When we have a balcony, one thing we love about a cruise is having breakfast out on it as the ship pulls into port. Since we're not hustling off the ship for an early tour like most other mornings (our "Marseilles and the Little Train" excursion doesn't leave until 9:30 a.m.), we sat out on the balcony and sipped coffee and juice as our ship glided into Marseilles.
We only had two tickets for today’s tour though. We’d been waitlisted for two more for several weeks, despite the additional bus Disney added. This popular three-hour tour is said to include a bus ride past some of Marseilles's (France’s second largest city) notable sites, followed by a miniature (tram-like) train ride to the focal point of Marseille, the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica, that sits high up on a hill overlooking the city and harbor below.
Cameron and I headed out to the tour's designated meeting spot and learned there was room for Tim and Colin after all, but when we called to tell them, they passed. They (i.e. Tim) had a fun morning planned on the soccer/basketball court and wanted to "chill" on the ship since we had a big night ahead -- complete with deck party and fireworks. But first, Marseilles.
Our guide was a native Californian who had lived in France for 33 years, and was full of facts and comparisons that even Cameron found interesting. Unlike some of the other guides, this one mixed the history of the land with plenty of tidbits on French children, school and sports.
For example, we learned that school here is divided into seven-week intervals with two weeks off in between each; and while the school day is from 8:30 or 9 a.m. until 5 pm, they have a two-hour lunch break, and no school on Wednesdays. Wednesday is the day for extracurricular activities that are not taught in school -- such as theatre, art and sports.
As we entered the city center, it appeared to be a controlled chaos, similar in some ways to parts of D.C. There are loud construction projects; graffiti; a definite lack of parking (cars, albeit tiny Renaults and Peugeots, are parked right up on the sidewalks); and several beggars hanging around near tourist drop-off areas. We were dropped in the city center for an hour to explore on our own, with directions to the main shopping boulevard and a 1960's-style mall. As we wandered the streets two things were hard to miss -- the sound of jackhammers and the "zzt zzt" of drills, along with the strange scent of exhaust mixed with cigarettes and salted air. It was not a pleasant smell.
Two major streets in the area were partially torn up -- including the shopping boulevard the guide mentioned -- so we ducked into the mall to browse. Cameron politely pondered whether or not he should have stayed back on the ship, since we were, after all, in a mall. He couldn't wait to get on the train, which was unfortunately delayed. It was so delayed in fact, that we took it up the hill to Notre Dame, but could not take it back down as planned because the train needed to get back on schedule for the remainder of the day.
At that point we didn't care. We admired the gigantic statue of the Blessed Mother carrying her son that adorns the top of the basilica, then looked out at what is billed as "one of the most beautiful urban landscapes in France." But what we noticed most was the fog, which bore a striking resemblance to the smog that hovers over Los Angeles. I'd have to come back another day to be sure.
The outing continued to be, well, interesting. Our bus met us up on this hill, perched high above the city, and then proceeded to make its descent along the narrow roads. Garbage trucks cut us off, little cars tried to wedge by the bus, and a young woman decided to park (illegally) on a curb at a tight turning point. Our driver asked her to move (in polite French, I think), and she shook her head firmly, no, collected her things (and her daughter) from the car and just stared him down. No one moved, that is until our driver gave in and made a go of it, just barely. Not once did she make a motion to move her car. Bus drivers should be paid handsomely here -- especially ours. And our guide, bless her heart, said, "Well, here we have a prime example of that independent French spirit I was mentioning."
Cameron whispered to me, "I'm sorry to say this Mom, but this is my least favorite port. I can't wait to get back to the ship." Honestly, I couldn't either. So we didn't take Disney up on the nice arrangements they'd made -- a frequent (free) shuttle service to the ship from City Hall for those who wished to extend their day ashore.
Our advice: Pick a tour that takes you out of the city, like to Aix en Provence, or one of the wine-tasting excursions -- and let the kids stay in the children's programs for a few hours.
The positive side of this day was that it was a short one ashore. We had a leisurely afternoon around the ship and rested up for the evening's entertainment -- Disney Dreams show, followed by the Pirates in the Caribbean Party (a Caribbean cruise highlight that's been kept even for Mediterranean).
Similar to some of the other shows, Disney Dreams is a collection of scenes from Disney's most popular stories. The highlight for the boys was the following story line: Peter Pan visits a girl named Annemarie's dreams and teaches her how to never give up on them. The best part for me was the singer who sang The Circle of Life from the "Lion King." Her voice roared, like Whitney Houston in "The Preacher's Wife," reverberating off the walls and leaving chills on your arms. Quite a nice sendoff for the deck party.
After the show, we, along with several hundred of our fellow passengers, went up on deck in front of the big screen where Disney's entertainment staff led the hustle, hand jive and assorted other dances; that is until Jack Sparrow and his band of pirates arrived on stage with Captain Hook proclaiming to take over the ship (and I think threatening to take off with Minnie too).
But never fear, there was Captain Mickey, zooming along a zipline connected between the two ship's funnels. Mickey dropped right onstage where he fought off the "fearsome" pirates.
Just as an aside, while I know there are fans of the Art of the Galley tour and the Art of the Ship tour, etc., what I want to know is, where is the art of that zip line tour! Shouldn’t be too hard as Mickey had a harness. If other cruise lines can have wave pools and rock climbing walls, surely Disney can give us a little adventure and let me try out that zip line? No?
Sorry for the digression -- back to Mickey. After he rescued his beloved Minnie, along with the rest of us folks, we were treated to a celebration that included a magnificent pirate-themed buffet (think watermelons carved to look like pirates), plus something only Disney can offer at sea: a fireworks show where everyone has a great view from the upper deck as the sky lights up above the Mediterranean.
The festivities ended late, so much so, that the boys asked us to go to bed. Now that's a first, and a good idea too as we have a long day planned in Villefranche tomorrow. That small port village is our jumping-off point for three major Riviera sites: Nice, St. Paul de Vence, and Monaco.
From Cameron's Journal
A 10-year-old's perspective (excerpted from Cameron's journal, with permission):
Images of Marseille courtesy of Christine Koubek