We returned to our cabin last night and found two binder-style journals on the bed, each with a four-color "dossier of clues" workbook entitled Palermo, Italy. The workbooks are set up to include a series of clues to be discovered in chronological order, so that by the end of the cruise the kids have deciphered some sort of secret seal. (Note: Teens received a different age-appropriate version.)
Apparently, I over-prepared for this trip, scouting out and collecting books on Europe, word searches, crossword puzzles, etc. to help pass time in transit. As it turns out, Disney did my homework for me, and for the parents of the 800-plus other children that are on this sailing. (According to the ship's hotel and cruise directors, over 900 kids are expected for the next few sailings; Caribbean sailings typically draw in about 1,100 kids per voyage, with some as high as 1,200 or 1,300).
These 15-page workbooks were the brainchild of Tom Wolber, Disney Cruise Line's Senior Vice President of Operations -- and the father of 8-, 10- and 12-year-olds -- who pushed his team to come up with something to keep kids entertained on long excursions. These activity guides are the result. Inside, they include "Fun Facts" on Palermo, pictures of the country and regional flag, information on when Palermo was built, what the city is known for (wooden puppets), descriptions of popular foods, and tidbits like "Women in Palermo usually don’t wear shorts."
There is also a word search, a maze to find Palermo's Rose, a word scramble, crossword puzzle, I spy, sketch pages, a list of words you should know in Italian and how to pronounce them, and a "Kid Journal" section with questions like: "What was the coolest thing you did today?" and "What are some Italian words you learned today?"
Needless to say, this should make our visit to Palermo more meaningful, and be quite helpful in entertaining the kids on the bus ... at least for the first 20 minutes.
Adults also receive a packet of brochures (one for each destination) that includes a small map marked with the highlights of the port, handy phrases to know in the local language, a brief history of the place, and shopping tips (i.e. that the high-end boutiques can be found on Via Liberta and Via Ruggero VII). Also enjoyable are some Disney-in-Europe "Fun Facts." Did you know that Epcot's Italy pavilion opened in 1982? Or that Mickey Mouse is known as Topolino in Italy?
Palermo is a perfect port for easing into the itinerary -- since the city is close to the port and easy to explore on your own if you choose. We booked a half-day tour, "Palermo with Kids," that thankfully (with Colin still sleeping in) didn't begin until 12:30 p.m. This brings me to an important tip. I've noticed many of the half-day tours (available in many ports) have morning and afternoon versions. Therefore, attempt to request the one that works best for your family, keeping in mind your dinner seating time.
The four-hour excursion for families included a brief narrated citywide tour on the way to the main feature of this excursion, a puppet show with the wooden puppets Palermo is noted for. The bus was quite comfortable, and its enormous windows made it easy to see out even if you draw the short straw and get stuck with an inner seat. We drove past, albeit slowly, many of the city's famous sites like the Piazza Pretoria, and the "Fountain of Shame." The latter has an intriguing back story: It was built in 1555 by a Florentine sculptor for the Viceroy Pedro de Toledo, and its naked statues were considered quite risque at the time. There's more to this story -- but it's near impossible to keep history straight when the kids are saying "I'm hungry ... thirsty ... bored" or "When can we go to the Mickey pool?"
In addition to passing gorgeous historic structures, we saw apartment buildings with decorative tile trim above the balconies; tiny Toyotas we'd never see at home; and Palermo's expensive residential area, home to Frette linen stores, Rolex, and Benetton. I wish I could've stopped the bus and shopped ... but we had a puppet show to get to.
We pull up half an hour or so later to the puppet show at Palazzo Asmundo, and many of the children on the bus are asleep, and hence groggy for our brief tour of the weaponry, helmets and art painted in the ceilings of the building. But this part, however, is really for the parents to appreciate. The children perk up when we enter a room set up for a craft activity. Here each child paints a butterfly (while some paint the tablecloth). Better still is the gelato we all get once the painting is complete and just prior to the start of the puppet show, located below at Puppi's Theatre Company.
This show was quite unlike any we've seen at home. These long wooden puppets come up past an adult knee and are dressed in splendid costumes with ornate shields and swords. Even though the entire production was spoken in Italian, by the end it was easy to figure out that the knights were fighting over something -- over and over again. The repeated battling sounded like a rhythmic drumbeat as their wooden feet hit the stage floor. As you'll see in Cameron's report below, I think he figured out the gist of the story line.
Tonight, my husband Tim and I had the chance to have dinner alone in the adults-only Italian restaurant, Palo. We were able to slip away as the boys both had dinner in the Oceaneer Lab with some of their new friends, then separated into age appropriate activities: Cameron in a gamecube tournament, Colin out for a walk with his fellow 5- to 7-year-olds, and then onto a boys against girls game of coming up with names of things that start with a particular letter. In Palo, sampling two of the 40 wines native to the areas we'll be sailing to, was a relaxing way to kick off the grind of eight ports in eight days.
After dinner we picked up the boys at their respective children's programs and headed home. Cameron and Colin couldn't wait to return to the cabin to see the new workbook on Naples. They’re looking forward to our visit to Pompeii, while Tim and I are longing to lounge along the Amalfi coast.
From Cameron's Journal
A 10-year-old's perspective (excerpted from Cameron's journal, with permission):