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!

 

 

 

Enchantment of the Seas…or “It’s not you, it’s me.”

On my last cruise in October on the Freedom of the Seas, I “donated” enough money in the casino to receive a certificate for a free future cruise.   There were a list of cruises that I could choose from or I could apply the value of the certificate to any  other cruise provided I sailed by a certain date.  That certain date was January 31, 2016.  I had already booked my London/Paris trip for earlier in January and with the holiday season there were no earlier dates that would work so I called the Casino Hotline at Royal Caribbean. The amazing folks there allowed me to book in February for a quick weekend trip on the Enchantment of the Seas, 4 days in an ocean view cabin.  I was fully prepared to go by myself since I wasn’t going to take the kids out of school, but then my mother said that she would like to go as well, so I booked it.  My brother and Peter were going to stay home and take care of my step-father so that my mother would be able to go. Unfortunately, my step-father passed away in December so no care giving was necessary.  The only silver lining in this is that now Michael & Peter could use their certificate and come with mom and I…as much as I love travelling with the two of them (and I LOVE travelling with the two of them!!) I would still rather have my step-dad back.  So even though this did not happen on this cruise, here is a picture of him on an earlier cruise.  I love you David!

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Ok, so moving on before we get too sad…

Mom and I were planning on flying down because neither one of us wanted to drive, but Peter doesn’t mind at all so we decided to drive down instead.  Fortunately we had not purchased airline tickets so now we just needed to book a hotel because we ALWAYS go down the day before!  I am way to nervous about coming in the same day, especially since most of our drive is on I-95 and who knows how traffic/floods/etc will be on that road at any given time.

Since the cruise was basically free, I purchased the Beverage package and we made reservations for the Chef’s Table dinner.  We had planned on eating in the MDR at least once, but as it turns out, that never happened.  We did make sure to let the dining room staff know ahead of time though.

So onto the itinerary…for this 3 night cruise we would go from Port Canaveral to Nassau to Cococay and then back to Port Canaveral.  No sea days, but I had never been to Nassau and I was the only one of the group that had been to Cococay before.  Michael & Peter were really looking forward to Nassau so that they could go over to Atlantis, but I was not really hyped about any of them and was really okay with just sitting on the ship for three full days.  I had been travelling a lot and really just needed some down time.

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Here is our Ocean View cabin, on Deck 3.  I thought the room was fine, I had been in an OV cabin before so it was what I expected, if a smidge bigger than the one I had on the Freedom in October…plus, no pullmans!!

This was the first time I had been on this class of ship, only previously travelled on Freedom or Oasis class, but I was really interested in this class because it is very similar to the Rhapsody, where I will be spending two weeks in and interior cabin in July…Its Greece and the Mediterranean though so I really don’t think I will care that much about the cabin!  But I was interested in the rest of the venues and how they would compare to the bells and whistles I was used to…the short answer is they are fine and in no way contributed to my attitude about this cruise.

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The pool deck is lovely and there is a very nice splash pad for the littles…not quite as amazing as the H2O Zone on some of the larger ships, but since I did not have any kids with me this trip, that was a non issue.  I did not take too many pictures inside the ship, or at all for that matter, this trip…Just wasn’t feeling it for some reason.

So with that being said, lets move on to the ports.  This trip we were stopping first at Nassau.  I had been in a chat with some other folks that would be on-board and one super nice gentleman had offered to take whoever wanted to go on a walking tour around Nassau as he had been many times (lucky!) and had a route that showed some of the highlights around the port area.  I was pretty excited to go, I love wandering and I love walking tours!

We had been told that it was a semi-strenuous walk, with one long set of stairs to climb.  I had warned my mother, but she felt she would be fine…until that morning, when she decided that she had better not.

So off I went to meet some random person to take me on an unknown route in the Bahamas.  Now, don’t think for a second that I was nervous about something happening to me, that doesn’t bother me at all…ask me about driving out to Stonehenge with some guy I met on the plane ride over when I was 18!!  So I had no qualms about mom not going with me, I did however encounter some issues!  First: I had no idea what this guy looked like.  We had (the group of us) set up some “meet & greets” earlier in the cruise, but I always seemed to miss them, then I would get there and everyone would be gone.  Point being, I am now trying to find someone I’ve never met before in a crowd of several thousand people.

So I waited just off the gangway, and waited, and waited.  I attempted to ninja my way into finding them by eavesdropping on every group that seemed to be congregating but that only served to rule out several gaggles of people…it also had the added effect of making me look a bit like a stalker instead of a ninja, but let’s not dwell on that!

So after waiting until it was really just me and the crew, I wandered around by myself to take a few pictures so that I could say I’d at least been to Nassau.

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Atlantis in the distance.  I found out later that I clearly was not watching as closely as I thought I was because apparently Michael & Peter walked off the ship and headed over to Atlantis without me catching sight of them…yeah, a real ninja, I know!

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I loved this boat.  Does anyone else see a big shaggy dog? No? Ok, well then carry on, nothing to see here!

I walked around a bit, but eventually just headed back on-board.  It was chilly for the Bahamas…even though it was February.  Back on board, I headed to my cabin and promptly fell asleep…I probably needed that more than anything anyway (even if I do hate to admit that!)

Next up, Cocoacay and Chef’s Table!

Freedom Sails…Day 7

Final sea day.  Final day of the cruise. Back to reality tomorrow.  Fortunately we will enjoy this day to the fullest and that means starting with an early morning character breakfast with Shrek, Fiona and of course, Puss in Boots.

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KT has no fear of characters so she really enjoyed this breakfast.  Not to mention that the entire meal is chocolate themed…what kid wouldn’t like it?  For me, after six days of hot Caribbean sun and fun, coffee is what’s for breakfast.  Ok, maybe some Bailey’s too…if you insist!

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After breakfast no one seem inclined to do anything too strenuous, seems all this sun, fun, food and fresh air was taking its toll on all of us.  We managed to drag ourselves up to the pool (Squeeze Bar) and park it on a lounger for a good portion of the day.

In the afternoon, it was time for the semi-finals of the slot tournament, so down to the casino we headed.  If you remember, P qualified on Day 2 and I won my qualifying round on Day 3, ruining my manicure and seriously hindering my ability to move my drinking hand for the next 24 hours or so.  Fortunately, they serve straws with all the drinks so I never had to lift them anyway!

So P and I are in the semi-finals.  15 slot players in three rounds, winner moves on to the finals.  I knew how much my hands hurt after one round, playing two back to back was going to be a challenge, but I was willing to give it a shot!  Plus its just fun to yell and scream at people!

Well, believe it or not…I won my semi-final!!!!  That meant that I would participate in the final round, immediately following the three semis.  I could barely move my arms, but the chance to win a free cruise or cash was incentive enough for me!  I had a 1 in 3 chance, right?

So on to the finals.  There are three of us standing at our assigned slot machines waiting for the countdown.  And when the bell rings: BAM, BAM, BAM.  Off we go mashing that button like crazy people!  In the grand scheme of things, five minutes doesn’t seem like a very long time, but trust me…about 2-3 minutes in to this competition, it felt like the longest five minutes in the world!! The end result?

I came in 2nd place.  Royal Caribbean advertises a free cruise for two to the winner, but there is a caveat to that.  They have to have had enough entries across all the round to meet a certain threshold in order to award the free cruise.  That did not happen, but since I finished second, it ended up being better for me anyway! First place got $500, and I got $350!  If they had given away the cruise to the 1st place finisher, I would have gotten nothing!  Still, it was a fun event, and one I had never done before so all in all a win.

We spent some more time before dinner with our favvie bartender Erwina.  We had been telling her about a shot that tastes like a gummy bear, so she wanted us to teach her that one…we tasted as she practiced getting it right…the sacrifices we make!

That night we returned to Portofino’s for dinner. After our AMAZING experience with Patrick several nights earlier, we were eagerly anticipating our second trip, especially since we knew that Portofino’s was going to be replaced with Giovanni’s Table in the next couple months so this would be our last opportunity EVER to eat there.

We had requested Patrick again, but alas, he was already spoken for (by the ship’s officers, as it turns out!).  Our server that night was good, but not Patrick.  Still, the food was amazeballs, and Bryan, the Casino Host sent us over a bottle of wine with dinner…a pretty good one too!!

After dinner, we had to finish the dreaded packing and setting out of the suitcases that really signals the end of the cruise.  My least favorite part!  We needed a couple of trips to Guest Services to ensure that everyone had the same departure number, and then we headed to the casino for our final donation to the RCCL Future Ship Fund.  If you are currently sailing on one of the new Quantum Class ships…You’re Welcome.

In the morning, we met at the Windjammer for breakfast then headed off the ship.  There is nothing sadder than hearing the last “bong” when they scan your seapass card for the final time.  We had some delays in Customs, but were on our way in short order and back on the road home.

We had a fantastic time, great food, amazing weather and all in all, a thoroughly enjoyable vacation.  For us, the drink package is totally worth it, your mileage may vary.  Of course, I booked my next cruise already, but before that…VEGAS BABY!

Freedom Sails…Day 5 (cont.)!!

So when last we talked, 5 of us had gone to Stingray City and 2 had stayed in town to walk around Georgetown, Grand Cayman.  We were supposed to meet up in town and walk around for a while, but since the Stingray City group took a side trip to Starfish Point, we missed our meeting time by a bunch!

We finally found each other in the WindJammer for lunch, quickly decided that there was nothing we wanted there.  Since we had worked up a huge appetite snorkeling, swimming with the rays and searching for starfish, we decided to go to Johnny Rockets for burgers…we should have skipped lunch entirely and just waited on dinner, but who could have predicted how much food would soon be in front of us??

As is fast becoming a habit, we donned pool clothes, put the kids in the play area and headed to Squeeze for tropical cocktails.  Sanjay and Sirjohn were fast becoming familiar with us and usually had something for us to try every time we walked by the bar (this is one of the perks of having the drink package!).

It was then time for our main event, dinner at Portofino’s.  If you remember, we had a pretty underwhelming dinner at Chops earlier in the week, and our Main Dining Room experience had just started to be what we had expected based on past experience.  We get the littles settled with movie and ice cream and 4 of us head up to Portofino’s.

We were seated and introduced to our waiter, Patrick.  I don’t think I am being overly generous when I say that Patrick is one of the best waiters I have ever had.  Land or sea.  He has that perfect combination of involved and out of the way, suggestive without being pushy, friendly and professional, and of course accommodating.

I don’t recall what all we had, but I am pretty sure we had a bit of every menu item available.  The one main course stand out is a dish called the Seafood Tower.  It is delicious, of course, but the presentation is what makes it over the top impressive.

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Shrimp, scallops, a full lobster tail all threaded onto a skewer and suspended over a plate with ahi tuna medallions, asparagus and roasted potatoes.  Served, naturally, with drawn butter.  Patrick expertly plated the dish and removed the lobster from the shell.  This dish was pretty awesome!  We all enjoyed it, but I am not sure that M was all that happy with us attacking his dinner!!  Overall all the dishes were fantastic, but this was the only one I took a picture of…until dessert!!

Dessert at Portofino’s is truly an experience not to be missed…you will be so full that you will swear you will burst, and then they offer the desserts and suddenly you have to try them all!!  Maybe that is why Royal Caribbean did away with Portofino’s and replaced it with Giovanni’s Table…people were actually bursting trying to stuff in dessert!  I will just let the pictures do the talking for me!

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The sampler in the top picture is: berries and zabaglione, tiramisu, chocolate cake and cheesecake…all four were very tasty.  The second picture is a chocolate bomb.  A cookie on the bottom, chocolate mousse with a dark chocolate shell on top.  Very good…very rich!  The final picture is easily the best dessert I have ever had.  It is a chocolate shell filled with tiramisu with a white chocolate crisp.  In the shot glass was a sweet cream on top, a Bailey’s and Kaluha shot underneath.  WHAT!!!!  Where has this been all my life!!!  I am not a big dessert eater, but this one was great!  We decided immediately that we would have another dinner at Portofino’s on Saturday night.  I have since been to the new Italian concept Giovanni’s Table, that has replaced all of the Portofino’s on board Royal Caribbean Ships.  Its good, but its not Portofino’s.  Add in service like we had with Patrick and this night remains one of my favorite dinners of the year!

We then waddled down to the casino to make our nightly donation to the Royal Caribbean future ship fund, before rolling into bed to prepare for Cozumel in the morning.  We have booked an all-inclusive day at Nachi Cochum…I am pretty sure I am skipping breakfast, up next is all you can eat Mexican food!