there, soldiers who still go over there, and mothers (and fathers) who are left with only a golden star.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: 5 tips for hotel freebies

Most hotel rooms come with a few amenities, things like tiny bottles of shampoo, scented soap, a shower cap, a miniature sewing kit and occasionally some fragrant shower gel or body wash. But, because travel always seems to bring unexpected complications, I’ve learned how to make those hotel amenities serve more than one purpose.

 

Here are five ways you can get more out of hotel freebies:

 

Body Wash: Usually more gentle than shampoo, body wash works well for hand-washing clothing when you’re traveling light or discover a stain or spill on your shirt. (Of course, this is for washable fabrics.)

 

Shower cap: The ubiquitous plastic shower cap do more than keep your curls dry in the shower. The thin plastic, edged in elastic, can be a photographer’s friend. I’ve tucked one around my camera while shooting in bad weather. They also come in handy for wrapping leaky bottles, covering muddy shoes and wrapping items you want to protect in your purse or luggage. 

 

Shoe mitt: You can usually find a soft flannel shoe mitt tucked on a shelf in the hotel room closet or wardrobe. The flannel pouches make a good jewelry keeper or a sunglasses case on-the-go. 

 

Stationery. Some luxury hotels still provide stationery, although I’d love to know when the last guest sat down to write an actual letter. But I’ve used a hotel envelope to hold earrings and other small items so they wouldn’t get lost in my purse. The envelope is also handy for organizing all the receipts from your stay. Simply tuck them in and seal.

 

Laundry bag: In a pinch, the disposable plastic laundry bag hanging in the closet is perfect for wrapping a bottle of wine before you tuck it into your suitcase. I’ve also slipped my tall boots into the bag before packing them in my suitcase.

 

Soap: Not too long ago, I dressed for a meeting only to discover my jersey dress and my tights didn’t want to play nice. I was a staticky mess. I hadn’t packed any anti-static spray but I picked up a bar of soap and smoothed it over my tights. Like magic, the dress let go and I was static-free for the rest of the day.

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Portions of this column previously appeared in INB Catalyst Magazine.

 

Travel: History Lives at Belgium’s Menin Gate

When my plane landed in Brussels in the spring of 2012, I was stupid and dazed from lack of sleep. I'd slept only a few hours in the last couple of days, having worked late into the night on Thursday and then pulled an all-nighter on Friday to get everything written and filed before my 6 a.m. departure Saturday morning. 

 

Most people would have buckled up their seat belts and caught up on lost sleep during the long flights, but I have some kind of airplane insomnia. I find it almost impossible to stay asleep on a plane. It didn’t help that we flew over so much unsettled weather (tornadoes across the Midwest) that the flight was too bumpy to rest easy. I was still too keyed up to much more that doze on the international flight, waking at every movement of the passengers around me.

 

A couple of hours after I landed in Belgium on Sunday I took the train to the city of Ieper. I didn’t dare sleep on the train because I was afraid I would not wake up at my stop, so by the time I stepped off at the Ieper station, I was barely functioning. There were no taxis available so I studied the city map and then pulled my rolling suitcase behind me, bumping over cobblestones, as I made my way to the hotel. I slumped over a bowl of soup while I waited for my room to be ready and when I finally unlocked the door, I was finished. 

 

I usually power through the first day in Europe to better adjust to the time change. This time I closed the door, stripped off the clothes I’d been wearing for more than 24-hours, crossed to the bed and collapsed. I didn’t wake up for 6 hours, and when I did, I was famished. Unfortunately, by that time most of the shops and cafes were closed.

 

As I walked up and down the narrow streets near the marketplace looking for a bodega or bistro with late hours, I thought about what drives us to go and see and explore, about what compels us to endure crowded, bumpy flights, grating security annoyances and the harsh physical effects of long-distance travel. But when I turned a corner and caught sight of the Menin Gate I realized, again, that the answer, as is so often the case, was right in front of me.

 

 

The Menin Gate is a massive monument to the more than 90,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who fought in the Great War (World War 1) but whose remains were never found. It sits on the edge of the city center and marks the route to the Belgian Western Front. Still, a century later, buglers from the local fire brigade mark the “last post” in a short but moving ceremony each night. A ceremony only interrupted by the Second World War. 

 

The gate is striking in its simplicity and its size. At night, illuminated by spotlights, especially if it is your first glimpse, the gate is an arresting sight. 

 

I was in Ieper because as the site of unimaginable devastation during the First World War, it is the epicenter of a period of history that illustrates, heartbreakingly so, the flawed and all-too-human story of our human history. It was something I needed to see. 

 

Over the years I’ve had the same experience in so many other places around the world. Travel is exhausting. It eats at our resources and frequently requires us to step off the edge of our comfortable lives. And in that way travel changes us, sculpts us, enriches us in incomparable measures.

 

I guess the truth is we go because there is so much to see. And we don’t want to leave this world without having experienced as much of it as we possibly can. We go because there is nothing as powerful as standing in a place you've only read about before and opening your mind and heart to the lessons of history and time.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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