Carnival Breeze – Repo / Journeys / Casino Premier Cruise…whew, I’m gonna need a vacation!

I booked this trip in March of 2017…eighteen months ahead of time.  A two week cruise from Galveston, TX to Port Canaveral, FL.  Our stops were:

Grand Cayman
Aruba
Curacao
Grenada
Barbados
Dominica
St. Maarten

With six sea days sprinkled in. This will be my longest cruise to date.  Too Long?  We will see.  My travel companions for this one…my father and my mother.   They have been divorced since the late 70’s but we all still do holidays and Sunday dinners and such together.  This would just be the three of us though, not the whole family.

Breeze Rout Map

Since booking in early 2017, there had been several price drops to the tune of about $1500 each cabin.  Then, I received an upgrade offer to a balcony cabin for about $100 which I took.  Then, I received notification from the casino that this cruise had been designated a Premier Cruise so I called my PVP and got switched to Premier.  It cost me a bit more, but the casino was offering several perks that made it worth it.  In case casino’s aren’t your thing, the Premier perks included: Priority boarding, free drinks in the casino, an invite only cocktail party, Premier only drawings throughout the cruise, special gifts delivered to the cabin, and most importantly: House Money to start. My offer was for $600 in Casino Cash.  Pretty good way to start the cruise.

As you know, I am a compulsive planner and have to have everything planned out and set in stone months in advance.  This cruise was especially challenging because we were sailing out of Galveston, TX on September 16 and disembarking at Port Canaveral, FL on September 30.  Port Canaveral is drivable for me, but since we weren’t leaving from there, my car wouldn’t be there. So my plan was to fly to Galveston (actually found decent one way airfare!), then rent a car in Port Canaveral and drive home.  That is not how it happened.

First, hurricane season.  Its always a risk to travel during hurricane season, but it is also much more affordable so I’m willing to take the risk…with travel insurance of course (I may be a gambler, but I’m not crazy!). So far, in the 8 or so years I have cruised during hurricane season, I have never had an issue but this year my time was up.

The week before we were to fly to Houston, Hurricane Florence starting hinting that she might be a problem for the Carolinas.  I anxiously watched the forecasts, which as always, looked something like this:

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But then it became apparent that North Carolina was in trouble.  Now I was scrambling to get out before the storm hit.  On Friday I received notification from the airlines that I could change with no fees so I called and moved my flight to that night.  I had a hotel for Saturday and transportation from the hotel to the port on Sunday, but now I was scrambling for a place for the three of us to stay on Friday night.  Fortunately, I have the most amazing family friend who now lives in Houston and she graciously offered her home as well as picking us up at the airport after our very late arrival.

After a very hectic series of phone calls/packing/ubering, we were all finally at the airport gratefully sipping (gulping) a glass (3) of wine. After a relatively uneventful flight we were safely in Houston and ready to cruise!

After a lovely evening and day with our friend, we headed to the hotel to spend the night and catch our shuttle to the Port of Galveston.  I used Galveston Express as our transportation option from the hotel in Houston to the port.  They were on time, comfortable and professional.  Not much more you can ask for in a shuttle service!

As a side note, I would like to sail from Galveston again, just for the chance to spend some time in Galveston.  Because it was more important to see friends, we stayed in Houston and only saw as much of Galveston as we saw on the drive to port.  It looks cute so maybe I will sail from there again!

Once at the port, we handed our luggage to the porter, flagged down a special needs porter with a wheelchair and were on our way to check in.  We did get stopped and asked about our wine, but were quickly waved through after that.  With the Priority boarding that came with my Premier invite, we were on board with our first drinks in hand within 30 minutes of being dropped off by the shuttle.  Not too shabby at all!

The Carnival Breeze was a new ship for me, so I spent some time exploring.

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And then we said good bye to Galveston.  Kind of strange as I had never sailed away from a port that I was not going to be sailing back to at the end.

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And then we were off.  For 14 days we would sail all around the Southern and Eastern Caribbean before returning to Florida.  What a Journey it was…More to come!

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Next up?  Grand Cayman, Aruba and Curacao.

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Mariner of the Seas…Amplified! The Dining Part – Chops Grille

Our last night on board we had reservations for Chops Grille, the steakhouse offering.  We have eaten at Chops at least once on every cruise since 2012.  And if I am being completely honest, its hit or miss.  When it’s good, it’s REALLY good.  But its not always good.  So how was the Mariner?  Let’s See!!

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Since we have been here multiple times and the menu hasn’t changed recently, we ordered our favorites…

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Grilled Black Pepper Bacon.  If you like bacon, this is always good.

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Forest Mushroom Soup.  I generally go back and forth between this one and the Three Cheese Roasted Onion Soup.  Both are really good.

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Crispy Goat Cheese Salad.  We love this one!!

Next up…Entrees.  So no big surprise here…we both got steak.  I mean, its a steakhouse for heaven’s sake!  Plus, the real reason to eat at Chops is the sauces!!!  You can choose from Bearnaise, au Poivre and Bordelaise and they are all pretty fantastic…but for me, there is only one…

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A medium rare Filet drowned in Bearnaise!!!  It’s almost embarrassing how much sauce I ask for, but those awesome waiters at Chops just keep it coming!  Not everyone is quite as gluttonous with their sauces…

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But I guess if you are getting a 20 oz. Porterhouse, you really don’t need the extra sauce to be a glutton!!  But hey…we are on vacation, we certainly can’t eat like this every day!!

The sides are served family style and honestly, I usually don’t eat any because I am so full but I do still have some favorites.

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So the fries are really just there in case there is some Bearnaise left after my steak.  I can’t let that go to waste!  The Gruyere Tater Tots are super yummy though!  Some other favorites are the creamed spinach, the roasted mushrooms and the salt jacket baked potato, if your in the mood!

By the time dessert rolls around I am so full I can barely move.  I am not a big dessert fan anyway, so it is super easy for me to skip this all together.  I do, however have a Haute & Steamy…caffeine!  That’s what I need!

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It is a super yummy layered coffee drink, with vanilla vodka.

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And some ice cream and berries…You know ice cream doesn’t fill you up…it just fills in all the cracks and crevices in your stomach.  At least that is what my BIL tells me!

So after a thoroughly satisfying meal at Chop’s, it was time to pack our stuff for disembarking in the morning.  Always the saddest day of the cruise!

As I said in the beginning, Chop’s Grille can be hit or miss depending on the ship.  On the Mariner of the Seas, it was certainly a hit.  I may not have raved about it like I did the other two dinners…that’s what comes with a comfortable familiarity I guess.  The other two restaurants were new and shiny.  Chop’s ended our trip like an old friend telling us: “See you soon.  I’ll be here when you get back.”

And when will I get back?  Actually in January I will be repeating this trip.  This time with the other kid.  I haven’t decided if I will do all of the same restaurants…but we will see.

But before that, I have a 14 day Journey’s Cruise in September, a trip to Universal Studios for Halloween Horror Nights, a solo cruise (my first solo) over Thanksgiving, and a big 21st Birthday/New Years Eve cruise to experience.  Plenty to come!  Hope you’ll stay with me!

 

 

 

 

Mariner of the Seas…Amplified! The Dining Part – Jamie’s Italian

For dinner on night two, we decided to go to Jamie’s Italian as part of our Ultimate Dining Package.  This was the restaurant I was most worried about.  We loved Portofino’s and were not happy when they decided to transition them out.  But eventually, we came to love Giovanni’s Table almost as much.  And now this.  More changes to our favorite restaurant on board.  I mean, we like Chops just fine but its a steakhouse…there really are plenty of good ones on land.  But good Italian food is harder to find, at least where I live.  Add to that, the reviews that I had read previously were really mostly negative and the menu did not excite me that much.

So basically I went into this dinner expecting to be disappointed.  Was I?  Read on and see!

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A little tidbit about me: I LOVE appetizers!  I could skip dessert nine times out of ten, but apps?  I want them all!  So that’s what we did…No, not really.  But we did have 4 appetizers between the two of us.

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The famous Antipasti Plank. From the top: Rainbow Carrot slaw (yummy), Pecorino with chili jam (yummy), buffalo mozzarella (yummy), fennel salami (yummy), pistachio mortadella (kinda weird), prosciutto (yummy) and on top some black and green olives (yummy).  So overall, a win with two little exceptions: the mortadella was strange, but I don’t like it usually so no big surprise; and one other little item: caper berries.  YUCK!!  Now I know that they are in the olive family and I Love olives…black, green, kalamata, all of them.  But I cannot stand caper berries, or capers for that matter.  But at least caper berries are easily avoided!

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Crab & Avocado Bruschetta.  This is basically avocado toast with crab.  Its good.  If you are a fan of avocado toast, and not allergic to shellfish you will probably enjoy this appetizer.  I had a bite or two and was done.

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Ultimate Garlic Bread.  Well what can I say.  Its bread.  Good bread, and there is plenty of garlic and Parmesan cheese and the rosemary adds a nice touch.  If you have a picky eater in your group, you can’t go wrong with this.

Which brings us to this:

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Crispy Squid.  An almost certain no go for that picky eater, but if you are not…GET THIS DISH!!  That garlicky mayo is the bomb.  The squid were tender and well cooked and they were indeed “crispy.” Granted I only ate the tubes, not the tentacles, but fortunately my kid is not so squeamish!

And that was our appetizer spread.  I would certainly order the plank again, and I could probably eat that squid (and aoli) at every meal and be pretty darn happy.  As for the other two?  I will probably skip them next time…I know I say that now, but in January when I’m back on the Mariner, I will be with the picky son so Garlic Bread is most probably in my future.

Next up:  Entrees!!

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I had the Mushroom Tagliatelle .  It was fantastic.  Earthy, creamy, goodness.  I love me some mushrooms so this dish was one I expected to love, and it did not disappoint!

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Jarod ordered Silky Penne Carbonara.  This was really good as well.  There was plenty of pancetta, and a healthy dose of cracked black pepper gave it some balance against the saltiness of the parmesan and pancetta.

Overall, I would order either of these dishes again, however there are some other items I would like to try as well so I will probably go for them first.

And Finally…DESSERTS!!!

Like I mentioned before, I am not a big dessert eater, but in the interest of research, I ordered one anyway!

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Fortunately for me, they have Affogato on the dessert menu.  This is a scoop of vanilla ice cream drowned in a shot of hot espresso.  It has the benefit of being both dessert and after dinner coffee!  It was the perfect end to a somewhat heavy meal for me.

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My son, however, judges every Italian restaurant on their Tiramisu so of course that is what he ordered.  And according to him, it was pretty good.  It was not as good as Portofino’s tiramisu, but it was good.

Final Thoughts:  Overall I was pleasantly surprised.  It was rustic and homey, casual and comfortable.  The food was well made and the service was helpful and professional.  It was certainly better than I had anticipated going into the meal and I am happy to say that I will definitely eat there again on my next Mariner sailing in January.

One last restaurant left…Chops Grill.  Stay Tuned!

Mariner of the Seas…Amplified! The Dining Part – Izumi Hibachi & Sushi

In my world, if someone else is going to do all of the cooking and all of the cleaning, I am pretty much in heaven.  So for us, the MDR has always been just fine.  Oh sure we have eaten at the specialty restaurants, we LOVE the Chef’s Table experience,  but we are usually just as happy to eat every night in the Main Dining Room.  We have (mostly) always had excellent service and by this point we all have our favorite dishes on each menu (let’s not talk about the great escargot shortage of 2015).

But for this trip, I purchased the Ultimate Dining Package.  This allows us dinner in a specialty restaurant every night of the cruise, plus Lunch at Jamie’s on boarding day (I learned this too late for me, but still a good option for next time).  It does not include the Hibachi experience at Izumi’s, however they will give you a discount if you want to eat there one night.

We had originally planned to do Jamie’s Italian the first night, Chops Grille the second night and then repeat whichever we liked best on the third night.  However, when we got on board and talked to the dining people, we decided to take the discount for Izumi’s Hibachi on the first night, eat at Jamie’s on the second night and finish at Chops on the third night.

Up first:  Izumi’s

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Since we were only two, we were seated with another group…fortunately they were really awesome and celebrating a birthday!  The meal begins with Salted Edamame Beans and a green salad, pretty typical of many hibachi restaurants.

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Our waiter described the process of hibachi in case anyone was unfamiliar.  Next you choose you protein, I chose the steak and shrimp. I love hibachi shrimp so I am always going to choose this.  As it turns out, we had someone allergic to shellfish so it was interesting to see how they handled it.  Suffice to say, if you have an allergy, just let them know and they will make sure you are safe.

Then…the show begins!

Our chef was from the Philippines and I thought he was great.  We LOVE hibachi so we eat at our local restaurant at least once or twice a month so we have seen great chefs, really good chefs, and just okay chefs.  I would certainly place him in the really good category.  The food was pretty standard hibachi, our meat was cooked well and my shrimp did not get overcooked.  My only TEENY, TINY complaint was that the only choice was rice and I usually don’t get rice, I get lo mein, that was not an option.  But overall the dinner was really good, onion volcano and all!

I also have a full 30 minute video of our chef preparing everyone’s meals, but goodness that is too much for a review!  Also, a note on meal timing.  The first picture of our waiter at the beginning of the meal was taken at 7:09pm, the dessert pictured below was taken at 8:52pm so count on a full two hours for this dinner.

Then, if you’re not already full…dessert!  We were actually pretty full so just ordered one of each to see them.

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Sorry about the half eaten one…I didn’t get my picture fast enough!  And don’t forget…Is’s someone’s birthday!  They brought out cake!

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I am fairly certain that I rolled out of this dinner…I was that full!

Final thoughts on Izumi:  I think it is a great addition and it will continue to be a big draw.  It has the potential to be a “one and done” restaurant because of the limited menu, but I for one already have reservations for my next Mariner cruise in January.  Now if I could only convince them on the noodles!!

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Next Up: Jamie’s Italian

 

 

My First River Cruise Experience…Pre-Cruise Extension

So after our amazing dinner last night, way too much wine and a good nights sleep, I was up at 6am to go to the gym (not because I am that good about going to the gym, just trying to mitigate the damage I knew I would do on the cruise!).  However, the gym at the Clarion doesn’t open until 10am.   What?  I have never heard of a gym not opening until nearly afternoon, but oh well.  Instead I went for a walk/jog around the grounds of the hotel.  It was dark and drizzly so I only did as much as I could stand before I  gave up and headed for coffee and croissants.

The plan for the day was breakfast in the hotel, then on the bus for a trip to Château Chenonceau then back to Tours to do an official sightseeing tour.  My only complaint about the Clarion is that it is kind of far away from the main part of town so it is not just a quick walk down to the shops, restaurants, etc.  So we would be taken on a tour with our lovely tour guide

Breakfast was again yummy and thus fortified we headed out to the waiting bus.  It was still kind of drizzling but on and off, and I was hopeful for a relatively dry day.

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It did stop actually drizzling but remained pretty dreary all day.  This Château, however is spectacular.  Another one of those “mistress gifts” that seemed to be so commonplace in times gone by.  This “little country house” was given by King Henry II to his lifelong companion and chief mistress Diane de Poitiers.  Diane commissioned the bridge that joined the bridge to its opposite bank, which would actually be what saved this Château 200 years later during the French Revolution.

This gift to Diane created just a smidge of jealousy in Henry’s wife, Catherine de’ Medici.  She had wanted Chenonceau for herself, but as long as Diane de Poitiers was so attached to it, the king refused to give it to the queen.

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All that changed when the king died.  Catherine forced Diane to move to a different château and Catherine made Chenonceau her favored residence.  She expanded the gardens,build new rooms, and threw lavish parties that included the first ever fireworks display in celebration of her son taking the crown.

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I love this stove and all of this copper!

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A portrait of Diane, by all accounts a very beautiful and accomplished woman.

After our time at Chenonceau, we loaded back into our bus for the short drive over the river Cher to Amboise.

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Amboise is most famous for it’s housing of Leonardo da Vinci when he fled Rome looking for better wine and work.  I am not sure what kind of work he found when he got here, but settling in the Loire Valley sure was a stroke of genius on the wine front!

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We wandered around this medieval town looking at some of the old wood buildings.

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And we stopped at a small place along the way for some lunch.

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I had the Pâté de Pâques (Easter Pate) and I cannot remember what I had as my main course…but I remember we really liked everything. I feel like I would have ordered the shrimp, but I am not entirely sure…see what happens when the wine is THAT good!

After lunch we had to make our way back to the bus for our next stop…Tours.  As I mentioned before, our hotel is not close to the main part of the city so we were going to be dropped off, given a tour by our guide and then picked up and driven back to the hotel.

Tours has been a pretty important city in France since Gallic times.  Many historians contend that the French spoken in this area is the purest form of French.  Tours was the cultural center of French nobility until the court returned to Paris & Versailles.  The Tours Cathedral was completed in 1547.

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And its pretty spectacular.  Even in a country that has a bazillion churches this one is awesome.

Back at the hotel, I was pretty excited for what the hotel had going on that night…a wine tasting.  This was wholly separate from the Viking activities and was run through the hotel.  But first we needed dinner.  This is where we come to my only complaint again…the hotel’s distance from town.  The hotel has a restaurant, but it is fairly pricey and set up as several courses. Great for a special dinner, a couple of folks in our group ate there and really enjoyed it.  In addition, you could order room service and have it delivered to your room.  Several of our group did that and said that the food was very good.  But if what you are looking for is a casual dinner service, the distance from town makes it very difficult to get to something like that.  In addition, one of the members of my party used a walker and the sidewalks can be challenging and in some parts, cobblestone.

In addition, I wanted to be at the hotel for the wine tasting.   So after getting somewhat frustrated with the front desk staff’s willingness to help, I logged onto my “Around Me” app on my phone.  Low and behold there was a Domino’s Pizza not too far away so I pulled up my Domino’s app, typed in my location and BAM!  Pizza delivery right to the hotel lobby! Now, I would venture to say that the hotel staff was not too pleased with me and my party sitting at a table in the lobby with our pizza, but it is what worked for us that night.

And as far as the wine tasting?  It was amazing.  Wines from Orléans!  Nothing makes me happier than local wines!

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And with it was served some little nibbly things.

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Yummy!!! But I am glad I ordered the pizza…I don’t know if you know anybody like this, but sometimes I can get a TINY bit hangry when I don’t eat.  I’m sure you would never even notice.

Overall, our Pre-Cruise extension was an amazing addition to our trip.  The Loire Valley is amazing and so varied in its sub-regions.  The food and wines that we tried were all incredible and all so different.  I could go back and spend a month there in a heartbeat so if you know anyone headed that way…Just sayin’!

Next up, arriving in Bordeaux and boarding the Viking Forseti.