Friday, December 30, 2016

12.29.16 St Bart's


Today we arrived in St Bart's. We as a great room service breakfast on the balcony and saw a rainbow. We took the tender into port. We had to weave around multi million dollar yachts since all the rich and famous spend the new year in St Bart's. We took a catamaran excursion that was a bit disappointing. We expected a much nicer boat and more time sailing. We still had a beautiful swim and enjoyed checking out all the huge yachts.

We came back and spent a relaxing afternoon by the pool. We headed to trivia at 4 pm, paired up with some trivia pros, and won cruise line logo trivia. We weren't quite as successful at 5 pm trivia. We enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail and piano music in the Living Room - a beautiful lounge on the top deck. Dinner was good again. After dinner, we went to the show Garin Bader. He plays the piano and does magic. It's an odd mix. After dinner, we headed to the casino bar to listen to some more piano and chat with the bartender.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

12.28.16 St Martin


We had a leisurely start to the day.  Buffet breakfast was simple but tasty. We enjoyed relaxing on deck and then headed to Marigot around noon. We tendered over in life boats. We walked around a little before having decadent ham and cheese sandwiches and macarons at Sarafina's. We took a taxi to Sonesta Maho Bay where I did a site inspection and then we enjoyed the pools and watching the planes land. Our driver on the way back had a lot of passion for Trump. Hearing international cab drivers chat about US politics is a great benefit of traveling abroad. We attended the Distinctive Voyages cocktail party and met a fun couple who'd been on 12 Azamara cruises and are booked the same Croatia cruise for next year.

Dinner went so much better tonight. Mauricio and Mickey were fantastic. The head waiter and maitre'd checked on numerous times. Glenn had a good veal chop and I like the Norwegian salmon. They brought Glenn out his happy birthday cake. We had a night cap in the living room listening to the guitar player. R was a little more Branson than acoustic, but I still enjoyed it. We called it an early night since we have a early excursion in St Bart's tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

12.27.16 Welcome to the Azamara Quest


We started the day with breakfast at the Cafe American in the hotel. It plays Casablanca as you eat. Both our meals were good. For mine, I had a breakfast sandwich that used shredded fried plantains as the bread. Glenn had poached eggs with smoked salmon and bleu cheese in a fried plantation shell.

We walked down to the port to see the new Viking Ocean cruise ship. We relaxed a little more on the hotel roof and then grabbed a taxi to the port. It took a out 30 minutes to get a taxi so leave plenty of time.

Embarkation was very easy and quick. We were surprised we had to walk outside and up a set of stairs instead of a ramp.  We stopped by the Land Discoveries desk to finish booking our shore excursions. Lunch at the buffet was good. For the first 24 hours, they had staff serve all the food to help cut down on illnesses. We had great beverage service. The cabins opened at 1:45 pm. Our luggage arrived around 3 pm so it was great to be unpacked. We took the ship tour at 4 pm. It took 20 minutes. One good tip was that all the elevators empty facing forward and all the restaurants are at the back of the ship. We tried to make Chef's Table reservations, but they were all booked. The muster drill was at 5 pm
We really liked that it was not in the middle of dinner. At 5:45 pm, we went to the Cruise Critic meet and greet. We were impressed several of the ship's officers attended and the cruise director.

We had dinner in the included restaurant. We chose a table with other people and had a lively conversation. Our dinner was very slow and all of us got a little agitated when all the tables around us had come and gone and we still didn't have entrees. The best part was that the maitre'd tried to blame us for sitting at a large table. My response was, "You did this - not us. We don't know each other. If you can't handle a large table - don't sit people at one." We left before dessert to get to the show so we didn't get the cake I had arranged for Glenn. We should get it tonight. (As I'm writing this Wednesday morning by the pool, the pool butler just came by with a cold towel. Nice touch.)

The welcome aboard show featured two vocalists, a piano player and two dancers.  If you like cabert entertainment, I think you'd like the shows. We stayed up late chatting with other guests.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

12.26.16 San Juan


Our first day was great! We had a little bumpy start. in the past, we always arrived in San Juan very early in the morning. This time I decided to give ourselves a break and take a flight that got in around 2:30 pm. We faced a little line for taxis, but the issue was the traffic. It was crazy!! Even our driver got frustrated.

We were happy to make it to the hotel. We chose a cute boutique hotel: The Casablanca. It's in a great location. It had a Moroccan theme with accents from the movie. The rooftop deck has a great view of the harbor and the fort. The deck has four big tubs the guests can use.

We headed out to find a beer bar we had heard,  about from the brewer on the Carnival Vista. It's a craft beer bar and it had a pretty good beer selection. It's definitely a place to avoid if you are in a hurry. We had a great time. Their chicken wrap and steak burrito were very good.

Then we headed back toward our hotel to check out a rooftop bar we could see from our room. It was a long wait, but they had great coconut mojitos. The food was really good. Glenn had the skirt steak and I had the mofongo with shrimp and a garlic cream sauce.

After dinner, we enjoyed the beautiful night from our hotel's rooftop.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

10.2.16 Horses & Football

Another day, another British Breakfast. Then we headed across the street from our hotel to the Royal Mews - the stables of Buckingham Palace. The big draw here is viewing the carriages used in official state functions.

We then headed to Wembley Stadium for the Colts versus Jaguars game. It was incredible being there. NFL fans from all over Europe convened. Outside was similar to the NFL Experience set up at the Super Bowl with several areas with games, food, and beer. We had Club level seats and saw Roger Goodell walking around. The stadium had a lot of different food options. We laughed that all the bars were very clearly marked. The bars stayed open after the game. The atmosphere was so much fun. When the game was over, the police force was so efficient at moving people to the train. They would stop everyone to let the platforms clear. So by the time you got inside, a train was ready to go.

Back near the hotel, we decided to try the pub across from the hotel - Bag O Nails. It was terrible!! They were out of tonic and beer and some menu items. The fish and chips were bad. We went back to our hotel bar which was very nice. We should have started there. It was a good end to the trip. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

10.1.16 London Adventures

IWe started the day at a cute cafe around the corner from the hotel. We knew we were in the right place when the taxi drivers and  construction crews started coming in.  I got a proper British breakfast of baked beans, sausage, bacon, and 2 fried eggs. Then we headed out towards the Lord's Cricket Grounds.  We decided to take a taxi because it would be faster than the two connections we had to make on the Underground. We arrived a little early at the cricket grounds so we walked up the street to Abbey Road Studios in that the obligatory photo. The cricket grounds tour with fantastic. It was really fun to see such an iconic sporting venue. We found it really interesting even though I have no idea how cricket is played. We've grabbed taxi to Borough Market. It's a wonderful indoor / outdoor market with food stands, fresh produce and meats, and other vendors.  We found a pub for lunch that had pies so we got to taste a proper british pie. Yum! Then we headed to the Tower of London.  We visited the Crown Jewels  - a bit over the top if you ask me.  We took a river Thames cruise back to Westminster where we explored the Churchill War Rooms. The Churchill War Rooms were really incredible.  They were much more expansive than I had thought.  Over 100 people worked underground during the war.  The War Rooms recreated the bunks and added an extensive museum dedicated to Churchill
We found the personal interviews with Churchill's staff really interesting. We headed up to James Street to find a place for dinner. It is an area with high end shops. We ended up at a lovely little restaurant and had a very nice dinner. We were pleased to find that French wines are much less expensive here -  most half the price so we enjoyed a very fancy rose 50% off. Another great day in the books.

9.30.16 London: Bus tour, afternoon tea, and a pint.

We took the overnight flight from Tampa arriving in London at 7:45 am. We took the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station and took the short walk to our hotel - The Rubens at The Palace right across the street from the horse stables at Buckingham Palace. Our room was ready so we unpacked. Breakfast was at bbar right off the lobby. We used our London Pass for the Golden Tour Hop On/ Hop Off bus. The blue route offers live narration instead of the head phones so we enjoyed that. We got a good overview of the "essential" sites. After the tour, we came back to the hotel for a rest and a little work for me. We headed out in time for our 530 pm reservation for afternoon tea at the Savoy. The Savoy is a gorgeous hotel. Afternoon tea was great! Our favourite cheese sandwich was the chicken curry. We stopped at a local pub that was frequented by coal miners back in the day. Then we headed back to the hotel.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

7.15.16 Bergen

Today was Bergen. It's the largest city we've visited. We took the hop on/ hop off bus around town. Again, it's a city that had a lot of fires though they've been rebuilding in the original style. They had a good fish market in the harbor. We found a cool old tavern down one of the alleys so tried some more Norwegian beers. We headed back to the ship early because we signed up for the Behind the Scenes tour. We had a good lunch at the Dutch Cafe. The Behind the Scenes tour was great. It's a two day tour so today was the Engine Control Room, the Engine rooms and the Bridge.  Meeting the Chief Engineer was a real highlight. He has a real passion for his work and was excited to show off all the machines. It's the first time we have been able to go into the power plant, engine rooms, reverse osmosis plant, and even see the ship stablizers. It was so interesting. The level of complexity is mind boggling. For instance, everything that goes into making sure the shower pressure amd water quaility in a Deck 10 forward cabin is the same as a Deck 1 Aft cabin is incredible. The bridge was also interesting. It was set up more like a cockpit than a traditonal bridge. They even added a situation room and a chair for the pilot that comes on in each port.

We signed up for a vow renewal ceremony to see what it was like. It was so lovely. Holland America does it in a group setting once a sailing. We were with another couple who'd been married 40 years. We had a nice private reception with canapés and champagne. Then the Captain arrived and we were able to chat with him. Each couple had their own ceremony and then a toast after. Plus a cake. We were impressed.

We had dinner at Tamarind - the Asian restaurant. We opted for sushi. It was okay. The rolls had a lot of asparagus in them. If Carnival got a deal on broccoli - then Holland America got a deal on asparagus. After dinner, we had a night cap at our favorite bar - Ocean Blue with our favorite bartender Ryan.

Friday, July 15, 2016

7.14.16 Geiranger

7.14.16 Geiranger

This adorable little town is fun to explore. It has lots of hiking trails. We took a long staircase up to the top of a large hill for a better look at the waterfall. It was terrifying coming down since looking through the grates went straight down. After a mini panic attack, I pulled it together and made it down. We walked around and saw some of the sod roof houses. Then we headed back to the ship to try the Dive-in burger. (Pretty good) and enjoy some time in the spa.

For sail away, they opened the bow again and set up a small bar out there so we could enjoy the narration and have a cocktail. We past the Seven Sisters waterfall, the whoo-er and the Bridal Veil. It was a little funny because we past about 15 waterfalls. People would be gathered around taking photos and then the location guide would say one was more famous so everyone would switch. The scenery was incredible. This has been Glenn's favorite port so far.

We finished watching sail away from the balcony then headed to Canneletto's for dinner. We had a great table right by the window. The Italian food was good, homestyle cooking. After dinner, Glenn tried his hand at slots in the casino. This was the one night the casino would be non-smoking. I watched the BBC game show. It was really well done.

7.12.16 Eidefjord

We woke up at 4:30 am because the Captain said we'd be passing under a suspension bridge at 5:00 am. While we enjoyed our first views of the fjord - there was no bridge. Later we saw it leaving port so no need to get up at 430 am. We went back to sleep and had a slow start to the day.

We walked into Eidefjord. It was raining so we cut our visit short. The town is very small. We walked out to a farm and then made our way back to the Quality Inn where we sampled some Norwegian beers.

Back on board, we enjoyed tea on our balcony as we cruised out of the fjords. I loved cozying up on the balcony reading a book. For dinner, we went to Sel de Mar - the seafood restaurant. We had salt crusted fish and escargot in the shell. A total Pretty Woman moment. The meal was very good. We listened to the piano players in Billboard for a little while to cap off the night.

7.13.16 Aalesund

7.13.16 Aalesund

We had been looking forward to this port since the annual boat festival coincided with our visit. We started our day with a walk around the town center and a trip to the Aalesund museum. The most impressive piece in the museum was the original enclosed lifeboat that the Norwegian inventor sailed to Massachusetts in to prove it was safe. They had restored it and you could crawl inside.

We went to the tourist information center for a walking tour for 100 Krone per person - about $12.50 per person. It was a fantastic tour. We learned about the building style, the fishing industry, and the impact of the WW2 occupation.  One of the interesting parts of the building style is that the 1st floor and 2nd floor have different styles of windows.

One part of the boat festival we had been looking forward to was the jet pack show. We found an outdoor cafe with front row seats. Glenn had the fish stew. I had a salt cod pizza. Both were very good. The tomato helped balance the salt cod. After the show, we had a cocktail at Milk and then headed back to the ship.

We lost again at Name That Tune trivia. We attended the port talk for the next day and then got in on the end of a game of Pictionary before singing along with the hits of the 60s with the 2 piano players.

Dinner was a pop up based on a 3 Michelin star restaurant in The Netherlands. It was a fantastic five course meal.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

7.11.16 Sea Day

We love a Sea Day on the 1st day. We had a good breakfast on our balcony. I headed to the spa for a bamboo massage while Glenn worked out and enjoyed the Greenhouse Retreat in the Spa. After that, we explored the ship. We had a good lunch in the dining room. We attended a question and answer with the Captain and an introduction to Norway lecture. We also tried our hand at trivia and attended the show. The wraparound screens were really cool, but the shown overall was a little lackluster.

For dinner, we tried to get a table at the main dining room, but it was way too chaotic and the wait was too long. Luckily, the Pinnacle Grill was able to fit us in and we feasted on king crab legs.

7.9.16 -7.10.16 Amsterdam and Boarding the Holland Koningsdam

Debarkation was quick and easy.  We had a 7am departure and baggage tags number 10.  The Lido bufftlet was open at 5:30 and Taste Bar at 6:30.. Blue Iguana was opening at 7am so no chance for one last Heuvos Rancheros. :-(.  So after packing up our carryons we headed to Lido about 6:15.  Wasn't crowded at all.  It was the first time we were having breakfast in Lido this cruise. They had the usual - even the omelet station was in operation. I elected for eggs Benedict, some hash browns and sausage. And of course black coffee. My wife had a waffle. 

About 6:55 they were. Calling for baggage tags up to number 12 so off we went to deck 3. It was easy to find the Carnival transfers and we were loaded into a bus by 7:30.  Arrived at the airport by 8:00. We flew Vueling and had purchased upgrades to their equivalent of Business Class.  That also gave us access to the Fast Lane which is the equivalent of TSA Pre-Check.   One change on our next cruise.  So worth it as it also gave us access to the VIP lounge.

Flight to Amsterdam was uneventful. Amsterdam airport was easy to navigate. We took a taxi to our hotel: The Hoxton. The taxi ride was a little intense with all the bikes everywhere. We checked in our tiny room. Definitely chose the worst room in a fantastic hotel. We headed out to a cheese tasting at Reypeneur. It was great. We tried the same cheese aged for different lengths of time.

We headed toward the museum district. We found a little cafe on the canal offering pancakes and Dutch beer. Then we visited House of Bols. That could be skipped if you are planning your trip. We were struck by how helpful everyone was.

We went to Central Station to find our canal boat. The ride down the canal was a great. It was a two hour ride that explores the city.

Sunday morning we went our walking tour guide. She led us on a 2.5 hour walking tour through the city. We liked how she focused on how the culture in Amsterdam developed. It was a great overview.

We received notice that our cruise ship would be departing from Rotterdam instead of Amsterdam. We headed to the train station to try to figure out a way there. After a little trouble buying tickets and missing one train, we figured it out and were on our way.

Boarding was easy. We were relieved to be on board. We confirmed our schedule for the week, bought spa passes and I scheduled some massages and a manicure/pedicure.

We had lunch in the buffet. We were impressed with the amount of food that was made to order. I had an Asian salad and Glenn had an Asian noodle bowl. We headed back to the cabin to relax and unpack. The muster drill was different. We started in our cabin watching a video and then headed to our muster station.

After the drill, the Captain opened the bow of the ship. Our location guide Ian narrated our passage out of Rotterdam. We passed Holland America's old headquarters and the original S.S. Rotterdam. I headed to my manicure/pedicure and Glenn wandered the ship.

For dinner, we had reservations at the Culinary Arts Center. The chefs prepare the dishes right in front of you. Instead of a regular presentation, they invite you up to ask questions. The food was terrific. We really enjoyed having such close access to the chefs. One chef even helped us figure out the problems we've been having with a molecular gastronomy dish. After dinner, we headed straight to bed.

Friday, July 8, 2016

7.8.16 Palma de Mallorca

Back from Palma de Mallorca. We decided to not take the City Express buses offered by Carnival. It was  $16 round trip and took you to the downtown area with return service about every 20 minutes. Instead we walked outside the pier area and spotted a Hop On/Hop Off bus.  We have often used these in cities we are visiting for a short time to get a lay of the land (or city in this case).  It was $17 EU per person and a great choice. They had an open top deck and inside seating as well. It had 18 stops including many in the bustling downtown area. There are many cafes and tapas places that looked very good. Many of the stops had long lines to get back on the bus and you would have had to wait for a bus or two. We weren't really interested in getting off at any stops so took a full loop back to the port which was about 90 minutes.

We are now having lunch at Cucina de Capitano . Really delicous pasta cooked al dente.   Vegetables cooked nicely and not overdone.  I can confirm he reports of the noise from the basketball court above.  It is ridiculous. I guess for lunch it isn't that bad but if you are paying $15 to eat dinner it is not acceptable to have the walls shaking around you. Poor planning.

One tidbit:  The elevator situation is a bit nuts. Each elevator is controlled by its own button so that you need to press multiple buttons to get an elevator. And that causes a problem once you are in an elevator since you then tend to stop at every floor.  Not sure what they were thinking when designing it this way.

The last night. At least for this cruise.we went to America Rocks. What a fun interactive show.  Another example that shows the potential that the Liquid Lounge can offer.

Dinner tonight was very good. Sweet potato soup which had a strange hint of tomato but still tasty. Delicious Flatbread with BBQ chicken. Main was the pork chop with mashed potato. Moist and very flavorful.

Said our goodbyes to our waitstaff and our group since we all have different departure times tomorrow. Saw the last set of Ed in the Red Frog and shared a 101 ounce beer tower (Caribbean Wheat of course)  with two others from our group.  Good way to finish off the sailing. Wonderful cruise. I'll need a few more days to digest everything. We saw and did everything we wanted to. Will be interested to see what changes happen when Vista makes her way West on the transatlantic   I could see myself easily booking a cruise on her from Miami.

We're off to Amsterdam tomorrow and will board the HAL Koningsdam on Sunday for a Norway cruise. So the adventures aren't quite done yet. I've enjoyed sharing our Vista adventures with you and I hope I have been helpful. Happy cruising everyone - on Vista and otherwise.  Cheers!!

7.7.16 Marseille

From Glenn:

Back from our Marseilles excursion which was a boat ride to the Calanques. We had Blue Iguana breakfast again and it was great. Our excursion time wasn't until 10:15 so we had leisure time today. We decided to get a load of laundry done and start the packing process. We have another cruise booked on the HAL Koningsdam on July 10th so need to be ready for that. We used the self laundry on Deck 9 forward.. There are also laundry rooms on decks 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8 aft.  No coins required. You use your Sail and Sign for both washer and dryer. They also have soap ((All, Surf and Snuggle) for purchase using your card. We got there early at 645 and all machines were empty. When we came back 40 minutes later it was quite active. We found the dryers only gave you about 30 - 40 minutes of dry time. We needed about 50 so had to reactivate the machine again. It was $3 for a wash and $3 for the dryer. They also have a small sink, Ironing board and iron free of charge.

We showed up at the lounge at 945 to get our bus number, sat in the Liquid Lounge and within 5 minutes our number was called. Carnival has perfected this excursion loading. We were on the bus and off to downtown Marseilles by 10:14 (a minute early).  We then had a short walk to the boat pier. We did have to wait here for about 25 minutes in mostly sun so be prepared that your won't board right away. Our boat had at least one other Carnival bus and I think one other non-Carnival group.

You sail for about an hour to a general area referred to as the Calanques. These are rock formations left over from the ice age. Several of them have resorts in between them.  Most of the resorts don't have running water or electricity so they are attractive to people who want to get off the grid. We also went to a couple areas where there were some people doing (unsanctioned) cliff diving. The area is within walking distance of a college so it is quite popular with students. The boat has a small bathroom and sold soft drinks. No alcohol and I didn't see any snacks. There is some commentary while you are sailing. The excursion brochure said it would be prerecorded but it was a live person on our boat. They also handed out a binder that has a map and other information. That was more helpful than the narration.

We took the hour boar ride back to the downtown where we met up with our guide. This is where it got a little messy - at least if you wanted to stay downtown for any free time. The transit back to the ship wasn't going to be our original bus. We were to take the City Express which is a transit that Carnival setup. What wasn't clear was where this was in relation to where we stepped off the boat.  We were ready to go back to the ship so we followed our guide for about 10 blocks to where the buses were. Along the way were many cafes and other eateries and other shops. If you wanted  some free time any of these places looked great to grab a quick bite or an adult beverage.   But since none of us know where these buses were we didn't dare stop. I guess we were like lemmings. ;-)  Once we arrived at the buses about 2pm our guide told people that could have some free time. Of course that would have been more helpful to know when we were leaving the boat unloading area. Didn't impact us since we wanted to head back to the ship. I would give the excursion a B-.  The areas were interesting and beautiful but not "drop your jaw" types of places. Also the end of the excursion was chaotic.

We went to a Movie Pairs trivia at 3:15.  Came two points away from the win. Good thing we won a trivia on the sea day so we already have our gold SOAS to add to our collection.

One tidbit that is related to today's excursion and would have helped. On Caribbean cruises I am used to getting a map (sometimes a crude one) that have you the general area of the main streets and where the ship is. Haven't gotten any of those in this cruise and for the large industrial ports such as Livorno that makes sense.  But today would have been a good time to have a map showing you where the City Express buses picked you up. 

Before dinner, Angie headed to the spa and I checked out the water slides. I give them a B+.

American Feast was very good. Stuffed mushrooms appetizer didn't disappoint and the teriyaki salmon main was truly a fine dining restaurant quality dish.  The Flick show was the best show I have seen on any cruise including Disney.  A great combination of dance, singing and synchronized special effects. Some moments where I wondered how they did some of the effects.  I would say it is not to be missed. It is also a show that helps you see the potential of how the Liquid Lounge could be used for very different types of shows.  Afterwards we went to Red Frog for a couple of Caribbean Wheats which is my favorite of the three beers they brew onboard.

Then to Quest. No spoilers but will say it was the best version I have seen.  And it is very adult so not for anyone easily offended as it ends with men in their underwear. Very entertaining. Spent about an hour in the casino and made a $35 donation.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

7.6.16 Tuscany

If there is a definition of a perfect today than today was it.  We have visited Napa, Russian River and Sonoma many times but always wanted to check out wineries in Italy specifically in Tuscany. Stopping in Livorno gave us that chance. We booked a private tour for our group that was a Chianti Wine Tasting tour.

We had more time for breakfast today since our pickup wasn't until 9am. So we went to our favorite place Blue Iguana and had Heuvos Rancheros.  So good again. Our pickup was prompt at 9am and off we went from the very industrial port to the beautiful hills of Tuscany.  Lovely views of vineyards on the hills and cultivated fields of sunflowers. I didn't know that Tuscany had so many sunflowers!!  It was about a 90 minute drive to our first stop the Palagio winery which has been a family run winery since the mid 1800's.  Great to see the cellar and learn about the famous Chianti Classico wine from this region. 

A few things we learned:
Sangiovese is aged in french oak for thr vanilla and fruit flavors
Cabernet Sauvignon in American oak
Chianti classico is aged in Slovenia oak sine it doesn't impart flavor - only allows the transfer of oxygen to help smooth out the bitterness of the tannins.
The Reserve Classico is aged in small barrels that are used about 4 times in their 10 year life.
Super Tuscan are only put in new barrels since the heavy oak balances the heavy tannins.
Extra Virgin olive oil has lower acidity and better benefits. To be called DOP, the olives have to be manually pressed and low acidity.
High acidity in the olive oil could mean flies in the pressing, olives not pressed within 24 hours of harvest, or olives are not harvested early enough.

After the tour we went to the main tasting room to try several types of their Chianti and a very interesting Pinot Grigios (it was sweeter than any I have had).  During the tasting we had a lunch of delicous cheese and four kinds of salami as well as fantastic bread and their two signature olive oils. The oils were so fresh tasting. One had the aroma of fresh cut grass. The other more spicy and slightly sweet. And of course the wine was so good we ordered a case to be shipped home as well as a bottle to take on the ship. More on that later. 

Our second stop was to a lovely little town - Greve in Chianti-  that had several pottery shops and restaurants. Perhaps inspired by the olive oil, we purchased a ceramic olive oil vessel.  It will replace the generic one we have at home. We checked out a few more stores, had the best gelato of the trip and then headed to our next stop at the Grabbiano winery.  The wines here were also mostly Chianti style and a little different. Didn't like them as much but they did have a nice Rose and an interesting red so we got a bottle of each to take back to the ship. 

It was about 3pm and we decided to head back to the ship.  We got more views of the rolling hills in between some naps (wine tasting and Tuscany can cause drowsiness).  Once back at the port we headed to the short security line and VOILA!!  They didn't take the four bottles of wine we had.  We went straight to the cabin and put one on ice (love our cabin steward Lawrence).  Wonderful relaxing day.  And we have some gifts following is home.  Highly recommend doing this but private is the way to go. Can't imagine enjoying this with a large group.

Had sushi at Bonsai when we got back on the ship and I was very impressed. The tuna and yellow find sashimi was very fresh. Also split a spicy tuna roll and bonsai roll with my FIL and both were good. Angie went to the spa for a facial. She said it was great.

Also went to seafood shack today and had a couple of oysters. Also surprised how briny and fresh they tasted. They were $2.50 each.

I got chosen to be onstage for the Hasboro game show.

Dinner was beef wellington along with seafood Newburg.  The Newburg was pretty tasty especially the shrimp which were cooked nicely and not overdone.  I've had it before on other ships and it was dreadful so was pleasantly surprised. Desert was bitter and blanc which is my favorite dessert. Didn't disappoint. Rich flavorful vanilla sauce and the Chocolately,  brown sugar flavor are so good together with that sauce.  

Two things I noted at dinner is they have been serving broccoli with everything and there are a lot more beef mains then I have ever seen before. Short ribs at least two nights. Tenderloin two nights. In addition to the flat iron steak that has been there most nights. Did the Carnival supplier have a surplus and cut a backroom deal to get someone to take so much broccoli?  SO MUCH!

After dinner, we went to Valerie Storm's comedy show. I'd give it a B. Then we headed to the piano bar. The piano player was fun, but the room set up is terrible. We called it a night after a few songs.

7.5.16 Rome

From Glenn:

Well, I can now say I have experienced Rome.   We were on the Inside the Vatican, Colliseum and St Peter's Basilica tour.  Our day started with early wakeup and we had breakfast at Ocean Plaza (deck 5) at 6:45.  Good selection consisting of eggs, sausage, bacon and hash browns. Also had hot and cold cereal. Once again I found the coffee to be the best of any Carnival cruise although I know coffee is a very personal choice.

We went to the Liquid Lounge at 7:15, quickly got our tickets (corrected our mistake from earlier thisbweek) and only had to sit for a few minutes before our bus number was called. We rolled out of Port at 745.  Once onboard we were issued audio guide receivers with headsets which the tour guide in room would use.  It was a good touch that they made sure they worked on the way. More about these later.  They made one stop on the way at a gas station as a rest room stop. It seemed unnecessary but once we got to the Colliseum it became obvious why they did it  since having people take off to find the rest rooms would have been a major challenge.

We were parked nearby the Colliseum at 10:30 and inside by 11.  It is so much larger than you can imagine with so many gates. We were able to spend about 40 minutes including 20 minutes free time. Enjoyed this very much since some parts are nicely restored.

Bring water bottles- there were a couple of places to refill.  Next stop was near the Vatican Museum.

We got there about 12:40 and we're given free time for lunch or shopping until 1:30.  We quickly found an Irish Pub (perhaps not what we had hoped to find) but we wanted to make sure we had time to order something and eat it before we had to meet back up with our bus-mates and the guide. The meal was nice. They actually had no Irish food.  I had a decent piece of lasagna and my wife had fettuccine. I had a couple of local beers.

We met up with our guide at 130 and what came next was the most challenging part of the day - certainly in retrospect.  We toured through room after room of most of the Vatican collection of statues, tapestries, mosaics and other art. Truly overwhelming how much the Vatican has in it's possession.  And it was done at a whirled wind pace so it was hard to really understand what you were racing past. Plus there were hundreds of other people and in most rooms you were shoulder to shoulder. So it made it very hard to keep up with your guide and hear what was being said.  You would often be too far away from the guide to have a good connection or you would get 'cross talk" and hear a different guide speaking sometimes in a language that wasn't your primary language. ;-)  So that made this part frustrating especially since many area are not air conditioned and you go up and down many stairs. Bring your fit bit to count. My FIL said his fit bit had almost 4 miles after we were done. We did get to the Sistene Chapel which was pretty amazing in person after only having seen pictures in books.

The last part of of tour was St Peter's Basilica and Square.  Truly amazing since I had no idea how large that building was. Beyond the amazing intricate dome are more marble sculptures than I could count. Hard to imagine how they were made with the tools of the day.  I think I could have toured just this place withoit the Vatican and been very happy.  We ended the tour in St Peter's Square which is another place where you don't realize how big it really is.   One million people can easily fit there.

Would I recommend seeing these places?  Yes.  If you want to do this specific  tour be prepared for crowds and heat. I hear there are VIP tours available but don't know how they would avoid crowds unless they go after hours and of course that doesn't work for a cruise.  Getting to Rome from the port is a big investment of your time.  This tour  (and I think all of them) certainly take you to a lot of places so you don't feel "cheated".  I just didn't need as much Vatican. Glad I saw it, checked a few places off my bucket list but don't think I would go back to Rome again. Too many other places in Italy to visit.

Before dinner, we tried the Alchemy Bar. I had a Manhattan with brown sugar that was very good. Angie had a refreshing cucumber sunrise. We were happy to get a seat since that bar has been very busy. 

Dinner was very good.  They had escargot which I look forward to like some people look forward to lobster. They were best of any Carnival cruise. Also had what is becoming my staple starter the kale caesar. Had two mains:  short ribs (very tender, moist and seasoned well) and lasagna  which is something I never make but really enjoy Carnival's recipe. No dessert tonight.

The music game show was a lot of fun - a great way to get people dancing and interacting. Matt knows how to get it done. Angie's mom and Mark got a little time on the microphone leading everyone in song. Spent about 30 minutes in the casino and made a $12 donation. So .40 per minute of entertainment. ;-)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

7.4.16 Amalfi Coast

From Glenn:

Back from our yacht excursion and it was more than amazing. Our group of eight was picked up at 8am at the dock and took a 20 minutes ride to the yacht club where the boat was. We were off to the Amalfi Coast and Capri area by 9am.  Great captain. He was very friendly and we got to plan our whole trip.  We said we were interested in some swimming so after sailing around Capri a little he then took us to all three grottos (white, Green and Blue).  Angie swam in the green grotto and said it was amazing since you pass though a cavern and the beautiful green color. The Blue Grotto was closed because the water was high.

It came time for picking a place for lunch and originally we wanted to go to Capri. After talking to our captain Dario he said there was this place with great food in a nearby area called Nerano. We moored the boat just offshore and a smaller dinghy came from the restaurant to pick us up. The restaurant was called Maria Grazie. It was such a cute place. We sat down expecting menus. The owner came over and described how it works. She listed all these delicous sounding appetizers including anchovies,  eggplant, arancini, marinated octopus, tomato and basil, fresh mozzarella and fresh smoked provolone.They served it with what they called peach wine. A dry white wine with several fresh peaches served in a jug. Not really sangria - so much better.  It was all so good. 

My favorite was the octopus however the smoked provolone was a close second. Angie's favorite was the stuffed and fried zucchini blossum. Have never had anything close to that before. We then had a second course which was their famous pasta and zucchini followed by whole grilled fish. Both outstanding. The fish was so flavorful, seasoned only with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil to finish it. No room for dessert however when they brought the check they included homemade chilled lemoncillo and a licorice liquor which she called fennel along with chilled shot glasses.  Great way to end the meal.  The cost for this fabulous  meal was only $50 EU each.

After lunch we stayed moored and swam for awhile. It would take 75 minutes to get back to the yacht club so we started the trek back. I think each of us had some nap time after that delicious lunch. Highly recommend sailing out into this area.  Wonderful day!!

After dinner, we went to the deck party. It was 4th of July themed. Matt Mitchum, the cruise director really knows how to throw a party! We stayed a short time because tomorrow is Rome and we have an early day.