Conquest in the Caribbean…6 (and last!)

After our two new cool ports, we have a sea day on our way back to Ft. Lauderdale.  We have already discussed that I really like sea days, both for relaxing and because they always have kinda corny, but usually fun activities for people to take part in if they choose.  My activity du jour is the famed Mixology class with the AMAZING bartenders at the Alchemy Bar.

This class was run by Kat, our bartender from Belarus.  I originally had not signed up for the class because I’ve been a bartender, do I really need a mixology class?  As it turns out…maybe.

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Arriving at class, I am greeted by these three little, tiny martini glasses…DON’T BE FOOLED!!! Kat (shown here looking deceptively innocent) will fill those glasses up at least 17 times before you leave.

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First up is the Mint Martini…there was quite a bit of technical information given about gin and I am positive that Kat thoroughly discusses the intricacies of muddling and straining and all that important stuff.  But the biggest lie I tell myself is “I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember that!” And then 17 martinis (small ones…don’t judge) later I need one of those stickers with my name on it so I don’t forget that!

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That was followed by the Cucumber Sunrise…As you can see, my straining skills need work! But I had already finished a full glass (the pint glass in the back, not the little martini ones) of the gin mint thing and was partway through the pint of the cucumber vodka one so my real goal was to not fall off the barstool.

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Oh!  I know what will help!! Caffeine!  So Kat graciously provided us with espresso bean infused vodka…hmmm…maybe I didn’t think this all the way through.

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Alright…real talk between friends?  I have no idea what this one was.  The only reason I know I was still there are the pictures!  But I am going to hazard a guess and say that I liked this one…I usually like pink drinks!

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And finally, the green one I don’t remember!  At some point we learned about infusing the cocktail with bubbles instead of adding a carbonated mixer…that was cool.  And  I must have survived all the way to the end because I came home with this:

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So I am clearly competent to mix you a drink…or drink what you mix…or something!  All said and done it was really a fun class, great instructor in Kat, great group of other participants, and believe it or not, I did learn new stuff too!

After this class, however, I had to go back to the cabin a take a nap before dinner!  Our last dinner on board was in the Main Dining Room and then it was time to leave.

Overall, I really enjoyed this cruise.  There were things that Carnival does better than Royal Caribbean and things that Royal does better.  At the end of the day, I have added a new cruise line to my sailing options!  In fact, I already have two more cruises booked on Carnival.  But next up is my favorite Royal Caribbean ship, Freedom of the Seas in the Mediterranean!!!!

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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!

 

Conquest in the Caribbean…2

So now is is boarding day (if you need to catch up click here)!!  Having never cruised Carnival before I was not familiar with their boarding process, but really how different could it be…show your ID, hand over your credit card, get your card, easy enough.  And it was.  With the possible exception of me having no “status” with Carnival so I stood in line with all the other newbie (to Carnival) cruisers.  Still, the line moved fairly quickly and soon I was looking for my mother, who had already checked in, instead of waiting for me!  That turned out to be a lucky move as she was assigned Group 1 boarding and I had been assigned Group 4.  I guess that is a timing thing as she had never been on Carnival before either.  At any rate, we still had quite a bit of waiting to do as boarding was delayed for some unknown reason, but eventually we were called to begin boarding.

Our itinerary for this trip includes two islands I have never been to before so I was super excited for those.  Here is how the week would go:

Sunday – Board
Monday – Nassau
Tuesday – At Sea
Wednesday – Amber Cove, Dominican Republic
Thursday – Grand Turk
Friday – At Sea
Saturday – Get off…go home.

I had also made reservations for the Steakhouse and Chefs Table, both of which I love on Royal so I was interested to see the differences. But first?? A drink!!

I had purchased the drink package (like I always do!) and since Carnival rules are different, so had mom, even though she usually barely breaks even on that.  So up to the pool bar to grab a drink.  And there we came to a screeching halt. You see, mom’s card worked fine, but mine declined.  What? How can you decline a prepurchased drink package?  Well…down to Customer Service…fortunately with a drink because the bartender took pity on my, although I did promise to come back and show him I had gotten it fixed.

The line at Customer Service went fairly quickly and soon Katie from Ireland had gotten us (me) all fixed up!  Back up to the pool deck we headed to take a look around.

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Water Slides!!!  I do love me some water slides…but I hadn’t quite had enough to drink yet!   So back down to the Red Frog Bar to show my now working card to the bartender and while I was there, refresh my drink!

Mom and I wandered around looking at things for a while, and then went to check out our cabin.  We were in an Oceanview cabin on Deck 1.  Remember that by the time I added mom, the only Oceanview’s were “guarantee.”  That means that Carnival assigns you a cabin based on what’s left…and we were the last cabin aft.  As far back as you can go on Deck 1.  The size and decor of the cabin were a pleasant surprise, but we did have a bit of an unpleasant surprise on port days.

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See? Nice enough cabin.  There is also a full size sofa, three closets and a “cruise-ship standard” bathroom.  For mom and I, there was plenty of room.  In fact it is bigger than the same type of stateroom on Royal’s ships!

After unpacking, it was time for Muster Drill…the mandatory safety drill required by the Coast Guard for all cruise ship passengers.  This, I think Royal does a bit better as they scan your room key to make sure everyone is accounted for.  This cruise, they just did a head count, and if the count didn’t match, we waited.  Now, its not too hot in January in Ft. Lauderdale, but I can only imagine how unpleasant this is in August!  Eventually everyone got counted, and the safety drill commenced.

When we were released from Muster, it was nearly time to get dressed for dinner.  We would be dining at the Steakhouse restaurant and taking advantage of Carnival’s first night special.  If you choose to dine in a specialty restaurant on either the first night or formal night, you get a free bottle of wine with dinner or 50% off any wine on the list.

More on that (and our Chef’s Table experience) next!!

 

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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Viva Las Vegas…Part 3 (Strip Tour!)

As I may have mentioned, you can mostly walk from one end of the strip to the other, without ever setting foot outside…just travel from casino to casino through their connecting hallways and you never have to see the sun!  However, there is some spectacular sites to see if you do choose to venture outdoors.  Here are a few I took on our walk.  FYI – It was January when these pics were taken, so if you are looking for a reprieve from winter weather, Vegas has got you covered!

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Caesars Palace

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The Fountains at Caesars Palace

 

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The Mirage

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Siegfried & Roy statue at the Mirage

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The Venetian

 

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Inside the Venetian, with the sky painted on the ceiling

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New York New York

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Statue of Liberty made entirely of Jelly Bellies!!

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And then back to the Bellagio just in time to watch the Fountains!!

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Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

I thought that the fountains were absolutely amazing and stopped to watch them every single time they started up.  No matter where I was. I think my new dream job is to choreograph water!