Tuesday, December 2, 2014

50th Birthday - Eastern Caribbean Cruise Trip Report - November. 16 - 23, 2014

Is your 50th Birthday a big deal?  I suppose it should be, but it really wasn't for me.  I think birthdays stopped being important to me when I reached 21.  I remember my dad told me then that it seems like you wait your whole life till you turn 21 and then after that the years FLY by, faster and faster.  Very true.  The thought of being 50 makes me feel OLD!  Not in a bad way, but old nonetheless...I very much believe that "youth is beauty" and "youth is wasted on the young".  It certainly was, in my case.

I was glad my very good friend came away with me to celebrate.  My original plans for New Orleans fell through months earlier and long story short, this is what we decided on. This was our third trip together now.  This was also her first cruise and her first time to see white sand beaches with turquoise coloured ocean water.  Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is her usual getaway destination.  I was very excited for her to see the Caribbean! I first saw it when I was 21 and on a Carnival cruise too.

 We booked a great deal!  $289 USD for an Ocean View room on the Carnival Splendor out of Miami.  We got airfare return for $500 CAD each.  The price was right.

I took this picture of  our ship, the Splendor in Grand Turk

Saturday, November 15th:

Today was just a travel day.  We had an early 8am flight out of YVR to DFW - Dallas first.  Sat in the American Airlines Admirals lounge so she could smoke (smoking room) and it included wine/beer/cocktails.  We had a good time for our three hours there.  They also included light snacks, cheese, crackers, free wifi/computers, etc.  Worth the $50 pp.  Both flights on AA were really good as well and they gave us free wine and a cheese platter which was really sweet of them.

We arrived in Miami somewhere around 11pm local time that night and took a cab to our hotel.  It was the Clarion Inn & Suites Miami Airport.  They do have a free shuttle but we had too much to drink by this point to find it and were overly tired and wobbly as well.  Cab was $15 pre tip.  We arranged for the hotel shuttle to the port in the morning for a price of $10 per person.

Sunday, November 16th:

We checked out at 11:20 as the shuttle was to leave at 11:30.  As we asked the girl at the front desk where/how to get the shuttle, she informed us that it was driving away as we asked.  I told her I thought we had reservations and she just stared at me...so we exited and got a cab.

Taxi to Port of Miami was $40 including tip.  Embarkation was very smooth and easy and we were on board in about a half hour.  We were advised we couldn't go to our room until 1:30 so we signed up for the "Cheers" program which gives you a maximum of 15 drinks per day...Price after gratuity (built in) and tax was $402 per person.

Our Ocean View room, Riviera Deck 1

A co-worker sent me these strawberries & a bottle of wine for my birthday.  Very thoughtful of her!

Soon after sailing my friend started complaining of "motion of the ocean" sickness.  She had only put her patch on that day, not the day before as advised.  We sat out on the deck for sail away.

Saying good-bye to Miami

One of the pools & hot tubs

My friend went to lay down around dinner time.  I went to the Steakhouse and left her there hoping she'd feel better soon.  She wasn't in the room when I returned so I guessed she was.

Nightly Turndown Service

I brought my friend this Cheesecake dessert from the Steakhouse.  I could not believe the size of it - that is a full sized dinner plate!

I ended my night in the piano bar and hit my 15 drink maximum!  (Ugh, no Fireball ever again, thank you very much!!!!)

Monday, November 17th, Seaday:

There's nothing much to report on this day.  I slept till about 7pm with a horrible hangover and my friend was still seasick.  We ate at the "elegant dinner" and we made our way to lobby bar before dinner (below).

And then as it turned out, my friend went back to bed (still seasick) and I ended up staying up until 6 in the morning on the pool deck drinking with others and then ending the drinking with random cute guy (below).

Tuesday, November 18th, Seaday:

Today was my birthday and my friend had kindly purchased the "Chef's Table" Dinner as my birthday present.  We met with the group in  the lobby bar for 7:30pm.

The evening starts with a tour of the Kitchen Galley  and then some appetizers and champagne.  Unlike the past cruise Chef's dinner, pictures were allowed this time but just not of dimensional proportions.  i.e.  Chef said we couldn't show how the kitchen was laid out especially in panoramic view.

Below, we were sure this was "Steak Tartare" but it ended up being sweet.  It was actually a Mango Sphere on a Rosemary Biscuit.

Chefs preparing our appetizers.  My picture of those cones didn't turn out but they had Salmon Tartare in them and were delicious.

This was Beef Carpaccio on Air Pillow and Chocolate Bacon with Apple Ribbons!  These appies were so intricate and had so many ingredients, it was mind boggling.

Double cooked Lamb with Tapioca (my fave).

A stock pot.  This was making beef stock.

Kitchen staff plating desserts

Lastly we learned how to make the "Chocolate Melting Cake" and then it was onto dinner.  We were seated in a private room with our table and staff.  Below is Chef Rakesh Pavithran, his two Sous chefs and our lovely server who looked after us the rest of the evening.  They were all WONDERFUL!

Lucky for me, they gave us a menu of our dinner and the recipe for the Chocolate Melting Cake so I can lay out/remember our courses of the evening below.

They start you with this great Brioche bread

First Course was "Beet Blanket"
Asparagus, Cauliflower, Honey Carrot Tian, Mache, Lemon Struesel

Added to it was Spiced Grape Tea.

"Crab Stack"
Corn Custard, Polenta Cracker, Tangerine, Passion Caviar

"Duck Textures"
Creamy Quinoa, Parmesan Churros, Olive Snow, Port Wine Jus

"Bisque Our Way"
 Three Basil, Crisped Brioche, Garlic Chips

Added to it was Two Tomatoes
"Sea Bass"
Chorizo Crust, Fried Popcorn Pudding, Lemon Macaroon, Lobster Foam

Bone Marrow Souffle, Scallions & Garlic Panisse, Gremolata Crisp

"Pastry Chef"
Sea Salt Praline Chocolate, Raspberry Mojito, Key Lime Cake, Apricot Vanilla Gel, Citrus Cream

I don't think anyone at our table was able to eat the last courses.  I did eat that Wagyu because it was amazingly good and was probably my favourite dish of the evening.  The whole dinner was PHENOMENAL!  They gave us a group photo with the Chef and everyone waddled out.

They show movies out on deck but I was done and went to bed.  We were in Port early morning and I was happy to be getting off the ship!

Wednesday, November 19th, St./Sint Martin/Maarten:

It felt wonderful to get off the ship!  I was starting to go a little stir crazy.  We had a tour booked with Captain Bob of Soualiga Destinations.  However, we were late getting off the ship AND he had said that his tour left at 9am local time but it was 10am local time when we arrived.  We stayed on Eastern Standard Time the whole cruise so we weren't even sure if we would get a tour as we were now very late.

We followed his instructions and asked for help and found our way there about fifteen minutes later.  Captain Bob advised us that due to the weather the ride would be rough at times and there would be zero visibility for snorkelling.  He gave us the choice to get a refund or carry on and enjoy the day.  We decided to stay and appreciated his honesty.  Basically we would just be sightseeing, hit a few beaches for swimming and would see both the French & Dutch sides of the Island.

Our boat was the first one straight ahead next to the dock

Captain Bob giving us the local history for both French & Dutch sides

A Penis Rock 

Where we stopped and swam to, to get off for lunch

Our other host, Bob's son Brett chillaxing on the blue lounger

Rice & Beans and Fried Chicken

Going back to the Boat after lunch

Host Brett before he dived in for a swim

Back in the Boat, Plane flying over our heads, landing at Maho Beach.  Thrilling!

I can't say enough good things about this tour!  It was one of the best excursions I've ever done, snorkelling or no snorkelling.  It was just a great day!  Both Bob and Brett were wonderful, gracious hosts and I felt very content for our day.  We made our way back, stopping first for a Happy Hour glass of wine at open air restaurant on the beach and then went shopping for Guavaberry Liqueur.  Below is the Mango my friend bought.  I chose the original.  


We had a nice dinner in the main dining room.  I had the Chocolate Melting Cake for dessert and she had Tiramisu.  The waiters formed a Congo line with the diners.

Thursday, November 20th, San Juan, Puerto Rico:

We didn't rush to get off the boat today as we had nothing booked.  This was just about shopping and then Mojitos & Mofongo (local dish made of plantains) for lunch. We wandered around Old Town and it was really, really warm outside today.

We stopped for lunch at the place below.  I had researched it and found it at home before we left.  The mofongo was interesting but rich and very filling.  We could have easily split one dish and been satisfied.  Almost everyone in Old Town spoke fluent English.

Chicken & Shrimp Mofongo with Garlic Sauce

Steak Mofongo with Garlic Sauce

This place was a "fixer upper"

And back to the ship we went.  Time for a nice refreshing drink at the Lobby Bar.

Friday, November 21st, Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos:

Our plan today was to spend the day at the beach at a place called Jack's Shack.  It was a bit of a hike down the beach and though beauty emerged at every glance, it was supremely HOT outside today and walking on the sand was awkward!

Then finally, there is was, the Oasis on the beach - Jack's Shack!

Best Jerk Chicken ever!

Cracked Conch & Jerk Chicken Combo Plate

Our view all day long

We took turns at swimming and I can't capture in pictures how gloriously beautiful this beach was.  It was truly stunning.  We made our way back and went to do some shopping but were unsuccessful.  Also, everything was very expensive here.

We walked through Margaritaville on the way back.

As soon as we got back on the ship, I went for a swim.  I was boiling hot still.

Saying goodbye to Grand Turk

It was Elegant Night again so we went for a nice dinner and then closed the night by watching the new Comedians on board.

Saturday, November 22nd, a.k.a. last day:

It was a rainy day today!  We felt sorry for the staff that constantly just wiped and dried the pool decks all day long.  There wasn't much to do but drink and eat and eat and drink.  We tried all cruise to make it to the Indian food stand called Tandoori Grill but the only time we saw it open was today and there was no Butter Chicken.  By the time I went to look again to see what else to have, it was closed.  Not meant to be for either of us.

The ship had this place that served appies for a short time, like an hour or two on sea days.  We managed to hit it today.  Below was a meatball and goat cheese crostini.  I enjoyed this place.

I took my friend to the Steakhouse to treat her for dinner.  Below is her first course of Ahi Tuna Tartare.

I had the Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese below.

Our entrée pictures did not turn out and I could not doctor them enough to make them presentable.  She had Filet & Lobster and I had Sea Bass.  We shared the Chocolate Sampler below for dessert. 

We said good bye to our favourite staff and tipped them and that pretty much wrapped things up.

Sunday, November 23rd:

We went for breakfast in the main dining room and then waited for a very long time before they began disembarking.  They said they were really backed up with Customs.  We made it back to our hotel about noon, the same one we stayed at by Miami airport.  We weren't able to check in yet so I did my laundry to get ready for Key West.  

My friend took me for lunch at a Chinese place by our hotel called Ping House.  I thought I ordered:  Shrimp with Lobster Sauce & BBQ Spare Ribs Combo plate.  This is what I got - soup.  Anyway, it was enough for both lunch and dinner and tasted fine, I actually liked that shrimp soup.  

And that pretty much ended this portion of the trip.  My friend had to catch the 5am shuttle to the airport the next morning and I just wanted a good night's sleep before heading off to Key West.

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