Conquest in the Caribbean…4

Ah, Sea Days.  For some people, it is the best part of the cruise; some people would be happy to have none.  I like them just fine.  Sailing along in the middle of the ocean with nothing to do but relax, have some cocktails, soak up the sun.  If you love them or if you don’t, it still beats a day at work!

First up, Sea Day Brunch.  Among Carnival regulars, there are some pretty famous staples on this menu: the Funnest French Toast for one, and of course the Bloody Mary Bar!  However, I chose the Steak & Eggs…I mean, Bearnaise!  My general rule is if something comes with Bearnaise, I order it.  This rule has never let me down, and it didn’t today either!  The filet was perfectly cooked, the eggs were okay and the Bearnaise was awesome!!!  I really don’t even remember what everyone else had, mine was that good.  Thusly fortified, we were ready to begin the serious business of relaxing.

Even though it was January, we were in the Caribbean so the sun seekers were out in full force.  Chairs around the pool were at a premium…BUT!! Chairs around the bar were plentiful and it was nice and quiet in the adults only aft pool.  Extra bonus: my bartender from the Steakhouse last night works days at the aft pool bar…Yay! Javorka!!

Mom eventually found me although she popped in and out in between trivia, but for the bulk of the day, I sat and read my Kindle and really just relaxed.  As a single mom, that doesn’t happen often!

Eventually, I headed back to my cabin to get ready for dinner.  I had a very important mission this evening…discover the Alchemy Bar.

The Alchemy Bar is a specialized bar on some Carnival ships.  No beer, no wine, no frozen drinks.  But the bartenders are the best in the business and their specialty is matching a cocktail to your taste.  They are VERY good at their jobs!  It was here I met my other favorite bartender (its not weird that my favorite people are all bartenders, is it?).  Kat from Belarus.

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She won my heart when she made me this amazing Espresso Martini.  Yep, those are chocolate covered espresso beans on top!! It was love at first sip!  Needless to say, I spent a good deal of time here and in fact took the mixologist class which I will talk about later because tonight is CHEF’S TABLE!

I have loved Chef’s Table on every other ship that I’ve tried it on , so I was really excited to try it on the Conquest!  First up was a kitchen tour.  Since this a working kitchen during dinner service, the tour was quite interesting…and busy!  We finished by having champagne and small bites before making our way to the private dining room set up for us.

Once we got to our table, everyone had an assigned seat with a personalized menu.

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See those bread things at the top?  Those are blue cheese popovers…Those are amazing and if you ever get to a Carnival Chef’s Table, you should immediately sneeze on them or something so you get the whole tray!

We then worked our way down the menu.  At each course, the Chef would talk a bit about what we were eating.  The servers kept the wine glasses full, although there were only two choices, a white or a red.  On previous cruises, the Chef’s Table is also a wine tasting so there is a different wine with each course, but not on Carnival.  That’s okay, the food was pretty darn interesting on its own.

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Crab Stack
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Duck Textures
Crazy molecular gastronomy going on here!
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First time trying sweetbreads.
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As if there’s room for dessert!!

Needless to say, we barely rolled back to our cabin.  Overall, while I would have liked to have a wine pairing with each course, the food was amazing and I will certainly be doing the Chef’s Table dinner on Carnival again!

So next…I promise we did go places…really cool places I’d never been before!  I’ll tell you about them next!

 

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Conquest in the Caribbean…3

The first night of the cruise we had made reservations at the Steakhouse restaurant, the Point.  We have had varying degrees of success with the same style restaurant at Royal Caribbean’s Chops steakhouse so I was interested to see how this compared.  Of course, Carnival sweetens the deal by offering a free bottle of wine if you book the first night…I know what you’re thinking: I have the drink package, I  don’t need a free bottle of wine.  Well you would be wrong.  Totally wrong!  That is, until I saw what wine they were offering as the free bottle…blech!  The other option Carnival offers is that you can purchase any bottle of wine on their list at 50% off…see!!  I still get my bottle of wine!!

The Point Steakhouse on the Conquest is on Deck 10.  I was there a bit earlier than our reservation or our dining companions so I sat down at the bar to wait.  This turned out to be a GREAT idea as this was where I met one of my favorite bartenders, Javorka (it only took me until day 3 to get her name right…sorry!!) from Serbia.  Javorka worked at the Steakhouse in the evening, but at the Serenity Pool Bar during the day so naturally I spent most of my days with her!!   But back to the Point…hehehe I mean the steakhouse.

We were seated promptly at a table by the window, since it was January, it was already dark outside by 7pm, but I am sure that the view would be spectacular at other times of the year.  My first thought after sitting down was…”Look at these plates!!!!”  I mean really…Look at them:

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They’re spectacular!  And everyone’s was different.  All of them pretty, but mine was the best!  For real, if I could have fit it in my purse, I would be eating dinner off this plate every night!

But now lets talk about what goes on the plate.  As an appetizer I chose the Escargots.  I love snails and cruise ships are the only place I know I can get them prepared well, and not crazy expensive!

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Escargot Two Ways

Moving on to the entrees, two of us had the Filet, one had lamb and one had the Tomahawk Ribeye.  All of the dishes were cooked perfectly, and served with three sauces for the table: Peppercorn, Wild Mushroom, and Bearnaise.   We also had an assortment of side dishes, served family style for all of us to share.

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9oz Filet Mignon
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Grilled Double Cut Lamb Chops
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18oz Rib Chop

If that didn’t fill you up, we still have dessert!!!  There is always room for dessert!!  I know one of us had the fresh fruit plate (well, its actually served in a martini glass but you get the idea), one of us had the cheesecake and I had the Chocolate Sampler.  I am not really a dessert person so I usually get samplers.

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Fresh Fruit Martini
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The Famous Cheesecake
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Chocolate Sampler

In addition, you can see my espresso and Frangelico in the background…I may not be a big dessert fan, but coffee and cordials are my jam!

Needless to say, after a meal like this, the best plan of action is to very carefully roll yourself into bed.  BUT!  See that little cup of caffeine?  Yep, I’m headed to the Casino!!!

Mom headed to bed like a normal human, but down to the casino I went where I managed to close the place down, then stumble back to my cabin and fall into my bed (sorry mom!).

Next, we were headed to Nassau.  I didn’t even get off the ship and spent most of the day chatting with Javorka at the Serenity Bar.  Pretty sure I was hoping some of that “Serenity” would seep into me after the night before!

Our next day was a sea day, so really more Serenity, but in my next post I will introduce you to my other favorite bartender and tell you all about the Chef’s Table experience.  Then, eventually, we do get to some ports!

Part 7 (Thessaloniki, Greece) – Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

Well, I am back from my Disney vacation and I will write more about that later, but let me tell you…I thought the Mediterranean in July was hot, it was NOTHING compared to Orlando in September!  But!  That’s a story for another day.  Onward and upward (or not) to Thessaloniki, Greece.

Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece.  Having just come from the largest city (Athens) I can tell you that it may indeed be the 2nd largest, but it is as different from Athens as night to day.

I had not planned anything in this port, and hindsight 20/20 I should have.  There are many cool things to see, just not super close to the port.

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Here is the Rhapsody docked at the port.  All those buildings on the dock area are shipping and industrial.  No shopping or eating.  I needed to find a pharmacy, which shouldn’t have been too difficult.  In Europe all of the pharmacies have big green plus signs out front so we walked along this front street for a while.  We could see the famous White Tower of Thessaloniki in the distance, but it was certainly not a walkable distance for us (maybe for me, but my family often accuses me of trying to walk them to death!).

Along the way, there were some cafes, most with outdoor seating which already had plenty of locals sitting with their coffee.  Also along the way, we were accosted by a man trying to get us to buy his bracelets by striking up a conversation with my son, then just putting the bracelet on his wrist.  This was the only time we encountered something like this on this trip.  I am used to it in the Caribbean, and in fact this man was Jamaican, but I had not come across it on this trip.  However, just like in the Caribbean, a very firm “NO!” sent him on his way.

We passed some very pretty areas:

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I loved this tree!  We still had not found a pharmacy though.  We finally cut through a square and low and behold we found what we were looking for…we also found that we had been passing the really cute shopping district nearly the whole time, we were just two blocks off it.  Huh…see why I should have done more research?  At any rate, after our quick stop, we decided to head back to the ship, but this time along the populated streets!

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See?? Cute stuff.  But, it was hot, really hot.  And, as you may have guessed from my frantic search for a pharmacy, I was not feeling my best so back to the ship and its glorious air conditioning we went.  Plus!  We have Chef’s Table dinner tonight!!!  My favorite! So I wanted to be well rested!

Here is a picture of the Port Authority building…pretty impressive but it could use some shops!!!

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Back on board and looking forward to my favorite meal of the whole trip!!  The Chef’s Table!

You may remember that I have done the Chef’s table before on other cruises and have LOVED it both times!  I knew from past cruisers that the menu was the same as my meal aboard the Enchantment, but that one was super yummy so I was happy to have it again!  Plus, the pairings were really good so I was not concerned at all…until I sat down and looked at the menu.

Yes, the menu was the same, but the wines were totally different.  And not in a good way.  I am all about trying new wines, in fact I have another blog I write that details my standard selection method of picking wine just by the cool looking label so I am all for trying new things.  And I will agree that dry rosès are all the rage right now.  But lets all agree that Berringer White Zinfandel is not one of these, can we? Please?

What was fantastic about this particular Chef’s Table was the company.  Some times you get a good crowd and some times you do not.  We dined with a family from Texas that was absolutely spectacular and I am so happy we got to meet them.  The food was still great, the Braised Short Rib Ravioli is still one of the best things I have ever eaten.  I will continue to attend Chef’s Table on every cruise I go on, hopefully these wines were a one off!

Up next?  Kusadasi, Turkey.  Another surprising port…in more ways than one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

After missing one entire day in Venice, and with only my carry-on luggage available, I was still super excited for our Walking Tour of Venice scheduled for today.  This was a free walking tour and since OD and I had had such a great experience on our Free London Walking Tours, I was really looking forward to this one!

I used Venice Free Walking Tour.  It was a super easy sign up process, immediate email confirmation, and plenty of tour times to choose from.  One thing to remember…you will not tour St. Mark’s Square area at all.  These tours are designed to show you the non-touristy parts of Venice, which is why I take them.  I can find the big tourist attractions on my own.  I want to find cool places that aren’t totally packed, and we did as well as got some great pizza and learned about so much history along the way.

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Our tour guide was Giada (pronounced just like the Food Network star) and she has lived her whole life in Venice.  Our tour group was fairly diverse, young couples, old couples, families…a pretty good mix.  I would say that the youngest was maybe 9 years old and I wouldn’t even venture a guess at the oldest.  I will say this: Venice is not the city to visit if you have mobility issues.  The cobblestone “streets,” bridges, stairs, etc. do not make for easy walking.  The fact that there are no cars allowed on the island makes it seem like it might be pedestrian friendly…and it is, it is just not mobility friendly.  But if you are able to take a walking tour of Venice, you absolutely should!

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We learned quite a lot about the history and legends of Venice: Marco Polo, Casanova, the Lions, the origin of Carnival and the masks and many other cool tidbits!

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We visited a cute little bookstore that had this staircase made out of books!

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We found “interesting” restaurants and shops.

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We learned that you can tell the age of the buildings by the shape of the windows.

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We learned about the Gondolas and the meaning of the ferro (it represents the six neighborhoods in Venice and is in the shape of the Doge’s hat).  How long it takes to build a gondola (about three months), and how many gondoliers there are (424 men, 1 woman).

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And we learned that Venice has its own “Leaning Tower.” in fact there are several of them around the island.  I guess that is one of the dangers of building on such little islands.

In addition, Giada gave us some tips on choosing restaurants in Venice and, in one life changing moment, introduced me to a Venice staple:  Aperol Spritz.  Look it up, really.  Or, swing by my place around 5pm…I’m sure I will be pouring one (or two…alright three!).

After the tour, I wasted several hours going back and forth to the airport to see if our baggage had arrived (no!) and we then set out to find some dinner and Gelato.

We ended up at Ristorante Terrazza Del Casin Dei Nobili.  This restaurant is right along the Bay of Venice and has an amazing view.  I ordered Sea Bass and my first ever Aperol Spritz and both were amazing!  All in all, a great day…maybe luggage tomorrow??

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Enchantment of the Seas…The Yummy Part!

So one of the things that we tried on our last Freedom of the Seas cruise and fell in love with was the Chef’s Table experience.  Basically a 5-6 course tasting menu with wine pairings for a small group dining experience.  On the Freedom, the Chef’s Table was a table set aside in the WindJammer with a long table set up for about 20 people.  We started off with champagne and then moved to dinner.  It was amazing, even in the cafe instead of a proper private dining area.  It was just mom and I that time but since it was an all adult cruise this time, we convinced Michael & Peter to join us.

On the Enchantment, there is a separate room just for Chef’s Table, and it is limited to 12 guests per night.  We met in the R Bar for our champagne (since you are at the bar, you can get a different drink if you want, but who doesn’t like Champers??). One everyone has arrived, we moved as a group to the Chef’s Table room and were seated and given the evening’s menu.

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The Sommelier introduced himself and gave us a brief overview of how the evening was going to go.  Then the food started coming out.  The Amuse-bouche went perfectly with the champagne (which they were happy to refill if you accidentally drank all yours before you were seated!).  I did not get a picture of that, but it was served on one of those ceramic spoons and it was yummy.

Next was the Hearts of Palm Salad.  This had lots of avocado in it, which can be filling.  The sweeter white wine did well to cut through the fattiness of the avocado though.

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Its actually hard to see the hearts of palm in the salad, but they are there, I promise!  I really liked the champagne dressing too.

Next was the Sweet Pea Soup with a poached quail egg and bacon.

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This was really good.  Plus, not everybody liked poached eggs so I ended up with three in my soup!!  This was a really fresh tasting soup and went very well with the unoaked chardonnay.

Then…Lobster!!  Butter poached lobster in case you needed more yummy words!  Topped with caviar!!

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It looks a bit like a smiley face but that’s okay because I had a big smiley face as well with this dish!  The sauce was fantastic and it went beautifully with the delicate Chablis from Burgundy that was poured with this.

We were now getting into the “meat” of the menu (sorry!) and the pasta course was a Braised Short Rib ravioli.  Also at this point, the wines turned red, which makes me almost as happy as pasta and braised meats!!

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This dish was super yummy and I might have actually licked the bowl.  This is really the point in the meal where you start getting a little full and start to think about pacing yourself.  Word of advice…DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT on this dish!!!  I would have happily eaten everyone’s plate.  It was that good!!  The lighter red wine was a perfect accompaniment and did not overwhelm the palate like a bigger red would have.  Which brings us to…

Beef Tenderloin with Morel mushrooms!!!

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Perfectly cooked, and perfectly paired with Caymus Cabernet.  This was the pinnacle dish and it lived up to its billing.  The potatoes were light and fluffy and flavored with smoked garlic.  The beef was flavorful and the mushroom sauce was rich and meaty.  At this point I was happy that I had worn elastic waist pants!  We still had dessert to eat!

I am not a huge fan of sweets and can usually skip dessert with no problem in favor of the more savory dishes.  Our dessert was called Chocolate Sabotage and I did not get a picture of it for some reason!  I am sure it was fantastic.

So our Chef’s Table experience ended and we all left happy and fat!!  It was our favorite meal on board and worth every penny in my opinion.

As this was a short cruise and the casino was not particularly friendly to me, I did not earn any more free cruises, but I still have my 11 night Mediterranean cruise coming up!!  A bucket list cruise that I cannot wait to tell you about!