Mark and I haven't always had our head screwed on straight, when it comes to priorities (I'm thinking of one incident in particular to share with you as Exhibit A: we'd bought a massive fish aquarium that spanned the length of a wall in our new (to us) house, and then filled it with a bunch of fancy, expensive fish, maxing out our one little baby credit card and we couldn't even afford groceries.
It was so sleek and tacky, with its blue LED lighting and the shiny black pebbles at the bottom, it looked like the backdrop for a budget porn.
This was "back in the day," before we had kids and we made about three dollars too much to qualify for the government cheese line.
We paid more for that damn fish tank than we did for our honeymoon to Mexico, and I am dead serious, y'all.
Once we started having kids, we started reprioritizing - like you do when you become parents.
We made it one of our top family priorities to hold back money each year for a family vacation - even if we had to eat beanie weenies most of the year in order to afford a trip, that’s what we’d do, and because of that, we’ve taken ourselves and the boys to some amazing places.
This past summer we took the trip of a lifetime: a 10-day Mediterranean cruise on the Disney Magic, and ohmygosh - it was everything.
This was an extra special trip in celebration of our oldest son’s high school graduation.
We wanted to do it up big.
Today’s post is the start of a new section I’m adding to the blog so I can share our traveling experiences with you, because I just can’t believe I’m lucky enough to get to see these places, and I’m so mad at myself for not including any of our trips in my blog, yet!
What have I been thinking??
There’s no better trip to start off with than our summer trip from Austin to the Mediterranean.
The reason we chose to do a Disney Cruise around the Mediterranean is because (1) we wanted to do the "something big and special" for our oldest, and he's sort-of a history buff and loves European culture; and (2) - since our boys are an annoying eight and a half years apart - we wanted to make sure there would be parts that would appeal to a 10-year-old, too.
The plan would be to fly from Austin to Barcelona, where we’d stay overnight to acclimate to European time, then jump on our ship - the Disney Magic - and then toodle around the Mediterranean for the next 10 days.
I mean - who does that?
It was so unbelievable, a lot of the sites we saw didn’t even seem real: the Coliseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the ruins of Pompeii… shut up!
I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the very beginning.
A few days before we left, we got an email telling us there was a taxi strike in Spain (apparently this is fairly common), so we would have to book private transportation to the hotel after landing in Barcelona.
A lot of the excursions companies have transfer packages, so it wasn’t that big a deal to set that up, it just cost us about three times what we’d have paid for a taxi. But at least we had it taken care of before we even left Austin, which was a big relief.
Because I wait until the last minute to get my life together, I found myself researching all-the-things about Disney cruises about 48 hours before we left, and - oh, geez, where do I even start?
Let's put it this way: if you plan to take a Disney cruise in the next 18-24 months, start planning now.
There are these people - these insane Disney-Cruise-obsessed people - who (1) only cruise on Disney Cruise lines, even if they don't have kids with them (which I totally get, now that we've done one); (2) they go all out in decorating their stateroom door; and (3) they do these things called "Fish Extenders," which I'll explain in a sec, and it honestly deserves its own dedicated post. I might do that.
In a nutshell, there is a fish-shaped knob next to every stateroom on the ship. Some... person along the way has decided to hang little pockets from their knob (their "Fish") and then other people drop little gifties in your "pocket," which is called the Fish Extender.
But wait - there's more! You don't just drop a gift into any Fish Extender, willy nilly. You get yourself into a Fish Extender group. Then you know who all you're buying for. It's sort-of like a Secret Santa.
The idea is to "give a little something to look forward to" a few days throughout the cruise, and even though I thought, "Isn't waking up on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean a 'little something to look forward to'?" I was so sucked in to diverting my attention from the important, but overwhelming, stuff (packing) to something more fun (crafts!), and I was afraid we'd be missing out on something if we didn't participate, that I couldn't stop myself.
So, on top of my last minute list of toiletries, etc. that I needed to buy for the trip, I'd now added a full Christmas list for three families I'd never met (one of them had so many people, they were in two staterooms).
A few nights before we left, where most people would be doing laundry and starting the process of packing for the two-week trip ahead, I was in the middle of the guest room floor, surrounded by Mickey-shaped everything, various scissors and ribbons and stickers, and then scooping it all up and shoving it into a closet when I'd hear Mark pulling in the driveway after work so he wouldn't see that I was crafting and wrapping little presents for strangers, when I should've been packing, because he would have lost his mind, frustrated that I wasn't getting ready for the trip, without realizing that that's what I was doing.
I knew he'd go bananas when he saw how much extra stuff we'd now have to pack, what with the door decorations, the Fish Extender gifts, and the costumes I decided to bring for Pirate Night.
He doesn't understand me sometimes.
Here's a picture of our front door - to the right of it, you'll see the Fish Extender that I made (by hand, less than 24 hours before take-off thankyouverymuch). You'll also see that gifts have already been placed inside the pockets.
Those gifts were from the Humphries (I said "Humphries" just then with a snarky, "well, excuuuuuuuse me" voice because they tried to ruin my trip.
The rules of being in a Fish Extender group say that you are to deliver one or two - maybe three - things to place inside the Fish Extenders.
But not the Humphries, noooooo (that voice again). They put goodies (plural) in each of our pockets every single day of the trip.
I only had a few treats for them per the instructions, so I got to where I actually dreaded going to our room because I knew there would be gifts in there, serving as a reminder of how amazing the Humphries family was, and how shitty a gift-giver I was).
My family capitalized on this and my oldest even said to me, "Why can't you be more like Mrs. Humphries?" because he wants to be murdered.
I'm not kidding when I tell you that I even bought souvenirs for this family I'd never laid eyes on from the stores on the ship, when I didn't dare buy my own children anything from there because it was so damn expensive, but I didn't want the Humphries to think I was lame.)
Someone please save me from myself.
Here's the scoop on the door decor:
I bought the "chalkboard" pennant banner at Target (they have them at Hobby Lobby and Michaels, too) and then used a chalk marker to hand letter our last name. Then I hot-glued magnets to the backs of clothespins to hold the banner up (you can't use tape on your stateroom door, but they're metal, so you want to use magnets).
For the Mickey heads, I found these free printables, printed them out onto cardstock, cut them out, used scrapbook adhesive to assemble the pieces, then took them to FedEx Office to have them laminated. Then I hot-glued magnets to the backs.
For the graduation cap on one of the Mickey heads, I did a search for "graduation cap" on Canva (it's free!), downloaded the shape I wanted, printed it on cardstock, then cut it out, and glued to the Mickey head.
Here's what I did for our Fish Extender:
I found little cloth bags at Hobby Lobby and hot glued them to a length of black one-inch-wide grosgrain ribbon. From the free printables I shared above, I placed smaller Mickey heads onto a document (you can do it in Photoshop or even in MS Word), downloaded the New Waltograph free font to put our names on each Mickey, then printed the sheet out on white cardstock, cut them out, and glued them to the fronts of the cloth bags.
OR - if I hadn't waited till sundown the night before we left, I would have ordered stuff online. Here are some cute things to check out:
- Gradysmommy has adorable Fish Extenders
- I'm dying over these door magnets!
- These Avery labels are so smart - super cute and saves time. Love.
- You're going to want to do a search on Pinterest for Disney Fish Extender Gifts.
- Here's info on how to join a Fish Extender Group (how you get matched up with the families into smaller groups - so you're only gifting two or three families).