Answering Difficult Questions from Our Child

September 12th, 2011

For several years now, part of my 7-year-old son’s bedtime ritual has been to mark off the day on a calendar that he keeps in the room.  The calendar lists many holidays and he often will ask my wife and me to explain what they are.  I am writing this post on September 12, 2011 and last night he asked us to explain what "Patriot Day" was.

My wife and I had both paid attention to our share of remembrances, but we hadn’t openly discussed the anniversary around our son.  We also hadn’t had the TV or commercial radio on all day (which is actually pretty normal for a weekend day), so he hadn’t heard or seen any of the coverage either.  The events of September 11, 2001 aren’t currently covered in school for his age group and we hadn’t had previous occasion to discuss them with him, so this was the first time we needed to address the issue. 

I know that we probably could have largely avoided the issue by giving a simplistic answer, such as "It is a day where we recognize American heroes" or something similar to that.  That type of evasive answer somehow felt dishonest, though, so we instead did our best to provide a child-friendly explanation of events that still feel almost entirely inexplicable even to my grown-up mind.  During the conversation, he frequently asked us variations on the question "why?"  We did our best to explain that there really isn’t a good answer to that question.

We weren’t blindsided by the need to address the issue.  It was obviously a possibility that he would see or here some reference to 9/11 around the 10th anniversary and ask us about it.  In fact, it wasn’t really a surprise that his calendar commemorated the day and that was what triggered the question.  For that reason, my wife and I did already have ideas in mind for how to address the subject, although it wasn’t easy to actually express the right words when the time actually came.

We started off by first asking him if he had heard anything about the events, either at school, from friends, or from some other source.  When he said he hadn’t, we then explained that some very bad people had attacked buildings in New York City and Washington D.C., causing many people to get killed.  One thing we avoided was telling him the specifics of how the attacks were carried out, mainly because we do fly somewhat frequently and we feared that part of it would be too much for him to handle.  I’m sure we would have answered direct questions, but he didn’t ask for more details of that type.

We tried to focus on the heroism of the firefighters, police officers, and even civilian bystanders that risked and, in too many cases, lost their lives trying to help get people to safety.  He specifically asked us where they took the people that they rescued and we told him that those who were injured were taken to hospitals, some were simply moved out of harm’s way, and that some of those rescued joined the effort to rescue others.  We tried really hard to convey that the attacks themselves represented the worst of what people can do, but that much of the immediate response brought out some of the very best of humanity and that those heroes are the focus of the recognition of the anniversary.

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Disney Dream, April 2011: Embarkation Day (Part 5: Shopping, “The Golden Mickeys” and The District)

September 11th, 2011

Shopping

Inaugural Voyages Logo
Dream Inaugural Voyages Logo

After dinner, we had a little time before the evening’s theater presentation and we decided to explore the shops on deck 3, located near the Walt Disney Theater.  There are actually three shops in that area.  Mickey’s Mainsail is the main source for typical Disney souvenirs, including t-shirts, hats, plush, etc.  The selection includes a lot of merchandise with the Disney Dream logo as well as some more generic Disney Cruise Line items.  At least on our cruise, much of the Disney Dream specific merchandise still was identified as being for the inaugural voyages.  We bought t-shirts and hats here and I was also able to get a model of the Disney Dream to match one that I bought on our earlier cruise on the Magic (the one sold on the Wonder was identical to the one on the Magic). 

Disney Dream Souvenir Model
Disney Dream Souvenir Model

Across the way from Mickey’s Mainsail is Sea Treasures.  This store features some more upscale clothing as well as some higher-end merchandise like watches and jewelry.  This store also has a fairly large toy section.  Most of the toys are not cruise-specific, although they do have some Disney Cruise Line plush here.  My son found and purchased (with some of his saved up allowance) a plush cruise ship containing plush figures of Mickey and friends dressed in nautical outfits.  It is very cute, although he was a bit disappointed to discover that the characters are sewn in.

Disney Dream Hat
Disney Dream Hat

The third store in the area is Whitecaps, which is primarily a duty-free liquor store, although they do also stock a number of sundries, such as common over-the-counter medications, sunscreen and other similar essentials. 

All of the shops on the Dream are only opened while the ship is at sea, which allows them to sell all merchandise duty-free (tax-free).  Guests do have to declare all purchases at the end of the cruise and will be charged taxes if you exceed the $800/person duty-free limit.

"The Golden Mickeys"

Note: I didn’t get any photos in the theater or The District, which is why there aren’t any more pictures in this post.

Disney’s ships employ a full theatrical troupe that perform in elaborate productions in the Walt Disney Theater.  While this is not unique to Disney’s cruise line, the shows benefit quite a bit from Disney’s experience with live productions, including those for Broadway and the theme parks.  The result is a pretty consistently high quality to the shows presented on the Disney ships.  The shows also benefit greatly from Disney’s extensive library of stories, characters and songs, which provides strong source material for the shows to use.

On both of our previous cruises, the first night featured a "Welcome Aboard" variety show instead of a full-blown theatrical production.  On those previous cruises, we skipped that opening night show in favor of more general exploration of the ship’s features.  The schedule was different on the Dream, though.  The first night featured one of the major productions, "The Golden Mickeys", which we didn’t want to miss. 

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Soundtrack Collection: Executive Decision to F.I.S.T

August 7th, 2011

Executive Decision

Executive Decision (Jerry Goldsmith, 1987): The score to the Kurt Russell/Steven Seagal action thriller Executive Decision is not one of Jerry Goldsmith’s more memorable efforts from the late 1980s.  It certainly isn’t helped by the Varese Sarabande soundtrack CD’s exceptionally abbreviated 30 minute running time, something all to common at the time due to union re-use fees.

The score certainly isn’t bad, though, even if it doesn’t stand with his best work. As was commonly the case for Goldsmith’s action music late in his career, the score is orchestral, but with a pretty substantial assist from synthesizer elements.  Brass and percussion are highly dominant in the score, underlining the military focus of the film.  In these ways, the score somewhat resembles Goldsmith’s much more familiar Air Force One score, but without that score’s much more memorable main theme.

The Executive Decision score is certainly a competent effort on Goldsmith’s part and, perhaps, would be better served if an expanded soundtrack album were ever released.  With only the abbreviated presentation available, though, it seems like a minor and mostly forgettable effort.

Explorers

Explorers (Jerry Goldsmith, 1985): Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Joe Dante’s Explorers is high on my list of scores that I would most like to receive an expanded re-issue on CD.  The existing Varese Sarabande soundtrack CD (a port of the old LP release) only contains a little over 30 minutes of Goldsmith’s score, as well as a handful of pop songs.  It is also fairly rare and expensive to obtain.  What is there is quite wonderful, though, and I’d absolutely love to have much more of the score on CD.

The score’s infectious main theme is established in the album’s opening cue, entitled “The Construction”.  It opens with a rhythmic, synth-driven baseline that it then overlaid with a distinctive, playful melody.  Both of these components of the main theme are frequently revisited throughout the score, sometimes separately and sometimes together.  The score is primarily synthesized, helping to bring a bit of an otherworldly quality to what is still a largely melodic presentation.  This is one of the best of Goldsmith’s synth-dominated scores.

The entire score has a strong sense of wonder as well as a frequent romantic quality to it.  One of the strongest cues is the soaring “First Flight”, which is built around the main theme, but with slow builds to crescendos, representing the sense of excitement and adventure central to the accompanying scene in the film.

The film takes a very quirky turn towards the end, which is heavily reflected in the last couple score cues on the CD.  The score becomes much more blatantly electronic, with the otherworldly tone moving fully into the forefront.  These portions of the final two cues take on a bouncy, kind of swing-style that is both unusual and exceptionally appealing.  Goldsmith very effectively interweaves this with the more melodic style that played in the earlier part of the score, bringing these two aspects of the story together in a way that Dante was not otherwise entirely able to do in the film itself.

The soundtrack CD ends with three pop/rock songs that were used as incidental music in the film.  These are “All Around the World” by Robert Palmer, “Less Than Perfect” by Red 7 and “This Boy Needs to Rock” by Night Ranger.  The original LP release interspersed these cues with the score cues, but Varese Sarabande wisely grouped them at the end for the CD version.  All three are pretty decent songs, in my opinion, but they are very easily skipped if you want to hear score only.

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Disney Dream, April 2011: Embarkation Day (Part 4: Kids’ Clubs and Dinner)

July 31st, 2011

Kids’ Club Registration and Open House

Oceaneer's Lab
Oceaneer’s Lab

Registration and an open house was held at the kids’ clubs (Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab) until 6pm on embarkation day. The time between the sail away and our 6pm dinner seemed like a perfect time for it. Our decision not to wait in the long line for kids’ club registration in the terminal was quickly validated as there was no line at all for registration at this time.

We had already filled out the registration form online, so the actual registration really only involved the issuing of the wrist band. Each registered child is issued a wrist band with his/her name on it and a small electronic chip that is scanned to confirm identity upon arrival or departure from the club. The wristband must be returned before midnight on the last night of the cruise or a charge is issued to the stateroom account to cover the cost of the electronic device.

The wristband is the kind that can only be removed by cutting it off, so the child does have to wear it through the entire cruise. They mentioned that it could easily be replaced if it did become necessary to remove it, such as if the child had trouble sleeping with it on. It is waterproof so it is no problem to keep it on while swimming or showering. We were a little worried that our son would be bothered about having to wear it the whole time, but it wasn’t an issue at all.

Oceaneer's Club Interactive Play Floor
Interactive Play Floor

The kids’ clubs are drop-off, allowing kids and parents to have some independence. The entry/exit is strictly controlled and a lot of effort is made to ensure kids only leave with authorized adults. At registration, parents provide a list of authorized adults as well as a password. When picking up a kid, the attendants scan the Key to the World card to confirm identity and also ask for the password.

When their child is in the club, parents are asked to carry a Wave Phone for emergency contact. They will also send a text message if the child asks to be picked up. If the parents will be somewhere like Palo or one of the shows, they can request that the attendants contact only in an emergency.

Although they will allow parents to accompany their children into the club, it is generally discouraged outside of a few designated family play times. The embarkation day open house was one of those times. After registration, my wife and I went in with our son to do some exploration.. It was comforting to have the opportunity to get a feel for the facility before we would later leave our son there while we went off to do other things.

Monster's Inc. themed play area
Monsters Inc. themed play area

The kids’ club is split into two different facilities, although both are connected and the kids are able to move freely between them. The Oceaneer’s Club is largely play-based, with several character-themed activity areas. The Oceaneer’s Lab is more activity-based, with a focus on high-interactivity. While both areas are officially targeted at ages 3-10, the Oceaneer’s Club tends to focus more on the younger end of that range while the Oceaneer’s Lab has a bit more to offer for older kids.

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Disney Dream, April 2011: Embarkation Day (Part 3: Swimming/AquaDuck, Safety Drill, & Sail-away)

July 22nd, 2011

Swimming and AquaDuck

AquaDuck at nightNight-time view of the AquaDuck.  Somehow, I never took any daylight photos.

One useful tip that I picked up while researching for the trip was to pack swim clothes in a carry-on as the pools tend to be pretty uncrowded during embarkation afternoon. Checked luggage can arrive any time up to around 6pm (our bags arrived one at a time over several hours), so having swimming items in carry-ons is a necessity to take advantage of those relatively sparse crowds.

The Dream has three swimming pools: the Mickey pool for smaller children, the Donald pool for families and the adults-only Quiet Cove Pool. None of the pools are particularly deep, with the Mickey pool maxing out at 2 feet, the Donald pool at 4 feet and the Quiet Cove pool at 4 feet. Unusual for a cruise ship, the pools on the Dream (like the pools on the other Disney ships) use chlorinated fresh water instead of sea water.

One of the most talked about new features of the Dream is the AquaDuck, a 765-foot tube-style water slide that starts on deck 12 and twists and turns around the upper decks of the ship, including a section that extends over the side of the ship. Guests ride on oversized inflatable rafts which each hold one or two people. It is billed by Disney as a “water coaster” and does have a roller-coaster like feel.

Close-up of AquaDuck tube
Night-time close up of one of the tubes. The ride was closed when these were taken.

I was excited to ride the AquaDuck, but my son, who is not yet a strong swimmer, wasn’t feeling ready for it. My wife also wanted me to try it first so I could describe it to her in order to help her guess whether or not it would aggravate her back condition. Therefore, I left them in the Mickey pool and headed over to queue for the ride.

The wait time was posted as about 30 minutes, which was pretty much the shortest posted wait that I saw during our cruise. I found that estimate to be pretty much exactly right. A large part of the queue is outdoors and mostly un-shaded, so make sure to wear sunscreen. I’d also strongly recommend getting some water shoes of some sort. I didn’t think to do that and found that the surface was uncomfortably hot on my bare feet during parts of the queue.

The last 10 minutes or so of the wait is an indoor area leading up to the loading platform. This indoor area has some cute cartoons on the wall featuring Donald Duck, Hewey, Dewey & Louie, and Uncle Scrooge. These provide a lightweight story that gives the ride a bit of theming. The layout of the cartoons was a bit strange, though, in that I found myself essentially following the story backwards.

The rafts are brought up from the ride exit to the loading area using a mechanical conveyer system. A ride operator transfers the rafts from that conveyer to the slide entry way and then helps the passengers get on board. The entry way to the slide also uses a conveyer belt, activated manually by the ride operator, to launch the raft into the slide itself.

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