Catching Up With Tasty Treats at Disney and the Beach, Day 2, Part 2: Napa Rose

We left Huntington Beach around 5PM heading to the Grand Californian for our 6PM Napa Rose reservation. About a half hour later, we pulled into the valet parking lane of the Grand Californian.

We were a little early for dinner, so we walked around the Grand Californian lobby and peeked into Hearthstone Lounge, noticing the new chairs in our favorite spot (replacing the ugly chairs that had replaced our favorite chairs), ending up in the gift shop browsing for gifts for ourselves. Kathy spotted some great Grand Californian mugs while we were browsing.

Near 6PM, we entered Napa Rose and checked in. In a few minutes, we were seated at a table for two near where we sat for Kathy’s birthday meal last July. Our server greeted us and reviewed some of the menu items. She mentioned the prix fixe menu, but we were aiming for a smaller, simpler meal this time. Maybe next time.

We ordered our wine as we reviewed the menu. When the wine was served, we ordered.

Wine
Malbec, Bodega Viamonte, Montevia, Argentina

Appetizer (Shared)
Braised Wagyu Beef Cheeks
with Forager Mushrooms and Baked Herb Dumplings

Entree Salad (Kathy)
Smiling Tiger Salad
with Spicy Beef, Asian Greens, Lobster Shrimp Fritters, and Coconut Vinaigrette

Entree (Rich)
Salmon (Sustainable Fish of the Day)
with Roasted with Thyme, Lemon and ‘Nduja Clam Broth, Tender Potato Gnocchi, and Forager Mushrooms

The food, as always, was incredible. The appetizer came in a little iron pot.

The beef cheeks were tender and paired perfectly with the mushrooms and dumplings.

The entrees were just as delicious. Every part of Kathy’s salad was flavorful, including the greens. My salmon was cooked perfectly and the flavors blended beautifully. There were clams alongside my salmon that made the dish all that much better.

We skipped dessert because we were headed to Downtown Disney for dessert and shopping.

The food and atmosphere were fabulous. Napa Rose never fails on those counts. Unfortunately, the service was uneven. This has happened before at Napa Rose. The entrees took forever to come out from the kitchen, and the server was nowhere to be found most of the time. But we can overlook the service faults because the food Andrew Sutton creates is so amazing.

After dinner, we exited through security and into Downtown Disney. We headed for Salt and Straw where we got a scoop of Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons ice cream in a cup and shared it. Wow! This is the most amazing caramel ice cream we ever tasted. Tasted just like eating caramel candies, but better.

(Salt and Straw)

We strolled Downtown Disney checking out some of the restaurants for another visit, listening to live music, and browsing the World of Disney store.

Finally, it was time to leave, so we went back to the Grand Californian where we purchased the Grand Californian mugs using our Disney Reward points, returned to the valet, and headed back to Huntington Beach.

Geyser Point Bar & Grill

We’re both totally excited about this new Geyser Point Bar & Grill (from the Disney Food Blog, including this photo).

wilderness-lodge-geyer-point-bar-and-grill-1-copy-600x400When we were at Wilderness Lodge over Thanksgiving last year, we noticed the construction on our way to have a pre-dinner at Artist Point cocktail at the Trout Pass Bar, one of our favorite hangouts. We also read that the Trout Pass Bar will be closed til late this year for refurbishment.

img_7618

Oh how we miss dropping in on so many of these new dining and drinking establishments. 🙂

Thanksgiving “3 in 2015” Cruise to Mexico, Day 4: Day at Sea and Disembarkation

We had room service again this morning at around the same time (6:50), but this time danish and coffee, just to tide us over until “Sea Day Brunch.” We enjoyed that so much on the Miracle and were looking forward to it on this cruise.

We showered, dressed, and headed to the Mardi Gras dining room at around 9:30. We were seated on one of those long baguette seatings – not our favorite because your neighbor is just too close. And in this close, sorry to say, but grandpa with his oxygen tank and slobbering just didn’t do much for the enjoyment of this meal. This cruise had a lot of multi-generational families, and it threw off the rhythm of the cruise a bit.

I don’t remember what exactly I did, but I either wore my sunglasses or took my glasses off so I wouldn’t be able to see anything beyond my plate and Rich. The Bloody Mary helped. We both ordered the Huevos Rancheros that I’d enjoyed last time and those fabulous cappuccino muffins – I’m addicted to them. Rich added a side of Corned Beef Hash and I took a bite.

At the same time as the Brunch at Sea was the Seuss at Sea Brunch for an extra $5. We had some of those selections on the Miracle cruise and we were definitely in the mood for an adult activity, rather than a kids. Another way Carnival is attracting more families – hope they and the party crowd can co-exist.

After brunch, we popped into the library and I found a book about technology and how robots are going to take over our less-than-ideal relationships and perhaps the next thing to come after same/sex marriage will be marriage to a robot. Yes, the book actually said all that.

We went out to the Serenity Deck and enjoyed the sea views and read for awhile. It was lovely.

IMG_6270Rich enjoying a day at sea in the Serenity Deck area

We then headed back to our cabin and ordered room service – the same as the night before. Yes, we were getting very lazy and needed to avoid the crowds. Sea days are always a bit challenging that way – too many people.

We rested, napped, packed, and enjoyed the views from our cabin.

IMG_6268Day at Sea

IMG_6275Sunset is setting

IMG_6276Sunset at Sea

After enjoying the sunset, we headed for dinner, and decided it was time to check out the Pizza Pirate. Now, before we loved the pizza on Carnival but on the Miracle they had the “new” pizza, which was so thin, it was practically a cracker. We were delighted that the Inspiration still had the “old” pizza and it was delicious. I made a little salad to go with it. I love having all the goodies of a salad bar all laid out for me without having to put it all together from scratch, like you’d have to do at home.

We stopped in the Paris Lounge and Rich got us a couple of glasses of Malbec but when football took over, we moved into the show lounge and enjoyed some quiet sipping in there.

IMG_6278Malbec

On the way back to our cabin, we stopped by the casino lounge (Violins) and noticed there was a singalong trivia thingie going on. We danced and sang along and one woman came up to me to ask if I knew what song it was and, of course, I did, so she wrote it down on her trivia sheet. When asked who sang it, the crowd yelled Tiffany. Wrong! I Think We’re Alone Now wasn’t originally done by Tiffany – check it out:

After that fun, we headed back to our cabin and got ready for bed, anxious to return to Long Beach and get back home to our kitties.

The next morning, we grabbed a quick bite of breakfast in the buffet and headed to the library for our early bird disembarkation at 7 a.m. Disembarkation went smoothly, although we had to wait a bit for the ship to be cleared, and we were off the ship by around 8 a.m. We retrieved our car in the Queen Mary parking lot, and drove home, stopping in Barstow for a Del Taco burrito.

We were happy to be home, and the kitties were happy we were home. All in all, we’d had a really fun Thanksgiving. Carnival definitely delivers the fun. But after 3 cruises in 6 months, it’s time for a break. But 2015 was definitely the year of cruising and what fun we had!

Thanks for reading.

Thanksgiving “3 in 2015” Cruise to Mexico, Day 3: Bar Hopping in Ensenada

This was our third (and my fourth) visit to Ensenada, with the last visit just two months before. It’s definitely a “faster to the fun” destination from L.A.

On my first trip to Ensenada, I’d done the usual La Bufadora and winery stop. Our first trip together we did the wine country tour, which was fabulous. You felt like you were in Italy – not Mexico. In September, we did a tour of historical Ensenada with a stop at another winery and lunch downtown. So for this trip, we chose the Barhopping Tour, stopping at 3 bars by bus, which would start at noon but we should arrive at 11:45 a.m. on the pier.

The Inspiration arrived in Ensenada at around 7 a.m. We’d put the room service thingie out the night before. On Carnival, you can wait until 5 a.m. to put it out, unlike other cruise lines where you have to put it out the night before – or at least, you did. But Carnival really accommodates its late-night party crowd. Try getting lunch before noon – impossible. It’s all about breakfast for late-risers.

We’d requested the 7-7:30 a.m. time slot but it always came at around 6:50 a.m. So Rich got up to accept the room service delivery and then we drank our coffee and oj, ate our cereal and banana, took our showers and got ready. Ah… the shower was really, really nice. This bathroom and shower was far better than on the Ruby Princess.

I was really dragging this morning – martinis or any hard liquor does that to me. Not knowing if there would be any food opportunities on this tour, but too early to find lunch on the ship, we stopped by the buffet to see what we could find. Scrambled eggs, potatoes, and ham for Rich and scrambled eggs and sausage for me.

We sat in the atrium waiting to meet up with our tour and finally headed down a bit early, just in case it took longer than expected. Nope, we were there in no time. At this point, we weren’t sure we really wanted to do the tour. Perhaps we’d stay on board and enjoy the pool and rest. We wandered through the shops on the pier but didn’t find anything we had to have. We were hoping to find some Christmas ornaments but didn’t see any.

Finally, we decided to go for the tour, and we were later glad we did. It turned out to be a blast!

Our first stop was a bit laid-back bar by the beach where we watched people ride horses on the beach. The second stop was the famous Hussong’s Cantina in downtown Ensenada, which was our favorite. And our third stop was around the corner from Hussongs, Papas & Beer, which was a total scream. At stop #1 and #3, we were given a free tequila shot, but at Hussongs, we were on our own. The daily special was 2 for 1 margaritas for $3, which made it $1.50 apiece. Can’t beat that – lol! And there was entertainment.

In between the stops, the driver played rap music and people got up and danced and one guy used the bars as a jungle gym. Here I’d been practicing my Salsa moves by doing Zumba (our boat crew did the Salsa in Puerto Vallarta), but on this tour, we ended up with the L.A. Rap Crowd – lol! One woman said her guy (husband? boyfriend?) was usually quite sedate and she was shocked at the party animal he turned out to be. He got us to high five and do a finger thingie and dance.

When they handed out cans of beer on the bus, another guy said, “This is legal in Mexico?” We passed on the beer (I have slight gluten reactions to beer). This is so totally not our usual scene but it was a huge BLAST! And, we must add, we’d never done tequila shots until we did the “Tequila Tasting” at Mexico in Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival at WDW the first year it was offered.

IMG_6215Mango tequila shot

IMG_6217Added to our mango tequila shot – really good with fruits, especially watermelon.

IMG_6236Entering Hussongs Cantina

hussongsInside Hussongs Cantina

IMG_62352 for 1 Margaritas

IMG_6220Mariachis at Hussongs

IMG_6239Sidewalk Tables

IMG_6241Menu at Papas & Beer (we ordered but the food never arrived)

IMG_6243Papas & Beer (the music was screaming loud!!!)

On the way back to the pier, we were all dancing on the bus – our party friend told one person, “no faces,” so I’ll skip posting those pics altogether. When we arrived at the port and the officer came onboard to check our shipboard cards, we all had to sit down and act straight – lol – which made us all crack up after.

Later, like on so many cruises, when we saw some of our party people on the ship, they either didn’t recognize us or pretended not to. I wrote this into a scene in Real Women Wear Red, based on the first time this had happened to my first cruise. 🙂

Back onboard, we headed straight to our cabin and ordered room service. For a small fee (new to Carnival), we ordered the Philly Cheesesteak and Chicken Quesadilla to share for lunch/dinner. Tonight was “formal” night but we chose to stay in our cabin, watch Failure to Launch on the cabin TV, order bedtime milk and cookies and call it a night.

Thanksgiving “3 in 2015” Cruise to Mexico, Day 2, Part 2: Mastering the Post Muster Cocktail

Now I don’t know if it’s because the boarding process is now staggered, but the muster drill wasn’t scheduled until 4:30 – usually, we’re sailing at 5 p.m. But, in fact, the muster drill didn’t really start until at least 4:45 if not closer to 5 p.m. And it lasted an hour – first seating for dinner was scheduled to start at 6 p.m. and when it didn’t, well, I suspect, the domino effect took over and dinner everywhere that night was a bit chaotic.

And this time of year, it was cold and dark and I felt sorry for the families with small children, who were probably cold, tired, and hungry. And what was also different this time was that they did a manual headcount. Now we don’t know if procedures have tightened, requiring a longer must drill (it was also extra long on the Ruby Princess), but at least Princess scans your card in and they immediately know who is there and who is missing. We suggest Carnival adopt that same procedure.

Finally, it was over and so we waited back in our cabin for the crowds to thin out before arriving at the Mardi Gras dining room for Anytime Dining. The fun thing about the Mardi Gras dining room is that the Mardi Gras was Carnival’s first cruise ship and the first cruise ship I sailed on in ’82.

At around 7 p.m., we headed for the Taste Bar for a quick snack before approaching the dining room and inevitable wait. Princess offers reservations for the flexible dining room, and we really prefer that. On Carnival, you show up, put your name in, and they give you a beeper. We were introduced to the Taste Bar on the Miracle and really enjoyed it. What it is is a bite of some offering from their specialty restaurants, I suppose, to lure you into booking a table in one of them.

Well, there are no specialty restaurants on this class of ship but this night we enjoyed a taste from the Blue Iguana. After our little “tide-over,” we approached the dining room to see how long the wait was. As we had anticipated, the line was huge! The wait would be around 45 minutes. We popped into the library, where families were waiting, and then headed over to piano bar on the other side of the atrium. We remembered a fabulous martini in this bar on the Paradise and, sure enough, we had the same amazing martinis. Carnival really knows how to make a drink!

It was a nice, quiet respite while we waited until families started to pour in, kids running amuck, banging on the piano, screaming, etc., and there went our peaceful martini sipping. We looked on the bright side and found ways to find the kids amusing. Okay, maybe the martini helped – lol! When our buzzer finally beeped, one of the mothers said, on our way out, “Oh, sorry about that.” But we told her, “No problem. Our table is ready.”

IMG_6211View of the Atrium Bar while waiting in line for the Mardi Gras Dining Room

IMG_6213Awesome Martini in the Rhapsody in Blue Piano Bar

IMG_6263Rhapsody in Blue Piano Bar

We were seated at a table for two and immediately the servers came over to say, “Welcome to American Table.” This is part of Carnival 2.0 and we’re definitely not fans of it. In fact, we’re not big fans of food in the Main Dining Room (MDR), and we dislike American Table even more. The good news is, there’s no fear of gaining too much weight on Carnival like there is on Princess (the food was way too delicious on the Ruby Princess).

I started with a Shrimp Cocktail (unbelievably wimpy – ick!), played it safe with the Flat Iron Steak with baked potato, but then splurged on the Butter Pecan Ice Cream that Carnival makes fresh – the best at sea!!

Rich ordered the same except his starter was Navy Bean Soup (he’s allergic to shrimp).

The servers were really great. In fact, I forgot to mention how awesome our cabin steward was – much, much better than the crank we had on the Ruby. In fact, Carnival service is really awesome – they really know how to please their customer.

When we were shopping for Christmas gifts for our cats, we noticed some Cat in the Hat toys for cats. Knowing that Carnival has this whole “Cat in the Hat” theme now, we made a point of checking the gift shop for “Cat in the Hat” items. We stopped in the Carnival Shops before dinner and noticed they did, indeed, have “Cat in the Hat” items. We only wanted to spend $20, but that one was a bit small, so we’d have to decide if we wanted the larger, $30 cat.

So, after dinner, we returned to the Carnival Shops (we’d stopped in there earlier), to get the “Cat in the Hat” (important to both of us as kids), and purchased the larger, $30 one. There was an even larger one for $35, but we decided that was just too big.

After our purchase, we returned to our cabin for the night.

catCat in the Hat

By the way, we’ve found Carnival beds to be quite comfortable. Ruby Princess was terrible and we’d remembered Princess having really great beds back in ’02. So, don’t know what happened there.

We usually get a balcony cabin and we’ve cruised in the Penthouse and Mini-Suites on this class of ship, but for this cruise, we didn’t want to spend the extra money, especially since the weather wasn’t really warm enough to enjoy the verandah. But for a 3-night cruise, our outside cabin without a balcony was quite comfortable and suited us just fine.

IMG_6285Turndown Service

IMG_6284Towel animal

Thanksgiving “3 in 2015” Cruise to Mexico, Day 2, Part 1: Embarkation

We slept well and Rich ran down to the Mid Ship Market to get us some coffee and a couple of blueberry muffins. After breakfast, it was time to face the dreaded shower. I’d already decided I wasn’t about to step foot in that shower – the bathroom was bad enough. I would do a sponge bath and lean my head under the shower head to wash my hair.

Rich was brave enough to actually step into the shower and reinforced my plan by saying, “You don’t want to step foot in this thing.” Apparently, the bath tub was tilted, back to front, side to side, so that the water would run down the drain. It was incredibly awkward, he said.

I proceeded to do just as I’d planned, figuring if it was a lame shower, I could have a real shower once we were in our cabin onboard the Inspiration.

We checked out at 10:45 and walked through “Thrill,” (the holiday ice skating park created for the holidays at the Queen Mary), and over to the “Faster to the Fun” check-in desk for the Inspiration. We sat around outside, noting the small crowd, compared to our 2 previous cruises in this port. Apparently, Carnival is enforcing the staggered boarding times. Thankfully, we had “FTTF” (gifted by our travel agent), and were able to board early, which we finally did at 11:45.

Another perk of FTTF is that our cabin was ready upon boarding, so we dropped off our 2 pieces of luggage we’d wheeled onboard ourselves. And then we headed to the buffet for lunch, which is always Italian on embarkation day. It was fun to get reacquainted with this class of ship after sailing on Carnival’s Miracle, which is a different class, and the Ruby Princess.

We especially enjoy the Serenity Deck (adults only) on this class and the outdoor seating areas just above, which is netted, unlike the Paradise, which is not, at least, not when we sailed her twice. So after eating our lunch of salad and an assortment of meats, we took our ice tea outside.

IMG_6196Kathy enjoying ice tea overlooking the Serenity Deck

RichQMRich with the Queen Mary in the background

SerenitySerenity Deck (Aft)

The sun was warming the afternoon, and we took a quick tour of the ship, stopping at the mid ship pool area for 2 drinks of the day, and to settle in on a couple of lounge chairs. The music was rocking and we were dancing – now this is what cruising is all about!

poolMid Ship Pool Deck

RichdrinksRich getting us a couple of tropical drinks: “Fun Ship Drink of the Day”

QMView of the Queen Mary from the Inspiration

LB2View of Long Beach from the Inspiration

LB1View of the Harbor from our Lounge Chairs

We hung out there, totally soaking up the sun, the views, the music, the drinks, and each other, and then returned to our cabin to unpack, nap, and wait for the muster drill, which turned out to be the most aggravating ever.