Rich’s Birthday Cruise to the Bahamas, Day One, Part Two

Who: Rich and Kathy
Where: Port Canaveral/Nassau 3-night cruise
What: Carnival Liberty
When: August 9-12, 2018
Why: Rich’s Birthday Celebration

It was too hot to do our usual sailaway from our balcony so we headed to the Alchemy Bar for martini tasting. We really enjoyed the Alchemy Bar on the Miracle, although we skipped it on our last cruise on the Imagination. It was still the Rotterdam Bar when we sailed on the Paradise and the Inspiration, sister ships to the Imagination.

The Alchemy Bar on the Liberty was positioned much more like it was on the Miracle, which we really enjoyed.

Rich was torn between two different drinks but our server’s input convinced him to go with the “Perfect Storm” and I had the “Fiery Tropical Passion Martini.”

The Alchemy Bar

Sailing away from the Alchemy Bar

“The Perfect Storm”

“Fiery Tropical Passion Martini”

We popped into the piano bar, which was next door, but didn’t make it back for the entire cruise – lol!

We were getting hungry so we tracked down the Sushi Bar,  which was in the buffet area.

I grabbed a booth and Rich ordered the Sushi.

Sushi platter – “Spicy Tuna ” for Rich and “Bang Bang Bonsai Roll” for me.

Rich’s comments: The Spicy Tuna roll was absolutely incredible. It was very spicy, but the flavors came through too, including the asparagus. This is some of the best sushi I’ve ever had, and I had to return to the sushi bar to let Fakim know how much we enjoyed it.

Rich’s Birthday Cruise to the Bahamas, Day One, Part One

Who: Rich and Kathy
Where: Port Canaveral/Nassau 3-night cruise
What: Carnival Liberty
When: August 9-12, 2018
Why: Rich’s Birthday Celebration

This was Rich’s first cruise from Port Canaveral – I’d done the “Big Red Boat” cruise with WDW package back in 1987 when Disney was affiliated with Premier Cruise Lines before they launched their own cruise line. This was also our first cruise living this close to a cruise port. So one hour from home, we parked in the parking garage and were onboard by 11:15 a.m. – pretty awesome!

We dropped off our bags in our cabin and started to unpack but then realized we should make our way to Guy’s before it got too busy. I claimed a table and Rich placed our order – 2 burgers (came with 1 order of fries). This time we knew better than to share – we each had our own – lol! I skipped the fries this time – they’re delicious but I was saving room for the burger! Ha!

Back in the room we continued unpacking and Rich’s birthday cake arrived from Cherry on Top – I’d preordered it. The bottle of Prosecco was there, too.

We each had a slice while the Prosecco was in the fridge chilling. It was tasty but we aren’t big fans of  fondant.

We hadn’t seen our room steward so we didn’t have ice yet. We were in a junior suite on our last cruise and we were spoiled by the service. It really helps to book a suite or special cabin of some kind to get good service.

Our balcony faced the sun and it was too hot and sunny to sit outside so we rested on the bed until our muster drill at 4 p.m. We sailed away promptly afterwards – always seems to be on time from Florida – sailaway is always running late in California. Gorgeous view!

 

Birthday Cruise to the Bahamas: The Oddest Things about an East Coast Short Summer Cruise

As I mentioned before, after my birthday trip to California with a short cruise to Ensenada, we decided 3 days was not enough. So then we booked another 3 day cruise to the Bahamas on the Carnival Liberty from Port Canaveral for Rich’s birthday about 3 weeks before the cruise. We got the last balcony cabin on Deck 7 (the Empress deck?), which is a desirable sandwiched deck, meaning, there are cabins above and below instead of being under or above a public room.

We just returned home today and we had a blast but before I get into the report, I’ve gotta say, out of 18 cruises, it was the oddest cruise I’ve ever been on. I’m going to have to clear my mind of this before I can even think about getting to sleep tonight.

It’s like all the stuff you hear about on social media coming alive on the cruise. It’s an honest observation and I hope nobody takes offense.

In the Minority

Was it summer or was it Orlando or was it the 3-day itinerary? I’ve done 3-day cruises before – even from Port Canaveral –  but this is the first time we were so obviously in the minority. Were we, perhaps, onboard a Black Baptist Church convention or something? On our Ensenada cruise, there was a group of 300 that was part of a Mobile-app company cruise. So it could be we were onboard with some sort of special interest group.

What makes these groups odd or even a short cruise odd is the most people are first-timers and first-timers can seem odd to experienced cruisers. For the first time ever, during the lifeboat drill, one man complained about not seeing the demonstration well enough. “Hey, can we get a demonstration of how to wear that?” as if he were being deprived of life-giving information, as if it were being deliberately withheld. I tell you, I’ve never seen anyone complain of that. “Just get it over with and let me get on with my cruise” is the usual attitude.

And the two groups of white and black were quite segregated throughout the cruise. I tried to be friendly and get them to open up whenever I got the chance, because in my world, we mix. But this is another thing I’m noticing about cruising these days – people are cruising with large groups or families and they’re remaining closed within the group. This isn’t what cruising has been about since I start cruising in 1982. But I’m noticing it more and more. At least on Carnival… in the summer…

Black Women Shaking Their Booty

What’s with this thing with crowds of people shouting and egging on Black women bending over shaking their booty? Must be a cultural thing. On our L.A. cruise, it was all about Hip Hop. I don’t even know what to call what I saw here – “Baby’s Got Back?” Belongs in the category of “Things I Wish I’d Never Seen.” Probably not part of a church group – there goes that theory.

Good Old Boys, Pink Dinner Jackets, Shots at Dinner, Border Crossings

Oh my! That was one of the more entertaining things about the cruise. The young southerner in his Pink sport coat downing shots next to us at dinner wished Rich a happy birthday when we ran into him again the next day. Too bad I didn’t get a photo of him. Belongs in the “Things You Usually Only See in the Movies” category.

The women from afternoon tea who when the sever asked where she was from said, “The United States.” “Duh,” he said. “It’s a big place – where exactly?” Turns out “North Carolina.” She talked about “crossing the border” driving down to Florida for the cruise. Has she never left the state before? Apparently so because she talked about traveling for her job. And when California was mentioned, as in where I’m originally from, she said she was supposed to travel to either San Diego or San Francisco and asked which one was north? Really? I’m from the West Coast but I think I’ve got East Coast geography down pretty well – even before I ever moved East.

Face Tattoos

I’ve also gotta say this tattoo things is getting way out-of-hand. A discreet tattoo is one thing, but I’m not a fan of sleeves or body tattoos or now face tattoos. It’s not a good look for the long term. Besides, I’d seen it all back in San Francisco in the 1980s – I thought we were done with all of that back then.

Culture Shock, My Faith in Humanity Restored, and a Life-Saving Moment

I’m reeling a bit from the culture shock, as I usually do living in Florida and cruising brought it all up close and personal in a tight space. But my faith in humanity was restored when a man we’d seen at the Alchemy Bar over the course of the cruise was  celebrating his 17th wedding anniversary with his wife in the Steakhouse (amazing food, by the way) as we were celebrating Rich’s birthday.

We were sipping our martinis and heard some really loud noises, not understanding what was happening. But then we realized the man named Steve was choking. It was quite frightening and a couple of men got up to help him, with other people offering suggestions on what to do.  Finally, one man lifted him up out of his chair and executed the Heimlich and released the lodged meat and we all applauded.

Steve and the man who saved his life hugged and became best friends for life with Steve buying the man rounds of drinks. It was an incredible moment!! And my heart soared at such generosity among us sometimes crazy, whacked out humans in this scary screwed up world we all live in. So often we’re the problem but sometimes we’re also the solution. It’s a beautiful thing!

Steve (right) and his life-saving hero (left) sharing a celebratory drink

As our crowd cleared out of the Steakhouse, the new group coming in were all Black. What’s up with that? Is it a culture thing – do they prefer to eat later? Were they cruise newbies and hadn’t discovered it until there were only later reservation times available? I don’t know but it seemed odd to me.

Birthday Cruise to the Bahamas

We’re counting down to Rich’s birthday cruise to the Bahamas. After the month we’ve have, we really need to get away – we’re so glad we made the decision to book another cruise when we got back from my birthday trip to L.A./cruise to Ensenada.

I’m looking forward to my first Margarita and Rich can taste those Guy’s Burgers. Sipping, relaxing, noshing… ah, life at sea!

Shadow, Daisy, and I are up again during the night. I’m hoping they’ll keep quiet and let Rich sleep before getting up for work in a couple of hours. They’re now asleep at my feet as I write this. In this moment, we’re all okay so it’s hard to get up from the computer and go back to bed.

Shadow is getting better about howling his grief – I suppose we all are. It still takes Rich and I by surprise, though, like all the places we still see him or the little things we did with Skipper in mind and now we either don’t need to or don’t especially want to. His presence is all over this house – I suspect we built it for him. After all, he was king! 🙂

Looking back at a few photos from the Vegas years, I’m posting a few of Skipper that especially stood out this morning. And as much as I was desperate to leave Las Vegas, I do miss it sometimes. Certainly, the memories. I definitely needed a break from it, though.

Late Sunday afternoon reminded me of how good we have it here. We just hopped in the car and drove to the beach and there I was dipping my feet in the water. Heaven! You can’t do that in the desert.

A friend and I were talking about meeting my father 16 years ago and how it was too short and I realized I knew Skipper longer than I knew my father.

That reminds me of a story about a woman I worked with in San Francisco when we were in ours 20s. Her dog died and then her father died and I said to another co-worker, “She seemed more upset about her dog dying than her father.” And Stefany said, “I suspect she got a lot more love from her dog than she ever did from her father.”

Anyway, here’s to Skipper. Look at those eyes – he would give me that look and he seemed so human. I will miss him forever! Love you, sweet boy!

 

Prepping for Disneyland at Disney World at the Dolphin, Day Two (Final)

We were unsure where to have breakfast this morning, but, in the end, we chose France for our favorite beignets and champagne. We’d told ourselves we should boat in but our room was located near a walkway leading to the Yacht Club, so we walked over to International Gateway. We saw where the gondolas will go and couldn’t help but add to the cries of those of us who love the International Gateway and know it will change forever once the hordes arrive from other hotels.

We arrived at rope drop and were admitted onto the walkway leading to France. We each got a beignet, shared a coffee and a champagne, but because I woke up in need of some protein, we shared a quiche. Awesome way to begin the day! We just might have to make a special trip just for breakfast sometime soon. 🙂

Filled with energy, we decided to walk over to Mouse Gear to pick up the Donald Annual Passholder magnets, which are just like the Mickey ones but with Donald in a different color and just as huge – lol! Rich also got a cool shirt – we had found a Mickey journal I’d spied at the Contemporary on Easter so we got that for me the night before at the Screen Door.

We enjoyed the beautiful morning, the breakfast, and just being out and about, snapping some pics. We walked back to the boat dock. Of course, a boat had just left and we were wondering if we should just walk back but decided to wait for the boat. We ended up getting off at the Yacht Club and walking back because it was probably about the same distance to our room as the boat dock would be.

We packed, checked out, and drove home, wishing we weren’t so far from Disney. But the distance does justify an overnight, which is so awesome and we were really happy with the Dolphin.

 

“Highlights of SoCal” Birthday Trip (Pre-Trip Report) Updated

So excited, I’m jumping up and down! We’ve been going back and forth with how to celebrate my birthday in SoCal. Longing for home, we’ve booked and unbooked hotels near the beach, near Disneyland, and then finally booked a cruise. But I started to miss Disneyland. So, here are the latest plans:

Wednesday:

MCO to LAX, check into Anaheim Hilton. Dinner at Napa Rose

Thursday:

Drive to Huntington Beach, breakfast at Norm’s, then drive up PCH to Long Beach where we will board Carnival cruise ship at the new terminal – can’t wait to try the new terminal! Cruise from Long Beach to Ensenada, round trip.

Friday:

Day at Sea – Sea Day Brunch, Chef’s Table birthday dinner

Saturday:

Ensenada – booked a wine and lunch excursion in the vineyards. Were so wowed by the vineyards in Ensenada several years ago. Who knew Ensenada had such a wine culture? You usually think of Tequila when you think of Mexico.

Sunday:

Return to Long Beach. Drive to Disneyland – get park hopper – do Disneyland in the morning, check into Anaheim Hilton for afternoon rest, and then back to DCA for the evening – Dinner at Carthay Circle (martinis and amazing biscuits, here we come!)

Monday:

LAX to MCO

I’m so stoked about getting to do Disneyland, the beach, and a cruise for my birthday! In the meantime, we’ve got a little overnight trip planned for Epcot and the MK as a pet sitter test run. She seems really great and was recommended by our visit but it’s always good to do a short trip close to home before flying across the country and going out to sea. Just in case anything needs to be ironed out.

 

Rosé Tasting with Master Sommellier at Wine Bar George and a Walk Down Memory Lane

Oh my, my, where to begin? Well, when I saw the special event posted on Instagram, well, I had to forward it to Rich and he immediately bought our tickets for Saturday afternoon from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. It soon sold out and we noticed that in addition to the Friday afternoon event at the same time, a new event was created for 1:00 p.m. before our tasting. Nice to see the popularity of such an event. As you will recall, we ate lunch at Wine Bar George on the first full opening day a couple of weeks ago. We were so impressed, we knew we’d be back, but not so soon and at a special event.

Loving wine, vineyards, wineries, and anything related to wine, having grown up in a family’s Central Valley vineyard, living near Napa/Sonoma/Livermore and even a few years living near the Willamette Valley vineyards, well, let’s just say neither of us can resist such an event.

George is amazing, so friendly, knowledgeable, sef-effacing, and a great storyteller. We’re not that into Rosé but he made it an awesome event. And we came away with a new respect for Rosé.

We were divided into groups of six at five tables. We managed to sit next to the woman who won the little contest identifying all six wines by region – she identified all six correctly, a feat nobody had managed at the two previous events. She’s quite the Rosé drinker. 🙂

Each table also had a charcuterie/cheese/bread board – amazing! What’s not to love – food, wine, good company, and Disney?

So stoked after the event, we decided this was the time to walk over to Saratoga Springs for the first time since we’ve been back in Central Florida. We used to do this walk often when we lived in Windermere. In fact, this was my “go-to” place to celebrate (i.e., let off steam) the release of my books.

We noticed the new boat dock and shortcut to the walkway leading to Saratoga Springs, which was a great improvement. We stopped in at our favorite pool bar and Rich asked about bartender Rich to see if he was still there. He was, much to our surprise, but he wasn’t working that day. Well have to go back and say hi.

In the wine mood and a bit hungry after just a few snacks during the tasting, I found a table and Rich ordered two glasses of Cab and a cheeseburger flatbread. It was a bit warm sitting here, so we found our way to some shadier chairs on the other side of the pool near the Agapanthas, a flowering bush found all over California, including the Disneyland resort. After our meal, we stopped in at Artist Palette and the gift shop for old times’ sake.

 

We walked back and made our way to the Orange garage, and ended up walking 4.5 miles again. But this time, unlike at Epcot, whenever my hip started hurting after about 3-3.5 miles, we sat down and took a break so I was able to make it back to the car without any problems.

We stopped off to listen to some music reminiscent of what we used to hear at Downtown Disney near the Grand Californian. Disney Springs has so upped their vibe, Disneyland is going to have to work hard to keep up. 🙂

 

 

First Guests at Wine Bar George

Yes, that was us – the first guests on the first full opening day, Sunday. 11 am. George himself greeted us both coming and going.

The atmosphere was way cool, the food incredible and the wine perfectly paired.

We shared the Skirt Steak (with fingerling potatoes and asparagus) family platter meant to be shared. We ate about half and brought the rest home. Heated up for dinner, it was even more awesome – the flavors all married together.  So tender… we’ll be back for more.

As for wine, I had a glass of Argentinian Malbec and Rich had a California Merlot that reminded me of more of a Cab. I don’t recall the names but I took photos of the bottles, which I will post.

We also shared the Olive Oil Cake. I’d wanted to try that for a long time and it was also amazing!

Our server Jason was simply the best!

We were well-rewarded for the long drive through a deluge of epic rain. This was the kind of Disney magic that dreams are made of and we renewed our Annual Pass.

Christmas at Disney’s Yacht Club

We knew we wanted to spend Christmas Day at Disney World (outside the parks for crowd and AP blockout reasons) and have Christmas dinner at one of the restaurants. We couldn’t decide which, though, so we changed our ressies several times. But when we read about the new Ale and Compass at the Yacht Club, we settled on that the day before. And we were so glad we did.

Of course we love the Yacht Club – it is our home resort at WDW ever since our first stay there back in 1999 (the Contemporary was Kathy’s first back in 1982). We were very impressed with Ale and Compass – the decor, the food, and the service.

Christmas Lunch
by Rich

Starter (Shared)
Oven-roasted Oysters
with Spinach and Creamed Kale, White Cheddar, and Cornbread Crumbs

Entree – Kathy
Maine Lobster Roll
with choice House-made Vinegar Chips

Entree – Rich
Open-faced Skirt Steak Sandwich
with Caramelized Onions, Poached Egg, Fennel, Watercress, and Tomato Salad with Truffle Vinaigrette

Wine – Kathy
Domaine Savary Chablis, Burgundy

Wine – Rich
Columbia Crest Grand Estates Syrah, Columbia Valley

The oven-roasted oysters were fabulous, just the right start to the meal. The breading and accompaniments to the oysters were in perfect proportion to the oysters.

Kathy’s lobster roll was wonderful – not over-dressed, just delicious chunks of lobster on a nicely-sized roll. Kathy enjoyed an ideal pairing of hard-to-find Chablis.

Rich’s medium-rare skirt steak was incredible – tender, juicy, and full of flavor. The caramelized onions and truffle vinaigrette were especially nice touches. The Syrah was a splendid pairing, achieving a lovely balance between blackberry fruit and sweet smokiness.

After our meal we walked the Boardwalk, stopping at our usual kissing spot, and popped into the Boardwalk where we were each offered a complimentary peppermint sugar cookie. We continued our walk full circle to the Yacht Club – Rich even skipped his usual Boardwalk skip – and two stools at the Hurricane Hanna pool bar called our names and we each had a Margarita.

We chatted with other guests from St. Augustine, noting that this is the real replacement for the Trout Pass Bar at Wilderness Lodge. It has the same vibe that Geyser Point sadly does not quite have with so many families gathering there.

After our cocktails and conversation (love this about Disney World), we were in search of coffee before we hit the road and ended up at Beaches and Cream where Rich got us two coffees and two ice cream sandwiches (huge but yummy – lol) while Kathy grabbed us a table overlooking Stormalong Bay.

We stopped in at the gift shop where Yacht Club coffee cups captured our attention, made our purchases and then we drive back to the beach.

It was a gorgeous day out – low 70s compared to mid 50s at the beach. What an awesomely perfect Christmas! Disney for the day was even better being able to return to our new home at the beach.

Epcot Says “We’re Back!”

My excitement for the opening of Epcot in the fall of 1982 began early as I was privy to the attractions through work when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Having grown up near Disneyland, I was motivated to visit WDW because of Epcot – not the Magic Kingdom. When Epcot first opened, you reserved a dining reservation by speaking to a CM through some kind of futuristic booth, which was such a thrill. My first meal was at San Angel Inn. Therefore, Epcot and San Angel Inn still signal “we’re back” on any trip to WDW.

Back then, living in California, I couldn’t get to WDW very often. I’d only been in 1982 and again in 1987. Rich and I took our first trip to WDW together in May of 1999 when we were determined to one day live in Orlando so we could fully enjoy this amazing World.

So, then, of course, when we first moved to Orlando in 2003, the first place we headed was Epcot. We remember so clearly staring up at Spaceship Earth as we approached the ticket window saying, “This is our local park now!”

Five years have passed since we were last at any of the WDW parks (in November we only stopped in at Disney Springs with dinner at Artist Point at Wilderness Lodge and boated over to Ft. Wilderness and back), and the excitement for Epcot was as high as it had ever been.

We arrived at around 9 a.m., parked in the first section and walked to the front gate, stopping in at bag check (Rich was wearing a small fanny pack – next time we might leave that behind), and entered with our brand new Annual Pass. Unfortunately, our Magic Bands did not arrive in time. We have them now and can’t wait to return to the parks with them – far more convenient.

We’re experiential people so all of those criticisms we voiced about all of this beforehand were silly – Rich is loving all the online stuff, reserved FP+ and dining all on his phone. We had an 11:10 a.m. FT+ for Test Track and a 1:30 p.m. for Spaceship Earth. But when we saw no line at Spaceship Earth, we headed right in. Ah, also important to be the first ride.

Then we headed for France in World Showcase for a morning pastry via Mouse Gear for a quick browse but nothing grabbed our interest. We hadn’t been to the Boulangerie since it started opening before 11 and expanded. We were surprised it was now located inside the France Pavilion. For some reason, we thought they’d built onto the old location. There was plenty of inside (air-conditioned) seating, which was a nice change.

I looked for my usual puff pastry with cream filling that I’d been eating since opening in 1982 but it was no where to be seen so I ordered a Napoleon, wondering if that was it. Rich ordered his usual Apple Tart. But when I saw what the Napoleon actually looked like, I cancelled it and didn’t know what to order. Rich pointed out the Beignet so I chose that.

We also got a cup of coffee to share and sat down. We were pleasantly surprised to discover the Beignet was filled with chocolate or hazelnut chocolate as Rich said. It was absolutely scrumptious and is now our new favorite pastry. Next time we’ll get two! We didn’t think to take pics until we’d already had a few bites. 🙂

We headed back to Future World and stopped in to visit Figment in Imagination. We love this ride – lol! Figment cracked me up, more than ever. Is it my age or because we haven’t seen him in a while?

Then it was almost time for our Test Track FP+. We waited for about 10 minutes and then 5 minutes before, we were allowed in. This was our first ride since it was updated and found the design part to be more fun than just watching a move like before. We created an outrageous car that was pretty fast. And then on the open track, we were racing so fast, I realized this may be another ride on the list of “too old for” these days. After hitting my head on a train and tripping in Mazatlan, I’m becoming a bite more cautious. And that’s okay. There’s still plenty of fun to be had.

After our ride, we were hungry and headed for the Cantina in Mexico. It was packed and getting hot out and we really wanted to eat at San Angel – after all, that’s our traditional go to meal on our first day. For some reason, we thought the Cantina would be fine. We checked the dining app but it showed there weren’t any more ressies to be had until 2 p.m. Still, we approached the podium and asked if we could be seated and, yes, they found us in their system and we only waited for about 5 or 10 minutes. We were seated a table away from the tables on the end with the view of the boats.

What a thrill to be back here! We both ordered tacos – pork for Rich and beef for me – and two House Margaritas. I have no idea why but I forgot to take any pics of the Margaritas. Guess we were just too busy enjoying ourselves and our drinks. It was dark in there so the photos didn’t come out that well, but we had a blast!

Tacos de Carne (Beef tacos with Flour Tortillas)

Taco al Pastor (Pork tacos with Corn Tortillas)

The photo that says, “We are back and having a blast!” We also realized that one reason we were having such a blast is that it’s been a while since we’ve been. We don’t plan on wearing it out like we did when we lived 2 miles from Cinderella Castle.

We were tempted to walk the loop around World Showcase but by now it was getting late, we were tired, and it was hot so we exited World Showcase, waved at Pluto on the way, made our way through Future World, and out to the parking lot, got in our Jeep, and drove home. It was around 1 p.m. by this time so we were in the parks for 4 hours, having clocked 4 miles. What a memorable day!

 

Margaritaville

Last night was Margaritaville at our house. Thursday starts the weekend, right? 🙂

We discovered this delicious Pineapple Serrano Margarita at SOL in Newport Beach, and Rich found something similar to that in the liquor store that replaced Fresh and Easy. We tuned into Jimmy Buffett on the Margaritaville station on SiriusXM. And when I’m listening to Jimmy Buffett, going all Parrothead, I’m ready to move to Florida no matter what.

The night before last was the first time we felt positive about it all in the evening. In the morning, we’re fresh and ready to do what it takes. By the end of the day, we’re tired and fearful and thinking we should call the whole thing off. But Wednesday night, we were feeling much more positive after work. Maybe because I’d found a rental in our old neighborhood that I loved so much. I’ve been watching and there’s been one available about once a month. Hopefully, if we were to go, there’d be one available for us. However, the main problem is location – it would be about a 40 minute commute. And its isolation got to us last time. But it is just about an hour to Disney, onramp to offramp.

The stress is really getting to us – the next event doesn’t happen until Thursday of next week. This was our choice to give us more time to give them our answer. In the meantime, we’ve made ressies at Disneyland for the Food & Wine Festival – just in case we say no.