Thursday, July 6, 2017

Carnival Cruise Line goes to Cuba! #CCL2Cuba

Huge news came out of Port of Tampa last week - Carnival Cruise Line had it's first-ever cruise to Cuba. This ship sailed on June 29, 2017 on a four-day sailing with an overnight port of call in Havana!!! Carnival Paradise will have a variety of four and five day cruises from Tampa through May 3, 2018.

My friend Heather and I were invited to a Cuban inspired bon voyage reception to kick off the inaugural sailing. We feasted on delicious Cuban food and libations while listening to live Cuban music.
To kick off the Cuban festivities, Carnival Cruise Line created the “World’s Largest Cuban Sandwich at Sea.” This 10-foot-long sandwich contained the traditional ingredients of all Cuban sandwiches: a light white bread, five pounds of sliced ham, 50 pounds of marinated and roasted pork, six pounds of Swiss cheese, one gallon of dill pickles and mustard and mayonnaise.
This sandwich had a twist - half of the sandwich included 8lb of Genoa Salami which made it an authentic Tampa Cuban sandwich. The other half was the Miami version. As long as I've lived in Tampa, there has been a feud between which was authentic - Tampa won.
Carnival's Senior Cruise Director John Heald even made us do a Cuban dance.
At the Bon Voyage party, Carnival donated $25,000 to Tampa’s Ybor City Museum Society. I was thrilled to hear this, being a former resident of Ybor City. It's a great organization that is committed to preserve, promote and celebrate the unique cultural heritage of Ybor City, one of only three National Historic Landmark Districts in Florida.
The Cuba sailing series depart on: July 13, Aug. 14, 24 and 28, Sept. 7, 21 and 25, Oct. 5, 9 and 19, 2017, May 3, 2018. Five-day voyages add a stop in either Cozumel, Mexico; or Key West, Florida.
In addition to experiencing Havana’s colorful history and culture, guests sailing aboard Carnival Paradise can enjoy an array of amenities and a full schedule of daytime activities and nighttime entertainment.
The ship features a 12,000-square-foot Spa Carnival health and wellness facility and an exclusive Serenity adults-only retreat. Popular family-friendly programming includes Seuss at Sea in partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises featuring the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast with The Cat in the Hat and Friends and fun, supervised activities for kids in three age groups. The ship also boasts four swimming pools and a 115-foot-long water slide.
I think it's time for me to book another cruise. Cuba anyone?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Catching up and a sad goodbye

Hi friends! It's been over a month since I last posted on my little corner of the world wide web. So much has been going on and I have a lot to fill you in on. I spent most of June traveling for work - with trips to Hollywood FL, Atlanta and NYC.
photo I took at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, FL

At our event in NYC
I celebrated a birthday. My in-laws purchased me a vintage claw table which my husband refurbished for me while I was in Atlanta. I absolutely LOVE the outcome (and the MacKenzie Childs plates my Mom got me!). I will do a full blog post on what we did.
My Father in law and my husband redid our stairs! Ripped up the nasty carpet and replaced it with gorgeous wood stairs. This transformation was huge. Not to sound like a broken record, but a full blog post will be coming up on how we (they) did this! We are close to having all the carpet out of this house!

OK now for the sad news.........

We endured a complete heartbreak in June. When I got home from Atlanta, our Cat Boo was acting a little weird. He was breathing heavier than normal and not interested in eating. That weekend, I had friends visiting, one of which is a Vet tech. She informed me he was labor breathing. We ended up taking him to the emergency vet to find out he had fluid in both lungs and in his cavity. He had an advanced stage of cancer.....our world came crashing down. When we took him to the vet, I thought the worst thing that could happen was they would drain the fluid from the lungs and send him home with us. We had to make the extremely difficult decision to put him down.

It's been 1 1/2 weeks and I will say, while I miss Boo beyond words, each day does get easier. When the decision was made to put him down, I wanted to be no where near that building. However, my husband chose otherwise and wanted to be in the room with him. While I thought it was the hardest thing any pet owner could go through, it was the right thing for Boo. I held him while they sedated him. I felt his last breath. He said goodbye in the arms of those he loved the most.
June taught me a lot. I am a year older but feel much wiser (haha I had to). We experienced a loss that neither of us were prepared for. We both thought we had another good 5 years left with Boo. Going through this loss together made Gabe and I stronger. While I have lost multiple people in my life, including my father, he hasn't really dealt with death before. Sorry for the sporadic blog post but needed to step out of my writing funk.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen Dinner Review #CapturetheBite

Have you ever been on Disney's Jungle Cruise ride? Spent 10 minutes with a semi-humorous scripted ad lib boat captain? Imagine eating on the Jungle Cruise. That my friends is Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen. Everything from the decor to the names of the entree's "Tastes like Chicken - Because it is!" makes you feel like you are sitting on the Jungle Cruise ride, not knowing what to believe or what will happen next.

I grew up on burgers, fries and PB&J sandwiches while visiting Magic Kingdom. There were a few times where I found myself during this dinner thinking - are we really eating (insert here - Lamb, Whole Fish, Noodle Soup) at MK? The menu is far different than any other restaurant located inside Magic Kingdom but I really enjoyed it and do see myself returning.
A few months ago, all of the sit-down restaurants in Magic Kingdom started offering beer and wine for purchase during dinner. I will say, I truly enjoyed having a glass of wine at the Magic Kingdom. The wine list is not huge but they had some good options. I opted for a glass of Franciscan Chardonnay from Napa Valley.
We tried out quite a few appetizers from the Skippers Canteen Dinner Menu. From everything we tried, y favorite was the Shiriki Noodle Salad, just make sure to mix it up if you are sharing with a group because all the flavor was on the bottom. I also really enjoyed the Cachapas and the Shu Mai.

All of the food descriptions below are copied and pasted from the Walt Disney World website - only because some of the descriptions are so silly, I couldn't bring myself to write my own description.

Shiriki Noodle Salad
Noodles, Edamame Beans, Mushrooms, Green Mango, and Cucumber tossed with a Sweet Chili Sauce. Famously served at Hotel Hightower on December 31, 1899

Orinoco Ida's Cachapas
And you thought our jokes were corny! House-made Corn Pancakes, Mojo-braised Pork, Black Bean Salad, and Avocado Cream

S.E.A. Shu Mai
A legendary blend of Pork, Shrimp, Edamame Beans, and Spices wrapped in Gyoza Skin then steamed

Falls Family Falafel
A secret recipe of Chickpeas, Garlic, Onions, Lemon Juice, and Herbs served with White Bean Dip and Tomato-Cucumber Salad

This was my last meal after spending 3 full days eating and drinking at Disney and I needed something light. All day long, I was craving Pho (my go-to after eating myself silly). Lucky me - they have noodle soup at Skipper Canteen. I did have to add Hoison and Sriracha to the broth but it hit the spot.

Nile Nellie's Noodle Bowl with Chicken
Niles and Niles of Rice Noodles...Fragrant Broth served with Mushrooms, Jalapeños, and fresh Herbs

Other dishes tried around the table:

Baa Baa Berber Lamb Chops
Berber-spiced Lamb Chop, Mint Couscous, Curried Carrots, Sun Chokes, Lamb-Butter Sauce

Sustainable Fish
"Not Piranha," served over Chinese Broccoli, Carrots, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Red Bell Peppers in a fragrant Lemon Grass Broth

Whole Fried Fish
You'll get hooked on Skipper Annette's latest catch! Served with Jasmine Rice, Grilled Scallions, and Soy-Ginger Vinaigrette

We also enjoyed a dessert trio but I did not get photos as we were in a hurry so we could make the Wishes firework show. Skippers Canteen is in great proximity for a place to have a sit down dinner prior to seeing the fireworks.
This visit to Magic Kingdom marked my last time seeing Wishes. The new fireworks show Happily Ever After debut on May 12. I have not seen Happily Ever After yet - but will leave you with one of the best photos I have taken at Walt Disney World.

This meal was provided by Walt Disney World as part of Capture the Bite Food Photography Workshop. No monetary compensation was provided. As always, all opinions are my own.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Carnival Creates 300lb Burger, Guy's Burger Joint Recipe for National Burger Day

Happy National Hamburger Day! My friends at Carnival took my favorite food holiday to a whole new level by creating a 300-pound, three-and-a-half-foot-wide hamburger. The culinary team on-board the Carnival Liberty (currently sailing out of Port Canaveral) crafted this giant burger, dubbed as the largest hamburger at sea at Guy's Burger Joint.
What makes a 300 pound burger? 200 pounds of meat, 50 pounds of toppings and 50 pounds of flour to make the bun. If we're playing numbers, let us talk for a second about how many burgers are made at Guy's Burger Joint each day. There are currently 14 Carnival ships that have a Guy's Burger Joint.   It’s estimated that 1,000 burgers are served per day on each ship. Do the math - that is more than 5 million burgers a year (free of charge)!
photo rights: Carnival Cruise Line
I've had my fair share of burgers from Guy's Burger Joint over the years and they never disappoint. I had an opportunity to learn from the pro's how to make an official Guy's Burger - and they start from tight a ball resembling a giant meatball! I make a ton of burgers at home and would have never known this trick.
A burger ball turns into a thin patty using a burger smasher (non-technical term I just made up) and a little arm power. The smashed patty will take 3 minutes to cook on a hot griddle.
Add a dash of salt and pepper to the burger and you are on your way to creating a delicious signature Guy's Burger. Here's the trick to Guy's Super Melty Cheese (SMC) - they put a little cheese whiz on the burger, about a teaspoon, before putting a slice of cheese on top. Then they use a some chicken stock to create steam to melt the cheese quickly.
I don't play by the rules so I crafted two burgers into one. One of my favorite burgers from Guy's is the Chilius Maximus which is a burger topped with an onion ring, Super Melty Cheese (using the trick I described above), Donkey Sauce and Chili. However, coming in close second is the Pig Patty, which is a burger topped with a patty made of crispy bacon. So Why not merge the two together! I never said this was a healthy option. But it is delicious!
Carnival released the recipe last year for the Pig Patty Burger, which I have held onto for a year now, waiting for the perfect opportunity to share with you all. The instructions and ingredients to my concoction is included below, just add an onion ring and chili to it! Happy National Burger Day!

Straight-Up with a Pig Patty Burger Recipe for National Hamburger Day
Recipe courtesy of Guy Fieri, for Carnival Cruise Line

Total Time: 2 hr. 50 min
Prep: 30 min
Cook: 2 hr. 20 min
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:
2 heads garlic
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
12 ounces thinly sliced Applewood smoked bacon
32 ounces ground beef (80/20 blend)
8 slices cheddar
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth mixed with 2 tablespoons water
4 brioche hamburger buns, cut in half
1 kosher dill pickle, finely sliced
1/2 sweet onion, very finely sliced
1 beefsteak tomato, finely sliced
1/4 head iceberg lettuce, finely sliced
2 ounces Super Melty Cheese (‘SMC’) Sauce (recipe follows)
Donkey Sauce (recipe follows)

Super Melty Cheese (SMC) Sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk, warmed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch grated nutmeg
3 ounces grated yellow American cheese

Donkey Sauce:
1/4 cup minced roasted garlic (use a little less if not using pre-prepared roasted garlic as it is stronger in flavor and less subtle than fresh)
1 cup prepared mayonnaise
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon regular hot dog mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 pinches ground black pepper
Directions:

Roast Garlic: Cut off the top third of the garlic head to expose cloves. Place onto a piece of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fold foil to cover then place into oven for about 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, discard husks and mash.

Make Garlic Butter: Mix 1 teaspoon of the roasted garlic with room temperature butter. Season with salt. Set aside in the fridge to slightly firm up.

Make Pig Patties: Set a large pot of cold water over high heat and add the bacon. Bring to a boil and cook until the bacon is very tender and almost falling apart, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Drain and set aside to cool. Set a cast-iron pan over high heat. Divide the bacon into 4 even portions and form into a patty. Place each on the grill. Press down with a foil-covered brick to squash the bacon flat. Cook until golden and very crispy – about 4 minutes. Remove and keep warm.

Make SMC Sauce: In a medium saucepan, add the butter and set over medium heat. Allow the butter to melt, then sprinkle with the flour and stir with a whisk. Cook over low heat until the butter and flour combine into a mixture, like wet sand. Once combined, stir for 1 to 2 minutes to cook the flour (but without adding color). Pour in the milk slowly, whisking to combine. Continue stirring until the mixture thickens up, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the salt, nutmeg and cheese and stir until the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside and keep warm until ready to use. Yield: 1 cup.

Make Donkey Sauce: Mix mayonnaise, roasted garlic, mustard, Worcestershire, salt and pepper together until smooth. Yield: about 1 cup.

Make Burgers: Divide the ground beef into 4 equal portions (8 ounces each) and form into 4 tight balls. Season all over with salt. Place in pan (which still has some of the bacon fat on it) and allow to brown for 1 minute. Then flatten with a strong, flat metal spatula – press down with a foil-covered brick on top of it, as well. Flatten to approximately 1/3-inch thickness and continue to press down with the spatula as it cooks. Cook until the burgers develop a crust on the first side, 1 1/2 minutes. Flip over and cook on the second side to develop a crust on that side, 1 minute. Add 2 ounces SMC Sauce and top with a slice of cheese. Add a splash of the chicken stock and water mixture to the pan and immediately place a dome lid over the top of the burger to trap the steam. Allow to cook for 1 minute and allow cheese to melt then remove dome and set burger aside. Brush the cut sides of the buns lightly with the garlic butter. Toast the buns in the pan until golden, about 30 seconds on each side.

To assemble: Smear the Donkey Sauce on the cut side of both bun halves. Layer the base with pickle slices and onions. Top with the hamburger patty. Top with a bacon “pig patty” and SMC Sauce. Top with tomato slices and lettuce. Place the top half of the bun on top.

Click here for more information about Guy's Burger Joint and to see all the 14 ships this popular casual restaurants resides at. If you find yourself on a Carnival cruise that offers this delicious treat, do yourself a favor and make it your first stop at sea!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Disney's Boardwalk Inn and Villas Review

If asked "what is your favorite Disney property to stay at", I would think it is the same as being asked to pick a favorite child. They're all unique in their on way. Over the past 3 years, I have stayed at nearly every resort at Walt Disney World in Orlando. I am going to take time to do a few reviews on them.
Up first, the popular Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. This was the very first resort I ever stayed in as an adult, back in 2004. 13 years ago, I was not the same Disney fan as I am today but I remember being in awe of the property. It's fun going back many years later and having a true appreciation of the property and the fun quirks within. The very first thing you will see upon walking in the front doors is the Hippocampus Electrolier hanging from above. If you aren't familiar, a hippocampus is a creature from Greek mythology that is part horse, part fish. Of all the many times I've seen this chandelier, I've never noticed the horses were part fish!
Disney’s BoardWalk Inn has 372 rooms and Disney’s BoardWalk Villas has 280 units. The property is located alongside Crescent Lake, which backs into Epcot. It is the perfect place to stay if you want an easy walk to Epcot or Disney's Hollywood Studios (they have boat transportation as well). Along Crescent Lake, you will find a ton of things to do if you want a break from the parks.
Disney's BoardWalk is like stepping back in time. All of a sudden, you find yourself sitting in Atlantic City circa 1930 with an abundance of seaboard charm. The miniature carousel above is BoardWalk's version of a Grandfather clock. It goes off every hour, and revolves. The attention to detail is incredible. Speaking of carousels, the ever so creepy Nanny Chairs below were for those who didn't want to ride. I don't think you could pay me to sit on one of those chairs!
The grand lawn was recently redone with turf! I people watched for about 10 minutes and nearly every person touched the grass. It looked so real but so perfect that you had to touch it!
Disney’s BoardWalk has 9,000 SF of retail shopping including one of my favorite art shops on property, Wyland Galleries. There are also a ton of restaurants and entertainment include Flying Fish Café, Trattoria al Forno, AbracadaBar, Big River Grille and Brewing Works, ESPN Club, Atlantic Dance nightclub, Jellyrolls dueling piano bar and Ample Hills Creamery (ask for a sample!).
Disney's BoardWalk is one of the locations on property who rent Surrey Bikes. There are two, four and six people bikes that start at $25. One day, I will rent one of these while on property!
Guests staying on property can take advantage of the children’s activity center, health club (which is about to receive a huge makeover), tennis courts, and the infamous Luna Park, an enormous free-form pool area with a 200-foot water slide in the form of a classic wooden roller coaster.
On my most recent trip, I had the opportunity to stay in Disney’s BoardWalk Villas which is part of Disney Vacation Club. The Villas are available in studios and one, two, and three bedroom units.
We stayed in a one bedroom villa which had a King sized bed, a living room with a pullout sleeper sofa and a bathroom that had two entrances, perfect if you are entertaining and don't want your guests to see the bedroom.
Speaking of bathrooms, let's chat about this jacuzzi garden tub real quick!
There was a flat screen TV in both the bathroom and the living room.
The living room kept with the BoardWalk decor. It was very spacious and had plenty of seating.
All of the units offer kitchens, living areas and a variety of amenities. Having a full-sized kitchen was a huge perk. If you are staying at the BoardWalk Villas, you can take advantage of Disney grocery services.
Instead of having a balcony, we had a patio which was very large. If you go for run, you can easily access your room without going through the main resort (if you have someone in there still of course).
The view from our one bedroom overlooked the bridge which brings people from the lake to Hollywood Studios.
I also had the opportunity to check out a standard room in Disney BoardWalk Inn. This room had two queen beds and kept up with the BoardWalk decor.
I loved the artwork in this room!
Overall, I absolutely loved staying at Disney's BoardWalk. The location is perfect in my mind, being able to walk to Epcot, Hollywood Studios and of course all the amenities that the BoardWalk offers. The restaurants at the BoardWalk do not disappoint and the entertainment will not leave you board. Just be prepared for Jelly Rolls....it is very possible have a little too much fun there.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Carnival Cruise Line Celebrates American Craft Beer Week with Exclusive Beer on Carnival Vista

Carnival Cruise Line released a special one of a kind beer to be served exclusively on Carnival Vista at the RedFrog Pub and Brewery! This beer is crafted from one of my favorite fruit flavors, Guava, a very popular flavor found in pastries in Miami (Tampa too!).

This Miami Guava Wheat beer was hand-crafted by Carnival Vista's Expert  Brewmaster, Colin Presby in celebration of American Craft Beer Week which took place May 15 - May 21.
Carnival Vista Expert Brewmaster Colin Presby, photo rights Carnival Cruise Line
From the official press release: Carnival Cruise Line Celebrates American Craft Beer Week with New Miami Guava Wheat Beer Brewed Exclusively on Carnival Vista

To celebrate American Craft Beer Week, Carnival Cruise Line has created a special one-of- a-kind tropical-flavored beer served exclusively at Carnival Vista’s RedFrog Pub & Brewery, the first brewery aboard a North American-based cruise ship.

The new Miami Guava Wheat beer was unveiled this weekend at a shipboard ceremony during which Carnival Vista’s expert brewmaster Colin Presby tapped the first cask of the deliciously refreshing new brew. Guests on board were the first to sample the highly drinkable beer, hand-crafted by Presby using the finest ingredients and inspired by Carnival Vista’s Miami homeport. Miami Guava Wheat reflects the tropics with a light body and palate-pleasing notes of tangy pink guava, the primary ingredient in Miami’s ever-popular guava pastries.

“Since Carnival Vista began sailing from Miami, I’ve become fascinated by tropical fruit and Cuban cuisine so I’m beyond thrilled to create this new Miami Guava Wheat in honor of American Craft Beer Week for our guests to enjoy,” Presby said.

Available on a limited basis, Miami Guava Wheat joins the three other original draft beers brewed only onboard Carnival Vista -- ThirstyFrog Port Hoppin’ IPA offering aromatic, floral and hoppy notes with tropical and citrus overtones; ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat, an unfiltered wheat beer with flavors of orange and spices; and FriskyFrog Java Stout, a take on a traditional stout, rich and creamy with hints of coffee.

The brewed-on- board beers are just several of the many innovative food and beverage offerings on Carnival Vista which also features the cocktail pharmacy-themed Alchemy Bar, the New England-inspired Seafood Shack, JiJi Asian Kitchen serving authentic cuisine from across the Far East, Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse, and Cucina del Capitano, a family-style Italian eatery.

Other features aboard Carnival Vista include a groundbreaking bike-ride- in-the- sky attraction called SkyRide, the first IMAX Theatre at sea, Family Harbor featuring family-friendly accommodations and the Family Harbor Lounge, and vibrant Havana staterooms and suites with exclusive daytime access to a Cuban-themed bar and pool.
 
Carnival Vista operates six- and eight-day Caribbean cruises from Port Miami to the Caribbean and will shift to Galveston, Texas, next fall when its sister ship, Carnival Horizon, launches year-round service from Miami.

To learn more about Carnival Cruise Line, visit Carnival.com. For reservations, contact any travel agent or call 1-800-CARNIVAL. Carnival can also be found on: FacebookInstagram, Twitter and YouTube.