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February 2012

January 2012

Disney Cruise Line returns to Europe in 2013

Disney Magic at sea

ABOVE: Disney Magic will offer four-, seven-, and 12-night Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona in the summer of 2013. INSET BELOW: Mickey Mouse makes a preview appearance in Athens.

Mickey in AthensThanks to a fleet expansion, Disney Cruise Line--a company noted for its "family-friendly" cruises--will soon have enough capacity to allow a summer season in the Mediterranean. Starting in June, 2013, the 877-cabin Disney Magic will offer four, seven-, and 12-night roundtrip itineraries from Barcelona. Cruise options will include:

  • A "four-night Mediterranean getaway" with a taste of two Mediterranean cities: Nice (from the port of Villefranche) and Palma de Mallorca.

  • A "seven-night Mediterranean cruise" that includes Nice (Villefranche), Florence (La Spezia), Rome (Civitavecchia), and Naples.

  • A "12-night Mediterranean with Greece" cruise that visits Nice (Villefranche), Florence (La Spezia), Rome (Civitavecchia), Athens (Piraeus), Ephesus (Kusadasi), the Greek island of Mykonos, and Malta's capital of Valletta.

  • A "12-night Mediterranean with Venice" itinerary with port calls in Nice (Villefranche), Florence (La Spezia), Rome (Civitavecchia), Naples, Venice (overnight), Dubrovnik, and Valletta.

Like other Disney ships, Disney Magic caters to children with features like the "Mickey's Spash Zone" water-play area, a "Disney's Oceaneer Club" for children from ages 3-4 and 5-10, dedicated "Edge" and "Vibe" clubs for tweens and teens, a "Disney's Oceaneer Lab" with supervised educational activities for 8- to 10-year-olds, and restaurants that range from the "Animator's Palate" and "Parrot Cay" dining rooms to "Pluto's Dog House" and a "Goofy's Galley" snack bar.

Parents aren't ignored, either: Venues that cater to grown-ups include bars and louges for adults, a spa and fitness center, and the "adult exclusive" Palo fine-dining restaurant.

For more information on Disney Magic's 2013 summer season in the Mediterranean, visit the Disney Cruise Line Web site.

Photos: © Disney

Live the dream with Kevin Hartwell on Barge Nilaya

Barge Nilaya

ABOVE: Barge Nilaya cruises on a French canal at warp speed (4 mph or 6 km/h).

Barge NilayaBarge cruising is a delightful way to explore the countryside and small towns of France--assuming that you aren't in a hurry. The barge carries you slowly along the canals and rivers of France's historic inland waterway network, and you can hop on or off whenever the barge goes through a canal lock. (Between locks, you can easily keep up with the barge as you hike or bike along the towpath.)

The atmosphere is informal, the mood is relaxed, and you'll quickly find yourself bonding with your few fellow passengers over drinks on deck and meals that are cooked fresh from local ingredients.

Stil, not all hotel barges are the same: Some barges carry a dozen or more passengers, while a few--such as Barge Nilaya, shown above--carry no more than four guests.

Many barges are operated by long-established companies like European Waterways Ltd. or French Country Waterways. Others--including Barge Nilaya--are owned, maintained, and marketed by individuals such as Kevin Hartwell, a man who gave up 9-to-5 employment for a new life as a barge captain more than a decade ago.

On his Web site,, Kevin describes his moment of epiphany in 2001, when he was searching the Internet for a home and career on the water:

"Purely by chance, I stumbled upon the picture of a stunning 'luxemotor Dutch barge'. Beautifully photographed, in bright sunlight, with blue skies behind it. Happy healthy looking people populating the decks, each with a glass of wine in hand and gazing out across an undeniably French landscape. It was at this point that I began to imagine barging on the canals of France. Bigger barges, a vast network of European waterways to discover and along with it, a Europe I had sadly neglected in favour of more distant long haul destinations. The rest as they say, is history."

Today, Kevin is living the dream with Isabelle, his Belgian partner, and up to four passengers at a time. Barge Nilaya has two guest cabins, each with ensuite WC and shower, plus a saloon with dining table, a galley, and space on deck for eating, drinking, or enjoying the passing views.

Unlike cruises on higher-priced luxury hotel barges (see our Renaissance cruise review), a trip on Nilaya is like being a guest on a friend's boat: You make your own bed, help wash the dishes, and (in Kevin's words) "treat my barge as your own home away from home."

Barge Nilaya is available for whole-boat charters (obviously more practical with a small barge than a large one) or individual bookings. Rates from April through October, 2012 start at £1000 per person for a charter and £1250 per person for a twin or double cabin. The fare includes breakfast and a light lunch on each cruising day, one home-cooked dinner, an evening drink, and other meals by special arrangement.

For more information on navigating France's inland waterways with Kevin and Isabelle for a week (including more photos and videos), visit


BELOW: Isabelle and Kevin on deck, guests enjoying drinks with Kevin, and Barge Nilaya's salon. 

Isabelle and Kevin on Barge Nilaya

Guests with Kevin Hartwell on Barge Nilaya

Saloon on Barge Nilaya


Portsmouth honors a local boy, Charles Dickens

Portsmouth City Museum

ABOVE: The Portsmouth City Museum is offering a free Charles Dickens exhibition through November 4.

Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812 in the city of Portsmouth, Hampshire on England's south coast. To honor the bicentenary of his birth, the Portsmouth City Museum is offering a series of exhibitions, talks, and other special events between February 7 and November 4.

The centerpiece of the bicentennial Dickensfest will be a free exhibition, A Tale of One City, that will explore what life was like during Dickens's time. The exhibition will feature several pages from the original handwritten manuscript of Nicholas Nickleby, which is being lent to the city by the British Library.

The free exhibition will be open daily except Mondays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. between January 28 and November 4. (On Monday bank holidays, the museum and exhibition will remain open.)

On Sunday, February 12, the Portsmouth City Museum will host a free talk on the "A Tale of One City" theme.

Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum

While you're in Portsmouth, don't miss the Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum, which occupies the modest house where the author was born. The museum is furnished in the style of 1809, when the newly-married parents of Charles Dickens set up house at 1 Mile End Terrace, Landport.

Portsmouth and Hampshire tourist information

To plan your trip, visit the Portsmouth pages at the region's official tourism site,, and the city's own tourist site at

BELOW: The house where Dickens was born is now the Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum.

Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum

Photos: Portsmouth City Museums.