The 20th Anniversary Celebration Continues on the Fun Ship: Day 5, Puerto Vallarta

Who: Rich and Kathy
Where: Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera
What: Carnival Miracle
When: August 13-20, 2016
Why: The 20th Wedding Anniversary Celebration Continues

Today is our Anniversary Day! 20 years ago today we were joined together by God forever in the sacrament of marriage at St. Stephen Orthodox Church in Cupertino, CA. A very special blessing that we celebrate today.

We woke up with the ship already docked at Puerto Vallarta. It was stormy, raining pretty hard. It’s the first time we’ve seen PV this way. It remained cloudy all morning, although the rain stopped before long.

We relaxed in our cabin with room service breakfast: cereal, banana, coffee, and juice. And then we continued to relax until lunch time. We’ve been to PV 3 times in the past year and we didn’t plan to do much today. We might have gotten off the ship to stroll the shops and grab a quick bite if Kathy hadn’t sprained her toe. We’d heard there been more violence in PV, but staying close to the ship would probably have been okay.

So, we strolled the promenade again, taking videos of PV. (Videos to be uploaded.)

Then we stopped in the Lido buffet for a salad for Kathy and a grilled Reuben sandwich for Rich.

The next stop was the Serenity aft pool area, where we settled in the shade to read our books and enjoy the drink of the day, the Sunburst (vodka, mango, and peach schnapps).

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After reading, we headed back to the cabin to rest before our anniversary dinner at Nick and Nora’s steakhouse at 7 pm. At 2:30 when I went to take a rinse in the shower, we found that the hot water wasn’t working. Guest Services told us that it would be fixed by 4:30 pm. It actually wasn’t fixed until 6:30 pm, forcing Kathy to shower in cold water.

Nevertheless, we got ready and headed to Nick and Nora’s at 6:45 pm. We were seated at a table for two by the window and had excellent service, although the whole experience was better on our May 2015 cruise, including the awesome photo of us at the table together.

We ordered a glass of Kathie Lee Gifford Gifft Red Blend wine for each of us and were served an amuse bouche, a mini slider, which was quite tasty.

amuseKathy had the lobster bisque, iceberg lettuce salad, and the filet mignon, medium.

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Rich had the baked onion soup, Caesar salad, and five-spice rubbed ribeye. We each ordered the ginger ice cream for dessert.

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Then the servers surprised us with an anniversary dessert, a cookies and cream tart and two glasses of champagne.

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It was a lot of food, but it was all delicious, although Kathy was starting to not feel well, which, little did we know, a portent of things to come.

Still, we had great service and a wonderful celebration of our 20th anniversary.

After 8:00 pm, we headed back to the cabin for 8:30 pm sailaway and another sip of our Merlot in the cabin.

The 20th Anniversary Celebration Continues on the Fun Ship: Day 4, Mazatlan

Who: Rich and Kathy
Where: Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera
What: Carnival Miracle
When: August 13-20, 2016
Why: The 20th Wedding Anniversary Celebration Continues

We woke up at 8 am and the shipped was already docked in Mazatlan. Breakfast from the Lido was cereal and milk with coffee in the room. It was already too hot to eat on the balcony.

We walked the promenade and took some videos before venturing off the ship around 10 am. In Mazatlan, you have to ride a shuttle to get to the actual port.

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IMG_7323We stopped at the shops and restaurant at the port and did some window shopping. We were approached by a taxi driver and we agreed to go to the Golden Zone at Margaritas where we ate last time we were in Mazatlan.

Unfortunately, his cab was across the street and not at the port. This should have been a sign of problems. Rich rushed across the street and when Kathy followed, she tripped and injured her foot. So we thankfully skipped the weird cab driver.

Instead, we settled at the outdoor port restaurant where we had Margaritas plus shrimp tacos for Kathy and chicken tacos for Rich. We’d wanted to stop here the last time we were in Mazatlan but had already had lunch at Margaritas in the Golden Zone. (Will be uploading videos.)

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The mariachis played beautiful music while we ate, and the roaming entertainer made us balloon hats.

Kathy’s foot was hurting so we returned to the ship, got some ice from our steward and rested in the cabin until it was time to visit the Serenity aft pool. We stayed in the shade, but it was still scorching hot even in the water.

We soon returned to the cabin and ordered a turkey sandwich and Cokes from room service before our nap.

We sailed away from Mazatlan at 5 pm heading for Puerto Vallarta tomorrow. We wrapped Kathy’s foot in an Ace bandage that Rich got from the medical center, and we were off to the Skybox Sports Bar where Kathy had a Skybox Martini (vodka, cranberry liqueur, orange citrus, and Domaine Chandon bubbly) and Rich had a Thirsty Frog beer. We enjoyed our drinks while watching the Olympics.

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Dinner was calling at the Lido buffet where we had salad, pizza, and other assorted yummies. Then it was back to the cabin for milk and cookies from room service before lights out. We set our clocks ahead one hour tonight. We put our breakfast order on the door for morning delivery.

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The 20th Anniversary Celebration Continues on the Fun Ship: Day 3, Cabo

Who: Rich and Kathy
Where: Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera
What: Carnival Miracle
When: August 13-20, 2016
Why: The 20th Wedding Anniversary Celebration Continues

Breakfast was pastries and coffee from the Lido enjoyed on our balcony. Then it was time for another wonderful walk around the promenade deck.

We returned to the cabin and changed into our swim suits and headed to the adults only Serenity Deck at the aft of the ship. We claimed two loungers under partial cover and jumped into the aft pool with soothing cool water.

Then it was time a our Mai Tais as we relaxed on the loungers. It was getting very hot, so after our drinks we were back in the pool for an extended time.

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Not us – we don’t take camera or iphone when we plan to swim in the pool.

We were getting hungry, so we headed to the Lido mid-ship pool where we visited the grill and had cheeseburgers and fries with iced tea.

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Miracle still doesn’t have Guy Fieri’s burgers, but oh my goodness, these look delicious!

After lunch, it was back to the aft pool where we soaked in the cool water while chatting with a couple from Twentynine Palms. The wife grew up in Fountain Valley just like Kathy.

Nap time followed and then we prepared for dinner in the Bacchus Dining Room again. We got a table for two at the upstairs railing overlooking the traditional diners.

Kathy had Cajun shrimp flatbread appetizer and the tilapia entree. Rich had the ahi tuna appetizer and the baked ziti entree.

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Rich had a small glass of Limoncello, a tasty Italian lemon alcoholic drink. As you can see, the Miracle has that wild and crazy Farcus decor, but the service is the best we’ve had at sea and we love the booths we often get in the dining room – the only ones I’ve seen on a cruise ship in my 16 cruises.

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We’d heard so much about Carnival’s Chocolate Melting Cake and couldn’t wait to try it, but too late, we looked up the calories and they were a whopping 770! And that doesn’t even include the scoop of ice cream, which was amazing together! If we’d known, we would have shared. Oh well… we were celebrating!

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After dinner, we enjoyed a lovely stroll on the promenade deck where we got a terrific view of Cabo San Lucas at night. When sailaway started, we headed back to our cabin balcony where we said goodbye to Cabo while sipping some red wine. (Videos yet to be uploaded.)

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We ventured out one more time around 9 pm to check out the shops onboard and have another short stroll around the promenade.

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We returned to our cabin to tonight’s towel animal.

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Finally is was time to turn in for the night. It was a little difficult getting to sleep after we had the chocolate melting cake, but we finally drifted off awaiting our sail-in to Mazatlan.

The 20th Anniversary Celebration Continues on the Fun Ship: Day 2

Who: Rich and Kathy
Where: Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera
What: Carnival Miracle
When: August 13-20, 2016
Why: The 20th Wedding Anniversary Celebration Continues

(Btw, once again, Rich wrote up the day’s report on our iPad, and Kathy inserted the photos for the report.)

We were up around 8 am. Rich went up one deck to the Lido deck to get pastries and coffee for breakfast that we enjoyed on our balcony.

After breakfast, we headed out for a walk around the promenade deck with a lovely view of the water. The sun was still hiding behind thin clouds and the walk was very pleasant.

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At 10 am we were ready for the Sea Day Brunch in the Bacchus Dining Room. We started with their great bread basket and Kathy’s favorite Cappuccino muffin. They brought us fruit plates to tide us over to the main course, Huevos Rancheros. Rich added a side of bacon and a side of corned beef hash that we shared. We had coffee to drink, no Bloody Mary’s today. The meal was delightful.

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After brunch, we stopped back in the cabin for our books which we took to the Alchemy Bar where we found our cozy reading corner.

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Then we ventured to the Serenity Deck, the adults only deck at the aft of the ship where we continued reading while enjoying the drink of the day, Blue Margarita. We had a nice shady spot that was very relaxing.

But we weren’t finished relaxing yet — we headed back to our cabin and sat on our still-shady balcony until the sun finally encroached.

IMG_7275Then it was nap time until dinner.

Tonight was formal night, so we dressed and headed to the dining room at 6:00 pm. We were immediately seated at a table for two by the window overlooking the ocean.

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We each had a glass of Layer Cake Pinot Noir. Kathy had the Shrimp Cocktail appetizer and the Lobster and Shrimp entree. Rich had the Blackened Pork Tenderloin Tart appetizer and the Striped Sea Bass with Lemon Beur Blanc and Sour Dough Potatoes entree. We both had the yummy butter pecan ice cream for dessert.

The service and atmosphere were wonderful at dinner and we are looking forward to returning to the dining room again soon.

After dinner, we headed to the show lounge for the live show, Heart of Soul, where 8 performers danced and sang soul music. It was very entertaining. We watched from our box seats at the side of the stage.

After the show, it was time for a lovely stroll around the promenade deck. This is a special time for walking the promenade — a little humid, a little breezy, the sound of the ocean, and the moon shining. Very romantic.

Then it was time to call it a night and head to our cabin. We caught a glass atrium elevator up to our cabin and happened to get into the elevator with the Cruise Director, Adam. We made it back to the cabin to unwind and eventually drift off to sleep. We were greeted with turn down and a frog towel animal. Ah cruising!

The 20th Anniversary Celebration Continues on the Fun Ship: Day 1

Who: Rich and Kathy
Where: Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera
What: Carnival Miracle
When: August 13-20, 2016
Why: The 20th Wedding Anniversary Celebration Continues

We started celebrating our 20th anniversary, which officially occurs in August, with the Valentine’s weekend kickoff trip, and the Mexican Riviera cruise on the Love Boat (Crown Princess) in April. We were undecided about what to do on the actual anniversary. We thought about celebrating somewhere locally in Las Vegas but really wanted to leave the desert for a week in August just to get away.

Naturally, we thought about Timber Cove Inn in Sonoma and made reservations. At one time, we’d made ressies at the Grand Californian. In the end, we wanted to go someplace where we could totally relax and be pampered for a week so we chose to cruise. And, in summer, out of L.A., this means Carnival. We’d had a good time on the Miracle in 2015 so we decided to book it for anniversary week. Our Princess cruise was the more romantic, formal celebration and our Carnival cruise was the fun, casual celebration.

We drove in Friday from Las Vegas, leaving home around 2:45 pm with a stop for a couple of Del Meat burritos at Del Taco in Barstow. We hoped to arrive at our destination by 7 pm, but there were three separate accidents along the route, so we didn’t arrive at our Residence Inn Fountain Valley-Huntington Beach until 8 pm.

We were exhausted but our king studio was lovely and comfortable. As Elite members, we were upgraded to a corner room with a fireplace. We’d like to return during fireplace weather. We sipped a glass of wine and snacked on some popcorn supplied by RI.

We slept in, Rich got our breakfast from the lobby, and we got on the road to Long Beach around 10:15 am. Another accident slowed us down on 405, but we arrived at the Port of Long Beach a little after 11 am. We parked in the top level of the parking garage and took this photo of the ship.

IMG_7249We checked in through the Faster to the Fun line and were soon waiting to board around 11:30 am.

Unfortunately, Carnival had a technical glitch, and we did not board until 1:30 pm. The waiting time was not totally wasted as we met and chatted with an Oregon honeymoon couple, first-timers who asked us for lots of advice. That made the time more pleasant.

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Once onboard, we dropped off our bags in the cabin, and headed up one deck to the lido buffet. We stopped at Chopsticks where we had rice noodles, rice, and chili spice beef. Rich also had a slice of cheese pizza. We had iced tea and dessert – fruit and cookies and lemon meringue pie.

We returned to our cabin for a rest until the muster drill at 4:30 pm in the hot sun on the promenade deck.
After the drill, we were back in our cabin for a big snooze. We were so tired, we ordered room service dinner: roast turkey sandwich, BLT, and Caesar salads.

After dinner around 9 pm, we headed out to Sam’s Piano Bar where Josh entertained us on the piano for 2 hours while we enjoyed our Martinis (Vodka for Kathy, Gin for Rich). We took some video and will upload it later.

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We stumped him with our Meatloaf request but he said he’d work on learning it. We checked in later in the week but never really made it back there to see if he’d mastered Meatloaf – lol!

We were back in the cabin around 11:30 pm and asleep by midnight.

Summer of 2016: Disneyland Birthday Trip: Saturday, Part 3: DCA, Dinner at Carthay Circle

Who: Rich and Kathy
Where: Anaheim
What: Kathy’s Birthday Trip
When: July 8-10, 2016
Why: Kathy’s Birthday

Rich wrote this post highlighting our dining experience at Carthay Circle.

Dinner and Drink Selections

DRINKS

Kathy & Rich:
Carthay Diamond Martini (60th Anniversary Cocktail)
Classically prepared with Hendrick’s Gin (Rich) or Double Cross Vodka (Kathy), Lillet Blanc Dry Vermouth, and Gourmet Truffle Olives served with an Ice Sphere

APPETIZER (Shared)

Carthay Signature Fried Biscuits
Stuffed with White Cheddar, Bacon, and Jalapeño with Apricot Honey Butter

ENTREES

Kathy: Carthay Shellfish Cioppino
Royal Shrimp, Black Mussels, Manila Clams, Snow Crab Claws, Ramen Noodles, Lemon Grass, Pineapple

Rich: Grilled White Sea Bass (Sustainable Fish of the Day)
Avocado Relish, Tree Ripe Peach-Almond Gazpacho

DESSERT (Shared)

Meyer Lemon “Cracked” Meringue Tart
Fresh California Strawberries and a Birthday Candle

Details

When the parade ended, we followed the end of the parade, and then entered Carthay Circle restaurant. After a brief wait in line, we approached the desk to check in for our 6:10 pm dinner reservation.

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The hostess was friendly, and she asked us if we were celebrating a special occasion. We said yes, it’s Kathy’s birthday, remarking that the hostess’ name was also Kathy.

She invited us to sit in the lounge and wait to be escorted to our table. Soon, she returned with a personalized Happy Birthday pin for Kathy. Very nice.

After a brief wait, a host arrived and asked if we had dined at Carthay Circle before. We told him we had (Valentine’s Day 2015). He then escorted us up the stairs to our half-booth table just across from the table we had last visit. Our server Ernie quickly arrived to wish Kathy a Happy Birthday, take our drink and appetizer order, and tell us about the fish of the day.

We both ordered Martinis – Gin for Rich and Vodka for Kathy. The martinis were fantastic, perfectly made and delicious. And what can we say about the “biscuits!” They are not really biscuits in the traditional sense. They are hard to describe, but they are fried balls of goodness with an incredible cheese, bacon, and jalapeño filling. Rich ate them with apricot butter while Kathy ate them straight.

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Basket of Carthay Circle Biscuits

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Inside the Biscuits

We took Ernie’s suggestion for the light fish dishes, and we’re glad we did. Kathy’s cioppino was definitely light but full of flavor with a wonderful variety of seafood and yummy noodles and broth. Rich’s dish was so flavorful, he savored every bite. The combination of peach and almond in the gazpacho (more of a coulis) was delightful.

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Kathy’s Cioppino

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Rich’s Sea Bass

After perusing the dessert menu, we decided to share the lemon tart. Ernie delivered the dessert plate with a lit birthday candle adorning it, once again wishing Kathy a Happy Birthday. The perfect ending to a perfect meal.

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Service throughout the meal was superb. Ernie was friendly, knowledgeable, efficient, and attentive. He was assisted by the equally adept Ryan (who we had seen on a YouTube video as a tour guide for 15-minute The Story of Carthay Circle Restaurant tour that occurs every day at 10:30 a.m.).

You can watch it here via Tim Tracker’s YouTube Channel:

Everyone we came in contact with wished Kathy a Happy Birthday, a nice touch for our sumptuous celebration.

Carthay Circle is one of our favorite restaurants on Disney property, in fact, it’s one of our favorite restaurants anywhere. We love the food created by the brilliant Andrew Sutton, the mostly unsung and under-rated chef of Napa Rose and Carthay Circle. We met Andrew at the 2010 Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival, and he’s as humble and gracious as he is talented. If Disney offers the cooking experience with Andrew Sutton at next year’s Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival, Rich would love to participate.

Napa Rose creates a lovely dining experience, but for atmosphere, Carthay Circle wins out. The beautiful recreation of the Carthay Circle Theatre–where Walt introduced the film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”–is stunning. And the service is much more Disney-like–friendly and fun.

This was a totally delightful experience, an ideal way to celebrate Kathy’s birthday with a terrific, memorable meal in stunning surroundings with top-notch service.

“Viva Mexico” 20th Anniversary Cruise: Day 6, Cabo San Lucas

Thursday, April 14, 2016

We were up at 7:30 am when Rich went down to the IC and brought back 2 large Cappucinos, a chocolate donut and a custard beignet for our breakfast.

At 8:00 am, we called the dining line and made reservations for DaVinci Dining Room at 7:30 pm for dinner. It’s formal night, and we will have them celebrate our anniversary when we give them our anniversary message card.

We were in Cabo on the Ruby Princess last fall and had a great time, but this time we decided to stay onboard and enjoy the adult aft pool while most passengers were in Cabo. Besides, after 2 excursions 2 days in a row, we needed a relaxing day. We’ve noticed a 5-night cruise to Cabo on the Ruby this fall so you never know…

We were out by the aft pool by 9:45 am where we got some loungers right at the aft of the ship with a fabulous view of Cabo San Lucas.

After our first dip in the pool, we each got the drink of the day, a Raspberry Margarita, and enjoyed them as we lounged in the sun and drank in the view. We overheard the couple next to us saying how much they loved Cabo because it wasn’t humid. And that’s why we’re not big Cabo fans – it’s the desert by the ocean and we already live in the desert. We prefer Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. But there’s a lot of activity in Cabo – parasailing, kayaking, etc.

We took another dip in the pool, sat out long enough to dry off and then headed back to our cabin, where our cabin steward Frankey was busy cleaning our stateroom. We wandered off until he was finished.

Back in our cabin, we ordered room service lunch, 2 cheeseburgers with fries, Cokes and cookies. After lunch, we enjoyed our nap.

We got ready for formal night and went down to Explorers Lounge at 6:30 and ordered 2 glasses of Merlot while we waited for the comedian/singer Steve Moris (toured with the Beach Boys) to start his show at 7 pm. He sang a lot of great songs, including several Beach Boys songs, taking Kathy back to her childhood growing up near the same beaches the Beach Boys sing about.

We left at 7:25 to make our 7:30 anytime dining reservation at DaVinci Dining Room. We gave the waiter our anniversary coupon and he looked puzzled. This was just the beginning of his incompetence.

Kathy had a Tian of Shrimp, Crab & Scallops with caviar, an appetizer portion of Fettucine Alfredo, and the lobster and prawns entree. Rich had escargot, appetizer Fettucine Alfredo, and beef Wellington.

(Kathy: When I saw the man to the left of me receive such a beautiful portion of lobster and shrimp and the way the waiter attentively removed the shells, well, my expectations were set high. But when mine arrived (and the man to the right of me), I noticed the lobster was very small and the shell on the lobster and shrimp was only half-removed. Btw, the 2 couples to our left arrived at least 15 minutes after we did but were finishing dessert as we were eating our entrees.)

The portions and taste of the entrees were weak. The service was atrocious for us and the other tables for 2 that were seated at the same time as us. Others around us with different waiters got much better service. We got up before dessert (along with another couple) and spoke about the issues with the maitre’d. He took our cabin numbers, so we’ll see what happens. (Nothing happened.)

We stopped back in our cabin to change out of our uncomfortable clothes and changed into smart casual clothes. Then we went back out to Crooner’s where we heard some wonderful music by Tommy McPhee while sipping on our Dino Dirty Vodka Martinis (they were a little strange, but OK). They sounded better than they tasted.

We left just at the end of his set with the Frank Sinatra medley and turned in for the night.

The weather today was perfect – sunny and warm out by the pool.
The best thing today was the two of us sipping Margaritas, while enjoying the aft pool with views of Cabo.
The worst thing today was service at dinner.
The funniest thing today was watching all the boats zip over to a private beach without refreshments while we sipped on our Margaritas.
Today we tried the anniversary card in the dining room.
And the result was our waiter was confused by it (Melanie and Johnny, who were also celebrating, said it was a special dessert) but we left before dessert.
The most magical moment today was the aft pool time.

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“Viva Mexico” 20th Anniversary Cruise: Day 4, Puerto Vallarta

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What we forgot to mention is that the day before while sitting out by the aft pool, enjoying our Tequila Sunrise, we wrote a song together. Kathy had written one the night before and we started expanding on it until it became a separate song. As you may recall, she wrote “Palm Fever” on last year’s cruise to Puerto Vallarta just as we were pulling into Banderas Bay, watching the dolphins frolic in the sea.

On this cruise, we arrived in Puerto Vallarta early in the morning so there was no approach like before. Knowing that we would have a long excursion, we chose a more substantial breakfast. From room service, we ordered a bowl of Raisin Bran for each of us, and we shared a breakfast sandwich with coffee and juice. We took our coffee out on our exposed verandah. Before booking a mini-suite, verandah visibility was a concern for us. But we found we were so busy enjoying the ocean, we were unaware of the 3 decks of cabins above us.

Except then one morning the woman in the cabin directly above us called down to say, “Hey, I see donuts. Bet you didn’t know I could see you, did you?” Actually, yes, we did. So we said, “Oh yeah, we were in your cabin on our last cruise.” What we really wanted to say was, “Sure we did. We just didn’t expect some moron to actually talk to us.” Thankfully, we never heard from her again. 🙂

We sipped our coffee, took photos, and enjoyed the Mariachis and the parrots.

Then we were off on our PV excursion. We met our excursion group at the dock just off the ship for the Viva Tequila, Mariachi, and Beach Lunch excursion. It was hot, humid, and we were thirsty. We waited too long for our trolley, but when we boarded, they offered us each a bottle of water. We sat next to an Asian couple from the Bay Area, and enjoyed our chat with them. People always ask, “Why did you leave the Bay Area for Las Vegas?” Long story.

We headed off for a thorough tour of PV via an open-air trolley, especially Old Town where we passed interesting sites such as Fiesta Americana where Kathy stayed in 1981. It still looks good, although the area around it is so crowded, you can barely notice it unless you were looking.

Our first stop was Viva Tequila a tequila museum and showroom. We received a small complementary tequila. We purchased 2 more Margaritas for sipping on our tour. We then were led through the museum where we learned everything about the history and making of tequila, tasting a little on the way.

Then we had the official tasting in the theatre, where we learned how best to appreciate and sip tequila. Then we saw a fantastic live show with mariachis, dancers, singers, and rope twirlers.

At the end, we received our certificates as official tequila experts. Then it was off to lunch at Mangos Beach Club where we had rolled tacos, another Margarita with new friends who shared our table, Melanie and Johnny from Phoenix. We had an enjoyable time with them, and Melanie bought the drinks.

Then we walked across the beach to the water’s edge and waded into the beautiful water of Banderas Bay up to our knees. Thrilling!

It was then time to return to the ship via our trolley. We went straight to our cabin and rested.

We tried to order room service, but we couldn’t get through on the phone. So Rich went up to the Trident Grill which was serving the Smokehouse BBQ and got 2 brisket sandwiches with fries and a slice of pepperoni pizza.

We enjoyed our meal in our room and then watched a great movie, “33” about the rescue of the Chilean miners in 2010.

The weather today was hot and humid, reminding us of Florida.
The best thing today was the tequila.
The worst thing today was waiting for our trolley in the sun without water.
The funniest thing today was the photo of Kathy with a Margarita and a glass of tequila in each hand (those photos are private but friends can email us for the password).
Today we tried Mango’s Beach Club for the first time.
And the result was a great location and the Margaritas were delicious but the tacos were a bit cold. The beach and company was awesome.
The most magical moment today was Kathy seeing the town of Puerto Vallarta again after 35 years, and Rich seeing it for the first time. On our last trip, we were on a private island.

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“Viva Mexico” 20th Anniversary Cruise: Day 3, Day at Sea

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Up at 8 am. Breakfast from the IC: coffee, chocolate donut, custard beignet, and lemon Danish. We enjoyed breakfast on our balcony in our comfy robes. This is the first balcony we’ve without an overhead cover, meaning, the people above us could see us but we were too busy gazing at the ocean to notice.

Out of the cabin by 10 am, we walked the promenade and walked the ship until we arrived at the aft pool are and the Outrigger Bar where we settled into an aft-facing table and enjoyed a couple of Tequila Sunrises.

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Around noon, we ventured into Cafe Caribe and feasted on a delicious Indian buffet with samosas, bean & potato salads, prom, beef, and kabobs, and other yummy stuff.

Another round on the promenade deck was interrupted by the Captain’s announcement that they have discovered passengers with the noro-virus and that they will be serving the self-service food differently, and that we should wash our hands thoroughly every chance possible (at least 20 seconds with soap and water), and use our cabin restroom instead of the public restrooms. We are resting now hoping for no infection.

Starting at 5:15, we got ready for dinner (smart casual night), and left the cabin at 6 pm. We stopped at the photo gallery to check out our pictures from last night’s formal night portraits and the Crown Grill photographer. A couple of the photos were very good — Kathy’s photo at Crown Grill and a photo of the 2 of us in a portrait pose. We purchased these 2 photos and an 8×11 for the picture of us together. The photo of Kathy came in 3 sizes, one for Rich’s wallet, one for Rich’s desk, and one for home.

We returned to the cabin to drop off our purchases and then headed to the Salty Dog in the Wheelhouse Bar. We were seated by a window and there was great music by Rumors playing. We started with bread sticks with cheese and beer dip. And then a salad with 3 dipping sauces. We enjoyed a couple of Seawitch Blonde Ale beers and ordered our 3 small plates apiece.

Kathy: lobster mac & cheese, calamari, and the Ernesto burger.

Rich: grilled cheese & soup, short ribs, and the Ernesto burger. For dessert, we had coffee and donuts, and a fabulous pot de creme with caramel popcorn. (We discovered the amazing chocolate onboard Princess is part of the partnership with Norman Love Chocolates. No wonder!)

We had a 6:30 reservation and it took about 1 hour and 45 minutes to eat because the service was horrid. The chairs were terribly uncomfortable as well.

We walked the promenade after dinner (we walked 3 miles today and most days) and then returned to our cabin for a pleasant relaxation on our balcony and then retired for the night.

The weather today was warm and sunny.
The best thing today was drinks by the aft pool.
The worst thing today was the Norovirus announcement.
The funniest thing today was the captain making this big dramatic announcement as if Los Angeles was having a Norovirus epidemic, instead of just on his ship.
Today we tried the Salty Dog for the first time.
And the result was really delicious food, but the service was terrible. We were not the only ones who thought so. We chatted with a couple sitting near us and later with a couple we met on our Puerto Vallarta excursion.
The most magical moment today was Rich on the bar stool ordering 2 Tequila Sunrises.

“Viva Mexico” 20th Anniversary Cruise: Day 2, Day at Sea/Formal Night

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Kathy, here, starting off today’s diary.

Woke up at 7:30 a.m. to ocean and stormy skies. It’s too cold to sit out on the balcony, but the mini suite is spacious and the couch is comfortable. We ate last night’s turn down chocolates first thing when we got up. Rich is getting coffee and donuts at the IC (International Cafe). Our anniversary sticker is on our door.

When Rich returned to our cabin, anniversary balloons were tied outside our doorway. The sun was beginning to peek out.

Rich will take over writing our daily diary posts.

For breakfast, we had coffee, and shared an assortment of pastries, such as custard beignet, chocolate croissant, orange Danish, and hazelnut bread.

After breakfast, we headed out to tour the ship, order flowers, set up the Internet, bought our embarkation photo, shopped for a jacket, sweatshirt, Princess bear, and Christmas ornament. Kathy was trying to see how the jackets looked on her as she peeked in a mirror in the shop, and this nice older women smiled, moved over, and said to another woman, “She wants to see what it looks like.” That was just the beginning of sailing with such nice, friendly people.

We also checked out the new seating in the Wheelhouse Bar/Salty Dog. When we got back to the cabin, we made reservations for the Salty Dog for Monday at 6:30 pm dinner.

We returned to the cabin to get ready for lunch in the DaVinci Dining Room at Noon. Kathy had Mussels in Asian sauce, Carbonara pasta, and Cobb salad. Rich had Carbonara pasta, Philly cheesesteak with fries, and we shared a walnut, pear, chocolate turnover. We purchased a small bottle of wine that was on special, a Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon. The bottle was about a glass and a half apiece.

We sat next to a British couple who have lived in Delray Beach FL for 15 years. They were pleasant dining and chatting companions for lunch. We got to talk about Palm Harbor a lot. He’s lived a fascinating life and one of the highlights for Rich was when he told him, “That was before your time.” That made us both feel young. I’m now calling him “Princess Dad.”

After lunch, we enjoyed listening to the Mariachis in the Piazza area of the atrium. We walked the Promenade and then returned to our cabin for a nap.

Dinner is at 6:30 pm in Crown Grill. We snapped a couple of pics in our mini-suite.

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On the way to dinner, we posed for formal portrait photos. They will be ready tomorrow after 3 pm.

Dinner at Crown Grill was lovely. We each had a 007 gin martini straight up.

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Rich

Kathy had lobster cake, filet mignon (medium), and Captain’s Dependence (a sampler of all 4 desserts). Rich had the Black and Blue Onion Soup and the Rib eye. (Apparently, we just dug in and didn’t take any photos.)

We each had a cup of decaf coffee with our dessert.

dessert

The service was efficient and friendly, if not attentive.

(Kathy: I’m not a big chocolate lover but the chocolate on Princess is amazing!!! The best desserts were the chocolate ones.)

After dinner, we walked the promenade deck and stopped briefly in the Princess Theatre to check out a couple songs from the show MoTown. Then we stopped in a shop to buy a razor we forgot to pack. We then returned to our cabin for a relaxing spell on our balcony under the stars. We then came into our cozy cabin, wrote our notes, and checked out all the info for tomorrow in our Princess Patter.

The weather today was a mix of cloudy/sunny.
The best thing today was anniversary dinner at Crown Grill.
The worst thing today was the internet service.
The funniest thing today was the captain encouraging us to spend money in the shops.
Today we tried Crown Grill for the first time.
And the result was we really enjoyed the alternative restaurant ($25 pp) but the service was a bit more attentive at Sabatini’s last time on the Ruby Princess.
The most magical moment today was celebrating our anniversary with formal portrait, dinner, flowers, etc. (The flowers bloomed beautifully over the course of the cruise.)

balloons

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Summer of 2015: Birthday, Beach, Napa Rose Wine Weekend: Day 3, Part 2, the Napa Rose Chef’s Counter

We left our hotel at 5:00 pm heading to Kathy’s special birthday dinner, arriving just a few minutes later at the Grand Californian gate where we checked in with the guard and proceeded to valet parking.

We checked in at the Napa Rose front desk where they knew our name since we were the only ones with reservations for the 5:30 pm seating at the Chef’s Counter (officially, there’s a 5:30 seating and an 8:30 seating). We were seated in the lounge until the Chef’s Counter was ready for us. While we waited, we ordered drinks, a glass of Scharffen Berger for Kathy and a glass of La Crema Chardonnay for me.

Note from Kathy: We were both still trying to wake up after our short nap, hoping the wine would help us out. If it hadn’t been for set dining times for the Chef’s Counter, we wouldn’t have been dining so early. We chose 5:30 because 8:30 seemed too late for us and, at the time we made ressies, we were supposed to be staying at the beach, which would have made us getting back even later.

Rich_NRRich reviewing the wine list in the Napa Rose Lounge

Kathy_NRKathy sitting in the dark area of the Napa Rose Lounge. 🙂

Soon they called us, and we carried our drinks into the restaurant where we seated at seats #5 and #6 at the Chef’s Counter, the only ones there at this time. We were already excited.

NR_KitchenA Quiet Napa Rose kitchen before service begins

We met Michael our server and Dan the Sous Chef who stood near us expediting orders for the restaurant as we ate. (we posted a live pic of Michael).

Throughout the night, we also interacted with Nico, another server, and Juan, another sous chef. Dan asked us if we had any allergies, how we liked our meats cooked (medium rare), and what types of food we preferred — including which foods we did not like.

We both started with an amuse-bouche, hamachi on a bed of smooth potatoes.

Amuse_BoucheHamachi

This was a great way to start the meal, especially with our love of hamachi. From this point forward in the meal, we were mostly served different dishes.

Note from Kathy: With being served unknown courses, it was difficult to snap a pic and take in the names and ingredients of every dish and eat and enjoy it. We’ll do the best we can as we recall each dish from our photos.

Next for Kathy was a fresh green salad with anchovies and a tuna tartare crostini.

IMG_1078Tuna Tartare Crostini

I had the most amazing grilled octopus. I can state unabashedly that this was the best octopus I have ever eaten. It was grilled and crispy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside.

IMG_1077Octopus

Kathy was then served clams three-ways in a lobster broth — clams in the shell, clam ravioli, and breaded razor clams. We had to ask for a spoon so Kathy could every last drop of the delicious broth.

IMG_1080Clams

I was served a lovely plate of halibut with a potato salad — not your ordinary picnic potato salad, this was a marvelous creation of potatoes, herbs, and red wine vinaigrette.

IMG_1079Halibut

By now we were just finishing our glasses of white wine, I discussed with Michael our next wine choice. When I suggested that perhaps we would enjoy the La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (an Italian red blend), Michael wholeheartedly agreed. It was a nicely savory (not fruity) with plum, coffee aromas, and a hint of spice. It turned out to be a perfect pairing for the rest of the meal.

IMG_1081La Braccesca

Next was the pheasant risotto for Kathy. Perhaps her favorite bite of the night.

IMG_1085Risotto

I had the veal scallopini. It was flavorful and tender, although perhaps a little salty for me.

IMG_1084Veal Scallopini

While we were eating these courses, Juan was preparing a dish in front of us as he had been doing during the meal, but this dish was for us — pork wrapped in pig’s ear with peach. We started to share this dish, but Kathy quickly demurred and let me finish it. An odd dish, but I was up for anything.

IMG_1086Pork in Pig’s Ear

Note from Kathy: I was not into the idea of pig’s ear at all. I did take one bite and that was it for me.

This was followed by a bright, palate-cleansing sorbet.

IMG_1087Sorbet

The main entrees were served next. Kathy had the lovely beef tenderloin with beef cheeks.

Note from Kathy: While I would love to have eaten an entire bowl of the pheasant risotto, the tenderlin was my best bite of the night – even outshined the beef cheeks. Superb!!!

IMG_1089Beef Tenderloin with Beef Cheeks

I had the veal loin with mango salsa and eggplant. The veal was very hearty and tasty, brightened by the fresh mango salsa. I am not a big eggplant fan, but it was woven into the dish so perfectly, I didn’t even know what it was.

IMG_1088Veal Loin

Michael then asked if it was alright if they chose the desserts for us, and we gladly agreed. He then asked the pastry chef what her two current favorite desserts were, and she prepared them for us.

Kathy was served a peanut butter and chocolate dessert with a crunchy base. It was absolutely scrumptious.

IMG_1091Peanut Butter and Chocolate

I had the cheesecake with cherry sorbet. Wow, delightful! Even the crunchy tuile was even delicious.

IMG_1090Cheesecake with Cherry Sorbet

After all this incredible food, we were allowed to linger while we finished our wine, watching all the work of the busy kitchen around us.

What an absolutely amazing experience! We had so many courses, and we often had different dishes. And it was fun to watch many of them made right in front of us in the kitchen. The service was impeccable, of course. Also it was fun to watch Dan expedite all the restaurant’s orders next to us. Fantastic fun was had by all.

Note from Kathy: Wow! I didn’t realize how many courses we’d had – so caught up in the excitement of it all!

Sadly, too soon it was time to go. Before we left, we asked Juan to take a picture of us at the Chef’s Counter.

RK_Chefs

As we left, Michael thanked us and gave us each a pair of Napa Rose truffles to go. We thanked Michael, Juan, and Dan, and made our way to the lobby to sit a comfortable environment and listen to some beautiful piano music as we watched the fireplace in the background.

The crowning moment to the wonderful birthday dinner experience was when the pianist ended his set with a rendition of Happy Birthday. Nothing could be better!

Note from Kathy: Everything about the GC is understated and it doesn’t have much of a Disney feel. In fact, my birthday was so played down, you wouldn’t know I was there having a birthday, which is rather unusual for Disney. It would have been nice if “happy birthday” had been written on the dessert plate or acknowledged in some way. So it was extra nice when we heard “happy birthday being played by the pianist in the GC lobby.

Also, the one negative about the Chef’s Counter is that you’re watching all of these other dishes being prepared and you want to be able to order one. Next time, we might actually order off the regular menu, which will be a first for us. But, overall, it was a fascinating, fun, and delicious experience!

Rich took my picture just outside Napa Rose where the menu was posted, but something reflected off of something and made for a rather unusual pic. 🙂

Kathy_NR

PS – We noticed a seating of 4 people around 7 p.m. at the other counter. Perhaps, when the 5:30 seating isn’t full, they also offer a 7 p.m. seating or perhaps it was suggested or requested as a walk-up – this we do not know. 7 p.m. would have been a better time for us.

Summer of 2015 Kickoff: Miracle on the Riviera, Day 4: Las Caletas

Tuesday, May 19, Day 4: Las Caletas

Puerto Vallarta (PV) is such a fascinating port, it’s hard to choose what experiences to plan. Since our ship was going to be docked overnight, we realized this would be a rare opportunity to experience a nighttime excursion, Rhythms of the Night at Las Caletas.

Our excursion started at 4:00 pm with a raucous 45-minute boat ride across Banderas Bay to Las Caletas, film director John Huston’s PV getaway, accessible only by boat. A complementary Margarita made the trip more enjoyable.

boatSailing into Las Caletas

After a precarious adventure getting from the boat to the dock, we walked up the pathway past a waterfall and the sign for Las Caletas.

IMG_1030Waterfall

IMG_1031Welcome to Las Caletas

Costume characters from the show were all along the pathway.

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Stilt Character

We were led up a long, steep path to the John Huston Hut where we chose a table for two under the palapa. Before sitting down, we generously sprayed ourselves with BullFrog Mosquito Coast combination sunscreen and mosquito repellent we had brought with us. We were told beforehand to be sure to use this as we were definitely in a jungle filled with hungry bugs. The fun part of the jungle was hearing the birds chatter at us as we ate.

jungleIt’s a Jungle Out There

We were high at the top of a hill looking down at the water below in a nicely shaded area not too far from the buffet line. After we were seated, a server came by and offered us wine. We chose a glass of red. We were sitting so close to the buffet, we were actually the first in line for the food.

IMG_1039Looking into the Dining Hut (Our table is just inside the hut)

The food was very tasty. The highlights of the meal were the steak, cheese ravioli, stuffed potatoes, macaroni salad, chips with guacamole, and the tortillas. This is when the drunk walked by and slurred, “Are you going to eat all that?”

We ignored him. This is not the way we experience Hawaii. But what we did next was much more like it.

IMG_1040A Tasty Meal

When we were finished eating, we were eager to explore the beach and the water. On the way up the path earlier, we spied some chairs overlooking the water. We asked our tour guide where we could find chairs on the beach, and he led us to the perfect spot.

Rich_PVbeachRelaxing on the Beach

We settled down in waterfront chairs under an umbrella on the beach, and we didn’t want to leave — ever. The view of the beach, the water, and the boats was mesmerizing.

IMG_1045View from the Beach

Eventually, Kathy had to explore the other side of the rocks and dip her feet in the water. She soon returned so we could enjoy our romantic spot at the water’s edge.

IMG_1050Kathy in the Water

Eventually, we saw another boat approaching the dock bringing in a load of non-cruise tourists to see the show. We decided to get ahead of the crowd and headed up the path again in the direction of the theater. After getting in line for the theater and each receiving a cold bottle of water, we waited for everyone to get photos taken with two of the costumed characters.

After our photo op, we were led to the front row for an ideal view of the show. The show was entertaining. It started with a rather goofy master of ceremonies, but once the dancing show started, it got better. There was lots of great dancing, acrobatics, and music. The highlights for us were all of the fire dancers, including one that sent sparks flying everywhere, and the violinist playing while flying overhead on a wire.

fireFire Dancer

The show lasted about an hour, and then we headed down the tiki-torch lit path back to our boat and back to the ship. The ride back was wild and exciting in the dark. Kathy had another Margarita, and I tried a Rum Punch.

nightSailing Away

We were back on board the ship at 10:00 pm where we found our way to our cabin, ordered cookies and milk, and settled into bed, although it was a little difficult to sleep since the ship was docked in port and not rocking us gently to sleep as the ship sailed.